In an article “Vincent de Paul, Welfare Statist?“Acton Research Fellow Kevin E. Schmiesing writes on Acton Insititute Power Blog of his concern that Vincent is being used as a pawn in an election cycle.
“In Thomas Worcester’s recent column on the Huffington Post, he spins the seventeenth-century Catholic saint, Vincent de Paul, as an advocate of twenty-first century liberal social policy. Though he doesn’t quite say it, a month ahead of a presidential election the message can hardly be missed: St. Vincent de Paul, were he around today, would surely cast his vote for Barack Obama. Worcester is probably mistaken, but the more important thing is that, in his zeal to recruit St. Vincent for the Democratic Party, he besmirches the reputation of one of history’s great exemplars of Christian charity.
“This is a common sort of historical malpractice, the attempt to wedge past figures into some contemporary agenda. The temptation is irresistible to some because a) historical figures are famous, and thus can lend prestige to any cause; and b) historical figures are dead, and thus cannot personally object to being coopted by campaigns with which they might rather not be associated.”…
He concludes “Vincent said that the missionaries went “to evangelize the poor as our Lord had done.” It is this spirituality that inspired the nineteenth-century Parisian, Frederic Ozanam, to found one of the world’s largest charitable organizations, the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Viewing Vincent’s work as little more than political activism not only distorts his biography; it reduces his extraordinary, grace-enabled sanctity to ordinary humanistic compassion. In this account, all we need to do to imitate St. Vincent perfectly is to support the correct political causes.
“If we must ask “What would St. Vincent do?,” then a more accurate response would be the following. If Vincent thought government programs genuinely helped the poor, he probably would support them; if he thought they didn’t, he wouldn’t. Importantly, he would have firsthand knowledge of the facts, because he would be living and working among the very people who are supposed to benefit. Given the decidedly mixed record of success exhibited by government welfare programs since the War on Poverty began more than forty years ago, it is at least plausible that Vincent would have qualms about continuing down the same path.
“Thomas Worcester wants God to send “more saints like him,” and to that I say amen. An army of St. Vincents in contemporary America would be a boon for the spiritually and materially poor alike. Whether it would be equally beneficial to the fortunes of the political left, as Worcester seems to think, is much more doubtful.”
(The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty is an American conservative research and educational institution.)
What do you think? Does he have a point or does he himself fall into the trap he is accusing others of? No doubt there is room for many nuances.
Perhaps researchers into Vincent and Fredric can offer their insights based on their study of these two giants.
Tags: Advocacy, Anti-poverty strategies, Frederic Ozanam, Vincent