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If you play with sweet and smooth talk, you will be stung

    All the passages below are taken from St Francis De Sales’ book “Introduction to the Devout Life.” It was first published in French in 1608 and the 3rd edition in 1610 (400 hundred years ago). Present English translation is done by Allan Ross in 1924.


Be wary of Flirtations (181-184)

When these wanton friendships are formed between persons of different sex, and with no intention of marriage, they are called flirtations; for since they are but abortions or rather phantoms of friendship, they do not deserve the name of friendship or of love, because of their utter emptiness and imperfection. By these the hearts of men and women are caught and held and entangled one with another in vain and foolish affections, founded on these frivolous intercommunications and wretched gratifications, of which I have just spoken. And although these foolish loves ordinarily end and are swallowed up in very vile carnal lusts and lasciviousness, yet this is not the original intention of them that engage in them; otherwise they would not be merely flirtations, but open lewdness. Sometimes several years may pass before anything that is directly contrary to bodily chastity takes place between those smitten with this folly; for they go no farther than to enervate their hearts with wishes, desires, sighs, fond attentions, and other like fooleries and vanities, and this for diverse purposes.

Some have no other design than to gratify their hearts by giving and receiving love, following therein their amorous inclinations, and these in the choice of their loves, consider nothing but their own fancy and instinct; so that, when they meet with any pleasing person, without examining the interior dispositions or the behaviour of such a one, they begin this flirtatious intercourse, and entangle themselves in these miserable meshes, from which they will afterwards find it difficult to escape. Others suffer themselves to be drawn into these snares by vanity, for they deem it no small glory to take and bind hearts by love; and these making their choice for the sake of glory, set their snares and spread their toils in conspicuous, elevated, uncommon and eminent places. Others are led away, both by their amorous inclinations and by vanity; for although their hearts are inclined to love, yet they do not wish to engage in it, unless they can acquire some glory for themselves.

These friendships are all bad, foolish and vain: bad, because they finally end and terminate in sins of the flesh, and deprive God, the wife and the spouse of love and consequently of the heart, which belongs to them by right; foolish, because they have neither foundation nor reason; vain, because they bring neither profit, nor honour nor contentment: on the contrary, they waste time, compromise honour, without giving any pleasure save that of anxious aspirations and hopes, without knowing what is wished for or what is aimed at. For it is always the opinion of these wretched and feeble spirits that there is something or other desirable in these tokens of mutual love which they give one another, and yet they cannot say what it is; so that their desire cannot have an end; but goes on continually troubling their hearts with perpetual suspicions, jealousies and anxieties.

St Gregory Nazianzen, writing against frivolous women, says excellent things upon this subject; here is a short extract, which he addresses in reality to women, but which is applicable also to men: “Thy natural beauty is sufficient for thy husband; but if it be for several men, like a net spread for a flock of birds, what will be the result? He that is pleased with thy beauty, will be pleasing to thee; thou wilt give glance for glance, look for look; straightway there will follow smiles and little words of love, which are uttered guardedly at first, but soon become more familiar and pass on to open love-making. Take heed, 0 my tongue, and say not what will happen afterwards; but I will say this one truth: everything that these young men and women say or do together in these foolish complacencies is an incitement to evil. All the trashy things that go to make up flirtations are joined one to another, and they all follow one another, neither more nor less than a piece of iron drawn by the magnet draws many other pieces after it.”

Oh! how wisely does this great Bishop speak! What do you think to do? To give love, is it not? But no one gives love willingly, who does not take it necessarily; he that takes is taken in the game. The herb aproxis receives and conceives fire as soon as it beholds it: our hearts are the same; as soon as they see a soul inflamed with love for them, they are forthwith set on fire with love for it. I wish to taste of it indeed, someone may say to me, but not to take very much of it. Alas! you deceive yourself, this fire of love is more active and penetrating than it seems; you think to receive but a little spark of it, and you will be wholly astonished to see that in a moment it has seized your whole heart, reduced all your resolutions to ashes and your reputation to smoke. The Wise Man cries out: Who will pity a snake-charmer struck by a serpent? (Ecclesiastes 12:13) And I cry out after him: 0 foolish and senseless persons, do you think that you can charm love so as to be able to handle it according to your pleasure? You wish to play with it, and it will sting and bite you grievously. And do you know what people will say? Everyone will mock you, and laugh because you wished to charm love, and, with misplaced confidence, wished to put a dangerous serpent in your bosom, which has stung and poisoned you in soul and in honour.

0 God, what blindness it is thus recklessly to risk our souls for such frivolous stakes. Yes, Philothea, for God only values man for his soul, and the soul only for his will, and the will only for its love. Alas! we have not nearly so much love as we need; I mean, we are infinitely far from having enough love, wherewith to love God, and yet, miserable creatures that we are, we waste it and pour it out upon things that are foolish and vain and frivolous, as if we had enough and to spare. Ah! this great God, who had reserved for Himself the sole love of our souls in recognition of their creation, preservation and redemption, will demand a very strict account of these foolish misapplications which we make of it; and if He will make so strict a scrutiny of idle words, what will He do in regard to idle, aimless, foolish and pernicious friendships?

The walnut-tree does much harm to the vines and to the fields where it is planted, because, being so great, it draws all the moisture of the soil, which is not sufficient thereafter to nourish the other plants; its foliage is so dense that it makes a great and thick shade, and it draws to itself the passers-by, who, to beat down its fruit, spoil and trample on all that is around it. These flirtations cause the same injuries to the soul, for they occupy her so much and so strongly draw her movements, that she has not sufficient strength left for any good work; the leaves---that is to say, the interviews, dalliances and blandishments---are so frequent that they waste all the leisure time of the parties; and in fine they draw so many temptations, distractions, suspicions and other consequences, that the whole heart is trampled upon and spoilt thereby. In short, these flirtations banish not only heavenly love, but also the fear of God, they enervate the spirit and damage the reputation; they are, in a word, the plaything of courts, but the beast of hearts.


Beware of Charmers (189)

St Gregory Nazianzen says that the cry of the peacock, when he spreads his tail and struts about, greatly excites the peahens to lechery: when we see a man play the peacock, deck himself out and come in that way, flatter, whisper and simper in the ears of a woman or a girl, without any intention of an honourable marriage, ah! without doubt, it is only to tempt her to some impurity; and the woman of honour will stop her ears, so as not to hear the cry of this peacock, and the voice of the charmer who wishes to charm her artfully. But if she listen, 0 God! what a bad augury it is of the future ruin of her heart. . . . .


Remedies Available (189-192)

 But what remedies are there against this brood and spawn of foolish lives, wantonness and impurities? As soon as you experience the first touches of them, turn the other way, and with an absolute detestation of this vanity, run to the cross of the Saviour, and take His crown of thorns to put it about your heart, so that these little foxes may not approach it. Be careful not to enter into any sort of understanding with the enemy; do not say: I will listen to him, but I will not do anything that he says to me; I will lend him my ear, but I will refuse him my heart. 0 my Philothea, for God’s sake, be strict on such occasions: the heart and the ears are intimately connected with one another, and as it is impossible to stop a torrent which has begun its descent down the slope of a mountain, so it is difficult to prevent the love that falls into the ear from continuing its downward course straight into the heart. Goats, according to Alcmaeon (though Aristotle denies it), breathe through their ears and not through their nostrils. However, be that as it may, I know very well that our heart breathes through the ear, and that, as it breathes forth and exhales its thoughts by the tongue, it inhales also by the ear, by which it receives the thoughts of others. Let us therefore carefully shield our ears from the air of foolish words, for otherwise our heart will soon become tainted thereby. Do not listen to any suggestions of the kind, no matter what the pretext may be: in this case alone there is no danger of being rude and unmannerly.

Remember that you have vowed your heart to God, and that, since you have made a sacrifice of your love to Him, it would be a sacrilege to deprive Him of even a small part of it; rather offer it to Him again in sacrifice by a thousand resolutions and protestations, and, sheltering yourself therein like a stag within its covert, call upon God; He will help you, and His love will take yours under its protection, so that it may live for Him alone.

But if you be already taken in the snares of these foolish loves, 0 God! what difficulty you will have in freeing yourself from them! Place yourself before His divine Majesty; acknowledge in His presence the greatness of your misery, your frailty and vanity; then with the greatest effort of which your heart is capable, detest these incipient loves, abjure the foolish declaration which you have made of them, renounce all the promises received, and with a firm and unqualified act of your will, determine in your heart and resolve never again to take part in these toyings and dalliances of love.

If you are able to go a distance from the object of your affection, I would strongly recommend it; for as those who have been bitten by serpents cannot easily be cured in the presence of those who have themselves been bitten in the same way, so the person stung with love will find it difficult to be healed by this passion while remaining near the other who has been stung with the same sting. Change of scene is a very great help to alleviate the heat and restlessness, whether of sorrow or of love. The boy of whom St Ambrose speaks in the second book of de Poenitentia, having made a long voyage, returned wholly freed from the foolish loves in which he had indulged, and so changed, that when the foolish woman met him and said: “Dost thou not know me? I am still the same,” he replied: “Yes, indeed, but I am not the same.” Absence had brought about this happy change in him. And St Augustine testifies that in order to alleviate the sorrow which he felt at the death of his friend, he left Tagaste where the death had taken place, and went away to Carthage.

But what is he to do that is not able to go away? He must altogether renounce all private interviews, all secret intercourse, all looks of affection, all smiles, and in general, every kind of intercourse and attraction that can feed this reeky and smoky fire; or at most, if he be forced to speak to his accomplice, let it be to declare, by a bold, brief and stem protestation, the eternal separation which he has sworn. I cry aloud to all that have fallen into these flirtatious snares: Cut, hew, break; you must not waste time over unstitching these foolish friendships, you must tear them asunder; you must not unfasten the bonds, you must break them or cut them, more especially since the cords and bonds are of no value. You must have no consideration for a love which is so contrary to the love of God.

But after I have thus broken the chains of this infamous bondage, will there not remain some remembrance thereof, and will not the marks and prints of the irons be stamped upon my feet---that is to say, in my affections? No, Philothea, it will not be so, if you have conceived as much hatred for the evil as it deserves; for in that case, you will not be moved by any feeling but that of an extreme horror of this infamous love, and of all that is connected with it, and you will remain freed from all other affection towards the object which you have forsaken, but that of a very pure charity for the sake of God. But if, by reason of the imperfection of your repentance, there still remain some evil inclinations in your heart, make a spiritual solitude for your soul, as I have taught you previously, and retire thither as often as you can, and by a thousand repeated movements of your spirit, renounce all your inclinations; reject them with all your strength; read holy books more than usual; go to confession more frequently than you are accustomed to do, and to Holy Communion; confer humbly and sincerely on all the suggestions and temptations which you experience in this matter, with your director, if you can, or at least with some faithful and prudent soul; and do not doubt that God will free you from all your inclinations, provided that you persevere faithfully in these exercises.

Ah! you will say to me, but will it not be ingratitude so ruthlessly to break a friendship? Oh! how blessed is the ingratitude which makes us pleasing to God! No, in the name of God, Philothea, it will not be ingratitude, but a great boon that you will confer on the other party; for in breaking your bond you will break his also, since they were common to you both; and though for a time he may not appreciate his happiness, he will realize it sooner or later, and will sing with you in thanksgiving: 0 Lord, thou hast broken my bonds; I will offer thee the sacrifice of praise, and I will call upon thy holy Name. (Psalms 115:7)

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