Lawful but dangerous Pastimes

July 2, 2021 • 7 min

From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 192
By St. Francis de Sales

Chapter XXXIII.

Balls and Pastimes which are lawful, but dangerous.

Although balls and dancing are recreations in their nature indifferent, yet according to the ordinary manner in which they are conducted they preponderate very much on the side of evil, and are consequently extremely dangerous.

Being generally carried on at night, it is by no means surprising that several vicious circumstances should obtain easy admittance, since the subject is of itself so susceptible of evil.

The lovers of these diversions, by sitting up late at night, disable themselves from discharging their duty to God on the morning of the day following. Is it not, then, a kind of madness to turn day into night, light into darkness, and good works into criminal fooleries?

Everyone strives who shall carry most vanity to the ball; and vanity is so congenial, as well to evil affections as to dangerous familiarities, that both are easily engendered by dancing.

I have the same opinion of dancing, Philothea, as physicians have of mushrooms, that the best of them, in their opinion, are good for nothing; so I tell you the best ordered balls are good for nothing.

If, nevertheless, you must eat mushrooms, be sure they are well cooked. If, upon some occasions which you cannot well avoid, you must go to a ball, see that your dancing is properly guarded. But you will ask me how must it be guarded? I answer, by modesty, dignity, and a good intention.

Eat but sparingly and seldom of mushrooms, physicians say, for, be they ever so well cooked, the quantity makes them poisonous; dance but little, and very seldom, I say, lest otherwise you put yourself in danger of contracting an affection for it.

Mushrooms, according to Pliny, being spongy and porous, easily attract infection to themselves from the things that are about them; so that being near serpents and toads they imbibe their venom.

Balls, dancing, and other nocturnal meetings, ordinarily attract together the reigning vices and sins, namely, quarrels, envy, scoffing, and impurity; and, as these exercises open the pores of the bodies of those that practise them, so they also open the pores of their souls, and expose them to the danger of some serpent, taking advantage therefrom to breathe some loose words or immodest suggestions into the ear, or of some basilisk casting an impure look or glance into the heart, which being thus opened, is easily seized upon and poisoned.

O Philothea, these idle recreations are ordinarily very dangerous; they chase away the spirit of devotion, and leave the soul in a languishing condition; they cool the fervour of charity; and excite a thousand evil affections in the soul, and therefore they ought not to be used but with the greatest caution.

But physicians say that after mushrooms we must drink good wine; and I say that after dancing it is necessary to refresh our souls with some good and holy considerations, to prevent the baneful effects of these dangerous impressions which the vain pleasure taken in it may have left in our minds.

  1. Consider that during the time you were at the ball innumerable souls were burning in the flames of hell for the sins they had committed at dancing, or which were occasioned by it.

  2. That many religious and devout persons of both sexes were at that very time in the presence of God, singing his praises, and contemplating his divine goodness, Ah! how much more profitable was their time employed than yours!

  3. That whilst you were dancing many souls departed out of this world in great anguish, and that thousands and thousands of men and women then suffered great pain in their beds, in hospitals, in the streets, from burning fevers, and other diseases. Alas! they have no rest, and will you have no compassion for them? and do you not think that you may some day groan as they did, whilst others dance as you did?

  4. That our Blessed Saviour, his Virgin Mother, the angels and saints, beheld you at the ball. Ah, how greatly did they pity you, seeing your heart pleased with so vain an amusement, and taken up with such childish toys!

  5. Alas! whilst you were there, time was passing away, and death was approaching nearer: behold how he mocks you, and invites you to his dance, in which the groans of your friends shall serve for the music, and where you shall make but one step from this life to the next. The dance of death is, alas! the true pastime of mortals, since by it we instantly pass from the vain amusements of this world to the eternal pleasures or pains of the next.

I have set down these little considerations for you; God will suggest to you many more to the like effect, provided you fear Him.


At what time we may play or dance.

In order that playing and dancing may be lawful, we must use them by way of recreation, without having any affection for them; we may use them for a short time, but not till we are wearied or stupefied by them; and we must use them but seldom, lest we should otherwise turn a recreation into an occupation. But on what occasions may we lawfully play and dance?

Lawful occasions for innocent games are frequent, whilst those for games of chance are rare, on account of their being more blamable and dangerous; therefore, in one word, dance and play as your own prudence and discretion may direct you to comply with the requests of the company in which you are; for condescension, as a branch of charity, makes indifferent things good, and even dangerous things allowable; it even takes away the harm from those things that are, in some measure, evil; and therefore games of hazard, which otherwise would be reprehensible, are not so, if we use them sometimes by a just condescension.

I was very much pleased to read, in the Life of St. Charles Borromeo, how he yielded to the Swiss in certain things, in which otherwise he was very strict; and that St. Ignatius of Loyola, being invited to play, did not refuse. As to St. Elizabeth of Hungary, she played and danced sometimes, when she was present at assemblies of recreation, without any prejudice to her devotion; for devotion was so deep in her soul, that her devotion increased amongst the pomps and vanities to which her condition exposed her. Great fires increase by the wind, but little ones are soon blown out, if they are not well protected.

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