Monday, March 07, 2011

Saint Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church

Valentin Metzinger 1699 - 1759
Sv. Frančišek Saleški in Ivana Frančiška Šantalska
St Francis de Sales presenting the Philotea to Saint Jane Frances de Chantal
Oil on canvas
211 x 122 cm
Narodna galerija, Ljubljana

Valentin Metzinger 1699 = 1759
Sv. Frančišek Saleški spoveduje plemiča
St Francis de Sales hearing the confession of a nobleman
Oil on canvas
190 x 139 cm
Narodna galerija, Ljubljana

Valentin Metzinger 1699 = 1759
Poveličanje sv. Frančiška Saleškega
The Apotheosis of St Francis de Sales
Oil on canvas
381 x 297 cm
Narodna galerija, Ljubljana

Valentin Metzinger (1699-1759) was an important master of Baroque painting. He was born in St Avold in Lorraine, France but later lived and practiced in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital and largest city, and painted many religious paintings

The above three paintings were commissioned for the castle chapel of the Goričane diocesan manor. The Glorification is meant for the ceiling. The other two are altar paintings.

Metzinger`s religious output was prodigious. His works were commissioned for many churches in Slovenia and Croatia

The historian Father Robert Birley SJ has said that more important than the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola in emphasising an optimistic world affirming spirituality where any Christian could follow Christ in any career or state of life was Saint Francis de Sales (August 21, 1567 – December 28, 1622) and his writings and correspondence.

John Wesley, the Methodist divine, referred to Saint Francis de Sales as a model of Christian perfection or a spiritual guide.

On 2nd March 2011 Pope Benedict XVI`s Wednesday catechesis was on the LIfe and Works of St Francis de Sales, Bishop, master of the spiritual life and the human heart and Doctor of the Church

The Pope said:

"To Philotea, the fictional recipient of his "Introduction to the Devout Life" (1607), Francis de Sales addressed an invitation that might have seemed at the time revolutionary. It is the invitation to belong completely to God, living his presence in the world and the tasks of one's state in fullness.

"My intention is to instruct those who live in the city, in the conjugal state, in the courts [...]" (Preface to "Introduction to the Devout Life").

The document with which Pope Leo XIII, more than two centuries later, would proclaim him doctor of the Church insisted on this extension of the call to perfection, to sanctity.

He wrote there:

"[true piety] has penetrated to the throne of the king, in the tents of army heads, in the praetorium of judges, in offices, in shops and even in shepherds' huts [...]" (Brief "Dives in misericordia," Nov. 16, 1877).

Thus was born the appeal to the laity, that care to consecrate temporal things and sanctify the every day, on which the Second Vatican Council and the spirituality of our time insist.

He spoke of the ideal of a reconciled humanity, harmony between action in the world and prayer, between the secular state and the pursuit of perfection, with the help of God's grace, which permeates the human and, without destroying it, purifies it, raising it to the divine heights.

To Theotimus, the adult, spiritually mature Christian to whom he would address a few years later his "Treatise on the Love of God" (1616), St. Francis de Sales gives a more complex lesson.

It supposes at the beginning a precise vision of the human being, an anthropology: man's "reason," in fact the "reasonable soul," was seen as a harmonious structure, a temple articulated in more spaces around a center, which, together with the great mystics, he called the "summit," the "point" of the spirit, or the depths of the soul. It is the point in which reason, having passed through all its degrees, "closes its eyes" and knowledge becomes altogether one with love (cf. Book I, Chapter XII).

The fact that love, in its theological, divine dimension is the reason for being of all things, in an ascending ladder that does not seem to know fractures or abysses, St. Francis de Sales resumed in a famous phrase:

"Man is the perfection of the universe; the spirit is man's perfection; love is the perfection of the spirit, and charity is the perfection of love" (ibid., Book X, Chapter I).

In an epoch of intense mystical flowering, the "Treatise on the Love of God" was a true and proper summa, as well as a fascinating literary work. His description of the itinerary toward God starts from the recognition of the "natural inclination" (ibid., Book I, Chapter XVI) inscribed in man's heart to love God above all things, despite being a sinner.

Following the model of sacred Scripture, St. Francis de Sales speaks of the union between God and man by developing a whole series of images of interpersonal relationships. His God is Father and Lord, spouse and friend; he has maternal and nursing characteristics.

He is the sun of which even the night is a mysterious revelation. Such a God draws man to himself with bonds of love, that is of true liberty:

"because love does not force or have slaves, but reduces everything under its obedience with such a delicious force that, if nothing is as strong as love, nothing is as lovable as his force" (Book I, Chapter VI).

We find in our saint's "Treatise" a profound meditation on the human will and the description of its flowing, passing, dying, to live (cf. Ibid., Book IX, Chapter XIII) in complete abandonment not only to the will of God, but to what pleases him, to his "bon plaisir," to his approval (cf. Ibid., Book IX, Chapter I).

At the summit of union with God, in addition to the raptures of contemplative ecstasies, is placed the reappearance of concrete charity, which is attentive to all the needs of others and which he calls "ecstasies of life and works" (Ibid., Book VII, chapter VI)."

See also