R. S Alemany.

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

. (page 15 of 37)
Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 15 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Interview with Alexander, King of Scotland. Ketnrn to Italy.

We find Dominic once more among the brethren of
S. Romain in the April of the year 1219. His presence
was joyfully welcomed, nor was it among his own bre-
thren only that his coming always seemed to diffuse
a spirit of gladness; if we may credit an ancient writer,
" even the Jews and Gentile Saracens, whereof there
were so many in Spain, held him dear, all save the
heretics, whom he was wont to conquer and silence
by his preachings."* And now, once more, Toulouse
heard for awhile the mighty eloquence of that voice
which had before carried the Gospel of peace over the
hills and villages of Languedoc. Such crowds flocked to
hear him, that S. Romain could not contain them ; it was
in the cathedral church of S. Stephen, before the bishop
and chapter, that he was obliged to deliver his sermons ;
and their fruit was an abundance of conversions. Here
again he gave himself without reserve to all the labours
of his apostolic calling. All day long he was in the city,
or in the surrounding country, preaching and instructing
the people; and the night was devoted to prayer and
sharp austerities. Here, too, all his care and devotion
was lavished on his brethren and children, whom he
strove to form to sanctity. Prouille and S. Romain were
to him now, what S. Sixtus and Santa Sabina had already
been at Rome ; and another miracle of the multiplication
of the loaves is said to have taken place in the refectory
of S. Romain.

Rertrand of Garrega was his companion in the journey
to Paris, which next lay before him. Some of his
younger disciples were also with him, and it was in
» John of Spain.


tenderness to their weakness and fatigue that he is said to
have miraculously changed some water into wine, a trait
of his characteristic thoughtfulness and compassion; "for,"
says Gerard de Frachet, " they had been tenderly nur-
tured in the world."

On the road they turned aside to visit the sanctuary
of Roquemadour, near Cahors, where they spent the
night praying in the church of our Lady. The next
day, as they journeyed along, singing litanies and reciting
the Psalms of the divine office, two German pilgrims
overtook them ; and being greatly attracted by the
devotion of their exterior, they followed closely behind
them. When they came to the next village, their new
friends begged them to sit down and dine with them ;
and they continued this conduct for four consecutive
days. On the fifth day Dominic said to Bertrand,
" Brother Bertrand, it grieves me to reap the temporal
things of these pilgrims, without sowing for them spi-
ritual things ; let us kneel down and ask God to grant us
the understanding of their language, that we may speak
to them of Christ." They did so ; and during the rest
of their journey were able to converse with them without
difficulty. When they drew near Paris, they separated,
and Dominic charged Bertrand to keep the matter secret
till his death, " lest," as he said, " the people should take
us for saints, who are but sinners." Jordan of Saxony
tells us another anecdote of this journey, which he heard
from the lips of Bertrand himself : it was that being
threatened with a violent tempest of rain, they walked
on in the midst of it, Dominic making the sign of the
cross as he went along, and none of them were touched
by the floods of water that fell around them. On another
occasion, when the rain had drenched them through and
through, they stopped for the night at a little village,
and his companions went to the inn fire to dry their
clothes, whilst Dominic, as usual, made his way to the
church, where he spent the night before the altar. In
the morning the habits of the others were still wet, but his'
were perfectly dry ; the fire of charity that burned within
had communicated itself also to his exterior.


We have already noticed the foundation of the convent
of S. Jacques, at Paris; in spite of all obstacles, the
numbers of the brethren had now increased to thirty, and
the presence of Dominic was a fresh encouragement to
them. His stay among them was very short, but marked
by two characteristic proceedings. His first act was to
" set in order a regular house, with cloisters, domitory,
refectory, and cells for study ;"* for it must be remem-
bered that the brethren were in close connection with
the university, where they followed the course of divinity
and philosophy with the other stndents. Dominic's next
step was to carry out • his usual law of dispersion ;
Limoges, Pheims, Poitiers and Orleans, were all chosen
as the scenes of new foundations ; and the little band, so
hardly gathered together, were no sooner collected than
they were scattered abroad.

Peter Cellani, the citizen of Marseilles who had been
the first benefactor and disciple of the order, was chosen
for Limoges ; but he ventured to plead his ignorance,
and incapacity for preaching. " Go, my son," was the
heroic answer of his leader, " go, and fear nothing : twice
every day will I remember thee before God, and do not
thou doubt. Thou shalt gain many souls to the Lord,
and He will be with thee." Peter obeyed with the
simplicity so natural to him, and was used afterwards
to say that in all his difficulties he had never invoked
God and S. Dominic without obtaining relief. Whilst
at Paris. Dominic had the happiness of giving the habit to
his old friend William of Montferrat, whose two years
of study at the university were now complete. His first
acquaintance was also made with Jordan of Saxony, then
also a young student of the university. The story of his
vocation to religion is -of singular beauty. He was
accustomed every morning to rise for the matin service
of Notre Dame ; and whatever might be the season or
the weather, nothing ever detained him in his bed. One

« These words are from Martene's history, and are an addition-
al evidence of what we huve before alluded to as one of the prim-
ary conditions of a religious community, according to the system of
S. Dominic; namely, the " regular hoitst."


morning, fearing he was late, he left his lodging in great
haste, and hurried to the church-door, which he found
shut, for the hour was still early. As he stood waiting
to enter, a beggar solicited an alms, aud Jordan felt
about him for his purse, but in haste he had left it in his
room, and he had nothing to give. Sooner, however, than
refuse an alms for the love of God, he stripped off a rich
belt mounted in silver, which he wore after the fashion of
the times, and gave it to the poor man. As he entered
the church, and knelt for a moment before the great
crucifix, he saw the same belt hanging round the neck of
the figure, and at that moment a voice within him called
him powerfully to the closer service of God. This call,
and the desires to which it gave rise, pursued him without
rest, and when he heard of the fame of Dominic, he
resolved to lay the whole state of his soul before him.
His counsel and direction restored his peace ; but he did
not take the habit until Reginald of Orleans finally won
him to the order by his eloquence.

Another interesting incident of Dominic's visit to
Paris, as connected with the history of the order in our
own island, is his interview with Alexander II., king of
Scotland. This monareh was then at the French capital
for the purpose of renewing the ancient alliance of his
crown with the royal house of France. The Princess
Blanche, mother to St Louis, had a particular esteem for
S. Dominic, and often invited him to her court, and there
probably the Scottish king first met with the Patriarch
of the Friars Preachers. We know nothing of the par-
ticulars of their interview; but we are assured that he
eagerly pressed the saint to send some of his brethren to
Scotland, and promised them his fatherly and royal pro-
tection. At what exact period this request was granted
seems a little doubtful ;* but it is certain that Alexander
did build several convents for the fathers in his kingdom,
and always bore a singular love to the order. Eight
religious were sent into Scotland, headed by one Father
Clement, afterwards bishop of Dublin; and no less than

*The Melross Chronicle assigns the year 1230 as the earliest
date of the establishment of the order in Scotland.

156 LI] ' OP S. DOMINIC.

eight monasteries "were founded in that country during the
the reign of this prince.

The period of his short visit being expired, Dominic
once more took the road to Italy, accompanied only by
William de Montferrat, and a lay brother who had come
with him from Spain. All these long journeys were per-
formed on foot, in the fashion of poor pilgrims ; and their
rapidity, and the short rest he allowed himself, fill us
with admiration for the energy and courage which they
evince. His joyous and manly temperament of spirit
bore him on in spite of all fatigues and dangers, and in
those days footr-travelling over wild and uncultivated
countries must have been plentiful in both. Passing
through Burgundy, he arrived at Chatillon on the Seine,
where he was charitably lodged by a poor ecclesiastic;
but Dominic richly repaid his kindness, for whilst he was
yet in the house, the news was brought him that his host's
nephew had fallen from a high roof, and was being brought
home dead. Dominic went to meet him, and restored him
to nis parents alive and well. Other miracles of healing
also marked his stay in the place, from whence he proceeded
on to Avignon, where a little trace of his sojourn may
yet be seen in a well, bearing an inscription to the effect
that in 1219 the founder of the Friars Preachers blessed
this water, which has since restored health to many sick

All Dominic's companions were not quite such good
travellers as himself. We find that as they were making
their way through the passes of the Lombard Alps, the
strength and courage of poor Brother John, the Spanish
lay brother, entirely failed him: overcome with hunger
and fatigue, he sat down, unable to proceed further. The
good father said to him, " What is the matter, my son,
that you stop thus?" And he replied, "Because, father,
I am dying of hunger." "Take courage, my son," said
the saint , "yet a little further, and we shall find some
place in which we may rest." But as Brother John
replied again that he was utterly unable to proceed any
further, Dominic had recourse to his usual expedient of
prayer. Then he bade him go to a spot he pointed out,


and take up what lie should find there. The poor brother
dragged himself to the place indicated, and found a loaf of
exquisite whiteness, which, by the saint's orders, he ate,
and felt his strength restored. Then, having asked him if
he were revived, Dominic bade him take the remains of the
loaf back to the place where he found it ; and having done
so, they continued their route. As they went on, the
marvel of the thing seemed to strike the brother for the
first time. "Who put the loaf there?" he said; "I was
surely beside myself to take it so quietly ! Holy father,
tell me whence did that loaf come?" " Then," says the
old writer, Gerard de Frachet, who has related this story,
" this true lover of humility replied : ' My son, have you
not eaten as much as you needed ?' And he said, ' Yes.'
'Since, then,' replied the saint, 'you have eaten enough,
give thanks to God, and trouble not yourself about the
rest/ "

And now Dominic was once more on the Italian soil,
which thenceforth he never quitted to the day of his death.
It was the summer of 1219; only eight months had
elapsed since he had quitted Rome, and within that space
he had spread his order through the whole extent of Spain
and France. His road was literally marked by new foun-
dations ; we may trace it on the map by the convents that
date their origin from this time. Asti, Bergamo, and
Milan, all received him with marks of honour ; at Bergamo
he was detained by a severe illness, which even compelled
him to discontinue his abstinence and fasting — a fact
noticed as almost unexampled in his life. At Milan he
was welcomed as the messenger of God; the canon of S.
Nazaire, in particular, received him with singular marks of
affection, and three celebrated professors, all citizens of that
place, received his habit. In company with these new
brethren he set out for Bologna, where he arrived about
the month of August ; but it is time for us to give some
brief account of the progress of that convent since the
period of his last visit to it in the preceding year.


The Convent of Bologna. Effects of Reginald's preaching and
government. Fervour of the Community of S. Nicholas.
Conversion of Fathers Roland and Moneta. Dispersion of
the brethren through the cities of Northern Italy. Reginald's
novices. Robaldo. Bonviso of Placentia. Stephen of Spain.
Rodolph of Faenza. Reginald is sent to Paris. Jordan joins
the Order. Reginald's success - and death.

The progress of the brethren of Bologna at their little
convent of La Mascharella had been slow, and their diffi-
culties and discouragements very great, up to the time of
the arrival amongst them of Reginald of Orleans. As
soon as he returned from the Holy Land, he set out for
Bologna, according to his previous agreement with S.
Dominic, and arrived there on the 21st of December, 1218.
His presence caused an immediate change in the position
of the friars; he held the authority of vicar-general in
Dominic's absence, and his extraordinary powers of
government, added to the brilliancy of that eloquence
which so remarkably distinguished him, infused a fresh
spirit into the community, whilst crowds of those who had
before treated them with contempt now crowded about
their church in hopes of catching the words of the cele-
brated preacher. There was a certain vehemence of
spirit about Reginald that carried all before him; very
soon the church was too small to contain his audience,
and he was compelled to preach in the streets and public
piazzas ; the people came from all the surrounding towns
and country to hear him, and the age of the apostles
seemed to have returned. The fire of his words produced
an astonishing effect on the hearts of all who listened ;
and whilst a general change of manners was observed
among all ranks, a vast number were kindled with a holy
and impetuous enthusiasm, and feeling the call of God
in their hearts, they turned their backs on the world, and


eagerly demanded the habit of religion. " He was filled
with a burning and vehement eloquence," says Brother
Jordan, " which kindled the hearts of his hearers, as
though with a lighted torch." Within six months Regi-
nald received more than a hundred persons into the
order: among them were several of the most distin-
guished doctors and students of the university ; and it
came to be a common saying, that it was scarce safe to
go and hear Master Reginald, if you did not wish to take
the friar's habit

This rapid increase of the brethren soon rendered their
habitation too small for them. Early in the spring
of 1219, they removed to the church and convent of
S. Nicholas delle Vigne, situated without the walls.
Many miraculous signs had betokened the future sanctity
of this place; angels had been heard singing over it by
those who worked in the vineyards; and a kind of uni-
versal tradition had pointed it out as some day to be a
place of prayer and pilgrimage. The life led within its
walls, under the government of Blessed Reginald, was
a worthy fulfilment of these auguries. It was the
strictest and most fervent realization of the rule of
Dominic which has ever been seen. Many of the bre-
thren closely imitated him in their nightly watchings and
discipline, and in the devotions which were dear and
peculiar to himself. At no hour of day or night could
you enter the church without seeing some of the friars
engaged in fervent prayer. After compline they all
visited the altar, after the manner of their holy founder ;
and the sight of their devotion, as they bathed the ground
with their tears, filled the bystanders with wonder.
After singing matins very few returned to bed ; most of
them spent the night in prayer or study, and all con-
fessed before celebrating the Holy Sacrifice. Their
devotion to the Mother of God was of the tenderest
kind. Twice every day they visited her altar, after
matins and again at compline, walking round it three
times, as they sang canticles in her honour, and recom-
mended themselves and their order to her love and pro-
tection. They held it a matter of conscience never to


eat till they had first announced the word of God to some
soul. They also served in the hospitals of the city,
adding the corporal to the spiritual works of mercy ; and
in spite of the excessive austerity of their lives, it is said
such was the joy of their hearts, shining out in their
countenances, that they seemed none other than angels
in the habit of men. The strict observance of the rule
of silence practised among them is illustrated by the
following anecdote. One night a friar, being in prayer
in the choir, was seized by some invisible hand, and
dragged violently about the church, so that he cried aloud
for help. These disturbances, arising from diabolic
malice, were very frequent in the beginning of the order ;
and at the sound of the cry more than thirty brethren,
guessing the cause, ran into the church and endeavoured
to assist the sufferer, but in vain ; they too were roughly
handled, and, like him, dragged and thrown about with-
out pity. At length Reginald himself appeared, and,
taking the unfortunate friar to the altar of S. Nicholas,
he delivered him from his tormentor. And all this while,
in spite of the alarm and horror of the circumstances,
not one of those present, who amounted in all to a con-
siderable number, ventured to speak a single word, or so
much as to utter a sound. The first cry of the vexed
brother was the only one uttered during the whole of
that night.

This admirable discipline was certainly attained and
preserved by the practice of a somewhat rigid severity;
yet its very sharpness attests the perfection which must
have been reached by those who could have inflicted or
accepted it. In the following anecdote, as given by
Gerard de Frachet, the supernatural and passionless self-
command exhibited by the chief actor, robs the story of
that austere character which might make an ordinary
reader shrink, and clothes it with a wonderful dignity and
sublimity. A lay brother had committed a slight in-
fringement of the law of poverty, and on conviction of
his offence, refused to accept the penalty imposed.
Reginald perceived the rising spirit of insubordination,
and at once prepared to extinguish it. Causing the


delinquent to bare his shoulders, he raised his eyes
to heaven, bathed in tears, and calmly and gently, as
though presiding in choir, pronounced the following
prayer : — " Lord Jesus Christ, who gavest to thy
servant Benedict the power to expel the devil from the
bodies of his monks through the rod of discipline, grant
me the grace to overcome the temptation of this poor
brother through the same means. Who livest and
reignest, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, for ever
and ever, Amen." Then he struck him so sharply that
the brethren were moved to tears, but the penitent was
reclaimed, nor did he ever again relapse into a similar
fault. This sort of chastisement was a very ordinary
means which he used to deliver them from the assaults of
the devil ; yet we should err if we attributed to him a
harsh or tyrannical spirit. It was a severity wholly
compatible with the sweetness which formed a peculiarity
of his character; for the very tenderness of his love
towards his children was the cause of that severity he
showed against the enemy of their souls. They certainly
never looked on it in any other light, for he was beloved
as a father, and the fame of his strict discipline did not
keep multitudes from embracing it as their surest guide
to heaven.

The first who joined the order after the arrival of
Reginald, was Roland of Cremona, the public Reader 01
Philosophy at the University. His coming was most oppor-
tune, for the brethren were then still suffering from the
old spirit of discouragement ; and in spite of the presence
of Reginald among them, some had even resolved on
quitting the order. They were assembled in Chapter,
engaged in earnest and sorrowful conference, when the
door suddenly opened, and Roland appeared among
them and impetuously demanded the habit. Reginald,
yielding to a sudden inspiration, took off his own
scapular and flung it over his shoulders. The incident
seemed to restore the spirit and courage of the whole
assembly, and the fame of Roland's conversion was the
means of inducing many of his former companions to take
a similar step. Another remarkable conversion was that


of Brother Moneta, also a professor of the University,
but a man who, until the coming of Reginald, had been
wont to ridicule all religion, and to live without any of
its restraints. Hearing of the wondarful effects of the
new preacher's eloquence, he feared to expose himself to
its influence, and kept away. One day, however, being
the feast of S. Stephen, some of the scholars endeavoured
to carry him with them to hear the preaching. Not
liking to refuse, and yet unwilling to comply, Moneta
proposed that they should first hear Mass at S. Procolus.
They went, and stayed during three Masses, till, unable
to delay longer, Moneta was obliged to accompany the
others to Santa Maria, where Reginald was then deli-
vering his sermon. The doors were so crowded that
they could not enter, and Moneta remained standing on
the threshold. But as he stood there he could command a
view of the whole scene, and every word reached his ear.
A dense mass of people filled the church, yet not a sound
broke the words of the preacher. He was speaking on the
words of S. Stephen, the saint of the day: "Behold, I see
heaven open, and Jesus standing at the right hand of
God." " Heaven is open to-day also," he exclaimed ; " the
door is ever open to him who is willing to enter. Why do
you delay 1 Why do you linger on the threshold ? What
blindness, what negligence is this! The heavens are
still open!" And lo! as he listened, Moneta's heart was
changed and conquered. As Reginald came down from
the pulpit, he was met by his new penitent, who abandoned
himself to his direction, and after remaining in the world
under probation for a year, he was received to the habit,
and became himself the founder of several convents.
His after holiness equalled the irregularity of his former
life. He died full of years and of merit, and, it is said,
blind from his constant weeping. It was in his cell
that the great patriarch breathed his last, as we shall
hereafter relate.

Such was the position of the community of Bologna,
when Dominic again appeared among them. His first
act was to make a renunciation of certain endowments
which had been made over to the convent by a citizen of


the place. Dominic tore the contract in pieces with his
own hands, declaring they would rather beg their bread
than depart from their law of poverty. His next step
was one which perhaps a little moderated the joy caused
by his presence ; it was another dispersion of the society
so newly gathered together. Religious were sent to every
one of the towns where, as he passed through on his late
journey, he had prepared the way for their reception;
and in a few weeks, Milan, Bergamo, Asti, Verona, Flor-
ence, Brescia, Faenza, Placenza, and other cities of Tuscany
and Lombardy, received little companies of the new apostles.
There was, doubtless, a reason for this very extensive dis-
persion of the order throughout the north of Italy , it may
be found in the fact that that country was at the time
overrun by the self-same destructive heresy of the Manicheans
which had produced such desolating effects in France. This
was the great enemy against which the Order of Friars
Preachers had been raised to combat; and wherever it
showed its head, Dominic knew that he and his faithful
soldiers had a call to follow. If the community of Bologna
was greatly reduced by these colonies sent to other cities,
its numbers were soon made up by fresh acquisitions.
Among those clothed by the holy father was Brother

Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 15 of 37)