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

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoVincent de PaulLeave a Comment

Author: Louis Abelly · Translator: William Quinn. · Year of first publication: 1664.
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Services Provided by Monsieur Vincent to the Late King, Louis XIII of Glorious Memory, in His Last Illness, for the Spiritual Good of his Soul

The dignity of kings lifts them so far beyond that of others that Scripture calls them gods, seeing they are vicars and living images of God upon earth. This same Scripture, however, after giving them such a sublime and glorious title, warns them in the same passage they must not forget they are mere men, and as such must pay the same tribute to nature by dying just as other men do. 1

This law is inflexible and encompasses the wisest and most virtuous prince as well as others who are not so, but with an important difference. The death of the good king, as the Church reminds us, is a happy exchange of a temporal and earthly sovereignty for a heavenly and eternal one. For bad kings, on the contrary, death marks the end of their vicious lives and the beginning of the punishment the power of God has destined for them.

The virtues and royal qualities of Louis XIII of most happy memory gained him the reputation during his life as one of the greatest monarchs on earth, but his piety became even more apparent at the time of his death. This is not the place to recall all this truly Christian prince did and said during his last illness. Yet they revealed how much his royal heart was detached from earthly things, or how zealously he hoped for the conversion of heretics and sinners, and how he wished to bring about, as much as was possible to him, that God be better known, honored, served, and glorified throughout his realm. It is enough to say this good king had heard of the virtues and holy life of Monsieur Vincent and all the charitable enterprises he had undertaken for the spiritual good of his subjects. He ordered him to come to Saint Germain en Laye at the beginning of his last illness to be helped by the priest’s good and salutary advice. He wanted to tell him of his pious hopes, particularly directed towards the conversion of the heretics of the city of Sedan. 2

The first remark Monsieur Vincent made to His Majesty was to quote the words of the wise man of Scripture: “Sire, Timenti Deum, bene erit in extremis.” [“To the one who loves God, it will go well at the last.”] His Majesty, with his usual piety nurtured by frequent meditation of the Scriptures, replied by completing the verse, “et in die defunctionis suae benedicetur” [“And on the day of his death he will be blessed”]. 3

On another day, as Monsieur Vincent spoke with His Majesty on the good use of God’s gifts, the king reflected on all the singular gifts he had received, especially the royal dignity to which Providence had raised him and the great honors and privileges attached to this office, chief among which was that of naming the bishops and prelates of his kingdom.

“Monsieur Vincent,” the king said, “if I recover, bishops will spend three years with you,” 4 thus wishing to convey the thought that he would require those named to the episcopal office be properly disposed and adequately prepared. He showed by this wish high regard for that office and the appreciation he had for Monsieur Vincent’s projects for the training of clergy, hinting they would be equally useful for the preparation of those called to the high dignity of bishop in the Church.

Monsieur Vincent remained at Saint Germain about eight days. During that time he often had the honor of approaching the king to speak with him words of salvation and eternal life, which the king seemed to appreciate.

Finally, the king’s sickness worsened despite all remedies employed. This most Christian prince, seeing that God was calling him from this world, sent for Monsieur Vincent to help him in this final passage to the next life. Monsieur Vincent returned to Saint Germain to remain with him the last three days before his death. 5 He was almost constantly in the king’s presence, helping him raise his mind and heart to God and make those interior acts of piety appropriate to prepare his soul for that final moment upon which eternal happiness depends.

This great prince completed his life by a most Christian death on May 14, 1643. Seeing the queen in such a distressed state, alien to any human consolation, Monsieur Vincent returned to Saint Lazare to pray for Their Majesties. He lamented the loss of so just and pious a prince, but was consoled by the excellent dispositions he had seen in him at the time of death and which crowned a truly Christian life by an equally Christian death. The following day he had a solemn service in the church of Saint Lazare, attended by all the priests of the house, for the repose of the king’s soul.

  1. Ps 82:6.
  2. Brother Robineau notes that “Monsieur Vincent was called to the bedside of Louis XIII at Saint Germain en Laye at the request of Anne of Austria and with the consent of Father [Jacques] Dinet, the king’s confessor.” Robineau 75. He arrived on April 23.
  3. Sir 1:13. The king’s response is all the more remarkable since the verse did not form part of the prayers for the dying.
  4. CED XI:132.
  5. He returned May 12.

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