St. Francis de Sales on Love of God being greater than Faith and Hope

December 15, 2021 • 6 min

From The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, page 70
By His friend, Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley

How Charity excels both Faith and Hope.

Not only did Blessed Francis consider it intolerable that moral virtues should be held to be comparable to Charity, but he was even unwilling that Faith and Hope, excellent, supernatural, and divinely infused though they be, should be reckoned to be of value without Charity, or even when compared with it.

In this he only echoed the thought and words of the great Apostle St. Paul, who in his first Epistle to the Corinthians writes: Faith, Hope, and Charity are three precious gifts, but the greatest of these 1s Charity.

Faith, it is true, is love, “a love of the mind for the beautiful in the divine Mysteries,” as our Blessed Father says in his Treatise on the Love of God, [Book ii. 13.] but “the motions of love which forerun the act of faith required from our justification are either not love properly speaking, or but a beginning and imperfect love,” which inclines the soul to acquiesce in the truths proposed for its acceptance.

Hope, too, is love, “a love for the useful in the goods which are promised in the other life.” [Book i. c. 5.] “It goes, indeed, to God but it returns to us; its sight is turned upon the divine goodness, yet with some respect to our own profit.”

“In Hope love is imperfect because it does not tend to God’s infinite goodness as being such in itself, but only because it is so to us. … In real truth no one is able by virtue of this love either to keep God’s commandments or obtain life everlasting, because it is a love that yields more affection than effect when it is not accompanied by Charity.” [Book ii. 17.]

But the perfect love of God, which is only to be found in Charity, is a disinterested love, which loves the sovereign goodness of God in Himself and for His sake only, without any aim except that He may be that which He is, eternally loved, glorified, and adored, because He deserves to be so, as St. Thomas says. And it is in the fact that it attains more perfectly its final end that its pre-eminence consists.

This is very clearly shown by Blessed Francis in the same Treatise where he tells us that Eternal life or Salvation is shown to Faith, and is prepared for Hope, but is given only to Charity.

Faith points out the way to the land of promise as a pillar of cloud and of fire, that is, light and dark; Hope feeds us with its manna of sweetness, but Charity actually introduces us into it, like the Ark of the Covenant, which leads us dry-shod through the Jordan, that is, through the judgment, and which shall remain amidst the people in the heavenly land promised to the true Israelites, where neither the pillar of Faith serves as a guide, nor the manna of Hope is needed as food. [Book i. 6.]

That which an ancient writer said of poverty, that it was a great good, yet very little known as such, can be said with far more reason of Charity. It is a hidden treasure, a pearl shut up in its shell, and of which few know the value.

The heretics of the present day profess themselves content with a dead Faith, to which they attribute all their justice and their salvation.

There are also catholics who appear to limit themselves to that interested love which is in Hope, and who serve God as mercenaries, more for their own interest than for His.

There are few who love God as He ought to be loved, that is to say, with the disinterested love of Charity.

Yet, without this wedding garment, without this oil which fed the lamps of the wise Virgins, there is no admittance to the Marriage of the Lamb.

It is here that we may sing with the Psalmist: The Lord hath looked down from Heaven upon the children of men to see if there be any that understand and seek God, that is, to know how He wishes to be served. They are all gone aside, they are become unprofitable together: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. [Psalm xiii. 2, 3.] This means that there is not one who doth good in spirit and in truth. Yet, what is serving Him in spirit and in truth but resolving to honour and obey Him, for the love of Himself, without admixture of private self-interest?

But whoever has learnt to serve God after the pattern of those His beloved ones, who worship Him in spirit and in truth, in burning Faith and Hope, animated by Charity, may be said to be of the number of the holy nation, the royal Priesthood, the chosen people, and to have entered into the sanctuary of true and Christian holinesss, of which our Blessed Father speaks thus [Book i. 12.]:

In the sanctuary was kept the ark of the covenant, and near it the tables of the law, manna in a golden vessel, and Aaron’s rod, which in one night bore flowers and fruit. And in the highest point of the soul are found:

  1. The light of Faith, figured by the manna hidden in its vessel, by which we recognize the truth of the mysteries we do not understand.

  2. The utility of Hope, represented by Aaron’s flowering and fruitful rod, by which we acquiesce in the promises of the goods which we see not.

  3. The sweetness of holy Charity, represented by God’s commandments, the keeping of which it includes, by which we acquiesce in the union of our spirit with God’s, though yet are hardly, if at all, conscious of this our happiness.

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