Book Talk Tuesday -- Introduction to the Devout Life, DeSales

Book Talk Tuesday — Introduction to the Devout Life, DeSales

I had another blog before having the twins, which focused solely on Catholic Classic literature.  I’d like to resume that here, with a less intense schedule.  I think we’ll do a chapter (or half a chapter, if it is lengthy) a week.  I use classic, public domain literature and post the chapter alone in a post.  If I have thoughts to share, I’ll post them down in the comments.  Hopefully we can have some nice little discussions.  I’ll also post a link on the sidebar with the current book.  I never did finish Introduction to the Devout Life when my pregnancy with the twins got rough, so I’ll start with that one.


Title: Introduction to the Devout Life
Creator(s): Francis of Sales, St. (1567-1622)
CCEL Subjects: All; Classic; Christian Life;
LC Call no: BX2179 .F8
LC Subjects:

Christian Denominations

Roman Catholic Church

Meditations. Devotional readings. Spiritual exercises, etc.

Library of Spiritual Works for English Catholics

Introduction to the

Devout Life

Preface by the Author

DEAR reader, I request you to read this Preface for your own
satisfaction as well as mine.

The flower-girl Glycera was so skilled in varying the arrangement and
combination of her flowers, that out of the same kinds she produced a
great variety of bouquets; so that the painter Pausias, [1] who sought
to rival the diversity of her art, was brought to a standstill, for he
could not vary his painting so endlessly as Glycera varied her
bouquets. Even so the Holy Spirit of God disposes and arranges the
devout teaching which He imparts through the lips and pen of His
servants with such endless variety, that, although the doctrine is ever
one and the same, their treatment of it is different, according to the
varying minds whence that treatment flows. Assuredly I neither desire,
nor ought to write in this book anything but what has been already said
by others before me. I offer you the same flowers, dear reader, but the
bouquet will be somewhat different from theirs, because it is
differently made up.

Almost all those who have written concerning the devout life have had
chiefly in view persons who have altogether quitted the world; or at
any rate they have taught a manner of devotion which would lead to such
total retirement. But my object is to teach those who are living in
towns, at court, in their own households, and whose calling obliges
them to a social life, so far as externals are concerned. Such persons
are apt to reject all attempt to lead a devout life under the plea of
impossibility; imagining that like as no animal presumes to eat of the
plant commonly called Palma Christi, so no one who is immersed in the
tide of temporal affairs ought to presume to seek the palm of Christian

And so I have shown them that, like as the mother-of-pearl lives in the
sea without ever absorbing one drop of salt water; and as near the
Chelidonian Isles springs of sweet water start forth in the midst of
the ocean [2] and as the firemoth [3] hovers in the flames without
burning her wings; even so a true stedfast soul may live in the world
untainted by worldly breath, finding a well-spring of holy piety amid
the bitter waves of society, and hovering amid the flames of earthly
lusts without singeing the wings of its devout life. Of a truth this is
not easy, and for that very reason I would have Christians bestow more
care and energy than heretofore on the attempt, and thus it is that,
while conscious of my own weakness, I endeavour by this book to afford
some help to those who are undertaking this noble work with a generous

It is not however, my own choice or wish which brings this Introduction
before the public. A certain soul, abounding in uprightness and virtue,
some time since conceived a great desire, through God’s Grace, to
aspire more earnestly after a devout life, and craved my private help
with this view. I was bound to her by various ties, and had long
observed her remarkable capacity for this attainment, so I took great
pains to teach her, and having led her through the various exercises
suitable to her circumstances and her aim, I let her keep written
records thereof, to which she might have recourse when necessary. These
she communicated to a learned and devout Religious, who, believing that
they might be profitable to others, urged me to publish them, in which
he succeeded the more readily that his friendship exercised great
influence upon my will, and his judgment great authority over my

So, in order to make the work more useful and acceptable, I have
reviewed the papers and put them together, adding several matters
carrying out my intentions; but all this has been done with scarce a
moment’s leisure. Consequently you will find very little precision in
the work, but rather a collection of well intentioned instructions,
explained in clear intelligible words, at least that is what I have
sought to give. But as to a polished style, I have not given that a
thought, having so much else to do.

I have addressed my instructions to Philothea, [4] as adapting what was
originally written for an individual to the common good of souls. I
have made use of a name suitable to all who seek after the devout life,
Philothea meaning one who loves God. Setting then before me a soul, who
through the devout life seeks after the love of God, I have arranged
this Introduction in five parts, in the first of which I seek by
suggestions and exercises to turn Philothea’s mere desire into a hearty
resolution; which she makes after her general confession, by a
deliberate protest, followed by Holy Communion, in which, giving
herself to her Saviour and receiving Him, she is happily received into
His Holy Love. After this, I lead her on by showing her two great means
of closer union with His Divine Majesty; the Sacraments, by which that
Gracious Lord comes to us, and mental prayer, by which He draws us to
Him. This is the Second Part.

In the Third Part I set forth how she should practise certain virtues
most suitable to her advancement, only dwelling on such special points
as she might not find elsewhere, or be able to make out for herself. In
the Fourth Part I bring to light the snares of some of her enemies, and
show her how to pass through them safely and come forth unhurt. And
finally, in the Fifth Part, I lead her apart to refresh herself and
take breath, and renew her strength, so that she may go on more bravely
afterwards, and make good progress in the devout life.

This is a cavilling age, and I foresee that many will say that only
Religious and persons living apart are fit to undertake the guidance of
souls in such special devout ways; that it requires more time than a
Bishop of so important a diocese as mine can spare, and that it must
take too much thought from the important duties with which I am

But, dear reader, I reply with S. Denis that the task of leading souls
towards perfection appertains above all others to Bishops, and that
because their Order is supreme among men, as the Seraphim among Angels,
and therefore their leisure cannot be better spent. The ancient Bishops
and Fathers of the Primitive Church were, to say the least, as devoted
to their duties as we are, yet they did not refuse to undertake the
individual guidance of souls which sought their help, as we see by
their epistles; thereby imitating the Apostles, who, while reaping the
universal world-harvest, yet found time to gather up certain individual
sheaves with special and personal affection. Who can fail to remember
that Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Onesimus, Phekla, Appia, were the
beloved spiritual children of S. Paul, as S. Mark and S. Petronilla
were of S. Peter (for Baronius and Galonius have given learned and
absolute proof that S. Petronilla was not his carnal but spiritual
daughter). And is not one of S. John’s Canonical Epistles addressed to
the “elect lady” whom he loved in the faith?

I grant that the guidance of individual souls is a labour, but it is a
labour full of consolation, even as that of harvesters and
grape-gatherers, who are never so well pleased as when most heavily
laden. It is a labour which refreshes and invigorates the heart by the
comfort which it brings to those who bear it; as is said to be the case
with those who carry bundles of cinnamon in Arabia Felix. It is said
that when the tigress finds one of her young left behind by the hunter
in order to delay her while he carries off the rest of her cubs, she
takes it up, however big, without seeming over-weighted, and speeds
only the more swiftly to her lair, maternal love lightening the load.
How much more readily will the heart of a spiritual father bear the
burden of a soul he finds craving after perfection carrying it in his
bosom as a mother her babe, without feeling weary of the precious

But unquestionably it must be a really paternal heart that can do this,
and therefore it is that the Apostles and their apostolic followers are
wont to call their disciples not merely their children, but, even more
tenderly still, their “little children.”

One thing more, dear reader. It is too true that I who write about the
devout life am not myself devout, but most certainly I am not without
the wish to become so, and it is this wish which encourages me to teach
you. A notable literary man has said that a good way to learn is to
study, a better to listen, and the best to teach. And S. Augustine,
writing to the devout Flora, [5] says, that giving is a claim to
receive, and teaching a way to learn.

Alexander caused the lovely Campaspe, [6] who was so dear to him, to be
painted by the great Apelles, who, by dint of contemplating her as he
drew, so graved her features in his heart and conceived so great a
passion for her, that Alexander discovered it, and, pitying the artist,
gave him her to wife, depriving himself for love of Apelles of the
dearest thing he had in the world, in which, says Pliny, he displayed
the greatness of his soul as much as in the mightiest victory. And so,
friendly reader, it seems to me that as a Bishop, God wills me to frame
in the hearts of His children not merely ordinary goodness, but yet
more His own most precious devotion; and on my part I undertake
willingly to do so, as much out of obedience to the call of duty as in
the hope that, while fixing the image in others’ hearts, my own may
haply conceive a holy love; and that if His Divine Majesty sees me
deeply in love, He may give her to me in an eternal marriage. The
beautiful and chaste Rebecca, as she watered Isaac’s camels, was
destined to be his bride, and received his golden earrings and
bracelets, and so I rely on the boundless Goodness of my God, that
while I lead His beloved lambs to the wholesome fountain of devotion,
He will take my soul to be His bride, giving me earrings of the golden
words of love, and strengthening my arms to carry out its works,
wherein lies the essence of all true devotion, the which I pray His
Heavenly Majesty to grant to me and to all the children of His Church
that Church to which I would ever submit all my writings, actions,
words, will and thoughts.

ANNECY, S. Magdalene’s Day, 1608.

[1] 1 Pausias of Sicyon (B.C. 368); see Plin. Hist. Nat. xxxv. 11-40. A
portrait of Glycera, the young flower-girl whom he loved, with a
garland of flowers, was one of his masterpieces. It was called the
Stephane-plocos [ Stephane – plokos ], or garland wreather, and was
purchased by L. Lucullus at Athens for two talents.

[2] These islands are in the Mediterranean Sea, in the Gulf of Lycia.

[3] Puraustes

[4] The address to Philothea by name has been omitted, as being
somewhat stiff and stilted, and the term child or daughter used
instead, but the omission in no way alters the sense or application of
any sentence.

[5] This is probably the person mentioned as “our most religious
daughter Flora” in S. Augustine’s Treatise “On care to be had for the
Dead”, addressed to his fellow Bishop Paulinus. See Library of the
Fathers, S. Augustine’s Short Treatises, p. 517.2 Plin. Hist. Nat. l.
xxv. c. 10.

[6] Plin. Hist. Nat. l. xxv. c. 10.