Saint Vincent’s Reading List LX: The Reform of the Priesthood

L’Instruction des Prestres qui Cotient une Tres Importante Doctrine pour Cognoistre l’Excellece du St. Sacerdoce, avec le Moyee de s’e Acquiter Dignemet : Tireé des Peres & Docteurs de l’Eglise, by Antonio de Molina and translated by Rene Gautier.   Paris: Chez Nicolas Buon, 1619.

Call Number: SpC. 262.14 M722iF 1619

L'instruction des Prestres
L’instruction des Prestres

One of Vincent de Paul’s pre-occupations as a Church reformer was the reform of the priesthood. It was clear to everyone that the success of reform of the Church in France would depend on the reform and renewal of parish life. The reform and renewal of parish life in turn depended on improving the quality of pastoral leadership in parishes through improving the education and formation of priests. The Council of Trent had recognized the need for this reform for the universal church and had mandated a number of measures including the establishment of seminaries.

It was natural, and perhaps inevitable, therefore that Vincent de Paul’s work and the primitive mission of the Congregation of the Mission (founded in 1625) quickly would expand from the re-evangelization of the peasants of the French countryside via the agency of their local parishes to extend to the work to improve the quality of the French presbyterate. In addition to the gradual foundation of seminaries the work of Monsieur Vincent and the Lazarists included the famed “Tuesday Conferences” (a form of continuing education for ordained priests) and ordination retreats for candidates as they prepared for the reception of the sacrament of Holy Orders.

It is well-known that the Tridentine reform of the Gallican Church was long-delayed, and did not make any real progress until the dawn of the 17th century. When the long French religious and civil wars ended there was finally time and support for the reformation to begin. As the first generations of French reformers (including Vincent de Paul) began their work they often turned to spiritual and theological works (especially from Italy and Spain) that had aided the earlier reform of the Catholic Church outside of France.

The present volume is by Antonio de Molina (1560?-1619?) a Spanish Carthusian from Miraflores who wrote popular ascetical works on the spirituality and ministry of priests. These works were widely translated throughout the Catholic world, including France. The present volume published in France in 1618 is entitled: “The Instruction of Priests: Containing the essential teaching which illustrates the excellence of the priesthood and describes the means to worthily fulfill this ministry. Taken from the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.” The translator René Gautier dedicated the volume to the Bishop of Luçon Armand-Jean du Plessis who was then at the beginning of his rise to power as the king’s first minister. In 1622 the bishop of Luçon became a cardinal and the Duke de Richelieu

The themes of this volume are echoed by Vincent de Paul in his extensive commentaries on the sacred dignity of the priesthood.

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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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