Hearts and vinegar – a taste of St. Francis de Sales in Benedict XVI’s Spe salvi

In the traditional Roman calendar, today is the Feast of St. Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor.   He was a great warrior for the Church in the face of the Protestant Revolt.

According to the Louis de la Rivière in his Vie de saint François de Sales (1624 – p. 584), the doctor and bishop of Geneva, St. Francis de Sales (+1622) told friend and prodigy Jean Pierre Camus (+1652) Bishop of Belley:

“Soyez toujours le plus doux que vous pourrez, et souvenez-vous que l’on prends plus de mouches avec une cuillerée de miel qu’avec cent barils de vinaigre… Always be as gentle as you can and remember that one catches more flies with a spoonful of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar.”

Honey and vinegar.   They seem to go together.

Just for fun, here is a sample about hearts and honey and vinegar from Augustine as quoted in Benedict XVI’s Spe Salvi:

“St Augustine…describes very beautifully the intimate relationship between prayer and hope. He defines prayer as an exercise of desire. Man was created for greatness – for God Himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched…He then uses a very beautiful image to describe this process of enlargement and preparation of the human heart. “Suppose that God wishes to fill you with honey [a symbol of God’s tenderness and goodness]; but if you are full of vinegar, where will you put the honey?” The vessel, that is your heart, must first be enlarged and then cleansed, freed from the vinegar and its taste. This requires hard work and is painful, but in this way alone do we become suited to that for which we are destined. Even if Augustine speaks directly only of our capacity for God, it is nevertheless clear that through this effort by which we are freed from vinegar and the taste of vinegar, not only are we made free for God, but we also become open to others…When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well. (Spe Salvi 33)”.

Honey and vinegar!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Rich Leonardi says:

    I remember using the honey/vinegar line with a friend, and he responded, “Well, you can be pretty vinegary when you’re ticked off at someone.” Which was and is of course true.
    (And you actually catch more flies with, well, excrement.)
    Spe Salvi is such a gem; my favorite section is the Holy Father’s reminder to embrace simple piety and “offer up” our daily struggles as a form of prayer.

  2. Happy Feast Day my dear friend! I love St. Francis de Sales. :)

  3. MrsAnchor says:

    Which has always provided some confusion for me…
    if that is so, then what is to be said about St John the Baptist ?
    Was he being vinegary ?

    I’d really like distinctions and clarification

  4. Julia_Augusta says:

    St. Francis de Sales is the patron saint of writers. If you’re stuck and suffer writer’s block, pray to St. Francis.
    I also recommend his book, “Introduction to the Devout Life”. If you want to develop an interior life and deepen your meditation, this is a great book.

  5. GM Thobe says:

    A bit of a digression, but it does sound like Roman posca.

  6. WmHesch says:

    It’s a 1st Class feast in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, where he’s our principal patron

  7. Andrew says:

    St. Augustine has something to say about the manner in which the heart can be enlarged: He says: “This is our life: to develop our desire. But holy longing is developed only to the measure to which we prune off our longings from the love of this world.”
    (Haec est vita nostra, ut desiderando exerceamur. Tantum autem nos exercet sanctum desiderium, quantum desideria nostra amputaverimus ab amore saeculi.)
    The “vinegar” for Augustine, if I understand, is the love of this world, which, as the Lord says, cannot be compatible with the love of God, because no one can serve two masters: one or the other is excluded.

  8. MrsAnchor says:


    And here I took it to mean Human Respect…. which I am still struggling to comprehend when and when not to speak. I hope if Father or anyone for that matter can direct me to the proper page on the matter to fully understand. All I see is a Catch 22 at the moment

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