From Value to Virtue: Abelly’s take on Vincent’s Sense of Gratitude

by | Nov 24, 2016 | Formation


Although it’s not one of the “traditional” Vincentian virtues, gratitude is foundational for the Christian and Vincentian life. Louis Abelly, biographer of St. Vincent de Paul, wrote:

He [Vincent] used to say that nothing was so efficacious in winning the heart of God as a spirit of gratitude for his gifts and blessings. In this spirit he had the custom of thanking God often for the gifts from his bounty to all sorts of creatures, going back to the beginning of the world. He also thanked God for the good works accomplished through the inspiration of his grace, and he urged others to do the same. Coming down to particulars, he often invited his confreres to thank God for the protection and graces given to the Church, and for the elements which made it up, especially the prelates, pastors, and other ecclesiastical workers engaged in its preservation and advancement. He was careful to thank God for the fruits produced by all well run companies and congregations. How can we express adequately the thanks he gave the divine bounty for the blessings he had poured forth on his own Congregation and each of its enterprises, such as the missions, the ordination retreats, the retreats, the clergy conferences, the seminaries, and the other services given to the Church? He often thanked God for the help given to the poor, for the promotion of good priests to positions of responsibility in the Church, for the happy outcome of the worthy designs of the king, for the victories he gained, for the triumphs of the king and other princes and Christian states over the heretics and schismatics, or in general, for all those events favorable to the glory of God and the good of the Catholic religion. These were the usual subjects of his thanks to God, but his own gratitude seemed to him so inadequate that he invited pious persons and even entire communities, mainly his own, to join him in his praise and glorification of God, and he asked others to offer their sacrifices and prayers for this intention.

He was often heard to say, “We must give as much time to thanking God for his favors as we have used in asking him for them.” He complained vehemently of the extreme ingratitude of men towards God. He was referring to the lament of Jesus Christ reported in the Gospel on the occasion of his curing the ten lepers. He urged his confreres to practice this virtue of gratitude and thanksgiving, without which, he used to say, we make ourselves unworthy of receiving any favors from God or men.

See Abelly, vol. 3, Ch. 17. His Justice and Gratitude

Louis Abelly, (1604-1691) was an old and a close friend of Vincent de Paul whom he had got to know about the year 1633 and with whom he had a close relationship until 1660. He was indebted to Vincent for various important steps in his ecclesiastical career; his nomination for the post of Vicar General in the diocese of Bayonne and as principal chaplain to the General Hospital in Paris. He was a prolific and widely read author. His “Sacerdos Christianus” and his “Medulla theologica” went through numerous editions in spite of Boileau who made a pun on the title of Abelly’s best known work to satirise the author, describing him as “moelleux” or stodgy and viscous. When Vincent de Paul died, his priests wanted to publish a biography of their founder, and so they turned to this writer who was also a friend. They put at his disposal an impressive amount of documentation which ran to two or three large volumes and which had been compiled by Brother Bertrand Ducourneau who had been secretary to the dead man. This was supplemented by papers collected by other missionaries including Fr. Fournier and Brother Robineau. These were in addition to material gathered by Abelly himself who visited Vincent’s birthplace; to papers sent by canon Saint Martin, an old friend of Vincent who lived in the same locality, and finally, Vincent’s original correspondence. There were far more of Vincent’s letters than we have today. Abelly constructed his magnum opus from all this material which was classified by one of the priests of the Mission. (José Maria Roman, C.M.)


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