« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
it is evident, be liable to a succession of change, varying with the various characters, talents, or it may be notions or doctrines of those who are set over it, or on whose direction it depends. It is only when its own inherent constitution is made its real director that any corporation, above all a religious one, can subsist unchanged.
This, however, may be wandering from the matter in hand. I referred to the lost institution of Robert Le Marc founded sixty years before that of Vincent de Paul, merely because, as persons of all shades of opinion in England appear now to admit the want of Sisters of Charity, it may be consolatory to some of them to know that their Protestant brethren of France tenaciously dispute the palm of priority with Vincent de Paul; and assert that a similar order was called into existence in aid of Protestantism in France, and for the relief of its sufferers, before Vincent had even come into the world. Such, I believe, their history proves to have been the case; and thus we might conclude that Vincent only turned the enemy's arms upon themselves, at least in forming his auxiliary corps on the model they gave him.
Perhaps there will be nothing new to you in a brief and rapid sketch of the rise of this now veteran corps, and in the circumstances that led to its formation. It will not however, occupy much time, and I want to show you that the Lady of Charity which preceded Vincent de Paul's Sister of Charity, is the same we have adopted in almost every parish of England, under the title of District Visitor. We have taken our district visiting association root and branch from France where it was originally formed, and where it still is systematically carried on. But to keep to the history of the Sister, whom we have not taken, we must leave that of the Lady whom we have taken.
In that fearful epoch of French history, the reign of Henry III., the son of the dreadful Catharine de Medicis, the murderer of the mighty Guise, and himself, after his foolish wicked life had lasted it seemed too long, the victim of an assassin-at that epoch when the miseries of a civil and religious war, of famine, pestilence, poverty, and fear, were seen in conjunction with profanity, hypocrisy, licentiousness, vice, frivolity, vanity, and miserable follies -a peasant's wife in the remote and singular region of the Landes, near the Pyrenees, brought into the world a male child whose birth no one dreamed would be repeatedly recorded in print, and whose name no one thought would become known in almost all lands where the missionaries of CHRIST can go, or where the children of earth are suffering. That child was named Vincent, the name of his parents was De Paul.
His dispositions in boyhood produced the result that is common in France where the ecclesiastics are usually the sons of the people. Vincent became a Priest. The same dispositions caused his advancement. As Charity ; and I believe that the English notion of her is something like that of a Nun, or of something like a widow in weeds, something all in black, with black bonnet and veil, downcast looks, and pallid face, measured steps, tones and gestures. The primitive Sister of Charity has not a bit of black about her except her shoes. She walks with a very active step, an upright head, and usually a good degree of colour in her cheeks. I have seen some who have brought back that colour even from Africa and China. The Sister of Charity is not a Nun; there is no cloister, no grille in her case ; she wears no veil ; she shuns not the face of man, on the contrary, if necessary, she looks straight up to it, and speaks and acts as one who had nothing to fear, and was not naturally given to fear.
The Sister of Charity is not an ascetic; she eats and drinks very much like other people of her Church; the chief difference that I have found out being that she cannot take any refreshment where she visits as a matter of civility; a wise regulation perhaps, but one only made known to me upon trying the experiment; for to tell you the truth all I know of these Sisters has been drawn from personal acquaintance with some of them, and not from in. quiring after their rules and customs, which might appear an impertinent curiosity. The Sister of Charity is not a penitent; not a contemplative being; she has nothing to do with silence, mortifi. cation and seclusion, Except at night, and to suswords express what is worst in the world. The Mussulman does not love Christians, but the convert to Moslamism hates them. Such is generally the case with converts of all sorts.
The apostate had three wives, Turkish by birth and religion, who seemed to think better of the Christian and of the Christian's faith than he did. One of them conversed with the slave, and made him sing for her some of those sweet psalms she had probably overheard him singing to himself. He sung for her “By the waters of Babylon, we sat down and wept;" and he sung it with tears in his eyes, for by the waters of Babylon he, too, was weeping. The Turkish wife questioned him as to his religion, and then told her husband that he was wrong in having left it. The heart and conscience of the apostate were smitten; after a time he explained the state of both to his slave and his priest; and the end of all was that both escaped to France, where the renegade master was publicly reconciled to the Church he had left; and the slave, whose piety had gained his ransom, was taken to the Court of Rome, and soon after sent on a special mission to Henry IV., who had obtained the throne, and accepted the religion of France. What became of the three Turkish wives we are not told; it is a pity that the double convert did not bring one, at least, to his side. Henry IV., still called the good king in France, saw the talents of Vincent de Paul, and would have recompensed them, but it was his son Louis XIII., who was to be the patron of his good works.
Perhaps none have ever accomplished great or good works, or devoted themselves earnestly to a philanthropic or peculiar mode of life, without hav. ing been, most probably unconsciously, prepared for such by some event, circumstance or situation, which gave a cast to their whole after life, a tone to their sentiments, a direction to their minds, or a determination to their views. This is called accident by some, providence by others. It is the working of the great, unseen Hand, raising, cutting, hewing, moulding the block, out of which is to come a vessel of honour meet for the master's use. So we see Vincent de Paul, the young country Priest, prepared for his district visiting societies, his Sisters of Charity, his hospital nurses, his labours among chained prisoners, and more especially among the galley slaves, by his own apprenticeship to suffering and trial as a captive and a slave in Turkey.
This was the preparation for his work; but besides this we generally see a moving cause required for putting that destined work in operation. The same hand is bringing all round, yet all looks like mere accident.
The origin of the Ladies of Charity was a circumstance, not very extraordinary, which took place at Chatillon. It was one that takes place in England, in London, over and over again. The “Confrerie de Charité,” or “Association of Charity,” formed by Vincent de Paul, was brought about on this wise. We all know that for the work of reforming both clergy and people, he had formed a congregation of