Abelly: Book 2/Chapter 01/Section 02/Part 03

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The Dioceses of Mende and Saint Flour

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The diocese of Mende in the Cevennes was overrun by heretics. On several occasions Monsieur Vincent had sent his missionaries, either to attempt to bring the heretics back to the faith or to strengthen the Catholics and prevent them from falling into error. This worthy superior of the mission decided to go himself to the region in 1635. At the time one of his priests at Rome, well versed in Hebrew and Syriac, had been asked to work on a translation of the Syriac Bible into Latin. Monsieur Vincent thought it would be better if he came to help him on the mission in the Cevennes. He wrote to him as follows:

Monsieur, please do not accept the proposal made to you, to work on the translation of Scripture. I know well it would satisfy the curiosity of some, but would not contribute to the salvation of the souls of these poor people to whom the Providence of God, from all eternity, has called you. It ought to be enough that by the grace of God you have spent three or four years learning Hebrew. You now know enough to defend the cause of the Son of God in the original language and to confound his enemies in this kingdom.

Think of those thousands of souls who raise their arms to you and say: "Alas, Monsieur, God chose you to help in our salvation. Have pity on us, and give us a hand to draw us from the pitiable state in which we find ourselves. [1] Come to draw us from the ignorance in which we live, unmindful of the truths necessary for salvation, and living in sin which through shame we have never confessed. Without your help we are in great danger of losing our souls."

Besides the cries of these poor souls, appealing to the charity within you, listen, Monsieur, if you will, to what my heart says to yours. It feels called to work and die in the Cevennes, and it will, if you do not come at once to these mountains. The bishop cries for help, and says that this region, once the most flourishing of all the kingdom, is now in sin and the people die of hunger for God's word. [2]

Monsieur Vincent sent other missionaries several years later to work in the same diocese. This led the late Bishop de Marcillac to write:

I assure you I esteem the work of your missionaries in my diocese more than if you had given me a hundred kingdoms. I am delighted to see my people responding so well. My pastors derive much profit from the Conferences your priests have set up with such success and blessing." [3]

In a letter of the following year, 1643, this same prelate wrote:

Your missionaries have left here to report to you on their activities in the Cevennes, in my diocese, where I have just made my visitation. I have received thirty or forty Huguenots who have recanted their errors, and I expect an equal number of others will do the same in the next few days. We had the mission here with unbelievable success. And as these blessings come from God, with your help, I know of no one, other than these good priests, who could give you a more accurate account of all that took place. [4]

In 1636, the late Father Olier, who later became the founder and first superior of the seminary of Saint Sulpice, a great servant of God of renowned virtue, and whose name is held in such benediction, requested of Monsieur Vincent several priests of his Congregation to give missions in the lands of his abbey at Pebrac, in the diocese of Saint Flour. [5] He, together with several other priests, accompanied them to the first of these at Saint Ilpise. The priest was so taken by the evident signs of grace on this occasion that he wrote the following letter in June to Monsieur Vincent and the priests of the Clergy Conference at Saint Lazare, of which he was a member.

I cannot remain long absent from you without writing to tell you what has happened here. The mission began the Sunday after Ascension, and lasted until the fifteenth of this month. The people came at first the way we hoped they would, that is, as many as we could manage in the confessional. These people were so manifestly influenced by grace that we could tell where the priests were hearing confessions by the sobs and sighs of the penitents. Towards the end of the mission the press of people was so great it became almost impossible to manage. From dawn to dusk they remained in church without eating or drinking, awaiting their turn to go to confession. Even so we had to extend our catechism lessons to over two hours to take care of the strangers who came. They left the service with as much hunger for the word of God as when they first came. We had to use the pulpit because of the crowd. There was no other place in the church for the priest to stand. The people crowded the church to the windows and doors, all eager to listen to the instructions. The same thing happened at the morning sermon and the evening instruction. I don't know what to say about all this except blessed be God, who reveals himself with such mercy and generosity to his creatures, especially the poor. We have noticed that he resides mainly in them, and he seeks our cooperation in helping them. Do not refuse, gentlemen, this service to Jesus Christ. It is such an honor to work in his vineyard, and to contribute to the salvation of souls, and to the glory he will receive from them for all eternity.

You have begun well, and your first successes made me leave Paris to work here, in this location. Continue in this divine work, of which earth can show no equal. O Paris! You distract many who could with the grace of God convert a multitude of souls. Alas! How many there are in Paris who work with nothing to show for it! How many apparent conversions, and how many pious sermons given which fall on deaf ears because of the poor dispositions in those who attend! Here, a single word is a sermon, and the poor, poorly taught as they are, find themselves blessed with an abundance of God's grace. [6]

In another letter written February 10th of the following year, he said:

Our fourth mission was given two weeks ago. More than two thousand people made general confessions, although we had only six priests, and eight towards the end of the mission. We were overwhelmed with people who came from distances of seven or eight leagues from here despite the frigid weather and the remoteness of the location, a true desert. These good people would bring their provisions for three or four days, sleep in the barns, and often talk together about what they had heard in the sermons and the catechism lessons. We see peasants and their wives here who in their own homes continue the mission. Shepherds and farmers chant the commandments of God in the fields, and question each other on what they had heard during the mission.

In fact, the nobility, for whom it seemed we were not speaking, using so coarse a language as we were, after they did their Christian duty in an exemplary manner, they took their leave of us with eyes moistened with tears. Five Huguenots abjured their heresy at this last mission. Previously four of them had avoided us, but now came of their own accord to seek us out. They taught us, gentlemen, a lesson you have often given, that the work of conversion of souls is a work of grace which we often hinder by our own interference. God works always in and by our nothingness, that is to say in and by those who recognize and acknowledge their own powerlessness and uselessness. [7]


  1. The original text of this sentence is shorter: "Have pity on us."
  2. CED I:251-52
  3. Sylvestre de Crusy de Marcillac became bishop of Mende in 1628; died October 20, 1659. CED II:266
  4. CED II:405-06
  5. These priests were Antoine Portail and Antoine Lucas.
  6. CED I:332-34.
  7. Dodin, Supplément, 14.

This page:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter One/Section Two/Part Three: The Dioceses of Mende and Saint Flour

Index of this section:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter One/Section Two/Index: The Most Notable Fruits of the Missions Given in Various Parts of France

Index of this chapter:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter One/Index: The Missions of Monsieur Vincent

Index of:
Abelly: Book Two