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

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Robaldo, who afterwards became distinguished for his suc-
cess against the heretics in the city of Milan. A somewhat
amusing story is told of him when preaching there. The
Manicheans then filled the city in great numbers, and
treated the Catholic missionaries with the utmost insolence.
As Robaldo was one day in prayer before the high altar of
the church, a band of these miscreants determined to divert
themselves at his expense, and sent one of their number in
to practise a joke upon him. " Father," said the heretic,
" I well know you are a man of God, and able to obtain
whatsoever you wish by prayer ; I pray you, therefore, to
make over me the sign of the cross, for I suffer from a
cruel fever, and I would fain receive my cure from youi
hands." Robaldo knew well the malice of his enemy, and
replied, " My son, if you have this fever, I pray God to
deliver you ; if you have it not, but are speaking lies, I
pray Him to send it to you as a chastisement." The man
m 2


instantly felt the approach of the malady he had feigned,
and cried, impatiently, "Sign me with the cross, I say,
sign me; it is not your custom to send curses upon men,
but cures." But Robaldo replied again, "What I have
said, I have said; if you have it, may He deliver you; if
not, you will surely have it." Meanwhile, the others stood
at the door, laughing to see the saint, as they thaught,
made a fool of; but their merriment was soon silenced,'
when they saw their companion return to them with every
symptom of the fever he had before pretended. The result
of these circumstances was his own conversion, and that of
his entire family; and Bobaldo, on his sincere penitence
restored him to health, and received him and all his
children into the communion of the church.

Bonviso of Placentia, was another of the novices clothed
at Bologna by the great patriarch. Before he was pro-
fessed he was sent to preach in his own country, and very
unwillingly he went, for his humility made him fear lest
he should fail, and bring disgrace on the order. Dominic
however, encouraged him, and said, "God's words will be in
your mouth, my son ; go without fear, and do my will •"
and Bonviso never felt afterwards any difficulty in preach-
ing. He was one of those who gave their evidence on the
canonization of the saint, and says that so long as he knew
him he never slept save on benches or on the ground and
never m any particular place; but sometimes in the church,
sometimes in the dormitory, and often in the burial-place of
the convent Stephen of Spain was another of the new
disciples of the order ; his conversion was remarkable. He
has lnmself described it, being at the time a student at
Bologna. « Whilst I was there," he says, « Master Domi-
nic arrived and preached to the students and others and
I went to_ confession to him, and I thought he loved me
One evening, I was sitting down to supper with my com-
ponions, when two of the friars came to me, and said,
Master Dominic is asking for you,' and I replied that I
would come as soon as I had supped. But they repeat-
ing that he expected me at once, I rose, and, leaving every-
thing as it was, I came to S. Nicholas, where I found
Master Dominic in the midst of a number of the friars


He turned to them, and said, ' Show him how to make the
prostration,' and they having shown me how to do it, I made
it, and he instantly gave me the habit of a friar preacher.
I have never thought of this without astonishment, reflect-
ing by what instinct he could thus have called and clothed
me, for I had never spoken to him of the matter ; where-
fore I doubt not he acted by some divine revelation."
Stephen was another of the witnessess on the canonization,
whose evidence is preserved among the other "Acts of

Another very distinguished member of the family of
Bologna was Rodolph of Faenza, whom we notice here,
though he entered the order at an earlier period. Some
affirm that he acted as confessor to S. Dominic, and it is
said that the saint, being at one period afflicted on account
oi the withdrawl of some who had at first given themselves
to God, Rodolph was granted a vision, wherein he saw
our Lord and His Blessed Mother, who laid their hands
on his head and comforted him ; after which they led him
out to the shores of the river, and showed him a great
ship as it were, laden with brethren dressed in the habit,
and said to him, " Seest thou all these, Brother Rodolph !
They are all of thy order, and are going forth to fill and
replenish the world." Rodolph acted as procurator to
the convent ; and on one occasion, he made some trifling
addition to the two dishes allowed by the rule ; this
greately displeased Dominic, who himself never tasted but
one ; and calling the procurator to his side, he whispered,
" Why do you seek to bribe the brothers with these pit-
tances?" And yet we are assured the addition to their
ordinary fare was of the plainest kind. " Dominic's own
dinner," adds Rodolph, "was so spare, and so quickly
finished, that often, as he waited whilst the others des-
patched their meal, he fell asleep for weariness, after his
long vigils."

Such were some of the brethren of the convent of S.
Nicholas. Its reputation for sanctity came to be so great
that men spoke of it as a kind of harbour of salvation ; as
may be illustrated by the following beautiful story which
is given us by Taegius and others. There was a certain


cleric in Bologna of great learning, but devoted to worldly
vanity, and to other than a holy life. Now, one night he
seemed suddenly to be in the midst of a vast field, and
above him the sky was covered with clouds, and rain fell
in great abundance, and there was a terrible tempest.
He, therefore, desiring to escape from the hail and light-
ning, looked all arouud him to see if by any means he
might find a place of shelter, but he found none. Then
at the last he perceived a small house, and going to it
he knocked, for the door was fast shut. And a voice
spoke to him from within saying, u What wantest thou ?"
And he said "A night's lodging, because of the great storm
that is raging.' ' But the keeper of the house answered
him, saying, " I am Justice, and this is my house ; but
thou canst not cuter here, for thou art not just." Then he
went away sad, and presently he came to a second house,
and he knocked there likewise ; and the keeper answered
and said, " I am Peace, but there is no peace for the
wicked, but only to them of good will. Nevertheless, be-
cause my thoughts are thoughts of peace, and not of afflic-
tion, therefore I will counsel thee for what thou shalt do.
A little way from hence dwelleth my sister, Mercy, who
ever helpeth the afflicted : go, therefore, to her, and do even
as she shall command thee." So he, continuing on his way,
came to the door of mercy, and she said to him, " If thou
wouldst save thyself from this tempest, go to the convent
of S. Nicholas where dwell the Friars Preachers; there
thou shalt find the food of doctrine, the ass of simplicity,
the ox of discretion; Mary who will illuminate, Joseph
who will make perfect, and Jesus who will save thee." And
he, coming to himself, and thinking well on the words of
Mercy, went quickly and with great devotion received the
holy habit.

The great talents and success of Blessed Reginald
determined Dominic to remove him to Paris, in the hopes
that he would do as much for the convent there estab-
lished as he had done for that of Bologna. His departure
was a severe grief to his brethren ; they wept as though
torn from the arms of their mother ; but the expectations
of their founder were fully realized in the short but


brilliant career which awaited Reginald in the French
capital. That marvellous eloquence, whose vehemence
was so irresistible, while at the same time so far removed
from mere human impetuosity, soon drew all to hear
him. When he preached, the streets were deserted ; his
holy life, too, so corresponded to his words, that men
looked on him as an angel of God. " All judged him to
be one come down from heaven," says an old writer ;
and indeed the students and citizens of Paris were best
able to appreciate the worth of one whose sacrifice to the
cause of religion they had- witnessed with their own eyes.
Matthew of France, the superior of the convent of S. James,
who had himself been a student at Paris in former years,
when Reginald was professor in the same university,
asked him once how he, who had been used to so lux-
urious and brilliant a life in the world, had found it
possible to persevere in the severe discipline of their order.
Reginald cast his eyes humbly to the ground. " Truly,
father," he said, "I do not think to merit anything for
that before the tribunal of God. He has given me so
much consolation in my soul, that the rigours of which
you speak have become very sweet and easy " And this,
indeed, appeared in all he did; for whilst he was constantly
distinguished for the exceeding austerity of his life, he did
all things with such a ready and joyful spirit that he
taught men the sweetness of the Cross by the very light-
ness with which he bore it.

Among the disciples whom he drew into the order, and
who received the habit at his hands, was Jordan ot
Saxony. We have already spoken of his first vocation to
religion, but he did not finally determine on taking the
habit until overcome by the persuasions of Reginald.
He brought with him a near and dear friend, Henry of
Cologne, then canon of Utrecht. "A man," he says,
" whom I loved in Christ, with an affection I never gave
to any other; a vessel of perfection and honour, so that
I remember not in all my life to have seen a more
gracious creature." They lodged in the same house, and
followed their studies together ; and Jordan, whose mind
was always full of the thoughts of that vocation which


he himself had not as yet obeyed; often spoke of it to his
friend, and endeavored to persuade him to form a similar
determination. Henry con »tantly rejected the idea; Jordan
as constantly persevered in his arguments and per-
suasions. He has left us an account of the result, given
in his most beautiful style: — "I made him go to Blessed
Reginald to confession, and when he came back, opening
the prophet Isaiah by way of taking counsel, I fell
on the following passage: — ' The Lord made me to hear
His voice, and I did not resist him: I went not back.'
And as I interpreted the passage, which answered so
well to the state of my own heart, we saw a little
further on the words, 'Let us keep together/ which, as
it were, warned us not to separate from one another, but
to consecrate our lives to the same object." "Where
are now those words 'Let us keep together ?' " wrote
Henry some years after, in a letter to his friend. " You
are at Bologna, and I at Cologne!" But this was the
Dominican law of dispersion. A vision completed the
conquest of Henry. He saw Christ sitting in judgment,
and one by his side cried to him, and said : — " You who
stand there, what have you ever abandoned for God?"
Filled with trouble at this saying, his soul was torn by a
short and agonizing struggle. He desired, yet he could
not resolve on the sacrifice. At length, he sought
Reginald, and, yielding to the powerful impulse with
which God was drawing his heart in spite of himself, he
made his vows in his hands. When he returned to
Jordan, "I saw," says the latter, "his angelic coun-
tenance bathed in tears, and I asked where he had been ;
he answered, ' I have made a vow to God, and I will
perform it.' " They were both clothed together at the
close of Lent ; but a singular revelation had pre-
viously declared to Jordan the death of Reginald, and
something of his own future destiny in the order. On
the night that blessed man departed to God, towards the
commencement of the month of February, he saw in his
sleep a clear and sparkling fountain suddenly spring up
in the chnrch of S. James, and as suddenly fail ; and as
he grieved, understanding the vision to predict the


untimely death of Reginald, a clear stream of water took
the place of the fountain, and flowed on in immense
waves till it filled the world. It was a fit emblem of his
own future career, so abundant in its fecundity that he
is said to have clothed a thousand novices with his own

Among Reginald's disciples, during his life at Paris,
may also be mentioned, Robert Biliber Kilward, an Eng-
lishman, who afterwards became archbishop of Canterbury
under Edward I., and cardinal of the Roman Church.
He was reckoned one of the greatest theologians of his
age, as well as a distinguished minister of state ; yet in
all his dignities he never laid aside his religious dress or
character, made his journeys on foot, and lived in the
utmost simplicity of holy poverty, reckoning his profession,
as a friar preacher, the greatest of all dignities lavished on
him by fortune.

Reginald's death took place in the early part of the
March of 1220. When the physicians declared the hope-
lessness of his case, Matthew of France came to announce
their decision to him, and to propose that he should
receive the sacrament of Extreme Unction : "I do not
fear the assault of death," he replied, "since the blessed
hands of Mary herself anointed me at Rome. Never-
theless, because I desire not to make light- of the Church's
sacraments, I will receive it, and humbly ask that it may
be given to me." His body was laid in the church of
Sainte-Marie-des-Champs, and though he has never been
solemnly beatified, the veneration which was paid him
may be gathered from the prayers and hymns in his
honour which may be found in the ancient office-books of
the order. He was undoubtedly one of its greatest
men, to whom there has hardly been done (sufficient
justice. In him might be seen the rare union of human
genius and heroic sanctity; and even when the super-
natural element had taken possession of every capacity of
his soul, it consecrated them without destroying any of
his fervour and richness of imagination, or the force and
impetuosity by which it manifested itself in his preaching,
and which gave him such a magical power over the hearts


of his hearers. These dazzling gifts once placed the world
at his feet, but he was happy above so many of his fellows r
in that he made no other use of its homage and its smiles
than to offer them to God. None, perhaps, ever made a
nobler sacrifice, or felt that it cost him less ; and he may
stand to all ages an example of the rarest of all the
miracles of grace, a soul of consecrated genius.

The spirit of a saint may be said to multiply itself, and
to survive in his disciples ; and in the distinctive graces
exhibited to us in them we have another means ol
estimating the character of their founder, besides what
is afforded us by the study of his own life. Or rather
we might say the truest judgment will be formed by a
comparison of the founder and his disciples; and when
we find any one trait of the former caught up and
repeated over and over again in those who came after
him, and whose supernatural life was formed on the
model of his own, we may safely conclude that the
similarity is no accident, but the result of some great
principle which had struck deep root in his soul, and
spread its branches far and wide over his followers.
Now if this be so, we can scarcely fail to be struck
with one peculiarity in the history of these early
companions of Dominic which will surprise us, if we
have any share in the popular prejudice which attaches
to his name. We might have expected, along with
much zeal and fervour, to have found some traces of
that stern fanaticism which is attributed to him and his
order, betraying itself like a hereditary malady in the
ranks of the Friars Preachers. But as we search for
illustrations of bigotry or gloom, or of a fierce and
bloody vindictiveness, we lose ourselves, as it were, in
a garden of sweetness. Gathered from all states of life —
knights, courtiers, professors, men of the world, peni-
tents, and saints — the novices of Dominic, so soon as his
spirit has breathed over them, display to our gaze amid
many varieties, one trait of which has the indescribable
peculiarity of a family likeness. It is sweetness : that
quality of which it is said, in the Book of Ecclesiasticus,
"Accomplish your works with sweetness, and you shall


draw the love and esteem of men." We see it first in the
great founder himself, of whom it is said, " None did ever
resist the charm of his intercourse, or went away from him
without feeling himself the better." It spoke in his low
sonorous voice ; nay, it might be seen in the very splendour
of his starry forehead, and in the beauty of that counte-
nance, which every one who gazed on it described as full of
joy and hilarity. And yet, we are told, he often and easily
wept, but only when moved by the sufferings of others ;
nay, so tender was his heart that he could not think of
human misery as he gazed over a distant city without
being touched to tears.

This tenderness of spirit was the hereditary birthright of
his children. There was Reginald of Orleans, winning
men to penance against their will ; and Henry of Utrecht,
that "gracious creature," as Jordan calls him, with the
joy of Grod painted on his angelic countenance, and whose
voice breathed the odour of a childlike innocence. There
was Jordan himself, whose simple bonhomie of cha-
racter is perhaps as delightful as any of them ; who could
tranquillize disturbed consciences by a look, who was
severe only to those who were severe to others, and whom
we find taming and playing with the wild ferrets on
the road as he journeyed, in the overflowing tenderness
and kindness of his heart. Of another we read, that as
he prayed in the garden, his looks were so gentle, that
timid birds would come and perch on his outstretched
arms. And whole volumes might be written of their
deaths. Of numbers it is related that they died singing.
In the convent of Vincenza we find a brother who, after
"singing versicles to the Blessed Virgin, with wondrous
delightsomeness, signed to his companion to rejoice also
with him, saying, 'Brother, do not think it strange, but
it is impossible for me not to sing of the love of Mary.'
Then after a while he opened his eyes again, and said
oftentimes with much jubilation, 'Let everything that
hath breath praise the Lord ;' and so, with a smile,
expired." Father William of Anicy, as he lay dying,
was visited by the angels, who visibly appeared to the
bystanders; and one of them bent over his bed and


kissed his rorehead, a grace he had deserved by hi3
angelic life and conversation. There was John of Gas-
cony, a a very marvel of sanctity, who, like the swan,
sang as he was a-dying; sweetly repeating with his last
breath, ' Into Thy hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.
Alleluia ! For Thou hast redeemed me God of truth !
Alleluia ! Alleluia ! ' " Then again we find other stories
of their special earnestness in the work of peace. F. Ro-
baldo, for instance, seemed to have a vocation for the
healing of quarrels and feuds. He worked miracles to
make men forgive one another ; but perhaps his own
angelic temper had a greater magic in it than his
miracles. A young Milanese noble had been slain by
his feudal enemy, and the two surviving brothers had
vowed revenge. Robaldo, after having in vain en-
deavoured to appease one of them, took him by the
hand and commanded him not to move till he had
promised peace. He instantly lost the power of motion,
and whilst he stood thus his other brother came to the
spot, uttering curses and imprecations, and binding him-
self by oaths never to rest till he had steeped his sword
in the blood of the murderer. And yet neither of them
could resist the sweetness of Robaldo, and it ended by
his sending them to the house of their enemy to dine
with him, and bringing all three next day to the consent
church, to bury all their differences at the foot of the
altar. Then there was our own Lawrence; called blessed
because of his blessed temper, and known through Spain
and France as the reconciler of enemies." In short, turn
where we will, we find the feet of these true preachers
"shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace."
They were all shaped after one likeness, even that of
their holy patriarch : " benign, merciful, patient, and sober,
not giving cursing for cursing, but rather blessing
those that cursed." Such are the words of Bonviso of

These we repeat were no fanatics; the pages of our
own history will furnish us, in the followers of Cromwell,
or Argyle,* with a portrait of fanaticism never to be
found among these Friars Preachers ; and when we have


been compelled to grant them the character of saints, it will
perhaps startle us to know that many of these very men
bore also the dreaded title of Inquisitors.

We must not close this chapter without noticing the
foundation at Bologna of a convent of women, which was
begun through the means of Diana of Andala, one of
S. Dominic's spiritual daughters. Her extraordinary
constancy and resolution overcame all the obstacles
opposed by her friends; and eventually her own father
became one of the most liberal supporters of the new
house. Cecilia and Amy, the two sisters of S. Sixtus
before named, were removed from thence to Bologna in
1223, and all three lie buried in the same grave, where
their remains have been twice discovered, and honourably

— <un —


Dominic journeys through Italy ; and returns to Home for the
fifth time. Increase of the Order. Character of the first
fathers. Interview with S. Francis. Favours of the Holy

After Reginald's departure from Bologna, Dominic
remained a while in the place, chiefly occupied in quiet-
ing the dissensions among the inhabitants which arose
from the jealousy subsisting between the nobles and the
citizens. Nor were his efforts unavailing: the Bolognese
recognized him as their mediator of peace, and this was
the first origin of that singular affection with which he
was ever afterwards regarded in the city. Their confi-
dence in him was increased by their conviction of his
entire disinterestedness in the whole matter; for when
their gratitude sought to show itself by gifts and donations,
he constantly and inflexibly refused to receive the smallest


offering beyond the pittance of daily alms which was
hogged from door to door. Indeed, his rigid regard of
poverty was in no degree inferior to that observed by
S. Francis: if there was food enough in the convent to
suffice for the day, he never allowed more alms to be
received for the next day ; and very often he himself
would undertake the office of begging in the streets, which
he practised with a peculiar pleasure. He left Bologna in
the October of the same year, and, crossing the Appennines,
proceeded to Florence, whither some of the brethren had
already been despatched, and had commenced their
foundation. Here again the malice of the devil was
overcome and made the means of extending the order.
A woman named Benita, who had been grievously tor-
mented by the evil spirit, and had led an irregular and
irreligious life, being converted, and delivered from her
possession, by the prayers of Dominic, took the veil,
and the name of Sister Benedicta. From Florence, he
came to Viterbo where the Pope was then staying, who
received him with open arms. The recital of the progress
which he and his brethren had made, since his departure
from Borne, filled the Pontiff with delight. He testified
his renewed affection and esteem by briefs, addressed
to the prelates and ecclesiastical superiors throughout
all the countries of Christendom, recommending the order
of Friars Preachers to their protection and respect. These
briefs are dated the November and December of 1219.

Soon after their publication, Dominic returned for the
fifth time to Rome, where he arrived in the commence-
ment of the year 1220. A trifling circumstance is
recorded, connected with his return, which may seem
scarce worthy of notice, and yet discloses to us whole
volumes of the character and disposition of this great
man. He had brought with him, we are told, from Spain,
certain spoons of cypress-wood for the nuns of S. Sixtus.

Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 16 of 37)