François De Sales (1567–1622)

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FRANÇOIS DE SALES (15671622), French bishop. For some, the life and work of François of Sales explain the whole Catholic reformation of the seventeenth century. Remembered as the one who introduced religious devotion into daily life, he was also, during his lifetime, known for his holiness as well as his skills as a controversialist preacher, spiritual adviser, and cofounder of the Visitation of Holy Mary congregation. Beatified in 1662 and canonized in 1665, he was one of only two Frenchmen (along with Bishop Alain de Solminihac [15931659]) canonized during the seventeenth century.

Born in 1567 to a noble family of Thorens in the duchy of Savoy, François was educated first at the Collège de la Roche-sur-Foron (15741576) and then in Annecy, at a college reserved for sons of the nobility and high-ranking public officers. He left Savoy in 1582 for Paris, where he studied at the Jesuit college of Clermont and then simultaneously at the Sorbonne until 1588, preparing for law school while attending theology classes. Profoundly pious, he obeyed his father's wishes by moving in the fashionable circles of the court and the Parisian salons. Around December of 1586, while he was still in the college of Clermont, he underwent a spiritual crisis, which he ended by deepening his religious devotion, making the vow to say the rosary every day. In 1588, having received his master's degree, he left for Padua, a Renaissance center of the Venetian republic that attracted students from all over Europe. There he got his doctoral degree in law in 1591, while still pursuing studies in theology, and he became very close to many Tridentine reformers, such as the Jesuit Antonio Possevino, famous for his missionary experience, extensive travels, and papal missions. François also became close to members of several religious congregations and orders, including the Barnabites, the Capuchins, a reformed branch of the Franciscan order, the secular clerics called the Theatines, and the institutes founded by Carlo Borromeo (15381584) and Filippo Neri (15151595). Along with the Imitation of Jesus Christ (an anonymous work of the 15th century that is often attributed to Thomas á Kempis) and Mattias Bellintani da Saló's Practice of Mental Orison, François found his main inspiration in one of the Catholic best-sellers of the time, Lorenzo Scupoli's Combattimento spirituale (Spiritual fight), a work that went through fifty editions between 1589 and 1610. In this work, as in Desiderius Erasmus's Enchiridion Militis Christiani (1503), the Christian is presented as a soldier of Christ whose weapons are self-suspicion, confidence in God, good use of one's powers, and prayer, especially meditation on Jesus Christ's life and passion.

After his return to Savoy, François expressed his wish to become a priest, against his father's will. To overcome this opposition, his cousin, the priest Louis de Sales, obtained for François a position of ecclesiastical dignity; François was named provost of the church of St. Peter in Geneva and received the orders in 1593. The following year, Claude de Granier, bishop of Geneva, sent him into the Chablais region, where the pope, the bishop of Geneva, and the duke of Savoy were trying to reestablish Catholicism despite the region's occupation by Protestants from Geneva and Bern. Over the following several years (until 1598), François worked with Capuchins and Jesuits to try to bring the fifty-two parishes of Chablais back into the fold through active preaching and extensive journalistic writingswith meager results. In 15981602, he was sent by Bishop Granier to Pope Clement VIII. While in Rome, he met such notable reformers as Cardinal Cesare Baronio and Robert Bellarmine and was made Granier's coadjutor. As such, he was sent to Paris to negotiate the reestablishment of Catholic parishes in the province of Gex, one of the Savoyard territories gained by French King Henry IV during his invasion of Savoy (16001601). This sojourn in Paris in 1602 is considered a turning point in François's religious and political career, for he joined Parisian spiritual groups that were close to power and took an active part in the renewal of French Catholicism.

After Granier's death in 1602, François became bishop of Geneva. During the next twenty years, he devoted himself to his diocese. Modeling himself on Borromeo's example of the good Tridentine bishop, he pursued, until his death in 1622, a multitude of activities in matters as various as administration, sacraments, teaching, catechism, and restoration of the diocesan clergy and the religious orders. He kept in close contact with the Parisian world of Catholic reformers (Pierre de Bérulle, Vincent de Paul, Jacqueline-Marie-Angélique Arnaud) and preached extensively outside his diocese. It was during one of these missionary tours that, in 1604, he met Jeanne-Françoise de Chantal (15721641), with whom he founded the Visitation of Holy Mary of Annecy (1610), an order of nuns that quickly spread throughout France.

His written work is impressive. Along with extensive correspondence, he wrote books that became classics of Catholic literature. In Chablais, during 15951596, he had daily flyers printed (known as Feuilles volantes, or Controversies) in order to influence the Protestants who refused to attend his preachings. He also wrote A Defense of the Standard of the Holy Cross (1600), a difficult monograph that contrasts with his masterpiece, the Introduction to the Devout Life (1609), in which he claims that religious perfection is attainable outside the cloisters and at all levels of society, including among the wealthy and privileged. This work was followed by L'entretien spirituel (Spiritual conferences), given at the Visitation of Annecy from 1610 onward (published in 1629), and Treatise of the Love of God (1616), in which he expounded the Christian humanism he had helped to create.

See also Arnauld Family ; Bellarmine, Robert ; Bérulle, Pierre de ; Borromeo, Carlo ; Reformation, Catholic ; Savoy, duchy of ; Vincent de Paul .


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. Oeuvres. Edited by Andre Ravier and Roger Devos. Paris, 1969.

Kermina, Françoise. Jeanne de Chantal, 15721641. Paris, 2000.

Kleinman, Ruth. Saint François de Sales and the Protestants. Geneva, 1962.

Lajeunie, E.-M. Saint François de Sales: L'homme, la pensée, l'action. 2 vols. Paris, 1966.

McGoldrick, Terence A. The Sweet and Gentle Struggle: Francis de Sales on the Necessity of Spiritual Friendship. Lanham, Md., 1996.

Marceau, William. Optimism in the Works of St. Francis de Sales. Lewiston, N.Y., 1989.

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Wyrill, Hubert. Réforme et Contre-Réforme en Savoie, 15361679: De Guillaume Farel à François de Sales. Lyon, 2001.

Dominique Deslandres

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François De Sales (1567–1622)

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