Saint Vincent Ferrer, by Mary Helen Allies


Towards the middle of the fourteenth century there lived at Valencia, in the Kingdom of Aragon, William, or as some say Michael, Ferrer and Constance Miguel, his wife. They were of ancient family, and having enjoyed the world in youth, they now in more mature age gave themselves up to a serious life, so that the glory of having so renowned a son as Saint Vincent was not altogether undeserved. Besides the Saint they had two sons, Peter and Boniface, and two daughters, who are mentioned incidentally in Vincent’s life. Boniface was a famous lawyer, but on the death of his wife he renounced the world, and exchanged his fame for the habit of Saint Bruno. Both father and mother received a supernatural intimation of the greatness of the son who was to be born to them. One night in a dream Michael Ferrer thought he was in the Dominican church at Valencia, where he beheld a friar of most venerable appearance preaching. He tried hard to listen to every word of the sermon, when the friar addressing him, said, ‘I congratulate thee, my well-beloved son, for in a few days thy wife shall bring forth a son whose holiness, doctrine, fame, and miraculous power shall be such that the people of France and Spain shall venerate him as one of the Apostles, and he shall be a Friar Preacher, as thou seest I am.’ At these words the multitude in the church gave forth a loud acclamation, and Michael, in trying to join his voice to theirs, awoke, and aroused his wife in order to tell her in his delight of his dream. But afterwards, reflecting that they had often learned from theologians not to pay much attention to such omens, they thought but little of the vision. Two circumstances however proved to Constance that there was something unusual about the child she was going to bring forth. One was the entire absence of the physical suffering which she had experienced in other pregnancies; the other, that, strange as it may seem, she often heard a sound like the barking of a dog proceed from her womb. This last sign was interpreted as betokening the coming of a great and holy preacher, for, as the Bishop of Valencia remarked to her, a dog is a not inadequate image of a preacher. When at length Constance gave birth to her son, in the year 1357, people poured in to see the child of these wonderful signs, and at his baptism the concourse of curious visitors was much more considerable. Everybody seemed anxious that the child should be called after himself, till at length the priest, quite wearied out, settled the point by saying, ‘Let his name be Vincent.’ It was noted at the time that not one of those present nor any of his relations were called Vincent. If in God’s mind the name of His chosen servants is a thing full of significance, we must see here, as at the baptism of Saint John the Baptist, the special interposition of His will. His biographer remarks that he was called Vincent, which is from the Latin vincere, to conquer, ‘by a kind of Divine presage,’ and applies to him the passage of the Apocalypse, ‘He went forth conquering and to conquer.’

Only two characteristic features of his very early years have come down to us. He, whose preaching was to move Europe, was the quietest of children. He hardly ever cried as other babies do, but lying still, with open eyes, in his little cradle, he was delightful to behold. When he grew older, his parents helped on the perfection to which he was to attain by encouraging him in the way of virtue and moving him to become better. At nine years of age he began to show signs of that mental excellence which, associated with sanctity, is so powerful a tool in the world for doing God’s work; and if he ever played with other boys, he would satisfy himself for the concession by calling them away after a very short gambol to listen to his sermon. Standing on a little eminence, he used to make them judges of his oratorical power, saying, ‘Now listen to me, and tell me what sort of a preacher I shall make.’ He paid great attention to the sermons he heard, whether good or indifferent, and carried away all the information he could gather from the words and gestures of the learned. Two devotions in particular were dear to his boyish heart, one which a Saint has called that of the elect, love of her who is the lily among thorns; the other, compared in Holy Scripture to the rock and the stone, because without it all worship of God must be feeble – devotion to the Passion of our Lord. Vincent was still in the cradle when a long drought fell upon Valencia, and its inhabitants, having vainly prayed for succour, were filled with the most gloomy forebodings. Constance’s child, who had begun to lisp a few words, said to her distinctly one day, ‘If you wish for rain, carry me in procession and you will be heard.’ This infantine prediction was verified to the letter, and we are told that it reached the ears of Eleanor, Queen of Aragon, who begged that the little prophet might be brought to her to caress. Another instance is related of his miraculous power in boyhood; but more astonishing still than that very power is the humility with which he exercised it. Devotion to the Passion and to our Lady would need some outward object of zeal, and if the one prompted Vincent in his childish way to labour for the souls of other boys even at his play, the other suggested to him perhaps that generosity to the bodily needs of the poor, which is a salient feature in the saints. Here again we are told of his parents that they seconded his charity, and were never vexed at his very lavish alms. It is sometimes the tendency of great piety to feed, as it were, upon itself, to live perhaps too much on those devout feelings and sentiments which are a pure gift of God, and to lay but too little stress on what we might call the intellectual side of religion. It was not so with Vincent. He lived in times of strong passions which had acted somewhat like a heresy in blinding the minds of men to the Truth. His weapons were therefore twofold: there was the vocation to combat the passions, and the human learning as the natural arm against ignorance. At fourteen years of age the Saint excelled the youth of Valencia in secular as well as ecclesiastical lore, for he became proficient both in the study of theology and of philosophy, which term was applied in those days rather to logic, as the science of reasoning, than to what we now understand by philosophy.

Vincent was seventeen when a subject of gravest interest, that of his vocation, began to occupy Michael Ferrer’s mind. We venture to say that few fathers would have acted as he did under the circumstances. One day he called his son to him, and broached the important subject in words which paint conflicting emotions, the natural pride of the father who is at the same time desirous that the child of so much promise should fulfil his vocation in all perfection. ‘Three things, my dear son,’ he said, ‘are agitating my mind and a subject of anxiety to me at this present time. If I were left to myself, I know which I should choose; but I wish first to hear your opinion, and I promise to be guided by it in this matter. I have often told you about the revelation I had concerning you from God before you were born. This and the virtues you have practised from your earliest years make me inclined to think that you should enter the Order of Saint Dominic and become a great preacher of the Christian faith. Secondly, the riches which we owe to God’s liberality, and the consideration of your blooming youth would induce me to seek out a fitting wife for you. Thirdly, as I perceive you have ability so great and varied that all look upon you as likely to become one of the most learned men in the world, I have been thinking of sending you either to Rome or to Paris, where your virtue and learning would come to the knowledge of the most able men, and thus you might acquire a position which would bring lasting honour on our family. These are the considerations, my dear son, which are a subject of daily anxiety to me, but I ask you only to please yourself in your choice. Only tell me your desire, that I may comply with it whilst I can before I die.’ Vincent’s own mind was very clearly made up, and he replied, ‘For some time past, dear father, I had been meaning to speak to you on the subject of my vocation, but as it has been God’s will that you should forestall me, I will answer you in a few words and tell you all that is on my mind. The riches, pleasures, and honours of this world are most distasteful to me. Jesus Christ is the sole object of my thoughts and my actions, and so I have resolved to put on the habit of Saint Dominic, and to dedicate myself to God’s service in his Order. I beseech of you therefore, my dearest father, if you love me, make me worthy of your blessing, and I humbly ask the same favour of my mother, that with the goodwill of both I may set out upon God’s service.’ It was in the year 1374. The next day, which happened to be the Feast of the Purification, the feast of all others most appropriate to a sacrifice, Vincent entered the Dominican convent at Valencia. The Superiors of Saint Dominic’s Order at that time did not fail to perceive the rare qualities of the young friar, whose coming had been announced to the Prior of Valencia in a dream by Saint Dominic himself. They gave him ample opportunities for the full development of his mental gifts. After his profession the Fathers unanimously decreed that ‘it was a shame to keep a youth of so much promise at Valencia.’ He was sent therefore to Barcelona, ‘one of the most celebrated places,’ as Ranzano quaintly says, ‘which the world possesses.’ Without following Vincent to the various places whither obedience led him during the time which we look upon as that of his preparation for the apostolic ministry, we may mention that at Barcelona he gave himself up exclusively to the study of Holy Scripture, and so great was his zeal that he came to know the Bible by heart, penetrating by patient thought to the very core of its most obscure passages. He also learned Hebrew, in order to confront to some purpose the Jews who abounded at that time in Spain.

Vincent was ordained priest at the age of thirty, about the year 1388, for, according to the custom of the day, the priesthood was not conferred before the age of thirty. Two incidents in particular are related of him which belong to these years, and we put them before the reader in preference to others because they seem to give us the measure of the man. Whilst he was at Barcelona, as a very young friar and still a deacon, he began to preach, and God glorified him at the outset by allowing the grace of conversion to follow his words in a remarkable way. But He furthermore attached the gift of prophecy to Vincent’s preaching. A grievous famine raged at Barcelona, and, as is so often the case, it did not come alone, but was aggravated by pestilence. Queen Eleanor by desire of the King had left the place to escape contagion. Public processions were made by the people to avert God’s anger. Vincent addressed them one day in burning words, exhorting them to repent and to do penance. Suddenly he exclaimed, ‘Rejoice, my brethren, towards evening two ships laden with wheat will arrive in the port, and you will be supplied according to your need.’ Whilst he spoke there was a dreadful storm upon the sea, and nothing seemed more impossible than the accomplishment of his prophecy. So instead of rejoicing the people were vexed, and their discontent penetrated the walls of the Dominican convent, whereupon Friar Vincent, with all humility and calmness, received an admonition to be more prudent in weighing his words for the future. But that same evening the ships arrived, and they were the precursors of many others which shortly afterwards followed from Flanders.

At a time when his mission had not formally begun, this is an example of the outward working of Saint Vincent. It was already powerful, and the secret of his strength lay in the inward conviction of his nothingness, just as worldly success depends so much upon self-confidence. ‘Imprint, O Lord,’ cried out another Saint, ‘Thy Wounds upon my heart, that I may read therein sorrow and love: sorrow to endure every sorrow for Thee, love to despise every other love but Thine.’ That abiding sorrow and that all-sufficient love formed the basis of Vincent’s future apostolate. It is recounted of him that one day he was praying before the image of his crucified Lord, and as he contemplated the sacred Wounds, he burst out in a transport of love: ‘Lord, is it possible that Thou hast suffered so much on the Cross?’ And the figure of our Lord, turning its head towards the Saint, answered, ‘Yes, Vincent; all this, and much more.’

The Apostle of the Judgment

It would be nearly impossible to follow a Saint in spirit through his earthly pilgrimage without having before us, even if it were the offspring of imagination, some notion of the physical man. In Saint Vincent’s case, though we believe portraits of him to be rare, we have the description of his trustworthy biographer, Teoli. ‘He was of the middle stature,’ says that authority, ‘well proportioned, and of beautiful countenance. His hair was golden in youth but became slightly grey in after life. His forehead was lofty and expressive of nobility and calmness. He had large brown eyes which were full of brightness and life. Modesty however was more admirably depicted there than beauty. The complexion which in youth had been so brilliant had been worn by his long mortification into an austere pallor,’ and to add to this charm of his presence he had a voice which ‘resounded like a silver bell.’ All these advantages were requisite to win the hearts of men, for to realize what those times were, it is enough to consider what is implied in an Apostle of the Judgment. Vincent was sent not to one nation or people in particular, but as if all the countries of Europe had been found wanting in the spiritual measure, his apostolic working extended itself to Italy, France, England, Ireland and Scotland, and this ministry of preaching did not end with him, but was continued up to the year 1456, when Saint John Capistran, his second successor, and the Apostle of Peace, was called to receive the crown.

Vincent was labouring in Castille in 1390 when the famous Peter de Luna came to Spain as Legate of the Antipope, Clement VII, in order to secure that country’s allegiance to his master’s cause. Peter, who had the merit of recognizing Vincent’s virtues, wished to carry him off to Avignon, but the Saint refused, thinking he could work more powerfully for souls where he was. We shall see later that this meeting with the future Benedict XIII influenced the whole of his subsequent career. For the time he developed a particular power for the conversion of the Jews, which no doubt helped to prepare men’s minds for his future announcement of the Judgment. At Valladolid a learned Rabbi, who heard the Saint’s forcible preaching, honestly owned that although the ancient Law was his one study, the new preacher understood it far better than he did, and he embraced Christianity, to become, later, Bishop of Carthagena.

When Vincent returned to Valencia, he was appointed confessor to the Queen of Aragon, wife of John I. He had some difficulty in managing his royal penitent, who was by no means devoid of feminine curiosity. Having begged to be allowed to see the Saint’s cell, a request which he pointedly refused, the Queen took it upon herself to gratify her wish. Vincent was in prayer before the Crucifix, but he -was invisible to the Queen. The religious who was with her begged him to notice her entrance, and to greet her, but he firmly replied, ‘Are you not aware that our cells are closed to women? The Queen is here in spite of my prohibition. She will see me only when she consents to leave my cell.’ No sooner had the royal culprit repassed the threshold of the cell than her confessor again became visible to her. His face expressed the strongest disapproval. ‘Your Majesty’s fault would have cost you dear,’ he said to his disobedient penitent, ‘if ignorance and a want of reflection did not in part excuse it. In future take care not to repeat your act, for God would severely punish you.’

At this time of Vincent’s life, before he left for Avignon, we place three particular and significant temptations which may be taken to represent the fire whereby he was salted. As before the work of the Ministry our Lord was led into the desert to be tempted by the devil, so His servant Vincent was tried and perfected by assaults of the same nature. One night as the Saint had finished reciting his Matins before a statue of our Lady, and was praying earnestly for the grace of final perseverance, the devil under the form of an old man of most majestic figure appeared to him, and addressed him in these words: ‘I am one of those ancient hermits who inhabited an Egyptian solitude for many years in great continency and rigorous fast from meat and drink. When I was young, I gave myself up to every sensual pleasure, but afterwards, when I had spent my youth in various delights, I came to myself, and did penance, and thus our most merciful God pardoned me my sins. Now therefore, if thou wilt listen to me, who have so much experience, I should persuade thee to have mercy on thy flourishing youth, to spare thy bodily mortifications now, and to reserve them for thy old age. For doubt not that God is always ready to accept the repentance of sinners.’ When the Saint had first beheld the solitary, he was seized with fear, but afterwards he perceived the venom of these words, and suspected his visitor to be the devil. Signing himself with the Cross he made answer: ‘Begone, thou pestilent serpent, for by thy cunning words thou hast proved thyself not one of the hermits of Egypt but one of the devils of Hell. Thou didst think to overcome the new soldier of Christ with thy snares; but although I am new in this warfare, the grace of Christ, for Whose love I have encountered temptations and labours, makes me so thoroughly armed that I do not fear to fight thee.’ The devil hearing this retort vanished with a howl, leaving a fetid smell in the cell. ‘Command that these stones be made bread,’ he had said to the Master. To the disciple it was: ‘Spare thy youth.’

Another night Vincent was praying before a crucifix when the devil again appeared to him, this time in the form of a huge blackamoor, threatening him and saying: ‘I will pervert those prayers and works whereby thou thinkest to gain Heaven until I cause thee weakly to succumb.’ And the holy soldier of Christ answered: ‘As long as I have the grace of Christ, no one of thy threats shall terrify me.’ ‘Nothing,’ replied the devil, ‘is more difficult than perseverance in that grace of which thou speakest’ ‘He,’ rejoined Vincent, ‘Who enabled me to begin will enable me also to persevere.’ Thus the second great temptation was overcome. It was like the word spoken to our Lord by the same seducer of men: ‘If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down.’

For the third assault we can find no parallel in the case of our Lord. The bitterest hatred has spared the purity of the Virgin Son where it has not always rendered justice to the Virgin Mother. Once towards the fourth hour of the night as Vincent was reading Saint Jerome’s treatise on the perpetual virginity of our Blessed Lady, and praying that he, too, might preserve fidelity to the same holy state, he heard, as if in answer to his thought, a voice say: ‘We cannot all be virgins, and although thou hast kept thy virginity up to this hour, I will no longer suffer thee to enjoy this privilege.’ At these words the Saint was filled with trouble and sadness, and kneeling to invoke the Mother of fair love whom he had always cherished, he begged that she would tell him their meaning. After a while he was rewarded with a vision of our Lady, who comforted him, saying: ‘The words which thou hast just heard were spoken by the devil, who puts before thee the difficulty of goodness in order to deter thee from any longer pursuing virtue. But do thou only be cautious and thou shalt persevere. For although the devil will lay many snares for thee, and strive to .endanger thy virginity, be not discouraged. Hope ‘in God, He will be the shield whereby thou shalt not only easily despise the devil’s weapons, but overcome him and his artifices.’

Vincent possessed, as we have seen, great personal attractions which served to facilitate the work of the powers of darkness. A certain woman at Valencia fell in love with him, and feigned illness in order to manifest her passion to the holy friar. He took refuge in flight, and when the woman, like Putiphar’s wife, began to accuse him of seducing her, she became suddenly possessed by the devil, who through the mouth of the miserable creature, rendered testimony to Vincent’s virtue, ‘You shall not expel me from this body,’ he cried out, ‘unless that man comes back, who, placed in the midst of the fire, preserved himself unscathed from the flames.’ On another occasion his enemies, probably those who were jealous of his sanctity, bribed a bad woman to occupy his cell, and put her there one evening whilst the Saint was still at his devotions in the church. When Vincent saw the woman, he took her for Satan, as well he might, and addressed her as a ‘cursed devil.’ But instead of being seduced, it was Vincent who brought her then and there to penance, and shortly afterwards she married in order to lead a new life. The artifice practised by a false brother at Valencia, a friar preacher whose immorality had often called forth Vincent’s reproaches, presented a still more diabolical character. The calumny was laid bare, and the Saint’s pardon readily given to the inventor. So the words of our Lady announcing ‘many snares’ soon began to be accomplished.

In 1390, as we have seen, Peter de Luna, the Pope of Avignon’s Papal Legate, had come to Spain to plead his master’s cause. What that cause was, or rather what claim Clement VII could allege to be called the Successor of Saint Peter, rests entirely upon the Conclave which elected Urban VI in 1378. Never perhaps was there a stormier election. Even before Gregory XI died, secret meetings were held in Rome to secure an Italian as his successor, and whilst the Cardinals were sitting in Conclave, the populace wildly vociferated: ‘We want a Roman or an Italian.’ The Sacred College, composed of twenty-three members, numbered eighteen Frenchmen, who probably understood the Roman temperament very ill. The only way to oppose expressed wishes would have been to act with the same prudent hesitation as is customary on these occasions. But the Cardinals took fright, and although the Conclave had promised to be long, they speedily elected the Archbishop of Bari, Bartolomeo de Prignano, who assumed the name of Urban VI. All historians seem to agree that this Pontiff loved justice too rigorously, and that he was too much bent upon sudden reforms. Now three-fourths of his Cardinals were French grands seigneurs, who probably had the faults of their class. Pomp and splendour were their natural surroundings, and when, regretfully indeed, they followed Gregory XI to Rome, they had exchanged luxury and a respected Papacy at Avignon for a city torn by factions-, and a life, if we may so speak, from hand to mouth. Yet there was a deep justice in that wild outcry of the Roman people. Beneath its impatient vociferations we can read this meaning: ‘It is wiser for the Pope to lack ease and perhaps personal safety in Italy than for the Papacy to be absent from its lawful seat.’ During three months after his election the Cardinals acknowledged Urban VI as the true Successor of Saint Peter. Then they could bear with his rough goodness and his efforts at sweeping reforms no longer. Urban was abandoned by eleven French Cardinals and Peter de Luna, who declared the Holy See vacant. Let us suppose he had shown a different and a more conciliating spirit during his administration, no one would then have attempted to doubt his election. Here lies, as it seems to us, all the point of the question. The residence at Avignon had tended to nationalize the Papacy, which by its very nature is placed above nationality, as the power which makes all nations one house of Christ. As a consequence of that false position, which had lasted from 1305 to 1377, Frenchmen now made the schism, and continued on the race of Avignonese rulers by the election in 1378 of Robert of Geneva. When he came to die in 1394, the Spaniard, Peter de Luna, was chosen by the French Cardinals, and he took the title of Benedict XIII. Whilst we render homage to the ability of his personal character, we might fitly liken him to the man spoken of by our Lord who ‘answering said: I go, Sir, and he went not.’ His time was passed in summoning consultations as to how the schism could be extinguished, whilst that most desirable effect lay in his own hands, and he constantly refused to speak the one word which would have brought it about. Vincent’s holiness had, however, made an indelible impression upon the Legate, as Benedict XIII fully proved. When in 1396 he lost his Carmelite confessor, who was nominated to a bishopric in Catalonia, he sent for the Saint to make Vincent his spiritual guide. There was worldly wisdom, too, in the choice, for the sanctity and presence of Vincent at his Court would throw a sort of spiritual lustre over that Court itself. If such a thought crossed Benedict’s mind, as it probably did, history has proved the justness of his calculation, for if there is an advantage to be met with on the side of the Antipope, it is in the supposed adhesion of Saint Vincent Ferrer to his cause. We say supposed, because obedience to the lawful Successor of Saint Peter or to the Antipope at Avignon was not a personal matter or choice. England, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, and Poland sided with Urban, whilst France, Aragon, Castille, Scotland, and Portugal acknowledged Peter de Luna. Acceptance or rejection of the lawful Pope was a national question, and thus Saint Vincent’s side was found for him. We know that he used in vain all his influence with Benedict to persuade him to resign ‘for the peace of the Church.’ In those days it was far more difficult than it is in these times of easy communication to get to the bottom of a vexed question, and if Benedict spoke of ‘peace when there was no peace,’ the case was far otherwise with Vincent. At the brilliant Court of Avignon the Saint practised his rule with the utmost fidelity, and although the position was extremely distasteful to him, he bore with his repugnance out of deference to Benedict’s command. But God had other designs with regard to His faithful servant: ‘I came,’ our Lord said, ‘to cast fire on the earth, and what will I but that it be enkindled?’ All His saints feed their desires upon the same holy flame.

The Church was Vincent’s dearest thought, and therefore one wish was uppermost in his heart, the desire to restore its outward unity under one head, whom all nations should unanimously acknowledge. We have seen that they who made the schism could allege no formal obstacle against Urban’s election. On the contrary, they acted as they did out of a motive of personal disaffection to him. He might have been injudicious, but how weak must the principle of monarchy have become in a country where so slight a cause leads to deposition of its prince! The extraordinary perversity shown by the cardinals who receded from Urban was another result of Avignon, and is important to note. As then the Saint, in great trouble of mind, was pondering how he could remedy a state of things which caused many souls to perish, he felt suddenly seized with fever. For twelve days he lay . dangerously ill, and at the last his sickness seemed to be fatal. Whilst he appeared to be dying, his eyes were opened, and he beheld our Lord shining upon him with great brightness. A multitude of angels and the Patriarchs, Saint Dominic and Saint Francis, accompanied their Lord, and comforted the Saint in what seemed his apparent extremity. Then our Lord spoke these words: ‘Be constant, O my servant Vincent, and put away all trouble from thy mind. For as I have already made thee strong in many temptations, and have delivered thee from many snares of both men and demons, so for the future and unto the end My grace shall accompany thee. Now I will deliver thee from this bodily sickness and this mental anguish, for peace shall soon be restored to the Church. As soon as thou art cured, leave the Court of Benedict, because I have chosen thee as a special preacher of My Gospel. My command is that in humility and poverty thou shouldst traverse the lands of France and Spain to evangelize them. After thy words and works have borne plentiful fruits, thou thyself shalt die at the ends of the earth. But amongst other things pertaining to thy preaching, thou shalt announce to the people the near approach of the Day of Judgment, correcting them without fear of their crimes. And although thou wilt suffer many calumnies at the mouths of wicked men, fear not, because I shall be with thee always, and under My protection thou shalt avoid all dangers, and easily despise the wiles of thine adversaries.’ When He had spoken these words, our Lord touched Vincent on the cheek, and after giving him further instruction for his future ministry, disappeared.

In this vision our Lord bestowed two things on his servant Vincent. The gift of health was the first, for He is one who never asks impossibilities, and always enables His creatures to do His will. He had told a dying man to teach His Gospel, but one touch of that Divine hand brought Vincent back from the valley of the shadow of death. His second gift was a definite purpose and object, for the vision determined the whole of Vincent’s subsequent career. This may be said to have taken a new development in obedience to the special prescription which our Lord had deigned to give by the extraordinary favour of a personal appearance.

Thus Vincent rose in health and strength from his sick bed when the vision had departed, and the next day he visited the astonished Benedict, who had despaired of his life. It was in vain that the Saint solicited leave to begin his ministry as the Apostle of the Judgment. Benedict required the support of his services and disinterestedness far too much at that time to listen favourably to the proposition. Early in 1398, the French King, Charles VI, joined his instances to Vincent’s, and together they urged Benedict to resign his position for the good of the Church. Then seeing that nothing could be gained from one whose words alone were so fair, Vincent left the Papal Palace for a house of his Order at Avignon. Certain prelates of Benedict’s Court gave the colouring of their own minds to this act, and represented to their master that Vincent’s services had been inadequately rewarded. Benedict listened to the suggestion, called a consistory, and offered the Cardinal’s hat to the Saint. But the desire for apostolic labours, not the wish for greater honours, had prompted Vincent to the step, and as he refused the Sacred Purple, he said to Benedict: ‘I am too much honoured already by the charge of Master of the Palace and that of confessor to your Holiness, but I must carry out God’s commands to preach the Judgment to all nations.’ We can judge of the anguish of his apostolic spirit during the time at Avignon, when, raised from a dying bed in a miraculous way, he was still fettered in his zeal by his deference to Benedict’s wish. The state of things which called for his ardent voice and burning example can be no better described than by using his own words: ‘I think there has never been so much vain luxury and impurity as there is now in the world, for we should have to go back to the Flood in order to find worse times. Bad women fill the inns and country places, and the number of them is so great that they infect the world, and will infect it still more. It is impossible to prevent the bad fruit from tainting the good when both are mixed. What dreadful avariciousness we see, what usury disguised under the pretence of certain contracts! With priests it is the reign of simony, and with religious that of envy. The intemperance of laymen and of priests is such that the fast of Lent, the Ember Days and vigils, are no longer observed. Anger is so common that amongst those who pretend to be friends murder is not unfrequent. Indeed, vice is so far in the ascendant, that individuals who prefer prayer and the service of God to the world and its pomps are called useless and idle.’

One day, when Vincent was weeping over the delay which Benedict’s refusal put upon his work, a voice seemed to come from the crucifix, saying, ‘Go, I will wait for thee still.’ The Saint’s prayers and tears were soon to fructify.

Preaching with Authority

When at length Benedict suffered the Saint to depart, Vincent was in the full vigour of his manhood. At forty-one the illusions of youth are gone, if not its fire and spirit, but it is one of the properties of sanctity not to grow old, that is to say, to keep freshness of heart amidst the increasing shadows of advancing years. This feature was remarkable in Saint Vincent.

Instead of following him in this chapter to the countries which occupied his zeal for the last twenty years of his life, we may attach ourselves more particularly to the description of what that life was, and to the nature of the ministry which he undertook in obedience to the Divine commands at Avignon. Amongst all the servants of God Saint Vincent Ferrer is one of those who deserve in a special manner to be considered as representative saints, therefore the mode of his ministry cannot fail to have an importance of its own.

Benedict XIII, then, blessed the undertaking which he would no longer prevent, and gave to Vincent the faculties of a Papal Legate. In the year 1398 he set out thus fortified for Spain. His native land received some of the first fruits of his labours, for on his way thither, as though he could brook no further delay, his hunger and thirst for souls took an active form. His eloquence was already prodigious, and in Catalonia the people began to follow him from place to place. The mode of his reception in a town was one which would have upset an ordinary man’s self-command. The clergy in their vestments, the magistrates in their official robes, besides the nobility of the place, came out to receive him ‘as if he had been one of God’s Apostles.’ Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed Nomini Tito da gloriam, cried out the object of these royal honours. The Saint tried, however, to stay the fervour of these outward demonstrations except when he saw that they were conducive to the good of souls. A wooden barrier was invented to preserve him from the multitudes who pressed upon his steps, and would inevitably have crushed him in the helplessness engendered by a crowd. Vincent’s manner of evangelizing a country was most complete, for he went through it, stopping at the smallest places, according to the need of souls. Before entering a town he fell on his knees with all his band, and with tears and sighs he besought the Divine inspiration for the people to whom he came. The faculties conferred upon him by Benedict XIII. were renewed by Martin V, the Pontiff duly elected at Constance, but in spite of his full powers Vincent never failed to ask the leave and the blessing of the local authority wherever he happened to be preaching. As long as he could he travelled about on foot, till in his latter years a wound in his leg obliged him to ride. Then he used the humble ministry of an ass, wishing in all things to. preserve the voluntary poverty of his state. Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed Nomini Tuo da gloriam. He was truly preaching in the Name of God, and so vividly was the fact impressed on the minds of those to whom he went that trade stopped in a measure in places which listened to the Apostle. The universities were closed, artisans and merchants left their commerce to sit at his feet; in short, his voice carried with it an irresistible invitation to attend to the one thing necessary. Churches and public places were too small to contain his audience. His improvised pulpit was ordinarily raised in an open space which opposed no limits to the crowd. Towards the end of the fourteenth century ecclesiastical preaching had become infected with a touch of Pagan reminiscences, the consequence of a period of transition from scholastic learning to humanistic studies. Vincent’s method adopted a truer bent. ‘Jesus Christ,’ he said, ‘did not command us to preach Ovid, or Horace, or Virgil, but the Gospel.’ And he enlarges on the subject in a sermon on the parable of the Sower. ‘Human life is preserved by the seed which is sown. To preach is to sow the seed of wheat of the New Testament in the field of consciences. It is this which preserves the spiritual life and the Catholic faith. . . . The Bible is the seed of Jesus Christ which produces devotion, charity, penance, salvation; cockle must be kept carefully away from these fruits, and the cockle may be represented by quotations from heathen poets. The Apostle Saint Paul preached for the space of thirty-seven years, and we do not read that he quoted the poets more than three times.’

Once when he was asked whence he drew the beautiful thoughts of his sermons, he answered, pointing to a crucifix, ‘There is the book where I learn all that I preach, there it is that I study my sermons.’ His preaching was founded upon a long and fervent meditation of the Holy Scriptures at the feet of Jesus crucified, but as true devotion to our Lord’s Passion produces fear of the Lord, it is recounted of Vincent that when he spoke of the Judgment, the terror which his vehemence caused amongst the people was such, that falling upon their knees, they would cry for mercy. His own life was a daily wonder even in that age, when, if sensuality was as rife as in our times, great mortifications were frequent too. Vincent’s sleep lasted five hours, and and he took this repose either on the ground or on a bundle of rods, spending the rest of the night in prayer and the meditation of his beloved Bible. At midnight he always rose to say Matins on his knees, finding great devotion in weighing every word of the Divine Office. Early in the morning his laborious day began. Every morning he who was to be the apostle of reconciliation for so many souls humbled himself first in confession. He then sung Mass with a devotion so full of unction that his tears fell plentifully from the Canon to the Communion. Afterwards he put on the habit of the Friar Preachers, and began his sermon, uttering those words which the Holy Spirit put into his mouth. Sometimes it lasted two or three hours, but so far from causing fatigue to the multitude, they may be said to have hung upon his lips. Then he heard the confessions of those who were determined to reform their lives, and at midday he took his single meal.

It is impossible to become holy without a certain amount at least of bodily mortification, but, as it may be surmised, Vincent was an expert in this art of the saints. Except on Sundays, his life was a continual fast, and every evening he took a rigorous discipline, unless he was ill, when he caused it to be given to him by one of his companions. The remainder of the day was spent in again hearing confessions, in preaching, and in the effort to consummate by his private influence what he had begun in public, for he went about to inns and frequented places, seeking to reconcile enemies, to bring about the restitution of ill-gotten goods, and to console weary hearts. But if by the rigour of his life and the favourite theme of his preaching, ‘Do penance, for the Kingdom of God is at hand,’ he was like that Precursor of our Lord who laboured to eclipse himself for the expected Messias, there is one very striking point of resemblance between Vincent and his Divine Master. During the time of the Ministry we read of three classes of men who hung upon His words as He passed from place to place. There were the chosen twelve Apostles, the disciples, and the mass of the people. So in this respect our Lord allowed Vincent to be like Himself, for three corresponding classes of men appeared at the preaching of this apostolical Saint. He had twelve companions, who answered to the College of Apostles, and were more intimately connected with his labours, as they helped him in the distribution of the Sacraments and his spiritual works of mercy, and belonged moreover to the Dominican Order. Besides these Fathers, other secular priests joined Saint Vincent’s company, and the second class consisted of them and of other persons of the world who wished for a life of greater perfection. The women were separated from the men, and married people could not become members of this kind of confraternity unless they separated by mutual consent. But the Disciplinists formed the most striking feature of the assembly of disciples. With that utter disregard of human respect, which was so often noticeable in the Middle Ages, these people followed Vincent to do public penance for their crimes. Every evening, according to his institution, each one of them bared his shoulders for a self-inflicted discipline, whilst he repeated the formula: ‘May this be unto the memory of the Passion of Jesus Christ and for the remission of my sins.’ As in the teaching of our Lord, the third class of auditors was the mass of the people. The sincerity of the Disciplinists was so great that they moved to contrition those who beheld them at their penance. A characteristic of Saint Vincent is recorded with regard to them. Once at Lyons, a soldier, who was a great sinner, confessed to one of Vincent’s priests and received for his penance to take part in the evening procession of the Disciplinists and in their discipline. The soldier strongly objecting, the confessor referred the case to Vincent, who said, ‘Tell your penitent merely to go to the procession, and not to take the discipline.’ But the effect of those strokes and tears on the soldier was such that he caused himself to be well disciplined of his own accord. On arriving in a new place the Saint was accustomed to recommend his company to universal hospitality. The injunction was hardly needed, for in those days charity towards those who came in the name of God was regarded as a duty. When however we are told that his company sometimes numbered over ten thousand, such courtesy did indeed amount to a great virtue. The pilgrims wore a dress of sober colour significative of their life; the men walked on foot preceded by a crucifix, whilst a banner of our Lady was carried before the women. In our days penance would not probably take the form of following a preacher even if he were a saint. The words of a Saint Vincent Ferrer might produce some remarkable vocations, a greater frequentation of the Sacraments, or perhaps a rigorous temperance movement, but it must not be forgotten that Vincent’s mission was directed against the causes in the Church which had produced the schism, or rather suffered God to allow it. Thus very possibly the only efficacious way of acting upon the masses was adopted by the Saint. After him in the toils of his ministry followed other living instances of the power of penance, and of the thirst after greater perfection. Considering that idleness and neglect of the sacraments are the roots of so much evil in the Church, Vincent stipulated that each member of his company should not only sell all his goods on entering it, but also continue to exercise his profession and to gain his livelihood by labour. They received the sacraments at least once a week, which was often for those times. Vincent clearly expressed what was expected of his followers when he said once, speaking from the pulpit: ‘We admit no one among us without first putting him through a strict examination to get to his true intention, and to judge what profit he can gain from this change of life. If he has a wife and children we do not want him! He must be resolved to do penance, and not be merely bent upon going from one country to another, nor upon eating and drinking without solicitude!’ Vincent, it will be observed, had the merit of saying exactly what he meant, or rather, of freely giving speech to a disagreeable truth, and he used the same liberty of language when it was necessary to bring the great ones of the earth to their senses, taking no account of persons, but thinking only of immortal souls. The maxim of Saint Augustine, ‘Love the man while you hate his errors,’ should be the basis of all dealings with vice and infidelity. Speaking once to the inhabitants of Chinchilla, he exhorted them to the best proof of penance, perseverance in goodness. ‘Good people,’ he said, ‘many of you have entered on the right road; you have done penance, you have accomplished some good works, you have taken the discipline, you have put on sack-cloth; you have fasted, you have heard sermons and Holy Mass, you have been to confession. The governors of the town have taken effective measures for the prevention of crime and public sins, but I beg of you, persevere. Do not let it be said of you, “One day they keep the commandments, another day they break them.” This is what we have to deplore in certain towns, which, I fear very much, will imitate Ninive. The Ninivites did penance on account of Jonas’ preaching, but persevered not.’ As if Vincent had been a type of the great Judge at the day of wrath, his very countenance when he spoke of the judgment struck terror into the hearts of sinners. Putting aside all human respect, it often happened that before a multitude of people they would kneel at the Saint’s feet and make public confession, but when they had done what was in their power, Vincent never failed to show them the sweetness of true sanctity.

He possessed too what, to say the very least, may be looked upon as a wonderful grace of converting the Jews, since the number estimated to have become Christians by his ministry is said to be twenty-five thousand. Once when the Saint was preaching at Ezija in Spain, a Jewess of great wealth and influence in the place was amongst the audience. She was so obstinate in maintaining her errors that she did not welcome the light of the true faith which came to her from Vincent’s words. As he spoke on, she silently tried to find an objection, yet as if the Saint read the secret struggle, as fast as she did this, he refuted her in his sermon, just as though he had been preaching for her sole benefit. At last she could bear it no longer, and moved to leave the church, but the congregation knowing her well, and hoping for good results if she would only listen, opposed her departure. Vincent seeing what passed, addressed these words from the pulpit, ‘I beg of you to let her go, but at the same time I ask those persons who are sitting under the porch to move their places.’ The invitation was obeyed, but the Jewess had no sooner reached it when it gave way, burying her under a heap of stones. The poor creature was of course dead. The Saint brought her back to life in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, and her first words were, ‘The Christian religion is the true one, and there is no salvation out of it.’ This wonderful conversion seems to belong more especially to the class of graces which are bestowed as much for the souls of others as for the individual in whose favour they work.

‘These signs,’ our Lord says, ‘shall follow them that believe: In My Name they shall cast out devils, they shall speak with new tongues, they shall take up serpents, and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover.’

These words of our Lord are fully borne out in the life of His servant. It is related of Vincent that the gift of tongues was given to him like unto “one of the Apostles,” and this assertion is fully proved by the fact that in all the countries which he visited, he spoke nothing but the dialect of Valencia, for the ancient language of Castille was adopted much later as the language of Spain. The power of making himself thus understood was far more extraordinary then than it would be even now when with fewer dialects there is a much greater zest for the cultivation of foreign languages. Moreover the Saint’s audience, however widely dispersed, heard him equally well, and often in the course of his sermon it happened that he was obliged to pause in order to give free course to the tears and sighs of the multitude. Each day the sick were brought to him that he might lay his hands upon them and cure them in the ‘Name of the Lord Jesus,’ if such were God’s good pleasure. Towards evening the Saint ordered one of his company to ring the Miracle Bell, and at its sound, they who had need of the physician either came or were brought to the church. Vincent made use of this formula in curing corporal diseases, ‘These are the signs which shall follow those who believe: they shall lay their hands upon the sick and the sick shall be cured. May Jesus, the Son of Mary, the Lord and Salvation of the world, Who brought thee to the Catholic faith, preserve thee in that faith, make thee blessed, and deliver thee from this infirmity.’ These words are perhaps a paraphrase of the Psalmist’s, Audi filia et vide – ‘Keep the faith and be thou cured.’ The Saint does not say, Be thou cured and keep the faith. Sometimes Vincent would answer the request to work more wonders by the confession that the power had gone out of him. ‘I have worked miracles enough today. Do you what they ask. God Who operated through me will make use of you too to show forth His glory.’ Vincent then could transmit to another the empire over sick human nature which he possessed so plentifully by God’s grace. The Prior of Lerida asked him once to visit a pious lady who had been a great benefactress to the Order, and was dangerously ill. ‘Father Prior,’ answered Vincent, ‘you wish me to go and cure her by a miracle. Why cannot you work this miracle? Go, I give you my power, not only for this sick lady but also for all those whom you may meet on your way.’ And the Father going forth cured five sufferers on the road before reaching the pious lady, whom he likewise restored to health as Vincent’s deputy. The Saint was once preaching in Catalonia in a place called Villa-Longa, and there followed him a multitude of six thousand people. Certainly the man who undertook to provide food for so many deserved a reward, and so thought Vincent. His name was Justus, and he had placed wine to be served in a portable cask. When the people had refreshed themselves, Justus found his portatoria still quite full of wine, and wondering how this could be, he told the Saint, who made answer, ‘Go and give thanks to God. They who practise works of charity deserve to see miracles of this kind. But I exhort you to remember the grace, and to keep the wine which has been thus multiplied in order to give it freely away to all who ask it of you.’ For the space of ten years during which time this miraculous wine lasted, it cured the infirmities of those who drank of it. A woman came to the Saint’s feet shedding many tears, holding in her arms a child who had been dead twelve hours. Vincent, considering that her faith was great, answered her tearful supplication by saying, ‘Go to thy house and persevere in giving praise to God. This child now sleeps but it shall awake after thou hast entered thy house.’ She believed and her child awoke from the sleep of death according to the Saint’s word. At another time as Vincent was preaching at Valencia, a dumb woman was brought to him by a believing crowd. ‘What wilt thou have, daughter?’ he asked her when he had raised his eyes to Heaven. The dumb woman recovered her speech momentarily to answer, ‘I wish for bread and my speech.’

‘Thou shalt have thy daily bread as long as thou livest,’ he said, ‘but thou canst not obtain thy speech, for in view of thy future good God has been pleased to deprive thee of it. For if thou hadst the power of speaking, thy sharpness of tongue would lose thee thy soul and thy body. But do not cease to praise God in thy mind, and be careful not to ask Him in future for that which He has denied thee with good cause.’ When the woman had answered, ‘Holy Father, I will do as thou sayest,’ she fell back into her former state of dumbness. What a moral this scene contains, for was it not as great a miracle in the spiritual order to make a dumb woman accept her dumbness with perfect resignation as it would be to give her speech in the natural order? We must not omit one other instance of the Saint’s healing power, because it is so characteristic of him. In Galicia, a man totally blind came to ask for his sight. ‘No,’ answered Vincent, ‘I cannot work this miracle. Whence dost thou come?’

‘From Oviedo,’ replied the suppliant.

‘Then return thither. Go to the Cathedral, kneel down before the crucifix, and tell our Lord that I send thee to Him in order that He may cure thee.’ The blind man obeyed and received his sight.

The power of working miracles does not always suppose the knowledge of hidden and future events, but it is certain that Saint Vincent possessed the gift of prophecy in a remarkable degree. He often learned by revelation what was passing in other places, or it might be in his own presence where his bodily eye could not reach. Once, for instance, as he was preaching to a great multitude at Toulouse, some of the people climbed the surrounding walls in order to be able to hear him. Amongst them was a young man, who, sitting behind the Saint, could not possibly be seen by him. The youth began to grow sleepy, a very dangerous occupation in so perilous a position. Suddenly Vincent stopped his sermon and exclaimed, ‘There is a youth behind me who is sleeping on the wall, and who, if somebody does not rouse him, will fall, to the eternal perdition of his soul. Therefore make haste to help him, and deliver him from so great an evil. Not amongst the minor graces of this great Saint must be reckoned his peculiar power of persuasion as exerted on Jews. One day he was about to begin his sermon as usual, but he made so long a pause that the people wondered what it could mean. ‘Do not be astonished,’ he said, ‘this is the reason of my silence. I am waiting for the grace of God, which will soon be sent from on high, for you will see a concourse of men at this sermon whose coming will fill us with gladness. Use therefore all possible courtesy with them, that they may find their places ready prepared.’ The Saint had hardly finished speaking, when a multitude of Jews appeared, and said they had come by a sudden inspiration of grace. We will cite two remarkable instances of his prophetical power. At Barcelona, a mother brought him her child, who was suffering from a severe rupture. The Saint, inspired by the Holy Spirit, exclaimed, ‘Rejoice, my daughter, and hope in the Lord, for this child shall speedily be cured of this infirmity, and when he grows up, he will become a priest, and later, a most renowned theologian.’ Signing the infant with the cross, according to his custom, the infirmity immediately disappeared, and in course of time his words received their full accomplishment. Still more striking was Vincent’s announcement to Francina Borgia, mother of the future Callistus III. One day, seven months before her son was born, he met Francina in the course of his peregrinations. ‘You bear a child,’ he said to her, ‘who will become Pope;’ and later on, when her son was born, ‘Take care of this little child, for he will become Pope and canonize me.’ Some years afterwards, Alfonso Borgia went as a student to hear Vincent preach, and being much impressed with his words, observed to him, ‘You preach wonderfully well; you will be a saint.’ ‘And you will canonize me,’ answered Vincent.

‘In My name they shall cast out devils.’ In the dominion over the powers of evil lies one of the highest tests of sanctity, for as our Lord said in designating one of the legion, ‘This kind is only cast out by prayer and fasting,’ by those, that is to say, who have conquered the concupiscence of the flesh. A daughter of a certain man at Valencia had been troubled many years by the evil spirit. Eight men hardly sufficed to carry her to the Saint, in whose presence she became so terrible to behold that she herself appeared to be rather a demon than a human being. Vincent reduced her to silence by these words: ‘I command thee on the part of Jesus Christ to restrain thyself, and to desist from this violence.’ Then questioning the evil spirit within the unfortunate girl as to the causes of the possession, he received this reply: ‘Seven years ago, I with some of my companions entered the house of her parents in the middle of the night for the purpose of persuading the husband to murder his wife. But it fell out far otherwise to what we had hoped, nor could we succeed in our endeavour. For the wife, alarmed by the noise we made, awoke, and armed herself with the sign of the Cross, invoking the names of Jesus and of His Mother, Whom we fear so much, as thou knowest. We, seeing that she had recourse to arms so powerful, shook the whole house in great indignation. This girl, who was then ten years old, fearing lest the house should fall, hid herself under the bed for, as she thought, greater security. But I would not go away without doing some mischief, and seeing that I could not hurt the husband or wife, who had crossed themselves, I took possession of this girl, who had not crossed herself, and I have remained up to this present time, vexing her more or less as it pleased myself.’ When the Saint had commanded the devil to go out, he retorted: ‘Many before thee have conjured me to leave this body, but they had not sufficient power to compel me. But thou art called Vincent; thou hast conquered me, and I am not able to resist thee. Behold I am ready to obey thy command.’ On another occasion the devil entered a man during Vincent’s sermon, causing him to behave like a madman, first dancing and singing,’ then alternately laughing and weeping. The Saint imposed silence till the end of his discourse, and when he questioned the devil as to his reason for coming there, received this significant reply: ‘This man had supported a bad woman in her vice, and because after listening to thy exhortations, she had given up this poor wretch in order to do penance, he hates thee and those who follow thee, and speaks much evil of thee. Today he came to the sermon, not indeed that his soul might profit, but in order to catch thee in thy speech. Therefore allow me to torment him until I shall have sufficiently revenged thee.’ And the Saint, whose power was thus acknowledged by Satan, replied: ‘I am a servant of Jesus Christ, Who prayed for His executioners, therefore in His name I tell thee to leave the body of this sinner.’ When upon this formal command the evil spirit had departed, the unfortunate man was unconscious, but Vincent wished the cure to be entire, and he charged one of his priests to wait for returning life by his side. Another time the devil owned to Vincent that he afflicted a certain man with possession because ‘he ate and drank without saying his grace, or even making the sign of the Cross.’ Ranzano estimates at seventy the whole number of possessed cured by the Saint.

These signs and wonders testify to the greatness of inward grace in the soul of Saint Vincent. Five powers of the wonder-worker were his in all their plenitude – the gift of tongues, the knowledge of hidden and secret things, the curing of sickness, raising of the dead, and dominion over the devil. He seemed to draw men after him in the odour of his ointments, for of many places, if not of all, which listened to his ardent words, it might be said as it was of Toulouse, ‘The inhabitants were reformed by the miracles, words, and more especially the example of the apostolic man.’ To preserve humility of heart in the midst of the honours which were so generally bestowed upon Saint Vincent as an outward confirmation of his mission, was in itself a miracle of grace. On the occasion of his last visit to Valencia, a Franciscan Father, who witnessed the almost royal welcome shown to the Apostle, asked him in a low tone, ‘Father, what does vanity make of it?’ ‘My friend,’ answered Vincent, ‘it comes and goes, but by God’s grace it does not remain.’ It happened once that the Saint was suffering from a loss of voice, which prevented him from preaching for some days. ‘God willed it,’ he said later, to prevent me from becoming vain-glorious on account of my numerous sermons, and to remind me that He could take away my voice for ever.’

Those only preserve humility of heart in the enjoyment of ineffable graces who never forget that they are channels ever flowing from the great ocean of God. ‘Non nobis, Domine, non nobis,’ repeated Vincent in the strength of this conviction; ‘sed Nomini Tuo da gloriam.’

The Angel of the Apocalypse

The life exemplified in the last chapter extended itself over twenty years. So far we have attached ourselves rather to the mode, now we will consider the place and time of Vincent’s ministry. His itinerary in its broad outlines is thus specified by the Bollandists in their Preface to the life by Ranzano. In 1398 he evangelized Avignon and its neighbourhood; 1399, Catalonia; 1400, Provence; 1401, Piedmont and Lombardy; 1402, Dauphine; 1403, Lombardy and Savoy; 1404, Lorraine; 1405, Genoa, Belgium, Flanders; 1406-1407, England, Ireland, and Scotland; 1408, various parts of France, Granada, and Alexan- dria in Italy; 1409, Spain; 1410, Florence, Pisa, Siena, and Lucca; 1411, Spain; 1414, Majorca; 1416, Constance; 1417-1419, Brittany.

It will be seen that the Saint’s working affected three countries in particular, viz., France, Spain, and Italy. Of these three, two acknowledged the Avignonese Pope, whilst the third rendered allegiance to the lawful Successor of Saint Peter. If any think that this was rather in virtue of its birthright than from a meritorious discrimination, yet Italy has ever been the country of sound traditions.

Vincent then departed from Avignon in 1399 and journeyed on foot to Catalonia, where he publicly unfurled the banner of penance. On his way he inaugurated what was to become a custom with him, by evangelizing or at least preaching in, the various places where he was obliged to stay. At Graus he established the Confraternity of Disciplinists, whose acts were a paraphrase of the Miserere. Nothing was heard at the evening meeting of the members but the stroke of the discipline, interrupted sometimes by plaintive cries such as: ‘Mercy, Oh my God!’ ‘Jesus, have mercy on me.’ As a remembrance of himself, Vincent left a crucifix to the town of Graus at his departure. In each place he lodged at a monastery of his own Order, or in default of that, at some religious house. His steps were directed by no other motive than the good of souls, which gives his wanderings an outward want of method. Already in 1400 he left his fruitful working in Spain for the newer battlefield of Provence. The particulars given by his biographers about his mission there are useful in conveying to us a notion of the amount of time ordinarily spent at a place by the apostle. It bears witness to the fact that his apparent want of method was in reality due to his more than human knowledge of spiritual needs. Thus he was at Aix from the 27th of October, 1400, to the 1st of December, and again on the 5th of January, 1401, for five or six days. Seven years later he visited the place once more, staying there one single day. The greatest success recorded of the Saint in these parts was the transformation of a certain valley popularly called Vallis-puta on account of its crimes. Four classes of sin in particular made it deserving of its name, for, says Ranzano, immorality, thieving, the practice of magical arts, and murder, were necessary qualifications in order to live there unmolested. This barbarous people had opposed every endeavour to draw them out of the abyss of their crimes, for they had put some missioners to death and frightened away others. The knowledge of their misery and wickedness was a bait too tempting for Vincent’s zeal and self-sacrifice to be set aside. Accompanied by his penitential company he went forth against them in the spirit of his motto, Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed Nomini Tuo da gloriam. In a few days he touched those depraved hearts, and by a true baptism of regeneration the Vallis-puta came to be christened Vallis-pura, a name which it bore up to the time of Louis XI. In 1401 Lombardy and Piedmont solicited the grace of the Saint’s presence. We find him passing a month at Genoa, and answering the request to obtain the discharge of a criminal, sentenced to death for his grievous crimes, by these words: ‘Far be it from me to disturb the course of justice, or to prevent the just punishment of criminals. All that I can do will be to beg that he may die by a less painful death.’

The Saint’s own account of his labours at this time is preserved in a letter to his General dated from Geneva, and which we would place in the year 1403, for although his itinerary marks Lombardy and Savoy at this date, still in a life of so active a ministry, only the broad outline of his movements can be given. Amongst other things he says: (and it must be remembered how much Saint Vincent’s sermons differed in point of length from those to which we are now accustomed), ‘I have often been obliged to preach two and three times a day, and besides that to sing solemn Mass. Travelling, eating my meal, sleeping, and other exercises leave me hardly a minute to myself I am obliged to prepare my sermons on the way. At the request of a number of people I went to Lombardy, where, during the space of a year and a month, I preached continually in all the cities, villages, and towns of both obediences. In the countries beyond the Alps I found many valleys where heretics, chiefly Vaudois or Cathari, abounded, and this was more especially the case in the diocese of Turin, which I traversed. I visited these valleys with method, preaching Catholic truth in each, and attacking errors. I remarked that the principal cause of heresy was the lack of preaching. For thirty years all that they had had in this way was from certain Vaudois heretics, who went to them twice a year from Apulea. From this, Most Reverend Father, I realize the sin of bishops and others, who, in virtue of their profession and ministry should preach to the people, and who prefer rather to stay in large towns and to amuse themselves in elegant rooms. But the souls whom Jesus Christ wished to save by His Death, these souls are perishing for want of priests. There is nobody to give bread to these children; the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.’

The years 1404 and 1405 were spent by Vincent in unwearied labours at Lausanne and Lyons, and in Lorraine and Flanders. His mode of life was always the same; and there is no record anywhere of that which, according to our modern notions, should be one of the ingredients of labour, rest and recreation. On the contrary, the mere act of getting from one place to another, especially in those times, implied an amount of fatigue which gradually wears out the powers of the brain. Vincent accomplished all his travelling on foot up to the year 1408, when his ardent and laborious search for souls had produced a sore in his leg which rendered much walking impossible.

Genoa remembered the Saint with gratitude as a true apostle of peace, and when Benedict XIII visited the place in 1405, he wished for the company of his former confessor. Vincent, as we know from the testimony of ancient documents, improved the occasion of this his second visit to evangelize the environs of Genoa, but perhaps he made it his primary object during his sojourn there to use strong arguments with Benedict as to the desirability of a resignation. He did not fear to tell his former penitent that, “at the tribunal of Jesus Christ, all the evils of the Church would be laid to the charge of him who believed himself to be its head, if he did not cause those evils to cease in renouncing the Papacy, whatever his right to it might be, because the extinction of the schism depended upon this renunciation. The flock is not for the pastor, but the pastor is for the flock. If he has the charity of Jesus Christ, he ought to be ready to give his life for his sheep. What sort of crime does he commit if he quietly sees them perish? and what will his punishment be if, in order to keep a phantom of greatness for himself, he himself is the cause or means of their perdition.”

We have now reached an epoch of Vincent’s ministry which would be full of interest for Englishmen, did we but possess more complete information as to what he effected in this country. In the summer of 1406 our King, Henry IV, sent a ship to Saint Sebastian, which was to bring the Apostle to England, but details are wholly wanting. He foretold to Henry IV certain events which were to come to pass after his death, possibly the Wars of the Roses and the misfortunes of the House of Lancaster; but on the whole, perhaps, it is not a consoling fact that Vincent passed more than a year in the British Isles. As we have seen that he stayed in a place for a long or short time, according to the needs of souls, we must conclude that he found much spiritual good to do. As Henry IV had received him with almost royal honours, so, later on in 1417, when the Saint was preaching in Normandy, at that time the domain of the English King, Henry V showed the same appreciation of sanctity. At the head of the nobility he welcomed Vincent at the gates of the town. He witnessed a miraculous cure, and heard the burning words of the Saint in a sermon on the text, Ego resuscitabo aim in novissimo die; but, to prove what we have said, Vincent could not be persuaded to stay more than three days at Caen. Compared to the good of souls, the entreaties of royalty had small weight. The years 1408 and 1409 were passed by Vincent in France and Spain, and it was towards the end of 1408 that he received what to him no doubt was a most consoling invitation to the last Mahometan stronghold in Spain. The King of Granada, Mahomet Abenbalva, attracted by his fame, was curious to hear the great preacher about whom every one was talking, and he sent to fetch him, giving him at the same time leave to propagate the Gospel in Granada. All seemed to promise well: the Saint preached three sermons, which proved only too successful. The Alfaquins, so the Moorish priests were called, took fright, and although a considerable number of Mussulmen had been converted, and Abenbalva had resolved to receive Baptism, they put the resolution of the King to a trial which it was far to weak too resist, being stronger in their false religion than he in his search for truth. They told Abenbalva that if he became a Christian, they would no longer acknowledge him, and he, placed between two royalties, chose that of time, freely renouncing the precious inheritance of the faith. Calling Vincent, he begged him to depart quietly, otherwise he would expose himself to violent measures. The Saint left the Moorish domain with a sorrowful heart. At Guadalascara he protested against the bad habit of swearing which prevailed there, and this gave rise to the popular proverb, ‘Let all be content with saying yes, like Friar Vincent.’ But even Friar Vincent knew what it was to preach in vain. At a certain place called Cuenca, where the inhabitants were leading most immoral lives, the bad women were so enraged against the Saint, that they obliged him to take to flight. It was at Gerona, in 1409, that Vincent worked a most stupendous miracle in favour of unprotected virtue. A man who wished to leave his wife, and could find nothing against her, because she was most virtuous, had recourse to calumny. A few months previously she had borne him a son, whose birth the father had pretended to attribute to adultery. The poor mother was almost heart-broken, but the holy preacher consoled her by telling her to come to his next sermon with the baby of eight months old, and to beg her husband to be present in the congregation. She came, and at the end of the discourse, Vincent, speaking to the child, said, ‘Leave your mother’s arms and seek out your father amongst the crowd who are here to listen to me.’ The baby obeyed, and going straight up to his father, took him by the hand, exclaiming, ‘This is my father. I am really his child.’ The man was so overcome by the wonder, that it worked a complete change in his life.

National as well as private enmities called for the Saint’s arbitration, and when by the death of the King of Aragon the crown was disputed, the succession of the nearest blood relation, Don Ferdinand, was chiefly due to him. The political weight attached to Vincent’s counsels is a striking feature in his career, for is it not one of the highest proofs of sanctity to be cherished by the great, and still to love the little ones of the earth? The Saint visited Majorca in September, 1414, staying till the 23rd of February following, during which time he reaped a plentiful harvest for the faith amongst the Moors. A very humorous anecdote is related of him whilst there. A tavern keeper came to beg the support of his preaching on the duty of paying debts, for the man had sold some wine on credit and could not get his money. ‘Very good,’ answered the Saint, ‘I shall say how guilty those people are who keep their neighbour’s goods. But I should like to know what sort of wine it is that you sell.’

The publican fetched a bottle, saying, ‘Taste and see how good it is.’

‘Pour some of it on my scapular.’

‘But I – shall spoil it,’ replied the man, perhaps in some trepidation.

‘That is my affair. Do as I tell you.’

To the publican’s great astonishment the bottle produced wine and water: the wine fell on to the ground, whilst the water remained on the scapular. Then Vincent remonstrated strongly with the man for his unjust adulteration, and the publican, touched with contrition, made good his cheating, and entered the Saint’s company. Had Saint Vincent lived in these days would he not have required to perform this miracle more than once?

We have now briefly considered his action in the order of time up to the Council of Constance in 1414, which will belong to the next chapter.

Two places in particular seem to have shone like bright stars of virtue under the Saint’s influence – Valencia and Toulouse. Sanctity does not banish national feelings or love towards a native place, it idealizes them, and makes nationality into a true and particular devotion towards the souls of fellow-countrymen. How often in the lives of the Saints is not this purified love traceable in their actions, or even prominent in the hour of death. Vincent fully acquitted himself of his natural debt to Valencia. An ancient document says that ‘it has become an earthly paradise. People might almost think that Almighty God wishes to re-establish here the state of original justice and innocence which our first parents lost for our greater misfortune. Every man keeps a pure heart in his mortal flesh, a pure soul, an unsullied conscience, he goes before his Creator in a state of perfect innocence, desiring nothing but Heaven.’ The mission at Toulouse in 1416 lasted only one month, but produced fruits which did not die for many long years. The town literally poured itself out to listen to the Saint. Trade stopped for the time, and one thought occupied men’s minds almost exclusively, that of their eternal salvation. When, on Palm Sunday, Vincent took for his text, Surgite, mortui, et venite ad judicium, he inspired that fear of God which is the beginning of wisdom. In this instance the people in the church are said to have fallen on their knees, and waited for his reassuring comfort before they would rise. In the following year, at the Carnival, the inhabitants of Toulouse exchanged the noisy mirth which generally signalizes this season abroad for processions of penitents, who bore a crucifix and at the same time did public penance, as Saint Vincent had taught them, for their former dissoluteness.

If in humility of heart Saint Vincent had predicted his own canonization, so one day in the same spirit he proclaimed himself to the people of Salamanca as the Angel of the Apocalypse. Both announcements rested upon the petition expressed in the words, Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed Nomini Tuo da gloriam. ‘What, O Lord, if I should be a saint or even an angel to exalt Thy Name?’

He was speaking of the angel seen in the Apocalypse, who said to all the nations of the earth, ‘Fear God, and honour Him, because the hour of the Judgment is at hand.’ ‘I am that angel,’ added the Saint. At these words a murmur was raised in the congregation, as if Vincent had spoken with presumption. He observed it, and wishing to confirm his assertion by a sign, as the apostle of One Who can cause weak things to confound the strong, he said, ‘Have patience, and be not scandalized at my words. You shall soon clearly see whether or not I am the Angel of the Apocalypse. Go to Saint Paul’s Gate. There you will find a dead woman. Bring her here. I will raise her to life to prove the truth of what I have been saying.’ The woman was found just in time, as they were carrying her out to burial, and brought to him. In the midst of a dead silence, the Saint addressed her, ‘Woman, in the name of God I command thee to arise.’ And she who had been dead immediately rose to her feet. ‘Now that thou canst speak, say whether or not I am the Angel of the Apocalypse who was to preach the Judgment to all men.’ ‘Yes, Father,’ cried out this witness from beyond the tomb, ‘yes, you are that angel.’

‘And now,’ pursued the Saint, ‘wilt thou die or live,’ and upon the woman’s reply that she would willingly live, Vincent answered, ‘Live then.’ Her course was prolonged for many years, during which time she bore witness to her resurrection from the dead.’

The reason of this marvellous power we have in the holy Gospel. ‘If any man minister to Me,’ our Lord says, ‘him will My Father honour.’

The Harvest

We have seen that Saint Vincent belonged to the obedience of Benedict XIII by the very fact of his being a Spaniard, but that he never ceased to labour for the unity of the Church, and that he witnessed with intense sorrow the conduct of the man to whom nevertheless he owed so much. Proceeding upon the view that Vincent’s mission to preach penance was given to him by God in order to bring about a true and Catholic reformation for the destruction of the schism, we shall see now in the closing stage of his life whether his labours were in vain. The vision of our Lord at Avignon pointed to this moral renovation, for it was as though He had said to Saint Vincent: ‘If men wish to see the end of the schism, let them do penance.’ How grievously the want of unity impeded the full action of the Church is gathered from the testimony of the University of Paris, which was surely no partial authority concerning the Holy See. A deputation of its Doctors waited upon Charles VI in 1393 to prove to him that if ‘the fair beauty of the Church were dishonoured, if the world set upon a dangerous incline was dragged down to evil and had thus put aside all respect for God and man, it was due to the schism.’ In 1409 the Conventicle of Pisa augmented existing evils by the election of a third Pope, so that Benedict XIII, the offspring of the first schism, was reigning at Perpignan, Gregory XII the successor of the lawful Pope, Urban VI, at Gaeta, whilst Alexander V, elected by the Cardinals of both obediences at Pisa, took up his abode at Bologna. Vincent’s mission of penance had at that time still five years to work before the desired effect could be obtained. Ninive had indeed begun to turn from its sins, but Ninive was not yet converted.

The Saint was the oracle and the soul of the Conferences which were held at Narbonne and Perpignan in 1415, and attended by the Emperor Sigismund, the King and Queen of Aragon, and various other ambassadors and legates from the Council of Constance which had opened in 1414. The sermons which he preached to these great ones of the earth still turned upon his favourite theme: ‘Do penance, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.’ The resignation of John XXIII and of Gregory XII brought out the obstinacy of Benedict XIII in its true colours. If any man had ever believed in his sincerity or in his devotion to the interests of the Church, such credulity was no longer possible. The Conferences of Narbonne decided that it must be one of two things: the abdication of Benedict XIII, or the refusal of the Kingdoms of Spain to recognize Peter de Luna’s claims. Whilst the determined old man couched his obduracy in the humblest language, telling the Emperor Sigismund that ‘for the service of God he would give up everything,’ Vincent used his final arguments to conquer so selfish an opposition. The voice which had cast out devils and called the dead back to life was, however, impotent to remove the moral impediment of obstinacy. But the Fathers at Constance would brook no further delay. Peter de Luna was formally deposed, and Vincent himself published the decree in his country of Aragon in January, 1416, thus by one of his last public acts removing the support of his name and sanctity from the Antipope’s cause, and preparing the way for the acceptance of Cardinal Otho Colonna, who was elected by the Council of Constance in November, 1417, and took the name of Martin V. By this decision the nineteen years of Vincent’s arduous ministry were happily crowned by the prospect of peace for the Church. Just as dangerous illness is not cured at once, but is so often followed by tedious convalescence, so the Schism of the West was not instantaneously killed by the decision of Constance. A mere phantom of an Antipope existed up to 1429 at Peñiscola, near Valencia. Peter de Luna and Munoz, his successor, were used as a tool by the King of Aragon, who, wishing to intimidate Martin V., and to obtain the investiture of Naples, played a very dangerous game with the expiring schism. But Vincent’s labours bore their fruit in the true instincts of the people of Aragon, whose sympathies never belonged to the intruder at Peñiscola. At length, in 1429, Munoz willingly laid down his arms, renouncing the Pontifical insignia. The schism was starved out, and the peace of the Church happily consummated.

But now toil and austerity had worn out Vincent’s, physical powers, and as he turned his steps to the ‘extreme west,’ where the vision had foretold him that his last resting-place should be, his body was so broken that his untiring zeal for the conversion of souls presented an almost miraculous character. In 1417 Brittany received the Apostle of the Judgment and the last fruits of his ministry, as if to prove that if the schism had been brought about by Frenchmen, Frenchmen for that very reason needed the last accents of his unwearied exhortations to penance. If, says his biographer, he made places where he stayed but a few days like ‘temples of religion,’ eradicating every species of vice and setting up virtue, what must he have done for Brittany where he spent two years? His weakness was so great that he could hardly walk without support, and speaking had become a difficulty, yet directly he ascended the pulpit, his ardour was precisely the same as in the zenith of his life and strength. He took pleasure, too, in calling to him little children, as if in his last days he wished more particularly to resemble those whom our Lord commended in the words, ‘Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.’ The Saint taught them to say the ‘Our Father,’ the ‘Hail Mary,’ and ‘Apostles Creed,’ and to make the holy sign of the Cross. His blessing obtained the grace of fruitfulness for the Duchess of Brittany, whose marriage had previously been sterile, and it was at Vannes that he cured a paralytic who had been suffering for eighteen years, with the words: ‘Silver and gold I have not, but I pray the Lord Jesus Christ in His immense charity to grant thee the health which thou askest.’

After two years had passed, the companions of the Saint pressed him, as he was already old and worn out, to return to his own country that he might die in his native land. When he thought of the prediction at Avignon, ‘Thou shalt finally die at the ends of the earth,’ Vincent constantly opposed them. But if the prediction applied to Brittany, his Fathers remonstrated, it seemed no less suited to Spain. At length the Saint was prevailed upon to depart, and exhorting the inhabitants of Vannes to continue in the fear of God, he set out on his ass with his companions in the middle of the night. But at dawn when they ought to have been many miles away from Vannes, they found themselves before its gates. Vincent saw in this a confirmation of his presentiment, and returning, said: ‘My brethren, let us go back into the city, for we cannot alter the fact that it is God’s will I should give up my spirit into His hands in this city.’

‘Blessed is he who comes to us in the name of the Lord,’ was the greeting of the women and children, who came forth to kiss his hands, whilst Vincent told them, ‘his children,’ as he called them, that he was come back to them not to preach but to die. The next day he was taken ill, and having predicted the time of his death, he sent for his confessor, and received the last sacraments with great devotion.

When it became known in Vannes that the Saint was lying on his death-bed, the Bishop, magistrates, and nobility set out simultaneously to bid him farewell. Vincent’s words have been preserved. He reminded them in what a state of vice he had found their country on coming to it, and that there was nothing he could have done for the salvation of their souls which he had not done. ‘It remains to you,’ he said, ‘to persevere in the same path of virtue, and to be mindful of what I have told you. For seeing that it is God’s will my life should end in this city, I will be your patron before His tribunal, and will constantly pray for you if you are faithful to my recommendations. Farewell, in ten days God will call me hence.’

Considering the contention which might arise later respecting the Saint’s body, they who were in authority in Vannes resolved to ask him his own wish. He answered: ‘I am a religious, a poor man, and a servant of Christ, therefore I have my soul’s salvation at heart, not the care of my body. I ask you to allow the Prior of the nearest monastery of Friar Preachers to undertake my burial.’

When nine days had passed, knowing by revelation that his end was very near, he begged, like our own Bede, to have the Passion of our Lord according to the four Evangelists read to him. Then it seemed as if he had a foretaste of the eternal joy to which he was hastening, for his countenance became radiant. Murmuring the words: In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum, he entered into the bosom of God. It was the 5th of April, 1419. The Saint was therefore sixty-two years of age. At the time of his death a multitude of white butterflies were seen flying into the room. They hovered over the holy corpse, then vanished, filling the air with a most sweet fragrance.

The See of Saint Peter is the centre of all Catholic hearts. The great idea embodied by the Saint, who in evangelical poverty, chastity, and obedience, departed to eternal rest on that April day was this: If vice had made the creation of an Antipope possible, virtue could and did dethrone him. Even within the Infallible Church of Christ there is but one remedy for human corruption: the generous purification of the human heart and will.