Vincent Ferrer

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Saint Vincent Ferrer, O.P.
Ferrer.jpg
Religious, priest and confessor,
called the Angel of the Last Judgment
Born (1350-01-23)23 January 1350
Valencia, Kingdom of Valencia
Died 5 April 1419(1419-04-05) (aged 69)
Vannes, Duchy of Brittany
Honored in Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Communion, Aglipayan Church
Canonized 3 June 1455, Rome by Pope Calixtus III
Major shrine Cathedral of Vannes
Vannes, Morbihan, France
Feast 5 April
Attributes tongue of flame; pulpit; trumpet; prisoners; wings; Bible
Patronage builders, construction workers, plumbers, fishermen (Brittany) and orphanages (Spain)

Vincent Ferrer, O.P., (Valencian: Sant Vicent Ferrer, IPA: [ˈsam viˈsɛm feˈreɾ]) (23 January 1350 – 5 April 1419) was a Valencian Dominican friar, who gained acclaim as a missionary and a logician. He is honored as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

Early life[edit]

Vincent was the fourth child of the nobleman Guillem Ferrer, who came from Palamós, and his Spanish wife, Constança Miquel.[1][2] Legends surround his birth. It was said that his father was told in a dream by a Dominican friar that his son would be famous throughout the world. His mother is said never to have experienced pain when she gave birth to him. He was named after St. Vincent Martyr, the patron saint of Valencia.[3] He would fast on Wednesdays and Fridays and he loved the Passion of Christ very much. He would help the poor and distribute many alms to them. He began his classical studies at the age of eight, his study of theology and philosophy at fourteen.[1]

Four years later, at the age of eighteen, Ferrer entered the Order of Preachers,[4] commonly called the Dominican Order, in England also known as Blackfriars. As soon as he had entered the novitiate of the Order, though, he experienced temptations urging him to leave. Even his parents pleaded with him to do so and become a secular priest.[5] He prayed and practiced penance to overcome these trials. Thus he succeeded in completing the year of probation and advancing to his profession.

For a period of three years, he read solely Sacred Scripture and eventually committed it to memory. He published a treatise on Dialectic Suppositions after his solemn profession, and in 1379 was ordained a Catholic priest at Barcelona. He eventually became a Master of Sacred Theology and was commissioned by the Order to deliver lectures on philosophy. He was then sent to Barcelona and eventually to the University of Lleida, where he earned his doctorate in theology.[6]

Vincent Ferrer is described as a man of medium height, with a lofty forehead and very distinct features. His hair was fair in color and tonsured. His eyes were very dark and expressive; his manner gentle. Pale was his ordinary color. His voice was strong and powerful, at times gentle, resonant, and vibrant.[3]

Western Schism[edit]

St. Vincent Ferrer, Église Saint-André (Brech)

The Western Schism (1378-1418) divided Roman Catholicism between two, then eventually three, popes. Clement VII lived at Avignon in France, and Urban VI in Rome. Vincent was convinced that the election of Urban was invalid, although Catherine of Siena was just as devoted a supporter of the Roman pope. In the service of Cardinal Pedro de Luna, Vincent worked to persuade Spaniards to follow Clement. When Clement died in 1394, Cardinal de Luna was elected to the Avignon papacy and took the name Benedict XIII.[7]

Vincent was loyal to Benedict XIII, commonly known as "Papa Luna" in Castile and Aragon;[1] he worked for Benedict XIII as apostolic penitentiary and Master of the Sacred Palace.[7] Nonetheless Vincent labored to have Benedict XIII end the schism.[6] But Benedict XIII did not resign as intended at either the Council of Pisa (1409) or the Council of Constance (1414-1418). Because of this he lost the support of the French king and nearly all of his cardinals, and was excommunicated as a schismatic in 1417. After an extended period of receiving empty promises, Vincent encouraged King Ferdinand of Castile to withdraw his support from Benedict XIII. Vincent later claimed that the Western Schism had such a depressing effect on his mind that it caused him to be seriously ill at the age of forty.

Religious gifts and missionary work[edit]

For twenty-one years he was said to have traveled to England, Scotland, Ireland, Aragon, Castile, France, Switzerland, and Italy, preaching the Gospel and converting many. Many biographers believe that he could speak only Valencian, but was endowed with the gift of tongues.[1]

He preached to St. Colette of Corbie and to her nuns, and it was she who told him that he would die in France. Too ill to return to Spain, he did, indeed, die in Brittany in 1419. Breton fishermen still invoke his aid in storms, and in Spain he is the patron of orphanages.[8]

Conversion of Jews and controversy[edit]

Vincent is said to have been responsible for the conversion of many Jews to Catholicism, often by questionable means; for instance, he is said to have made their lives difficult until they converted and to have "dedicated" synagogues as churches on the basis of his own authority.[9] One of his converts, a former rabbi by the name of Solomon ha-Levi, went on to become the Bishop of Cartagena and later the Archbishop of Burgos. Vincent is noted to have contributed to anti-Semitism in Spain, as violence accompanied his visits to towns that had Jewish communities.[10] He promulgated various anti-Jewish laws banning Jews from trading food with Christians, having Christian employees, changing their residence, or cutting either their hair or beards.

Sources are contradictory concerning Vincent's achievement in converting a synagogue in Toledo, Spain, into the Church of Santa María la Blanca. One source says he preached to the mobs whose riots led to the appropriation of the synagogue and its transformation into a church in 1391;[11] a second source says he converted the Jews of the city who then changed the synagogue to a church after they embraced the Faith, but hints at the year 1411.[6] A third source identifies two distinct incidents, one in Valencia in 1391 and one in Toledo at a later date, but says that Vincent put down an uprising against Jews in one place and defused a persecution against them in the other. [12] Vincent also attended the Disputation of Tortosa (1413-14), called by Avignon Pope Benedict XIII in an effort to convert Jews to Catholicism after a debate among scholars of both faiths.[10]

Compromise of Caspe[edit]

Vincent participated in the management of a significant political crisis in his homeland. King Martin of Aragon died in 1410 without a legitimate heir, and five potential candidates came forth to claim the throne, all with royal bloodlines. It was determined that a committee of nine respected figures, three each from Aragon, Catalonia, and Valencia (the realms comprising the Crown of Aragon) would review the qualifications and select the next king. Vincent was chosen as one of the representatives of Valencia, and he voted for the Castilian prince Ferdinand of Antequera, who became the next King of Aragon. The process by which Ferdinand was determined to be the next king is known as the Compromise of Caspe.

Death and legacy[edit]

Vincent died on 5 April 1419 at Vannes in Brittany, at the age of sixty-nine,[4] and was buried in Vannes Cathedral. He was canonized by Pope Calixtus III on 3 June 1455.[13] His feast day is celebrated on 5 April. The previously-schismatic Fraternity of Saint Vincent Ferrer, a pontifical religious institute founded in 1979, is named for him.

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