R. S Alemany.

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

. (page 24 of 37)
Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 24 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

nobly devoted themselves. The latter, indeed, we may
almost claim as an English order, so large a share had
our own nation in its first foundation* and government ;
while its calendar of saints and martyrs is enriched with a
catalogue of English names which England has well-nigh

The deep sympathy felt by the Order of Preachers
for this work of the redemption of captives is evident
from many facts. We have in a previous page related
how S. Dominic himself was on one occasion so moved
by the sufferings of his captive brethren, as to offer to
be sold to the Moors in order to procure the redemption
of a poor woman's son. Many writers of the order add,

■;:- Among the fellow-students of S. John of Matha in the univer-
sity of Paris, who first joined his order, were .John of England,
William of Scotland, and Roger Dee, also an Englishman, and a
learned doctor of the day. John and William were the chief co-
operators with the holy founder in the beginning of his enterprise,
and successively governed the order after his death ; whilst among
its canonized saints is the English martyr S. Serapion, with others
of less note.


that he had resolved at one time to consecrate his life to
this undertaking, but that God made known to him by a
particular revelation that it was the work reserved for S.
John of Matha, and that his calling was rather to labour
for the conversion of heretics. We may consider it almost
certain, that these two great men were known to one
another, and that S. John did actually co-operate with
S. Dominic in his labours among the Albigenses ; for it is
said that in the year 1202 he was charged by Pope Inno-
cent III. with a mission to the Count of Toulouse and
the Albigenses, and that he preached in Languedoc on
his return from the court of Rome to Spain ; which
seems the more probable from the fact of his order
having been at that time established in Provence. If
then, as seems likely, the two founders were personally
known to one another, we may imagine how deep must
have been the sympathy of minds whose objects and desires
were so alike.

It is not, however, of the Trinitarian Order that we
are about to speak in this place, but of the sister Order
of Mercy, in whose establishment S. Raymond Pennatbrt
had so large a share, and whose founder was also, as is
more than probable, a familiar friend of S. Dominic ;
for the first time we meet with the name of S. Peter
Nolasco, it is as a crusader in the army of Count Simon de
Montfort. At the victory of Muret, Peter, then twenty-
five years of age, played a distinguished part ; and when,
on the death of King Peter of Arragon, the fortune of
war threw his infant son, Prince James, into the hands
of the conqueror, De Montfort, with the chivalrous
feeling for which he was so remarkable, having a tender
regard and compassion for his little prisoner, selected
the young soldier, as the bravest and noblest of his
knights, to be the guardian and tutor of the prince, and
sent them both back to Barcelona, then the chief re-
sidence of the court of Arragon. To this brave and truly
Christian soldier Kinsr James owed the blessings of his
religious education, and had reason to look back on the
defeat of Muret as one of the chief blessings of his life.
If the infancy of the prince was thus connected with


one of the great incidents in the life of S. Dominic, his
manhood was passed under the guidance and influence
of the order of preachers j for S. Raymund of Pennafori
was, as we have said, his most intimate adviser, and held
the office of confessor both to him and to S. Peter
Nolasco. The circumstances which led to the foundation
of the Order of Mercy are among those supernatural
events, the evidenee of which has been placed beyond
the possibility of a doubt. On the same night, the
Blessed Virgin appeared in three distinct visions to 8.
Peter, King James, and S. Raymund, and charged them
to commence the establishment of an order for the
redemption of captives among the Moors, promising
them her patronage and assistance. It was at once begun,
and on the feast of S. Lawrence, 1223, the king and
S. Raymund led S. Peter to the Cathedral church of
Barcelona, where the bishop Berengarius received his
religious profession, adding to the three essential vows
of religion one to devote his life, substance, and liberty
to the randsoming of slaves. Then was presented one of
those striking scenes so common in the ages of faith :
S. Raymund ascended the pulpit, and annonnced to the as-
sembled people the Divine revelation which had given
rise to this foundation, and declared the manner with which
the will of God and the favour of Mary had been made
known at once to himself, the king, and the saint who stood
before them ; after which he gave the habit of the new
order to S. Peter with his own hands, as we learn on the
authority of Mariana.

The constitutions of the Order of Mercy, as it was
thenceforward designated, were entirely drawn up by
S. Raymund, whose peculiar skill in this branch ox
legislation was well known ; and he is even reckon ati
as its second founder. But nothing in connection with
this singular history has, as it seems to us, a deeper
interest than the words of the saint himself, still pre-
served in the letter of S. Peter Nolasco ; in which, when
many years had passed over their heads, he remi.uls
him of that eventful night, when both of them had
gazed upon the face of Mary. For S. Peter, over-

s. raymund's letter to s. peter nolasco. 257

burthened by the charge of superiority, at one time
thought of imitating the example of S. Raymund and
laying down the government of his order, to seek repose
in a humbler and more obscure position. S. Raymund,
however, well knew the necessity of his continuing at
the head of the institute he had founded ; and the letter
by which he succeeded in turning him from his design is
still extant. He had himself resigned the mastership of
the Order of Preachers, and was forced to use much
ingenious humility to pursuade his friend that in so
doing he had not given him a precedent. Then he
continues in the following terms : " But for you, dear
brother, rejoice in the Lord ; or at any rate afflict not
yourself because you see yourself at the head of your
order ; for it is not your own choice, but the very oracle
of the Mother of God that has placed you there. To
what other pastor has that Queen of Virgins ever said,
' Feed my sheep ? ' Would you then resist her will ?
I cannot think this of you. I conjure you, by the holy
love we must all bear that Blessed Virgin, never to
abandon the flock she has entrusted to your care. Re-
call, dear father, the thought so sweet and consoling of
that happy night, illumined, as it seemed, by a ray of
Eternity, when your merits made me also to share in the
blessedness of the heavenly citizens. I mean that night
when we were both honoured by the visible appearance
of Her whose divine beauty surpassed the beauty and
brightness of the sun. Ah ! how can you ever yield to
sadness — you who have been consoled by the choirs of
angels, and by the favourable looks of Her who con-
ceived the very Word of God ? Could it have been for
the loss of any one ? or must it not have been for the
salvation of those who were perishing that the Mother
of mercy thus deigned to show herself to her ser-
vants ? If, therefore, it is any sentiment of humility
which urges you to resign your rank, remember in what
manner you were called to it, and be persuaded that
what is contrary to that Divine vocation can never come
from God." There is something of most thrilling in-
terest in this allusion to the vision of Mary ; nor can we



recall anything in the lives of the saints which more
realizes a supernatural visitation than these words, in
which the recollection is so tenderly and devoutly brought
to mind.

In alluding to other orders in whose foundation or
reformation the Dominicans have taken part, the order
of Semites, or Servants of Mary, should not be forgotten.
The singular origin of this order is probably familiar to
many of our readers. Seven rich merchants of Florence,
members of a devout confraternity dedicated to " our
Lady of praise," were praying in the oratory of their
confraternity on the festival of the Assumption, when
each felt himself moved by a secret and powerful impulse
to dedicate himself in some special way to God and our
Lady. Communicating their impressions to one another,
they resolved on distributing all their wealth to the poor,
and abandoning the world to embrace an austere and
eremitical life. They accordingly retired to some cells
on Monte Senario, about six miles from the city, and on
their first appearance in the streets of Florence in the
rough penitential habit they had assumed, the people to
whom their persons were familiar, gathered about them
with surprise, and the children ran after them crying
out " See ! there go the servants of Mary !" This cry
was, it is said, repeated by an infant of five years old
who was carried by in his nurse's arms. The child was
afterwards S. Philip Beniti, the great ornament of the
order of Servites ; and the name thus bestowed on the
little company was ever afterwards retained by them. It
was the time when the Church was suffering grievously
from the disorders of the Manichean heretics, and when
S. Peter Martyr so nobly upheld the standard of the
faith in the northern provinces of Italy. He filled the
ofnce of Inquisitor of the faith under the Pontiffs Gre-
gory IX. and Innocent IV., and on the accession of the
latter to the Holy See, the task of examining the cha-
racter of the new society, whose members had rapidly
increased, was laid on S. Peter. His inquiries resulted
in a warm approval of their spirit and manner of life;
and his cordial recommendation of them was quickly


followed by the formal confirmation of their order by
the new Pontiff. No doubt the tender and special
devotion ever borne by the great martyr of the Friars
Preachers to the Mother of God, was one chief secret of
the earnest support he gave to her servants, who from
the first commencement of their association had made
the dolours of Mary the peculiar object of their re-
verence ; so that they may be considered the great pro-
pagators of that most touching devotion. Some writers
even go as far as to assert that the first idea of erecting
the pious association into an order originated with S. Peter,
and though this wants confirmation, yet it is probably true
that the plan of withdrawing them from their exclusively
contemplative and solitary life, and employing them in
active labour for the salvation of souls, was of his
suggestion. Touron speaks only of his diligent and ex-
act examination of their rule, and recommendation of it
for confirmation to the Holy See, but in the original
chronicles of the order of Servites the story is given with
the addition of some of those circumstances of supernatural
interest, which the French historian so universally rejects
from his narrative, but which form the peculiar charm of the
old writers.

According to F. Michael, the Servite chronicler, it
would seem that the interest felt by S. Peter in the
hermits of Monte Senario was the result of a divine
revelation. Many a time did he, being in ecstacy, behold
before the eyes of his soul a mountain surrounded by
most clear light, adorned with every kind of flower,
among which seven lilies of dazzling whiteness far sur-
passed the rest in beauty and delicious perfume; and
his wonder and admiration increased when he beheld
them gathered by the angels, and presented to the
Mother of God ; and accepted by her with a joyful
and gracious countenance. He often pondered over this
vision, but never understood its meaning till he came to
the holy mountain of Senario : there the life of the
solitaries, who had left the world to dedicate themselves
to God and our Lady, and to cherish a loving com-
memoration of Her sorrows, seemed to explain the
s 2


mystery, and he was enlightened to discern the graea
which dwelt in these men, and specially of their seven
founders ; whose cause and order he thenceforward
generously protected and advanced. Nor were tho
Servites backward to express their gratitude. S. Peter
Martyr has always been honoured amongst them as their
second founder, and after his glorious martyrdom and
subsequent canonization, he was enrolled among their
chief protectors and patron saints. In the notice of his
martyrdom inserted in their chronicles, he is called by
the common appellation of "familiar of our order."*

We might mention other orders which felt the in-
fluence of the Friars Preachers, especially the Carmelites.
Their rule appearing to many excessive in its austerity,
the religious applied to Pope Innocent IV. for some expla-
nation of its obscurities ; and Hugo a Sancto Charo, the
cardinal of Santa Sabina, was the person selected for the
task. Three centuries later, when the Dominicans had again
so great a share in the reform of the same order, S. The-
resa refers to this their first connection, in the following
words: "We observe," she says, "the rule of our Lady
of Mount Carmel, without any mitigation, as it was
ordained by Father Hugo, cardinal of Santa Sabina, and
confirmed by Pope Innocent IV." This revision of the
Carmelite rule took place during the generalship of S.
Simon Stock. *

To these orders we may add the Congregation of the
Barnabites of S. Paul, whose rule was committed to the
revision and examination of Leonard de Marini, Papal
Nuncio at the council of Trent, by Pius IV. before
granting it his confirmation ; the Order of Grandmont,
whose rule was revised by Bernard Geraldi, appointed
visitor to the order by Honorius IV. in 1282 ; and
several Benedictine reforms, in which the eminent men of
the Order of Preachers had a prominent share. It is
time, however, for us to bring this chapter to a close, that
we may enter on the general history of the order during
the second century of its foundation.

-::- See Touron. Yie de S. Dominique, liv. 5. and Chron. Ord. Serv.
p. 11— 15.


The 14th century. Pestilence of 1348. The great schism. 8.
Catherine of Siena. Reform of the Order. S. Yincent Ferrer.
Greatness of the Order during this period. Its foreign missions.
Its prelates. S. Antoninus. Council of Basle. Zeal of the
Order in defence of the Holy See. Council of Florence. John

Whilst glancing, in the last chapter, over some of the
great men and distinguished writers of the Dominican order,
we have for a time abandoned the course of its history. The
contest with the universities was not the only one in which
it had to bear a leading part ; and the second great struggle
in which it was engaged brings us to consider what we may
call its influence on the politics of the Church. If the thir-
teenth century was busy with the disputes of the schools,
the fourteenth was torn by distractions of a far more
grievous kind : it may be termed the century of schism.
The two great factions of Gruelf and Ghibelline, Italian in
their origin, extended in their spirit and effect throughout
the whole Church; and in every country of Europe eccle-
siastical privileges had to sustain a fierce attack from the
encroachments of the civil power. The most important
of these contests was, of course, that to which the names
of the two factions is more particularly applied — namely,
that between the emperors and the Popes. In the long
and complicated history of that quarrel we find the Order
of Friars Preachers offering to the chair of S. Peter a
defence, the loyalty and devotion of which is not to, be
surpassed even by that of the illustrious society which
has made allegiance to the Popes an obligation to which
its members are bound by vow. The emperors and the
antipopcs seem to have had a sort of instinctive horror
of the Friars Preachers, as of their natural enemies ;
and we accordingly find Louis of Bavaria, and his nominee
to the schismatic tiara, Nicholas V., driving the order


out of every convent in Germany, and such cities of the
north of Italy as acknowledged their obedience. For
three years the order suffered the most violent persecution
for its adherence to the rightful Pontiff, John XXII.,
which was only terminated by the death of the emperor
and the consequent fall of the antipope. In '^348, a new
calamity fell on the Church in the terrible plague which
ravaged Europe and desolated whole provinces, so that,
we are told, many districts remained wholly without
inhabitants, the domestic animals became fierce and wild,
and cultivated regions fell back again into vast untenanted
deserts. The great novelist who has given us a sketch of
some of the terrors of that dreadful time, has left us
likewise an idea of its frightful demoralization. Men
grew familiar with death till they ceased to fear it, and
there appeared among them that strange form of sen-
suality which would make the most of the brief hour which
separates it from the grave, and even links its licentiousness
with the idea of the pestilence which it defies — a sensuality
which has been exhibited in our own day, and in our own
day also has found a novelist worthy to be the chronicler
of its abominations.

The very year when this pestilence broke out was that
which gave to the world one of the brightest ornaments
of the Dominican order. We can scarcely picture to
ourselves the state of the world during those thirty-three
years that S. Catherine of Siena was its glorious apostle.
It was a period of universal decay; and the religious
orders felt the effects of the universal declension equally
with the rest of the Church. The Friars preachers, who
had nobly exposed themselves to the relief of the plague-
stricken, died by thousands ; and those who were the
worthiest in their ranks were the surest to be taken,
falling victims to their noble charity to the sick and dying.
Nor was the reduction of their numbers the only or the
worst evil resulting from the scourge. A time of pesti-
lence is never a time of strict observance, and when the
scanty remnant that survived the epidemic beheld their
order reduced to a tenth of its former numbers, — some
conven s left wholly without inhabitants, — others with


communities of twos and threes, where formerly they had
been reckoned by hundreds, they yielded to a fatal human
prudence ; and by the way of filling up the empty ranks
admitted all kinds of subjects under all kinds of dispensa-
tions, relaxing the rule, even allowing community life to be
relinquished in many places for the sake of securing to the
order the adherence of those who were in reality unfit
for its duties or its austerities.

A grievous and universal relaxation was the inevitable
consequence of this unhappy policy ; and when, in 1378,
the great schism of the West broke out, and Europe,
already suffering from the demoralizing influence of long-
continued pestilence and famine, was again distracted by
a divided spiritual allegiance, the miserable state of all
classes of society became such as it is difficult to believe,
and impossible to describe. This was the period during
which S. Catherine lived and wrote ; and it is just that
we should have some knowledge of the causes and extent
of that fearful corruption which she was raised up by
God to denounce and to reform, if we desire to have
any idea of her true historical character. It was doubt-
less one wholly extraordinary, but so were the times ;
and we need to be in some degree aware of their deep
degradation to understand those bold and severe denun-
ciations of vice in every form, in every class, which
are to be found in her inspired writings. At once the
chief support of the Papacy and the apostle of the age,
S. Catherine has other claims which have perpetuated
her name to the veneration of the faithful, far beyond her
own day. As a mystic writer, she holds a rank in the
Church, which we cannot well place too high ; and the
term "inspired," which we have just ventured to apply
to her writings, will scarcely seem exaggerated to those
who are familiar with their profound and most heavenly
teaching. As a saint, she is perhaps the most perfect
type of the Dominican ideal ever given to the world.
Her mind, her life, and her writings, are all steeped in
the essential spirit of the order. Large and free, full of
enthusiasm, and full of good sense ; chivalrous in every
impulse and purpose, devoted with unswerving loyalty to


the Holy See, and full of divine and infused science, we
see in Catherine an epitome of the Dominican character.
Nor can we anywhere seek for a more perfect example
of that which is the primary idea of the institute, namely,
the union of the active and contemplative states, than is
to be found in the life of one who soared to the very
heights of divine contemplation, not in the solitude of
conventual enclosure, but amid the jarring vexation of
ordinary domestic duties, or the distractions of what we
might almost call a public and political career. In her
are combined the seemingly opposite characteristics of
other saints j — the wisdom and theology of the doctors of
the Church, with the simplicity of him whose title, as
well as whose supernatural and mysterious privilege of
suffering she shared, namely, the seraphic* saint of

The great schism lasted 70 years; and we must not be
surprised if during the perplexities of that unhappy
period we find good men coming to a different decision
on the claims of the rival candidates. It is easy for us
in our day to go over the problem as it has been worked
and solved by others, and to come to the ready conclusion
that Urban was Pope, and Benedict and Clement were
antipopes ; just as it is easy for us to see the landmarks
about us when we have emerged from a fog, and have made
our way to a higher ground, whilst it is still thick
darkness to those whose eyes are blinded with the mist.
Doubtless its difficulties must have been very great ;
and sorrowful as is the fact, we must not be hasty in
our judgment of it when we find the already enfeebled
order in part sharing in the schism, and the provinces of
France, Castile, Arragon and Scotland, with their general,
Elias Raymund, under the obedience of the antipopes,

* The title of " Seraj)7ric J) given in common parlance to the
whole Franciscan Order is not, so far as we are aware, bestowed on
any individual saint except S. Bonaventure, the Seraphic doctor, 8.
Catherine, and 8. Francis ; the two latter having also this peculiar
privilege, that the Church has recognised and honoured their
reception of the stigma by appointing festivals for their commemo-
ration ; a distinction which, we believe, is exclusively their own.


whilst the rest of the order adhered firmly to the cause of
Urban and his successors. But in the history of orders,
as in that of the Church itself, the period of relaxation is
followed by that of reform. The relaxation must indeed
have been great, if we may trust the words of Michel
Pio, who, writing in the seventeenth century, acknow-
ledges that its effects were still felt even in his day. The
reform, however, which was chiefly worked out under
Raymund of Capua and Bartholomew Texier, grievous
as were the evils in which it originated, exhibited in a
remarkable manner the vitality of the Dominican rule,
which even in decay has ever possessed within itself
the power of regeneration. There were no new ordi-
nances or rules drawn up ; and when we use the word
" reform," our readers must understand the expression
in a totally different sense to that which it would have in
speaking, for instance, of the Capuchins or Cistercians,
who when they returned to their original rule, broke off
at the same time from the unity of the parent stem. But
this has never been the case with the Dominicans : their
unity of government has remained absolutely unbroken,
and their reforms have consisted only in a return to the
observance of that rule to the fulness of whose provisions
nothing could be added. This return to strict observance
was not indeed universal ; and hence we sometimes find the
terms conventual and observant used, as among the Francis-
cans, to distinguish the stricter from the more relaxed com-
munities ; but nevertheless, the government of the order

Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 24 of 37)