Saint Vincent Ferrer was born at Valencia, in Spain on the 23rd of January, 1350. He was the fourth child of the nobleman Guillem Ferrer, a notary who came from Palamós, and wife, Constança Miquel, apparently from Valencia itself or Girona.
Legends surround Vincent’s 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. He would fast on Wednesdays and Fridays and he loved the Passion of Christ very much. He would help the poor and distribute alms to them. He began his classical studies at the age of eight, his study of theology and philosophy at fourteen.
Four years later, at the age of nineteen, Ferrer entered the Order of Preachers, commonly called the Dominican Order, in England also known as Black Friars. 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. 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.
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.
The Western schism divided Christianity first between two, then three, popes. Clement VII lived at Avignon in France, Urban VI in Rome. Vincent was convinced the election of Urban was invalid, though Catherine of Siena was just as devoted a supporter of the Roman pope. In the service of Cardinal de Luna, Vincent worked to persuade Spaniards to follow Clement. When Clement died, Cardinal de Luna was elected at Avignon and became Benedict XIII.
Vincent worked for him as apostolic penitentiary and Master of the Sacred Palace. But the new pope did not resign as all candidates in the conclave had sworn to do. He remained stubborn, despite being deserted by the French king and nearly all of the cardinals.
Vincent became disillusioned and very ill, but finally took up the work of simply “going through the world preaching Christ,” though he felt that any renewal in the Church depended on healing the schism. An eloquent and fiery preacher, he spent the last 20 years of his life spreading the Good News in Spain, France, Switzerland, the Low Countries and Lombardy, stressing the need of repentance and the fear of coming judgment. He became known as the “Angel of the Judgment.”
Vincent tried unsuccessfully, in 1408 and 1415, to persuade his former friend to resign. He finally concluded that Benedict was not the true pope. Though very ill, he mounted the pulpit before an assembly over which Benedict himself was presiding, and thundered his denunciation of the man who had ordained him a priest. Benedict fled for his life, abandoned by those who had formerly supported him. Strangely, Vincent had no part in the Council of Constance, which ended the schism.
As his health started failing, his companions persuaded him to return to his own country. Accordingly he set out with that view, riding on an ass, as was his ordinary manner of traveling in long journeys. But after they were gone, as they imagined, a considerable distance, they found themselves again near the city of Vannes. Wherefore the saint perceiving his illness increase, determined to return into the town, saying to his companions that God had chosen that city for the place of his burial.
On the third day of the saint arrival, the bishop, clergy, magistrates, and part of the nobility made him a visit. He conjured them to maintain zealously what he had labored to establish amongst them, exhorted them to perseverance in virtue, and promised to pray for them when he should be before the throne of God, saying he should go to the Lord after ten days. Being an unprofitable servant and a poor religious man, it did not become the Saint to direct anything concerning his burial; however, he begged they would preserve peace after his death, as he always inculcated to them in his sermons. Saint Vincent continued his aspirations of love, contrition, and penance; and often wished the departure of his soul from its fleshy prison, that it might the more speedily be swallowed up in the ocean of all good.
On the tenth day of his illness he caused the passion of our Savior to be read to him, and after that recited the penitential psalms, often stopping totally absorbed in God. It was on Wednesday in Passion Week, the 5th of April, that he slept in the Lord, in the year 1419. When he expired a host of little white butterflies fluttered around his head. These were little “angels” to otake the Angel of Judgment home and to attest to his purity and holiness. There was even a “piercingly sweet odor” which arose from his body.
During his life Saint Vincent freed more than seventy people from the Devil and many more were freed at his tomb. He raised more than twenty-eight people from the dead and four hundred sick people were cured by resting on the couch where he had lain during his illness.