Saint Vincent’s Reading List: LXIX A Society of Rights, Responsibilities and Privileges.

Title page of Traicte des Droicts Honorifiques des Seigneurs és Eglises,1616
Title page of Traicte des Droicts Honorifiques des Seigneurs és Eglises,1616

Traicte des Droicts Honorifiques des Seigneurs és Eglises, Seconde Edition, reveuë, & augmentée de plusieurs notables Arrests, & curieuses remarques. A Mademoiselle de Montpensier. A Paris, Chez Nicolas Buon, ruë S. Jacques, àl’enseigne de S. Claude, & de l’Homme Sauvage.  MDXVI Avec Privilege du Roy, & Approbation Mathias Mareschal

SpC. 262.9 M325t1616

Vincent’s society was hierarchical and very complex. Everyone from the king to the meanest peasant had a defined place in this society with accompanying rights, responsibilities, and privileges established over the centuries by both custom and the rule of civil and ecclesiastical law. The good order and functioning of French society on a daily basis depended on the clarity of both precedent and law. Such clarity is difficult to achieve in and of itself since the constant evolution of society, economy, and culture often create new realities and competing interests which custom does not address, or no longer exactly fits. Laws and precedents typically evolve more slowly creating tensions within a society where everyone is determined to jealously protect and guard what each person or group sees, and understands, as their rightful place within the society around them.  Thus, no point of law, custom, or contract is too small to dispute and/or protect. Over and above legitimate disagreements about the interpretation of law and custom there is also the very human temptation to try to bend law and custom as far as possible to advance one’s own interests at someone else’s expense. Of course a profession full of civil and canon lawyers eager for billable hours were always at hand to offer their services.

Vincent de Paul would spend an inordinate amount of his time and energy as Superior General of the new Congregation of the Mission and the Company of the Daughters of Charity dealing with matters of legal and customary rights, responsibilities, and privileges at every turn.  Since just about everything these two communities were doing was new, this made the first decades following their establishment particularly difficult since they needed to be inserted very carefully by custom and law into their society.  Vincent took these matters seriously, and he dealt with them as such. However, the founder also knew the danger of them becoming all-consuming. His preference was always to try to settle legal or customary disputes amicably and only go to law as the last resort.[1]

The present volume gives some insight into the degree to which Vincent’s society was obsessed with customary and legal rights. Written by Mathais Mareschal in 1616, this work is dedicated to Marie de Bourbon the Duchess de Montpensier and Joyeuse (1605-1627), the sister-in-law of Louis XIII.  The purpose of the work is to demonstrate the “droicts honorifiques” (honorary or customary) rights of lord over the churches on their lands. Mareschal comments that these rights had been challenged by her “vassals” even though they were indisputable.  This had led to “great inconveniences, losses, scandals, and public harm.”  The author’s intention is to restate these rights in full detail, and with supporting authorities, so that the Duchess’ vassals would have no excuse not to know and honor them.[2]

[1] For an overview of Vincent de Paul’s views on lawsuits see, Coste, CCD, 14:321.

[2] See author’s introduction.

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