Monday 24 January 2011

The Patron Saint of Writers

Today is the feast day of Saint François de Sales, the patron saint of writers. François was born into the French aristocracy during the reign of King Charles IX in 1567, at a time of great religious and political unrest in France. He was an intelligent and handsome young man, whose parents believed firmly in the benefits of a good education. Unfortunately, for most of his teenage years François suffered from severe depression, after he attended a lecture on pre-destination at the age of thirteen and became convinced that, since pre-destination existed, he was going to Hell when he died. By the time he was eighteen, this five-year long battle with mental ill-health had begun to take its toll on him physically and it was with the greatest of difficulty that he managed to undertake a pilgrimage back to his homeland in southern France. It was whilst he was praying in the church of Saint Etienne, dedicated to the first Christian martyr, that François felt his doubts and fears lift away. He felt filled with joy and decided to dedicate his life entirely to God, rejecting the morbid spirituality of those who believed in pre-destination or a vengeful, vindictive deity. Today François's spiritual philosophy is often called "the Way of Divine Love" and two of his most important philosophical works, Perfections of the Heart of Mary and Introduction to the Devout Life are based on his key theological belief - "God is love."

With his health restored, François completed his education by studying at the Sorbonne and then at the University of Padua, graduating with a doctorate in both Theology and Law. After graduation, he went on pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Loreto, where he decided once and for all to become a priest. His father had difficulty in accepting his son's decision, since he wanted François to embrace a secular, aristocratic vocation and marry a local heiress selected by the family. However, eventually François managed to persuade his father that he was meant to enter the Church and he was already armed with the support of the exiled Bishop of Geneva, who was impressed with François's piety, intelligence and charm.

In time, François was to rise through the hierarchy of the Church, armed with these same qualities, eventually succeeding his former mentor as Bishop of Geneva. However, what he was best-known for at the time was his fantastic abilities as both a writer and a preacher. Unlike many of his contemporaries, François had a great deal of sympathy with Protestantism - or, rather, with Protestants. He felt that throughout most of Catholic Europe they had been treated with considerable cruelty and had been subject to sustained state persecution in certain countries which eclipsed anything Catholics were currently facing in Protestant countries. François could see for himself the effect that these persecutions had produced in his native France, in which the country had been crippled during the reigns of Charles IX and Henri III when the government failed to keep a lid on savage sectarian tensions. True to his philosophy, François attempted to reach out to Protestants with messages of love and his Catholic evangelising was particularly productive in Savoy, where he converted many thousands back to "the Old Religion." Because of this aspect of his life, along with the eloquence of his writing, François is today one of the few post-reformation Catholic saints deemed a worthy notary of the Christian faith by the Church of England.

François also exhibited kindness elsewhere in his life by attempting to develop an early form of sign language for his deaf parishioners and also by building personal friendships with Pope Clement VIII and with King Henri IV of France, himself a convert from Protestantism to Catholicism. 

François died on the Feast of the Holy Innocents 1622, in the reign of King Louis XIII. He was beatified a mere forty years later by Pope Alexander VII and formally declared a saint in the Roman Catholic religion three years later, by the same pontiff. 

Saint François is also the patron saint of deaf people and journalists. 


  1. What a fabulous post! Thank you for putting St. Francis' life in historical context.

  2. Thank you! It was my pleasure and I'm very glad you liked it.

  3. Oh, I was not aware that St. Francis was the patron of writers. That is good to know.

  4. This Saint liked Protestants so he's ok. He was also an evangelist which is cool.

  5. Evangelist as in spreading the word, Sam; not evangelical like he was trying to put his hands in the air and shake 'em like he just don't care. There was nothing clappy about his happy.

  6. Gareth, you are a better papist than I am.


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