OF THE VIRTUES, THE MISSIONS, AND THE VENERATION OF ST. VINCENT OF PAUL.
IT has been remarked at all times, that the saint whose history I continue, gave himself up most willingly to the practice of those virtues which, like humility, patience, and the support of the neighbor, recur every day. But it has also been remarked that he practised them in a manner far superior to thé generality of the just, and that he possessed in an eminent degree those of which the exercise is most rare and most difficult. The details upon which we are about to enter, will oblige even his enemies to admit the justice of these two observations, if they can resolve to follow us without passion and prejudice.
As faith is the foundation of Christian virtue, Vincent, like a wise architect, looked up to it as the stone upon which he was to erect the edifice of his salvation; and it was for that reason, that he always guarded it with the greatest care. He kept it at Tunis against the most flattering promises of a master who had almost absolute power over him. He preserved it without diminution, whilst a chaplain to Margaret, in spite of the terrible temptation to which he was exposed. He preserved it amidst the troubles caused him by a rising heresy, by which efforts were made more than once to seduce him, and which would have been more prodigal of its eulogies than it had been of its outrages against him, could it have succeeded in gaining- him, or making him hesitate. In fine, he removed from his company and from those who depended on him, that spirit of curiosity which agrees so ill with proper submission ; and he preferred to see his cherished daughters of the Visitation, remain poor than to be enriched by a boarder who, in bestowing property upon them, might have deprived them of the treasure of faith.
The exalted idea which he had of that important virtue, induced him to spread it as much as was in his power. Hence the catechisms and instructions which he gave, even in travelling, to the children and to the poor, who are commonly most neglected. Hence the establishment of his congregation, that is to say, of a body of evangelical laborers destined to sow and cultivate faith in the most sterile lands. Hence the holy pleasure with which he published the good performed by companies, which a jealous eye would have considered as rivals, but which his faith looked upon as models.
If he possessed the firmness and purity of faith, he had also its plenitude. It animated his actions, his words, his thoughts : it was with the level of faith that he regulated his judgments, formed and executed his most laudable projects. A design supported by reasons of wise policy, was only pleasing to him, when it was conformable to the maxims of the gospel. He was persuaded, and he often repeated that the affairs of God succeeded so badly, only because those who urged their execution, were guided too much by natural motives. It was for this reason that he incessantly recalled himself and his children to the light of faith. By the aid of that light which pierces the most obscure places, he saw in a simple countryman the image of a God who became poor, and who seems only to have come upon earth to be the evan gelist of the poor. “O God!” cried he on this occasion, “how worthy of contempt do the poor appear when they are only considered with the eyes of the flesh and of the world! But how beautiful are they when considered in God, and according to the esteem which Jesus Christ had for them!”
Such was the faith of the holy priest. To be well acquainted with the nature of it, we have only to cast our eyes upon his other virtues. By the excellence and multitude of the fruits, we can know the strength of the root to which they owe their origin.
Confidence in God was so eminently the virtue of-St. Vincent of Paul, that we may say that, after the example of the father of believers, he often hoped against hope itself. A poor, simple individual as he was, he executed innumerable pro jects which even princes would not have dared to imagine. He supported establishments which appeared desperate. He calmed disquietness which appeared unappeasable. But in all this he did not rely upoh himself, nor upon an arm of flesh, whatever it might be. God alone was his resource; and that God, always attentive to the cry of those who hope in him, did not fail him. Twenty times did they represent to him, that the expense to be incurred for the nourishment of the candidates for orders, and for the great number of persons who, every week, made a retreat in his house, exposed him to ruin; twenty times did he answer that the treasures of Providence are inexhaustible, that want of confidence dishonors God, and that riches were more to be feared for his congregation than poverty. One day, the eve of an ordination, the procurator came eagerly to tell him. that he had not a cent to defray the expense: “Oh! what good news!” cried the holy priest: “now we shall see whether we have confidence in God.”
It was not that heaven ever performed miracles in his favor, and that it came at a fixed moment to the aid of his indigence, for we have seen him and his company reduced to the necessity of eating oat and barley bread. But he looked upon these passing accidents, as trials without which we cannot know whether we have true and entire confidence in God. Thus he was always the same in these occasions doubly painful for a man who is at the head of a numerous community. It has been constantly remarked that the serenity of his countenance increased in proportion to the afflictiuns which befel him personally, or his children. To the innumerable objections with which human prudence assailed him, he made no other reply than that of the royal prophet : Quitiment Dominurn sperent in eo; adjutor eorum et protector eorum est.
I do hot know whether the saint, who was called to many houses, had perceived that perfect confidence is not always the most perfect virtue of communities. It is however incontestable, that he recommended it on a multitude of occasions, both to his missionaries and to the Sisters of Charity, who, on account of the dangers of every kind to which they are often exposed, have more need of diffidence in themselves and dependence upon God alone. He often announced to them the protection of heaven in a tone so decisive, that one would have thought he had secret reasons for calculating upon it; and his predictions were more than once justified by the event. We have said elsewhere, that one of those virtuous young ladies came forth safe and sound from amidst the ruins of a building which fell in entirely; we will here add that a joist of their principal house having broken and drawn the floor with it, Providence permitted that there should not be a single person there, although a moment before there were several, and the foundress had but just gone out. “O my daughters!” said the holy priest at the time, “be assured that, provided you keep a holy confidence in your hearts, God will preserve you in whatever place or danger you may be.”
This treasure of hope, with which the Lord had enriched Vincent of Paul, served him at one time to sustain Madame le Gras against the dread which site had of losing him; at another, to pacify those who were tempted to despair, from an idea more or less confused of reprobation; Sometimes also to interdict a too continual view of death to those in whom it might weaken confidence. For, although the thought of the last day was one of the practices which he recommended to ward off the darts of the enemy, he was unwilling for any one to occupy himself with it, to the prejudice of a holy and well founded hope; because without a firm hope there can be no true love, and love is the fulfilling of the law.
Our saint was so inundated with it, that it could be seen at the first glance, that he was entirely under the empire. of Loly charity. Hence, those vivid and tender aspirations which, like a fire too much confined in the bosom of the earth, escaped him at frequent intervals: “O my Savicur! O my God! when will you grant me the grace to be entirely yours, and to love you alone?” Hence, that ardent desire which he always had, that God should he more and more loved, blessed, and glorified at all times and in all places. Hence, in fine, that capital maxim, which was always his, that, to please God in great things, we must form the habit of pleasing him generously in the most trifling ones; that the latter commonly are more surely done for his glory ; the former, on the contrary, often vanish in smoke, because self= love and reference to ourselves corrupt or weaken them.
As real purity of intention which seeks God alone is imcompatible with human respect, the holy priest could not bear that his children should act with the view of pleasing men. The aversion he had for mere human motives displayed itself one day in one of those sudden emotions, which evince the habitual dispositions of the heart. One of his company having humbled himself before the others for having acted through human considerations, Vincent, in affliction, exclaimed, “that it was better to be cast, bound hand and foot, upon burning coals, than to perform an action to please men.”
His conversation was simple, but the love with which he was inflamed, gave it a warmth of which those who listened to him, did not fail to feel the impression. Hence, of so great a number of bishops who attended his conferences, there was none, who did not feel confused, when asked to conclude; and one of them told him one day publicly, that one word from his mouth had a greater effect than all they could say. There was but one opinion about it throughout the whole kingdom. Armand de Montmorin, Archbishop of Vienna, says in his letter to Clement XI, that there was no sermon, nor pious reading. that made so lively an impression as the discourses of the servant of God. The great Bus-suet, in the letter which he wrote to the some pontiff, takes Jesus Christ to witness that in hearing this holy priest, one was reminded of the words of the prince of the apostles : Si quis loquitur, quasi sermon es Dei. Francis de Lomenie de Brienne, bishop of Coutances, remembered more than forty-five years after the death of Vincent, the pleasure he had experienced, on hearing him in his family with which he had been very intimate. Victor de Melian, who was afterwards bishop of Aleth, gives the same testimony of him ; and we can confirm it by that of the most illustrious ladies of his time, although in matter of style and conversation, they may not always be the most indulgent. The wife of President de Lamoignon was so penetrated by an exhortation which he made to the ladies of his assembly, that turning towards the duchess of Mantua, who was afterwards queen of Poland, she said: “Well! Madam, may we not say, like the disciples of Emmaus, that our hearts were burning with the love of God, whilst he spoke to us? For my part,” added she with her accustomed humility, “although I am very little sensible to the things which relate to God, I acknowledge to you, that my heart is completely penetrated with what that holy man has just said to us.” “You must not be astonished,” replied the princess, “Mr. Vincent is like an angel of the Lord, who carries upon his lips the burning coals of the divine love which inflames his heart.”
But it was not only to such cultivated souls, it was to hearts more than insensible, that our saint communicated a portion of the sacred fire which uninterruptedly consumed him. One of his priests having presented to him a hardened sinner with whom he could do nothing, Vincent spoke to him, effectually moved him, and filled him with holy confusion. At this very moment, the first fruits of the new man began to be perceived. The child of iniquity groaned at his chains. He begged the favor of a spiritual retreat, to free himself from his sins : he performed it with fervor, and adhered firmly to his first engagements. He published every where, that the mildness and charity of the saint had gained his heart, and that he had never heard any one before speak like him.
But the love of Vincent was not confined to words, it expressed itself in actions. He wished, according to his own saying, that God should be loved by the sweat of the brow. His whole life is a proof of it, and the rest of his virtues will confirm it.
One of the most important, and at the same time one of the most painful to nature, was his great and perfect submission to the whole will of God. He undertook nothing, he gave no tounsel, without having previously consulted Him, to learn what he required of him. Liberty and slavery, sickness and nealth, life and death, were all alike to him, provided God was pleased. He saw himself, and more than once he saw his dear children, like the just of whom St. Paul speaks, under oppression, in misery, in chains. Yet his tranquillity was always unalterable. This word alone, God wills it, calmed his mind, and cut short useless reflections.
Some time after the pestilence had taken away from him six or seven of his companions who labored at Genoa, that house, where tears were still flowing, lost a very important suit. The new superior wrote about it to Vincent of Paul. Here is the answer of that incomparable man ; I know not if the life of the greatest saints would furnish any thing more beautiful : “Long live justice; you must believe, sir, that it is found in the loss of your suit. The same God who gave you property, has taken it away from you; blessed be his holy name. Property is an evil, when it is where God does not wish it to be. The greater our resemblance to our Lord stripped of every thing, the greater also•will be our share in his spirit. Let us then be led by our Father who is in heaven, and let us try upon earth, only to will and not will with him.” This last expression was very familiar to the man of God. It was because he was persuaded, and he said so one day from the abundance of his heart, “that to conform in all things to the will of the Lord, is to live upon earth the very life of Jesus Christ.”
From this perfect submission arose in him that spirit of indifference, which, by a tie which grace alone can explain, is closely united to tenderness, and servos to rectify it. He loved his congregation, and he had just reason to love it. Yet he never took one step to increase or enrich- it. He loved all his children like a true father; but as he loved them as an eminently Christian man, he only prayed for their health or life under the good pleasure of God and for his greater glory. We have seen how much he was affected by the death of the Abbé de Tournus, and by that of Messrs. Lambert and Portail. He supposed with reason, that all those of his company would be also very sensible of such losses “Yet,” says he, in his circular letters to them, “I do not doubt that you have praised God for this privation, and that you have said to him, that you would not wish him to have done otherwise, since such was his good pleasure.” How much murmuring would be banished, how much thanksgiving would be substituted to useless complaints, if the sentiments of the servant of God were those of the generality of the faithful. .
To be so constantly submissive to the whole will of God, it is necessary to have him incessantly before our eyes. The holy love with which Vincent was penetrated, taught him early such a fruitful maxim; and he practised it to the end. A virtuous priest, who observed him for several years, found him always like Abraham, in the presence of his Master. He saw nothing but him; the multitude of affairs, unforeseen reverses, afflicting news, all this only served to remind him of that Supreme Being, who rules at will the universe and all events. When he was consulted, and it was often the case, on affairs of every description, he scarcely ever answered, until he had himself consulted God; and it was for this reason that between the question and the answer, he commonly made a little pause; and he also began generally by these words: lit nomine Domini.
For fear that his imagination might withdraw him from the presence of God, he recalled himself to it at least four times in an hour, that is, whenever the clock struck; and then, whether alone or in company, he uncovered himself, made the sign of the cross, and raised his mind to God. When he entered his room, or that of one making a spiritual retreat, he went on his knees to invoke the Holy Ghost; and he did the same, on going out, to return thanks for his favors. He has bequeathed these practices to his congregation and they are certainly neither the most distinguished for talents or virtue, who neglect them as trifles.
The beauty of the country, the brilliancy of the flowers and the various fruits, enabled hint to ascend without effort to their first principle. When he found himself at the court, ih those superb apartments where crystal and glass multiply an object a thousand times, he said: ” O Lord! if men have skiIl’to prevent the slighest motion from escaping their sight, how can I withdraw myself from yours?”
It was only because it is scarcely possible to have the eyes always cast down, that Vincent perceived in travelling the verdure of the country, and the enamel of the fields. We
shall find hereafter that he carried his mortification so far as to refuse himself the innocent pleasure presented by the riches of nature. Whilst walking in Paris, he occupied himself with God, almost as if he had been alone in that city, where the tumult and noise may excuse distractions. When he was obliged to make use of a carriage, his eyes were generally closed; and most frequently, to be less distracted, he drew the curtains, so that he could neither see nor be seen. Perhaps, also, humility had a share in this; for I know frum the Rev. Father Fleuriau, who was a witness of it, that the scholars pointed out the servant of God, and said one to another: “There is the saint going by.”
A man so constantly united to God could not fail to be a man of prayer. Hence, whatever he had to do, or wherever he was, an hour of meditation was always with him the morning oblation; and that oblation he made with such lively emotion, that, unable to support its ardor, he often broke ont in sighs which were perceptible to every one except himself. Although he spoke well concerning God at all times, something more was perceived in him, when he spoke immediately after prayer. Independently of words, it was only necessary to take a glance at the whole of his conduct, to be convinced that prayer was his support and nourishment.
As he knew by experience the great fruits produced by that exercise, he made it•an inviolable law with his children, being well-persuaded that his congregation would subsist before God, in proportion to its fidelity in this respect. He would not even have the sick dispensed from it. But the method he proposed to them, was so well suited to their condition, that it could not fatigue them. To unite themselves to God by tender affections, to form acts of confidence in him, of resignation to his will, of repentance for faults committed against his law, was all he required of them, and this did not exceed their strength..
It was not only his own companions, that Vincent inspired with the spirit of prayer, he endeavored to communicate it to strangers, both ecclesiastics, who without it are nothing but salt without savor, and seculars, because he had no doubt that if they would contract the habit of it, they would execute the good resolutions taken during their retreat.
He went still farther; for he not only made the ladies of his assembly so many women of prayer, but he induced many to establish in their families those kinds of repetition, which are only in use in the most holy communities. It was on such an occasion that a servant, giving an account of his meditation, said in substance that he was occupied in it with the duties which the Son of God prescribes to us with regard to the poor; that in consequence he thought himself obliged to do something for them; but having nothing to give them, because he was poor himself, he had taken the resolution to uncover his head in passing by them, and to speak with kindness to those who should address him. How many young ecclesiastics have never made so good a meditation. Ida ipsi judices vestri erunt (Matt. xii, 17).
After the example of the Saviour, who, from time to time retired apart to pray, Vincent, notwithsthandiog his important duties, did not fail every year to give at least eight days to a spiritual retreat, an exercise of which prayer and similar acts constitute the principal part. It was there that separated from the world, and alone with God, he called himself to an account for the past, lamented the present, and took new resolutions for the future. On this subject I will add that the saint wished, that, however unfaithful a person may have been to his resolutions, he should always continue to take them. “But,” said he, “in order not to take them in vain, we must mistrust our own strength, pray a great deal, ask of God the grace to know and overcome the obstacles which have been fatal to us ;” not to be discouraged either at the faults which human weakness makes us commit, or at the dryness and disgust which we sometimes experience in meditation. ” It is,” said he again, ” an exercise which God sends us to try us, and I know virtuous persons who, by the good use which they make of it, have advanced a great deal in virtue.”
To give some idea of the devotion of St. Vincent, and of his piety towards God, it will be sufficient to follow him in the practice of the duties which are the object of that important virtue.
Although he always went to bed late, and often could not sleep more than two hours, he rose regularly at four, and with so much fervor, that the second stroke of the bell, never found him in the position in which he was at the first. He made an offering of himself and all his actions to God ; and after having tenderly besought him through Jesus Christ, not to permit him to have the misfortune to offend him, he repaired to the church to make his meditation with the community This pious exercise was followed either by confession, for he could not bear the appearance of sin, or by a new preparation for the tremendous sacrifice which he was going to offer. It may be said that in this great action he was a model for the most accomplished priests. In his manner of pronouncing, performing the ceremonies, turning towards the people to announce the peace and benediction of God, there was discovered something so holy, so majestic, that persons who did not know him, have been heard several times to say to one another : ” How well that priest says mass! He must be either a saint or an angel.”
With the exception of the three first days of his annual retreat, he celebrated mass every day without ever failing. Sometimes, and it has been seen when he was more than seventy-five years of age, he served a second mass after his own. After the example of the zealous Mr. Bourdoise, he could not see, without real pain, a clergyman yield to seCulars the right which he has to serve the priest in this function, which an gels would glory in taking upon them, if they could do so.
He performed the public offices in a most moving and affecting manoer; but he did not acquit himself of them in a less becoming manner in private. He always recited bis breviary on his knees and with his head bare. He never gave up that attitude of respect, until within the two or three last years of his life, because Ile could not do otherwise.
He had so marked a veneration for the mysteries of the Holy Trinity and Incarnation, that he begged of the sovereign pontiff to make it a strict obligation for all the members of his congregation to honor them with a particular respect. But to give a proper idea of his piety towards the sacrament of the love of Jesus Christ, it would be necessary to feel a portion of it. When his employments afforded him a little respite, he profited by it to go and throw himself at the feet of his Saviour. He there forgot himself sometimes, and remained for hours. Ile read there, and always on his knees, the letters which he judged to he important; and he never read them until he had offered to the God-Man their good and evil results. He avoided speaking there, and if any one, were it a prince, wished to say a word to him, he endeavored to lead him out; but he did it with so much grace, that no one could be offended at it.
In his travels, he had the troublesome, but holy custom of dismounting, when he passed a village, the church of which was open, and he entered it to pay his respects to the hidden God who honors it by dwelling in it. If it was closed, he did it interiorly; but open or shut, he always approached to the door, when he was to dine or pass the night in the place. The saints resemble one another, and I have remarked with great pleasure, that the celebrated archdeacon of Evreux Henri Marie Boudon, had exactly the same practice.
When his infirmities became such, that he could no longer celebrate, he received the communion every day; but he did it with so much fervor, that, in coming from the holy table, he might have been taken for a man transported out of himself.
It was in consequence of the great effects which the bread of life produced in him, that he urged his children and strangers to keep themselves in a condition to receive it. frequently. He grieved to see so solid a devotion growing cool amongst Christians. He attributed it partly to natural indolence, for which the watchfulness necessary for frequent communion is a burthen from which it willingly discharges itself; and partly to the false zeal of innovators, who, in this point as well as many others, have carried every thing to excess, and who, as he proved one day by the example of a respectable lady, instead of establishing piety by that species of voluntary excommunication, have only introduced the spirit of pride, contempt for others, and revolt against ]awful authority.
It is easily imagined, that a man so full of love and respect for the sacrament of our altars, was extremely sensible to the outrages committed against it in his time by heresy and the licentiousness of arms. Penances, sighs, considerable presents of chalices, ciboriums and vestments, pilgrimages, fervent communions upon the spots, missions dictated by zeal and sustained by good example, all was put in practice to repair as much as possible these sacrilegious insults, and restore to Jesus Christ a portion of the honor of which he had been robbed. The name alone of that God Saviour made an impression upon him, which is only known to those who love truly and perfectly. Indeed he copied him so perfectly in all his conduct, that “the imitation of the Word incarnate” was louked upon as his distinctive virtue. It was the book he opened to the learned as well as to the ignorant; to kings and subjects; to those whom God nourished with delicious milk and those whose portion was gall. Louis XIII asked him in his last sickness, which was the best manner to prepare for death. “Sire,” replied Vincent, “it is to imitate the preparation of Jesus Christ: non meavoluntas, sec tua fiat.” Marie de Meaupeou Foucquet, so well known for her piety and her love for the poor, suffered dreadful uneasiness about the salvation of her son ; and she communicated it to the holy priest. ” Give,” said he, ” the child and the mother to our Lord, and he will render you a good account of both. Study that great model, and conform yourself to his will.” She did so, and was relieved. The whole world has been acquainted with the disgrace of the superintendant of the finances, and the resources which he found in the zeal of the celebrated Pelisson; but, few persons know as I do, and by as sure ways, that in his prison he became a model of mildness, patience, and above all, of humility.
To piety towards Jesus Christ, Vincent of Paul always united t} tender devotion to his most holy mother. To celebrate her feasts worthily, he fasted on the eve, together with all his house. The day of the solemnity he celebrated with every possible devotion. He proposed to his brethren the examples of virtue presented by the mystery which the church honored. Wherever he heard the Angelus ring, if he were even with a pripce, he knelt down to recite it. He visited often, and always through devotion, the temples erected in honor of that august Virgin. The moving title of Comforter of the Afflicted, which experience and the piety of the faithful have given her, was for him a motive to have recourse to her, amidst the sufferings and storms by which his life was so often beset. ,It was by the aid of that protection, that, in a frail vessel, he went from Tunis to Europe with a renegade, whom he had converted, and that, during the troubles of the Fronde, , he escaped the dangers which the demon of discord raised up in his path. In a word, if followed from his infancy to his death, it will be found that he was one of the most devoted and faithful servants that the mother of God had in latter times.
To her he united by a necessary consequence, St. Joseph, her worthy spouse, whom he gave as a patron to his young serninarists; St. Peter, the liveliness of whose faith and love placed him at the head of the flock; St. Paul, whose indefatigable labors he admired; St. Vincent, martyr, under whose protection he had been placed at his baptism. Nor did he forget the apostle of the Indies, whom he always proposed as a model to those whom he sent into infidel or heretical countries; nor St. Francis of Sales, who had loved him so tenderly, nor in fine, Mr. Olier, whose last breath he had received, and whom he invoked as a saint.
To increase the number of those who triumph in glory, he endeavored to break by his prayers the bonds of fire, which keep the souls in purgatory. He placed the benefactors of his congregation at the head. Three times every day, his children still say that psalm which the church has judged most fit to obtain for then, a place of peace and refreshment.
Such Christian sentiments arose in Vincent of Paul from the zeal, which he always had for the glory of God: this zeal, which knew no bounds, was the principle of that with which he labored both for his own salvation and that of others. Let the reader recall to his memory what we have said of him in the body of his history, and he will see, that during his long career upon earth, he had no other end, than to form a perfect people for the Lord. Nor will it be less evident, that the zeal with which he labored for that end, had all the conditions which it should have, that is to say, it was prudent, enlightened, invincible, and disengaged from every interested motive. His zeal was prudent, never impetuous, never precipitate. The traits of father and friend always predominated in the reprimands which he was obliged to address to others. In his missions he thundered against sin ; but after having terrified the guilty, he inspired them with confidence and gained them by tenderness. When speaking to the great of the world, he never altered the truth; but that truth, so often odious, was well received on account of the respect, and still more of the high idea they entertained of his uprightness and probity. In the seminaries he wished the young students to be formed with patience; that they should first be made good Christians, and afterwards good ecclesiastics; above all, that they should not be overwhelmed with advice, which is always offensive when caustic, always useless when too much multiplied.
His zeal was enlightened. The light of the gospel, the decisions of the church, the authority of the most celebrated doctors were its rules. In his doubts he had recourse to Messrs. Ysambert and Duval, the first of whom was his penitent, and the second his director after Mr. de Bérulle. Great sense and good studies, in a word, nature and grace guided him by the sure road, which is properly distant from all extremes. He was very far from Jansenistical novelties; he was very far from the relaxation of the bad Casuists; and when their infamous apology had received at Rome the condemnation which it deserved, he informed his priests of it, as he had before informed them of the censure of the book of Janseniiis. With regard to penances, he would adhere to the maxims of the holy council of Trent; that is to say, that a]-though by apparent rigor a pretence is given to some persons to keep at a distance from the sacraments, the penance should be proportioned to the grievousness of the sin. “It is,” said he, ” because the holy severity, so much recommended by the canons of the church, and renewed by St. Charles, produces incomparably more fruit than too great indulgence.”
His zeal was inviolable. Nothing was difficult to him, when the glory of God and the salvation of souls were in question. What must not have been the courage of a man, who succored vast provinces, the wants of which were always reviving, during a long course of years ! A man, who to procure for the indigent the hospitals of Bicetre and Salpétriére had obstacles of every kind to surmount! A man, who in the council of the king, dared to speak before a formidable minister, as if he had spoken at the judgment of God! One would say, that in the expedition to Madagascar, he was like Jacob, strong with God. Heaven and earth, men and the elements appeared to be in arms against him. Of his children, some were buried in the deep, others fell into the hands of the enemy; some died on arriving in port, others on the point of reaping an abundant harvest. These painful accidents did nbt move him, as they have not moved his successors ; and Madagascar would still have its missionaries, had they not been forced to leave it, when Louis XIV gave it up.
Finally, the zeal of Vincent of Paul was pure and free from all views of interest. Far from traversing the seas, overrunning countries to reap the temporal goods of the people, he never rendered them any service, but at his own expense. If in the missions a rich curate offered his table, it was forbidden to accept it. It was not even permitted to receive the honorary of masses said for the faithful. The saint had it taken to the sick by the very persons who presented it.
To this first degree of disinterestedness, of which I shall be obliged to speak elsewhere, Vincent added another more difficult and much less common. Free from that spirit of jealousy against which those who pursue the same career are not always enough on their guard, he beheld the success of others with the holy joy of the children of God. He published it at home and abroad, and he has more than once rendered them services which most of them never knew. He did still more; for to exalt the labors of others, he went so far as to depreciate his own and those of his missionaries, in whom he saw only a small number of persons of little skill, whose weak labors could not find favor with God, but when coupled with the great harvest of others. Such was his zeal; and let us say at the same time, such was his humility. For a great deal of it was required to lose sight of the uniform testimony given to the merit and virtue of his priests by the most illustrious pastors of the first and second order, the most virtuous magistrates, often even by crowned heads.
His charity towards his neighbor, was as extensive as his zeal. Obliged to compress a matter which his piety rendered so vast, I will not here relate what he suffered for the interests of the king during the troubles of the Fronde, nor the danger to which he exposed his life to save that of the chancellor of France, nor the justice done him more than once by Ann of Austria in speaking of him as the most faithful servant of his prince., Not will I speak of the tender respect which he always had fbr the apostolical See, a respect so profound, that neither Paulinus, nor Meletius, nor the whole universe could ever have detached him from the chair of Saint Peter.
I will not even speak of his devotedness to the episcopal order, a devotedness which induced him on every occasion to support at the court and in parliament the just undertakings of the bishops; to receive them as angels of the living God, to honor as his masters prelates who honored him as their father, and who, in the troublesome care of their diocess, had no surer resource than that of his credit and light. It seems as if the charity of the saints, where it takes a less lofty flight, has in it something more touching and admirable.
To commence by the inferior clergy, whoever bore its mark, was always sure to find with him consolation in–their troubles, and a hand ever ready to wipe away their tears. A strange priest who was sick, asked aid of him; Vincent received hint with kindness, lodged him, fed him, caused him to be taken care of, and kept him until he had recovered his strength. . Another, who was making his retreat at Saint-Lazarus, fell sick there; the saint caused every imaginable attention to he paid to him. When this poor man recovered, Vincent gave him a cassock, a breviary, several little things, and ten crowns. A third, to whom he had given hospitality, carried-away a cassock and a long- cloak. They wanted •to go after him : ” Well,” said Vincent, ” provided it be to take to him what he is in want of, and not to demand what he has taken : he must be in great want, to have resorted to such conduct. ”
I suppress here a hundred other similar traits, and in saying a hundred, I reduce things to nothing. The simple detail of the aid, which he distributed or procured for the ecclesiastics of Ireland, persecuted by Cromwell, would be enough to exhaust the patience of the reader. It was so well known throughout the kingdom and in the neighboring states, that Vincent was the asylum of ecclesiastics who were in want, that although in consequence of the evil times, a prodigious multitude flocked to Paris, almost all came straight to Saint-Lazarus. But what was singular in this sacerdotal charity was, that it never cooled, and that, although in ornaments, sacred vessels, linen, and repairs of churches, it exceeded a million of livres, our saint thought he had never done enough. Thank God, he was the only one who thought so. There were few provinces where he was not looked upon as the father both of pastors and people. His memory was here in benediction ; and when a country curate, showing the coat which he wore, applied to him the words of Jesus Christ to St. Martin, “et lade me veste eonte.vit,” he said no more, than a thousand priests could have said.
He had also a very tender love for all communities. He was sometimes badly recompensed for it; and on one important occasion, he was opposed at Rome by a society to which he had rendered signal services in France. He re,enged himself no otherwise than by saying, “that even if the “”s were to tear out his two eyes, he would never cease Jo love and serve them ;” and he did so all his fife. His veneration for religious was so profound, that, when any one of them paid him a visit, he threw himself at his feet, and forced him by perseverance to give him his blessing. But he did something more for them; and the reforms of Grandmond, Prémontré, Sainte-Genevieve, and Chancelade will be an eternal monument of the activity and extent of his charity in their regard. What he did for the whole body, he did more than a hundred times for the individuals themselves, either to reconcile them to their superior, or to prevent them from passing from one order to another, a line of conduct which he never approved, except when founded upon very solid reasons.
A man so full of charity for strange communities, could not fail to have much for those, which he had himself formed. A more tender father for each of his children than a natural father would be for an only son, there was none amongst them, who had not reason to believethattheywere tenderly loved by him. His words, his letters, even his reprimands bore the impress of charity. He anticipated their wants, supported them in their difficulties; he did not judge, much less did he condemn without hearing. Artful reports, disguised and subtle detractions, found no access to him. He gave his children, as many as seven conferences against that miserable vice, which sows trouble every where. It is probably to his lessons, that the pious Madeleine de Lamoignon owed both her admirable mildness and her inflexible aversion for detraction.
However ardent his charity was at all times it redoubled towards the infirm. Far from looking upon them as a hurthen, he considered them the benediction of the houses where God tries them. He gave good directions, that they should be well treated ; and what is more certain, he examined in per. son, to see that his orders were faithfully executed. In their convalescence, he enlivened them with relations of facts, in which, instruction was so well blended with amusement, that the mind and heart were equally benefitted.
If he earnestly recommended the love of neighbor to his missionaries, he did not fail to do as much to the Sisters of Charity, whose very name alone reminds them of the pains they should take to cultivate that important virtue. “Alas! my dear sisters,” said he to them, “you have already so much to suffer from abroad and from your employments. What would it be, if you were to make fbr yourselves new crosses at home, which are always the most severe? Your houses would become a true purgatory, whilst charity should make them a paradise.” . He held the same language to the religious of St. Mary, and to the daughters of Providence. The constitutions which he drew up fur these with Madame de Pollaillon, tend principally to establish in their hearts the empire of charity and humanity. This is the idea, which a late writer furnishes, and it is as just as precise.
Although it is easy to ,c onclude from what we have said in the course of this history, that charity towards the poor was the predominant virtue of St. Vincent, the reader might find it strange, did we say nothing of it here. If we consider him from his infancy to the time of his death, almost all his life was passed in relieving the unfortunate. So many associations formed to take care of the sick, so many tears shed over the foundlings, so many hospitals founded by his care, so much aid procured for immense provinces, so many and such large sums distributed amongst the Barbary slaves, so many glorious estahlishments which ,still subsist, announced for more than a century how much he was actuated by mercy. It was for the poor he established a company of virgins who glory in being their servants. It was for them he gave a new congregation to the church, and that he often reduced it to be in want of what was necessary, for fear that what was necessary might be wanting to the poor. It was for them, that after having obtained from an august queen even her jewels, he in a manner gave away himself, by borrowing considerable sums in his own name. In fine, it was for them that he gave so prodigiously during his life, that in the opinion of François Hebert, bishop of Agen, who knew him better than any one else, the total amount of his alms exceeds twelve hundred thousand Louis. Let those who study to obscure his glory, show us any thing in their heroes which approaches this! Yet this is only a sketch of his charity towards the poor. The perusal of his large life, although restricted in that respect, will give a better and more impressive idea of it.
That which it will give of the love he had for his enemies, will not be less consoling. As it is out of our power to furnish a detail here, it will he sufficient for us to say, that Vincent, when ready to go to the altar, took off his vestments to reconcile himself with a man by whom he had been offended ; that he petitioned for the recall of a gentleman, who almost under the eyes of Ann of Austria had shamefully ill-treated him ; that far from triumphing in the misfortunes generally experienced by those who abandon their first vocation, he obtained by his tears the revocation of the sentence of death pronounced against a thoughtless man, who after having deserted from his congregation, had deserted from his regiment; and finally, instead of abandoning to her miserable fate a woman, who had killed a brother of his house, almost under his eyes, he gave her money to effect her escape. If this was not giving his soul for those of his enemies, it was at least doing what we meet with, only in the lives of the greatest saints.
Meekness, that virtue so well calculated to gain hearts, was perhaps that which cost St. Vincent most. But at last by the power of watchfulness and prayer, he acquired it in so exalted a degree, that he would have been in this respect the first man of his age, had not that age beheld the holy bishop of Geneva. He had to treat, and often on the same day, with persons of elevated inhids, and with people of neither education nor understanding. Every one who saw him believed he saw St. Paul conjuring, the Christians by the meekness and modesty of Jesus Christ.° He every where awakened the idea of the Saviour conversing with men. There was never any sign of displeasure on his countenance, any asperity in his words, or impatience in his gestures.
It was above all with heretics and with the poor country people, that mildness appeared to him most necessary. Ile had the consolation to gain three Protestants to the church on the same day. It was by the solidity of his proofs, but much more by his unction and mildness, that he effected this conquest. On this subject he recollected the expression of Cardinal du Perron, that he could convince the Calvinists, but it belonged to the bishop of Geneva to convert them.
As to the people of the country, who were always the great object of his zeal, he was persuaded that it is only by patience end mildness, that any thing can be done with them. In his opinion, which was always very correct, that oracle of the Scripture, “make thyself affable to the congregation of the poor,” should be the rule of every priest. He was the first to put it in practice; and if the missions he made amongst the galley slaves, were attended with a success which astonished all France, it was in a great measure to the extreme mildness with which he treated them, that it was to be attributed. Indeed, that virtue which charms every where, had in him something so natural, so prudent, that it was difficult to resist it. A gentleman, accustomed to swearing, having once said before many other persons, that he wished the devil had him; the saint kindly embraced him, and said with a smile : “And I, sir, will keep you for God; it were a pity his enemy should have you.” These few words edified the company very much : he to whom they were addressed was
It is from the letter of Mr. Fénélon, archbishop of Cambray, that I take this beautiful expression. He had it from Mr. Tronson, the celebrated superior of St. Sulpice, more struck than the rest. He acknowledged his fault and promised to correct himself.
The mildness of our saint pursued that just medium, which knows neither deficiency nor excess. He detested flattery, so far as to say that ndthing was more unworthy of a truly Christian heart; but he did not less detest that servile deference, which to avoid displeasing men, often causes us to displease God. His constant rule was to imitate him, who, in advancing resolutely to his object, will do so by ways full of sweetness and mildness. Jlttingit t fine usque ad finem fortiter, et disponit otunia suaviter. Sap. 8. 1.
But Vincent knew how to unite the firmness necessary to one in authority, with the most wonderful humility. At first it would appear as if we could imitate him in his other virtues; but when we consider his ardor for contempt, we must yield; it appears inimitable.. It is surprising, that he began very early to nourish those sentiments, so much opposed to nature; and that, in spite of the praise heaped upon him throughout Europe by the clergy and the laity, he never lost them. The reader has not forgotten, that, on his arrival in Paris, he abandoned his own name, for fear of being taken for a man of good family ; that, although he had performed good studies, he gave himself out as but a poor scholar; that, on the occasion of that poor nephew, who came to see him in Paris, he gained one of the most complete victories over self-love; that he improved upon the odious compliment paid him by the abbé Saint-Cyran, when he treated him as an ignorant man, unfit to be at the head of his congregation; and that, in fine, at court, where birth is sometimes the principal merit, he commenced by publishing that he ryas the son of a poor country man.
I add, what has been said more than once, and said without fear of exaggeration, that he always seized upon all the occasions of humbling himself, or rather . that he sought them, when they did not present themselves. A man of a good family wrote to him from Acgs, that he had the honor of being his relation, and on that ground besought his protection. The saint assured him of his good will ; but he did what he could, to persuade him that being theson of a poor husbandman, he could not be of so good a family as he. A portuguese nobleman, the Count de Obidos, wrote to him a letter full of esteem and respect. Vincent, being afflicted because there was still some one who did not look upon him as the last of meo, did all in his power to make him change his opinion ; and, as usual, he forgot neither his spiritual poverty, nor the humility of his birth. Peter J. F. de Mont-gaillard, bishop of Saint-Pons, happened to mention to him a chateau of his own family. “I know it,” replied the holy priest: “For I took care of cattle in my youth, and I often led them in that direction.” This quick trait of humility struck the prelate so much, that he repeated it a hundred times in his life, and he never did so without shedding tears.
But nothing in my opinion shows better the humility of our saint, and the idea generally conceived of it, than a circumstance which took place at Marseilles, when they wished to commence the process of his beatification. The commissioners having visited the halls of the magnificent hospital, which the cohvicts owe to the charity of the holy priest, an old galley slave who was blind, and who heard more noise than usual, asked what was the matter. “They want to know,” replied some persons, “whether you knew Mr. Vincent.” “Yes, to be sure,” replied he, “I made my general confession to him ; he was a very holy man. But why do they want to know that?” “Because,” said they, “they wish to canonize him.” ” It is trouble thrown away,” cried he, “Mr. Vincent was too humble, he will never allow it.” Would to God that this answer, which so many distinguished persons have admired, would induce them, and myself more than they, to say with truth what our saint so often said through an excess of humility: “I am not a man, but a poor worm that crawls upon the earth, who knows not whither he goes : but who seeks only to hide himself in thee, O my God! who art all my desire. I am a poor blind thing, the most useless, the most miserable of men,and one who most of all stands in need of the mercies of the Lord.”
And this very man, who places himself below the devils who, at the college des bons Enfans went so far as to acknowledge before his priests the most grievous faults he had ever committed ; who found no difficulty in going on his knees publicly before a wretch who dared to strike him; who debased himself; I find difficulty in saying it, but why should I not do so, after the example of a great bishop? who debased himself so far as to clean the shoes of a candidate for ordeis; in a word, that man so vile, so abominable in his own eyes, was as firm as a rock, when the interests of God and his church were in question. He then showed that contempt for himself was not incompatible with true greatness of soul. We have seen him, notwithstanding his just deference for his most signal benefactor, oppose the re-establishment of a scandalous abbess; close the entrance of the house of the Visitation to Princesses accustomed to obtain whatever they wished; reject from the sanctuary those powerful men who could not edify the church, but who well knew how to take revenge; in fine propose to the prime minister to sacrifice himself to the public good, and to a great queen to lend her hand to the sacrifice. To judge whether in such critical cases a man without birth has need of courage, we need only examine whether, in his place, those who hold the first rank in the state, would often dare to imitate him.
In learning from the Son of God to be meek and humble of heart, our saint learned from him to be obedient on all occasions in which religion commanded or permitted him to be so. He was in the hands of his director, like a child who has no will. It was through obedience that he entered the parish of Clichy and the house of the general of the galleys; that he became the director of Madame de Gondi ; that he afterwards accepted and resumed the charge of first superior of his congregation; that, without ever seeking privileges, which he might have obtained more easily than many others, he desired that his priests should depend absolutely upon the ordinary in what concerned their exterior functions, and that he at last accepted in the council of the king, a place to which he would have undoubtedly preferred the chains with which he had been loaded at Tunis.
A man who so well knew how to practice obedience had a right to prescribe it to others. And this he did perfectly with regard to the communities which Providence had confided to his care. He told them that this virtue combined with regularity, was the soul, and as it were the suhstance of religion; that all the good of the creature consists in fulfilling the designs of God, and that they are not fulfilled but by the faithful practice of obedience; that in fine those who are disunited from the heart of their superiors, who murmur against them, who contradict them, become guilty ofinterior apostasy. He added that ohedience, to be perfect, must be voluntary, because-it should spring from the heart and from affection; prompt, because true obedience admits no excuse or delay ; courageous, because it should not be arrested by the sight of obstacles; persevering, because it is necessary to obey like Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ obeyed even unto death.
The example of that God Saviour was the first motive, which the holy priest employed to gives animation to the practice of that important virtue. But he joined to it another well calculated to excite dread and compassion for those who are in authority, the terrible account which they will have to render at the tribunal of the sovereign Judge. Intoxicated during life with their trifling grandeur, they frequently do not think, either of fulfilling their duties well, or of causing them to be fulfilled by others. At their death their soul must first account for itself, and then for those of inferiors. Is it just to add to a weight, which of itself is already so enormous?
Such perfect obedience supposes a great deal of candor and simplicity. That of Vincent of Paul was admirable; the great Bossuet did him as much justice on this score, as the Cardinal de la Rochefoucault .had done to his humility. He never knew the equivocal steps, or the tortuous routes of the prudent of the world. Always ingenuous, always upright, if he did not always tell every truth without distinction, because there were secrets in the state which were for himself alone, he never said nor insinuated any thing contrary to truth. A simple man, said he, looks only at God, and wishes to please him alone. If he does not discover all his thoughts, for simplicity is a discreet virtue, he takes care to avoid whatever may lead to believe that he has in his mind and heart what he really has not. In a word, he is simple in every thing; simple in his instructions, simple in his manner of acting and speaking.
That simplicity in speaking, and above all, in the instructions given to the people, was a point which our saint was never tired of inculcating. His fear, his great fear, was that his children would have, like many others, the misfortune to wish to acquire a name by showy discourses. ” Men wish to shine,” said he, ” wish to be spoken of, wish to hear it, said that they have succeeded well. Cursed pride, how much good dust thou corrupt! Thou dost cause men to preach themselves, and not Jesus Christ; and instead of edifying,they destroy and ruin.” To words, Vincent added examples of which he had been witness. One day he threw himself on his knees, at the feet of one of his priests, to conjure him to make his instructions to the candidates for orders in a simple Tanner. He could produce no effect upon a man full of his own merit, who wished to follow his taste, who in fact did so, but absolutely without any fruit. Another, on the contrary, who was guided by the advice of the saint, charmed in such a manner a whole province, the inhabitants of which were considered very acute, that they offered him a very handsome settlement,
But as simplicity without prudence becomes indiscretion or stupidity, the servant of God always took great care to unite these two virtues. But he united them so well that up to the time of his death, he was looked upon as the wisest man of his age. Bishops, magistrates, curates, doctors, religious, superiors of communities, all came to him as to the oracle of the age. ” I speak from what I have seen,” says an eyewitness, as I myself accompanied the prince of Conti, and Messrs. D’Urfé and Fénélon on it visit which they paid him to have his advice on different matters.
It was the high and just esteem in which his prudence was held, that induced St. Francis of Sales to make him accept the office of superior of his first monastery of Paris; Ann of Austria to place him at the head of her council, the illustrious Guillaume de Lamoignon, the first president of the parliament, to consult him as “a superior mind, not only in matters of conscience, hut also in secular affairs;” the house of Fénélon to give consent to a marriage which it did not approve, and which, according to the prediction of the saint, gave to,the church the great archbishop of Cambray.
But why should we seek for the opinions of individuals on a subject where public facts speak so loudly? Let us remember the great establishments which he formed, the means he made use of to succeed in them, the wise regulations which he gave them, the manner in which he appeased the bishop of Mans, and which the most refined policy will always envy him : in a word, let us examine his conduct in Africa and in Europe, and we will acknowledge without difficulty,. with Messrs. le Tellier, chancellor of France, and Claude le Pelletier, minister of state, that Vincent of Paul conducted himself in every thing with so much prudence and wisdom, that those to whom justice and reason compelled him to be most opposed, could not complain of him.
These last words lead us to say a word of the justice of St. Vincent. To prove that he possessed it, like the other virtues, in a heroical degree, I shall not follow him, either in the manner in which he rendered to Ca sar what belonged to Cæsar, or in the always enlightened choice he made of the officers for whom he had occasion as lord of the territory of St. Lazarus, or in the attention which he paid, notwithstanding his mildness, to maintain the severity of the laws, when the stronger law of the pardon of injuries did not compel him to act otherwise. I shall content myself with pointing out his conduct in the lawsuits which the spirit of chicanery or surprise sometimes brought upon him. I can assure my readers beforehand, that it was as becoming a Christian, as it is little imitated by the most part of Christians.
His maxim was to prefer sacrificing something of his rights to giving an improper example to his neighbor by going to law. But as there are characters incapable of adopting measures of compromise, he never engaged in the defence without having consulted, at home and abroad, all that was most wise and judicious. If sometimes he was mistaken in such matters, as it appears to me he was in an important case, through the celebrated Andrew Duval, at least he had prudence on his side.
When the affair was commenced, and when he saw the judges, it was less to recommend his cause to them, than to beg them earnestly to have nothing but equity in view. He was neither for or against any person. He was equally solicitous for plaintiff and defendant. He exposed and laid stress upon the reasons of the adverse party, as well, and perhaps better than that party could do. He even considered solicitations as steps that were little conformable to justice. He said that a magistrate who fears God pays no regard to them; and that, when he was in the council of the queen, he considered them as nothing; and that he was satisfied with examining whether the thing in question was just or not.
He was obliged to have a lawsuit with the inhabitants of Valpuiseau. When they came to Paris, in quality of parties in the cause, he could not have received them better. He lodged them, made them eat in the refectory, at his side, and paid their travelling expenses. When the affair was about to be decided, he caused notice of it to be given them, that if any thing new could be produced, they might do it in time. They came to him at once, as to a man who protected them. He went with them himself to the judge. Notwithstanding all these good offices they were condemned; but the saint paid the expenses of the suit; in the evening, he again gave them their supper, lodged them, and did not send them away the next morning, without furnishing each one with the means of going home.
The examples of gratitude which he has left are no less touching. Without speaking of that which he entertained towards God, and which extended not only to the benefits which he personally received, but also to those which all creatures daily receive; that which he manifested towards men, went so far that it is almost impossible to convey a just idea of it. A man who assisted him to mount his horse, a child who showed him the road, a stranger who paid him a visit, often troublesome, was sure of thanks, and even of liberality. If any thing were calculated to make him forget the austerity of the rules lie had prescribed for himself, it would have been the spirit of gratitude, the weight of which bore him down. The priest who, as we have said, plunged into the water to bring him out, having lost his first fervor and quitted his state of life, wished to return to it. He wrote letters upon letters; but, seeing that the saint, who feared that his volatile disposition might soon make him repent of his very repentance, turned a deaf ear to him, he attacked him in the most sensitive part, I mean, on the score of gratitude. The decisive words of his last letter were these: “Sir, I once saved the life of your hody, save that of my soul.” On reading these words, the saint was moved. The opportunity of exercising a precious virtue, joined to the perseverance of the person in whose favor it was to be exercised, overcame him at last. “Come, sir,” replied he, “and you shall be received with open arms.” He would have been, in fact, had not Gud, satisfied with the preparation of his heart, taken him off at the time he was preparing to set out.
Never did man experience the effects of a well timed service, more than Adrien Le Bon. No; never did the most tender son do for his father, what Vincent did for the former prior of St. Lazarus. But, under the name of this excellent benefactor, we must also comprise all those connected with him. For two or three years, the saint fed a person, who, full of fantastical notions, was running about all day, passed a part of the night in writing his ravings, and was unwilling to do any thing.. Vincent, to whom complaints were brought of him More than once, only replied : ” He is to be pitied; but he has served one, of our principal benefactors : will God find fault with us for acknowledging in the person of the servant, the feelings which we entertained towards the master?”
But what was the result of such persevering, such Christian patience? Something miraculous. That poor domestic became the example and consolation of the whole community. He waited on the sick with a respect and affection which cannot be expressed. Being asked by a person how he would serve our Lord, if he were still upon earth, he replied : ” I would serve him as I serve you; for I serve you as I would wish to serve him.” See, says the author of the memoir from which we extract this, one of the fruits of the gratitude of Mr. Vincent. It was admirable; it was just that it should produce admirable effects.
But the effects of the saint’s gratitude were not always so happy. His priests at Rome were near being driven from thence at the instigation of Mazarin, for having helped the Cardinal de Retz, who had sought an asylum there. “Let the will of God be done,” said the holy man; “but it is better to lose every thing, than the virtue of gratitude.”
These last words show us how much Vincent of Paul was detached from the goods of this earth. This testimony is furnished by every one, who paid a little attention to his character. “In quality of secretary of state,” said M. le Tellier, ” I had great intercourse with Mr. Vincent. He has done more good works in France for religion and the church, than any person I have known. But I remarked particularly, that in the council of conscience, of which he was the principal agent, his own interest, or that of his congregation, was never brought in question.”
This great detachment was the first virtue which appeared in him; and, what does not always happen, it continued to his extreme old age. It will be remembered that he was yet a child, when he gave all his little treasure to a poor person; that he had nothing, when he left his abbey to labor in the country; that a year of entreaty could not determine him to accept the house of St. Lazarus, and that he would have abandoned it, when the gentlemen of St. Victor contestee it, had he not been assured that he could not do so in conscience.
This was known to the public before the publication of this history. But it was not known that Mr. Le Blanc, one of his priests, wishing to leave an annual revenue to the house of St. Lazarus, the man of God begged him to bequeath it to his family, which he did. It was not known, that; although reduced to extreme necessity, Vincent once refused five hundred crowns, saying that two thousand poor, who were sick at the Hotel-Dieu, had still more need of them than he. It was not known, that the attorney of the king in a large city, having given him property of which he was the entire master, Vincent restored it to his relations, because they were not pleased at the donation. Finally, it was not known, that lie refused sixty thousand pistoles which were offered him to build a church, because by accepting them, he might have done an injury to the poor of Jesus Christ.
This detachment from the goods of this earth gave rise in him to so great a love of poverty, that his age has scarcely witnessed ecclesiastics who carried it so far. His dress was as common as it could be. His food corresponded to his clothing. The only distinction between him and his companions was his more austere penance. As to bis lodging, it was the most pitiful thing that can be imagined. A chamber without tire-place, a bed without curtains, a pallet without a mattress, two straw bottomed chairs, and a wooden crucifix constituted all his furniture. “I acknowledge,” says Jean Baptiste Chomel, the first physician of the king, in his deposition, ” that I was completely astonished, when I saw a man of such merit and reputation, lodged so miserably, and having only such furniture, as he could not absolutely dispense with.”
ft may be well imagined that this great lover of poverty, endeavored to inspire his children with the love of it. ” It is true,” said he to them, ” that we are not religious, because it was not thought proper that we should be so, nor are we worthy to be so; but it is not less true that poverty is the bond of communities and particularly of ours. It is this bond, that, separating them entirely from the things of earth, will unite them perfectly to God… A man who has the true spirit of poverty, fears nothing; be can do every thing; he goes every where. He thinks himself happy in following the example of the Saviour, who began by a manger and finished with the cross.”
It was from this love of the cross that sprung up in Vincent the spirit of mortification, now-a-days so little known. But with him that mortification had for its object every thing that could serve as matter for it. The judgment, the will, the inclinations of the heart, the senses, in a word, body and soul, all were immolated. He had an air naturally severe; he reformed himself so much, that from his retreat at Soissons he always passed for a model of mildness and affability. He related facts with much grace, and a person who relates well, and knows much, is willing to speak; however, he knew so well how to keep’ silence, when circumstances did not require’ him to speak, that a secretary of the king, who had been a slave at Algiers, and who knew very well that Vincent had been so at Tunis-, led him more than twenty times towards the subject, without ever being able to draw from him one word in relation to his captivity. He loved his family so tenderly, that having seen with his own eyes the poor state in which it was, three months of reflection could not mitigate the trouble he felt. Yet he overcame it so far as to say to his brethren, according to the Scripture: “I know you not,” because he knew poor persons more to be pitied than they, and he looked upon a middling fortune as a germ of sanctification. In fine, he had so well buried the old man with his desires, that Mr. Almeras, his successor, who had studied him a great deal, could discover neither inclination nor bent in him.
It was not altogether so with his exterior mortification. Whatever precaution he took to conceal one portion of it, and disguise the other, it has been sufficiently known,’to givc him a distinguished place amongst the most illustrious penitents. The following was his invariable cdurse during more than forty years.
He seldom went to bed till towards midnight, for the great affairs with which he was loaded, did not permit him to repose sooner. A miserable pallet was his bed, and five years before his death he had the sheets taken off. Whether he had slept or not, whether he was in good health, or had the fever, which often happened to him, he always rose at four o’clock in the morning, and took the discipline. To it he joined, particularly in times of public calamity, the hair shirt, and pointed copper bracelets and cinctures. His hair shirt, which still exists, makes even those accustomed to mortification tremble. An enemy and almost a murderer of his body, in the most severe weather he kept his hands exposed to the cold, to the impressions of which he was very sensible. His food was of the coarsest kind; and what was least palatable is his portion was always chosen by him; he sprinkled on it from time to time bitter powders which made it very disagreeable. He generally fasted twice a week; and neither old age or his infirmities could make him lose the habit. At upwards of eighty years,–he fasted throughout lent more rigorously than a robust man in the flower of his age._ Yet, this is but a part of his mortification ; .and he carried it so far that the Cardinal of la Rochefoucault, to preserve a life so precious to the church, begged him to moderate it.
A marl, who bore so continually in his body the mortifications of Jesus Christ, must naturally have had a great command over himself, and be eminently pure. Neither error, or calumny which serves it as a guard, have ever undertaken to assail him on the score of the amiable virtue of which we here speak. It is true that to remove even the shadow of danger, he always took the strictest precautions. He never paid a visit to any woman, not even the ladies of his assembly, but when the glory of God required him to do it; in this respect Madame Le Gras was treated like the rest. In the conversations which he was obliged to hold with females, he was very precise, and so modest, though without affectation, that he would rather be taken for an angel than a man. Though sick, and more than eighty years of age, he always had a companion who did not lose sight of him. This person having once retired through respect for the lady of Marshal de Chombert, the saint recalled him instantly ant’ made him sensible of his fault. Although he often had to deal with persons who stood in need of consolation, he was always unacquainted with those affectionate expressions which heal one evil only by another. Such were his maxims; and he repeated them so often, both to his missionaries and to the Sisters of Charity, that, did we not know that purity resembles those costly mirrors which a light breath will sully, we would believe that his precautions were excessive.
But what he did to preserve spotless purity for his children, he did at all times to preserve it for innumerable persons who were in immediate danger of losing it. It is to him that Lorraine, where his name should never die, is indebted for its virgins, whom he preserved from shipwreck. It was under his auspices, that two holy and illustrious widows, de Poaillon and Le Gras, opened their houses to thousands, who were dt the last extremity, and the loss of whose innocence would have been caused by one day’s delay. It was he who, in establishing by his lessons and credit, good order among the Daughters of Magdalen, made of a seat of murmurings a place of sweet and peaceful tears. In fine it was he who, when almost at the end of his career, formed a still more extensive project, which was executed after his death.
If these glorious undertakings prove his love for purity, they do not less prove his strength and courage. Hence the _great Lamoignon, who admired him in every thing, was particularly struck by his firmness, which he compared to that of the apostles; and the like justice was rendered him by Victor de Melian and the celebrated archbishop of Cambray. But what need is there of witnesses in a matter where one glance at the facts, becomes an incontestable proof? In fact, that a man who belongs to no one, has no other support than his virtue, in an age when virtue is little valued, and seeks on every occasion to vilify himself; that a man whose only policy is that of faith, who is charged with a rising congregation, still is incapable of availing himself either of the favor of the sovereign, or the employments which his merit, have obtained for him; that a man who would sacrifice every thing rather than fail in the duties of gratitude, and who, far from aisobliging through a principle of natural insensibility, never Mond himself more happy than when he could oblige; that a man of this character should speak truth even amidst the court; that he should not promise what his conscience would not permit him to fulfil; that he should withstand the most powerful sclicitations, threats, and injuries; that neither danger or persecution should ever induce him to take a false step; that the most justly grounded tenderness should find him inexorable; in a word; that in the course of a long life, it should never happen to him to say yes, when his duty obliged him to say no; is in the eyes of reason and faith, a prodigy of firmness, of which the heroes of the world are incapable, ex cept when they are Christian heroes likewise.
To be convinced that Vincent was the man whose portrait we have just drawn, it is sufficient to recollect the manner in which he acted, either with regard to Mr. Le Bon, when he endeavored to interest him in favor of a guilty abbess, and with regard to the queen herself in the affair of her first minister; or the intrepidity with which he refused, to avoid compromising his conscience, high and proud ladies, sometimes magistrates, to procure benefices for their children ; or the courage with which he visited an old friend, not to congratulate him on the nomination of his son to a bishopric, but to conjure him to exclude him from it, because he was not worthy of it.
But what is this, in comparison with the strength which he stood in need of, to procure for ruined Lorraine and so many other provinces, assistance which could not possibly be procured but by the most invincible charity; to sustain in spite of every one the establishment of the foundlings; to send, ana almost always at his own expense, into every part of the kingdom, and a great number of other countries, those endless colonies of missionaries, who watered them with their sweat, and more than once, with their blood? We have given elsewhere the detail of those glorious missions; but notwithstandingthe monotony inseparable from it, piety is nourished by it. Being now limited within very narrow bounds, we shall only speak of those of Madagascar, Algiers, and two or three others.
MISSIONS OF MADAGASCAR
Madagascar is one of the largest islands in the world, and the most extensive of those in Africa. Francis Cauche makes it eight hundred leagues in circumference; and it had more than four hundred thousand inhabitants, when the first priests of the mission arrived there. Of these inhabitants, some are black and natives of the island, others who are white and rule the country, are said to have come from Persia. Circumcision, which they call Valascira, prevails throughout the island. They have no temple. However, they admit a superior Being, whom they consider the master of the universe and the author of every good ; but the devil to whom they attriute all the evils of life, is much more honored, because more feared. They always name him before God, and he has the greater portion of their sacrifices.
The priests, or those who approach nearest to them, are called Ombiasses. The people fear them on account of their books, or rather on account of certain figures which they have put in them, and by means of which they pretend to cure diseases, foretell the future, find lost things, and even restore the mind when disordered. But of all the superstitions of the country, the most difficult to root out is the worship they pay to the Obys, that is to say, to certain idols rudely fabricated by the Oinhiasses, some of which represent men, and others grotesque figures. They believed these little pagods to be animated by a familiar spirit, and they ask of them whatever the Christians ask of the true God, health, good weather, victory over their enemies, above all, that they may not be devoured by the crocodiles, with which their rivers are infected. When any one is caught by them, the only reason they give, is that his Ohys was good for nothing. Happy would they be, if they were to pronounce the same judgment on all the others; but they are so head-strong on this point, that they can scarcely suffer any one to undeceive them.,
I do not know that any nation carries the superstition of times, as far as they do. March and April, the eighth day, and last week of each month, are unlucky times. Every child born then, runs a great risk of its life; and to prevent the disasters which would not fail to fall upon it and the family, they hasten to expose it under a hedge, where it is often the prey of wild beasts. If a woman dies in child-birth, the living child is buried with her. Those who have a very painful delivery, cause the child to be strangled, because, having so early caused the mother to suffer so much, it would necessarily have a very bad disposition. A female slave whose master neglects the children, buries them, or throws them into the river, to save herself the trouble of nourishing them.
Such were the people, with whom the missionaries sent to Madagascar by our saint, had to deal. It is true, that the country was not then so well known as it was afterwards. A pretty advantageous opinion of those islanders was entertained at Rome and in France; and when Vincent first wrote of them, he spoke as of a people who lived, it is true, in ignorance of the true God, but who were simple, upright and skilful. He had been deceived. There is not in the whole world a nation so crafty and perfidious. With the exception of the inhabitants of the province of Antongil, who believed themselves descendants of Abraham, and who are less inclined to betray, all the rest are acquainted with nothing but fraud, atrocity, and the most cruel vengeance. They give no quarter to their enemies. They satisfy upon the children the rage with which they were possessed against the fathers, and when they fall into their hands, they cut them in two without mercy. If they are pardoned an injury, their constant rule is to do still worse than before. Perhaps they would have been less vicious, and their old habits might by degrees have been eradicated, had they not found in the Christians of Europe the worst models of injustice and corruption.
In order to clear this wretched land, Vincent chose two excellent laborers, Charles Nacquart de Campmartin, of the diocess of Soissons, and Nicholas Goudrde. of the diocess of Amiens. He gave them excellent advice, and begged them earnestly to form their conduct upon that of the holy apostle of the Indies. To walk at a distance at least in the footsteps of that great man, they made successful trials of their talents and vocation at la Rochelle, where they were obliged to remain for a month. With the consent of the bishop, they employed the best part of the time in catechising the poor, hearing their confessions, and serving every way the prisoners and the sick of the hospitals.
Finally, on the 21st of May, Ascension day, they set sail. They had scarcely left the port, when, alter the gospel of the mass which was celebrated at sea that very day, Mr. Nacquart addressed a solid exhortation to all the crew. He represented to them that they would have nothing to fear from the fury of the ocean, if by a holy life they would procure the favor of him, who commands the sea and the tempest.
To dispose them to a life worthy of God, the zealous missionary commenced the jubilee which Innocent X had just granted to the faithful, to obtain that heaven would put an end to the frightful discord, which reigned amongst Christian princes, and by which the great enemy of the Christian name, the grand Turk, was desirous of profiting. Gondrée and Nacquart caused twenty-six persons who were in the ship to make general confessions, and they admitted those who were found worthy, to the participation of the divine mysteries. The passengers of a small vessel of Dieppe which was in their company, and had anchored with them at Cape-Vert, begged a participation in the grace which they had just granted to the others. They labored for that purpose on the eve of St. John the Baptist, and had the consolation to reconcile a considerable number; but they were so unhappy as not to be able to render the same service to twelve black Portuguese, on account of not understanding their language.
As soon as they had re-embarked, the exhortations, catechisms, and pious readings re-commenced. The spirit of God showed itself so powerfully, that the ship appeared like a regular community. All swearing, every indecent word was banished. Whoever indulged in either, underwent on the spot a species of punishment which had been agreed upon.
Hitherto every ’tiling had prospered wonderfully; hut when they were near the line, the winds became so contrary, that the captain and his mariners thought at last they had no choice but to seek a harbor. Nacquart, who was looked upon by the whole crew as a saint, was opposed to it. He had recourse to Him who draws the winds from his treasures. After his example all those in the vessel made a public vow to approach the sacraments about the time of the Assumption, to build a church at Madagascar under the invocation of the queen of heaven, and to give alms. Such Christian sentiments found favor with God : the wind changed; and after a voyage of six months and a half, they discovered Madagascar.
As soon as they landed, Nacquart went on his knees to offer the island to God, and to take spiritual possession of it in his name. He said mass at fort Dauphin, where, for want of matter for consecration, it had not been said for five months. The next day he said a solemn mass of thanksgiving. It was followed by a Te Deum: and the governor, who had come with them, assisted to it with those belonging to the vessel.
The missionaries began their labors by the domestics of the faith. They endeavored to dispose the soldiers of the fort, to gain the indulgence of the jubilee. But it would appear that their success did not correspond to their good intentions. With the exception of some officers who feared God, there was neither order nor justice in the quarter of the Europeans. The most atrocious robberies were committed with impunity. The cattle of the natives was taken by force : they were massacred without mercy, when they did not give it cheerfully: they treated as an outrage upon temporals, the representations and complaints of a conduct so contrary to justice and humanity.
A manner of proceeding so violent, joined to the bad inclinations of the natives, must naturally have done, and in fact did much harm to the propagation.9f the gospel. It must however be acknowledged, that the commencement furnished some hopes apparently well rounded. Some months after landing, Nacquart learned that a diem, that is, one of the lords of the island, had lived at Goa in his youth. He paid him a visit, hoping that a man, who had seen the Christian religion, would be less averse to it than another. His conjecture was found sufficiently grounded. Andiam Ramach, for this was the name of this lord, acknowledged that he had been a Christian, and willingly permitted the missionary to instruct his vassals. To enable himself to dispense with an interpreter, the apostolical man began to study with all his might the language of the country, and made considerable progress in it in so short a time, that the islanders were surprised at it. He afterwards made excursions into the neighboring country, and into more distant provinces. Notwithstanding the pride of the blacks of that island, who, because they have the religion of the Alcoran, in some of the provinces, think themselves far superior to the negroes, Nacquart, who had already the consolation to see whole cantons render justice to the beauty of the Christian religion, thought himself on the point of reaping the fruits of his labors, when an unforseen accident set bounds to his zeal, and dissipated a portion of his hopes.
Gondrée having, through obedience, followed some French officers on a journey, they paid so little attention to him, either as regarded the travelling or food, that he fell sick, and was obliged to retrace his steps; nor did they even think of contributing any thing to his comfort on his way back. Soon after his arrival at the fort, Nacquart, who never lost sight of him, except when his functions called him elsewhere, was obliged to administer to him the last sacraments. The virtuous priest .received them with all possible piety; and after having twice repeated to his associate, that he would have much to suffer in that miserable country, he expired in sentiments of perfect submission to the. will of God, and a lively gratitude for the favor which Vincent of Paul had dune him, in choosing him before so many others to announce the gospel to the infidels.
Such a mournful separation was a terrible blow for Mr. Nacquart. From that moment he looked upon himself as a victim, whom affliction and excess of labor was about to Immolate gradually. However, as his sorrow was tempered by religion, he did not yield to it so far as to forget his duties. To procure for those who labored with him a facility, which he had not found on arriving in Madagascar, he translated into the language of the country an abridgement of the Christian doctrine. Although he could scarcely absent himself five or six days, as he had to perform the office in the fort on Sundays and festivals, he overran the valley of Amboul, the country of Anos, and a chain of mountains which were not very distant. During the day he instructed those who remained in the villages, and in the evening by moonlight those who returned from labor. He pictured to them in so vivid a manner the judgment, and hell which is the consequence of it for the wicked, that the people and the lords cried out in concert : “Where then is that water which washes the soul, and which you have promised us?”
These words, and the dispositions which seemed to accompany them, moved him more than once to tears; but he stopped short, when he considered that these people, naturally volatile, changed their ideas almost as quickly as their habitations; that the bad Christians injured them more by their example, than he could benefit them by his preaching; and that he being alone and liable to succomb at every moment, men still tender in the faith would be in danger of soon returning to their superstitions, if abandoned to themselves. Thus during more than eighteen months, he scarcely baptized more than fifty persons. Of those, a very old woman, who was dangerously sick, gave him much consolation. Scarcely had she received baptism, when her faith, her love, and gratitude for God redoubled. She died some days afterwards, and she was the first islander buried in the French cemetery.
Hence, a judgment may be formed of the ardor with which this worthy priest called for aid. “Alas!” cried he with St. Francis Xavier, “what are so many doctors now doing, who lose their time in the academies, whilst so many poor infidels ask for bread, and find no one to distribute it to them? May the sovereign master of the harvest provide for it; for unless there be a number of- priests here to instruct, and preserve the fruit of the instructions, but little progress can be expected.” These are the expressions of the letter which this perfect missionary wrote in 1650 to Vincent of Paul, to apprise him of the death of Mr. Gondrée.
That news afflicted the servant of God very much. Besides his losing an excellent laborer in the person of the deceased, he saw himself in danger of losing Mr. Nacquart also, who would naturally fall under the weight of such excessive labor. After having adored the designs of God, which although terrible are always just, he thought of supplying the loss of Mr. Gondrée. Jacques Monnier, who burned with the desire of giving his blood for the salvation of the infidels, and Toussaint Bourdaise, a man full of good will, were those to whom he gave the preference. But the troubled state of the country detained them in France until 1654. In order to spare men of such merit, Vincent whose charity redoubled with age, caused three others to depart the following year. They were Messrs. Dufour, Prévot, and De Belleville, three priests of great capacity and tried virtue. They did good ; but, O the depths of the judgments of God! they scarcely commenced that for which they had been destined. The first letter which our saint received from Mr. Bourdaise, a letter which breathed sorrow every line, related in substance that on arriving at Madagascar, he found nothing but the ashes of Mr. Nacquart de Champmartin ; that six months afterwards he had lost Mr. Monnier; that Mr. de Belleville, with whose name and virtues alone he was acquainted, had died on the voyage; that Mr. Prévot had followed him, after having survived the fatigues of the passage ; that he had only seen Mr. Dufour to be acquainted with the value of that which he was to lose. ” In fine,” said Mr. Bourdaise, “all those of your children whom you sent to Madagascar are dead, and I am the wretched servant left alone to tell you of it. However, afflicting as it may he, you will not fail to be consoled at knowing the holy lives which they led, as well at sea as on shore, and the great blessings which God granted to their labors from the time they left France.”
Bourdaise then relates that the passengers had given him an account of the zeal and virtues of these worthy missionaries. This was opening a new source of tears for the holy priest, at a time when he had too much reason to shed them. For some months hack, all the letters which he had received oore the impress of grief and death. He had just lost seven of his company, in the city of.Genoa, who had fallen victims to their labors in the pestilence. He believed himself on the point of seeing all those who labored in the Hebrides, fall under the blows of the pitiless Cromwell. Of so many priests sent successively to Madagascar, Bourdaise alone remained, or rather Bourdaise remained no longer, for he was dead at the time his letter was received announcing the death of all his brethren. Such multiplied inflictions, so sensible at an age, when the vigor of man is quite exhausted, should naturally have brought him to the grave. But he found in his submission to the orders of God, resources superior to the laws of nature. It was in vain they sought to persuade him that the time of mercy was not yet come for Madagascar; he replied “that God often gives to perseverance the success which he has refused to the first efforts; that six hundred of those islanders, who had already received baptism from the hands of a single missionary, sufficiently proved that these people were disposed to receive the light of the gospel; that finally it would be violating all the laws of charity and reason, to abandon a servant of God who cried out for help and a people who asked only to be instructed.
Actuated by these motives,the saint resolved to send a new colony to Madagascar. But the career of his zeal opened a very vast one to his patience. The two first priests whom he sent to Nantes could not embark there, because the vessel in which they were to go was lost. Some time after he sent four others; but the Spaniards having captured the ship, they were obliged to return to France. Finally, the servant of God, about a year before his death, caused five to depart, who, in spite of the dangers of so painful a mission, had conjured him in every possible manner, to destine them for it. When they had arrived at Nantes, they learned that they would have to embark at La Rochelle : three of them went thither by land; the superior, whose name was Mr. Estienne, wished to go by sea with a brother; but the vessel, when about to enter the river of Bordeaux, lost her masts and sails in a terrible storm which arose. A young parisian who, seeing her on the point of striking on a rock, found means to save himself, wrote to his mother that he saw her swallowed up by the waves. Different letters from Nantes and other places confirmed the accident, and the three missionaries who learned it on arriving at La Rochelle, imformed Vincent of it.
Accustomed as was that holy man to the strangest revolulions, this must have struck him, and more than any others He could not have inet with a greater loss. Estienne, though very young, had all the qualifications of an apostle. He knew no other happiness upon earth, than that of extending the faith of Jesus Christ. And to effect that object, particularly in infidel countries, he had already sacrificed nearly forty thousand livres of his property. On the other hand, Philip de Moucy, counsellor of state, his brother-in-law, and his other relations, did not fail to complain of an expedition so fatal to a man whom they cherished. All these reflections lacerated the heart of the holy priest. But his firmness did not abandon him. He did not show a dark and sorrowful countenance ; and as he wished to take time, to announce such afflicting news to his community, no one perceived his grief in the interval which preceded the day he had chosen to speak of it.
In the mean time, to profit by the embarcation, he secretly disposed another priest, to take the place of the one he so much regretted. At the time when this new superior -was ready to set out, Vincent received by post several packets of letters, and amongst them two the address of which very much resembled the hand writing of Mr. Estienne. They were really from hint. Both concurred in saying that the vessel in which they sailed from Nantes, had been for fifteen days in danger of perishing; that the captain and the sailors looking for nothing but death, had thrown themselves at his feet, and asked absolution ; that after having given it to them, they trusted that they would not perish; that on the day of the octave of the immaculate conception, they had all made a vow to approach the sacraments, to say or cause to be said twelve masses, to clothe twelve poor persons in honor of the Blessed Virgin ; that in fine, struggling against the winds and hunger, they had arrived at Saint Jean de Luz, whence he would make haste to he at La Rochelle before the departure of the vessels.
A father who had become acquainted with the resurrection of his only son, could not be more affected than Vincent was at such unexpected news. But accustomed as he was to see God alone in all the events of life, he passed without sensible emotion from one extremity to the other. His joy was silent before men, as his sorrow had been. He cast himself at the feet of his divine master, and blessed him for life with as great peace as he had blessed him for death.
Estienne hastened immediately to La Rochelle to embark with his brethren. But as Vincent was no longer upon earth, when his first letters were received, and, as on the other hand the labors of Mr. Estienne and the crown of martyrdom which God granted to his desires, deserve a particular history, I shall say nothing more of him. It will be sufficient to know that Louis XIV having abandoned that unfortunate island, in 1674, all the French were ohliged to leave it; that of the four missionaries who were there at the time, one was killed by the negroes, another burned alive in his own dwelling, that the two others returned to France, and one of them, named Michael Montmasson, replaced in every sense, at Tunis, the illustrious Mr. le Vacher, that is to say, that he did infinite good, and that as a martyr, he was placed at the mouth of the canon, after having been loaded with insults and indignities. This naturally leads us to the missions of Barbary. We shall give but a very slight idea of them; but that idea will not fail to edify and console those who love religion.
Vincent who knew by his own experience all that the Christian slaves at Tunis suffered, and the danger they were in of denying their faith to mitigate their sufferings, lamented before God his want of power to aid them, when Louis XIII made a proposition to him to that effect. The saint, who saw in that dispositiôn the accomplishment of his desires, dispatched without delay Louis Guérin, a man who to an eloquence truly solid and full of unction; united all the virtues of an apostle, and above all, an ardent desire to suffer all that they suffered for the propagation of the gospel. Guérin having perceived, after two years’ labor, that one man was not sufficient for the work, begged the Bey, or prince of the country, to permit him to call another priest to his aid. The Mussulman granted his request cheerfully, and assured him of his protection. “For,” added he, “I well know that you do evil to no one, but that on the contrary you do good to every body.”
This worthy minister profited by this good will; and Vincent of whom he asked a companion, sent him Jean le Vacher, whose labors and glorious death did as much honor to religion, as the piety and erudition of the celebrated André Duval, his relation, had done to his family. Le Vacher arrived in very good time, because the pestilence, more violent than usual at Tunis, carried off every day a great number of Turks and slaves. These two priests labored on this pressing occasion with all imaginable zeal. But Mr. Le Vacher, seized by the disorder, soon found himself at the gates of death. God who had destined him to sanctify for more than thirty-five years the captives of Tunis and Algiers, restored him to the prayers of the Christians. ” The joy we experienced at his recovery,” wrote Mr. Guérin in 1648, ” has made us as strong as the lions of our mountains.”
That strength did not last long. Mr. Le Vacher had scarcely recovered, when his companion was attacked by the pestilence. He met death rather with cheerfulness than patience. If any thing afflicted him, it was that he should die in his bed, whilst he had always flattered himself with the happiness of being impaled or burned alive for the glory of his master. His death was shortly followed by that of the consul. The Bey, who loved Mr. Le Vacher, directed him to perform his functions, until the king of France should have appointed another.
This additional embarrassment did not make him forget the principal object, for which he had been sent to Tunis. His occupation, like that of his brethren, consisted in maintaining in the faith, those whom prayers, threats, and the weight of their chains were likely to withdraw from it; in bringing back, when possible, the renegades who had been so Unfortunate as to lose it; in consoling afflicted persons, who, although most innocent, were treated as state criminals; in teaching them to sanctify their cross by uniting it to that of Jesus Christ, and finally in administering the sacraments both in the city and the country.
That the reader may know how to appreciate such great benefits, it is proper to give him some idea of the situation of the Barbary slaves, and of the continual risks which those run who labor for their salvation.
As to the slaves, that is, the great number of Christians of every age, sex, and condition, who being captured by the Corsairs, are sold in open market, as beasts are elsewhere, it is certain that all are not equally ill-treated. There are some, whose condition nearly resembles that of the lowest domestics in France. But in addition to this being yet very hard for persons not accustomed to it, one who has to-day a reasonable master, may be sold two days hence to a furious tiger; whence it is evident that the greatest number of these poor captives are worthy of compassion.
Those who labor in the country are condemned to a destructive climate, to cut wood in the forests, to burn coal, or haul stone in the quarries, without a moment of relaxation. “At Biserte,” said Mr. Le Vacher, “I found forty shut up in a stable so small that they could scarcely move. They were all chained in pairs, and obliged to grind day after day, with a small hand mill, a stated quantity of flour, which surpassed their strength.”
Those of the cities serve sometimes on shore, and sometimes on sea. On shore, they are made to saw marble, but with so much fatigue that their tongues hang out like dogs’. At sea, they are obliged to row almost naked, in spite of the burning heat of the sun in summer, and the severe cold in winter: and upon the most trifling pretexts, they are loaded with blows by infamous renegades who perform the office of drivers. In such a cruel situation, the facility of break ing their chains, either_ by injuring their faith, or yielding to the abominable desires of a corrupted master, is a long and dangerous temptation; and how many during more than a century would have fallen, if the children of Vincent of Paul had preferred the tranquillity of Europe, to the often reiterated persecutions and infinite labors which awaited them in Africa?
Obliged to pay debts which they have not contracted; loaded with irons and placed in the rank of slaves, when they cannot do it; subjected to cruel bastinadoes; placed at the mouth of the canon; such is often the mournful but glorious recompense of their ministry. The poisoned air of the bagnios, the pestilence attached to the climate, oppression on the part of an inhuman people; these are the flowers which those who are best treated, have to gather: thanks to heaven, these flowers have never failed to produce fruit. Although obliged to suppress a great portion of it, I shall say enôugh to edify those who have the courage of finding well done some things they have not done themselves.
As amongst those who are destined for those painful missions, there is always one who has the honor of being vicar apostolic, the priests and religious who are slaves, and are sometimes found in great numbers, are subjected to his
authority. This canonical subordination prevents a mul-
titude of evils. The seculars who are in slavery, having the goodness to pay to the masters of these ecclesiastics the monthly tax, the latter, who had scarcely any thing to do except to say their office, found themselves more at their own disposal in the midst of captivity, than they would have been under the eyes of their superior. Hence arose disorders, and sometimes scandals calculated to terrify both Jew and Mahometan.
The first good done in Barbary by the disciples of Vincent of Paul, was to put a stop to a licentiousness, odious every where, but much more so in an infidel country. Their good example, the wise regulations they published in the name and by the authority of the holy see, the censures which they even sometimes pronounced, but always with the proper precaution ; these means, sometimes mild, at others more rigorous, re-established order and discipline. The gentile no longer blasphemed God on account of his ministers, and the simple Christian found nothing in his guides, to authorize apostacy.
I know not whether this good, great as it is, can be corn pared with that which our missionaries ,did for all the captives. God alone knows the number they strengthened in the faith and in the practice of the most exalted virtues; but every one is aware that before their arrival, the slaves, abandoned to themselves and to their cruel reflections, were in the most deplorable situation. Weighed down by the prospect of an endless captivity, the bitterness of which was assuaged by no one, some cut their throats or strangled themselves; others, in a paroxysm of fury, fell upon their masters to kill them, and in punishment of their revolt, were burned alive; a large number denied their faith, and to rid themselves of temporal sufferings, precipitated them selves into those of eternity. The priests of the mission arrested these excesses by moving discourses, by alms prudently distributed, and above all, by the administration of the sacraments, which are the sources of strength and salvation. If the new church of Africa was less numerous than the ancient one, it gave, and still often gives to the Son of God, confessors and martyrs, whom the most holy bishop of Carthage would have looked upon as his joy and his crown.
What is most surprising, is, that the exterior pomp of religion, its chaunt and its ceremonies, never cease there. Twenty-five bagnios, or thereabouts, which are in Algiers, Tunis, and Biserte, have become, by the voluntary savings of the poor captives, so many little temples, where those afflicted Christians have the consolation of hearing mass and participating in the divine mysteries. Jesus Christ is there night and day with his suffering members. The tabernacle where he reposes, is never without a lighted lamp. Every year, on Corpus Christi, and during the whole octave, he is exposed to public veneration; he is even carried processionally in the chapels, and is there followed by a crowd of people, whose rags do him more honor than purple and the diadem. Thus is verified, even in our days, in an infidel country, that expression of the royal prophet : ” The Lord said to my Lord, … rule thou in the midst of thy enemies.”
The forty hours’ devotion and the jubilee are also known in Barbary, and produce there, as elsewhere, the usual miracles. There have been seen, in those days of salvation, hardened men who had lived for twenty and thirty years in the forgetfulness of God, entering seriously into themselves, and becoming at last models of penance. Deserters of the faith, Frenchmen, Spaniards, and Italians, have then been seen detesting their apostacy and taking efficacious measures to repair it.
Although the Mahometans are not the main object for which our priests are sent to Barbary, it is however certain that some have been gained; but they have been much more happy with regard to Protestants. A single one of those worthy missionaries converted eighteen, and there is much reason to believe that his colleagues, who possessed no less zeal and talents, have been as successful, if not more so.
Amongst these conversions, there was one more remarkable than the others. It Was that of a child who, being captured by the Corsairs on the coast of England, was sold at Tunis : we shall give an account of it, nearly in the terms in which Mr. Guérin wrote it to St. Vincent, in 1646. “Two Englishmen have been converted to our holy faith, and they are an example to all the other Catholics. There is a third, only eleven years old; he is one of the most amiable children, and one of the most fervent Christians. He continually invokes the Blessed Virgin, that through her he may obtain the grace to die rather than deny Jesus Christ. This his master uses every means to make him do. He has been twice beaten unmercifully on that account. On the last occasion he said to his master, whilst he was beating him : ‘ Cut off my head, if you will, for I am a Christian, and will never be any thing else.’ He has protested to me several times that he would expire under the blows sooner than deny his divine Saviour. He might be ransomed with two hundred piastres, and he would be a second Bede, so great are his talents and virtue.”
What Mr. le Vacher wrote to our saint, in 1648, is no less consoling. We shall give the substance of it.
There were at Tunis two children, about fifteen years old, one born in France, the other in England. Both had been carried away from their country, and sold to two masters who lived near each other. Age, neighborhood, and similarity of fortune, united them so closely, that two brothers could not love each other more. The English child was a Lutheran; the French, who was a Catholic, excited in him doubts about his religion. Mr. le Vacher completed the work; but he did it so perfectly, that he declared in presence of the merchants of his nation, who had come to Tunis to ransom the captives of their sect, that he preferred to live and die a slave, rather than renounce the true religion.
These two young friends saw each other as often as possible. Their conversations usually turned upon the happiness of suffering a thousand deaths, rather than to deny their faith. Providence had great designs with regard to these two children, as was soon evident. Their masters took it into their heads, to force them to deny Jesus Christ. In the absence of reasoning, to which a good Mussulman does not pretend, they had recourse to bad treatment, and without regard either for their age or virtue, they carried their inhumanity to the last excess.
The young French lad, having been one day overwhelmed with blows, and left for dead upon the spot, his companion, who often stole away to console him, found him in this pitiable situation. He called him by his name, to ascertain whether he was still alive. The sound of his voice awoke him from his insensibility ; but as he was not perfectly conscious of what had happened, and did not know why he was called, his first words were a profession of faith : “1 am a Christian for life,” replied he. At these words the little English boy threw himself at his feet, and bruised and bloody as they were, kissed them with respectful tenderness. Some Turks who surprised him in the act, having asked him what he was doing there : ” I honor,” replied he, like a man prepared for every event, “I honor the members which have just suffered for Jesus Christ, my Saviour and my God.” This answer, which they did not expect, caused him to be injuriously driven away. It was a real affliction for the French lad, who was much consoled by his presence.
As soon as he was able to walk, he paid a visit to his friend. He found him in the same condition in which, a short time before, he had himself been found; that is to say, stretched upon a mat, half dead from the blows he had renewed, and surrounded by Turks, who feasted their eyes upon the cruel spectacle. At the sight, his courage and faith were reanimated, he approached his friend, and asked him, in presence of the infidels, which he loved better, Jesus Christ or Mahomet. “Jesus Christ,” replied the English boy aloud ; ” I am a Christian, and I will die a Christian.”
A Turk, who had two knives in his belt, becoming desperate at this discourse, threatened the French lad to cut off his ears. He had already advanced to do it, when the young hero showed him that he could not be frightened at such a trifle. Without deliberating, he flew to the instrument with which he was threatened, himself cut off one of his ears, and asked those barbarians if they would have him cut off the other. They then learned that neither sword nor torment could separate from the Son of God, a Christian who truly belongs to him. Astonished and confused, they left these two youths in peace, and no longer spoke to them either of Mahomet or of the Alcoran. He who from the high heavens had been witness of their combats, did not delay crowning them. The following year a contagious disorder carried them both off: “Fortiores leonibus, in morte quoque non sent divisi” (2 Reg. i).
To these moving examples, I might add those of a new Joseph, who, being calumniated by his lewd mistress, suffered the most rigorous torments; and of two other slaves, one of whom was impaled at Tunis, and the other burned alive at Algiers, for being unwilling to yield to a passion still more abominable; and of a fourth, who, after having been circumcised to avoid the galleys of the grand signior, from which there is no egress, trampled under his feet, in presence of the bashaw who had seduced him, the turban which he had received , and being reconciled a moment before his death by Mr; Le Vacher, suffered with heroical intrepidity the torment of fire. But what we have said, is enough to show that Vincent of Paul procured for Barbary advantages, which, to be rightly esteemed, need no pompous expressions, much less exaggeration. A man who, by the means of three or four priests, knows how to restrain a great number of ecclesiastics, seculars or regulars; to strengthen twenty or twenty-five thousand slaves in the faith; to cause, in spite of the most fright ful torments, those who had abjured Christianity, to renounce Mahomet; to recall to the unity of the church those whom the prejudices of education had separated from it; a man of this character, and that man was Vincent of Paul, would merit the respect of the Christian world, even if he had done nothing mure.
Yet this was not the limit of his zeal. I do violence to myself in suppressing the missions which he made at the solicitation of Louise Marie de Gonzaga, in every part of Poland, where his priests had to struggle against the horrors of war, pestilence, famine, and the Socinian heresy, which had established its seat in these regions, and which, notwithstanding the great number of seductive volumes it produced, subsists there no longer. Yet, I believe, I must say a word of those which he caused to be undertaken in the territories of the republic of Genoa, in Ireland, and in Scotland. We shall see that these may be put in competition with those of which we have already spoken.
MISSIONS IN THE ISLAND OF CORSICA AND IN PIEDMONT.
The island of Corsica belonged to the republic of Genoa. Its inhabitants had always been looked upon as a people without morals, faith, or honesty. Brave to .excess, they were furiously quarrelsome and vindictive, unwilling to pardon, or listen to terms of accommodation. They must be revenged. Every relation of their enemy, even to the third degree, through a fiction of right, was thought to be guilty of the injury they had received. Thus there was no security for a family, one of the members of which had committed a fault. All had to be on their guard. Wo to the first who was surprised! his ignorance, even his absence, did not excuse him; and one who, on leaving his house in the morning, was on good terms with every body, became guilty by sleeping in the house of the offenders, and was consequently assassinated in the evening, before he returned home. To merit this cruel treatment, those atrocious injuries which push patience to extremity, were not necessary; a word stronger than usual was sufficient; a word badly received was a crime worthy of death; and it was to be in a condition to take prompt vengeance, that the Corsicans always went armed, as if they had been in a state of war.
Ferocity, or rather barbarity, was not the only vice which reigned in this unfortunate country, when the children of Vincent of Paul were called . thither. Ignorance, impiety, concubinage, incest, robbery, perjury, prohibited marriages, the most scandalous divorces, were so many monsters which laid it waste.
For a long time the cry of so many crimes had been heard at Genoa, upon which those islanders were dependant. But crime had so strongly intrenched. itself, that it seemed very difficult to attack it. The good which the priests of the mis • sion were actually doing in the territory of the republic, induced the principal members of the senate to think that these apostolic men would not be useless in Corsica, and that if they could not plant all the virtues in that soil, they might at least root out many vices. With that view, these prudent magistrates begged Vincent of Paul, in a letter replete with piety, to have corrpassion on a people, who, criminal as they were, had cost the Saviour his blood and his death. The glory of God, and the salvation of souls were in question; the saint did not hesitate. He sent seven of his priests, and although of the seven bishoprics of Corsica, only those of Mariana and Nebbio were suffragans of Genoa, Cardinal Durazzo joined with these seven missionaries, eight other ecclesiastics, four of whom were religious, the other four seculars.
As soon as these fifteen evangelical laborers had landed, they set to the work. Hard as it was, they made four missions; the first at Campo Lauro, where the bishop of Aleria usually resides; the second at Cotone; the third at Coste, which is in the middle of the island, and the fourth at Niolo. As there is something more interesting connected with the last, we shall speak of it particularly, after having given a general account of the three others.
The first fruit which they produced, was the conversion of a number of ecclesiastics, who were worth but little, and consequently were worse than the people. Every day, after the sermon, they were assembled in the church. The superior of the mission instructed them in the duties of their state. His discourse was followed by a meditation, when, each one entering into his own heart, found there sufficient subject for lamentation. This self-examination, which, when well conducted, leads to the reformation of manners, produced salutary effects. The clergy, as well as the people, made general confessions. All took a firm resolution to acquit themselves thenceforward, with all possible fidelity, of their duties to God and their neighbor. Several curates publicly asked pardon. for the scandal they had given. A chapter in a body thought that the same edification should be given by them, and they deputed one of the canons to do it in the name of all the others.
The second fruit of these exercises was the extinction of hatred and animosities. Sacrifices were carried in this respect as far as they could go. One pardoned the death of his father, another that of his son ; this one the murder of his brother, that the massacre of her husband. Calumnious accusations were also forgiven, but in so Christian a manner, that people who had been menaced with the loss of reputation or life, wished neither the reparation of their honor nor indemnification. Nor were these important reconciliations to be counted by tens or twenties; there was not a village in which they did not amount to fifty, and in some they amounted to a hundred.
The cessation of criminal intercourse was another effect of these missions. Not only women, whose disorderly conduct was ootorious, asked pardon publicly, but there were some wbo could only be reproached with what worldlings are every day guilty of, who thought, without beiog spoken to on the subject, that they ought to humble themselves before God and men for the freedom of their conduct, and their unguarded manners. This kind of general confession, whether indiscreet or not, which I shall not examine, caused the witnesses to shed abundance of tears; they served, moreover, to inspire young persons with a just horror of crime, and of every thin; that wears the appearance of it.
The last fruit of these missions was the establishment of the confraternity of charity, which, by procuring temporal and spiritual aid for a great number of poor sick persons, furnished those who ministered to them the means of redeeming their former iniquities.
The mission of Niolo was attended with circumstances which oblige us to speak somewhat more at large of it. We can do so with the greater confidence, as we have as security for the facts, a man replenished with virtue, who relates nothing but what happened under his own eyes.
” Niolo,” he says, ” is a long valley of nearly three leagues, and surrounded by mountains so difficult of access, that I have seen nothing equal, either in Savoy or in the Pyrenees. It is the difficulty of the roads that makes of Niolo the retreat of all the banditti of the island. Under cover of the rocks, they exercise with impunity their murders and robberies, fearless of the officers of justice.
“There are several small villages in this valley, and it contains about two thousand inhabitants. I have never seen, and I do not know that there are throughout Christianity, people more abandoned than these. When we arrived, their whole faith consisted in saying that they had been baptized, and all their religion amounted to their attending some churches which were very badly kept. They were so profoundly ignorant of the things of salvation, that it would have been very difficult to find there one hundred persons, who knew the commandments of God and the Apostles’ Creed. Vice passed with them for virtue, and revenge was so rife, that the children, in learning to talk, learned also never to suffer the least offence to go unpunished. It was useless to preach the pardon of injuries to them ; example and bad advice had made such deep impressions upon their minds, that they were not capable of receiving contrary ones.
“There were many who passed seven or eight months without hearing mass; others who had been three, four, eight, or ten years without going to confession; and some at the age of fifteen or sixteen had never approached the tribunal of penance. With these vices, they necessarily had many others. They were much inclined to theft. They knew nothing of abstinence during lent, or on the other days on which it is commanded. They persecuted each other like barbarians; and when they had an enemy, their ordinary method was to lay some great crime to his charge, and have him brought to justice. False witnesses were never wanting, as many could be had for money at Niolo, as were needed. 1f the depositions of these were rendered useless by others obtained at the same price, the accuser and the accused took justice into their own hands; they killed one another on the first occasion, with the most astonishing facility.
” In that valley alone,” continues the author of the relation which I abridge to spare the imagination of the reader; we found one hundred and twenty persons living in concubinage, about eighty of whom were in some degree guilty of incest. Forty of these had been excommunicated by name on that account. But the fear of censures did not prevent them from following their ordinary course. They lived and conversed with every body. Thus in this canton, a great portion of the inhabitants were excommunicated, some directly, others indirectly.
“This is the deplorable state in which these poor people were found, when the mission commenced, and these are the means which we took to remedy so many disorders.
“1. We used all possible diligence in instructing them in the things necessary for salvation; and for that purpose we employed nearly three weeks.
” 2. We separated those living in concubinage who were upon the spot; and on the day of St. Peter, the patron of the church in which we were, all those miserable persons who acknowledged at length the wretched condition in which they had lived, having knelt down at the end of the sermon, puhlicly asked pardon for the scandal they had given, and promised with an oath to separate, which they in fact did, before approaching the tribunal of penance.
“3. After having thus separated those who were under censures for their crimes, they presented themselves with all the marks of a contrite and humble heart at the door of the church, to receive absolution. It was solemnly imparted to them; but it was not given, until they had engaged by a public oath never to see one another on any pretence.
” The most arduous part of our labor was yet undone; we had to re-establish peace in a ferocious nation, the greater part of which was living in enmity : Hoc opus, hic labor. Our first efforts were entirely useless ; and for fifteen whole days, we could gain but one young man, who pardoned another for having wounded him in the head by a pistol shot. All the others remained inflexible; and all that we could say produced no effect on any one. Notwithstanding these bad dispositions, there was always a great crowd at the discourses which we delivered every day, morning and evening. Never was there a more alarming auditory. All the men attended in their customary dress; that is, with a sword at their side, and a gun on-their shoulder. But besides these arms, the banditti and other criminals had likewise two pistols, and two or three daggers in their belts. The spirit of vengeance so strongly possessed them, that the most moving instruction made no •impression upon them. Many, indeed, when we spoke of the pardon of injuries, left the church.
” At length, on the eve of the day on which the general communion is usually made, as I was about to finish preaching, I again exhorted that unfortunate people to pardon. God then inspired me to take in my hand the crucifix which I carried about me, and to tell the assembly, that those who were willing to show mercy to their enemies, should come to kiss the feet of it. I conjured them to do so, on the part of a dying God, who stretched out his arms towards them; and I told them that this homage rendered to the Saviour, would he a proof of their will to be reconciled with those who had offended them. At these words, they began to look at each other; but as no one moved, I made a motion to retire, after having complained bitterly of their wonderful insensibility. A religious of the reform of St. Francis, who was present, was moved; and filled with a just and holy indignation, he began to cry out: ‘ 0 Niolo! unfortunate Niolo! you will perish then? you will be cursed by God? You are unwilling to receive the grace which he sends you by means of these missionaries who have come so far for your salvation.’ He was still speaking, when a curate, whose nephew had been killed, came forward, prostrated himself on the ground, and asked to kiss the crucifix; then calling by name the murderer who was present, he said aloud, ‘ Let such a one approach that I may embrace him.’ After this, another priest. did the same with regard to some of his enemies; and these two were followed by such a multitude, that for the space of an hour nothing was to be seen but reconciliations and embraces. For greater security, the most important things were reduced to writing, and the notary authenticated them. O Lord!” exclaims the pious missionary to whom we owe this detail, ” what edification for the earth, what joy for heaven to behold fathers and mothers pardoning for the love of God the death of their children; children that of their parents, wives that of their husbands, brethren and relations that of their nearest friends! What a consolation to behold implacable enemies embrace and shed tears over each other! In other countries, it is usual to see penitents shed tears at the feet of their confessors, but in Corsica it is a kind of miracle.”
Thus terminated the important mission of Niolo. If, according to the maxim of the apostle of the Indies, a man who takes the trouble to go to the end of the world should not regret that step, if he be so happy as to prevent one mortal sin, what must we think of those who have the happiness to arrest or to suspend, at least for a time, the frightful disorders of which we have spoken. What gives new splendor to the mercy of God, is, that a little delay would have destroyed all. The next day the missionaries had orders to go to Bastie, where a galley sent expressly by the senate awaited them. They however deferred embarking for two days, and those two days were employed in putting a finishing hand to some reconciliations which had only been commenced. On Tuesday, one of them delivered a discourse on perseverance. There was so great a crowd of people, that it was necessary to preach outside of the church. There the pardon of injuries seemed no longer impossible. All renewed the protestations which they had already made, to lead a truly Christian life, and to persevere to the end. The pastors, who had much to reproach themselves with, promised aloud to be more faithful in fulfilling their obligations.
A rain which fell, prevented the missionaries from setting out the same day. It would appear as if this obstacle were interposed by Providence. At a league from Niolu there were two men whose brother had been killed. Both had so cruel a thirst for revenge, that, like the impious man spoken of in the book of Job (xv, 25), their souls were strengthened against the Almighty. For fear that grace would induce them to, pardon, they had kept from all the exercise’s of the mission. All that their curate could obtain from them was, that they would suspend the effects of their resentment, until they had spoken to the director of the missionaries. The bad weather gave opportunity for that interview, which the orders of the senate would have prevented. It was completely successful. Those haughty spirits yielded to the holy zeal which was in search of them. They consented to forgive, and thus placed the seal on the public joy. A great number of ecclesiastics, and the principal inhabitants of Niolo conducted the missionaries to the place of their embarkation. The latter discharged their fire arms several times, as a mark of gratitude. It was a long time since they had put them to so moderate and so lawful a use.
I do not doubt that the pious reader would follow with pleasure those virtuous disciples of the humble Vincent in their expeditions into Piedmont, where He who is pleased to make use of the weakest instruments to confound the wisdom and strength of the heroes of the world, gave to their labors a benediction which he never bestows upon vain and frivolous eloquence. But a detail so consoling for those who love the glory of Jesus Christ, a detail which is amply furnished in the large life of our saint, could not, any more than many others, enter into such an abridgment as this. Therefore, without saying any thing of the success of these virtuous priests at Schalenghe near Pignerol , in the environs of Lucerne, where the largest churches could not contain their hearers; at Raconi, where they had the grief and the joy to behold poor people, who during a rigorous winter, were waiting for them at the doors of the church, during a portion Of the night ; at Savigliano, where the people, the nobility, the secular clergy, and the religious of five or six convents profited with equal ardor by their instructioos; I. shall be contented with speaking of the celebrated mission which they made at Bra, a large town of thirteen or fourteen thousand souls.
This place which is but a day’s journey from Turin, was in a state of disorder equal to civil war, if it did not go beyond it. The streets were fortified, the houses filled with armed men, some of whom fired upon the passers by, ottiers stood a siege against those who assailed them. The churches which, in Piedmont, as in the rest of Italy, serve as asylums for certain criminals, sheltered no one from the vengeance of his enemy : the citizen killed his fellow-citizen in the very temple of the Lord : in a word, Bra contained a mob of furious wretches who destroyed one another.
The time of such violent commotion was not suited for a mission. It would even have been very dangerous to commence it at that time: no one could have attended, without running the risk of his life: and five or six strangers, who had nothing but peace to announce, would have certainly been driven away by a desperate people breathing nothing but war. Christina of France, duchess of Savoy, who governed the state during the minority of Charles Emmanuel, her son, saw these obstacles. To overcome them, she sent her principal ministers to Bra, in order to induce to a suspension of arms those wretched inhabitants whom she could have destroyed by force, hut whom she preferred to gain by mildness. Those ministers assembled the multitude; they spoke with prudence and reason, and that was enough to render them unsuccessful.
The regent, the daughter of Henry the Great had firmness as well as mildness. After having spoken as a mother, she threatened as a sovereign. The hearts of the people were not softened, but hostilities were a little less active. It was the feeble glimmer of this diminution of animosity, that the missionaries entered Bra. They were at once so happy as to induce the two parties to lay aside their arms, which they had not as yet done. So soon as they could go abroad with safety, and enter the church, the people flocked thither in crowds. Their assiduousness at the sermons and catechism consoled the priests of the mission very much. They were still more consoled, when they saw their hearts softened and disposed to peace. They were not long before concluding it. Those people, who a few months before, were animated by a spirit of vengeance, embraced one another in-the presence of the blessed sacrament, after having asked pardon, both in the church, and in the public places; but in so tender, so affectionate a manner, that it was impossible to doubt the sincerity of their reconciliation.
This first step being taken, they went into the confessional. The crowd was there so great, that although all the priests and all the religious of the place united in their aid, the mission lasted seven weeks. There were from nine to ten thousand general confessions made. The spirit of piety breathed in all hearts, and effected every where that interior renovation which can only be its work. The time of the carnival, which is generally spent in folly and excesses, was there a time of penance, and like a continual feast-of the greatest devotion. Peace was so solidly established, that the inhabitants did not remember even to have witnessed such union and cordiality. Her royal highness had already congratulated the missionaries in a very kind letter on the happy success of their labors; but when at the end of the mission the director rendered her a more detailed account of it, she. was so much âffected, that she could not restrain her tears. To complete so many advantages, she gave the inhabitants of Bra full pardon for all the crimes and excesses into which they had fallen during their divisions.
It is.difficult to quit a subject so full of interest for religion as this is. But we must necessarily sacrifice a part, that we may not sacrifice another entirely. Let us then go from Italy into Ireland and Scotland. The scene is about to change. We shall not find.the people armed against the people. But piety will find enough to weep for on one side; and on the other,enoughtopraise the infinite mercies of the Lord.
MISSIONS IN IRELAND AND SCOTLAND.
It was at the solicitation of Innocent X, that St. Vincent sent missionaries into Ireland. As the circumstances of the times rendered this succor more necessary than ever, the saint, without delay, sent eight of his priests, some of whom on their arrival labored in the diocess of Limerick, the others in that of Cashel. The people of the country, whu languished in profound ignorance, were made acquainted with the obligations which Christianity imposes upon its professors: They were vested with that spirit of strength which breaks the chains of sin, and teaches us to die for the faith in the time of persecution. The change of heart was so .general and so sudden,. that the bishops of Ireland could scarcely believe it. The nuncio whom the pope had still in that kingdom, congratulated those truly apostolical men on their zeal. The parish priests and other ecclesiastics, who were àlways the first to follow the exercises of the missionaries, seized so well their manner of catechising and instructing, that they preserved in their parishes the fervor of which those worthy priests had laid the foundation.
Never was fervor more necessary both for pastors and peo ple. Oliver Cromwell, after having planned and executed the impiôus scheme which brought the king of England to the block, taught Ireland, which had proclaimed the prince of Wales under the name of James II, that his will was not to be opposed with impunity. Although the Catholics were not the only ones who detested the enormous crime of Cromwell, they had a greater share than any other persons in the mis fortunes of the royalists. But there was not a single one of the pastors where the mission had been made, who abandoned his flock. All without exception remained, until banishment or a violent death separated them. It is known that one of the most fervent of those worthy pastors, after having made his annual confession to a missionary who was lodged in a poor hut at the foot of a moçtntain, was the night afterwards taken and massacred by heretical soldiers, whilst administering the sacraments to the sick. His glorious death crowned a most innocent life. For a long time he had desired to shed his blood for the faith and for charity ; God thought him worthy of it, and his prayers were heard.
As the flames of persecution spread more and more throughout Hibernia, and it was no longer possible to make missions there, Vincent of Paul, who was informed of it, gave orders to five of his priests to recross the sea; and to the other three, to remain at Limerick. The bishop proposed to them to make a mission in that city. The undertaking was pretty considerable. Limerick had then twenty thousand communicants, because a number of Catholic villagers had taken refuge in it. But of what are not three priests capable, when, assembled in the name of the Lord, they can calculate upon his being in the midst of them? Sustained by his grace, and encouraged by the prelate who placed himself at their head, these gentlemen announced judgment and mercy. The spirit of dread and compunction was at first insinuated amongst the people. Each one thought seriously of his conscience ; and of twenty thousand persons capable of profiting by the mission, not one failed making a general confession. People who had grown old in sin, gave marks of true conversion; and a numerous people was seen in a situation to serve as a model of the most exact penance.
Such holy dispositions could not have been manifested at a more proper. time. The contagion soon reached Limerick; and in a little time it was so violent, that it carried off nearly eight thousand persons. Of this number was the brother of the bishop, who had exposed himself with the missionaries and like them, in consoling the sick and supplying their necessities. It was admirable to behold the patience, or rather the peace with which this afflicted people received the scourge with which God visited them. They died conterited, “because, said they, ” the Lord has sent us angels who have reconciled us to him.”. The pious bishop of Limerick, who, as a goon father, knew better than any one else how to appreciate such holy dispositions, could not contain his tears. “Alas !” said he a hundred times, ” had Mr. Vincent done for the glory of God only the good which he has done for these poor .people, he ought to think himself happy.”
To the horrors of the contagion succeeded those of war. Ireton, the son-in-law of Cromwell, besieged Limerick, and at the end of four or five months became master of it. The army of the parliamentarians, inflated with their success, which, however, it owed ti) famine, naturally stained its victory : it made it a point of religion to do so. Many of the inhabitants were put to death, precisely because they preferred the ancient faith of the Roman church to the new faith of the English tyrant. Four of the principal citizens were of this number, at whose head was Thomas Strick, mayor of the city. These brave men went to the place of execution, like warriors to a triumph. Before execution they harangued the people according to the custom of the country; but they did it in so moving a manner, that the heretics themselves were melted to tears. They declared in the face of heaven and earth, that they died for the faith ; and by that glorious acknowledgment they taught the Catholics who were present, that there was no death or torment that should separate them from the religion of their fathers.
Of the three missionaries who had remained in Ireland, only two returned to Paris, after having passed at Limerick, through all the terrors of pestilence and war. The third finished his career there; the others disguised themselves and escaped as they could. One of them retired to his own country with the grand vicar of Cashel. The other round in the mountains a pious woman who concealed him for two months. A brother who waited on them was less fortunate, or rather more so. The heretics having discovered his retreat, massacred him under the eyes of his mother. They broke his head, after having cut off his feet and hands; an inhuman and barbarous treatment, which taught the priests what they would have to expect, should they be seized.
These missionaries labored in Ireland, nearly six years ; and with the exception of some help given them by the duchess of Aiguillon, it was the house of St. Lazarus, which through the inexhaustible charity of its superior, supported the rest of the expense. Vincent, although reduced to extremity, did not regret it. More than eighty thousand general confessions, and ether innumerable advantages, were ample indemnification for him. We should have been acquainted with much more, had his humility permitted it. But when the superior of these painful missions, on his return to Paris, asked him if it would not be proper to furnish a little relation of them, he answered, ” that it was sufficient that God knew all that had been done; and that the humility of our Lord required of the little company of the mission, that it should keep hidden in God with Jesus Christ. He added that the blood of those martyrs would not be.forgotten before God, and that sooner or later it would be the seed of new Catholics.” Indeed that blood must have been very efficacious; for Ireland, although always oppressed by the most unjust persecution, still counts so great a number of zealous Catholics.
The saint was yet ignorant of the destiny of his missionaries in Hibernia, when he formed the design of sending others to the Hebrides. When we reflect, that at the same time he sent priests into Poland, Barbary, and Madagascar, and I know not how many other countries ; that by the acknowledgment of the friends and even the enemies of his congregations, those worthy laborers had the most astonishing success every where; that the immense expenses of their voyages and their support fell principally upon him, can we well help saying what has been said, or rather what could not be said by illustrious historians, of the first of the Caesars? What a man was that Vincent of Paul! what courage! what greatness of soul! what zeal for God! what detachment from every temporal interest! what talent for forming in a few years, sometimes in a few months, ministers ready to do every thing, and to suffer every thing under his orders! Those whom we have hitherto eulogised, appeared such to us ; hut their brethren, who are going to appear in their turn, will not appear to us less great, or less worthy of the choice which their first superior made of them. Let us begin by giving some idea of the country which they had to overrun. `
The Hebrides are situated to the West of Scotland. There are but forty-four which merit attention. It appears that the greater part of them are barren, and generally speaking, that the _inhabitants are very poor: This extreme indigence did not prevent their having Catholic priests before the English schism. The preachers who–were substituted to them, soon became disgusted with their situation, as it was not,sufficient for them to preach reform, but necessary to practice it. Hence the inhabitants by degrees had neither true nor false pastors. The exereise of all religion was insensibly abolished. Ignorance became so rife; that the necessity of baptism, or at least the manner of administering it was unknown; and, at the time of which we speak, old men were to be found in this unhappy country, of eighty and even of a hundred years, who had not been baptised.
As soon as Vincent was informed of the melancholy situation of these islanders, he made a proposition to two of his priests, one of whom was of that country, the.other was an Irishman, to fly to their aid. The undertaking was a most hazardous one, in consequence of the violence of Cromwell and the troubles of the three kingdoms. The proposition was however accepted with joy and gratitude. Germain Duiguin and F’rançois le Blanc, upon whom the holy priest had fixed his eyes, disguised themselves as merchants, and took the route of Holland, from whence their departure would be less liable to suspicion. They met with a Scotch nobleman of the name of Clangary, a man illustrious for his birth and virtue, and who had lately embraced the Catholic religion. He took them at once under his protection, and always rendered them every good office.
They were scarcely in Scotland, when they believed themselves lost; for a priest who had become a minister, having recognised’ them, spread the news of- their. arrival by a circular letter which went the rounds of the whole kingdom. They argued nothing but what was sinister from this com mcncement; but God knew how to make it redound to his glory. The apostate, who was visited by a dangerous sick. ness `acknowledged that the hand of God punished -his desertion’ and ill will. He deplored his error, promised God to atone for his fault, set out as soon as his strength would permit him, made a long. journey in search of Mr. Duiguin, and received from, him absolution of the censures which he had incurred by his apostacy.
Vincent of Paul was more than eighteen months, without receiving any accounts from these missionaries. At last a letter from Duiguin partly canned his uneasiness. We shall‘ give it somewhat abridged.
“God has granted us the favor, since our arrival in Scot-. land, to co-operate in the conversion of the father of Mr. Changary. He was an old man of ninety years of age, brought up in . the heresy from his youth. We instructed him, and reconciled him to the church during a sickness which soon brought him to the grave, after however receiving the sacraments and manifesting unspeakable joy at dying a Catholic. I also reconciled, but secretly, several of his domestics and some of his friends. This being done, I left my companion in the mountainous parts of Scotland where the spiritual wants are great and much good can be done. I transported myself to the Hebrides, where God, through his all-powerful mercy; has effected wonders beyond every expectation ; for he disposed. the hearts so well, that Mr. Clanrenald, lord.of a good part of the island of Vista, was converted together with his wife, his son and all their family, and the example has been followed by all the gentlemen, their vassals and families.
“I went afterwards to the island of Ègga and Canna. God has there converted eight or nine hundred persons who were so little instructed in religious matters, that there were not fifteen acquainted with any mystery of the Christian faith. I hope that the remainder will soon give glory to God. I found thirty or forty persons of seventy, eighty, and a hundred and more years of age, who had never received holy baptism. I instructed and baptised them : they died shortly after, and without doubt they are now praying to God for those who procured them so great an advantage. A great portion of the inhabitants lived in concubinage, but thanks to God we have remedied that. We have taken nothing. from these people for the services we rendered them; but I must employ two men, one to help me to row when I go from one island to another, and to carry my vestments and my little baggage by land; for sometimes, before celebrating, I am obliged to travel four or five leagues on foot in had roads; the other assists me, to teach the pater, ave, and credo; and serves mass, he being the only one who can do it.
“Generally we eat but one meal a day, and that consists of oat or barley bread with cheese or salt butter. Sometimes we pass whole days without eating, because we find nothing, particularly when we have to cross deserts and uninhabited mountains. It would doubtless be rendering a great service to God to send to this country good evangelical laborers who knew the language of the islands well„and who moreover knew how to bear hunger, thirst, and to lie upon the ground.”
In another letter which this worthy son of St. Vincent wrote to him in .1654, he told him in substance, that he had visited the islands of Vista, Canna, Egga, and Skia, and several parts of the continent; that the part of the island of Vista, which belonged to Captain Clanrenald, was entirely converted, with the exception of two men, who, to sin more at their ease, wanted no religion ; that there was in the other part a minister who invited him to a controversy by letters, but feared a public discussion; that for himself he hoped to meet with good success. He added that in almost all the other islands many had been reunited to. the church.
What he says of the island of Barra is somewhat singular. He found the people there so eager for instruction,that it was enough for a child of each village to learn the pater, arc, and credo, for the whole village to know them in two days. ” I have received,” continues he, “the principal persons of the place into the church., and amongst others the young lord with his brothers and sisters. In the number of these new converts, there is a son of a minister; his devotion edifies very much the whole country where he is known. I generally put off the communion for some time. Amongst those who approached, there were five who had not the necessary dispositions, and God made it known; for having advanced, their tongue to receive the sacred host, they could not draw it hack. They went again to confession, and then received that bread of life without any difficulty. We baptise a great number of children, and even adults of thirty, forty, sixty, and eighty years and more. There are some amongst them, who, having been formerly troubled with phantoms and evil spirits, have been entirely delivered, after receiving baptism.”
Thus it was that one poor priest, alone and without human assistance, established religion on one hand, whilst Cromwell and his followers were destroying it on the other. Such a beautiful heginning made him conceive the design of carrying the faith into the island of Pabba. It was, as he admits, “a strange and terrible place. But,” said he, “the hope which we have of bringing back many stray sheep to the fold, and confidence in our Lord makes us despise dangers and death itself. ” Hence I shall set out under his protection.”
God was satisfied with the good will of his servant and the passport which he had already obtained from the governor of Pabba was useless to him. Five days afterwards, he fell sick. Bad food, hard and continual journeys, and the functions of the holy ministry, wore him out entirely. He died on the 17th of May, 1657. The grief caused by his loss was as general, as his labors had been. Happy was he in having fought valiantly, and died with his arms in his hands.
Whilst this true missionary was laboring in the Hebrides, Mr. Le Blanc, his companion, exercised himself at one time upon the sea coasts, at another in the mountains of Scotland. With the exception of the dangers, which were much greater in the country which had fallen to his lot, his. life and labors were very similar to those of his colleague. Almost without any nourishment, except oat bread, he visited the towns and villages, strengthened the Catholics, confounded and converted a considerable number of sectarians. Heaven appeared to authorise his mission by events which seemed miraculous.
The noise of these events, and the conversions by which they were followed, terrified the Prôtestant ministers. They had recourse to the lord protector, the name given to Cromwell, and in 1655, they obtained from him an order, by which the English magistrate who held the office of prmtor in Scotland, was directed to make an exact search for all Roman priests, to labor without delay to bring them to trial, and to condemn thém to death. The order was punctually executed; and as it gave to the prntor a right to enter wherever he pleased, he searched so well every nook and corner of Hue-ley, that he discovered there three Catholic priests. Le Blanc was one of them. He had done much good, hence they must naturally have been badly disposed towards.him. He was carried to the prison of Aberdeen, where it was supposed he would not languish long. Vincent, who heard the news soon afterwards, looked upon that dear brother as a victim destined to death, and he had no doubt that death would be preceded by very ill treatment.
That ill treatment was reduced, by a singular providence of God, to five or six months’ imprisonment To condemn a priest to death, it was necessary, according to the laws of the time, that he should be convicted of having said mass, or performed some other function of the ministry. Le Blanc had taken his measures so well, that there was not in all Scotland a single man who had surprised him in this pretended crime. There was indeed one witness who deposed against him; but in addition to his testimony being so ambiguous that the judges, although prejudiced, could not rely upon his deposition, he retracted, when confronted with the prisoner, being unwilling, as he afterwards acknowledged, to be the cause of the ruin of an honest man. In consequence, this good priest was set at liberty, but with the strange condition, that if he should preach, instruct, or even baptise any one, he should be hung upon the spot, without any other form of trial.
This terrible sentence was for this apostolical man like that of the synagogue against the first disciples of the Saviour. After their example, the virtuous missionary left that canton to go into another; he retired into the mountains of Scotland, and labored there as he had done before.
His detention had not absolutely arrested the progress of the gospel in that country. St. Vincent, whose zeal redoubled in proportion as the strength of his body decayed, had correctly judged that in a region where the hour of darkness had arrived, his two first priests could only labor”at intervals. For this reason he had sent them a reinforcement in 1653. This second choice was no less happy than the first. The reader can judge by the following letter. It is from Mr. Lunsden, who, being born in Ireland with good dispositions, had increased them very much under the guidance of our saint. This letter, which Vincent received in 1654, and consequently preceded the rigorous edicts of which we have just spoken, was conceived in ‘these terms:
” God gives a very great blessing to the mission which we make in the low country, and I can say that the inhabitants, rich as well as poor, have never been, from the time they fell into heresy, so well disposed to receive the truth, and to be converted to our holy faith. We every day receive many who come to abjure their errors, and some even of very high rank. In addition to this, we labor to confirm the Catholics by the word of God and the administration of the sacraments. On Easter day, I was in the house of a nobleman, where more than fifty persons went to communion, amongst whom there were twenty new converts. The success of our missions is a’cause of great jealousy to the ministers… But
we place our confidence in the goodness of the Lord.”
Three years afterwards, the same priest wrote to our saint that the northern parts of Scotland were much better disposed to receive the true faith, than they had been before; that he had undertaken a voyage to the Orkney islands, had already visited Moravia, Rosse, Suther, Candia, and Cathanisia, where there had not been a priest for a long time, and scarcely a Catholic; that, at the solicitation of an excellent man, he was upon the point of establishing himself for some time in the last place, when the rigorous orders of Cromwell were published ; that the preacher, who was much opposed to him, sought his destruction; and that fear had forced him to seek an asylum until he could see how the persecution would end. “I cannot,” adds he in conclusion, ” write to you more in detail the situation of our affairs, lest my letters should fall into the hands of our enemies.”
Vincent already knew the extreme danger in which his missionaries were placed after the edicts of the protector. His tenderness for them induced him to send a person to London, to confer with the ambassador of Louis XIV, and open by his credit and counsel some route into Scotland. The circumstances were unfavorable. Cromwell made all tremble upon sea and land; and he was more than ever embittered against the Catholics, by whom he could be considered only as a detestable usurper. Hence the ambassador was the first to urge this missionary, in whose favor the most distinguished persons had written to him, to quit immediately a city, in which a moment’s delay might cost him his life. Our saint. offered himself to God for his priests. He redoubled his prayers for their preservation, and caused others to do the same. And there is reason to believe, that, if in spite of the emissaries of the tyrant of Great Britain, a hair of their heads was not lost, it was owing to the sighs and prayers of Vincent of Paul.
HISTORY OF THE DEVOTION TO ST. VINCENT.
Notwithstanding the precautions which our saint always took to conceal his virtues, they have transpired ; and a writer who improperly accuses the children of having been ashamed of the glory of their father, takes pleasure in acknowledging that ” few persons of his condition have acquired a greater reputation.” Time did not weaken a reputation so justly merited, and miracles .of every description confirmed it every year. This first gave rise to the thought of his beatification. The news, which soon spread through the provinces, gave delight to all those who loved the church. Kings and princes united with their subjects in soliciting Clement XI to commence that great work. Hence, in a few years, letters were written by the king of France, the king and queen of England, the duke of Lorraine, the grand duke of Tuscany, the doge and the republic of Genoa, and a number of cardinals. As to the bishops, as they were too numerous to give their names here, I shall be contented with sa iug, that to almost all those of the kingdom were added those of Poland, Spain, Italy, and Great Britain; and that those who had not always agreed well in other matters, such as Bossuet, Fénélon, Mont-gaillard, celebrated with one concert the hope and charity of the servant of God. The assembly of 1705, at which the Cardinal de Noailles presided, did in a body what the other prelates had done in their diocesses. The chapters of Notre-Dame and Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois followed the same example. The city of Paris, represented by its provost and magistrates, wrote also, and in a manner worthy of itself and of the great man whose glory it wished to promote. To these letters were added those of the first superiors of the Christian Doctrine, the Oratory, and St.’ Sulpice ;- of the abbots of St. Genevieve, Grandmont, prémontré, St. Antoine, Rengrval, and of Bonfay; of the generals of the congregations of Saint-Maur, Saint-Vanne, the Minerva, the Minims, the Carmelites, &c.
It would be an error to imagine that these letters were but common place, letters containing’a great deal in general without saying any thing in particular. Of all those which remain, and which the pope had printed at Rome in 1709, there is scarcely one that does not relate facts connected with the writers. Thus it was that the king of England backs his entreaties by the services which Vincent rendered to his kingdoms of Scotland and Ireland in the most stormy times. And he might have added, that of those wro rendered these important services, one languished for a long time in prison, by order of the parricide Cromwell; the other was barbarously killed under the eyes of his own mother. It was thus. also that the duke of Lorraine said that “the memory of this great servant ôf God was in very great veneration amongst the people of his states, in gratitude for the temporal and spiritual succor which they received from him in the most dreadful times.” Finally, it was thus that the magistrates of Paris, whose letter is one of the most beautifully written on the subject, after having spoken of the heroical virtues which Vincent of Paul practised for more than fifty years in the capital, the sweet odor of Jesus Christ which he spread in so many ways,-the reputation of sanctity in which he died, continues in these terms : ” Is there, holy father, a species of wretchedness for which Vincent of Paul has not provided a remedy? The Sisters of Charity, of whom he was the institutor, and who have more than thirty-five houses in Paris, and nearly three hundred in and out of the kingdom, instruct the children of the poor, and render them the most humiliating services in their own huts or in the hospitals, with a charity, a modesty, an address by which the rich are as much edified as the poor are instructed and relieved. Poor families have a sure resource in those confraternities, the plan of which he laid, and which are established in almost all the parishes of this city, and what is more, not only in most cities, hut also in almost all the towns and many of the villages of the kingdom. Has a fire. caused devastation? a flood or sterility desolated a province? A regular assembly of ladies most distinguished by their birth, and still more by their piety, formed by the exertions of this most charitable priest, and .guided by the general superiors of the mission, his successors, consecrate one day of the week to examine into and relieve their necessities. It is he who continues to be a father to an infinite number of poor, abandoned and exposed children, a number truly prodigious in this city, in consequence of the compassion which he had, and with which he inspired others for them. That compassion, of which the poor beings condemned to the galleys every day experience the effects. We tell you, holy father, only a part of what we see.”
The letter of the clergy of France was still more spirited. The Cardinal de Noailles, after having remarked that it belongs to the apostolic see to take information on the life and morals of those who are sought to be placed in the number of the saints, says in direct terms, that Vincent of Pau] is one of those whose canonization the general assembly thinks it can loudly and fearlessly ask: Illumque vobis expendendurn non timide proponimus. He adds that the life of this holy priest was a prodigy, vita pro ostento fuit, and that all France was filled with the fame of his sanctity; that there is great difficulty to prevent the people from paying him a veneration which would be blameable if it were precipitate: Sanctitatis lama Gallias late implet, tant4que celebritate percrebuit, ut intmaturi piorunt hominum cultus, viz ac ne nix quidem possint cnhiberi. He concludes with these beautiful words, so expressive of esteem and veneration. Be pleased then, holy father, to listen to our wishes and those of the people.’ Decree for Vincent the honors which he so well merited. Erect altars to him; it is erecting them to religion. Nostris ergo ac populo-rum precious optatisque annue, bcatissime pater, debitos V centio deeerne honores, et triumphum impera religionis.
Whilst these letters were writing, the commissaries appointed in 1704, by his eminence, were laboring at the process of information ; and this task occupied them more than ‘eighteen months. Although Vincent had been dead forty-five years, one hundred and eighty-eight witnesses were found, who did justice to his memory ; and those witnesses, joined to the bishops who wrote in his favor, and who had known him, either themselves, or through those who had conversed with him, formed such a complete body of pfoof, that it was thought that the affair would be finished almost as soon as it was commenced. But precipitation is not a fault of the court of Rome. Multiplied solicitations seemed to redouble its vigilance. It replied that what is well done, is done soon enough.
It was only in 1708, that the process verbal was sent to Rome. To it was added another, de non cultu, in which it was proved that the church of France, great as was her zeal for the canonization of Vincent of Paul, had not anticipated the judgment of the holy see, and that neither the priests of the mission, nor any person in office had paid him the honors which are rendered to canonized saints. These two documents, which; according to the usage of the congregation of rites, should not be opened ,till after the lapse of ten years, were examined the .same year. To this favor, which the holy father granted, no doubt, to the entreaties of so many sovereigns, cardinals, and bishops, who begged him to crown the merits of one of the most holy priests that the church. ever possessed, he added another, which was to name as reporter of the cause, Cardinal de la Tremouilles.
As these documents, drawn up by the ordinary, only serve to induce an examination at Rome, as to whether the cause deserves to be undertaken ; as soon as the holy see had judged that that of Vincent of Paul could be entered upon, Cardinal Carpini expedited in the name of the sovereign pcntiff, remissorial and compulsory letters1. They were addressed to Cardinal de Noailles, to Artus de Lionne, bishop of Rosalia, and Humbert Ancelin, former bishop of Tulles. By these letters, the three prelates, of whom at least two must always act together, were charged to draw up, in the space of a year, the process in genere.
Although this process in genere, decides little fundamentally, it serves to prove that the reputation of the subject in question is still maintained, and that from the time of the first proceedings, nothing has occurred to prevent their continuation. Only fourteen witnesses were heard, at the head of whom were Catsar d’Estrées, cardinal of the holy church, and Jean Baptiste Chevalier, subdean of the great chamber of parliament, &c. Their depositions, which were only to be general, were unanimous. All declared upon oath that the eminent virtues of Vincent of Paul had conciliated the respect of the city, the court, and all France; that the noise of his miracles was more and more spread abroad, and that his tomb was honored by a great concourse of people.
For fear of losing sight of witnesses of such weight as Mr. de Lamoignon, permission was obtained from the pape to. receive detailed depositions of old persons and valetudinarians. The commission was given to the three before mentioned prelates. . They had but six months for this new process, and .11. became necessary to ask for six more. Sixty-one witnesses presented themselves, of from sixty to eighty years of age, and each one had such a beautiful relation, that great labor was necessary to avoid asking a further delay from the holy see.
The first of these two documents having been received at Rome with a kind of applause, the three commissioners received orders to draw up, during the course of a year, the process in specie. They were directed at the same time, to terminate the proceeding by opening the tomb of the servant of God, and by examining carefully all the detached portions of his body that could be found in the city and diocess of Paris.
After having again heard fifty-four witnesses, amongst whom was the archbishop of Vienna, Armand de Montr Orin, the Cardinal de Noailles proceeded, on the 18th of February, 1712, to the opening of the tomb. It may be well supposed,–that the moment when the holy body was to be brought to light, was expected with mixed sentiments of fear and hope. It had been in he earth more than fifty-one years, and that in a church where a whole body had never been found. God might have permitted it to decay like the others; he might have preserved it. This latter conjecture was found true, and the examiners, one of whom was a physician and regent in medicine, the other a surgeon in the armies of the king, after a most exact scrutiny, finished their juridical report with these words : ” Finally, we can testify, as we do, that we found a body completely whole and without any bad, smell.” I had forgotten to say that Mr. Jean Bonnet, who, in quality of superior general of the congregation, was present on this occasion, was so amazed at it, that he retired in alarm, and only returned when ordered by the cardinal archbishop to contemplate fixedly the body of his good father. This was the expressidn of Mr. de Noailles.
After closing the process, that prelate wrote to the pope, to give him an account of the manner in which he and the two other commissaries had acted. He first declares to his holiness and to the sacred congregation of rites, that they had observed in the course of the proceeding, all the rules prescribed by Urban VIII, Innocent XI; and that all that had been deposed concerning the virtues and miracles of the servant of God, was by witnesses entitled to credit, in whom neither he nor any one had remarked any cause for suspicion. He afterwards continues in these words: ” Thus, holy father, not satisfied with the solicitations which I have offered at the throne of your holiness, in conjunction with the clergy of France, in the letter which I signed, I confidently address you again. Those entreaties are the greatest, the most lively, and the strongest that can emanate from a heart, which, in this affair, seeks nothing but the glory of God and the honor of his servants.”
The bishops of Tulles and Rosalia wrote also to Clement XI, a letter in common, which, although much shorter, said the same thing in substance. The two sub-promoters, Achille and François Thomnssin, wrote to Prosper Lambertini, promoter of the faith, whose merit afterwards raised him to the chair of St. Peter. Their letter does justice to’the honesty and religion of the witnesses whom they officially cited : Orates, say they, omni exception majores, et pietate ac religionis zelo coüspicuos. All these letters are of the 1st of March, 17I2.
After the examination of this process, and of the rules which the holy priest had given to the three establishments of which he was the institutor, it was finally necessary to pronounce on the heroical degree of his virtues. This capital point is always treated in three congregations. In the first, which is called ante-preparatory, the promoter makes his objections. In that which follows, and is the preparatory, the consultors propose all they think proper, and ordinarily suspend their judgment until their difficulties are cleared up. In the last, which is called definitive, they must necessarily make up their minds, and decide for or against. This last, notwithstanding the entreaties of the clergy of France, who had written for the third time, of Louis XV and his august queen, who also wrote, was not held until twelve years after the first. And it was then at last, that Benedict XIII decided solemnly that it was proved that the venerable servant of God, Vincent of Paul, had possessed in a heroical degree, both the theological and cardinal virtues, and those which are annexed to them. The bishop of Cavaillon, who was one of the consultors, said that there had scarcely ever been examples of such unanimity.
The decree which decides the sanctity of .a person,, does not decide on the public veneration. It is necessary that God should make known that it is his will that the veneration should be decreed, and it is by miracles that he is supposed to make it known. Of the great number of wonders worked at the tomb of Vincent of Paul, or by his intercession, sixty-four of the most striking ones were at first chosen. But the fear of exposing themselves to the interminable discussions of a council, which for the sake of the church, does not admit always what the enemies of the church would admit, induced the proposal of only eight, which the public voice had declared to be miraculous. Two well attested are enough; the holy see approved four.
The first was worked upon Claude Joseph Compoin, who, having entirely lost his sight at the age of ten, recovered it the instant after commencing a novena at the tomb of the servant of God.
The second took place in the person of Ann l’Huillier, a little girl eight years old. She was dumb from her birth, and so paralytic in her legs that she had never been able to walk a step. Her mother who, whether right or wrong had never been willing to apply any remedy, made two novenas for her. A double miracle, to say nothing more, was the fruit of her perseverance. The little l’Huillier walked firmly, and spoke distinctly.
The hand of God was not less visible in the third miracle. Mathurine Guérin, a Sister of Charity and of great merit, having been attacked by a horrible ulcer in the leg, which physicians call phagédinique, because it eats to the very bones, said at last to herself, after suffering three years, that a daughter of the holy priest might find at his tomb the same aid which so many strangers found every day. Her confidence was not vain. On the ninth day, her leg was as sound as it had ever been. The corrosive humours which had been the cause of the evil did not quit one part to afflict others.
Her recovery was complete; and for six years that she lived afterwards, she continued to serve the poor as actively as ever.
The last cure was that of Alexander Philippe Le Grand. This young man who had been carried to the Foundling Hospital at his birth, became there so far deprived of the use of his arms and legs, that he could neither walk, nor carry his hand to his mouth. Florent Franchet, one of the most skilful surgeons in Paris, Who attended that house for twenty years, having found that all possible remedies were ineffectual, gave at last his decision, that as Le Grand could not be cured, he should be carried to the general hospital, where there is a ward for the incurables of his age. Before taking this step, Elizabeth Bourdois, a Sister of Charity, was desirous of trying superior remedies. She caused a novena to be commenced at the tomb of Vincent of Paul. It was not yet finished when Alexander recovered what four years of remedies could not procure him. They passed the same judgment at Rome upon this event, as had been pronounced at Paris, and it was sustained against the attacks of the promotor of the faith.
This person, in a court where often of ninety miracles not one is admitted, has a list of objections which he sets in in a strong light. In his replies there is not to be found vain declamation, or a confused mass of words which means nothing. Whatever the most learned physicians, from Hypocrates to our own days, have said of all imaginable diseases, serve him as principles. Whatever nature alone, either in the judgment of masters of the art, or by the relations of his – torians, has effected in cases nearly similar, comes to his aid. A skilful person of consummate science is interrogated; his doubt alone is decisive against any thing supernatural in the operation. If he is forced to .admit the hand of Omnipotence, he may be, and is often combatted. A second experienced person is charged with a new examination; his report, like that of the first, is made before an intelligent assembly, and of so many persons respectable for their honesty and virtue, there is not one who, like the apostle, does not take God to witness at the risk of his soul and his eternal salvation. that truth and justice are the only rules which he has constilted. If to this beIadded the prayers, communions and sacrifices which are offered in so many places, to attract the holy spirit and his light, it will be admitted that the Roman church takes every possible measure to avoid mistake and error.
Benedict XIII, after having heard the cardinals and the consultors, and taken again time to implore the aid of heaven, at last published the decree, on the 13th of August, 1729, which places Vincent of Paul in the number of the blessed. The applause with which this decree was received in all parts of the world, was as honorable to the worthy priest, as the magnificence with which his feast was celebrated in the superb basilic of the Vatican, on the 21st of August. There were present eighteen cardinals of the congregation of Rites, and twenty-eight prelates and consultors of the same congregation. The pope came there in the afternoon; and after having adored the blessed sacrament, he went to place himself on his knees before the representation of the new saint. On that day of triumph, Vincent of Paul was as great -in the eyes of religion, as he had appeared little in his own eyes whilst he lived upon earth.
The same feast was celebrated in Paris on the 27th of September; and although the body was no longer entire, as it had no bad smell, and was also one of the most precious relics in the kingdom, it was exposed to the veneration of the people. Charles Gaspard Guillaume des Comtes de Vintimille du Luc celebrated pontifically. The church was neatly decorated, but without magnificence. Twelve pictures. in camaieu on an azure ground perhaps recalled as much the simplicity. of the saint, as the memory of his principal actions.
There were very few diocesses in France, in Bologna and Italy, that were not in motion to show him marks of their respect. The prelates of the orders made it a duty for themselves to open the solemnity of his veneration, and often to publish in person his virtues from the chair of truth. Kings, princes, first magistrates, humbly bent their knees before the image of this poor priest, who had so often bent his own to the very dregs of the people. Heaven afterwards confirmed the judgment of the holy see by other prodigies, which induced it to decree new honors to this great servant of God.
It was thus, that in consequence of new remissorial letters, of the 5th of May, 1731, the delegates, who were the archbishop of Paris, the bishop of Bethleem, and the ancient bishop of Vence, heard, in the space of nearly two. years, a hundred and thirty-five witnesses, who all deposed to a great number of facts which were judged supernatural. The three prelates. rendered an account to Clement XII, who then occupied the chair of St. Peter. They added that whilst they were examining the first miracles, new ones had taken place almost under their eyes, particularly in the persons of two young English women; and that of all those who had been healed by the intercession of blessed Vincent, not one had those senseless convulsions, which had made so much noise in Paris.
Although for the canonization of a saint but two miracles are required, seven were presented to the sacred congregation. I shall give only three of them.
The first was worked upon Marie Therese Péan de Saint Gilles, a benedictine religious at Montmirel, where she was called sister saint Basile. From her infancy a fruitful germ of disease had been perceived in her. Being admitted with a great deal of difficulty to take her vows, she was two years afterwards most violently attacked with apoplexy. The powerful remedies which she had been obliged to take increased her infirmities: from thai time she could only walk with the aid of a stick, and with much inconvenience. Nothing was neglected to restore her. She took the baths at Bourbonne, she tried a change of air. Her relations took her to the most skilful physicians of Paris during her stay with them. Here is, in a few words, the result of these different trials.
In 1720, Mother saint Basile experienced a much greater increase of fever. A retention of urine reduced her to the necessity of using the probe. Two large ulcers were formed, of which we give hut a weak idea, when we say that they were most frightful. The flesh which was carried away in pieces, finally evinced that the whole mass of the blood was infected. Add to this a swelling that extended to the stomach, a complete paralysis of that part of the body, which had been weak from infancy, a devouring thirst, continual sleeplessness, crises which weakened without relieving her; from this the reader may have some idea of a very small portion of the pains which she suffered for nearly eleven months.
Such and worse still was the condition of this religious of Montmirel, when Jean Joseph Languet de Gergy, then bishop of Soissons, arrived in that little place, to celebrate the feast of the Beatification. He desired, that before being enclosed in a case, the relic of the blessed priest should be carried to sister saint Basile. She kissed it with respect, begged those present to touch with it a cloth which she applied to her body, and feelipg her confidence increased, asked as the only favor from that former father of the afflicted that he would be pleased to obtain from God the cure of her ulcers.
She had scarcely finished her prayer, when she felt that she was heard. The ulcers and the immoderate pains which accompanied them, disappeared. There was no more reten• Pion, no more fever, no restlessness, not a vestige of that insatiable thirst, which nothing could allay.
Some days after, on hearing the life of the servant of God read, she reflected that if he would heal her of her paralysis, she would be better able to imitate some of his sublime virtues, and to contribute by her voice to the beauty of the office. In consequence of that idea, she commenced a novena ; and, although it results from her deposition that this new favor affected her less than the one she had obtained, she did not fail to ask it with fervor. Her patience was not put to a long trial. The third day she felt strongly inspired to go out of her bed and walk. The attempt was completely successful; she had no need of support, and perhaps had never walked so firmly. At the report of so striking a miracle, the religious, the out-sisters and boarders ran together; • all wished to see with their own eyes, what they could not believe on the word of another. It was the sa,e with the magistrates and the principal inhabitants of the place, who, hearing continually of the cruel situation of that child of affliction, hastened to see and congratulate her. I had the same happiness some years afterwards, and I found her full of health and of gratitude to the saint, to whose mediation her cure was to be attributed.
The second miracle, of which I shall say but a word, was worked upon François Richer, a merchant of Paris. In at tempting to lift a heavy bale, he broke the peritoneum, from whence the most complete descent of the artestine resulted. In spite of the assistance of a skilful surgeon, who placed every thing in its natural situation, they often fell again, and then Richer was so sick as to lose almost his senses, and sometimes he even voided his excrement by his mouth. He relapsed on the morning of the day on which the tomb of our blessed priest was to be opened. One of his friends, to whom the merchant related what he suffered, took him to the church of St. Lazarus. Richer prayed at the grave of the saint. He did not do it long on account of the ceremony which was going to begin, but he did it so earnestly, that I know not by what revolution which he then experienced, he thought, without hesitation, that he was cured. On returning to the house, he began, without examining, to throw his bandage into the fire, in presence of his wife, whom he wished to surprise, and whom he surprised so effectually, that she was tempted to believe he had lost his senses. From that moment be worked without any precaution in his store, and always went about in perfect security. But whilst he put the work of God to proof which suited his fancy, God in his turn put him to a trial rich he did not look for. One evening as he was flying precipitately from some people who intended him no good, he fell into a quarry the height of two stories. Such a violent shock, so well calculated to injure a man who had always been well, did not open his wound again, and the surgeon found things in the state to which it had pleased God io restore them.
The third event regarded a more considerable person, and on that account it made more noise in Paris. We give the details, extracted, like the preceding from the most authentic acts.
Louise Elizabeth Sackville, a young English girl of a very respectable family, after four or five months/ fever, lost absolutely the use of her right leg. If she attempted to rest it the least on the ground, she experienced such sharp pains in the hip, as to produce fits of weakness. Neither the remedies prescribed by the most learned physicians of Paris, nor the pomp and baths of Bourbon l’Archambaud could mitigate the pain. On the contrary, she found herself exhausted after the journey, so that she received the sacraments twice in the same year. It was impossible to behold, without being moved with compassion, a person so young, obliged to use crutches, and dragging after her a limb which hung from her body, as a branch which receives no more motion or life hangs from a tree.
Two daughters of the community of St. Thomas of,Villeneuve, having related that one of their sisters had been recently, by the intercession of the blessed Vincent, cured of a complaint very much like hers, she at last determined to begin a novena. That course was very painful for the sick person. She was transported in a carriage, and taken out of it, like an inanimate body. To arrive at the place where she was to hear mass, the aid of her crutches was not sufficient; she was obliged to be assisted by two servants. A priest of the house having learned that after her novena she was no’ better than the first day, made her kiss the reliquary in which was the heart of the saint, and exhorted her to perseverance.
She was nearer than was thought to the moment when the mercy of God was to be manifested towards her. The next day site felt that her leg, hitherto as cold as marble, began to recover its natural heat: she immediately said to Theresa Xavier, her sister, that she thought she could walk without assistance. In fact she did so, and with as much ease as before her sickness. Young Miss Sackville, out of herself, quickly carried the news to the women of the house; they assembled together; and at the sight of such an astonishing revolution, many tears were shed.
The two sisters lodged with Mrs. Hayes, who was a Pro. testant. They deliberated on the manner in which they should announce to ber an event which must strike her very much. The lady who was cured arranged herself in such a manner as to cause the least possible surprise. She begged of the lady to come to her apartment where she would hear some good news. But in the first moments of great joy, we are not always masters of ourselves. Elizabeth Sackville did so much violence to herself as to keep from going to meet the lady, she received her sitting as usual. But when asked for the good news she had to tell: “Madam,” replied she, “I have made a novena to the blessed Vincent of Paul, I am cured and I walk.” She instantly arose and walked like a person who had never suffered.
Mrs. Hayes did not then enjoy the spectacle long. Her emotion was more violent than desirable. She fainted so completely, that she recovered with difficulty at the end of a whole hour. She spoke afterwards of the miracle as a zealous Catholic would have done, and testified to it by a certificate written by herself, with permission to her friend to make what use of it she pleased. Her husband who beheld all that was great in the court and city, almost forgot at the time he belonged to a sect accustomed to look upon the miracles performed in the Catholic church, as fables. He related the event as a thing surpassing nature, and it was in that sense that be spoke of it to Cardinal Fleury.
Such was the prodigy which, although divested of every circumstance that might have obscured it, still appeared too weak in the eyes of the congregation of rites. It is a new proof of what others have said before us, that there is more rigor,in the examinations of the holy see, than in those–of its most declared enemies. To he convinced of it, it will be sufficient to compare the judgment pronounced at Rome with that of Mrs. I-Iayes. She, after having testified before God that she only speaks to bear witness to the truth, declares that Miss Louisa Elizabeth Sackville fell dangerously sick at her house, about the month of March, 1730; and that amongst other circumstances of her sickness which several times reduced her to extreme danger, she became entirely paralytic in the right leg, which was as cold as ice. I testify moreover, continued she, that during the space of nearly three years, I have seen her dragging her leg without having the least use of it, which continued until the 29th of December, 1732, when she recovered the use of it in a moment, although for a long time she had made use of no remedy, and had been pronounced incurable by Mr: Chirac, and all those who had attended her, so that so sudden and complete a cure can be attributed to God alone, and I was so surprised at it, that at the time when it took place, Miss Sackville having sent for me to tell me some good news, I fainted on seeing her walk, and remained for a long time in that situation. I passed a great part of the night without sleeping; and desiring to he certain that the cure was perfect, I got up in the morning to see if she would easily descend the staircase, and whether she would get into a carriage without help, to go to the tomb of the ble sed Vincent of Paul, to whom she had recommended herself: I saw her with my eyes go down the stairs, and get into the carriage without help, and I reminded her to have her crutches carried to the tomb by a servant. I moreover testify that since, she has continued to walk with as much ease as another person, without having either crisis, sweat, or making use of remedies, either before or after her cure. Given at Paris, the 3d of February, 1733
Signed, CATHARINE SORACOLE HAYES.
Vincent of Paul is perhaps the only one, after the apostle of the Indies, to whom our separated brethren have given the name of saint. When we walk so closely in the steps of great men, we have some right to their prerogatives.
It was not until the 24th of June, 1736, that Clement XII approved the two first miracles which we have related. On the 16th of June in the following year, he issued the hull of canonization. I shall not speak of the trifling disturbance which it excited. But I may say that when Pierre Gilbert de Voisins asked its suppression, he spoke of Vincent of Paul nearly as De Molé, Lamoignon, Le Pelletier and so many other illustrious magistrates had done, both during his life and after his death; that is to say, he announced the new canonization, as that of a saint so much the more to be venerated in this kingdom, as after having edified it by his example, he left in it lasting monuments of his piety and zeal The parliament also declared in its remonstrances to the king, that it wished in no way to reflect on the veneration which all France entertained for this holy priest; that, to authorise his veneration, it only wished to have a bull drawn in the forms usual in the state.
During these agitations, which lasted some time, the saint continued to perform miracles of every kind ; and his feast was celebrated in Europe, in Africa, in America, and even in the extremity of Asia, with all possible solemnity. Rome commenced according to custom, and the ceremony took place in the Lateran. basilic. The decoration was magnificent, and did not yield to those of which sovereigns bear all the expense.- The cost would have been excessive for an individual body, if the same pomp which served for Vincent of Paul had not served at the same time for Francis Regis, Juliana Falconieri, and Catharine Fieschi, whom the pape had lately placed in the number of the saints.
In France, things went on as well as could be expected. The archbishop of Paris, at the head of his metropolis and the four churches which usually accompany him, began the. samnity of the octave, and it was terminated by Cardinal de Polignac. The most holy communities sent deputies, and the duke of Richelieu, who came expressly from Fontainbleau to assist at it on the last day, had the pleasure to find, in presence of a brilliant and numerous assembly, that the eulogium of the charity of Vincent of Paul could not be well pronounced, without extolling the immense liberality of the duchess of .Aiguillon.
The example of the capital was soon followed by all the provinces of the kingdom. To avoid the repetitions inseparable from the detail, and relieve the reader by some more interesting traits, we will say that the feast being celebrated at Fontainbleau whilst the king was there, the parish served by the missionaries was, by order of that prince, spread with a double row of the most beautiful tapestry of the crown; that their majesties came there to •pay their devotion to the new saint; that their example was followed by all that was great at court; that the queen whowasasubject of edification every where, was moved by the piety of a young girl of nine years, who being cured in her infancy by the intercession of St. Vincent, of a confirmed paralysis, profited by the new solemnity, after the examination of the ordinary, to return those thanks to her liberator from which her age had dispensed her.
We will add that the counts of Lyons, with the view of honoring a man who did su much honor himself to the choice of their predecessors, were anxious” to lend one of their three churches for the ceremony; that in presence of their archbishop, whose great age did not permit him to celebrate, they performed the office of-the first. day with that ancient majesty which is the admiration of all –strangers; that more than one hundred and twenty curates of the diocess went in procession to pay their respect to a priest who was at once their brother and their model; and that finally more than six thousand communions made during the octave, gave, in the first city of the diocess, an idea of the fervor which Vincent had formerly communicated to his people of Chatillon.
That people, to whom the memory of Vincent of Paul is as dear as they themselves were to Vincent of Paul, merit by their tender respect for their former pastor, the second place in his history. As soon as that city, in which it had been once predicted that he would be placed in the number of the saints, had heard the news, it was filled with ecstasy and transports of joy. The relics of the servant of God were received there, as if it were himself who came in person to visit his flock once more. All looked upon him as a new protector, who was ready to do for them what Jeremias did after his death for the people of God. The event has not belied such • just expectations, and the offerings suspended, in the chapel where he is honored, prove no less the tenderness which he continues to show towards his ancient cradle, than his power with God.
But it was above all, in the diocess in which he was born, and under the eyes of the august parliament in whose jurisdiction his province was, that the new saint triumphed. As soon as Louis Marie de Suarez d’Aulan, the worthy bishop of Acqs, had, by a pastoral letter replete with dignity and wisdom, given on the 10th of June, 1738, announced to his people the feast of St. Vincent of Paul, a native of the parish of Pouy,every thing was in motion as far as Béaru and Basse-Navarre. The concourse was so prodigious, that notwithstanding the precautions taken by the police, even respectable people were reduced to the coarsest bread. The prelate, moved and affected to see all his flock assembled together, distributed to them once or twice a day, the spiritual nourishment which most of them had come so fir to seek. The confessors, during the whole octave, had not a moment to spare; and every day it was at least four o’clock in the evening, and sometimes six, before they had finished giving communion. The governor, the president, the seneschal, the elections, all the communities did their very best to honor their holy countryman. The family of Vincent of Paul, always poor, but always virtuous., distinguished themselves only by their modesty and the innocence of their manners.
The spectacle which the city of Bordeaux presented was grander and no less edifying. Misery and the dignities of the world were united. At the head of a well regulated procession which went from the cathedral by a long circuit to the hospital where the feast was to be celebrated, walked the foundlings, an innocent body, which, wherever it be, owes much to the servant of God, because the zeal which he manifested for that description of persons in Paris, served as a rule for the provinces. Between the two banners of the saint which preceded the clergy of the seminary and the cathedral, ad. vanced, with a torch in his hand, the young de Savignac, son and brother of the first order of magistrates. As he was born during the ceremony of the beatification, he had received the name of Vincent of Paul ; and it was to teach him early to walk in the footsteps of his holy patron, that a virtuous mother wished that he should pay him from his infancy all the honor he could. The archbishop; primate of Aquitaine, led. the march of his numerous clergy. After him appeared the parliament, in red robes, preceded by their illustrious first president and two others, at the head of nearly fifty counsellors, one of the king’s advocates, and the procurator general. The court of aids, also in robes, carne afterwards, with their first president. This body was followed by the treasurers of France; then carne the Officers of the seneschal, who were followed by the secretaries of the treasury.
It was thus that a city for which Vincent of Paul had never an occasion to do the thousandth part of what he had done for so many others, gave him such striking proofs of respect and devotedness. Nor did it show less fervor and piety. Daring the whole octave, the church in which the feast was kept, was always full. All Bordeaux seemed in a holy commotion. There were every day more than nine hundred communions. The nobility appeared rich in faith as well as the people. The eight panegyrics delivered there, as in several other places, were justly applauded ; and were the more liked, as every thing like show and eloquence was banished from them. It was perceived in the provinces, as it had been in Paris, that in an eulogium, as abundant as that of Vincent of Paul, to be an orator, it was sufficient to be a historian.
It was not only in France, that the name of the holy priest was celebrated, Savoy, Piedmont, Tuscany, the repuhlic of Genoa, the kingdom of Naples, Poland, and a great number of other countries, honored him with a sort of emulation. Lisbon did not yield to any other part of the world. To say that the king of Portugal, John V, paid the•expenses of the solemnity, is to say that it was done with the greatest magnificence.
One singular thing is, that there is not perhaps a diocess where the virtue of our saint is better known, his name more cherished, his veneration more general, than that of Ypres. We have seen persons in office come from that city to Paris, to have the happiness of praying at his tomb, return immediately afterwards to their country without having seen any of the things which arrest the eye of the stranger in that superb capital, and say with a simplicity truly religious, that they thought they had seen every thing, when they saw the precious remains of a man so powerful in works and words. From Ypres his devotion has been carried to Lorraine, where the celebrated university knows so well how to ally erudition and virtue.
Since the decree of the holy see, the veneration of the man of God has been constantly extending. North America joined him with its other holy protectors, and the first parish which was erected after his canonization, was called by the name of Vincent of Paul. Of so many paces where his feast was celebrated, I do not know that there was one where prodigies did not take place, and in many there were several. Nu doubt many persons have read with pleasure the edifying relation of that which took place at Sens, in the person of Marie Antoinette Robbe, and which was authentically certified by persons whose prejudices would rather dispose them to weaken it; or another which the bishop of Amelia has published, and by which the Benedictine nuns, upon one of whom it was worked, were so much struck, that, to perpetuate the memory of it, they obtained from the holy see the permission to recite, like the missionaries, the proper office of St. Vincent, and to make his a solemn feast of the first class, with an octave. But an abridgment does net admit of this detail; it will be found in the large life of the saint, and how many other facts full of interest and piety are to be seen there.
But whatever idea these great works may give of the saint, it must be admitted to his glory, that the eminent holiness of his life will always be the greatest of his miracles. In perusing even slightly what we have related : ” Where,” says the bishop of Rodez in his pastoral letter,” where do we find more innocence of manners, a more tender piety, a more lively faith, stronger hope, more perfect charity, more heroic patience, more active zeal, wiser conduct, more complete disinterestedness, more profound humility.”
So-long as the church of Christ shall subsist, and in spite of the efforts of hell, it will subsist to the end of ages, will men announce throughout the world, ” the continual sacrifice which he made of his body and all his senses, his mildness, his evenness of mind, his angelical purity, his respect for the prelates of the church, his prompt and sincere obedience to their decisions, his indefatigable labor to instruct the people in the truths of salvation; his zeal and attention to arrest new errors, to annihilate them, if he could, as soon as they made their appearance; to keep them away from the companies he had founded, or which Providence had placed under his direction” (Mr. d’Angers’ Pastoral, April 12).
But since, as one of the greatest doctors of the church has observed, the veneration of the saints ” essentially consists in imitating them here below, and as the life of St. Vincent of Paul has been nothing else than the gospel, or rather the perfection of the gospel put in practice by that faith which works by charity; it is for those who study his conduct to be his imitators, as he was of Jesus Christ. His example should convince theni of the necessity of walking in his footsteps. He so fully possessed every virtue, that in whatever situation Providence judges proper to place them, they will always find something to imitate” (Pastoral of Mr. d’Acqs, July 10).
- Remissorial letters are those of the commission. Compulsory letters permit a recourse to the process made by the authority of the ordinary, when the witnesses who have deposed are dead. This death must be proved by certificates in form; otherwise it would be supposed that the witnesses had changed their minds.