SECTION EIGHT: Other Help Given by Monsieur Vincent to Various Abbeys and Convents of Women
Saint Cyprian rightly remarked that the more sublime the glory of religious virgins consecrated to God, the more care should be taken of them. Their loss is frequent and easy, as their sex is weak, and their constancy in good is more difficult and rarer than among men. This caused Monsieur Vincent to extend his regard for the religious life especially to the abbeys and convents of women. He sought to preserve them in their discipline if it already was in vigor, or to restore it if it had been lost.
He was particularly careful, as much as he could, to preserve the right of election in the abbeys where it was traditional, and he strongly opposed the pretensions of some religious. With no hope of being named abbess by election because of their lack of ability or merit, they hoped to attain the office through the authority of the king or the influence of their relatives. He took a position in favor of those elected for a three-year term, if this was the custom in their convent, opposing those who sought a mandate from the king for a lifetime appointment.
One day a virtuous bishop had overseen the election of a fine religious as the abbess of a convent in his diocese. In seeking the confirmation of the election by the king, he tried to persuade Monsieur Vincent of the superiority of a perpetual appointment over the three-year term. Even beyond his dislike for innovations going against the canonically established practices in religious communities, he argued with humility and respect that the triennial elections were much to be preferred. This was especially so for women, since they are more inclined to change, and more likely to fail in major responsibilities once they saw themselves in office for life.
When an abbey of women depending on the king’s nomination became vacant, schemes and intrigues ordinarily began for the choosing of women of birth or position for abbess. Not satisfied with their worldly success, but carrying their family ambition even to the holiest places, they bent all their efforts to have their daughters, sisters, or nieces, placed in charge within the cloister. We read often of the strange requests made to Monsieur Vincent. He knew only too well that the good or bad discipline of religious houses usually reflects the attitudes of the superior, and he totally disregarded these pressures built on human respect. He remained firm in insisting that only the most capable, most experienced, and most exact in regular observance be chosen abbess.
A gentleman had a daughter in an abbey, where the previous abbess, her aunt, had just died. He came to Saint Lazare to complain that Monsieur Vincent was preventing his daughter from succeeding to the office, just as the aunt had succeeded another aunt before her. The patience of Monsieur Vincent served only to provoke his anger and resentment. The gentleman blamed him and scolded him, and even threatened, yelling and shouting like a man out of his head. This lasted an hour or more.
Monsieur Vincent had been told that this abbey was a sort of hereditary benefice of his house. To deny it to his daughter was, in the eyes of this gentleman, a great wrong. The husband, wife, and the entire family were accustomed to spend several periods each year in the abbey as a sort of vacation home. They lived there at the expense of the community, greatly disturbing the functioning of the abbey. All the religious murmured and complained about this, and once the abbey became vacant they insisted on having another superior, someone other than this niece. Monsieur Vincent was well informed of the qualities of the pretender to the chair. He answered the father mildly and respectfully, saying the daughter was too young. He added that he was obliged in conscience to advise the queen to choose the one most capable and most suitable for the office. After this, he listened to all the invectives of the father, letting him pour out all his pent-up anger upon him with unbelievable patience. He then accompanied him to the door, happy to have been abused and covered with opprobrium for upholding the interests of the Lord.
Often enough some abbesses with ties to their families, and who had a sister, niece, or cousin as a religious, would ask to have them appointed as assistant, under pretext of age or infirmity. Monsieur Vincent, ever on his guard against flesh and blood, was never quick to agree to this request, unless it were truly necessary. He was adamant on this, since when a vacancy developed through death the sisters were to have full liberty to choose the most virtuous and capable one to maintain good order if it existed, or to restore it if it did not.
If an abbess resigned her charge, and provided testimonial letters for the ability and good morals of the one in whose favor the resignation had been made, he would be slow to accept all that had been said. To his way of thinking, the testimonial letters could not always be relied on here. He would take steps to learn the qualities of the person being recommended. If he found the choice well made and likely to be advantageous to the abbey, he would accept the resignation, otherwise not.
At times some trouble would slip into convents of women, either division among themselves or some other trouble. He would try his best to correct the difficulty. He would often send some virtuous and experienced visitors, under royal authority, to examine the difficulty, or re-establish the cloister if it had been neglected, or take care of some other needs. He would have Their Majesties write to the superior of these convents, and to the bishop of the locality, to look into the matter.
A certain abbey was in turmoil, and the superior was not able to resolve it despite all her best efforts. When Monsieur Vincent was called upon to help, he sent as visitor an abbot of the same order, a wise and zealous man. He wrote to Monsieur Vincent that the case could not be rectified unless the women were given a different confessor, one with the gift of calming spirits and maintaining peace. Monsieur Vincent requested a highly respected and virtuous priest, gifted in the direction of religious women, to serve God as a confessor in this abbey. He did so with much blessing, little by little restoring peace, and uniting all elements of the community.
In some convents of women the evil spirit had gained a foothold under the pretext of some revelations supposedly made to the superior. The imaginations of these superiors were inflamed by the angel of darkness. They claimed that God had revealed to them extraordinary ways of leading souls to perfection, and even for reforming the Church. They proposed many other curious doctrines, many reminiscent of those of the Illuminati.1
When Monsieur Vincent was alerted to this, he had some meek and virtuous persons selected to visit these houses. They were to become aware of the abuses and diabolic illusions which sometimes had deceived many persons of all conditions and of both sexes. By this means the evil was brought to light, and it pleased God to stop its spread.