Abelly: Book 2/Chapter 01/Section 07/Part 06

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Various Directives Given by Monsieur Vincent to the Missionaries of Barbary Regarding Their Personal Behavior and Their Way of Acting Among the Infidels.

The mortal hatred which the Moslems bore the Christians was so strong that they believed it was enough that they should kill a Christian to gain an assured place in paradise. All the same, our Lord had permitted almost eighteen years of service by the priests of the Congregation of the Mission in Algiers and Tunis without the loss of a single one. This happened despite their frequent failure to observe the law that forbade anyone, under pain of death, to speak against their religion, or to aid those who wanted to abandon it in any way. They did not feel obliged to heed this unjust prohibition when it was a question of serving Jesus Christ and obtaining the salvation of souls redeemed by his blood.

It is true that they lived in such modesty, prudence, and charity, following the directives of Monsieur Vincent, that not only did the Moslems spare their lives, but several among them willingly witnessed to their virtuous lives. For example, the local ruler of Tunis one day met a missionary whom he often saw coming and going in the city and surrounding areas, on his rounds aiding and helping the poor Christian slaves. He turned to his entourage to remark, pointing to the priest, "There goes a true papa." On another occasion when this same priest sought permission to leave the city to visit and help some poor Christians, he was given leave to go wherever he pleased. On still another occasion the ruler provided one of his officers to accompany him to a distant place where it was dangerous to travel alone.

Monsieur Vincent also recommended that they act always with great moderation and discretion, not exposing themselves needlessly to danger for fear lest in seeking an apparent good they would lose the opportunity for real ones. This is what he wrote on this matter to one of his priests in Barbary, whose zeal was ardent but who needed a rein more than a spur. [1] This letter contained several important pieces of advice, and served as a model for others he later wrote.

I praise God for the appropriate way you have acted in having yourself recognized as the apostolic missionary [2] and vicar general of Carthage. If you have acted wisely in this, you must now carry out this task even more prudently. You must be careful not to lash out against certain abuses, if you can foresee that this will lead to still greater ones. Seek to attain your goals with the priests and enslaved religious, merchants and other captives, by mild measures. Never use severity except in cases of extreme necessity, for fear that all they already suffer in their captivity, joined to the rigor you might show because of your authority, will lead them to despair. You are not responsible for their salvation, as you may think. You were sent to Algiers to console afflicted souls, to encourage them in their sufferings, and to help them in persevering in our holy religion. That work is your chief duty, and not your office as vicar general, which you accepted only as a means to take care of those primary obligations.

You cannot be rigorous in exercising your office without increasing the suffering of these poor slaves, and without making them lose patience, not to mention that you yourself will also lose patience. Above all, you must not attempt to reform things long established among them, even if they are evil.

Recently, someone showed me a beautiful passage from Saint Augustine. In it he says we must be careful about opposing a deeply-rooted vice in a certain place, because not only will you not be able to drive it out, but you will shock the minds of the people in whom the evil is found. As a result, you will make it impossible for yourself to do any further good for them. You should be able to accomplish something, if you were to attack the problem from another angle. I would ask you, therefore, to consider as much as you can the weakness of human nature. You will gain more from the ecclesiastical slaves by compassion than you ever would by rebuke and correction. They do not lack understanding. They are weak, and you will remedy their weakness by kind words and good example.

I do not say that you ought to authorize or permit disorders, but I do say that your remedies must be mild and kind in whatever condition you find yourself. These remedies must be applied with great prudence because of the site and conditions of your ministry, and because of the harm they might do if they are unhappy with you. They could also harm the consul, and God's work, as well, by complaining to the Moslems, who would never want to hear from you again.

You must avoid another pitfall among the Moslems and renegades. In the name of our Lord, have nothing to do with these people. Do not expose yourself to the dangers that might ensue, for in exposing yourself to these dangers you risk everything. You would do great harm to the Christian slaves if you acted so as to take away all possibility of helping them. You might slam the door for the future on the liberty we now have of doing some good for them in Algiers and elsewhere. Look at the evil that you might cause in seeking an apparent good. It is far easier and more important to prevent the loss of many slaves than to convert a single renegade. A doctor who protects the health of a group deserves more praise than the one who cures a single sick person. You are not responsible for the souls of the Moslems and the renegades, and your mission is not to them, but to the poor Christian captives. If for some good reason you find it necessary to deal with the people of the country, do not do so, I beg of you, except in concert with the consul, whose advice I ask you to follow, as closely as you can.

We have much reason to thank God for the zeal you have for the salvation of these poor slaves, but zeal is not good if it is not tactful. It seems that you have attempted too many new projects, such as giving a mission at the penal colonies, or wanting to move there, or introducing new devotional practices among these poor people. That is why I ask you to follow the customs of our deceased priests who preceded you.

It often happens that we spoil our good works by proceeding too quickly. When we act according to our inclinations, these hinder our mind and spirit because they rely on human reason. Things don't work this way, and this becomes obvious when in the end such haste does not succeed. The good that comes from God comes almost of itself, without our even thinking of it. Remember how our Congregation came into being, how the missions, the clergy conferences and the ordination retreats began. Remember how the ladies and Daughters of Charity were founded for the help of the poor in the hospitals of Paris for the relief of the sick in the parishes, for the relief of the abandoned children, and all the other works we are responsible for. All these things came into being, and not one was planned by us. God, who willed these things, imperceptibly led us to follow his inspirations. This is why we must always follow, never pushing ahead any more than we did when we began these enterprises. O God, Monsieur, how much do I wish that you would moderate your enthusiasm, and weigh these things at the foot of the sanctuary before taking action. Be patient rather than agitated, and God will accomplish through you alone more than what many men together, acting without him, could ever accomplish. [3]


  1. Philippe le Vacher.
  2. A formal title formerly given to missionary priests by the Holy See, granting them special authority in mission areas.
  3. CED IV:120-23.

This page:
Abelly Book Two, Chapter One: Section Seven, Part Six
Various Directives Given by Monsieur Vincent to the Missionaries of Barbary Regarding Their Personal Behavior and Their Way of Acting Among the Infidels

Index of this section:
Abelly Book Two, Chapter One: Section Seven Index:
The More Remarkable Events in the Missions of the Barbary States

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

Index of:
Abelly: Book Two