*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 28th of December 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
On this day in 1622, the Catholic priest and confessor Francis De Sales died at the age of 55. Today on the show, I would like to introduce you to this character unfamiliar with him. I want to look at his fascinating context, his particular concerns, and a few ideas he had about what Christian spirituality could look like in opposition to many in the church of his day.
Quick bio- he’s the oldest of 8, born in 1567 to nobility in the southeast of France (the savoy region in the Western alps on lake Geneva). Despite his parents wanting him to study law, he also studied theology. He studied under the Jesuits in Paris and received his doctorate in law.
He was ordained in 1593- he was made bishop of Geneva in 1602, founded the order of the visitation of Holy Mary in 1610. In 1609 he published the first edition of his book “Introduction to the Devout Life” and would revise it through his lifetime. It has been in print since the 17th century as a classic of modern devotional literature. We’ll get to that in a second.
Historians call the “age of confessionalization " during the era,” Francis lived in Europe. This is roughly the era after the initial Reformation; once it was acknowledged that there would be new confessions of faith, it was left to European magistrates to choose the confession for their people. Not only this, but Sales was bishop of Geneva in the time of Calvin. There would be no Catholic Church in Geneva during this time, and so the “Catholic bishop” of the banned church would often fear for his safety.
His time with the Calvinists goes back to his time in Paris when he was drawn into a long conversation about predestination as a student. Francis, believing himself to be damned, went into a spiritual funk. Working himself out of that would form the basis of much of his later spiritual advice. His foundational texts would come from 1 John and the belief that God is essentially, and in Christ, Love.
During this time, many in the Catholic church thought that renewal in the face of Reformation churches would require strict asceticism- new monasteries, strict new codes, etc.… Sales disagreed.
His motto would be a famous 16th-century phrase: “Monachatus non est pietas”- that is, roughly, “piety is not the exclusive domain of the monk.” Let’s hear him out when he writes:
"It is an error, or rather a heresy, to wish to banish the devout life from the regiment of soldiers, the mechanic's shop, the court of princes, or the home of married people.”
In this, you might hear the doctrine of “vocation,” or that wherever you are called in life, that is where you can be devout- by loving your neighbor in your particular calling.
Next- he called for moderation over abstinence. Extremes might make for an accelerated and punctuated piety, but not lifelong practice.
In the same vein, he argued for charity over penance. That is, getting overly morose and working up a private practice of penitence isn’t as helpful as loving your neighbor where you are and in your calling.
He also knew something about being morbidly introspective and argued that when one is in this state, they need to get outside of themselves fast- he counseled against tickling your sadness for pleasure.
And lastly, he counseled all who would seek consolation to take communion. Depending on your tradition this kind of “sacramental piety” might seem foreign or overly Catholic- but it has a long tradition in the church
Frances has been given many of his church’s accolades- beatified, canonized, and given a feast day. Today we remember Francis De Sales on the anniversary of his death in 1622
The Last Word for today comes from 1 John:
7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 28th of December 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man collecting his calling, colly, curly, or colored birds for this 4th day of Christmas, Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who appreciates the Swedish version of the 12 days in which today you would get 4 pounds of pork, Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.