Introduction to the Devout Life – St. Francis de Sales

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“As no sensible person would make a long road trip without first consulting a map, so the person intent upon gaining Heaven should first resort to a competent guide to reach that Goal of all goals. And no better guide to Heaven exists than An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), Doctor of the Church. It is at once easy to read, being laid out in short chapters, yet thorough, authoritative, reliable, kind and gentle a mirror of its author. It is a book, moreover, for all, because all are called to the devout life. True devotion to God, the author points out, adorns every vocation. The devout life, moreover, is a lovely, a pleasant, and a happy life. (p. 5)”

Concerning Modesty:

CHAPTER XIII. How to maintain Purity.

….BE exceedingly quick in turning aside from the slightest thing leading to impurity, for it is an
evil which approaches stealthily, and in which the very smallest beginnings are apt to grow rapidly.
It is always easier to fly from such evils than to cure them.
Human bodies are like glasses, which cannot come into collision without risk of breaking; or
to fruits, which, however fresh and ripe, are damaged by pressure. Never permit any one to take
any manner of foolish liberty with you, since, although there may be no evil intention, the perfectness
of purity is injured thereby.
Purity has its source in the heart, but it is in the body that its material results take shape, and
therefore it may be forfeited both by the exterior senses and by the thoughts and desires of the heart.
All lack of modesty in seeing, hearing, speaking, smelling, or touching, is impurity, especially
when the heart takes pleasure therein. S. Paul says without any hesitation that impurity and
uncleanness, or foolish and unseemly talking, are not to be “so much as named”  among Christians….


CHAPTER XXV. On Modesty in Dress.

S. PAUL expresses his desire that all Christian women should wear “modest apparel, with
shamefacedness and sobriety;”  —and for that matter he certainly meant that men should do so
likewise. Now, modesty in dress and its appurtenances depends upon the quality, the fashion and
the cleanliness thereof. As to cleanliness, that should be uniform, and we should never, if possible,
let any part of our dress be soiled or stained. External seemliness is a sort of indication of inward
good order, and God requires those who minister at His Altar, or minister in holy things, to be
attentive in respect of personal cleanliness. As to the quality and fashion of clothes, modesty in
these points must depend upon various circumstances, age, season, condition, the society we move
in, and the special occasion. Most people dress better on a high festival than at other times; in Lent,
or other penitential seasons, they lay aside all gay apparel; at a wedding they wear wedding garments,
at a funeral, mourning garb; and at a king’s court the dress which would be unsuitable at home is
suitable. A wife may and should adorn herself according to her husband’s wishes when he is
present;—if she does as much in his absence one is disposed to ask in whose eyes she seeks to
shine? We may grant somewhat greater latitude to maidens, who may lawfully desire to attract
many, although only with the view of ultimately winning one in holy matrimony. Neither do I
blame such widows as purpose to marry again for adorning themselves, provided they keep within
such limits as are seemly for those who are at the head of a family, and who have gone through the
sobering sorrows of widowhood. But for those who are widows indeed, in heart as well as outwardly,
humility, modesty and devotion are the only suitable ornaments. If they seek to attract men’s
admiration they are not widows indeed, and if they have no such intention, why should they wear
its tokens? Those who do not mean to entertain guests should take down their signboard. So, again,
every one laughs at old women who affect youthful graces,—such things are only tolerable in the
Always be neat, do not ever permit any disorder or untidiness about you. There is a certain
disrespect to those with whom you mix in slovenly dress; but at the same time avoid all vanity,
peculiarity, and fancifulness. As far as may be, keep to what is simple and unpretending—such
dress is the best adornment of beauty and the best excuse for ugliness. S. Peter bids women not to
be over particular in dressing their hair. Every one despises a man as effeminate who lowers himself
by such things, and we count a vain woman as wanting in modesty, or at all events what she has
becomes smothered among her trinkets and furbelows. They say that they mean no harm, but I
should reply that the devil will contrive to get some harm out of it all. For my own part I should
like my devout man or woman to be the best dressed person in the company, but the least fine or
splendid, and adorned, as S. Peter says, with “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.”  S. Louis
said that the right thing is for every one to dress according to his position, so that good and sensible
people should not be able to say they are over-dressed, or younger gayer ones that they are
under-dressed. But if these last are not satisfied with what is modest and seemly, they must be
content with the approbation of the elders.

CHAPTER XXVII. Of Unseemly Words, and the Respect due to Others

……As to unclean and light-minded talk, S. Paul says such things
should not even be named  among us, for, as he elsewhere tells us, “Evil communications corrupt
good manners.”
Those impure words which are spoken in disguise, and with an affectation of reserve, are the
most harmful of all; for just as the sharper the point of a dart, so much deeper it will pierce the
flesh, so the sharper an unholy word, the more it penetrates the heart……..


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