"Vincent de Paul (Saint)"
(Article in Catholicisme, Vol. XV, columns 1157 1164)
Bernard Koch, C.M.
Vincent de Paul belonged to a society quite different from our own and quite complex, and his era, though troubled, was very dynamic. He had contacts with many people, both clergy and lay. To understand him, therefore, it is recommended that the reader consult various works concerning the 17th century. These will help understand his complex personality, his human and Christian context, and the currents of the world in which he lived.
Vincent was born at Pouy, near Dax, in the spring of 1581, in a family of notable country people. The material situation of his time was precarious, since the region was only gradually recovering from the ravages of the Protestant bands of Jeanne dAlbret, mother of Henry IV. Dax alone had been able to resist them behind its ramparts. Vincent never alluded to these events and always preached a humble dialogue with Protestants. His father came from a family of notable country people, and his mother was the daughter of the owner of a small rural domain; the countryside was slowly recovering from destruction. A paternal uncle,  a canon, was prior of a local hospice for travelers and poor pilgrims. His maternal uncles were magistrates, and his mothers father owned a noble domain. His parents cultivated a modest property, but Vincent never mentioned this aspect of being a peasant. Were they poor? The answer must be yes, when compared with the townspeople of the large cities, but they were landowners and moved among their relations in various social levels.
This family property awaked his spirit and accustomed him to move easily among all sorts of people. His family had a simple faith in Gods providence, and they remained confident despite various calamities.
His father sent him to study to be able to secure an ecclesiastical benefice, as his uncle had. His protector, an attorney at the presidial court of Dax, inspired in him the idea of the priesthood. He later stated that at that time he understood neither the greatness of this ministry nor its responsibilities. After his secondary studies at Dax, which lasted four years, he entered the university. He started probably at Zaragoza at the end of 1596 and then moved to Toulouse, from the end of 1597.
Apparently in a hurry to receive Holy Orders, he was ordained subdeacon and then deacon in 1598 and 1599 respectively, and at age 18, he obtained his dimissorial letters, allowing him to be ordained a priest by any bishop, since the see of Dax was vacant.
His new bishop arrived soon after, in January 1600, and starting in April he decreed the reforms of Trent for his diocese. He did so rigorously and without the agreement of his canons. In response, they blocked all activity at the cathedral. Vincent waited, but at the end of a year, since the situation was continuing, he went to receive the priesthood at the general ordinations of Périgueux, during the Ember Days of September 1600, at Château-lÉvêque. The ordinations were held there [and not in Périgueux] since Protestants had demolished the bishops residence and the cathedral of Saint-Étienne (not the current cathedral of Saint-Front).
He finished his studies at Toulouse in 1604 and received the baccalaureate in theology and the license to teach the Second Book of the Sentences of Peter Lombard, dealing with creation, sin, freedom and grace. He probably taught there until May or June 1605. Throughout his life he maintained his theological skills and his gift of teaching. At the time of the Jansenist problems, he drew up a short but magisterial treatise on grace.
After some adventures that he related in two autograph letters in which he asked his benefactor to send him his documents of ordination and his diplomas in theology, he explained his two-year silence. Captured by corsairs from the Barbary Coast and sold into the service of four different masters, a fisherman, an alchemist, the alchemists nephew, and finally a renegade Christian from Nice, who had taken up farming in the hills near Tunis, he was able to escape with him by sea to Avignon. There the renegade abjured his errors in the presence of the nuncio, who then became interested in Vincents knowledge of alchemy. He took Vincent with him to Rome in the autumn of 1607 in the hopes of obtaining for him a profitable employment.
Since his ordination letters lacked the bishops seal, Vincent had to request them a second time, from Rome, on 28 February 1608.
The extravagant style of his narrative has led some historians to look only in these letters and to doubt their veracity. Among other points, they note some dissimilarity between what Vincent wrote and the condition of the Turkish government on which North Africa depended, as well as the difficulties of crossing the Mediterranean.
Specialists have been able to answer these points, and a recent study shows that Vincent was well informed about the law of the land: G. Veinstein, LEmpire dans sa grandeur, in R. Mentra, Histoire de lEmpire Ottoman, Paris 1989, p. 190, who concludes, after reading Fr. Grandchamp, C.M., that Vincent showed an exact knowledge of the Ottoman government.
Other narratives and studies have shown that escapes by sea, of all kinds, were common. See João Mascarenhas, Esclave à Alger, Récit de captivité, (1621-1626), Éditions Chandeigne, 1993, 1999, and Bartolomé Bennassar and Lucile Bennassar, Les Chrétiens dAllah, lhistoire extraordinaire des renégats, XVIe-XVIIe s., Perrin, 1989 (which made use of hundreds of archival documents.). In these works, the ease of conversation between Moslem women and Christian slaves, which the adversaries of the captivity use as an argument for its lack of probability, was on the contrary quite frequent. Without denying the complexity of the question, one cannot prove that Vincent had lied.
In particular, it is important to read the captivity letters completely and attentively, and not just the narrative section. No one has really done this, apart from two authors which had especially studied the juridical competence of Vincent: J. B. Boudignon, Saint Vincent de Paul, modèle des hommes daction et duvres, 3 editions, Paris, from 1886 to 1896, and Canon Fournier, Saint Vincent canoniste, in his feast day panegyric on Saint Vincent, 19 July 1929, where he deplores the fact that Vincents biographers had only pointed out his prudence, his patience, etc., and not his technical competence (Annales de la Congrégation de la Mission, n° 375, Vol. 94:4  pp. 763-74, especially 767-72).
However, Fr. Pierre Coste, the editor of Vincents letters, in 1920 indicated in note 37 that the "Monsieur dArnaudin" to whom Vincent also wrote, as he said at the end of the first letter, and the "Monsieur De La Lande" to whom he also sent the second letter, are in all likelihood respectively Pierre DArnaudin, a notary, and Bertrand De Lalande, kings counselor and lieutenant general of the presidial court of Dax (a tribunal just below the parlementary courts), asking him to forward the letter to the kings attorney. Would he have written outlandish stories to these kinds of men, particularly since in France it would have been possible to verify the accounts because there were agreements with the Turks and a consulate at Tunis?
With a little awareness of the laws governing notaries, a person can examine the two letters and see that they have a juridical and official character, and that they agree completely with the regulations described in Claude de Ferrière, La science parfaite des notaires, Paris, 1682 and 1733. In Book VIII, chap. VI, vol. II, page 53, it is clear that, besides being requests for letters of ordinations and diplomas, each letter also requests an atermoiement, a word which means "a term or delay granted to a debtor to pay his creditors; this happens by an amicable agreement between a debtor and his creditors." This should take place in the presence of a notary. This is why, since Vincent was out of FranceAvignon being papal territoryhe sent a copy to his notary. This letter has to acknowledge the debts and the reason for the delay in payment, and lastly, as with all notarial documents, the signature must be accompanied by a paraphe, a special flourish proper to each person used only for official documents. These two letters have their paraphes as did all of Vincents notarial documents, which he never used for personal letters to his ordinary correspondents. This has not been previously noticed, since the historians were working on edited copies, not on the manuscripts, and Coste did not note this in his edition.
In other words, although these letters contain stylish accounts, they remain official administrative documents and have to be taken seriously. Even if we are permitted to think that Vincent dressed up his text somewhat, as he did throughout his life, it must be admitted that the basis for this history is true, that he was a real captive and escaped, as did so many others, although not all were successful.
Besides, these two letters are full of information about Vincent. We see in them his temperament, his ease in developing relationships, his search for money, his attachment to his friends and family, his mastery of the French language in which he was a true author, the expression of his Christian faith, and his interest in research, such as into medicine and alchemy.
After one year in Rome, he arrived at the end of 1608 not in Dax but in Paris, probably for a temporary mission, since already in 1610 he had been hoping to return to his mother with a good ecclesiastical benefice. He was dealing with a ruined abbey, Saint Leonard de Chaume, near La Rochelle, which only involved him in lawsuits. However, it also gave him the opportunity of befriending a good priest and learning his pastoral conduct among the Protestants who did not fulfill the Edict of Nantes in the places granted them. Vincent remained, therefore, in Paris.
These years of trials and failures led him to reflect, and he frequented the pious company of Pierre de Bérulle, who was then reading Teresa of Avila (he already had the first edition in Spanish), Ignatius Loyola, Louis of Granada, Francis of Assisi, Lorenzo Scupoli, Francis de Sales, and others. This did not stop Vincent, however, from still looking for income.
He stayed at the Oratory, founded by Bérulle on 11 November 1611. Its spirituality was centered on Jesus Christ, incarnate son of God. At the Oratory there was a weekly spiritual conference, especially on the feasts of the liturgical year; the Eucharist was venerated; the Virgin Mary had her place, as Bérulle insisted, in the mission of the Church, and he mentioned the poorest of the poor. Vincent was his first disciple, along with François Bourgoing, and until his death he maintained the practice of the conferences and the main lines of Bérulles spirit. He was able to draw nourishment from various spiritual currents while centering on the humanity of Jesus, eternal son of God and perfect adorer of his Father, sent by him to become incarnate among us, to impregnate us with his "states" and his spirit, and to send us to continue his mission. Our modern day calls this the French School of spirituality, but it was not a rigid "school", since authors from all countries nourished it. Bérulle was very open, and his disciples were of various types.
In 1612 Vincent took possession of the pastorate of Clichy near Paris, replacing Bourgoing who had joined the Oratory. He found a modest income there, as well as the management of a parish, and seigniorial dues to pay and other income to receive. This allowed him to work on the church building, and his pastorate brought him especially the joys of a zealous pastor amid good people.
He remained faithful to his pastorate even after he entered the household of the Gondis at the end of 1613 to tutor their children. Their young age allowed him time for study, meditation, and preaching to the peasants of the numerous Gondi villages, whom he invited to make a general confession, according to the practice already in existence.
His rare remaining sermons date from this period, and they are already centered on the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Eucharist in an attitude of adoration. They also deal especially with the catechism and cite the example of Protestants, as well as those of the saints. We find in him a solid sense of the Church and of the bishop.
One day in January 1617, near Amiens, an old man who had made his general confession confided to Madame de Gondi his joy in being freed, before death, from the great sins that he had hidden until then. Here we see Vincent freed from the seal of the confessional, since the lady told the story and asked him to preach on this in the church of Folleville on 25 January. The effect was such that he had to ask the Jesuits from Amiens to come and help him hear confessions. Vincent discovered that a mission would do much better if a team gave it.
During this period, Archbishop De Marquemont of Lyons wanted to make Châtillon-les-Dombes (now Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne) a center for missions, since the region had suffered from the conquest of this part of Savoy in 1599 under Henry IV. This small town had been returned to the French partly in ruins, but it had bandaged its wounds, and the parish was vital, animated by the sermons of the same Father Bourgoing, now an Oratorian, in 1616. The archbishop asked Bérulle to found a local Oratorian community there. Since one had already been founded in Lyons in January 1617, it seemed that it would satisfy the archbishop for Bérulle to ask Vincent to go to Châtillon. Doubtless happy to escape his obligations toward the Gondis, Vincent agreed at once and took possession of the parish on 1 August 1617. The six priests there, members of a "society," a sort of chapter of canons, were strong, and Vincent was able to work with a team.
One Sunday, before Mass, someone asked him to invite benevolent parishioners to help a poor sick family. The women responded beyond all expectations. The only thing to do was to suggest that they organize their activity to allow it to continue. After a temporary regulation, three months of common reflection brought them to a true rule of spiritual and charitable life. It joined union with God to love of the neighbor in spiritual and corporal service, "with charity, humility and simplicity."
Nourished by spiritual reading, these Ladies of Charity were able to evangelize the sick and accompany the dying while helping their sick bodies, all the while carefully managing their own funds. This association still exists, but with a new name in France, "Saint Vincent Teams." They are united into the International Association of Charities.
The Gondis succeeding in having Vincent return for Christmas 1617. At Châtillon, his assistant took over the care of the Charity and was named pastor. Madame de Gondi then freed Vincent from his teaching duties, and, with other volunteer priests, he gave missions in the villages belonging to the family, in the Île-de-France, Champagne and Picardy, where the established the Confraternities of Charity of which Madame de Gondi was the linchpin. He met many other persons, including the widow Louise de Marillac, who little by little became involved with the Charities.
In 1622, Francis de Sales had him named superior of the Visitation nuns in Paris, succeeding in that task Charles de la Saussaye, whom Francis named in 1619, at the time of the foundation of this monastery, and who died in December 1621. Vincent remained their superior until his death. In that period, he founded three other Visitation monasteries and regularly gave them spiritual conferences. He also did his best to raise money for them, as he did for other communities.
As for the missions, his collaborators grew tired, since they all did not have the same options or perhaps the same endurance. Struck by Matthew 25:40, what you have done to the least of my brethren, that you have done to me, Vincent believed that Jesus was really in the poor. He honored Jesus as much in the poor as in acts of devotion, something he did not reject, but did not multiply, either.
Three companions seemed determined. Madame de Gondi persuaded him to join with them "for the salvation of the poor souls, to honor the mystery of the Incarnation, the life and the death of Jesus Christ, for the love of his most holy mother." Funds were handed over on 17 April 1625, but on 23 June, Madame de Gondi died, worn out in the service of the poor. The first three confreres joined Vincent on 4 September 1626. This Congregation of the Mission intended to preach the gospel to the poor following Jesus, who proclaimed this his mission in Luke 4:18. It grew rapidly and spread out beyond the lands of the Gondis.
Vincent and his missioners emphasized especially the Trinity, creation, the end of man, which is heaven, but they could not omit teaching about the Incarnation and the life of Jesus, the sacraments, sin and the final judgment. Although he had written, in the draft of a sermon, "to draw souls from sin and to attract them to good," he soon corrected it to read: "to attract souls to heaven." This was his typical emphasis, since he knew well that all are sinners. To a dying brother, perhaps weighed down by his sins, he declared: "The throne of [Gods] mercy is the greatness of the sins to be forgiven." We are here far from a terrifying deity. The missioners preached on morals in the early morning, calling this the "sermon," and on doctrine in the evening, something they called "the great catechism."
Various bishops, and then Adrien Bourdoise and Bérulle, had opened seminaries to better form priests, but without evident success. Vincent saw the need for good pastors to maintain the results of the missions, realizing that many candidates would dislike being closed up to study for a lengthy period. At the suggestion of the bishop of Beauvais in 1628, he simply began retreats of two weeks duration to prepare candidates for ordinations. For this, they received conferences on doctrine, morals, and pastoral ministry, in particular the administration of the sacraments, and they had practical exercises.
This  was perceived to be so fruitful that these exercises for the ordinands were requested almost everywhere. In a short period they could only be refreshed in the rudiments of the faith and inculcated with a sense of adoration. The missioners invited them to let themselves be impregnated with the acts, the virtues and the sentiments of Jesus, with love for the Eucharist, and with care for a worthy apostolic life. In his expression, this was "reverence toward His Father and charity toward mankind."
Many participants asked to have their formation continued in the same active way, and beginning in 1633, the Tuesday Conferences began. In these, the priests shared what they had accomplished on the subject adopted the preceding week. He asked them to read a passage of the Gospel every day, adoring the truths in it, entering into the sentiments of these truths and determining to practice them. One of them, Jean-Jacques Olier, worked out this formula: "Jesus in our spirit, in our heart and in our hands." Their spirit was "to honor the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, his eternal priesthood, his holy family, and his love for the poor." In their turn, these young priests preached missions. One of these was Bossuet, who began his long service as a preacher during a mission given in Metz.
In the meantime, the former leprosarium of Saint-Lazare, north of Paris, a seigniory with "high, middle and low jurisdiction," had been handed over to the missioners, not without some obstacles, and from this place comes the communitys popular name of Lazarists. Here is Father Vincent, now a feudal lord, with dues to gather, having to manage the Saint-Lawrence Fair under his jurisdiction, and passing judgment with lay personnel (a bailiff, judge and sergeant-at-arms.) No one could have imagined this. He made the best of it all, for the sake of the poor.
The Charities grew rapidly. In Paris, the Ladies of Charity did not prove equal to the task and so used their servants to help them, something that clearly was not their vocation. Beginning in 1630, while he was helping Madame de Villeneuve in founding the Daughters of Providence, established to help young women in danger, some good village girls came forward to serve the poor under the direction of the Ladies. The best known of these was Marguerite Naseau, who died from contact with a plague-stricken woman in the spring of 1633. Louise de Marillac agreed to handle this work, and she assembled them at length, on 29 November 1633, founding thereby, with Vincent, the Daughters of Charity. They would have the same spirit as the Ladies: "to honor Our Lord Jesus Christ and his holy mother in their spiritual and corporal service of the sick poor," by instructing them in the things necessary for salvation, with charity, humility and simplicity.
They had no sooner started in the parishes of Paris that they were requested nearly everywhere. Beginning in 1632, the troops of Louis XIII and Richelieu with the support of Protestant Swedes, had invaded Lorraine. Its duke had welcomed Gaston dOrléans, Louis XIIIs brother and Richelieus sworn enemy, and he had given Gaston his sister in marriage. Refugees soon flocked to Paris, and they had to be helped. Vincent did so with the baron of Renty and the Company of the Blessed Sacrament, whose members sent aid to the area around Nancy. Later, he sent the Daughters to the armies to care for the wounded in Champagne and Picardy.
In 1634, he supported the Augustinian sister Geneviève Bouquet in reforming the hospital Sisters of the Hôtel-Dieu of Paris, and Madame Goussault in founding the Ladies of Charity at this same hospital. Their gifts extended to Lorraine and then to other entire provinces, together with other gifts. They always collaborated with the Company of the Blessed Sacrament, and Charles Maignart de Bernières, one of whose daughters was a nun at Port-Royal, handled their accounts.
In 1635 Vincent sent missioners to Toul, and from 1639 to about 1645, each month convoys left with aid for the Lorrainers. These missioners accompanied the columns of refugees streaming to the cities, especially to Paris. In Paris, another work was that of the abandoned infants, the Foundlings. His Daughters became their mothers beginning in 1638, generously supported by the Ladies.
Beginning in 1641, he worked on the major seminaries of Annecy, Cahors, etc. The houses for rural missions became numerous, as did the houses of the Sisters.
To help this world to live, he ran farms, and the king granted him taxes on royal domains, tolls, etc. He invested also  in several companies of coaches, portions of which were granted to one or other religious communities. Perhaps some reduced prices were granted to the missioners, to the Daughters and to the Ladies for their various trips.
He brought all this together in the spiritual life: a fiscal manager was the image or the actualizing of Providence. Just as the divine persons of the Trinity watched over the world in their dealings among themselves, so the servants of the poor should join contemplation and interior dialogue with God to their work. They should manifest Gods charity and providence to the poor.
Father Vincent became a well-known person. In vain he appealed to Richelieu for peace. After the death of Louis XIII, Anne of Austria, the regent of France, would summon him to the Council of Conscience, a kind of ministry of ecclesiastical affairs, to handle nominations to dioceses, abbeys, professorates of theology at the Sorbonne, etc. More than once he would have to resist Mazarin, not always successfully. Many notable persons appreciated, advised and aided him financially.
Then the danger of Jansenism appeared. Vincent had already noted it in his friend Saint-Cyran, and he then became embroiled in the struggle with other theologians and bishops, leading up to the papal condemnation of the Five Propositions. His friend Nicolas Cornet derived these from several student theses at the Sorbonne, and they seemed to be found also in the book Augustinus, by Cornelius Jansen, a theologian from Louvain.
But, while struggling against this teaching, according to which Jesus Christ did not die for all but only for the predestined, Vincent still refused to attack persons. When he had to submit to questioning on 31 March, and 1 and 2 April 1639, at the time of the internment of Saint-Cyran, he regularly responded evasively. Nevertheless, through the Daughters of Charity, through him and through the Ladies of Charity, gifts passed from Marie de Gonzague, who became queen of Poland, to Mother Angélique Arnauld, abbess of Port-Royal des Champs, to care for all the poor in the surrounding villages. Even more, he never became embroiled with his colleague Maignart de Bernières in the help given to Champagne, Picardy and the Île-de-France. The same was true with priests and bishops who favored Jansenism. He continued to invite them to submit to Romes judgment. Jansenius had written in two places in his book that he would submit to Rome, but he died before the book appeared and Rome rendered its judgment. His disciples, however, did not follow him on this point.
In these same years, he founded rural missions in Corsica, Italy, Scotland, Ireland and Poland. He also finally attained in two stages his great dream of a distant mission. The first step was in the world of Islam, by supporting Christian slaves captured in Tunis and Algiers in 1645. The second was his pride and joy, Madagascar, in 1648. Unfortunately, he experienced the death of several missioners, either during their journey or in Madagascar. This happened at the same time that plague was decimating his confreres in Genoa, and while Cromwells persecution was ravaging his men in Scotland and Ireland. His faith had suffered a great shock, but he turned back for support to the beginnings of the Church, which God built despite the apparent destruction of the martyrs.
In 1649, it was the Fronde and its attendant evils, from Champagne in the east to the doors of Paris, and even south to Aquitaine. Vincent went to Saint-Germain to suggest that Mazarin resign to secure peace, but in vain. After a prudent escape, almost a Far West escapade on horseback in midwinter with his secretary Brother Ducournau, he helped in the negotiations for reconciliation, but he would never be summoned back to the Council of Conscience.
All the while participating in several missions, despite the problems he had with his legs, Vincent continued to form his disciples. Despite the sack of the libraries and the archives of Saint-Lazare by the revolutionaries on 13 July 1789, we still have two volumes of around 400 pages with his conferences to the missioners, and two volumes of 700 pages with conferences to the Sisters, besides eight volumes of his letters.
He never wrote books, but he wanted to bequeath a summary of his manner of living following Christ the worshipper of the Father and the evangelizer of the poor. After working for ten years with his confreres, he finally distributed the little volume of the Common Rules in 1658. It is a well-constructed synthesis on four main lines: the Trinity, the source from which all has come and to which all will return; the Incarnation, since Jesus is the center and the "prototype of all human states and conditions;" the Eucharist; and the Virgin Mary. Practice relies on four basic virtues: search for the glory of God, and for the will of God; abandonment to Providence; and the charity of Jesus Christ which impels us; and on five virtues which facilitate missionary contact: humility, simplicity, meekness, forgetfulness of self (which he called mortification) and zeal. "If love is a fire, zeal is its flame." Everything is animated in prayer.
His study and experience, with those of his confreres and the sisters, come out in this short text (although some out-of-date points have caused them to be neglected today), and in his commentaries on the rules.  His conferences are dense and present a profound teaching, clothed in a vibrant and sometimes sparkling style. One can perceive in them a mystical experience that he modestly always tried to hide. After asking the sisters: "Do you know, my Daughters, whether God wants to make Saint Teresas out of you?" he then spoke about infused contemplation and pure love. It seems that he was speaking of his own experience, but here we are trespassing onto his private life.
During the last months of his life he was confined to his room because of sores in his legs, but he continued to run his families, thanks to his faithful brother secretaries. One of his confreres kept a careful record of his final weeks.
Beginning on 18 September 1660, he had long periods of drowsiness. His confreres brought him to Mass on Sunday, 26 September, and after several alarms during the night, on the 27th, toward 4:30 a.m., "he died in his chair, completely clothed, close to the fire."
According to the customs of the period, his liver, intestines and heart were extracted and put aside, and his body was buried in a space under the choir of the chapel, the following day, the 28th. Henri de Maupas du Tour gave his funeral oration on 23 November at Saint-Germain-lAuxerrois, Paris.
After several years, his confreres held hearings with the survivors in various regions, and this continued as they prepared the process of his beatification, which began officially only in 1705. The beatification took place on 21 August 1729. On 25 September, his coffin was opened, and the distribution of relics began, since custom insisted that some go to the pope and to various authorities. Finally, two miracles out of six were recognized, and his canonization was celebrated on 16 June 1737, together with those of Francis Regis, Juliana Falconieri and Catherine of Genoa (Catherine Fieschi).
At the Revolution, the motherhouse (Saint-Lazare), which fed some 800 poor each day, was sacked on 13 July 1789. Then his bones were hidden, and the Congregation was at length suppressed in France in 1792. Since Saint-Lazare had become a womens prison, Louis XVIII, in 1817, turned over to the Lazarists (Vincentians), the Hôtel de Lorges, 95 rue de Sèvres, where the remains of Saint Vincent remain in a shrine ordered by the archbishop of Paris, thanks to a national appeal, and where they were placed in 1830.
Besides the Ladies of Charity, now the Saint Vincent Teams, the Sisters of the Christian Union, the Congregation of the Mission (Lazarists), all founded by him, other institutions claim his spirit: the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, the Religious of Saint Vincent de Paul, and many womens congregation. In Paris in the nineteenth century, there was even a Masonic lodge of Saint Vincent de Paul, patron of philanthropists. In 1885, after many requests, Leo XIII named Vincent patron of works of charity.
Texts : Saint Vincent de Paul, Correspondance, Entretiens, Documents, 14 vol., Paris: Gabalda, 1920-1925, and vol. XV, with new letters, in. Mission et charité, nos. 19/20, 1970. [English: Saint Vincent de Paul. Correspondence, Conferences, Documents. Brooklyn, N.Y.: New City Press, 1985--] Brother Louis Robineau, Carnets, edited by André Dodin, as M. Vincent raconté par son secrétaire, Paris: O.E.I.L., 1991. Saint Vincent de Paul, Correspondance, Entretiens, Documents, 14 vol., Paris: Gabalda, 1920-1925, and vol. XV, with new letters, in. Mission et charité, nos. 19/20, 1970. [English: Saint Vincent de Paul. Correspondence, Conferences, Documents. Brooklyn, N.Y.: New City Press, 1985--] Brother Louis Robineau, Carnets, edited by André Dodin, as M. Vincent raconté par son secrétaire, Paris: O.E.I.L., 1991.
Biographies : - Louis Abelly, La Vie du Vénérable serviteur de Dieu Vincent de Paul, 3 books in 1 volume. Paris 1664 (Contains numerous texts cited at length, but without dates, and with a touching up of his style) [English: The Life of the Venerable Servant of God Vincent de Paul. Ed. John E. Rybolt, New Rochelle, N.Y.: New City Press, 1993.] Pierre Collet, La Vie de saint Vincent de Paul, Nancy 1748, 2 vol. (Contains several additions to Abelly; the texts are also more or less edited, but there are more dates). Pierre Coste, Monsieur Vincent, le grand saint du Grand Siècle, Paris: Desclée, 1931, 3 vol. (Despite some lacks, this is an irreplaceable volume). [English: The Life & Works of Saint Vincent de Paul. Trans. Joseph Leonard. Westminster, Md: Newman Press, 1952.] André Dodin, Saint Vincent de Paul et la Charité, collection "Maîtres spirituals", Paris: Seuil 1960. (Very good introduction). [English: Vincent de Paul and Charity. A Contemporary Portrait of His Life and Apostolic Spirit. Ed. Hugh ODonnell, M. Hornstein, New Rochelle, N.Y.: New City Press, 1993.]- Arthur Loth, Saint Vincent de Paul et sa mission sociale, Paris: Dumoulin, 1880. (Serious work, although out of date; has remarkable illustrations). Bernard Pujo, Vincent de Paul, le précurseur, Paris: Albin Michel, 1998 (Popularized work, but rigorous and up to date; many notes). Jean-François Six et Helmut Nils Loose, Saint Vincent de Paul, Paris:Centurion, 1980 (illustrated album). Comme un grand feu, Strasbourg: Signe, 1995 (illustrated life of Vincent and of his foundations). [English: Charpy, Elisabeth, et al., eds. Like a great fire. Vincent de Paul. Strasbourg, France: Editions du Signe, 1995.] - Louis Abelly, La Vie du Vénérable serviteur de Dieu Vincent de Paul, 3 books in 1 volume. Paris 1664 (Contains numerous texts cited at length, but without dates, and with a touching up of his style) [English: The Life of the Venerable Servant of God Vincent de Paul. Ed. John E. Rybolt, New Rochelle, N.Y.: New City Press, 1993.] Pierre Collet, La Vie de saint Vincent de Paul, Nancy 1748, 2 vol. (Contains several additions to Abelly; the texts are also more or less edited, but there are more dates). Pierre Coste, Monsieur Vincent, le grand saint du Grand Siècle, Paris: Desclée, 1931, 3 vol. (Despite some lacks, this is an irreplaceable volume). [English: The Life & Works of Saint Vincent de Paul. Trans. Joseph Leonard. Westminster, Md: Newman Press, 1952.] André Dodin, Saint Vincent de Paul et la Charité, collection "Maîtres spirituals", Paris: Seuil 1960. (Very good introduction). [English: Vincent de Paul and Charity. A Contemporary Portrait of His Life and Apostolic Spirit. Ed. Hugh ODonnell, M. Hornstein, New Rochelle, N.Y.: New City Press, 1993.]- Arthur Loth, Saint Vincent de Paul et sa mission sociale, Paris: Dumoulin, 1880. (Serious work, although out of date; has remarkable illustrations). Bernard Pujo, Vincent de Paul, le précurseur, Paris: Albin Michel, 1998 (Popularized work, but rigorous and up to date; many notes). Jean-François Six et Helmut Nils Loose, Saint Vincent de Paul, Paris:Centurion, 1980 (illustrated album). Comme un grand feu, Strasbourg: Signe, 1995 (illustrated life of Vincent and of his foundations). [English: Charpy, Elisabeth, et al., eds. Like a great fire. Vincent de Paul. Strasbourg, France: Editions du Signe, 1995.]
Studies : - André Dodin, Monsieur Vincent parle à ceux qui souffrent, Desclée De Brouwer, 1981; François de Sales, Vincent de Paul, les deux amis, Paris: O.E.I.L. 1984. Robert P. Maloney, Un Chemin vers les pauvres, spiritualité de saint Vincent de Paul, D.D.B. 1994. [English: The Way of Vincent de Paul: A Contemporary Spirituality in the Service of the Poor. Hyde Park, N.Y.: New City Press, 1992.] Alexandrette Bugelli, Vincent de Paul, une pastorale du pardon et de la réconciliation, la confession générale, Fribourg: Editions Universitaires; Paris: Cerf, 1997. René Wulfman, Charité publique et finances privées. M. Vincent, gestionnaire et saint, Atelier Reproduction Thèse, Lille III, 1997. - André Dodin, Monsieur Vincent parle à ceux qui souffrent, Desclée De Brouwer, 1981; François de Sales, Vincent de Paul, les deux amis, Paris: O.E.I.L. 1984. Robert P. Maloney, Un Chemin vers les pauvres, spiritualité de saint Vincent de Paul, D.D.B. 1994. [English: The Way of Vincent de Paul: A Contemporary Spirituality in the Service of the Poor. Hyde Park, N.Y.: New City Press, 1992.] Alexandrette Bugelli, Vincent de Paul, une pastorale du pardon et de la réconciliation, la confession générale, Fribourg: Editions Universitaires; Paris: Cerf, 1997. René Wulfman, Charité publique et finances privées. M. Vincent, gestionnaire et saint, Atelier Reproduction Thèse, Lille III, 1997.
Journals : - Au temps de saint Vincent de Paul et aujourdhui. Cards, with eight pages of texts and updating material; three times yearly, available from "Animation Vincentienne", 16 Grande-Rue Saint-Michel, 31400 Toulouse, in French; two special numbers: no. 25, 1971; no. 50, 1990: Monsieur Vincent, témoin de lÉvangile. Vincentiana, International review of the Congregation of the Mission, available from, Curia Generalizia, Via dei Capasso, 30; 00164 Rome, Italy. Published six times yearly, in English, Spanish and French. - Au temps de saint Vincent de Paul et aujourdhui. Cards, with eight pages of texts and updating material; three times yearly, available from "Animation Vincentienne", 16 Grande-Rue Saint-Michel, 31400 Toulouse, in French; two special numbers: no. 25, 1971; no. 50, 1990: Monsieur Vincent, témoin de lÉvangile. Vincentiana, International review of the Congregation of the Mission, available from, Curia Generalizia, Via dei Capasso, 30; 00164 Rome, Italy. Published six times yearly, in English, Spanish and French.
Translation: John Rybolt, C.M.
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There are many short and medium-length biographies of Vincent available in various languages, many translated from the major European languages. It is useful to read, or re-read, these from time to time, or at least to read parts of them. Very often something fresh will strike us, or we will see something in a new light.
Confreres from each language group will know which are considered the best in their own language. "The World of Monsieur Vincent" by Mary Purcell, an Irish laywoman, was published in 1963 and re-printed in 1989. Many people think it is the best book in English on Vincent. It has been translated into Indonesian. Jean Calvets biography, published in French in 1948, was translated into English in 1952. Luigi Mezzadri's short biography came out in 1989 and has been translated into French, English and Spanish.
The three major biographies are those by Louis Abelly, Pierre Coste and Jose Maria Roman.
Abelly's book was published in 1664, four years after Vincent's death. It has several defects. In quoting from Vincent's letters or conferences he often changed paragraphs, sentences or words, because he regarded Vincent's style as lacking in literary quality. He also had a preconceived idea of what a holy priest should be like, and he tried to fit Vincent into this framework. He gives the impression that Vincent was a saint from childhood, and he omits any thing which he considered unsuitable for the pre-conceived image which he had.
On the other hand there are two important positive aspects of Abellys book. First, he was writing about a man whom he had known personally. Because of this we get glimpses of the real Vincent. Second, Abelly was able to draw on the memories and impressions of other people who had known Vincent personally, especially Brother Bertrand Ducournau, one of Vincents secretaries.
In 1985 Andre Dodin CM puslibhed a book on Abellys biography: "La Legende et lHistoire: De Monsieur Depaul a Saint Vincent de Paul": [Legend and History: from Father Depaul to St. Vincent de Paul]. In the Autumn 1993 issue of Colloque, the Journal of the Irish Province, there will be an article on Dodins book by Andrew Spelman CM.
Costes three-volume biography was published in 1932. It contains a very detailed account of Vincents activities, but in spite of that it does not give a clear picture of the sort of man he was. My opinion on Costes biography is that a confrere should read it once in his lifetime, and after that re-read sections of it from time to time when necessary, in order to find out facts. Somebody said that Costes biography was the work of an archivist rather than that of a historian or biographer.
It was translated into Spanish and Italian, and one or two of the volumes have been translated into German.
This was published in 1981, the first major biography since Coste. It is shorter than either Abelly or Coste, but it takes into account the progress which has been made in Vincentian studies in the half century since Coste.
It has been translated into Italian and Polish, and an English translation is to be published later this year.
I mentioned already that it is important to read and re-read biographies of Vincent; it is far more important, though, to read and re-read what he himself wrote.
What Vincent wrote
The surviving writings of Vincent were published by Coste in twelve volumes, eight of letters and four of conferences. None of this material was intended by Vincent for printing or publication. The only work which he intended for printing and limited circulation was the Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission.
I want to say something about these writings under four headings: The Common Rules, the letters, the conferences to the St. Lazare community, and the conferences to the Daughters of Charity.
The Common Rules
Vincent wrote the Common Rules in Latin. I think they have been translated into most, if not all, the vernacular languages of the different Provinces of the Congregation. It is important that a good attractive translation be available if confreres are to get to know, and be attracted by, the Common Rules. In the Irish Province for many years we had a translation which had become out-of date, in archaic and unattractive language which discouraged confreres from reading the Common Rules.
The Common Rules have one great defect. Vincent combined two things in one book, guidelines on spirituality and guidelines on administration. In the guidelines on administration there are some things which belong to the 17th century and there are some things which belong to France. Anything which is completely 17th century or completely French we, who are neither 17th century nor French, can ignore. Much of the material concerning the administration of community houses falls into one or other of these categories.
Most of the material in the Common Rules concerning spirituality is still valid for us in the 20th century, because it deals with the unchanging basics of a person's relationship with God: prayer, scripture reading, other spiritual reading, relationship with other people, virtues and self-discipline.
Since the Common Rules were written by Vincent for us as his community it is important that we read them regularly. In the final chapter we are recommended to read them through every three months. It is probably better to read part of them on a certain day each week; regular reading is essential if we are to get to know them well, and to be able to distinguish what is still valid for us today from what is outmoded. As I said already, this means first of all distinguishing between administrative guidelines and spiritual guidelines.
Like the Common Rules the letters are Vincents own words, either written personally or dictated to one of his secretaries. However, the Common rules were written to be read by the entire Congregation while the letters were written to individual persons. Also, the Common Rules were written in Latin in a rather formal style, while the letters were written inordinary everyday French. This means that the letters are the medium by which we today come into closest contact with the real Vincent. For this reason I would urge any of you whose knowledge of French is sufficiently good to read the letters in French rather than in translation.
More than 3,000 of Vincents letters have survived. It has been estimated that he wrote about 30,000, which is probably an over-estimation.
The first point I want to make will concern perhaps only a small number of you, those who can read the letters in French or who have a complete translation of all the letters in your own language; I believe there is a complete set in Spanish and an almost complete on in Italian. You are still fairly young, less than twelve years ordained. I would urge you to take a resolution to read all the letters, in chronological order; that means starting with volume I and reading systematically through all the volumes. The only way to do this is to set yourself a certain number of pages to be read each day. Also, make notes as you read. I can assure you that the trouble is well worthwhile. It was more than twenty years after my ordination when I did this, so I am urging you to do it at a younger age and so get more benefit from it.
Those who do not know French and those for whom there is no complete translation available will have to make use of whatever selection of letters is available in your own language. My advise to you is to read all that is available, and make notes as you read.
Vincents letters, as I already said, were addressed to individual persons about particular matters relevant to those persons. This means that we cannot always apply to ourselves or to others what he wrote in a letter. They are interesting to us because they show how vincnet dealt with people and with situations. This means that we should, if possible, kknow something about the person to whom the letter was addressed, about the house in which he lived, and about the situation in question. The date of the letter will show at what period of Vincents life it was written, and this could be interesting as what he said in the earlier part of his life might be different from what he said later.
Finally, most of the letters do not deal with spirituality. When a letter does deal with spirituality we have to remember, once again, that it was written for a particular person in a particular situation and it may not be for general application.
The Conferences to the Community in St. Lazare
In Volumes XI and XII of the Coste set there are 224 items; most of them are called conferences or extracts from conferences, but some are called repetitions of prayer. Andre Dodin CM published a revised one-volume edition of this material in 1960, with some additions.
Unlike the Common Rules and the letters these items, as we now have them, were not written by Vincent. They have been reconstructed, with varying degrees of accuracy, from notes made by some of the persons who were present when Vincent gave the talks.
In the Introduction to Volume XI Pierre Coste explains how this material has survived. There is no need to explain this here but Coste shows that there are 31 conferences which are more authentic reconstructions than the others. These are from the later years of Vincent's life and were done systematically by Brother Bertrand Ducournau, one of Vincent' secretaries. He had a double qualification for doing this work well: he had been a professional secretary before joining the Congregation, and he was from the same part of France as Vincent and therefore was well acquainted with Vincent's style and vocabulary. I have prepared a page which gives the dates of these conferences with the number of each in both the Coste and Dodin editions. I suggest that you read these thirty-one conferences before any of the others, and re-read them more often. As I said, they are the ones which most authentically reproduce what Vincent said.
If you do not read French. or if you do not have a complete translation available, you will have to make the best use possible of whatever selection has been made in your own language. Check whether any of the thirty-one I mentioned are in whatever selection you have; you will know from the dates if the Coste or Dodin number is not given.
The Conferences to the Daughters of Charity
When he gave conferences to the Daughters Vincent would often give Louise the notes he had prepared for the conference, and she would often give back to him for revision her re-construction of the conference. He never did this with the conferences to the confreres.
When we read the conferences to the Daughters we must always keep in mind that they were given to a very particular audience, most of whom were uneducated and very many of whom were illiterate. Vincent adapted his ideas on spirituality to this audience, and we cannot take as general guidelines what he said to them. For example, in one conference to them he was trying to encourage them to pray well. He said:
That, of course, is simply not true; he said it merely to boost their morale and give them a sense of self-worth. He never said anything like that to the confreres when he spoke of prayer, and I think we can say that he did not really mean what he said.
Reading Books and Articles about Vincent
As well as biographies of Vincent there are also books dealing with some part of his life or some aspect of his work. The greatest number of such books are, understandably, in French, but there are also many in Spanish and Italian and some in English. Some are translations from other languages. Each of you, again, will have to look for what is available in your own language, or in another language which you can read.
As well as books about Vincent there are also articles about him in different reviews or journals. You will probably get more benefit from articles than from full-length books.
Vincentiana is the review for the entire Congregation. It appears six times a year and contains articles in different languages. It usually also prints the talks given at these Vincentian Months.
I think most Provinces have some sort of publication of their own, which prints either original articles or translations from other languages. The French have the Bulletin des Lazaristes de France and the Cahiers Vincentiens, the Italians have the Annali and the Spanish the Anales. The Irish Province has Colloque and the Provinces of the United States have Vincentian Heritage.. The Latin American Provinces have the CLAPVI bulletin, and a group of some of the northern and central European Provinces have the MEGVIS bulletin.
There are also some reviews which have ceased publication, such as Les Annales de la CM and Mission et Charite. Both of these contain many important articles which are well worth reading.
I mentioned already that Vincentiana prints the talks given at these Vincentian Months. CEME in Spain has published, in book form, the talks given at some (or all?) the Salamanca Weeks, and the Italian Annali have printed the talks given at similar meetings in Italy.
I do not want to recommend individual books or articles, which many of you might not be able to get or to read. I want suggest how to get most benefit from what is available to each of you.
If you see an article on Vincent in any review or magazine, in a language which you can read, take a quick look through it to see if it appeals to you personally. Remember, not every article on Vincent will appeal to every individual confrere. If you think it would interest you, read it through completely, but quickly. Then, if you think it is worthwhile, read it again more carefully and make notes as you read; also note the year and number of the issue so that you can find the article again later.
That last point is important. Obviously some articles are better than others. Also some articles make a greater personal appeal than others. Such articles should be read more than once and it is important to be able to find them again when we want to. It is very frustrating to remember that I read something somewhere and yet cannot remember exactly where when I want to read it again.
The purpose of this talk is so help the ordinary non-specialist confrere to deepen his knowledge and understanding of Vincent. Confreres need to read, on a regular basis, The Common Rules, some of his letters and some of his conferences, biographies and other books about him, in whole or in part, and, finally articles which will, perhaps, normally be more helpful than full-length books.
If you already have some knowledge of French try to improve it sufficiently to read the letters and conferences in French; they lose much of their atmosphere in translation. If you do not know French but are offered the possibility of learning it, take that opportunity. So much of what has been written about Vincent and about the Congregation is in French, and only a very small part of this material has been translated.
Whether you read in French or in some other language, always make notes as you read. There will be letters, conferences, books and articles, or parts of any of these, which will appeal to you more than others; keep going back to those, re-reading them.
If your Province has a bulletin I ask you to consider writing something about Vincent, based on your reading. I think almost every confrere is capable of writing something. Many confreres think that all writing must be left to experts and specialists, but I disagree. I think most confreres are capable of writing something. Also, if you are able to read a second language I ask you to consider translating something from that language into your own, for the benefit of the other confreres in your Province.
Some of you, or perhaps all of you, may have noticed that I did not refer to Saint Vincent, except in the quotations from the Constitutions and from Fr. Richardson's letter.. The title "Saint" refers to Vincent's present status and it is misleading to use it in connection with events during his life. For example, it is incorrect to say "St. Vincent preached at Folleville on 25 January 1617" He was not a saint that day and if he had died the next day he would never have been canonized. We must try to get to know the man as he was at the different periods of his life. We must try to get to know him as a man, as a priest working in Clichy, Chatillon and the de Gondi household. We must try to get to know him as a confrere, and as superior general of an expanding congregation. His letters are the principal means of doing this. But we must, at all costs, avoid the danger of thinking of him as "a saint" at all moments, and in each of the events, of his life.
These are the 31 "most authentic" of Vincent's conferences, which I referred to in my talk. The figures refer to the number, not the page, in the Coste and Dodin editions. The dates are given for the benefit of those who have only a selection of the conferences available.
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Saint Vincent de Paul (1581-1660)
1581 - April 24th: Birth in Pouy, near Dax (Landes)
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