Saint Vincent’s Reading List LXIII: Jean-Baptiste Gault, Bishop of Marseille

Marchetty, François and Sébastien Huré. Le Vie de Messire Iean Baptiste Gault: Evesque de Marseille. Paris: Chez Sebastien Huré, 1650.

Frontispiece and title page of Le Vie de Messire Iean Baptiste Gault: Evesque de Marseille

Call number: SpC. 282.092 G271Ym1650

Vincent de Paul believed that one of the most important challenges facing the reform of the French Church was the appointment of worthy bishops. After the death of Louis XIII in 1643, Anne of Austria, as regent, named Monsieur Vincent to the famed “Council of Conscience.” This Council advised the monarch on ecclesiastical, especially episcopal, appointments for the kingdom.  Vincent de Paul brought to this position a clear idea of the type of cleric who was worthy of promotion to the episcopacy. Over and above having a list of desired personal attributes, talent and experience, Vincent also had in mind concrete examples of reforming bishops whom he admired. One such example was Jean-Baptiste Gault, the bishop of Marseille.

Jean-Baptiste Gault (1595-1643) and his older brother Eustache (1591-1640) entered the newly formed Oratory of Jesus in Tours in 1618. Both brothers were talented and well educated, including studies in Rome. Louis XIII named Eustache as bishop of Marseille in 1639. Eustache, however, died on March 13, 1640, only several days after receiving the papal bulls approving his appointment. The king then appointed Jean-Baptiste Gault as his brother’s successor the following month. The new bishop received confirmation from the Holy See, swore allegiance to the King, and was consecrated in Paris on October 5, 1642.

The bishop arrived in Marseille early in January 1643. He immediately set the tone for his episcopacy by declining the usual triumphal entry to take possession of his new see, and by throwing himself into his pastoral duties. One of the first things the new bishop attended to was the miserable living conditions of the numerous galley convicts imprisoned at Marseille. Plans for a new hospital to serve the convicts were under discussion. In his position as Chaplain-General of the Galleys of France, Vincent long shared a concern for improving the lot of the galley convicts at Marseille and elsewhere. He also had involved the newly established Congregation of the Mission in ministry to the convicts at Marseille.

During one of his pastoral visits to the convicts, the new bishop contracted an illness that led to his premature death on May 23, 1643. His actual service as bishop thus lasted only a little more than four months. Vincent heard of the bishop’s death immediately from François du Coudray in Marseille: “Jean-Baptiste Gault, Bishop of Marseille, has just give up his beautiful soul to God.”[1]

The reverence of the populace for their lost bishop was striking. In 1643, his canonization process began in Marseille. In 1646, the national Assembly of the Clergy added their voice and petitioned for the bishop’s beatification. The present biography by François Marchetty appeared in 1650 to aid the canonization cause.  However, the cause languished only to be revived briefly in the 19th century when Leo XIII declared the bishop to be a “Venerable.”

[1]Letter #661 from François du Coudray to Saint Vincent, dated from Marseille, May 23 or 24, 1643, Pierre Coste, C.M., “Correspondence, Conferences, Documents,” Edited by Marie Poole, D.C., (New York: New City Press), 1983-2014: 2:437.

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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