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

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoVincent de PaulLeave a Comment

Author: Louis Abelly · Translator: William Quinn. · Year of first publication: 1664.
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BOOK THREE: His Virtues

CHAPTER ONE: Some General Observations on the Virtues of Monsieur Vincent

Before speaking in detail of the virtues of Monsieur Vincent, we have thought it necessary to make several remarks about four or five of the remarkable aspects of his practice of them.

First, Monsieur Vincent in his practice of the virtues never strove for the extraordinary or the singular. He always gave himself to the practice of those virtues considered common, such as humility, patience, graciousness, mortification, support of the neighbor, and love of the poor or other disadvantaged. These virtues are common, but his practice of them was uncommon. He embellished these precious stones of the heavenly Jerusalem by the excellent dispositions he brought to their practice. He exercised these virtues under the inspiration of grace and with the best of intentions. He looked to Jesus Christ as the exemplar of all virtue, strove to conform himself to this model, and faithfully sought the glory of God as the sole end of all his actions.

Second, his life of virtue had no limits. He had received from God a great and noble heart which allowed him to embrace all the virtues simultaneously, and to practice them in an eminent degree. What is particularly noteworthy is that in cases where the virtues seemed to be opposed to each other, he still excelled in each, as in his humility. His humility was profound and was accompanied by a great contempt of self, yet he had great courage when he had to sustain the interests of God. His strength of mind allowed him to devote himself to the greatest projects, but he also showed a marvelous adaptation towards the weaknesses of the most rustic people. He was able to join together the roles of both Martha and Mary in uniting contemplation to action without detriment to either. People often noted his serenity and tranquility. They shone forth in his countenance even in the midst of a multitude of business preoccupations or interruptions from all sorts of persons attracted by his generosity. The following chapters will enable us to see how all the virtues were united in his heart to an extraordinary degree.

Third, he was not content merely to know the definition of virtue. He sought to put it into practice. His sentiments agreed with the father of the Church who said: “The most assured way of acquiring the virtues is by work and patience. This roots them in our hearts.”1 He also went on to say: “We easily lose those virtues which we have acquired without labor or at little cost. The virtues which have taken deep root in the heart are those battered by the storms of temptation, and practiced despite difficulty and the repugnance of nature.”

Fourth, he was truly one of those who hungered and thirsted for justice. He was insatiable in his acquisition of the perfection of the virtues, and one can truly say that he was among those who continually hungered and thirsted for justice. He never believed that he had done enough for such a noble task. In imitation of the apostle he put aside all thought of what good had been done, to press on to that height of perfection to which God had called him.2

Fifth, although he used all his ingenuity to conceal his gifts, his life of virtue was well known to all who lived with him. He alone was unaware of his own goodness, for his humility seemed to be a veil hiding this from his own eyes. He was unlike that person spoken of in the Apocalypse,3 for he was rich and abounding in virtue and heavenly gifts, and yet thought of himself as poor, indigent, miserable, and bereft of all spiritual gifts. In this way his most usual expression when he had occasion to refer to himself was to say “this miserable man.” Although he was so innocent and holy, and even though good works filled his days, he never spoke of himself except in the most degrading terms, usually saying how great his need was for the mercy of God because of all the abominations of his life.

Here was a person who truly possessed a treasure in his virtues, and this treasure was even more secure in that it was hidden from him. He took as great pains to hide from the eyes of others, and even from himself, those gifts received from God, as vain people do to publicize the virtues they think they have, but which often exist only falsely and deceitfully in their imagination.

  1. Lactantius, PL 6:1, 383.
  2. Phil 3:13.
  3. Rev 3:17.

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