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

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoVincent de PaulLeave a Comment

Author: Louis Abelly · Translator: William Quinn. · Year of first publication: 1664.
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SECTION ELEVEN: Monsieur Vincent Served the King With an Entire Disregard for All Personal Self-interest

We in no way wish to blame those who serve the king in the hope that His Majesty would reward them for their faithful service. On the contrary, we would say it is neither just nor reasonable to blame such a person. This would benefit the state. Just as the law sets out punishments for those who rebel against the will of the sovereign, it should also sanction his favors being given to those who serve him faithfully. Just as the fear of punishment holds the dissolute to their duty, so the hope of reward is a still greater spur for the good to act in such a way as to win favors from the prince.

Although it is permitted and even praiseworthy to serve the prince faithfully in the hope of recompense from his generosity, we must admit there is an even more excellent disposition, one nobler and more perfect, that is, to have in view in serving the king only the good of his service. Even more excellent would be the attitude, in fulfilling one’s duties, of seeing in the king God himself, and therefore serving him with the sole view that this service is pleasing to God. This would lead one to have as the sole motive in serving the king that this is pleasing to God and is accomplishing what one knows to be his holy will.

Would we not have reason to say with the wise man of Scripture, speaking of him who did not seek after gold, nor put his trust in riches: Quis est hic, et laudabimus eum? [“Who is he that we may praise him?”]1 Who is this admirable person who has mastered this most uncontrollable of all the passions? Where can we meet him, so we can praise him as he deserves? Happily, he has been found. Despite the corruption of the age, France has had the glory of producing in our day a masterpiece of virtue in the person of Vincent de Paul. It can truly be said that his heart never sought after gold, nor did he put his trust and his affections in riches. Although his duties brought him in close contact with the source of rich treasures and magnificent rewards, he paid no attention to these possibilities. He had in view only the faithful service of his king, which would in turn redound to the glory of God. This was the sole motive which led him to accept the appointment and duties assigned to him. This was the bond that held him attached to the service of Their Majesties, even in most difficult times. This motive of giving glory to God in faithfully serving his prince gave him the strength, constancy, and perseverance in his service, amid all the contradictions, calumnies, and persecutions he had to undergo, and amid the dangers his position entailed.

First, when the queen mother at the beginning of the regency did him the honor of calling him to the Council for Ecclesiastical Affairs, he accepted solely out of the obedience he felt God willed that he should give to the wishes of Her Majesty. His zeal to promote the interests of religion and to procure greater glory for God made him accept this call, despite the extreme reluctance suggested by his humility, and by all that he foresaw would disturb his peace of mind and the desire he had, at his age, to fill out his days in peace.

In his position he had favorable opportunities to advance the temporal interests of his Congregation, if he wished to do so, and as he could have done most legally. It might have seemed, even, that the charity he owed his own confreres may have suggested this. Since many benefices passed through his hands, it would not have been difficult to direct some to the houses of his own Congregation, many of which were just in initial stages of establishment, and badly in need of help. Many of them could hardly support their service to God and to the Church without help, especially since their efforts in favor of the poor were always given without charge.

Despite this need, he never accepted benefices for his own houses. He never sought, directly or indirectly, any such help for them.2 If he did allow some benefices to be conferred on the seminaries, this was done at the insistence of the benefactors, who had the right to designate the recipients of their favors. Sometimes these charitable persons had to use as much persuasion to have him accept these gifts as some others used in attempts to obtain them. His purpose in accepting these benefices was not to enrich his houses, nor to put them at their ease, but to use the revenues faithfully for teaching and forming those called to ministries in the Church.

One of his closest friends came to him one day and offered a large sum (we know it was close to one hundred thousand livres) given by others, but on the condition that he would further in the council some of their nominees, and their advice would be followed in a matter that seemed reasonable enough. It would not cost the people anything, but in some way would prejudice the interests of the clergy. This holy man made no other reply but to raise his eyes to heaven, and sigh: “God save us. I would rather die than to say a single word on this matter.”

Second, just as he never took any temporal profit from the service he gave Their Majesties, he never sought the help of powerful people who might have been able to help him. This was not because his power was rude or fierce, like some have who like to shock those in high places. On the contrary, he always treated these persons with much respect, and sought to please them even in trivial matters, but with this reservation, that God must first be pleased. If he saw that what was asked of him was in keeping with the orders and the will of God, he would agree easily and with good grace. If he saw what was asked was not agreeable to God’s law, no human respect, nor fear of any disgrace or evil whatever, would move him. He had no regard to the position of those he refused, nor did their threats sway him. He thought nothing of the ills or persecution that might come, but looked solely to God whom he sought to please, and whose displeasure alone he feared.

Third, his disinterest was seen not only in never seeking advantages but still more in suffering willingly the losses which came about, as we have seen, because of his service to Their Majesties. Remarkably, for all the losses he suffered during the wars, and for the poor treatment he had received from the bad will of some who resented his devotion to the service of the king, he was never heard to utter the least complaint, nor did he ever seek the least reimbursement for his losses. What is even more remarkable is that by his unselfish charity he turned aside the gifts which the queen, in her goodness, wished to give him, in favor of others, when he could do so without violating justice and charity.

We must surely say he served his king with complete disregard for self-interest. Monsieur Vincent practiced this virtue in an heroic degree, the more admirable in that it is so rarely seen today in the courts of princes.

  1. Sir 31:9.
  2. According to the testimony of Claude le Pelletier, Michel le Tellier, a minister of state said: “I have had many dealings with Monsieur Vincent. He has done more good works in France on behalf of religion that anyone I know, but I particularly remember that while he was a member of the Council of Conscience he never sought any advantage for his own personal interests, those of his Congregation, or those of the ecclesiastical houses he had established.”

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