Part I: Vincent de Paul and the world
Chapter I: The years of apprenticeship
THE parents of Vincent de Paul were natives of the South. His father, Jean de Paul, owned a very small property called Ranquines, in the parish of Pouy, near Dax, and married Bertrande de Moras in 1572. Vincent, their third child, was born April 24, 1576. It is clear that from his early childhood he was required to work, but his father was thrifty, and the family enjoyed a certain prosperity. Jean de Paul seems to have been in the position of a small farmer; besides his house and the land surrounding it, he owned cattle and sheep, and it was as shepherd to his father’s flocks that Vincent was initiated in the meaning of work and duty.
Afterwards he would have liked to forget the humble surroundings of his childhood. We know by his own testimony that when he was a student in the College at Dax, and received a visit from his father, he was ashamed to acknowledge him before his schoolfellows. It was a period when good birth was an enormous advantage, and a peasant origin a heavy handicap to any advancement, therefore the temptation is an obvious one; but the memory of this weakness remained with M. Vincent, and he never wearied of reminding those who treated him with reverence in later years that he was a peasant, and the son of a peasant.
Tradition says that he was generous in giving before his right to give was well established. In touching on the childhood of a Saint, it is wisest to leave detail to tradition, and in the case of Vincent there are no authentic incidents to mark the first decade of his long record. At twelve years old his father took him to Dax, to the Convent of the Franciscans, that he might be educated. This fact suggests that he had shown intellectual and spiritual capacity beyond that of his brothers, and that his family destined him for the priesthood. But in this there was nothing remarkable; many a country priest was of peasant origin, and the lot of such persons was not an exalted one. The country folk, indeed, were given but poor provision for their spiritual needs in those latter years of the sixteenth century, and the parish priest who really attempted to represent his Master would have to take a line that differed sharply from that pursued by his fellows. But it was not required of Vincent deliberately to choose his way of life; his progress—begun under such peaceful auspices—was curiously chequered, and it needed no effort of his to make his course distinct from that of others who had sprung from similar conditions. Circumstances imposed upon him the test of violent experience; it was in his use of it that he gave proof of his qualities.
Moderate good fortune attended his student years. He worked hard under the guidance of the monks, was selected as tutor to the two sons of M. de Commet, a legal magnate in the town of Dax, and for four or five years retained this post, which enabled him to continue his studies without expense to his parents. In December, 1596, he received the tonsure in the church at Bidache, near Bayonne. His further education was pursued first at the College of Saragossa, and afterwards at Toulouse. To provide for these new expenses his father sold a yoke of oxen, but—though this may have meant considerable sacrifice—the provision was insufficient for a college course of four years, and Vincent was obliged to find more pupils. He seems to have had several boys under his care during a part of his sojourn at Toulouse, and the death of his father in 1599 must have forced him to support himself; but the records of this period are indistinct.
On September 23, 1600, he was ordained priest in the chapel of Saint Julien (now known as Château l’Évêque) by François de Bourdeille, Bishop of Périgueux. There is nothing to give any real indication of his character before this date. Apparently he was an eager student, and, although it was his habit to refer contemptuously to his own mental equipment, he did, in fact, acquire a deep fund of learning, but of his inner life we have no knowledge. At the moment of his ordination we get the first suggestion of the Vincent de Paul of the future; the awe of his own privilege so far possessed him then, that his first Mass was said in the solitude of the little mountain chapel of Our Lady of Grace at Biizet, where he had no witnesses but a priest and a server. He was only on the threshold of life, and subsequent events betray that he was very far from his own future standard of what a priest should be ; but even then he was untouched by the lax custom of the times, and his Offering at the Altar was the chief event of every day. Almost fifty years later he wrote this message for two of his Company at their ordination1: ” Tell them, if you please, that I have prayed, and shall still pray, that Our Lord may give them an ever new desire for the Sacrifice, and grace that they may never offer It merely from habit.”
For the next four years there are no data from which to construct an idea of M. Vincent except the fact that he remained as a student at Toulouse, and took a degree there in 1604.. He was then twenty-eight, and unless he pictured for himself a career very different from that of the ordinary country priest, he would hardly have devoted so long a time to the acquisition of learning. It is likely that he had already given tokens of unusual capacity, and was fired with ambition; but in after-life he never gave a hint of the nature of his early dreams. We know only that at the close of his University life there lay before him a possible prospect, which, although shrouded in mystery, indicates that worldly advancement was not without attractions for the young priest of the Bearnais. For some reason Vincent was summoned to Bordeaux, and his visit there involved him in expenses that were far beyond his means. This fact is established, but the explanation is not forthcoming. One of his friends, M. de Saint-Martin, declared that there was question of a bishopric, and of an interview with the Duc d’Epernon as a preliminary thereto. If this be true, it would throw an interesting light on the change that time and circumstances wrought in Vincent’s point of view, but there is no evidence to corroborate it; it can stand only among probabilities.
Something there was, however, that tempted him to overstep the boundary of prudence, and he returned to Toulouse no richer in preferment, and burdened with debts beyond his power to pay. An unexpected solution of his difficulties was presented at this moment by a legacy from an old woman who had profited by his ministrations. The position is best recorded in his own words:
” You shall now be informed,” he wrote to M. de Commet2, ” of my discovery, when I returned from Bordeaux, of a will made in my favour by a good old woman of Toulouse. My inheritance consisted of some furniture and of a little property that had been assigned for 300 or 400 crowns owed by a bad debtor. I went thither to effect the sale of it, by the advice of my friends and by reason of my pressing need of money to discharge the debts I have already incurred, also for the great expense in which I shall be involved if I want to bring about the affair which I don’t dare name. Having arrived there, I found the rascal had left the neighbourhood by reason of a warrant the old lady had out against him on account of these same debts, and I was told that he was doing very well at Marseilles, and had plenty of money. Whereupon my attorney advised, and the condition of affairs demanded, that I should journey to Marseilles, and by arresting him possess myself of 200 or 30o crowns. Not having the money to do this, I sold the horse I had hired at Toulouse, intending to pay on my return. My ill luck in being so delayed is as great as my dishonour at allowing my affairs to be so tangled. It would not have happened like this if God had given me the success in my venture which it seemed to promise. I went to Marseilles accordingly, caught my man, had him imprisoned, and afterwards released for 30o crowns, which he was then glad enough to pay.”
This letter is of extraordinary interest if we consider it in connection with the Vincent de Paul of S. Lazare. Sixteen years of smooth development and mild success lay behind him when he wrote it; his mind was full of his own interests and of ” the affair which I don’t dare name ” —perhaps the possible bishopric—and in pursuit of these things he ceases to be scrupulous either in kindness or in honesty. It may be that even at that moment he was better fitted for ecclesiastical preferment than most of those who obtained it, but France lost nothing because the force of a real destiny swept Vincent de Paul out of reach of the goal of his ambition.
On his way back from Marseilles he was persuaded to journey as far as Narbonne by sea. For the description of the sequel we still have his own words, addressed to M. de Commet3:
” The wind would have been sufficiently favourable to bring us to Narbonne, fifty leagues, the same day, if God had not permitted three Turkish sloops coasting the Gulf of Lyons to give chase to us, and make so sharp an attack upon us that two or three of us were killed and the rest all wounded, even I myself receiving an arrow wound which has left its reminder for all my life. We were thus constrained to yield to these pickpockets, who were fiercer than tigers, and, as a first expression of their rage, hewed our pilot in a thousand pieces to avenge the loss of one of theirs. After seven or eight days they set sail for Barbary, the robbers’ den of the Grand Turk, where, when we had arrived, we were put up for sale with a certificate of our capture on a Spanish vessel, because otherwise we should have been freed by the Consul who is kept there by the King to safeguard French trading.
” We were paraded through the streets of Tunis, where we were brought for sale, and, after having gone round the town five or six times with chains on our necks, we were brought back to the ship that we might eat, and so show the merchants that we had received no mortal injury.
” I was sold to a fisherman, and by him to an aged alchemist, a man of great gentleness and humility. This last told me he had devoted fifty years to a search for the Philosopher’s Stone. My duty was to keep up the heat of ten or twelve furnaces, in which office, thank God, I found more pleasure than pain. My master had great love for me, and liked to discourse of alchemy and still more of his creed, towards which he did his best to draw me, with the promise of wealth and all the secrets of his learning. God maintained my faith in the deliverance which was to be an answer to my continual prayers to Him and the Virgin Mary (to whose intercession I am confident my deliverance is due).
” I was with this old man from September, 1605, to the following August, when he was summoned to work for the Sultan—in vain, for he died of regret on the way. He left me to his nephew, who sold me very soon after his uncle’s death, on account of a rumour that M. de Brève, the King’s Ambassador, was coming—armed with powers from the Grand Turk—to emancipate Christian slaves. I was bought by a renegade from Nice in Savoy, and taken by him to his dwelling-place among the mountains in a part of the country that is very hot and arid. One of his three wives, a Greek, who was a Christian, although a schismatic, was highly gifted, and displayed a great liking for me, as eventually, and to a greater degree, did another of them, who was herself Turkish, but who, by the mercy of God, became the instrument for reclaiming her husband from his apostasy, for bringing him back within the pale of the Church, and delivering me from slavery. Her curiosity as to our manner of life brought her daily to the fields where I worked, and in the end she required me to sing the praises of my God. The thought of the Quomodo cantabimus in terra aliena of the children of Israel, captive in Babylon, made me, with tears in my eyes, begin the psalm, Super /lumina Babilonis, and afterwards the Salve Regina and other things, in which she took so much delight that it was amazing. In the evening she did not fail to say to her husband that he had made a mistake in deserting his religion, which she believed to be a very good one by reason of the account of our God which I had given her, and the praises of Him which I had sung in her hearing. In hearing these she said she had felt such pure delight that she could not believe that the paradise of her fathers, and that to which she one day aspired, would be so glorious, or afford her anything to equal this sensation. This new representation of Ba-laam’s ass so won over her husband that the following day he said he was only waiting for an opportunity to fly to France, and that in a short time he would go such lengths as would be to the glory of God. This short time was ten months, during which he offered me only vain hopes, but at the end we took flight in a little skiff, and arrived on the 28th of June at Aigues-Mortes, and soon afterwards went to Avignon, where Monseigneur the Vice-Legate gave public readmission to the renegade, with a tear in his eye and a sob in his throat, in the Church of Saint Pierre, to the glory of God and the edification of all beholders.
” Monseigneur kept us both with him till he could take us to Rome, whither he went as soon as the successor to his three-year office arrived. He had promised to gain entrance for the penitent into the convent of the Fate ben fratelli4, where he made his vows, and he promised to find a good living for me. His reason for liking and making much of me was chiefly because of certain secrets of alchemy which I had taught him, and for which he had been vainly seeking all his life.”
The rest of the letter is occupied with business directions in connection with the papers of his ordination, and the old distress touching his creditors (among whom one may hope the horse-dealer of Toulouse was numbered), for whose satisfaction he intended to devote a sum of about roo crowns given him in proof of gratitude by his former master. The story of these two years thus briefly given claims an effort on the part of the reader for realization of the suffering, mental and physical, which it represents. In it there is no record of sensation, no self-conscious excitement in the memory of past endurance; there is little, indeed, that is not a statement of fact, but in the fact there lies a clue to the real character of the writer, which no deliberate attempt at self-expression would have afforded us. The venerable priest whose influence was a terror to Mazarin—who had power to work miracles in the social order of Paris—is one with the Christian slave labouring for his pagan owner without apparent hope of deliverance. In both the mainspring of thought was a reliance on the will of God, so simple and unswerving that no detail of life escaped its influence; and that early discipline — so terrible in possibility that the modern imagination fails in grasp of it—secured for Vincent the foundation of certainty in the Divine protection and guidance which made his great heights of after-achievement possible to him.
But his deliverance from captivity, wonderful though it was, did not bring with it deliverance from the difficulties in which his mysterious rashness, three years earlier, had involved him. In spite of the generosity of his repentant master, his letters show that the burden of debt weighs on him to the exclusion of other considerations. His ruling desire is ” quelque honeste bénéfice en France,” and he gives an ingenuous description of the means by which he enlisted the interest of Pierre Montorio the Vice-Legate. Apparently, the dignitaries of the Church then resident in Rome had a taste for curious arts, and the lore that Vincent acquired from the Turkish sage, who had been for many months his owner, was eagerly sought after. Among the thousand other things which he had learnt, and which his patron was eager to acquire, there was a trick whereby a skull appeared to speak ; and so great was the value set upon these secrets, that he was discouraged in holding communication with anyone else, Monseigneur being anxious to keep a monopoly of them and have the satisfaction of producing them for the edification of His Holiness and the Cardinals.
Possibly, while he imparted one form of knowledge, Vincent was imbibing another. He who originated the Congregation of Mission Priests may have found a part of his incentive in the memory of his experience in Rome. A desire for reform can spring only from knowledge of an evil, and the thought of the good living, the cure of souls, that was to be his as reward for tricks learnt from a heathen wiseacre must have given him some insight into the levity with which spiritual responsibilities were incurred. It is evident that his own ruling desire at that time was the honourable satisfaction of his creditors, and he could not have fulfilled his vocation of ministry with a clear conscience until his debts within his family, as well as outside it, were paid to the last farthing. The difficulties in obtaining certificates of his ordination combined with Montorio’s pleasure in his society to delay preferment, and finally, when he left Rome (early in the year 1609), it was as envoy on secret business from the Pope, Paul IV., to Henri IV. Such a mission would, to many a young clerk of high ability, have been the first step in a swift upward progress, but Vincent’s gifts needed the leaven of worldly wisdom, and be failed to secure any of Fortune’s prizes for himself. In fact, his stay in Rome was fruitless in visible benefit; he brought away nothing except experience and such learning as he had acquired in a year of study with the Dominicans at their College of La Sapienza. The thread of natural advancement in the diocese where he had been ordained was snapped by his period of slavery, and his peasant origin left him unsupported by family interest. Therefore, at the time of his return to France, he being then thirty-three years old, his prospects were gloomy; no opportunity to employ his fine abilities presented itself, and every hope that arose ended in disappointment.
Vincent seems to have accepted discouragement with the same valiant spirit that had supported him in captivity. AIready, it may be, the instinct that made him pre-eminently the servant of the poor was alive within his breast, and, eschewing the cultivation of interest where he might have been secure of finding it in the household of Cardinal or Bishop, he gave his services to the Hospital of Charity5 in Paris, and so began his ministry to the sick and suffering. The task he set himself was one to be fulfilled in obscurity, and its interruption must have been completely unexpected. The manner of it brings us into contact with that juxtaposition of extremes which characterized the Paris of the seventeenth century.
It is an indisputable fact that if deliberately we seek acquaintance with the Saints of those dark days, we cannot fail to come in contact with the sinners. Thus at the opening of the real life of Vincent de Paul stands Marguerite de Valois.
Even a superficial survey of the years prior to the birth of Vincent, and those during which he was passing through his childhood and his studious youth, reveals the peril that threatened the existence of France as a separate kingdom; and the historian, gravely considering the swift yet vigorous growth of the power of Spain, and realizing the probable effect of Spanish despotism and Spanish bigotry on the history of European nations, is moved to exalt the King of France, who as a soldier and a statesman was the deliverer of his country, into a hero with an unquestionable claim upon the homage of mankind. The lover of romance with equal justice applauds the gallant figure of the Gascon Prince as he stands contrasted with the degenerate and miserable Valois brothers. Henri IV. is a popular hero, and it would be an invidious task (even if its fulfilment were a possibility) to depose him from his pedestal. He, the first of the Bourbon Kings, was born beneath a lucky star; to those great capacities as General and as diplomatist which he possessed was added the magic of personal charm that bewitches a man’s contemporaries into a conspiracy to deceive posterity. In fact, Henri IV. did not rise a hair’s breadth above the corruption of his age. The poisoned deformity of social life under the dominion of the Queen-Mother might be found reflected in the Huguenot Court at Nérac, and the son of the Puritan Jeanne d’Albret was not behind the sons of Catherine de Medici in supplying material for the most lurid pages of the Court chroniclers.
Marguerite de Valois becomes less isolated in ill-repute if we realize how far Henri was impregnated by the prevailing corruption, but in that year (161o) when M. Vincent crossed her path it is difficult to conceive of any link between them strong enough to make their connection more than momentary. It was only five years since Marguerite had been permitted to return to Paris, and, although old age was very near, her way of life even then did not tend to edification6. M. Vincent could not have failed to have some knowledge of it, and it is not without an impulse towards regret that we find him enrolled among the number of her dependents. No doubt Queen Margot desired to salve her conscience with charity, and preferred that the charity itself should be administered in the best possible way. But it was a proof of singular discrimination, either in herself or her advisers, when she singled out the humble peasant priest to be her almoner.
Almsgiving, perhaps, was but a doubtful virtue in one whose debts were always far beyond possibility of payment, but this was by no means the only time in his life when M. Vincent’s tolerance was strained by the doings of exalted personages, and he was far more likely to serve his generation by the practice of an exaggerated charity than by any violence of criticism. To realize his position towards Queen Margot, and afterwards towards Anne of Austria, we must remember the extraordinary force of Royalty. These ladies were on a different plane from the human beings for whose moral condition he might be more or less responsible, and the fact that the divorced Queen had never deviated from her profession of the Faith gave her an additional claim upon him. He might justly have been moved by pity for her also. She was a lesson in the vanity of earthly glories. Her father, three of her brothers, and her husband had been Kings of France, yet the kingdom can hardly have contained a more unhappy woman than she was in those days. For her the sharpest bitterness of living lay in the fact that she had been so often within sight and hearing of the happiness which she perpetually missed. She was, in the common phrase, her own worst enemy, but she was what her birth, her surroundings, and her consciousness of her own brilliant wit and beauty made her. She had been bred to bigotry, to that abhorrence of the heretic which was in part superstitious and in part political. She was forced into a marriage that outraged principle and inclination, and found, when it was once accomplished, that she had been utilized as the bait to lure her brother’s enemies into the trap prepared.
The wedding of the Valois Princess and the Huguenot King, and the crime of S. Bartholomew’s Eve, were matters of very long ago history, when Queen Margot and Vincent de Paul came into contact. At this time she had recently left the Hôtel de Sens (the residence allotted to her by the King when she was allowed to return to Paris), and was established south of the river near the Hospital of Charity. It was in a hospital ward that one of her household noticed M. Vincent, and by reason of his good offices to the sick that he was appointed to be her almoner. Probably, he did not have very much personal intercourse with his patroness, but he was eminently fitted for the administration of charity, and must surely have earned her respect ; and she—though she was a divorced Queen and of sensational reputation—was also by birth a Princess of France. It is not unlikely that the magic touch of her royalty did clear away some of the shadows that hid M. Vincent from the notice of those who could help him to use his great capacities. The employment she gave him was the first he had received since his captivity, and for all who can read the stained pages of Marguerite’s romance with commiseration there is a certain charm in the thought that she, as she neared the last of her many years of thriftless self-pleasing, was allowed to be of service to Vincent de Paul at the time when he was friendless and unknown.
There is no record of the details of M. Vincent’s life in Paris at that time; contemporary letters and memoirs make no reference to him, and his later celebrity failed to awake any reminiscence of him in former days. He was an unnoticed unit in a city where there were many things and people worthy to attract notice, and he did not aspire to be anything else. The one letter written at this period7 that remains to us may be taken as a real indication of his desires for the future. It is addressed to his mother:
” My delight in the assurance which M. de S. Martin gives me of your good health is as great as is my distress at finding myself unable to offer the service that I owe you. The necessity of retrieving my fortunes, which have been so disastrously injured, keeps me in this city, and I have great confidence that by the grace of God my efforts may be blessed, and I may soon be given the possibility of retirement, that I may spend the rest of my days near you. I long to know all the news of home, and if my brothers and sisters and the rest of my friends and relations are well. I wish that my brother would make a student of one of my nephews, but my misfortunes and inability to be of any service to the family may, very naturally, quench his desire to do so. He must remember, however, that present distress may lead to future prosperity. I pray constantly to God for your health and for the welfare of all at home.”
It is quite clear that the Vincent de Paul of those days aspired only to do his duty in peaceful retirement, and -assist his relatives as soon as he had opportunity in return for the sacrifices that had been made for him; the ideals which were so clear to him in after-years were not then outlined in his mind. We do not know by whose interest he obtained the Abbey of S. Leonard des Chaulnes, in the Diocese of Saintes, but he held it from 1610 to 1616, and probably derived his living from it during that period ; for the dependents of Queen Margot were ill-advised if they relied on any salary from her. At first he had a lodging in the Rue des Saints Pères, that he might be near to the Hospital of Charity, the scene of his ministrations. He shared it for a time with a lawyer from Bordeaux who had come to Paris on business, and, in consequence of this temporary fellowship, found himself involved in a very painful experience. He had remained in bed on account of illness while his companion went out.
The doctor came to see him, and brought a boy to carry his medicines. While the doctor was engaged with the patient the boy extracted from an unlocked drawer a considerable sum of money which had been left there by the lawyer. When the loss was discovered, M. Vincent was held responsible. There was no proof of his guilt, it is true, and after one denial he refused to make any protestations of his innocence; but the impoverished lawyer, moved by a natural desire to vent his indignation, told the story wherever he could find a listener, and sought out especially those who had any acquaintance with the supposed culprit. Vincent de Paul was insignificant of origin, and had achieved nothing that could bring him reputation. Dishonour of this kind might well have proved a serious drawback to his career, and his calmness in the face of it is remarkable. ” God knew the truth,” he said; but it was only after six years that the confession of the real culprit gave proof of his innocence.
When thirty years later the ” Conferences ” at S. Lazare gave opportunity for illustrating a principle by a real experience, he told the story in the third person. ” If the offence of which we are accused has not been committed,” he said, ” let us remember that we have committed many others, on account of which we ought to welcome disgrace and accept it without justifying ourselves, and without having the smallest resentment against our accusers. Let us acknowledge, my brothers, that in ourselves we have capacity for all evil, and let us leave to God the charge of declaring the secrets of guilt and of innocence.”8
The significance of the adventure lies in the opportunity it gave to M. Vincent to put in practice in the earliest years of maturity the principles which were the root of his teaching in later life. Complete resignation, complete humility—these may be necessary qualities in the followers of Christ, but it is rarely that the Christian can produce them to meet the exigency of an unexpected test. In the insignificant priest who neither trembled nor cried out under the whip of calumny we find in embryo the character that afterwards had force to brave the enmity of Mazarin and to withstand the Queen when royal wishes clashed with principle.
But in those days there was no foreshadowing of an important future. M. Vincent probably knew that his family had formed great hopes from the promise of his studious youth, and that they must regard him as a failure; and he was not buoyed up by any secret reliance on his own capacities.
We do not know what the circumstances were which brought him into contact with de Bérulle, the future Cardinal and founder of the Congregation of the Oratory in France. Their first meeting was an important event to M. Vincent, for de Bérulle became his guide in affairs both spiritual and temporal, but with characteristic reserve he makes no reference to it. In November, r61r, de Bérulle and four other priests took up their abode at the Hôtel de Petit Bourbon in the Faubourg S. Jacques, and two years later the Papal Bull sanctioning the establishment of the Oratorians in France was given by Paul V. For a time Vincent de Paul lived with de Bérulle and the new-born Congregation, and his adoption of a standard of rigorous austerity in personal life may be traced to this experience. Moreover, his connection with the Oratorians was important to his career in its external aspect; for one of them, Père Bourgoing, resigned the cure of Clichy when he joined de Bérulle, and the vacant post was given to M. Vincent. The two years which he spent at Clichy as a parish priest may seem to be merely an insignificant episode in his history; they have no direct bearing on any event that came after, but it is likely that the memory of them influenced him enormously in the days—then so very far ahead—when he was Superior at S. Lazare. His knowledge of the needs of a poor parish might have been supplied by observation, but he could only gauge the possibility of satisfying them by actual experience. That the true status of the parish priests should be recognized appeared to him a point of infinite importance, it was on them that the spiritual welfare of their flock depended, and he was strenuous in imposing on them a very rigorous standard. Such an endeavour is apt to arouse the wrath of the easy-going, and if his own conduct during his time at Clichy had been open to criticism, his exhortations to others would not have passed unchallenged. But, in fact, the deliberate devotion and consecration of his life to the service of his Master had begun. He pictured a parish priest as one who was at once the leader and the servant of his flock, who held every capacity that God had given him—of energy, of physical strength, of mental endowment—as a trust for the use of those he served. His own love of his people took form in the spending of himself for them. He studied their material interests and laboured for their spiritual awakening. He won their friendship, he taught them, he prayed for them. The ideal that he set up seems to have been fulfilled. It should, however, be remembered that he held his charge for a period of many months, but not of many years, and therefore was not able to prove that an isolated individual can go on maintaining so strict a personal rule and so rigorous an attack upon the devil.
Outwardly, as well as in the hidden life of the little town, the sojourn of M. Vincent at Clichy was memorable. He found the church in ruins, and those who desired to worship there could not supply the funds to save its downfall. As it stands now, it is the memorial of his presence, and also of his amazing power in awakening the rich to a sense of their responsibility. Many years later that power was in perpetual use in a time of exceptional misery, and to it was due the preservation of unnumbered lives; but at that more peaceful moment it was . the needs of the poor folk of Clichy for opportunity of prayer and worship that the rich citizens of Paris were required to supply. It is possible that at that time money was supplied to him more freely because he had been almoner to Queen Margot, but it was by reason of a personality that unconsciously claimed implicit trust that then and always his demands were acceded to when those of others were fruitless.
If it is possible to judge of a situation so long passed by modern standards, we should pronounce that M. Vincent had found at Clichy a niche for which he was admirably fitted, that from the little town his influence and his example might go out far and wide, until at length, by some direct development of events, a larger sphere for which his parochial life had been a preparation opened before him. But the life of M. Vincent cannot be adapted to any human design. Superficially there is no coherence between its stages; in fact, the design was so far beyond human conception that conventional systems of cause and effect were bound to prove at fault.
As he laboured at the work for which he was so preeminently suited, another door was thrown open, and he was invited to pass through it into a field of endeavour that had had no attractions for him hitherto, and of which he had not the smallest experience. Monseigneur Philippe de Gondi, Comte de Joigny and General of the Galleys, needed a tutor for his children. The need was represented to de Bérulle. He was director to Vincent, he had befriended him in Paris and sent him to Clichy, there was much outward reason for the strength of his influence; but its true root was the spirit of submission which M. Vincent had fostered in himself, till it grew into real humility. The proffered post had great external advantages. Many a priest stepped from the humble footing of chaplain or tutor in rich and noble houses to high ecclesiastical preferment, but Vincent was without this species of ambition. He loved the people and his work among them. To leave Clichy for a more arduous task might have been matter for regret, but to leave it for conditions of ease and of soft living was the sharpest test of self-surrender imaginable, It was this that was required of him. To those who looked on, the experiment must have seemed a strange one. Even to the most far-seeing there was no clue to its eventual result.
- April 25, 1648. ” Vincent de Paul et le Sacerdoce.”
- “Lettres,” vol. i., No. 1, July, 1607.
- “Lettres,” vol. i., Nos. 1 and 2.
- Name commonly given to the Fraternity of S. John the Divine.
- Built by Marie de Medici.
- A description of the life of Queen Marguerite in Paris is given by Lestoile (” Journal de Henri IV.”).
- “Lettres,” vol. i., No. 3, February, 161o.
- ” Vie du Vénérable Serviteur de Dieu, Vincent de Paul,” par. L. Abelli, vol. i., chap. v.