The Life of Vincent de Paul (Abelly): Book II, Chapter XIII, Section VI

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoVincent de PaulLeave a Comment

Author: Louis Abelly · Translator: William Quinn. · Year of first publication: 1664.
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SECTION SIX: His Great Affection for the Service of the Prelates of the Church

Monsieur Vincent always displayed a singular respect for the dignity of the bishop, in whose person he recognized and honored the power and majesty of Jesus Christ. He made it a rule to obey and serve the bishops in all situations, as far as it was possible for him. Especially after his appointment to the council of the king, he was eager for opportunities to be of help, not even waiting to be asked. On his own initiative he took their part before the queen and the cardinal or other persons in authority, with greater devotion even than for the interests of his own confreres.

He strove to work out some accommodation between the two bishops, Rieux and Cupif, both of Leon in Brittany.1 The first had been removed from his see during the reign of Louis XIII, of glorious memory, but now sought to regain his seat by ousting his replacement, Bishop Cupif. He, for his part, had the backing of both the spiritual and temporal powers, and would not budge. This affair was the source of a sad division within the diocese, and of much talk in the entire Church in France. Finally, after many meetings, Bishop Rieux regained his seat and Bishop Cupif was named Bishop of Dol, leaving both satisfied, and the difficulty resolved.

He also contributed much to the moving of the episcopal see from the town of Maillezais to La Rochelle. In former days it had been the refuge of heretics, and the sanctuary of enemies of the state. It had served, however, as an unwitting memorial to the piety of the late king by being the subject of his wrath, his courage, and his power, when he reduced this rebel city to his obedience. Since that time some had thought it should be made an episcopal city, to re-establish the Catholic religion with as great a majesty and justice as the seditious heretics had disgraced it in ignominy and irreligion. However, the execution of this praiseworthy design was reserved, by order of divine Providence, for the regency of the queen. By the advice of Monsieur Vincent, she chose Bishop Jacques Roul, then bishop of Saintes, as the first bishop of La Rochelle. Bishop de Bethune of Maillezais2 was rewarded by the archbishopric of Bordeaux for his willingness to see the change, and Monsieur Bassompierre was appointed to be bishop of Saintes.3 As part of the settlement, some of the benefices formerly depending on the now suppressed chapter of Maillezais were to be united to those of the canons of La Rochelle.

Monsieur Vincent’s zeal for the service of the prelates became evident when there was need of the authority of the king and the protection of the chancellor against heretics. He invoked the help of each of these in enforcing the regulations limiting the places the heretics could meet or preach. He also did what he could to put a stop to this abuse among them: those who wished to marry a Catholic girl would feign conversion, but soon after the ceremony would return to their errors, making evident they had little faith, either divine or human. He encountered others who purchased certain important positions in various cities. They would pay two or three times their worth, and then would try to have themselves accepted at whatever price, despite edicts to the contrary. Monsieur Vincent did not hesitate to complain to the queen and the chancellor to prevent their being accepted. He also wrote, in the king’s name, to the legal authorities in the provinces to stop the many activities of the heretics. He recommended to them that they be active in supporting the rights of Catholics in the various lawsuits which arose in disputes with the heretics.

It would be wearying to the reader if we were to report here all the good offices the prelates received in many different situations from Monsieur Vincent. It is enough to say that he willingly accepted any request from the bishops, and did all he could to be of help. This might take the form of sustaining their legitimate interests, or supporting their lawful wishes. It might be the obtaining of protection from the authorities against certain annoyances, or possibly the giving of good advice when asked for, or when he saw it was necessary for the good of their dioceses. In all this he used much circumspection and reserve. His extreme humility and the respect he had for the episcopal dignity often made him keep his counsel or not reveal his own sentiments, of which he was ever distrustful. He was persuaded that bishops had a purer and more comprehensive light than his own, which he considered small and limited. It is true that on certain occasions his devotion for their service would override his humility, as we can see in this example with which we will conclude this section.

The great servant of God was aware of a major abuse introduced into the Church in France, by what was called the “Appeal.” It had been allowed at first to make sure the canons and ecclesiastical discipline were strictly followed, and to prevent slipshod methods and practices from being followed in the ecclesiastical courts. The practical results were quite the contrary, however, for the appeal was used to render ineffective the legitimate authority of the bishops. Its use allowed those who wished to remain untouched in their vices and defiance of all law. Monsieur Vincent often prayed before the Lord for some remedy for this state of affairs, whose pernicious effects were well known to him. Seeing the evil to be too deeply rooted to be completely corrected, he strove to diminish its bad effects by the helpful advice he gave to several bishops.

He pointed out to them that the first step in preventing this abuse was to establish good order in the ecclesiastical courts. They should have virtuous and capable priests in charge, well versed in the civil and canon law, well experienced in the procedures of the courts, irreproachable in their personal lives, inflexible in their judgments, and exact in observing all the formalities in use in the kingdom.

He wrote once to one of the bishops who had sought his advice, to make him understand how important it was to have the proper person in this office. He said in his letter:

One day I carried to the late Monsieur Mole, procurator general and first president, the complaint of several bishops. The Parlement had treated them badly for seeking to remedy the disorderly conduct of several priests. The bishops were so annoyed by the opposition that they had tearfully resolved to do nothing more, and to let things go on just as badly as ever. This wise magistrate told me that when the bishops or other officials are faulty in observing the formalities prescribed for ecclesiastical justice, the court is lenient in allowing appeals.

When the bishops or other authorities are careful to follow all the procedures, they are never opposed. He gave me this example: We are well aware that the Official of Paris is capable and most careful in his judgments. When we get an appeal from his judgments, we never accept it. This is what we will do to all others also, if they are as carefully handled as his.4

  1. Rene de Rieux, the bishop of Saint Pol de Leon, had compromised himself politically and had been forced to flee the country into exile. Since he did so without royal permission, a canonical process was begun to depose him as bishop. The Holy See commissioned four other bishops to decide, and he was formally deposed on May 31, 1635. After a long vacancy, the see was filled by Robert Cupif in 1639. De Rieux contested this in a lengthy suit which was not settled until 1648.
  2. The dioceses of Maillezais and Lucon were created by the division of the diocese of Poitiers. Henri de Bethune had been its bishop since 1630. In 1646 he was named to be archbishop of Bordeaux. He took possession of this see in 1648, and died in 1680.
  3. Louis de Bassompierre became the bishop of Saintes in 1648. He was a great supporter and patron of the Congregation in his diocese. At his death in 1676 he left his estate to the community and was buried at Saint Lazare.
  4. CED VIII:170.

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