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

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new to him. Disturbed and agitated, he prayed to the
Blessed Virgin for direction ; and in the night she
appeared to him, saying these words : " Gro to my house-
hold." He awoke in doubt as to their meaning, but in
a second dream there appeared to him two men dressed
in the habit of the order, the elder of whom addressed
him, saying, " Thou hast asked of Mary to be directed
in the way of salvation : come with us, and thou shalt find
it." In the morning he begged his host to direct him to
the nearest church, that he might hear mass. As he
* Michel Pio


entered, the first figure he met was that of the old man he
had seen in his vision ; the church was in fact Santa
Maria, in Mascarella, and the friar was none other than
the Prior Roger. Tancred's mind was soon made up as to
his future course ; and, abruptly severing his engagements
with the court he proceeded to Rome, where he took the
habit. Henry of Rome, who has also been mentioned,
entered the order against the earnest remonstrances of
his family. As they expressed a determination to carry
him back by force if he would not return, Dominic sent
him out of Rome, with some companions, by the Via
Nomentana. His relatives pursued him as far as the
banks of the Anio. Seeing there was no chance of escape,
Henry raised his heart to God, and invoked His help
through the merits of His servant Dominic; and the
waters of the little stream suddenly increased to so large
and rapid a torrent, that the horses of his pursuers were
unable to pass. After this he returned undisturbed to
S. Sixtus.

After the sisters had removed to that convent, thirty of
the friars were left there under the government of Tancred,
but in a distinct and separate house ; for the convent at
Santa Sabina was not yet able to contain them all. Brother
Otho, also a Roman by birth, was appointed the prior and
director of the nuns.


Dominic at Santa Sabina. The Vocation of S. Hyacinth. Regi-
nald of Orleans. The Blessed Virgin bestows on him the habit
of the order.

It is said that all lives have their chapter of poetry ;
if so, the poem of Dominic's life is now opening before
us. No period of his history is at once so rich in
legendary beauty, and so full of ample and delightful
details, as that of his residence at Santa Sabina — the
church which, as we have already said, had been granted


to him and his brethren by Pope Honorius when they
abandoned S. Sixtus to the nuns of the Trastevere. It
was attached to the palace of the Savelli, of which family
Honorius was a member ; and we are told that the
change of residence was particularly welcome to the
friars, inasmuch as the neighborhood was at that time
more thickly populated than that of S. Sixtus, and the
church was one of popular resort. This character has
long since departed from it ; and the tide of population,
retreating every year further and further to the west,
has left the Aventine hill once more to its silent and
solitary beauty. Built on the brow of tha£ hill, as it
rises abruptly above the Tiber, the convent of Santa
Sabina stands between the ancient and the modern city.
On one side it looks over a long vista of churches and
palaces, until the golden glow of the horizon above Monte
Mario is cut by the clear sharp outline of that wonderful
dome which rises over the tomb of the apostles. Turn
but your head, and you gaze over a different world.
Heaped all about in fantastic confusion, there are the
arches of gigantic ruins, and the broken walls and
watch-towers standing among the vineyards; and beyond
them is the wide Campagna stretching like a sea into
the dim horizon, spanned by the long lines of the
aqueducts, that seem as though they reached the very
base of those distant mountains which stand round the
Eternal city as "the hills stand about Jerusalem." S.
Sixtus is not far off, you may find your way down to
it through the green and pleasant lanes that wind among
the almond-trees ; everything here seems full of Dominic ;
and when the story of his life has become dear and familiar
to us, the whole of the Aventine seems consecrated as his

-::- The convent of Santa Pabina remains little altered since the
timeof S. Dominic, and many memorials of him are still preserved
within its walls. Among others is an orange-tree said to have been
planted by his hand, which is shown ki the quadrangular inclosure.
A few years since, this tree sent out a young and viaourous sucker,
which grew aud flourished, and in the course of the year 18:4
produced flowers and fruit. It was remarked that this took place
during the noviciate of Pere Lacordaire and his companions, to


It was here, then, that the friars removed as soon as
the nuns had taken possession of their former residence;
and they had not long settled in their new consent when
some very remarkable additions were made to their num-
bers. Ivo Odrowatz, the Polish Bishop of Cracow, was
at that time in Rome, having in his company his two
nephews, Ceslaus and Hyacinth, both of them canons
of his cathredral, and men of singular virtue. They
had all been present in S. Sixtus on the occasion of the
raising of the young Napoleon to life, and when, by
means of Cardinal Ugolino, they became personally
acquainted with Dominic, the deep impression made on
their minds by that scene was increased by his saintly
and winning manners. Ivo urged him to send some of
his brethren to the northern countries, but the difficulties
of the language seemed to offer an insuperable obstacle
to this plan ; Dominic, however, suggested that were
some of his own followers to take the habit, it would be
the best way of carrying out his wishes. A few days
after this Hyacinth and Ceslaus, with two others, Henry

whom is due the restoration of the French province ; and the little
incident was hailed as significant of that universal restoration and
return to youthful vigour and the beauty of regular discipline
whose impulse since tuat period has been manifested throughout
the entire order .

A singular discovery has recently been made within the inclosure
of this convent. ' About three months ago" (says Cardinal Wise-
man in his lecture on " Rome, Ancient and Modern," delivered
January 31,18 6,) " the good religious wi -hed to make an alteration
in their garden, and reduce it more into the English style. They
were, of course, their own workmen , and it was not long before
their industry was repaid. They met with an opening, into which
they entered, and found an anci nt Chri.-tian hall elegantly painted
in arabesque. Having cleared it out, they found an entrance into
another chamber. In this way they went forward from room to
room ; so that when I last heard, about a fortnight fsgo, they were
arrived at the tenth apartment. The discovery has exc ted immense
interest, no suspicion having been entertained of such a monument
existing there. One room is covered with names of about the third
or fourth century, only one of which had then been deciphered.
But this excavation is further important in another way. For the
first piece of antiquity discovered was a portion of the wall of
Tullius, the early king of Rome; and fhis recurring at a distance
from a portion found, a few years ago, in the.Iesuit's neighbouring
vineyard, in planting new vines, decides the direction of the wall,
and the boundary ol the primitive city."


of Moravia, and Herman, a noble German, presented
themselves at Santa Sabina, and, throwing themselves
at the feet of the saint, begged to be allowed to enter
the order. They were joyfully received, and their pro-
gress was as rapid as it was extraordinary. Doubtless
in those days of early fervour, the growth of souls plant-
ed in a very atmosphere of sanctity was quicker and
more vigorous than now ; and we are led to exclaim,
" There were giants in those days," when we find these
four novices, within six months after their first admission,
ready to return to their own country to be the founders
and propagators of the order. They travelled back with
the bishop of Cracow, preaching as they went. Sapara-
tion, that law of the Dominican institute, was the lot
that awaited them also. Hyacinth and Ceslaus pursued
their way to the north, where they divided the land be-
tween them. Ceslaus planted the order in Bohemia,
whilst the apostolate of Hyacinth extended over Russia,
Sweden, Norway, Prussia, and the Northern nations of
Asia. Dominic's old dream of a mission to the Cumans
became realized in the labours of this the greatest of his
sons, and in him the order of Friars Preachers took
possession of half the known world. Henry proceeded
to Styria and Austria, and founded many convents, es-
pecially that of Vienna. An account of singular beauty
is left of his death. He fell sick in the convent of
Wrateslavia ; and finding his last hour draw near, he
fixed his eyes on a crucifix before him, and sang sweetly
while he had strength. After a little space he was silent,
yet smiled, and put his hands together, and showed
in his eyes and his whole face a great and inexplicable
joy. Then, after a brief time he spake and said, " The
demons are come, and would fain disturb and trouble my
faith, but I believe in God the Father, and the Son, and
the Holy Ghost :" and with these words on his lips he
gently expired. Herman, the fourth of this society, was
left at Friesach to govern a convent founded in that
place. He was a man of extraordinary devotion, though
of small learning. In consequence of his simplicity and
ignorance he was often despised and ridiculed by his


companions ; and, seeking comfort from God in prayer, lie
obtained the gift of so much understanding of the holy
Scriptures that, without study of any kind, he was enabled
to preach not only in German, but also in Latin, with
extraordinary eloquence and success.

But another disciple was to be gathered into the order
during this same year, whose career, if shorter than
any of those we have mentioned, was scarcely less bril-
liant; and who was destined to exercise a considerable
influence over some of the most important of the early
foundations. Indeed, there were singular marks of a
Providential ordering of things, in what seemed the acci-
dental assembling at Rome that year of so many men
whose hearts were ready for the work which was prepar-
ing for them there. Among these he of whom we are
about to speak was not the least distinguished. Reginald,
deacon of the church of Orleans, had come there, in
company with the bishop, with the intention of visiting
the holy place, and thence passing on in pilgrimage to
Jerusalem. He was already known as a profound doctor
in canon law, and held the chair of that science in the
University of Paris. But brilliant as was his intellect,
and the renown which it had procured him, it did not
satisfy him ; for he had within him something greater
than genius, and a thirst which the world's applause
could not satiate. Whilst the world of Paris was busy
with his fame, there had come upon him a desire to
abandon all things for Christ, and to take refuge from
popular applause in some state where he could spend
his life for the souls of others, while his own should be
made a sharer in the very poverty and nakedness of
the crucifix. His pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem
was undertaken under this idea : it formed part of his
plan for breaking loose from the ties of his present life,
and searching for the better part to which he felt he was
called and chosen. The result must be told in the words
of blessed Humbert : " He prepared himself for this
ministry, therefore, though he knew not in what way
he was to carry it out ; for he was ignorant that the
order of Friars Preachers had as yet been instituted.


Now it chanced that in a confidential discourse with
a certain cardinal he opened to him his whole heart on
this matter, saying to him that he greatly desired to
quit all things in order to go about preaching Jesus
Christ in a state of voluntary poverty. Then the cardi-
nal said to him, ' Lo ! there is an order just risen up,
whose end is to unite the practice of poverty with the
office of preaching ; and the master of this new order is
even now present with us in the city, who also himself
preaches the word of God.' Now when Master Reginald
heard this, he hastened to seek out the blessed Dominic,
and to reveal to him the secret of his soul. *Then the
sight of the saint, and the graciousness of his words,
captivated his heart, and he resolved to enter into the
order. But adversity, which proves so many holy pro-
jects, failed not in like manner to try his also. He fell
sick, so that the physicians despaired even of saving his
life. The blessed Dominic, grieving at the thought of
losing a child ere as yet he had scarcely enjoyed him,
turned himself to the Divine mercy, earnestly imploring
God (as he himself has related to the brethren) that He
would not take from him a son as yet but hardly born,
but at least to prolong his life, if it were but a little
while. And even whilst he yet prayed, the Blessed
Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and Mistress of the World,
accompanied by two young maidens of surpassing beauty,
appeared to Master Reginald as he lay awake and parched
with a burning fever ; and he heard the Queen of Heaven
speaking to him, and saying, 'Ask me what thou wilt,
and I will give it to thee.' And as he considered
within himself, one of the maidens who accompanied
the Blessed Virgin suggested to him that he should
ask nothing, but should leave it to the will and pleasure
of the Queen of Mercy, to the which he right willingly
assented. Then she, extending her virginal hand,
anointed his eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth, hands, reins, and
feet, pronouncing certain words meanwhile appropriate
to each anointing. I have heard only those which
she spake at the unction of his reins and feet : the
first were, 'Let thy reins be girt with the girdle of


chastity ;' and the second, ' Let thy feet be shod for
the preaching of the Gospel of Peace.' Then she showed
to him the habit of the Friars Preachers, saying to him,
' Behold the habit of thy order,' and so she disappeared
from his eyes. And at the same time Reginald perceived
that he was cured, having been anointed by the Mother
of Him who has the secrets of salvation and of health.
And the next morning, when Dominic came to him, to
ask him how he fared, he answered that nothing ailed
him, and so told him the vision. Then both together did
render thanks to God, who strikes and heals, who wounds
and who makes whole."

Three days after this Dominic again came to his room,
bringing with him a religious of the Hospitallers of
S. John. And as they sat all three together, the same
scene was repeated in the sight of all. We are told by
some that on her former appearance the Blessed Virgin
had promised this repetition of her previous visit, and
that Reginald had mentioned this fact to S. Dominic.
He now conjured him and his companions to keep the
whole of the circumstances secret until after his death ;
and he did this out of humility. Dominic complied with
his request ; and in announcing to his brethren his in-
tention of changing the form of their habit, he did not
give the reason which had caused the change until after
Reginald' s death. Until this time the habit of the regu-
lar canons had continued to be worn by all the brethren ;
it was now changed for that which had been shown by
Mary to Reginald, and which Dominic had himself seen
on the second occasion of her appearance. The linen sur-
plice was laid aside, and in its place was used the long
woollen scapular, which was the particular part of the
habit she was seen holding in her hands. Thenceforward
this has been the distinctive sign of religious profession
among the Friars Preachers; and the words with which
it is accompanied in the ceremony of the giving of the
habit, mark at once its origin, and the reverence with which
its wearers are accustomed to regard it : " Receive the
holy scapular of our order, the most distinguished part of
our Dominican habit, the maternal pledge from heaven


of the love of the Blessed Virgin Mary towards us." This
especial love of Mary for the order of Friars Preachers is
indeed a claim which we do not wonder at their—making,
when we consider the many ways in which it has been
evinced. In those early days of the order one of the
popular names by which the brethren were known, was that
of " the Friars of Mary j" a title which reveals to ns how
filial was the devotion which they felt for the Mother
who had clothed them with her own hands ; and we shall
find, among the traditions of Santa Sabina, other tales
which show us the singular and tender nature of the pro-
tection she gave them.

Some of these traditions, illustrating as they do this
period of Dominic's life, we will give in the following
chapters, together with that sketch of what we may term
his conventual habits, which has been left us by blessed
Jordan and other early writers ; and they will probably
render us more familiar with his personal character than
any other portion of his history, Meanwhile Reignald of
Orleans departed for the Holy Land, whence he did not
return until the conclusion of the year.


Dominic's life at Koine. The rule of the Order. Description of
his person and appearance. His prayer, and manner of life.

When Dominic was fairly settled at Santa Sabina, he
saw himself surrounded by a multiplicity of cares and
occupations, any one of which would have demanded the
whole strength and time of an ordinary man. There
was the government of two communities : that of his own
convent, a company of novices gathered from all ranks
and ages, unused to rule and discipline, and who had to
learn the whole science of religion from his lips alone;
while the training of the nuns of S. Sixtus was even a


harder task, for with them there were long habits of
negligence and relaxation to eradicate, before the spirit of
fervour and observance could possibly be infused. How
hard and difficult a thing it was, we may judge, from the
unwearied assiduity with which Dominic laboured at his
task. He visited them daily, instructing them in the
most minute particulars of their rule ; and sent to Prouille
for eight of the more experienced religious of that house,
one of whom, Sister Blanche, was appointed prioress.
His long and patient care was not thrown away. Inclo-
sure and the observance of a holy rule produced their
usual marvels, and transformed the undisciplined nuns of
the Trastevere into mirrors of sanctity and grace. These
two undertakings, carried on at the same time, called for
a genius of government which few have ever possessed in
a more remarkable degree than S. Dominic. But within
his soul there lay vast resources, and a certain fullness of
spiritual light which never failed to guide him in the
guidance of others ; so at least we are led to affirm if we
contemplate him alone and unaided in his gigantic tasks.
And if we are curious to know the means whereby he
achieved them, we must seek for them in that rule which,
if we mistake not, exhibits to us more of the character of
his mind than we can gather from any other source.
" The Christian perfection which he taught " (to use the
admirable words of Castiglio) " consisted primarily indeed
in the love of God and of our neighbour ; but secondarily
and accidentally in that silence and solitude, and in those
fasts, mortifications, disciplines, and ceremonies, which
are the instruments whereby we reach unto that high and
most excellent end." It would seem indeed as if these
"ceremonies" he speaks of formed no insignificant part
of Dominic's great idea of spiritual training. We read of
his ?' diligent training of the nuns in the rules and cere-
monies;" and again S. Hyacinth is said to have become
a perfect master in " all the ordinances and ceremonies of
the order during his short noviciate." And if we examine
the rule itself, we find in it very much of this outward
training so deep and significant in its intention, and so
great in its results. This arose partly from the sagacity


which perceived how large an influence is exerted over
the inner man by the subjugation of his external nature;
partly also from a characteristic feature in Dominic's mind,
the love of order. Whilst wholly free from the narrowness
of mere formalism, his soul yet delighted in that harmony
which is a chief element of perfection : it was as though his
eagle eye had gazed on the ordering of the heavenly courts,
and, drawing from the image pictured on his soul, he strove
to reflect something of their beauty in his convent choirs.
And so, perhaps, those bowings and prostrations of the
white-robed ranks, which, when exactly performed, give so
unearthly and beautiful an appearance to the worship of a
religious choir, may, at the same time as it harmonized the
souls of the worshippers into recollection, have been intended
to recall and symbolize those scenes on which doubtless his
own spiritual vision had so often rested, and the repeated
foldings of those many wings, and the casting of the golden
crowns upon the ground.

Let us now see what was the rule of his own life at this
period, and the impression which his intercourse and ex-
ample left on the minds of those who observed him ; and
first we will give the portrait they have delineated of his out-
ward appearance. It must have been very noble, if we may
judge from the description of Sister Cecilia : " He was about
the middle stature, but slightly made; his face was beautiful,
and rather sanguine in its colour ; his hair and beard of a
fair and bright hue, and his eyes fine. From his forehead,
and between his brows, there seemed to shine a radiant light
which drew respect and love from them that saw it. He
was always joyous and agreeable, save when moved to com-
passion by the afflictions of his neighbours. His hands
were long and beautiful, and his voice was clear, noble, and
musical. He was never bald, and he always preserved his
religious crown or tonsure entire, mingled here and there
with a very few white hairs." Next we find an equally
minute and interesting description of his dress. Gerard de
Frachet, who wrote by command of blessed Humbert so
early as 1256, speaks thus : " Everything about the blessed
Dominic breathed of poverty : his habit, shoes, girdle, knife,
books, and all like things. You might see him with his


scapular ever so short, yet did he not care to cover it with
his mantle, even when in the presence of great persons.
He wore the same tunic summer and winter, and it was
very old and patched, and his mantle was of the worst."
It was the same spirit of poverty that induced him never
to have any cell or bed of his own. He slept in the church.
If he came home late at night from his expeditions drenched
with rain, he would send his companions to dry and refresh
themselves, but himself would go as he was to the church.
There his nights were passed in prayer ; or if overcome with
fatigue, he would sleep leaning against the altar steps, or
lying on the hard stones. On one part of the pavement of
the church of Santa Sabina there is still preserved an in-
scription indicating one of the stones as that whereon he
was accustomed to lie at night If, when he travelled, they
stopped where there was no church, he slept anywhere, on
the floor, or on a bench, or sitting in his chair, and always
dressed in his habit as during the day. Thrice every night
he disciplined himself to blood ; the first time for himself,
the second for sinners, the third for the souls in purgatory.
His prayer was in a manner continual. There was neither
place nor time in which he did not pray, but especially in
those night hours which he spent alone with God in the
church. Very often they watched him unknown to him,
and saw the way in which, when he believed himself entirely
alone, he poured out all the fervour of his soul with-
out control. After compline, when the others were dis-
missed to rest, he remained behind, visiting each altar
in turn, and praying ibr his order and for the world. Some-
times his tears and prayers were so loud as to wake those
who slept near; and though very often these exercises
lasted until the hour of matins, he never failed to

Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 12 of 37)