The Life of Vincent de Paul (Abelly): Book I, Chapter V

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoVincent de PaulLeave a Comment

Author: Louis Abelly · Translator: William Quinn. · Year of first publication: 1664.
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Monsieur Vincent’s Return to France; His First Stay in Paris

Monsieur Vincent stayed in Rome until the end of 1608 at the kindness of the vice-legate, who gave him board and lodging. He wrote thirty years later to one of the priests of the Congregation in Rome: 1 “I was pleased to find myself in the city, the center of Christianity, the home of the head of the Church militant, burial place of Saints Peter and Paul and so many other martyrs and saintly persons who shed their blood and spent their lives for Jesus Christ. I felt privileged to walk where so many great saints had trod before me. This grace moved me to tears.”

These sentiments of spiritual consolation did not diminish his love of learning. The pains and troubles he had experienced did not interfere with his efforts to refresh the theological learning he had acquired at the University of Toulouse. While in Rome the vice-legate introduced him to Cardinal d’Ossat. The cardinal met with Monsieur Vincent several times, and came to have a positive opinion about the qualities of Monsieur Vincent. He so impressed the cardinal that he selected him to bear a secret communication to King Henry IV, which did not permit of taking the risk of a written letter. He could find no one more trustworthy than Monsieur Vincent to deliver the message verbally to the king. The cardinal had complete trust in his fidelity and discretion. 2

On this occasion Monsieur Vincent showed once more his solid virtue and righteous spirit. He looked to God alone and had no other objective but to please him alone and to render him his faithful and pleasing service. Once he had arrived in Paris, he had an open door to the monarch, known to be an excellent judge of character. In this circumstance Monsieur Vincent’s prospects looked promising in a worldly sense, but he thought little of a situation that some others would have taken every possible step to bring about. Monsieur Vincent, in contrast, feared that the favor of an earthly king would obstruct the graces of the King of Heaven, to whose service he was absolutely committed. He resolved never to appear in court again. Once he had acquitted himself of his commission he withdrew, all the while keeping in his heart a sincere regard and resolve to obey and remain faithful to his prince. He left court and set about leading a truly clerical life, devoting himself completely to fulfilling the demands of his calling.

His first lodgings in Paris were in the faubourg Saint Germain, where he met some of the chief officers of the late Queen Marguerite. 3 Among these was Monsieur Dufresne, 4 secretary of Her Majesty, with whom he formed a close friendship because of the virtue and good qualities Monsieur Vincent saw in him. These qualities gained the notice of the de Gondi house, where Monsieur Dufresne became secretary. He later became steward of Emmanuel de Gondi, count of Joigny and general of the galleys of France. He said of Monsieur Vincent: “At that time Monsieur Vincent seemed humble, charitable and prudent, doing good to everyone. He was no trouble to anyone, circumspect in his words, ready to listen to others and never interrupting. He often visited the sick poor in the charity hospital, serving them and speaking with them.”

During this first stay in Paris a curious incident occurred which God allowed to prove Monsieur Vincent’s virtue. It became known only after his death, through the testimony of Monsieur de Saint-Martin, canon of Dax, who gave the following account. In 1609, while still living in the faubourg Saint Germain, he shared a room with a judge from the town of Sore, a village of the Landes, in the Bordeaux district. Monsieur Vincent was falsely accused of having stolen four hundred ecus from the judge.

The judge rose early one morning to take care of some business in the city but forgot to lock the cupboard where he had left his money. Monsieur Vincent remained in bed, indisposed, awaiting some medicine to be sent to him. Meanwhile, the boy from the apothecary shop brought the medicine and, while looking for a glass, found the money in the cupboard. Without saying a word, of course, he put it in his pocket and left, verifying this maxim: opportunity makes the thief.

When the judge returned he was surprised not to find his money. Monsieur Vincent did not know what he was talking about except that he had not taken it nor seen anyone else take it. The judge furiously demanded restitution for his loss. He forced Monsieur Vincent to leave the apartment and spoke against him everywhere as a thief and a liar to anyone who knew him or had any contact with him. He knew that Monsieur Vincent was in the habit of consulting Father [Pierre] de Berulle. 5 He was then superior general of the Congregation of the Priests of the Oratory and later became cardinal of the Holy Roman Church. The judge took the occasion one day to find Monsieur Vincent in Father de Berulle’s company, together with several other distinguished guests. He publicly berated Monsieur Vincent, calling him a thief and formally serving a writ upon him, requiring him under threat of excommunication to testify before an ecclesiastical court. The man of God showed no resentment at this affront, took no great pains to justify himself, but said calmly, God knows the truth. Monsieur Vincent preserved his composure under this shameful attack, much to the edification of those present, who were struck by his self-control and humility.

But what was the outcome of this shabby affair? God allowed the boy who had stolen the money to be arrested some years later in Bordeaux for another crime. He came from that area and was known to the judge spoken of earlier. Stricken by remorse, the thief asked the judge to visit him in prison, where he admitted that he had taken the judge’s money. He promised to make restitution, hoping that God would not punish him for this miserable crime. On the one hand, the judge was glad to get his money back, which he never expected to see again. On the other, however, he was chagrined to realize that he had calumniated such a worthy cleric as Monsieur Vincent. He immediately wrote to Monsieur Vincent, seeking pardon for his actions and asking him to send the pardon by letter. He went on to say, however, that if Monsieur Vincent refused to grant his request he would come to Paris in person. He would throw himself on his knees at the priest’s feet and beg forgiveness with a rope around his neck.

We find a confirmation of this story in the report of a conference Monsieur Vincent gave at Saint Lazare on the question of how best to give and receive corrections. Among his recommendations he referred to this episode in the third person, and not as something which had happened to him personally.

What he said in that conference is well worth considering. “If we are not guilty of the fault of which we are accused, remember that we have many other failings for which we should be ashamed. We should not attempt to justify ourselves, much less feel angry or resentful towards our accuser.” He added:

I know of someone accused of having stolen some money from a friend. He replied simply that he had not taken it, but his friend continued to berate him. He then turned the other cheek, saying to God, “What shall I do, my God? You know the truth.” With full confidence in God, then, he refused to reply further to the charges against him which went so far as a summons before the ecclesiastical court for stealing. By God’s good pleasure, six years later, at a distance of one hundred and twenty leagues from here, the thief who took the money was found. See how God cares for those who abandon themselves to his Providence! The man admitted the evil he had done in his anger and calumny toward his former friend, and wrote to ask pardon. He said he was so sorry for his actions that he would gladly come in person to ask forgiveness on his knees. We must recognize, gentlemen and my brothers, that we are capable of all kinds of evil. We must leave to God the question of revealing the secrets of consciences. 6

  1. Francis du Coudray. Letter dated July 20, 1631. In this letter he wrote “thirty years ago, when I was in Rome.” These words indicate that the saint’s first trip to Rome took place around 1600 after his ordination, on the occasion of the jubilee year. See also references in his conferences to the Daughters of Charity of his having seen Clement VIII, who died March 5, 1606. Conferences of May 30 1647 (CED IX:316-17), and of September 19, 1649 (CED IX:468).
  2. This mission probably never took place, as the cardinal died March 13, 1604, four years before Vincent’s move to Paris. In his second edition of 1667, Abelly rewrote this passage as follows: “During his stay in Rome, the vice legate discovered more and more the excellent qualities of his spirit, and he had him [Monsieur Vincent] introduced to several highly-placed persons, from whose favor he could in the future receive considerable worldly advancement. He also gave him [Monsieur Vincent] the opportunity, when he returned to Paris, to see King Henry IV on a secret matter which had been confided to him.”
  3. Marguerite de Valois, whose marriage to Henry IV the pope declared null. She died in 1615. Henry IV then married Marie de Medici. His name as one of her chaplains appears first in a document dated May 17, 1610, CED XIII:8.
  4. Charles Dufresne, Lord of Villeneuve.
  5. Saint Vincent must have met de Berulle in 1609 or 1610.
  6. CED XI:337.

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