R. S Alemany.

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

. (page 19 of 37)
Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 19 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

in the concluding paragraph, I 1 to the great actions which
God demands of us j" a word of heroic exhortation which


has rung for centuries in the ears of his children, and led
them on to aim at something of that greatness in the
paths of holiness which it points out to them as the object
of their vocation.

It was probably whilst the chapter was still sitting
that Dominic gave the habit to one who was eventually
to become one of the brightest ornaments of the order.
Peter of Verona, the son of heretical parents, but him-
self destined to die a martyr in defence of the faith, was
at that time a student in the university of Bologna, and
though a mere youth of sixteen, his learning and holiness
had already made his name respected among his fellows.
Dominic did not live to see the glory of his future career,
yet even now there were sufficient indications of it to
make him peculiarly dear to the heart of the saint, who
felt himself drawn by a powerful attraction to the youth
whose angelic innocence of life had been united, even
from infancy, to an extraordinary courage in the pro-
fession of the Catholic faith. " The hammer of the
heretics," as he was commonly termed, he died by their
hand, writing on the ground in his blood the word
Credo ; and among all the disciples whom S. Dominic
left behind him to continue his work, we may single out
S. Peter Martyr as the one on whom his mantle may most
surely be said to have fallen.

Leaving for awhile the course of S. Dominic's life, we
will proceed to say a few words concerning the foundation
of the order in our own island, trusting that the digression,
if it be one, may be pardoned on a subject so full of interest
to the English reader.


The order in England. Arrival at Oxford of Gilbert de Fresnoy.
Celebrated Englishmen of the order. Walter Malclerk, Bacon,
and Fishaere. The order and the universities. The German

Gilbert de Fresnoy was the person appointed by
Dominic to undertake the foundation of the new pro-
vince of England ; the establishment of which was, it is
said, resolved on in compliance with the earnest en-
treaties of certain distinguished persons of that nation.
Previous to the period of this second chapter, we can
find no mention of Brother Gilbert ; but we are told he
immediately set out with twelve companions, travelling
in the suite of Peter de Roche, bishop of Wincester,
whose " presence at Bologna, on his return from the Holy
Land, may probably have hastened the dispatch of the
English mission. They arrived at Canterbury some time
in the month of June, where the archbishop, Stephen
Langton, was then residing. He received the new
comers with extraordinary kindness, and insisted on
Gilbert's addressing a sermon to the people on that very
day. It must have been a somewhat hard tax on the
preacher's powers, the more so as he probably felt the
future success of his enterprise, in so far as it depended
on the favour of the archbishop, was in no small degree
likely to hang on the good or bad opinion he might form
of his sermon. Happily it was received with universal
applause. It was declared to be grave, elegant, and full
of wisdom ; and Stephen promised both him and his
companions that they should never fail to find in him
a friend and a protector. They proceeded on their
journey to London, and thence to Oxford, where they
arrived on the feast of the Assumption ; and having settled
in the parish of S. Edward's, they immediately erected a


little oratory dedicated to our Lady, and opened schools,
which from the name of the parish were called S. Edward'3

Thus the children of S. Dominic found themselves at
length in connection with the three great universities of
Europe — Bologna, Paris and Oxford ; although, indeed,
it was not until the famous struggle which took place
seven years afterwards at Paris, that any of their num-
bers were raised to the professors' chairs. But from the
very first, the character they aimed at as a teaching
order was universally avowed, as the very letter of their
constitutions, and the provisions they assign for the
carrying out of their system of study, and receiving
degrees, evidently show. Yet it is worthy of notice,
that the first occasion on which we find any formal
mention of their schools is in the account of those
opened at Oxford ; for hitherto, at both the other uni-
versities, they are rather spoken of as students than as
having yet assumed the office of teachers, except in the
pulpits. They continued to reside in the parish of
S. Edward's till the king granted them a site of ground
outside the walls ; but this place proving inconvenient
for their purpose, owing to its distance from the city,
they betook themselves to prayer that they might find
favour in the eyes of the university authorities. Nor
were their prayers in vain ; for they soon after obtained
a settlement in the Jewish quarters in the town, u to the
intent," says Wood, " that they might induce the Jews
to embrace the Christian faith, as well by the sanctity
of their lives as by preaching the word, in which they
excelled." Shorly after this the canons of S. Frideswide
let them some lands at a low rate ; and aided by further
benefactions from the countess of Oxford, and Walter
Malclerk, bishop of Carlisle, they built themselves a
house and church, which stood partly in the parish
of S. Aldate, on the ground belonging to the canons before
mentioned. The composition entered into between the
canons and themselves in regard to this ground still
exists, and seems to bear a little hardly on the friars ;
nevertheless, we are assured they were in favour with


them as with the citizens, "being as acceptable to the
latter for their piety, as they were to the former for
their learning." Forty years afterwards, their houses
being too small to accommodate the immense number
of scholars who flocked to hear them, they removed to
an island in the river, "in the south suburbs, and most
delightful for situation," where they continued to re-
side until the general destruction of religious houses in
the time of Henry VIII. The first who taught in the
schools of S. Edward was one John of S. Giles, "a man,"
says Matthew Paris, "skilful in the art of medicine, a
great professor of divinity, and excellently learned and
instructing." They were there greatly cramped for room,
but in their island house, we read, they had larger space ;
and that the acts of divinity were given in the church
and chapter-house, whilst the lectures on philosophy were
delivered in the cloister. They became in time the greatest
ornaments of the university, eminent, as it is said, for all the
learning of the time.

Of the great men whom they gave to England it would
be impossible to recount all the names; yet some we
should not pass over without a word of notice. Walter
Malclerk, their first benefactor, became afterwards a
member of their community, and resigned his bishopric,
and every other dignity he possessed, to assume their
humble habit. His history is a remarkable one. His noble
birth, attractive manners, and extraordinary genius, raised
him to the highest favour at the court of Henry III.,
who, besides elevating him to the bishopric of Carlisle,
made him lord high treasurer of the kingdom. In this
position many years were spent in a life of brilliant state
services ; but, as it would seem, the taint of worldly
ambition for a time obscured his better qualities and his
religious character. After a brief period of disgrace at
court, we find him again at the head of affairs in 1234;
and when, eleven years later, the king marched from
London against his revolted subjects, he left Walter
Malclerk to govern the kingdom during the period of his
absence in the field. But God had destined the con-
clusion of his life to present us with another of those


many singular conversions whose stories crowd the annals
of the Dominican order. We are not told what was the
immediate cause which wrought the change in his views
and desires, and disgusted him with the very career
which he had hitherto so ardently pursued; but as soon
as grace had effectually touched his heart, he resolved on
a generous and entire sacrifice ; and, resigning his
bishopric and distributing all he possessed to the poor,
he took the habit of the Friars Preachers at Oxford,
where he gave himself wholly to a life of penance and
religious fervour. This act of heroic renunciation filled
all England with surprise, whilst the friars themselves
were forced to admire the marvel which had transformed
a courtier and a minister of state into the humble novice
of a mendicant community. He died two years after-
wards, and left behind him several learned works. Another
reaowned member of the order was Robert Bacon, the
brother, or as some say, the uncle, of the yet more
celebrated Roger Bacon. He joined the friars when
an old man, out of the great love he bore S. Dominic.
Together with him we must notice his dear and bosom
friend, Richard Fishacre, whom Ireland calls "the most
learned among the learned." He was a great admirer
of Aristotle, whose works he ever carried in his bosom.
"He was," says Wood, "renowned both as a philosopher
and as a divine, for which reason he was so dear to
Bacon that he became his inseparable companion ; and
as they were most constant associates in life, so neither
could they be separated in death. For as the turtle-
dove, bewailing its lost mate, dies, so, Bacon being dead,
Fishacre neither could nor would survive." He was the
first English preacher who commented on the "Book of

Other convents of the order were soon affiliated to the
parent house, the Black Friars in London being one of
the earliest of these foundations. Indeed, they seem to
have been deservedly popular among the English, who
were then, as now, a sermon-loving people; and so great
were the crowds that flocked to hear the new preachers
that the sermons were generally delivered out of doors


and we find frequent mention of the "portable pulpits"
they used, convenient to be set up in the public streets.

From England they soon found their way to Ireland ;
Father Ronald, an Irishman by birth, and one of the
first missionaries from Bologna, being sent over there very
shortly after the settlement of his companions at Oxford.
He died archbishop of Armagh, having lived to see the
order spread through almost every province of the island.
The spectacle exhibited in the example of Walter Malclerk
was again and again repeated in a long list of eminent men
of both countries, who, in the succeeding centuries, laid
aside every dignity to become children in the noviciates of
the Friars Preachers.

The Franciscans soon followed in the track of their
sister order, and an interesting account is given us of
their first arrival at Oxford, where they were generously
and hospitably received by their Dominican brethren.
Two of the Friars Minors, ignorant of the country, and
perfectly friendless, had first begged at the door of the
Benedictine monastry of Abingdon, and being unknown,
and mistaken\ for " mimics or disguised persons," were
driven away With bad usage. They would have passed
the night in/ the road, if a young monk, touched with
compassipn/had not secretly hid them in a hayloft ; and
the next morning they pursued their way to Oxford,
praying as they went, that " God would dispose some
goodwill for them among the men of Oxford. Nor were
their prayers in vain; for being come to the city, and
going directly to the house of the Dominicans in the
Jewry, though they durst scarce hope for it, they were by
them entertained with extraordinary care and charity,
and having found them as friendly as the Abingdonians
had been merciless, they had the benefit of the refectory
and dormitory till the eighth day."* This mutual
exchange of hospitality forms one of the most beau-
tiful features in the history of the two orders, and might
be illustrated by innumerable examples of a similar

It will be seen that both at Oxford and Paris, and also
■k- Steven's Dugdale, from the MS. of A. Wood.


at Bologna, the order immediately assumed a position in
connection with the nniversities. In fact, this connection
was one of the principal objects contemplated by these
foundations in those cities. The constitutions of the
order were drawn up with a view of providing for a
regular system of study ; and at the same time things
were so arranged that the student was still under reli-
gious discipline, and study was made only a part of his
religious training. They were not cast abroad on the
great world of university life to shift for themselves : but
the idea was, that in all the great centres of learning
there should be a religious house, to which the students
of the order were bound as members of its community
during the period of their university course ; and so the
university and community life were woven together, and
the intellectual advantages of the one laid under the
restrictions of the other. The nature of their studies
was regulated and limited so as, if not exclusively theo-
logical, at least to bear more or less on theology. Merely
secular and honorary distinctions and degrees, granted
by the university authorities, were not recognized, the
order reserving a system of graduation in its own hands ;
and so by means of very minute and most sagacious legis-
lation, one of the great Dominican ideas was gradually
given an active and practical existence, namely, the
Christianizing of the intellect, the cultivation of human
science as a handmaid to the science of divine things,
and the pursuit of learning under the safeguard of that
subjection and spiritual bondage which secured humility.
This was the system which, founded by Dominic himself,
in the succeeding age produced S. Thomas. We say,
founded by S. Dominic himself, for it is in the very year
following that of his first visit to the brethren of S. James,
before spoken of, that we find that community described
by Pope Honorious as a The brethren of the Order of
Preachers, studying in the Sacred Page at Paris." Doubt-
less it was the peculiar adaptation of this system to
the wants of the day which produced the surprising
effects we observe in the period immediately succeeding
Dominic's death. The learning and the piety of Europe


then flowed into the order of Preachers like a great
wave. Blessed Jordan, his successor in the government,
is said to have clothed more than a thousand novices with
his own hand : and Martene, before quoted, says of him,
" There entered under his rule at Paris, into the order of
Preachers, so many masters in theology, doctors -in law,
bachelors and masters of arts, and such a countless mul-
titude of others, that the whole world stood amazed at the
grace which attended their preaching, and at the wonderful
things that they did."*

Before resuming the thread of Dominic's personal
history, we cannot pass without notice the foundation of
the German province, which took place at the same time
as those of England and Hungary. The provincial ap-
pointed for Germany by the chapter of Bologna was that
same Master Conrad who had been gained to the order
in so extraordinary a manner by the progress of Dominic ;
and when, soon after his arrival in his new government,
the people of Cologne demanded a foundation of the
friars among them, Henry of Utrecht was chosen as superior
of the new house destined to be so celebrated in the
Dominican annals. Since his profession at Paris in com-
pany with Jordan of Saxony, as related in a former
chapter, he had remained in that city, where the charm
of his character no less than of his preaching had obtained
him universal applause. But popularity had no power to
change or disturb the perfect calm and humility of his
soul. " Never was there seen in him," says Blessed
Jordan, " any trouble, emotion or sadness ; the peace
of God and the joy of a good conscience were so painted
in his countenance, that you needed but to see him to
learn how to love God." It is said that when the news
of his entrance into the order reached Utrecht, the canon
who had educated him from boyhood, and two other of
his friends, were greatly grieved ; and before setting out

* Those of our readers who may be curious for a more particular
account of the Dominican system of study, and its happy blending
of* the intellectual and monastic training, w« may refer to an article
in the Dublin heview (Sept. 1345), on " the Ancient Irish Domini-
can Schools;" and another, from a well-known writer in the
Mritish Critic (Jan. 1843) on" Dante and the Catholic Philosophy.*'


for Paris to persuade him to return, they spent a night
in earnest prayer to obtain light from God on the subject.
As they prayed, a voice sounded through the church,
saying, " It is the Lord who has done this, and He does
not change." Relieved from their anxiety, they abandoned
their first purpose, and exhorted him instead to a faithful

In 1224 the convent of Cologne was at length founded.
Henry went there alone ; but his talents, and the singular
attractiveness of his virtues, soon gathered many about
him ; his influence over the people was extraordinary.
The besetting vice of the nation at that time was blas-
phemy — one, perhaps, the most difficult to eradicate from
the inveterate force of habit ; yet such was the power of
Henry's eloquence that he inspired the whole city with a
horror of every kind of imprecation.

Cologne became in the succeeding century the nursery
of the Dominican order. Within its walls S. Ambrose of
Siena and S. Thomas of Aquin studied together under
Albert the Great ; names to which might be associated a
crowd of others who illustrated their age with the splen-
dour of their learning and the saintliness of their lives ;
and when, in the succeeding age, the violence of heresy
laid waste so many a sanctuary, and the children of Dominio
were the foremost to suffer for a cause they had ever been
foremost to defend, there were not wanting those who, by
the generous sacrifice of their lives, gave a crowning splen-
dour of martyrdom to the glories of Cologne.


Dominic's last missionary journey. His return to Bologna, and
illness. His death. Kevelations of his glory. His canoniza-
tion and the translation of his relics. "

The career of Dominic was now fast drawing to a close ;
but five years had been granted him to reap the harvest of
his long and solitary labours, and yet short as the time
might seem, it was enough j he had lived to see that little
seed, planted in the fields of Languedoc, grown into a
mighty tree, whose branches might now be said to cover the
earth, and his work was accomplished.

The chapter had broken up in the latter part of May ;
on the 30 th of the same month, Dominic received an
unusual mark of honour from the magistrates of Bologna,
who by a solemn act admitted him to the rights of a citizen,
with the privilege of entering their council and voting
on all public questions. Nor did they confine this ex-
pression of their gratitude to his person alone, but declared
it to be henceforth granted to all his successors in the
supreme government of the order. When we remember
that it was through his means that peace had been restor-
ed to the city after it had been for years the victim of
cruel civil dissensions, we feel that this was but a fitting
and natural testimony of their affection from the citizens to
their deliverer.

In the following month Dominic left Bologna on his
last missionary journey. At Venice he met Cardinal
Ugolino, and laid the foundation of the great convent
of SS. John and Paul ; some say that this visit was
undertaken with the idea that some opportunity might
still present itself which should enable him to pass to
the countries of the infidels, a plan he had nearly laid
aside. And there is little doubt that even before he
lefc Bologna he had received from God an intimation of


his approaching release. Blessed Jordan tells us, that,
being one night in fervent prayer, an unusually powerful
emotion overwhelmed him with the desire to be with
God ; and suddenly a youth of dazzling beauty appeared
before him, and, calling him by name, said to him, " Do-
minic, my well-beloved, come to the nuptials, come."
And there seemed after this time a certain change about
him, as though he knew the end of all sadness was at
hand. As he sat in familiar conversation with some of
the students and clergy of the university, he spoke with
his usual cheerfulness and sweetness for some time,
then, rising to bid them farewell, he said, " You see
me now in health, but before the next feast of the
Assumption I shall be with God." These words sur-
prised those who heard them ; for indeed there were no
signs of approaching sickness, or of the failure of that
vigorous and manly spirit for which he had been ever
distinguished. Nevertheless, when he returned to Bo-
logna after a few weeks, a marked change was visible.
His hair was thinning on his temples, the excessive heat
of the summer appeared to render him languid and
exhausted ; and yet, for all he was evidently suffering,
he never relaxed in any of his usual labours. It was the
6th of August : he had travelled from Venice to Bologna,
on foot as usual, stopping at Milan, and preaching as he
went ; nay, there was even a more than ordinary zeal
observable in his conduct, as if he felt the time was
shortening, and desired that the last hour should find
him watching and at work. As he approached Bologna,
the extraordinary heat affected him painfully. It was
evening when he reached the convent of S. Nicholas ; in
spite of his fatigue, he remained until past midnight con-
versing with the procurator and prior, and then proceeded
to the church, where he continued in prayer until the
hour of matins, notwithstanding their earnest entreaty
that for once he would consent to rest during the office.
As soon as it was finished, he was obliged to give way to
the violence of the fever, the advances of which he had
hitherto disregarded ; they begged him to allow himself
a little repose on a bed, but he gently refused, and


desired to be laid on a sacking which was stretched upon
the ground. His head was swimming with the pain and
heaviness of his malady ; but even then he would not
spare himself, but desired the novices to be called round
him that he might speak to them, for what he felt would
be the last time; and all the time his patience and
sweetness were never interrupted ; nor, spite of the
pallor of death that fast overspread his noble features,
was the joy and cheerfulness of their expression for a
moment changed.

The brethren were overwhelmed with affliction ; and
hoping that some relief might be afforded by a change of
air, they took him to Santa Maria dei Monti, situated
on a hill just outside the city. He himself, however, well
knowing that no human skill could avail for his recovery,
called the community around him that he might leave
them his last testament. "Have charity in your hearts,"
he said, "practise humility after the example of Jesus
Christ, and make your treasure and riches out of volun-
tary poverty. You know that to serve God is to reign ;
but you must serve Him in love, and with a whole heart.
It is only by a holy life, and by fidelity to your rule, that
you can do honour to your profession." It was thus he
continued to speak as he lay on the ground, whilst F.
Ventura and the other brethren stood weeping around
him. " He did not even sigh," says Ventura in his evi-
dence ; "I never heard him speak a more excellant and
edifying sermon." The rector of Santa Maria made a
rather unsuitable interruption to this scene, by suggest-
ing that, should the saint die in that convent, he would
certainly not wish to be carried elsewhere for burial.
This obliged the brethren to refer the question to him-
self, and he immediately replied, with some energy,
"Look well to it that I am buried nowhere but under
the feet of my brethren. Carry me away from here, and
let me die in that vineyard ; then no one will be able to
oppose my being buried in our own church." And
akUough they almost feared that he would expire on
the road, they nevertheless fulfilled his command, and
brought him back to S. Nicholas, carrying him through

Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 19 of 37)