Vincent de Paul, priest and philanthropist 20

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoVincent de PaulLeave a Comment

Author: E. K. Sanders · Year of first publication: 1915.
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Chapter IX: S. Lazare and Port Royal

THE history of the foreign Missions undertaken and directed by M. Vincent brings home to us with new vividness the extraordinary quality of his capacity for detachment. His manner of dealing with each separate enterprise suggests that he was concentrating interest on it. His letters in many instances betray the unmistak­able ardour of the enthusiast; his whole heart is intent on a ten days’ Mission on the Hulks at Marseilles, on a project for softening the lot of the captives at Algiers, or on choosing from among the numbers of the Lazarists the priest most fitted for service in Madagascar. And then there were Branch-Houses established in Poland, and there were expeditions, even more definitely mis­sionary, sent to Ireland, to the Hebrides, and to Scotland. M. Vincent followed each with close attention. The account of labour and hardship in the Hebrides is written by M. Duguin, Priest of the Mission, to his Superior at S. Lazare, with just the same confident claim on sympathy and comprehension as if he were writing of familiar things from Agen, from Annecy, or from Rome. M. Le Blanc, the Missionary to the Highlands, nearly Iost his life at the hands of the Puritans in Scotland; and M. Vincent is torn with grief and anxiety even while he glories in the possibility of martyrdom. Events that moved him deeply in differing ways happened simul­taneously. The year when the Mission to Madagascar was taking form was the year of the beginning of the Fronde; and afterwards, while he was struggling with his immense organizations for relief in Paris and the provinces, and making his valiant efforts to obtain peace for the suffering people, he was also forced to keep watch over his representatives in Tunis and Algiers, and was striving to readjust the maladministration of Consular affairs. It is as if we were dealing with separate and differing lives—and all the time it may be true to say that the real life of M. Vincent continues unrecorded.

It is not a new discovery that that which is deepest in the life of man is likely to remain hidden—spiritual revolution may take place within him, and those of his own household will not know it—but it is not this ad­mitted duality, mysterious as it is, which is evident in the case of M. Vincent. He was, openly and under every condition, the Servant of God. He did not, as so many sincere Christians are forced to do, spend a large pro­portion of his time among persons to whom the spiritual life is as a closed book. All his employments and all his intercourse with others were linked with his religion; it was not necessary for him to pretend to a respect for material things which he did not feel. But in spite of this declared and recognized position, it remains true that his ministry, as we find it recorded by his own letters and by the testimony of his contemporaries, does not represent him. True, he was wise and sympathetic as a Superior; he had genius for organization; he could arouse and sustain the dormant spirit of charity in others—. in short, he did not fail in showing the sincerity of his faith by the outward testimony of good works. Yet, when all that is admitted, he might remain only a fine example of a type familiar in every generation, and his exceptional celebrity might be explained by the unusual oppor­tunities which came within his reach.

It is not easy to summarize the points of difference between Vincent de Paul and the rest of the great army of those who spend themselves in the service of their neighbour, but the fact that he always regarded such service as subordinate to a higher claim removes him from the rank and file. He proved sufficiently that he desired to labour for the well-being of others, but he only desired their well-being if he was convinced it was the Will of God; therefore the practical point of view seemed to him to consist in the attainment of knowledge of the Will of God—the formation of a plan of action was a secondary consideration. He could not have lived through his many years of wide experience without formulating some social theory, and dreaming of a future when the injustice and inequalities that were hourly before his eyes should be done away. But his theory was a very simple one; he dreamed of a time when all men should be seeking to understand and to fulfil the Will of God. By such means the great revolution that he desired would take place without the strife that he abhorred; and in the darker period where his own lot had fallen he did what he could to prepare for the halcyon age he pictured. In fact, he did that which no other man living could have done, and he was able to do it because he demanded of himself far more than he did of others. We shall see him in his closing years refusing to accept the legitimate satisfaction that, humanly, his well-spent life had earned for him, increasing rather in the deep sense of his own unworthiness—” Si je n’étais pas prêtre je ne le serais jamais.” That point of view in one pos­sessing so clear a record could proceed only from the constant contemplation of the Ideal of Christian life.

Here, then, is the clue to the mystery of his strength. The man who can with real desire centre his thoughts on Christ will of necessity forget himself, and so he will be spared the wear and tear of personal considerations and fears as to success or failure; for if he is assured that he is working as His Master wills, he cannot consistently be anxious as to results. In practice it is hard to achieve to this position, although the verbal statement is ex­tremely simple, and M. Vincent did not maintain his foothold unfalteringly. There were times when he was troubled, when his heart failed him, and his burden seemed too heavy to be borne. If it had been otherwise, perhaps he would not have understood the struggles and downfalls of his followers so well; but a favourite and oft-repeated phrase of his suggests his remedy for faint­heartedness, as well as many other ills : ” My Son, weigh it in the Scales of the Sanctuary.” Before the Altar the vexed question was to be reconsidered, the overwhelming task offered up and then quietly resumed. For every Catholic, whether priest or layman, there was this un­failing source of consolation, and the sorrow or the difficulty which could not thus be brought before his Lord ought not to continue to disturb his life. The Scales of the Sanctuary was the surest of all tests.

If we turn from the thought of M. Vincent in the church of Lazare, claiming the Divine support his life-work needed, to those who dwelt outside among the excite­ments and temptations of the city, the difficulty of apply­ing his remedy to their ills becomes apparent. They might plead with reason that both constitution and disease were different, and must demand a different cure. But M. Vincent was able to look beyond his own experience, and he thought otherwise. In his simple view the only real disease was sin, and for that there was only one Physician. If the sufferer came with an honest desire to be healed, he might be confident of cure, whatever the stage of the disease that he had reached. It was not his custom to place himself on a different plane from those with whom he came in contact, and therefore it was his method to apply the principle of that which was of assist­ance to himself as a means of assisting others. In the early days of his tutorship he had made silence and retire­ment his safeguard against the distractions of the world that then came so near to him; when he was offered the buildings of S. Lazare he was ready to renounce them rather than allow his Mission Priests to relinquish their habit of silence. His great remedy for the laxity of the secular priests was, as we know, the provision of an annual time of silence in which they might consider their voca­tion and their own failures in its fulfilment; and as his two great Companies grew under his direction, he never wavered in his insistence that they needed periods of silence to recruit their spiritual forces. ” Oh my Daughters, there is no practice to be compared to that of silence,” he said to the Sisters of Charity; ” it is through it that you may hear God speaking in your hearts.” He had much opportunity of discovering the degree to which the ears of men were deafened to the Voice of God by the clamour of their fellows, and his letters give many instances of the effect on himself and on others of days of silence spent in an endeavour to learn the Will of God. It is evident that he regarded a Retreat as a great opportunity of advance, and therefore, when his mind was occupied with the ques­tion of awakening the sleeping souls of average mankind, it was natural that the idea should occur to him of offer­ing to them the privilege hitherto reserved for priests and Religious.

Let us consider the aspect in which the hurrying life of the Paris streets presented itself to Vincent de Paul. In every face he read the tragedy—realized or unrealized—of the vagrant soul; to him the objects that filled men’s hearts and minds were void, and the disorder of which all, in differing degrees, were conscious proceeded from their indifference to the object designed for them by God. And this was not merely a theory for sermons and medita­tions, it was the basis of active enterprise. He believed that his own deep content had come to him as the fruit of his opportunities, and that opportunity was all that others would need to attain to their share in it. Being imbued with this belief, he would not have been true to his deepest instinct of charity if he had failed to make provision for a great spiritual need. Thus it came about that Retreats for laymen were instituted at S. Lazare, and, between 1635 and the date of M. Vincent’s death, it was computed that 20,000 retreatants had been received. It may be imagined that this was a labour very dear to

M. Vincent’s heart, for in this he believed he touched the form of service to his neighbour which had reality of value. The definition of the meaning of Retreat, which he left in writing for the enlightenment of the Company, explains his sense of its importance :

” This term Retreat, or Spiritual Exercise, should imply entire detachment from all worldly matters and occupations. The object is that a man may gain real knowledge of his inward state, and be able to examine his conscience, to pray and to meditate, and so to prepare his soul for purification from all sin and from all evil desires and habits, that it maybe filled with a longing for goodness. Then he may seek to know the Will of God, and when he knows it he will submit and imite himself to it, and so will advance and eventually attain to the State of Perfection.”1

Here M. Vincent gave words to the picture that was cherished in his own mind. If they would resign them­selves to outward silence, the souls of men would hear the Voice of God; and if that grace was once accorded to them, the old life of sin must of necessity be left behind. It was to be his privilege to make a period of outward silence possible to all who might desire it, and to set the visible gates of S. Lazare as widely open to all corners as was the entrance to his own heart. This particular expression of his charity produced a curious position. He would have no payment asked for the cost of maintenance during a Retreat, for he held that the question of expense might turn the scale in the case of a waverer, and a soul might thus be lost. But the great establishment at S. Lazare was often in sore straits from lack of funds, and the more practical among the Company resented the additional burden, and sometimes remonstrated with their Superior. If they urged that at such a rate of expenditure there was no escape from actual ruin, M. Vincent replied that, if it was necessary, they must all depart, ” and . put the key under the door.” If they represented that many of those who came on the plea of spiritual need were merely seeking board and lodging, M. Vincent answered that, if only a few of those who came were faithful, the enter­prise was worth all it could cost. Probably it was more difficult to form an estimate of the real result in this work than it was even in that of the Missions; but each individual in the constant stream of men of all conditions which passed through S. Lazare must have received some impression from the atmosphere of pure religion that prevailed in the home of Vincent de Paul; and—though even his unfailing panegyrist Abelli considers M. Vin­cent’s hospitality to have been ” somewhat excessive “—the real generosity of the welcome to all comers was prob­ably not without its usefulness even to those who were least worthy of the trust their host reposed in them.

Not only did M. Vincent maintain his enthusiasm for his undertaking until his death, but also he exhorted his Sons not to let it fail when he was gone, but to regard this opportunity of winning souls as one of the greatest favours that God had bestowed upon the Company. Probably he knew that the office of directing others in the most important hours of their life could not fail to have its effect upon the directors; a high standard was a neces­sity for each one on whom that responsibility was laid. He would need to learn—as the Superior pointed out—complete distrust of his own personal capacity, and there­fore the Company would gain in proportion as it gave. Collective Retreats that corresponded to those given to Ordination Candidates were arranged for laymen, but it seems as if the more ordinary method was to give each retreatant into the hands of a Mission Priest, who was to be at once his director and his servant during his stay. In no case was future direction to be promised, nor was any guest to be invited to return. At S. Lazare each one had had his opportunity of reviewing the past and learning all that the future, by the Grace of God, contained for him; it rested with himself to make those days of strange experience the starting-point of a life completely different from all that had gone before. A few, no doubt, went away with dispositions that differed very little from those with which they came ; a few fulfilled M. Vincent’s high conception of the possibility of a Retreat, and, passing through the stages of self-knowledge and purification that he indicated, set forth on the steep path that leads towards perfection; but the greater number gained the knowledge of what might be within their reach, and real reformation remained in abeyance. It depended on indi­vidual character whether it was achieved eventually; for S. Lazare was no place of miracles, and M. Vincent was prepared to have his message to his fellow-wayfarers rejected. It was only here and there that Christ had found the listeners who would respond to Him, and the Mission Priests did not aspire to be greater than their Master. But the place of S. Lazare, as a centre of spiritual life for all who sought it, was assured by the system of Retreats. There were many havens for the priest or the Religious overtaken by spiritual storm, but for one of the people, without respect of condition or profession, if the Call of God had come to him, and he desired to pause and consider what It meant—there was no refuge except S. Lazare, no other certain friend but its Superior.

It is, perhaps, this close and peculiar touch which M. Vincent gained with the laity as well as the clergy, by means of his Retreats, which explains the violence of his action in a question of very deep importance and of in­finite difficulty. The Jansenist controversy had a promi­nent place as a subject for thought during the last thirty years of his life, and the cause of the Jansenist made appeal to the same minds as were stirred by his message; it was therefore impossible that he should ignore it.

The facts of this celebrated dispute have now become extremely difficult to disentangle. To the contemporaries of S. Cyran2 there were clear issues involved, and those who sided with him were sufficiently convinced of the goodness of their cause to suffer persecution for it; but their violence and that of their opponents has obscured the evidence for both sides, and there is a tendency at the present day to attribute to ” the poison of Jansenism ” many heretical opinions that would have found no favour with the original Port Royalists.

It should always be remembered that the Convent of Port Royal had won celebrity before it had any connec­tion with Jansenius3. Angélique Arnauld transformed the Benedictine Community assembled there from laxity to the extreme of adherence to the Rule. The austerity of Port Royal stirred the imagination of innumerable persons who had no desire to share in it, and created a unique position for Mère Angélique and the Sisters; and when it became known that the Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was maintained in one of the Houses of the Community, the respect which these mysterious nuns excited was mingled with awe. In 1636 S. Cyran became Director to the Community. He had been the friend and companion of Jansenius at the College of Louvain, and afterwards in Paris, and was the exponent of his book on S. Augustine. His whole mind centred on his realization of the dishonour brought upon the Church by the unworthiness of the priests and the false administra­tion of the Sacraments, and his knowledge of the first centuries of Christianity intensified his horror of the con­ditions that he saw around him. So violent was he in denunciation that it was easy to represent him as making an attack upon the Church. Port Royal had attracted a great concourse of well-known persons, some of them the highest intellects and the finest characters that society could produce, and through these his theories spread with dangerous rapidity. Richelieu was intolerant of those who aspired to any kind of leadership, and some of the accusations against S. Cyran were well founded; therefore he gave an order for his arrest and imprisonment at Vincennes4. Probably his action was a wise one, but he failed to weaken the influence of the offending priest; it was the essence of the spirit of Port Royal ” to covet suffering,” and S. Cyran was regarded as a martyr in the cause of truth. His imprisonment lasted five years,5  and he died almost immediately after his release.

Even at this early stage of the Jansenist difficulty Vincent de Paul was implicated. He was on terms of friendship with S. Cyran, they were natives of the same province, and they were both moved by the same desire for the purifying of the Church. The enemies of Jansen­ism suggest that S. Cyran had a definite intention of using the Mission Priests to spread his theories, and there is some evidence that he did make an attempt to alter M. Vincent’s aim for the Company. But, in fact, the two natures were unsympathetic, and the regrets and desires that they held in common acted upon them in wholly different ways. S. Cyran was strangely ignorant of the character of Vincent de Paul if he imagined that his fidelity to the Church was easily shaken; their friend­ship was, in fact, destroyed by certain reckless words of his, recorded years after in a letter from the Superior of S. Lazare to a Mission Priest in Rome6: ” He said to me one day that it was God’s intention to destroy the Church as it is now, and that all those who labour to uphold it are working against His intention; and when I told him that these were the statements made by heretics such as Calvin, he replied that Calvin had not been altogether in error, but that he had not known how to make a good defence.”

It is quite plain that after a lapse of twelve years M. Vincent’s horror was still burning, for no member of the Society of Jesus upheld the authority of the Church in its entirety more vigorously than he did. But even this attitude towards S. Cyran has been made a matter of animated controversy, and probably the exact truth of their relations has never been stated. It seems certain that when the animosity of Richelieu was beginning to declare itself, M. Vincent visited S. Cyran and attempted to reason with him on his opinions; possibly a generous intention betrayed him into excessive zeal, for a subse­quent letter shows that the object of his solicitude had not received his visit in good part.

“The one thing that impressed me,” wrote S. Cyran afterwards7, “was the fact that you, who profess to be so gentle and considerate to all, that you should have seized the moment when the storm has burst over me to join yourself to my assailants, and should even exceed them in their outrages by intruding upon me under my own roof, which no one else has dared to do.”

Later, there is a question whether Vincent de Paul was a witness at the trial of S. Cyran, and the testimonies on this point are contradictory; it is clear, however, that after the prisoner was released, M. Vincent hastened to visit him, and remained on friendly terms with him until his death. Even when the facts are authentic, it is diffi­cult to form from them â.ny clear idea of M. Vincent’s position at that period, and this may be accounted for by our knowledge of his character. He did not foresee the troubles that were coming ; he believed his old friend to be in error ; but he had suffered disgrace and captivity, and it was a natural instinct to give him every possible proof of affection. Moreover, S. Cyran had been the friend of François de Sales, of de Bérulle, and of Mme. de Chantal, and his strict and regulated life accorded well with the Lazarist standard for the priesthood; therefore it is likely that if, after his death, there had been no fruits of his influence, the existence of real friendship between himself and M. Vincent would never have been contested. The fact that that most ardent of Port Royalists, Claude Lancelot, was at pains to prove the reality of the alliance between his Leader and the Superior of S. Lazare is a tribute to the reputation of the latter8; but the opponents of Jansenism, among whom may be numbered all the bio­graphers of Vincent de Paul, are not inclined to give pro­minence to the evidence of his tenderness towards S. Cyran.

The real truth seems to be that M. Vincent did not declare himself in the matter till it had reached a later stage, and his reasons for doing so are in close connection with the whole intention of his life. The history of events may be given briefly. Shortly after the death of S. Cyran, Antoine Arnauld, the youngest of that cele­brated family, himself a priest and Doctor of the Sor­bonne, wrote his ” Livre de la Fréquente Communion.” The Jansenist controversy, which had not attained to its full celebrity, centred until then on the ” Augustinus ” of Jansenius, which was read only by a few scholars; but when Arnauld’s book appeared, it was received with enthusiasm and devoured eagerly. It was against this book that M. Vincent directed his attack, and it is note­worthy that Pascal—to whose genius the real importance of the Jansenist struggle is due—has claimed no notice at all from one who is described as ” the most dangerous enemy of the disciples of S. Augustine.”9

His opinion on the subject of the book by Antoine Arnauld can be given in his own words, for it chanced that a valued member of the Company, M. d’Horgny, of the Mission at Rome, was infected by the new heresy, and his Superior wrote to him on the subject at length and with great distinctness10:

” Your last letter says we have done wrong to go against general opinion. You say that this concerns the book ‘ De la Fréquente Communion’ and Jansenius; that as regards the first you have read it twice, and that the common abuse of this Most Holy Sacrament has given occasion for it.

” It is true, Monsieur, that there are only too many who misuse this Divine Sacrament. I am myself guilty beyond any man alive, and I beseech you to join in my prayers for God’s pardon. But the reading of this book, instead of drawing men towards frequent Communion, is calculated to alienate them. People do not frequent the Sacraments as they used to do—not only at Easter, but at other seasons. Many curés in Paris are saying that they have many fewer communicants than in former years. There are 3,000 less at S. Sulpice. M. le Curé of S. Nicolas du Chardonnet has told me recently that, when visits were paid after Easter in his parish by him­self and others, he found 1,50o of his parishioners had not made their Communion; and it is the same elsewhere. Also, there are none now who approach the first Sunday of the month or on festivals, or very few, even at the religious houses, except a few with the Jesuits. This is what the late M. de S. Cyran was aiming at to bring the Jesuits into discredit. The other day M. de Chavigny said to an intimate friend that this gentleman had told him there was an agreement between himself and Jan-senius to discredit the Order on all points concerning the administration of the Sacraments. I have myself heard him say things to this effect constantly…

” You say also that, as Jansenius read all the works of S. Augustine ten times, and his treatises concerning Grace thirty:times, the Mission Priests are not fit to ques­tion his opinions.

” To which I reply, Monsieur, that those who desire to establish new doctrines always are learned, and give deep study to the authors of whom they are making use; that this Bishop should be acknowledged to be very learned, and that he may have read S. Augustine as many times as you say, with the intention of discrediting the Jesuits. But that does not prevent him from having fallen into error, and we shall have no excuse for sharing in his opinions in defiance of the censure of his doctrine. All priests are bound to repudiate and contradict the doctrine of Calvin and other heretics, although they have never read either their books or the authors from which their doctrines are drawn.

” And when you say, Monsieur, that we do not need to know whether there be Grace Sufficient, I beg leave to answer that it seems to me of great importance that all Christians should know and believe that God is so good, that by the Grace of Jesus Christ all may obtain salvation; that by Jesus Christ He has given them the means, and that this is a great manifestation of the goodness of God.”

Arnauld’s book had power to grip the minds of its readers, however, and M. d’Horgny ventured to write another letter to S. Lazare in its defence. The second reply was as vigorous as the first11:

“It may be (as you say) that certain persons in France and Italy have drawn benefit from this book; but for a hundred in Paris to whom it has been useful in teaching more reverence in approaching the Sacrament, there have been ten thousand, at the least, whom it has injured by driving them away… . It is absolutely certain that if anyone holds his maxims to be true, he must of necessity be hindered in frequenting the Sacraments. For my own part, I tell you frankly that, if I paid the same respect to M. Arnauld’s book that you do, I should give up’ both Mass and Communion from a sense of humility, and I should also be in terror of the Sacrament, regarding It, according to the book, as a snare of Satan, and as poison to the souls of those who receive It under the usual con­ditions that the Church approves. And if we discard all other considerations and confine ourselves solely to what he says of the perfect disposition, without which one should not make Communion, is there anyone on earth with such a high opinion of his own virtue that he would think himself worthy ? Such a position is held by M. Arnauld alone, who, having made the necessary con­ditions so difficult that S. Paul might have feared to approach, does not hesitate to tell us repeatedly that he says Mass daily. In this his humility is only equalled by the charity that he displays towards so many wise directors, secular as well as religious, and towards their penitents.”

It is very rarely that we discover M. Vincent moved to real indignation, but we shall see that the attack of the Jansenists threatened the deepest injury to the work of the Mission Priests, and he could see in it nothing but evil. It was a great source of danger that the Jansenist assault was levelled at abuses recognized by the Lazarists, which it was part of their mission to correct. M. Vin­cent’s distress at the light-mindedness of many of those who administered and of those who received the Sacra­ments was as deep as that of S. Cyran or of Antoine Arnauld; but he believed that spiritual advance and ultimate salvation depended on the grace imparted in the Sacrament of the Altar, and, further, that that Sacred Mystery was to be approached only by those who, having in penitence confessed their sins, had been cleansed by Absolution. His touch with the dying sinner at Folleville had been a turning-point in his own life, and it was inevitable that questions concerning the use and abuse of the confessional should have occupied him con­tinually. His charges to the Mission Priests, and his warnings to the Sisters of Charity, show us how fully he saw the power for evil which lay in the hands of an un­worthy priest; but the chief aim of the Lazarist was, nevertheless, to direct the people towards the sacramental life. A Retreat was, as we have seen, primarily a summons to repentance; and a series of Mission sermons, however much instruction they had conveyed to the ignorant, had failed of their purpose if they did not awake the slumbering consciences of the listeners. It is experience such as had fallen to the lot of M. Vincent that teaches the value of the Sacrament of Penance. Sorrow for sin is possible to all men, but only the Catholic is taught to bring his burden, at whatever cost of shame, to the feet of the Saviour Who has bought redemption for him. The sinner had no assurance of forgiveness until he had bent his will to the avowal of guilt, and again and again M. Vin­cent had seen the alteration of a life as the result of a reconciliation won at the cost of long and bitter struggle.

To him it seemed that the Jansenists, in the ferocity of their attack, were destroying the treasures of the Church, and that none of the evils that cried for remedy were to be compared for danger to the means employed to extir­pate them. It should be remembered that modern opinions regarding the standards and teaching of the Jesuits of that period have frequently been based on Pascal’s ” Provincial Letters ” ; but every student of de­votional life will acknowledge that the Jesuit of that inimitable work is an extreme type, and may not be regarded as representative. The secret power of the Society of Jesus was being used to silence the Jansenist writers, and Pascal, spurred by a sense of justice as well as by an intense conviction of the righteousness of his cause, used his weapon of ridicule relentlessly, and in­volved the innocent in the ignominy he desired to heap upon the guilty. Probably the particular forms of abuse against which the attacks both of Arnauld and Pascal were levelled did not come under M. Vincent’s notice. His dealings were with the ignorant, with the dévote, or with the sinner at the crisis of conversion; the subtleties of casuistry did not concern him deeply. What did concern him was the spread of any opinion which could alienate the souls of men from the means of grace, and he believed there was proof that the advance of spiritual life was being arrested by the doctrines promulgated from Port Royal. He had seen with delight his ideal of the vocation of the parish priest fulfilled by M. Olier at S. Sulpice, and the religious revival that had resulted; and there was no denying that S. Sulpice suffered by the spread of the new opinions. It might be true that the free dispensation of the Sacraments in that period of scandalous living had given fair excuse for protest, and that even the most devoted priests were too anxious for numerical result; but M. Vincent preferred that the way should continue to be made too easy, if the alternative was that closed door of the Jansenist penitence through which a sinner might hardly gain entrance.

” For three months I have made the doctrine of Grace the subject of my prayer,” he told his Company at one of their Conferences, ” and each day God has strength­ened me in my faith that Our Lord died for us all, and that He desires to save the whole world.”12

And yet it should be remembered that the Mission Priests did not depict the way of salvation as an easy path. If we follow the process they adopted in their Missions we find that if they are less sensational than the Port Royalists, they are hardly less forcible. They did not begin with description of the pains of hell, and denunciation of the sinners for whom these were reserved ; but the course of the Mission was not complete if such description and such denunciation were omitted. Sin in its various forms was their most frequent theme, and when they dwelt on sin and its terrors, it was to lead their hearers to the reality of penitence, which was the way of escape. Those to whom M. Vincent entrusted the conduct of a Mission were experienced in the guidance of human souls; the deepest part of their personal work was done in the confessional, and the virtues of patience and of charity were essential to its accomplishment. But they were not taught to be tolerant of sin. They reiterate the necessity of the offering of shame and sacrifice; they were not satisfied with a mere outward semblance of contrition, with a superficial survey of past errors and their causes. ” Everywhere nowadays Chris­tians throw the burden of their faults on each other. The husband on the wife’s fancies and caprices; while to hear the wife you would believe her to be a saint, if the ill-temper and irregularity of her husband had not spoilt her temper. The father throws blame on his chil­dren, and they on him and on their mother. Those who live in continual enmity allege the incompatibility of their neighbours. One excuse for oaths is the stupidity of servants, the other the violence of masters. Force of habit, youth, bad companionship, poverty—all serve as excuses. There are some who lay the blame on their destiny and the course of the stars, others who will confess the sins of others to shield their own. Such as these come as counsel for the defence, not as a prisoner pleading guilty, and they are reversing the order of penitence ordained by God Himself.” So runs one of the Mission sermons of M. Vincent’s earlier time13, and it holds more than a suggestion that the way would not be made too easy. In fact, the Lazarists themselves and the new order of parish priests whom they had trained were severe in their dealing with their penitents; but the excesses of some of the prominent Jansenists produced a panic, and brought those who practised the most ordinary strictness under suspicion of belonging to the new sect.

It may be seen, then, that from M. Vincent’s point of view the doctrine of Port Royal did and could do nothing but harm, and was directly subversive of all his, hopes for the future. In the Rule of his Company we find14 that ” one of the principal points of our Missions is to inspire others to receive the Sacraments of Penance and of the Eucharist frequently and worthily. It is fitting, therefore, that we go beyond others and give the example in this matter. We will endeavour to attain to greater perfection in each; and that order may be main­tained in all things, every priest shall confess twice (or once at the very least) every week, and shall celebrate Holy Mass every day.” But avowedly one of the princi-paI points of Jansenist teaching was to inspire such awe of the Sacraments that they could only be approached very rarely by the pastor as well as by his flock. In short, the religion of Port Royal—full as it was of pure aspiration—was the religion only of the few, and it was calculated to alienate those for whom it was not suited from the practice of any religion. It was not the erudite few, but the great mass of the people, for whom M. Vincent spent himself; it was their immense need for which he prayed continually; and it was against them that he believed the Port Royalists were closing the door of salvation.

If it were possible for us to realize this fully, we should cease to wonder that this apostle of charity took the side of persecution. No other threat of danger ever moved him as did this one. The horrors of civil strife, the cruelty of unjust laws, aroused his pity and some­times his indignation; but through every bodily suffering he could see the possibility that God might work upon a human soul. It was the thought that the means of grace would be made more difficult of access that kindled his wrath into active violence. The Jansenists recog­nized him as their most dangerous opponent, and in this they are the more likely to have been accurate because he was not a controversialist, but entered the lists at the prompting of intense conviction. It is a manifest absurdity to suggest that he chose his part on a motive of worldly wisdom, that he might stand well with the Jesuits at a moment when their fortunes were on the ascendant. M. Vincent at all times was a faulty diplo­matist, and we cannot find one instance when he con­ciliated the possessors of power to serve the interests of the Company. His faithful support of Cardinal de Retz and its penalty is sufficient proof to the contrary. It is not necessary to follow his course of action in detail; from the day when he first grasped the meaning of the doctrine of Jansenius until his death he was unchanging in his opposition15. It was said by a French Bishop that, ” just as S. Ignatius and his Society were raised up by God to combat Luther and Calvin, so were Vincent de Paul and his Company for the battle against Jansenism.”16

His position on the Council of Conscience gave him peculiar power. When the Sorbonne had condemned the Five Propositions drawn from the ” Augustinus,” a petition signed by eighty-five French Bishops was for­warded to Rome. It was to ask for the Papal confirma­tion of the sentence on the Jansenists, and if the plea was granted (as eventually it was), it meant the ruin of Port Royal. This petition was the work of M. Vincent, and was forwarded by him for signature. The labour and correspondence in which it involved him must have been immense, but his zeal and determination were unflag­ging. At all costs, also, he purified his Company from the insidious poison of the new opinions. Lancelot, the disciple and biographer of S. Cyran, had been trained by M. Bourdoise in his Seminary at S. Nicolas du Char­donnet; M. Bourdoise himself—impressed by the austere practices of the Jansenist priests—had wavered in his disapproval of their doctrines; the Oratorians were so deeply infected as to be past hope of recovery; while Antoine Singlin passed from intimate relations with Vincent de Paul himself to be Confessor and Director at Port Royal. There were gaps in the ranks of the Ladies of Charity also, and laymen who were regarded as staunch-supporters of the Church were discovered to be eager partisans of the rebels. The danger was too great for temporizing, and M. Vincent gave no quarter where he held authority.

” As to your idea that each one of the Company should be left free to form his own conclusions on this subject,” he wrote to M. d’Horgny17, “I reply, Monsieur, that it is not submission to your Superior that is required of you, but to God, to the Pope, and to the Saints; and if there be any who refuse to yield, it will be well for him to withdraw from the Company, or else for the Company to require him to do so.”

In fact, a Lazarist must oppose Port Royal, or he must cease to be a Lazarist. M. d’Horgny capitulated, but the Company became the poorer by fourteen of its members who were not equally submissive.

The triumph of the Jesuits is a matter of history. All the force of Papal condemnation was levelled against Jansenism, and Port Royal was ruined. This is not the place to enlarge on the struggle and suffering by which the nuns and hermits of Port Royal bought their influence upon their age. Whether the opinion of the individual upholds or condemns them, it is impossible to study their lives and to deny that they were seekers after truth inbelief, and holiness in practice, for themselves andothers ; and it is no small addition to the irony and the tragedy of their fate that Vincent de Paul should have been numbered among the most implacable of their enemies. Perhaps in this he failed in insight, or blinded himself on principle. To him faith came simply, and obedience was inevitable. If he had had to contend with doubts and questions in himself, he could not have served others in the manner that God required of him. He saw the few bringing injury to the many, the gifted minority threatening the ignorant masses; and because he was the friend and defender of the ignorant, it was not his part to dwell on the motives of those who harmed them. He had accepted it as his vocation to help the poor to save their souls, and therefore against any who might hinder them in such endeavour he was pitiless.

  1. Abelli, part ii., chap. iv.
  2. Duvergier de Hauranne, Abbé de S. Cyran.
  3. Jansenius was Bishop of Ypres, and died in 1638.
  4. May, 1638.
  5. Till February, 1643.
  6. “Lettres,” vol. L, No. 124.
  7. Quoted by Abelli, vol. ii., chap. ii., sect. 12.
  8. “Mémoires,” par M. Lancelot, part iii., chapters xxxiii., xxxiv.
  9. Gerberon, ” Hist. de Jansenisme,” vol. i., p. 422.
  10. “Lettres,” vol. i., No. 124. June, 1648.
  11. “Lettres,” vol. i., No. 128. September, 1648.
  12. See ” Process of Canonization,” evidence of Antoine Durand.
  13. “Sermons de S. Vincent de Paul,” No. 10.
  14. “Règles,” chap. x., art. 6.
  15. “Quine se jettera sur ce petit monstre qui commenceà ravager l’Église et qui enfin la désolera, si on ne l’étouffe à sa naissance ?” t-1 l’Évêque de Luçon: “Lettres,” vol. i., No. 193.
  16. See ” Process of Canonization,” quoted by Maynard. ” Vie de S. Vincent de Paul,” vol. ii., liv. v.
  17. “Lettres,” vol. i., No. 124.

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