Treatise On The Love Of God – Chapters IX and X
HOW THE PURITY OF INDIFFERENCE IS TO BE PRACTISED IN THE ACTIONS OF SACRED LOVE.
ONE of the most excellent musicians in the world, who played perfectly upon the lute, became in time so extremely deaf that he entirely lost the use of his hearing, yet ceased he not for all that to sing and to handle his lute marvellous delicately, by reason of the great skill he had acquired, of which his deafness did not deprive him. But because he had no pleasure in his song, nor yet in the sound of his lute, inasmuch as, being deprived of his hearing he could not perceive its sweetness and beauty,—he no longer sang or played save only to content a prince whose native subject he was, and whom he had an extreme inclination, as well as an infinite obligation, to please, because brought up in his palace from childhood.
Hence he took an incomparable delight in pleasing him, and when his prince showed that he was pleased with his music he was ravished with delight. But it happened sometimes that the prince, to make trial of this loving musician’s love, gave him an order to sing, and then immediately leaving him there in his chamber, went to the chase. The desire which this singer had to accomplish his master’s will, made him continue his music as attentively as though his prince had been present, though in very deed he had no content in singing. For he neither had the pleasure of the melody, whereof his deafness deprived him, nor the content of pleasing his prince, who being absent could not enjoy the sweetness of the beautiful airs he sang.
My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready: I will sing and rehearse a psalm. Arise, O my glory! Arise psaltery and harp: I will arise early.421 Man’s heart is the true chaunter of the canticle of sacred love, himself the harp and the psaltery. Now ordinarily this chaunter hears his own voice, and takes a great pleasure in the melody of his song. I mean that our heart, loving God, relishes the 389 delights of this love, and takes an incomparable contentment in loving so lovely an object.
Notice, I pray you, Theotimus, what I mean. The young nightingales do first essay a beginning of song to imitate the old ones; but having got skill and become masters, they sing for the pleasure which they take in warbling, and they so passionately addict themselves to this delight, as I have said in another place, that by force of straining their voice, their throat bursts and they die. So our hearts in the beginning of their devotion love God that they may be united and become agreeable unto him, and imitate him in that he hath loved us for all eternity; but by little and little being formed and exercised in holy love, they are imperceptibly changed. In lieu of loving God in order to please God, they begin to love him for the pleasure they take in the exercises of holy love; and instead of falling in love with God they fall in love with the love they bear him, and stand affected to their own affections.
They no longer take pleasure in God, but in the pleasure they find in his love. They content themselves with this love as being their own, in their spirit and proceeding from it; for though this sacred love be called the love of God because God is loved by it, yet it is also ours, because we are the lovers that love. And it is thus we make the change; for instead of loving this holy love because it tends to God who is the beloved, we love it because it proceeds from us who are the lovers. Now who does not see that in so doing we do not seek God, but turn home to ourselves, loving the love instead of loving the beloved?
Loving, I say, the love, not by reason of God’s good-pleasure and liking, but for the pleasure and content we draw from it. This chaunter who in the beginning sang 421 Ps. lvi. 8, 9. 288 Treatise on the Love of God St. Francis de Sales to God and for God, now rather sings to himself and for himself than for God; and the pleasure he takes in singing is not so much to please God’s ear as his own. And forasmuch as the canticle of Divine love is of all the most excellent, he also loves it better, not by reason of the Divine excellence which is exalted therein, but because its music is more delicious and agreeable.
CHAPTER X. MEANS TO DISCOVER WHEN WE CHANGE IN THE MATTER OF THIS HOLY LOVE. You may easily discover this, Theotimus; for if this mystical nightingale sing to please God, she will sing the song which she knows to be most grateful to the Divine Providence, but if she sing for the delight which she herself takes in her melodious song, she will not sing the canticle which is most agreeable to the heavenly goodness, but that which she herself likes best, and from which she expects to draw the most contentment. Of two canticles which are both divine, it may well be that one may be sung because it is divine, and the other because it is pleasing.
Rachel and Lia are equally wife of Jacob, but he loves one only in the quality of wife, the other in quality of beautiful. The canticle is divine, but the motive which moves us to sing it is the spiritual delectation which we expect from it. Do you not see, we may say to a bishop, that God wills you to sing the pastoral song of his love among your flock, which, in virtue of holy love, he thrice commands you (in the person of S. Peter, the first of pastors) to feed? What is your answer? That at Rome or Paris there are more spiritual pleasures, and that there one may practise Divine love with more sweetness.
O God! it is not then to please thee that this man desires to sing, it is for the pleasure he takes in it; it is not thou he seeks in his love, but the contentment which he receives in the exercises of this holy love. Religious men would sing the pastors’ song, and married people that of religious, in order, as they say, to be able to love and serve God better. Ah! you deceive yourselves my dear friends: do not say that it is to love and serve God better: Oh no, no, indeed! It is to serve your own satisfaction better, you prefer this before God’s.
God’s will is as much in sickness as in health, and ordinarily almost more so; wherefore if we love health better, let us never say that this is in order to serve God the better, for who sees not that it is health that we look for in God’s will, not God’s will in health. 391 It is hard, I confess, to behold long together and with delight the beauty of a mirror without casting an eye upon ourself, yea, without taking a complacency in ourself; yet there is a difference between the pleasure which we take in beholding the beauty of the mirror, and the complacency we take in seeing ourself in it. It is also without doubt very hard to love God and not withal love the pleasure which we take in his love, yet there is a notable difference between the pleasure which we take in loving God because he is beautiful, and that which we take in loving him because his love is agreeable to us.
Now our task must be to seek in God only the love of his beauty, not the pleasure which is in the beauty of his love. He who in praying to God notices that he is praying, is not perfectly attentive to his prayer, for he diverts his attention from God to whom he prays, and turns it upon the prayer by which he prays. The very solicitude we have not to be distracted causes oftentimes a very great distraction; simplicity in spiritual actions is most to be commended. If you 289 Treatise on the Love of God St. Francis de Sales wish to contemplate God, contemplate him then, and that attentively: if you reflect and bring your eyes backwards upon yourself, to see how you look when you look upon him, it is not now he that you behold but your own behaviour—your self.
He who prays fervently knows not whether he prays or not, for he is not thinking of the prayer which he makes but of God to whom he makes it. He that is in the heat of sacred love, does not turn his heart back upon himself to see what he is doing, but keeps it set and bent upon God to whom he applies his love. The heavenly chaunter takes such pleasure in pleasing God, that he has no pleasure in the melody of his voice, except in so far as God is pleased by it. Why, Theotimus, did Amnon the son of David love Thamar so desperately that he even thought he should die of love? Do you think that it was she herself that he loved?
You soon see it was not. Look at this man who prays, apparently, with such great devotion, and is so ardent in the practice of heavenly love. But stay a little, and you will discover whether it be God indeed whom he loves. Alas! as soon as the delight and satisfaction which he took in love departs, and dryness comes, he will stop short, and only casually pray.
If it had been God indeed whom he loved, why should he cease loving him, since God is ever God? It was therefore the consolations of God that he loved, not the God of consolation. In truth there are many who take no delight in divine love unless it be candied in the sugar of some sensible sweetness, and they would willingly act like children, who, if they have a little honey spread upon their bread, lick and suck off the honey, casting the bread away; for if the delight could be separated from the love, they would reject love and take the sweetness only.
Wherefore as they follow love for the sake of its sweetness, when they find not this they make no account of love. But such persons are exposed to a great danger of either turning back as soon as they miss their relish and consolations, or else of occupying themselves in vain sweetnesses, far remote from true love, and of mistaking the honey of Heraclea for that of Narbonne.