Concerning sensual friendships

May 26, 2021 • 8 min

From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 147
By St. Francis de Sales

Chapter XVIII.

Sensual Friendship.

When these foolish friendships are kept up between persons of different sex, without intention of marriage, being but phantoms of friendship, they deserve not the name either of true friendship or true love by reason of their excessive vanity and imperfection. Now, by means of these fondnesses the hearts of men and of women are caught and entangled with each other in vain and foolish affections, founded upon these frivolous communications, and wretched complacencies, of which I have been just speaking.

And although these dangerous loves, commonly speaking, terminate at last in downright immorality, yet that is not the first design or intention of the persons between whom they are carried on, otherwise they would not be merely sensual friendships, but absolute impurity. Sometimes even many years pass before anything directly contrary to chastity happens between them, whilst they content themselves by giving to their hearts the pleasures of wishes, sighs, and such like foolish vanities.

Some have no other design than to satisfy a natural desire of affection; and these regard nothing in the choice of the objects of their love but their own taste and instinct; so that, at the first meeting with an agreeable person, without examining his interior or comportment, they begin this fond communication, and entangle themselves in these wretched nets, out of which afterwards they find great difficulty in disengaging themselves. Others suffer themselves to be carried on by the vanity of esteeming it no small glory to conquer hearts by love. Now these, aiming at glory in the choice they make, set their net and lay their snares in high, rare, and illustrious places. Others are led away at the same time, both by their amorous inclination and by vanity; for though their hearts are altogether inclined to love, nevertheless they will not engage themselves in it without some advantage of glory. Such affections are all criminal, foolish, and vain: criminal, because they usually terminate in great sin, and because they rob God, the wife, or the husband of that love, and consequently of that heart which belonged to them; foolish, because they have neither foundation nor reason; vain, because they yield neither profit, honour, nor content; on the contrary, they are attended by loss of time, are prejudicial to honour, and bring no other pleasure than that of an eagerness in pretending and hoping, without knowing what they would have, or what they would pretend to. For these wretched and weak minds still imagine they have something, they know not what to hope for, from the testimonies given them of reciprocal love, and yet they cannot tell what this is; the desire of which can never end, but goes on continually, oppressing their hearts with perpetual distrusts, jealousies, and inquietudes.

St. Gregory Nazianzen, in his discourse addressed, indeed, to vain women, yet also suitable for men, says: “Thy natural beauty is sufficient for thy husband; but if it be for many men, like a net spread out for a flock of birds, what will be the consequence? He shall be pleasing to thee who shall please himself with thy beauty; thou wilt return him glance for glance, look for look; presently will follow smiles and little amorous words, dropping by stealth at the beginning, but soon after becoming more familiar, and passing on to open courtship. Take heed, oh, my talking tongue, of telling what will follow; yet, will I say this one truth: nothing of all those things which young men and women say and do together in these foolish complacencies is exempted from grievous stings. All the links of wanton loves hold one to another, as one piece of iron touched by the loadstone draws divers others after it.”

Oh, how wisely has this great bishop spoken? What is it you think to do? To give love? No; for no one gives love voluntarily that does not receive it necessarily. He that catches in this chase is likewise caught himself. Our hearts, as soon as they see a soul inflamed with love for them, are presently set on fire with love for it. But someone will say, I am willing to entertain some of this love, but not too much. Alas! you deceive yourself, the fire of love is more active and penetrating than you imagine; you think to receive but a spark, and will wonder to see it in a moment take possession of your whole heart, reduce all your resolutions to ashes, and your reputation to smoke. “Who will have pity on a charmer struck by a serpent?” (Eccles. xii. 13). And I also, like unto the wise man, cry out, Oh foolish and senseless people, think you to charm love in such a manner as to be able to manage it at your pleasure? You would play with it, but it will sting and torment you cruelly; and do you not know that everyone will laugh at and deride you for attempting to charm or tie down love, and on a false pretence put into your bosom a dangerous serpent which has undermined and destroyed both your soul and your honour.

Good God! what blindness is this, to play away thus at hazard against such frivolous stakes, the principal power of our soul? Yes, Philothea, for God regards man only for his soul; his soul only for his will; his will only for his love. Alas! we have not nearly as much love as we stand in need of—I mean to say that we fall infinitely short of having sufficient wherewith to love God; and yet, wretches as we are, we lavish it foolishly on vain and frivolous things, as if we had some to spare. Ah! this great God, who hath reserved to Himself the whole love of our souls in acknowledgment of our creation, preservation, and redemption, will exact a most strict account of all these criminal deductions we make from it; for, if He will examine so rigorously into our idle words, how strictly will He not examine into our impertinent, foolish, and pernicious loves?

The walnut-tree is very prejudicial to the vines and fields wherein it is planted; because, being so large, it attracts all the moisture of the surrounding earth, and renders it incapable of nourishing the other plants; the leaves are also so thick that they make a large and close shade; and, lastly, it allures passers-by to it who, to beat down the fruit, spoil and trample upon all about it. These sensual friendships cause the same injury to the soul, for they possess her in such a manner, and so strongly draw her emotions to themselves, that she has no strength left to produce good works; the leaves, that is, idle talk, amusements, and dalliance, are so frequent, that all leisure time is squandered away on them; and, finally, they beget so many temptations, distractions, suspicions, and other evil consequences, that the whole heart is trampled down and destroyed by them. In a word, these sensual friendships not only banish heavenly love, but also the fear of God from the soul; they waste the spirit, and ruin the reputation; they are the sport of the world and the plague of hearts.

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