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

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of his brethren to take possession of the chapel and
monastery, they were welcomed to the solitude by the
cries of the birds who came forth to greet them. And if
we consider the works of active charity practised by the
friars, so many of whom fell victims in their services to
the plague-stricken, and the innumerable hospitals and
institutes of mercy that owed their origin to them, as the
orphanages founded by S. Vincent Ferrer in almost every
city of Spain, this view of their beneficial influence on
society, apart from their writings or actual apostolic
labours, may be largely extended. Nay, were we to
attempt anything like an examination into the subject,
we might startle our readers by the variety of inventions
and institutions of practical and social utility,* quite dis-
tinct from religion, which have originated with the friars
of both orders, and which show at once their kindly
sympathy with the people's wants, and their universal
influence for the amelioration and civilization of society.
In the words of Balmez, " if the illustrious Spaniard,
Dominic of Guzman, and the wonderful man of Assisi,
did not occupy a place on our altars, there to receive the
veneration of the faithful for their eminent sanctity, they
would deserve to have statues raised to them by the
gratitude of society and humanity." Then, after rapidly
sketching the change beginning to be felt in Europe at
the time when the mendicants first arose, he proceeds to
draw the portrait of these new orders in words which
need no apology for their insertion. " They are not," he
says, speaking of the friars, " anchorites living in remote
deserts, nor monks sheltered in rich abbeys, nor clergy
whose functions and duties are confined to any particular
place ; they are men without fixed abodes, and who are

* For instance, the institution of the "Mor ~ di Pieta," so well
known in Catholic countries, and so admiral substitute for the

pawn-broker's shop, is to be attributed to a friar minor, Barnabo di
Terni, who made the first experiment of the kind at Perugia during
the pontificate of Leo X.


found sometimes in populous cities, and sometimes in
miserable hamlets ; — to-day, in the midst of the old con-
tinent, to-morrow on a vessel which bears them on peril-
ous missions to the remotest countries of the globe ;
sometimes they are seen in the palaces of kings, enlight-
ening their councils and taking part in the highest
affairs of state ; sometimes in the dwellings of obscure
families, consoling them in misfortune, reconciling their
differences, and giving them advice on their domestic
affairs. These same men who are covered with glory in
the chairs of the universities, teach the catechism to
children in the humblest boroughs ; illustrious orators
who have preached in courts before kings, go to explain
the gospel in obscure villages. The people find them
everywhere, and meet them at every step — in joy and in
sorrow ; these men are constantly ready to take part in
the happy festivities of a baptism which fills the house
with joy, or to lament a misfortune which has just covered
it with mourning. We can imagine," he continues, " the
force and ascendency of such institutions. Their iufiu-
ence on the minds of nations must have been incalculable :
the new sects which had aimed at misleading the multi-
tude with their pestilent doctrines, found themselves face
to face with an adversary who completely conquered
them. They had thought to deceive the simple by the
ostentation of austerity, and to strike the imagination by
the sight of exterior mortification and poor clothing ;
but the new institutions united these qualities in an
extraordinary degree ; and the true doctrine had the
same attributes which error had assumed. Violent
declaimers had sought to take possession of the minds of
the multitude by their fiery eloquence; but in all parts
of Europe, we meet now with burning orators, pleading
the cause of truth, who, well versed in the passions, ideas,
and tastes of the people, know how to interest them, and
use in defence of religion what others avail themselves of
to attack her. They are found wherever they are wanted
to combat the efforts of sects. Free from all worldly
ties, belonging to no particular Church, or province, or
kingdom, they have the means of passing rapidly from


one region to another, and are found at the proper time
wherever their presence is most urgently required.', *

But there is just one peculiarity in the mission of the
friars to society at large on which we must briefly touch ;
it is the part they took as the peacemakers of the world.
Whether we look to what they did as popular mendi-
cant preachers scattered over the face of the world, or to
the influence exerted by their chiefs and great dignitaries,
we shaji always find the same spirit evinced ; and these
persecutors of the people, and enemies of freedom, as
some have loved to represent them, are emphatically men
of peace. Beautiful upon the earth were the feet of those
who brought the glad tidings which healed the feuds and
factions of those turbulent ages : of some, like the
English Lawrence, and S. Vincent Ferrer, we read, that
they never left a town or village without having chased
away all hatreds and discords from the place. Others,
like Crescenti in Russia, were legates of peace to distant
countries. The pontificates of two of the Dominican
Popes, Innocent V. and Benedict XI., short as they were,
were both distinguished by successful exertions in extin-
guishing the bloody and rival factions of the time.
Cardinal Latino Frangipani went about through Italy on
this heavenly mission, and received the title of the prince
of peace ; and the same might be said of a vast number
of others whose names would fill a volume.f But that
)ur readers may form some idea of the lovely character
sf these missions of peace, we will add a passage from
the life of the blessed Ventura of Bergamo. He was one
of those gentle and loving men whose tenderness draws
to their feet the greatest criminals, whose hardened hearts
ire melted by their charity and their tears. It is
thus that Oderic Raynaldus describes his labours at
Bergamo in the cause of peace. The fruits of his preach-
ing were visible in a vast crowd of penitents, who abjuring
their ancient animosities, were formed into a united con-
fraternity, and conducted by the blessed father on a
pilgrimage to Rome. Thus, at the time when the lords

* " Protestantism and Catholicism Compared,"' ch. 43.

t See - Mores Catholici," book ix. ch. 12


and tyrants of Italy, busy with the thought of satisfy-
ing their ambition, their avarice, and their cruelty, were
deluging her cities with blood, Ventura, full of zeal for
the salvation of souls, determined to oppose to these devices
of the demon of discord a holy society of Christians, who,
led by a different spirit, should have no other stand-
ard than the cross, and no other device than the three
words, " Peace, Penance, and Mercy." These pious
pilgrims to the number of 10,000, and followed by an
almost infinite multitude of people, journeyed along, wear-
ing white robes, with a little cloak of a blue colour. The
cross was seen on one side of their habit, and on the
other a dove with an olive branch in its mouth. In
their hands they bore instruments of penance, and still
as they went they chanted the praises of God, or those
oft-repeated words, " Peace, Penance and Mercy." The
order they preserved in their march filled all men with
admiration ; they went two and two, and kept close
to the rules prescribed by their holy leader. And so
they travelled till they reached Rome, where they
solemnly sealed the reconciliation of all their feuds on
the tomb of the apostles. We are assured that the
spectacle of this singular procession, and the very sound
of the words they repeated as they marched, brought
peace and mercy " to the cities through which they passed,
and inspired with compunction the hearts of the greatest

We read the same of almost all the early preachers
of the order ; as of Angelo of Perugia, the angel of
peace to Florence, " where he caused all hatreds, quar-
rels and ancient feuds to cease, and reconciled the chief
families of the city." Of John of Vicenza we have else-
where spoken ; but we cannot refrain from inserting
in this place the description given us of his labours in the
words of an ancient historian : " Never," he says, " since
the time of our Lord Jesus Christ, were there seen such
multitudes gathered together in His name, as were assem-
bled to hear this friar preach peace. He had such power
over all minds, that everywhere he was suffered to
arrange the terms of reconciliation ; and through reve-


rence for him the greater part of the multitude used to
listen to him with bare feet. Many who had been mor
tal enemies, moved by his preaching, of their own accord
embraced and gave each other the kiss of peace."* And
of the great preaching in the meadows of Verona, we read
in a contemporary chronicle : — " Such a multitude assem-
bled as had never been before seen in Lombardy, it being
by the river-side, about four miles from Verona, and there
he proposed the authority of Christ, S Peace I give to
you, my peace I leave with you,' and preached peace to
Lombardy and all Italy, adding warnings and denuncia-
tions against any who should dare in future to interrupt
that blessed peace."

We must return from the digression, which seemed
necessary in referring to the influence of the friars on
society, so much of which was exerted, not through their
writings, but by the effect of their personal presence and
intercourse in the world ; and which, powerful as it was,
has of course left no monuments behind it, so that in
many cases those who have done the greatest works are
the least known to posterity. We have alluded to the
preaching of Taulerus and Henry Suso ; but with them
the case has been different, for they were also writers,
and their worksf which remain among us have preserved
their fame, and conferred on them a high rank in the

* Life of Riceiardus, Count of S. Bonifaee.

t We are glad to take this oportunity of reminding our readers
that the admirable work of Suso, his " Little Book of Eternal
Wisdom," has been recently translated into English, and it is ito be
hoped that his beautiful life will soon also be known among us.
Nor can we omit in this place quoting the words of one of the
greatest modern writers of Germany, Frederic Sehlegel, as h? con-
trasts the Language of the Catholic ages, with that which has pre-
vailed since the rise of Protestantism. " Besides a Kempis,"
he says, " there are several other religious writers of the fifteenth
century, and even of an earlier period, who, though less known,
were distinguished by a similar spirit, partly among those who used
the Latin ian°u u ge, then universally current, and partly among
those who, like Taulerus, made the German the vehicle of their
thoughts. Were we to compare the gentle simplicity, the charming
clearness of thought and expression which reign in the wor s of
these writers, with the productions of the following age of bar-
barous polemic strife, we should be furnished with the best eriteiioa
for duly appreciating the earlier and the later period."


school of mystic theology. But, as we have before said,
it was not merely as theologians that the Dominicans
distinguished themselves in this first century of their
career. The part they took in the general revival of
learning was equally great, and we may particularly refer
to their cultiviation of the Oriental languages, a study
which has been always in a particular manner cherished
by the order. It was John the Tewtonic, the fourth
general of the Friars Preachers, who, at the general
chapter at Metz in the year 1251, added the greater
part of those statutes to the constitutions which refer to
the regulation of the studies ; and it was to him, in com-
pany with S. Raymund Pennafort, that we may attribute
their first direction to the cultivation of Oriental litera-
ture. Not that these great men can at all claim to be
the first who rendered this branch of learning popular in

It is a little singular that Schlegel should not have more parti-
cularly alluded to Henry Suso, whose works might be more fairly
compared, in point of style, with those of Thomas a Kempis, than
the writings of Taulerus. He might have added, that, along with
the charm of simplicity, these early German writers have a depth
of pathos, and a beauty of imagination unknown to the controver-
sialists of modern times. Nothing, we suppose, can go beyond the
winning plaintiveness of Suso's style ; and both he and Taulerus
are, as it were, personally made known to us in the singular and
exquisite biographies which are attached to their works. We may
add, that for those who find ihe Germanism of blessed ^uso a little
rugged in his English dress, Monsieur E. Cartier has furnished a
modern French version which is everything they can desire.

We can but hope that the day is not far distant when the bio-
graphy and writings of Taulerus may also find an English trans-
lator. It was the consideration of the advantages to be gathered
from the study of his works that obliged Cardinal Bellarmine to give,
him the just and glorious title of" a preacher eminent for piety and
learning;" and the celebrated Louis of Blois, who defended the
purity of hi3 teaching against the indiscreet and uncharitable zeal
of those who sought to bring suspicion on it, boldly calls him " the
zealous defender of the Catholic faith, whose writings are not merely
orthodox, but even divine." A celebrated prelate of France, more-
over (Sponde, bishop of Pamiers), who has continued the history of
Cardinal Baronius, hesitates not to assert that il he is a man worthy
of all admiration, and that his works are full of the unction and
grace of the Holy Spirit;" to which he adds a very remarkable
fact, namely, " that by a kind of prophetic spirit he has predicted
the heresies which only rose in later ages, and groaned in tender-
ness over those wounds of the Church which are rut raflicted till
long after his death.'' (From the advertisment prefixed to tho
French translation of the Institutions of Taulerus, 1681.)


Europe. During the Moorish dominion in Spain the
Arabic philosophy, grounded as it was on the writings of
Aristotle, had become the rage in Europe; and we know
that the ardour with which it was pursued in the 13th
century appeared so dangerous and excessive to Innocent
III. as to call forth from him a decided censure. But
with the Dominicans Orientalism was cherished, not from
the love of vain philosophy, but, as became their apostolic
vocation, as an assistance and necessary instrument in
the defence of the Christian faith. The Jews and Moors
were in those days the formidable adversaries of religion ;
they possessed many sources of learning shut out from
the Christians ; and the fact that the " Summa" of S.
Thomas was principally directed against their contro-
versialists, may give us some idea of the position they
then held as enemies of the faith. Spain was the great
battle-field of Christianity against infidelity, and it was
there that, among his other great labours, S. Kaymund of
Pennafort used his influence with the kings of Arragon
and Castile for the establishment of colleges for the
express study of the Oriental languages, as an indispensa-
ble weapon to be used in the disputes with the Jewish
and Mahometan doctors. To him also the world proba-
bly owes the great work of S. Thomas to which we have
just referred, for we are told that it was written at his
request and suggestion. Nor were his efforts without
success : Christianity seemed to make instant head
against the infidels on the adoption of those studies in
the colleges of the order; and Clement VIII. did not
hesitate to say that by the introduction of Hebrew and
Arabic learning S. Raymund had contributed to the glory
both of Spain and of the Church, and been the cause of
the conversion of thousands. In fact, we have his own
testimony in a letter to Humbert, the successor of John
the Teutonic in the government of the order, that no
fewer than 10,000 Saracens had been received to the
Christian faith, since the commencement of these studies,
and, among them, many of their most learned men. The
cultivation of the Greek and Hebrew languages is ex-
pressly provided for in the constitutions; and we shall


find on examination that a very large proportion of the
great writers of the order have been chiefly distinguished
for their proficiency in these studies, and in those so
closely connected with them, namely Biblical learning and

We cannot of course propose to ourselves to give even
the names of all who claim our notice as stars in the
Dominican heaven; but the mention of Biblical learning
suggests one, even in those early times, too distinguished
for his services in that branch of science to be passed
over in silence; this was Hugo a Sancto Charo, the first
cardinal of the order, and the author of the first Concord-
ance of the Bible ever attempted. Mariana tells us that
no fewer than 500 religious of the order laboured at this
great work under his direction, and that those after-
wards compiled by the Jews and Greaks were in imita-
tion of it ; nor can we over-estimate the encouragement
which such a work must have given to the study of the
Sacred Text. His piety was equal to his learning, and
his exertions had no small share in the establishment of
the feast of Corpus Christi; the devotion to the Blessed
Sacraments being one of the objects to the propagation of
which he may be said to have dedicated his life.

But the learning of the Dominican order was the least
remarkable feature which it displayed during the first
century of its existence. We may venture to point to
its great men, as men, and to the singular force and hero-
ism of their character as offering the best explanation of
the rapid extension of their institute over the world.
Let us take the first five generals of the order after the
death of S. Dominic. We can hardly picture to ourselves
a group of more remarkable and admirable characters.
There was the blessed Jordan with his divine simplicity,
his good-humored bonhomie of disposition, and his fear-
less courage, which prompted him to utter the boldest
truths even to such men as Frederick II. There was
S. Raymund of Pennafort (for the Friars Preachers were

* Blessed James of Voragine, archbishop of Genoa, known as the
author of the Golden Legend, was the first translator of the Bible
into the Vulgar tongue. His Italian version of the Old and New
Testaments was made in 1254, or thereabouts.


happy in this also, that they were ruled in those early
ages by a dynasty of saints), but of him we shall presently
have to speak more particularly. Then comes John the
Teutouic, the fearless preacher of peace, whose bold re-
bukes, strangely enough, like those of blessed Jordan,
also won the friendship and confidence of Frederick. Not-
withstanding the extraordinary difficulty of his position,
placed as he was between the contending interests of the
Pope and the emperor, he displayed a firmness and
prudence which would have proved equal to the govern-
ment of a kingdom. Under him the order is thought to
have attained its highest glory, and his generalship may
be considered the most brilliant period of its history.
Paris, Bologna, Cologne, Montpellier, and London, wit-
nessed those chapters of the Friars Preachers which were
recognized as the assemblies of saints. Our readers will
pardon us for inserting an extract from the letter addressed
to the Prior of Montpellier by Guy Fulcodi, afterwards
Pope Clement IV. He had come to town, in company
with his sister, to witness the deliberations of the fathers.
It was the festival of Pentecost, and it is thus he describes
the scene; "We entered your church, where, whilst she
[his sister] prayed, humbly prostrate on the ground, and
entreated the Lord to look favourably on so many of those
who laboured for His glory, she felt her confidence increase
with her importunity ; and as the choir intoned the l Veni
Creator, 1 she beheld descending from on high a great flame
which covered all the choir and remained above them till
the conclusion of the hymn."

What shall we say of the blessed Humbert, the suc-
cessor of John, and the author of those Chronicles whose
charm and grace have surely never been surpassed ? Who
can read his letters to his brethren, and not feel his own
heart kindled with some touch of that heroic zeal which
breathes in every line! What noble and elevating
thoughts, what a great and gallant spirit, must have dwelt
in the heart that thus pours forth its animating exhorta-
tions, ever reiterating the old battle-cry of the order,
"God's honour, and the salvation of souls!" And in all
these men, with all their splendid qualities, how vainly


should we look to find one spark of that ambition so
common with the simply great men, whose greatness is
not linked to the humility of the saint. S. Kaymund
resigned his office, having held it only two years. Hum-
bert did the same at the chapter of London, after a
government of no more than nine years. " He has been
considered," says Touron, " as the perfect model of a wise,
zealous, and vigilant superior; able to bear with the
infirmities of the weak, but incapable of admitting aught
that could enervate the vigour of regular discipline." He
was a great writer, and even in our own day the order feels
his influence, and may drink his spirit in the various com-
mentaries and explanations on the Rules and Constitutions
which he has left behind him,

Again, as confessors and spiritual guides to the people,
the influence of the friars was felt even more universally
than as preachers or men of learning. As the counsellors
of kings, they had a vast share in giving that Christian
tone to the government of the day which is so striking a
feature in the history of the thirteenth century. For
instance, where can we look for higher ideals of Christian
monarchy than in the examples of S. Louis of France,
James of Arragon, Alphonsus III. of Portugal, and S. Fer-
dinand of Castile ? They are the noblest types of royalty
which the mind can picture, and have excited the enthu-
siasm even of Protestant eulogists. Yet it is impossible
to doubt that much of that sanctity which renders them
so admirable, is to be attributed to the character of their
spiritual advisers, and these were all Dominicans. S. Peter
Gonzales was the confessor of S. Ferdinand; Geoffrey de
Beaulieu held the same office to S. Louis of France;
S. Raymund of Pennafort enjoyed the unlimited con-
fidence of James of Arragon; and, in short, we are told
that, during the government of John the Teutonic, the
kings of France, England, Castile, Arragon, Portugal, and
Hungary, invariably chose their confessors and chaplains
from the ranks of the Friars Preachers. The whole his-
tory of such men as S. Peter Gonzales and S. Raymund
exhibits them to us in what we might call a semi-political
character, labouring to sanctify a royal court and army;


and though S. Raymund's eminence as a canonist, and the
celebrity of his works on penance, as well as the fact of his
having had so large a share in the formation of the Consti-
tutions of his order, entitle him to rank as one of its most
distinguished writers, yet it is not as an author that we
know him best : by those who are familiar with his life he
is rather remembered as a great man and a great saint.
And because authorship is at best but a human thing,
we will leave it for a moment to glance at one episode in
the life of S. Raymund which is connected with another
of the glories of his order; its influence, namely, in the
formation and reform of other religious bodies. In the
same work, from which we have already made such fre-
quent quotations, Balmez distinguishes, as among the
most remarkable institutions of the thirteenth century,
the rise of the orders for the redemption of captives.
Certainly, in days when the abolition of slavery has been
so popular a theme, and freedom so national a boast, there
should be peculiar sympathy for the work of heroic charity
to which the two Institutes of Mercy and the Trinity so

Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 23 of 37)