Abelly: Book 1/Chapter 07

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Index of Abelly: Book One

His Associations with the de Gondi House

Around 1613 Father de Berulle suggested that Monsieur Vincent accept the position of tutor to the children of Emmanuel de Gondi, count of Joigny and general of the galleys of France, <Ftn: Philip Emmanuel de Gondi had distinguished himself by his intrigues during the Fronde. When he became a widower, he joined the Congregation of the Oratory. He died in Joigny, June 29, 1662.> and of his wife, Dame Francoise Marguerite de Silly, a woman of excellent reputation. <Ftn: 1580-1625.> She was all the more praiseworthy because at that time piety was a rare possession among members of the court. The choice of Monsieur Vincent for this position was no small proof of the judgment of the first superior general of the Oratory about his merit and his good qualities of mind, for he was going to one of the most pious and most illustrious houses of the kingdom. Three young princes of great promise were confided to his care and instruction. The oldest was the duke and peer of the realm. The second later became a cardinal in the Church. The third, gifted in mind and body, God called prematurely from this world at the age of ten or eleven years to receive in heaven a more wonderful inheritance than he would have received on earth. <Ftn: The eldest son was Pierre de Gondi, who became the Duke de Retz, and succeeded his father as the captain general of the galleys. The middle son was Jean-Francois, later the second Cardinal de Retz, and the youngest, Henri, who died in a hunting accident.>

Monsieur Vincent spent twelve years in this illustrious household. <Ftn: His first stay can be dated from September 1613 to July 1617, when he left for Chatillon-les-Dombes. Abelly is probably counting the period from 1613 to March 1, 1624, when Monsieur Vincent was named the principal of the College des Bons Enfants.> He conducted himself with such wisdom, moderation, and reserve that he won the esteem and affection of all with whom he came in contact. He never came into the presence of the general or of Madame unless sent for. He did not meddle in anything not directly connected with his responsibility. Outside the time devoted to the care or instruction of the three princes, he lived in this busy house as in a Carthusian monastery. He went to his room as though it were a cell and did not come out unless called for or unless charity dictated that he do otherwise. He adopted the maxim that the only way to appear in public amid the moral dangers so prevalent in the great city of Paris without danger to his soul was to remain in retirement and silence unless called upon by charity to go out or to speak. When called to offer some service to the neighbor for the good of his soul, however, he voluntarily left his cloister. On these occasions he acted with great charity to do for them all the good he could. He settled disputes and dissensions, promoted union and concord among the house servants, visited them in their rooms when they fell ill and provided the most minute services for them on these occasions. When the major feasts of the Church approached he gathered the domestic help for religious instruction, especially in regard to the reception of the sacraments. He used to slip in topics of some significance at table to forestall useless conversations. When Monsieur or Madame would go with their children to their holdings in Joigny, Montmirail, Villepreux, or elsewhere, his singular pleasure was to use his free time in providing religious instruction for the peasants. He would preach to the people, give exhortations, or administer the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of penance, with the bishop's approval and with the agreement of the local pastors.

His manner of acting was so prudent and virtuous that he soon gained the affection of all who came in contact with him. Madame especially was so taken with his modesty, discretion, and charity that after one or two years in her service she decided to have him as her spiritual director. She requested Father de Berulle to intercede for her to have this wise and virtuous priest direct her conscience and offer advice in her Christian living. Out of respect for his own spiritual guide whom he held in such veneration, Monsieur Vincent accepted this new responsibility but with much confusion, caused by his own humility of spirit.

This virtuous lady deeply loved promoting goodness in her family and in her subjects, and was moved at the grace of God which had given her a priest who was all she could hope for as a spiritual guide. Besides the other sterling qualities she recognized in him, his wisdom and charity were so evident that she could in all confidence place herself under his direction.

To understand better Monsieur Vincent's way of acting during the time he was committed to this illustrious house we must allow him to speak for himself. He did so on two occasions. On the first he used the third person in a conference he gave to some clergymen assembled at Saint Lazare when he spoke of the manner of best fulfilling the office of chaplain in noble houses. He said, among other things:

I know a person who gained much for himself and others as well in the service of a noble lord by looking upon him always as though he were Jesus Christ himself, and seeing the holy Virgin in his wife. This resulted in his retaining always a reserve and a modesty in all his words and actions. This earned the affection of the lord and his lady, and even the domestics, and provided the basis for much good that was done in the family.

The second time he spoke more openly to a young Parisian lawyer, a man both learned and pious, who was considering joining the house of Retz as steward. <Ftn: Martin Husson joined the household in 1650 for Pierre de Gondi. Husson later became consul in Tunis. On his return to France, he accepted a position in the household of the duchess d'Aiguillon. He died in December 1695.> This young man requested advice on how one could maintain his religious disposition amid the inevitable distractions and countless business matters his position would entail. Monsieur Vincent replied that since he had lived in that sort of situation he could speak. "God had given me the grace to recognize in the person of Monsieur de Gondi, general of the galleys, our Savior himself, and in the person of Madame, the Blessed Mother. I recognized in the officials, servants, domestics and others of the household the disciples and followers of our Lord Jesus Christ."

This is how Monsieur Vincent kept himself constantly united to Jesus Christ. He honored him in creatures as true reflections of the divine, and guided all his activities, both internal and external, by this view. From reading and meditating on this mystic book, ever open before his eyes, he drew the lessons of virtue which marked his life.

Despite the great respect he had for the general of the galleys he was able to speak openly to him when the good of his soul seemed to demand it. Even then he was a model of moderation and circumspection. His zeal for promoting the good and his horror for the least hint of evil, either in himself or in others, was tempered by prudence. If he was strong he was also discreet. As an example of this trait we can cite the case that arose on one occasion when the master of the house planned to fight a duel, in keeping with the damnable custom of the time. Our great monarch, like a Christian Hercules, has happily in his earliest years with a single blow cut the tentacles of this Hydra. <Ftn: Under the influence of Vincent de Paul and Jean Jacques Olier, Anne of Austria influenced her son, Louis XIV, to issue an edict banning duels. See also CED V:618-20, a request to the pope on the same issue.> He said once in a conference given to some clergy at Saint Lazare, <Ftn: September 24, 1643.> speaking in the third person:

I knew a chaplain once who became aware that his lord was about to fight a duel. After celebrating mass, he went to the lord who had remained kneeling in the chapel and said to him, "Monsieur, allow me, if you will, just a word. I am aware that you plan to fight a duel. I declare to you on the part of the Lord whom I have just worshiped and you have just adored in the holy mass, that if you do not renounce this evil design the Lord will carry out his justice towards you and all your posterity." The chaplain said this and left. You will notice, my friends, the opportune moment he seized and the words he used, which you must imitate in like circumstances. <Ftn: CED XI:25-28. On February 28, 1614, Saint Vincent was named the pastor of Gamaches in the archdiocese of Rouen, a village to which Philip Emmanuel de Gondi had the right of presentation. The next year, May 27, 1615, he became a canon of the collegiate chapel of Ecouis in the diocese of Evreux. Monsieur de Gondi likewise had the right to appoint the treasurer of the canons of that chapter. CED XIII:19-24.>

Index of Abelly: Book One