Chapter II: A promising adolescence
“Paris is well worth a Mass”
The years 1593, 1594 and 1595 were important ones for France and it was at this very time that the peasant from Pouy decided to send his son, Vincent, to study. These were key years, not only for this bright young shepherd boy, but for the whole of France as well. In some mysterious way the development of France’s history synchronises with the dynamic progress of Vincent de Paul’s life. In both cases there is a chronological connection between the period of ascendancy and the point in time when man and nation will reach their peak.
In 1594, the former Huguenot, Henry of Bourbon, became recognised almost everywhere as King of France. One year earlier, on July 25th, 1593, (perhaps at the very time that Vincent was giving the beggar the only thirty sous he had) Henry had solemny abjured heresy in the church of Saint Denis and returned once more to the bosom of the Catholic Church. Was this a calculated move, a step taken from conviction or a patriotic gesture? Thanks to his conversion, whether this was sincere or motivated by self‑interest; and thanks to a shrewd policy of concessions and awards, Henry gradually managed to get himself accepted by his catholic subjects.
After a quarter of a century of bloody religious strife, domestic peace began to be a reality for France. In February, 1594, Henry was consecrated at Chartres with the oil used at the coronation ceremony of all previous Christian monarchs and within a month he had made his triumphal entry into Paris (“Paris is well worth a Mass”) while the Spanish garrison that had occupied the capital, withdrew without any military engagement. The following year, after long hesitation, consultation and prayer, Pope Clement VIII absolved the former heretic. The war with Spain was to drag on for a further three years. Then, with the exception of a brief period of hostilities, in 1598, the Edict of Nantes and the Peace of Vervins put the official seal on peace at home and abroad. France had started on the path to greatness. The powerful nation recovered its strength and, under the direction of an able monarch who was energetic, astute, clear‑sighted and cynical, the country prepared to unite all its forces for the great plan, “le grand dessein” for the supremacy of Europe. It would take three reigns and eighty years (the eighty years Vincent’s life) to achieve this but the great task was set in motion. The monarch’s reign had begun and even though it was perhaps less brilliant than the two that followed, it was nevertheless of fundamental importance as it signalled the dawn of a new era.1
How much of all this religious, political and military confusion reached that obscure village at the other end of the kingdom? Echoes of the exhausting negotiations (the Estates General and Suresnes discussions) would reach them via the slow mail of that period or by the occasional arrival of some visitor. They would learn, too, about defeats and victories in far away, unknown cities ‑ Doullens, Cambrai, Calais, Fontaine‑Française, Amiéns, Paris ‑ and there would also be decrees from the bishop and from the Pope. During the long wintry evenings the de Paul family would sit round the hearth discussing any news or rumours.
Many years later Vincent would perhaps recall the impression made on him by father’s account of these happenings.
“You know about the riots that took place in France during the reign of Henry IV. That prince had previously been a heretic and apostate, and if he had declared himself an enemy of the catholic religion for a second time, then his subjects would no longer be bound to obey him. This king followed his conscience and renounced the error of his ways. He knew that the townspeople might refuse to obey him and he immediately indicated to Rome that he wished to be reconciled…”2
The famous phrase, “Paris is well worth a Mass” had not yet been heard in the humble home of Pouy. The king’s conversion came when “he followed his conscience”. Can we see in these lines a revelation of the first political stance taken by Vincent de Paul when he was a young man? By the time he reached old age, any wounds to Vincent’s conscience were now only scars; and former hatreds, if any such ever existed, were now forgotten. Buried in history were the excesses of Jeanne d’Albret’s troops, the atrocities committed during the campaigns of Montluc and Montgomery, the sacriligious destruction of the sanctuary of Buglose and attempts by the heretics to attack Dax. By now Protestants had ceased to be a growing force in France. It was not a question of fighting them but of winning them over. Here we can see, perhaps, the roots of Vincent’s gentleness in dealing with dissidents; a gentleness that was to prove contagious.3
“How disobedient I used to be”
With the coming of peace, life returned to normal and so it was back to school again. One day at the beginning of autumn in 1594 or 1595,4 father and son arrived at the door of the Franciscan monastery in Dax. It was from behind that door that Vincent would begin the long journey that would eventually take him far away from his native region, but which would never be able to break the bonds that linked him to the land and to country places. But for the moment he had to cope with the rudiments of Latin, because in those days this was the compulsory basis of humanistic studies. Surrounded by a swarm of school companions who perhaps belonged to families of somewhat higher social status than his own (sons of attorneys or provincial lawyers, of traders or merchants who were trying to better themselves, sons of some nobleman or other) Vincent began to feel further and further distanced from the obscure family tree that was his origin. We know this from a couple of colourful anecdotes which he himself would later relate, to his public embarrassment.
“I remember that when I was a lad my father used to take me to town with him. He was badly dressed and a bit lame and so I was ashamed to go with him and acknowledge him as my father. Wretched me! How disobedient I was.”5
“In the school where I was studying, they told me that my father, who was a poor peasant, had called to see me. I refused to go out and talk to him and so I committed a grave sin.”6
Perhaps it was in reaction to these peccadillos of childish vanity that Vincent, in later years, was to insist on his humble family background. These stories are useful because they give us a more complete picture of Vincent at the outset of his career. A generous heart and a child’s openness are set alongside an adolescent’s conceit and the seeds of rebellion. It is the human face of a youth whose character is still being formed and who has not yet experienced the powerful promptings of grace.
Vincent’s studies with the Franciscans in Dax were short‑lived; they lasted barely two years. So according to the French educational system, he would have followed fourth and fifth grade classes. Vincent himself used to say that he was only a poor fourth grade student, and what we have always taken to be a sign of his humility should perhaps be interpreted literally.7
The Father Guardian of the Franciscans noted the lad’s lively intelligence and recommended Vincent to an unexpected patron who may have been known to the family. This benefactor was Monsieur de Comet, a lawyer from Dax and judge at Pouy. M. de Comet’s patronage brought a twofold benefit to Vincent; it allowed him to continue his studies without too much of a financial burden being put on his family, and it also pointed him in the clear direction of an ecclesiastical career.8 Comet had him removed from the Franciscans and brought to his own house as tutor, or perhaps we should say as monitor and older companion for his children. From now on they wouldn’t have to scrape together the seventy livres for his board. At the same time he began to see that his real calling was to the priesthood.
According to Comet, Vincent received the tonsure and minor orders on 20th December, 1596, when he was just over fifteen years of age.9 With the permission of the Chapter of Dax, this ceremony was performed at Bidache because the episcopal see was vacant at the time. Vincent began his university studies the following year. His father had complete confidence in the boy’s ability, and trusting in the bright future that lay ahead for his son, made one more sacrifice so that the ambition could be realised; he sold a pair of oxen.10 The good peasant continued to take an interest in this, the most gifted of his children, and this continued even after his death which occurred during Vincent’s first year at university. In his will, dated February 7th, 1598, he arranged that no effort should be spared so that his son could continue his studies, and to this effect he disposed of his property in terms as favourable to Vincent as the law allowed.11
There were two different scenarios for Vincent de Paul’s academic career. These were Toulouse and Zaragoza, although most of his student days were spent in the French city. A certificate signed by the academic authorities of Toulouse in 1604, and later found in the saint’s room after his death, confirms his seven years of theological studies.12 His stay in Zaragoza seems to have been a brief one. The information we have on this point is not very precise but the dates given lead us to believe that he spent several months there, or possibly a complete academic year. We don’t know, either, if Vincent studied here before going to Toulouse, or whether this course was followed at some time during a break from his main studies. There is no doubt, however, that he did study at Zaragoza. We have categorical statements about this from his two biographers, Abelly and Collet, (both of them Frenchmen) who had access to the earliest documents.
“It is true that during this period, (the seven years of theological studies) he went to Spain and that he lived and studied in Zaragoza for a time.”13
“We cannot be sure whether he went to Aragón before beginning his studies in Toulouse. What we do know for certain is that he did study in Zaragoza for a time, but he did not stay there long.”14
No consideration, such as an increase in personal prestige, or a covert attempt to make the saint’s life history more interesting, could have induced these biographer‑witnesses to invent such an isolated piece of information. It stands out like some solid landmark that keeps alive the memory of a path which will later be obliterated.
At various times Vincent made indirect, but unmistakeble references, to the fact that he had lived for a time in Spain. He referred specifically to the teaching methods that were in vogue in Spanish universities. The saint doesn’t give the impression that he is speaking from hearsay; his words reflect lived experience. He was always opposed to the very widespread practice of dictating notes and to support this view he would put forward, with boring insistency, the example of universities in Spain.
“Pupils in Spanish schools are not allowed to write in class.15 What can be said of the universities where this business of taking notes in class is absolutely unheard of? The lecturers are content to explain their subject verbally and yet everyone agrees that they produce the most profound theologians.16 I believe it has never been the custom to dictate notes in Spain or Italy. That is why Spaniards are very scholarly and they study the sciences in greater depth than students do anywhere else”.17
Pedro de Cerbuna, the founder of Zaragoza university, and his collaborator, Diego Frailla, laid down the university statutes in 1583. These required lecturers to expound subject and to make sure that their students understood and memorised what they heard. They were not to wait for the students to take notes since “the practice of dictating notes conveys little information to the listener, and does not help him to understand what he hears because the subject has not been adequately explained.”18
More precise is Vincent’s reference to some of the customs followed by Carmelite nuns in Spain.
“The Carmelites are very austere and they aim at practising great mortification. Unlike their sisters in France who wear sandals, these nuns go barefoot. I don’t know very much about Carmelites in this country, but I do know that in Spain they wear neither stockings nor sandals. They have only a bit of hay or straw to sleep on even during the harsh winter.”19
The fact that Vincent de Paul is more conversant with the customs of Spanish Carmelites than he is with those followed by the nuns in his own country, can only be explained by his having been in Spain at some time, Vincent also speaks of the Carmelites’ meals, and again we see that he had first‑hand knowledge of their way of life.
“They eat very simply and have large plates of soup and rotten eggs. This is their diet even though they come from wealthy families and have been delicately nurtured. I am quite certain about what I am telling you. The eggs served to them are putrid and they have to eat them.”20
If, in the earlier quotation, he admitted that he did not know much about the Carmelites in France; in the second quotation he is so certain of his facts that he could only be speaking about the Spanish nuns whom he knew well. The Carmelite foundation in Zaragoza dates from 1588, some ten years before this university freshman arrived in Aragón.
The final piece of evidence is of a more general nature and it has political connotations. Perhaps this is why Vincent does not name the country in question.
“I was once in a country, (he told the Daughters of Charity on 6th January, 1658,) where there was a certain religious who went to see the king and he asked for news of what was happening at court. The person he was addressing answered, ‘But why would a religious want to meddle in the affairs of royalty?’ In this country people never discuss the king. He is sacred and they have such respect for everything concerning him that such matters are never spoken about. So in this country everyone is loyally united to the king and nobody is allowed to say a word about his commands.”21
This catholic kingdom that Vincent said he had been in, can only refer to Spain. No other European state at that time could fully match the description given; either the countries were not kingdoms, or they weren’t catholic or they weren’t characterised by blind obedience to the monarch. On the other hand; Spain in the last years of Philip II’s reign, fits the description perfectly. Furthermore, we have not the slightest indication that Vincent de Paul ever stayed in any other country.
We know absolutely nothing about Vincent’s reasons for coming to Zaragoza or for his speedy return to France. It may be, as Spanish tradition has always held, that he had family connections with influential clergy in Aragón.22 Collet’s theory about Vincent’s return to France was favourably received by biographers until it was discredited by Coste. Collet suggested that Vincent, who was peace‑loving and charitable by nature, left Zaragoza in disgust because he could not stand the bitter disputes among theologians over the controversial questions of Middle Knowledge and the decrees on predestination.23 This romantic interpretation of the situation is flawed, because it conflicts with the sad reality of what was happening, during these same years, at the university of Toulouse.
There would be frequent and violent quarrels among students from different regions ‑ Burgundy, Languedoc, Lorraine, France and Champagne, and these quarrels would often degenerate into armed combat. Every year the Parlement of Toulouse was obliged to prohibit the use of arms by students, and this on pain of death. There were house searches, fines, arrests and other harsher penalties. No way could be found or to teach these riotous students a lesson or to put an end to such behaviour. They demanded a “welcome” from all foreigners whether these were students or not, and on at least one occasion, two of them were found guilty of murder, after they had caused the death of one of the officials of the municipality. They were condemned to death for this crime but later reprieved by the Parlement because of their youth.24 If Vincent was looking for peace he wouldn’t have gained much by leaving Zaragoza for Toulouse. A more reasonable explanation based on the information we have available, is that Vincent began his studies at Zaragoza in 1597, and was obliged to return home half way through his course when his father died in February, 1598. Then, as he hadn’t the money to return to Zaragoza (he couldn’t sell another pair of oxen) he transferred his course to Toulouse and it was here that he completed his first year in theology. Toulouse consequently awarded him a certificate in 1604 stating that he had studied there for seven years.25
Unfortunately, researchers have been so preoccupied with these particular problems that their attention has been diverted from more interesting questions such as the quality of education that Vincent received in Toulouse and Zaragoza, diverted from more interesting questions such as the quality of education that Vincent received in Toulouse and Zaragoza, the doctrinal persuasions of his teachers, and the influence that this alma mater of western christian culture had on his thinking. And yet these are the things that we would be more interested in knowing about.
When Vincent was at Zaragoza and Toulouse he was at an age when he could be both formed and informed. From the world around him he selects his own particular ideological baggage; he forms his own personal view of the world and adopts convictions and points of view that he will adhere to all his life. As there are no monographs written on this subject we can only come to very general conclusions viz: the solid scholastic training he received, the mental gymnastics of academic dissertation and the habit of painstakingly thinking a question through, that Vincent would have acquired from his contact with the great masters. This is only a small fraction of that we would like to know about how Vincent developed a way of thinking which, even if it was never speculative or brilliant, always reflected the soundness and coherence of a solid corpus of doctrine that was deeply rooted in the very fibres of his being.26
The young student’s financial position became much worse when his father died. Vincent was reluctant to take advantage of the small bequests left to him in his father’s will because this would have meant his mother and family receiving less.27 If he was to continue his studies and pay his expenses, then he would have to provide the resources himself. His experience of working in the Comet household, and perhaps, too, his memories of early experiences in the Franciscan boarding school, suggested the course of action he should take. Like so many students in every age, he would teach and study at the same time. The boarding school that Vincent directed was opened at Buzet‑sur‑Tarn, about thirty kilometres from Toulouse. The school proved to be a success and it began to have a good reputation in that small country place. Pupils came from as far away as Toulouse as Vincent explained to his mother in the first letter we have that tells us anything about himself; the first of thousands and thousands of letters he would write in the course of his long life. Unfortunately, that letter is now lost. We know nothing about it except the brief reference that Abelly salvaged. But it is good to think that the first letter written by a man whose pen was to prove the most powerful means of governing, and of influencing people, was a letter to his mother, such as any schoolboy studying away from home might have written.
Some of his pupils came from families that were influential in that region because parents wanted their sons to be educated in an environment where discipline was upheld.
Collet assures us that they even included two great‑nephews of Jean de la Valette, famous master of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem which forty years earlier, in 1565, had defended Malta with 15,000 men from an attack by the Turkish army which boasted a force of 150,000. When Vincent had to return to Toulouse to continue his studies, he took his pupils with him and the parents readily consented to this. The life of teacher‑student was a hard one. Vincent couldn’t have had much time left to prepare his university work. Imagination can’t be far removed from the reality of the situation, when Collet pictures him going to bed late, getting up at the crack of dawn, and having no time to spare for leisure activities or for legitimate relaxation.28 He had to find a way out of that situation and discover a less arduous way of life. In the society of those days, the answer would be to acquire an ecclesiastical benefice early in life. Vincent decided to be ordained to the priesthood as soon as possible.
“If I had only know what the priesthood involved…”
There is no uncertainty about the date of Vincent’s ordination to each stage of the priesthood. Copies still exist, both of letters dimissory and correspondence that confirms each stage of ordination. According to these documents, Vincent was ordained subdeacon and deacon on 19th September and 19th December 1598, respectively, by Sauveur bishop of Tarbes. Authorisation for his subdiaconate was signed by the Vicar General of Dax, Guillaume Massiot, because by 10th September, the episcopal see had become vacant. Guillaume Massiot also signed the authorisation for his admittance to the diaconate but this time he did so in the name of Jean Jacob Dussault, the new bishop, who would have been appointed by then but not officially confirmed in office, and the documents were drawn up on 11th December. In both cases there was scarcely a week’s interval between authorisation for, and conferring of, the appropriate stage of Vincent’s advance to the priesthood. On 13th September. 1599, the same Vicar General and bishop of Dax granted permission for priestly ordination but Vincent delayed using this permission for over a year. He did not present himself to the bishop of nearby Tarbes but was ordained priest on 23rd September, 1660, in a diocese of the Périgueux region some distance from Dax and Pouy and from Toulouse. He was ordained by the eldery bishop of that diocese, François de Bourdeille, in the church of St. Julian at Château l’Évêque, the bishop’s country residence. At any rate, Vincent made use of the university vacation period to be ordained to the priesthood.29
This tiny handful of indisputable dates conceals a few problems for historical and biographical interpretation.30
We have to grapple, particularly, with the problem of Vincent’s age at this time. If he was born in 1581 or 1580, by September, 1660, he would have been nineteen or, at most, twenty. According to the presciptions of the Council of Trent which insisted on candidates being twenty four years old, he wasn’t canonically eligible for ordination. But it was only later on that the prescriptions of the Council of Trent were applied in France, and its decrees weren’t promulgated until the General Assembly of Clergy in 1615. In the meant time and for a considerable period afterwards, there were many abuses.
We have written evidence that irregular ordinations to the priesthood because candidates were under age, was a commonplace. This led to numerous appeals to Rome for a dispensation.31 The Vicar General of Dax who authorised Vincent’s ordination stated that the candidate was of lawful age but this was not true.
Was he acting behind the back of Mons. Dussault, the new bishop? As Diebold has shown; the bishop, who was a reforming prelate, would have set up a programme of christian and ecclesiastical reform during the diocesan synod of 18th, April, 1660.32 This would have been in progress between the dates for authorisation and the actual ceremony of Vincent’s ordination. In any case, the fact remains that it was an irregular ordination because the candidate was below the age required by Canon Law.
The new bishop’s determination to introduce reforms could explain another riddle that has puzzled scholars:33 the reason why Vincent would have gone to no less a place than Périgueux to be ordained by an eighty four years old bishop, Mons. Bourdeille, who was to die on 24th October, 1600, barely a month after the ceremony.34 The idea that Vincent searched out a distant diocese and an unknown bishop in order to dodge the disciplinary rules of his new prelate, doesn’t seem as fanciful now as when Rédier suggested it, in one of those apt and intuitive inspirations he had from time to time.35
The history of Vincent’s ordination to the priesthood is most important if we are to fully understand his personality. At the age of twenty Vincent de Paul was not the saintly priest, full of apostolic fervour, that traditional hagiography would have us believe. If this had been the case he would never have dared, in conscience, to contravene the prescriptions of Trent. But neither was he a corrupt young man, insensitive to the “gravity” of the sin he committed in being irregularly ordained before he was of canonical age; a sin which at a more mature age he would keep silent about, so as not to besmirch the memory of the prelates who were accomplices in his fraud.36 This particular abuse was so frequent, and so firmly established, that neither the ordinand nor the prelate, if, in fact, the latter knew about the canonical irregularity, would have felt any shame in complying with so prevalent a custom.37 He was just a poor youngster who saw the priesthood as a quick means of securing a respectable position in society (the quicker the better). He wasn’t too concerned that in order to do this he would have to contravene a certain number of juridical formalities which had recently been introduced, and find a shrewd way of evading the excessive zeal of a new pastor who was not familiar with old, and generally accepted, customs.
The fact that the ordination was irregular could not have had any adverse effect on the bishop of Dax’s opinion of his subject ‑ nor, for the moment, did it worry the young man himself. Eight years later, Vincent had no hesitation in asking the bishop of Dax for a reference since, and these are Vincent’s own words, “You have always know me to be an honest man”.38
It was by just such an expeditious route that Vincent, when he was barely twenty years old, achieved the goal that by common consent his father, the farmer from Puoy, and his benefactor, M. de Comet had pushed him towards. From what we know of his later history, it was also the path that God was pointing out to him. But was it for Vincent a vocation that sprang from deep conviction? We cannot be sure of this. Years later, one of his nephews thought he had a vocation and this brought to the saint’s mind the time leading up to his own ordination.
“As for me, if I had known what the priesthood entailed when I was rash enough to enter this state, as I found out about it later on, I would rather have gone on tilling the fields than commit myself to such an exalted calling”.39
He is even more explicit when talking to a lawyer whom he tried to dissuade from becoming a priest.
“…experience obliges me to warn those who ask my advice about the priesthood, that they should not commit themselves to this unless they have a real vocation from God, a pure intention of pleasing the Lord by practising the same virtues that he did and other unmistakable signs that the divine will is calling them to it. And I feel so strongly about this that if I were not already a priest, I would never become one”.40
On another occasion, in the presence of his confreres, Vincent paints a picture of the priesthood which puts before us the contemporary scene and, at the same time, is a self portrait (a painful one because by this time he was a saint).
“After studying philosophy and theology for a few years, and having only a smattering of Latin, a young man would go off to a parish and administer the sacraments after his own fashion”.41
“A real vocation from God”, “a pure intention of honouring God” and an adequate pastoral preparation ‑ these are the three things which, after nearly seventy years of priestly life, Vincent thought he lacked when he took the decisive step.
What were his dispositions at that time? What motives did he have for becoming a priest? On the one hand there is the element of rashness referred to in the first of his letters just quoted. Another factor would be self‑will; he made his own decision without trying to discover if it was God’s will; and then there was his worldly outlook. He had too materialistic a view of the priestly state, and all we can say to excuse this fault, is that Vincent was the product of his age.
“How wretched are those who enter the priestly state through the window of their own choice and not by the door of a genuine vocation. However, there are many people who view the ecclesiastical state as a peaceful way of life, where they seek, not to labour, but to find their ease”.42
“The twenty year old is a fearsome animal”
No, at the age of twenty, (Mateo Alemán, a Spanish contemporary of Vincent, wrote “the twenty year old is a fearsome animal”) Vincent de Paul had not come to grips psychologically or effectively with his vocation. And yet this was his God‑given calling. There is no paradox here. Do we need to invoke the hackneyed phrase that God writes straight with crooked lines? For Vincent de Paul at the age of twenty, the priesthood is not a special way of life; it is just a way of life. When he embraced this state he expected to find his ease, not toil. He was soon to be disillusioned.
It is with great respect and a deep fear of being misunderstood, that the author writes these lines. Vincent de Paul is not a heartless individual; he never was that, even at the age of twenty. Looked at simply from the historical perspective of his times and background, he is just one of many poor, but ambitious young men, who have been made to regard the ecclesiastical state as a means of bettering themselves. This utilitarian view of the ecclesiastical state as opposed to an appreciation of the real meaning of the priesthood, does not preclude a certain natural goodness, sense of duty, and willingness to meet the obligations of the calling. These might also have been young men of piety and if their piety was perhaps superficial, it was none the less sincere.
Vincent disciplined himself to wait some time before celebrating his first Mass and this showed he had the dispositions which leading bishops of the reform movement required.43 This first Mass was celebrated in a locality that had witnessed Vincent’s labours and his ambitions. According to tradition, this place was a little chapel dedicated to Our Lady, high up in the mountains; surrounded by woods and bordering on Buzet‑sur‑Tarn where Vincent had had his school. There was nobody else present except the altar boy and the assisting priest.44 All the evidence suggests that he said this Mass with great fervour, and this view is supported by tradition and by the most rigorous contemporary research.45
When he became a priest, Vincent bade a decisive farewell to his childhood and adolescence. He was now on the threshold of early adulthood ‑ at an age when he wanted to know about things; an age of searching and of making plans. Vincent felt no qualms as he moved into this stage. He had made his own decision. He had plans that he had thought out for himself without bothering to make sure that they were in accordance with God’s will. All through this next stage in life he would insist on carrying out these plans, in spite of repeated failures. Gradually, and it must be said, very gradually, he will discover another plan. This plan will not be of his making, but of God’s. And when Vincent discovers God, he will also discover himself. In other words, he will find his vocation.
- For specific information about the History of France, see E. LAVISSE., “Histoire de France” Vol.6 y 7. R. MOUSNIER’s book “L’assassinat d’Henri IV” (Paris 1964) is an original interpretation of Henry IV and his reign.
- S.V.P. XII p.347: ES XI p.623.
- P. DEFRENNES. “La conversion de Saint Vincent de Paul”: RAM (1932) p.391.
- Abelly states that Vincent began his studies “about 1588” (op. cit., 1.1 c.3 p.10), that is to say when he was twelve years old, according to his way of reckoning. Collet agrees with this way of calculating. “Vincent de Paul was twelve years old when his father decided that his son should begin to study” (op. cit., Vol.1 p.8). But Vincent himself stated that he remained in the country “till he was fifteen” (S.V.P. IX p.81: ES p.92). With this in mind, and taking 1580 or 1581, as the date of Vincent’s birth, we are led to understand that Vincent began his studies in the year indicated in the text. Herrera is more inclined to agree with Abelly (“Vicente de Paúl, biografía y selección de escritos” p.48). None of these theories has the backing of a definite date and there are four different possibilities:
a) Abelly’s theory: Vincent was born in 1576. He began his studies in 1588, when he was twelve years old. The drawback with this theory is that it prolongs Vincent’s humanities studies for nine years.
b) Herrera’s theory: Vincent was born in 1576. He began his studies in 1591, when he was fifteen years old. This theory reduces the time of study to six years.
c) Coste’s theory: Vincent was born in 1581. He began his studies in 1595 when he was fourteen. This would seem too short a period of study.
d) Vincent was born in 1580 or 1581, and began his studies when he was between twelve and fifteen years old (1592 to 1595). We have to accept that it is almost impossible to determine these dates more accurately.
- S.V.P. XII p.432: ES XI p.693.
- COSTE, M.V. Vol.1 p.30.
- S.V.P. XII p.135 y 293: ES XI p.432 y 579.
- ABELLY, op. cit., 1.1 c.3 p.10.
- S.V.P. XIII p.1‑2.
- ABELLY, op. cit., 1.1 c.3 p.10.
- COLLET, op. cit., Vol.1 p.13; ABELLY. op. cit., 1.1 c.3 p.12.
- ABELLY, op. cit., 1.1 c.3 p.12; COLLET. op. cit., Vol.1 p.10.
- ABELLY, op. cit., 1.1 c.3 p.10.
- COLLET, op. cit., Vol.1 p.9.
- S.V.P. II p.212: ES p.179.
- S.V.P. II p. 235 y 240: ES p.197 and 200‑201.
- S.V.P. IV p.322‑323: ES p.309. More references to this subject can be found in S.V.P. VII p.291: ES p. 252; S.V.P. VIII p.107 y 381; ES p.95 y 391.
- J. HERRERA refers to them. op. cit., p.52.
- S.V.P. X p.124: ES IX p.748.
- S.V.P. X p.60: ES IX p.697.
- S.V.P. X p.446: ES IX p.1004‑1005.
- A. HERNANDEZ Y FAJARNES, op. cit., p.247‑349.
- COLLET, op. cit., Vol.1 p.9; U. MAYNARD. op. cit., Vol.1 p.22. In Lavedan’s work this theory is regarded as a certainty and we see here the influence of Merimée’s Carmen: H. LAVEDAN. “San Vicente de Paúl” (Buenos Aires, Difusión, 1944) p.40‑41.
- R. GADAVE, “Les documents sur l’histoire de l’Université de Toulouse et spécialement de sa faculté de droit civil et canonique” (1229‑1798) (Toulouse 1910). Referred to by COSTE. M.V. Vol.1 p.33‑36.
- Nearly all the earlier and later biographers are agreed on Vincent de Paul’s stay in Zaragoza. Only Coste has some reservations, but we think these are not justified: “It is hard to believe that young Vincent, being so short of money, left the University of Toulouse, would go to Zaragoza University, and shortly after his arrival there, would come back to Toulouse. Before we can accept the authencity of this journey, which is mentioned in reports sent from Dax to Vincent’s first biographer, we would like to know what grounds there are making this statement. Collet assumes that Vincent found the University of Zaragoza deeply embroiled in the old scholastic disputes about middle knowledge and the question of predestination, and that this would have made him return quickly to France. Such a theory is not very plausible and the question itself is even less plausible. (M.V. Vol.1 p.36‑37). The good man who compiled the Vincentian “Opera omnia” has obviously made several errors because he discards sources of information and took it for granted that Vincent began his studies in Toulouse. He ignores definitive phrases by Abelly and Collet like “it is true”, and “it is certain” and as though to forestall possible objections, he changes “a short stay” as given in the original version. He makes an objective and irrefutable obstacle, out of what was a subjective judgment about the improbability of such an event; he rejects a priori the indisputable, formal, and disinterested testimony of witnesses who were most directly involved in the affair, and he comes to the conclusion that the explanation is flawed because the events themselves were only imaginary. Sound historical criticism rejects the idea that we solve a problem by denying that it exists.
- In line with Hernández and Fajarnés, Herrera is happy to speculate about Vincent’s contact with Jesuit teachers from St. Charles’ school where Vincent was supposed to have lived during the months he stayed in Zaragoza, and with the professors from the Faculty of Theology. But the whole argument shows that no serious efforts was made to collate dates and events. It also lacks a systematic analysis of the hypothetical Zaragozan masters’ way of thinking. The same could be said about Toulouse. Paul Dudon’s well‑known study of the subject just repeats what is already known about Vincent passing through the lecture halls of Toulouse, without any critical examination of what was taught there. Cf. P. DUDON. “Le VII centénnaire de l’Université de Toulouse:” Etudes Vol.199 (1929) p.724‑738.
- ABELLY, op. cit., 1.1 c.3 p.12.
- Information about Vincent’s stay in the boarding school at Buzet‑sur‑Tarn in ABELLY, op. cit., 1.1 c.3 p.12; and COLLET, op. cit., Vol.1 p.9‑11.
- S.V.P. XIII, documents 2 3 4 5 6 7 and 8 p.2‑7.
- This question is studied in detail in the article by E. DIEBOLD. “Saint Vincent de Paul. Sa nomination à la cure de Tilh (diocèse de Dax) en 1600”: Annales (1959) p.389‑397.
- COSTE. M.V. Vol.1 p.39. On 21th July, 1609, the Cardinal‑Secretary of State expressed to the Nuncio in Paris, his astonishment at the great number of French priests having recourse to Rome for absolution because they were under age canonically when they were ordained. When Sebastian Zamet took possesion of his diocese of Langres in 1615, he found as many as 200 priests who were ordained before reaching the age prescribed by canon law. More information is given in COSTE, “La vraie date de la naissance de Saint Vincent de Paul.” Offprint from “Bulletin de la Société de Borda” (Dax 1922) p.15‑17.
- E. DIEBOLD, art. cit., p.392. Périgord:” Annales (1949‑1950) p. 161‑203.
- F. CONTASSOT, “Saint Vincent de Paul et le
- Ibid., p.162 in the note.
- A. REDIER. “La vraie vie…” p.16.
- A. REDIER, ibid., p.17.
- F. CONTASSOT, art.cit., p.164.
- S.V.P. I p.15: ES p.87.
- S.V.P. V p.568: ES p.540.
- S.V.P. VII p.463: ES p.396.
- S.V.P. XII p.389: ES XI p.576.
- S.V.P. VII p.463: ES p.396.
- E. DIEBOLD, “La première messe de Saint Vincent de Paul”: Annales (1957) p.490‑492.
- ABELLY, op. cit., 1.1 c.3 p.11; COLLET, op. cit., Vol.1 p.14.
- E. DIEBOLD, art.cit., p.492; COSTE. M.V. Vol.1 p.40.