Uncover the transformative teachings of Saint Francis de Sales in "Philothea" as he illuminates the path to resisting temptations and nurturing a devout heart. Gain valuable insights on overcoming worldly allurements.

Guarding The Heart Against Temptation

While we remain on earth, we will inevitably encounter temptations. In Philothea or An Introduction to the Devout Life, Saint Francis de Sales has left us with wisdom on how temptation can become sinful, how to remedy them, and how to guard our hearts against temptation.


How Temptations May Become Sinful

Sometimes mere temptation becomes a sin, if we have brought it upon ourselves. For instance, I know that if I play I easily lose my temper and use bad language, and that play is a temptation to me. In such case I sin whenever I play, and am guilty of whatever temptations may injure me in so doing.

Whenever it is possible to avoid the attraction which accompanies temptation, we sin in encountering it in proportion to the pleasure it gives us, or the consent which we give, be it great or little, for a short or long while. If the princess hearkens at all to the unholy overtures made her, she is to blame; but if, having heard them, she takes pleasure therein, dwelling with satisfaction on them although she would not actually consent to the evil, she still gives the spiritual consent of her heart by her satisfaction. There is impurity in allowing either heart or body to consent to what is impure; and impurity consists so entirely in the consent of the heart, that without it the consent of the body cannot be sin.

If then you are tempted to sin, reflect whether you have voluntarily brought it on yourself; and when the temptation is in itself sinful, whether you have cast yourself into it; that is, whether you might not have avoided the occasion, or have foreseen the temptation. If you have in no way induced it, then it cannot be imputed to you as sin.

How To Remedy Temptations

These trifling temptations of vanity, suspicion, vexation, jealousy, envy, levity, and similar failings, which are ever hovering before our eyes like flies and gnats, now stinging one cheek, now the other, inasmuch as it is impossible to be wholly free from their importunity, will be most effectually combated by our not allowing them to torment us; for although they annoy us, they cannot do us any real harm so long as we are firm in our resolution to serve God. Treat such assaults, then, with contempt, and do not even condescend to inquire what they mean, but let them hum and buzz about your ears as they will, and attend to them no more than you would to flies; and even if they sting you, do not let them remain in your heart, be content with simply driving them away; neither fighting with them, nor parleying with them, but merely making contrary acts—above all, acts of the love of God. I would not have you persevere in making these acts in opposition to the prevailing temptation, for that would resemble a contest; but after having made an act in direct opposition, if you have had time to ascertain the nature of the temptation, merely turn your heart towards Jesus Christ crucified, and making an act of love to Him, kiss His sacred feet. This is the best way of overcoming the enemy, whether in little or great temptations; for as the love of God includes the perfection of all virtues (and that more excellently than the virtues themselves), so is it a sovereign remedy against all vices; and if your mind is accustomed to seek that refuge in all temptations, it will not need to contemplate and examine them, but as soon as it is disturbed it will turn to its shelter, which, furthermore, is so obnoxious to the Evil One that when he perceives that his temptations only provoke us the more to that divine love, he will cease to attack us.

Such is my advice with regard to these trifling and frequent temptations, which if dealt with individually would waste our time and weaken our strength.

How To Arm The Heart Against Temptation

From time to time examine what passions predominate in your soul, and having ascertained them, let your way of life be altogether opposed to them in thought, word, and deed. For instance, if you know that you have a tendency to vanity, often reflect on the misery of our present life, how these vanities will weigh upon your conscience on your deathbed, how unworthy they are of a noble heart, that they are but a childish trifling, and so forth. Often speak in opposition to your vanity, and despise it, however reluctantly, thus making yourself, as it were, its enemy; for by dint of opposing anything, we gradually learn to hate it, although we may have begun by loving it. Perform as many acts of abjection and humility as you can, in spite of your reluctance; for by this means you will weaken your vanity and strengthen your humility, so that when temptation arises your inclination will be less favorable to it, and you will have more power to resist it. If you are disposed to avarice, often reflect on the folly of this sin, which makes us the slave of that which is destined only to be our servant: remember that when death comes you must forsake all, and leave your riches in the hands of those who will squander them, or abuse them to their own ruin and damnation, and so forth. Condemn avarice, and be warm in praises of the opposing virtue; exert yourself to be generous in almsgiving and charity, and in occasionally forbearing to seize occasions of gain.

If you are inclined to trifle with the affections, either exciting or being excited with love, reflect how dangerous an amusement this is, both to yourself and others: how unworthy a thing it is thus to trifle with and profane the noblest affections of the soul, and how it leads to excessive levity of mind; cultivate purity and simplicity of heart, and conform your actions to such a temper, avoiding all affectations and flirtations.

Finally, in time of peace, that is when you are not under the pressure of those temptations to which you are most subject, carefully practice the opposite virtue; and if occasions do not present themselves, go out of your way to seek them: and thus you will strengthen your heart against future temptation.

This article is taken from a chapter in An Introduction to the Devout Life: Philothea by Saint Francis de Sales which is available from TAN Books

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