R. S Alemany.

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

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that " they were received by the Franciscans with no less
charity than joy, and abode with them for the space of
three months, until their own habitations had been pre-
pared."* They were twelve in number, and were destined
eventually to become the founders of those provinces of
, Oaxaca and Guatemala, whose chronicles rival in roman-
tic and pathetic interest anything which one can find in
the fabulous pages of Uretta.

The names of Dominic de Betancos, the founder of
more than a hundred convents, and of his deacon and
disciple, Gonsalvo Lucero, suggest tales of such surpass-
ing beauty that, did we once enter on their narration we
should be beguiled into a prolixity which our limits
forbid. It was a hard struggle at first: at one time
Dominic was left the only priest of his order in Mexico,
the others had died, or been forced to return to Spain ;
and one of the charming tales which occur in the life of
Lucero shows him to us the only inhabitant of his con-
vent, having on his shoulders the apostolic care of a vast
district, and the maintenance of religious rule and dis-
cipline, which spite of every difficulty he never abandoned.
But this did not last long: other missionaries soon
poured into America in great numbers, owing to the
edict of the emperor that no vessel was to leave Spain
without carrying a certain number of religious on board,
and such was the zeal and sanctity of Betancos, that
crowds of young Castilians who had left their native land
in search of riches or adventures, laid aside their dreams
of worldly advancement, and received the habit of religion
at his hands. Meanwhile Las Casas was toiling at a
fruitless cost. Again and again did he return to Europe
to plead his cause, and to lay new schemes for the pro-
tection of the natives before the royal council. His first
x-Fontaua, Monumenta Domenicana.


plan, whose consequences, little forseen by its author,
have brought great and undeserved obloquy on his name,
was to increase the importation of the African negroes to
supply the place of the native Americans, whose delicate
and feeble constitution unfitted them for severe labour.
This plan did not originate with Las Casas ; it had been
adopted from the commencement of the century. To
use the words of a well-known Protestant historian,* " It
was a suggestion of humanity, however mistaken; and
considering the circumstances under which it occurred,
and the age, it may well be forgiven in Las Casas,
especially, inasmuch as, when more enlightened, he, with
deep humiliation, confesses his regret at having counte-
nanced the measure, since, to use his own words, 'the
same law applies equally to the negro as to the Indian.' "
— W The next scheme was bolder, and most characteristic
of Bartholomew's ardent and imaginative mind. It was
to obtain the grant of a vast district and commence a
Christian colony, independent of the military authorities,
whose atrocities had made the very name of European
hateful to the natives. He had the idea that by adopt-
ing a different dress, which was to be white with the
cross of Calatrava, he might persuade the Indians to
believe that the new colonists were of a different nation
from their persecutors. Fifty Dominicans were to accom-
pany the colony, and a military order was to be estab-
lished for its defence. His eloquence, as he advocated
his plan in the presence of the emperor, prevailed, and he
was suffered to make the attempt. It failed, through
the malconduct of the Spaniards of a neighbouring settle-
ment; and, compelled to abandon his project, he retired
to the Dominican convent of Hispaniola, to hide his
chagrin and his disgrace. "It is impossible," says
Prescott, " not to recognize in the whole scheme the
hand of one more familiar with books than with men,
who meditated his benevolent « plans without estimating
the obstacles in their way, and counted too confidently
on meeting the same generous enthusiasm which glowed
in his own bosom." He found his consolation, however,
* Prescott.


for in that period of disgrace and disappointment, when
the sympathy of the friars formed his only resource, he
received the call to religion ; and, becoming a member of
the order he had ever so dearly loved, he passed some
years in retirement, and in the discharge of the duties
befitting his new character ; at which time it was that his
great work on " The History of the Indies," was com-
menced, though it was finished only a few years before
his death.

When we next find him at the Spanish Court, many
years had passed over his head, but they had not changed
his purpose or his constancy. A great change had, how-
ever, come over the royal councils. The presidency of
the Indian Council was filled by no less a man than
Garcias de Loaysa, the confessor to the emperor, and
General of the Order of Preachers. The renewed appeal
of Las Casas produced most important regulations on
behalf of the American subjects of the Spanish Crown,
and a code of laws was passed, "having for its express
object the enfranchisement of the oppressed race ; and in
the wisdom and humanity of its provisions it is easy to
recognize the hand of the Protector ot the Indians."*
In fact we are bound to admit that little or no blame
attaches to the Spanish government in their dealings with
their colonies : to use the words of the writer just quoted,
" the history of Spanish colonial legislation is the history
of the impotent struggles of the government against the
avarice and cruelty of its subjects;" and certainly neither
Ferdinand nor Charles ever showed themselves insensible
to the charge laid on them by the sovereign Pontiff to
regard the dominions given them by Providence as a cure
of souls. In 1544, Bartholomew de Las Casas, then
seventy years of age, was consecrated Bishop of Chiapa.
He was well-nigh worn out with toil and disappointment :
he had already crossed the Atlantic on four several missions
to the court of Castile, and now he did not shrink from
returning to his adopted country with the fresh burden
of the episcopate on his venerable shoulders. He had
need of all his heroic courage to face the storm that
# Prescott,



greeted him on his landing. The colonists saw in him the
author of the new code which laid so powerful a restraint
upon their cruelty and rapacity. He was everywhere
received with an outcry of hatred and contempt, " which,"
says Touron, "he accepted as the appanage of the apos-
tolate." Violence was even offered to his person; yet
never did the tide of opposition prevail with him so far as
to induce him to yield one point of what he deemed the
cause of God. Up to the last he refused to admit to
the sacraments any who still held an Indian in bondage
contrary to the regulations of the new code.

But he was powerless to check the flood of iniquity
which desolated the unhappy country : his own eyes were
witnesses of those enormities which his pen has so vividly
portrayed; — he saw infants torn from their mothers'
breasts, and dashed against the wall, or thrown into the
river. He beheld the unhappy natives, with noses and
limbs cut off, thrown, in the sport of cruelty, to be
devoured by dogs. He witnessed the brutal wagers of
the Spanish conquerors, where a trifling bauble was the
prize of his dexterity who should strike off an Indian's
head at a single sabre-stroke. He tells us of massacres in
which 500 of the chief caciques were slaughtered in a
day ; and of one occasion when 4,000 Indians were slain,
700 of whom were thrown alive from the summit of a
precipice, so that you might have seen the air darkened
by the cloud of their bodies as they fell, and were dashed
to pieces on the rocks. Eighteen millions of Indians are
reckoned to have perished in these wholesale slaughters ;
and the number every day delivered to the flames or the
wild beasts was so great, that, he assures us, a certain
vessel made the voyage to S. Domingo from some distant
island without the aid of a compass, being guided thither
only by the dead bodies which floated over the water by

At length even the hope and courage of Las Casas was
unequal to continue the struggle, and he determined to
withdraw from the scene of abominations which he had no

* Touron, quoted from the "Relation of the extinction of the


longer any power to restrain. He resigned his bishopric,
and again returned to Europe, to die among his brethren:
he appeared once more as the champion of the Indians in
the famous dispute with Sepulveda, who had undertaken to
justify the proceedings of the Spanish conquerors in a
work entitled, "The Justice of the War of the King of
Spain against the Indians." In this book the learned
author endeavoured to make the most of the dominion
over the new world granted to Spain by the Alexandrine
bull, and to deduce as a consequence that the Spaniards
might do what they liked with their own. The book
was suppressed owing to the instances of Las Casas, but
Sepulveda at length obtained permission for a solemn
disputation on the question to be held between him and
his opponent before the royal council. Dominic Soto
>vas appointed arbiter, and the aged champion of justice
to the Indians had thus an opportunity of striking a
last blow in the cause he had so faithfully and devotedly
served. His triumph was undisputed, especially in the
propositions, wherein he clearly demonstrates that the
grant made by the Holy See rested on the condition
of the conversion of the natives to Christianity ; and
though this argument seemed to attack the very integrity
of the Spanish colonial empire, Las Casas was regarded
with too much respect for the court to take offence.
He died at length in his 92nd year at the convent
of Atocha, near Madrid. His character is one con-
cerning which the judgments of men have never differed :
Protestants and Catholics have rivalled one another in
doing justice to his heroic memory. " He was one
of those," says Prescott, " to whose gifted minds are
revealed those glorious moral truths which, like the
lights of heaven, are fixed and the same for ever; but
which, though now familiar, were hidden from all but
a few penetrating intellects by the general darkness of
the times in which they lived. He was inspired by
one great and glorious idea. This was the key to all
his thoughts, and to every act of his long life. It
was this which urged him to lift the voice of rebuke
in the presence of princes, to brave the menaces of an


infuriated populace, to cross seas, to traverse mountains
and deserts, to incur the alienation of friends, the hostility
of enemies, and to endure obloquy, insult, and persecution."
" His only fault," says the Pere Charlevoix, the Jesuit
historian of S. Domingo, " was an over-ardent imagination,
by which he at times allowed himself to be too much
governed." In short, his faults were those of a generous
enthusiasm, his virtues those of the purest Christian
heroism. •

We have devoted so large a space in speaking of this
most illustrious of all the early Dominican missionaries
of America, that we must necessarily pass very briefly
over the names of others who claim our notice. The
greater proportion of the first American bishops were
chosen from the order of Preachers : * among them
Jerome de Loaysa, first bishop of Carthagena, and after-
wards first archbishop of Lima, presents us with the
perfect model of an apostle. He may be said to have
been the founder of all the future glory of the Peruvian
Church ; and Lima, so rich in saints and saintly men,
owes a debt of gratitude to her first primate, the extent
of which can never be rightly measured. He laboured
equally at the conversion of the Indians, and at the far
harder task of Christianizing the Spanish colonists ; and
such was his success, that he is reckoned, in all the
soberness of historic truth, as having made up by the
souls he gained to Christ in the new world, for the
losses the Church was then suffering in Europe at the
hands of the Lutheran heretics. We have said that
Lima is indebted for no small part of her religious glory
to the labours of Loaysa. Her university owes its
foundation to him, as well as that celebrated convent
of the Rosary, whence the university drew its chief
professors. We will not attempt the task of reckoning
all the congregations and orders, the religious and
charitable foundations, he introduced into the city ; we
will content ourselves with remarking that the estab-
lishment of the Tertiaries of S. Dominic at Lima was

« 8ee the list of the bishopg who sat in the two first provincial
councils of Lima, given in Touran's "History of Ameri-wi.'


his work, and from that stem blossomed the first and
sweetest saint of the new world, S. Rose of Lima, whose
sanctity would be glory enough to the country which gave
her birth, even if it did not claim the right of reckoning
her as only the first of a long calendar of saints.* Vat
verdo, the first bishop of Casco, died a martyr's death,
being seized by the cannibals of La Puna, and torn
to pieces, whilst in the act of celebrating the sacred
mysteries. Bernard Albuquerque, bishop of Guaxaca, is
another whose life has the charm of a romance, and whose
character is essentially of the heroic stamp ; and one
scarce knows which most to admire, his untiring and
prodigious labours, his life of secret prayer, or that sweet
and strange humility, which made his more worldly col-
leagues affirm that " he knew better how to be a saint than
how to be a bishop."

We must "hasten, however, to bring this subject to
a close, and conclude our scanty sketch of the South
American missions with the notice of one name greater
than any yet mentioned, S. Louis Bertrand, the Xavier
of the Western world. In doing so we must necessarily
pass on to a later period ; and before entering on the
labours of this, the most illustrious apostle whom the
Dominican order had produced since the days of S.
Hyacinth, we must beg our readers to understand, that,
in speaking of the services rendered to the faith in
America by that order, nothing is further from our
intention than to claim for them the exclusive honours
of the American apostolate. The Franciscans in a par-

-* Among the saints of the Liman Church we may specially notice
the Indian half-caste, Martin Porres, a lay brother in the Domi-
nican convent of the Rosary. The beatification of this holy man
seems the crowning: example of that, spirit which has been the
special glory of the Dominicans of America ; who, m the elevation
to their altar of an Indian slave, have in the noblest manner pro-
nounced their condemnation of those prejudices which have dis-
graced the Christian world for three centuries. And whilst we see
the most Protestant of republics still vindicating the rights of
slavery and the wrongs of slaves, the veneration shown by the
Catholic Church to more than one saintly member of this despised
class, presents a contrast which we need not press upon the atten-
tion of our readers.


ticular manner divide the glory of that work, and we
might say that there is scarcely a religious order which
was not represented in the early South American missions,
and which did not distinguish itself by a noble advocacy
of the rights of humanity and justice. But in our
narrow limits we are obliged to confine ourselves to one
branch of the subject, and certainly the consent of all
writers, even those who are alien from the faith, justifies us
in giving the Dominicans something of pre-eminence,
when speaking of the defence of the suffering Indians.
Their zeal was of so peculiar a kind as to have extracted
a tribute of admiration even from such a writer as
Robertson ; and the American author whom we have
already so often quoted, gives his testimony in their favour
in terms which evince how little he is inclined to speak
favourably of the Order of Preachers. " The brethren
of S. Dominic," he says, " stood forth as the avowed
champions of the Indians on all occasions, and showed
themselves as devoted to the cause of freedom in the
new world, as they had been hostile to it in the
old ;"* an assertion of inconsistency in the conduct of the
friars whick he has not thought it necessary to justify
or explain

It was in the year 1562 that S. Louis Bertrand,
whose fame for sanctity had already been established in
his own country, arrived at Carthagena, and found the
Christian faith rapidly spreading under the united efforts
of the Franciscans, the Dominicans, and the Order of
Mercy. The admirable harmony with which these three
orders worked together deserves a tribute of respect at
the hands of the historian, and amid the many jealousies
and rivalries that force themselves on our notice when
we enter on the literary or political history of any
body of men, the evangelical love which was retained
unbroken between the missionaries of these different
societies is a subject of perpetually recurring consola-
tion. At the period of which we speak, we find John
de los Barrios, a religious of the Order of Mercy, bishop
of S. Martha, his first act being the establishment in



his cathedral city of two communities, one of S. Francis,
and another of S. Dominic. The Austin Friars were
likewise there, and religious women of each order scat-
tered over the diocese. The charge of education was giv-
en over to the Dominicans, who were laying the foundation
of a future university at Lima. As to the work of
preaching, it was common to all. The neighbouring
diocese of Carthagena was governed by a Dominican,
Gregory de Beteta ; and by both these holy prelates the
arrival of S. Louis was hailed with extraordinary joy.
He almost at once entered on his apostolic labours
in all the northern provinces of the Continent, and with
such success that we are assured no less than 10,000
souls were gained by him to Christ in the short space of
three years. The signs and graces promised to the apos-
tles did not fail to follow on the preaching of this extraor-
dinary man, His first prayer had been, to be understood
by the people whom he should address ; and the mira-
culous gift of tongues, which we know was so frequently
granted to S. Francis Xavier, was granted to him also.
Whilst he spoke no language but Castilian, he was under-
stood by all the various tribes and nations among whom
he preached.

But miracles are after all the least marvellous and
least admirable part of the story of a saint i and when we
read of the sick cured by the touch or prayer of the
servant of God ; of storms quelled, and ferocious animals
tamed and domesticated by the sign of the Cross, — these
things seem little by the side of the constancy and sweet-
ness and devotedness which gave a greater power to the
preaching of S. Louis than all the marvels that he worked.
The savage people crowded about him in wonder ; their
hearts opened to him as, drawn by an irresistible charm,
they came and dashed their idols to pieces before his
eyes, and with their own hands raised altars to the true
God, and vowed to receive the doctrine of purity and
of the Cross. So he passed from Carthagena to Tabara,
and thence, when there were no more infidels to con-
vert, to the territories of Cipacoa and Paluato. His
fame went before him ; the Indians knew him but by


one title, " the religious of God," and came down from
their mountains, and from the recesses of their forests,
to meet him on his way. Sometimes, indeed, he was
not so well received. We read of one tribe of Paluto
of whom two only were converted at the time ; but the
harvest of souls in this case was only delayed, and at
a later period the whole people embraced the faith.
Once, as he preached under a tree to a vast multitude,
a band of savages were seen approachiug armed with bows
and lances, and with the avowed purpose of putting the
despiser of their idols to a bloody death. Louis was
warned to fly. " Fear nothing," he replied : " they will
not be able to do what they propose." The savages,
indeed, reached his presence, but instead of offering him
violence, they stood as though overpowered by a new and
strange sentiment of admiration. He continued to
speak, and when his discourse was ended, 200 of his
intended murderers cast themselves at his feet and
demanded baptism. He even penetrated alone among
the Carribees, where, after escaping innumerable attempts
against his life, he made many converts, and is said to
have sometimes won these fierce and savage people by
the charm of his music. At length, after eight years of
these labours, he returned to Spain, wearied out by the
hardness of heart, not of the heathens, but of the Spanish
Christians. On his death, he was fitly claimed by the
people of New Grenada as their patron saint, and was
solemnly declared protector of that country by Alex-
ander VIII.

Of the long line of prelates which the order gave
to the South American provinces, our space will not
allow us to speak, though the name of Bartholomew
Ledesma, John Ramirez, Peter de Feria, and many others,
might fitly find a place among those which have most
worthily graced the episcopate. Let it be remembered that
those apostolic men, who evangelized the vast territories
of the American continent, were not content with simply
preaching and converting souls ; but they planted the
Church on solid and lasting foundations ; and wherever the
Dominican missions appeared, there sooner or later were


established hospitals, religious houses, and colleges for
education of all kinds. At Lima they founded the great
university, which was entirely conducted and taught by
their professors. At Puebla, in Mexico, and in many
other cities, as afterwards at Manilla, in the Philippines
their colleges received the university privileges. The
hospital of S. Alexis,*at Guatemala, where the sick natives
were served and nursed by the hands of the religious, owed
its erection to the devoted and heroic zeal of F. Matthew of
Peace ; and scarce a town of Peru and Mexico but bears
even to this day marks of the pious labours of these
admirable men, whose names are unknown and forgotten
save in the chronicles of their order, and in the book ot

Whilst these things were going on in the Western
world, the discoveries of Magellan in the Eastern Archi-
pelago were hardly less important in their results. It
was in the year 1521 that the Portuguese navigator dis-
covered that group of islands, which being afterwards in
1555 formally taken posession of by Philip II., received
from him the name of the Philippine Islands. The
Augustinian and Franciscan friars were the first to take
advantage of the ground thus opened; but it was not
long before F. John de Castro, one of the most illustrious
of the Dominican missionaries of South America, was

- 5- The story of this foundation is a beautiful illustralion of the
character of these early missioners. Matthew, whilst still very
young, entirely devoted himself to the service of the natives ; he
begged alms in the street for their necssaries, and shared all their
hardships and sufferings. He had built a little sanctuary at Gua-
temala in honour of our Lady, where be collected his Indians every
day, and prepared them for the sacraments. The sick he received
in a little hut adjoining the chapel, which he had built with his
own hands, of straw and the branches- of trees. Here he nursed
and tended thpm : and not a day passed but this humble servant
of the despised Indian slaves might be seen seeking new objects of
charity in the streets, and carrying them on his back to his little
hospital. It was there he lived; and neither the infection of the
place, nor the difficulties he encountered among the Indians them-
selves, ever wearied out his' patience. This was the beginning oi
the hospital of S. Alexis, afterwards constructed on a larger scale,
and served by the Dominicans of Guatemala.



appointed vicar-general of a new mission destined for the
East, and became the founder of the celebrated Philippine
province of the Holy Rosary. 1579, Dominic Salazar, a
Dominican by profession, had been appointed first bishop
of Manilla ; and it was probably about five years after
his elevation that the new missionaries arrived in his
diocese. Among them we find the name of Michael

Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 30 of 37)