Treatise on the Love of God

Treatise on the Love of God

by St. Francis de Sales (1616; contemporary English edition, 2011)

Francis was the Bishop of Geneva and made it his life’s work to try to win back Catholics lost to the Protestant Reformation. He was hugely successful. St. Francis de Sales is known more for his earlier work, Introduction to the Devout Life, which he addressed to “Philothea”, as a stand-in for the soul (though it was written as a series of correspondence to an actual lady).  This work is addressed to “Theotimus”, due to some objections by men that they did not want to take advice addressed to a woman. De Sales decided to give equal time, though I suspect he would have preferred to keep the addressee feminine had there been no objections to the first book. It obviously bothered him at least a little, as he goes on about it in the preface. In the end, it turns out to be a minor thing. The end result is a great book. Or actually twelve books.

This is a modern abridged version that takes twelve books down to twelve chapters. Since this work, like The Cloud of Unknowing, is referenced by many other writers, it seemed like one with which I should familiarize myself.

I offer two excerpts from this one. First, from Chapter 6, “Contemplation and Meditation–Love in Prayer”:

This makes contemplation quite different than meditation, which nearly always takes a lot of effort on our part. Meditation is like eating. It is necessary to chew, turning spiritual meat this way and that between the teeth of consideration. Working on it, we grind it up to make it digestible. Contemplation is like drinking. There is no protracted labor by our teeth. We calmly swallow our drink with pleasure. There is even the possibility of sacred drunkenness. We can contemplate frequently and ardently enough to be completely out of ourselves and totally in God. This is quite different from inebriation of the flesh. It does not make us dull and stupid. Instead of lowering us to the level of animals, it lifts us to the level of angels. It allows us to live more in God than in ourselves.

To arrive at contemplation, we must hear the word of God, confer with others on spiritual matters, read, pray, sing, and conceive worthy thoughts.

– pg. 52

And from Chapter 11, “The Love of God Inspires Other Virtues”, in a section titled, “Fruit of the Spirit”:

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galations 5:22-23). Notice, Theotimus, that when Paul lists the various qualities of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, he counts them as one single fruit. He does not begin with the plural, “fruits.” He uses the singular. This is why: “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:5). Love is the only fruit of the Holy Spirit. This one fruit has an infinite number of excellent properties. Paul mentions a few of them as examples. When we state that the fruit of the vine is grapes, wine, brandy, the drink “to gladden the human heart” (Psalm 104:15 NRSV), the beverage that settles the stomach [1 Timothy 5:23], we do not mean all these different things grow on the vine. There is only one fruit, yet it has many different qualities depending on how it is used.

Paul simply means that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is love. This love can be joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, and gentle, and it can improve self-control. Divine love prompts all these things and more.

Love is the life of the spirit.

– pg.  127

 

 

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