Saint Vincent de Paul, a biography 07 – The paths of conversion

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoVincent de PaulLeave a Comment

CREDITS
Author: José María Román, C.M. · Translator: Joyce Howard, D.C.. · Year of first publication: 1981.
Estimated Reading Time:

Chapter VII: The paths of conversion

A decisive year

 It is generally accepted by the Saint’s biographers that at this period Vincent de Paul was going through a process of conversion1. By “conversion” we understand, first of all, the fundamental discovery of a religious dimension to life. “Life is permeated with a new power and it is perceived in a totally different way. It is radically altered and renewed2. The person experiences conversion as the masterful presence of God bursting into the innermost depths of his personality. Conversion and vocation are complementary realities, the two sides of a coin. This divine outpouring into the soul causes the person to break with his former way of life and to view the world, and his own existence, in a way that is completely different. Conversion carries with it a call; there is born a new dynamism and a clearly defined programme of action.

Conversion isn’t always a sudden phenomenon. In most cases it is the result of a long progression towards maturity, though the final stage of conversion is often crystalised in some rather extraordinary event which gives the impression that conversion is something sudden and immediate. The fall on the way to Damascus and Augustine’s “tolle, lege”, are typical examples of how these things happen.

The discovery of God’s sovereign presence and his radical demands in the conversion experience does not mean that up to this point the person had no knowledge of God, and neither does it imply that the earlier way of life was sinful. In many cases conversion takes place when a person simply turns away from a life that was not really God‑orientated.

From the information we now have at hand, we must suppose that this happened in Vincent’s case. However excessively humble Vincent might be in his later years, he never believed himself to be a wicked man and neither did other people make this judgment about him. In 1608 we can be quite sure that his Bishop had no difficulty in testifying that he had always been of good character3. His conversion to a life of complete and utter surrender to the divine will, follows on from a way of life characterised by mediocrity and by aspirations that were purely materialistic. Spiritually, it was rather superficial with scant attention paid to the supernatural.

We see this reflected in his youthful pecadillos ‑ he was ashamed of his shabbily dressed and crippled father, he was careless about money, (his debts and the sale of the hired horse) and his continual search for wealthy ecclesiastical benefices4.

Let us now consider the events leading up to his conversion. It was in 1610 that Vincent confided his disappointment and disillusionment to his mother. This was to be a decisive year in the life of the priest who was still a young man. It would prove to be no less important a year in the history of France. Once again we come across the relentless parallels between the course followed by this young man and the direction in which the country was heading. This convergence in their development was to become more marked and its implications would be more significant for both of them.

May 14th of that year was marked by two events that took place almost simultaneously and in localities that were very close to each other. The two events were very different but they symbolised the beginning of a new and important stage in the life of Vincent de Paul and the destiny of France.

That evening, in a house on the rue de Coutellerie in the parish of Saint Merigo, Vincent signed a contract whereby he received from the Archbishop of Aix, Monsignor Paul Hurault de l’Hôpital, the abbey of Saint Léonard de Chaumes in the diocese of Saintes together with all its titles, revenues and responsibilities. Vincent thought he had now achieved the goal that he had striven so long and so hard to attain; at long last an important ecclesiastical benefice was his5.

At almost that identical hour, between four and five o’clock in the evening, and just a few blocks away in the rue de la Ferronerie; the King, Henry IV, was driving in his carriage from the Louvre to the house of his Chief Minister, Sully, when he was stabbed twice by a half crazed fanatic called François Ravaillac and thus ended his life and his reign. The death of this gallant King broght to a close a chapter in French history; the military campaign he had inevitably started up against Spain and the Empire was left in abeyance, and there followed a period of instability and power struggles because the new King, Louis XII, was a minor and his mother, Marie de Medici, was Queen Regent6.

Vincent was deeply affected by the King’s murder and not just because he was so close to where this happened. The Abbey of Saint Léonard was not the first appointment he managed to secure. For a few weeks now his life had been revolving round that magnetic nucleus of power that was the royal household, even though he was only on the periphery; and at some date between 28th February and 14th May he had also managed to secure the position of chaplain to the ex Queen, Marguerite de Valois. This title is ascribed to him in the lease contract for the abbey7.

Queen Marguerite

We don’t know for certain just what Vincent’s duties were as chaplain to Marguerite. She was Henry IV’s first wife and the last direct descendant of the house of Valois. Her marriage to the King was anulled (and rightly so!)8 in 1599. She lived in a sumptuous palace on the left bank of the Seine.

Around the Sovereign there swarmed, as though at Court, a motley crowd of poets, playwrights, theologians, nobles, religious and charlatans. While Marguerite did not altogether refrain from courtly flirtations, she combined an interest in the arts and sciences with a taste for religion. At her own expense she maintained a community of Augustinians who chanted morning and evening Office in her chapel and she was in the habit of hearing three Masses every day. These were celebrated by her chaplains who were at least six in number. One of these was Vincent de Paul who owed his nomination for the post to the good offices of M. Le Clerc de la Forêt9.

So that he could live near the palace Vincent set up house in the rue de la Seine. His dwelling had a certain air of distinction because its facade bore the insignia of Saint Nicholas10. As Chaplain‑Almoner (the word “aumonier” would have retained its original meaning in seventeenth century French) Vincent’s duties would be to celebrate Mass when it was his turn to do so and to distribute the generous supply of alms that the extravagant lady provided. Many of these donations were destined for the nearby Hospital of Charity which was under the direction of the St. John of God Brothers, the Fate bene Fratelli, whose monastery had admitted the ex‑apostate from Tunis. We will soon see him in action there11. Vincent continued to gain experience and his apprenticeship gave him a more specific training for the great works he would undertake during his life time. As the years passed, he would become, in a very real sense, the Grand Almoner of France, though this title was never his. He would also become Spiritual Director to the lawful Queen of France. A very profound change came over Vincent de Paul in 1610, the year when he crossed the dividing line between youth and maturity as he reached the age of thirty.

The Abbey of Saint Laurent de Chaumes turned out to be a less promising acquisition than Vincent had imagined. According to the deeds of purchase the church was in ruins, there were no monks living there and the lands that had been neglected would need to be developed. As if that wasn’t enough, there followed a whole series of lawsuits. Vincent was unable to produce the 3,500 livres he was expected to pay annually to Hurault de l’Hôpital who had given him the benefice. After six years he got rid of such a costly acquisition by handing it over, irrevocably and in perpetuity, to François de Lanson, the Prior of Saint Etienne d’Ars12.

A truly priestly life

Let us return to the year 1610. As well as trying to put his financial affairs on a more solid footing, Vincent had a variety of worries and problems to contend with during those months. There are several pointers to the changes that were beginning to take effect in Vincent’s soul. In spite of what he had written to his mother early in the year, neither the chaplaincy to Queen Marguerite nor the abbey of Saint Laurent (to some extent the “decent retirement” he had been seeking for so long) led him to return home and devote himself to the interests of his family as he had planned. As we know, he had moved house. The unfortunate experience he had while lodging with the Judge from Sore, had opened his eyes to the dangers of life in the world.

Before he was falsely accused of theft, Vincent had become acquainted with Pierre Bérulle, (1575‑1629) one of the most significant figures in the Church in France at that time. This was the man that Vincent de Paul chose as his spiritual director. It was just a small gesture but it showed a profound change of attitude. Vincent was beginning to set himself higher goals than just improving his social position; he started to seek a more spiritual orientation to his life and his objectives became less materialistic. “God had inspired him”, comments Abelly, “with the desire to lead a truly priestly life.”13

Bérulle brought Vincent into contact with the most active and the most fervent religious movements in the Church in France. For almost half a century these had been trying to introduce into the country the reforms promulgated by the Council of Trent. At this particular time the campaign to have the Tridentine decrees accepted in France was at its most successful.

Although these measures were defeated by the Estates General of 1614, the reforms were eventually introduced during the General Assembly of Clergy of 1615, notwithstanding Gallic resistance14.

“Cardinal Bérulle, one of the holiest men I’ve ever known”

Pierre Bérulle was born into the lower aristocracy. He was educated by the Jesuits and received a sound ecclesiastical and classical education. As a young man he was outstanding for his fervour and innocence of life. Family connections and his own preoccupation with religious matters placed him at the centre of the reform movements. Even before his ordination to the priesthood, in the final decade of the sicteenth century, he had been part of a group centred around Mde. Acarie (1566‑1618) and directed by a French Carthusian, Dom Richard Beaucousin and an English Capuchin, Benet of Canfield (1562‑1610) who was an Anglican convert. It was through them that groups of devout people in France were being introduced to the spirituality of Rhenish‑Flemish mysticism and the Spanish Carmelites.

Among its members, too, were men like Michel de Marillac, the future Keeper of the Seals in France, André Duval (1564‑1638) a doctor of the Sorbonne, and François Leclerc de Temblay (1577‑1638) Baron de Maffliers, who would later become the famous Pére Joseph, the “eminence gris” of Cardinal Richelieu15. Vincent would get to know all these people at some time or other during his life. This group, and especially Bérulle and Duval, would implement the initiative of Jean de Quintadueñas to bring Carmelite nuns into France. Jean de Quintadueñas was the Franco‑Spanish lord of Brétigny who devoted his life and his fortune to establishing more foundations of St. Teresa’s spiritual daughters; letting other people and particularly Bérulle, occupy centre stage in all matters connected with the work of introducing the Carmelites into France16. It was, in fact, Bérulle who went to Spain in 1604 and brought the first group of Spanish Carmelite nuns to Paris. Bérulle, Duval and Gallemant would jointly be their first Superiors.

Many other religious and political enterprises lay ahead for Bérulle. His numerous publications would initiate what has come to be called “the French school of spirituality”. There was backing from the Marillac family who continued his work, and as we shall soon see, this was the only valid alternative to Richelieu’s political policies. But above all, those who worked to reform the French clergy from within were to find in him their spiritual guide and mentor. Inspired by the writings of St. Philip Neri, he was to found the Oratorians, an association of secular priests whose particular charism was a vision of the clerical state as the ideal of Christian holiness. This was very different from the outlook of many people whose ideals were superficial and even materialistic and who looked on the priesthood merely as a way of procuring sinecures and benefices17. The new approach was just what Vincent de Paul needed.

In 1610 Vincent came into contact with this man and years later he was to say, “He was one of the holiest men I have ever known”18. It was through him that Vincent was able to join the small but infuential circle of reformers. He read the Rule of Perfection by Benet of Canfield which had been published the previous year, he became friendly with Duval and got to know the Marillac family. Obviously, if he was going to take part in the reformation of the church then reformation would have to start with himself. It was this new circle of friends and the intervention of divine Providence that would bring about this change.

Pierre de Bérulle is the first of Vincent de Paul’s three great spiritual directors. He is the one to rouse Vincent from the golden dreams of his mediocre way of living and to help him through the crucial crisis of his life. But Bérulle’s influence over Vincent was not absolute, neither was it lasting.

At the time when Vincent put himself under Bérulle’s direction, the eminent ecclesiastic was putting the finishing touches to the basic outlines of the Oratorian foundation, and a year later, November 11th, 1611, these were embodied in the constitutions of the Order’s first community. Vincent lived for a time with the first small group of future Oratorians but Abelly makes a subtle distinction when he adds, “not with a view to joining that holy Congregation since he himself would later declare that this was never his intention. He just wanted to find a refuge from his secular commitments to discover God’s designs for him and to prepare himself to carry these out.”19 Whatever admiration Vincent might have felt for the founder of the Oratorians, it was not strong enough to attract him to the Order.

As far as we know, Bérulle’s direct influence on Vincent lasted for seven or eight years. Vincent would retain from this contact quite a number of spiritual guidelines and he

would always have a great veneration for his first master. But when the right moment came, Vincent would discover his own path and his own spirituality, something beyond the teachings of Bérulle in spite of Brémonds efforts to demonstrate the contrary20.

It is curious to note that in the fourteen volumes of Vincent’s writings we find no more than a dozen direct quotations from Bérulle. Several of these relate to fairly topical matters and Bérulle’s reflections seem rather banal, as for example the dangers inherent in holding the office of superior21. There was an abrupt end to the harmonious relationship between master and disciple. We are not very sure about the details because of Vincent’s extreme discretion in such matters. The break probably happened in 1618. A serious crisis had arisen in Bérulle’s circle just before that date. The future cardinal had insisted on imposing a fourth vow on the Carmelite nuns by which they would undertake to become the slaves of Jesus. This proposal met with fierce resistance from many of the nuns and was vigorously opposed by one of the other superiors, M. Duval, who didn’t hesitate to denounce the matter to Cardinal Bellarmine. In January, 1618, Bérulle had a violent disagreement with Mde. Acarie, now Mother Mary of the Incarnation, and this led to a decisive break in their relationship. Mde. Acarie died in April of that same year without making her peace with Bérulle. Several of the Carmelites took the grave decision to leave their convent in Paris and seek refuge in the Spanish Netherlands. Vincent

doesn’t appear to have been very much involved in this unhappy affair but we can be sure he was on M. Duval’s side. Had there not been a serious conflict between Bérulle and Vincent it would be impossible to explain the former’s bitter opposition to the Holy See’s approval of the Congregation founded by his former disciple.

“Good Monsieur Duval”

Vincent moved from Berulle’s spiritual direction to that of Dr. André Duval. It is very likely that he was influenced by both men for a short period. He looked to Bérulle for guidance on the professional level, in matters concerning his works and occupations but he followed Duval’s advice more in matters of conscience. Duval was not as brilliant as Bérulle but he was just as wise and he was certainly more impartial in his judgments and more saintly. Vincent said of him, “He was a great doctor of the Sorbonne but even greater for the holiness of his life.”22 “Good Dr. Duval” ‑ another of Vincent’s favourite ways of describing him23 ‑ was outstanding for his devoted loyalty to the Holy See. He was, in the French sense of the word, an “ultramontane”. At the insistence of Cardinal Barberini, later to become Urban VIII, whose friend he had been since Barberini’s days as Nuncio in Paris, he wrote a treatise on the authority of the Roman Pontiff24. This was to refute the anti‑Roman propaganda of Richer. On a practical level, he laboured, though without too much success, to make the Sorbonne a focal centre of spirituality. He translated the “Flos sanctorum” of Pêre Rivadeneira and wrote the lives of French saints and the biography of Venerable Mother Mary of the Incarnation, the famous Mde. Acarie. Until his death in 1638 he would be Vincent’s unfailing counsellor. Vincent found Duval’s teaching more to his liking ‑ The idea that the unlearned will compete with the wise for entrance into heaven25 and that they will be admitted appealed to him more than Bérulle’s notion that the shepherds of Bethlehem were unworthy to pay homage to the Word Incarnate because of their lowly condition. “The honour he received from them could have been of little consequence. We might say that they came to gaze on the Son of God rather than pay him homage.”26 Can we see here the root of some deep divison which will eventually cause the future apostle of poor country peasants to distance himself from Bérulle?

“Since he was living in idleness he experienced great temptations against the faith”

But we have jumped too far ahead of events. In 1610 the friendship between Bérulle and Vincent has just begun27 and they have a very good relationship; so much so that we might perhaps say that Bérulle is much more to Vincent than patron and consellor; he is his novice master28. The first serious setback to have a spiritual impact on Vincent was when he was accused of theft; the second major event that will decisively put him on the road to sanctity was his meeting with Bérulle. The third, and most significant event, was soon to follow. Sometime between 1611 and 1616; we can’t pinpoint the date more exactly, Vincent went through a very severe spiritual crisis. This was his desert journey or what the Carmelites would call “his dark night of the soul.”

This is Abelly’s account of what happened. One of Queen Marguerite’s palace coterie was a famous doctor who had formerly held the office of magistral in his diocese and who was wellknown for his eloquence and his zeal during the controversy with the Protestants. The idle life of the sinecure he held left him prey to grave temptations against the faith. These temptations became so violent that the poor man felt violent urges to blaspheme, he lost all hope of salvation and even felt driven to commit suicide by throwing himself out of the window. Just reciting the Our Father brought dreadful images to his mind. He had to be dispensed from saying the Office and celebrating Mass. This man confided his troubles to Vincent de Paul whose advice was, that when the temptation was at its worst, he should just point in the direction of Rome or the nearest church to indicate he believed all the teachings of the Roman Church.

The man was still in this state of mind when he fell seriously ill. Vincent was afraid he would yield to these temptations in the end and he asked God, if it were His will, to transfer the doctor’s trials to his own soul. The doctor felt his darkness of spirit disappear immediately, he began to see the truths of faith with radiant clarity and he died with great spiritual peace and consolation29.

Then the trial began for Vincent. His soul was plunged into darkness. He found it impossible to make an act of faith. He felt all his childhood beliefs and certainties crumble around him. The only thing that helped him in this time of darkness was the conviction that this trial came from God and that eventually God would have pity of him. He redoubled his prayers and penances and took the most practical measures he could devise. The first of these was to write down the act of faith on a piece of paper and wear this over his heart. He made a pact with God that every time he put his hand to his heart he was resisting temptation even though he didn’t say a single word of the Creed. “In this way”, says Abelly with penetrating psychological intuition, “he vanquished the devil without having to speak to him or to look at him”. The second remedy was to live out in practice what his confused state of mind prevented him from thinking about. He devoted himself to works of charity, visiting and consoling the sick in the St. John of God hospital. The temptation lasted three or four years. He was finally delivered from it when, inspired by grace, he took the firm and irrevocable decision to devote his whole life to the service of the poor out of love for Our Lord Jesus Christ. “Scarcely had he made up his mind to do this when the suggestions of the evil one vanished. His heart which had been oppressed for so long, was now filled with sweet liberty and his soul inundated with a wonderful light that let him see all the truths of faith with perfect clarity.”

We would love to know more details about Vincent’s spiritual journey during those three or four years. It is useless to speculate. Unlike other saints who have described their mystical experience in great detail, Vincent has left us no record of what took place. But everything points to the fact that this was the most crucial turning point in his life. His spirit was being slowly fashioned by this painful trial and he emerged from it purified and transformed. There would be other experiences and other graces during his life but the fundamental change had already taken place. He had found God, and found himself, even though his vocation had not as yet found expression in any particular way of life or in any specific activity. So he will go on groping blindly for a few years yet.

It would take many years for Vincent’s radical conversion to come to maturity and blossom into a tree bearing much fruit but one incident in 1611 would lead us to think that Vincent was already a changed man. On 20th October of that year, Vincent entered into a legal contract by which he freely and voluntarily donated to the Hospital of Charity the sum of 15,000 livres which he had received the previous day from M. Jean de la Thane30. Was this a pure and disinterested act of charity or was he merely directing the alms to their intended destination? In either case Vincent was chosen to carry out this charitable act and this clearly shows that we are now dealing with someone very different from the insouciant debtor of Toulouse. The fact that he was still not completely cleared of the robbery charge had in no way undermined the confidance that his Parisian friends had in him. If they didn’t reckon him to be a saint at this time, they at least recognised him as a man of honour.

Parish priest in a country district for the first time.

Vincent’s director, Fr. Bérulle, showed yet another mark of confidence in him. François Burgoing would later become one of Bérulle’s first companions when the Oratorian Order was being founded, but at this time he was parish priest of the small country place called Clichy‑La‑Garonne, near Paris. If he joined the new community it would mean giving up his parish. Bérulle thought that Vincent was the man to replace him. Burgoing finally withdrew from the parish on 13th October, 161131, and his resignation was accepted by the Holy See on 12th November. Vincent was no longer the inexperienced aspirant to the parish of Tilh; he knew it was important to leave no loose ends untied. On 2nd May, 1612, all the legal formalities had been complied with and he took up his appointment with all due ceremony. He went through the door of the church and the presbytery, sprinkled the church with holy water, knelt down and prayed in front of the crucifix and the high altar, kissed the missal, laid his hands on the tabernacle and the baptismal font, rang the church bells and took his seat in the parish priest’s chair32. After twelve years he was, for the first time in his priestly life, taking responsibility for souls. He would continue this work for more than fourteen years but only for the first two years would this be his main concern. After that would come other tasks, and other demands would be made on him so that he would have to give up the direct service of people in this country parish, and leave the day to day running of the parish to a curate. Until such time as Vincent discovered the true direction of his life, Clichy would always be for him a safe and continual means of support and he kept this appointment in reserve for a very long time, as he was entitled to do by the customs and religious ordinances of these times.”33

In 1612, Clichy was a fairly large parish. Parts of it are now incorporated into the VIIIth, IXth, XVIIth and XVIIIth arrondissements of Paris. It had few inhabitans at that time ‑ about six hundred souls, out of which number only three hundred would have been old enough to have made their first communion. In spite of its closeness to the capital, the inhabitants were humble peasants and simple folk like those Vincent had known in his native Pouy. The new parish priest devoted himself to the task with all the ardent zeal of a neophyte. He was still suffering the trial mentioned earlier but this only served to redouble his fervour. He was convinced that the root cause of the initial temptation was idleness and it was only by living a completely different way of life that he would eventually conquer the insidious temptation.

His activities were many and varied. The church was in bad condition and Vincent undertook to have it repaired. He furnished it and provided vestments as well as a new pulpit and a new baptismal font. He got the necessary funds from his friends in Paris. Vincent already had the gift of being able to inspire the rich to practise generosity towards the poor and this gift was to play an important part in his life. He, himself, did not hesitate to get into debt for the same noble motives. After six months in Clichy he had to attest before a notary, a debt of 320 livres34.

“Happier than the Pope”

He devoted himself with even greater zeal to the spiritual needs of his flock. His preaching was enthusiastic but more importantly, it was persuasive. He visited the sick, consoled the afflicted, helped the poor, reproved wrong doers and encouraged the weak. It was a happy time for him and in old age he would look back on it with nostalgia.

“I was once parish priest in a certain village (a poor parish priest!) My people were so good and so obedient in doing everything I asked of them, that when I told them to go to confession on the first Sunday of the month they did not fail to do so. They came to confession and every day I could see the spiritual progress they were making. This gave me such consolation, and I felt so happy, that I used to say to myself, ‘My God, how happy I am to have these people in my care!’ And I would add: ‘I don’t think even the Pope can be as happy as a parish priest with such goodhearted people.’ And one day Cardinal de Retz asked me, ‘How are things going? How are you?’ I told him, ‘Monseigneur, I can’t explain how happy I am’. ‘Why?’ ‘Because I have parishioners who are so good and so obedient in doing everything I ask them, that it seems to me that neither the Holy Father, nor you, Your Eminence, could be as happy as I am’.”35

Not only were they good people but they were musical.

“I must confess, to my shame, that when I was in a parish I didn’t know what to do. I used to listen to these country people entoning the psalms without a single wrong note. And I would say to myself, ‘You are their spiritual father and you don’t know anything about this.’ It made me very sad.”36

Vincent’s activities in Clichy spread to neighbouring parishes whose priests were moved by his example. Once, when he had to go away for a short time, there was a letter from his coadjutor begging him to return as soon as possible because all the priests and the citizens of the surrounding parishes wanted him back. A religious who was also a doctor of the Sorbonne, was frequently invited by Vincent to preach and hear confessions in the parish, and this man said that the parishioners of the future Founder of the Congregation of the Missions were like angels. Trying to instruct them, he fancied, was as vain a task as bringing light to the sun37.

Vincent started another initiative during his stay in Clichy. He gathered round him a small group of ten or eleven young men who wanted to become priests38. One of these was called Antoine Portail and he was twenty years old at this time. He is the first of Vincent’s followers that we know by name. He was destined to be his collaborator constant; he would spend his whole life with Vincent and both were to die in the same year, within seven months of each other. Portail was the unwitting occasion for Vincent to practise another virtue, that of pardoning injuries. One day, for some unknown reason, good Monsieur Portail was attacked by a group of men from the neighbouring town of Clignancourt. They set on him, struck him, and threw stones at him. The people of Clichy came out to defend the unfortunate young man and managed to lay hold on one of the attackers who was put into prison. Vincent intervened on his behalf with the local magistrate, and had the prisoner released39.

In a certain sense Clichy is the rough draft of Vincent’s completed work. Even at this juncture his work in the parish includes, on a small scale, all the main features that will characterise the way his future missionary work will develop ‑ his concern for the evangelisation of poor peasants, his motivating the powerful to help the needy, his charity, his work of instructing the clergy. As yet this is just a glimpse of the vague, sketchy outlines of his work but future events are already casting their shadow. To discover what his future work would be, and to accomplish this mission, Vincent had need of different horizons, a wider framework to work in, and a more specific call. Once again Bérulle was to be the unwitting instrument of Providence. Towards the end of 1613 he invited Vincent to leave Clichy and become tutor to the de Gondis, one of the most illustrious families in France.

We can understand how sad the people of Clichy felt when he left their village. He didn’t leave them for good because he retained the incumbency of the parish till 1626, and from time to time he would go back there for a christening40 or to be with his parishioners when the Bishop made his pastoral visitation, as happened in 1624. Monsieur Jean François de Gondi found everything in order; the liturgy was celebrated with dignity, catechism classes were held, the parish records were up to date, there was a good relationship between the parish priest and his curate, and the priests and people got on well together41.

Monsieur Vincent

The good people of Clichy always had happy memories of their best parish priest, Vincent de Paul, or as they familiarly called him, “Monsieur Vincent.” He, himself, preferred to be called this, just as one might speak of Monsieur Pierre or Monsieur Antoine, explains Abelly42. This was his way of covering up the rather ostentatious “de Paul” of his surname. And for the rest of his life he remained simply Monsieur Vincent. He was called this by the Queen, Cardinal Mazarin, the Priests of the Mission, the Daughters of Charity, the poor people of Chatillon, and by cardinals and bishops. Through over‑use the name may now lack some of its original freshness and spontaneity but he is still known to us today as Monsieur Vincent.

  1. The first writers to make a serious study of the question of Vincent de Paul’s conversion were: P. DEBONGNIE, “La conversion de Saint Vincent de Paul”: RHE 31 (1936) p.313‑339, and P. DEFRENNES, “La vocation de Saint Vincent de Paul. Étude de Psychologie surnaturelle”: RAM (1932) p.60‑86 164‑183 294‑321 389‑411; A. The subject is taken up again, and interpreted in an original way by A. DODIN in “Saint Vincent de Paul et la Charité” p.148‑150. Recently there has been a systematic analysis of the question and the different approaches to it, presented by L. Mezzadri in “La conversione di San Vicenzo di Paoli”: Annali 84.3 (1977) p.176‑182, translated in Anales (1978) p.9‑15.
  2. G. VAN DER LEEUW, “La religion dans son essence et ses manifestations” (Paris 1955) p.520.
  3. S.V.P. I p.15: ES p.87.
  4. A. DODIN, op. cit., p.149‑150.
  5. F. COMBALUZIER, “L’Abbaye de Saint Léonard de Chaumes et Saint Vincent de Paul (14 mai 1610‑29 octobre 1616)”: Annales (1914‑1942) p.249‑265. This is an introductory study of the history of the abbey and it also gives four legal documents concerning the acquisition of the abbey by Saint Vincent. The remaining documentation can be found in S.V.P. XIII p.8‑13.
  6. V.‑L, TAPIÉ, “La France de Louis XIII et de Richelieu” p.11‑12.
  7. S.V.P. XIII, p.8; ABELLY, op. cit., 1.1 c.6 p.21 and 25; COLLET, op. cit., Vol.1 p.30.
  8. It is said that during the wedding, the King, Charles IX, had to tap her on the head when it was time to say “Yes”. Cardinal de Bourbon, who officiated at the ceremony, had not been able to obtain a dispensation from disparity of religion.
  9. Abelly and Collet think that it was Charles du Fresne, Queen Margarite’s secretary, who introduced Vincent into the Queen’s household. Dodin used unpublished biographical material to suggest that it was Antoine de Le Clerc who arranged it.
  10. S.V.P. XIII p.8.
  11. The Hospital of the Brothers of Charity or, to give it its more abbreviated name, the Charity Hospital, was founded by Henry IV’s second wife, Marie de Medici, and she had four Saint John of God brothers sent from their monastery in Florence for this purpose. Marguerite de Valois had this hospital moved to another building which was near her palace and she endowed it generously. C. F. GUILLET, “L’Hôpital de la Charité” (Montévrain 1900); referred to by COSTE, M.V.,Vol.1 p.68.
  12. S.V.P. XIII p.40‑41.
  13. ABELLY, op. cit., 1.1 c.6 p.24.
  14. L. WILLAERT, “La restauración católica”, vol.20 from “Historia de la Iglesia” of FLICHE‑MARTIN, Spanish translation, p.409‑422.
  15. For information on Bérulle and his rôle in reforming the Church in France cf. P. COCHOIS, “Bérulle et l’École française” (Paris, De Seuil, 1965) and the indispensable work by H. BRÉMOND, “Histoire littéraire du sentiment religieux en France…” (Paris, Blond, 1916‑1932) Vol.3. Benedict of Canfield’s influence on the movement in general is dealt with by cf. OPTAT DE VEGEL., “Benoît de Canfield (1562‑1610). Sa vie, sa doctrine et son influence” (Rome, Institutum Historicum O.Fr. Min. Cap., 1949) XXIII 516 pages, and ETTA GULLICK, “The life of Father Benet of Canfield”: Collectanea Franciscana 42 (1972) p.39‑67 and DTC II col.718‑719; DS I 1446‑1452.
  16. P. SEROUET, “Jean de Brétigny (1556‑1634). Auxorigines du Carmel de France, de Belgique et du Congo” (Lovaina, RHE, 1974) XXII.
  17. H. TÜCHLE, “Reforma y Contrarreforma”, Vol.3 from “Nueva historia de la Iglesia” (Madrid, Cristiandad, 1966) p.250.
  18. S.V.P. XI p.139: ES p.60.
  19. ABELLY, op. cit., 1.1 c.6 p.24 Abelly assures us that Vincent lived in Bérulle’s house for 2 years. Coste thinks that such a long stay would not have been possible. He bases this opinion on documents which give details of places where Vincent lived, and also, on the fact that the Oratory was founded on 11th November, 1611, and Vincent de Paul took up his appointment at Clichy on 2nd May, 1612.
  20. J. CALVET, op. cit., p.240.
  21. S.V.P. XI p.62 and 139; ES p.749 and 60.
  22. S.V.P. XI p.154: ES p.74.
  23. S.V.P. XI p. 100 376: ES p.404 646.
  24. A. DUVAL, “De suprema Romani Pontificis in Ecclesiam potestate” (Paris 1614).
  25. S.V.P. XI p.154: ES p.74.
  26. Refered by J. ORCIBAL, in “Le cardinal de Bérulle…” p.122. About Duval, DTC. IV col.1967.
  27. It is very difficult to fix the exact date of this meeting between Vincent and Bérulle. According to Abelly (1.1 c.5 p.22) and Collet (op. cit., Vol.1 p.26), it happened shortly after Vincent’s arrival in Paris. It may not have been as early as that. The first time that we know for certain that Bérulle came into Vincent’s life was on the occasion when the judge from Sore lodged a complaint about the alleged theft. So we have to put the date of the meeting back to 1609 or 1610.
  28. P. DEFRENNES, see article., p.397.
  29. The account of the doctor’s temptation is given by Vincent, himself (S.V.P. XI p.32‑34: ES p.725‑736), although he doesn’t specifically say that he was personally involved. The detail of Vincent asking God to let him suffer the trial comes from Abelly who says that he has it on very good authority from somebody who didn’t know about Vincent’s account. If this is the only available testimony then we have reason to doubt whether this happened. The actual temptation, however, is not open to question, and we go on to describe it. (ABELLY, op. cit., 1.1 Vol.3 c.11 p.116‑119).
  30. S.V.P. XIII p.14‑16. Strangely enough, this M. de La Thane, director of the Royal Mint in Paris, was at this very time in conflict with Bérulle who refused to hand over the buildings of the Royal Mint, conferred on him by royal decree for the establishment of the Oratory. (Quoted from an article by DEFRENNES, p.396).
  31. COLLET, op. cit., Vol.1 p.36.
  32. S.V.P. XIII p.17‑18.
  33. COSTE M.V. Vol.1 p.77.
  34. S.V.P. XIII p.19.
  35. S.V.P. IX p.646: ES p.580.
  36. S.V.P. XII p.339: ES XI p.616.
  37. ABELLY, op. cit., 1.1 c.6 p.26.
  38. ABELLY, ibid., p.28.
  39. Brother Robineau’s manuscript, p.157.
  40. COSTE, M.V., Vol.1 p.77.
  41. “Annales” (1929) p.729.
  42. ABELLY, op. cit., 1.3 c.13 p.199.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.