St Vincent Ferrer

St Vincent Ferrer

St Vincent Ferrer is a well-known Dominican friar who was known for preaching penance.

He was born at Valencia in 1350 and entered the Dominican Order in 1367. He was sent to Barcelona to pursue his studies and later to Toulouse. 

He believed strongly that the Avignon popes had legitimate claim at a time when there were at least two other men claiming to be the Successor of Peter. Cardinal Pedro de Luna (later [antipope] Benedict XIII) of the Court of Aragon took St Vincent under his wing as he tried to win the obedience of King Peter IV to the Avignon papacy. 

St Vincent was appointed by Benedict as confessor and Apostolic Penitentiary. He zealously preached penance and repentance as he travelled across Europe, preparing people for the Judgement. He was a very popular and successful preacher, having to preach outdoors in squares because of the number who flocked to him. He is known for having converted many heretics, including a rabbi in Valladolid, who later became the Bishop Paul of Burgos. Despite being only able to speak Limousine, the dialect of Valencia, he was able to reach communicate the truth of the Gospel to all people he met; Nicholas Clemangis, a doctor of the University of Paris, testified that St Vincent had the gift of tongues.

He was a Dominican through and through. He cherished study, prayer, and preaching, which are at the heart of the Dominican charism. In his Treatise on a Spiritual Life he says:

“Do you desire to study to your advantage? Let devotion accompany all your studies, and study less to make yourself learned than to become a saint. Consult God more than your books, and ask him, with humility, to make you understand what you read. Study fatigues and drains the mind and heart. Go from time to time to refresh them at the feet of Jesus Christ under his cross. Some moments of repose in his sacred wounds give fresh vigour and new lights. Interrupt your application by short but fervent and ejaculatory prayers; never begin or end your study but by prayer. Science is a gift of the Father of lights; do not therefore consider it as barely the work of your own mind or industry.”

Study was enveloped by prayer; and this study and prayer enabled him to preach effectively to the multitudes he encountered. He serves as a powerful reminder to Dominicans and others that our study without prayer runs greater risk of inflating our egos rather than increasing our state of holiness. 

Fr Joseph Bailham is the parish priest and rector of Our Lady of the Rosary and Saint Dominic (The Rosary Shrine), London.