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

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Sister Cecilia thus describes this beautiful little incident :
" Upon a certain time S. Dominic, returning from Spain,
brought the sisters, as an affectionate little gift, some
spoons of cypress, for every sister one. And upon a day,
having finished his preaching and other works of charity,


in the same evening he came to the sisters, that he might
Relive/ to them these spoons from Spain." Amid all his
journeys and fatigues, he had time and room enough in
his heart for so simple a thought as this; and the com-
fort and pleasure of his children was still present to his
mind. One of those spoons, carried over the hills of
Spain and Italy in the little bundle of the saint, during
the long foot-journeys of so many months, was surely a
precious relic.

He was soon busy in his old quarters at Santa Sabina
and hard at work again, preaehing to the Roman people.
A great number of miracles and miraculous conversions
are recorded as taking place at this time; and many of
them we find spoken of as effected through the instrumen-
tality of the Rosary. The stream of novices continued
to flow as abundantly as ever into the cells of Santa
Sabina, and the care of the saint was bestowed on them
with all his usual vigilance and tenderness. Their fervour,
according to the testimony of Theodoric of Apoldia, was
truly admirable. « When they looked on the beauty and
purity of their institute," he says, " all their regret was
not sooner to have embraced it." A great care was ever
taken of the novices, both as to their instruction and their
health, for their zeal always had to be moderated. Instead
of its being necessary to wake them for the midnight office,
it was rather needful to seek for them in retired places,
where they had hidden themselves to pray, and oblige them
to take some rest. The abstinence they practised was
remarkable; many passed eight days without drinking,
and mixed their food with cold water. They ever looked
on preaching for the salvation of souls as the essential
part of their institute. When they went to preach,
according to Dominic's direction, they took with them
only the Bible or the New Testament. When it was
proposed to send missions among the barbarian nations,
or wheresoever there was a certainty of suffering crowds
offered themselves for the service; they had" a holy
eagerness for the salvation of souls and the chance of a
crown of martyrdom

It was at this time, according to the most prohable


conjecture of historians, that the interview took place
between Dominic and Francis, in the palace of Cardinal
Ugolino, which the Franciscan writers give as occurring
at Perugia, in the year 1219. After a spiritual con-
ference of some duration, the cardinal asked them whether
they would agree to their disciples accepting ecclesiastical
dignities. Dominic was the first to reply : he said that it
wan honour sufficient for his brethren to be called to defend
the faith against heretics. The words of S. Francis were
equally characteristic ." My children," he said, " would no
longer be Friars Minors if they became great ; if you
would have them bring forth fruit, leave them as they are."
Edified by their replies, Ugolino did not, however, aban-
don his own views ; when he was elevated to the papacy, he
promoted a great number of both orders to the episcopate,
as many as forty-two of whom were of the order of Friars

We shall not pause to notice at any length the re-
newed favours of the Holy See, so liberally poured out in
the shape of briefs and letters at this period, one of which,
published in the commencement of this year, constituted
Dominic the Superior or Master-General of the entire
order ; an office he had hitherto only held by tacit consent,
and which was doubtless formally given him at this time
with a view to the assembling of the brethren in the first
general chapter, which was now in contemplation.
Whilst the preparations for this event were in hand, the
friars were every day making further advances in Lom-
bardy, and the great convent of S. Eustorgia was founded
at Milan. The church had been granted to the order
through the intervention of Cardinal Ugolino; and be-
fore their coming, a certain hermit had been wont to
declare to the people, saying, " Before long this church
will be inhabited by friars called Preachers, who shall
give light to the whole world; for every night I see
bright lamps shining over it which illuminate the entire
city." The canons also heard the sweet music of angelio
choirs singing round the walls, and a great devotion had
attached to the sanctuary in consequence. This convent
became the head-quarters of the order of Lombardy, and


it was ever foremost ia its attacks on the heretics of the

The general chapter had been fixed for the Pentecost of
1220, just three years from what may be deemed the com-
mencement of the order. Its astonishing progress in that
brief period seems to our eyes truly miraculous ; perhaps
the coldness of later days, could they have beheld it in
vision, might have seemed as hard of credit or comprehen-
sion to the men of that heroic era. To ourselves the com-
parison can bring nothing but humiliation, whilst we
contemplate a vigour, and, if we may so say, an impe-
tuosity, in the religious life of those days, which seems
like the giant verdure of the forests of the New World
beside our own stunted and degenerate growth. And what
is perhaps as worthy of our admiration, is the simplicity
and unconsciousness with which the facts of this extra-
ordinary progress are given to us ; we scarcely find a word,
among those who were the eye-witnesses of what had been
going on during those three years, expressive of any sense
of success. The work was the work of God, and for their
own share in it, each one, with a sincere humility, could
have joined in the words of their holy founder, as he stood
in the midst of. that first assembly of his children: "I
deserve only to be dismissed from among you, for I have
grown cold and relaxed, and am no longer of any use/'



First general Chapter at Bologna. Law of poverty. The Order
spreads through Europe. Dominic's illness at Milan. Yisit to
Siena. Tancred, Apostolic journeys through Italy. Keturn
to Bologna, and conversion of Master Conrad. John of Vicenza.

It was on the 27th of May that the fathers of the
order met in the convent of S. Nicholas at Bologna.
Jordan of Saxony, who has left an account of their
proceedings, was himself present, having come from Paris
three weeks before. But so little was there among any
of them of a desire to seem great in men's eyes, that
very few details have been left regarding it, and many
things are passed over in silence which would have been
interesting to know. The number of friars present at the
first chapter of his order held by Francis have been care-
fully preserved ; but no similar reckoning was made of
the Friars Preachers : we know only that France, Spain,
Italy, and even Poland, had their representatives in that
assembly. Dominic was then fifty years of age, having
lost nothing of that manly vigour of mind and body
which ever distinguished him : if we seek amid the
scanty materials which history has left us, to find some
token which may reveal to us the secret feelings of his
heart at a moment so deep in its interest, we shall find
that power, and success, and a government over other
men which gave him a personal empire of souls extend-
ing over half Christendom, had produced no change in
the simplicity and humility of his heart. It tended
Godward as it had ever done; and his first act was to
implore permission to renounce a superiority of which
he accounted himself unworthy. Some, perhaps, may be
tempted to look on this as an easily assumed modesty,
and to doubt how far he hoped or expected his resigna-
tion would be accepted. But the evidence of blessed


Paul of Venice shows that even at this time the darling
hope of his soul had never been abandoned ; he still
cherished the thought, so soon as the order was firmly
established of carrying the light of the Gospel among
the heathen. " When we shall have fully instructed our
order," he was wont to say, " we will go to the Cumans
and preach the faith of Christ ; and, doubtless, this secret
and deeply-rooted idea was in his mind when he made
the effort to rid himself of the government of his order.

It is needless for us to say this resignation was unanim-
ously rejected, and Dominic was compelled to retain an
authority none other could have accepted in his lifetime.
Yet he made it a condition, that his power should be limited
and controlled by the appointment of definitors whose office
extended over all the acts of the chapter, and even to the
correction and punishment of the Master himself, in case of

Many of the laws, still forming part of the consti-
tutions of the order, were now established — those relating
to abstinence and fasting, and many regarding the titles
and authority of the local superiors. But the principal
object of this chapter was the entire adoption of the rule
of poverty, which had not been formally laid down by
any statute. A renunciation was made of all lands and
possessions until then retained, and it was resolved that
nothing should be accepted in future save the daily alms
on whieh they depended for support. The property of
the monasteries of Toulouse and Madrid was respectively
made over to the convents of women ; and the order was
reduced to the severity of the apostolic standard. If in
the revolution of six centuries the change which has
passed over the whole surface of society has necessitated
a repeal of what, at the time, seemed a fundamental
law, it need neither scandalize nor surprise us. Dear as
was the rule of poverty to Dominic's heart, he never put
it forth as the end of his order : he judged it but a
means, and at that age a chief and essential means, for
the one unchanging object of the institute of Preachers,
the salvation of souls. And when the living authority
of the Church in a later day dispensed the observance of
n 2


the letter of a rule no longer adapted to that object, she
• adhered strictly to the spirit, and explained the principle
on which this change was made in words* so luminous and
conclusive that they leave nothing to be added on the sub-
ject. Dominic was anxious to provide for the preservation
of another essential of his institute, the pursuit of sacred
learning; and for this purpose proposed that all the
temporal affairs of the convent should be left in the
hands of the lay brothers, so as to set the others entirely
at liberty for the purposes of prayer and study. This was
overruled by the other fathers, experience having shown
the danger of this custom in other orders ; and Dominic
did not press the proposal. Some regulations were added
about the cells, in respect to size and arrangement, and
it was ordered that a crucifix and an image of the
Blessed Virgin should be in each. The chapter was
to be held yearly, at Paris and Bologna in turn: this
regulation was afterwards done away, as the extension of
the order rendered so frequent an assembly impossible,
and made it desirable to fix it at other cities according to
circumstances. The arrangement was made at this time
in consequence of the neighbourhood of the two univer-
sities, a connection with which was held to be of the first

We do not know what length of time was taken up
by the proceedings of the chapter; but we find that
early in the summer Dominic's attention was once more
wholly given to the foundation and settlement of new
convents. Brethren were sent also to Morocco and
several of the infidel countries, as well as to Scotland,
as some historians tell us. Luke, bishop of Galicia,
speaking of this period, says, "At that time one saw
nothing but foundations of the Friars Preachers and
Friars Minors springing up everywhere ; and wherever
heresy appeared, the children of Dominic," he adds,
" were at hand to combat and subdue it." The Ghi-
beline influence of the German Emperors was doubtless

* See Const. F. Praed, d. ii. c. 1 ; where the principles of religions
poverty as professed by the order are laid down with great exact-


a chief cause of that heretical tendency so widely diffused
in the north of Italy, and there Dominic's chief efforts
were directed. His residence at Bologna was constantly
broken by excursions to the various cities of Lombardy,
though we have no certain guide as to the exact order in
which these visits were made. We find him again at
Milan, in company with Brother Bonviso, in the course
of the summer, and here he was again taken ill. Bonviso
has left an account of this illness, and remarks upon the
patience and cheerfulness he displayed in the extremity
of fever: "I never had reason to complain of him" (he
says); "he seemed always in prayer and contemplation,
to judge from his countenance ; and so soon as the fever
subsided, he began to speak to the brethren of God ; he
praised God and rejoiced in his sufferings, as was his
custom." He caused them to read to him, as he lay on
his rough wooden bed, those Dialogues of Cassian and
the Epistles of S. Paul, which had ever been his favourite
books ; and we feel that it is not fanciful to detect in this
persevering attachment a token of that tranquil stability
of mind, which formed so distinctive a peculiarity of his

It would be scarcely interesting to the reader to be
detained with the mere names of foundations, or of the
new disciples daily admitted to the order. We shall
endeavour to select a few among those which may be
most worthy of our notice. The date of Dominic's visit
to Siena has not been exactly preserved, though it may
probably be referred to the present year. As he preached
in one of the churches of that city, Tancredo Tancredi, a
young noble of high birth and renown for learning, stood
amid the crowd. As he listened and gazed at the cele-
brated preacher, he saw another figure standing beside
him in the pulpit, and whispering in his ear : it was the
Blessed Virgin, who was inspiring the words of her
faithful servant. The sight filled Tancred with ad-
miration, but as the saint descended the pulpit-stairs,
that same glorious vision of Mary floated nearer and
nearer to the spot where he stood. It pointed with its
Jiand to the figure of the Preacher, and a low sweet voice


uttered in his ear, " Tancred, follow after that man, and
do not depart from him." From that time Tancred became
what he had been so sweetly called to be, a close and
faithful follower of his great master. Many very beauti-
ful records are left us of his life. He had a strange
familiarity with the angels, who stood by him as he
prayed. Once, as he was earnestly interceding in prayer
for an obstinate sinner, the angelic friend beside him
whispered, " Tancred, your prayer for that soul will be
in vain." But the zeal and charity of this true Friar
Preacher was not to be checked even by such a word as
this ; he only prayed the harder, as though he would be
heard ; and, lo ! three days after, he saw the soul for
whom he laboured flying up safe to heaven. We can.
scarce find a more beautiful or instructive anecdote of
the might of prayer than this.

Immense numbers of all ranks were attracted by the
ever-increasing fame of the new institute ; many were
men of learning and sanctity, many doubtless very
imperfect and uninstructed ; yet we are told S. Dominic
did not hesitate to employ the latter equally with the
former in the work of teaching, in the firm conviction
that, when so engaged, God would speak by flicm as
readily as by those better fitted, according to human
judgment, for the task ; and also, as it would seem,
because such work formed a part of his method of train-
ing them. This labour of training went on incessantly,
for it was his own hand that formed and directed all of
those new disciples. We can scarcely estimate aright
the prodigious labour which he assigned himself ; we see
him, as it were, in every city of Italy ; and we find him
in the same year busy at this engrossing work at
Bologna, which was now his head-quarters ; and never
did he relax, for all his engagements, that public office of
preaching tc which he held himself so solemnly bound.
Very strange must have been the scenes which were often
witnessed in the churches where those discourses were
delivered. Every day. and sometimes more than once, he
preached whilst at Bologna. The people crowded round
his pulpit, and often the multitude were forced to adjourn


to the open air. They followed him afterwards to his
convent-door that they might still gaze at him, or speak
with him. On one of these occasions two young students
addressed him, and one said, " Father, I am just come
from confession ; I pray you obtain from God the pardon
of my sins." The saint, after a moment's thought,
replied, " Have confidence, my son, for your sins are
already pardoned." Then the other made the game
request, but the answer was different : " Thou fcast not
confessed all," said Dominic ; and the young man, enter-
ing into himself, discovered indeed a secret sin which had
escaped his momory.

On another occasion, he had been preaching in one of
the public places of the city, when, the sermon being
ended, a nobleman, the governor of S. Severino, who had
been among the audience, pushed his way through the
crowd, and waited on his knees to receive his blessing as
he came down from his pulpit. Nor did his admiration
end here ; that one sermon had gained for the order the
grant of a church and convent, and established the Friars
Preachers in the marches of Ancona.

Every part of the country between the Alps and the
Appennines was trodden by the unwearied feet of this
great apostle. At Cremona he met once more his
friend and fellow-labourer S. Francis, who was there,
together with his spiritual daughter S. Clare. The
three saints lodged in the same house, and an anecdote
of their meeting has been preserved. The water of a well
belonging to the house had become unfit for use, and the
people of the place, bringing some of it in a vase, begged
one of the two saints to bless it that it might recover its
sweetness. A graceful contest arose, each wishing the
other to undertake the miracle, but the humility of
Francis conquered. Dominic blessed the water, which
was immediately restored to its clearness and sweet

* Such of our readers as are familiar with the Franciscan his-
torians will doubtless be surprised at the omission in these pages
of many other interviews between the two great patriarchs, noticed
ty those writers ; but although far from wishing to decide on


In the course of his wanderings, Dominic found him-
self one night before the gates of S. Colomba, a Cister-
cian house, but the hour was late, and he would not
disturb the inmates. "Let us lie down here," he said
to his companion, "and pray to God, who will surely
care for us." They did so, and both immediately found
themselves transported to the interior of the convent.
Thus we see it was ever with the same simplicity that
Dominic journeyed ; it was the poor mendicant friar,
with his wallet on his back, and nothing save the light
that gleamed on his noble forehead to distinguish him
from other men, who went barefoot up and down the
hills and valleys of Italy, where we may now mark the
magnificent foundations of S. Eustorgio of Milan, or
SS. John and Paul of Venice, and that other convent
which lies amid the wooded hills of Como, and a thousand
others, all nurseries of saints.

The festival of the Assumption saw him once more
at Bologna, where, on his return, he found matter for
both sorrow and displeasure ; for Rodolph of Faenza,
the procurator of the convent, had in his absence made
some additions to the buildiug which the saint judged
inconsistent with the profession of holy poverty. Before
his departure he had himself left directions for the pro-
posed alterations, and even a kind of plan or model to
insure the preservation of that rigorous observance of
poverty which was so dear to him, and which he conceived
to be the indispensable condition of religion. He gazed
at the new building with tears flowing down his cheeks.
" Will you build palaces whilst I am yet living," he said,
" after such a fashion as this ? Know then that if you
do, you will bring ruin on the order ; you have pierced
my very heart." Such words did indeed pierce the
hearts of those who listened ; and during the remainder
of his life none dared speak of finishing the building, on
which not another stone was laid. And yet the cells ho

theso as being wholly fictitious, we feel ourselves obliged to pass
them over iu silence, as they are not given by Dominican author-
ities, and are often difficult to reconcile with the chronology of tho


found so luxurious and unsuitable were after all but
poor and narrow, and not much superior to those which
had been before erected. How rigid indeed was the
poverty and humility of the structure, we may judge from
another circumstance which occurred about this time.
S. Francis also came to Bologna on a visit to the religious
of his order recently established in the city, but when he
found them living in a large and spacious house, he was so
indignant that he ordered them every one to quit it, and
he himself took up his dwelling in the convent of the
Friars Preachers, "which," says Father Candidus Cha-
lippus, "he found more to his taste, and where he passed
some days with his friend S. Dominie."

Shortly after the return of the latter to Bologna, a
remarkable addition was made to the number of his dis-
ciples, in the person of Conrad the German. He was a
professor of the university, whom the brethren had long
ardently desired to have amongst them. On the evening
of the Assumption Dominic was in familiar conversation
with a certain Cistercian prior, and said to him, "Prior, I
will tell you a thing, which you must keep secret till my
death. Never have I asked anything from God, but He
has granted it to me." " Then, father," said the prior,
"I marvel that you do not ask the vocation of Master
Conrad, whom the brethren desire so greatly to have
among them." " The thing is difficult, " answered
Dominic; "nevertheless, if you will pray with me this
night, I doubt not God will incline to our request."
That night the prior kept watch in the church by his
friend's side ; and at the hour of prime, as they intoned
the hymn, Jam lucis orto sidere, Conrad entered the
choir, and demanded the habit from the hands of the

Another of the disciples of this year was John of
Vicenza, who deserves a more particular notice. Martin
Schio, his father, intended him for the law, and sent him
with this intention to Padua, then the great legal univer-
sity. There, however, a more sublime vocation awaited
him. Dominic passed through the city, and no church in
the place being large enough to hold the crowds who


flocked to hear him, he preached in the great piazza
known as the Piazza della Valle; John was there, and
that day's preaching put all thoughts of law out of his
head. As soon as the sermon was ended, he went to find
the preacher, and begged to be instantly admitted among
his followers, and to receive the habit of his order. He
made his noviciate at Bologna, but afterwards returned to
the convent of Padua, where he became one of the most
famous preachers of his time. He was called the apostle
of Lombardy, and indeed Lombardy needed an apostle in
those unhappy days, torn as it was by the wars, and
desolated by the cruelties, of Frederick II. and the tyrant
Ezzelino. John was a preacher of peace amid all the
terrible calamities of those times. He left one memorial
of himself in the salutation "God save you," which he
introduced among the citizens of Bologna during a time
of public commotion, to excite them to gentler and more
courteous treatment of their opponents, and which soon
spread through Europe, and has lasted to our own day.
The angels were seen whispering in his ear as he preached,
and his words had ever the same burden, purity and peace.
He was a fervent lover of the Bosary, and sometimes, as
he preached this devotion, a bright rose would appear on

Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 17 of 37)