Academic journal article Magistra

St. Francis De Sales and the Maternal Love of God

Academic journal article Magistra

St. Francis De Sales and the Maternal Love of God

Article excerpt

The Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs the faithful, "God's parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God's immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man."1 No recent Doctor of the Church more aptly captured this vibrant dynamic than St. Francis de Sales ([dagger]1622). His use of feminine imagery for God can be found prominently in at least two of his famous works: Introduction to the Devout Life (1609) and Treatise Concerning the Love of God (1616), as well as throughout Consoling Thoughts, published as a short spiritual anthology of his works. The spiritual master beautifully portrayed the feminine side of God in ways to which the average person could relate and understand.

Grace and the Will of God

Francis de Sales was proclaimed the "Doctor of Charity" (i.e., Love) by Pope Pius IX in 1877, and not without reason. Francis grounded his theology in the imago Dei and the heart of God. His spiritual anthology, Consoling Thoughts, opens up with this premise:

The pleasure and confidence which the human heart naturally finds in God can only proceed from the affinity that exists between the Divine Goodness and our soul. There is a great, but secret affinity between the two, a resemblance that each one knows but too few understand, an affinity of which one cannot perceive the depths. We are created in the image of God; we have an extremely close affinity with the 2 Divine Majesty.

Expounding on that affinity and the "unrivalled correspondence" between the two hearts (benefactor and suppliant), coupled with God's superabundance of love that wishes to inundate the believer's heart, Francis drives the point home with the following analogy:

Sometimes mothers have their breasts so productive and full that they cannot wait to give their breast to some infant, and while the baby takes the breast with great eagerness, the nursing mother gives it to the babe more willingly, the infant sucking, driven by hunger, and the mother nursing, driven by her fruitfulness. Similarly, our deficiency needs the divine abundance because of its dearth and necessity, whereas the divine affluence has no need of our poverty except through the excellence and perfection of its goodness (CT 1.1).

In short, the relationship between God's heart and the human heart is mutually gratifying, for God's perfection is overflowing and superabundant and the creature has an insatiable dependency upon the infinite goodness. The analogy of nursing mother and child perfectly captures this intimate relationship and reciprocal enthrallment in the other.

Francis de Sales appreciates humans being children of God in a way that complements that of Father and child; yet they are also the birth-child of God who is our Mother. The bishop of Geneva observes:

And we, like little children of our heavenly Father, can advance in two ways: first, by the steps of our own will conformed to his, always holding with the hand of our obedience that of his divine will and following it wherever it may lead. This is what God requires of us by manifesting his will, for when he wishes that I do what he commands, he wills that I have the ability to accomplish it. And secondly, we can also advance with Our Lord without having any self-will, simply allowing ourselves to be carried along, according to his Good Pleasure, like an infant in the arms of its mother, by an admirable contentment which one can call union, or more so the unity of our will with God's (CT 1.21).

Francis understands relationship to the will of God as having two aspects: one of obedience as to a father, and another as trusting in a mother. Both are vital dimensions of the spiritual life. Precisely as a pastor of souls, Francis was well-acquainted with the human condition and could give practical advice. …

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