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Saint Vincent's Reading List XLIII: The Reform of Religious Orders

by Rev Edward R Udovic CM 7/29/2013 9:19:00 AM

Règle de Nostre Père Saint Augustin ; Les Constitutions des Religieuses de Sainte Ursule de la Congregation de Paris, by St. Augustine of Hippo. Paris: G. Blaizot, 1640.

Call number: SpC.255.406A923rF1640

A full-text version of this volume may be viewed here.

An Ursuline nun, from Helyot's Histoire des OrdresOne of the major goals of the Tridentine reform of the French Church was the reform of the traditional Religious Orders. These orders of men and women and their convents, monasteries, abbeys, priories and other institutions were widespread throughout France. Their presence was particularly notable in Paris. These orders played an important religious, social and economic role in the kingdom, as they did throughout Catholic Europe. They also controlled a tremendous amount of land and wealth. Like all other institutions of the French Church at the close of the decades-long Wars of Religion and battles over the succession of Henri IV, these orders were in need of drastic reform as the 17th century opened.

The contemporary analysis of the wide range of problems experienced by these orders pinpointed the source of difficulty as their failure to live up to the ideals and prescriptions of their ancient and venerable rules. The prescribed solution, therefore, that would lead to the reform of these orders was a renewed attention to, and strict obedience to, these Rules down to the last detail. An order was considered to be “reformed” and publicly praised when it paid such attention to its Rule, and carried the stigma of “unreformed” when it did not.

Because of the centrality of the rules of the orders for reform purposes, it was common during Vincent’s time to publish editions of these classic texts as public blueprints for reform, and as a public standard against which these orders could be judged. One example of this type of publication is this 1640 Paris edition of the Rule of Saint Augustine, which governed the Ursuline nuns.

Important figures involved in the reform of the religious orders during the first third of the seventeenth century included Cardinal de Rochefoucauld, Cardinal Pierre de Berulle, Cardinal Richelieu, and of course Vincent de Paul. Vincent’s work for the reform of the religious orders was discussed at length by both Louis Abelly1  and Pierre Coste2 in their biographies.


1Louis Abelly, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God, Vincent de Paul, Vol. 2. (Brooklyn, NY: New City, 1987) 385-389.
2Pierre Coste, C.M., The Life and Works of St. Vincent de Paul, Vol. 2. Trans. Joseph Leonard, C.M. (Brooklyn, NY: New City, 1987) 237-254.


St. Vincent’s Reading List is a recurring blog series exploring texts known to have been read and recommended by Saint Vincent de Paul, those which can be presumed to have been read by him, and  works published during his lifetime (1581-1660) illustrating his world. All materials discussed are held by DePaul University’s Richardson Library. The entire series may be viewed here.


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