St. Francis de Sales on love and freedom

December 5, 2021 • 5 min

From The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, page 58


All by love, nothing by constraint.

This was his favourite motto, and the mainspring of his direction of others.

He has often said to me that those who try to force the human will are exercising a tyranny which is hateful to God and man.

This was why he had such a horror of those masterful and dominant spirits which insist on being obeyed, bon gré mal gré, and would have every one give way to them. He often said:

“Those who love to make themselves feared, fear to make themselves loved; and they themselves are more fearful than anyone else: for others only fear them, but they are afraid of every one.”

I have often heard him say these striking words: "In the royal galley of divine love there is no galley-slave; all the oarsmen are volunteers.”

And he expresses the same sentiment in Theotimus, when he says:

Divine love governs the soul with an incomparable sweetness; for no one of the slaves of love is made such by force, but love brings all things under its rule, with a constraint so delightful, that as nothing is so strong as love, nothing also is so sweet as its strength.

And in another part of the same book he makes a soul, attracted by the delicious perfume shed by the divine Bridegroom on his path, say:

Let no one think that Thou draggest me after Thee like an unwilling slave or a lifeless load. Ah! no. Thou drawest me by the odour of Thine ointments; though I follow Thee, it is not that Thou draggest me, but that Thou enticest me.

Thy drawing is mighty, but not violent, since its whole force lies in its sweetness. Perfumes draw me to follow them in virtue only of their sweetness. And Sweetness, how can it attract but sweetly and pleasantly?

Following out this principle, he never gave a command even to those who were bound to obey him, whether his servants or his clergy, save in the form of a request or suggestion.

He held in special veneration, and often inculcated upon me the command of St. Peter: Feed the flock of God which is among you, not by constraint, but willingly, not for filthy lucre’s sake, neither as lording it over the clergy, but being made a pattern of virtue to the flock.

And here, my sisters, I feel that it will be for your profit, although the story is not to my own credit, to relate a circumstance which occurred in the early years of my episcopate.

I was young, impetuous, and impatient; eager to reform the abuses and disorders which from time to time I met with in my pastoral visitations. Often, too, I know, I was bitter and harsh when discouraged.

Once in a despairing mood because of the many failures I noticed in myself, and others, I poured forth my lamentations and self-accusations to our Blessed Father, who said:

What a masterful spirit you have! You want to walk upon the wings of the wind. You let yourself be carried away by your zeal, which, like a will-of-the-wisp, will surely lead you over a precipice.

Have you forgotten the warning of your patron, St. Peter, not to think you can walk in burning heat? [1 Peter iv. 12.]

Would you do more than God, and restrain the liberty of the creatures whom God has made free? You decide matters, as if the wills of your subjects were all in your own hands.

God, Who holds all hearts in His and Who searches the reins and the hearts, does not act thus.

He puts up with resistance, rebellion against His light, kicking against the goad, opposition to His inspirations, even though His Spirit be grieved thereby.

He does, indeed, suffer those to perish who through the hardness of their impenitent hearts have heaped to themselves wrath in the day of vengeance.

Yet He never wearies of calling them to Him, however often they reject His offers and say to Him, Depart from us, we will not follow Thy ways. [Job. xxi. 14.]

In this our Angel Guardians follow His example, and although we may forsake God by our iniquities, they will not forsake us as long as there is breath in our body, even though we may have fallen into sin. Do you want better examples for regulating your conduct?

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