Introduction to the Devout Life

Saint Francis of Sales Bishop and Prince of Geneva

A New Translation


London: Oxford: Cambridge



NOTE: The Page numbers listed to the right of the topics listed below come from the original page numbering of the hardback book.  They are kept in this computer format simply as a reference to the distance a reader has gone in his or her reading.  They also are useful as a quick link reference in the INDEX OF TOPICS Table which follows after  Part V. . The alphabetical letters represent  references to other sources which are cited after each chapter.  The numbers and letters have been minimized so as not to interfere with the reading of the text.

Preface by the Author     



I.   What True Devotion is . . . 1
II.   The Nature and Excellence of Devotion . . . 5
III.  Devotion is suitable to every Vocation and Profession . . . 8
IV.  The Need of a Guide for those Who Would enter upon and        advance in the Devout Life ...11
V. The First Step must be Purifying the Soul . . . 15
VI. The First Purification, namely, from Mortal Sin . . . 18
VII. The Second Purification, from all Sinful Affections . . . 20
VIII.  How to effect this Second Purification . . . 22
IX.   First Meditation--Of Creation . . . 24
X. Second Meditation--Of the End for which we were Created . . . 27
XI.   Third Meditation--Of the Gifts of God . . . 30
XII. Fourth Meditation--On Sin . . . 32
XIII. Fifth Meditation--On Death . . . 35
XIV.  Sixth Meditation--On Judgment . . . 38
XV.  Seventh Meditation--Of Hell . . . 41
XVI.   Eighth Meditation--On Paradise . . . 43
XVII. Ninth Meditation On the Choice open to you between Heaven and Hell . . . 45
XVIII. Tenth Meditation--How the Soul chooses the Devout Life . . . 48
XIX.  How to make a General Confession . . . 51
XX. A hearty Protest made with the object of confirming the Soul's resolution to serve God,   as a conclusion to its Acts of Penitence . . . 53
XXI. Conclusion of this First Purification . . . 56
XXII. The Necessity of Purging away all tendency to Venial Sins . . . 57
XXIII. It is needful to put away all Inclination for Useless and Dangerous Things . . . 60
XXIV. All Evil Inclinations must be purged away . . . 62



I. The Necessity of Prayer . . . 64
II. A short Method of Meditation. And first, the Presence of God, the First Point of Preparation . . . 68
III. Invocation, the Second Point of Preparation . . . 72
IV. The Third Point of Preparation, representing the Mystery to be meditated to your Imagination . . . 73
V. Considerations, the Second Part of Meditation . . . 74
VI.  The Third Part of Meditation, Affections and Resolutions . . . 75
VII. The Conclusion and Spiritual Bouquet . . . 77
VIII. Some Useful Hints as to Meditation . . . 78
IX. Concerning Dryness in Meditation . . . 81
X. Morning Prayer . . . 83
XI. Evening Prayer and Examination of Conscience . . . 85
XII. On Spiritual Retirement . . . 87
XIII. Aspirations, Ejaculatory Prayer and Holy Thoughts . . . 90
XIV. Of Holy Communion, and how to join in it . . . 98
XV. Of the other Public Offices of the Church . . . 101
XVI. How the Saints are united to us . . . 103
XVII. How to Hear and Read God's Word . . . 105
XVIII. How to receive Inspirations . . . 107
XIX. On Confession . . . 111
XX. Of Frequent Communion . . . 116
XXI. How to Communicate . . . 120



I. How to select that which we should chiefly Practise . . . 124
II.  The same Subject continued . . . 131
III.    On Patience . . . 136
IV.   On Exterior Humility . . . 142
V.  On Interior Humility . . . 147
VI.  Humility makes us rejoice in our own Abjection . . . 153
VII. How to combine due care for a Good Reputation with Humility . . . 158
VIII. Gentleness towards others and Remedies against Anger . . . 163
IX. On Gentleness towards Ourselves . . . 169
X.   We must attend to the Business of Life carefully, but without Eagerness or Over-anxiety . . . 173
XI. On Obedience . . . 176
XII. On Purity . . . 180
XIII.    How to maintain Purity . . . 182
XIV.   On Poverty of Spirit amid Riches . . . 185
XV.  How to exercise real Poverty, although actually Rich . . . 188
XVI. How to possess a rich Spirit amid real Poverty . . . 193
XVII. On Friendship: Evil and Frivolous Friendship . . . 196
XVIII.  On Frivolous Attachments . . . 198
XIX.   Of Real Friendship . . . 201
XX.  Of the Difference between True and False Friendship . . . 205
XXI.   Remedies against Evil Friendships . . . 208
XXII.  Further Advice concerning Intimacies . . . 212
XXIII.  On the Practice of Bodily Mortification . . . 215
XXIV. Of Society and Solitude . . . 223
XXV. On Modesty in Dress . . . 227
XXVI.   Of Conversation; and, first, how to Speak of God . . . 229
XXVII. Of Unseemly Words, and the Respect due to Others . . . 231
XXVIII. Of Hasty Judgments . . . 234
XXIX. On Slander . . . 241
XXX.   Further Counsels as to Conversation . . . 249
XXXI.  Of Amusements and Recreations: what are allowable . . . 252
XXXII.  Of Forbidden Amusements . . . 254
XXXIII. Of Balls, and other Lawful but Dangerous Amusements . . . 255
XXXIV.  When to use such Amusements rightly . . . 259
XXXV.   We must be Faithful in Things Great and Small . . . 260
XXXVI. Of a Well-balanced, Reasonable Mind . . . 264
XXXVII.  Of Wishes . . . 267
XXXVIII. Counsels to Married People . . . 270
XXXIX.  The Sanctity of the Marriage Bed . . . 280
XL.  Counsels to Widows . . . 281
XLI.  One Word to Maidens . . . 289



I.   We must not trifle with the Words of worldly Wisdom . . . 290
II.  The need of a Good Courage . . . 294
III.  Of Temptations, and the difference between experiencing them and consenting to them . . . 296
IV.  Two striking illustrations of the same . . . 300
V. Encouragement for the Tempted Soul . . . 302
VI.  When Temptation and Delectation are Sin . . . 304
VII. Remedies for Great Occasions . . . 307
VIII. How to resist Minor Temptations . . . 310
IX. How to remedy Minor Temptations . . . 311
X.  How to strengthen the Heart against Temptation . . . 313
XI.  Anxiety of Mind . . . 315
XII. Of Sadness and Sorrow . . . 319
XIII. Of Spiritual and Sensible Consolations, and how to receive them . . . 323
XIV. Of Dryness and Spiritual Barrenness . . . 333
XV.  In Illustration . . . 340



I.    It is well yearly to renew Good Resolutions by means of the following Exercises . . . 346
II.   Meditation on the Benefit conferred on us by God in calling us to His Service . . . 348
III. Examination of the Soul as to its Progress in the Devout Life . . . 351
IV.   Examination of the Soul's Condition as regards God . . . 354
V.   Examination of your Condition as regards yourself . . . 357
VI. Examination of the Soul's Condition as regards our Neighbour . . . 358
VII.  Examination as to the Affections of the Soul . . . 359
VIII.  The Affections to be excited after such Examination . . . 361
IX.   Reflections suitable to the renewal of Good Resolutions . . . 362
X.   First Consideration--Of the Worth of Souls . . . 363
XI.  Second Consideration--On the Excellence of Virtue . . . 364
XII.   The Example of the Saints . . . 366
XIII.   The Love which Jesus Christ bears to us . . . 367
XIV. The Eternal Love of God for us . . . 369
XV.   General Affections which should result from these Considerations, and Conclusion of the Exercise . . . 370
XVI. The Impressions which should remain after this Exercise . . . 372
XVII. An Answer to Two Objections which may be made to this Book . . . 373
XVIII. Three Important and Final Counsels . . . 375







Abstinence 216
Amusements 60, 252-260
Angels 103-104
Anger 163
Anselm, S. 94
Anthony, S. 94, 128
Anxiety of mind 315
Arelius 2
Aristotle 9, 209
Aspirations 90
Attachments, unreal 209
Attention to business  174
Augustine, S. 91, 90, 101
Avila 11, 14
Balls 255
Barrenness, spiritual 336
Basil, S. 95
Bernard, S. 131, 205, 340
Books, for self-examination              18
   Books, for meditation 66
   Books, devout 105
   Borgia, Francis 95
Catherine of Sienna, S. 12, 88, 118, 262, 300
Choice of Devout Life 48
Chrysostom, S. 99
Communion, Holy 98
   Communion, Holy; frequent, 116
   Communion, Holy;  how to make a good 120, 291
Confession, general 29
   Confession, how to make 51
   Confessions  117, 131, 166, 182, 205, 210, 226, 278, 366
Conscience, examination of 85
Considerations in meditation 74
Consolations, spiritual and sensible 323
constant 111
Contrition 22, 112
Conversation 229, 249
Courage 294
Creation, meditation on 24
   Creation, end of 27
Dancing 60, 255
David 2, 10, 23, 89, 93, 153, 242, 325
Death, meditation on 35
Delectation 298, 305
Devotion, living 3
   Devotion,  nature of 5;
   Devotion, to God's Word 105, 325
Dominant passions 313
Dress, modesty in 227
Dryness in meditation 81, 353
Eagerness, over 173
Earrings, significance of 276
Ejaculatory prayer 90
Elizabeth, S., of Hungary  12, 128, 191, 260
Elzear, Count 90
Encouragement for the tempted 302
Exaggeration 250
Faber, Peter 104
Fairness 266
Faithfulness 260, 275
Fasting 217
Forbearance 279
Francis, S., 94, 96, 128, 344
Friendship 196
      real 201
      false 205
Frivolous attachments 198
Fulgentius, S. 93
Gentleness 163
      to ourselves 160
Gifts of God 30
Godly sorrow 319
Gregory Nazianzen, S. 92, 97, 130, 199, 204, 213, 226, 280, 347
Gregory, S., on Lot 11, 128, 205
Guide, need of a 11
Hasty judgments 234
Heaven and Hell, choice between, 45
Hell, meditation on 41
Humility 142
       interior 147
Ignatius, S. 104
Impure words 232
Inspirations 107
Intimacies 212
Invocation 72
Irritation 170
Jealousy 274
Jerome, S. 62, 126, 132, 205. 217
Judgment, meditation on 38
Judgments, rash 237
Louis, S. 12, 128, 229, 276, 277, 319, 374
Love of God 7
Maidens, counsel to 289
Married people, counsels to 270
Meditation 24, 65, 68, 78
Meekness 168
Mortification, bodily 215
Obedience 176
      different kinds of 177
Offices, public, of the Church 101
Paradise, meditation on 43
Patience 16, 136
     under inconvenience 192
Paula, S. 62, 97, 126. 132
Pelican, symbol of Christ, 89
Poor, love of, 190
Poverty of spirit 185, 193
Prayer, necessity of 64
      morning 83
      evening 85
Preparation for meditation 68, 72
Presence of God 68, 87
Protest for confirming the soul 53
Purification of the soul 17, 20
Purity 180
     how to maintain 182
RASH judgments 235
Reasonable mind, a 264
Remedies for great occasions 307
Reputation, care of 158
Resolutions 346
Respect due to others 231
Retirement 87
SAINTS, how united to us 103
Sin, meditation on 32
Slander 225, 241
Society 223
Spiritual bouquet of meditation 77
Suspicions 240 
     when sin 304, 306
     minor 310
Theresa, S. 12, 179
Tobit 11
True devotion, what it is 1
UNSEEMLY words 231
VENIAL Sins, 57, 113
Virtues, choice of, 124
Vocal prayer 67
WIDOWS, counsel to 281
Wishes 267
Worldly wisdom 290



Preface by the Author

(approximately 3 1/2 pages)

    DEAR reader, I request you to read this Preface for your own satisfaction as well as mine. The flower-girl Glycera was so skilled in varying the arrangement and combination of her flowers, that out of the same kinds she produced a great variety of bouquets; so that the painter Pausias, (a.) who sought to rival the diversity of her art, was brought to a standstill, for he could not vary his painting so endlessly as Glycera varied her bouquets. Even so the Holy Spirit of God disposes and arranges the devout teaching which He imparts through the lips and pen of His servants with such endless variety, that, although the doctrine is ever one and the same, their treatment of it is different, according to the varying minds whence that treatment flows. Assuredly I neither desire, nor ought to write in this book anything but what has been already said by others before me. I offer you the same flowers, dear reader, but the bouquet will be somewhat different from theirs, because it is differently made up. Almost all those who have written concerning the devout life have had chiefly in view persons who have altogether quitted the world; or at any rate they have taught a manner of devotion which would lead to such total retirement. But my object is to teach those who are living in towns, at court, in their own households, and whose calling obliges them to a social life, so far as externals are concerned. Such persons are apt to reject all attempt to lead a devout life under the plea of impossibility; imagining that like as no animal presumes to eat of the plant commonly called Palma Christi, so no one who is immersed in the tide of temporal affairs ought to presume to seek the palm of Christian piety. And so I have shown them that, like as the mother-of-pearl lives in the sea without ever absorbing one drop of salt water; and as near the Chelidonian Isles springs of sweet water start forth in the midst of the ocean (b) and as the firemoth (c) hovers in the flames without burning her wings; even so a true stedfast soul may live in the world untainted by worldly breath, finding a well-spring of holy piety amid the bitter waves of society, and hovering amid the flames of earthly lusts without singeing the wings of its devout life. Of a truth this is not easy, and for that very reason I would have Christians bestow more care and energy than heretofore on the attempt, and thus it is that, while conscious of my own weakness, I endeavour by this book to afford some help to those who are undertaking this noble work with a generous heart. It is not however, my own choice or wish which brings this Introduction before the public. A certain soul, abounding in uprightness and virtue, some time since conceived a great desire, through God's Grace, to aspire more earnestly after a devout life, and craved my private help with this view. I was bound to her by various ties, and had long observed her remarkable capacity for this attainment, so I took great pains to teach her, and having led her through the various exercises suitable to her circumstances and her aim, I let her keep written records thereof, to which she might have recourse when necessary. These she communicated to a learned and devout Religious, who, believing that they might be profitable to others, urged me to publish them, in which he succeeded the more readily that his friendship exercised great influence upon my will, and his judgment great authority over my judgment. So, in order to make the work more useful and acceptable, I have reviewed the papers and put them together, adding several matters carrying out my intentions; but all this has been done with scarce a moment's leisure. Consequently you will find very little precision in the work, but rather a collection of well intentioned instructions, explained in clear intelligible words, at least that is what I have sought to give. But as to a polished style, I have not given that a thought, having so much else to do. I have addressed my instructions to Philothea, (d) as adapting what was originally written for an individual to the common good of souls. I have made use of a name suitable to all who seek after the devout life, Philothea meaning one who loves God. Setting then before me a soul, who through the devout life seeks after the love of God, I have arranged this Introduction in five parts, in the first of which I seek by suggestions and exercises to turn Philothea's mere desire into a hearty resolution; which she makes after her general confession, by a deliberate protest, followed by Holy Communion, in which, giving herself to her Saviour and receiving Him, she is happily received into His Holy Love. After this, I lead her on by showing her two great means of closer union with His Divine Majesty; the Sacraments, by which that Gracious Lord comes to us, and mental prayer, by which He draws us to Him. This is the Second Part. In the Third Part I set forth how she should practise certain virtues most suitable to her advancement, only dwelling on such special points as she might not find elsewhere, or be able to make out for herself. In the Fourth Part I bring to light the snares of some of her enemies, and show her how to pass through them safely and come forth unhurt. And finally, in the Fifth Part, I lead her apart to refresh herself and take breath, and renew her strength, so that she may go on more bravely afterwards, and make good progress in the devout life. This is a cavilling age, and I foresee that many will say that only Religious and persons living apart are fit to undertake the guidance of souls in such special devout ways; that it requires more time than a Bishop of so important a diocese as mine can spare, and that it must take too much thought from the important duties with which I am charged. But, dear reader, I reply with S. Denis that the task of leading souls towards perfection appertains above all others to Bishops, and that because their Order is supreme among men, as the Seraphim among Angels, and therefore their leisure cannot be better spent. The ancient Bishops and Fathers of the Primitive Church were, to say the least, as devoted to their duties as we are, yet they did not refuse to undertake the individual guidance of souls which sought their help, as we see by their epistles; thereby imitating the Apostles, who, while reaping the universal world-harvest, yet found time to gather up certain individual sheaves with special and personal affection. Who can fail to remember that Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Onesimus, Phekla, Appia, were the beloved spiritual children of S. Paul, as S. Mark and S. Petronilla were of S. Peter (for Baronius and Galonius have given learned and absolute proof that S. Petronilla was not his carnal but spiritual daughter). And is not one of S. John's Canonical Epistles addressed to the "elect lady" whom he loved in the faith? I grant that the guidance of individual souls is a labour, but it is a labour full of consolation, even as that of harvesters and grape-gatherers, who are never so well pleased as when most heavily laden. It is a labour which refreshes and invigorates the heart by the comfort which it brings to those who bear it; as is said to be the case with those who carry bundles of cinnamon in Arabia Felix. It is said that when the tigress finds one of her young left behind by the hunter in order to delay her while he carries off the rest of her cubs, she takes it up, however big, without seeming over-weighted, and speeds only the more swiftly to her lair, maternal love lightening the load. How much more readily will the heart of a spiritual father bear the burden of a soul he finds craving after perfection carrying it in his bosom as a mother her babe, without feeling weary of the precious burden? But unquestionably it must be a really paternal heart that can do this, and therefore it is that the Apostles and their apostolic followers are wont to call their disciples not merely their children, but, even more tenderly still, their "little children." One thing more, dear reader. It is too true that I who write about the devout life am not myself devout, but most certainly I am not without the wish to become so, and it is this wish which encourages me to teach you. A notable literary man has said that a good way to learn is to study, a better to listen, and the best to teach. And S. Augustine, writing to the devout Flora, (e) says, that giving is a claim to receive, and teaching a way to learn. Alexander caused the lovely Campaspe, (f) who was so dear to him, to be painted by the great Apelles, who, by dint of contemplating her as he drew, so graved her features in his heart and conceived so great a passion for her, that Alexander discovered it, and, pitying the artist, gave him her to wife, depriving himself for love of Apelles of the dearest thing he had in the world, in which, says Pliny, he displayed the greatness of his soul as much as in the mightiest victory. And so, friendly reader, it seems to me that as a Bishop, God wills me to frame in the hearts of His children not merely ordinary goodness, but yet more His own most precious devotion; and on my part I undertake willingly to do so, as much out of obedience to the call of duty as in the hope that, while fixing the image in others' hearts, my own may haply conceive a holy love; and that if His Divine Majesty sees me deeply in love, He may give her to me in an eternal marriage. The beautiful and chaste Rebecca, as she watered Isaac's camels, was destined to be his bride, and received his golden earrings and bracelets, and so I rely on the boundless Goodness of my God, that while I lead His beloved lambs to the wholesome fountain of devotion, He will take my soul to be His bride, giving me earrings of the golden words of love, and strengthening my arms to carry out its works, wherein lies the essence of all true devotion, the which I pray His Heavenly Majesty to grant to me and to all the children of His Church that Church to which I would ever submit all my writings, actions, words, will and thoughts.

ANNECY, S. Magdalene's Day, 1608.



a. Pausias of Sicyon (B.C. 368); see Plin. Hist. Nat. xxxv. 11-40. A portrait of Glycera, the young flower-girl whom he loved, with a garland of flowers, was one of his masterpieces. It was called the Stephane-plocos [Stefanh-plokoV], or garland wreather, and was purchased by L. Lucullus at Athens for two talents.

b. These islands are in the Mediterranean Sea, in the Gulf of Lycia.

c.  PurausthV.

d.  The address to Philothea by name has been omitted, as being somewhat stiff and stilted, and the term child or daughter used instead, but the omission in no way alters the sense or application of any sentence.

e. This is probably the person mentioned as "our most religious daughter Flora" in S. Augustine's Treatise "On care to be had for the Dead", addressed to his fellow Bishop Paulinus. See Library of the Fathers, S. Augustine's Short Treatises, p. 517.

f. Plin. Hist. Nat. l. xxv. c. 10.