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Introduction to the Devout Life
ISBN 0385030096 / 9780385030090 / 0-385-03009-6
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Devout life does not require withdrawal from the world. This was the central insight of Saint Francis de Sales, a 16th-century priest whose Introduction to the Devout Life has not gone out of print in almost four centuries. Francis served the church at a dangerous time in a dangerous place: during the Reformation, in Calvinist areas of France, when celebrating mass was punishable by death. He was a popular minister and a prolific letter writer whose correspondence was cherished for its clear and direct instruction in the ways of piety. The book collects passages from many of those letters, organized as one message addressed to the allegorical character Philothea (which means "lover of God"). The book includes long sections about prayer, temptation, and how to maintain and renew devotion to God. But it is most distinguished by its discussion of how to live a holy life in the secular world. Each chapter (such as "How to Combine Due Care for a Good Reputation with Humility") is frank, uncannily modern, and precise. --Michael Joseph Gross [via]