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Tuesday, 8 April 2014

St. Francis de Sales on His Predominant Faults-Two

After being greatly insulted by a Knight of Malta for not giving a benefice to one of his 
servants, “the bishop‟s brother …asked him how it was he had not lost his temper, and the Saint 
confessed that „at the time and many other times he was seething with anger like water in a pot 
boiling over the fire but that by the grace of God, even if the violent efforts to resist such passion 
endangered his life…he would not let himself go.‟”12

On one occasion, he says he was “seething with anger” inside 
and on several other occasions he was afraid of losing in fifteen minutes what it took him years 
to acquire. He admitted to Camus that the two passions that gave him the greatest difficulty were 
love and anger. “With regard to the passion of anger to which he was inclined, he fought it head 
on and with such strength and courage, or, to state it better, with such effort and constancy that 
this appeared visibly at his death. When they opened up his body, some stones were found in his 
gall bladder.”17
 The doctors, Camus tells us, explained the presence of these little stones as 
resulting from the very vehement efforts he made to control this passion. Then Camus makes 
this fanciful comment, becoming almost rhapsodic: “O stones from David‟s bread bag, how 
many giants, that is, impetuous assaults of anger, have you felled? O stones from which run 
water, oil and honey, and which demonstrate the great power of grace over nature, the grace that 
sometimes changes stones into honey and sometimes also honey into stone.”18

 This rather baroque comparison with its allusions to two noteworthy incidents of the OT 
–David felling Goliath, water and honey coming from the rock as the Israelites wandered in the 
desert–is instructive for our purposes. Miel or honey signified for both the saint and Camus 
gentleness or sweetness. This calls to mind the very well-known saying attributed to the saint but 
found only in Camus: “"Always be as indulgent as you can, never forgetting that one can catch 
more flies with a spoonful of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar.”19
 Now in Camus‟ 
mind, not only can hard and difficult situations and events signified by the stones be softened by 
gentleness, but gentleness itself through grace can also become as hard or as stern as stone. This 
is an interesting take on the way one of the Francis‟ closest friends, who greatly admired the 
saint‟s extraordinary gentleness, saw occasions where sternness or firmness might be called for 
by God‟s grace. As we will see below, Camus personally experienced the turning of “honey into 
 So Francis was apparently hot-blooded by nature and throughout his lifetime. As late as 
1619, “he admitted to a friend: „I very nearly let go of my anger, and intentionally I was obliged 
to grip my anger by the scruff of the neck‟ and that he had to take the reins in both hands to hold 
it back.‟…. „However, much I have been in the right,‟ he confessed, I have never shown anger 
without discovering afterwards that I would have done better by not showing it‟ So he had shown 

One must use a virtue to combat a vice. Use the opposite virtue to combat a vice. So, if you are angry, emphasize meekness, gentleness. 

It is true that nothing has angered me for a longtime like the report 
that I received from you regarding the indignity committed 
between this dishonest young man and this poor girl. I owe special 
honor and respect to those dear to you and to Madame, our 
Président, for many reasons. So, if it were possible, I would 
exchange this misfortune for a painful wound in my body to 
relieve this dear sister of the excessive sorrow, which I now see in 
her soul. If this vicious young man had desired to mitigate this 
misfortune by marriage, which I did not fail to urge him to do as 
my duty required, I would have detained him longer, despite my 
repugnance, to be of some help. But when I heard the offensive 
words with which he defended himself, and the invectives he used 
to express his shameful feelings for this young woman, I threw him 
out, even though I saw that he was without any resources, without 
drive and without judgment. It would be impossible to get a dowry 
or anything else from him. Otherwise I would have forced myself 
to overcome my feelings, and kept on talking to him until we had 
come to a conclusion, although it would have been disagreeable for 

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