Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva and Teacher of the Faith, 1622

Francis was born in 1567 in Savoy at the Château de Sales. His later education was at the University of Paris, where he studied rhetoric, philosophy, and theology. In 1591 he became a Doctor of Laws at Padua. Although opportunities were available both for a brilliant marriage and a successful legal career through becoming a senator of Savoy, he refused both, wishing to become a priest more than anything else. Francis was ordained to the presbyterate in 1593, and he soon was distinguished for his service to the poor and for his skill as a preacher. The following year he undertook the task of converting the Chablais country from Calvinism. In spite of danger to his life from assassins and from wolves he survived, and within four years was largely successful in his task simply by preaching Catholic doctrine with great love and understanding, with persistent patience and gentleness. These would continue to be the chief marks of his character for the rest of his life.

After undergoing a severe examination in theology at Rome in the presence of the Pope and several cardinals, he was made bishop coadjutor of Geneva in 1599, and became bishop of Geneva in 1602. Because Geneva had gained its independence from the dukes of Savoy in the early sixteenth century and because the Reformed Church was the established church in the city and canton, Francis was not allowed to take up his ministry in Geneva itself. Nevertheless, he worked in adminstration, in preaching, in spiritual direction, and in catechizing within his diocese and beyond as he was able. His most famous writings, the Treatise of the Love of God and the Introduction to the Devout Life, were written during these years. The Introduction to the Devout Life was written for lay people and was immediately acclaimed as fulfilling a long-felt need. It was soon translated into several languages other than French. One of his better-known close friends was Jane Frances de Chantal, whom he first knew as a widow and who founded the Order of the Visitation in 1610 under his episcopal direction.

Frances was profoundly influential as a spiritual director and writer, and he excelled in gently leading ardent souls to the demands of self-sacrifice and the love of God. One of his favorite sayings was that more flies are attracted by a spoonful of honey than by a whole barrel of vinegar.

Frances died at Lyons in a Visitandine convent on December 28, 1622. His body was translated to Annecy in January 1623. Canonized by the pope in 1665, he was declared a Doctor (Teacher) of the Church in 1877. He was especially influential in the revival of French Catholicism in the seventeenth century, but his works have appealed to Christians of other traditions. His Introduction to the Devout Life was praised by John Wesley, and C.S. Lewis referred to the “dewy freshness” that permeates the book. Because of this wide influence, Frances de Sales is commemorated in the calendars of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Church of England.

prepared from material taken from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints and other sources

The Collect

Holy God, who called your bishop Francis de Sales to bring many to Christ through his devout life and to renew your Church with patience and understanding: grant that we may, by word and example, reflect your gentleness and love to all we meet; through Jesus Christ our Saviour, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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The Collect is taken from the Church of England’s webpages of Collects and Post Communions for Lesser Festivals.

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