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Saint Vincent's Reading List LI: The Theology of, Preparation for, and Practice of the Priesthood

by Rev Edward R Udovic CM 3/17/2014 9:13:00 AM

La Theologie des Pasteurs et Autres Prestres Ayans Charge des Ames: et la Doctrine Necessaire à Ceux Qui Desirent ester Admis aux Orders Sacrez, by Pierre Binsfeld. Paris: Chez Jean Foüet, 1622.

Call Number: VSI. 253 B614eF1622.

Detail of the Counil of Trent, by Pasquale Cati da Lesi. Photo courtesy of Stephen Bartlett 

The reform of the priesthood became one of the central activities of the Congregation of the Mission. Vincent de Paul realized that the reform of parish life would never be successful without the accompanying reform of the priesthood. Of course, these insights were embedded in the decrees of the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on the nature of the ordained priesthood and issued disciplinary decrees designed to form priests who were worthy and capable of exercising their ministry.

Vincent’s own personal conversion brought him to look with awe at the obligations required by his identity as a Roman Catholic priest, and a determination to live up to his vocation  In later life he went so far as to say that "[if] I had known what [the priesthood] was when I had the temerity to enter it, as I have come to know since then, I would have preferred to till the soil than to commit myself to such a formidable state of life… Indeed, the older I get, the more I am convinced of this because day by day I discover how far removed I am from the state of perfection in which I should be living."1

The Tridentine decrees confined themselves to the forceful restatement of the theology of the priesthood, and quite general directions for reform. These were then filled out in greater detail through subsequent theological reflection, and applied through efforts to found new Tridentine-style seminaries. Although Vincent de Paul was fully conversant with this theology, involved in the practical reforms of the priesthood, and the establishment of seminaries in France, he never wrote any treatises on these subjects. When there was a need to recommend such works, one of the theologians he consistently recommended was Pierre Binsfeld.

Pierre Binsfeld (1545-1598) was an auxiliary bishop of Trier, Germany, and a prolific theological writer at the height of the Counter-Reformation in Germany. He is best remembered today for his works on witchcraft and demonology, but Vincent’s references to him are all concerned with his commentary on the theology and reformation of the priesthood, as illustrated in the 1622 French edition of his standard work on the subject.  


1Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, Vol. 5. (Brooklyn, NY: New City Press, 1994), 569.


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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