The Holiness of Saint Vincent de Paul

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

by: Benito Martínez Betanzos, CM

I gladly accept the title of this presentation: The holiness of Saint Vincent de Paul. By placing the word of before Saint Vincent I feel that I am free to speak about his personal holiness as well as his ideas about holiness, thus avoiding the danger of separating his person, life and thoughts. Second, I also prefer the word holiness over the word perfection or the phrase the fullness of life[1]. I do not like the word perfection because, by definition, we can never achieve this reality. The one who lacks nothing is perfect. We, however, can never be perfect, neither quantitatively (in the sense of being completely whole or filled) not qualitatively (in the sense of being in a state that cannot be made better or exceeded)[2]. Men and women can always move closer to perfection but it is impossible for created individuals to achieve perfection. Saint Vincent also affirmed this reality (CCD:XI:285-286). Vincent understood the expression the fullness of the Christian life to mean the same as perfection … for what man or woman can achieve the fullness of life? Fullness if synonymous with qualitative perfection or qualitative wholeness and the human person is unable to achieve these realities. Fullness and perfection are attributes that are proper to God alone and these attributes can never be bestowed on a human person (even if God wanted to do this) because created beings will always be imperfect and limited. You might tell me that holiness is also an attribute that is proper to God alone. That is true but there are several very important differences. First, perfection and fullness have no degrees. One is either perfect or else one is not perfect and one is either full or not full … again there are no degrees of perfection or fullness and therefore the human person, even with God’s help, could never achieve these realities. But holiness has degrees … one could be more or less holy and with the help of God the human person can achieve some degree of holiness. Second, the effort to sanctify ourselves makes us holy but not perfect. Third, through Baptism we are given over to the Father and as a result of this we become holy and children of God. One might say that according to the Bible perfection has the meaning of goodness and faithfulness to the divine will[3]. We are speaking, however, in Spanish and in Spanish --- as well as the majority of the other languages --- perfection has the meaning that I have pointed out. It is true that holiness is an expression that for some can appear to be an archaic word of some former era while perfection and fullness of life seem to be more modern expressions[4].

Some modern biographers have been scandalized by previous authors who presented Saint Vincent as a saint from the time of his childhood. Thus recent biographers have portrayed Vincent as an adolescent and a young man who had distanced himself from the Christian ideal of holiness and who therefore had to be converted in order to engage in a search for holiness. These same authors have presented Vincent and his family as poor peasants who, for selfish reasons, chose Vincent to become a priest so that the family could be lifted out of poverty. In this account no consideration was give to the fact of whether or not Vincent had a vocation … priesthood was seen as a worldly form of employment rather than as an ecclesial ministry. I am not in agreement with such a thesis and it seems to be appropriate to indicate at this time that Vincent’s holiness was not the fruit of a conversion in the sense of a rupture with the past, but rather was a natural evolution of his youthful piety. Let us look at this.

Earthly ideals and holiness

First, a vocation was not viewed by Vincent’s contemporaries in the same way that we look at this reality today. In the first half of the seventeenth century one was seen as having a vocation if one desired the priesthood. The priesthood was seen as the greatest ministry that one could possibly exercise and therefore the desire to serve in this way was considered the best that one could desire. This idea was put forth by Francis de Sales and was held by Vincent de Paul until 1636 when he became convinced by Bérulle that a vocation is a call from God[5]. When Louise de Marillac’s son, Michel, began to doubt his vocation, Vincent consoled his mother: Your husband’s cousin, M. Rebours, came here yesterday. We will agree that your son’s happiness lies in the ecclesiastical state. Nothing more had to be said. We are given the impression that they were choosing some worldly profession even though he added: his temperament seems more inclined to that than to the world. This is how a vocation was viewed at that time; therefore if there was no longer any attraction to the vocation then it could be said that one did not have a vocation because that young man got his mind all confused about the matter … when matters have been set before him clearly, he will come to his senses (CCD:I:548-549). Again when matters are set before him indicates a process of reasoning and not a call. Vincent held this view until 1635 and yet no one would deny that Vincent was a holy man during this period.

Today, our understanding of vocation is different and in a certain sense we have to admit that a response to the divine call has to be incarnated. There is no doubt that there are vocations that are explicit calls of God to specific persons, such as occurred with Moses and the Apostles and Paul and Mathias. There are also calls of certain individuals to enter specific religious institutes such as occurred in the life of various saints. But we must remember that the most natural way and most rational way for the will of God to be revealed is through the material things that God has created. Thus it is through the use of material things that God expresses his desire that men and women extend the kingdom of God and the glory of God and encounter their own happiness. The revelation of the divine call is not always clearly expressed and individuals can have doubts regarding the specific will of god. There are different possible ways to respond to the divine call and God respects the intelligence of human persons as well as their freedom. Vincent responded to God’s call from his specific human situation and from his specific place in the world. It was a rational response in accord with the thinking of that era. Vincent understood the commitment he was making and so freely decided to fulfill the obligations that flowed from the decision to pursue a vocation to the priesthood. God accepted this positive response because as Vincent responded to God’s call he created the possibility for an encounter with God, the possibility for an encounter with holiness.

Second, one cannot view the social economic situation of the peasants in southeastern France in the same way as one would view situation of the peasants in the rest of France[6]. The Basque country, the Béarn, Guyenne and Gascony had a parliament and an autonomous administration and taxation system which had been created by the land owning peasants. The de Paúl family was not poor but could become poor, like every other peasant, during times of war or bad harvests.

It seems that his mother’s side of the family, the Moras, were bourgeois and Lords of Peyroux[7], about 20 kilometers south of Dax and had a number of rights over the inhabitants and the lands of that village, such as the establishment of law and order and the leveling of taxes on wine-presses, ovens and mills. All of this provided the family with income and exonerated them from many taxes. It seems that several of his mother’s brothers were lawyers and officials and someone from the Moras family (possibly Vincent’s grandparents) had a house in the village of Puy, a house that was either a permanent residence or a residence that was used for extended periods of time.

His father’s side of the family, Paul, were peasants who possessed land and forests and livestock in Puy and in other locations near Dax, for example in the village of Saint Paul. Being members of a bourgeois family of officials and wealthy peasants it could be supposed that they had some influence in their social circle. As a result it could be said that Vincent belong to a family that, in accord with the social customs and attitudes of the era, was permitted and able to aspire to more, able to improve his social and ecclesial position without having this aspiration negate the search for holiness. We see the same occurrence in the family of Saint Cyran, Bérulle, Francis de Sales, Arnauld, Marillac, Attichy, etc. This is what Vincent and Louise hoped to be able to do for Louise’s son, Michel. This was a custom that was available to those families who were able to influence the conferral of ecclesial benefices that belonged to the king, the nobles, the bourgeois, and the higher clergy. When we say that this means was available to these individuals we mean that this was viewed as normal. We would also add that it was customary for the younger son to enter public administration, the convent or the clerical state and none of these occupations was contrary to the search for holiness because the separation between the world and transcendence was non-existent. French society could be called a sacred society, that is, the sacred penetrated every dimentsion of life and there was no distinction between social, political, and religious spheres[8]. This is seen in the so called Wars of Religion as well as in the people who were canonized during that era. We also see that many families placed their children in convents or churches as Abbesses, Abbots, bishops, friars, monks and priests. At the end of the sixteenth century to have or not have a vocation generally depended on the family benefice and the needs of the Church. Saint Thomas and the Council of Trent requested the priest to live a moral life and to have sufficient knowledge to exercise his ministry[9]. The idea of a personal vocation was something new in seventeenth century France and was introduced by Bérulle, Olier, Bourdoise, and the Oratorians, Sulpicians, and the priests of San-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet.

At the initiative of M. Comet (a relative of the Moras family), the family Paul-Moras chose Vincent (with his consent) for the clerical state. Why? Because on the one hand they felt he had sufficient ability to engage in ecclesiastical studies and therefore able to achieve a high position in the church. At the age of fifteen while studying at the school in Dax he was able to pass three courses and in two years was prepared to study theology. At the same time he was seen as capable enough to become the tutor of the judge’s children. This would seem to indicate that even though he cared for the livestock, he was schooled either in his own house or, what is most probable, when he spent time at his grandparents’ house (maternal grandparents). It is also clear that people noticed his pious qualities. Despite the fact that later on he would appear to be harsh and brusque and sullen, yet at this early stage in his life Vincent was compassionate and affectionate. He had a childlike devotion to the Virgin, gave alms to people in need and as a newly ordained priest at the age of twenty traveled to Rome and wept at the tomb of the apostles. He also cried when he visited his parents and told them that he would be unable to help them financially. Years later Vincent said to one of the Missionaries: Do you think I do not love my relatives? I indeed have the same sentiments of affection for them that anyone would have. My natural instinct is to help them[10] … Vincent was a good young man who wanted to fulfill his priestly obligations and also desired material well-being which, for people at that time, was not opposed in any way to a desire to live a good and sincere priestly life. We might compare this situation to parents today who want their children to study and graduate and aspire to a high place in the midst of society and the church. The desires of these parents in no way negates the fact that they are holy people.

So also when Vincent wrote to Louise in 1638 about the future of her son Michel, it should not be supposed that his words contradict his state of holiness: I spoke with M. Pavillon about your son. I think it would be well for him to finish his theology, be ordained, and practice for some time the exercises of piety suitable for ecclesiastics. Once he has done all that, I shall make no objection to the above-mentioned Monsieur Pavillon’s receiving him. Otherwise, the young man would be useless to the said Monsieur Pavillon, and an unbearable burden to himself when he found himself in the mountains, at the farthest end of the kingdom, doing nothing, and unqualified for any unemployment. In the name of God, Mademoiselle, take my advice in this matter. I know what is involved. I hope that, if your son does what I have just said, he will never be in need of good employment. If God allows me to live, I promise you that I shall take care of him as if he were of my own blood (CCD:I:427-428). It would seem that Vincent did not consider a prosperous position in society or in the church as being opposed to holiness. Even more I tend to believe that Vincent considered these human desires as part of God’s plan in creating the universe and therefore in accord with nature, that is, in accord with love of one’s self and responsibility, and the struggle for personal happiness. It is almost as if holiness implies living according to human nature as established by God … these same words could be applied to doing God’s will.

Holiness and the will of God

Fulfilling the will of God was an essential element of Vincent’s concept of holiness and continues to be such in the present day. Therefore one day Vincent wrote to Louise: How little it takes to be very holy: to do the will of God in all things (CCD:II:47). When Vincent began to direct Louise he insisted on the ideal of doing the will of God so that he and she would always have the same desire and non-desire as God since that is the objective that all the saints have had and without this element no one can be happy. Louise stated that it was Vincent who taught her to love the will of God, a will that is just and merciful (CCD:I:61, 81-82, 379). Therefore it was very natural that Louise, Vincent’s best disciple, would tell another woman that holiness consisted in uniting one’s will with the will of our good God thus reaffirming the words of Vincent who stated that holiness consisted in always doing the will of God so that God’s will and our will become the same[11].

This was the idea of all the spiritual writers at that time. In light of so many tragedies, wars, and diseases of unknown origin against which men and women and science felt helpless, religious people attributed all of this to God’s desire. People viewed the world as directed by the divine will which punished the world through wars and natural catastrophes and rewarded the world with peace and good harvests … and all of this was done by means of God’s providence. Men and women, repentant and grateful, simply had to accept God’s desires[12] without attempting to get ahead of God’s providence (CCD:I:59). At times Vincent used more mystical expressions and identified God’s desire with God’s love for the world, but he never ignored the ascetical interpretation of accepting God’s desires in the same way that soldiers obey orders or beasts of burden respond to their masters (CCD:XII:193, 194).

One might object and say that this is not holiness and that doing the will of God in this way is a form of determinism that views God as a despot who demands blind obedience, annuls human freedom and converts men and women into automatons and God into a machine[13]. But like it or not it must be admitted that many spiritual writers, including Vincent de Paul, attempted to become saints through adherence to this attitude. It is certain that Vincent, a practical man rather than a theoretician and one who was guided by spiritual experience rather than some ideology, humanized this doctrine in everyday life. For Vincent the problem was not doing the will of God which must always be done but rather knowing what was God’s will. Thus he divided the human will into active and passive elements. With regard to that which is commanded or forbidden, that is, with regard to sin and righteousness, the will of God is clear just as God’s will is clear with regard to the natural events that present themselves as inevitable and unavoidable: even though one has to struggle to avoid these but when these cannot be avoided than one has to passively respects God’s desire since God could be seen as the great programmer of the world. Seeing things in this way we can say that he was not far from those modern thinkers who speak about intelligent design.

In the other events of life the will of God presents itself with clarity and therefore human intelligence must discover this will and then people with their freedom must fulfill this will. This is done as one follows Jesus and is guided by the Holy Spirit and is also in accord with the commandment that God has given to people to love one another. Vincent concretizes this as he speaks about bringing joy to those who have been excluded from society[14]. Here then we are able to draw a number of conclusions: God has created the universe that evolves and is governed in a rational manner (an expression of God’s will). God desires that all created persons act and conduct themselves through the use of reason. A holy person can also conclude that everything that is rational is the will of God because God cannot contradict himself (CCD:I:108-109; IX:330-331). But God has placed in the midst of creation the commandment of love, while involves a special love toward the poor. The will of God in this regard is primary and above all else and this is seen in the Rules. In order to serve the poor and to evangelize them it is rational to see the divine will in the gospels, in the Rules, in obedience to superiors and praying and consulting others as well as in analyzing the causes of events because God always speaks through these means for the good of the poor. But in the final analysis, it is always the human person, guided by reason and prudence[15], who freely decides all of this.

This is how Vincent made each event a spiritual experience and concluded that it is through reason that men and women discover the divine will which at the same time impels the human will to fulfill it. This implies then that human freedom is involved in the achievement of holiness. Thus people of good will, who discover the will of God, are those who decide to do their will, convinced that they are acting in accord with the divine will. Is this not what Vincent said to Louise: I am sure that you wish and do not wish what God wishes and does not wish, and that you are disposed to want and not want only what we tell you that God seems to want and not want … if his Divine Majesty does not let you know, in a way that cannot be mistaken, that he wants something else of you, do not think about or let your mind become engrossed in that other matter. Leave it to me; I shall think about it enough for both of us (CCD:I:54). These words that Vincent spoke to Louise might disturb us: Yes, certainly, Mademoiselle, I shall help you to do the will of God in this, by means of his grace and the good use you will have to make of it. I think, in fact, that it will be good for you to go to the country when you are a little stronger to put the finishing touch on strengthening yourself while you are doing good (CCD:I:293). If you do not have anyone to replace her in her absence, God’s will seems to be that she wait, whatever may come of it (CCD:I:381). It is God’s good pleasure that we adapt ourselves to people’s moods, to places, and to times (CCD:I:228). Or the words that he wrote to M. Comet regarding the death of his brother: He did not die when he did because God had anticipated it that way or had calculated the number of his days to be so many, but he had anticipated it that way and the number of his days was known to be so many, because he died when he did (CCD:I:7). All of this was written by a saint. So I ask, according to Vincent, who fulfills the will of God? The answer could be discovered but do not forget that some historians consider the foundation of the Conferences of Cahrity, the Congregation of the Mission, the Company of the Daughters of Charity, the retreats for ordinands and the Tuesday Conferences as the immediate result of some incident and have concluded that Vincent saw the will of God expressed in the lived experience of events.

Priestly holiness

Another accusation that is leveled against Vincent is that he was ordained a priest at the age of twenty while the Council of Trent had established twenty-five as the minimum age for ordination. Furthermore, it is also stated that Abelly falsified Vincent’s date of birth in order to preserve his readers from this irregularity. It must be remembered, however, that the French government and Church did not recognize the teachings of Trent until fourteen or fifteen years after the time of Vincent’s ordination. Abelly wrote his book after the reform of the clergy had been initiated by many good individuals, including Vincent de Paul. At the beginning of the seventeenth century young men were frequently ordained before attaining the canonical age and in fact this irregularity became a regular occurrence and so after the fact a dispensation would be requested. Coste refers to a letter from the Cardinal Secretary of State to the Nuncio of France in which the cardinal expressed his surprise at the large number of French priests who were ordained before the canonical age and asked that this situation become regulated . One of the motives, if not the only motive, for Vincent’s trip to Rome after his ordination was certainly to regularize his situation. I do not believe that the young priest Vincent experienced this as some kind of trauma or sin. The norm had been modified because of the custom and then after ordination individuals would seek a dispensation from Rome. In a conference that Vincent gave to the missionaries in 1642, he spoke very naturally about an idea to send to Rome those who were not old enough for priesthood, to obtain permission from His Holiness to be ordained under the age (CCD:XI:107).

Years later he would write a letter to the Canon de Saint-Martin and stated: If I had known what it was when I had the temerity to enter it --- as I have come to know since them --- I would have preferred to till the soil (CCD:V:569). We should not infer here that Vincent is speaking about the way in which he was ordained but rather is talking about his temerity to seek the priesthood because of the greatness of its nature and sacredness of its ministries. Vincent had discovered these realities in conversations with Bérulle and about a year before he died he wrote the following words to a lawyer: I feel so strongly about this that, if I was not already a priest, I never would become one (CCD:VII:480).

Immediately after his ordination Vincent attempted to become the pastor at Tihl, a parish near the village where he was born. He did not obtain this appointment but he did seek the appointment. It should not be concluded that he wanted to live comfortably with the income that this benefice would have bestowed upon him. That he sought the position of pastor for this reason alone is a gratuitous affirmation. Later when he was appointed pastor at Clichy and Châtillon, this was true.

Ministerial holiness

Vincent had been ordained eleven years and had not become involved in caring for souls. This was very common and scandalized no one. In 1600, the year that Vincent was ordained, there were about eighteen million people living in France and there were one hundred thousand secular priests and another hundred thousand religious priests. The priests who cared for souls were a minority. The majority were looking for ministry on a temporary basis, similar to the present day situation in which many workers are employed with temporary contracts. Most priests wanted to be involved in the care of souls and it should be remembered that pastoral ministry brought with it a very desirable recompense[17] and those who achieved this position were seen as influential persons. Many priests after they obtained a benefice retired to their place of origin and lived on the income that was derived from said benefice. Many priests adopted this custom and as a result pastoral functions were seen as being of secondary importance. Here we ought to avoid a dual error: first, to view priesthood with the modern mentality that would lead us to believe that all the clergy of the seventeenth century knew and lived the priestly ideal that was espoused by Bérulle, Vincent and other reformers when in reality the Catholic population at that time had become accustomed to view the priesthood as a social institution rather than a sacrament of salvation; second, to view the seventeenth century idea of holiness from a twenty-first century perspective.

It would be good to clarify the fact that we cannot attribute to Vincent’s era the same religious characteristics that we observe in present day society. Generally speaking, today men and women and society as a whole have no use for God. They do not destroy God or make God disappear, they are simply not concerned about God. People want to demonstrate that the nation can live without God and therefore no God has power over the life of its citizens, not even those individuals who continue to believe in God. And yes, this is becoming more and more a reality. The power and the influence of God is disappearing from the life of society or at least the religion of many has been diminished with regard to the belief and customs that bind people to God. Nevertheless, the religious dimension of the human person who is related to a sacred God is present in many people, in more people than one might think.

Among these people there are many who are searching for holiness, but this search takes place in the midst of a society that is indifferent to the sacred, indifferent to silence; this search takes place in the midst of a society that excludes divine influence from its life. We seek holiness, a relationship and union with God through means that are quite distinct from those of the seventeenth century.

In the midst of the spiritual circles of Paris

At the end of 1608 Vincent arrived in Paris. It seems that after he completed his studies in Toulouse he traveled to Rome and then, according to him, he endured two years of captivity in Tunis. Some of Vincent’s biographers have called into question this event, but I accept this event because such a preposterous adventure could not be told with such certainty that even a judge and a lawyer from Dax were unable to deny the probability of this event. Vincent was twenty-seven years old when he wrote this account and he knew what he was writing. Vincent was upright and mature and lived in an era in which early independence from family was more common than it is today. We must remember that ten year old boys were seen as men. There was no stage of adolescence as we know it today. In the letters that Vincent sent to Monsieur Comet it does not appear that Vincent saw his captivity as a punishment from God for having lived a bad life or for having usurped the priesthood. Vincent presented himself as a good priest, who wanted to live a good priestly life. His captivity seems to have brought to the surface the devotional dimension of his priestly spirituality.

In 1602 spiritual circles began to be formed in Paris[18]. One of the more famous groups met in the palace of Barbara Jeanne Avrillot, the wife of Pierre Acarie --- thus the name by which the members of this group were known. When Madame Acarie became a widow she professed vows as a member of the Carmelite Order and was known as Marie de l’Incarnation. Those who participated in this group included Pierre Bérulle, André Duval, Angel de Joyeuse, Benedict Canfield, Brétigny, Placide Gallemant, Michel de Marillac, the Marquise de Maignelay (a member of the de Gondi family). All of these individuals followed the inspiration of the Carthusian Dom Beaucousin and the French-Flemish spirituality as outlined in the Evangelical Pearl and the Breve Compendio written by Isabelle Bellinzaga under the guidance of the Jesuit priest, Gagliardi, and The Rule of Perfection written by Benedict Canfield and the writings of Saint Catherine of Genoa. The majority of the members of this group also read the writings of Saint Teresa of Jesus and some also read Saint John of the Cross. In light of what occurred some months later, I believe that Vincent de Paul made contact with these individuals a short time after his arrival in Paris. Vincent was either involved in a search for holiness or else these individuals discovered that this young priest desired holiness and therefore they invited him to participate in their meetings. All of these individuals were searching for holiness, or as Bérulle said, they were searching for divinization through contemplation and detachment.

As we now look at the meaning of holiness throughout history we see that this was seen as an exclusive attribute of God. Holiness is a Latin translation of the Greek words agiotes and osiotes. The first word encompasses the idea of separation from the world, transcendence, purity and simplicity as well as the concept that the divine (pure and spotless, with nothing that is worldly) is found only in God. The second word has the meaning of firmness and permanence, both of which are attributes that correspond to that which belongs exclusively to God. When I use the word attribute I am not speaking about some quality that God possesses, such as justice or omnipotence, because the nation of holiness refers to the divine person as a divine person. Therefore it is easy to identify holiness with the transcendence and the glory of God despite the divine ineffability. This does not mean that we should consider holiness as something static in relation to creation but rather it should be seen as dynamic. When people discover that they possess this divine energy, this holiness, they become sanctified. Thus God alone is holy but everyone who is united to God is also holy. Whatever is not united to God is earthly and sin and as such separates us from God or prevents us from becoming united to God[19]. Therefore holiness in the human person is an expression of the encounter between God and the human person.

Those who lived in the monasteries and convents that were located on the banks of the Rhine between Switzerland and Belgium lived holy lives when we consider their union with God. These individuals sought an intimate union with God through inspired contemplation and lived in accord with the writings of Saint Gregory of Nyssa, pseudo-Dionysius and Eckhart. This is the same French-Flemish spirituality that Bérulle and the members of the Acarie Circle followed. This group viewed spirituality as a straight line that on the one hand joined them to God through contemplative prayer and on the other hand separated them from everything created through detachment from everything earthly (and this included total effacement). Thus we see that these individuals became united with God through mystical prayer that put aside everything created, including the faculties of the soul (essential union) and the humanity of Jesus. It is true that Bérulle moved from a God centered to a Christ centered spirituality, that is, a Christ-God spirituality that defined holiness as union with the divine as revealed in the divinized humanity of Christ[20].

Vincent began to associate with these individuals when he arrived in Paris and their spirituality became contagious in such a manner that a year before his death he spoke to the Missionaries and said: What is holiness? It is the retrenchment from earthly things and distancing ourselves from them, and is, at the same time, an attachment to God and union with the Divine Will … it consists in lessening our attachment for the things of earth and in union with God (CCD:XII:244). As a good priest Vincent searched for holiness through personal prayer and detachment. It would appear that such a statement is not in accord with the letter that he sent his mother (1610) when he referred to a series of worldly ambitions that seemed to have nothing to do with detachment. According to our way of thinking in the twenty-first century, these two realities cannot be reconciled, but according to the spiritual luminaries of the seventeenth century there is no problem reconciling these realities. Again I point out the fact that the error lies in our interpretation of history.


We must be aware of the fact that the social classes of that era were thought of as being part of God’s plan and therefore all people should attempt to climb the social ladder by licit means. In fact it was felt that there was an obligation to use one’s God given talents to climb or buy a place on the social pyramid. These ideas were accepted by the Court, society and the Church and in fact this whole process was regulated. Those who became nobles (either achieving this position or buying it) were given the title nobles of the robe or nobles of the gown. A year before Vincent wrote the letter to his mother dated 1610, Francis de Sales published his work, Introduction to the Devout Life (a work that was presented as a summary of all that had happened from the time of the appearance of the Modern Devotion and he Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola). Francis believes that holiness was meant to be available to every social class. This idea was also put forth by the Huguenots who viewed economic and social success in this life as a sign of being predestined by God for eternal salvation.

The detachment proposed by the French-Flemish school of spirituality is an interior detachment, especially detachment from love of self. In other words, this school of spirituality was referring to an interior annihilation that was applicable to every social class. Vincent began to acquire this interior detachment when he was accused of theft and his only defense was: God knows the truth. This was not the event that marked the beginning of his conversion because from the time of his youth he had been involved in a natural, on-going process with regard to the development of his spirituality. Therefore at the time of this accusation it never occurred to Vincent to say that another young man had committed the theft, rather he accepted the calumny as another opportunity for interior detachment. When the judge at Sore insulted him in front of Bérulle and his friends, Vincent found himself among people who understood him and advised him. There is a contradiction between what I have said and what Vincent wrote in the letter to his mother only if one does not understand the difference between interior detachment of the faculties and interior detachment from the social situation in which each person lives. This was clearly Vincent’s interpretation, an interpretation that he also made with regard to the first beatitude that refers to the poor in spirit[21].

We are reminded about another aspect of holiness which has always been present in humankind, including Christianity: rejection or detachment from the world. Up until the time of the Second Vatican Council it could be said that in general Christian spirituality had a dualistic vision of creation, a vision rooted in Neo-Platonism that was communicated to generation after generation. This vision was based on Augustinian foundations: body-soul, passions-virtues, natural-supernatural, world-God, etc. and even though theology reminded us that the supernatural in no way annuls, substitutes or diminishes that which is natural, but rather supposes that which is natural and therefore heals it, perfects it, and elevates it[22], many Christians concluded that holiness included a detachment from the world, a contempt for the world, thereby interpreting Saint John the evangelist in a mistaken manner[23]. Holiness was defended as a supernatural reality and therefore the more one lived a “natural life” the less supernatural that person’s life. From the time of the desert fathers and the origins of monasticism, holiness was seen as a flight from the world, a detachment from the world and this idea attracted many men and women to a life inside the monasteries and convents. The church helped religious detach themselves from the world by erecting high walls and strong gates around their enclosures. It is true that we cannot deny the fact that mortification and asceticism are mentioned in the gospels and no Christian can reject these values. Indeed, they are values that are common to every form of spirituality and at the time of Saint Vincent were seen as the primary supports for any spirituality. Vincent accepted these as part of the gospel and spoke about these values to Louise as a plan for the spiritual life that should be developed by the young women who desired to become Daughters of Charity: It would be well for you to tell them what constitutes solid virtue, especially that of interior and exterior mortification of our judgment, our will, memories, sight, hearing, speech, and the other senses, of the attachments we have to bad, useless, and even to good things (CCD:I:223).

Following the dualistic current and a certain Augustinian pessimism proper to that era, Vincent, without becoming a Calvinist or a Jansenist, was convinced that nature was evil and led one to sin: Now you see, he told the Sisters, that is how it is in the life of persons who have left the corrupt mass of the world to serve God. It is a life that is not according to nature because … to follow that is to go backward. That is why there is no great effort in it, for it is like the current that carries us toward those things … if we do not constantly mortify ourselves and go against our inclinations, if we allow our eyes the freedom to look at everything that comes along, especially not keeping them from looking at a man straight in the face --- which must never be done except from necessity --- we immediately begin to grow lax and sink lower (CCD:X:198).

Detachment from the world enabled people to move forward in their search for holiness and identified religious as men and women living in a state of perfection, as though holiness were proper to religious. Apparently Vincent viewed things in this way and said: there are two types of people in the world, some are in their own homes and attend only to the care of their families and the observance of the Commandments; the others are those whom God calls to the state of perfection, such as religious in every Order and even those he places in Communities, such as the Daughters of Charity who … are nevertheless in that state of perfection if they are true Daughters of Charity (CCD:IX:13). I say apparently because years later he would once again touch on this theme: The religious is said to be in a state of perfection --- not that he is perfect; for we have to differentiate between the state of perfection and being perfect …even though the religious may have done what Our Lord said, that is, sold all his goods and given them, if you like, to the poor, for all that he is not perfect, even though he is in the state of perfection (CCD:XI:286).

Vincent asks: What is holiness? Then he responds to this question and states: It is the retrenchment from earthly things and distancing ourselves from them, and is, at the same time, an attachment to God and union with the divine will (CCD:XII:244). If one of the two extremes of holiness is detachment from the world then the other extreme is union with God through means of inspired contemplation. This attitude led many people to dedicate themselves to prayer in search of contemplation because they identified contemplative prayer with holiness … and therefore the degree of holiness depended on the heights of one’s contemplation. Even though Vincent did not say this directly, nevertheless he indicated these same ideas in a conference that he gave to the Daughters on May 31, 1648 and in a letter that he wrote to one of the Missionaries: You know, Monsieur, that, although the contemplative life is more perfect than the active life, it is not, however, more so than one which embraces at the same time contemplation and action, as does yours, by God’s grace (CCD:III:173).

The social heights and holiness

Vincent obtained the position of chaplain to Queen Marguerite de Valois through the influence of Charles du Fresne and Antoine La Clerc de la Forêt. These were holy men who were members of the Acarie Circle and who, for better or worse, were influential among the nobles. Everything indicates that the end of 1609 and the beginning of 1610 Vincent de Paul was seen as a priest who was searching for God. Later data will indicate that he had made a commitment to prayer and was guided in these efforts by Bérulle. In 1611 Vincent made his spiritual retreat in the Oratory and even though he did not become an Oratorian, Bérulle considered him to be worthy to serve as a substitute for Bourgoing (who entered the Oratorians) in the parish of Clichy. The following year, without resigning from the parish at Clichy, Vincent became tutor for the de Gondi family and again Bérulle was instrumental in this new appointment. At this time Vincent was also the abbot at Saint Léonard-de-Chaumes (a position he held until 16116) and through the influence of Philippe-Emanuel de Gondi he was appointed pastor at Gamches, treasurer and canon of the Chapter at Ecouis in the diocese of Rouen and Prior at Saint Nicholas of Grosse-Sauve. It seems to me that in 1617 or before, Vincent was indeed a holy man. Why do I say this? Let me explain.

The members of the Acarie Circle were men of prayer and Vincent had committed himself to prayer … and he advanced in his prayer life. In 1614 while tutor to the De Gondi family he appeared to enter a mystical night … his biographers refer to this as temptations against the faith but this period had all the characteristics of being the dark night of the senses which John of the Cross[24] saw as the door that led one into inspired contemplation that is also called the prayer of stillness. It seems that Vincent had passed through this stage by 1617 and so we can say that he is truly holy … he is truly possessed by the Spirit of the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit, and according to the language of the spiritual writers of that time Vincent was detached from sin and voluntary imperfections. The mystical night of love and holiness

In his search for holiness, that is, in his search to do the will of God which is known through prayer and fulfilled through interior detachment, Vincent joined the Acarie circle of spirituality. But when he found himself in this situation of becoming what we call a holy man, he offered his life to God and to his sisters and brothers when he asked God to place him in the painful situation of his friend, a theologian whom he had come to know while serving Queen Marguerite de Valois. Vincent believe that God accepted his offering and now he was filled with the doubt of his companion, doubts that he would be freed from when had made another sacrifice of love: the consecration of his life, for the love of Jesus Christ, to the service of the poor (CCD:XI:26-27). We must understand here that Vincent did not become holy because of his sacrifice but rather he made this sacrifice of love-charity because he was a holy man. In the journey to fulfill the will of God through interior detachment from every desire for material things and through dedication to prayer, Vincent experienced the mystical night of the senses, a dimension or stage of holiness that is common to all Christians who follow Jesus. Vincent had arrived at this stage even though he had not yet made his other sacrifice of love. His offering, his act of consecration was the final act of the ascetical efforts that this young priest made … efforts that were made possible as the result of grace and the theological virtues that he had received at the time of his Baptism, which prepared him for this encounter with God, the sanctifier. Through his efforts and with the grace of God he had achieved interior detachment and was therefore able to sacrifice himself for his friend who was suffering. The Spirit of God, who became present to Vincent through contemplation, became the purifying agent through the seven gifts. It was in this way that Vincent experienced the mystical night, what some modern theologians who follow Luis Lallemeant, a contemporary of Vincent de Paul, call a second conversion[25]. A fruit of Vincent’s holiness was the offering of himself to serve the poor whom he visited during those “dark years” in the Charity Hôpital de la Charité that the Brothers of Saint John of the Cross had established in Paris. Vincent would dedicate his life in service to the poor if God would free him from temptation against the faith. In what seemed to be a normal situation in the development of one’s spiritual life, God removed Vincent from that situation … this is something that God desires for all those who have achieved this stage of the spiritual life, something that Vincent hinted at when speaking to the Daughters of Charity (CCD:IX:330-334). We could also say that Vincent, with the dispositions and gifts that he had received in Baptism, accepted the power of the Divine Spirit and therefore, despite his doubts, was able to come through this mystical night because he was seeking holiness. Vincent’s contemplative prayer created a calmness and at different times he experienced the presence of the spirit in his interior. Indeed, the Spirit had taken possession of Vincent in such a way that he experienced this presence in a very intimate way. Vincent was grateful for this action of the Spirit … this was a holy man; this was Vincent de Paul.

Virtuous holiness

In 1617, immediately after his experience of the mystical night, we witness the events that took place in Gannes, Folleville, Châtillon, Mâcon and Marchais. Vincent made a retreat in Valprofonde and Soissons. He intensified his relationships with humble people who possessed and lived another form of holiness, an ethical and virtuous holiness, a life of holiness that was manifested through a life of virtue: God is the God of virtues: Deus virtutum (CCD:XII:349)[26]. Reflect that since the God of virtues has chosen you to practice them, you live by him and his kingdom is in you (CCD:XII:113).

As a realistic and practical man Vincent would never forget the moral and ethical holiness that he learned as a child from his family and from the community where he lived. It was only when he began to direct the Ladies of Charity, the volunteers, the Daughters of Charity, priests and missionaries, that he found support in the Bible, in the covenant that God, through the instrumentality of Moses, established with the chosen people … this covenant implied fulfilling the commandments and fulfilling the commandments implied living a virtuous life: Sanctify yourselves, then, and be holy; for I, the Lord, your God, am holy. Be careful, therefore, to observe what I, the Lord, who make you holy, have prescribed (Leviticus 20:7-8). From the time that God spoke these words, holiness took on an ethical meaning and this moral sense of life has become the most common understanding of holiness among Christians (and among people in general) who want to live and develop a spiritual life. Vincent would continually repeat this idea to the laity, the Daughters and the Missionaries[27], and would affirm: Perfection consists in a constant perseverance to acquire the virtues and become proficient in their practice (CCD:II:146) and to work in order to acquire the virtues is to be pleasing to God and in this we find our perfection (CCD:XI:68-70) and we run a great risk of being lost if we are not as virtuous as religious (CCD:X:528).

In the seventeenth century and more clearly when Vincent de Paul was canonized, it was seen that a saint is a man or woman who has lived the virtues in an heroic way[28]. More than a definition of holiness this phrase provided a framework which enabled one to know if a person was holy. And so if this is meant to be a framework it would be good to examine the meaning of heroic virtue for Vincent. To practice heroic virtue does not mean that a person has lived and practiced the virtues of his/her state of life in a way that is inaccessible to other people. What it means is that an individuals’ holiness has so intimately united that person to God that God has become present in that person and has accomplished wonderful things that the person alone was incapable of doing. In the words of Vincent: these virtues are not ordinary virtues but the virtues of Jesus Christ (CCD:IX:263). In other words, these virtues are the fruit of friendship which joins the individual and God. Only a friend of God, only one who loves God and dialogues with God and allows God to act in his/her interior is able to respond to the challenges that are presented to one who is committed to living a Christian virtuous life on a daily basis[29].

From the time that Vincent moved beyond his mystical night, he began to develop another idea of holiness. His time in Châtillon could be viewed as a desire to encounter this new holiness which was instilled in his heart more than in his mind. He would never forget that in order to enter and leave the mystical night, the key that opened the door to all of this was the love of neighbor. In those acts of love he found holiness or perhaps I should say that I think those acts of love were true holiness, since holiness and love are identified with one another. Therefore, whereas the Old Testament says that God is holy, Saint John says that God is love (Leviticus 19:2; 20:7-8, 26; 22:31-33; 1John 4:7-8).

A new vision of holiness

Holiness, union with God can only be achieved through love because God is love and the human person is an animal who loves with the divine love that has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). This reality led Vincent to the affirmation that the important aspect of holiness was not simply doing the will of God but rather doing the will of God out of love for God[30]. Divine holiness is the same as love and human holiness for Saint Vincent is a relationship of love, an encounter of human love with divine love in the person of the poor[31]. This is the great paradox: holiness which reflects the mutability of God with regard to the world incorporates the world into God’s holiness. This fact enables us to understand Vincent’s insistence that the Daughters and the Missionaries always devote themselves to prayer and that they make their lives a continuous prayer.

From November 1618 until September 1619 Vincent frequently dialogued with Francis de Sales. He admired and was attracted by Francis’ goodness. His friendship with Francis helped Vincent to become more deeply rooted in the new experience of holiness that he had discovered while ministering to the people of Felleville, Châtillon and the other areas where he gave missions. A direct union with the only One who is holy is a demand of holiness but is also incomplete. Vincent did not see holiness as some direct path that let to God but rather as a path that move in one direction, then another directions and still another … from one poor person to another poor person until one encountered God. Vincent never abandoned this idea and explained this to the Missionaries when he told them: Saint Thomas puts forward this question, namely, who has the greater merit, the one who loves God and neglects the neighbor, or the one who loves the neighbor for the love of God? He himself gives the solution to this dilemma, concluding that it is more meritorious to love the neighbor for the love of God than to love God without reference to the neighbor … because the perfection of the Law consists in loving God and the neighbor. 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 … stops at savoring this infinite source of sweetness. And when 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? Doubtless it is the second, and in this way it fulfills the Law most perfectly (CCD:XII:214).

There are several facts that confirm the reality that Vincent changed his understanding of holiness as a result of his relationships with people whom he met during the missions and also as a result of the influence of Saint Francis de Sales. We would also include here the influence of his relationships with the Ladies of Charity and the Daughters of Charity. First, in 1602 when Saint Francis participated in the Acarie Circle Vincent became aware of a radical difference between the Salesian and the Berullian concept of holiness[32]. Second, in 1618 Vincent discovered that Francis was firmly grounded in his attitude toward holiness and love and as a result Vincent told Louise to read the Treatise on the Love of God, especially the section that dealt with the will of God and indifference. He also told Louise to make her retreat by following the Introduction to a Devout Life and later Louise gave this same advice to the Daughters an Angers[33]. Third I believe that this change in Vincent’s position with regard to holiness was the primary reason that made Olier, a convinced Berullian, look for a new spiritual director. In 1635 Olier asked M. Condren, the superior of the Oratorians, to become his director, thus replacing Vincent de Paul.

Holiness is expansive

This new concept of holiness is not more modern but rather is more Christian and more evangelical. Let us remember that holiness is not static because God is not static. God goes out to the encounter with the human person so that men and women might participate in the divine life, in other words, this encounter is an attempt to make holiness a part of the history of the world. Holiness is dynamic; it is divine energy that communicates with men and women and leads them to go out to an encounter and in this encounter people discover the divine world.

Saint Vincent understood the meaning of holiness and realized that this was not something apart from the world but rather that through Jesus Christ the world was penetrated by the holiness of God. Not only were people individually called to be holy but all of humankind had received the same invitation to become holy. But there could be no holiness in the world as long as there were poor women and men because poverty is a denial of God and the destruction of the Church into which Jesus Christ has incorporated all those who are baptized. Those who are baptized form the mystical body … Christ is the head of this body and its spirit is the Holy Spirit. A covenant has been established with the mystical body and as a result men and women will become holy if they fulfill the commandment to love the Lord their God with all their heart, with all their being, with all their strength, and with all their mind and to love their neighbor as themselves (Luke 10:27), or more concisely, to love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34). Vincent concretized this commandment in love and service of the poor: If you only knew your good fortune, Sister, you would truly be overjoyed; for, in doing what you do, you are fulfilling the law and the prophets, commanding us to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves. And what greater act of love can one make than to give oneself, wholly and entirely, in one’s state of life and in one’s duty, for the salvation and relief of the afflicted! Our entire perfection consists in this (CCD:VII:397)[34].

Perfect charity

Vincent viewed holiness as perfect charity not in some quantitative sense but as an extension of holiness: embracing God and the neighbor. If God called a people and made them holy because he saw their affliction and wanted to free them from their oppressors and if Jesus Christ gathers the baptized into the Church and as such the Church becomes the beloved spouse who frees the poor, then it can be said that holiness is solidarity with the poor[35]. Therefore, Saint Vincent, following Saint Luke (6:36), called holiness compassion: Since the Son of God was unable to have feelings of compassion in the state of his glory, which he possesses from all eternity in heaven, he willed to become man and to be our High Priest in order to share our sufferings. To reign with him in heaven, we must like him, commiserate with his members on earth. Missioners, above all other priests, must be filled with this spirit of compassion, since they are obliged by their state and vocation to serve the most wretched, the most abandoned, and those most weighed down by corporal and spiritual sufferings (CCD:XI:69).

If holiness is identified with compassion then it can be said that holiness is certainly personal, but it can also be said that there is a communal relationship with the poor. As Vincent continued to experience the compassionate presence of God in the poor he explained these encounters to us with the now famous text: 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 mdeal, 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; that he scarcely had a human face in his passions and passed for a madman in the mind of the Gentiles and a stumbling block in the mind of the Jews. With all that, he describes himself as the Evangelizer of the poor. Evangelizare paoperibus misit me. O Dieu! How beautiful it is to see poor people if we consider them in God and with the esteem in which Jesus Christ held them! (CCD:XI:26).

If holiness in the human person, even though it is personal, involves a relationship with God and with other people, then it would be good to return to what we had stated previously. Holiness means that there is nothing earthly or mundane in God. In God there is only the divine … God is truly God and in this way holiness becomes identified with simplicity[36]. From all of this Vincent concluded that there could be no holiness of the human person without the search for unity. Because Vincent saw this unity as the objective of loving Jesus Christ he recommended this to the Missionaries who were leaving for Ireland[37]. The majority of times Vincent viewed this unity as the fruit of love within the Trinity and thus the union of the three divine persons becomes a model for the unity among the members of a community (CCD:IV:238-239; X:308-309; XII:210-211). Unity is a human revelation of divine simplicity, of pure divinity, in other words, a human revelation of the Trinitarian holiness that is achieved through divine love which we (like Vincent) call the Holy Spirit.

Holiness and putting on the spirit of Jesus Christ

Out of love the Father sent the Son, Jesus, into the world as the bearer of holiness and from that time we have in the humanity of Christ a smooth and accessible path which enables us to encounter holiness through the process of following Jesus. Using the words of Saint Paul, Vincent wrote to M. Portail: Remember, Monsieur, we live in Jesus Christ through the death of Jesus Christ, and we must die in Jesus Christ through the life of Jesus Christ, and our life must be hidden in Jesus Christ and filled with Jesus Christ, and in order to die as Jesus Christ, we must live as Jesus Christ (CCD:I:276) … therefore we ought to model our affections on his, so that his footsteps may be the rule of our own in the way of holiness. The saints are saints because they walked in his footsteps …There is reason to hope that the Divine Goodness will give us the spirit of mortification, will remove from us all that displeases him, and afterward will give us the virtues that will make us pleasing in his eyes (CCD:XII:186).

People will never become holy unless they unite themselves to the humanity of Christ and imitate his virtues because the humanity of Christ is the only place on earth where we encounter that holiness which is intimately united with divinity. When Vincent spoke about Jesus Christ honoring the Father’s divinity, he was saying that Jesus honors the Father’s holiness (CCD:VI:413-414; XII:93, 98-99). Therefore sending Jesus into the world and entrusting him with bringing us holiness implies that we must follow him and unite ourselves with his humanity in a communion of life and as a way of continuing his mission. As a result of this there are two consequences: first, participation in the Eucharist and frequent communion are indispensable in order to achieve holiness (CCD:IX:182-190, 260-272); second, one can only become holy as a result of a relationship with the poor because the poor are the theological place where we encounter God and the poor are also the sanctifying place where we encounter holiness. We should not be surprised that Vincent wrote to one of the Missionaries and said: What a happiness for you to work at doing what he did! He came to bring the good news to the poor, and that is your lot and your occupation, too. If our perfection lies in charity, as is certain, there is none greater than to give oneself to save souls and to sacrifice oneself for them as Jesus Christ did (CCD:VII:356). We should also not be surprised that Vincent included this commitment to grow in holiness in the Rule that he gave to the missionaries (CCD:XII:98; XIIIa:432) and to the Daughters of Charity (CCD:XIIIb:147-148).

This was not, as such, the holiness that Berulle taught nor was it holiness that Francis de Sales had shared with Vincent, but this was the holiness that he had discovered, a holiness that was accessible to the poor and most appropriate for those who committed themselves to serve and evangelize the poor. The framework of Vincent’s spirituality would continue to be that of Berulle and Vincent would take certain aspects from Francis de Sales --- but through the experiences of his life he would give his own form and design to his spirituality. It should be noted that he was able to unite ontological holiness (union with the divinity in Jesus Christ) with ethical and moral holiness … this union is achieved by responding to the movement of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. This becomes clear when we see that Vincentian holiness is identified with putting on the spirit of Jesus Christ: To tend to our perfection, we must be clothed with the spirit of Jesus Christ … this means that to grow in holiness, to be useful in helping people, and to serve the clergy well, we have to work at imitating the perfection of Jesus Christ and to strive to attain it. It also means that, of ourselves, we can do nothing in this matter. We must be filled and animated with the spirit of Jesus Christ … [The Congregation] has always had a love for the Christian teachings and has desired to be clothed with the spirit of the Gospel in order to live and act as Our Lord did so that His Spirit may be apparent in the entire Company and each Missioner, in all its ministries in general and in each one in particular (CCD:XII:93).

But what is this spirit that has been poured forth in this manner? Vincent stated: How is it to be understood when someone says, “The Spirit of Our Lord is in a certain person or in certain actions?” Is it that the Holy Spirit is diffused in them? Yes, the Holy Spirit personally is poured out on the righteous and dwells personally in them. When we say that the Holy Spirit is at work in someone, it means that this Spirit, residing in that person, gives him or her the same inclinations and dispositions Jesus Christ had on earth, and they cause the person to act in the same way --- I am not saying with equal perfection, but according to the measure of the gifts of that Divine Spirit (CCD:XII:93).

After having established the Charities, the Congregation of the Mission and the Company of the Daughters of Charity, Vincent entered the final stage of his life and the final stage of his growth in holiness. The volunteers, the Missionaries and the Daughters, like all Christians, are called to holiness. All of these individual are called to holiness according to their state in life. Holiness, however, is singular in the fact that one unites one’s self with God by becoming incorporated into the humanity of Christ, but the path for achieving this singular reality differs according to the person and the person’s state in life. Each institute that Vincent established and the members of each of these institutes have received the Spirit of Jesus Christ, but this Spirit has been given to them in accord with their state in life and their participation in the ministry of evangelization. In Baptism the Spirit sanctified us, made us adoptive children of the Father, participants in the divine nature, and incorporated us into Christ. So that we might develop this gift of divine life the same Spirit freely gave us the gift of his presence, the theological virtues and the gifts. These dispositions enable us to be enlightened and guided by the divine Spirit. In other words, holiness is a gratuitous gift of God; it is the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the great animator of the Father and as such touches the interior depths of people in order to gift them with the same qualities that were given to Jesus and in order to incorporate them into Jesus’ humanity. To allow one’s self to be led by the Spirit of Jesus --- led by the Holy Spirit --- is to truly follow Jesus. To allow one’s self to be led creates a personal responsibility to live in such a way that the whole of one’s life is influenced by the Spirit. This is where we discover the ethical or moral dimension of holiness: the manner in which we allow the divine Spirit to unite us to Jesus Christ. How do we express our Vincentian charism in the midst of the community and in our service? We do this through the virtues proper to our Spirit. The sign that we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit and the way to become one with Christ is through the famous three or five virtues that mold our spirit. For this to occur we must empty ourselves and put on the Spirit of Jesus … and this is Vincentian holiness: to acquire one’s proper spirit, to put on the Spirit of Jesus Christ through humility, simplicity and charity or humility, simplicity, meekness, mortification and zeal for souls. But here we must be mindful of the human person who as an individual is in a personal relationship with divine holiness but is also in relationship with the holiness of the community. Thus the call to holiness is directed at one and the same time to each individual person and to the whole community.

There is no doubt that holiness involves doing the will of God and there is also no doubt that in order to do God’s will we must detach ourselves from any worldly reality that prevents us from acting in this way. Furthermore for this process to occur we must experience the presence of the Spirit in prayer and we must incorporate ourselves into the humanity of Christ and live in an heroic way the same virtues that Jesus lived. There are different paths that detach us from earthly realities and that lead us to the one holiness: union with God three times holy.

Notes: [1] It would take much longer to explain the similarities and differences between holiness and the experience of a God-centered life and the expression, the paschal mystery, which is now used by some theologians.

[2] André Compte-Sponville, Diccionario filosófico [Philosophical Dictionary], Paidós, Barcelona, 2005, (perfect).

[3] See Rafael Ortega, “La vida de perfección cristiana” [The life of Christian perfection] in Vicente de Paúl, evangelizador de los pobres [Vincent de Paul, evangelizer of the poor], CEME, Salamanca, 1973, pp. 245-246.

[4] The fifth chapter of Lumen Gentium, one of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, is entitled: The universal call to holiness in the Church. The document speaks about holiness and seldom refers to the fullness of the Christian life and perfection. Saint Vincent used the words holiness and perfection interchangeably. When he spoke, however, about perfection, he used this word in the sense of perfecting one’s self, moving toward perfection, working toward perfection … perfection was thus seen as a goal toward which one moved plus ultra (CCD:XII:68-69).

[5] Saint Vincent said that he advised those who seek my opinion about receiving it, not to do so unless they have a genuine call from God and a pure intention of honoring Our Lord by practice of his virtues and the other signs that his divine goodness is calling them to it (CCD:VII:479-480). See also René Taveneaux, Le catholicisme dans la France classique, 1610-1715, volume I, S.E.D.E.S., Paris, 1980, pp. 158-159.

[6] See, Pierre Goubert, El Antiguo Régimen, Volume I and II, Siglo XXI, Madrid, 1980; ID, Cent mille provinciaux au XVII si?cle. Beauvais et le Beauvaisis de 1600 à 1730, Flamarion, Paris, 1968; Boris Por-Chnev, Les soul?vements populaires en France de 1623 à 1648, S.E.V.P.E.N., Paris, 1963; Jean-Pierre Gutton, La societé et les pauvres en Europe (XVI – XVIII si?cles), FUF, Paris, 1974; Robert Mandrou, Francia en los siglos XVII y XVIII, Labor, Barcelona, 1973; Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Les paysans de Languedoc, vol. I, S.E.V.P.E.N., Paris, 1966; Marcel Marion, Dictionnaire des Institutions de la France aux XVII et XVIII si?cles, Edit. A. & J. Picard & Cie., Paris, 1968 (Réimpression de la ?d. Originale de 1923); Guy Caboudin / Georges Viard, Lexique historique de la France d’ancien R?gime, Armand Colin, Paris, 1978.

[7] See, Charles Blanc, “La parenté de Monsieur Vincent” in Bulletin de la Societé de Borda, 1960, p. 116-128.

[8] See, Marcel Gauchet, El desencantamiento del mundo, Trotta/Universidad de Granada, 2005.

[9] Summa Theologica, Supl. 31, 1-2 and q. 36; Council of Trent, Session 23, Decrees on the reform chatper XIV, c. 12-13 de ref.

[10] Abelly states that in 1650 Monsieur Du Frasne gave Vincent a thousand francs to help his relatives, some of whom had died from the depredations of the soldiers and others who had been reduced to begging. It was at this time that Vincent spoke to one of his conferes and exclaimed: Do you think I do not love my relatives? I indeed have the same sentiments of affection for them that anyone would have. My natural instinct is to help them, but I must act according to the movements of grace, and not those of nature. I should think of those poor persons who are even worse off, rather than of my friends and relatives (Abelly, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God, Vincent de Paul, New City Press, New Rochelle, New York, 1993, Volume III, p. 260. Vincent was moved by the confrere who had left the Congregation of the Mission and who on a certain occasion had saved Vincent’s life. Many times he had asked to be readmitted, but always in vain. The idea occurred to him to remind the Saint of the service he had once rendered him. On recalling it, Saint Vincent yielded and sent him a letter of which Collet has preserved only the following words: Come, Monsieur, and you will be received with open arms (CCD:V:543).

[11] CCD:XI:282-284; Abelly, Volume III, p.40-55. See also, Benito Martínez, La Señorita Le Gras y Santa Luísa de Marillac, CEME, Salamanca, 1991, p. 131-140.

[12] See Vincent’s conference to the Missionaries in which he speaks about the loss of the Orsigny farm: It is characteristic of God to test those who serve him, to chastise those he loves (CCD:XII:47); also see the repetition of prayer on the ecclesiastical state in which Vincent speaks about God punishing the church and the world with bad priests (CCD:XI:278-282).

[13] Giuseppe Toscani, CM “Dios”[God] in Diccionario de espiritualidad vicenciana [Dictionary of Vincentian Spirituality], CEME, Salmanca, 1995, p. 134.

[14] CCD:XI:349. To offer just a few references I mention the following: CCD:IX:13-16, 16-23, 456-464, 465-470, 470-478, 536-549; XII:66-82, 83-97, 98-110, 110-126.

[15] Conference of March 7, 1659 on Conformity to the will of God (CCD:XII:126ff). See also the pious astuteness of the saint. It is up to the superior to provide not only for spiritual matters but also to extend his concerns to temporal matters; for, since those whom he has to guide are composed of body and soul, he has to provide for the needs of both, after the example of God, who, being occupied from all eternity with begetting his Son, both the Father and the Son produced the Holy Spirit. I repeat that, in addition to those divine operations ad intra, he created the world ad extra, and is constantly occupied with preserving it and all that depends on it, and every year produces new seeds in the ground, new fruit on the trees … I think this is a powerful consideration to help you to understand that you must not devote yourself only to lofty things, such as functions concerned with spiritual matters, but a Superior, who represents in a certain sense the extent of the power of God, must also apply himself to taking care of the slightest temporal matters, not thinking that this care may be something unworthy of him. So, give yourself to God to procure the temporal good of the house to which you are going. In the beginning, when Our Lord sent out his Apostles, he recommended that they not take any money with them; but later, when the number of his disciples increased, he willed that there be one of the group qui loculos haberret [who would have power over the coffers] and would take care not only of giving food to the poor, but also providing for the needs of his family. Furthermore, he allowed women to follow him for the same purpose, quae ministrabant ei [who ministered to him … cf. Luke 8:3]; and, if he gives orders in the Gospel not to worry about tomorrow, that should be interpreted to mean not to be too anxious or concerned about worldly goods, and absolutely not to neglect the means of keeping ourselves alive and clothing ourselves; otherwise, there would be no point in sowing any seed (CCD:XI:315-316).

[16] Pierre Coste, The Life and Works of Saint Vincent de Paul, The Newman Press, Westminister, Maryland, 1952, Volume I, p. 22.

[17] Saint Vincent told the Missionaries: In the beginning of the Church …there were very few priests, only those who were needed, as many as there were benefices. And, when a priest happened to die, the person chosen for the benefice took Orders, with the result that very often men were appointed before they became priests. In the end, however, it was judged advisable and expedient --- even necessary --- to have more priests. That is why, even though a man might not have a benefice, he was admitted to Orders with a patrimonial title, and in this way, the number of priests increased. Now, this title varies according to the place, or at least the bishops have required more in one place than in another. In Paris, fifty écus are required; elsewhere it is one hundred, and in other places eighty suffice. There are some that are satisfied with fifty livres, more or less (CCD:XI:210-211).

[18] Louis Cognet, Histoire de la Spiritualité chrétienne, volume III, La Spiritualité modern, Aubier, Parisw, 1966, p. 233-273.

[19] See Brother John de Taize, La aventura de santidad. Fundamentos biblicos y persepctivas actuales (The adventure of holiness. Biblical foundations and present perspectives). PPC, Madrid, 200o; Ambroise-Marie Carre, La Sainteté (Holiness), Cerf, Paris, 2004.

[20] Paul Cochois, Bérulle et l’École française, Seuil, Paril, 1963, p. 68-77.

[21] See, CCD:III:497-498; X:59-61; XI:382-383; XII:181-182, 308-309.

[22] Gratia non tollit naturam, sed supponit, sanat, perficit et elevate eam is a theological adage.

[23] See chapters fifteen and seventeen of St. John’s Gospel and also 1John 2:15-17.

[24] Noche 1:8-9; Subida, II:17; Llama can. 3, vr. 3, n. 33-37.

[25] Louis Lallemeant, La doctrine spirituelle (The spiritual doctrine), DDB, 1959; Javier Garrido, Proceso humano y gracia de Dios: apuntes de espiritualidad cristiana (Human process and the grace of God: matters concerning Christian spirituality), Sal Terrae, Santande, 1996, p. 375ff; François-Regis Wilhélem, Dociles à l’Esprit, (Docile to the Spirit), Ed. des Béatitudes, CORDES, 2004, p. 40ff.

[26] Deus virtutum is the translation of the words Dios Sebaot [Psalm 79:5, 8; 83:9…] in the Vulgate edition of the Bible.

[27] See, CCD:X: 418-432; XII:66-82.

[28] Pope Benedict XIV, as Cardinal Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini, published five volumes of his extensive work On the beatification of the servants of God and the canonization of the blessed … the main focus of this work was the heroicness of the virtuous life. This mentality is seen in the biographies of Saint Vincent that were published after his canonization by Pope Clement XII in 1737.

[290] See the article of Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) in L’Osservatore Romano, 6-08-2002 (Translator’s Note: I do not know if that is June 8, 2002 or August 6, 2002).

[30] It is worthwhile to cite the whole text here: When our Most Honored Father had one of our scholastics make repetition, the latter happened to say that it was not enough to do all God asks of us, but we should do it for love of God. Then M. Vincent spoke, saying to that good Brother, “Brother, you have just said something that ought to be weighed and pondered, and I ask God to bless you. In fact, my dear confreres, it is not 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).

[31] Look at the kind and profound words that he spoke to the Missionaries: I remember something the Bishop of Geneva said on this topic --- divine words, worthy of such a great man: “Oh,” he said, “I would not want to go to God, if God did not come to me!” Such admirable words! … Words like these come from a heart perfectly enlightened in the science of love. That being so, a heart truly filled with charity, which understands what it is to love God, would not want to go to God unless God anticipated him and attracted him by his grace (CCD:XI:207-208). One can also examine similar feelings of love between Saint Vincent and Saint Louise and especially some characteristics that are peculiar to Saint Louise. See Benito Martínez, La Señorits Le Gras and Santa Luisa de Marillac (Madeimoselle Le Gras and Saint Louise de Marillac), CEME, Salamanca, 1991, p. 148ff.

[32] Étienne-Marie Lajeunnie, St. François de Sales et l’esprit salésien, Éditions du Seuil, Paris, 1962, p. 62-65.

[33] See CCD:VIII:186-187; IX:175-178; SWLM:637-638 [L.618]; 80[L.65].

[34] This idea is repeated in a conference to the Daughters of Charity, July 19, 1640, on the vocation of the Daughters of Charity (CCD:IX:16ff).

[35] Here we mention just a few of many possible references: CCD:IV:238-239; V:70-71, 582-583; IX:128-129, 320-321; X:308-309, 342-343; XIIIa:315-317.

[36] This idea is repeated by Saint Louise and express with the words purity of intention, purity of love or pure love (SWLM:702 [A.9], 704 [A.8], 1 [A.2], 770 [A.85], 802 [A.25], and especially 827 [A.27]).

[37] Be united among yourselves and God will bless you; but let it be through the charity of Jesus Christ, for any other union that is not cemented by the Blood of this Divine Savior cannot subsist. So, it is in Jesus Christ, through Jesus Christ, and for Jesus Christ that you must be united with one another (CCD:XI:137).

Translated Charles T. Plock, CM