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May 24, 2017

Saint Vincent of Lerins (+ 445)

St. Vincent of Lerins (Feast Day - May 24)

Saint Vincent was born in Toulouse, Gaul. He was the brother of Saint Lupus, Bishop of Troyes, who was a companion of Saint Germanus of Auxerre. Saint Vincent was first a soldier, and he informs us that having been some time tossed about in the storms of a bustling military life, he began seriously to consider the dangers with which he was surrounded, and the vanity and folly of his pursuits. He desired to take shelter in the harbor of religion, which he calls the safest refuge from the world. His view in this resolution was, that he might strenuously labor to divest his soul of its ruffling passions, of pride and vanity, and to offer to God the acceptable sacrifice of a humble and Christian spirit, and that being further removed from worldly temptations, he might endeavor more easily to avoid not only the wrecks of the present life, but also the burnings of that which is to come. Thus by avoiding the concourse and crowds of cities, he could follow without distraction the Psalmist's admonition, “Be still, and know that I am God.” The place he chose for his retirement was in a small remote island (today known as Isle Saint-Honorat), sheltered from the noise of the world, the renowned Monastery of Lerins. There he was tonsured a monk and ordained a priest.

He considered that true faith is necessary to salvation no less than virtue, and that the former is the foundation of Christian virtue; and he grieved to see the Church at that time pestered with numberless heresies, which sucked their poison from their very antidote, the Holy Scriptures, and which, by various wiles, spread on every side their dangerous snares. To guard the faithful against the false and perplexing false teachers, and to open the eyes of those who had been already seduced by them, he, with great clearness, eloquence, and force of reasoning, wrote a book, which he titled, A Commonitory Against Heretics, which he composed in 434, three years after the Third Ecumeincal Synod of Ephesus had condemned the Nestorians. He had chiefly in view the heretics of his own times, especially the Nestorians and the Apollinarians, but he confuted them by general, clear principles, which overturn all heresies to the end of the world. Together with the ornaments of eloquence and erudition, the inward beauty of his mind, and the brightness of his devotion, sparkle in every page of his book. Out of humility, he disguised himself in this book under the name of Peregrinus, to express the quality of being a pilgrim or stranger on earth, and one by his monastic state, in a more particular manner, estranged from the world. He styles himself "The least of all the servants of God, and less than the least of all the saints, unworthy to bear the holy name of a Christian."

Without identifying by name Augustine the Bishop of Hippo, Saint Vincent condemns his doctrine of grace and predestination, calling it heresy to teach of "a certain great and special and altogether personal grace of God [which is given to the predestined elect] without any effort, without any industry, even though they neither ask, nor seek, nor knock" (Commonitory, ch. 26). Saint John Cassian wrote his refutations before, and Saint Vincent after, the condemnation of Nestorius at the Third Synod in 431, and the death of Augustine in 430. Saint Vincent reposed in peace about the year 445. His relics are preserved at Lérins.

Isle Saint-Honorat

He wrote the Commonitory as an aid to distinguish the true teachings of the Church from the confusions of heretics; his most memorable saying is that all Christians must follow that faith which has been believed "everywhere, always, and by all." The title Commonitory means "Remembrance", insinuating that the work is intended as a memory aid, a work that one may consult quickly for the purpose of refreshing one's memory, as the Saint himself notes in his introductory comments. In his great work, the Saint tells us that we may discover the truth first through reading Holy Scripture, for that is the basis of everything. Yet, he points out men may differ in their interpretation of Holy Scripture. How may we know which interpretation is the correct one? We know by consulting the writings of authorities within the Church, the great Saints and Church Fathers, and this we do carefully. Vincent offers three tests of accurate, Orthodox scripture interpretation:

1. Universality, meaning the entire Church adheres to the teaching;

2. Antiquity, meaning the Ecumenical Synods determined the teaching to be Orthodox; and

3. Consent, meaning that bishops harmoniously consulting one another agree the teaching is true.

Saint Vincent observes that souls which have lost the anchorage of the Catholic faith, "are tossed and shattered with inward storms of clashing thoughts, that by this restless posture of mind they may be made sensible of their danger; and taking down the sails of pride and vanity which they have unhappily spread before every gust of heresy, they may make all the sail they can into the safe and peaceful harbor of their holy mother the Catholic Church; and being sick from a surfeit of errors, may there discharge those foul and bitter waters to make room for the pure waters of life. There they may unlearn well what they have learned ill; may get a right notion of all those doctrines of the church they are capable of understanding, and believe those that surpass all understanding."

He further explains: "In ancient times, our forefathers sowed the seeds of the wheat of faith in that field which is the Church. It would be quite unjust and improper if we, their descendants, gathered, instead of the genuine truth of wheat, the false tares of error. On the contrary, it is logically correct that the beginning and the end be in agreement, that we reap from the planting of the wheat of doctrine the harvest of the wheat of dogma. In this way, none of the characteristics of the seed is changed, although something evolved in the course of time from those first seeds and has now expanded under careful cultivation. What may be added is merely appearance, beauty, and distinction, but the proper nature of each kind remains."

His defense of the traditions of the Fathers and his condemnation of innovation and novelty in the Church are as appropriate today as they were in his time:

"The Church of Christ, zealous and cautious guardian of the dogmas deposited with it, never changes any phase of them. It does not diminish them or add to them; it neither trims what seems necessary, nor grafts things superfluous; it neither gives up its own nor usurps what does not belong to it. But it devotes all its diligence to one aim: to treat tradition faithfully and wisely; to nurse and polish what from old times may have remained unshaped and unfinished; to consolidate and to strengthen what already was clear and plain; and to guard what already was confirmed and defined. After all, what have the synods brought forth in their decrees but that what before was believed plainly and simply might from now on be believed more diligently; that what before was preached rather unconcernedly might be preached from now on more eagerly."

By teaching in this way, Saint Vincent remained in the spirit of the Apostle Paul: "O Timothy, keep that which is committed to your trust" (1 Tim. 6:20).

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
With wisdom hast thou made plain to all the Orthodox faith as that which alone hath been believed and honored by all men, always and everywhere, also showing heresy to be innovation, groundless and unstable as a gust in a tempest. O Vincent, thine invincible prayers shelter the Church of God.

Apolytikion in the Second Tone
We bring to you our honor Saint Vincent of Lérins. You set the standard by which we now are blessed. The faith of old, and that of Divine assent; that which always and everywhere received consent. These ancient truths revealed to us in Scripture the faith you received to us you impart. We humbly beg you, O holy man of God, your intercessions as we seek the path you trod.