"Little by little, Francis gained himself a hearing among the Calvinists and eventually converted them by the thousands. His success was so great that he was later elevated to the post of Bishop of Geneva." [source]
"His defense of the Faith was so clear and thorough that at the end of four years nearly the entire population of 72,000 had returned to the Catholic Faith." [source]
"People read his writings and soon 40,000 had converted back to Christianity, perhaps showing us all, for the first time, the 'power of the pen.'" [source]
"Shortly after his ordination to the priesthood, St. Francis was elected provost of the Diocese of Geneva, meaning he was second in charge to the Bishop. This was the era of the Reformation, and Geneva was the headquarters of the Calvinists. In other words, it wasn’t a very friendly place for Catholics, especially Catholic priests. But St. Francis was undeterred. In fact, he decided to convert the some 60,000 Calvinists in the area back to the Catholic faith." [source]
"Through his work in this region over the course of four years (from 1594 to 1598), 72,000 Calvinists were brought back into the Catholic Church." [source]
"St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) is one of the most well-rounded Saints in Church history, and he played a major role in returning tens of thousands of Calvinists to the Catholic Church." [source]
de Sales: Converting Calvinists?
While going through a bibliography I came across a book entitled, Saint François de Sales and the Protestants by Ruth Kleinman. I don't recall ever coming across a full-length historical treatment of de Sales and his interactions with Protestants, so I tried to track this book down. While I found a few French copies, I could not locate an English copy for sale (yet).
An interesting review of Kleinman's book can be found here. The reviewer states in part:
Now, I know a bit from my Luther studies that a review of book that attempts to paint a historical picture isn't a proper source to form a conclusion, nor is it prudent to use only one historical source (like Kleinman) to form an historical conclusion. The sentiment expressed here though would be an interesting explanation within the realm of possibility for some of the success of de Sales.
I did find an article by Ruth Kleinman entitled, The Ecumenism of St. Francis de Sales (Salesian Studies 5/2 (Spring 1968): 42-49). This article states:
The form of the Reformation Francis de Sales knew best was Calvinism, as he met it in Geneva and the surrounding provinces of France and Savoy. With Lutheranism he seems to have had little if any personal acquaintance, nor did he have anything to say about the Anglican Church. The differences between the Protestant denominations did not concern him greatly. He tended to lump them together, as when he wrote, “We speak indifferently of Luther and Calvin, because we do not believe that their teachings are widely divergent.” As far as he was concerned,Protestantism was heresy, and heresy was rebellion against God, the Church, and usually also the lawful authority of princes. His position on Catholic doctrine was equally uncompromising. He accepted the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent as final, never entertaining the thought that the articles of belief or discipline should be changed in any way to make it easier for Protestants to return. If they returned, as he hoped they would do, it must be on Catholic terms. Moreover, insofar as the existence of Protestantism involved the authority and interests of Catholic princes, he believed it proper that they should intervene to hasten the progress of conversions by any means of pressure short of physical violence.-snip-
He himself was far from satisfied with the results of two years’ work, and attributed the continuing resistance of the majority as much to political and secular considerations as to stubborn religious conviction. The status of Chaplais remained uncertain until the Peace of Vervins in 1598, when it was finally recognized as the possession of Savoy. Meanwhile the inhabitants hesitated to commit themselves, claiming to fear reprisals for conversion if the province should again fall into the hands of the Swiss. Francis de Sales accordingly recommended to Charles-Emmanuel various actions designed to weight the choice of religion on the Catholic side: grants of pensions or tax relief to converts, deprivation of judicial or public office for persistent Calvinists, removal of the Calvinist minister and schoolmaster from Thonon, the capital of Chablais, and eventually exile for all those who refused to submit to Catholic instruction.
The duke attended the ceremonies concluding the mission, in October 1598, and on that occasion issued a series of edicts in line with Francis de Sales’ requests. Only in the matter of monetary benefits was the duke niggardly, because his treasury was empty and military expenditures had first call. Several thousand people appeared to make their abjuration, though whether they were moved by conscience, fear, interest, or a combination of the three, no one can say. Not all the inhabitants were as yet converted. As late as 1601, Francis de Sales complained to the duke that Calvinists still existed who had not gone on from Catholic instruction to profession. As far as he saw, “ No other way remains to have done with them, unless Your Highness, by a peaceable edict commands all his subjects to make profession of the Catholic faith and take oath on it within two months, in the hands of those who shall be deputed, or to leave the state, with permission to sell their goods.” Just as the mission to Chablais had originated in a mixture of religious and political motives, so its success rested on the cooperation of church and state. Francis de Sales indeed never considered the use of physical violence; there were no dragonnades in Chablais. But political and economic pressures were legitimate weapons, not to force consciences, but to open them to receive what he firmly believed was the only truth.I commend the reading of the entire article. I do not want to be understood as arguing (via Kleinman) that I think de Sales converted people to Roman Catholicism by forceful means only, or at all. The article goes on to point out that de Sales "was said to have a special gift for the conversion of individual souls," and that his book, Introduction to the Devout Life, played a role in converting Protestants. It wouldn't surprise me though to discover that Kleinman is onto something in regard to the overall success of de Sales, particularly since the conversion of an entire region still had political dimensions during the time period in which de Sales lived.
I certainly am open to seeing contrary evidence to the picture of de Sales presented by Kleinman or any later arguments that her historical portrayal of de sales is inaccurate. I'm still in search of Kleinman's book to see her full compilation of the evidence. Till then, it would probably be the responsibility of the defenders of de Sales that make claims like those that began this entry to historically verify those claims.