By HILARY PEPLER
I had the privilege of surrendering to Fr. Vincent during the last war, and, as it were, of surrendering him in this 1 To love and to work with a Vincent for twenty-five years, adds him to one's personal possessions—despite Priory walls and the great outward differences between the religious and the lay. He was ready to go, he had, as he said, lived for that going all his life; but we are not so ready to lose him.
That great thief, our final master, Death, has stolen him away, and like any outraged householder after such a visitor's attention, we look through the rooms of our minds to see what remains to us. We think of thc irtnumerable traits of character, shared experiences, words of comfort and consolation which that " juke traytour Deeth " has left untouched, still locked in those hidden recesses of the heart and now the more rare and valuable.
I could speak of his charity and how that he would always receive a gift for God's poor upon his knees; and of sonic stratagems which had to be invented to make him share at least a little of a bounty which had originally been intended for him himself.
AUSTERITY Nevertheless, there were austerities concerned with mere economy and the dislike of waste. I have been with him when he was doing out his cell than which have been few with less furniture and " things." The papers, books, boots and brushes which seem so natural to a priest's domestic life were not visible in his. Periodicals were for the common room, books belonged to the library (of which he was probably the curator, for he knew about books and incanabulae as became a lover of the Word), and while letters were answered and then destroyed so that there was no need for litter, I can hear now (from under the, bed where he was chasing the last spoonful of dust with a postcard!) his voice saying. " St. Thomas put it differently, he said..."
SIMPLICITY And always would he be glad. even when we could not speak for sorrow, be,could pass quickly on to that which is and leave the dead past to bury its dead, though they were almost as close to him as life itself.
That gladness was part of his simplicity, for though a pagan and mutal friend described him as the " most intellectual mind in Europe." he was never confused with much thinking. He used to say that unless a truth can be stated so as to be understood by
Bridget (the typical and poor mother who had, as it were, entered his vocabulary) it is probably false—so that his reasoning proceeded upon linei more akin to tthe multiplication table than to those of the metaphysician looking in the dark for a black hat which wasn't there ! Hence his influence upon the thought and language of Eric Gill, another with a bias towards philosophic thinking, When we three (Gill, Fr. McNabb and myself) were, for some ten years, attempting to implement our dreams of the New Jerusalem and debated problems like Usury, Private Ownership, Beauty, Goodness, Truth, far into the night, never once do I remember a phrase or proposition coming from him which was not in words we could understand however deep down into a mystery the subject seemed to have reached.
Neither such discussions nor any other would be dull because that wit of his sparkled like a fountain in sunlight ; quicker in the uptake than the fall I When once a Dominican Father had presented our small group with tobacco plants so that we might grow tobacco, and another' friend had shown us the mysteries of the still (we already brewed beer on the Cobbelt recipe) so that we might distil our own whisky, I said to Fr. Vincent : " All we lack is a mint so that we can make our own money." " On the contrary," he commented at once, " I should say a gaol, where you could pick your own oakum !"
I should here dispel any impression that my words may give of his personal interest in either beer or tobacco. He never smoked and he was practically a teetotaler, breaking their habit but once in honour of the first home brew.
THE WEARING OF THE HABIT
But he would ' have smoked and drank had he ever felt it laid upon him so to do for the salvation of souls; for he was one with St. Paul in being all things to all men, and ever willing to be a fool for Christ's sake. I think it was for this reason that he wore the habit in public.
That story is of interest ; it began with a jest, for he could be and was often teased by his friends and rightly enjoyed the subtle flattery of that treatment. I had been " received " in Hawksyard in 1916, when he was Prior, shortly afterwards be came south and appeared at our door in the usual black, or rather a mouldy, green—his clerical coat had seen good service. So I chaffed him seriously upon being so disreputable especially as he had Saint Dominic's habit in his bag which " were it but seen of men might bring them to enquire concerning the said Saint, for had not St. Thomas said that from exterior acts. . ." He laughed, and no one I think ever saw him in black or green again.
Not even when on the following summer he came down to help in the harvest. We tackled a field of oats, believing to turn back the tide of industrialism with the sickle not as an emblem of a Service State, but as a tool in the hands of free men. He flung his scapillar over his shoulder, tucked his skirt into his belt and sang the Veni Creator, both as a hymn and a tune to swing the scythe to.
Let that picture be the last with the sun &ink* CC ilia tOlitary tat of hats
(a tuft claimed as due to the touch of a Papal hand in blessing him), and his arms embracing the golden fruit of the earth as he shocked up the new cut oats, children at his feet weaving out the bonds to bind with, and the bent backs of more experienced mowers swinging their slow way through thc upstanding grain, and then he would take his turn in the front line and set a pace which the old hands could hardly keep up with If there he harvest fields in Heaven I do not doubt that his prayers for us and the country of his adoption will be mingled with those celestial sheaves.