Canonizationis B. Vincentii A Paulo. Rome: Typis Reverendæ Cameræ Apostolicæ, 1737.

Call Number: SpC. 271.7702 V768Ycc1737

 

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The original copy of Vincent’s canonization bull, signed by Clement XII, and held by the Vincentian Curia Archives in Rome, Italy.

Vincent de Paul died in Paris on September 27, 1660. He died as a nationally renowned and revered figure. He had, by the time of his death, become the symbol of the successful reform of the French Church along Tridentine—but distinctively Gallican—lines. The reform of the French Church was part and parcel of the emergence of the absolute monarchy under Louis XIV. The glory of the reformed French Church thus was a reflection of the glory of the French monarchy and its monarch. The canonization of Vincent de Paul was inevitable as a matter of French religious and monarchical honor. Yet, the canonization cause of Vincent de Paul still had to go through the cooling off period (of fifty years), as well as all of the formidable and expensive juridic hoops mandated by the canonization reforms of Urban VIII.

The French Lazarists and Daughters of Charity, aided by royal and ecclesiastical authority, spent decades preparing for the opening of the canonization cause in Rome in 1709. The unofficial canonization campaign that began with the oraison funèbre for Monsieur Vincent offered by Bishop Henry de Maupas du Tour in November 1660 was followed in 1664 by Louis Abelly’s authorized biography of the “servant of God.” This was followed later by the preliminary canonical processes under the authority of the archbishop of Paris. Once the Roman process began, the historicity of Vincent’s heroic virtues as a Christian was quickly affirmed. The next phase was dependent on the accumulation of miracles that could be attributed to the intercession of Vincent. From among these miracles, enough were accepted for Vincent to be beatified on 21 August 1729 by Pope Benedict XIII.

svrl66However, in the first decades of the eighteenth century the unity of the French Church had been torn asunder by the fierce theological and political debates over Jansenism. Vincent de Paul had always been identified as a foe of Jansenism, and now his cause was caught up in the struggles that pitted a large section of the French clergy and their political sympathizers against anti-Jansenist royal and papal authority, epitomized by the controversy over the 1713 papal bull Unigenitus, which labeled the movement as heretical. These internecine French struggles delayed the canonization cause until 1737.

Papal bulls of canonization always recount the historicity of faith and of miracles of a newly-created saint that led the Church to make its most solemn and infallible judgment with respect to the individual’s sanctity. In reading the text of Superna Jerusalem, it is clear that in addition to all the other reasons to canonize Vincent de Paul, such as his charity and his reform of the clergy, Clement XII chose to highlight the new saint’s early role in opposing Jansenism at its roots and foundation. In this respect, the bull of canonization stands aligned with papal authority as expressed in the various condemnations of Jansenism leading up to and including Unigenitus.

Jansenism is now an obscure and largely-forgotten chapter in Church history, so it is startling to read a text in which Vincent’ s sanctity is so closely aligned with these unremembered events, in contrast to the popular contemporary image of Vincent de Paul as the “apostle of charity.”

 

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St. Vincent’s Reading List is a recurring blog series exploring texts known to have been read and recommended by Saint Vincent de Paul, those which can be presumed to have been read by him, and works published during his lifetime (1581-1660) illustrating his world. All materials discussed are held by DePaul University’s John T. Richardson Library. The entire series may be viewed here.

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