Jean-Baptiste Vianney


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curé d'Ars. Born at Dardilly (near Lyons) the son of a farmer, his early life was passed as a shepherd boy on his father's farm with little formal schooling. During some of these years the French Revolution with its attendant violence and outlawing of the loyal clergy also affected his upbringing. At the age of twenty he began studies for the priesthood, which were interrupted by a call to military service. He joined the colours as a conscript, but later, like many others, deserted; he continued his studies in secret, until the amnesty of 1810. He then received the tonsure and was admitted to the seminary at Verrières, from which he transferred to that of Lyons in 1813. He found his studies difficult throughout, especially Latin. He broke down at a viva, but was nevertheless admitted to orders (1815) because he was said to be the most devout, if also the most unlearned, student at Lyons; his vicar-general too stressed that the Church needed not only learned priests, but also holy ones. He became curate at Écully for two years until his parish priest, who was very austere and deeply appreciative of Vianney, died in 1817. Vianney was then appointed as parish priest of Ars-en-Dombes, a remote and unimportant village of about 250 inhabitants.

This was to be his home for the rest of his life. He lived mainly on potatoes, vigorously attacked blasphemy and obscenity, caused village inns to close for lack of custom, and waged ceaseless war against dancing and all immodesty. The more positive side of his apostolate included preaching and especially counselling, at which he excelled, both inside and outside confession. His insight into personal difficulties seems to have been helped by supernatural gifts of reading the secrets of hearts, by knowledge of events at a distance, and by prophecy. Poltergeist phenomena, which he attributed to the Devil, were also well attested. These included noises, personal violence, even the burning of his bed. Other marvels related of him included the miraculous multiplication of food, especially for the orphanage he had founded. Word of this was spread abroad; his attribution of them to the mythical Philomena, of whom he set up a shrine, did not deceive his visitors. These came to number about 300 a day from 1830 until 1845, brought by trains from Lyons, where a special booking-office for Ars had been established.

Every day he preached at 11 o'clock and spent long hours in the confessional, sometimes as many as twelve in his earlier days, while just before his death, when visitors were reputed to number about 20,000 a year, he sometimes spent sixteen hours a day there. With the passing of time and the acquisition of greater experience and compassion he became less rigorous and more sympathetic to human frailty, although the recital of sins still brought him to tears. He also came to insist more and more on the love of God and the efficacy of the public liturgical prayer of the Church.


Subjects: Christianity.

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