Francis of Sales, born in 1567, grew up during the time of the wars of the Huguenots in France, and of the bloody confrontations between the denominations. The land of Savoy, where the castle Sales is located, also felt the effects of these religious wars. Francis had to confront Calvinism at an early age. The French reformer Calvin stated that God predestined the fate of man in such a way that they could not change the course of their eternal salvation. This teaching of predestination caused Francis deep anguish during his study of theology in Paris and Padua. He felt that he was destined by God to eternal damnation, in spite of all his efforts. He was saved from the agony of his soul by a prayer to the Mother of God. He found the conviction and the inner serenity and assurance, which was never to leave him. It led him to become the helper and counsellor for those who felt opressed like him.
Even though he had finished his studies with an excellent exam and a doctorate of jurisprudence, he made up his mind to become a priest. He decided to undertake the difficult and dangerous task to remove the (to his mind) erroneous teachings of Calvinism from the southern shores of Lake Geneva (Switzerland). There he spent four years under continous danger for his life. Because of his status as a priest he was hated, prosecuted, slandered and threatened until his kindness, his gentleness and his brilliant mind convinced many and encouraged them to conversion.
After several years, Francis of Sales was installed as bishop of Geneva. In spite of the demands of his office, he found time to write religious works. He proposed a new ideal of piety, which he described in his paper PHILOTEA, that is “Introduction to the Devout Life”. He writes that “God is not petty”, he wants free and openhearted men (and women), and thus “we shall not accept any other law or force than of Love”. There are many paths to God.
Piety may be realised even amid the World. Francis of Sales was a bishop who sought contact to people. Thus he undertook many travels and visits in his parish.