St. Francis de Sales on anxiety

Anxiety is the greatest evil that can befall a soul, except sin. God commands you to to pray, but He forbids you to worry. — Attr. St. Francis de Sales

The first sentence of the quotation is authentically St. Francis de Sales, from Introduction to the Devout Life, Part IV, Chapter 11. (Almost authentically; it’s been shortened and meme-ized.) But the second sentence of the alleged quotation isn’t from Devout Life; in fact, it doesn’t come from St. Francis de Sales at all. Google will quickly tell you that it comes from St. John Vianney, but usually without a reference. My friend Fr. Jerabek found the reference for me; it’s from one of the Curé’s homilies on refraining from Sunday labor. (“Il vous commande la prière, mais il vous défend l’inquiétude.”)

I was curious to see if I could tell when the two quotations were joined together. The earliest conjunction I have found is from 2009, when it appeared on EWTN’s website.

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St. Francis de Sales: Your value as a human being

Have patience with all things – but first with yourself. Never confuse your mistakes with your value as a human being. You are perfectly valuable, creative, worthwhile person simply because you exist. And no amount of triumphs or tribulations can ever change that.

Attr. St. Francis de Sales.

The first sentence is really his, or close enough. Wikiquote gives it as, “Have patience with every one, but especially with yourself,” which is close enough. WQ says that the source is “Quoted by Bishop Jean-Pierre Camus in The Spirit of Saint Francis de Sales, section ‘Upon Discouragement’.” Bishop Camus was consecrated by St. Francis, who was his spiritual director, so I’ll take that as a good enough source. The full quotation there is:

Have patience with every one, but especially with yourself. I mean, do not be over-troubled about your imperfections, but always have courage enough at once to rise up again when you fall into any of them. I am very glad to hear that you begin afresh every day. There is no better means for persevering in the spiritual life than continually to be beginning again, and never to think that one has done enough.

Link to text

As for the rest of the purported quotation … I would bet (before I look) that St. Francis de Sales never used the phrase “your value as a human being” in his life, so the sentence containing that will be a good search phrase.

  • A Google search turns up the usual suspects (and boy, are they suspect) with no good sources apparent.
  • I already mentioned Wikiquote. The rest of the alleged quotation doesn’t appear there at all.
  • Google Books gives a series of hits from 2006 onward, and … one hit from 1981: New Woman, vol. 11, p. 34. It’s available only in snippet view, and just enough of the snippet is visible to show me that the quotation there is: “Forget about the mistakes and absorb yourself in the joy of creating. ❡ Accept yourself. Never confuse your mistakes with your value as a human being. You’re a perfectly valuable, creative, worthwhile person.” It gives a source: Imagineering, by Michael LeBoeuf.

    So I searched for that book, and voila! On page 140, Google Books let me see just enough. LeBoeuf wrote, “4. Accept yourself. St. Francis de Sales wrote, ‘Have patience with all things, but first of all yourself.’ Never confuse your mistakes with your value as a human being. You’re a ….” The snippet cuts off there, but that’s enough to tell what happened. The first line of the alleged quotation is St. Francis de Sales. The second line is Michael LeBoeuf. And the rest is someone else–I’m not going to try to figure out who, since I know it’s not the saint.

Since the source of the error can be identified, I can put this one into the definitely false category.

St. Francis de Sales: Be what you are

Be what you are and be that well.

Attributed, accurately, to St. Francis de Sales, even though Wikiquote has it on the unsourced page. (I might go create an account and fix that.) A friend pointed me to the source.

It comes from a letter to Madame Marie Bourgeois Brûlartto, wife
of the president of the Burgundian Parliament. Here’s the context:

Do not love anything too much, I beg you, not even virtues, which we sometimes
lose by our excessive zeal. … Let us be what we are and be that well, in order
to bring honor to the Master Craftsman whose handiwork we are. People
laughed at the painter who, intending to paint a horse, came up with a perfect
bull; the work was handsome in itself, but not much credit to the artist who had
had other plans and succeeded in this one only by chance. Let us be what God
wants us to be, provided we are His, and let us not be what we would like to be,
contrary to His intention. Even if we were the most perfect creatures under
heaven, what good would that do us if we were not as God‘s will would have us
be?

Letter CCLXXXIX, dated June 10, 1605, in vol. XIII of the Oeuvres de Saint François de Sales, Évêque et prince de Genève et Docteur de l’Église, edition complète (Annecy: Monastère de la Visitation, 1894), 53-54. Translation by Péronne Marie Thibert, V.H.M. in Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction, selected and introduced by Wendy M. Wright and Joseph F. Power, O.S.F.S. (New York: Paulist Press, 1988), 111

Too busy to pray and St. Francis de Sales

Everyone of us needs half an hour of prayer every day, except when we are busy—then we need an hour.

Attributed to St. Francis de Sales by (among others) the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (see the USCCB website); Scott Hahn gives a paraphrase in Signs of Life (p. 239); and I’m posting because there’s a FB picture going around right now with this quotation on it.

Setting aside the grammatical error (Grammarly quite properly points out to me that “every one” and “everyone” are not interchangeable, and it’s “every one” that’s meant here), I am still wondering if St. Francis de Sales actually wrote this. The paradoxical style of the quotation doesn’t sound like him to me, so I went looking.

His works are voluminous, and it would take someone braver than I to claim for certain that he didn’t say it, but:

  1. A Google search doesn’t turn up attributed sources. It does turn up variations using “meditation” instead of prayer, and that’s one thing that makes me think that it might be a real quotation. Another variant says “Every Christian” instead of “every one/everyone.”
  2. It’s not on his Wikiquote page.
  3. Searching Google Books turned up the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults and Scott Hahn, as mentioned above. (I start out searching for snippets rather than a full phrase so I can catch variant forms; I think I started out with busy hour prayer francis de sales as the search terms for this one.) Dr. Hahn usually doesn’t use footnote markers–he just puts notes in the back by page–so I can’t tell if he has a primary source or not since the Google Books snippet doesn’t go that far.
  4. I searched the CCEL copies of Introduction to the Devout Life and Treatise on the Love of God for the words “busy” and “hour” (one search on each book for each word) and didn’t find anything resembling the alleged quotation.
  5. Back to Google Books: I searched for needs half an hour of every day, except when we are busy francis de sales (omitting the words that change in variants) and sorted by date. The earliest hit is from 1996, in Meditations for People Who Worry, which gives no source. I did get a match from a book of St. Francis’s letters, but it wasn’t this quotation. That match does give me confidence that, if the saying were in his letter, it would have turned up in the search.

I did find the following snippet on Google Books (I can’t remember exactly what search terms I was using by that point), from An Anglo-Catholic’s Thoughts on Religion:

I’m sure that St. Francis’s name was part of the search terms, the quotation sounds like him, and the fact that it comes from a letter makes it even more likely that it’s from him. Unfortunately I can’t find the original on this one either.

I did find a searchable copy of his Letters to Persons in the World at the Internet Archive. Searching for meditation turned up several examples of advice to start out with a half an hour daily, moving up to an hour as the person gained in experience with meditation. The word hour gave no search results at all.

Given the volume of St. Francis’s work, I am very reluctant to claim that he never wrote the quotation in question, but it makes me nervous that I can’t find a reference to it before 1996 and that I can’t find it in the most obvious places to look.