Saint Vincent’s Reading List LVIII: The Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission

Regulae seu Constitutiones communes Congregationis Missionis. Paris: [s.n.], 1658.
Call Number: SpC 255.7702 C749 1658

 

Common RulesOn 17 May 1658, at the end of a conference delivered to the assembled priests of the Congregation of the Mission at Saint-Lazare in Paris, Vincent de Paul distributed copies of the community’s newly-published Common Rules. Thirty-eight years had passed since the Congregation’s foundation in 1625, and twenty-five years had passed since papal approval was accorded to the new community in 1633.

The distribution ceremony was simple, but profoundly moving for all those present. Beginning with Antoine Portail, Vincent’s oldest collaborator, each of the priests came forward with great reverence to receive their copies from the founders own hands. Vincent was in failing health, and a little more than two years away from his death. The priests received copies printed in Latin; the lay brothers would later receive a French version. Similar ceremonies were held in community houses outside of Paris, and outside of France.

One of Vincent’s great gifts as a founder was his ability to take his time and through discernment and consultation draft and re-draft clear, concise, inspiring, essential, and useful rules based on faith and experience to guide his followers in the effective accomplishment of their mission to evangelize and serve the poor. This was certainly the case for the Common Rules.

Vincent’s guiding principle was clearly stated: “I have tried to base all the Rules, where possible, on the spirit and actions of Jesus Christ. My idea was that men who are called to continue Christ’s mission, which is mainly preaching the good news to the poor, should see things from His point of view and want what He wanted. They should have the same spirit that He had and follow in His footsteps.”1 Side-by-side with profound Christological reflections, Vincent was also quite pragmatic and practical acknowledging those elements of everyday community life which required simple insights into human nature and common sense guidelines. The Common Rules are brief, running to twelve chapters and less than two dozen pages.

Vincent left undone the final elements of the community’s “Particular Rules or Constitutions.” An earlier draft under consideration (called the Codex Sarzana) had included these elements which laid out the leadership offices, rules and structures which would govern the Congregation of the Mission. The completion of this constitutional work was left to Vincent’s successor René Alméras in the late 1660s. Papal approval came in 1670. These primitive Common Rules and Select Constitutions would govern the Congregation of the Mission until 1954.

 

1Vincent de Paul. Correspondence, Conferences, Documents. Vol. 13a. Brooklyn, NY: New City, 2003, p. 431.

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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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