The Vincentians: A General History of the Congregation of the Mission. Vol. I: From the Foundation to the End of the Seventeenth Century, 1625-1697

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The Vincentians: A General History of the Congregation of the Mission. Vol. I: From the Foundation to the End of the Seventeenth Century, 1625-1697. By Luigi Mezzadri, CM., and José Maria Román, CM. Translated by Robert Cummings. Edited by Joseph E. Dunne and John E. Rybolt, CM. (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press. 2009 Pp. xx, 393. $49.99. ISBN 978-1-565-48321-7.)

This volume, originally published in 1992, is part of a planned five-volume general history of the Congregation of the Mission, founded by St. Vincent de Paul. The first two volumes have appeared in French and Italian, and the present work is a competent and readable English translation of the first volume.

The authors want "to help the current (Vincentian) community understand its history better." They set out to present the "essential facts" employing "an historical framework that is global and sufficiently scientific." Further, the authors state they made the "important choice" to "favor the story 'of the Missioners' over what we call 'the mission.' "They note, "At the center of the story are people, not institutions" (p. 6).

This is an unevenly written and repetitive work that lacked a strong editorial hand at the time of its original European publication. The best chapters provide interesting and valuable descriptions of the community life and ministerial experiences of early Vincentians. Statistical analyses are strongly supportive of the narrative at these points.

However, the work suffers from the authors' choice to define "the mission" as the story of "institutions" rather than the story of how a transcendent religious charism institutionalized by a saintly founder evolves as its members individually and collectively struggle (sometimes successfully and sometimes not) to remain faithful amid the constant change produced by the forces of history and faith.

Unfortunately, the authors also fail to provide and interpret adequately the "essential facts," including the development of the early-modern European confessional absolutist state (particularly Bourbon France) and the interplay of the theological, disciplinary, and spiritual forces of the Tridentine reforms in France. …