Saint Vincent’s Reading List: LXVI Navigating the 17th Century French Catholic Church Cathedrals and Their Chapters, and Collegiale Churches and Their Chapters

L’Estat des Eglises Cathedrales et Collegiales. Ou il est amplement traitté, de l’Institution des Chapitres & Chanoines:des Offices divins, qu’ils celebrant au Chœur tous les jours: des conditions et qualitez requises en leurs personnes: de la necessité, pouvoir, privilege & préeminence des Corps, en chasque Diocese: ensemble des biens, droicts, & choises temporelles, qui appartient à leur Mense.  Avec les arrests principaux des Parlements & Cours Soveraines & autres diverses Decisions & Ordonnances, faits jus’aujourdh’huy touchant telles matieres.  Oeuvre tres util a tous ecclesiastiques tant Seculiers que Reguliers.  Par Jean de Bordenave, Chanoine de Lescar, Grand Vicaire & Official Metropolitain d’Aux, en Navarre & Bearne. A Paris, Chez l’Veuve Marthurin du Puis, rue Saint Iacques, a la Couronne, 1643. SpC. 282.44 B728e1643

Title page of L’Estat des Eglises Cathedrales et Collegiales, 1643.

Seventeenth century France was a confessional monarchy, which is to say that Church and State were one. French civil law and legal structures stood side-by-side with the Code of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as the particular canons of the French or Gallican Church and the Church’s own international and national legal structures. The complexities of canon law were reflected in the intricacies of the ecclesiastical structures and jurisdictions of the Gallican Church. Navigating these complexities took great skill, specialized knowledge, and credentials.

Vincent de Paul’s licentiate in canon law from the University of Paris equipped him to navigate these ecclesial complexities and prepared him well for his responsibilities as the founder and first superior general of the Congregation of the Mission and the Company of the Daughters of Charity.

Even before receiving his degree in 1623, Vincent had personal experience in navigating these ecclesial-juridical waters when early in his career he began to receive benefices from his early patrons, especially Philippe-Emmanuel de Gondi.  In 1615, Monsieur de Gondi, as Baron of Plessis, appointed his chaplain as a canon and treasurer of the chapter of the Collegiale Church of Ecouis.[1]  Collegiale churches were special purpose, non-parochial churches established by perpetual endowments. Usually founded by the nobility, they were staffed by an organized chapter of clergy called canons.

Every cathedral in France was governed not by the diocesan bishop, but rather by the cathedral’s chapter of canons.  The chapters of collegiale churches were responsible for their church under the terms of the original endowment, but also had to contend with the ongoing role of those nobles who had the right of appointment for the chapter members or canons. Disputes over rights, responsibilities, and income between bishops and canons, lay noble patrons and canons, and between canons themselves was endemic.

The author of the present volume, Jean de Bordenave, was a canon of the cathedral at Lescar in the kingdom of Navarre and Bearn. After the return of Henry IV to Catholicism, the structures and institutions of the Catholic Church that had been suppressed in this Protestant region were restored after several generations of abandonment. Bordenave’s massive volume describes the conciliar decrees, canon and civil law, royal decrees and other sources for the establishment, authority and functioning of cathedral and collegiale chapters.

[1] For more information on Vincent’s appointment as a canon at Ecouis see, Coste, CCD, 13a, 26-30.

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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