Being careful but not anxious for our own honor

August 17, 2021 • 3 min

From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 104
By St. Francis de Sales

True goodness is proved like true balm: for as balm, when dropped into water, if it sinks and rests at the bottom, is accounted the most excellent and precious; so if you would know whether a man is truly wise, learned, or generous, observe if his qualifications tend to humility, modesty, and submission, for then they shall be good indeed; but if they swim on the surface, and strive to appear above water, they shall be so much the less true, in proportion as they are high.

As pearls that are formed during storms and thunder have nothing of the substance, but only the outside appearance of pearl, so the virtues and good qualities of men that are bred and nourished by pride, ostentation, and vanity, have nothing but the appearance of good, without any solidity.

Honours, rank, and dignities are like saffron, which thrives best and grows most plentifully when trodden under foot. It is no honour to be beautiful when a man prizes himself for it: beauty, to be pleasing, should be neglected; and learning is a disgrace to us, when it puffs us up and degenerates into pedantry.

If we are exceedingly anxious for places, precedence, and titles, in addition to exposing our qualities to be examined, tried, and contradicted, we render them vile and contemptible; for, as honour is beautiful when freely given, so it becomes base when exacted or sought after.

When the peacock spreads his tail to admire himself, in raising up his beautiful feathers, he ruffles all the rest and discovers his deformities.

Flowers that are fair whilst they grow in the earth wither and fade when handled; and as they who smell the mandrake at a distance, or only in passing by, perceive a most agreeable odour, whilst they who smell it very near, and for a long time, become sick and stupefied, so honours give a pleasant satisfaction to those that smell them slightly and afar off, without stopping to amuse themselves with them, or being earnest about them; but such as seek after them, or feed on them are exceedingly blamable, and worthy of reprehension.

The pursuit and love of virtue tend to make us virtuous; but the pursuit and love of honour make us contemptible and worthy of blame.

Generous minds do not amuse themselves with the petty toys of rank, honour, and salutation: they have other things to do; such baubles only belong to degenerate spirits.

He that can have pearls never loads himself with shells; and such as aspire to virtue do not trouble themselves about honours.

Everyone, indeed, may take and keep his own place without prejudice to humility, so that it be done carelessly, and without ostentation. For as they that come from Peru, besides gold and silver, bring also from thence apes and parrots, because they neither cost much nor are burdensome, so such as aspire to virtue refuge not the rank and honours due to them, provided it does not cost them too much care and attention, nor involve them in trouble, anxiety, or contentions.

Nevertheless, I do not here allude to those whose dignity concerns the public, nor to certain particular occasions of importance; for in these everyone ought to keep what belongs to him with prudence and discretion, accompanied by charity and suavity of manners.

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