Constitutions and Rules
The principal juridical texts of the Congregation of the Mission developed over time. The primitive rules of the Congregation, although known in Vincentian sources, had been lost sight of and misunderstood. Their date is unknown. The earliest known constitutional texts appeared in a draft version, now called the Codex Sarzana, dated 1655. This draft contained the “Common Rules or Constitutions,” which Vincent de Paul revised and published in 1658. These rules were written in French and then were translated into Latin. Since Vincent’s French version is not identical to the current French text, but differing only in small details, it has been published here with a comparison of both texts.
Codex Sarzana also contained “Particular Rules or Constitutions,” that is, rules for the principal officers of the Congregation, as well as rules for the conduct of general and provincial assemblies. Vincent de Paul died in 1660 without having published this second part. His successor René Alméras brought the work forward and completed in 1668 the revision of the second part, which then became the constitutions for the Congregation of the Mission, in effect until 1954.
The twenty most important themes from the Constitutions of 1668 were rewritten as articles and presented by the Congregation to Pope Clement X in 1670 for his approval and confirmation. The effect of his action was to grant special authority to these articles.
After the publication of the Code of Canon Law (1917), religious congregations were obliged to examine and revise their legislation in accord with its norms. The result for the Congregation of the Mission was the Constitutions of 1954. They were in effect for thirty years. The Second Vatican Council made the same demand and, with the publication of the new Code of Canon Law in 1983, the Congregation received approval of its revised Constitutions and Statutes in 1984.
John E. Rybolt, C.M. DePaul University
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