R. S Alemany.

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

. (page 18 of 37)
Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 18 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

his forehead, or a golden sunny crown would glitter over
his head. He had a marvellous power over the fiercest
animals; eagles were obedient to him, and a wild un-
tamable horse became tractable at his bidding. His devo-
tion to the memory of Dominic was very remarkable, and
Father Stephen of Spain assures us that 100,000 heretics
were converted by only hearing the account of his life
and miracles as narrated by his devoted follower. The
Pope at length appointed him on a mission of pacification
to the north of Italy, and such was the success of his
labours, especially after a discourse addressed to the
populace on that very Piazza della Valle where he had
first heard the eloquence of his holy father, that all the
contending parties agreed to abandon their differences
and accept of peace. Ezzelino alone held out; and con-
earning him John had an awful vision. He saw the
Almighty seated on His throne, and seeking for a scourge


for the chastisement of Lombardy, Ezzelino was chosen
as the instrument of his wrath, and surely a more terrible
one was never found. At that time John had never seen
him, and when first they met, and he cast his eyes on
him, he wept, recognising him as the man he had seen in
his vision, and cried aloud, " It is he whom I saw — the
scourge of Lombardy. Woe! woe to thee, unhappy
country ! for he shall execute judgment on thee to the
uttermost." Nevertheless, even this monster was in
some degree touched and softened by the preaching of
Blessed John. We can scarcely imagine a more won-
derful and beautiful sight than that presented on S.
Augustine's day in the Campagna of Verona, when the
banks of the Adige saw 300.000 people met together,
with the princes and prelates of half Italy, to swear a uni-
versal peace. There, by the river-side, rose an enormous
pulpit sixty cubits high, that John, who stood in it to
harangue and bless the vast assembly, might be seen by all.
Ezzelino himself was there. A few weeks before, he had
been burning and laying waste everything that was before
him, and Mantua, Brescia, and Bologna had all united
in besieging the unhappy city of Verona. But one
powerful and impassioned appeal of blessed John had
changed the entire scene ; and now the sun rose on that
vast assembly, ranged in order according to their dignities,
and in the midst of a profound silence he addressed them
again from the words of our Lord, " Peace I give you,
my peace I give unto you;"* and such was the power of
his eloquence that even Ezzolino hid his face and wept.
Then was heard a cry that rose from that great multitude
as from one man. " Peace, peace," they cried, " and
mercy !'" And then, when they had given vent to their
emotion, John spoke again, and blessed them in the name
of the Pope, and all swore to peace and unity, and Ezze-
lino and his brother Alberic were proclaimed citi:ens of
Padua. And in the evening there were rejoicings — the
first that land had seen for many a day — fires and illumi-
nations, music and happy laughter, all the hours of that

-::- These words are engraved on the foot of his image in the church
of the Holy Crown, at Vicenza.


summer's night, to celebrate " The Festival of Peace."
It was of short duration ; yet, short as it was, and soon
disturbed by the unquiet spirits of evil men, there was a
harvest of glory won that day that was worth a thousand
battle-fields of victory. Ezzelino soon added heresy to
his other crimes, and while he deluged Lombardy with
blood, he let loose on it the poison of false doctrine.
The cities of Italy at length banded against him, and in
1259 he was taken prisoner; and refusing to be cured of
his wounds or to reeeive any food, he died a miserable
death of despair. An obscurity hangs over the last days
of John of Vicenza. By some he is said to have died
in the prisons of Ezzelino; whilst others affirm him to
have found a martyr's death among the Cumans. But,
however this may be — and the uncertainty of his fate is
but one among many examples of the indifference of the
order to historical fame — the acclamations of Italy declared
him " Blessed;" a title from time immemorial allowed
by the Sovereign Pontiff, though never ratified by any
formal process of beatification.

To return, however, to Dominic and his novices. The
vocations of which we have spoken were certainly very
remarkable, and were often the result of what we should
call a mere chance, directed by the providence of God.
Thus, a certain priest, greatly drawn to the person of
Dominic, yet still uncertain how to act, had recourse to
a favourite custom of those days, and opening the Bible
after prayer, beheld the words addressed to the centu-
rion, " Arise, and go with him, nothing doubting, for I
have sent him." The same means were adopted by
another, Conrad, bishop of Porto, who was a Cistercian
monk, and entertained grievous and perplexing suspi-
cions as to the character of the order. He opened his
missal, and read the words, "Laudare, henedicere, prae-
dicare;" and embracing the saint the next time he met
him, he exclaimed, "I am all yours: my habit is Cistercian,
but in heart I am a Friar Preacher." Sometimes the
sudden vocations of some caused violent opposition from
their friends. A young student, just received to the
habit, was beset by all his relations and companions, who


threatened, if he would not return to the world, to carry
him off by violence, Dominic's friends advised him to
seek the protection of the magistrates. " Trouble not
yourselves, my good friends," he replied, " we have no
need of magistrates; even now I see more than two hun-
dred angels standing round about the church, and guarding
it from our enemies.''

These threats of violence were sometimes, however,
carried into execution. There was among the novices a
youth whose singular gentleness and sweetness of disposi-
tion greatly endeared him to Dominic . His name was
Thomas of Paglio ; and shortly after his reception his
relatives forcibly carried him off by night, and dragging
him to a neighbouring vineyard, stripped off his habit,
and clothed him in his former worldly garb. Dominic,
hearing what had happened, immediately betook himself
to his only arms, of prayer ; and as he prayed, Thomas
was seized with a strange and unendurable heat. "I burn,
I burn," he cried ; " take these clothes from me, and
give me back my habit ; " and having once more gained
possession of his woollen tunic, he made his way back to
the convent in spite of all opposition, and at the touch
of that white robe of innocence the fiery anguish was
felt no more. The same author who relates this circumstance
tells us that other miraculous signs, besides those of the
efficacy of his prayers, were noticed as attaching to the
person of Dominic. A student of the university who
served his Mass, attested, that as he kissed his hand, a
divine fragrance was perceptible, which had the power of
delivering him from grievous temptations with which he
was tormented ; and that a certain usurer, whom the saint
communicated, felt the Sacred Host burning against his
mouth like hot coals, whereupon he was moved to penitence,
and making restitution of all his ill-gotten gains, became
sincerely converted to God.


Heretics of northern Italy. Foundation of the third order. Last
visit to Rome Meeting with Fulk of Toulouse. Second gen-
eral chapter. Division of the order into provinces. Blessed
Paul of Hungary. S. Peter Martyr.

The heretics of Northern Italy, of whom freqnent men-
tion has already been made, were not less violent in their
attacks on the rights and property of the Catholics than
their brethren of Languedoc. Protected as they were in
many cases by the secular princes, who in their constant
feuds one with another made use of them as political instru-
ments, even when no way sharers in their opinions, they
availed themselves of every opportunity for seizing the
lands of the Church, so that the clergy were in many places
reduced to the same state of degradation and dependence
which had already produced such frightful effects in Lan-
guedoc. It was to oppose this abuse, and to place a bar-
rier against that social corruption which everywhere follow-
ed on the track of the Manichean heresy, that Dominic
founded his third order. Intimately entering into the needs
of his age, his quick and sagacious eye perceived that his
institute was imperfect so long as it aimed at the salvation of
souls only through the ministrations of preaching, or the
discipline of convent rule. The world itself was to be
sanctified ; therefore, out of the world itself should be
formed the instruments of sanctification. The " Militia of
Jesus Christ." as the new institute was called, ranked un-
der the standard of the Chureh those of either sex who had
received no call to separate themselves from the ordinary
life of seculars, and yet desired to shelter it under the
skirts of the religious mantle. The first object contem-
plated in its institution was the defence of ecclesiastical
property ; but this was a very small part of the work to
which, in God's providence, it was afterwards called.


The third orders of Dominic and Francis completed the
conquest of the world. They placed the religious habit
under the breastplate of warriors and the robes of kings.
They were like streams, carrying the fertility of Paradise
to many a dry and barren region, so that the wilderness
blossomed like a rose. Something of the barrier between
the world and the cloister was broken down ; and the
degreees of heroic sanctity were placed, as it were, within
the grasp of thousands, who else, perhaps, had never
risen above the ordinary standard.

These third orders have given us a crowd of saints,
dearer to us, perhaps, and more familiar than any others,
in so far as we feel able to claim their close sympathy
with ourselves; and the more so, that t<hey are a per-
petual witness to us, that no path in life is so busy, or so
beset with temptations, but that God's grace may cover it
with the very choicest beauty of holiness. As time
went on, and the circumstances of its first institution
had passed away, the Militia of Jesus Christ exchanged
its name for that of " the Order of Penance of S. Domi-
nic," and by degrees assumed more and more of the re-
ligious character ; particularly after S. Catherine of Siena
had by her example given a new shape to the order,
in so far as regarded its adoption by her own sex ; and in
her life, and that of the numberless saints who have trod-
den in her steps, we see the final triumph and vindication
of what we may venture to call the primary Dominican
idea ; namely, that the highest walks of contemplation
are not incompatible with the exercises of active
charity, amd the labour for souls ; but that a union of
both is possible, which more nearly fulfils our conception
of the life of Christ than the separated perfections of

The circumstances attending the first establishment of
this order are unknown to us; many authors are of
opinion that it is to be referred to a much earlier date,
and that it was even the first of the three founded by
S. Dominic, having been originally instituted in Lan-
guedoc for the resistance of the Albigenses. It is very
probable that some kind association had been formed


by him among the Catholic confederates, and afterwards
developed into a more regular shape, when the renewed
encroachment of the heretics in Lombardy rendered a
similar means of protection desirable ; for such a sup-
position would harmonize very much with S. Dominic's
general method of action. It is certainly not a little
remarkable, that an uncertainty hangs over the founda-
tion both of this institute, and even of the first regular
establishment of his greater order, which shows how
little the thought of human praise or celebrity found
its way into the soul of their author — like the silence in
the Gospels on the life of Mary, which tells us more of
her sublime humility than many words could do — and
this humility and simplicity of action forms also, if we
mistake not, a large feature in the portraiture of Domi-
nic. It is without doubt, however, that to him must be
ascribed the first origin of this form of the religious life ;
for the third order of S. Francis, which so long divided
with its sister institute the favour of Christendom, was
not founded until 1224, three years after S. Dominic's

The December of 1220 saw Dominic once more in
Rome. This, his last visit to a city which had been the
scene of so many labonrs and miracles, is marked by the
date of various fresh briefs and privileges granted to his
order by its faithful friend and benefactor, Pope Hono-
rius. The first of these briefs was for remedying some
irregularities which had taken place in the ordinations of
the brethren ; others were addressed to the bishops and
prelates of the Church, recommending the order to their
protection in terms of the warmest eulogy ; and one
dated April 1221, had reference to the nuns of S. Sixtus,
to whom it secured the possessions formerly enjoyed by
the community of the Trastevere. This visit to Rome
was the occasion of a meeting that must have been full
of the tenderest interest to the heart of Dominic. Fulk
of Toulouse was then at the pontifical court ; little more
than three years had elapsed since that dispersion of the
sixteen brethren of S. Romain, which had taken place in
his own presence, and now he witnessed the triumph of


an order to which he had been so true a nursing father.
Three years had converted the prior of Prouille, the
leader of that devoted little band whose destinies, to every
eye but his, seemed then so hopeless and obscure, into
the. master-general of a great order, whose convents were
spread through the length and breadth of Christendom.
All things in their respective positions were changed, save
Dominic himself; but Fulk could have detected no dif-
ference -between Dominic the apostle of Languedoc, and
Dominic the master of the Friars Preachers, save in the
adoption of a yet poorer habit, and those few silver hairs
which, we are told, his long labours, and not his years,
had begun to sprinkle over his tonsured head. But the
heroic heart, the patient gentle spirit, the simple hearty
joyousness of his friend, were still the same ; and so, too,
was the disinterestedness of his soul, of which Fulk had
proof in a transaction whose acts are still preserved.
This was the renunciation, on Dominic's part, of that
grant, formerly made by the bishop, of the sixth part of
the tenths of his revenues for the support of the order
when it was yet young and friendless. The principle of
poverty had since then been more strictly developed in
the institute, and Dominic believed he could no longer
in conscience accept this revenue, even though given, in
the very terms of the grant, as an alms to the poor of
Christ. Fulk, on his part, confirmed the donation of the
church of Notre-Dame-de-Fangeaux to the religious of
Prouille; for it will be observed that the rigid law of
poverty which he enforced on the rest of his order, he
relaxed in favour of the communities of women, for whose
state he judged a moderate revenue was requisite to be

It were to be wished that more particulars had been
left us of the great patriarch's last appearance in the
Roman capital. Rome had witnessed the epopee of his
life; henceforward S. Sixtus and Santa Sabina were to
become classic names among his children; and if, as we
have reason to believe, a prophetic knowledge had been
granted him that the period of his death was not far off,
there must have been a peculiar charm in his parting


visits to these familiar scenes. As usual, every day saw
him at the grating of S. Sixtus, renewing his exhortations
to the sisters to keep fast to the holy rule under whose
power they had been transformed into the saintly life.
The affection which he so faithfully preserved for these
spiritual children is illustrated by one of the miracles
related to us by Sister Cecilia as happening at this time.
Upon a certaiu day he stopped at the gate, and, without
entering, asked of the portress how Sister Theodora,
Sister Tedrano, and Sister Ninfa were. She replied they
were all three ill of fever. " Tell them," said Dominic,
"from me, that I command them all to be cured;" and
at the delivery of the message they all three arose in
perfect health.

Dominic's presence was always peculiarly welcomed in
Rome, where he was well known to many of the cardinals
and others attached to the Pontifical court ; and these
vie one with another in the diligence with which they
sought his companionship ; for as it was well expressed in
the bull of his canonization, " none ever spoke to him and
went away without feeling the better." But popularity
was the last thing that he sought ; and it is to be believed
that the celebrity he enjoyed at Home was one of the
principal motives for his formerly removing his residence
from thence to Bologna, whither he now returned early
in the month of May, to meet the second chapter of the
order, which was about to assemble in that city. On his
way he passed through Bolsena, where he was often
accustomed to stay, being at such times always hospitably
entertained by a certain citizen, who, to prove his friend-
ship for his guest, left it as an obligation to his heirs
that they should always receive and lodge all the Friars
Preachers who should pass through Bolsena in time to
come, a condition still faithfully observed at the end of
the thirteenth century, as Theodoric of Apoldia narrates.
This particular mark of esteem was probably a token of
gratitude, for it happened that in one of. his visits to this
house, Dominic had preserved the vines of his host in the
midst of a violent storm which devastated all the surround-
ing vineyards.


The second chapter of Bologna opened on the 30th of
May, 1221. Dominic, at the commencement of their pro
ceedings, addressed the brethren at considerable length,
laying before them the state of the order in the countries
wherein it was already established, and proposing its still
farther extension. It appeared that sixty convents were
already founded, and yet a greater number in course of
erection. For the more perfect government, therefore,
of the order, it was now divided into eight provinces, and
a prior-provincial appointed to each of them ; namely,
to Spain, Toulouse, France, Lombardy, Rome, Germany,
Hungary, and England. These two latter countries were
yet to be colonized by the Friars Preachers ; and the
appointment and despatch of their first missioners formed
one of the undertakings of this chapter. Of the founda-
tion of the English province we shall presently speak
more at length ; that of Hungary was placed under the
government of a native of the country, named Paul, who
had recently been received into the order by Dominic,
and had previously filled the chair of canon law in the
university of Bologna. Immediately after his reception,
Paul was despatched to his new province with four com-
panions, of whom one was Blessod Sadoc of Poland, the
tale of whose martyrdom, with his forty-eight compa-
nions, is among the most interesting incidents recorded
in the annals of the order.* The crown of martyrdom
was reserved for Paul also. He received it the following
year, together with ninety of his brethren, from the hands
of the Cuman Tartars, who infested the borders of
Hungary, and whose conversion to the Christian faith
had so long formed the cherished day-dream of S. Dominic.
It would seem, indeed, as though this nation, whose
barbarity exceeded that of any of the savage hordes that
still hung round the boundaries of Christian Europe, was
destined, if not to be converted by his order, at least to
fill its ranks with an army of martyrs. Another of Paul's
earliest companions, Blessed Berengarius of Poland, the
archbishop of Cracow, was slain by them a few years
afterwards, and in 1260 seventy more were sent to join
* See No. 2. of " Catholic Legends," in this series.


their company; all of whom, it is said, were children and
disciples of the glorious S. Hyacinth

The extraordinary manner in which these first founders
propagated the order in the countries whither they were
sent, may be estimated by the number of these martyrs :
the ninety who died in company with blessed Paul must
all have been gathered into the ranks of the institute
within a year from the period of his departure from
Bologna. If this may be taken as anything like a fair
proof of the stimulus to religion which everywhere
followed on the appearance of the Friars Preachers,
it may perhaps dispose us the more readily to believe
an incident which is said to have occurred just before
the meeting of this second chapter. Two of the brethren
who were travelling towards Bologna, were met on the
road by a man who joined himself to their company and
fell into conversation with them. He inquired the object
of their journey, and being informed of the approaching
thapter, "What," he asked, "is the business which is
likely to be discussed ?" " The establishment of our
brethren in new countries," replied one of the friars ;
"England and Hungary are amongst those proposed."
" And Greece also," said the stranger, " and Germany,
is it not so?" "You say truly," returned the friar;
"it is said that we shall shortly be dispersed into all
these provinces." Then the stranger utttered a loud cry
as of great anguish, and exclaiming, " Your order is my
confusion," he leapt into the air, and so disappeared;
and the friars knew that it was the voice of the great
enemy of man, who was thus compelled to bear witness
to the power which the servants of God exercised against

The convents of the Friars Preachers in the new pro-
vince of Hungary may be said to have been planted in
blood, that seed of the Church which has never failed to
bring forth the hundredfold. " In blood were they sown,"
says Marchese, "and in blood did they increase; so that the
more they were slain, so much the more numerous did
they become, till within a brief space a province was
erected of vast extent, including the countries of Molda-


via, Transylvania, Croatia, Bosnia, and Dalmatia ;' and
this was afterwards divided into two, the second of which,
bearing the name of Dalmatia, contained a great number
of convents, illustrious for the names of many saints and
martyrs who flourished in them

In his address to the assembled fathers, Dominic gave
them an earnest exhortation to the pursuit of the sacred
learning, that they might be the better fitted for the
charge laid on them by their vocation as Preachers. He
reminded them that the briefs granted so liberally by the
Vicar of Christ, recommended them to the favour of the
universal Church, inasmuch as they were therein de-
clared to be labourers for God's honour, and the salvation
of souls, and that this end could never be attained with-
out a diligent application to the divine Scriptures ; he
therefore enjoined all who should be engaged in the
sacred office of preaching to apply without ceasing to
the study of theology, and to carry always with them
a copy of the Gospels, and the seven canonical Epistles.
The letter commonly attributed to S. Dominic, and pur-
porting to be addressed by him to his religious in the
province of Poland, after the conclusion of the second
general chapter, has been questioned by some as of
doubtful authenticity. Without venturing to decide the
disputed point, we may refer to the peculiar force with
which the study of the divine Scriptures is recommended
in this letter, as exactly harmonizing with the tone of his
address to the chapter : it is given by Malvenda and
Bzovius as undoubtedly the work of S. Dominic, nor
was its authorship ever called in question until the time
of Echard. Touron, in his life of the saint, has entered
into the critical examination of the question, and decides
that the evidence is all in favour of its authenticity ;
while the letter itself is, as he says, not unworthy of
him. It breathes a noble spirit throughout, exhorting
the brethren to a fervent observance of their rule, and a
life worthy of the angelic ministry with which they were
charged. " Let us apply ourselves with energy," he adds

Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 18 of 37)