Divine inspiration

From Book VIII, Chapter X of saint Francis of Sales’ book «Treatise on the Love of God»


The rays of the sun enlighten while heating and heat while enlightening. Inspiration is a heavenly ray which brings into our hearts a light full of heat, by which it makes us see the good and inflames us with a desire to pursue it. All that lives upon the face of the earth is dulled by the cold of winter, but, upon the return of the vital heat of spring, it all takes up its movement again. The animals run more swiftly, birds fly more quickly and sing more merrily, and plants put forth their leaves and flowers most gladsomely.

Without inspiration our souls would lead an idle, sluggish and fruitless life, but on receiving the divine rays of inspiration we are sensible of a light mingled with a quickening heat, which illuminates our understanding, and which excites and animates our will, giving it the strength to will and effect the good which is necessary for eternal salvation. God having formed man’s body of the slime of the earth, as Moses says, breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul, that is, a soul which gave life, motion and operation to the body; and the same eternal God breathes and infuses into our souls the inspirations of the supernatural life, to the end that, as says the great Apostle, they may become a quickening spirit, that is, a spirit which makes us live, move, feel, and work according to the movements of grace, so that he who gave us being gives us also operation.

The breath of man warms the things it enters into; witness the child of the Sunamitess, to whose mouth the prophet Eliseus having laid his, and breathed upon him, his flesh grew warm; and experience makes it evident. But with regard to the breath of God, it not only warms, but also gives a perfect light, his Spirit being an infinite light, whose vital breath is called inspiration, because by it the divine goodness breathes upon us and inspires us with the desires and intentions of his heart.

Now it uses countless means of inspiring. S. Antony, S. Francis, S. Anselm, and a thousand others, had frequent inspirations by the sight of creatures. The ordinary means is preaching, but sometimes those whom the word does not help are taught by tribulation, according to that of the Prophet: And vexation alone shall make you understand what you hear: that is, such as by hearing the heavenly menaces against the wicked do not amend, shall be taught the truth by the event and effects, and feeling affliction shall become wise.

S. Mary of Egypt was inspired by the sight of a picture of Our Lady; S. Anthony, by hearing the Gospel read at Mass; S. Augustine, by hearing the history of S. Anthony’s life; the Duke of Gandia (S. Francis Borgia), by looking upon the dead empress; S. Pachomius, by seeing an example of charity; the Blessed (S.) Ignatius of Loyola, by reading the lives of the Saints; S. Cyprian (not the great Bishop of Carthage but a layman, yet a glorious martyr) was moved by hearing the devil confess his impotence against those that trust in God.

When I was a youth at Paris, two scholars, one of whom was a heretic, passing the night in the Faubourg S. Jacques in debauchery, heard the Carthusians ring to Matins, and the heretic asking the other why they rang, he described to him with what devotion they celebrated the Divine office in that holy monastery: O God, quoth he, how different is the practice of those religious from ours! They perform the office of angels, and we that of brute beasts: and desiring the day after to see by experience what he had learnt by his companion’s relation, he found the fathers in their stalls, standing like a row of marble statues in their niches, motionless except for the chanting of the Psalms, which they performed with a truly angelic attention and devotion, according to the custom of this holy Order; so that this poor youth, wholly ravished with admiration, was taken with the exceeding consolation which he found in seeing God so well worshipped amongst Catholics, and resolved, what afterwards he effected, to put himself into the bosom of the Church, the true and only spouse of him who had visited him with his inspiration, in the infamous litter of abomination in which he had been.

Oh how happy are they who keep their hearts open to holy inspirations! For these are never wanting to any, in so far as they are necessary for living well and devoutly,  according to each one’s condition of life, or for fulfilling holily the duties of his profession. For as God, by the ministry of nature, furnishes every animal with the instincts which are necessary for its preservation and the exercise of its natural powers, so if we resist not God’s grace, he bestows on every one of us the inspirations necessary to live, to work, and to preserve our spiritual life.

O Lord, said the faithful Eliezer, the God of my master, Abraham, meet me today, I beseech thee, and shew kindness to my master, Abraham! Behold, I stand nigh the spring of water, and the daughters of the inhabitants of this city will come out to draw water: now, therefore, the maid to whom I shall say: let down thy pitcher that I may drink: and she shall answer, drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let it be the same whom thou hast provided for thy servant Isaac.

Theotimus Eliezer does not express any desire of water except for himself, but the fair Rebecca, obeying the inspiration which God and her kindness gave her, offers withal to water his camels; whence she became holy Isaac’s wife, daughter-in-law to the great Abraham, and a grandmother to our Saviour. Truly, the souls which are not contented with doing what the heavenly beloved requires at their hands by his commandments and counsels, but also promptly comply with sacred inspirations, are they whom the Eternal Father has destined to be the spouses of his well-beloved son.

And, as regards Eliezer, since he cannot otherwise distinguish amongst the daughters of Haran (the town of Nachor) which of them was destined for his master’s son, God reveals it unto him by inspiration. When we are at a loss, and human help fails us in our perplexities, God then inspires us, nor will he permit us to err, as long as we are humbly obedient. But I wi ll say no more of these necessary inspirations, having often spoken of them in this work, as also in the Introduction to the Devout Life.

Note: The image is photography of different episodes of saint Francis of Sales life, in a stained glass window from Claudius Lavergne, 1880, in Saint-Nizier de Lyon church