St. Dominic de Guzman, a Spanish priest, founded the Order of Preachers in the early thirteenth century. He wanted to establish an Order of priests who were well educated in theology, adept at preaching the truth they lived, and who had greater flexibility than a monastery bound priest to travel and evangelize. Over a century later, today’s saint was born in St. Dominic’s own country, joined the Dominican Order, and carried out in the fullest and most dynamic way the essential vision of St. Dominic. St. Vincent Ferrer was well educated, a powerfully effective preacher, and travelled almost without cease throughout Western Europe impacting the lives of untold thousands of people. He was the ideal Dominican.
St. Vincent was born in Valencia, on the southern coast of Spain. He was named in honor of St .Vincent Martyr, who met his death in the same city in the fourth century. St. Vincent received an excellent education, earning a doctorate in theology. It was said that he read exclusively Scripture for three full years and had committed much of it to memory. He taught philosophy and then took up advanced studies, in Barcelona, of Islam and Judaism. Spain had a sizeable minority of Jews while Muslims still controlled large portions of southern Spain in St. Vincent’s own day. So these studies were not merely theoretical. St. Vincent converted a large number of Spanish Jews and interacted with Spanish Muslims on a regular basis.
The ecclesial event which most marked our saint’s life was the Western Schism of 1378-1418. This painful episode saw two, and eventually three, cardinals claim to be the validly elected Pope. This open wound pained the Church for two generations. Some Europeans lived their whole lives knowing only a bitterly divided papacy. The Western Schism proved so intractable a problem, and caused such scandal, that it can be argued that it was the remote spark of the Reformation, which caught fire through northern Europe about one hundred years later. Such were the divisions of the Schism that St. Vincent found himself on the opposite of it from St. Catherine of Siena and various other deeply committed and holy Catholics.
In the end, St. Vincent learned a hard lesson in humility when the Pope he supported was abandoned by civil and ecclesiastical powers, was excommunicated, and judged to be antipope by history. But our saint persevered, was obedient to his superiors’ decisions, and continued his life of preaching. He lived as in itinerant on the highways and byways of Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, England, and Scotland, drawing enormous crowds and inspiring them to a deeper life in Christ. He died far from home in northern France at the age of 69 and was canonized a saint in 1455, within the lifetime of many who had heard him preach.
St. Vincent Ferrer, you lived a life of fervor and dedication to the truths of the Catholic faith, imparting the education you received to others through your witness and preaching. Come to the aid of all teachers and preachers to emulate your virtues with your same zeal for the house of the Lord.
From Butler’s Lives of the Saints:
This wonderful apostle, the “Angel of the Judgment,” was born at Valencia in Spain, in 1350, and at the age of eighteen professed in the Order of St. Dominic. After a brilliant course of study he became master of sacred theology. For three years he read only the Scriptures, and knew the whole Bible by heart. He converted the Jews of Valencia, and their synagogue became a church. Grief at the great schism then afflicting the Church reduced him to the point of death; but Our Lord Himself in glory bade him go forth to convert sinners, “for My judgment is nigh.” This miraculous apostolate lasted twenty-one years. He preached throughout Europe, in the towns and villages of Spain, Switzerland, France, Italy, England, Ireland, Scotland. Everywhere tens of thousands of sinners were reformed; Jews, infidels, and heretics were converted. Stupendous miracles enforced his words. Twice each day the ” miracle bell ” summoned the sick, the blind, the lame to be cured. Sinners the most obdurate became Saints; speaking only his native Spanish, he was understood in all tongues. Processions of ten thousand penitents followed him in perfect order. Convents, orphanages, hospitals, arose in his path. Amidst all, his humility remained profound, his prayer constant. He always prepared for preaching by prayer. Once, however, when a person of high rank was to be present at his sermon he neglected prayer for study. The nobleman was not particularly struck by the discourse which had been thus carefully worked up; but coming again to hear the Saint, unknown to the latter, the second sermon made a deep impression on his soul. When St. Vincent heard of the difference, he remarked that in the first sermon it was Vincent who had preached, but in the second, Jesus Christ. He fell ill at Vannes in Brittany, and received the crown of everlasting glory in 1419.
Reflection.—”Whatever you do,” said St. Vincent, “think not of yourself, but of God.” In this spirit he preached, and God spoke by him; in this spirit, if we listen, we shall hear the voice of God.
Lives of the Saints, by Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. ed.