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The life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order online

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him ; the blessed Dominic rose, and threw holy water on
him ; then, leaving him in the arms of the others, he ran
to the spot where the body of the young man was lying,
bruised and horribly mangled. He ordered them im-
mediately to remove it to another room, and keep it
there. Then he desired Brother Tancred, and the other
brethren to prepare everything for Mass. The blessed
Dominic, the cardinals, friars, the abbess and all the
nuns, then went to the place where the altar was, and
the blessed Dominic celebrated the Holy Sacrifice with
an abundance of tears. But when he came to the
elevation of our Lord's Body, and held it on high
between his hands, as is the custom, he himself was
raised a palm above the ground, all beholding the same,
and being filled with great wonder at the sight. Mass
being finished, he returned to the body of the dead man ;
he and the cardinals, the abbess, the nuns, and all the
people who were present ; and when he was come, he
arranged the limbs one after another with his holy hand,
then prostrated himself on the ground, praying and


weeping. Thrice he touched the face and limbs of the
deceased, to put them in their place, and thrice he
prostrated himself.. When he was risen for the third
time, standing on the side where his head was, he made
the sign of the cross ; then with his hands extended
towards heaven, his body raised more than a palm
above the ground, he cried with a loud voice, saying,
1 young man, Napoleon, in the name of our Lord
Jesus Christ, I say unto thee, Arise.' Immediately, in
the sight of all those who had been drawn together by so
marvellous a spectacle, the young man arose alive and
unhurt, and said to the blesssed Dominic, * Father, give
me to eat;' and the blessed Dominic gave him to eat
and to drink, and committed him, joyful and without
sign of hurt, to the cardinal, his uncle."* It must be
acknowledged, there is a wonderful grandeur in this
narrative. We realize at once the alarm and emotion
of the bystanders, and the supernatural calm and tran-
quillity of the saint, who was acting under the Spirit of
God. Never, perhaps, was any miracle better attested,
or more accurately described ; and, as we shall hereafter
see, it bor^ abundant fruits.

Four days after, on the first Sunday in Lent, the nuns
took possession of their convent. They were forty-four
in all, including a few seculars, and some religious of
other convents. The first who spontaneously threw her-
self at Dominic's feet, and begged the habit of his order,
was the same sister Cecilia whose narrative has been
just quoted. She was then but seventeen, of the house
of Cesarini, and distinguished for the great qualities of
her soul, even more than for the nobility of her birth.
Meagre as is the account left us concerning her, we
scarcely feel the want of further details, for her character
is sufficiently evidenced in the little which is preserved.
She had a soul large enough to appreciate that of
Dominic. Child as she was, she had been quick to
recognize, and value at their true worth, the qualities
of that mind which had brought into order the tempes-
tous and disorganized elements of the community of
* Narrative of Sister Cecillia.


the Trastevere. Then she became an eye-witness of that
great miracle which we have just related in her own
beautiful language ; and the admiration which she had
already felt for him was raised to a devotion as fervent
as it was lasting. We are told that Dominic com-
municated to her the most hidden secrets of his heart ;
and we feel in reading the narative which she has left, so
noble and touching in its biblical simplicity, that she was
worthy of such confidence. Her example was followed
by that of all the nuns ; all received the habit of the cew
order, and took the vow ofinclosure.

Dominic waited until night-fall before he ventured to
remove the picture so often named ; he feared lest some
excitement and disturbance might be caused by this be-
ing done in broad day, for the people of the city felt a
jealous unwillingness to suffer it to depart. However, at
midnight, accompanied by the two cardinals, Nicholas
and Stephen, and many other persons, all barefoot and
carrying torches, he conducted it in solemn procession to
S. Sixtus, where the nuns awaited its approach with
similar marks of respect. It did not return ; and its
quiet domestication in the new house complete^ the settle-
ment of the nuns. They were soon after joined by
twenty-one others from various other houses, and thus was
formed the second house of religious women living under
the rule of S. Dominic.

CjOO —


Affairs of the Order in France. First settlement of the brethren
at the convent of St. James at Paris. Foundation at Bologna
Character of the religious houses of the Order. Settlement of
the Friars in Spain and Portugal. Brothers Tancred and Henry
of Rome.

Before we proceed to give any account of the settle-
ment of S. Dominic at the convent of Santa Sabina,
whither he removed after that of S. Sixtus had been
given up to the nuns, as" just related, it will be necessary


for us to speak of several events which had taken place
since his departure from Toulouse in the autumn of the
preceding year. Various were the discouragements and
difficulties which had attended the first outset of the
missionaries sent from Prouille. . -;I)pminic of Segovia
and Michel de UzeroiiaJ returned from Spain without
having been able to' succeed in establishing themselves
in that country ; and had joined their brethren in Rome.
The little community destined for the French capital had
scarcely fared better, and might possibly have abandoned
their project in a similar manner, had it not been for the
presence of the Englishman Lawrence. " For as they
drew near to that great city, they went along in great
doubt and affliction, because in their humility they
greatly feared to preach in so celebrated a university,
where there were so many famous doctors and masters
versed in sacred science ; but Godwin order to encourage
them, revealed to his servant Lawrence all that should
hereafter happen to this mission, and all the favours
which God and the Blessed Virgin would show them
in the house of S. James, and all the bright stars, as
well of sanctity as of learning, that should rise from
thence, to illuminate not the order only, but the entire
Church ; which revelation, as it greatly comforted the
soul of brother Lawrence, so he in like manner declared
it to his companions, to animate them also ; and they
believing it, for the opinion which all had of the sanctity
of that servant of God, conceived a lively faith. Where-
fore they joyfully entered into the city where all things
happened as he had predicted. "*

Notwithstanding this "joyful entry," they spent ten
months in extreme distress. None of them were known
in Paris except Matthew of France, who in his youth had
studied at the university ; and Lawrence very shortly
after was summoned to Rome, where he was present, as
we have seen, before the removal of the Friars from
S. Sixtus. It was not until the August of 121*8, nearly
a year after their departure from Prouille, that John de

• From a short notice of blessed Lawrence in Marchese's, H Diaro
Dome/iicano," drawn from ancient writers


Barastre, one of the king's chaplains and a professor of
the university, having been struck by the singular effects
of their preaching, and their patient endurance of so much
poverty and suffering, persuaded his colleagues to grant
them the little c&srcJi of S. James, then attached to an
hospital for poor strangers, 'aft^ffrards the most celebrated
house' of that order. But besides the missionaries whom
he had already sent from Prouille, Dominic had not been
long in Rome before he began to dispose of some of the
followers who had so soon been gathered there about his
standard. It seems certain that it was whilst still inhabi-
ting S. Sixtus, that John of Navarre (who had returned
with Lawrence from Paris), Brother Bertrand, Brother
Christian, and Peter, a lay brother, were despatched to
lay the first foundation of the order in Bologna. Their
preaching soon attracted general attention ; they are said
to have been the first religious who had ever been heard
to preach publicly in Bologna, and the astonishment and
admiration felt for their eloquence was increased when it
was understood that they were the children of Dominic,
whose name was not unknown to the Bolognese. Two
houses were soon given to them, with the accompanying
grant of a neighbouring church, called Santa Maria della
Mascarella. They were soon after joined by the two
brethren who had returned from Spain and a few others
whom Dominic despatched from Borne ; but they had to
struggle with many difficulties. As soon as they could,
they began to arrange their house into a conventual form,
building a very humble refectory and dormitory ; for it
seems to have been always felt as ,a first and indispensable
requisite in these early foundations of the order to have
a religious house, in order to carry out their rule in a re-
ligious spirit, and this even at a time when the commu-
nity consisted of no more than four or five persons. That
this was done from a deep conviction of the utility and
necessity of such external observances, and not from a
love of show, or a desire to build great establishments, is
evident if we look at the way in which it was done. " As
well as they could" (we are told in the account of this
Bolognese foundation), " considering the confined space,


they made a dormitory and refectory, with other necessary
offices ; their cells were so small, that they were not more
than seven feet long and four feet two inches wide, so that
they could scarce contain a hard and narrow bed and a
few other things; hut they were more content with this
poor habitation than if they had possessed the largest and
most magnificent palaces."* Here they led "a life of
angels;" and "so wonderful was their regular observance,
and their continual and fervent prayer ; so extraordinary
their poverty in eating, in their beds and clothes, and all
such things, that never had the like been seen before in that
city." They continued to live in this way, without making
much progress, and, in spite of their first favourable recep-
tion, enduring many affronts and persecutions, until the
end of the year 1218, when, as we shall see, a fresh impulse
was given to their enterprise by the arrival among them ot
one man, the celebrated Reginald of Orleans.

Certainly, if we wish to form an idea of the true spirit
of the order, we cannot do better than dwell on what is
preserved to us concerning the manner of these first foun-
dations. Throughout all of them we shall find the same
characteristics. The great missionary work of preaching
and saving souls was the first thing thought of; every-
thing gave way to that. They were scattered abroad right
and left, as soon as they had given themselves to the work,
for Dominic never departed from the inflexible law which
he had laid down at Prouille: — "We must sow the seed,
and not hoard it up." Doubtless there must often have
been hard sacrifices and struggles with nature in this;
his children were separated from him as soon as they had
learnt to love him; and, to use the expression of blessed
Jordan, in speaking of his departure from Bologna on a
late occasion, " they wept to be so soon taken from their
mother's breast." " But all these things," he adds,
" happened by the will of God. There was something
marvellous in the way in which he was wont to disperse
the brethren here and there through all parts of the
Church of God, in spite of all the representations often
made to him, and without his confidence being once dis
* Michel Pio of Bologna.


quieted by a shadow of hesitation. One might have said
he knew beforehand their success, and that the Holy
Spirit had revealed it to him; and indeed who would
dare to doubt it ? He had with him to begin but a small
number of brethren, for the most part simple and illiterate,
whom he sent through the world by twos and threes; so
that the children of the world, who judge according to
human prudence, were wont to accuse him of destroying
what he had begun, rather than of building up a great
edifice. But he accompanied those whom he sent forth
with his prayer ; and the power of God was granted to them
to multiply them."

But though this was the first thought, it wa3 never so
followed out as to induce the neglect of the fundamentals
of religious observance. The Friars Preachers were to
sacrifice all comfort, and all human ties for the work of
God ; they were to endure poverty, humiliation, and
detachment of heart in its most painful form ; but one
thing they were not to sacrifice, and that was the character
of religious, and the habits of regular observance. Whilst
they begged their bread, and lived on alms, the first thing
on which those alms were expended was the rude and
imperfect conversion of their poor dwellings into a re-
ligious shape. We feel at once how different such a
plan of proceeding is from our modern notions ; and the
difference is more important than appears at first sight.
" Let us have essentials," is the favourite expression of
our own day ; "let us only do our work ; the external
forms are of secondary importance." But the language
of the saints and the men of faith was rather, " Let us
have the religious spirit, for without it our work will be
of no avail;" and in their deep and living humility they
acknowledged that they were powerless to retain this
spirit, made up as it is of prayer and recollection £.nd
continual self-restraint, without certain external helps and
hindrances which modern theorists feel themselves privi-
leged to despise. Every part of the Dominican rule and
constitutions breathes of this principle; whilst the salva-
tion of souls is ever placed before us as the end and
object of the order, the formation of the religious man


himself is provided for by regulations of the most aston-
ishing minuteness; and as a part, and an essential part,
of these, there is given us the beautiful ordering of the,
religious house

We do not mean to assert that this necessary con-
nection between the outward form and the inward spirit
is anywhere stated in express terms, for there was not
much talk about theories and general principles among
men in the Middle Ages ; yet, perhaps unconsciously to
themselves, they ever acted under a deep prevailing
sense of this sacramental character of our being. They
believed that not in soul alone, but also in body, the
whole nature was to be made subject to Christ ; and with
the simplicity of antique wisdom, they condescended to
provide for this by making laws, not only for their work
and their prayer, but even for their houses and their
dress. The religious man was ever to be surrounded by
an atmosphere redolent with sanctity; he was to reflect
a light of holiness cast on him by the very walls of his
dwelling. Nothing, therefore, was neglected by which
they could be invested with this peculiar character.
They were the mould in which souls were insensibly
to receive a shape that separated them from the world.
The amateurs of ecclesiastical architecture tell us that,
in its purest form, no ornament will ever be found
introduced for ornament's sake; there was always a
use and significance in the most fanciful and grotesque
of those elaborate designs. And so in the conventual
house, common and necessary things were not exchanged
for what was fanciful or extraordinary; but a religious
form and colouring was given to the whole. Thus the
man who was being trained to the life of religion was
placed where he saw nothing that did not harmonize
with that one idea. His refectory was as unlike a
dining-room as possible : it was as much a room to
pray in, as to eat in. There, ranged in a single row
behind the simple wooden tables that stood on either
hand, sat the same white robed figures beside whom he
stood in the choir, and with an air scarcely less modest
and devout. At the top was the Prior's seat ; there



were neither pictures nor ornaments on the wall, only
a large crucifix above that seat, to which all were to bow
on entering; for even in hours of relaxation the religious
man was to be mindful of the sufferings of his Lord.
There was no talking or jesting as in the feasting of the
world, for the refectory was a place of inviolable silence ;
but from a little pulpit one of the brethren read aloud
(as we have seen brother Henry represented doing in
the scene of S. Sixtus), that, to use the words of the old
rule of S. Austin, " whilst the body was refreshed, the
soul also might have its proper food." The house was
to be poor and simple, having " no curiosities or notable
superfluities, such as sculpture, pavements, and the like,
save in the church," where some degree of ornament was
allowed to do reverence to the presence of God. The
dormitory too had its own character; the cells were all
alike in size and arrangement, for here all were equal.
They were separate, that every one might be silent and
alone with God; yet partly open, that the watchful eye
of the superior might never be shut out. Even the
dormitory-passage itself had something holy ; for it was
ordained, that " to promote piety and devotion to the
Blessed Virgin, the especial Patroness of the order, an
altar with her image should be erected in the dormitory
of every convent," and here the lamp was kept burning
throughi the night. Each of these places had its own
sweet tradition. Angels, as we have seen, have before
now served in the Dominican refectories ; nor, as we
gaze on such a scene, do we feel they were out of place ;
and the dormitories have been blessed no less than the
choir with the sweet presence of Mary, who through
those open doors has given her benediction to the
sleeping brethren, and sprinkled them with her dear
maternal hand. Surely these houses were as the gate
of heaven. All about them were holy sentences, preach-
ing from the walls ; poverty reigned everywhere, but
clad in the beauty and majesty of that spirit of order,
which lias been fitly termed, " the music of the eye."
All things were in common, and common things were
made to speak of God; yet there was neither gloom nor


melancholy, but rather a glad and cheerful aspect, tempered
by the pervading tone of silence and recollection ; so that
the beholder might well exclaim, " How good and joyful a
thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity !"

At the risk of being tedious on a subject which may
not perhaps be felt to be of general interest, we would
but suggest how often we must feel, in reading the
earlier devotional writers, that many of their most
charming passages could only have been inspired in a
house of this character. The author of the following
sentences had certainly caught their spirit nowhere but
in a religious refectory : " He that reads words of holy
wisdom to his brother, offers choice wine to the lips of
Jesus. — He that at table gives up to his brother the
better portion, feeds Jesus with the honey of charity.—
He that during refection reads to his brethren correctly
and distinctly, serves up a heavenly cup to the guests of
Jesus; but if he reads ill, he takes away the relish of
the food; and if he stammers, he stains the cloth which
covers the table of Jesus. — He that goes to the common
refectory with his brethren to hear spiritual reading,
eateth and drinketh with Jesus and His disciples ; and if
he lay up in his heart the word of God which he hears,
he reposes with S. John, during supper, on the breast
of Jesus."* Writing in a day, and in a country where
our holy and beautiful houses have long ago been swept
away, and the ideas that raised them have become lost
like historical antiquities, we well know how difficult it
is to realize the true significance of the monastic rules.
They and all their accompaniments are looked on as, at
best, but dreary fancies which have had their day, but
could never stand the test of utility. " To what purpose
is this waste?" is the continual cry of England over the
relics of her old religion. Nevertheless our fathers had
their purpose, and did not deem it waste; and we are
desirous of directing our reader's attention to the
particular care evinced in this matter by the founder
of the Dominican order, because, if we do not mistake,
it illustrates one prominent characteristic of his own
* Thomas a Kempis, Garden of Ross, ch. xvii.


mind, as well as of the institution which was its off-
spring,, and which bore and ever retains the likeness of
its father. The life of a saint like S. Dominic is not
made up alone of journeys and foundations and the dates
of his birth and death ; his living soul is to be found in
the rule whose most striking features were the im-
pression of his own hand : and it is not a little remark-
able that, together with that free and pliable spirit which
is one of its distinguishing characters, there should be
this invariable adhesion to the externals of monastic and
community life. The* same ruie was observed in all the
foundations of the order, and this of course by the
particular direction of its founder; and the fact reveals
more of his mind and feeling than whole volumes of
commentary. It exhibits him to us in that mixed char-
acter of contemplation and action, the union of which is
the basis of the Dominican life : we see him at once,
"the Jacob of preaching and the Israel of contempla-
tion;" and we see also what in his eyes constituted the
essentials of such a life, and the indispensable means for
attaining it.

In Spain blessed Peter had succeeded in founding
a convent at Madrid, of which foundation, however, no
particulars are preserved. Two of his companions, as we
have seen, returned to rejoin Dominic at Rome, whilst
the third, Suero Gomez, went on to his native country of
Portugal, where he became known to the Infanta Donna
Sancha, who gave him a little solitary oratory on Monte
Sagro, about six miles from Alancher, dedicated to Santa
Maria ad Nvves. Here he built a miserably poor con-
vent, or father hermitage, formed of stones and straw
cemented together with mud, "according to the manner
of those first days of fervour in the order." He lived in
this singular dwelling alone for some time, but very soon
numbers of all ranks flocked to him to receive the habit
from his hands-; and "though they were so many, and
of such character and nobility as might have done
honour to any order in the Chnrch, yet did he not
bate one iota in the rigours which he had learnt from
his holy master, and which were established as laws in tho


constitutions."* Every day he preached in the city, which
8X)n became renowned for its sanctity of manners. He
was a true son of Dominic, " thinking only how to sow the
Divine word, and caring nothing for his own body ; " and
bo, little by little, the mud hermitage was frequented
like a place of pilgrimage, and the crowds who thronged
there to see and hear one whom they reckoned rather
as ' an angel or apostle than as a common man, com-
pelled him to enlarge his dwelling in order to receive
them ; so that in the following year, when Dominic
himself visited the spot, he found a spacious and well-
ordered convent, the mother-house of the order in Por-
tugal. Suero was in every way a remarkable man :
his adherence to the rule, even in the minutest par-
ticular, was almost a proverb. In 1220, when he went
to Bologna to attend the first general Chapter, he per-
formed the whole journey on foot, carrying only a
stick and his breviary, and so begged his way the
entire distance. He became afterwards the first Provincial
of Spain.

It only remains for us to add a few words concerning
some of the brethren whose names have already been
mentioned as having joined the order at Rome. Tancred,
the prior of S. Sixtus, had been called in a singular way.
He was a German, and a courtier of the Emperor
Frederic II. Being at Bologna when the first brethren
arrived there, he was one day made sensible of a singular
and powerful impression on his soul, urging him to reflect
on the great question of eternity in a manner wholly

Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 11 of 37)