Some Help Given by Monsieur Vincent to the late Commander de Sillery and to the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, commonly called the Knights of Malta
The late Monsieur Noel Brulart de Sillery, commander of the Temple of Troyes, of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, had served in the embassies in Italy, Spain, and other distant lands. He had undertaken other important affairs for the king, always with honor and to the entire satisfaction of His Majesty. He was moved by grace to give himself totally to God by separating himself from court and from all worldly distractions to consecrate his life to God’s service and to the sanctification and salvation of his soul. From his days at court he had heard of Monsieur Vincent and had formed a high opinion of his virtue. This led him to seek his counsel in his plan to change his style of life. His disposition was so good, and his willingness to follow the advice of his wise director so marked that in a short time a decided change was noted in his person and in his behavior.
Recognizing the vanity of luxury and the cost of living in the grand style, he left his home, the Hotel de Sillery, with all its sumptuous and magnificent fittings which were appropriate to the many high offices he held. He dismissed the larger part of his entourage after paying his servants in proportion to their years of service. He sold his most costly furniture and distributed large sums to various works of charity. He then was inspired to consecrate himself more completely to God by entering the priesthood. He did so after taking advice from Monsieur Vincent and disposing himself to receive this great sacrament worthily by suitable practices of piety. He began to live 1 in a manner befitting his sacred calling, giving himself to the practice of the virtues. He resolved to put himself under the spiritual direction of Monsieur Vincent and to regulate his life completely under his guidance. This is what he wrote in one of his letters:
My reverend and dear Father:
I have no doubt that you were well aware of how much your friendly and cordial letter would delight your wretched son. Not only was your letter cordial beyond what all others might be, it also spoke to me as master and superior, which I willingly acknowledge, in asking me to dispose of my weapons. I would be rude and rustic if I did not respond to your charity so lovingly displayed towards me, from a worthy and thoughtful father towards an unfeeling son. There is no other remedy for this than to accept willingly and humbly the confusion I feel at all the failings you know only too well, for which I beg pardon with reverence and submission. I promise you, with the help of our Lord’s grace, my most dear father, that I will correct myself. Yes, Father, I have never been so determined as I am now. If only we can work together in amending the many ills your reverence knows so well I am completely filled with, I would be overjoyed in consolation. Should this happy outcome not develop so soon or so completely as your goodness desires, I entreat you, my worthy Father, per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri in quibus visitavit nos oriens ex alto [“through the deep mercy of our God, the rising sun has visited us”]. 2 not to despair, and not to leave your poor son. You know well he will be poorly guided if he is left to his own devices. 3
In this letter it is difficult to say what is the more praiseworthy, the humility and simplicity of a man who had passed the greater part of his life among the intrigues of court and in the conduct of important business for the king, or the wise and helpful direction of Monsieur Vincent which had, by the grace of God, gained such ascendancy over the mind and heart of this noble person.
After such a change in his status and in his daily routine, Commander de Sillery was moved by his zeal to contribute to the spiritual progress of the religious and pastors of his order, members of the Grand Priory of the Temple. He received a commission from the Grand Master of Malta to visit the houses and spoke with Monsieur Vincent as to the best way to make these visits fruitful. They agreed that missionaries would accompany the commander to give missions in the parishes at the same time they were visited. This would both help the people and give the religious and pastors responsible for the parishes a good idea of the problems and remedies appropriate to the situation. They carried out these visits with great success. When this came to the attention of the grand master of Malta, he was so pleased he wrote the following letter to Monsieur Vincent to thank him:
Monsieur, I have been informed that the renowned Bailiff of Sillery selected you to help in the visits to the churches and parishes which depend on the Grand Priory and that you have already begun to devote yourself to instruct those who need it so much. This leads me to write these affectionate lines to thank you and to ask you to continue this service for no other reason than the greater glory of God and the honor and reputation of this order. I beg the goodness of God with all my heart to repay your zeal and charity by his graces and blessings, and to bestow on me the ability to convey to you the depths of my gratitude. Yours, … etc.
Grand Master [Paul] Lascaris of Malta, September 17, 1637. 4
The commander considered that it was not enough to tidy up the stream if the source was not cared for, and so felt unsatisfied at simply making the visits well. Besides that, he wanted to assure good priests for the Temple at Paris and to choose candidates recognized as called by God to service in this community. He wanted to assure that those who received the habit of the order would likewise be clothed in its spirit. He hoped that from their number worthy men would be chosen to serve as pastors, and so little by little the face of this great order would be renewed.
Unfortunately, this pious wish did not succeed as much as he had hoped, although Monsieur Vincent had a hand in the enterprise and had spent some time in the Temple. Monsieur Vincent was not permitted to carry out his ideas, and so the results were disappointing. He wrote to one of his confidants: 5
I was shocked at the hastiness of the Temple affair, which I fear did not have the success I had hoped for. I spoke out over and over again, but no one listened. Humility obliged me to defer, but my head told me things would not go well. In nomine Domini [“In the name of the Lord”]. I know of nothing so common as the poor success of things done in haste. 6
We learn from another letter of the grand master of Malta that Monsieur Vincent had written several times about Commander de Sillery and to recommend his own projects to his prayers. He obtained the authorization of the order for the disposal of the commander’s large fortune in favor of different charitable works. Chief among these, in recognition of his obligations to Monsieur Vincent and in consideration of the great good his Congregation had contributed and could still in future be expected to contribute to the Church, were benefactions in favor of the Congregation of the Mission. He gave a large sum for the foundation of a house and seminary for the city of Annecy in the diocese of Geneva, helped out in the foundation in Troyes, and provided for the upkeep of Saint Lazare, motherhouse of the Congregation. He gained the eternal gratitude of the community for his charity. 7 God recompensed him by the many graces he conferred upon him, not only in life, but especially at his death, which was precious in the sight of his divine Majesty. In his last hours, Monsieur Vincent gave him every possible help and was able to say later that he had never seen a person die so filled with God as was this virtuous and charitable gentleman. 8