Life and Work
Vincent de Paul often said that his Company (the Congregation of the Mission - the Vincentian Priests and Brothers) owed a good part of its origins and establishment to André Duval.
André Duval was born at Pontoise, just north of Paris, France, on January 15, 1564, the son of Nicolle d’Eaubonne and Robert Duval, both of whom were catholic and of well regarded families. His father was a lawyer in the Parlement. André’s youth was untroubled, but he grew up during the Wars of Religion, his family actively siding with the Catholic League against the King of Navarre (later to become Heny IV of France). When the Catholic League became a political faction in the service of ambitious individuals, along with a number of other moderate Catholics André separated himself from the League. It was from these more moderate Catholics that Henry IV, after his abjurations (he grew up as a Huguenot), and as King of France, drew his supporters.
Growing into manhood during and towards the end of the Wars of Religion, André began his studies of philosophy - first at the Collège de Pontoise, then in Paris, dedicating his philosophical theses to Cardinal de Gondi, archbishop of Paris and Abbé de St-Martin lez Pontoise. Uncertain of a career on which to embark, he then studied law. Eventually, he began studies in theology in preparation for Priesthood, receiving a Doctorate in Theology, apparently being ‘top of his class’ in this discipline.
Becoming a lecturer in theology at the Sorbonne University. in Paris, he made he made a significant impact on the reform of a number of Religious Orders and Institutions in France. As a theologian in the Sorbonne, Duval was further able to dedicate his talents and prestige to the Catholic Restoration in France by concentration upon restoring the University of Paris to its role as the intellectual stronghold of Catholicism. Two ideas dominated his theological attitudes. A dedicated disciple of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Duval was concerned that only re-dedication to authentic Thomism could offer the foundation requisite for the refutation of heresy and the revival of Catholicism. Secondly, he staunchly defended the infallibility of the pope and papal supremacy in spiritual affairs. André Duval was an ultramontanist. Since he was a Doctor of the Sorbonne, the gallican dispute in regard to papal authority eventually involved Duval.
Duval As a Person
Duval was an austere, perhaps even dour man. He visited the poor and was himself quite poor. His Lectureship in Theology at the Sorbonne brought in 700 livres annually and he lived simply – no fancy furniture or clothes. His room had no floor covering, just one bed and five plain chairs, and no silverware. When he eventually relinquished his Lectureship, he was unwilling to accept a pension. Like his father before him, Duval was not concerned about accepting preferments to better his state. He refused several benefices, and even though he was proposed and named Archbishop of Rheims, he would not accept the appointment. In his religious and spiritual life, he was devout to the point of mysticism, for a time a disciple of Cardinal Pierre de Bérulle (founder of the Oratory), a friend of Benoît de Canfeld (Benet of Canfield) the English Capuchin monk and spiritual writer. He was very much influenced by Mme Acarie, herself a mystic. It was in writing the life of Mme Acarie that his knowledge of theology preserved him from error and misunderstandings in describing her unusual piety, including her experience of the stigmata.
He was also somewhat modest as to his own appearance. He had been told that, being un bel homme who had un beau visage, he should have his picture sketched. He refused, but his portrait was drawn without his knowledge. Vincent de Paul was given one of the copies of the sketch and displayed it at Saint Lazare. When Duval, visiting Saint Lazare, saw it there, he was overcome with confusion, so much so that he compelled Vincent to remove it from sight. This Vincent did, until after the death of Duval, when the picture was again displayed, along with those of others known for their virtue and piety.
André Duval and Pierre de Bérulle
Duval came into conflict with Pierre de Bérulle, founder of the Oratory and initially Vincent de Paul's spiritual director. One area of conflict was in connection with the Carmelite nuns and Mme Acarie, a mystic. Pierre de Bérulle worked towards making the Visitorship of the Carmelites his own prerogative. He also tried to enforce on the Carmelites a vow of 'servitude to Our Lord and His Mother'. Duval was opposed to both ideas.
Duval and de Bérulle were also at odds over their work to reform the Church. Duval saw the Sorbonne as the pre-eminent theological arm of reform, while de Bérulle of course favoured the Oratory, which he had founded and of which he was the head. When a number of Duval's doctoral candidates transferred to de Bérulle's Oratory, the situation was not helped. Eventually it became clear that their spiritualities also differed. De Bérulle's 'high theology' contrasted with Duval's approach - Duval believed that the unlearned of the world would compete with the wise for entrance into heaven and that they, the unlearned, would probably be admitted first. De Bérulle on the other hand, considered that the shepherds of Bethlehem were unworthy to pay homage to the Word Incarnate because of their lowly condition. For de Bérulle, God was a somewhat distant object of adoration. It is not surprising that Vincent de Paul, who came to believe that God was here now, especially in the poor, gradually moved from de Bérulle to Duval for Spiritual Direction.
André Duval and Vincent de Paul
Around 1609-10, André Duval put in the hands of Vincent de Paul the work of Benoît de Canfeld, (also known as Benet of Canfield}, The Rule of Perfection reduced to a single point – The Will of God. Vincent, in his efforts to be completely submissive to God’s will, was guided by this work – and had learnt that if God’s will is made known by interior promptings of grace, it is even more clearly revealed through the will of superiors. Needing to know if his plan for a company of missioners was indeed God’s will, he appealed to André Duval. It was after a retreat at Soissons in 1624 that Duval spoke the words to Vincent regarding Vincent's indecision in dedicating his life to giving missions to the poor of the countryside: "The servant who knows what his master wants, but does not do it, will receive very many strokes of the lash.' On hearing these words of Duval quoted above, Vincent felt an upsurge of grace with the conviction that indeed this proposed work was the will of God. And so, as we now know, “he resolved to take on the work, and search for the means to do so, consulting André Duval, without whose opinion he undertook nothing”.
During his life, Vincent consulted and deferred to André Duval many times. The matters on which he consulted Duval were both large and small. An example was the acceptance of the Priory of Saint Lazare in 1631. For a number of years, Vincent had looked to Pierre de Bérulle for guidance on the professional level, in matters concerning his work and occupations, but he followed Duval’s advice more in matters of conscience. It would seem that Vincent found Duval just as wise as de Bérulle, but more impartial in his judgments and more saintly. Vincent said of Duval: "He was a great doctor of the Sorbonne, but even greater for the holiness of his life". Speaking further about Duval, Vincent de Paul said: “Everything is holy in M. Duval. If I wanted to go through all the virtues I have seen in him, I would never have managed it. And so, I conclude that I have never seen anything in him which did not appear to me to be holy." Vincent gave a similar testimony on the occasion when the nephew of Duval gave to a M. des Cordes, an adviser at the Chatelet, two small pictures that had belonged to Duval. Vincent said: “These are relics of a holy man – do not refuse them.”
André Duval died on September 9, 1638, aged 74. Though he was Vincent de Paul’s director for many years, he never took over Vincent’s soul. Vincent admired him, and respected him, but did not indicate he wanted to imitate him. In time, much of Vincent de Paul’s developing spirituality focused on Providence and the Will of God. And, from 1610 or 1611 up until 1638, in the forefront of advising him with sound judgement, helping him to make decisions and to recognise the Will of God in the experiences and events of his life, was André Duval. Clearly, this man had more than a passing role in the life and work of Vincent de Paul !
BOOKS AND PERIODICALS
Calvet, Jean, “Un confesseur de Saint Vincent de Paul”, Petites Annales de St Vincent de Paul, Vol IV, Nos 41 and 42, (1903), Parts I, II. (See André Duval in Web Links below)
Duval, André, La vie admirable de Soeur Marie de l’Incarnation.(Paris: 1621).
Duval, Robert, La Vie de M. André Duval, Docteur de la Sorbonne, (Paris: Archives of Maison-Mère de la Congrégation de la Mission, Extract by Pierre Coste from manuscript of Robert Duval, André Duval’s nephew), 72-75. Note: Original manuscript is in the Municipal Library of Versailles, France.
Gueriteau, L.D.C, Opuscules Biographiques – Mémoires Sur la Vie de Vénérable et Discrète Personne André Duval , (Pontoise: Société Historique du Vexin, 1909)
Symes CM, Joseph, The Contrary Estimations of Saint Vincent de Paul on the Abbé de Saint-Cyran, Doctoral Thesis, (New York: St John's University, 1973)
Williams CM, T., "Many Strokes of the Lash - André Duval", Oceania Vincentian, 3, (2002): 29-44
André Duval, Encyclopédie Vincentienne, reprint of: Calvet, Jean, “Un confesseur de Saint Vincent de Paul”, Petites Annales de St Vincent de Paul, Vol IV, Nos 41 and 42, (1903), Parts I, II