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Charmoisy, and he became her Director of Conscience ; and it was in the notes which he made for her spiritual guidance that the material for the Introduction first took shape. But the book embodies the results of his experience as director of many other consciences besides hers, and it is this experience that gives the book its special character and value. It is the work of one who has been dealing with souls in the most intimate manner, and of one moreover who is gifted with extraordinary insight and sympathy. “This direction of souls,” says M. Fortunat Strowsky, “is an art so complex, and at the same time so delicate, that we can call it perfect in its kind and sufficient in itself; it is absorbing enough to occupy all the activity of a vigorous mind, and so fascinating as to make him forget all other horizons. But if one were able, after having practised it well, to disengage oneself from it, what riches one would have amassed ! What a preparation for a philosopher or moralist ! An experience so varied, so extensive, and so intimate would be, for one who could make use of it, a royal foundation. Imagine how one could employ it to develop and support a doctrine ! Would he not be better equipped than anyone else ? Well," continues this writer, “St. Francis de Sales was able to disengage himself from the direction of souls in order to write a book embodying what it had taught him, and this book was not a simple letter of direction, more full, more complete, more general, more impersonal, but a true book, giving us the profound thought as well as the philosophy of conduct which he brought to bear on the consciences of men and women."1 It is the fault of many books of devotion as of many sermons, that they deal too much with abstractions, and have little contact with the real thoughts and needs of men ; but Francis' experience as a director of consciences helped to keep him free from this fault, and to make his readers feel that the book is written with an understanding sympathy.
1 Saint François de Sales. Deuxième edition, pp. 236-7.
The Introduction differed from most books of devotion that had been written before in being addressed not to the cloister but to men and women “ in the world.” In his preface Francis says : “Almost all who have treated hitherto of devotion have had in view the instruction of persons wholly retired from the world, or at least have taught a kind of devotion leading to this absolute retirement. My intention is to instruct such as live in town, or families, or at court, and who by their condition, are obliged to lead, as to externals, the ordinary life."
From the fact that the book was written more particularly for women, and owes much of its inspiration to them, one is apt to think that the kind of religion it inculcates must be lacking in strength and robustness. But although there was much that was truly feminine in the soul of Francis, much love and gentleness, there was nothing effeminate ; and in the Introduction there is plenty of vigorous thinking and stern but wholesome counsel, equally good for both sexes, and bearing on a great variety of matters and circumstances. It is written of course from the strictly Roman Catholic point of view, and by one convinced that outside the Church of Rome there was no salvation ; but we know that such assumptions have not been peculiar to Roman Catholic writers, and have been found sometimes in union with a great deal of practical common sense and spiritual wisdom. And it is for its practical common sense and spiritual wisdom that the Introduction has been valued by Protestants and Catholics alike.
In the opening chapters, Francis describes what he means by devotion and the devout life. “ True and living devotion," he says, " presupposes the love of God, or rather it is nothing else than the true love of God, and such a love of him as makes us do his will with the utmost eagerness.” It is a certain lightness and vivacity of spirit, by means of which we do whatever we are given to do promptly and diligently and exactly. When we act thus in the spirit of love and gladness and good will, then, and only then, are we truly devout. Devotion is simply a heightened or intensified love or charity. “If," he says, “ love be milk, devotion is the cream ; if love be a plant, devotion is the flower; if love be a precious stone, devotion is its lustre ; if love be a precious balm, devotion is the odour.” And this kind of devotion may be cultivated by every one, and will make all who practise it better in every relation of life-as members of families, as neighbours, as citizens, and more acceptable in their different callings.
True devotion, according to Francis, begins with the purification of the soul from sin, and such purification is a life-long process.
The diseases of the soul, as well as those of the body, come post-haste on horseback, but go away on foot at a snail's pace. Courage and patience, then, are needed for this enterprise. . . . Let us not worry ourselves because we have imperfections, for our perfection consists in resisting them, and we cannot resist them without seeing them, nor vanquish them without encountering them. Our victory does not lie in not feeling them, but in not consenting to them ; nay it is necessary for the exercise of our humility that we be sometimes wounded in this spiritual combat ; but we are never conquered, except when we have lost either life or courage. ... It is a happy condition of this war that if we fight valiantly we are always conquerors.' (Part i, Ch. v.)
Francis, as a true director of souls, is very skilful in his spiritual diagnosis. He knows of penitents who have forsaken their sin "in fact, but not in affection," and he points out that it is only when they hate it that they are really being delivered from it. He believes in starting the day with spiritual exercises with what he calls “ a little nosegay of devotion,” and he explains his meaning in this way: One who has been walking in a beautiful garden does not willingly go away without gathering four or five flowers to keep and smell at the whole day after ; so," he says, " when our spirit has been expatiating in some mystery of divine grace, we ought to select one or two or three points which we have found most pleasant, and which are most proper for our advancement, to think frequently on them, and to smell them as it were spiritually for the rest of the day." (Part ii, Ch. vii.) And indeed in order to gain the devout spirit, what is more helpful than beginning the day with a few good thoughts to which the mind can return from time to time? It is by such means that the level of life is kept high and pure. Beginning the day with some such simple exercise as he suggests, we shall find, he says, that all we do shall be watered with the blessing of God. And if it be important to begin the day devoutly, it is no and prayer.
less important to end it so. “Give me a great thought," said the dying philosopher. So Francis would have us fall asleep with some good thought in our minds, for our thoughts then have much to do in making us what we are. “By the exercise of the morning," he says,
you open the windows of your soul to the Sun of Righteousness, and by that of the evening you close them against the darkness of hell.” (Part ii, Ch. xi.)
And even in the midst of the business of the day, he tells us, we should find opportunities for devout thought
There are no circumstances in which this is not possible. “When," he says,
When,” he says, “ the father and mother of St. Catherine of Sienna had deprived her of every opportunity of place and leisure to pray and meditate, our Lord inspired her to make a little interior oratory within her soul, into which, retiring mentally, she might, amidst her external affairs, have leisure in this holy solitude of the heart. . . . Withdraw then your spirit from time to time into your heart, where, separated from all men, you may familiarly treat on the business of your soul with God. ... The spirit which thus gives itself to habitual confidential intercourse with God, will be altogether perfumed with his perfections. And this exercise will not hinder us but rather assist us in whatever we are about. ... The pilgrim who takes a little wine to cherish his heart and refresh his mouth, although he stops a moment for it, does not interrupt his journey by doing so, but rather acquires strength to finish it with more ease and expedition, stopping only that he may go faster. . . . In fine, they that love with a human and natural affection have their thoughts always turned towards the object of their love, their heart full of