St Francis de Sales’s solution for our public discourse

st francis de sales political discourse

There are many words to describe the state of the political discourse today—degraded and debased, vicious and vacuous. “Virtuous,” however, is not among them.

There is virtue-signaling, to be sure, but turn on the news or log onto Twitter and you will undoubtedly find politicians and pundits engaged in verbal combat or thinly veiled self-congratulation.

In times like these, the “virtuous speech” counseled by St. Francis de Sales in his Introduction to the Devout Life is downright countercultural (Part III, 26-30).

His writings on cultivating this unfashionable virtue are a good place to start if we as Catholics wish to help restore a degree of civility to our public life.

Weigh your words

The saint encourages modesty in speech and respect for each other in our speech.

He writes: “Be careful never to let an indecent word leave your lips, for even if you do not speak with an evil intention those who hear it may take it in a different way.”

Weigh your words and the thoughts that ultimately produce those words. This is truly good advice for each of us.

“The more pointed a dart is, the more easily it enters the body, and in like manner the sharper an obscene word is, the deeper it penetrates into the heart.”

De Sales teaches that nothing is so opposed to charity as to despise and condemn one’s neighbor.

“Derision and mockery are always accompanied by scoffing, and it is therefore a very great sin.”

He does encourage, however, good-humored and joking words—pleasant conversation, if you will: “By their means we take friendly, virtuous enjoyment in the amusing situations human imperfections provide us.”

Rash judgments

Francis de Sales is particularly hard on “rash judgments” of others. He states that judgments are offenses against God for they usurp the office of the Lord.

“Many men,” he writes, “make a habit of rash judgment merely because they like to play the philosopher and probe into men’s moods and morals as a way of showing their own keen intelligence.”

Others, he writes, “judge out of passion. They always think well of things they love and ill of those they dislike.”

For de Sales, “the sin of rash judgment is truly spiritual jaundice and causes all things to appear evil to the eyes of those infected with it.”

De Sales provides a remedy for this infection: “Whoever wants to be cured must apply remedies not to his eyes or intellect but to his affections, which are feet in relation to his soul.

“If your reflections are kind, your judgments will also be kind. If your affections are charitable, your judgments will be the same.”

A degree of self-awareness is useful in this regard: “Those who look carefully into their consciences are not very likely to pass rash judgments. Just as bees in misty or cloudy weather stay in their hives to prepare honey, so also the thoughts of good men do not go out in search of things concealed among the cloudy actions of our neighbor. To avoid meeting them they retire into their own hearts and make good resolutions for their own amendment.”


Francis de Sales refers to slander as “the true plague of society.” He says further that “the man who could free the world of slander would free it of a large share of its sins and iniquity.” Slander robs a person of his good name, and it requires reparation. Continue reading

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