Introduction to the Devout Life

St. Francis de Sales on Holy Books

In Introduction to the Devout Life (page 77), Chapter 17: “How we ought to hear and read the Word of God”, the saint explains the necessity of holy reading:

Have always at hand some approved book of devotion: such as the spiritual works of St. Bonaventure, of Gerson, of Denis the Carthusian, of Louis de BLois of Grenada, of Stella, of Arias, of Pinelli, of Dupont, of Avila, the Spiritual Combat, St. Augustine’s Confessions, St. Jerome’s Episodes, &c., and read a little of them every day with as much devotion as if you were reading a letter which those saints had sent you from heaven to show you the way to it, and encourage you to come. Read also the histories and lives of the saints, in which, as in a looking-glass, you may behold the portraiture of a Christian’s life, and accomodate their actions to your state of life; for, although several actions of the saints cannot absolutely be imitated by such as live in the world, yet they may be in some degree followed; for example, you may imitate the solitude of St. Paul, the first hermit, by the spiritual solitude of your heart, and by retreats which you can make, of which we shall hereafter speak, and have already spoken; the extreme poverty of St. Francis, by the practices of poverty; and so of the rest. It is true that there are some of their histories which give more light for the conduct of our lives than others, such as the life of the blessed mother Teresa [of Avila], the lives of the first Jesuits, that of St. Charles Borromeus, Archbishop of Milan, of St. Louis, of Bernard, the Chronicles of St. Francis, and several others.

There are others, again, which contain more subjects for admiration than imitation, such as the life of St. Mary of Egypt, of St. Simon Stylites, of St. Catherine of Sienna, and of St. Catherine of Genoa, of St. Angela, and others; which, nevertheless, do not fail in general to give us a great relish for the holy love of God.

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