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Saint Vincent's Reading List LIV: Vincent's Political Know-How

by Rev Edward R Udovic CM 6/30/2014 9:30:00 AM

La Cour de Rome la Saincte, ou Traité des Cérémonies et Coustumes qui s'Observent dans la Ville de Rome, by Claude Vaure. Paris: Chez Nicolas Buon, 1623. 

Call number: SpC. 262.13 V378c1623 

Vincent de Paul was a savvy politician. This part of his personality and his work is certainly under-appreciated. Monsieur Vincent understood precisely how to navigate the daunting maze of laws, institutions and power relationships of Church and State in seventeenth century France. He knew that if he and his followers were to create effective and sustainable solutions to address the poverties that so characterized his age, or to bring about the desperately needed reform of the Catholic Church that there was no alternative to working through and within these systems.

Vincent understood that the pure ideals and rhetoric advocating for systemic societal and ecclesial change always has to contend with the hard realities of law, culture, privilege, narrow self-interest and the defenses of the status quo. So for Vincent de Paul, realistically navigating through these political processes to effect change was a necessary means to a desired end.  

Being a sharp student of human nature, Vincent de Paul also understood that his entry into the political processes of his age had to be guided by the authenticity of his faith and values. He relied on these to morally guide him in finding the compromises that are always necessary to a greater or lesser extent when one tries to wrest change from institutional and personal power bases. They always provided him a line he was careful never to cross.

Vincent de Paul had to navigate not just through the maze of laws, institutions and power relationships of 17th century France, but also through the corresponding maze of papal laws, institutions and power relationships that characterized what he always referred to as the "Court of Rome." Even though the king of France exercised an effective control over the Catholic Church in France, this was an authority shared with the papacy.  Such uneasy power-sharing had been laid out by the Concordat of Bologna in 1516.

The 17th century Vatican, image courtesy of Albion Prints

Simply put, those religious affairs which were primarily the responsibility of the crown, i.e. the appointment of bishops, still required papal approval. The king could appoint bishops, but only the pope could confer their spiritual authority. The pope could legislate for the Church, but no papal legislation could take effect in France without royal approval.

Vincent thus needed an in-depth knowledge of how to navigate through both the court of the King of France and the papal court in Rome. This knowledge had to extend both to the organizational charts of these power authorities, as well as to the personalities who filled the administrative offices on behalf of the king and the pope at any given time.

The present volume, printed in France during Vincent's lifetime, lays out some of the intricacies of the operations of the papal court.



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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