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

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it has been clothed. The poetry of Dante is to poetry
what the paintings of Angelico are to art ; and indeed
the new impulse his writings gave to the early Christian
artists, exhibits the close harmony that exists between
their works and his. And if he might thus claim brother-
hood with the Angelic painter, to the Angelic doctor he
was bound by yet stricter ties. His theology is that of
S. Thomas ; and to understand the Divina Commedia, we
must first read the Summa. Thus we may understand
how it is that when he comes to draw the portrait of
" the holy athlete for the Christian faith," as he terms
S. Dominic, his words flow forth with such a power of
vivid and inspired delineation.

Do we not feel that some one greater than the herd of
common men is drawing near us, when the great master
prepares us for his coming by those few low tones of
sweetest harmony which he draws from his lyre when he
he speaks of the founder of the Friars Preachers. " There,"
he says, " where the gentle breeze whispers and waves
among the young flowers that blossom over the fields of


Europe, — not far from that shore where break the waves
behind which the big sun sinks at eventide, is the fortunate
Calarogo ; and there was born the loyal lover of the Christian
faith, the holy athlete, gentle to his friends and terrible to
the enemies of truth. They called him Dominic ; and he
was the ambassador and the friend of Christ ; and his
first love was for the first council that Jesus gave. His
nurse found him often lying on the ground, as though he
had said, ( It was for this I came.' It was because of
love of Divine truth, and not for the world, that he
became a great doctor in a short time ; and he came
before the throne of Peter, not to seek dispensations, or
tithes, or the best benefices, or the patrimony of the poor ;
but only for freedom to combat against the errors of the
world by the word of God. Then, armed with his doc-
trine and his mighty will, he went forth to his apostolic
ministry, even as some mountain torrent precipitates
itself from its rocky height. Ani the impetuosity of
that great flood, throwing itself on the heresies that
stemmed its way, flowed on far and wide, and broke into
many a stream that watered the garden of the Church."

We must apologize to our readers for giving the glorious
poetry of Dante in weak and ineffective prose ; yet perhaps
less weak and less ineffective than the attempt to render it
into such verse as a translator can give. Tf e have but re-
minded them of the passage, that they may turn to it in the
original ; for a sketch of the character of S. Dominic seems
incomplete without an allusion, at least, to the writer who
has perhaps drawn him best.

We should be departing from the plan we have proposed
to ourselves, if we detained our readers with any sum-
mary and critical examination of the character of S.
Dominic's virtues, which is usual in lives of more pre-
tension, and written with a different object to this.
But we have sought only to place this great saint before
our readers in a popular light, trusting that he might
speak to them himself in the story of his life ; and that
something of that charm of gracious joyousness on whieh
his old biographers are so eloquent, might win them to a
closer study of one whose order has been termed so


empnatically, " The Order of Truth;" and whose spirit
is, even in our own day, as young and vigorous as ever.
If there be one saint who has greater claims than another
on the love and veneration ' of the Church, struggling as
she is in our own country against the high tide of heresy,
it is S. Dominic. And if we would learn the way to
fight her battles, we can scarcely do better than sit at the
feet of one who knew so well how to be at the same time
the enemy of heresy and the lover of souls. That won-
derful intelligence, which was able to unite so rigid a disci-
pline with the flexibility which is to be found in what his
great daughter S, Catherine calls " the free and joyous
spirit of his order, "* had it been engaged in prescribing for
the wants of England in our own day, could scarcly have
devised a fitter rule for those who would labour in
her cause.

The austerity of S. Dominic was for himself and his
own children; but wherever there was the question of
saving souls, we find only the gay sweet manner that
men called magic, because they could not resist it ; the
familiarity that mixed with the people, and would let
them cut his very habit to pieces sooner than drive them
from his side; the tenderness that never wept but for
the sufferings or the sins of others, and which, as the
Castilians said, made even penance itself seem easy, when
it was preached to them by Master Dominic. All
labour came alike to him, and the rule that at other times
laid such an iron grasp upon its subjects, relaxed in a
moment when the work of God was to be done. Then,
too, how wonderful it is to find, along with all this popu-
larity and preaching, the theological spirit never separated
from any part of his design, building up every word on the
foundation of Catholic truth, and aiming yet more at
instruction than either eloquence or exortation. The
Friars Preachers were pre-eminently to be Friars Teachers ;
and from the mysteries of the Rosary up to the Summa
of 8. Thomas, we may see the same principle of
making a solid knowledge of Christian truth the ground-

* " La sua religiono, tutta larga, tutta gioconda."— Treatise on
Obedience, chap. 1.5S.


work of Christian devotion. Thus the most popular orde*
was at the same time the most learned ; and whilst
their portable pulpits were erected in the streets of London
and Oxford, and surrounded by the sermon-loving English
crowds of the thirteenth century, and the men who filled
them, and knew how to win the ear and rouse the conscience
of their rude and ignorant audience, were the same who
filled the chairs of the university with so briliant a renown,
that they may be said to have commenced a new era in
theological studies.

This mixed character, which is so distinctive a feature
of the Dominican rule, gives it peculiar capabilities in
a country crowded with population, and crying aloud to be
taught. It has its sermons and rosaries for the poor, and
its theology for the learned ; for sin and suffering of all
kinds, and in all shapes, there is the tenderness of that most
gentle and fatherly heart of its great founder, who when he
sold his books for his starving countrymen, and was ready
to sell his own life also, left to his children in those two
actions the rule of charity which he would have them fol-
low as their guide.

Of all the founders of religious orders, it may be said that
they live again in the history of their institutes ; but with
S. Dominic this perpetual presence among his followers in
all ages was the last legacy of his dying lips. And we can
scarcely close this notice of his life with fitter words than
those which, the Church places on our own, when she
teaches us to invoke him : —

" Thou didst promise after death thou wouldest be help-
ful to thy brethren. Fulfil, father, what thou hast said,
and assist us by thy prayers."




— zoo — ■


Progress of the Order after the death, of S. Dominic. Missions.
Rise of the Dominican School of theology. Albert the Great
and S. Thomas. The universities. Influence of the Order on
language, poetry, and society. S. Raymund Pennafort. In-
fluence on other religious bodies.

We should scarcely be completing the work we pro-
posed to ourselves in these pages, were we to leave our
readers without some account of the after-destinies of
the Order of Preachers. The life of a founder must
be necessarily imperfect without some notice of that
institute, which is, perhaps, the clearest expression of his
own mind and character. Whether consciously or not,
the germ of all that followed must have lain within his
own soul ; and much that it is difficult for us to bring
out in the portraiture of his single life, may be more
easily studied in the general history of his order.

The rapid progress of the Friars Preachers even during
the lifetime of S. Dominic, and the position they so soon
assumed as the great teaching order of the Church, may
indeed seem to render this glance into their after-history
less necessary with them than with many other orders
that might be named. Still, though the main features of
their mission were traced out and recognized by the
world, before their founder's death, time was needed to
call forth all their resources, and to exhibit them answer-
ing to the demands of different ages, and bringing out of
their treasure-house " things new and old," as they
shaped themselves to the wants of every fresh exigency.



And as we watch them in their work, and see them
jealously preserving the unity of their government, and
adhering to the laws as well as to the spirit of their first
institution, we cannot but admire at the same time their
wonderful adaptation of that spirit to the needs of the
times, and their aptitude in the office of teachers to the
people, as they successively occupied every avenue to the
popular intelligence and heart.

We are aware that in treating this subject we can do
little more than present our readers with what has
already been so eloquently given in the celebrated
"Memorial to the French people;" but originality forms
no part of our pretensions. History itself can be but
the repetition of the same facts from different points of
view ; and whilst the view of the Pere Lacordaire has
been that of a nationalist and an apologist, we conceive
that neither a national nor an apologetic tone would be
suitable to our own circumstances. In the same way,
therefore, as we have attempted to give the life of s!
Dominic, we shall now add a few words on the history
of his order, whose triumphs, whilst they doubtless form
part of his accidential glory in heaven, unfold to us,
century after century, something more of the character
of his own soul.

We have before . observed that the most remarkable
feature in the Dominican order has been the variety of
ways in which it has been allowed to act on the destinies
of the Church and of the world. As apostles, as theolo-
gians, as men of science, as bishops, or as simple ascetics,
in every branch of human learning, and every form of
the religious life, the world has felt the influence of the
children of S. Dominic. Two only, however, of these cha-
racteristics had perfectly developed themselves during the
life of the founder ; namely, the apostolic labours of the
order, and its cultivation of theological science, which last
was expressely enjoined on the order by its very constitu-
tions, and with a view to which the Friars Preachers had
already Sxed their residence in the neighbourhood of the
three great universities of Europe. During S. Dominic's
life, however, although the theological element had been


distinctly recognized and provided for, the apostolic cha-
racter greatly preponderated. And this was only natural :
while theologians were being slowly and painfully formea
in the schools of Paris and Bologna, a fervent noviciate
under the guidance of the saint was education enough
for the preacher, whose power lay not so much in the
depth of his science, as in the magic of his eloquence,
and the holiness of his life. We have but to recall some
of those wonderful conversions, to which we have re-
ferred in the foregoing pages, and of which the early
annals of the order are so full, and then to remember
the power of that deep religious enthusiasm which
follows on the death of human passion, and inherits all
its intensity, to understand how an ardent apostolic zeal
was sure to be the first spirit developed in an order
devoted to the salvation of souls. As time went on,
it seized on other means for the advancement of the
same object, and claimed science and the very arts as
instruments for saving souls ; but in the fresh fervour of
their institute there was not time for this, and the first
fathers of the order were necessarily, and almost exclu-
sively, preachers and apostles of the faith. It was in
this apostolic character that the order spread itself with
such rapidity over Europe during the first twenty years
of its foundation. The second chapter of Bologna, over
which S. Dominic had presided just before his death, had
witnessed the establishment of eight provinces, including
more than sixty convents — fruit enough for the labours
of six short years: before seven more had elapsed, four
new provinces had been added, under the government of
blessed Jordan of Saxony, whilst the convents and the
members of the brethren had multiplied, we had almost
said, miraculously. Jordan is said to have clothed more
than a thousand novices with his own hand ; and we are
told that the first thing done on his arrival at any of the
houses was to supply cloth for the habits of the crowd
of postulants who were sure to apply for admission.
This extraordinary expansion of the order plid not show
itself in one directon more than another ; for although
the sympathies and early associations of Jordan himself



naturally turned to the Holy Land, which was the country
of his birth, yet this attraction to the east did not pre-
vent an equal growth in other and opposite directions,
so that whilst Greece and Palestine formed two of the
new provinces, others were established in Poland and

During the brief space granted to S. Dominic after the
establishment of his order, he was permitted to clothe
with his own hands two men destined to be among the
greatest of his children, and, like himself, to be enrolled
by the church among the catalogue of her saints. The
first of these was S. Hyacinth, of whose extraordinary
vocation and subsequent career we have before spoken.
And whilst he is reverenced in his order as her greatest
apostle, the name of S. Peter of Verona stands as the
glorious first-fruits of her martyrs. We shall not attempt,
in our limited space, anything like a sketch of the labours
of S. Hyacinth, and of the other great missionaries who
followed in his steps. In later ages, infidelity has well
nigh swept away the traces of their apostolate, so that
the very names of the countries through which they
preached are lost to Christendom ; and we are apt to be
startled at the notices which we find in history, exhibiting
to us the vast extent of the empire of the Cross during
the middle ages. These accounts, which we are often
tempted to treat as mere fable and romance, receive
singular confirmation from the discoveries of our own
times ; and the vestiges of Christian doctrine and Ca-
tholic ceremonial among the Tartars of the present day
may possibly seem less unaccountable, when we remember
that not only did S. Hyacinth preach the faith in those
distant regions of Asia, as far as the northern boundaries
of China, but that with a success which is evidenced by
the distinct notices we have of embassies from Christian
princes of these countries to various European courts so
early as the middle of the thirteenth century. The exact
detail of S. Hyacinth's labours has never been preserved;
he alone could have chronicled them ; but, as one of
his historians* justly observes, "his only thought was to



save souls, and not to tell us what he did for their salva-
tion." And whilst the fruits of his prodigious toils have
in other places been utterly swept away, we cannot but
refer to what the same writer remarks as among his
greatest miracles, one ever fresh, and subsisting among
us to this day, — we mean the preservation of the faith
with so much of its first fervour in the unfortunate country
which gave him birth. Nowhere has the Catholic faith
sustained ruder shocks than in Poland ; heresy and schism,
and infidelity, and the tyranny of a foreign yoke, have
done their best to root it from her soil ; yet still she
gives her martyrs to the torture and the sword, and
the Order of Preachers, to whom she owes her great
apostle, still finds a cherished home in her torn and
afflicted bosom.

If S. Hyacinth and his followers sustained the apo-
stolic character of the order in the northern countries, a
long succession of great men might be cited, who were
for centuries the chief supporters of the faith throughout
the East. In 1330, under the pontifiate of John XXIL,
we find the Friars Preachers established in Armenia,
and one of their number, the blessed Bartholomew of
Bologna, governing the Church of that nation as arch-
bishop of Naksivan. By his labours the Greek schism
was well-nigh exterminated out of the land,* and the
Armenians returned to the Church in crowds. He also
made a successful resistance to the progress of Mahome-
tanism, then beginning to extend its baneful influence
through the East ; and we may gather some idea of the
position of the order in Armenia from the tradition of
the Christians of that country, who affirm that seven
distinct churches were founded at that time, whose
bishops were all taken from the ranks of the Friars
Preachers. These dioceses were established in Persia,
Caffa, Georgia, and the countries on the shores of the

- <- Clement Galanus tells us of a certain Brother John, an English-
man, and companion of blessed Bartholomew's, who assisted him
in the translation of a vast number of theological books into the
Armenian dialect, and adds, that many copies of these translations
Were to be found in the Armenian convents of the order still exist-
ing in his time.


Black Sea ; and even after the triumph of Mahometa'nism
in these regions, the Dominicans stood their ground, and
their houses were still existing in Armenia up to a late
period. The archbishopric of Naksivan, first filled by
blessed Bartholomew, still exists : and his orthodox suc-
cessor rules in our own day over a widely-extended
diocese, in which the free exercise of the Catholic faith
has been tolerated under the successive rules of the
Tartars, the Saracens, and the Persians. So late as
the date of Touron's history, the archbishops were still
nominated by the superiors of the order, and chosen from
its ranks.

In Persia the success of the Dominican missions was
scarcely less brilliant. Under the same Pope, Franco of
Perugia was appointed archbishop and metropolitan of
Sultana, while six religious of his order were named to
other sees. Nor were these empty titles. We have
abundant proof of the rapid extension of the Church in
these new proviuces from the Papal briefs, which grant
power to the archbishop to consecrate other bishops as
necessity might require, and give the charge of all the
churches, left without a sufficient number of pastors, to
the community of the Friars Preachers. And here we
may again observe the special blessing which seems to
rest on the missionary labours of the order ; for the
primate of Armenia being won over to recognize the
primacy of Borne by the zeal of Father Franco, his
successors have ever since continued in the orthodox
communion, and enjoy the title of "the Catholic."*

Our readers would perhaps smile were we to include
among the missionary conquests of the order the dominions
of Prester John ; and quote the romantic pages of Uretta
with their wonderful tales of the convents of Plurimanos
and Alleluia, each inhabited by many thousand religious,
and more than four leagues in circuit, with their eighty
dormitories, each one with his own church and offices,
and their refectories a mile in length. But though
the extraordinary legends of the Spanish writer belong
rather to poetry than to history, it can scarcely be



doubted but that some ground existed for his nairative;
and that the Dominican Order had at one time made
so extraordinary a progress in Abyssinia and Ethiopia
that, while no authentic records are left of their achieve-
ments, their memory has been retained in the exaggerated
fables of romance. The merest glance into the history
of those countries, now overspread by Mahometan ism,
astonishes us with the idea it presents of the extent to
which Christianity had spread in the south and east; and
in the annals of the order we have indications of the
countless martyrs who fell in the defence of these almost
unknown churches. For everywhere the aposlolate of
the Friars Preachers was sown and sealed in blood ; and
throughout Poland, Hungary Armenia, and Tartary, the
first century of their labour yielded to the Church a
glorious addition to her white-robed company of martyrs.
Meanwhile, the other element of which we have spoken,
that of theological science, was developing itself in an
equal degree. The very year that was marked by the death
of S. Dominic witnessed the admission into the order
of one who may be called the first-fruits of its theology.
This was the stupid Swabian novice, driven to despair
during his noviciate because he was too dull to learn,
but who, receiving the gift of a profound intelligence
from the very hands of Mary, has been known to all suc-
ceeding ages by the title of Albert the Great. * Albert
may be taken as the very type of a doctor, or master of
those times, and as such, his name, under the mythological
guise of poetic fable, has been made as well known as
that of Faust or Cornelius Agrippa. It need scarcely
be said that the poetical and the historical Albert are
two very different personages ; yet a man's learning must
needs be something wonderful to admit it to legendary
fame. Perhaps, in few ages but the thirteenth would
learning alone have gained him such a distinction ; but
that singular century presents us with the romance of
science. We are accustomed to talk much of the taste
for knowledge exhibited in our own day, yet it may
be questioned whether, with all our education, we can in
x- See No. 3. of "Catholic Legends.''


any degree comprehend the enthusiasm with which our
fathers of the middle ages entered into the arena of
philosophy and scholastic learning. One great cause of
the popularity of science in those days may doubtless be
found in the method by which it was taught. The press
was then unknown, and men learnt everything from the
lips of their teachers ; the teaching came to them with
all that living, personal charm which ever gives so far
more powerful an influence to the spoken than to the
written word ; and so philosophy and grammar, the
logic of Aristotle, and the sentences of Peter Lombard,
which would seem but dull "reading for the million" in
the nineteenth century, were popular in the thirteenth,
and excited an extravagant enthusiasm when dressed in
the witchery and grace of rhetoric. We are surely right
in speaking of this age as the romantic era of learning,
when it furnishes us with such a scene as that given in
the life of the Great Albert on his first visit to Paris in
the year 1248. He came there to lecture on the sen-
tences, as he had previously done in all the cities of
Germany. His fame preceded him, and no school in
the University was large enough to contain the crowds
who flocked to listen to his words ; so they and their
lecturer were forced to adjourn to the great square out-
side, and the subtle discourse of the great master was
delivered on the spot since called the "Place Maubert,"
a corruption of the words, " Place Maitre Albert."

The variety of Albert's learning is indicated in the sen-
tence by which his contemporaries describe him, " Magnus
in magia, major in philosophia, maximus in tlieologia ;"
but whatever his distinction of these branches of learning,
we may safely say that his crowning glory was in the
disciples whose minds were formed under his own. His
prodigious intellect was the morning star of Dominican
science, but a very galaxy followed ; and at one time he
numbered among his pupils in the University of Cologne*

•* Among other pupils of Albert the Great, and fellow-students
ofS. Thomas, we may mention blessed Thomas Joyce, an English-
man, who joined the order with his five brothers, and was afterwards
created cardinal of Santa Sabina by Clement V.


Thomas Cantipratano, S. Ambrose of Siena, S. James of
Bevagna, B. Augustine of Hungary, and, above and
beyond all others, S. Thomas Aquinas, whose fame soon

Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 21 of 37)