These writings, consisting of six previously published essays and four talks, span a period of four decades. They are connected by an underlining theme which surfaces in the author's conviction that "conscious, literary shaping and a pleasing form can add very greatly to the effectiveness of spiritual teaching while drawing hearts to the love of God" (144). Francis de Sales wielded this persuasive power of his pen, especially over hearts deeply wounded by religious differences. His Jesuit education in the humanities at Clermont College in Paris and his native intelligence equipped him extremely well for this ministry. The aim of this education was not merely to form minds, but also to permeate society with Christian teaching. Francis's missionary experience in the Chablais region honed his writing skills, as is evident in the leaflets he wrote explaining the teachings of the Catholic Church in an irenic and non-combative style. These were published posthumously and unfortunately given the title of Controversies, a term the saint never used for these writings. He referred to them as his meditations on the Church or his "mémorial." Had they been published in book form shortly after they were written, they would have suffused an embittered religious atmosphere with a refreshing, healing, conciliatory and dialogic tone. The author effectively makes these points and many others in the two first essays, "St. Francis de Sales at Clermont College: A Jesuit Education in Sixteenth-Century Paris," and "Meditations on the Church (1595-1596)."
In her essay on "Art of the Writer," the author appropriately notes that his great spiritual classic, the Introduction to a Devout Life, was not original in insisting on the universal call to holiness. Its originality lies in its organization and the manner in which the content is effectively communicated. Its simple, straightforward language is enriched by many images which are not intended to be ornamental but to make "abstract concepts plain and memorable without diminishing them" (78). All of his writings are characterized by "a sense of order and harmony" (80).
The author's most original and most important contribution to Salesian studies, in the opinion of this reviewer, is her essay on "Healing Differences: St. Francis de Sales' Influence in Seventeenth-Century England." This influence, as Stopp solidly documents, was directly manifested through the numerous English translations of the saint's writings, notably the Devout Life, during this period and, indirectly, especially through the writings of, the Anglican divine, Jeremy Taylor. In fact, the title of this essay as well as the title of the book are based on the words of Henry Dowdell, the Anglican Professor of Oxford, in the preface of his 1673 translation of the Devout Life, where he describes the saint as "a man to heal the differences." (199). The foundations of the modern day ecumenical spirit and movement, Stopp believes, were laid during this period.
Stopp notes in her essay on "St. Francis de Sales: Attitudes Toward Friendship," that as important as friendship was in his spirituality and writings, Francis never wrote a treatise on the subject. She offers as a plausible explanation the pervasiveness of true friendship in his writings, a reality which cannot be isolated from the love of God, from caritas (charity). Her assertion, though, that his letters are "not always a true guide of his ideas of friendship" (120) because they only show one side of the relationship, needs greater clarification and is open to challenge, especially in light of André Ravier's, S.J., François de Sales, Correspondance: Lettres d'amitié spirituelle (Tours, 1980).
The four talks show interesting affinities and/or parallels to the "Man to Heal Differences" with Francis of Assisi, Theresa of Avila and Cardinal Newman, who chose as his motto "Cor ad Cor loquitor", (Heart speaks to heart) the saint's words taken from his letter on preaching.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Joseph Chorpenning, OSFS, Executive Editor of St. Joseph's University Press, for making available the hard-to-find essays and talks of this outstanding Salesian scholar and for enriching this edition with appropriate and instructive plates. This book will prove very beneficial to those who want a deeper appreciation of the saint's extraordinary ability for creating an ecumenical climate and for healing hearts deeply divided by religious differences.