Eamon Devlin writes “In the present climate of renewal the “eloquence” of Vincent de Paul may at best appear quaint; at worst it might seem heady and superfluous! I have adapted this article from a French thesis which I did as part of my university examination, hence the academic thrust of the subject. The aim of the article is to discredit further the traditional view of Vincent as an ignorant man who was even hostile to learning and knowledge. Vincent himself is the greatest offender here and the error has long since been put right. Yet while I found that Vincent can and does attain to an eloquence which in his sermons, conferences and letters pleases by the use of all the techniques of rhetoric, I found too that all his learning and all his eloquence were at the service of his main aim, his haunting obsession with saving the poor. This is the relevance of the article for us”
Table of Contents
- The background: seventeenth century rhetoric
- Vincent de Paul: desirable Ignorance.
- St Vincent and preaching
- The Conferences of St Vincent
- The Letters of St Vincent
Vincent de Paul is eloquent in the true sense of the word. In his sermons, conferences and letters Vincent desires to touch and to persuade. I noted at the beginning of this article that Vincent’s personal gifts have been eclipsed by his numerous works of charity. That is how he would have wanted it and yet perhaps the present-day scope of his works is itself the most efficacious witness to the eloquence of the man who fired his priests and sisters with a passion for charity. Calvet’s phrase echoes in my mind:
With a mind so obsessed and a heart so enflamed how could Vincent de Paul not have been eloquent?
It is doubtless true that Vincent’s letters and conferences have an eloquence which is stylistically pleasing, but ultimately his eloquence wells up from the depth of his faith and his haunting obsession with the salvation of the poor. Calvet concludes:
He is not a thinker, a speculator like Bérulle or Condren; though he wrote much, Vincent wanted to situate himself outside the bounds of literature. But his spirit is so alive and his heart so warm that the gift of style is given him as a bonus so that there is not, in the fourteen volumes he has left us, one page which is dull and uninteresting.
Eamon Devlin. •1984. • Source: Colloque, Journal of the Irish Province of the Congregation of the Mission, no. 9.
Also appearing in the blog “We are Vincentians”