Harmony of Faith and Reason

by Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622), Bishop and Doctor of the Church

From the "Catholic Controversy" (originally published by Burns and Oates, London 1886)
Translated by Rev. Henry Benedict Mackey, O.S.B.

CHAPTER I. That the teaching of the pretended reformers contradicts reason.

That the analogy of the faith cannot serve as a rule to the ministers to establish their doctrine.

A short enumeration of many excellences which are in the Catholic doctrine as compared with the opinion of the heretics of our age.


That the teaching of the pretended reformers contradicts reason.

I have put off the showing of the absurdities which are in the doctrine of our adversaries to the end of the treatise an the rules of faith, these absurdities being a consequence of their believing without rule and sailing without compass. And [put off showing] that they have not the efficacy of the doctrine of Catholicism; for not only are they not Catholics, but cannot be, effecting the destruction of the body of Our Lord, instead of acquiring new members for it.

Also when Luther says (Apud. Cochl., ann. 1523) that infants in Baptism have the use of their understanding and reason, and when the synod of Wittenberg (Ann. 1536. L. 3: Miscell tract.) says that infants in Baptism have movements and inclinations like to the movements of faith and charity, and this without understanding :-is not this to mock God, nature, and experience?

And when it is said that "in sinning we are incited, pushed, necessitated by the will, ordinance, decree, and predestination of God,"-is this not to blaspheme against all reason, and against the majesty of the supreme goodness ? Such is the fine theology of Zwingle [de prud. 5, 6], Calvin (Instit. I. 17, 18; de Praed.; Instruct. contra Lib.), and Beza (contra Castal.). " But," says Beza, "you will say that they Gould not resist the will of God, that is, the decree; I acknowledge it: but as they could not so they would not: they could not wish otherwise, I own, as to the event and working (energiam), but yet the will of Adam was not forced." Goodness of God, I call you as my witness! You have pushed me to do evil; you have so decreed, ordained, and willed; I could not act otherwise, I could not will otherwise, -what fault of mine is there? O God of my heart! chastise my will, if it is able not to will evil and wills to will it; but if it cannot help willing evil, and thou art the cause of its impossibility, what fault of mine can there be? If this is not contrary to reason, I protest that there is no reason in the world.

The law of God is impossible, according to Calvin and the others (Calv. ant. Sess. conc. Tr.; Luther de lib. Christ.): what follows, except that Our Lord is a tyrant who commands impossible things? If it is impossible, why is it commanded?

Works, good as ever they may be, rather deserve hell than Paradise: shall then the justice of God, which will give to every one according to his works, give to every one hell?

This is enough, but the absurdity of absurdities, and the most horrible unreason of all is this: that while holding that the whole Church may have erred for a thousand years in the understanding of the Word of God, Luther, Zwingle, Calvin can guarantee that they understand it aright: this absurdity is greater when a mere wretched minister (ministrot), while preaching as a word of God that all the visible Church has erred, that Calvin and all men can err, dares to pick and choose amongst the interpretations of the Scripture that one which pleases him, and to certify and maintain it as the Word of God: and you yourselves carry the absurdity still further when, having heard that everybody may err in matter of religion -even the whole Church- without trying to find for yourselves some other religion amongst a thousand sects, which all boast of rightly understanding the Word of God, and rightly preaching it, you believe so obstinately in the minister who preaches to you, that you will hear no more? If everybody can err in the understanding of the Scripture, why not you and your minister? I wonder that you do not always walk trembling and shaking: I wonder how you can live with so much assurance in the doctrine which you follow, as if you could not err, and yet you hold as certain that every one has erred and can err.

The Gospel soars far above all the most elevated reasonings of nature, it never goes against them, never injures them nor dissolves them: but these fancies of your evangelists obscure and destroy the light of nature.


That the analogy of the faith cannot serve as a rule to the ministers to establish their doctrine.

It is a saying full of pride and ambition amongst your ministers, and one which is ordinary with them, that we must interpret the Scriptures and test the exposition of them by the analogy of the faith. The simple people when they hear this analogy of the faith, think that it is some word of secret potency and cabalistic virtue; and they wonderingly admire every interpretation which is given, provided that this word be brought into the field. In truth the ministers are right when they say that we must interpret the Scripture, and prove our expositions of it by the analogy of faith; but they are wrong in not doing what they say. The poor people hear nothing but their bragging about this analogy of faith, and the ministers do nothing but corrupt, spoil, force it, and tear it to shreds.

Let us look into this, I beg you. You say that the Scripture is easy to understand, provided that one adjust it to the rule and proportion, or analogy, of the faith. But what rule of faith can they have who have no Scripture except one entirely glossed, wrested, and strained by interpretations, metaphors, metonymies? If the rule is subject to irregularity, who shall regulate it? And what analogy or proportion of faith can there be, if a man proportion the articles of faith with conceptions the most foreign to their true sense? If the fact of proportion with the articles of faith is to serve you to decide upon doctrine and religion, leave the articles of faith in their natural shape; do not give them a form different from that which they have received from the Apostles. I leave you to guess what use the Symbol of the Apostles can be to me in interpreting the Scriptures, when you gloss it in such a way that you put me in greater difficulties about its sense than ever I was in about the Scriptures themselves.

If any one ask how the same body of Our Lord can come to be in two places, I shall say that this is easy to God, and I shall confirm it by this reason of our faith: I believe in God the Father Almighty. But if you gloss both the Scripture and the article of faith itself, how will you confirm your gloss? At this rate there will be no first principle except your notions. If the analogy of faith be subject to your glosses and opinions, you must say so openly, that we may know what you are at, which will now be this - to interpret Scripture by Scripture and analogy, adjusting everything to your own interpretations and ideas.

I apply the whole question [of the Real Presence] to the analog of the faith: this explanation agrees perfectly with that first word of the Creed where Credo takes away all difficulties of human reason; the omnipotentem strengthens me, the mention of creation heartens me; - for why shall He who made all things out of nothing, not make the body of Christ out of bread? That name of Jesus comforts me, for His mercy and His will to do great things for me are there expressed. That he is the Son, consubstantial with the Father, proves to me his illimitable power. His being conceived of a Virgin, against the course of nature; his not disdaining to lodge within her for our sakes; his being born with penetration of dimension, an act which goes beyond and above the nature of a body - these things assure me both of his will and of his power.

His death supports me;- for he who died for us, what will he not do for us? His sepulchre cheers me, and his descent into hell;for I shall not doubt his descent into the obscurity of my body, &c. His resurrection gives me fresh life; for this new penetration of the stone, the agility, subtlety, brightness, and impassibility of his body, are no longer according to the grosser laws which we conceive of. His ascension makes me rise to this faith; for if his body penetrate matter, raise itself, by his sole will, and place itself, without place, at the right hand of the Father, why shall it not, here below, be where seems good to him, and occupy space only as he wills it to do? His being seated at the right hand of the Father shows me that everything is put under him, heaven, earth, distances, places, dimensions. That from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead urges me to the belief of the illimitability of his glory, and [teaches me] therefore that his glory is not attached to place, but that wherever he goes he carries it with him; he is, then, in the most holy Sacrament without quitting his glory or his perfections.

That Holy Ghost, by whose operation he was conceived and born of a Virgin, can equally well by his operation effect this admirable work of Transubstantiation. The Church,which is holy and cannot lead us into error, which is Catholic and therefore is not restricted to this miserable world, but is to extend in length from the Apostles, in breadth throughout the world, in depth as far as to Purgatory, in height to heaven, including all nations, all past ages, canonised saints, our forefathers of whom we have hope, prelates, councils old and recent -[she, through all these her members] sings in every place, Amen, Amen, to this holy belief.

This is the perfect Communion of Saints, for it is the food common to angels, and sainted souls in Paradise, and ourselves; it is the true bread of which all Christians participate. The forgiveness of sins, the author of forgiveness being there, is confirmed; the seed of our resurrection sown, life everlasting bestowed. Where do you find contradiction in this holy analogy of faith? So much the reverse, that this very belief in the most holy Sacrament, which in truth, reality, and substance, contains the true and natural body of Our Lord, is actually the abridgment of our faith, according to that of the Psalmist (cx. 4): He hath made a memory [of his wonderful works]. O holy and perfect memorial of the Gospel! O admirable summing up of our faith! He who believes, O Lord, in Your presence in this most holy Sacrament, as Your holy Church proposes it, has gathered and sucked the sweet honey of all the flowers of Your holy Religion: hardly can he ever fail in faith.

But I return to you, gentlemen, and simply ask what passages you will any longer oppose to me against such clear ones as these- This is my body. That the flesh profiteth nothing?(John vi.) - no, not yours or mine, which are but carrion, nor our carnal sentiments; not mere flesh, dead, without spirit or life; but that of the Saviour which is ever furnished with the life-giving Spirit, and with his Word. I say that it profits unto life eternal all who worthily receive it what say you? - that the words of Our Lord are spirit and life? -who denies it save yourselves, when you say they are but tropes and figures? But what sense is there in this consequence: -the words of Our Lord are spirit and life, therefore they are not to be understood of his body? And when he said: The Son of man shall be delivered up to be mocked and scourged, &c (Luke xviii. 32). (I take as examples the first that come), were his words not spirit and life? - say then that he was crucified in figure. When he said: If therefore you see the Son of man ascending where he was before (John vi.), does it follow that he only ascended in figure? And still these words are comprised among the rest, of which he said: They are spirit and life. Finally, in the Holy Sacrament, as in the holy words of our Lord, the spirit is there which vivifies the flesh, otherwise it would profit nothing; but nonetheless is the flesh there with its life and its spirit. What further will you say? - that this Sacrament is called bread? So it is; but as Our Lord explains I am the living bread (Ib.)

These are fully sufficient examples: - as for you, what can you show like these? I show you an is, show me the is not, which you maintain, or the signifies. I have shown you the body, show me your effectual sign; seek, turn, turn again, make your spirit spin as fast as you like, and you shall never find it. At the very most you will show that when the words are somewhat strained, a few phrases in the Scriptures may be found like those you pretend to find here; but to esse from posse is a lame consequence: I say that you cannot make them fit; I say that if everybody takes them as he likes, the greater number will take them wrongly. But let us just see a piece of this work while it is being done. You produce for your belief: The words which I speak are spirit and life; and this you fasten on: As often as you shall eat this bread; you add: Do this in commemoration of me; you bring up: You shall show forth the death of the Lord until he comes; But me you shall not have always. (I Cor. xi.; John xii.) But consider a little what reference these words have to one another. You adjust all this to the anomology [= disproportion] of your faith, and how? Our Lord is seated at the right hand, therefore he is not here. Show me the thread with which you sew this negative to this affirmative: because a body cannot be in two places.

Ah! you said you would join your negative with analogy by the thread of Scripture: -where is this Scripture, that a body cannot be in two places? Just observe how you mingle the profane employment of a merely human reason with the Sacred Word? But, say you, Our Lord will come to judge the living and the dead from the right hand of his Father. What does this prove ? If it were necessary for him to come, in order to become present in the Holy Sacrament, your analogy would have some speciousness, though not even then any reality, -for when he does come to judge nobody says that it will be on earth; the fire will precede. There is your analogy : in good earnest which has worked the better, you or I?

If we let you interpret the Descent of Our Lord into hell as of the Sepulchre, or as of a fear of hell and of the pains of the damned, - the sanctity of the Church as the sanctity of an invisible and unknown Church, its universality as that of a secret and hidden Church, -the Communion of Saints as simply a general benevolence, the remission of sins as only a non-imputation; -when you shall have thus proportioned the Creed to your judgment, it will certainly be in good proportion with the rest of your doctrine, but who does not see the absurdity? The Creed, which is the instruction of the most simple, would be the most obscure doctrine in the world, and while it has to be the rule of faith, it would have to be regulated by another rule. The wicked walk round about.(Ps. xi.) One infallible rule of our faith is this: God is Almighty. He who says all excludes nothing, and you would regulate this rule, and would limit it so that it should not extend as far as absolute Power, or the Power of placing a body in two places, or of placing it in one without its occupying exterior space.

Tell me, then - if the rule need regulation, who shall regulate it? Similarly the Creed says that Our Lord descended into hell, and Calvin would rule that this is to be understood of an imaginary descent; somebody else refers it to the sepulchre. Is not this to treat the rule as a Lesbian one, and to make the level bend to the stone instead of cutting the stone by the level. Indeed as S. Clement and S. Augustine (Serm. 213, alias 119) call it rule, so S. Ambrose (Appendix, Serm. 33) calls it key. But if another key be required to open this key where shall we find it? Is it to be the fancy of your ministers, or what? Will it be the Holy Spirit? - but everybody will boast that he has a spare in this.

Good heavens! Into what labyrinths do they fall who quit the path of the Ancients! I would not have you think me ignorant of this, that the Creed alone is not the whole rule and measure of faith. For both S. Augustine (Contra Ep. Fund 4, 5)' and the great Vincent of Lerins (Comm. c. ii.) also call the sense of the Church (sentiment Ecclesiastique) rule of our faith. The Creed alone says nothing openly of the Consubstantiality, of the Sacraments, or of other articles of faith, but comprehends the whole faith in its root and foundation, particularly where it teaches us to believe the Church to be holy and Catholic; for by this it sends us to what the Church shall propose. But as you despise the whole of the doctrine of the Church, you also despise this noble, this notable and excellent part of it, which is the Creed, refusing belief in it until you have reduced it to the petty scale of your conceptions. Thus do you violate this holy measure and proportion which S. Paul requires to be followed, yea, even by the prophets themselves (I Cor. xiv.)


Conclusion of the whole of this second part by a short enumeration of many excellences which are in the Catholic doctrine as compared with the opinion of the heretics of our age.

Sailing thus then without needle, compass or rudder an the ocean of human opinions, you can expect nothing but a miserable shipwreck. Ah! I implore you, while this day lasts, while God presents you the opportunity, throw yourselves into the saving bark of a serious repentance, and take refuge on the happy vessel which is bound under full sail for the port of glory.

If there were nothing else, do you not recognise what advantages and excellences the Catholic doctrine has beyond your opinions ? The Catholic doctrine makes more glorious and magnificent the goodness and mercy of God, your opinions lower them. For example, is there not more mercy in establishing the reality of his body for our food than in only giving the figure and commemoration thereof and the eating by faith alone? All seek the things that are their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ's (Phil. ii. 21). Is it not more honourable to concede to the might of Jesus Christ the Power to make the Blessed Sacrament, as the Church believes it, and to his goodness the will to do so, than the contrary? Without doubt it is more glorious to Our Lord. Yet because our mind cannot comprehend it, in order to uphold our own mind, all seek the things that are their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ's.

Is it not more, in justifying man, to embellish his soul with grace, than without embellishing it to justify him by a simple toleration (connivence) or non-imputation? Is it not a greater favour to make man and his works agreeable and good than simply to take man as good without his being so in reality? Is it not more to have left seven Sacraments for the justification and sanctification of the sinner than to have left only two, one of which serves for nothing and the other for little? Is it not more to have left the Power of absolving in the Church than to have left it not? Is it not more to have left a Church visible, universal, of striking aspect, perpetual, than to have left it little, secret, scattered and liable to corruption? Is it not to value more the travails of Jesus Christ when we say that a single drop of his blood suffices to ransom the world, than to say that unless he had endured the pains of the damned he would have done nothing? Is not the mercy of God more magnified in giving to his saints the knowledge of what takes place here below, the honour of praying for us, in making himself ready to accept their intercession, in having glorified them as soon as they died, than in making them wait and keeping them in suspense, according to Calvin's words, until the judgment, in making them deaf to our prayers and remaining himself inexorable to theirs. This will be seen more clearly in our treatment of particular points. Our doctrine [then] makes more admirable the Power of God in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, in justification and inherent justice, in miracles, in the infallible preservation of the Church, in the glory of the Saints.

The Catholic doctrine cannot have its source in any passion, because nobody follows it save an this condition, of captivating his intelligence, under the authority of the pastors. lt is not proud, since it teaches not to believe self but the Church. What shall I say further? Distinguish the voice of the dove from that of the crow. Do you not see this Spouse, who has nothing but honey and milk under her tongue, who breathes only the greater glory of her Beloved, his honour and obedience to him?

Ah! then, gentlemen, be willing to be placed as living stones in the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem. Take yourselves out of the hands of there men who build without a rule, who do not adjust their conceptions to the faith, but the faith to their conceptions. Come and offer yourselves to the Church, who will place you, unless you prevent her, in the heavenly building, according to the true rule and Proportion of faith. For never shall any one have a place there above who has not been worked and laid, according to rule and square, here below.

All the ancient sacrifices of a farinaceous nature were as it were the condiment of the bloody sacrifices. So the Sacrifice of the Eucharist is as it were the condiment of the Sacrifice of the Cross, and with most excellent reason united to it.

The Church is a mountain, heresy a valley; for heretics go down, from the Church that errs not to an erring one, from truth to shadow.

Ismael, who signified the Jewish synagogue (Gal. iv.), was cast out when he would play with Isaac, that is, the Catholic Church. How much more heretics, &c.

That of Isaias (liv. 17) agrees excellently with the Church as against heresy: No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that resisteth thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the inheritance of the servants of the Lord, and their justice with Me, saith the Lord.