A NOTE FROM THE EDITORhe following work by Saint Francis de Sales is a classic defence of the Catholic Faith. This edition is based on the 1886 text, translated by Rev. Henry Benedict Mackey, O.S.B., and published by Burns & Oates of London, HOWEVER, it does not purpose to offer the complete text verbatim et literatim, but to extract the most important portions for the edification of the faithful, that they may more clearly understand those controversial doctrines of their faith and that those in conflict with these said doctrines may be removed from their ignorance. Below is reproduced the original introduction from the aformentioned edition.
I. On the Mission of the Church
II. On the Protestant Violation of Sacred Scripture
III. On the Authority of the Church
IV. On Faith and Reason
V. On the Papacy
VI. The Doctrine of Purgatory
AUTHOR'S GENERAL INTRODUCTIONentlemen, having prosecuted for some space of time the preaching of the Word of God in your town, without obtaining a hearing from your people save rarely, casually, and stealthily,----wishing to leave nothing undone on my part, I have set myself to put into writing some principal reasons, chosen for the most part from the sermons and instructions which I have hitherto addressed to you by word of mouth, in defence of the faith of the Church. I should indeed have wished to be heard, as the accusers have been; for words in the mouth are living, on paper dead. "The living voice," says S. Jerome, "has a certain indescribable secret strength, and the heart is far more surely reached by the spoken word than by writing." (Ep. ad Paulinum.) This it is which made the glorious Apostle S. Paul say in the Scripture: How shalt they believe Him of Whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? . . . Faith then cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Rom. x.) My best chance, then, would have been to be heard, in lack of which this writing will not be without good results. (1.) It will carry to your houses what you will not receive at our house, at our meetings. (2.) It will satisfy those who, as sole answer to the arguments I bring forward, say that they would like to see them laid before some minister, and who believe that the mere presence of the adversary would make them tremble, grow pale, and faint away, taking from them all strength; now they can be laid before them. (3.) Writing can be better handled; it gives more leisure for consideration than the voice does; it can be pondered more profoundly. (4.) It will be seen that I deny a thousand impieties which are attributed to Catholics; this is not in order to escape from the difficulty, as some have said, but to follow the holy intention of the Church; for I write in everybody's sight, and under the censorship of superiors, being assured that, while people will find herein plenty of ignorance, they will not find, God helping, any irreligion or any opposition to the doctrines of the Roman Church.
must, however, protest, for the relief of my conscience, that all these considerations would never have made me take the resolution of writing. It is a trade which requires apprenticeship, and belongs to learned and more cultivated minds. To write well, one must know extremely well; mediocre wits must content themselves with speech, wherein gesture, voice, play of feature, brighten the word. Mine, which is of the less, or, to say the downright truth, of the lowest j degree of mediocrity, is not made to succeed in this exercise; and indeed I should not have thought of it, if a grave and judicious gentleman had not invited and encouraged me to do it: afterwards several of my chief friends approved of it, whose opinion I so highly value that my own has no belief from me save in default of other. I have then put down here some principal reasons of the Catholic faith, which clearly prove that all are in fault who remain separated from the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church. And I address and offer it to you with good heart, hoping that the causes which keep you from hearing me will not have power to hinder you from reading what I write. Meanwhile, I assure you, that you will never read a writing which shall be given you by any man more devoted to your spiritual service than I am; and I can truly say that I shall never receive a command with lliore hearty acceptance, than I did that which Monseigneur, our most reverend Bishop, gave me, when he ordered me, according to the holy desire of His Highness, whose letter he put into my hand, to come here and bring you the holy Word of God. Nor did I think that I could ever do you a greater service. And in fact I thought that as you will receive no other law for your belief than that interpretation of the Scripture which seems to you the best, you would hear also the interpretation which I should bring, viz., that given by the Apostolic Roman Church, which hitherto you have not had except perverted and quite disfigured and adulterated by the enemy, who well knew that had you seen it in its purity, never would you have abandoned it. The time is evil; the Gospel of Peace has hard striving to get heard amid so many rum ours of war. Still I lose not courage; fruits a littie late in coming preserve better than the forward ones. I trust that if Our Lord but once cry in your ears his holy Ephpheta, this slowness will result in much the greater sureness. Take then, gentlemen, in good part, this present which I make you, and read my reasons attentively. The hand of God is not withered nor shortened, and readily shows its power in feeble and low things. If you have with so much promptitude heard one of the parties, have yet patience to hear the other. Then take, I charge you on the part of God, take time and leisure to calm your understanding, and pray God to assist you with His Holy Spirit in a question of such great importance, in order that He may address you unto salvation. But above all I beg you never to let other passion enter your spirits than the passion of Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, by which we all have been redeemed and shall be saved, unless we are wanting on our part; since He desires that all men should be saved and should come to the knowledge of His truth. (1 Tim. ii. 4.) I beseech His sacred Majesty that He would deign to help me and you in this affair, as He deigned to regard the glorious Apostle S. Paul [whose] conversion [we celebrate] today.
ll comes back to the saying of the prophet, Destruction is thy own, O Israel! (Osee xiii. 9.) Our Lord was the true Saviour Who came to enlighten every man and to be a light unto the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel; whereas Israel takes hereby occasion of ignominy. Is not this a great misfortune? And when it is said that He is set for the ruin of many, this must be understood as to the actual event, not as to the intention of the Divine Majesty, As the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil had no virtue to teach Adam either good or evil, though the event gave it this name, because Adam by taking the fruit experienced the evil which his disobedience caused him. The Son of God came for peace and benediction, and not for evil to men; unless some madman would dare to cast up to our Lord his holy Word: Woe to that man through whom scandal cometh, (Matt. xviii. 7.) and would condemn him by his own law to have a millstone tied about his neck and be cast into the depths of the sea. Let us then confess that not one of us men is scandalised save by his own fault; This is what I undertake to prove by force of argument. O my God, my Saviour, purify my spirit; make this Your word distil sweetly into the hearts of my readers, as a sacred dew, to cool the ardour of the passions which they may have; and they shall see how true, in You, and in the Church Your Spouse, is that which You have said.
t was, I think, that great facility which men find for taking scandal, which made Our Lord say that scandals needs must come, (Luke xvii. 1.) or, as S. Matthew says, Woe to the world because of scandals; (xviii. 7.) for if men take occasion of their harm from the sovereign good itself, how could there not be scandals in a world where there are so many evils?
ow there are three sorts of scandals, and all three very evil in their nature, but unequally so. There is a scandal which our learned theologians call active. And this is a bad action which gives to another an occasion of wrong-doing, and the person who does this action is justly called scandalous. The two other sorts of scandal are called passive scandals, some of them passive scandals ab extrinseco, others ab intrinseco. For of persons who are scandalised, some are so by the bad actions of another, and receive the active scandal, letting their wills be affected by the scandal; but some are so by their own malice, and, having otherwise no occasion, build and fabricate them in their own brain, and scandalise themselves with a scandal which is all of their own making. He who scandalises another fails in charity towards his neighbour, he who scandalises himself fails in charity towards himself, and he who is scandalised by another is wanting in strength and firmness. The first is scandalous, the second scandalous and scandalised, the third scandalised only. The first scandal is called datum, given, the second acceptum, taken, the third receptum, received. The first passes the third in evil, and the second so much passes the first that it contains first and second, being active and passive both together, as the murdering and destroying oneself is a cruelty more against nature than the killing another.
ll these kinds of scandal abound in the world, and one sees nothing so plentiful as scandal: it is the principal trade of the devil; whence Our Lord said, Woe to the world because of scandals. But scandal taken without occasion holds the chief place by every right, [being] the most frequent, the most dangerous, and the most injurious. And it is of this alone that Our Lord is the object in souls which are given up as a prey to iniquity. But a little patience: Our Lord cannot be scandalous, for all in Him is sovereignly good; nor scandalised, for He is sovereignly powerful and wise;----how then can it happen that one should be scandalised in Him, and that He should be set for the ruin of many? It would be a horrible blasphemy to attribute our evil to His Majesty. He wishes that every one should be saved and should come to the knowledge of His truth. He would have no one perish. Our destruction is from ourselves, and our help from His Divine goodness. (The Saint adds in margin: This is the will of God, your sanctification, 1 Thess. iv. 3. [Tr.]) Our Lord then does not scandalise us, nor does His holy Word, but we are scandalised in Him, which is the proper way of speaking in this point, as Himself teaches, saying: Blessed is he that shall not be scandalised in Me. (Matt. xi. 6.) And when it is said that He has been set for the ruin of many, we must find this verified in the event, which was that many were ruined on account of Him, not in the intention of the supreme goodness, which had only sent Him as a light for the revelation of the Gentiles and for the glory of Israel. But if there are men who would say the contrary, they have nothing left [as I have said] but to curse their Saviour with His Own words: Woe to him by whom scandal cometh.
beseech you, let us look in ourselves for the cause of our vices and sins. Our will is the only source of them, Our mother Eve indeed tried to throw the blame on the serpent, and her husband to throw it on her, but the excuse was not valid. They would have done better to say the honest peccavi, as David did, whose sin was immediately forgiven.
have said all this, gentlemen, to make known to you whence comes this great dissension of wills in matter of religion, which we see amongst those who in their mouths make profession of Christianity. This is the principal and sovereign scandal of the world, and, in comparison with the others, it alone deserves the name of scandal, and it seems to be almost exactly the same thing when Our Lord says it is necessary that scandals come, and St. Paul says that there must be heresies; (1 Cor. xi. 19.) for this scandal changes with time, and, like a violent movement, gradually grows weaker in its evilness. In those Christians who begin the division and this civil war, heresy is a scandal simply taken, passive ab intrinseco, and there is no evil in the heresiarch save such as is entirely in his own will; no one has part in this but himself. The scandal of the first whom he seduces already begins to be divided;----but unequally, for the heresiarch has his share therein on account of his solicitation, the seduced have a share as much the greater as they have had less occasion of following him. Their heresy having taken root, those who are born of heretical parents among the heretics have ever less share in the fault: still neither these nor those come to be without considerable fault of their own, and particularly persons of this age, who are almost all in purely passive scandal. For the Scripture which they handle, the neighbourhood of true Christians, the marks which they see in the true Church, take from them all proper excuse; so that the Church from whom they are separated can put before them the words of her Lord: Search the Scriptures, for you think in them to have life everlasting: and the same are they tkat give testimony of Me. (John v. 39.) The works that I do in the name of My Father, they give testimony of Me. (lbid. x. 25.)
ow I have said that their scandal is purely or almost purely passive. For it is well known that the occasion they pretend to have for their division and departure is the error, the ignorance, the idolatry, which they aver to be in the Church they have abandoned, while it is a thing perfectly certain that the Church in her general body cannot be scandalous, or scandalised, being like her Lord, who communicates to her by grace and particular assistance what is proper to him by nature: for being her Head he guides her ,feet in the right way. The Church is his mystical body, and therefore he takes as his own the honour and the dishonour that are given to her; so it cannot be said that she gives, takes, or receives any scandal. Those then who are scandalised in her do all the wrong and have all the fault: their scandal has no other subject than their own malice, which keeps ever tickling them to make them laugh in their iniquities.
ee then what I intend to show in this little treatise. I have no other aim than to make you see, gentlemen, that this Susanna is wrongfully accused, and that she is justified in lamenting over all those who have turned aside from her commandments in the words of her Spouse: They have hated Me without cause. (John xv. 25.)
his I will do in two ways: (1.) by certain general reasons; (2.) by particular examples which I will bring forward of the principal difficulties, by way of illustration. All that so many learned men have written tends and returns to this, but not in a straight line. For each one proposes a particular path to follow. I will try to reduce all the lines of my argument to this point as to the centre as exactly as I can. The first part will serve almost equally for all sorts of heretics: the second will be addressed rather to those whose reunion we have the strongest duty to effect. So many great personages have written in our age, that their posterity have scarcely anything more to say, but have only to consider, learn, imitate, admire. I will therefore say nothing new and would not wish to do so. All is ancient, and there is almost nothing of mine beyond the needle and thread: the rest I have only had to unpick and sew again in my own way, with this warning of Vincent of Lerins: "Teach, however, what thou hast learnt; that whilst thou sayest things in a new way thou say not new things." (Comm. 1 um cap. xxxvii.)
his treatise will seem perhaps to some a little too meagre: this does not come from my stinginess but from my poverty. My memory has very little stored up, and is kept going only from day to day; and I have but very few books here with which I can enrich myself. But still receive favourably, I beg you, gentlemen of Thonon, this work, and though you have seen many better made and richer, still give some little of your attention to this, which will perhaps be more adapted to your taste than the others are; for its air is entirely Savoyard, and one of the most profitable prescriptions, and the last remedy, is a return to one's natal air. If this profit you not, you shall try others more pure and more invigorating, for there are, thank God, of all sorts in this country. I am about therefore to begin, in the name of God, Whom I most humbly beseech to make His holy Word distil sweetly as a refreshing dew into your heart. And I beg you, gentlemen, and those who read this, to remember the words of S. Paul: Let all bitterness and anger, and indignation, and clamour, and blasphemy be taken away from you, with all malice. Amen. (Eph. iv. 31.)