Francis on the Special Virtues of Particular Saints

This post continues the theme from the previous post, on the unique character of each saint, who is distinguished by particular virtues. St. Francis de Sales has the same understanding. "We say some were saved by faith, others by giving alms, others by temperance, prayer, humility, hope, chastity, because the acts of these virtues shown forth in these saints" (Treatise on the Love of God, Book 11, Ch. 4). Of course, each virtue is valued to the degree that the divine love shines in it: "After we have extolled these particular virtues we must refer all their honor to divine love, which gives to each of them all the sanctity they have."

St. Francis recommends the practice generally of choosing a virtue at which especially to aim, though naturally not to the exclusion of other: "It is well for everybody to select some special virtue at which to aim, not as neglecting any others, but as an object and pursuit to the mind" (Introduction to the Devout Life, Book III, ch. 1). He then gives various examples of saints who were devoted particularly to the practice of certain virtues: Saint John, bishop of Alexandria, who had a vision "in which he knew that it was pity for the poor which God commended to him, and from that time he gave himself so heartily to practice it"; Saint Louis, who visited hospitals; Saint Francis, who loved poverty above all; Saint Gregory, who received pilgrims, after the example of Abraham, and who, like Abraham, received the Lord himself under the guise of a pilgrim.

And so some of God’s servants devote themselves to nursing the sick, helping the poor, teaching little children in the faith, reclaiming the fallen, building churches, and adorning the altar, making peace among men. In this they resemble embroidresses who work all manner of silks, gold and silver on various grounds, and thus produce beautiful flowers. In the same way the pious souls who undertake some special devout practice use it as the ground of their spiritual embroidery, and frame all kinds of other graces upon it, ordering their actions and affections better by means of this chief thread which runs through all of them.

Read the full text of these two works by St. Francis de Sales.

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