Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Vincent of Paul, Confessor

photograph of the Saint Vincent de Paul stained glass window at the Saint Joseph Cathedral, Macon, Georgia, USA; photographed in the summer of 2003Article

In the year of Our Lord, 1660, Saint Vincent of Paul ended his laborious and virtuous life at Paris, in the house of Saint Lazarus. He was born in a small village of Gascony, in France, and was the son of poor but God-fearing parents. After having for some time kept the herds of his father, he devoted himself to study, and became so proficient, that he was soon raised to the dignity of a teacher of Theology. During several years he instructed the young in order to gain the means of subsistence. One day, when, on account of some business, he had to go to Marseilles, he fell, wounded by an arrow, into the hands of the Turks, who robbed him of his clothes, put him in chains, and took him to Africa, where he endured great suffering on account of his faithfulness to the Christian Faith. He was the slave of three different masters, of whom the last was a Mameluke, a renegade Christian. The Saint succeeded in convincing him of his error, and escaping with him, happily reached France, where Vincent became pastor of two Churches, which he administered with truly holy zeal. Saint Francis of Sales having heard of the virtues and holiness of Vincent, requested him to become the spiritual director of the Convent which he had founded at Paris, a function which the Saint faithfully discharged during forty years. Saint Francis of Sales gave a short but most honorable testimony to his sanctity, by saying that he had never known a priest more worthy of esteem than Vincent.

In the year 1625, the Saint founded a congregation of secular priests, who, living like those of a religious order, were bound by a vow to do missionary work, especially in villages and other country places. He himself was a model to all, for he was occupied the greater part of his life of 85 years in instructing the country people and the lower classes. He formed the priests in his charge in every thing needful to apostolic missionaries, that their sermons and teachings might have the desired result. Besides this there scarcely existed a class of distressed men for whose temporal and spiritual welfare he was not solicitous. To this end he erected several houses of charity, and also founded large hospitals, that the poor, the sick, the orphans, the old, and those disabled and in misery, might have a home as well as the necessaries of life. He also founded several societies or congregations, whose members had the care of these charitable institutions. All his thoughts, all the faculties of his mind seemed constantly employed in finding ways and means to help the distressed, and he feared no pains, no toil, no danger. It once happened that he saw several soldiers pursuing a laborer, sword in hand. Without a moment’s hesitation he was in the midst of them, conjuring them to let him suffer the punishment they intended to inflict upon the poor man. Awed and surprised by his appearance, the soldiers sheathed their swords and allowed the man to escape.

The Saint’s life, as far as he himself was concerned, was passed in great poverty and extreme austerity. He kept a rigorous fast, and employed as much time in prayer as it was possible to give. If any one requested his advice, before answering he would raise his eyes to heaven and in a short prayer beg the Almighty to enlighten him. He never left the house before he had, on bended knees, asked, in a short prayer, that God might be with him; and on his return, he would examine his conscience very minutely, to see if he had done anything amiss, or had neglected anything which pertained to the welfare of others. The least fault, even inadvertently committed, he punished most severely on his body. A mortal sin never burdened his soul, and he kept his innocence and purity undefiled, although surrounded by many dangers. When yet very young, he was an enemy to all frivolous speeches, and of such acts as he considered wrong in the sight of God. He endeavored constantly to prevent others from offending the Most High, and it grieved him exceedingly when he heard that one had tempted another to sin, or otherwise assisted him to do evil. Against such he spoke most severely from the pulpit, as he was convinced that the most horrible sin of which men can become guilty, is to lead each other to vice and crime, and by it to eternal perdition. He exhorted all not only to promote their own, but also their neighbors’ spiritual welfare, as nothing is more pleasing to God than when we lead others to the path of virtue, and by it to everlasting joy.

For this reason, he sent the priests who were under him, whom he had instructed, not only into the neighboring villages, but also into Poland, Scotland, Ireland, and even into the far-off Indies, with orders to use all their efforts to convert the infidels, and to admonish the faithful to keep the Commandments of the Most High. He himself did the same wherever he was. There were many during his time, who endeavored to scatter secretly the seeds of the Jansenist error among the Catholics, pretending that it contained high spiritual perfection. Many Catholics began to listen to the false doctrines, and thus imperceptibly imbibed the heretical poison. But it was then that Saint Vincent displayed his holy zeal for the purity of the true faith and the salvation of souls. He laid bare, in their whole deformity, the errors of the Jansenists, admonished all priests and spiritual directors to guard their flocks against these heretical wolves, and persuaded the .bishops to assemble and denounce the pernicious heresy to the Apostolic See, and endeavor to obtain its condemnation. To the Catholics in general he represented the danger in which they stood of losing eternal happiness, if they approved only one single point of the new heresy, and thereby renounced the old, true, Catholic Faith. The great moral benefit he thus conferred on mankind will become known to the world cn the great day of Judgment when the Lord will reward every one according to his deserts.

To this short sketch of his life, we will add a few words concerning his happy death. At length, weakened by his incessant labors and great austerity to himself, he was seized by his last sickness. Having requested and received with great devotion the holy sacraments, he admonished those under him for the last time, to continue in their pious zeal, and occupied the remaining moments of his life in devout meditations. When those around him, in their prayers for him, came to the words: “Oh, God, come to my assistance!” he answered distinctly: “Oh, Lord, make haste to help me!” after which, full of days and merits, he tranquilly expired. At the hour of his death, his countenance showed the comfort and happiness that filled his heart. The many and great miracles which were wrought after his death by his intercession, confirmed the general opinion of him during his life; namely, that he was a truly holy man, gifted with an apostolic heart Hence he was highly esteemed and honored as a great servant of God, both by ecclesiastics and laymen, high and low. Louis XIII, King of France, desired, when he was lying on his death-bed, to have the Saint near him. His consort, the Queen, chose him for her spiritual director, which duty the holy man accepted only under the condition that he should continue his works of love and charity, as well as his other ecclesiastical labors. This being granted, he continued to labor unweariedly, without allowing himself the slightest repose, until God called him to rest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Practical Considerations

1. The continual labors and cares of Saint Vincent had only one aim: the spiritual welfare of others and the prevention ot all offences to God. He declaimed against those who incited others to sin and vice, and thus led them to eternal destruction. He fully comprehended the truth of the words of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite: “Among all divine works none is more divine than laboring with God for the salvation of souls. Have you no opportunity to perform a work which is so agreeable in the sight of the Lord? Think well, and do not neglect it. Saint Vincent was also convinced that among all evil works, there is none more evil and displeasing to God than when we incite others to sin and thus assist the devil in gaining souls. Those who do this are called by the Holy Fathers of the Church messengers, representatives, vicars of the devil, because they are sent and incited by him to execute his plans for the destruction of men. They are his vicars, because they do that which is really the devil’s work. Still more severely speaks Saint James of Nisibis: “All those,” says he, a deserve the name of devils, who prevent others from keeping those commandments, which appear hard to keep, and who advise them to follow the devices of the flesh.” He means to say that such people may be regarded as real devils; but I add that they are worse, more hurtful and more to be feared than the devils themselves, as many a person whom Satan cannot tempt, is incited to sin by their flatteries, promises, and still more by their bad example, and, hence is led to destruction. If you, therefore, desire to be a representative of the devil, or his vicar, you ought to be informed that his abiding place belongs also to you. According to the words of Christ, hell is prepared for the devil and his angels: “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25). Angel means a messenger, a representative. For you and your equals, as angels and messengers of the devil; for you, deceiver, as a representative of the devil, for you is hell, and in hell the eternal fire, if you do not leave your wicked ways. Endeavor to repair the evil you have occasioned, and do penance. What will you do?

2. The countenance of the dying Saint Vincent expressed the comfort and happiness that filled his soul. This was probably because he thought of his innocent life, his zeal in the service of God, his constant endeavor to do good. You may well believe me when I say that you will not be thus consoled in your last hour, when you remember your sinful, unchaste life, your negligence in the service of the Almighty, your idleness in performing good works. The recollection of them will cause you inexpressible fear and horror. Before all, will the thought of those sins torment you which you committed so wantonly, and which you have not even confessed rightly, much less expiated. “They shall come with fear at the thought of their sins,” says the Holy Ghost, “and their iniquities shall stand against them to convict them.” (Wisdom 4). The wicked Antiochus did not heed his sins during the time that his health was unimpaired; he gave them not even a thought: but when his last hour approached, he said: “But now I remember the evils that I did in Jerusalem.” (1st Maccabees 6) Now, not before: now that I am called into eternity, to appear before the judgment-seat of the Most High, now I remember them against my will. But what resulted from this remembrance? “Into what tribulation am I come, and into what floods of sorrow.” (1st Maccabees 6) If you would not experience equal woes, but die comforted and happy, lead a Christian life after the example of Saint Vincent. Avoid evil, and practice good works. Should your conscience be stained with sin, expiate it by sincere penance, without losing another day.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Vincent of Paul, Confessor”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 17 March 2018. Web. 22 September 2018. <>