Abelly: Book 3/Chapter 25
Conclusion of This Work, in Which We Answer Why We Did Not Include Any Miracles in the Book to Prove the Sanctity of Monsieur Vincent
Those who write a life of a saintly person normally conclude their work by an account of the miracles God had allowed to happen, as a testimony to the sanctity of their subject. Just as we should not lightly accept accounts of extraordinary and miraculous events, so too we should not reject them outright. The hand of God cannot be stayed, and his power is no less today than it was in preceding ages. He is the sovereign Lord of the universe, who does what he wills in heaven and on earth. Since miracles are one of the chief means he used in establishing the Church and in planting the faith in human hearts, there is no doubt he can, and does, use miracles to strengthen this same Church and reawaken the faith of Christians, which sometimes seems so lethargic.
This being so, we might well be asked why, in this life of Monsieur Vincent, no miracles have been reported. If his life was so virtuous and so holy, how could God not allow miracles in his favor? And if there were some, why were they not mentioned? According to the word of the angel in the book of Tobit, "It is an honorable and glorious thing to declare and make known the works of his power." <Ftn: Tob 12:7.>
We may respond, first, that this is not a necessary consequence that a person who had led a holy life will have this confirmed by the gift of miracles. We know of several great saints, recognized throughout the Church, who never performed a miracle. The Gospel expressly tells us that John the Baptist, declared by Jesus Christ to be the greatest of men, never performed any. Ecclesiastical history tells us of many saints, of all ages and condition, who likewise never performed any, and yet their sanctity has been confirmed. All this shows that although God never performed a miracle through Monsieur Vincent, it in no way diminishes our appreciation of his virtue or the veneration due the memory of his holy life.
We might further reply that if there has been no account of any miracles in his life, we do have the testimony from most credible witnesses of different things which happened during his life and after his death that are truly remarkable. He had, for example, predicted several events before they happened. He had spoken of other interior occurrences which would have been known to God alone. He eased the interior pains of many people who had for a long time suffered greatly with no relief. He obtained bodily cures from serious sickness which seemed hopeless and beyond all human remedy when these persons had recourse to his intercession.
Although we could have given many examples of such events, well founded as they are, and which deserve to be believed because of the trustworthiness of those who report them, we have preferred to hide them under the veil of silence. In this way we are exactly obedient to the wishes of the Church. It has directed that nothing be declared a miracle unless it has been recognized and approved as such by the authority of the bishops. Besides, we are thus more in keeping with the spirit of this father of missionaries, whose humility dictated that he keep secret the extraordinary graces and gifts he had received from God's Providence, until this same Providence itself would be pleased to bring them to the light of day.
If we have cited no miracle to show the sanctity of Monsieur Vincent it is only because there are other proofs so compelling that any reasonable Christian person would have no difficulty in agreeing. In this connection, there is a story of a cardinal of advanced years who attended the consistory for the reading of the life of a person who had died in the odor of sanctity. When a lengthy list of miraculous cures was read, the cardinal appeared to doze off. Later, the account was read of her being attacked on the street and badly injured, and still she treated her assailant with great patience and love. At this the cardinal opened his eyes as though awakening from sleep and said in a loud voice: "Now, that is a true miracle." He wished to show by these words that virtuous acts, heroic acts of virtue above the normal human powers of man, constantly practiced during life, are true and convincing proofs of sanctity.
In keeping with this maxim, anyone who reflects on all that has been said of Monsieur Vincent will find enough to convince him. If we care to call miraculous what is far beyond the ordinary ways of men, which surpasses its usual strength, and exceeds the deeds of most Christians, we can say that the long life of Monsieur Vincent was almost a continuous miracle. It was a constant display of the most excellent virtues, in which he persevered for his entire life.
To clarify our point to the reader, let us consider, if we will, that God uses other means besides miracles to justify the truths and mysteries of our holy religion. God in his Providence does not always use miracles for this purpose, but uses other no less efficacious means. So it is that we see in ecclesiastical history some called to a most extraordinary holiness, or a way of living quite out of the ordinary, more angelic than human. They were venerated and admired by all the faithful. God has ordained that the sole fact of martyrdom can lead to canonization, while the learning and teaching of others have made them illustrious in the Church and respected as saints.
As to his servant, Vincent de Paul (if it be permitted to speculate on the mysteries of his Providence), it seems that God by his special and no less marvelous grace, wished to use his lowliness to exalt him, and his profound humility to render him more worthy of honor and veneration in his Church. This happened in such a way that this humble priest verified within himself what Jesus Christ had said: "Those who humble themselves shall be exalted." <Ftn: Matt 23:12.>
Certainly, if we consider on the one hand Monsieur Vincent's opinion of himself, and his constant effort to present himself as a nobody, a poor useless servant, an outcast, a miserable sinner, and then on the other hand if we look at the extraordinary and almost incredible things it pleased God to bring about by his ministry and have them blessed with such success, we can realize this could never have come from human strength. It was the direct result of the wisdom and power of God. This divine intervention was a sort of miracle of the goodness of God, as testimony to the approval of what was undertaken in his service.
Is it not a type of miracle to see the son of a simple peasant, born humbly in the lowest possible class, raised as a tender of animals, and then reduced to serve as an unhappy slave, and who always sought to remain hidden in the shadows of an abject and obscure life, and then, despite all this, suddenly appear as a new sun in the Church? As a sun he shone on an innumerable multitude of poor souls, "who languished in darkness and in the shadow of death," as the prophet put it. <Ftn: Isa 9:1, and Luke 1:79.> These people spent their lives in a dreadful ignorance of God and of the things needed for salvation. Monsieur Vincent not only taught but vivified them in the fire of his zeal. He brought them from death to life, and kindled in them the fire of divine love.
What must we think of a simple priest, without a benefice, and with no material support, or with no position or authority in the Church, who was able to bring an effective remedy to the disorders among the clergy? What he was able to do, for the benefit of priests, both in and outside the kingdom of France, he accomplished even though the greatest and most zealous prelates with all their authority and their great resources, hardly dared undertake, even in their own dioceses or in territories depending upon them.
That a poor man, with no resources, was able to help the destitute, not of a single town, but of entire provinces, and not during a single bad year, but extending over many years, being able to provide food, clothing, and other necessities, what can we say? He repaired churches ruined by war, and refurnished many of them. He provided for pastors and other priests. He took pains to supply food and medicine for a huge number of the sick poor in villages all over France, Savoy, Italy, and other remote provinces for more than thirty years. He continued to support all these enterprises, as well as the Confraternities of Charity which he had established.
Lastly, that a man who never hid his lowly birth, who announced himself an ignoramus, who never showed any notable talent, who composed no books, preached in no famous pulpit, but who did all he could to remain in the background, and sought only to be forgotten, what must be the fate of such a man? How can we explain that with all we have said, this forgotten man acquired a reputation that spread through almost the entire world? That he was honored and sought after by the powerful, and even called to share in the council of the nation?
Certainly, anyone who would carefully consider these circumstances must recognize the hand of God in the affairs of his faithful servant to work these wonderful deeds. The life, the manner of living, the works, and the success of the enterprises of Monsieur Vincent were the effects of the wisdom and power of God. God is able at any time to bring light from darkness, or to bring to nothing all that is greatest and most astounding in all the world.
After all, the reader will find here ample reason to glorify and bless God for the example of virtue he has revealed in the person of his faithful servant. Saint Gregory of Nyssa, speaking of Saint Ephrem, said "God had put him on the earth as a great light to shine upon the world. He was like a living guidepost, pointing to men the way of virtue and sanctity, after the manner of the signposts erected along major roads." <Ftn: PG 46.3:819.> We may say the same of Monsieur Vincent. God raised him up and gave him to the Church for many marvelous enterprises. Even more God sent him to give us the example of his holy life as a sure guide to a life of great perfection. By his example may we be moved to follow his path, walk in his footsteps, accept his direction, embrace his teachings, and above all else seek to imitate him in seeking the Kingdom of God, the accomplishment of the divine will, all to the greater honor and glory of God.