Godly Life

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

By: José María López Maside, C.M.

[This is one of the 100 articles found in the publication, Diccionario de Expiritualidad Vicenciana, published by Editorial CEME in 1995.  This article has been translated and made available in the on-line Vincentian Encyclopedia with the permission of Editorial CEME].


A godly life is an expression of the communion of life to which God calls us in Christ. Saint John’s gospel presents Jesus Christ as the Word of God who became man in order to reveal to humankind the mystery of his Father and to communicate to them the gift of eternal life, that is, his own life which is the very life of God (John 1:1-18; 5:37-38; 6:32-40; 14:10-12; etc.). Men and women are exhorted to respond to this revelation and the gift of God in Christ through a total and trusting self-surrender (Dei Verbum, #5).

It was this profound experience of God’s love that enabled Vincent de Paul to become present in Christ. He learned, through a radical conversion*, to put himself aside in order to rely on God alone and in order to live the life of Christ [1]. Christ revealed to Vincent the infinite love* of God for humankind and at the same time, showed him the path of such love which led him to humble himself, taking the form of a salve (Philippians 2:7) and to become involved in evangelizing the poor* and identifying himself with them. As a result of that experience Vincent’s whole life was an attempt to become more deeply united and identified with Christ. His first biographer noted the following profession of Vincent: Nothing pleases me except in Jesus Christ (Abelly I:103). That unbreakable bond with Jesus Christ was revealed and made real through a godlike life, a life of faith, hope and charity. Vincent reminded the Missionaries about this when he stated: the [theological] virtues have to be deeply imprinted on our hearts (CCD:XI:105). Saint Thomas established those virtues as the divine principles that guide men and women toward supernatural happiness [2].

Vincent found support in classical theology, in the theology of Saint Thomas and the theology of the Council of Trent, but he is not a theorist of the spiritual life nor does he provide us with a conceptual explanation of the godlike life that defined his fundamental option. He simply shared his experience, always considering ways to encourage the Missionaries and the Daughters of Charity [3]. In that sense, even though Vincent knew the theology of his era, a theology which emphasized the distinction of faith, hope and charity as theological virtues, his communication of that truth was always more encompassing. He seems to be more closely aligned with present day theology when he refers to faith, hope and charity as fundamental attitudes of the Christian life and as various aspects of one fundamental attitude [4]..

A Vincentian godlike life is composed of an active faith, a committed hope and an effective charity. Those fundamental attitudes are essential components of Vincentian life: love and total surrender to Christ, giving of self to God for and in the process of evangelization* and service* on behalf of the poor (CCD:IX:465; X:271; XII:59). Those elements express the nature of the union of Vincentian men and women with God and their service and commitment on behalf of those who are poor.

Life of faith

For Vincent de Paul, faith supposes a total self-surrender to God in Jesus Christ. Thus, faith is a response of the whole person. It is, therefore, bound up with both the Old Testament as well as the New Testament and includes the aspect of knowledge/profession of the saving action of God, confident abandonment and submission to God’s will and communion of life with God who awaits the definitive fulfillment of life [5]. In light of this global perspective, the study of Vincentian faith and the analysis of the various aspects and elements involved in that faith acquire meaning.

The light of faith

Faith gives true knowledge and enables people to see reality in an authentic manner, enables people to see things as they exist in God. Human vision is blurred by illusions and appearances. Human reason can never achieve the level of divine reason: what usually deceives us is the appearance of good according to human reason, which never or rarely attains the divine (CCD:II:520). Therefore, the first step is to turn toward God and to ask God for the light that will enable us to unmask our illusions (cf. CCD:XII:286). We must allow the grace of God to penetrate the depths of our soul so that our eyes become the eyes of Christians and thus our minds are cleared from the clouds of worldly maxims (CCD:XII:227). This supposes renunciation* of every worldly attachment and an unconditional self-offering* to God (cf. CCD:XI:281; Coste, III:300ff.).

The heart is touched not by lofty reasoning or by philosophical discourses, but by preaching* that is in accord with the light of faith and that is always accompanied by a certain heavenly unction that diffuses itself secretly in the hearts of the listeners (CCD:XI:26). Faith makes God present to those who are simple. They believe, they breathe and they savor the words of life because they have been enriched with a lively faith that allows them to penetrate the truth. Therefore, even though one must have knowledge and must study, yet one must also be balanced. Faith has to be balanced and integral, promptly accepting what the Church* proposes. When one desires to find support in the subtleties of reason or in the light of knowledge, one runs the risk of being blinded … the same that occurs when a person stares directly at the sun (cf. Abelly III:15). It is in this same sense that we must understand Vincent’s fear of becoming involved in the errors of some new doctrine (CCD:XI:31).

The discrepancy between appearances and faith are particularly obvious when dealing with difficulties and especially when dealing with those who are poor. The need for grace in the midst of those situations is especially clear since it is in that way that people are able to see things as they are in God and thus avoid being deceived by appearances. Faith not only allows people to see that all men and women share in the same dignity and that all should, therefore, be treated in the same manner, but also allows people to recognize in those who are poor a state of life that is very much in conformity with the way that Jesus lived his life (cf. CCD:XI:15). Furthermore, faith enables people to penetrate the dark side of human misery and to discover the reality as it exists in God: I must not judge a poor peasant man or woman by their appearance or their apparent intelligence, especially since very often they scarcely have the expression or the mind of rational persons, so crude and vulgar they are. But turn the medal, and you will see by the light of faith that the Son of God, who willed to be poor, is represented to us by these poor people (CCD:XI:26). When the light of faith creates the same clarity that Vincent experienced, when we can see the poor in Jesus Christ and thus, discover that the poor are our brothers and sisters and members of the body of Jesus Christ, we have come to understand a truth of our faith in such a way that we can almost feel it: in serving persons who are poor, we serve Jesus Christ … and that is as true as that we are here (CCD:IX:199).

The confidence of faith

The light of faith is now the point of reference with regard to seeing. The foundation of peoples’ trust is not derived from their own efforts, but rather from God and, therein, is found their security (cf. CCD:III:143; IV:387). This point of reference is decisive at the time that people must act because it leads them to do so with a dependence on God (cf. CCD:VIII:351). The confidence that is derived from faith maintains and consoles people during times of difficulty. In the midst of difficulties, when everything seems impossible for the human person, one’s trust in God is clearly revealed: God gives such faith, clarity, and evidence of faith that the person distains everything; then he is not concerned about dying (CCD:XI:151). That clarity and certainty of faith (cf. Hebrews 11:l) constitutes the true wealth of human beings: For poor persons, faith is indeed a great possession, because a lively faith draws from God all we can reasonably hope for. If you are truly poor, Sisters, you are even more truly rich, for God is your all (CCD:IX:74).

Trust in God is explicitly translated by a reliance on Jesus Christ whose person and doctrine cannot deceive (cf. XII:99). That experience was so vivid that Vincent was bold enough to ask in a somewhat threatening manner: Tell me, Sisters, isn’t he really and truly Our Lord? And since it can’t be otherwise, why don’t we believe him/ (CCD:IX:102).

Active faith

Vincentian faith cannot remain on the level of verbal assent. Faith should lead men and women to give themselves to Jesus Christ, to an absolute trust in God. But that is not enough … we need to provide proof of that act of surrender by an active faith. We are referring to a faith that is, according to the Tridentine doctrine that was embraced by Vincent, expressed through works [6]; a faith that, according to Vatican II, is expressed by obedience and by witness (Dei Verbum #5, 8, 10; Lumen Gentium #12, 32, 35). An inactive, inoperative faith is to be mistrusted; it will result in self-deception (cf. CCD:XI:32-33). Those who truly believe in Jesus are impelled to participate in his mission. It was that type of experience which led to Vincent maturing in his faith. Enveloped in the darkness of temptation against the faith, Vincent forced himself to act with faith and to serve Jesus Christ by visiting and consoling the sick poor at the Charity Hospital in the district of Saint-Germain. Finally, in order to give greater honor to Jesus Christ and in order to imitate him more closely than he had previously done, Vincent decided to commit his life, in love, to the service of the poor. At that moment his faith attained such clarity that, henceforth, he was able to see the truths of faith in a unique manner (cf. Abelly III:87-91).

The path of pastoral experience leads to the same conclusion. Neither reasoning nor the explanation of the truths of the faith will convince anyone, thus the need for an active faith. It is precisely such faith that enables people to recognize the reality that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church (CCD:XI:29).

There is no question about the fact that faith that is translated into love and love that becomes effective (Galatians 5:6) is most important to Vincent de Paul.

Hope and the adorable Providence of God.

Life lived from the perspective of faith, hope and love is revealed in the following statement: That is why I have a particular devotion to following the adorable Providence of God step by step (CCD:II:237). That phrase encompasses the whole of Vincentian existence. Above all else it expresses the unique prevalence of God’s perspective. Everything has to be viewed from that perspective. Action derives its meaning from the perspective of Providence. After accepting with confidence the reality in the midst of which God speaks, it then becomes necessary to follow step by step that which is indicated. The one, however, who gives life to this commitment is God himself, his adorable Providence, God’s union with Jesus Christ.

Look only on God

The principle that guided and grounded Vincent’s thought and action was certainly his faith. His faith allowed him to view various events and situations from God’s perspective. He was convinced that any activity that was not directed toward God’s glory would be prejudicial. Therefore, it is necessary to look toward God alone and to seek God’s glory (cf. CCD:XII:192ff.). When we find ourselves in difficulty we tend to recognize the action of God in some event or activity. We ought to attribute to God all that is good. If there is any good in us and in our manner of living, it comes from God, and it is up to Him to manifest it, if he thinks it advisable (CCD:VI:199). Total surrender to God leads to the imitation of Jesus Christ and to surrendering oneself to Divine Providence in the same way that a mule obeys the master in all that he wants, when he wants and in the manner that he wants (cf. CCD:XII:192). The key is to direct one’s eyes toward God alone: O Company of Daughters of Charity, if God were pleased to animate you with his Spirit so that from now on you considered only God in all your actions and sufferings, what a holy life people would see you leading! (CCD:X:496).

Abandonment to Divine Providence

Everyday activity is, for Vincent de Paul, a profound exercise of hope and trust in God. A trust that is the fruit of a faith-filled hope leads us to believe that God will grant us the grace to reach heaven, provided we use the means he gives us (CCD:X:403). Such trust also enables us to accept the designs of Providence*, no matter what those might be, even if such designs involve the cross, illness, sadness, interior abandonment. We must wholly surrender ourselves to Providence just as a child abandons itself to the care of its mother (CCD:X:404). Trust in God must always be modeled on the Son of God who trusted his Father (cf. CCD:X:410-411).

Vincent de Paul recognized the voice of God and the will of God in the events of everyday. Events are like the steps along which we are guided by divine Providence: What a happiness to will nothing but what God wills, to do nothing but what is in accord with the occasion Providence presents, and to have nothing but what God in his Providence has given us! (CCD:III:193). Neither the circumstances nor the details of the event are important. We must wholly surrender ourselves to Providence with the same good disposition, believing that whatever happens is best for us, even though it may be contrary to our feelings (CCD:VII:292).

The first step is to allow for the possibility of Providence to be revealed. Allowing for that possibility results in our striving to follow God’s adorable providence in all things and not to anticipate it (CCD:III:197). Nevertheless, such trust in Providence does not excuse us from making every effort on our behalf: We must have confidence in God, be faithful to our duties, and entrust the rest to Providence (CCD:IV:360). We must expect everything from Providence as if no other human means were possible and yet at the same time we must make use of every available means as if God did not have to come to our assistance. The following words define the Vincentian attitude with regard to the movement of Providence: let us make haste slowly (CCD:V:400). Therefore, it is understandable how Vincent could be considered as one of the most prudent men of his era and yet, at the same time, considered an innovator and a creative genius in his activity [7].

Active and passive indifference

There is an area where the response to Providence is clear. We have to fulfill what is commanded and avoid what is prohibited. In fact, when there is no reason to the contrary, we must even do that which is repugnant to our nature [8]. But Providence also directs us as we confront the events of daily life, even those events that are unforeseen. Therefore, a prompt response in those situations demands an active indifference. On the one hand, such indifference allows us to detach ourselves from our judgment, our will, our inclinations, and anything that’s not God (CCD:XII:194). On the other hand, such indifferences fills us with the love of God and inclines us toward everything that draws us closer to God (CCD:XII:188).

Secondly, such a response involves the acceptance of pleasant and unpleasant situations, convinced that whatever happens is best for us, even though it may be contrary to our feelings (CCD:VII:292; IX:62). Absolute trust in God leads people to the same experience as that of Saint Paul: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Roman 8:28). In fact, the great secret of the spiritual life is to abandon all that we love to him by abandoning ourselves to all that he wishes, with perfect confidence that everything will turn out for the best (CCD:VIII:298). Vincent had this experience with regard to himself and with regard to the life of the Congregation … with regard to persons and with regard to material goods (cf. CCD:XI:39; XII:48-49).

Characteristic activity

Providence acts and is revealed through human activity. Life is developed and becomes meaningful through action*. The Vincentian response to the invitation of divine Providence cannot remain on the level of the purity of one’s intention or on the level of active/passive indifference. Men and women must utilize those faculties that enable them to analyze, consult, experience and observe [9]. In other words, men and women must engage in an active search for the will of God and then, must have the intention of fulfilling that will: To summarize, the practice of always doing God’s will is much better than all that, for it includes openness to God’s will and purity of intention, as well as all the other ways practiced and recommended (CCD:XII:128)

Every response to follow divine Providence step by step is motivated by the desire to conform oneself to Jesus Christ and to act out of a love for God: It isn’t enough to do what God asks of us, but we should, in addition, do it for love of God; to do the will of God, this same will of God, and to do it according to his will, that is, in the way Our lord did the will of his Father when he was on earth (CCD:XI:384; cf. CCD:XI:283; XII:129).

A life of charity

Charity became so rooted in Vincent de Paul that such charity was co-natural … a co-naturality that was the fruit of his compassionate humanness that was guided by God’s love [10]. Vincent’s life was one of charity [11]. The dynamic of love permeated, guided and consumed Vincent: To wear oneself our for God, to have happiness and strength only to consume them for God, is to do what Our Lord himself did, who exhausted himself for love of his Father (CCD:XIIIa:195; cf. CCD:VII:575). His life acquired an expression of love that did not escape the notice of his contemporaries. Bossuet spoke to Vincent’s followers and stated: how blessed are you to be able to see and listen to a man so filled with God [12].

At the same time that Vincent deepened his love of God, he developed and revealed his love for his neighbor, namely, those who were poor. For love of Christ and in the love of Christ, Vincent experienced the merciful love of God on behalf of humankind, as well as God’s loving encounter with the poor. Here we find the root of Vincent’s passion for the poor (Coste:III:322ff.). Here Vincent’s faith-filled vision of the poor achieved its fullness and he was able to justify his on-going efforts to follow step by step the inspirations of divine Providence. All of this is rooted in the mystery of Christ who, as Son, is the bearer of the Father’s love (John 3:16, 35), a love that embraces all people (Ephesians 1:6ff.). Some of Vincent’s words reveal his profound experience of God’s love in Jesus Christ: Let’s look at the Son of God; what a heart of charity he had; what a fire of love! Please tell us, Jesus, who pulled you away from heaven … O Savior! Source of love humbled even to our level and to a vile agony … Only our Lord, who was so enamored with the love of creatures as to leave the throne of his Father to come to take a body subject to weakness. And why? To establish among us, by his word and example, love of the neighbor (CCD:XII:216).

Vincent’s life could be viewed from the perspective of Christ’s love which originated in the Father. It was in light of that perspective that Vincent presented his vocation to the Missionaries: We have been chosen by God as instruments of his immense, paternal charity (CCD:XII:214). We see that same perspective in the origins of the Daughters of the Charity: So, you are destined to represent the goodness of God to those poor people (CCD:X:267-268).

Viewing his vocation from the perspective of love led Vincent to live his life grounded on the realities of the love and the glory of God, on the indissoluble bond between love of God and love of neighbor, between service and evangelization of the poor. Those realities are a proof of his love of God and his love of Jesus Christ. In order to communicate that experience Vincent followed the theology of Saint Paul and Saint John.

Absolute primacy of God’s love

Love of God is the beginning and the objective of every form of love. Everything comes from God who is infinitely loveable. The very act of loving God remains subordinate to God’s goodness. Paraphrasing Frances de Sales, Vincent stated: A heart truly filled with charity, which understands what it is to love God, wouldn’t want to go to God unless God anticipated him and attracted him by his grace (CCD:XI:207-208). This love of God encompasses the whole person in such a way that people’s whole live is directed toward God: It is a fire that is constantly active; once a person is inflamed by it, it holds him spellbound (CCD:XI:203; cf. II:367ff.).

But Vincent immediately moved into action. Thus, just as effective love is viewed from the perspective of being attentive to Jesus’ message, so also the primacy of God’s love is viewed from the perspective of charitable activity. In the first place, the love of God not only leads people to love God above all else, but also leads people to desire that their neighbor will also love God: it is not enough for me to love God, if my neighbor does not love him (CCD:XII:215). Everything must be done in order to bring people to this love of God. Love of God ought to guide one’s whole life. Without that love, even the best of actions will have no meaning, and therefore, will have no value. Thus a demand is placed on people: it would be better to die than to act contrary to his glory and his pure love (CCD:IX:17). It could not be otherwise since our model is Jesus Christ: We must imitate the Son of God who did nothing except from the motive of love he had for God his Father (CCD:IX:18).

God so filled the heart of Vincent that all his activity was undertaken for the glory of God. That was a constant in his teaching, both in his conferences, as well as during the repetition of prayer and in his countless letters. The glory of God and the glory of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the leitmotif of his letters.

The indissoluble bond between love of God and love of neighbor

Vincent deepened his experience and his reflection in accord with the gospel texts. Vincentian existence reveals it richness and acquires its proper form as the result of the indissolubility that binds together union with God and service on behalf of the poor. Charity encompasses not only a love of God but also a love of neighbor for the love of God. Both movements, the love of God and the love of neighbor, are mutually related … the love of God being the origin, the source and the goal of every form of love.

Vincent discovered that the first reason for the indissoluble bond between love of God and love of neighbor is that it is precisely through the union of those two realities the Law is most perfectly fulfilled. Using an argument of Saint Thomas and based on his own experience, Vincent concluded: Give me a man who loves God alone, a soul elevated in contemplation, who never thinks about his brothers; that man finding it very agreeable to love in this way a God who appears to him the only thing loveable, stops at savoring this infinite source of sweetness. And then you have another who loves the neighbor, no matter how rough and crude he may be, but loves him for the love of God. Which of these loves, I ask you, is the purest and least self-interested? (CCD:XII:214)

Vincent continued to deepen his understanding of the internal dynamic that joined together the love of God and the love of neighbor. Ultimately, those who love God must also love those whom God loves. Those who love their neighbor are giving witness to God’s love because God loves the neighbor, loves the poor (cf. CCD:XI:349). The basis of that unity is rooted in the mystery of creation and redemption. As a result of creation, the human person is formed in the image of God and as such, is worthy of love. Furthermore, in the mystery of redemption God makes men and women the object of his special love and considers them as his sons and daughters in Jesus Christ.

When speaking about fraternal charity in community life, Vincent based his explanation for such unity (and also for uniformity) among the members of the community on the demand to imitate the unity and the intimacy that exists in the Trinity: If we want to have within us the image of the adorable Trinity and a holy relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, let us establish ourselves in this spirit (CCD:XII:210; cf. IX:44-45; X:292; cf. John 17:11-21).

The inseparable bond between love of God and love of neighbor is also rooted in the experience of Saint John, the evangelist: God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him (1 John 4:16). The love of neighbor is grounded on the love of God which has been revealed to us by the Son of God. It is a love that comes from God. Those who love with that same love participate in the life of God and can be called children of God. It was in light of that reality that Vincent explained the meaning of the name of the Daughters of Charity: What do you think is the meaning of this beautiful title of “Daughters of Charity,” Sisters? Nothing else than “daughters of God,” since whoever is in charity is in God and God is in him (CCD:IX:44).

From the love of Christ to the love of God and service on behalf of the poor

Vincentian charity is more than a series of theological reflections and concepts … it is rooted in a person, in the person of Christ [13]. Vincent discovered in Christ the infinite love of God, a hidden mystery that has been revealed to us in the Incarnation of God’s Son. The mercy and the love of God that is revealed in Jesus Christ, is beyond human comprehension. Vincent exclaimed: Enlightenment from on high is needed to raise us up in order to show the height and depth, the breadth and excellence of this love (CCD:XII:213; cf. Ephesians 3:18). Christ revealed his total surrender to the Father and his great love for the Father as he fulfilled the Father’s redemptive plan. A specific title seemed to encompass and to express the love that Vincent saw revealed by Christ … it is a title that Vincent frequently uttered: O Savior!

At the same time Christ is the model and the reason for every expression of love, for every expression of charity. The path that must be followed by all those who love God is that of conforming their life as closely as possible to that of Jesus … always mindful of human weakness [14]. Union with Jesus Christ is, therefore, most necessary for those persons who attempt to live and to participate in Christ’s mission. According to the Pauline theology of baptism, true conformity to Christ requires that an individual’s whole person, one’s life and actions, be penetrated by the life of Christ.

In accord with the Vincentian vision, there are two attitudes that define Christ’s life: his love for the Father and his charity toward men and women (cf. CCD:VI:413-414; XI:34-36, 107ff.). Jesus showed his great love for the Father by taking on the form of a servant and accepting human misery. In his Incarnation, Jesus became a brother to all people and, therefore, he is now united to every human person, even those who might appear to be less than human (cf. CCD:XI:26). The true man/woman, created in the image of God and a brother/sister to Jesus Christ, is only discovered in the light God’s love. Thus, we see the derivation of the Vincentian theme to surrender one’s life to God in order to serve the poor (cf. CCD:IX:465; X:271). At the same time, love and service on behalf of the poor is a guarantee of one love of God and Christ: In serving persons who are poor, we serve Jesus Christ. How true, Sisters! You are serving Jesus Christ in the person of the poor … A Sister will go ten times a day to visit the sick, and ten times a day she will find God there (CCD:IX:199; cf. IX:256).

Union with God in service on behalf of the poor.

Living his life in accord with that of Jesus Christ led Vincent de Paul to a union with God in service* on behalf of the poor and at the same time, his service on behalf of the poor* gave witness to the fact that his life was in conformity with that of Jesus Christ and that he lived in union with God. His life was centered on doing what Jesus did while he was on earth (cf. CCD:XII:4).

Vincent entered into the two dimensions of Christ’s life. On the one hand, he wanted to continue Christ’s mission which revealed God’s infinite mercy toward humankind, toward those who are poor. At the same time, Vincent wanted to love God in the same way that Jesus loved the Father, imitating Jesus who gave his life for humankind. Both dimensions are mutually implied in the Vincentian vocation in which love of God and service on behalf of the poor are inseparably bound together.

In the first place, Vincent united himself to Christ who incarnates the mercy of God, especially as he presented himself as the evangelizer of the poor [15]. Here we are referring to Vincent’s attempts to clothe himself in the same attitudes as Jesus who, filled with mercy and love toward humankind, abandoned the throne of his Father in order to share in the misfortunes of men and women. The spirit of compassion motivated Jesus to come from heaven to earth because he saw people deprived of his glory, and he was moved by their misfortune (CCD:XII:221) [16]. Union with God through Jesus Christ becomes compassion and a participation in the situation of those who are poor. When we go to visit poor persons, we have to sympathize with them in order to suffer with them and put ourselves in the dispositions of that great Apostle who said, “I have made myself all to all” (CCD:XI:308; cf. 1 Corinthians 9:22). When we are united with Jesus Christ, the evangelizer of the poor, we participate, as Saint Thomas teaches, in God’s mercy [17]. Therefore we should ask God to give us the true spirit of mercy, which is the characteristic spirit of God; for, as the Church states, it is the distinctive feature of God to be merciful and to impart his spirit (CCD:XI:308). This spirit of mercy softens the heart and enables us to experience the sufferings and the misfortunes of the neighbor.

Mercy toward the poor is revealed in spiritual and corporal service. Integral service is a constant in every Vincentian ministry because the members of the Vincentian Family strive to continue Jesus’ mission [18]. The Daughters of Charity know that their ministry not only consists of providing for the material needs of people but also includes providing for their spiritual needs. When explaining the rules with regard to the care of the infirm, Vincent explained his understanding of integral service: For you see, dear Sisters, it is one thing to assist physically those who are poor; in truth, however, it was never Our Lord’s intention in founding your Company that you should care only for the body, because there will always be someone to do that; but Our Lord’s intention is that you assist the sick poor spiritually (CCD:X:269). Furthermore, Vincent addressed the Missionaries who ran the risk of becoming focused on the spiritual needs of people while ignoring their material needs. He reminded them of their obligation to provide for the temporal needs of people: If there are any among us who think they are in the Mission to evangelize poor people but not to alleviate their sufferings, to take care of their spiritual needs but not their temporal ones, I reply that we have to help then and have them assisted in every way, by us and by others (CCD:XII:77). As Vincent liked to say, this form of integral service makes the gospel effective.

In order to live in accord with another dimension of the mystery of Christ, Vincent made every effort to achieve communion with God through service on behalf of the poor. Just as Christ lived and revealed his love and intimacy with the Father through his redemptive and salvific activity on behalf of humankind, so also Vincent revealed his love and union with God through his evangelization and service on behalf of the poor. To serve the poor is to clothe oneself in the attitudes of Jesus Christ who revealed his love for the Father by giving up his life for the salvation of humankind. Such was the profound meaning that Vincent discovered in the vocation of the Daughters of Charity: You declare that you are devoting your life to the service of your neighbor for the love of God. Is there any act of love to surpass that? No, for it is an acknowledged fact that the greatest proof of love is to give one’s life for what is loved. You are giving your entire life to the practice of charity and, therefore, you are giving it for God (CCD:IX:360-361).

Vincent viewed the act of self-surrender and service on behalf of the poor as the path to holiness, as actions comparable to that of martyrdom*. With authoritative arguments Vincent stated: A holy Father has said that anyone who gives himself to God to serve his neighbor and endures willingly all the difficulties he may encounter in this is a martyr (CCD:IX:214). Furthermore, in that situation, the fact that the action of self-surrender and service are on-going activities makes those individuals who live in that manner greater than the martyrs who at one specific moment must endure the torments of suffering. Thus, those who engage in service on behalf of the poor can rightly be called martyrs for Jesus Christ.

The path of service on behalf of the poor is also the surest path to become united with God because according to the testimony of Saint John, the evangelist, whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20). Furthermore, Vincent deepened his union with God through service and the evangelization of the poor and therefore, in the words of the evangelist, he was able to love with the love of God: God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him (1 John 4:16). In other words, Vincent was able to live the life of God [19].


Vincentian Godlike life is grounded on the person of Christ. In his encounter with Jesus Christ, Vincent discovered the great love of God for humankind and the truth with regard to all people (Gaudium et spes, #22), especially the poor (Lumen Gentium #8; Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus, who presented himself as the evangelizer of the poor, made visible God’s loving mercy and, at the same time, revealed his own love and commitment to the Father as he offered up his own life for the salvation of humankind (John 10:17-18; Ephesians 5:1). That personal experience of God’s love which is revealed in Jesus Christ captivated Vincent and, like Saint Paul, led him to understand that Insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me (Galatians 2:20). In that existential situation all his mental powers became committed: understanding, will and feelings … and all the dimension of a Godlike life were understood: openness to God, radical conversion, absolute trust in Jesus Christ and his teaching, loving and effective surrender to God’s love [20].

The Vincentian life is grounded on faith and that faith encompasses the whole person: knowledge, affect, activity. The light of faith provides people with a new vision that enables them to see things as God sees them and thus, not see things as they appear to be. The truth that is provided by the light of faith leads people to a total trust in God. Therefore, both the light of faith and trust in God make people’s existential commitment and activity an authentic reality. Thus, praxis is not only the result and the consequence of faith but is a constitutive dimension of faith [21]. From the Vincentian perspective of a godlike life, faith is always operative, hope is active, and charity is effective. Faith is revealed in everyday life through activities that incarnate hope and love (Galatians 5:6; James 2:1626). In that way action becomes the proof of one’s faith and trust in God, the way in which men and women reveal their love for God (cf. CCD:XI:32-33).

The fullness of faith is revealed in the love of God … a love that is fulfilled in the love for humankind. Knowledge and love of God acquire authenticity in fraternal love (1 John 4:7-8, 20) which, in the Vincentian experience, is concretized by reaching out to the poor. The faces of the poor become the disfigured face of Christ (cf. CCD:XI:26). Service on behalf of the poor is equivalent to serving Christ (cf. CCD:IX:199, 256) and dedication to the poor means self-surrender and love of God (cf. CCD:X:3). The love of God and the love of neighbor, union with God and service on behalf of the poor are inseparably united in Vincentian godlike life. Love of God and union with God are revealed in service on behalf of the poor and, through a commitment to provide for the poor, men and women are able to achieve communion with God. Both movements are reflected in the Vincentian mottos that state: The spirit of the Company consists in giving yourselves to God to love your Lord and to serve him corporally and spiritually in the person of the poor (CCD:IX:465) and to unite yourself with your neighbor through charity in order to be united with God himself through Jesus Christ (CCD:XII:108).


[1] J.M. López Maside, “Unión con Dios y servicio de los pobres”, in Studium Legionense (1984), p. 239-309.

[2] Sum. Th. I-II, q. 62, a.1.

[3] A. Dodin, “Théologie de la Charité selon st. Vincent de Paul”, in Vincentiana (1976), p. 265.

[4] J. Alfaro, Cristología y antropología, Madrid 1973, p. 475.

[5] Alfaro, Esistenza Cristiana, Roma, 1979 (provides a bibliography)

[6] Cf. J. Le Brun, “Le grande siecle de la spiritualité française et ses lademains”, in DS:V:929.

[7] Cf., Coste, op,cit., 111,229; Abelly, op.cit., III:222-223.

[8] The Thomist schema, that was developed by Francis de Sales, has been applied to Vincent de Paul, namely, the schema on the will of God and the will of well-being; cf. Cf. J. Kapusciak, Il compimento della volonta di Dio come principio unificatore fra azione e preghiera in san Vincenzo de Paoli, Roma 1982, p. 98-149 .

[9] Cf. Abelly, op.cit., III:231-232; in this same line of thought Coste has stated: What he call ‘providence is, in pradtice, indistinguishable from experience Coste:III:331).

[10] Cf. M. Leuret-Dupanloup, Le coeur de Saint Vincent de Paul. Splendeur de charité et de fraternité humaine, Paris 1971, p. 311.

[11] Cf. cf . Abelly, op.cit., III:231-232; A. Dodin, “Théologie de la charité selon st. Vincent de Paul”, in Vincentiana (1976), p. 263-284.

[12] Collet, The Life of St. Vincent de Paul, John Murphy and Co., Baltimore, 1845, p. 258-258.

[13] A. Dodin, op.cit., p. 276.

[14] This idea, which emerges in the thought of Saint Vincent, is the fruit of a profound experience. We find an example of this in the Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission, I:1.

[15] Cf. Common Rules, I:1 and explanation of Article I:1 in CCD:XII:66-82; cf. Luke 4:18; Isaiah 61:1-2.

[16] The mysticism of mercy as a specific element in Vincentian spirituality is highlighted in A.M. Rossetti, OP, “S. Vimcenzo mistico della misericordia” in Divus Thomas (1960), p. 442-455.

[17] Summa Teologica, II-II, q.30, a.4, ad 3.

[18] Cf. I. Zedda, L’evangelizzazione dei poveri secando san Vincenzo de Paoli, Roma, 1972, p. 99.

[19] Cf. I. de la Potterie, Adnotationes in exegesim Primae Epistolae s. Joannis, Rome, 1971, p. 131.

[20] Cf. W. Kasper, La fe que excede todo conocimiento, Sal Terrae, Santander 1988, p. 58-61.

[21] Cf. J. Alfaro, Revelación cristiana, fe y teologia, Sigueme, Salamanca, 1985, p. 119


All references to the writings of Vincent de Paul are taken from: VINCENT DE PAUL, Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, translators: Helen Marie Law, DC (Vol. 1), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 1-14), James King, CM (Vol. 1-2), Francis Germovnik, CM (Vol. 1-8, 13a-13b [Latin]), Esther Cavanagh, DC (Vol. 2), Ann Mary Dougherty, DC (Vol. 12); Evelyne Franc, DC (Vol. 13a-13b), Thomas Davitt, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Glennon E. Figge, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), John G. Nugent, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Andrew Spellman, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]); edited: Jacqueline Kilar, DC (Vol. 1-2), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 2-14), Julia Denton, DC [editor-in-chief] (Vol. 3-10, 13a-13b), Paule Freeburg, DC (Vol. 3), Mirian Hamway, DC (Vol. 3), Elinor Hartman, DC (Vol. 4-10, 13a-13b), Ellen Van Zandt, DC (Vol. 9-13b), Ann Mary Dougherty (Vol. 11, 12 and 14).

Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM