THE SPIRIT OF ST. FRANCIS DE SALES
+ F. THOS. BERGH, O.S.B, CENSOR DEPUTATUS
E. CANONICUS SURMONT VICARIUS GENERALIS
Westmonasterii die 27th Maii 1910
THE SPIRIT OF ST. FRANCIS DE SALES
BY HIS FRIEND
JEAN PIERRE CAMUS BISHOP OF BELLEY
NEW AND ENLARGED EDITION WITH A PREFACE BY HIS GRACE THE ARCHBISHOP OF WESTMINSTER.
TRANSLATED BY J. S.
Preface by the Archbishop of Westminster Sketch of Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley The French Publisher to the reader in 1639
Upon perfect virtue Blessed Francis' estimate of various virtues Upon the lesser virtues Upon increase of Faith Upon temptations against Faith Upon the same subject Upon confidence in God Our misery appeals to God's mercy Upon self distrust Upon the justice and mercy of God On waiting upon God On the difference between a holy desire of reward and a mercenary spirit Continuation of the same subject God should suffice for us all Charity the short road to perfection Upon what it is to love God truly Upon the Love of God in general All for Love of God The same subject continued Upon the Love of God called love of benevolence Disinterested Love of God Upon the character of a true Christian Upon not putting limits to our Love of God Upon the law and the just man Upon desires How Charity excels both Faith and Hope Some thoughts of Blessed Francis on the Passion Upon the vanity of heathen philosophy Upon the pure love of our neighbour Upon bearing with one another Upon fraternal correction Upon finding excuses for the faults of our fellow-men Upon not judging others Upon judging ourselves Upon slander and detraction Upon hasty judgments Upon ridiculing one's neighbour Upon contradicting others Upon loving our enemies Upon forgiving our enemies Upon the virtue of condescension How he adapted himself to times, places and circumstances Upon the deference due to inferiors and dependents On the way to treat servants Another instance of his gentleness with his servants His never refusing what was asked of him Upon almsgiving His hopefulness in regard, to the conversion of sinners His solicitude for malefactors condemned to death Upon the small number of the elect To love to be hated; and to hate to be loved Upon obedience Upon the obedience that may be practised by Superiors An instance of his obedience Upon the Love of Holy Poverty Upon the same subject Upon poverty of spirit His love of the poor Upon the Christian view of Poverty Upon Prosperity Upon Chastity and Charity Upon purity of heart Upon Chastity and Humility Upon Modesty The contempt he felt for his body Upon his Humility Upon humbleness in speech only Upon various degrees of Humility Upon Humiliation Humility with regard to perfection Upon excuses Upon our good name Upon despising the esteem of men Upon the virtues we should practice when calumniated Upon some spiritual maxims Upon Patience How to profit by bearing with insults Upon bearing with importunities That he who complains sins His calmness in tribulations His test of patience in suffering Upon long illnesses His holy indifference in illness Upon the shape of the Cross A diamond Cross Holy Magdalen at the foot of the Cross Upon the power of gentleness and patience A rejoinder both striking and instructive His favourite beatitude His gravity and affability How he dealt with a criminal who despaired of salvation Upon mortification Upon the same subject Upon fasting Doubts solved as to soldiers fasting The golden mean in dispensations Upon the words "Eat of anything that is set before you" Upon the state of perfection Marks of progress in perfection Upon the perfection aimed at in Religious Houses Upon Frugality His esteem of the virtue of simplicity His love of exactitude The test of Religious Vocation Upon following the common life Upon Vocations Upon Prudence and Simplicity The same subject continued Upon mental prayer Upon Aspirations Upon interior recollection and ejaculatory prayers Upon doing and enduring Upon Mortification and Prayer Upon the Presence of God His unity of spirit with God His gratitude to God for spiritual consolations Upon the shedding of tears Upon joy and sadness On the degrees of true devotion The test of true devotion What it means to be a servant of God That devotion does not always spring from Charity Upon perfect contentment in the privation of all content Upon the Will of God His resignation to the Will of God That we must always submit ourselves to God's holy Will His sublime thoughts on holy indifference Nothing save sin happens to us but by the Will of God Upon the same subject Upon abandoning ourselves to God Upon interior desolation Upon the presence in our souls of the Grace of God Upon our wish to save our soul Upon good natural inclinations How to speak of God Upon eccentricities in devotion Upon Confraternities Upon intercourse with the world Against over-eagerness Upon the same subject Upon liberty of spirit Upon nature and grace Upon exaggerated introspection Upon interior reformation His vision of the Most Holy Trinity His devotion to our Blessed Lady His devotion to the Holy Winding Sheet of Turin Upon merit Upon good will and good desires Against the making of rash vows Upon the pro-passions of Our Lord His victory over the passions of love and anger Upon our passions and emotions How he came to write his Philothea Upon the example of the Saints Upon the love of God's word His love of retirement How he sanctified his recreations What he drew from lines of poetry Upon being content with our condition in life Upon self-sufficiency and contentedness His reverence for the sick Upon the care of the sick Upon speaking well of the dead Upon Death Upon wishing to die Upon the desire of Heaven What it is to die in God Upon length of life Upon Purgatory Upon Penance Upon penitent confusion Upon interior peace amidst anxieties Upon discouragement Upon rising after a fall Upon kindliness towards ourselves Upon imperfections The just man falls seven times in the day Upon the purgative way Upon venial sin Upon complicity in the sins of another Upon equivocating Upon solitude Upon vanity Upon the knowledge which puffs up Upon scruples Upon temptations Upon the same subject Thoughts on the Incarnation Upon Confession and Communion Upon Confession Upon a change of confessor Upon different methods of direction Advice upon having a Director Upon true and mistaken zeal Upon the institution of the Visitation Order His defence of his new Congregation of the Visitation Upon the odour of sanctity He rebukes Pharisaism Upon religious Superiors Upon unlearned Superiors Upon the founding of Convents Upon receiving the infirm into Communities Upon self pity Upon the government of Nuns by religious men That we must not be wedded to our own plans His views regarding Ecclesiastical dignities His promotion to the Bishopric of Geneva and his refusal of the Archbishopric of Paris A Bishop's care for his flock Upon the first duty of Bishops Upon the pastoral charge Upon the care of souls Upon learning and piety Advice to Bishop Camus as to resigning his See The joyous spirit of Blessed Francis Upon daily Mass. His advice to a young Priest A Priest saying Mass should be considerate of others Blessed Francis encourages the Bishop of Belley Upon a compassionate mind Upon doing one's duty without respect of persons The honour due to virtue Upon memory and judgment A Priest should not aim at imitating in his sermons some particular preacher Upon short sermons Upon preaching and preachers Blessed Francis and the Bishop of Belley's sermon Upon controversy The same subject continued Upon reason and reasoning Upon quoting Holy Scripture Upon political diplomacy Upon ambition Upon courts and courtiers Upon the Carnival An instance of his compassion for animals Upon hunting Upon the fear of ghosts His portrait Upon his true charity
The Spirit of a Saint we may, perhaps, regard as the underlying characteristic which pervades all his thoughts, words, and acts. It is the note which sounds throughout the constant persevering harmony which makes the holiness of his life. Circumstances change. He grows from childhood to boyhood; from youth to manhood. His time of preparation is unnoticed by the world until the moment comes when he is called to a public activity which arrests attention. And essentially he remains the same. In private as in public, in intimate conversation as in writings or discourses, in the direction of individual consciences as in the conduct of matters of wide importance, there is a characteristic note which identifies him, and marks him off apart even from other heroes of sanctity.
We owe to a keen and close observer a knowledge of the spirit of St. Francis de Sales for which we cannot be too grateful. Let it be granted that Mgr. Camus had a very prolific imagination; that he had an unconscious tendency to embroider facts; that he read a meaning into words which their speaker had no thought of imparting to them. When all such allowances have been made, we must still admit that he has given to us a picture of the Saint which we should be loath to lose; and that his description of what the Saint habitually thought and felt has made Saint Francis de Sales a close personal friend to many to whom otherwise he would have remained a mere chance acquaintance.
The Bishop of Belley, while a devoted admirer, was at the same time a critical observer of his saintly friend. He wanted to know the reasons of what he saw, he did not always approve, and he was sufficiently indiscreet to put questions which, probably, no one else would have dared to frame. And thus we know more about St. Francis than about any other Saint, and we owe real gratitude to his very candid, talkative, and out-spoken episcopal colleague.
Many years ago a brief abridgment of the "Spirit of St. Francis de Sales" was published in English. It served its purpose, but left unsatisfied the desire of his clients for a fuller work. To-day the Sisters of the Visitation, now established at Harrow-on-the-Hill, give abundant satisfaction to this long-felt desire. Inspired by the purpose of the late Dom Benedict Mackey, O.S.B., which his premature death prevented him from accomplishing, and guided by the advice which he left in writing, these Daughters of St. Francis of Sales, on the occasion of their Tercentenary, give to the English-speaking world a work which, in its wise curtailment and still full detail, may be called the quintessence of the Spirit of their Master, the Founder of their Institute. We thank them for their labour; and we beg God's blessing upon this book, that it may be the means of showing to many souls that safe and easy way of sanctification and salvation, which it was the special mission of the saintly Bishop of Geneva to make known to the world.
FRANCIS, ARCHBISHOP OF WESTMINSTER.
May 18th, 1910.
SKETCH OF THE LIFE OF
JEAN PIERRE CAMUS,
BISHOP OF BELLEY.
Jean Pierre Camus came of an illustrious, and much respected family of Auxonne in Burgundy, in which province it possessed the seigneuries of Saint Bonnet and Pont-carre.
He was born in Paris, November 3rd, 1584.
His grandfather was for some years Administrator of the Finances under King Henri III. Though he had had the management of the public funds during a period when fraud and dishonesty were as easy as they were common, he retired from office without having added a single penny to his patrimony. On one occasion having received from Henri III. the gift of a sum of 50,000 crowns, which had been left by a Jew who had died intestate, and without children, this upright administrator sent for three merchants who had lost all their property in a fire, and distributed it among them.
The father of our Prelate, inheriting this integrity, left an honourable name, but few worldly goods to his children.
Faithful, and devoted to the interests of his king, Henri IV., he gave part of his fortune to the support of the good cause, the triumph of which he had the happiness of witnessing. He died in 1619.
The mantle of paternal loyalty and patriotism undoubtedly descended upon the young J. P. Camus, for second only to his love for God, and His Church, was his devotion to France, and its king.
On his mother's side, as well as on his father's, he was well connected. Her family had given to France chancellors, secretaries of state, and other distinguished personages, but noble as were the races from which he sprang their chief distinction is derived from the subject of this sketch.
"This one branch," says his panegyrist, "bore more blossoms and more fruit than all the others together. In John Peter the gentle rivulet of the Camus' became a mighty stream, yet one whose course was peaceful, and which loved to flow underground, as do certain rivers which seem to lose themselves in the earth, and only emerge to precipitate themselves into the waters of the ocean."
Books and objects of piety were the toys of his childhood, and his youth was passed in solitude, and in the practices of the ascetic life. His physical strength as it increased with his years, seemed only to serve to assist him in curbing and restraining a somewhat fiery temperament. His wish, which at one time was very strong, to become a Carthusian, was not indeed fulfilled, it being evident from the many impediments put in its way, that it was not a call from God.
Nevertheless, this desire of self-sacrifice in a cloistered life was only thwarted in order that he might sacrifice himself in another way, namely, by becoming a Bishop, which state, if its functions are rightly discharged, assuredly demands greater self-immolation than does that of a monk, and is indeed a martyrdom that ceases only with life itself.
If he did not submit himself to the Rule of the Carthusians by entering their Order, he nevertheless adopted all its severity, and to the very end of his life kept his body in the most stern and rigorous subjection.
This, and his early inclination towards the religious life, will not a little astonish his detractors, if any such still exist, for it is surely a convincing proof that he was not the radical enemy of monasticism they pretend. In his studies he displayed great brilliancy, being especially distinguished in theology and canon law, to the study of which he consecrated four years of his life.
After he had become a Priest his learning, piety, and eloquence not only established his reputation as a preacher in the pulpits of Paris, but soon even crossed the threshold of the Louvre and reached the ears of Henry IV. That monarch, moved by the hope of the great services which a prelate might render to the Church even more than by the affection which he bore to the Camus family, decided to propose him for a Bishopric, although he was but twenty-five, and had not therefore reached the canonical age for that dignity.
The young Priest was far too humble and also too deeply imbued with a sense of the awful responsibility of the office of a Bishop to expect, or to desire to be raised to it. When, however, Pope Paul V. gave the necessary dispensation, M. Camus submitted to the will both of the Pontiff and of the King, and was consecrated Bishop of Belley by St. Francis de Sales, August 30, 1609.
The fact that the two dioceses of Geneva and Belley touched one another contributed to further that close intimacy which was always maintained between the Bishops, the younger consulting the elder on all possible occasions, and in all imaginable difficulties.
Bishop Camus had already referred his scruples regarding his youth at the time of his consecration to his holy director. The latter had, however, reminded him of the many reasons there were to justify his submission, viz., the needs of the diocese, the testimony to his fitness given by so many persons of distinction and piety, the judgment of Henry the Great, in fine the command of His Holiness. In consecrating Mgr. Camus, St. Francis de Sales seems to have transmitted to the new Prelate some of the treasures of his own holy soul. Camus was the only Bishop whom he ever consecrated, and doubtless this fact increased the tender affection which Francis bore him. John Peter was, what he loved to call himself, and what St. Francis loved to call him, the latter's only son. There was between the two holy Prelates a community of intelligence and of life. "Camus," says Godeau, the preacher of his funeral discourse, "ever sat at the feet of St. Francis de Sales, whom he called his Gamaliel, there to learn from him the law of God: full as he himself was of the knowledge of Divine things."
We must bear this in mind if we wish to know what Camus really was, and to appreciate him properly. He was by nature ardent, impetuous, and imaginative, eager for truth and goodness, secretly devoted to the austere practices of St. Charles Borromeo, but above all fervently desirous to imitate his model, his beloved spiritual Father, and therefore anxious to subdue, and to temper all that was too impetuous, excitable, and hard in himself, by striving after the incomparable sweetness and tenderness which were the distinguishing characteristics of St. Francis de Sales.
Mgr. Camus was endowed with a most marvellous memory, which was indeed invaluable to him in the great work to which both Bishops devoted themselves, that of bringing back into the bosom of the Church those who had become strangers, and even enemies to her.
His chief defect was that he was over hasty in judging, and of this he was himself perfectly well aware. He tells us in the "Esprit" that on one occasion when he was bewailing his deficiency to Francis, the good Prelate only smiled, and told him to take courage, for that as time went on it would bring him plenty of judgment, that being one of the fruits of experience, and of advancing years.
Whenever Mgr. Camus visited the Bishop of Geneva, which he did each year in order to make a retreat of several days under the direction of his spiritual Father, he was treated with the greatest honour by him.
St. Francis de Sales gave up his own room to his guest, and made him preach, and discharge other episcopal functions, so as to exercise him in his own presence in these duties of his sublime ministry.
This was the school in which Camus learnt to control and master himself, to curb his natural impetuosity, and to subjugate his own will, and thus to acquire one, in our opinion, of the most certain marks of saintliness.
The Bishop of Geneva was not contented with receiving his only son at Annecy. He often went over to Belley, and spent several days there in his company. These visits were to both Prelates a time of the greatest consolation. Then they spoke, as it were, heart to heart, of all that they valued most. Then they encouraged one another to bear the burden of the episcopate. Then they consoled each other in the troubles which they met with in their sacred ministry.
It never cost the younger Bishop anything to yield obedience to the elder, and no matter how great, or how trifling was the occasion which called for the exercise of that virtue, there was never a moment's hesitation on the part of the Bishop of Belley.
The latter, indeed, considered the virtue of obedience as the one most calculated to ensure rapid advance in the spiritual life. He tells us that one day at table someone having boasted that he could make an egg stand upright on a plate, a thing which those present, forgetting Christopher Columbus, insisted was impossible, the Saint, as Columbus had done, quietly taking one up chipped it a little at one end, and so made it stand. The company all cried out that there was nothing very great in that trick. "No," repeated the Saint, "but all the same you did not know it."
We may say the same, adds Camus, of obedience: it is the true secret of perfection, and yet few people know it to be so.
From what we have already seen of the character of John Peter Camus, we may imagine that gentleness was the most difficult for him to copy of the virtues of St. Francis de Sales; yet steel, though much stronger than iron, is at the same time far more readily tempered.
Thus, in his dealings with his neighbour he behaved exactly like his model, so much so, that for anyone who wanted to gain his favour the best plan was to offend him or do him some injury.
I have spoken of his love of mortification, and a short extract from the funeral discourse pronounced over his remains will show to what extent he practised it.
Godeau says: "Our virtuous Bishop up to the very last years of his life, slept either on a bed of vine shoots, or on boards, or on straw. This custom he only abandoned in obedience to his director, and in doing so I consider that he accomplished what was far more difficult and painful than the mortifications which he had planned for himself, since the sacrifice of our own will in these matters is incomparably more disagreeable to us than the practising of them."
This austerity in respect to sleep, of which, indeed, he required more than others on account of his excitable temperament, did not suffice to satisfy his love for penance, without which, he said, the leading of a Christian and much more of an episcopal life was impossible. To bring his body into subjection he constantly made use of hair-shirts, iron belts, vigils, fasting, and the discipline, and it was not until his last illness that he gave up those practices of austerity. He concealed them, however, as carefully as though he had been ashamed of them, knowing well that such sacrifices if not offered in secret, partake more of the spirit of Pharisaism than of the gospel. This humility, notwithstanding, he was unable to guard against the pardonable curiosity of his servants. One of them, quite a young man, who was his personal attendant during the first years of his residence at Belley, observing that he wore round his neck the key of a large cupboard, and being very anxious to know what it contained, managed in some way to possess himself of this key for a few moments, when his master had laid it aside, and was not in the room.
Unlocking the cupboard he found it full of the vine shoots on which he was accustomed to sleep. The bed which everyone saw in his apartment was the Bishop's; the one which he hid away was the penitent's. The one was for appearance, the other for piety. He used to put into disorder the coverings of the bed, so as to give the impression of having slept in it, while he really slept, or at least took such repose as was necessary to keep him alive, on the penitential laths he had hidden.
Having discovered that through his valet the rumour of his austerity had got abroad, he dismissed the young man from his service, giving him a handsome present, and warning him to be less curious in future. But for his failing, however, we should have lost a great example of the Bishop's mortification and humility.
The latter virtue John Peter Camus cultivated most carefully, and how well he succeeded in this matter is proved by the composure, and even gaiety and joyousness, with which he met the raillery heaped upon his sermons, and writings.
Camus, like the holy Bishop of Geneva, had throughout his life a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and never failed in his daily recital of the Rosary. Every evening it was his habit to read a portion of either The Spiritual Combat, or the Imitation of Jesus Christ; two books which he recommended to his penitents as next in usefulness to the gospels.
Following him in his Episcopal career we find that as the years rolled on his reputation passed beyond the confines of France, and reached the Vatican.
Pope Paul V., who knew him intimately, held him in high esteem, and all the Cardinals honoured him with their friendship.
Had it not been for his own firm resistance to every proposal made to him to quit his poor diocese of Belley, Mgr. Camus would assuredly have been transferred to some much more important See.
And here we may again quote the words of his panegyrist, to indicate the fruits produced by his zeal in the little corner of the vineyard of the Divine Master, which had been confided to his skilful hands.
Godeau says, "The interior sanctity which he strove to acquire for himself by prayer, by reading holy books, by the mortification of his senses, by the putting aside of all secular affairs when engaged in prayer, by humility, patience, and charity, were the inexhaustible source whence flowed all his external works, and whence they derived all their purity and vigour."
As regarded the poor and needy in his diocese, Mgr. Camus was no less generous in ministering to their temporal than to their spiritual wants. He looked upon himself as simply a steward of the goods of the Church. He, indeed, drew the revenues of his diocese, but only as rivers draw their waters from the sea, to pay them back again to it with usury.
More than once in years of famine he gave all his corn to the poor, not as Joseph did in Egypt by depriving them of their liberty, but by depriving himself of what was necessary for his support, and treating himself no better than the rest of the poor.
One day he was told that the dearness of wine was the cause of great distress among working people. He immediately gave orders that his own wine should be sold, but after a most curious and unusual fashion. He would not have any fixed price set upon it, but only desired that an open bag should be held, at the door of the cellar so that purchasers might throw in what they pleased. You may be sure that the bag was not very full and that the buyers availed themselves to the utmost of his liberality.
What, however, do you think he did with the small amount of money which he found in the bag? Even that he forthwith distributed among the poor! Surely if anything can approach the miraculous transformation of water into wine it is Bishop Camus' mode of selling it!
After having established in his diocese that order and peace which are the fruits of the knowledge and observance of the duties of religion, and having formed a body of clergy remarkable for their piety and learning, Mgr. Camus thought he ought to advance even a step further.
He felt that it was his duty to have in his Episcopal city a community of Religious men who by their example should assist both clergy and laity in their spiritual life. He did this by building, at his own expense, in 1620, a Capuchin Monastery.
For a long time he supplied these Friars with all that they needed, and finally gave them his own library, which was both choice and extensive.
He was equally cordial in his relationship with other Orders, welcoming them gladly to his own house, and often making retreats in their Monasteries.
Camus was too intimately connected with Francis de Sales not to have with him a community of spirit.
Knowing how useful the newly-formed Order of the Visitation would be to the Church, he also founded at Belley, in 1662, a Convent, to which he invited some nuns of the New Congregation. This Institution of the holy Bishop of Geneva was vigorously attacked from its very beginning. It was called in derision, the Confraternity of the Descent from the Cross, because its pious founder had excluded from this order corporal austerities, and had adapted all his rules to the reforming of the interior. The Bishop of Belley declared himself champion of this new Institution. Indeed, his ardent soul was always on fire to proclaim and to maintain the glory of the Church. At whatever point She was attacked or threatened there Camus was to be found armed cap-a-pie to defend her.
As for his own temporal interests, they were to him matters of absolute indifference when weighed in the balance of that beloved Church. His own words, however, speak best on this subject.
On one occasion, when a Minister of State wrote to ask him something contrary to those interests, backing up his request with the most liberal promises, the Bishop of Belley, after courteously excusing himself from complying with the request, wound up his answer to the statesman with these remarkable words: This is all that can be said to you by a Bishop who, as regards the past, is under no obligation to anyone; as regards the present without interest; and as regards the future has no pretentions whatever.
We have said that the Bishop of Belley was indefatigable in labouring for the sanctification of his people, but this did not in any way prevent him from bestowing due care upon the interests of his own soul.
With this object in view he considered that after long years of toil for his flock he ought to retire from the world, so as to have more time to devote to himself. To live in solitude had been the desire of his youth, as we know it was ever his desire through all the period of his Episcopate; but his spiritual guide, the holy Bishop of Geneva, always succeeded in dissuading him from laying down the pastoral staff to take refuge in the cloister.
However, after the death of his illustrious friend and counsellor, this desire returned to Camus with redoubled force. For seven years, out of respect for the advice of his dear dead friend, he abstained from carrying out his purpose, and during that time of waiting, relaxing nothing in the ardour of his love for his people and his zeal for the Church, he devoted himself to the work of repairing and restoring his Cathedral, which was accomplished in the year 1627.
When in 1837 this ancient edifice was pulled down in order to be rebuilt, an inscription was discovered stating this fact, which is not otherwise mentioned in any extant writings, probably because those in which it was recorded were among the rich archives of the Chapter destroyed by the fury of the vandals of 1793.
At last, in 1628, Camus finally decided to give up his Episcopal charge to one who was indeed worthy of such a dignity.
This was Jean de Passelaigne, Abbot of Notre Dame de Hambic, Prior of St. Victor of Nevers, and of La Charite-sur-Loire, Vicar-General of the Order of Cluny.
Then, having obtained the King's consent, Camus retired from the diocese of Belley, which he had ruled so happily and so well for twenty years, to the Cistercian Abbey of Annay, there to exercise in the calm of solitude all those virtues to the practice of which he said the stir and bustle inseparable from the episcopal functions had not allowed him to devote himself. This he did, it would seem, towards the end of 1628, or the beginning of 1629.
The Abbey of Annay, which the King gave to him on receiving his resignation of the See of Belley, was situated in Normandy, near Caen. There Camus dwelt for some time, not, however, leading an idle life, for we find that a great many of his works were printed at Caen. He also succeeded in introducing into this Religious House, and into the neighbouring one of Ardaine, that reform which it was the desire of his heart to bring back to all the Monasteries of France. It was while in Normandy that he made the acquaintance of Pere Eudes, and between these two holy Priests the closest friendship sprang up, founded on a mutual zeal for the salvation of souls.
The Bishop of Belley was not long allowed to enjoy his quiet retreat at Annay. Francois de Harlay, Archbishop of Rouen, being unable at that time, owing to ill health, to exercise his duties as a Bishop, felt convinced that Providence had sent Mgr. Camus into his diocese on purpose that he might share his labours. His earnest entreaties prevailed upon the good Bishop to emerge from his retreat and help to bear the burden which pressed so heavily upon a sick and failing Prelate.
At Belley he had been accountable to God alone for the discharge of those duties which he had for a time laid aside; now at the call of charity he did not hesitate to take up the burden again to ease another. He was appointed Vicar-General to the Archbishop of Rouen, renouncing, like St. Paul, his liberty in order to become the servant of all men, and thus gain more souls to Jesus Christ.
Although in this new sphere Camus laboured with the utmost devotion and untiring energy, living a life of ascetic severity, fasting, sleeping on straw, or spending whole nights in prayer, while his days were given to preaching, confirming, hearing confessions, visiting the sick, consoling the afflicted, advising, exhorting, patiently listening to the crowds who flocked to consult him, yet he still felt certain that the voice of God called him to solitude and to a perpetual retreat.
Desiring to spend the rest of his days among the poor whom he loved so well, he came to Paris, and took up his abode in the Hospital for Incurables, situated in the Rue de Sevres. He reserved for himself out of his patrimony and benefices only 500 livres, which he paid to the hospital for his board and lodging, distributing the remainder among the needy.
In this hospital he passed his time in ministering to the sick, dressing their wounds, consoling, and instructing them, and performing for them all the functions of an ordinary Chaplain.
Even if he went out to visit friends in the vicinity of Paris, he never returned later than five o'clock in the evening. Occasionally he preached in the chapel of the Duke of Orleans before His Royal Highness, and at such times denounced vehemently the luxury and indolence of Princes and courtiers.
There was at this time a diocese in a no less pitiable condition than was Belley when Mgr. Camus was, at the King's desire, placed in charge of it. This diocese was that of Arras, and on the 28th of May, 1650, he was appointed by Louis XIV., acting under the advice of the Queen-Regent, to administer all the affairs of the diocese until such time as a new Bishop should be nominated to the vacant See by His Majesty and our Holy Father the Pope. Into this laborious task of sowing, ploughing, cultivating a vast weed-grown, and unpromising field, Camus threw himself with all his old ardour and energy. He did so much in a very short time that his name will long be remembered among the descendants of those from whom the troubles of the times snatched him so suddenly, but not before he had bound them to France while leading them to God by bands of love stronger than citadels or garrisons.
Political disturbances and the calamities of war having prevented this indefatigable servant of God from carrying on his work at Arras, he withdrew again in the following year to the Hospital of the Incurables at Paris, there to await better times, and also doubtless the expected Bull from the Sovereign Pontiff. However, the great Rewarder called Camus to Himself before the Pope had sanctioned his appointment to the Bishopric of Arras.
But ere we close this slight sketch of the life of the good Bishop, and speak of its last scenes, we must say a word about the gigantic literary labours which occupied him more or less from the time of his retirement to the Abbey of Annay, in 1628, till his death, in 1652.
It was his great love for the Church which made him take pen in hand. Varied as were the subjects on which he wrote, his writings, whether controversial, dogmatic, devotional or even light and entertaining, had but one single aim and end—the instruction of mankind and the glorification of Catholicism.
If we bear this in mind we shall be ready to forgive the bitterness and harshness which we may admit characterised many of his writings. To reform the Monasteries of France, and to deal a death blow to the abuses which had crept into some of them, was the passionate desire of his heart.
This, and not a personal hatred of monks, as his enemies have averred, was the moving spring of his actions in this crusade of the pen. At the same time we do not deny that his natural impetuosity and keen sense of humour made him too often, in accordance with the bad taste of the day, present the abuses which he wished to reform, in so ridiculous and contemptible a light, as to provoke and irritate his enemies, perhaps unnecessarily.
Yet, if in this he showed the lack of judgment which he had years before lamented in himself, can anyone who knows what those times were, and who is as jealous for the honour of God as he was, blame him? There was another evil of the day which the good Bishop witnessed with grief and indignation, and set himself zealously to reform. This was the publishing of romances, or novels, which, as then written, could only poison the minds of their readers, inflame their passions, and weaken their sense of right and wrong. He pondered the matter, and having made up his mind that it would be absolutely useless to endeavour to hinder their being read, as this would only increase the obstinacy and perversity of those who took pleasure in them, he decided on adopting another method altogether, as he himself said, he "tried to make these poor diseased folk, with their depraved taste and morbid cravings, swallow his medicine under the disguise of sweetmeats."
That is to say, he himself began to write novels and romances for them; romances which, indeed, depicted the profligacy of the age, but in such odious colours as to inspire aversion and contempt. Vice, if described, was held up to ridicule and loathing. The interest of the story was so well kept up as to carry the reader on to the end, and that end often showed the hero or heroine so entirely disabused of the world's enchantment as to retire voluntarily into convents, in order, by an absolute devotion of the heart to God, to repair the injury done to Him, by giving to the creature the love due to Him alone.
These books passed from hand to hand in the gay world, were read, were enjoyed, and the fruit gathered from them by the reader was the conviction that God being Himself the Sovereign God, all other love but that of which He is the object and the end, is as contrary to the happiness of man as it is opposed to all the rules of justice.
Let us hear what Camus himself says as to his motive and conduct in the matter of novel writing.
"The enterprise on which I have embarked of wrestling with, or rather contending against those idle or dangerous books, which cloak themselves under the title of novels, would surely demand the hands of Briareus to wield as many pens, and the strength of Hercules to support such a burden! But what cannot courage, zeal, charity, and confidence in God accomplish?"
He goes on to say that though he sees all the difficulties ahead, his courage will not fail, for he holds his commission from a Saint, the holy Bishop of Geneva, in whose intercessions, and in the assistance of the God of Saints, he trusts, and is confident of victory.
He tells us in several of his works, and especially in his "Unknown Traveller," that it was St. Francis de Sales who first advised him to use his pen in this manner, and that for twenty-five years the Saint had been cogitating and developing this design in his brain.
In the same little pamphlet Camus points out the methods he followed as a novel writer.
"It consists," he says, "in saying only good things, dealing only with good subjects, the single aim of which is to deter from vice, and to lead on to virtue."
He was an extraordinarily prolific and rapid writer, scarcely ever correcting or polishing up anything that he had put on paper. This was a defect, but it was the natural outcome of his temperament, which was a curious combination of lightness and solidity, gaiety and severity.
Few people really understood him. He was often taken for a mere man of the world, when in truth he was one of the stoutest champions of the Church, and in his inner life, grave and ascetic, macerating his flesh like a monk of the desert. He wrote in all about 200 volumes, 50 of these being romances.
In the latter, which drew down upon him such storms of bitter invective, owing to his freedom of language in treating of the vices against which he was warning his readers, we do not pretend to admire his work, but must remind readers that his style was that of the age in which he lived, and that Camus was essentially a Parisian. We have said that he wrote at least fifty novels; we may add that each was cleverer than that which had preceded it. Forgotten now, they were at the time of their appearance eagerly devoured, and it is morally impossible but that some good should have resulted from their production.
And now old age came upon the busy writer—old age, but not the feebleness of old age, nor its privileged inaction. As he advanced in years he seemed to increase in zeal and diligence, and it was not till suddenly stricken down by a mortal malady that his labours ceased.
Then on his death-bed in a quiet corner of the Hospital for Incurables in humility, patience, and a marvellous silence, only opening his lips to speak at the desire of his confessor, calm and peaceful, his eyes fixed upon the crucifix which he held in his hands, Jean Pierre Camus gave up his soul to God. This was on the 25th of April, 1652. He was 67 years old.
He had in his will forbidden any pomp or display at his funeral, and his wishes were strictly obeyed.
Some time after his death a stone was placed by the Administrators of the Hospital over the tomb of the good Bishop, who had been so great a benefactor to that Institution, and who rests beneath the nave of its Church in the Rue de Sevres.
When he felt the first approach of illness, about six weeks before his death, he made his will, in which he left the greater part of his money to the Hospital, founding in it four beds for the Incurables of Belley.
And now our work is done.... The object has been to make John Peter Camus known as he really was, and to cleanse his memory from the stains cast upon it by the jarring passions of his contemporaries.
If we have succeeded in this the reader will recognise in him a pious Bishop, armed with the scourge of penance, an indefatigable writer in the defence of good morals, of religion, and of the Church—a reformer, and not an enemy of the Monastic Orders; finally a Prelate, who laboured all his life to copy the Holy Bishop of Geneva, whom he ever regarded as his father, his guide, and his oracle.
One word more. Those pious persons who wish to know better this true disciple of the Bishop of Geneva have nothing to do but to read the Spirit of Saint Francis de Sales. There they will see the Bishop of Belley as he really was. There they can admire his ardent piety, the candour of his soul, the fervour of his faith and charity; in a word, all that rich store of virtues which he acquired in the school of that great master of the spiritual life who was for fourteen years his Director.
[Footnote 1: In the preface of his book, entitled "Strange Occurrences."]
THE FRENCH PUBLISHER TO THE READER, 1639.
Since the holy death of Blessed Francis de Sales, Prince and Bishop of Geneva, which took place on December 28th, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, in the year 1622, many writers have taken up the pen to give the public the knowledge of the pious life and virtuous conversation of that holy Prelate, whom some have very fitly called the St. Charles of France.
The writer, however, with whom we are most concerned is Monseigneur Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley, whose work we are now introducing to our readers. After the death of Blessed Francis this faithful friend and devoted disciple was entreated, urged, conjured, in season and out of season, by an infinity of persons, to employ the literary faculty given to him by God in communicating to the world the many rare things which he had had the opportunity of observing in the life and conversation of Blessed Francis, under whose direction and discipline he had been for fourteen years.
M. Camus constantly excused himself under the plea that many had already taken the work in hand, and that he did not care to put his sickle into another man's crop, nor to make books by simply transcribing those of others, as is done by many writers of our day. At last, however, he allowed himself to be persuaded by some members of the Order of the Visitation, founded by the holy Bishop, to write the life, or, more properly speaking, to delineate the spirit of his beloved Master.
Having promised to do this, he considered that he had, at least partially, fulfilled his promise by publishing some pious Treatises conformable to the spirit of the holy Prelate. It was, however, afterwards thought better to gather up, and, as it were, glean from M. Camus' own sermons, exhortations, conferences, conversations, books, and letters, that Spirit of Blessed Francis which he had imbibed, in common with all the holy Bishop's disciples and spiritual children.
To make this collection was not difficult, because there was scarcely a sermon, conference, or spiritual lesson given by him in which he did not say something about the Saint, so deeply imbued was he with his instructions.
One of the most intimate and familiar friends of the Bishop of Belley, having given his attention to the matter, now lays before you as the result, this book to which he has given the title: The Spirit of Blessed Francis de Sales, represented in his most remarkable words and actions. This holy Bishop was mighty in works and in words; he was not one of those who say much that is good but who do not practise it. To say and to do was with him the same thing, or rather, his doing surpassed his saying....
In this collection offered to you, there is but little formal arrangement, the component parts were gathered up as they fell from the lips or the pen of Monseigneur Camus. It is a piece of mosaic work, a bouquet of various flowers, a salad of divers herbs, a banquet of many dishes, an orchard of different fruits, where each one can take what best suits his taste.
Note.—In this translation an endeavour has been made to group together the sections treating of the same subject. These are scattered, without order, through the three volumes of the French edition.
THE SPIRIT OF ST. FRANCIS DE SALES
UPON PERFECT VIRTUE.
Blessed Francis de Sales thought very little of any virtue unless it was animated by charity; following in this the teaching of St. Paul, who declares that without charity the greatest virtues are as nothing. Thus, even the faith which works miracles, the almsgiving which leads a man to sell all his goods to feed the poor, the spirit of martyrdom which impels him to give his body to be burned, all, if without charity, are nothing.
That you may clearly understand the distinction which he drew between the natural excellence of certain virtues, and the supernatural perfection which they acquire by the infusion of charity, I will give you his exact words on the subject, as they are to be found in his Treatise on the Love of God.
He says: "The light of the sun falls equally on the violet and the rose, yet will never render the former as fair as the latter, or make a daisy as lovely as a lily. If, however, the sun should shine very clearly upon the violet, and very mistily and faintly upon the rose, then without doubt it would make the violet more fair to see than the rose. So, Theotimus, if with equal charity one should suffer death by martyrdom, and another suffer only hunger by fasting, who does not see that the value of this fasting will not, on that account, be equal to that of martyrdom? No, for who would dare to affirm that martrydom is not more excellent in itself than fasting.... Still, it is true that if love be ardent, powerful, and excellent, in a heart, it will also more enrich and perfect all the virtuous works which may proceed from it. One may suffer death and fire for God, without charity, as St. Paul supposes, and as I explain elsewhere. Still more then may one suffer them with little charity. Now, I say, Theotimus, that it may come to pass that a very small virtue may be of greater value in a soul where divine love fervently reigns, than martyrdom itself in a soul where love is languishing, feeble, and dull. Thus, the least virtues of our Blessed Lady of St. John, and of other great Saints, were of more worth before God than the most exalted perfections of the rest of His servants."
[Footnote 1: 1 Cor. xiii. 1-3.] [Footnote 2: 1 Cor. xiii. 3.] [Footnote 3: Bk. xi. chap. v.]
BLESSED FRANCIS' ESTIMATE OF VARIOUS VIRTUES.
1 deg.. He preferred those virtues the practice of which is comparatively frequent, common, and ordinary, to others which we may be called upon to exercise on rare occasions.
2 deg.. He considered, as we have seen, that the degree of the supernatural in any virtue could not be decided by the greatness or smallness of the external act, since an act in itself altogether trivial, may be performed with much grace and charity, while a very brilliant and dazzling good work may be animated by but a very feeble spark of love of God, the intensity of which is, after all, the only rule by which to ascertain its true value in His sight.
3 deg.. The more universal a virtue, the more, he said, it is to be preferred before all others, charity only excepted. For instance, he valued prayer as the light which illumines all other virtues; devotion, as consecrating all our actions to God; humility, which makes us set but little value on ourselves and on our doings; meekness, which yields to all; patience, which includes everything besides. He valued these, I say, more than magnanimity, or liberality, because such virtues can be more rarely practised and they affect fewer subjects.
4 deg.. He was always on his guard against showy virtues, which of their very nature encourage vainglory, the bane of all good works.
5 deg.. He blamed those who measure virtues by the standard set up by the world, who prefer temporal to spiritual alms; haircloth, fasting, and corporal austerities to sweetness, modesty, and the mortification of the heart; virtues by far the more excellent.
6 deg.. He greatly condemned those who select the virtues most agreeable to their taste, and practise these alone, quite regardless of those which are specially adapted to their state of life. These people, indeed, serve God, but after a way of their own, not according to His will: a by no means uncommon mistake, which leads many, otherwise devout-minded, far out of the right path.
UPON THE LESSER VIRTUES.
He had a special affection for certain virtues which are passed over by some as trivial and insignificant. "Everyone," he used to say, "is eager to possess those brilliant, almost dazzling virtues which cluster round the summit of the Cross, so that they can be seen from afar and admired, but very few are anxious to gather those which, like wild thyme, grow at the foot of that Tree of Life and under its shade. Yet these are often the most hardy, and give out the sweetest perfume, being watered with the precious Blood of the Saviour, whose first lesson to His disciples was: Learn of Me because I am meek and humble of heart."
It does not belong to every one to practise the sublime virtues of fortitude, magnanimity, endurance unto death, patience, constancy, and courage. The occasions of exercising these are rare, yet all aspire to them because they are brilliant and their names high sounding. Very often, too, people fancy that they are able, even now, to practise them. They inflate their courage with the vain opinion they have of themselves, but when put to the trial fail pitiably. They are like those children of Ephrem, who distinguished themselves wonderfully by, in the time of peace, hitting the target with every arrow, but in the battle were the first to fly before the enemy. Better had their skill been less and their courage greater.
Opportunities of acquiring offices, benefices, inheritances, large sums of money, are not to be met with every day, but at any moment we may earn farthings and halfpence. By trading well on these small profits, many have in course of time grown rich. We should become spiritually wealthy and lay up for ourselves much treasure in Heaven did we employ in the service of the holy love of God, the small opportunities which are to be met with at every hour of our lives.
It is not enough to practise great virtues; they must be practised with great charity, for that it is which in the sight of God forms the basis of and gives weight and value to all good works. An act of lesser virtue (for all virtues are not of equal importance) done out of great love to God is far more excellent than a rarer and grander one done with less love.
"Look at this good soul, she gives a cup of cold water to the thirsty with such holy love that it is changed into the water of life, life eternal. The Gospel which makes light of the weightiest sums cast into the treasury, reckons of the highest value two mites offered out of a great and fervent love."
"These little homely virtues! How seldom is mention made of them! How lightly they are esteemed! Kindly concessions to the exacting temper of our neighbour, gentle tolerance of his imperfections, loving endurance of cross looks, peevish gestures, cheerfulness under contempt and small injustices, endurance of affronts, patience with importunity, doing menial actions which our social position impels us to regard as beneath us; replying amiably to some one who has given us an undeserved and sharp reproof, falling down and then bearing good humouredly the being laughed at, accepting with gentleness the refusal of a kindness, receiving a favour graciously, humbling ourselves before our equals and inferiors, keeping on kindly and considerate terms with our servants. How trivial and poor all this appears to those who have their hearts lifted up with proud aspirations. We want, they seem to say, no virtues but such as go clad in purple, and to be borne by fair winds and spreading sails towards high reputation. They forget that those who please men are not the servants of God, and that the friendship of the world and its applause are worth nothing and less than nothing in His sight."
[Footnote 1: Matt. xi. 29.] [Footnote 2: Cf. Treatise on the Love of God. Bk. iii. c. ii.] [Footnote 3: Cf. The Devout Life. Part iii. c, i., ii., and vi.]
UPON INCREASE OF FAITH.
Lord, I believe, help my unbelief! Lord, increase the Faith in us! And how is this increase of Faith to be brought about? In the same way, assuredly, as the strength of the palm tree grows with the load it has to bear, or as the vine profits by being pruned.
A stoic philosopher remarked very truly that virtue languishes when it has nothing to overcome. What does a man know until he is tempted?
Our Blessed Father when visiting the bailiwick of Gex, which adjoins the city of Geneva, in order to re-establish the Catholic religion in some parishes, declared that his Faith gained new vigour through his intercourse with the heretics of those parts, who were sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death.
He expresses his feelings on this subject in one of his letters: "Alas! in this place I see poor wandering sheep all around me; I approach them and marvel at their evident and palpable blindness. O my God! the beauty of our holy Faith then appears by comparison so entrancing that I would die for love of it, and I feel that I ought to lock up the precious gift which God has given me in the innermost recesses of a heart all perfumed with devotion. My dearest daughter, I thank the sovereign Light which shed its rays so mercifully into this heart of mine, that the more I go among those who are deprived of Faith, the more clearly and vividly I see its magnificence and its inexpressible, yet most desirable, sweetness."
In order to make great progress in the spirit of Faith, which is that of Christian perfection, Blessed Francis was not satisfied with simple assent to all those truths which are divinely revealed, or with submission to the will of God as taught in them, he wanted more than this. It was his desire that we should be actuated in all our dealings by the spirit of Faith, as far at least as that is possible, so as to arrive at last at that summit of perfect charity which the Apostle calls the more excellent way, and of which he says that he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.
[Footnote 1: St. Francis de Sales was spoken of as Our Blessed Father, not only by the Visitation Nuns, but in the whole neighbourhood of Annecy.] [Footnote 2: Cf. The Depositions of St. Chantal. Point 24th.]
UPON TEMPTATIONS AGAINST FAITH.
He who is not tempted what knows he? says Holy Scripture. God is faithful, and will not permit us to be tempted beyond our strength; nay, if we are faithful to Him, He enables us to profit by our tribulation. He not only helps us, but He makes us find our help in the tribulation itself, in which, thinking we were perishing, we cried out to Him to save us.
Those who imagine themselves to be in danger of losing the Faith, when the temptations suggested to them by the enemy against this virtue, harass and distress them, understand very little of the nature of temptations. For, besides that temptation cannot harm us, as long as it is displeasing to us, which is the teaching of one of the early Fathers, it actually, in such case, produces an absolutely contrary effect to what we fear, and to the aim of our adversary, the devil. For just as the palm tree takes deeper and stronger root, the more it is tossed and shaken by the winds and storms, so the more we are tossed by temptation, the more firmly are we settled in that virtue which the temptation was striving to overthrow.
As we see from the lives of the Saints, the most chaste are those who oppose the greatest resistance to the goad of sensuality, and the most patient are those who struggle the most earnestly against impatience. It is for this reason that Holy Scripture says: Happy is he who suffers temptation, since, after his trial, the crown of life awaits him.
In this way the more violent are the temptations against Faith with which a soul is troubled, the more deeply does that virtue bury itself in the heart, and is there held all the more tightly and closely, because of our fear lest it escape.
Blessed Francis provides us in one of his letters with three excellent means of resisting and overcoming temptations against Faith. The first, is to despise all the suggestions of the Evil One. They are outside and before our heart rather than within it, for there peace maintains its hold, though in great bitterness. This so exasperates our proud enemy, who is king over all the children of pride, that, seeing himself disdained, he withdraws.
The second is not to fight against this temptation by contrary acts of the understanding, but by those of the will, darting forth a thousand protestations of fidelity to the truths which God reveals to us by His Church. These acts of Faith, supernatural as they are, soon reduce to ashes all the engines and machinations of the enemy.
Our Saint gives us his third means, the use of the discipline, saying that this bodily suffering serves as a diversion to trouble of mind, and adds that the devil, seeing the flesh, which is his partisan and confederate, thus maltreated, is terrified and flies away. This is to act like that King of Moab, who brought about the raising of the siege of his city, by sacrificing his son on the walls, in the sight of his enemies, so that, panic-stricken, with horror at a sight so appalling, they took at once to flight.
[Footnote 1: James i. 12.]
UPON THE SAME SUBJECT.
When the tempter sees that our heart is so firmly established in grace that we flee from sin as from a serpent, and that its very shadow, which is temptation, frightens us, he contents himself with disquieting us, seeing that he cannot make us yield to his will.
In order to effect this, he stirs up a heap of trivial temptations, which he throws like dust into our eyes, so as to make us unhappy, and to render the path of virtue less pleasant to us.
We must take up shield and sword to arm ourselves against great temptations; but there are many trivial and ordinary ones which are better driven away by contempt than by any other means.
We arm ourselves against wolves and bears; but who would condescend to do so against the swarms of flies which torment us in hot weather? Our Blessed Father, writing to one who was sorrowful and disquieted at finding herself assailed by temptations against Faith, though these were most hateful and tormenting to her, expresses himself thus:
"Your temptations against Faith have come back again, even though you never troubled yourself to answer them. They importune you again, but still you do not answer.
"Well, my daughter, all this is as it should be: but you think too much about them; you fear them too much; you dread them too much. Were it not for that, they would do you no harm. You are too sensitive to temptations. You love the Faith, and would not willingly suffer a single thought contrary to it to enter your mind; but the moment one so much as occurs to you you are saddened and troubled by it.
"You are too jealous of your purity of Faith. You fancy that everything that touches it must taint it.
"No, my daughter, let the wind blow, and do not think that the rustling of the leaves is the clash of arms. A little while ago I was standing near some beehives, and some of the bees settled on my face. I wanted to brush them off with my hand. 'No,' said a peasant to me, 'do not be afraid, and do not touch them, then they will not sting you at all; but if you touch them they will half devour you.' I took his advice, and not one stung me.
"Believe me, if you do not fear these temptations, they will not harm you; pass on and pay no heed to them."
UPON CONFIDENCE IN GOD.
On this subject I must relate a charming little instance of our Blessed Father's perfect confidence in God, of which he told me once with his accustomed simplicity, to the great consolation of my soul, and one which I was delighted afterwards to find related in a letter addressed to one of his most intimate friends.
"Yesterday," he said, "wishing to pay a visit to the Archbishop of Vienne, I went on the lake in a little boat, and felt very happy in the thought that my sole protection, besides a thin plank, was Divine Providence. The wind was high, and I was glad, too, to feel entirely under the command of the pilot, who made us all sit perfectly still; and, indeed, I had no wish to stir! Do not, however, my daughter, take these words of mine as proofs of my being very holy. No, they are only little imaginary virtues which I amuse myself by fancying I possess. When it comes to real earnest, I am by no means so brave."
The simplicity of the Saint's thoughts when on the water, and of his way of mentioning them, shows how childlike was his trust in God. It reminds one of the happiness with which St. John leaned upon the Saviour's breast. A saying, too, of Saint Teresa which I have read in her life comes to my mind. She declared she was never more absolutely content than when she found herself in some peril which obliged her to have recourse to God; because then it seemed to her that she was clinging more closely to His holy presence, and saying to Him, as did Jacob to the Angel, that she would not let Him go until He had blessed her.
OUR MISERY APPEALS TO GOD'S MERCY.
To a soul overwhelmed by the consideration of its infidelities and miseries he wrote these words of marvellous consolation.
"Your miseries and infirmities ought not to astonish you. God has seen many and many a one as wretched as you, and His mercy never turns away the unhappy. On the contrary, by means of their wretchedness, He seeks to do them good, making their abjection the foundation of the throne of His glory. As Job's patience was enthroned on a dung-hill, so God's mercy is raised upon the wretchedness of man; take away man's misery, and what becomes of God's mercy?"
Elsewhere he writes: "What does our Lord love to do with His gift of eternal life, but to bestow it on souls that are poor, feeble, and of little account in their own eyes? Yes, indeed, dearly beloved children, we must hope, and that with great confidence, to live throughout a happy eternity. The greater our misery the greater should be our confidence." These, indeed, are his very words in his second conference.
Again in one of his letters he says: "Why? What would this good and all-merciful God do with His mercy; this God, whom we ought so worthily to honour for His goodness? What, I say, would He do with it if He did not share it with us, miserable as we are? If our wants and imperfections did not serve as a stage for the display of His graces and favours, what use would He make of this holy and infinite perfection?"
This is the lesson left us by our Blessed Father, and we ought, indeed, to hope with that lively hope animated by love, without which none can be saved. And this lively hope, what is it, but a firm and unwavering confidence that we shall, through God's grace and God's mercy, attain to the joy of heaven, which, being infinite, is boundless and unmeasurable.
Distrust of self and confidence in God are the two mystic wings of the dove; that is to say, of the soul which, having learnt to be simple, takes its flight and rests in God, the great and sovereign object of its love, of its flight, and of its repose.
The Spiritual Combat, which is an excellent epitome of the science of salvation and of heavenly teaching, makes these two things, distrust of self and confidence in God, to be, as it were, the introduction to true wisdom: they are, the author tells us, the two feet on which we walk towards it, the two arms with which we embrace it, and the two eyes with which we perceive it.
In proportion to the growth of one of these two in us is the increase of the other; the greater or the less the degree of our self-distrust, the greater or the less the degree of our confidence in God. But whence springs this salutary distrust of self? From the knowledge of our own misery and vileness, of our weakness and impotence, of our malice and levity. And whence proceeds confidence In God? From the knowledge which faith gives us of His infinite goodness, and from our assurance that He is rich in mercy to all those who call upon Him.
If distrust and confidence seem incompatible with one another, listen to what our Blessed Father says on the subject: "Not only can the soul which knows her misery have great confidence in God, but unless she has such knowledge, it is impossible for her to have true confidence in Him; for it is this very knowledge and confession of our misery which brings us to God. Thus, all the great Saints, Job, David, and the rest, began every prayer with the confession of their own misery, and unworthiness. It is a very good thing to acknowledge ourselves to be poor, vile, abject, and unworthy to appear in the presence of God. That saying so celebrated among the ancients: Know thyself, even though it may be understood as referring to the knowledge of the greatness and excellence of the soul, which ought not to be debased or profaned by things unworthy of its nobility, may also be taken as referring to the knowledge of our personal unworthiness, imperfection, and misery. Now the greater our knowledge of our own misery the more profound will be our confidence in the goodness and mercy of God; for between mercy and misery there is so close a connection that the one cannot be exercised without the other. If God had not created man, He would still, indeed, have been perfect in goodness; but He would not have been actually merciful, since mercy can only be exercised towards the miserable. You see, then, that the more miserable we know ourselves to be the more occasion we have to confide in God, since we have nothing in ourselves in which we can trust."
He goes on to say: "It is a very good thing to mistrust ourselves, but at the same time how will that avail us, unless we put our whole confidence in God, and wait for His mercy? It is right that our daily faults and infidelities should cause us self-reproach when we would appear before our Lord; and we read of great souls, like St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa, who, when they had been betrayed into some fault, were overwhelmed with confusion. Again, it is reasonable that, having offended God, we should out of humility and a feeling of confusion, hold ourselves a little in the background. When we have offended even an earthly friend, we feel ashamed to meet him. Nevertheless, it is quite certain that we must not remain for long at a distance, for the virtues of humility, abjection, and confusion are intermediate virtues, or steps by which the soul ascends to union with her God.
"It would be no great gain to accept our nothingness as a fact and to strip ourselves of self (which is done by acts of self-humiliation) if the result of this were not the total surrender of ourselves to God. St. Paul teaches us this, when he says: Strip yourselves of the old man and put on the new. For we must not remain unclothed; but clothe ourselves with God."
Further on our Saint says: "I ever say that the throne of God's mercy is our misery, therefore the greater our misery the greater should be our confidence."
As regards the foundation of our confidence in God, he says in the same conference: "You wish further to know what foundation our confidence ought to have. Know, then, that it must be grounded on the infinite goodness of God, and on the merits of the Death and Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ with this condition on our part that we should preserve and recognise in ourselves an entire and firm resolution to belong wholly to God, and to abandon ourselves in all things and without any reserve to His Providence."
He adds that, in order to belong wholly to God, it is not necessary to feel this resolution, because feeling resides chiefly in the lower faculties of the soul; but we must recognise it in the higher part of the soul, that purer and more serene region where even in spite of our feelings we fail not to serve God in spirit and in truth.
[Footnote 1: Col. iii. 9.] [Footnote 2: Conference ii.]
UPON THE JUSTICE AND MERCY OF GOD.
You ask me a question which would be hard for me to answer had I not the mind of our Blessed Father to guide and assist me in the matter.
You say: Whence comes it that Almighty God treated the rebel Angels with so much severity, showing them no mercy whatever, and providing for them no remedy to enable them to rise again after their fall; whereas to men He is so indulgent, patient towards their malice, waiting for them to repent, long suffering, and magnificent in His mercy, bestowing on them the copious Redemption of the Saviour?
Well, He tells us in his Treatise on the Love of God that: "The angelic nature could only commit sin from positive malice, without temptation or motive to excuse, even partially. Nevertheless, the far greater part of the Angels remained constant in the service of their Saviour. Therefore God, who had so amply glorified His mercy in the work of the creation of the Angels, would also magnify His justice; and in His righteous indignation resolved for ever to abandon that accursed band of traitors, who in their rebellion had so villainously abandoned Him."
On man, however, He took pity for several reasons. First, because the tempter by his cunning had deceived our first father, Adam; secondly, because the spirit of man is encompassed by flesh and consequently by infirmity; thirdly, because his spirit, enclosed as it is in an earthly body, is frail as the vessel which enshrines it, easily overbalanced by every breath of wind, and unable to right itself again; fourthly, because the temptation in the Garden of Eden was great and over-mastering; fifthly, because He had compassion on the posterity of Adam, which otherwise would have perished with him; but the sixth, and principal cause was this: Almighty God having resolved to take on Himself our human nature in order to unite it to the Divine Person of the Word, He willed to favour very specially this nature for the sake of that hypostatic union, which was to be the masterpiece of all the communications of Almighty God to His creatures.
Do not, however, imagine that God so willed to magnify His mercy in the redemption of man that He forgot the claims of His justice. No, truly; for no severity can equal that which He displayed in the sufferings of His Son, on whose sacred Head having laid the iniquities of us all, He poured out a vengeance commensurate with His Divine wrath.
If, then, we weigh the severity displayed by God towards the rebel Angels against that with which He treated His Divine Son when redeeming mankind, we shall find His justice more abundantly satisfied in the atonement made by the One than in the rigorous punishment of the others. In fine here, as always, His mercy overrides His judgments, inasmuch as the fallen Angels are punished far less than they deserve, and the faithful are rewarded far beyond their merits.
[Footnote 1: Bk. ii c. iv.]
WAITING UPON GOD.
On this subject of waiting upon God I remember hearing from Blessed Francis two wonderful explanations. You, my dear sisters, will, I am sure, be glad to have them, and will find them of great use, seeing that your life, nailed as it is with Jesus Christ to the Cross, must be one of great long-suffering.
He thus interpreted that verse of the Psalmist: With expectation have I waited on the Lord, and He was attentive to me.
"To wait, waiting," he said, "is not to fret ourselves while we are waiting. For there are some who in waiting do not wait, but are troubled and impatient."
Those who have to wait soon get weary, and from weariness springs that disturbance of mind so common amongst them. Hence the inspired saying that Hope that is deferred afflicteth the soul. Of all kinds of patience there is none more fitting to tedious waiting than longanimity. Strength is developed in dangers; patience drives away the sadness caused by suffering; constancy avails for the bearing of great evils; perseverance for the carrying out a good work to its completion; but longanimity has to do with sufferings which are painful because they are long enduring.
Such pains are tedious, but not often violent, for violent sufferings are, as a rule, not lasting; either they pass away, or he on whom they are inflicted, being unable to bear them, is set free by death. To wait, indeed, for deliverance from evils quietly, but without any anguish or irritation, at least in the superior part of the soul, is to wait, waiting. Happy are those who wait in this manner, for their hope shall not be confounded. Of them the Psalmist says that God will remember them, that He will grant their prayers, and that He will deliver them from the pit of misery. Those who act otherwise, and who in their adversity give themselves up to impatience, only aggravate their yoke, instead of lightening it.
They are like the bird which beats its wings against the wrist or perch on which it is poised, but cannot get free from its chain.
Wise Christians making a virtue of necessity and wishing what God wishes, make that which is necessary voluntary, and turn their suffering to their eternal advantage.
[Footnote 1: Psalm xxxix, i.] [Footnote 2: Psalm xiii. 13.] [Footnote 3: Psalm xxxix. 3.]
UPON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A HOLY DESIRE OF REWARD AND A MERCENARY SPIRIT.
I am asked if there is not something of a mercenary spirit in these words of our Blessed Father: "Oh, how greatly to be loved is the eternity of Heaven, and how contemptible are the fleeting moments of earth! Aspire continually to this eternity, and despise heartily this decaying world."
You will observe, if you please, that there is a great deal of difference between a proper desire of reward and a mercenary habit of mind. The proper desire of recompense is one which looks principally to the glory of God, and to that glory refers its own reward. A habit of mind which, according to the teaching of the Holy Council of Trent, is most excellent.
But a mercenary habit of mind is shown when we stop short voluntarily, deliberately, and maliciously at our own self-interest, neglecting and putting on one side the interests of God, and when we look forward only to the honours, satisfactions, and delights given to the faithful, and exclude, as it were, the tribute of glory and homage which they render for them to God.
As regards these words of our Blessed Father's, I am perfectly certain that, whatever they may at first sight seem to mean, they are assuredly the expression of thoughts, utterly unselfish, and totally devoid of the spirit of self-seeking. He had written just before: "Take good heed not to come to the feast of the Holy Cross, which is a million times fuller of exquisite pleasures than any wedding feast, without having on the white robe, spotless, and pure from all intentions save that of pleasing the Lamb."
Again, I should like to read to you an extract from one of his letters, in which you will see that he knew how to distinguish, even in Paradise, our interests from those of God: So pure and penetrating was his sight that it resembled that single eye of which the Gospel speaks, which fills us with light and discernment in things spiritual and divine. He speaks thus in his letter: "I have not been able to think of anything this morning save of the eternity of blessings which awaits us. And yet all appear to me as little or nothing beside that unchanging and ever-present love of the great God, which reigns continually in Heaven. For truly I think that the joys of Paradise would be possible, in the midst of all the pains of hell, if the love of God could be there. And if hell-fire were a fire of love, it seems to me that its torments would be the most desirable of good things. All the delights of Heaven are in my eyes a mere nothing compared with this triumphant love. Truly, we must either die or love God. I desire that my heart should either be torn from my body or that if it remains with me it should hold nothing but this holy love. Ah! We must truly give our hearts up to our immortal King, and thus being closely united to Him, live solely for Him. Let us die to ourselves and to all that depends on ourselves. It seems to me that we ought to live only for God. The very thought of this fills my heart once more with courage and fervour. After all, that our Lord is our Lord is the one thing in the world that really concerns us."
Again, in his Theotimus, he says:
"The supreme motive of our actions, which is that of heavenly love, has this sovereign property, that being most pure, it makes the actions which proceed from it most pure; so that the Angels and Saints of Heaven love absolutely nothing for any other end whatever than that of the love of the Divine goodness, and from the motive of desiring to please God. They all, indeed, love one another most ardently; they also love us, they love the virtues, but all this only to please God. They follow and practise virtues, not inasmuch as these virtues are fair and attractive to them; but inasmuch as they are agreeable to God. They love their own felicity, not because it is theirs, but because it pleases God. Yea, they love the very love with which they love God, not because it is in them, but because it tends to God; not because they have and possess it, but because God gives it to them, and takes His good pleasure in it."
[Footnote 1: De Justificat, cap. 12.] [Footnote 2: Matt. vi. 22.] [Footnote 3: Bk. xi. 13.]
CONTINUATION OF THE SAME SUBJECT.
There are some gloomy minds which imagine that when the motive of charity and disinterested love is insisted upon all other motives are thereby depreciated, and that it is wished to do away with them. But does he who praises one Saint blame the others? If we extol the Seraphim, do we on that account despise all the lower orders of Angels? Does the man who considers gold more precious than silver say that silver is nothing at all? Are we insulting the stars when we admire and praise the sun? And do we despise marriage because we put celibacy above it?
It is true that, as the Apostle says, charity is the greatest of all virtues, without which the others have neither life nor soul; but that does not prevent these others from being virtues, and most desirable as good habits. In doing virtuous actions the motive of charity is, indeed, the king of all motives; but blessed also are all those inferior motives which are subject to it. We may truly say of them what the Queen of Sheba said of the courtiers of Solomon: Happy are thy men who always stand before thee and hear thy wisdom.
Nay, even servile and mercenary motives, although interested, may yet be good, provided they have nothing in them that cannot be referred to God. They are good in those who have not charity, preparing them for the reception of justifying grace. They are also good in the regenerate, and are compatible with charity, like servants and slaves in the service and households of the great. For it is right, however regenerate we may be, to abstain from sin, not only for fear of displeasing God, but also for fear of losing our souls. The Council of Trent tells us that we are not doing ill when we perform good works primarily in order to glorify God; and also, as an accessory, with a view to the eternal reward which God promises to those who shall do such in His love and for His love. In great temptations, for fear of succumbing, the just may with advantage call to their aid the thought of hell, thereby to save themselves from eternal damnation and the loss of Paradise. But the first principles of the doctrine of salvation teach us that, to avoid evil and do good, simply from the motive of pure and disinterested love of God, is the most perfect and meritorious mode of action.
What! say some:—Must we cease to fear God and to hope in Him? What, then, becomes of acts of holy fear, and of the virtue of hope? If a mother were to abuse the doctor who had restored her child to life, would it not excite a strong suspicion that it was she herself who had attempted to smother it? Did not she who said to Solomon: Let it be divided, show herself to be the false mother? They who are so much attached to servile fear can have no real desire to attain to that holy, pure, loving, reverent fear which leads to everlasting rest, and which the Saints and Angels practise through all eternity.
Let us listen to what Blessed Francis further says on this subject.
"When we were little children, how eagerly and busily we used to collect tiny scraps of cloth, bits of wood, handfuls of clay, to build houses and make little boats! And if any one destroyed these wonderful erections, how unhappy we were; how bitterly we cried! But now we smile when we think how trivial it all was.
"Well," he goes on to say, "let us, since we are but children, be pardoned if we act as such; but, at the same time, do not let us grow cold and dull in our work. If any one knocks over our little houses, and spoils our small plans, do not let us now be unhappy or give way altogether on that account. The less so because when the evening comes, and we need a roof, I mean when death is at hand, these poor little buildings of ours will be quite unfit to shelter us. We must then be safely housed in our Father's Mansion, which is the Kingdom of His well-beloved Son."
[Footnote 1: 2 Paral. ix. 7.] [Footnote 2: 1 Kings iii. 26.]
GOD SHOULD SUFFICE FOR US ALL.
A person of some consideration, and one who made much profession of living a devout life, was overtaken by sudden misfortune, which deprived her of almost all her wealth and left her plunged in grief. Her distress of mind was so inconsolable that it led her to complain of the Providence of God, who appeared, she said, to have forgotten her. All her faithful service and the purity of her life seemed to have been in vain.
Blessed Francis, full of compassionate sympathy for her misfortunes, and anxious to turn her thoughts from the contemplation of herself and of earthly things, to fix them on God, asked her if He was not more to her than anything; nay, if, in fact, God was not Himself everything to her; and if, having loved Him when He had given her many things, she was not now ready to love Him, though she received nothing from Him. She, however, replying that such language was more speculative than practical, and easier to speak than to carry into effect, he wound up by saying, with St. Augustine: Too avaricious is that heart to which God does not suffice. "Assuredly, he who is not satisfied with God is covetous indeed." This word covetous produced a powerful effect upon the heart of one who, in the days of her prosperity, had always hated avarice, and had been most lavish in her expenditure, both on her own needs and pleasures and on works of mercy. It seemed as if suddenly the eyes of her soul were opened, and she saw how admirable, how infinitely worthy of love God ever remained, whether with those things she had possessed or without them. So, by degrees, she forgot herself and her crosses; grace prevailed, and she knew and confessed that God was all in all to her. Such efficacy have a Saint's words, even if unpremeditated.
CHARITY THE SHORT ROAD TO PERFECTION.
Blessed Francis, in speaking of perfection, often remarked that, although he heard very many people talking about it, he met with very few who practised it. "Many, indeed," he would say, "are so mistaken in their estimate of what perfection is, that they take effects for the cause, the rivulet for the spring, the branches for the root, the accessories for the principle, and often even the shadow for the substance."
For myself, I know of no Christian perfection other than to love God with our whole heart and our neighbour as ourselves. All other perfection is falsely so entitled: it is sham gold that does not stand testing.
Charity is the only bond between Christians, the only virtue which unites us absolutely to God, and our neighbour.
In charity lies the end of every perfection and the perfection of every end. I know that mortification, prayer, and the other exercises of virtue, are all means to perfection, provided that they are practised in charity, and from the motive of charity. But we must never regard any of these means towards attaining perfection as being in themselves perfection. This would be to stop short on the road, and in the middle of the race, instead of reaching the goal.
The Apostle exhorts us, indeed, to run, but so as to carry off the prize, which is for those only who have breath enough to reach the end of the course.
In a word, all our actions must be done in charity if we wish to walk in a manner, as says St. Paul, worthy of God; that is to say, to hasten on towards perfection.
Charity is the way of true life; it is the truth of the living way; it is the life of the way of truth. All virtue is dead without it: it is the very life of virtue. No one can reach the last and supreme end, God Himself, without charity; it is the way to Him. There is no true virtue without charity, says St. Thomas; it is the very truth of virtue.
In conclusion, and in answer to my repeated question as to how we were to go to work in order to attain to this perfection, this supreme love of God and of our neighbour, our Blessed Father said that we must use exactly the same method as we should in mastering any ordinary art or accomplishment. "We learn," he said, "to study by studying, to play on the lute by playing, to dance by dancing, to swim by swimming. So also we learn to love God and our neighbour by loving them, and those who attempt any other method are mistaken."