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

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has never once been divided, save in the case of the great
schism of which we have spoken above.

Dur:ng this reform begun by Raymund of Capua, the
order produced a harvest of great and saintly men, worthy
of its best days and primitive fervour. Marcolino of
Forli, and John Dominic of Florence, both of whom the
Church has ranked among her beatified heroes, might
have been novices of Dominic or of Reginald; and they
shed a sweet odour of sanctity over a troubled time. To
the latter, indeed, who sat in the Council of Constance as
Cardinal Legate to Pope Gregory XII., the final extinction
of the schism must be in a great measure attributed. It


was he who advised, and at length succeeded in effecting,
the resignation of all the contending claimants ; a step
which was immediately followed by the election of Martin
V., and the restoration of peace to the Church.

It is impossible to pass over the period of the great
schism without noticing the extraordinary man whose
apostolic labours shed a light upon the troubled times,
while he took an active share in the great question which
then agitated the Church. We allude to S. Vincent
Ferrer, the Thaumaturgus of his order, and one of its
most distinguished ornaments, who previously to the
decision of the Council of Constance, took in common
with his countrymen, the side of Peter de Luna (Bene-
dict XIII.) in the long controversy. But his support of
the Cardinal de Luna's claims had nothing in it of parti-
sanship : his constant endeavours were directed to per-
suade him to resign his pretensions as the only means of
restoring peace and unity to the Church ; he lived on
terms of the closest intimacy with John Dominic and the
other adherents of Pope Gregory, and his conduct on the
final decision of the question by the election of Martin
V. exhibits one of the most admirable examples of sub-
mission to the authority of the Church which stands
recorded. United by personal intimacy and ties of
private interest to Peter de Luna, he never hesitated as
to the course to be pursued when the doubt which had
distracted the Church so long was at length removed.
From the moment the decree of the Council was pub-
lished, he withdrew all obedience to the authority of him
whom till then he had regarded as the rightful Pontiff ;
and the rest of his life was spent in unwearied exertions
to procure the entire extirpation of the schism, and to
bring the kingdom of France and Aragon to acknow-
ledge the authority of Pope Martin.* Of S. Vincent's

• Lest the fact of S. Vincent having at, one time espoused the
cause of an antipope should perplex any of our readers, and induce
them to imagine him involved in the charge of schism, we will
quote the words of Gerson, who himself lived in those times, and
who writes as follows; "In the present schism which is of so
doubtful a character, it would be a most bold, injurious, and
scandalous assertion, to say that those who embraced either one


career as an apostle it is difficult to speak : not to men-
tion his miracles, which are of a character and authority
which justify us in ranking him amongst the most extra-
ordinary of all the saints, his life was a miracle in itself.
He was the apostle not of one province or country, but of
the world: in almost every town and village of Spain,
France, Italy, and we have a pride in adding, of England,
Scotland, and Ireland, he preached with a success that
has no parallel in history. In Spain alone he is known
to have converted more than 8,000 Moors and above
35,000 Jews; whilst if we take the accounts of the
Jewish rabbins instead of Christian authors, we may
increase this last number to that of 200,000 of their
nation whom they affirm to have been moved to receive
baptism and embrace the Christian faith by the preaching
of S. Vincent. Gerson did not hesitate to apply to him
the prophecy in the Apocalypse of " one mounted on a
white horse to whom was given a crown, and who went
forth conquering, and to conquer." Others understood
the prophecy given by the same Evangelist, of the winged
angel who was to preach the everlasting gospel through
the heavens, as referring to him ; and hence in Christian
art he is commonly represented with wings. In fact,
the boundless influence he possessed over men's minds
in his own day cannot be overrated; yet he is of the
number of those who have left little behind him for
posterity. His sermons, a few letters, and a golden
treatise on the spiritual life, are all the authentic writings
which remain of this wonderful man, whose greatness
was essentially of that personal description to which we

side or the other, or who remain neutral, incur any censure or
suspicion of the guilt of schism; for there never has been a schism
in which there is more room for doubt than in this; the opinions of
the greatest doctors and most holy men on both sides being so
opposed." S. Vincent is not the only saint we find taking a part
now universally judged to be erroneons. Blessed Peter of Luxem-
burg, beatified by Clement VII., was an adherent of another
Clement, one of Peter de Luna's predecessors. We may add the
fact that John de Puinox, general of that portion of the order which
recognized Benedict XIII. , afterwards became confessor to Martin
V., and, like S. Vincent, used all his influence with Benedict to
induce him to resign.


alluded as the one most commonly to be found in a
preaching and apostolic order.

We will not dwell further on the period of the schism,
which, even in the midst of the most painful and humili-
ating circumstances attendant on a time of religious
declension, furnishes us nevertheless with one remarkable
feature in the character of the Dominican order — we
mean its extraordinary vitality. It cannot be crushed,
and it will not decay ; even when seemingly most dead it
raises itself to new life, not, like other orders, demanding
new constitutions or new founders, but ever the same,
with its rule, its government, nay, its very habit un-
changed since the days of its first foundation. We have
spoken of the influence of the order on the politics of the
Church, and specially of its devotion to the Holy See in
opposition to the attacks of the Ghibeline emperors; but
this devotion was equally displayed through all the
struggles which the Pontifical power had to maintain
during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Conrad of
Brescia, the reformer of the convent of Bologna, was
among those most remarkable for his noble and disinter-
ested efforts in defence of the Papal authority, at the time
when the Bolognese were in open rebellion against the
government of the Holy See. He was at the mercy of
the insurgents, shut up in their city, and wholly dependent
on their favour and support ; the city was laid under an
interdict, but none dared to publish it, until Conrad,
laying aside every thought save that of loyalty to the
chair of Peter, boldly proclaimed it in the great piazza
of the city, and was instantly seized and cast into prison,
where he was left without food for many days. Released,
and imprisoned a second time, he was at length condemned
by the popular party to be starved to death; and the
sentence would undoubtedly have been executed but for
the open and manifest protection of heaven ; for his
enemies were forced to acknowledge, after a lengthened
trial, that man " lives not by bread alone," and that the
saints of God have meat that the world knows not of.
" In fact," says Leander Albert, " the prison of Conrad
was a Paradise, rather than a place of torment, by reason


of the heavenly consolations with which he was favoured."
So finding that starvation had no power over one who lived
on prayer, they again released him; but when the news
of his liberty was brought to him he only sighed : "I
had thought," he said, "that the wedding-feast was at
hand, and that you had come to call me to the nuptials ;
but God's will be done; I am not worthy to die for
Christ." Martin V., who constantly looked on him as a
martyr in will, and who attributed the peace which was
soon afterwards concluded between the Holy See and
its Bolognese subjects, to the heroic sacrifices of this
admirable religious, offered him the purple ; but he reso-
lutely refused every dignity and begged as the only reward
of his services, to be suffered to spend his life in labour
for his order and the Church. He died, as became
him, in the service of the plague-stricken, at the age
of 31, and though never solemnly beatified, no writer
speaks' of him in other terms than as "the blessed

This loyalty to the See of Rome we shall always find
exposing the Friars Preachers to persecution from the
enemies° of the Church. That it was, as we have said,
their peculiar characteristic cannot be doubted, when we
find such bodies, for instance, as the schismatical Council
of Basle making an invasion of the privileges granted to
the Dominicans, one of its first measures, and at the very
same time when, as we shall see, it was directing its pre-
sumptuous attacks against Eugenius IV. If, too, we
examine the tendency and character of the writers who
have attacked or depreciated the order, as Matthew Paris
and others, we shall invariably find them to be Ghibeline in
their principles.

We have spoken of the periods of decay and of reform:
another must now be alluded to, and it is the period of
revival. The labours of Raymund and of Texier were
crowned with an abundant success: and if we desire
proof of the extent to which the new impulse was felt
throughout the order, we may find it in the fear which
was expressed by its superiors, lest it should suffer from
its very greatness, and from the dangers which seemed


to threaten it from the vast numbers now raised to eccle-
siastical dignities from its ranks. Every province was
then rich with men of learning and sanctity ; the world
had thought, the order dying and degraded, and were
astonished to see reappearing on all sides religious men
zealous for primitive discipline and full of the heroism of
their institute. The apostolic spirit revived, and fresh
missions were sent out to labour among the northern
regions of Russia, and the schismatical provinces of the
East. Not that the missionary labours of the order had
ever been wholly interrupted, even when the deplorable
schism of the Church had checked and in great measure
hindered their success. It was in the very midst of that
disastrous time that blessed Alvarez of Cordova was pur-
suing his most painful and untiring labours in the Holy
Land ; and the preaching of the Dominicans in the
eastern empire, now rapidly falling before the victorious
arms of the Turks, was not without success even among
the Mussulman conquerors themselves. The eastern
missions, as well those of the Franciscans and Dominicans,
as of other religious bodies, seemed to have received a
fatal blow on the fall of Constantinople in 1453, and the
consequent triumph of the Turkish arms in every part of
the East. Great, however, as were the obstacles thence-
forward opposed to the success of the Christian mission-
aries, they were far from abandoning the apostolic work ;
and Providence raised up a series of pontiffs with
the continued support and encouragement of the Holy

Since the time of S. Hyacinth there had existed in the
order a congregation for the extension of the faith, called
" the Congregation of the Pilgrims of Jesus Christ."
This ancient association was suppressed in 1462 by F.
Martial Auribelli, master-general of the order, but was
restored under the government of his successor, Conrad
of Asti, and greatly encouraged by Pius II. We may
judge of the amount of the missionary work at this time
undertaken by the order, by the account given us of the
countries and convents over which this congregation
alone presided. Besides many convents belonging to it


in the East, we find others in Hungary, Poland, Lithu-
ania, Podolia, Russia, Moldavia, and Wallachia. The
superior of this congregation was F. Benedict Filicaja,
" a man," says Fontena, " who desired nothing better
than to die for Christ and the gospel." The fruits of its
re- establishment were very great, In Russia alone, then
a barbarous and in some degree an idolatrous country,
we read of one Dominican of Erfurth converting 5,000
persons to the Christian faith ; and the success of others
was much in the same proportion. We cannot, however,
undertake to give even the briefest sketch of the Domin-
ican missions ; for it is a subject which would demand as
many volumes as we have pages to devote to it. It is
much to be hoped that some day the vast treasures of
information which lie hidden in the original and unpub-
lished documents preserved in the order, may in some
shape or other be given to the public. The more than
indifference which the order of Friars Preachers has con-
tinually exhibited to make its prodigious labours manifest
to the world, is not one of its least remarkable character-
istics ;* but much as we may admire the carelessness of

* We are surely justified in pointing to this singular modesty of
the Friars Preachers as a characteristic of them as a body. With
them it has ever seemed enough to do their work, and think no
more about it. Our readers will remember their extraordinary
indifference even to the canonization of its holy founder. *■ Every
one," they said, " knew that he was a saint; to what purpose enter
on a long process to prove it?" Many of the biographies of their
greatest men are lost, or so imperfectly preserved as to give no
idea of what they actually performed. And not to speak further
of the singular reserve they have shown with regard 1o many of
their most wonderful missionary undertakings, of which the world
knows nothing, we observe the same peculiarity in the conduct of
individuals among them. Thomas Turco, for instance, general of
the order in 1649, never published any of his own writings, whilst
he spent the greater part of his leisure in superintending new
editions of those of others ; and in Louis Sousa, the Portuguese
historian of the order, this simplicity and perfect absence of literary
vanity was very remarkable. He was chosen by Philip IV. to write
a history of the life and reign of John III. of Portugal; and having
completed the work, he committed the manuscript to the hands of
the viceroy who was charged with its publication ; but from some
unexplained cause the history never was published, and Sousa lost
even his manuscript, for he had never taken the ordinary precaution
of preserving a second copy of his work when he gave up the ori-


popular applause, we must feel mankind to be losers by
the suppression of so valuable a portion of the history of
the Church.

Imperfectly as we possess the details of these apostolic
labours, they are of the deepest interest ; and many
circumstances concurred just at this period to give an im-
pulse to the Church's missionary zeal in spite of the
check which it had received from the victorious arms of
the Turks.

New discoveries were every day adding unknown coun-
tries to the geography of the world. In these discoveries
the Portugese took the lead under the enterprising and
zealous encouragements of Prince Henry of Portugal ;
and wherever the Spanish and Portuguese navigators
appeared, laying open new islands and continents to
European commerce, they were quickly followed by the
indefatigable missionaries of S. Francis and S. Dominic.
It is, indeed, very gratifying to find the close union sub-
sisting between the two orders in their apostolic labours, at
a time when they were often engaged on opposite sides in
controversial questions, and when differences in their theo-
logical systems sometimes placed them in apparent rivalry.
Whatever their disputes as theologians, as apostles they
ever worked side by side with most generous and united
devotion ; nor can we discover a single trace of that
jealousy which might easily have arisen from the circum-
stances in which they were placed. In Livonio, for
instance, where the Friars Preachers were first in the
field, we find the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order,
to whom the sovereignty of the country belonged, coming
to their assistance when the work was beyond their
strength, and founding three convents of Franciscans to
assist the Dominicans in their laborious struggles against
the infidels on the boundaries of Christendom. So, in like
manner, we find Dominicans labouring in those holy places
in Palestine of which the Franciscans were the appointed
guardians, and not a vestige of any unwillingness on the

ginil, so little did he know of ambition or ostentation of a men



part of the Friars Minors to admit them to a share in the
glorious work.

Sometimes, indeed, as in the accounts of the first preach-
ing of Christianity to Congo, we find the honours disputed
by the historians of the two orders : but the rivalry natural
to authors seems to have been unknown to the missionaries
themselves ; and the controversy does but furnish us with
a proof that both Friars Preachers and Friars Minors
were engaged in the apostolic work at the same time, and
with equal energy and success. In fact, to study the
history of the missions founded by one order, is to become
acquainted with the achievements of the other ; for during
the three first centuries of their foundations the Francis-
cans and Dominicans were, almost exclusively, the apostles
of the world.

Reserving a more particular notice of the missionary
character of the order for a later date, when we shall have
to speak of the apostolic labours of the Friars Preachers
in America and in China, we will return to the general
history of the Dominican institute at this period, which
may be considered that of its greatest glory and most
perfect development. An allusion has been made to the
number of bishops and dignitaries chosen from its ranks
during the two centuries that followed the close of the
great schism; and so great was their number and repu-
tation, that we may venture to point to the character of
the great Dominican prelates as one among the most
beneficial influences which the order was destined to
shed upon the Church. At all times, indeed, the order
of Preachers has produced great prelates, for the papal
authority very soon overruled the objections made by the
founders of the two mendicant orders to the holding of
ecclesiastical dignities by their followers. Gregory IX.,
to whom, whilst yet cardinal, that joint disapprobation
had been expressed, was the first to act in opposition to
it by the appointment of John the Teutonic, afterwards
master-general of the order of Preachers, to the bishopric
of Bosnia. Hugo di Sancto Charo, one of the earliest
of the Dominican theologians, was the first cardinal of
the order, having received the purple in the year 1244



from the hands of Innocent IV. It would be in vain
to attempt anything like an enumeration of the great
bishops afterwards given to the Church by the briars
Preachers ; we will select one only as an example of
pastoral excellence ; and our choice naturally turns in
the first place to the great S. Antoninus of Florence,
who may be taken as the fairest model of the Dominican

And we may here remark 'the very striking similarity
of character which distinguishes all the great prelates
of the order. There is a kind of family likeness among
them : the four Dominican popes, — of whom one is a
canonized and another a beatified saint,* — S. Antoninus
of Florence, Bartholomew of the Martyrs, Jerome La-
nuza, and others who crowd upon the memory, were all
alike in the general outline of their lives. In public,
they spoke and acted as great prelates, all being par-
ticularly distinguished by their zeal for the preservation
or restoration of ecclesiastical discipline ; but in private
they were poor religious. They kept the rule and wore
the habit of their order: their revenues were lavished
on the poor, and their great work was invariably one of
reform, and a living protest against the corruptions of
the day. In S. Antoninus and Bartholomew of the
Martyrs this resemblance is rendered yet more striking
by the similarity to be found in various circumstances of
their lives. The zeal and charity of both were exhibited
during a time of pestilence and famine, their own hands
ministering to the sick and dying when others fled from
the sufferers in disgust. The lives of both were exposed
to the attacks of assassins, whom they converted by their
prayers ; and in ooth the natural sweetness and gentle-
ness of their dispositions did not prevent them from
severely enforcing the ecclesiastical canons on clergy as
well as laity, in pursuance of their vigorous reforms. In
the laborious visitations of their dioceses, which they
performed on foot like humble religious, amid the snows
and cataracts of mountainous districts, both were equally

S. Pius V and blessed Benedict XI.


indefatigable ; and when we remember that Antoninus
was selected by Pius IL to attempt that very reform of
the Cardinalate which was afterwards so courageously
and successfully iusisted on at the Council of Trent by
Bartholomew, the likeness between these two brothers
of the same illustrious family, separated as they are by a
century and a half in point of time, appears singularly
complete. In fact, the Dominican prelates were always
foremost in the work of ecclesiastical reform ; and
perhaps their rigid advocacy of evangelical poverty may
have partly arisen from a remembrance of the fact, that
the first step of their great founder in his apostolic
career was a protest against the luxury of the legates and
bishops associated with him in his mission against the

The name of S. Antoninus is distinguished not merely
for his merits as a pastor, but also as a doctor of the
Church. Theological greatness is, as it were, the heri-
tage of the illustrious men of his order, and S. Antoninus
ranks with the very first of its theologians. But had his
Summa of Moral Theology never been written, we should
still cherish the memory of the great archbishop of
Florence as presenting us with a perfect model of sanctity
in the episcopate. " The hands of the poor," says Pope
Pius II., " were the depository of all he possessed."
In fact, the revenues of his diocese were entirely expended
on their relief ; for himself he retained within his archie-
piscopal palace the same rule of life which he had observed
in the cloisters of Fiesole or S. Mark. There was, to
use the words of Touron, a " heroism" in his mode of
government which produced astonishing results. He
succeeded in bringing about a reformation of manners
in the city of Florence, the mere attempt to effect which
would seem in our day like the schemes of a visionary.
But Antoninus was armed with the strange irresistable
power of sanctity. " He rose with all difficulties,"
says his biographer, " and not only was his chapter
and clergy placed under the restored discipline of the
ecclesiastical canons, but the people themselves felt the
influence of his apostolic and paternal rule; so that


before long, gaming and blasphemy were unknown h
Florence, usury and other disorders of a social character
were abolished, private quarrels and dissentions were healed,
and, to use the words of Pope Pius, ' all enmities were
banished out of the city.' He was, in fact (if we may so
say), canonized whilst yet alive, in the heart and judg-
ment of the world. Pope Nicholas V. ordered that no
appeals against any of his sontences should be received at
Rome ; and Pius II. concludes the eloquent eulogy of him
which he has inserted in his Commentaries with the
remarkable expression, that ' from the day of his death,
he was with reason regarded as an inhabitant of the
heavenly city.' ''

The Dominicans, in their character as theologians,
have naturally played a great part in the councils of the
Church, and, at the period of which we speak, distin-
guished themselves in a particular manner in the delibe-
rations of the Council of Basle, by their zeal against the
heresy of the Hussites, and by their efforts for the reconci-
liation of the Greek schismatics at that of Florence.
The age was in fact rife with error; and in Bohemia the
fanaticism of the followers of Huss and Zisca had pro-

Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 25 of 37)