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

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with his price : and though this was not permitted to be
done, yet the fact exhibits him to us under a character
which is strangely opposed to the vulgar tradition of his
severity and gloom.

It is said by some authors, that his early desires led
him to form plans for the foundation of an order for the
Itedemption of Captives, similar to that afterwards es-
tablished by S. John of Matha; but of this we find no
authoritative mention in the writers of his own order ; and
it is probable that the idea arose from the^faof to which
allusion has just been made.


Dominic is appointed canon of Osma< His mission to the north in
company with Diego of Azevedo .

[It was not until his 25th year that Dominic was called
to the ecclesiastical state./ Until that time the designs of
God regarding him had not been clearly manifested; but
some important changes which took place in the diocese
of Osma were the means of bringing him into a position
where the latent powers of his soul were displayed before
the eyes of the world. Martin de Bazan at that time
ruled the Church of Osma; a man of eminent holiness,
and most zealous for the restoration of Church discipline.
Following the plan then generally adopted in most of the
countries of Europe, he had engaged in the difficult but
important task of converting the canons of his cathedral
into canons regular, an arrangement by which they
became subject to stricter ecclesiastical discipline and
community-life. In this labour he had been greatly
assisted by a man whose name will ever have a peculiar
interest to all the children of S. Dominic, — Don Diego
de Azevedo, the first prior of the new community, and
afterwards successor to Martin in the episcopal see. The
name of Dominic, and the reputation of his singular
holiness no less than of his learning, had already reached
the ears of both; and they determined, if possible, to
secure him as a member of the chapter, not doubting
but the influence of his example and doctrine would
greatly assist their designs of reform. In his 25th year,
therefore, he received the habit of the Canons Regular, and
the influence of his character was so soon felt and appre-
ciated by* his brethren, that he was shortly afterwards
chosen suteprior, in spite of nis being the youngest of the
whole body of canons.


Nine years- were thus spent at Osma, during which
time God was doubtless gradually training and preparing
his soul for the great work of his future life.\ Jordan of
Saxony has left us a beautiful sketch of his manner of life
at this period. "Now it was," he says, "that he began
to appear among his brethren like a bright burning
torch, the first in holiness, the last in humility, spreading
about him an odour of life which gave life, and a perfume
like the sweetness of summer days. Day and night he
was in the church, praying as it were without ceasing.
God gave him the grace to weep for sinners and for the
afflicted; he bore their sorrows in an inner sanctuary of
holy compassion, and so this loving compassion which
pressed on his heart flowed out and escaped in tears. It
was his custom to spend the night in prayer, and to speak
to God with his door shut But often there might be
heard the voice of his groans and sighs, which burst from
him against his will. His one constant petition to God
was for the gift of a true charity ; for he was persuaded
that he could not be truly a member of Christ unless he
consecrated himself wholly to the work of gaining souls,
following the example of Him who sacrificed himself
without reserve for our redemption."

It is interesting, among the very scanty details left us
of Dominic's early years, to find two books mentioned,
the study of which seems to have had an extraordinary
influence in forming and directing his mind. The one
was, the "Dialogues of Cassian ;" and the other, the
"Epistles of St. Paul." In after-years he always carried
a copy of the Epistles about his person, and he seems to
have shaped his whole idea of an apostolic life after the
model of this great master. In 1201, Don Diego de
Azevedo succeeded to the bishopric of Osma, and two
years afterwards was appointed by Alfonso VIII. , the
king of Castile, to negotiate a marriage between his
eldest son and a princess of Denmark. He accordingly
set out for the north, taking Dominic as his companion ;
and it was on the occasion of this journey that, as they
passed through the south of France, the frightful cha-
racter and extent of the Albigensian heresy, which then



infected the -whole of the southern provinces, first came
under their notice. Though they were not then able to
commence the apostolic labours for which they saw there
was so urgent a demand, yet an impression was left on
the hearts of both which was never effaced ; and Dominic
felt that his life, which had hitherto seemed without any
determinate call or destiny, had been, as it were, reserved
for a work which he now saw clear before him. Probably
this feeling was strengthened by a circumstance which
occurred at Toulouse, where they stopped for a night on
their journey. The house where they lodged was kept by
a man who belonged to the sect of the Albigenses, and
when Dominic became aware of the fact, he resolved to
attempt at least to gain this one soul back to the faith.
The time was short, but the dispute was prolonged
during the whole night ; and in the morning the
eloquence and fervour of his unknown guest had con-
quered the obduracy of the heretic; before they left the
house he made his submission, and was received back
into the bosom of the Church. The effect of this first
conquest on Dominic's mind was a feeling of unspeakable
gratitude, and a determination, so soon as he should be
free to act, to found an order ft)*, the express purpose
of preaching the faith. Castiglio, m his history of the
order, tells us that the embassy on which Diego and
Dominic were employed was not to Denmark, but to
the court of France, and that it was on this occasion
that, finding Queen Blanche in much affliction on account
of her being without children, Dominic recommended to
her the use of the Rosary. The Queen, he adds, not
only adopted the devotion herself, but propagated it
among her people, and distributed Rosaries amongst
them, engaging them to join their prayers to hers,
that her desire might be granted; and the son whom
God gave in answer to those prayers was no other than
the great S. Louis. This is the first direct mention of
the devotion of the Rosary which we find in S. Dominic's
life ; it is probable, from the date of S. Louis' birth,
which is generally given in 1215, that the cireumstar >es
referred to, if they ever really took place, occurred at


some later visit to the French court. But though there
is evidently some confusion in the time, we do not like
altogether to abandon the story as without foundation;
for there is always a peculiar charm in the little links
which unite the lives of two great saints together, and
those who claim any interest in the order of S. Dominic
may feel a pleasure in thinking of S. Louis as a child of
the Kosary.


Pilgrimage to Rome. First labours among the,Albigenses

The death of the princess, whose marriage they were
negotiating, whilst engaged in a second embassy at
her father's court, having relieved Diego and Dominic
from their charge in this affair, they determined to take
the occasion of their absence from the diocese, to visit
Rome on pilgrimage before returning to Spain. Many
motives concurred in inducing them to undertake this
journey; but with Diego the most powerful one was the
desire to obtain permission from Pope Innocent III. to
resign his bishopric, and undertake the labours of an
apostolic missionary life among the Cuman Tartars, who
were then ravaging the fold of Christ in Hungary and
the surrounding countries. It would seem as if the
impressions made on the minds of these two great men
by what they had witnessed of the sufferings of the
Church in their journey through Europe, had been of
that kind which is never effaced, and which, whenever
it touches the soul, is to it the commencement of a new
life. In them it had kindled the desire to devote them-
selves to a far wider field of labour than the limits of one
diocese: they had both received the heroic call of the
apostolate. The state of the Church at that time was
one which might well make such an appeal to hearts
ready to receive it. "Without were fightings, within


were fears." Whilst hordes of savage and heathen ene-
mies were pressing hard on the outworks of Christendom,
and watering the ground with the blood of unnumbered
martyrs, heresy, as we have seen, was at work within
the fold; and during this memorable year, Diego and
Dominic had in some degree been eye-witnesses of both
these evils. We know in what manner they had been
thrown among the Albigenses of France, and it is at
least probable, that in the course of their Danish journey
they had become in some way more vividly aware of the
dangers 4f which the northern nations were exposed.
Pope Innocent, however, knew the value of Diego too
well to grant him the permission he sought, and exhorted
him not to abandon that charge which God had given
him in his Church, but to reassume the care of his
diocese; and after a short residence in Rome, the two
friends accordingly prepared to return to Spain, it being
then the March of the year 1205.

They had come to Rome as pilgrims, and it was in the
same spirit that, on their journey home, they turned from
the direct road in order to visit the celebrated abbey of
Citeaux, which the fame of S. Bernard had made illus-
trious throughout Europe. The charm of its religious
character and associations captivated the heart of Diego ;
doubtless the failure of his deeply-cherished plan had
been no little pain to him, and his return to Osma was
a hard obedience. He was suffering under that strange
thirst to strip himself of the world, which sometimes
attacks the soul at the very time when it bows to the
law that forces it back to the world's duty. Very wil-
lingly would he have remained at Citeaux, and commenced
his noviciate in that school of holy living; but as this
could not be, he contented himself with taking the habit
of the order, and soliciting that he might carry some of
tht religious back with him to Spain, to learn from them
their rule and manner of life. It is interesting to us to
know that he was probably moved to this by the example
of our own S. Thomas of Canterbury, who. several years
before, had received the religious habit at the same monas-
tery, whilst in exile from his diocese, and whose popu-


larity as a saint was just at that time at its greatest
height. After this he no longer delayed his homeward
journey; but, accompanied by Dominic and some of the
Cistercian brethren, he set out for Spain, and soon arrived
in the neighbourhood of Montpellier.

And here, if we may so speak, the will of God awaited
them. Those inward, stirrings which both had felt, yet
had not fully comprehended, had truly been the whisper-
ings of the Divine voice ; and dimly feeling in the dark,
in obedience to the hand that was beckoning them on,
the dream of a martyr's crown among the Cumans, or a
monk's cowl at Citeaux, had, as it were, been two false
guesses as to what that whisper meant. This feature in
what we may call the vocation of S. Dominic is worthy of
notice, because whilst we are often inclined to regret that
more details of his personal life have not been preserved,
there is a peculiarity in this early portion of it, not with-
out its interest. His call was not sudden, or miraculous,
or even extraordinary ; it was that which is the likeliest
to come to men like ourselves; particular impressions of
mind were given just at the time when circumstances
combined together gradually to develop the way in which
those impressions could be carried out. He was always
being led forward, not knowing whither he went. As
sub-prior of Osma he probably saw nothing before him
but the ordinary community-life of the cathedral chapter.
Then came the journey to Denmark, on a mission whose
ostensible subject was a failure, but whose real end in the
designs of God was accomplished when it brought him
into the presence of the heresy which it was his destiny
to destroy. Yet though we have reason to believe that,
from the time of his first collision with the Albigenses, a
very clear and distinct idea was formed in his mind of
some future apostolate of preaching, it is evident that
lie had no equally clear and determinate view in what
direction he was to work ; and it hung on circumstances
alone, and on the will of another, to decide whether or no
he were to end his days as a nameless missioner among
the Tartars. He was on the road back to his old home,
preparing to take up again the old duties and the old life,


which had been interrupted by two years, rich with new
thoughts and hopes now, as it seemed, to be for ever
abandoned ; and then, when he had made what was pro-
bably a painful sacrifice of great desires, those mysterious
orderings of Providence, which we call chance and coinci-
dence, had prepared for him, under the walls of Mont-
pellier, a combination of events which was to make all

The alarming progress and character of the Albigen-
sian heresy had at length determined the Roman Pontiff
on active measures for its suppression. A commission
had been appointed for that purpose, the most distin-
guished members of which were Arnold, abbot of Citeaux,
and Rodolph and Peter de Castelnau, the Papal legates.
These were, all three, Cistercian monks, and with them
were associated several other abbots of the same order.
They found their task a difficult one, for the country was
entirely in the power of Count Raymond of Toulouse,
the avowed protector of the Albigenses; and unhappily
the bishops and clergy, by their coldness and indifference,
too often even by yet more culpable irregularities, were
themselves the chief causes of the spread of the evil.
Innocent III., in a letter to his legates, speaks in bitter
and yet in touching terms of this degeneracy of those
who should have been foremost in the ranks. "The
pastor," he says, "has become a hireling; he no longer
feeds the flock, but himself; wolves enter the fold, and he
is not there to oppose himself as a wall against the ene-
mies of God's house." This scandal was of course the
great weapon used by the heretics, in all their conferences
with the legates. It was a short and triumphant argu-
ment to quote the words of the Gospel, " By their fruits
shall ye know them;" and then to point at the careless
and worldly character of the priesthood. Baffled and
confounded in all their efforts, the Catholic leaders had
met to consult together in the neighbourhood of Mont-
pellier ; and it was whilst discussing the gloomy prospects
of their commission that they heard of the arrival of the
two travellers. Their reputation, and the interest they
had shown in the state of the distracted province on the


occasion of their former visit, were well known, and the
legates sent them an invitation to assist at the conference.
It was accepted, and the disappointments and perplexities
of the whole case were laid before them.

The chief difficulty in their way was the impossibility
of convincing the heretics that the truth of the Christian
faith depended, not on the good or bad example of indi-
viduals, but on the sure and infallible word of God made
known to them through the Church. Diego inquired
very particularly concerning the mode of life adopted by
the legates and their opponents, and gave it as his
opinion that the great obstacle which had hindered the
work of souls, had been the neglect of Evangelical poverty
among the Catholic missioners. For " he remarked,"
says Blessed Jordan, " that the heretics attracted men by
persuasive means, by preaching, and a great outward
show of sanctity, whilst the legates were surrounded by
a numerous suite of followers, with horses and rich ap-
parel. Then he said, ' It is not thus, my brothers, that
you must act. They seduce simple souls with the ap-
pearances of poverty and austerity : by presenting to
them the contrary spectacle, you will scarcely edify them ;
you may destroy them, but you will never touch their
hearts.' " The words of Diego, if they convinced his
hearers, were yet a little unwelcome. None had the
courage to be the first to follow the hard counsel, and
they felt the want of one possessed of the chief authority
among them to set the example of an austere reform, and
enforce its adoption by the others. "Excellent father,"
they said to Diego, "what would you have us do?"
Then the spirit of God came upon him, and he said " Do
as I am about to do;" and, calling his attendants, he
gave orders that they should return to Osma with all the
equipages and followers who accompanied him. A little
company of ecclesiastics alone remained, of whom Dominic
was one ; but they retained nothing of external pomp, and
affected only the bearing and manners of the humblest
missioners. The example was instantly followed by the
other legates, and each one sent away all his followers and
baggage, retaining only the books necessary for the re-


cital of the Divine Office, and for the confutation of the
heretics. More than this, feeling the power of Diego's
character and influence, they unauimously elected him as
head and chief of the Catholic body, and Innocent III,,
to whom the whole of the circumstances were made
known, hesitated not to grant him the permission which
he had before refused in the case of the Cumans : he was
authorized to remain in the French provinces for the
service of the faith.


Dominic in Languedoc. The miracles of Fanjeaux and Montreal.
The foundation of the Convent of Prouille \

A NEW impulse had been given to the enterprise on
which the Catholics of Languedoc had embarked: with
the apostolic life came a daily increase of the apostolic
spirit. It was a very different thing to set about evan-
gelizing a country encumbered with the pomp of a feudal
retinue, and to traverse the same country on foot with
"neither purse nor scrip," as Diego was wont to send out
his companions daily into the neighbouring towns and
villages to preach the faith. For after the conference at
Montpellier they all set out together towards Toulouse,
stopping at different places on the road to preach and
hold disputations with the heretics, as they were moved
by the Spirit of God. We are assured that they made
this journey barefooted, and trusting to God's providence
alone for their daily wants ; and the effect of this new way
of proceeding was soon evident in the success which at-
tended their labours. At Carmain, a town near Toulouse,
the residence of two of the principal Albigensian leaders,
Baldwin and Thierry, the people received the missionaries
so warmly that they were only prevented from expelling
the Albigenses from tHeir territory by the authority of
the lord of the place, and accompanied the legates out of
the town on their departure with every sign of respect.
They proceeded iu this way to Beziers, Carcassona ; and


other places in the surrounding country, confirming the
faith of the Catholics, and in many instances reconciling
great numbers of the heretics to the Church.

Hitherto Dominic's part in these transactions has
seemed to be a secondary one : he has appeared before us
rather as the follower and companion of the bishop of
Osma, than as the man whose name was to be for ever
remembered in future histories as the chief leader in this
struggle of the faith. Few probably of those who wit-
nessed these first openings of the campaign against the
Albigenses, would have believed that the award of a
deathless fame was to fall, not to the bishop, whose
prompt and commanding spirit had been so readily re-
cognized by those who had unanimously chosen him to
be their chief, but to one who followed in his train,
known only as Brother Dominic; for he had laid aside
even the title of sub-prior, and took on him nothing but
the inferior part of the subject and attendant of another.
As soon, however, as the disputes with the heretics began
to be helct of which we have spoken, his power and value
were felt. Perhaps they were best evidenced by the
bitter hatred which the heretics conceived against him.
The same sentiments had been so unequivocally evinced
towards the legate Peter de Castelnau, that the others had
persuaded him to withdraw for a while from the enter-
prise, in order not to exasperate those whom it was their
object to conciliate. The masterly arguments and capti-
vating eloquence of Dominic, which time after time
.silenced his adversaries, and conquered the obstinacy of
vast numbers who returned to the obedience of the
Church after many of these conferences, excited a no less
vindictive feeling against him in the minds of those who
might be confounded, but would never yield. They spoke
of him as their most dangerous enemy, and did not even
conceal their resolve to take his life, whenever chance
should give them the opportunity. He behaved on this
occasion with a surprising indifference : the service of
God was the only thing that he saw before him ; and as
his days were spent in public disputations, his nights
were consumed in interviews with those who secretly


sought his counsel, or more frequently in those prayers,
and tears, and strong intercessions with God for the
souls of his people, which were more powerful anus in
fighting the battle of the faith than were the wisdom and
eloquence of his words.

Among the conferences held at this time, that of Fan-
jeaux was the most important, both from the preparations
made by both sides, and the extraordinary nature of its
termination. It would seem that the heretics had ap-
pealed to some final arbitration of their differences, and
that the Catholic leaders had not only responded to the
challenge, but even accepted as judges in the controversy
three persons whose sentiments were commonly known
as favourable to the Albigenses themselves. Each side
had put together in writing the strongest defence of their
cause ; that of the Catholics was the work of Dominic.
The three arbitrators having heard both parties, and read
the written apologies, absolutely refused to pronounce
any decision on the case ; and in this perplexity the here-
tics loudly demanded a different mode of trial,* and pro-
posed that both books should be committed to the flames,
that God might declare by his own interposition which
cause He favoured. " Accordingly a great fire was
lighted" (says Blessed Jordan), "and the two volumes
were cast therein ; that of the heretics was immediately
consumed to ashes ; the other, which had been written by
the blessed man of God, Dominic, not only remained un-
hurt, but was borne far away by the flames in presence of
the whole assembly. Again a second and a third time
they threw it into the fire, and each time the same result
clearly manifested which was the true faith, and the holi-
ness of him who had written the book. This miracle is
given by every contemporaneous writer. It is mentioned
in the lessons for the Divine office, composed by Constan-
tine Medici, bishop of Orvieto, in 1254 ; and in the fol-
lowing century Charles le Bel, King of France, purchased
the house where the event took place, and erected it into
a chapel under the invocation of the saint. A large beam
of wood on which the paper fell when tossed away by the
flames, was still preserved when Castiglio wrote his his-


tory ; and there does not even seem to have "been any
attempt on the part of the heretics themselves to deny
the fact. Yet in spite of this, there is a melancholy sig-
nificance in the expression of the historian. " A few of
the heretics were converted to the truth of our holy faith,
but as to the rest, it produced no effect ; this being the
just reward of their great sins."* It would seem as if every
age and every heresy were to act over again the scenes of
Christ's ministry in Judea : signs and miracles were thrown
away on those who had Moses and the prophets, and would
not believe.

This was not the only occasion when a miracle of this

Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 2 of 37)