Chronological Dictionary of Vincent's Life/Chapter 01

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

by Rev. Rafael Villarroya, C.M.

Edited by Rev. Mitxel Olabuenaga, C.M.

Translated by Rev. Charles T. Plock, C.M.


I Chronological Dictionary of Vincentian History: 1580-1660

Chapter I: Birth and Childhood of Vincent de Paul (1580-1593)

When was Vincent de Paul Born?

1.1. Documentation

Vincent: In written documents that were gathered together by Coste, Vincent spoke about his age on seventeen different occasions (Roman, p.24, note 5 [English edition]; CCD III:72 [I don't understand the reason for this reference since there is no mention of Vincent's age. I place it here because it appears in the Spanish text]; VIII:133, VIII:184; Conferences of Vincent de Paul to the Missionaries, Extract of a Conference, April or May 1657, p.367-368 [Again, I do not understand the reason for this reference since there is no mention of Vincent's age. I place it here because it appears in the Spanish text], Extract from a Conference, no date, p.379).

Abelly: Vincent was born in 1576 on Easter Tuesday.

Collet: Vincent was born on April 24, 1576, Easter Tuesday.

Maynard: Vincent was born on April 24, 1576, Easter Tuesday.

Coste: Vincent was born on April 21, 1581.

Roman: Interpreting the data provided by Vincent himself, one is inclined to lean toward the date of April 24, 1580. This interpretation rests upon our acceptance of viewing Vincent's word as referring to years completed (Roman, p.25, note 6 [English edition]; X Semana de Salamanca p.46-172 [Translator's Note: I do not have access to this work so I cite it as it appears in the Spanish text]).


1.2. Notes concerning Vincent's date of birth

1.2.1 In the texts referred to above, Vincent spoke about his present age or about an upcoming birthday. He never spoke directly about the date of his birth. It must be remembered that when Pope Gregory XIII introduced the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, ten days were dropped, that is, October 4, 1562 became October 15, 1582. This change was accepted in France by a decree of King Henry III and thus December 15, 1582 became December 25, 1582.

1.2.2. This change of calendars accounts for the difficulties when attempting to calculate the day and month on which people were born before the change took place [In France, this difficulty would involve those persons born before the 15th of December 1582]. For example, if Vincent was born on Easter Tuesday, March 18, 1581 then when he said in 1639 that "next April I will enter my 60th year....", he was speaking the truth because even though he was born in March, he would complete those years [60] in April. In fact, he would complete 60 years on April 17. Therefore, if we hold that Vincent was born on April 24, 1576, 1580, or 1581, Vincent would have had to say "next May....", in fact he would have then been referring to May 4.


1.3 Conclusions

Year: The year 1576 can be disregarded. This year holds no weight when considering the seventeen references in Vincent's writings. Certainly 1581 is possible, but the better date seems to be 1580 (Coste 1:3 [English edition]; Roman p.23-25 [English edition]).

Month: We have to admit the possibility of his birthday occurring in the month of April [Vincent states this clearly when he said: "next April I will enter..."]. It must be noted, however, that we speak of his birth date, March 22-31 are also possible and that the dates April 21-30 should be disregarded.

Day: Easter Tuesday.

This day would certainly be possible in the year 1580. Vincent would have been born on April 5 and thus would have celebrated his birthday [from 1583 forward] on April 15.

This day is also possible for the year 1581. Vincent would have been born on March 28 and would have celebrated his birthday [from 1583 forward] on April 7.

This day is not possible for the year 1576. Vincent would have been born on April 24 and then celebrated his birthday on May 4 --- this is contrary to what he said on October 12, 1639: "next April....".


Where was Vincent born?

2.1. Documentation

Vincent's Words

Vincent: he states that he is French: "they [the Italians] think that we French act too quickly" (CCD:II:267). He is also a Gascon: "I entreat you to help a poor Gascon to do so" (CCD:II:82, note 20). He is from the Diocese of Dax: "His Lordship the Bishop of Dax, my own bishop (Conferences of Vincent de Paul to the Missionaries, Repetition of Prayer, March 12, 1656, p.311). He is from the village of Pouy: "She is my only Lady, since Divine Providence has made me her subject by my birth....[The Barony of Pouy became the property of the Ducs de Ventadour through the marriage of Charles de Levis to his first wife Catherine Suzanne de Lauzieres, the Daughter of Suzanne de Monluc and Antoine Marquis de Themines (CCD:VII:428, note 3).

Documents

Vincent de Paul, of the Diocese of Dax (CCD:XIIIa: Letters for Minor Orders, Dimissorial letters for subdiaconate, Letters for subdiaconate, Dimissorial letters for diaconate, Letters for diaconate, Dimissoriqal letters for priesthood, Letters for priesthood, p.2-7).

Vincent de Paul.... of the parish of Pouy (CCD:XIIIa: letters for tonsure, p.1; St. Vincnet assumes the lease of Saint-Leonard de Chaumes Abbey, p.10; Deed of gift of St. Vincent to his relqatives p.76).

Biographies

Abelly: Vincent de Paul came into the world in the small town of Pouy near Dax, an Episcopal city in Landes of Bordeaux (Abelly 1:35 [English Edition]).

Collet: Vincent was born in a small hamlet of the parish of Pouy, in the Diocese of Acqs, toward the Pyrenees (Collet, p.9 [English Edition]).

Maynard: Vincent was born in the small hamlet of Ranquines, in the parish of Pouy, the Diocese of Dax, an Episcopal city in the Landes of Bordeaux (Maynard I:1 [French Edition]).

Coste: Vincent de Paul first saw the light.... On April 24, 1581, in a little village dear Dax, which now bears his name, but which was then called Pouy (Coste I:2 [English Edition]).

John of the Most Blessed Sacrament: an Augustinian who in 1701 in Naples published a biography of Vincent de Paul. After stating the names of Vincent's parents (p.2) he says: Their family name is not French but rather appears to be of Spanish origin. This is easy to believe because the village in which they lived was very close to the Cataluna boarder --- Tamarite de la Litera? [The 1886 and 1906 editions of this book change the phrase to read "near the Spanish boarder"]


2.2 Conclusion

Vincent was French, a Gasgon, from Landes, the Diocese of Dax, the parish of Pouy, the village of Ranquines.


2.3 The Spanish Question

While we can state with certainty that Vincent was not born in Spain, we cannot deny the possibility that his family origin might be Spanish. There are many solid facts that would allow one to take this position.

The last part of the 16th Century was a very difficult time for the north eastern part of Aragon and many people immigrated to France which became a refuge for people from the countryside and people who were being persecuted and oppressed in Aragon.

To come and go by way of the Pyrenees was very common. The Royal House was unable to maintain order among the Nobles (Rebellions of Count Ribagorza) and unable to control the vandalism that developed in this region.

Tamarite de la Litera, a town on the boarder of these social and political conflicts, was a true symbol of the instability of these times. It was a town of the Royal House but unable to defend itself against Ribagorza or against the bandits that were contracted by one or the other side of this uprising. When the official struggle ended, the people still had to contend with the group that had gathered around the famous bandit Pollonet de Tarmarite who continued the struggle and was protected by the Cataluna boarder where he often sought refuge (see; Colas y Salas, Aragon en el Siglo XVI. Alteraciones Sociales y Conflictos Politicos, and J.F. Soulet, La Vie Les Pyrenees [Translator's Note: I do not have access to these books and give the citation here as it appears in the Spanish text]).

Besides these social and political matters, there are other reasons that are gathered together in the biography of Roman (Roman 29-30 [English edition]).

3. The Family of Vincent de Paul

3.1 Family Members

Father: Jean de Paul (Abelly I:35 [English Edition]; Coste 1:6 [English Edition]), William de Paul (Collet p.9 [English Edition]); Jean or William (Maynard I:1 [French Edition], Roman 29 [English Edition]).

Mother: Bertrande de Moras (all biographers).

Brothers and Sisters:

Jean: It seems that after he married he lived in Lachine or Leschine, on a property next to Ranquine, the other side of the Bouglose road. This land was more important that Ranquine since many of these tracts of land were the feudal privilege of the Barony of Pouy. The de Paul family had a direct and lifetime lease on this land. Jean extended these land holdings and left them as an inheritance to his son who was also named Jean. We do not know the name of his wife, but his sons were named Jean, Pierre and perhaps another son named Francois, who later became a priest in Capbreton. Jean died in 1630 (CCD:I:15; XIIIa:76; Serpette, 10.33 [Translator's Note: I do not have access to this work so I cite the reference as it appears in the Spanish text]; Roman, p.29-30 [English edition]).

Bernard and Gayon: Both of these brothers lived in the house of their parents and died there. It seems they never married. Vincent, in his will of 1630 "gave and bequeathed... each and every one of his paternal and maternal possessions" and paid his debts, but he gave the property to his nephews. He also gave them two-thirds of the land of Messergent (located in Saint-Paul parish next to Dax) which he bought back from "the heirs of the late Messire Pierre de la Maignere... which was previously bought from Gregoire, husband of Marie de Paul, sister of Vincent de Paul (CCD:XIIIa:76, 99-100).

Marie: Married Jean Digrand (of the house of Paillole) and lived next to the church in Pouy. Her husband died on September 4, 1626 and she was left to care for one daughter and several sons. One of them was named Thomas and he was given part of the Messergent land located in Saint-Paul's parish near Dax (CCD:XIIIa:76, 99-100).

Marie-Claudine: Married Gregory Delartigue. They lived in the Saint Paul's parish near Dax. They had to sell the house, the woods and the land of Messergent. In 1627 Vince bought back this land and gave her half of it. It appears to be a member of this family (one of Vincent's nephew's) who in 1630 went to Paris to visit his uncle and it was also a member of this family who testified in 1706 during the Beatification Process of Vincent de Paul (CCD:XIIIa:76,-99-100;.Seroette, 14 [Translator's Note: I do not have access to this work so I cite the reference as it appears in the Spanish text]).

Nephews:

Jean de Paul: had a son, Louis who worked the lands of Ranquine (Serpette, 10.n. and 33 [Translator's Note: I do not have access to this work so I cite the reference as it appears in the Spanish text]).

Pierre de Paul: said to be from Leschine (CCD:I:16).

Francois de Paul: a priest in Capbreton who died in 1678 (CCD:I:16, note 8).

Thomas Daigrand de Paul: of the house of Paillote (CCD:XIIIa:99-100).

Uncles:

Entienne de Paul: was in charge of the Hosptial Priory of Paymartet which was about a league distant from Pouy (Coste I;12 [English Edition], Collet I:7 [Translator's Note: since I could not find this reference in the English edition I cite the reference as it appears in the Spanish text], Serrpette, 9 [Translator's Note: I do not have access to this work so I cite the reference as it appears in the Spanish text]). Dominique Dusin: unclear of his relationship to Vincent but was pastor of Pouy in 1623 when Vincent was there (Coste I:123 [Engish edition]; Collet II:109 [Translator's Note: since I could not find this reference in the English edition I cite the reference as it appears in the Spanish text]; CCD:I:14, note 10).

3.2 Possessions

Ranquine

A house: Vincent and his family lived in a one-story house with a granary and a stable. The house was about 100 square meters and the barn covered about 180 square meters. The house had a living room-kitchen and four bedrooms: one for Vincent's mother and father, one for the eldest son, and two others for Vincent and his brothers and sisters.

There was also a garden on the side of the house - about 470 square meters, and corrals for the pigs and birds, and a place to thresh the grain.

The farm included three plots of land called Lahounade, Mesple and Bournais, and covered an area of about 10,810 square meters.

They also worked other lands. In fact, besides the land in the village of Ranquine, the family worked land on the other side of the Bouglose road, land that was adjacent to the village of Leschine. This land was rented from the Barony of Pouy (Serpette, 33-34,10; Willy de Spens, 9-10 [Translator's Note: Since I do not have access to these books I cite the references as they appear in the Spanish text]).

3.3. Rights

The Paul family were landowners in the village of Ranquine. Their land was considered "free land" (capcazal), that is, it was like the land of the nobles which one was entitled to work and did not have to give a share of the harvest to someone else. This type of farmstead gave a title to the landowners but did not elevate their social status.

The houses of these landowners were quite distinct. They had a walkway or a road in front of them, which meant that nothing could be built in front of their house --- such persons had the right to "open space", which in the case of the Paul family meant trees that protected the garden and the house from the Atlantic winds.

In addition to what has already been said, as landowners the Paul family also had the right to take from the common forests, all the wood that was needed for the maintenance and repair of their houses, as well that which might be needed for new construction. They also had the right to use freely the common pastures and lastly the right to be buried in the village cemetery (Serpette, 11 [Translator's Note: Since I do not have access to this book I cite the reference as it appears in the Spanish text]).

3.4. Appendix: From Ranquine to Bercea

It seems that Vincent's brothers, Bernard and Gayon, worked the land in Ranquine up to the time of Vincent's death. Jean, the eldest left Ranquine and lived and worked in the area adjacent to the village of Leschine. In 1892 the house was uninhabited and in ruin (the only part that remained was the bedroom of Vincent's parents).

The parish priest, Laurent de Lostalot (1665-1701) had Pierre de Pasqueau Darose (a carpenter) place a cross over the ruins as a memorial. Later the same priest had the house repaired and it become a chapel for pilgrims.

At the end of the XVII century, Luis de Paul, the grandson of the Vincent's oldest brother, is registered as the owner of the land in Ranquine. He was married to Catherine Beheigne y remained there until the time of his death on July 17, 1718 (he was 78 years old when he died). His son, Jean de Paul then took possession of the land.

Jean de Paul, in the presence of Monsieur Monturiol, C.M., (pastor of the church) willed the land to his youngest son Thomas. Thomas lived with his mother in the village of Pontonx and sold Ranquine on June 16, 1751 to his cousin Jean de Leschine.

When Jean de Paul died on March 23, 1783 and left all his possessions to his son, Thomas, we do not know for sure if Ranquine was part of the inheritance or if it had already been sold to Jean Nogaro.

Jean Nogaro died on July 30, 1800 and Ranquine is passed on to his daughter Marie Nogaro.

Maria Nogaro, the widow of Laserre, sold the property to the Prefect of Dax on September 27, 1841 so that it could then become the Berceau (Serpette, 11-12; Coste I;6-9 [English Edition].

4. Vincent's Infancy: Fifteen Years in a Rural Area

4.1. incent, son of plowmen and farmers

I was saying with consolation, a few days ago when I was preaching in a community, that I am the son of a poor farmer; and in another gathering, that I have looked after pigs (CCD:I:206).

Alas! Monsieur, how you embarrass the son of a poor plowman, who tended sheep and pigs and is still in ignorance and vice, by asking for his views! (CCD:II:5).

I am a poor plowman and a swineherd... (CCD:II:193).

To speak truly of me, you would have to say that I am a farmer's son, who tended swine and cows, and add that this is nothing compared to my ignorance and malice (CCD:IV:219).

Another time he [Vincent] was met by a woman at the door as he bade farewell to some noble visitors. She begged an alms, and said she had been formerly the servant of Madame his mother. Monsieur Vincent replied, in the presence of his guests, "My good woman, you mistake me for someone else. My mother never had a servant, but was a servant herself, being the wife, and I the son, of a peasant (Abelly:III:186 [English edition]).

In that part of the country from which I came, my dear Sisters, the people live on a little grain millet which is cooked in a pot; at meal times, it is poured out into a dish, and the family gather round it for their repast and then go back to work (Conferences of Vincent de Paul to the Daughters of Charity, On Imitating the Conduct of Country Girls, January 25, 1643, p.77).

Have you ever seen any people more full of confidence in God than good country folk? They sow their seed and then wait till God blesses them with the harvest; and if God permits a poor harvest, they do not cease from having confidence that He will provide them with food for the whole year (Conferences of Vincent de Paul to the Daughters of Charity, On Imitating the Conduct of Country Girls, January 25, 1643, p. 81).

It is among those poor people that true religion and a living faith are preserved.... poor vine-dressers who labor for us, who expect us to pray for them, while they wear themselves out to feed us (Conferences of Vincent de Paul to the Missionaries, Repetition of Prayer, July 24, 1655, p.198).

4.2. Vincent, pastor of pigs, sheep and cows

He [Vincent] was born of a poor farm worker and his first calling was to tend his father's livestock (CCC:VIII:159).

I blush with shame.... Seeing to what extent you, Excellency, have humbled yourself before a poor swineherd by birth (CCD:VIII:383).

If I were not a priest, I should still perhaps be tending swine as I once used to do (Conferences of Vincent de Paul to the Daughters of Charity, On Serving the Sick, November 25, 1659, p.1233).

A beggar, a swineherd, riding in a carriage, oh! What a scandal! (Conferences of Vincent de Paul to the Missionaries, On Detachment from the Goods of this World, June 8, 1658, p.430).

We should clearly see how we deserve to be punished and despised, we especially who are guilty of them, and especially myself, miserable swineherd (Conferences of Vincent de Paul to the Missionaries, On Charity, May 30, 1659, p.589).

And I, poor swineherd as I am, will begin first, but not in the pulpit, because I cannot climb into it, but at a conference, where I shall deal with some point of the rule, or some other subject (Conferences of Vincent de Paul to the Missionaries, On Moral Theology, Preaching, Catechizing and the Administration of the Sacraments, August 5, 1659, p.671).

I know it very well [the Castle of Montgaillard near Saint-Sever about 50 kilometers from Pouy] for I often took care of the animals there and brought them to this place (Collet:II:195 [I believe this reference is to the Spanish edition though I am not sure, was unable to find this quote in the English edition and I honestly believe it is not correct since the whole work is made up of five books, all of which comprise 326 pages and page 195 would be somewhere in the third book]).

4.3 Vincent, brother to the country farmers

I will speak to you all the more willingly of good country girls, because I know that from experience and indeed by nature, for I am the son of a poor tiller of the soil and I lived in the country until I was fifteen years old (Conferences to the Daughters of Charity, On Imitating the Conduct of Country Girls, January 25, 1643, p.75).

Poor country girls and swineherds, like myself, should never presume on their own strength (Conferences to the Daughters of Charity, On the Vocation of a Daughter of Charity, July 5, 1640, p.13).

Sisters, we come from poor country people, you and I. I am the son of a tiller of the soil; I was fed as country people are fed.... Let us remember our station in life, and we shall see that we have good reason to thank God (Conferences to the Daughters of Charity, On Serving the Sick, November 11, 1657, p.931)

There is no greater obedience than that of true village girls. They come home from their work to have a meager repast, tired out and fatigued, wet through and dirty, and they are barely at home when, if weather is suitable for work or if their father and mother tell them to go back to it, they do so at once, without pausing on account of their weariness or mud-stains and without thinking of how they are treated (Conferences to the Daughters of Charity, On Imitating the Conduct of Country Girls, January 25, 1643, p.83).

4.4 Other Testimonies and Memories

Abelly: Vincent had a tender heart for the sufferings of his neighbor.... Whenever his father sent him to the mill to collect flour, and he met a poor person along the way.... He would open the sack and give the poor man handfuls of flour.... And his father, a good man, would not object to this.... When he was about twelve or thirteen years old, he saved some thirty sous from different jobs. At the time, and in the country district where money was scarce, this was regarded as no small sum. However, upon meeting a poor destitute person along the road, he felt moved with compassion and gave away every bit of his small treasure (I:37 [English edition]).

Collet: His [Vincent's] bread, even his clothing, was not his own when some unfortunate being stood in need of them (p.10 [English edition]).

Maynard: As a child Vincent built a little chapel of oak, with one side open. He liked to put flowers at the foot of a statue that he placed in this chapel. From a very early age, indeed from the time he left his mother's arms, he went to this chapel to pray (I:17 [French edition]).

Louis de Paul in 1706 said: I have heard it said that when Vincent was a small boy and caring for his father's flock, he shared his food and clothing with the poor.

James de la Caule said in 1706: My mother, who is now deceased, spoke of Vincent and said that when he was caring for the flock, he often shared his food with the poor.

Pierre of Pasquau Darose said in 1706: The elders of Vincent's parish spoke of him giving food to the poor and sharing his clothing with them.

4.5 Vincent, son of a Gascon, Landes and Antiguan family, born at the end of the XVI Century

Vincent was the third son of the De Paul family. He grew up tending the garden of his mother --- caring for the cabbage, beans, garlic and pumpkin as well as the hemp and the flax. He also watched over the corn and gathered the eggs.

As his arms and legs grew, he went with his father into the fields and at first chased the birds away from the newly planted seeds.

As he grew, he was given more responsibility and did errands in the village, brought the grain to the mill and took charge of the animals with his stilts, his sheepskin jacket, his hat and his large staff.

His brothers also grew. In fact everyone grew but the farm seemed to become smaller. In Ranquine there were many laborers but never enough land. Jean and Bertrande had observed Vincent's growth and noted his liveliness and intelligence.

Not every member of the family toiled the land. Entienne, the Prior of Poymartet worked with books and was able to help his family economically.

Thus a plan was undertaken and it was decided that Vincent should study. Dax was about six kilometers away and the 60 liveres for his room would have to come from the work of his parents and brothers (see: I.M. Berce, La Vie. L'Aquitaine).

4.6 Notes

If one wishes to understand Vincent's vocation, then one must always return to Ranquine. From his parent's plan, Vincent developed his own plan, but Vincent's plan was transformed into God's plan. Vincent would return to Ranquine to repay the investment his family made in him, but he returned not with the longed for and hoped for ecclesiastical benefice, but rather with God's benefice.

If we want to understand his realist attitude, his distrust of appearances (CCD:VI:543-544; OC:X:649; Translator's Note: Document #210, Regulations for a Combined Charity is not in volume XIIIa or XIIIb so I cite the reference as it appears in the Spanish text), his affective balance (CCD:III:168-169; CCD:IV:339, 348-349), his understanding of work (CCD:VI:50-52; Conferences to the Daughters of Charity, On the Love of Work, November 28,1649, p.431-443; Conferences to the Missionaries, Repetition of Prayer, July 24, 1655, p.198-199), his respect for authority and social classes (Conferences to the Daughters of Charity, To Four Sisters who were sent to Sedan, July 23, 1654, p. 634; On Obedience, December 2, 1657, p.967-968; An Instruction for Four Sisters who were sent to Metz, August 26, 1658, 1122-1123), his Gascon irony (CCD:II:454-455, 610-611; III:448-449, V:199-200; Conferences to the Missionaries, On Poverty, August 13, 16655 p.233-234, On the End of the Congregation of the Mission, December 6, 1658, 611-612), then we must always return to his origins in Ranquine.

If we want to understand his relationship with God, his way of speaking about Divine Providence, his remembering certain Biblical passages, his prudence, his patience, etc., it is necessary to study all of this from the perspective of one who grew up in the French countryside during the late XVI and early XVII Centuries.

Translated by: Charles T. Plock, C.M.