No sooner had he been installed in his new dignities, than the Saint sought, by every means at his command, to bring about a union of the faithful under one Supreme Head. He daily implored his illustrious penitent to relinquish his claims to the Papacy, so as to do away with the monstrous phenomenon of two heads over one body. At his instance, a large council of prelates, theologians, and canonists was gathered together to discuss the relative claims of the contending parties. With fair speeches Benedict showed himself well disposed, but artfully eluded all negotiation that was likely to terminate the difficulty; in consequence of which a number of his own cardinals abandoned his cause. Seeing that his efforts were useless to induce the Pope to lay aside the tiara, St. Vincent was seized with deep sorrow. He could no longer witness the evils that were crushing the Church without being moved to tears. His residence at the pontifical court was now a tax upon him, and he obtained permission to retire to a convent of his Order at Avignon.
Such was his sorrow that he fell grievously ill; no remedies could diminish the intensity of the fever that consumed him, and for twelve days he lay at death’s door. On the eve of the Feast of St. Francis, October 3rd, 1396, a crisis ensued which greatly alarmed those who surrounded his bed of suffering, for they believed that his last hour had come. But God was at that moment pleased to verify in His servant what He had spoken in the book of Job, chap. xi. 17: “When thou shalt think thyself consumed, thou shalt rise as the day-star.”
Suddenly the Saint’s cell was flooded with a celestial light. Our Lord, accompanied by a multitude of angels and the glorious patriarchs, Dominic and Francis, presented Himself to the sufferer, saying: “Arise, and be consoled; the schism shall soon be at an end, when men have ceased from their iniquities. Arise, then, and go to preach against vice; for this have I specially chosen thee. Exhort sinners to repentance, for My judgment is at hand.”
Then our Lord promised him three favours: That he should be confirmed in grace; that he should be victorious over all the persecutions raised against him; and that in all his conflicts the Divine assistance should never fail him, and that after having preached the judgment throughout the greater part of Europe, with immense fruit to souls, he should terminate his life holily in a distant country. Finally, He instructed him in all that related to the exercise of his apostolic ministry.
His biographers have not supplied us with details, but it is easy to conceive them from the admirable order invariably followed by the new Apostle in his miraculous calling. Ceasing to speak to the Saint, our Lord, in token of His love, touched him on the face with His right hand, and said to him a second time, “My Vincent, arise;” then He disappeared.
The Divine touch produced its effect. Vincent suddenly felt himself cured, and his heart was filled with ineffable consolation. This marvelous apparition, recorded by the oldest biographers of the Saint, is all the more worthy of belief inasmuch as St. Vincent himself confirmed it in a letter which he wrote to Benedict XIII. fifteen years later. Writing to him in the third person, he says:
“A religious was grievously ill, and he lovingly besought God to cure him and to enable him to preach His Divine Word frequently and ardently as he had been wont to do. While he was in prayer and fell asleep, St. Dominic and St. Francis appeared to him, praying at the feet of Jesus Christ and earnestly supplicating our Lord. After they had finished their prayer, Jesus Christ appeared with them to the religious, who lay stretched upon his bed of pain. He touched him on the cheek with His sacred hand as if caressing him, and at the same time made him clearly understand, in words which the soul alone heard, that he should traverse the world, preaching as an Apostle, as St. Dominic and St. Francis had done, and that his preaching before the coming of Antichrist would be to mankind a merciful occasion of repentance and conversion. At the touch of our Lord’s hand this religious was completely cured of his malady.
He at once joyfully undertook the apostolic legation with which he had been divinely entrusted. Divine Providence was pleased to confirm his mission not only by many miracles, as He had done that of Moses, but also by the authority of Holy Scripture, as in the case of St. John the Baptist, because he had need of these powerful helps, on account of the difficulty of his enterprise and the weakness of his own testimony.”
The cell in which St. Vincent received so remarkable a favor and such a miraculous mission was converted into a chapel, which became the object of great devotion. It was destroyed in the revolution, together with the convent which enclosed it. On the morning following his miraculous cure, Vincent presented himself before the Pope to obtain permission to leave the city for the purpose of preaching the Gospel throughout the kingdoms of Europe. But Benedict, unwilling to part with one whose popularity would doubtless benefit his own cause, still detained him at his court. The Saint humbly obeyed, well knowing that particular revelations ought always to be submitted to the control of God’s Church, and deferred to a more favorable opportunity the execution of his project.
For two years longer he discharged the duties of Master of the Sacred Palace, and served with an heroic patience and exemplary fidelity him whom he looked upon as the veritable Vicar of Jesus Christ. To secure for the future his attachment to the cause of the Popes of Avignon, the Bishopric of Lerida and a Cardinal’s hat were offered him. These honors Vincent courteously, but firmly, declined, saying, “It behoves me to execute the order which I have received from God, for God has commanded me to preach the judgment to all nations.” One day, feeling sad at the resistance which Benedict still offered to his ardent desires, he prayed in tears before his crucifix and offered to God the sorrow of his soul. Our Lord consoled him with these words: “Vade adhuc expectabo te.” He clearly understood that he should no longer resist His solicitations. The Pontiff then allowed him to set out on his apostolic mission throughout Europe, and for that purpose granted him the fullest powers, which were afterwards confirmed by the Council of Constance, and by Pope Martin V.
St. Vincent commenced his new apostolate at Avignon, on the 25th November, 1398. The Church of God had at that time a pressing need of the voice of an apostle, the voice of a saint, to rescue it from the deplorable state in which it existed. There arose, in the year 1378, a schism which divided the allegiance of the faithful between two contending Pontiffs, and, as if to complete the evil, a third rival sprung up in 1409, who asserted an equal claim to the supreme dignity of the Papacy. These unhappy divisions cooled by degrees the fervor of Christian people, and encouraged others in the commission of every species of crime with the hope of impunity. The wickedness of men had reached its summit.
“No, I do not believe,” exclaimed St. Vincent in one of his discourses, “that there ever existed in the world so much pomp and vanity, so much impurity, as at the present day; to find in the world’s history an epoch so criminal, we must go back to the days of Noe and the universal deluge. The inns in the cities and villages are filled with persons of abandoned character; they are so numerous that the entire world is infected by them . . . Avarice and usury increase under the disguised name of contracts. Simony reigns among the clergy, envy among the religious. Gluttony prevails to such an extent in every rank of social life that the fasts of Lent, the vigils and Ember-days, are no longer observed . . . In a word, vice is held in such great honor that those who prefer the service of God to that of the world are held up to scorn as useless and unworthy members of society.”
But the worst feature of all in this unhappy state of affairs was that the pastors of souls, drawn from the path of duty by the schism and its consequences, no longer labored with the necessary vigilance to reform their people. The Mahometans and Jews, especially in Spain, instigated by the spirit of evil, made frightful havoc among souls by infecting the country parishes as well as the cities with their superstitions, errors, and wicked example. The devil let loose upon the earth numerous heretics: Wycliffe and his noxious disciples; John Hus and Jerome of Prague, who were so justly condemned by the Council of Constance.
Idolatry even ventured to raise its head once more on the shores of Europe, and threaten to bear off in triumph its deluded followers. There were but few preachers of the Gospel, while men versed in spiritual science were rarely to be met with. St. Vincent regarded this dearth of apostolic laborers as one of the greatest calamities of the age, and bitterly laments it in his “Treatise on the Spiritual Life.” Naturally drawn into a state of indifference and evil, what was there to prevent men from becoming more and more corrupt, when they more frequently heard the voice which led them into depravity than the voice which ought to have incited them to good? The heretics profited by these evil dispositions to broadcast their errors among the faithful; the mountainous districts, into which preachers seldom went, became the principal theatres of their fatal exploits.
Sin had acquired so strong a hold upon the world, the fervor of the good had become so relaxed, the crimes of the wicked had risen to such an excess, that God’s patient forbearance with His creatures was well-nigh worn out. The only remedy that could stem the torrent of iniquity was an universal repentance, capable of appeasing the Just and Sovereign Judge. Hence as the Lord sent of old the prophet Jonas to Nineve to convert its inhabitants by threatening them with God’s anger, so at this epoch He sent His faithful servant Vincent into the whole world that he might preach the near approach of the terrible judgment; that, filling souls with a wholesome fear, they might open their eyes to see their danger, abandon their evil habits, embrace the yoke of penance, and thus avert the just chastisements of Heaven which their crimes merited.
It is in this light that Pope Pius II. exhibits St. Vincent Ferrer to our view in the Bull of his canonization. We read therein these remarkable words:
“In the countries of the west the number of Jews and infidels increased, who by their wealth and their culture of letters exercised a fatal influence. The last day, the terrible day of judgment, was almost forgotten, but Divine Providence was pleased to restore and beautify His Church by illustrious men. At a favorable moment He sent into the world, for the salvation of the faithful, Vincent of Valencia, of the Order of Friar Preachers, a skillful professor of sacred theology. He professed all knowledge of the eternal Gospel. Like a vigorous athlete, he rushed to combat the errors of the Jews, the Saracens, and other infidels; he was the Angel of the Apocalypse, flying through the heavens to announce the day of the last judgment, to evangelize the inhabitants of the earth, to sow the seeds of salvation among all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, and to point out the way of eternal life.” (Bull S. Ord. Praed., T. V.
“These words,” observes Father Teoli, “perfectly express what St. Vincent Ferrer was during the last twenty years of his life–an Apostle, and a great Apostle.” The celebrated Lewis of Grenada boldly affirms of him: “After the first Apostles, Vincent is, of all apostolical men, he who has gathered most fruit in God’s vineyard.” His contemporaries assert that he frequently had eighty thousand auditors. He was already forty-nine years old when our Lord named him His legate to reform the world; and for the space of twenty years he acquitted himself of that sacred charge, traversing the whole of Europe, and converting to the faith in each city Jews, infidels, heretics, and sinners, by thousands.
The Universal Conversions Produced by St. Vincent Ferrer
God alone knows the number of souls whom our Saint led from sin to penance by a daily course of preaching extending over a period of twenty years. But if we may judge by the exterior signs which everywhere accompanied his presence, we can easily conceive that there would be very few persons, who were privileged to see and to hear him, and could still resist the efficacy of his influence on their souls.
And how was it possible to remain insensible to his touch? He preached with such energy, such vivacity and vigor, that he no longer appeared an old man broken down by age and infirmity, but a youthful herald of the Gospel fired with an impetuous ardor. He could be heard at a great distance round; and he was understood by people of every nation, although he spoke only the Valencian dialect. His sudden display of energy during his preaching was as a miracle which enraptured his hearers. On leaving the pulpit, he became feeble, weary, and infirm; his countenance was pale, his walk slow, and he had need of the assistance of some one to support his steps. No one would have supposed him to be the same individual, nor could it be doubted that the Holy Spirit worked in him during his discourse to reanimate his enfeebled body, and to produce in him this marvelous energy.
Another cause of success was the gift of miracles, which he possessed in a rare degree. They were of daily occurrence. Wherever he went he restored health to a great number of sufferers whose bodily cure was despaired of. We may well imagine then the impression which this wonderful spectacle so often repeated would everywhere produce. He moved rapidly from place to place, so great was his eagerness to evangelize the whole of Europe; but the prodigies which he daily accomplished left indelible traces in the hearts of all.
The procession of Disciplinants was, moreover, capable of itself of softening the most hardened souls. It took place every evening, at sunset, notwithstanding the state of the weather, in rain, snow, wind, and tempest. It consisted of persons of every condition, the nobility and the common people, great and small, even children from four to five years old, who were not afraid to scourge themselves, in order to expiate the sins of the people. They walked two and two with naked feet, their faces veiled, clad in sackcloth, and their shoulders bared in such a manner as not to offend against modesty. Each penitent scourged himself with a discipline, meditating on the Passion of our Lord. Their blood flowed, and, carried away by the impetuosity of their fervor, some even went so far as to cut their flesh in pieces by the violence of the blows. And yet, strange as it may appear, none of these austere penitents ever suffered in their health at the close of this exercise. The Saint himself alluded to it, in order to show how agreeable to God was this sensible display of penance; in the space of twelve years, not a single death occurred among those who formed the special company of Disciplinants.
While this procession traversed the streets of the city, women of disreputable character assembled in the church, and one of St. Vincent’s companions preached to them on sin, repentance, and hell. Few of these unhappy women resisted the pressing exhortations that were addressed to them. They were seen on the following day to break asunder the ties which bound them to vice, and to take part in the procession of public penance.
What was the result of all this? This: that from the moment of St. Vincent’s entry into a city, it immediately wore the appearance of Nineve when Jonas preached penance to it. People wept when they heard the Saint’s Mass, but their tears were most abundant when he exhorted them to repentance. It was then that sighs, groanings, and lamentations filled the air. It might have been thought that each one mourned the death of a first-born, or of a father or a mother. The squares and the plains which were covered by his auditory gave an idea of the universal judgment; it was, in fact, like the future terror and lamentation of all the tribes of the earth gathered together in the valley of Josaphat. But, as Nicholas de Clemangis, an eye-witness, observes, the most lukewarm souls, and hearts of stone, were softened, and gave vent to their sorrow in tears and accents of the bitterest anguish.
We may moreover picture to ourselves the extraordinary confluence of people. The Saint’s auditory was not composed solely of the inhabitants of the city where he preached. There were frequently gathered around his pulpit more than fifty thousand people, even when he preached in small villages. They gladly went several leagues to hear him. During his sermon all the artisans abandoned their labour, and the merchants their warehouses. In cities where there were schools the masters suspended their lectures. Neither the inclement season, wind, nor rain prevented the multitudes from collecting in the public squares where the Saint was to preach. The sick who had sufficient strength to walk left the hospitals, others were carried; all hoped that their bodies as well as their souls would be cured at the same time, and this hope was frequently realized.
We may form some idea from the following fact, of the eagerness with which he inspired the people for penance: wherever St. Vincent went, the squares and other public places were invaded by peddlers whose commerce consisted solely in disciplines, hair-cloth, iron chains, sackcloth, and other instruments of mortification.
We shall relate in the “Spiritual Instructions” which follow, many interesting examples of great sinners converted. As to the general fruits of his apostolate, we will quote from an authentic document, a letter written by the Council of Orihuela to the Bishop of Carthagena, in Spain:
“The arrival of Vincent Ferrer has produced immense good in this country; it has been a grand occasion of salvation to all the faithful. This city in particular, at the close of his preaching, and by God’s grace, is delivered from every vice and public sin. There is no one, great or small, who dares to swear by the Holy Name of God, the Blessed Virgin and the Saints, or to utter any other oath. Cards and dice are abolished . . . . No one ventures to conjure, cast lots, explain signs, or consult fortune-tellers and sorcerers . . . . All noisy entertainments have been given up . . . . The people of this city have never confessed so frequently as at the present moment; the priests are insufficient to hear the confessions and give communion. On Sundays and Feasts of Obligation all . . . . go to Mass with devotion such as no one could believe, much less expect to witness. Before the arrival of Master Vincent, the churches were large; now they are small . . . . There no longer exist in this city either offenses, or rancor, or enmity against any one; but each one, spontaneously, and for God’s honor, pardons the other. We have counted more than one hundred and twenty-three reconciliations; sixty-six deaths and a host of broken limbs have been pardoned. Now every one lives in peace and concord. In the great city of Toulouse, all the women of abandoned character have renounced their disorders.”
In St. Vincent’s time heresy took refuge in the high valleys of the Pyrenees and the Alps. These were the strongholds of the Albigenses, Vaudois, Cathari, and the Paterini, who, compelled by the united power of the Church and of the temporal princes to quit the cities and plains, went forth to find in those inaccessible retreats the fatal liberty of error. St. Vincent’s zeal led him to climb the mountains that he might carry the torch of faith among the unhappy people who inhabited them. In the process of his canonization it is related that, at the close of only one discourse at Perpignan, an incalculable number of heretics embraced the true faith. This one fact alone gives us the measure of his success in the Pyrenees. As to the Alps, we are told that he traversed them in an almost incredibly short space of time. On the French declivity he undertook the conversion of three valleys in the diocese of Embrun, where heresy and the corruption of morals had made the greatest ravages. Accompanied by his faithful band of Disciplinants and pious pilgrims he penetrated into these valleys, till then rebellious to the Word of God. The Saint’s renown and the fame of his miracles brought crowds of heretics to his sermons. A few days only sufficed to work a change in their hearts and to soften their obduracy.
There were, however, many who viewed with bitter jealousy this general enthusiasm, and sought to slay him. Three times they attempted to execute their wicked design, but three times also did the visible protection of God shield him from their malice. Despairing then of ridding themselves of the presence of the preacher, these deluded people came in their turn to hear his sermons. God’s grace drew them thither; they were more deeply moved than the rest, and in a short time gave unequivocal signs of a sincere conversion. Wicked customs and gross superstitions soon disappeared from those valleys; they embraced the true faith, and submitted with docility to the Church’s discipline. The most criminal of them repaired so effectually the scandals it had given, that it ceased to be called Valpourrie,1 and was henceforth known only by the name of Valpure.
Most of the valleys on the Italian descent of the Alps were also inhabited by heretics, especially in the diocese of Turin. St. Vincent visited them in order, preaching in each of them the Catholic truth, and attacking error with vigorous and irresistible energy. By the mercy of God, they each received the Divine Word with much ardor, piety, and respect. The Saint’s learning, his fervor, and miracles opened the eyes of all. He observed that the chief cause of error and heresy was the total absence of preaching.
He gathered from the inhabitants of the country that for thirty years no one had preached to them except Vaudois who came regularly among them twice a year. In the vale of Loferio, he reclaimed the Bishop of that poor erring flock; in that of Angrogne he destroyed the schools in which the ministers of error were educated; at Val-du-Pont he led the Cathari to renounce their abominations; at Val-de-Lanz he converted the descendants of the murderers of St. Peter Martyr. He discovered in the diocese of Geneva a gross and wide-spread error. It was customary to celebrate every year on the day following Corpus Christi, a feast in honor of the Orient, and confraternities were established under the name of St. Orient (There was a striking resemblance between the St. Orient of the Albigenses and the Grand-Orient of modern Freemasonry.). No preacher dared to declaim against this monstrous error; the religious and the secular clergy were threatened either with death or the withdrawal of offerings and alms. But St. Vincent was above all such servile fear, he spoke freely against this abuse, and effectually put a stop to it. He found matters in a still more lamentable state in the diocese of Lausanne, where the peasantry were wont to offer an idolatrous worship to the sun. He instructed them in the worship of God and put to flight all such superstitious practices.
St. Vincent’s mission was not less fruitful among the Jews than among heretics. He converted an incalculable number of them. God seemed to have accorded him a special grace for the conversion of a people who are proverbially hostile to the Christian name. There was at that period a population of Jews both numerous and powerful in Spain. The process of his canonization shows that in the space of thirteen months he converted twenty thousand in Castile alone; that in the year 1415, within six months, more than fifteen thousand were led to embrace the true faith in Aragon and Catalonia, and that on another occasion in the same country over thirty thousand were baptized at the close of his preaching. The historians of the sect do not hesitate to confirm these facts by their own testimony. In a work entitled “Juehasin,” it is related that in the year 1412 a Friar named Brother Vincent having preached to the Jews, the latter renounced their law to the number of more than two hundred thousand.
The Saint had an ardent zeal and tender love for these unhappy wanderers. In the cities where he found them, he took care that a place should always be reserved for them, and after his exhortations he treated them with much consideration. These acts full of sweetness gained their hearts. The learning of the great preacher completed their conviction, and they presented themselves in a body to receive holy baptism. Thus at Perpignan seventy families embraced the Christian faith. In other places whole synagogues abjured their errors. Their place of meeting was changed into a church. In Castile, they were so unanimously converted that none remained, and the Bishop of Palencia saw himself deprived of a large revenue, produced by a special impost on them. Among the Jews whom St. Vincent brought to the Divine Messiah, many of them in their turn became the apostles of their co-religionists. Thus one of them, who was afterwards raised to the Episcopate, had the satisfaction of making forty thousand proselytes among his fellow-countrymen.
Apostolic Success of St. Vincent Ferrer
Among the Mahometans
The Mahometans, like the Jews, were spread throughout different parts of Spain. In proportion as the noble-hearted Spaniards recovered possession of their provinces which had been subjugated by Saracen invasion, they re-established Christianity in all its rights, and favored by every means in their power the conversion of the followers of Mahomet, who dwelt in the country. There were many, however, who resisted this influence. Like the Jews, they were possessed of wealth and industry; it was necessary, therefore, to deal gently with them. St. Vincent labored with all his might to reclaim them from their unclean errors; he spared neither suffering nor fatigue to lead them to the saving waters of baptism. And to this end, wherever he preached he compelled the Mahometans, by the king’s order, to be present at his discourses, reserving for them, as in the case of the Jews, the most convenient places.
But why constrain such people to hear him, since the law of Mahomet especially forbids his disciples to listen to Christian sermons? “This,” said the Saint, “is one of the wicked artifices of this Antichrist, by which he directly closes the door of salvation to his followers. The Divine Word is the first condition of the success of the Gospel. He who hears it is easily drawn as by a kind of necessity to embrace the holy faith, provided it be announced with becoming dignity.”
The Saracen King of Grenada, Mahomet Aben-Baha, moved by the renown of his miracles, was desirous to see St. Vincent, and to afford him liberty to preach in his kingdom. He therefore sent ambassadors to him, as to a prince, who informed him that he would have unrestricted license to announce the Gospel throughout the kingdom of Grenada. The Saint was then in the neighborhood of Genoa, in Italy. He forthwith set out on foot to Marseilles, where a vessel was placed at his service. A favorable wind soon brought him to the port of Andalusia. On the morning following his arrival at Grenada, St. Vincent commenced a course of sermons in presence of the king, his whole court, and innumerable people. The Mahometans, unaccustomed to hear discourses addressed to a great multitude, were filled with astonishment and admiration. Such was the effect of his preaching that, after three sermons, eighteen thousand Moors were converted to the Christian faith. St. Vincent promised himself an abundant harvest in this new field of labour; but the enemy of mankind sought to stifle its growth by sowing therein the seeds of discord.
Aben-Baha himself, with his whole court, had resolved to receive baptism; but the chiefs of the Mussulman superstition, determining at any cost to impede so great a good, menaced him with revolt, civil war, and the subversion of his throne. “If you embrace the Gospel,” said they, “your subjects who believe in the Koran will never consent to be ruled by a prince who has abjured the law of Mahomet to become a Christian.” Aben-Baha feared to lose a perishable crown of the earth. Dismayed by the threats of those fanatics, he called St. Vincent to him, and bade him depart from his kingdom, assuring him of his own personal esteem of him. “Return,” said he, “into the countries of the Christians, and do so speedily, lest you oblige me to have recourse to violent measures against you. I should do it with regret, but I cannot allow you to remain.” The Saint would gladly have exposed himself to persecution and death; the thought of martyrdom filled him with joy; but he was unwilling to excite the anger of the Mussulmans against the new converts, or to expose them to the danger of apostasy.
He, therefore, quitted the kingdom of Grenada, beseeching God to destroy in that country the reign of the crescent, and to establish in its stead that of the glorious Cross. A century later and the desires of the Saint were accomplished. Grenada was in its turn conquered, and the barbarous Mussulman was driven back to the shores of Africa. We may not unreasonably suppose that the band of converts formed by our Saint increased as years rolled by, and that when the missionaries of the Gospel arrived in that country they would find the hearts of its people better disposed to embrace the great truths of Christianity.
St. Vincent’s zeal did not slacken in consequence of these accidents. Some time later, when an opportunity occurred to him, he resolved to go into Africa to preach to the people of Mauritania and to the Arabs of the Desert; but circumstances independent of his own will interfered with the accomplishment of this grand project. He, however, indemnified himself by laboring with renewed ardor for the conversion of the Mussulmans who were established in Christian countries. Ranzano, one of the Saint’s biographers, relates that eighty thousand of those infidels were brought to the true faith. This is a high figure, and far exceeds the number given by Father Teoli, whose account appears to be more reliable, since in comparing the number of Jewish conversions with that of the Mahometans, the latter is found to be considerably less.
But to resume the thread of our narrative. St. Vincent was truly another St. Paul, sent by God to bring back to the faith of Christ a multitude of Jews and Mahometans, to convert innumerable sinners, and to harmonise the faithful of every nation and condition of life in the most perfect bonds of Christian fellowship. We are thus able to see at a glance the general effect of the miraculous apostolate which he received from Christ Himself at Avignon. The Saint was not afraid to affirm it with his own lips. In one of his sermons which he preached in Castile, in the year 1411, we read thus: “The end of the world cannot be far distant, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Has not our Lord Himself said that the bearing of the fig-tree foreshadows the coming summer? Behold, then, the fig-tree of the Christian people. Each day records its reconciliations, and we witness souls forgetting and forgiving the greatest injuries. The delicate, sensual, and vicious do penance. Obstinate sinners are converted, and approach frequently the Sacraments. Nor is the Jewish fig-tree any longer barren; for we see it daily producing its abundant and choicest fruits in every city in Spain.” He might have added heretics and Mussulmans likewise. Truly, then, St. Vincent exercised in the Church an apostolate such as never was witnessed since the establishment of the Gospel.
St. Vincent having evangelized Avignon and the neighboring towns, set out on foot for Spain, preaching in divers places where he was obliged to stay. It was at Graus, in Catalonia, that he instituted the procession of Disciplinants, and laid the foundation of that marvelous company of pious souls who accompanied him in his apostolic journeyings. Here also he left behind him, as a souvenir, a crucifix which the inhabitants begged of him, and which became the instrument of many miracles.
From Graus, the Saint went to Barcelona, a city which he frequently visited, and where he was always received with extraordinary respect. On one of these visits he beheld the guardian angel of the city, and on his relating the occurrence to the inhabitants, they constructed, near the gate where he had this vision, a chapel dedicated to this heavenly protector.
While at Cerveva, St. Dominic appeared to Vincent in his cell, to encourage him in the execution of our Lord’s commands. The Saint preached everywhere with extraordinary success, God confirming his words by striking prodigies. In the beginning of the year 1400, our illustrious preacher quitted Catalonia, and following the southern coast of France, arrived in Provence. Aix and Marseilles heard his voice. He announced in like manner the good news of salvation in many small towns and villages; and that no one might be deprived of it, he sent priests of his company into the places where he could not himself go. Having preached the Lent of 1402 at Marseilles, Vincent went to Romans for an interview with Father John de Puynoix, General of the Order, to lay before him the plans of his mission, and to solicit his paternal blessing. The Father-General sanctioned his proceedings, exhorted him to pursue his vocation till death, and lovingly blessed so worthy a subject.
It was then that Vincent journeyed into the valleys of the diocese of Embrun, and entirely transformed them. He passed thence from the side of the Alps into Piedmont and Lombardy, then into the state of Genoa. In 1403, he was in the Marquisate of Montferrat. Crossing again the Alps, he was at the close of that year at Chambray, where he founded a convent of Friars of his Order. In 1404, he preached the Lent at Lausanne. Towards the end of August he quitted Switzerland. On the 6th September he was at Lyons, where he preached for fourteen days with extraordinary results. After traversing the whole of Lyonnais, Vincent arrived in Lorraine, and passed from thence into Flanders.
While preaching in the latter country, Benedict XIII. enjoined him to accompany him to Genoa, where he was to hold a conference with the Italian cardinals, with reference to putting an end to the schism. Vincent obeyed his orders. But learning on the route that the journey to Genoa was deferred till the spring of 1405, he stayed in Auvergne. The city of Claremont heard his exhortations during Advent and Lent.
In the month of May, 1405, he was at Genoa with Benedict XIII. There he beheld with sorrow every effort that was made to extinguish the schism rendered abortive. Nothing remained to him then but to evangelize the population, and he traversed the coast of the state of Genoa. At Savone he received an embassy of the Mussulman King of Grenada, who invited him to preach the kingdom of God in his capital. We have already related how he yielded to this request, the extraordinary success of his preaching among the Mahometans, the jealousy of the chiefs of the false religion, and the obligation he was under of abandoning a harvest already so ripe. These events occurred in the year 1406.
On leaving Grenada, St. Vincent pursued his apostolic missions in Andalusia. The whole city of Baeza was converted by his preaching; Ezija and Seville profited no less thereby. Thence he passed into Castile. Here he received letters and ambassadors from Henry IV., King of England, who entreated him to come into Great Britain to evangelize its people. St. Vincent, whose charity would willingly have embraced the whole world, joyfully accepted the king’s proposal, and arriving at San Sebastian, a port in the Gulf of Gascony, he was conveyed to England in a vessel sent expressly to bring him. He arrived in the summer of the year 1406. The indefatigable apostle remained over a year in these islands, preaching throughout the kingdom, and producing the same results as in his other missions. Having thus evangelized England, Scotland, and Ireland, he returned into France towards the autumn of 1407.
He would doubtless travel by sea to Bordeaux, since historians speak of him as passing from England into Gascony. He went thence into Picardy and Poitou. In 1408, he preached during Lent in Auvergne; then he crossed the Pyrenees to preach once more throughout Spain. A record of that period notices that he journeyed from one country to another on horseback. He had then a wound in the leg which tortured him during the last eleven years of his life. Yet his sufferings in no way hindered him from pursuing his apostolate: the happiness of laboring for the salvation of souls made him forgetful of suffering. Having passed through the north of Spain–where in Cuenca and Molina he was pained at witnessing the barren effects of his preaching–he arrived at Perpignan, where Benedict XIII. had convoked a council.
The obstinacy of Peter de Luna paralyzed the good results of that assembly. Grieved at the unhappy dispositions of the Pontiff, Vincent resumed the course of his preaching till he reached Montpellier, and after a fruitful mission, returned once more to Perpignan. There he received letters from the King of Aragon, dated the 22nd January, 1409, who called him to Barcelona to confer with him on business of importance. In obeying the summons of that prince, Vincent availed himself of the opportunities which the journey afforded him, to preach at Elne, Girone, and Vich. Arrived at Barcelona in the month of June, 1409, he was not content with attending the king in council, but continued his apostolic preaching, which produced marvelous fruits. Towards the end of the same year a vessel conveyed him into Tuscany. He travelled through the dioceses of Pisa, Lucca, Florence, and Siena, everywhere converting sinners and reviving Christian piety. At the commencement of the year 1410 he returned to Barcelona, and traversed once more the whole of Catalonia and Aragon. It was at this epoch that he instituted a university at Valencia, his native city. He came thence into Castile. At Salamanca he raised a woman to life, to prove to his auditory that he was himself the angel precursor of the judgment, announced in the Apocalypse. This miracle is related in detail in the “Spiritual Instruction,” for the fifth Friday before the Saint’s Feast.
The succession to the throne of King James of Aragon, who died childless, led him to return to Barcelona. He was constrained to occupy himself with this affair, and after many negotiations full of patience and wisdom, he turned it to the advantage of his country. In 1413 St. Vincent evangelized the Balearic Isles. In 1414 he went to Tortosa, where he converted many Jews. Then he returned to Saragossa, and remained there till the beginning of the year 1415, preaching with much fruit. He was a second time drawn by the Spirit of God towards central Italy, and so great was the success of his apostolate, especially in Bologna, that its inhabitants were pleased to accord him the title of citizen. Returning thence into Spain, he was speedily summoned to the Congress of Perpignan, in which the obstinacy of Peter de Luna showed itself more strongly than ever. St. Vincent was so deeply afflicted that he fell grievously ill. The glorious confessor, refusing medical succor, placed his entire confidence in our Lord. Jesus Christ appeared to him, consoled him, cured him, and announced to him that he should yet visit divers countries.
The Congress of Perpignan was fatal to Peter de Luna. Through the advice of the Theologians, and of St. Vincent in particular, the King of Aragon detached himself from his obedience, and from that moment the cause of the union was accomplished. The king’s edict was published on the 6th January, 1416. Our Saint spent the beginning of this year in traveling through many provinces of Aragon to withdraw the people from obedience to Benedict XIII., and to attach them to that of the Council of Constance, an undertaking by no means easy, considering the long period in which those countries had lived under the spiritual dominion of Peter de Luna. But to all their prejudices the Saint opposed solid reasons which carried conviction to every mind. In a short time Spain, as well as Italy and the rest of Christendom, awaited with submission the choice of the Council of Constance, ready to acknowledge the elect of the Council as the veritable Vicar of Jesus Christ.
The King of Aragon, well knowing how advantageous to the interests of the Church would be the presence of St. Vincent, entreated him to repair to Constance in quality of his theologian. But the latter declined this honor, believing it was better to follow the extraordinary mission which God had confided to him. He then went into Languedoc. At the end of January, 1416, history points to him at Carcassonne. From there he went to Besziers and Montpellier; then retracing his steps, he preached throughout Roussillon. In the month of March he passed again into the diocese of Carcassonne, and that year celebrated the Festival of the Annunciation at Montolieu, where he wrought the miraculous cure recorded in the “Spiritual Instruction” for the first Friday preceding the Saint’s Feast.
From Montolieu, Vincent journeyed onwards to Toulouse. Two Fathers of his Order awaited him at Castanet. He entered the city on the Friday before Palm-Sunday, amidst pompous solemnities, and was received as an angel from heaven. In the evening of his arrival a procession of public penance took place. The number of those who took part in it was extraordinary. Besides the grown-up people, there were three hundred little children, who scourged their tender shoulders with the discipline..
We may judge, by those prognostics, of the immense good which the preaching of St. Vincent Ferrer would produce in Toulouse. There especially were realized the marvelous fruits of which we have given but a feeble description in the seventh article of this section. The sermons lasted a month; but their results were as abundant as though the Saint had preached a whole year. The priests of the city, and the religious who accompanied Vincent in his missions, hardly sufficed to receive the confessions of those that were converted. They who had enriched themselves by fraud and injustice restored their ill-gotten gains; they who had long scandalized the city by the publicity of their crimes were desirous to edify it by public repentance. The penances that were imposed on these great sinners did not seem to them sufficient; but they believed themselves bound to the severest expiation. All the women of ill-fame abandoned their disorders, and gave unequivocal and consoling proofs of the sincerity of their conversion.
The Saint left behind him in the city the greater part of the pious women who had followed him till then. They dwelt together in community, and observed the rules which he gave them. On the 3rd May, Vincent quitted Toulouse. He was accompanied as far as Portet, where he gave a short mission, and then went on to Muret. Having held a station in that town, he passed into the district of Caraman. From thence he repaired to Saix and Castres. In the latter city he received an express invitation from the Fathers of the Council of Constance to join them; the invitation being transmitted to him by an emissary of the King of Aragon. When this was notified to him, he started in the direction of the city where the Council was sitting, but travelled by short stages in order to preach to the people whom he might encounter on the journey.
He reached Alby on the 28th May, 1416, and preached there eight days. Then traversing the country, he visited Gaillac, Cordes, Najac, and arrived on the 22nd June at Villefranche du Rouergne, where he gave a mission of five days. After that he went to Rodez. Tradition says he preached in a large meadow of the Priory of St. Felix, which is not far distant. He passed thence across the mountains of Auvergne to reach by a direct route Puy-en-Velay. In the latter city he found an ambassador of John VI., Duke of Brittany, who invited him into his dominions. The Saint promised to respond to the wishes of the prince; but was desirous first to repair to Constance, and to preach in the neighboring provinces on the German frontier. He traversed the eastern portion of Auvergne and Bourbonnais, and then entered the Duchy of Bourgogne.
At Dijon, St. Vincent received a solemn embassy of the Council of Constance with a cardinal at its head. Certain difficulties of grave importance were proposed to him, which the man of God explained with such wonderful lucidity that the ambassadors marveled at the clearness and solidity of his judgment. When the Fathers of the Council were apprised of the Saint’s answer, they shared the admiration of their envoys, and accepted it as an oracle. History does not inform us of the nature of the questions at issue, nor of the solution given thereto. But when the ambassadors withdrew, instead of pursuing his journey to Constance, Vincent directed his steps towards Brittany, either because he had been dispensed from attending the Council, or because he no longer considered his presence necessary after the answer he had given to the questions which had been submitted to him.
Leaving Dijon, he passed through Champagne. At the celebrated Monastery of Clairvaux he dispersed the pestilential fevers with which the community were afflicted. Langres and many other cities of that province enjoyed the privilege of seeing and hearing him. He pushed on his course as far as Nancy, the capital of Lorraine, where he again received an embassy of the Duke of Brittany, who implored him to hasten into his dominions. The Saint, considering himself bound to yield to such pressing solicitations, quitted Lorraine, and travelled towards Brittany by way of Berry. The Archbishop of Bourges had conceived certain unfavorable impressions of him, which disappeared as soon as he had seen and heard him; and from that moment he manifested the greatest goodwill towards him. Crossing Berry into Lorraine, St. Vincent converted its capital, which was a Babylon of iniquity, into a Jerusalem of peace and virtue. There a third messenger from the Duke of Brittany rejoined him. He then hastened his journey to that country through Anjou. Preaching at Angers against the excessive extravagance of the women, he effectually put a stop to the scandal.
It was in the beginning of March, 1417, that St. Vincent entered Brittany, where, two years later, he was to terminate his career.
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