St. Francis de Sales was a prolific writer. The collection of all his writings in French, known as the Complete Works (Oeuvres Completes}, Annecy edition, number 26 volumes. Fr. Andre Ravier insists that “St. Francis de Sales is the promoter of Christian action and commitment through genuine contemplation”; and advises that the Saint’s writings be read in the right perspective, namely, as a work born of lived experience, oriented towards meaningful action and leading to evangelical commitment”.
“The writings of Francis de Sales, filled with celestial doctrine are a bright light in the Church, pointing out to souls an easy and safe way to arrive at the perfection of a Christian life.’’ (Breviarium Romanum, 29 January, lect, VI.)
The Principal Works of St. Francis De Sales
During his mission to reconvert the inhabitants of the Chablais region, since people were forbidden to attend his preaching, Francis prepared handwritten leaflets on the Catholic faith, which he would slip under the doors of the houses of the Calvinists. These writings were collected into a book now known as The Catholic Controversy. By the end of his missionary apostolale, Francis had persuaded about 72,000 Calvinists to return to the Catholic Church.
The Defence of the Standard of the Cross
It constitutes an explanation of the practice of the veneration of the Holy Cross and expounds the significance of the Cross, the Crucifix and the Sign of the Cross in Christian piety.
The Introduction to Devout Life
This great classic was published in 1606. Addressed to Philothea, Francis exhorts all Christians regardless of differences of sex, age, fortune, or condition in life, to cultivate and reap the fruits of devotion. He insists that, holiness is not the prerogative of one group or of another, or of any one person, but an invitation and a command addressed to all those who bear the name of Christian. All Christians are bound to ascend the mountain of the Lord, although not by one and the same path. The practice of devotion must differ for the gentleman and the artisan, the servant and the prince, for the widow, young girl or wife. Further, it must be accommodated to their particular strength, circumstances and duties. In the first part the author helps the soul to free itself from all inclination to, or affection for sin; in the second, he teaches it how to be united to God by prayer and the sacraments; In the third, he exercises it in the practice of virtue; in the fourth, he strengthens it against temptation; in the fifth, he teaches it how to form its resolutions and to persevere. The “Introduction”, which is a masterpiece of psychology, practical morality and common sense, was translated into nearly every language even in the lifetime of the author.
The Treatise on the Love of God
This great work was written between 1606 and published in 1616. It was written during the period when St. Francis had to assume manifold responsibilities – as Bishop, as Diplomat (in communication with the Senate of Savoy, and serving as the Duke’s emissary to the King of France), as Spiritual Director (to the Nuns of the Visitation, to numerous noblemen and lay persons), as a Counsellor (responding through his 4000 letters to diverse queries addressed to him). The Treatise constitutes a Manual for Devout souls (laity, priests and religious) desirous of attaining a higher degree of perfection in the Light of the Gospel, the teachings of the Fathers of the Church and the example of the Saints. It contains twelve books. The first four give us a history, or rather explain the theory, of Divine love, its birth in the soul, its growth, its perfection, and its decay and annihilation; the fifth book shows that this love is twofold – the love of complacency and the love of benevolence; the sixth and seventh treat of affective love, which is practised in prayer; the eight and ninth deal with effective love, that is, conformity to the will of God, and submission to His good pleasure. The last three resume what has preceded and teach how to apply practically the lessons taught therein.
Given to the sisters of the Visitation (established in 1610) in the course of his visits to their monasteries, it constitutes the transcript by the sisters of replies to personal questions on the practice of religious perfection and takes the form of spiritual direction given to the entire religious community. The Conferences (‘Love’s gentle persuasion’) are considered by many as “the quintessence of the Salesian spirit, the highest peak of Salesian devotion, the secret of a very special way of loving God and man. We find in them that practical common sense, keenness of perception and delicacy of feeling which were characteristic of the kind-hearted and energetic Saint.
Francis delivered more than 4,000 sermons and was described as a preacher of power and charm. He was likewise effective in the spiritual direction of individuals. It is this activity that led to two of his accomplishments that have had perhaps the most dramatic, long term effect. To speak well we need only to love well; and, tongue speaks only to the ear; but heart speaks to the heart: were his maxims. His sermons on Prayer, on Mary, on Advent and Lent have been published in English.
About 4000 in all are addressed to persons from all walks of life, senators, bishops, nobility, religious, seeking counsel. Francis offers direction, and as minister of God effaces himself and teaches the soul to listen to God, the only true director. For him active work did not weaken his spiritual inner peace but strengthened it. He directed most people through letters, which tested his remarkable patience.
There are also many other writings of St. Francis in which however we may no less discover “that heaven-sent doctrine which, like a stream of living water has watered the vineyard of the Lord . . . and has helped greatly in achieving the well-being of the people of God.” (Apostolic Letter of Pius IX. 16 Nov. 1877) [quoted in Rerum Omnium, Pius XI. 20). The books which he wrote are marked with an authentic wealth of doctrine, a profundity of thought, a natural beauty adorned with grace. (Taken from Salesian Spirituality-A Souce Book, by Fr. Noel Rebello msfs).