The addition of John of Avila to the Doctors of the Church has made me consider: which one is most important to my own life?
It’s hard to choose, isn’t it? Augustine is a towering figure, both for his brilliant theological mind and his humbleness and honesty in recounting his own conversion story. Aquinas is so important he’s sometimes just called the Universal Doctor. The Carmelites Teresa and John of the Cross wrote some of the most moving prose I’ve ever read about falling in love with God.
But I think my personal favorite is . . .
St. Francis de Sales!
Introduction to the Devout Life isn’t a book of profound theology. It doesn’t scale sublime mystical heights or provide new insights into Scripture. It’s just a really great practical guide to being a Christian–but that’s exactly what we all need, isn’t it?
In my opinion, the book is much more humane than the similar Imitation of Christ. While Imitation of Christ urges readers to shun particular attachments such as friendships, and to withdraw from the world, Introduction to the Devout Life teaches its audience how to draw strength from family and friends. For this reason, I think it’s a particularly good book for women, since we often prefer a life of serving and relating to others over the life of a hermit.
The only problem with the book is that de Sales draws his metaphors from nature–but from a 16th century understanding of nature, which was . . . lacking in scientific rigor. Let me open to a random page and provide an example: “as the he-goats, touching the sweet almond trees with their tongues, make them become bitter . . . ” (127). Hmm. Good thing de Sales is a doctor of theology, not a medical doctor!
Quaint metaphors nothwithstanding, Introduction to the Devout Life is the kind of book you should keep on your nightstand, with your favorite passages duly bookmarked and reviewed daily. That way, its advice will pass from the page into your life.
Who’s your favorite Doctor of the Church?