Abelly: Book 1/Chapter 37

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Index of Abelly: Book One

Monsieur Vincent is Appointed to the Council for Ecclesiastical Affairs of the Kingdom During the Regency of the Queen Mother

Monsieur Vincent is Appointed to the Council for Ecclesiastical Affairs of the Kingdom During the Regency of the Queen Mother

King Louis XIII of glorious memory left the regency of the kingdom to the queen mother <Ftn: Anne of Austria, mother of Louis XIV.> during the minority of his son and most worthy successor. Considering the extent of this great monarchy and the importance of its ecclesiastical affairs, this wise and virtuous princess thought it expedient to form a Council for Ecclesiastical Affairs composed of four persons, that is, Cardinal Mazarin, <Ftn: Jules Mazarini or Mazarin, 1602-1661, a veteran of the papal army and diplomatic corps, came to know Richelieu in 1630. He received tonsure but never became a priest. The pope appointed him nuncio in France, where he demonstrated his abilities. He became a French citizen in 1639, and a cardinal in 1641. Recommended by Richelieu to Louis XIII, he became principal minister during the regency of Anne of Austria. He was absolute master of France until his death, the year of the accession of Louis XIV.> the chancellor, <Ftn: Pierre Seguier, 1588-1672, chancellor from 1635 until his death. As chancellor, he was the most important official after the king.> Monsieur Charton, penitentiary of Paris, <Ftn: Jacques Charton, an opponent of the Jansenists.> and Monsieur Vincent. She decided to confer no benefice dependent on her nomination except with the council's advice.

Although Monsieur Vincent was committed to rendering all sorts of services to Their Majesties, he saw himself called to court only with great regret. To assume a position on the council was as disagreeable to him as it appeared honorable in the eyes of the world. His humility made him look on honors always as part of his burdensome cross. He did all he could to obtain the grace, as he called it, of being dispensed from this responsibility. The queen refused absolutely to hear of this, aware as she was of his virtue and ability.

He began this service in 1643, out of deference to the wishes of Her Majesty. He did so with a great fear, not that he might somehow lose the worldly honors whose vanity he knew only too well, but that he might not be able to leave as soon as he hoped. He wanted always to devote himself to the care of his Congregation and the practice of humility and the other virtues which he preferred to all the grandeur of the world. He prayed incessantly to God to deliver him from this burden. He told one of his confidants that he never said his mass without asking for this grace. Once, when he was out of the city for a few days, word went around that he was in disgrace and had been dismissed from the court. After his return, a priest friend congratulated him on having retained his position on the council. He merely lifted his eyes to heaven and struck his breast, saying, "Ah, wretched man that I am, I was not worthy of so great a grace."

God ordained that he remain at least ten years in this position, which was so disagreeable for him, for most of the matters of the council fell to him to resolve. He was given the petitions made to Her Majesty and looked into the motives and qualities of those who applied either for themselves or for others to prepare a report to the full council. The queen particularly wanted to be informed of the abilities of the petitioners so as not to be surprised. It was a matter of great admiration to see this servant of God preserve a serenity of spirit amid the ebb and flow of personalities and affairs, and possess his soul in peace under the press of distractions and importunities. He received all who wished to see him, always with the same calm demeanor, giving himself to each, making himself all to all to gain all to Jesus Christ.

If we reflect on all the cares of this new position, joined to the direction of his own Congregation and the other communities depending upon him, the establishments and assemblies we have spoken of in previous chapters, it would seem that he would have to be divided into an infinity of parts and preoccupations, looking after all, working night and day to fulfill the charges obedience or charity had placed upon him. By the grace of God this was not the case. He was always recollected within himself, united to God, and so self-possessed in peace and tranquility that it seemed he had no concerns. He was ever ready to listen to those who approached him. He rebuffed no one, but gave satisfaction to all and showed no impatience no matter how inconsiderate his visitors might be. He received with the same affability both the small and poor as he did the great and wealthy. We might say of Monsieur Vincent in his conduct of public business what the holy apostle says of himself, that he became a spectacle to the world, to men and to angels.

The court was a sort of theater where the virtues of this faithful servant of God appeared in full light. His humility won out over the vain plaudits of the courtiers. His patience was proof against their losses, troubles, and the vices of envy and malice. His constancy supported the interests of God and the Church, and there he showed himself free from all fear and human respect. On this stage he bore witness to his inviolable fidelity and constant affection for Their Majesties, his respect and submission to the prelates of the Church, the esteem and charity he preserved in his heart for all orders of the Church, and for all ecclesiastical and religious communities. His great desire to banish ambition and avarice from those who sought benefices, as well as his hope to remedy the abuses in the use of Church goods, not to mention the usual means employed to obtain benefices and other ecclesiastical dignities, will be spoken of at greater length in Book Two. <Ftn: Ch. 13.>

What should be remarked mainly is that the queen was inundated with requests for all sorts of petitioners, eagerly seeking various charges, benefices, or other positions in the Church. What shows Monsieur Vincent's disinterest perfectly is that he never asked, or had others ask for him, anything for himself or for his Congregation, although he was as close to the source of these benefits as one could be. Had he asked, the queen would almost certainly have been happy to confer anything upon him in recognition of his merit.

There was some speculation during a short time that he was to be given the cardinal's hat. Some of his friends went so far as to congratulate him on this appointment. We do not know if Her Majesty had this in mind. Yet if she did propose this to Monsieur Vincent, his humility would have been eloquent enough to dissuade her. <Ftn: Saint Vincent often opposed Mazarin's views in the proceedings of the Council of Conscience. He was supported by a group of important bishops and nobles. Mazarin, however, got around his opposition by rarely convening this Council. Fortunately, the Queen Mother, Anne of Austria, regularly consulted Vincent on episcopal appointments. The saint retired from the Council, but the date is unknown; it was at least before October 1652; see CED IV:491.>

Index of Abelly: Book One