|Nourished Bodies, Enlightened Souls - The Ethics of Poor Relief in Seventeenth-century France|
|The situation in Paris is so bad that Mademoiselle Le Gras does not have enough Sisters
to care for the sick and the poor refugees in all the places where people are requesting them.
Soup is prepared for them in a large number of parishes; our Sisters at Saint-Paul distribute
it daily to almost eight thousand poor persons, both the shame-faced poor1 and the refugees,
not counting the sixty to eighty patients they have on their hands. Your Company has never
worked so hard or so effectively as it is doing at the present moment. I hope that in
consideration of this, God will bless it abundantly.2
As testified by the Catholic missionary Vincent de Paul in June 1652, Paris was struggling with
considerable flocks of victims of the civil war the Fronde. De Paul and the religious company he codirected
together with the aforementioned Mademoiselle Le Gras (or Louise de Marillac), the
Daughters of Charity, were at the core of their calling: by offering relief for the unnourished body
they would mend the distorted soul and prepare it for eternal life.
The eagerness of the sisters to stir endless pots of warm potage for the ones in need was not,
however, a simple display of the Christian ideal of loving thy neighbour. In reality, a closer look at
the philosophy behind poor relief organised by Catholic communities offers a valuable insight into
the societal structures and tensions of contemporary French society.
This paper aims at analysing elite mentalities and attitudes toward the poor by looking at the
writings of the two founders of the Daughters of Charity (les Filles de la Charité, founded in 1633),
Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) and Louise de Marillac (1591-1660). Source material includes rules of
1 My translation.
2 Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conferences, Documents. Vol. 4. Edited by Marie Poole, translated by Helen
Marie Law, John Marie Poole, James R. King & Francis Germovnik from the 1920 edition of Pierre Coste. New
York: New City Press, 1985. Available at http://via.library.depaul.edu/coste_en/3/ (April 1st 2011|