Abelly: Book 2/Chapter 13/Section 07

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

Some Important Services Given by Monsieur Vincent to Several Religious Orders

Monsieur Vincent's esteem and appreciation for the religious state disposed him to render to its members whatever services he could, particularly when it was a question of re-establishing or maintaining good order in their houses. He was zealous for this, and seized every occasion he could in the king's council, or elsewhere, to be of help. We can say without exaggeration that even with all the orders there are in France, not one failed to experience the effects of his charity. This might be felt by the order as a whole, by some of its members, by the protection or good opinion of the king which he strove to promote, or by other services he was able to render. He was particularly anxious to support the efforts of reformers, such as those of the communities of Saint Maur, Saint Bernard, Saint Anthony, the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine, the Premonstratensians, and others. We will recall here only several examples of this, passing over many others in silence. We think it best to allow certain disorders to be buried in the tomb of silence. [1]

An abbot, a religious of great virtue, attempted to reform his order in the face of obstacles raised by some persons in authority, and even against a prince enlisted in the struggle against him. He received much help and encouragement from Monsieur Vincent, and wrote a letter of appreciation to him, in 1644, in which he said:

It is surely necessary to look to God for the strength you show in defending the cause of God against the powers of the world. We rely solely on God and his Providence, and on your zeal, Monsieur. You are our only recourse on earth, and the sole support of our desolate order.

A non-reformed religious was elected abbot of an important foundation, motherhouse of the order, and important for the progress of the reform. He applied to the king for a confirmation of his election. Since Monsieur Vincent was well informed of the invalidity of this election, however, he did all he could to have it annulled, and to have a reformed abbot elected in his place. He wrote to a bishop friend as follows:

About a year ago I had the honor of writing about the election of N. as abbot of the abbey of N. I asked you to come to Paris to speak to the queen of the kind of person needed for this abbey. Because you were not able to come, you were good enough to tell me of some of the reasons that this election should not be accepted. Things have dragged out, especially on the complaints of two of the electors who were informed only after it was too late to attend. This caused the Parlement to nullify the election, much against the wishes of the one chosen, who had pressed so hard to have his election confirmed. Since he has the support of some powerful persons, there is reason to fear he may be reelected. This makes it so desirable for you to be here, to say a word to the queen, and to give weight to the reasons there are to prevent this evil. I know that Her Majesty, who esteems you highly, would be happy to have you come, and the Keeper of the Seals has approved my writing to you. I do so humbly, begging you to come as soon as you can, for the love of God. I do so, knowing how close the interests of God are to your heart. Perhaps, as you said in your letter to me, the whole reform of this house depends on this, as well as the reform of the daughter houses. Perhaps the Lord will attribute to you the merit of such a happy outcome, as one of the prelates of the kingdom with such zeal for the glory of his Church.[2]

Monsieur Vincent also did what he could to initiate the reform in orders, as here, when he wrote to the general of the order, [3] enclosing a letter from the king:

Most Reverend Father,

His Majesty has written to Your Reverence because it was decided in the Council for Ecclesiastical Affairs, when one of the priories of your order in the diocese of [Lodeve] was vacant, that we consider one of your good religious by the name of Father [Fremont] for a pension. This would be on condition that the former rule be observed, as is done in some other of your houses, so that the pension should pass to his successors, according to this usage. When this was reported to Her Majesty she was pleased, and urged us to see it through.

It is to be hoped, father, that the good Lord would use you to rebuild such a holy order as yours, which has been so famous in the Church and such a blessing for this kingdom. This reform has begun under your rule, regaining for your order the same reputation it enjoyed in other times, now so much desired by men of good will.

The king wants to help. It likewise seems to be the will of God, seeing he has given you this good religious, as an appropriate instrument which Your Reverence could well employ. This would be especially true if you would appoint him to look after the houses of [Epaisses], [Thiers], and [Lodeve], with power to receive novices and professed members according to the traditional observance, all under your authority and direction. [4]

I have no doubt that Your Reverence will carry out the wishes of His Majesty in something so reasonable. It tends to the glory of God and the control of an organization of which you are the leader. The Lord shall pour his own religious spirit upon you and your assistants also, so he may reign there for centuries to come. By this means your person and your zeal will be remembered to posterity, not to mention the merits Your Reverence shall have in the sight of God. [5]

When an important abbey had been conferred on a young prince, still under the tutelage of his mother, Monsieur Vincent wrote to her to persuade her to allow the reform to be introduced into the abbey, which needed it badly. He wrote as follows:

Madame,

I take the liberty of writing to Your Highness, to renew my promise of obedience, with all possible humility and submission. I accompany in spirit the good religious who seeks the honor of doing you reverence. He will tell you of the disposition of the abbey of N., for receiving the reform, and together with the appropriate means of achieving it. He is of good reputation and is of a most respectable family. I trust, Madame, that Your Highness will have the goodness to hear him, first because I know of your great zeal for the glory of God to which you are so committed that you involve even those persons who have the honor of belonging to you. Second, if you do so, Your Highness will cause Jesus Christ to be better honored and served in that monastery which should not be in the state it is now, as will be explained by the courier with this letter. Third, the late bishop of N. had so much at heart the introduction of the reform into this abbey that he wrote me several times about it. I am sure he would have carried this out but for the opposition of one of the leading religious of the abbey, with much influence over the others. Unfortunately, he died before he could carry out his plans. Perhaps, Madame, God has allowed this delay, to reserve to the abbot, your son, and to Your Highness, the merit of this great accomplishment. [6]

Monsieur Vincent worked actively not only in introducing the reform, but also in restoring peace and union in those religious houses where he saw differences and divisions. He did all in his power to remedy those situations. Since he always acted with great prudence and circumspection in those cases in which he strove to unite divided parties, he arranged to have some virtuous persons, armed with the authority of the king, visit the houses to learn the truth. He was to listen to both sides in disputes so as to be able to take the best means for restoring harmony, as he did on several occasions.

He arranged for some prelates to attend the general chapters of orders, when he saw this to be necessary, to hinder by their presence and authority certain religious who seemed to stir up trouble. He also wanted to make sure that each religious had perfect liberty in the voting, and that the order as a whole would take the necessary steps for the welfare of the entire group. Afterward, the prelates would report to the king that the elections and discussions were canonical in every detail. The king would then approve the elections and pay no more attention to any complaints raised against those elected.

Several times he was requested to mediate disputes between religious houses. He received letters from superiors general of different orders from Rome on three or four occasions. They thanked him for the help he had given to their communities, and for his intercession with Her Majesty in obtaining her protection. They looked on him as their guardian angel.

He was much afflicted to notice the decline of a certain order to such a deplorable state that he saw no way it could be redeemed. At this same time, a religious of another order, unhappy with his own community, wrote to ask his advice about transferring to the first one mentioned above. This is the reply he received from Monsieur Vincent:

I would never advise anyone to join the so-called religious order of N., much less a doctor, professor of theology, and a great preacher like yourself. It is in disarray, not an order, a body with no sense of direction and no head. Its members live entirely independently of one another. I once met the Keeper of the Seals in his library. He told me he was looking up the origin and development of this group in France, but he had been unable to find anything about them. In a word, it is a ghost of an order. It serves only as a refuge for libertines and rogues who to escape the yoke of obedience, join this imaginary order to live under no restraints. This is why I judge these persons to be in bad conscience, and I pray our Lord would preserve you from such frivolity. [7]

This letter disabused this poor tempted religious, and opened his eyes to the precipice he was facing. He came to his senses, and resolved to persevere in his own congregation.

Another religious, noted both within and outside his order for his virtue and for his having preached in the most celebrated pulpits of the kingdom, once spoke to Monsieur Vincent of the extent of his work, the austerity of his rule, and the lessening of his strength. All this caused him to fear that he could not expect to continue long in his service to the Church. He had thought of a remedy to prolong his service. He was to be made a suffragan to the archbishop of Reims, because the dignity of bishop would dispense him from the obligation of fasting and other austerities of his order. This in turn would preserve his strength for preaching, and allow him to continue with more vigor and effect. He asked Monsieur Vincent for his advice, and if he thought well of it, to approach the king for his appointment to this position. He promised he would supply several recommendations from noteworthy friends, to support his candidacy.

At once, Monsieur Vincent realized that this was a temptation for the good religious. He made this clear in the response he gave to this letter. In it he first showed the regard he had for him personally, and the esteem he had for his order. Then he congratulated him on the many talents given him by God for preaching, and the edification he had given up to this point to the entire order. He added this:

I have no doubt that you would do marvelously well in the episcopal office if God called you to it. He has made it evident, however, that he wants you in your present position by the success he has given to your efforts, and he not suggested that you should change. If Providence would wish you to be a bishop, it would not speak to you to bring it about. It would inspire those whose responsibility it is to name people to charges and ecclesiastical dignities to choose you, although you would have made no overtures yourself. Your calling, then, would be pure and assured, whereas if you propose yourself you could not hope to have the blessing of God in such a charge. This should hardly be desired or pursued by a soul as humble as yours. Besides, reverend father, what harm you would do to your order, to deprive it of one of its chief supports, who sustains it by his teaching and example. If you open this door you will lead others to follow, or at least to lose their taste for the practice of penance. They will not lack pretexts to soften and lessen it to the prejudice of the rule. Nature does not like austerities. If you ask it, it will reply they are too much, and that they must be avoided if one wants to live a long life to serve God more. Our Lord said of all this: He who loves his life shall lose it, but he who hates it shall save it. [8] You know better than I what this means, and I would not have dared write my opinions on this if you had not asked me.

Perhaps you have not thought of the crown that awaits you. O God, how beautiful it shall be! You have already done so much, reverend Father, to gain this crown, and perhaps there remains but little more to do. You must persevere in the path you have entered, for it leads to life. You have already surmounted great difficulties. You should take courage, and trust that God will give you the grace to overcome those which remain. My suggestion would be to forego preaching for a while to regain your health. You are still able to do much good for the service of God and for your congregation. It is one of the holiest and most edifying of all in the Church of Jesus Christ. [9]

Lastly, Monsieur Vincent extended his concern to the temporal affairs of religious communities as well as to the spiritual. Several times he helped in obtaining for various religious houses and hospitals the financial help due them from the king's dominions, which were in arrears because of the expenses of the wars. He became their advocate before the queen and the cardinal to obtain satisfactory payments for them. He took special pains to protect the hospitals on the frontiers of the kingdom, which were threatened by the soldiers, and saw to the support of several others through the gifts and privileges accorded them.

References

  1. Francois de Maida, the superior general of the Minims, accorded Saint Vincent an affiliation with his order in 1621 in honor of his services to the order. In Book One, ch. 32, there is an account of how he aided the Commander de Sillery in the reform of the houses and territories of the Order of Malta. During the canonization process, various abbots of the Praemonstratensians testified to Vincent's help in the reform of their order. In the reform of the order of the Canons Regular at Chancelade, Saint Vincent provided support to Alain de Solminihac, its abbot and superior. (CED III, 223-24.) Vincent helped Dom Gregoire Tarrisse in his reform at the Benedictine Congregation of Saint Maur. He advised Charles Fremont, the reformer of the order of Grandmont. Cardinal de la Rochefoucault, delegated by the Holy See to reform the French religious orders, called Vincent his "right arm" in this work. In speaking of Vincent and Dom Gregoire Tarrisse, he called them "my two saints."
  2. CED III:631-32.
  3. Georges de Barri.
  4. This letter had its intended effect. The reform that Fremont introduced was not limited to those three priories, but was extended to many others.
  5. CED IV:309-11.
  6. CED V:381.
  7. CED V:314-15.
  8. Based on Matt 16:25.
  9. CED IV:18-19.


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Abelly: Book Two/Last Chapter/Section Seven
Some Important Services Given by Monsieur Vincent to Several Religious Orders

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