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

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Benavides, who afterwards succeeded Salazar in the
government of Manilla, when the church was erected
in to an archbishopric. . Previous to this elevation, he
devoted himself with enthusiasm to the scheme, alway3
so dear to Catholic missionaries, of penetrating into
China. The settlement of the Philippines offered singular
advantages for facilitating this enterprise; and, indeed,
the great value of these islands as a religious possession,
was their position half-way between the South American
provinces and China. Benavides succeeded in entering
the Celestial empire, but was obliged after a while to
return to Manilla without effecting any permanent
results. Prom this period the influence of the Domi-
nicans became paramount in the Philippine Islands, and
has continued to be so even to our own day. A long
line of illustrious bishops of their order have governed
the Church of Manilla ; and at a time when almost every
other religious house was suppressed by the revolutionized
government of Spain, it was found necessary to preserve
one convent of the Friars Preachers (that of Ocagna) for
the purpose of supplying the missions of the Philippine

We have already exceeded our limits in speaking of
this subject ; we can, therefore, only add that the apostles
of the Order of Preachers were to be found during this
and the succeeding century in almost every country of
the east. In Hindostan, they preceded the Jesuits; in
Ceylon, the Moluccas, Siam, Corea, and China, we might
reckon the names of their missionaries and martyrs by
hundreds. Nor were the old fields of Armenia and
Persia neglected for these newer regions of enterprise;
whilst from the island of Scio, a home and nursery of
the order, went forth a crowd of zealous missionaries to


all the coasts of the Archipelago and Levant. And we
may again remark the solid character of the work under-
taken by the order ; it always had its eye on the firm
establishment of the Church in the countries it evange-
lized, by means of educational institutions ; and it is
entirely in accordance with the spirit and example of his
predecessors that we find Seraphino Siccus, the master-
general of the order in 1622, establishing the college of
Nakchivan in Armenia ; whilst not content with this, the
order founded within a few years another Armenian
college at Rome, the rules of which were drawn up in
the general chapter of 1644.

Indeed, we may safely affirm that the generals of the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were men worthy of
succeeding to the office which had been made so illus-
trious by the first masters of the order. Such men as
Seraphino Siccus, Nicholas Rodolph, Thomas Tarcus, and
their successors, present us with splendid examples of
religious superiors; and the study of their biographies
furnishes us with some idea of the vast spiritual dominion
then included within the government of the Friars
Preachers; reaching, as we might say, over the whole
known world, and illustrated during those centuries
with a continual succession of martyrs and apostolic men.
And it will be seen that even at a period when the order
had lost something of its influence in Europe, and was
evincing symptoms of languor and decadence, it never
lost anything of its fresh and primitive vigour in the
fields of the apostolate. The first blessing has rested on
that work, wherein the first fervour of its missionaries
has never cooled; and the annals of China in the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries present us with the
same pictures of constancy and devotion as we may find
in the Tartar or American missionaries of earlier ages.


The 16th century. Revival of biblical learning. Zenobius Accia-
joli. Giustiniani. Sanctes Pagninus. Sixtus of Siena. Cajetan.
Scenes of the Keforrnation. Persecutions in Ireland. Irish
Martyrs. Dominican popes. The Council of Trent.

Whilst the discoveries of navigators were daily
throwing open new fields to the labours of the Dominican
missionaries, the order was not idle at home. The six-
teenth century is, indeed, an eventful one in history, and
the unhappy religious revolution which distinguished it
could scarcely fail to call forth all the energies and
talents of that institution which has deserved the title of
the "hammer of the heretics." But even without this
stimulus to activity it could not but be roused to extraordi-
nary exertions in an age which was par excellence the age
of the restoration of letters, and we naturally look in its
ranks, at this period, for a more than ordinary display of
learning, and of literary greatness.

And here we may remark how much the influence of
Savonarola's teaching was felt in the generation which
succeeded him. All the men of eminence formed in his
school had received a particular bias in the direction of
their studies, the utility of which in the questions which
afterwards rose to agitate the world was, certainly, in no
degree foreseen by Savonarola at the time it was first
suggested by him. We allude to the substitution of
scriptural criticism and the study of the oriental lan-
guages, in place of scholastic or classical learning, which
we find general among his disciples, and which gave the
same impulse to the renewed cultivation of what one
might call the biblical sciences, as we have before noticed
as taking place in the thirteenth century. The restora-
tion of biblical learning just at a period when the heretics
of Germany were about to claim the Scriptures as their


rule of faith, and when spurious translations of the sacred
text were to be placed in the hands of the unlettered
multitudes, may be deemed a Providential circumstance,
and one most important in its results.

One of the most distinguished literary disciples of
Savonarola was Zenobius Acciajoli, to whom we have
before alluded as the friend and associate of Mirandola
Politian, Martiales Ficinius, and other men of learning
and genius who adorned the court of the Msdici, and
among whom the study of orientalism was a favourite pursuit.
After his entrance into the Order of Preachers, he conse-
crated all his literary powers to the service of religion, and
in the preface to his translation of a treatise of Eusebius
against Hierocles, we find him dedicating to Lorenzo de
Medici, " this the first fruits of his studies since his
entrance into the Dominican order, whose special profes-
sion it is to neglect nothing which can contribute to the
defence of the Catholic faith."

His chief labours were spent on the translation of the
works of Justin Martyr and Theodoret ; the latter work
having, as he says, been suggested to him by John Francis
Mirandola as an antidote to the dangerous idolatry of
Plato then so universal. He was promoted to a congenial
and most suitable ofiice by Leo X., being made Prefect of
the Vatican Library, where every opportunity was afforded
him of pursuing his favourite researches among the trea-
sures of Greek and Hebrew literature. We shall find
almost all the learned men of the order at this period
turning their attention to similar pursuits ; among them
we may mention Augustine Giustiniani, a member of that
illustrious house which has supplied so many a great name
to the ranks of the Friars Preachers. He, too, entered
the order just at the time when Savonarola's system was
becoming generally adopted, and the works he subsequently
published prove, says Touron, " that Greek, Hebrew,
Arabic, and Chaldaic, were as familiar to him as Latin."
He adds, naively enough, that the application of Giusti-
niani to these studies was at first purely " the effect of
his spirit of penance," but that they afterwards became
his delight. Being invited to Paris by Francis L,


he awakened the attention of the French prelates and
literati to the importance of these pursuits, and intro-
duced the cultivation of oriental learning into the
university of Paris. His Psalter in five languages was
but a sample of what he purposed to have done; his
plan being to give similar versions of each of the sacred
books; but he lacked a patron to assist him in the
completion of this gigantic undertaking.

Not to accumulate the mere names of learned men, we
shall content ourselves, in this reference to the revival
of biblical literature, with mentioning that of Sanctes
Pagninus, the wonder of his age, and one who, like the
others we have named, was led to scriptural criticism, and
the study of the oriental languages. His Latin translation
of the Bible from the original tongues was a work which
received the approval of Leo X. That great pope, whom
Protestant critics have not hesitated to term exclusively
heathen in his tastes, was one of the most magnificent
encouragers of sacred letters whom the Church ever pro-
duced, and death alone prevented him from undertaking
the publication of Pagninus's work at his own expense.
It is said to have occupied its author for more than
thirty years; during which time he produced a variety
of other learned works, chiefly intended to facilitate the
study of the Hebrew and Chaldaic languages. Nor can
we omit recalling to mind the fact that this man of
letters was also the apostle of the south of France, and a
hero of charity. Of the seventeen years of his residence
at Lyons, fourteen were spent amid the horrors of pesti-
lence; and Lyons has to thank him for that magnificent
hospital which was built for the sufferers at his suggestion
by Thomas Guadagni.

The name of Sixtus of Siena claims our notice not only
for his own merit as an author, but on account of his con-
nection with the early career of S. Pius V. It is well
that our readers should see something of a Dominican.
Inquisitor, and we know no better example with which
to present them than that of Michael Ghislieri. Sixtus
was by birth a Jew : we know nothing of the story of his
conversion, but there is sufficient evidence that his bold


genius very early showed a disposition to original and
dangerous speculation. It was in the year 1500 that F.
Miehael Ghislieri, in the discharge of his duties as Com-
missary-General of the Holy Office, entered one day the
prisons of the Inquisition, not for the purpose of super-
intending the torture, as some of our readers might
believe, but in order to see and speak with the prisoners,
and inform himself personally of their state. There he
found Sixtus, then just thirty years of age : he had been
adjudged guilty, not of heresy only, but of relapse into
heresy, and lay under sentence of death. Ghislieri was
touched with compassion, and by his means the unhappy
man was convinced of his errors, and induced to lay aside
the haughty resolution he had formed to die rather than
to submit, and so appear again in the world humiliated
and disgraced. The commissary of the Inquisition left
the prison to throw himself at the feet of the Pope and
obtain the pardon of the prisoner ; but this was not all ;
he determined to charge himself and his order henceforth
with the care of this erratic and untamed genius, and his
charitable and urgent solicitations won from the Pope a
permission rarely if ever granted; which was, to receive
the condemned but repentant heretic into the ranks of the

Fifteen years afterwards, in his dedication of his great
work, the Biblioteca Sancta, to S. Pius, Sixtus thus
addresses his generous deliverer: — "I could not seek a
more friendly or more powerful protector than you, who
once, in old times, delivered me from the very gates of
hell, and restored me to the light of truth, and to a yet
more perfect state. When you deigned to receive me
into your order, you were pleased to clothe me with your
own hand, and even with your own habit, and at the same
time adopted me as your spiritual child."

He had, indeed, in Sixtus, saved a glorious soul. The
powerful grasp of religious discipline completed the con-
version of heart which was begun by those first lovirg
and charitable words in the dungeons of Rome. Sixtus
never relapsed, and his vast learning and intellectual
powers were thenceforth directed to the service of the


faith. He was specially employed in combating Judaism,
at that time active and powerful in its attacks on Christi-
anity. His reading, like his writing, was all on a prodigious
scale ; we have the list of his numerous works, mostly
criticisms on the Scriptures and biblical languages; but
with the characteristic impetuosity of his nature, he threw
them all into the flames with his own hand, with the excep-
tion of the Biblioteca Sancta, which was the only one
which had reached completion at the period of his death.
This work, besides containing criticisms and commentaries
on the sacred books, and a vast amount of curious biblical
erudition of all kinds, gives an exact account of all the
writers who have treated on similar subjects down to the
middle of the 16th century; in the course of which he has
become the historian of many distinguished authors of his
own order.

We have perhaps said enough to suggest to our
readers an idea of the direction which had been given to
the studies of the Dominicans just at the period when
this kind of learning was most called for by the special
needs of the Church. "We might add many names to
those given above ; but we shall do no more than allude
to that of Thomas de Vio Cajetan, known to every reader of
the history of the Protestant Reformation as that Cardinal
Cajetan to whom, as Legate of the Pope, Martin
Luther made solemn profession of his willingness to sub-
mit to the judgment of the Roman Church, and to whom
he gave his written declaration that "he repented of his
failure of respect to the Pope, and demanded nothing
better than in all things to follow the decision of the
Holy Father." Previous to his elevation to the purple,
Cajetan had been general of the order, and had done good
service to the Holy See by a defence of its prerogatives,
in a treatise on the comparative authority of a council and
the Sovereign Pontiff — the old traditionary battle-ground
of the Dominican champions of the Papacy. He, too, was
a biblical commentator, and an expounder of the doctrines
of the Church on those points attacked by the Lutheran
heretics. But. it was perhaps more even in his public
than in his literary character, that his name is illustrious,


remembered and often maligned as it is in our own country
on account of the firm opposition he offered to the divorce
of Henry VIII. When he fell into the hands of the
Imperialists at the sack of Rome, it is said that Clement
VII. mourned over his loss more than over that of his
capital, and declared the cardinal of S. Sixtus to be " the
light of the Church."

His name brings before us the great feature of that
strange century, which dates, like the commencement
of modern history, as a new era in the destinies of Europe,
and the history of the Church. Far be it from us to
say of that century, what may be said of no period with-
out gravely impugning the fidelity, or the providence of
God, that its fruits were unmixed evil. On the con-
trary, we know and are assured that the Catholic Church,
whilst it had to deplore whole kingdoms lost to the
unity of the faith, has gained by having to battle face to
face with a form of unbelief avowedly without her pale ;
and that the age of reform, falsely so called, was one of
true reform to her, in which the limits of her faith
received their last and exactest definitions, and her dis-
cipline put on something of that primitive beauty which
had been lost during the turbulent centuries which had
preceded it. But still the history of the Reformation is
a book written within and without with lamentation, and
mourning, and woe. And the order which follows the
fortunes of the Church, as a guard of honour clings to
some crowned master in the hour of triumph or defeat,
that order on which we have seen a sovereign Pontiff
bestowing the title of the " Order of Truth," shared in
all the sufferings of this unhappy period. In those terrible
struggles, when so much blood was shed amid the violent
disorders which everywhere followed on the preaching
of the new doctrines, the Dominicans gave a crowd of
martyrs to the Church. In France alone it is calculated
3,000 ecclesiastics and 9,000 religious perished by the
swords of the Huguenots; whilst the profanations and
crimes that accompanied these murders were too shocking
to describe. We hear much of the massacre of S. Bar-
tholomew, but France could tell other tales, less familiar
z 2


to our ears, of thirty-five convents of this one order alone
fired by these same Huguenots, and their inhabitants driven
out, tortured,* or put to the sword. In Germany they
suffered yet more. Whole provinces had to be abandoned,
with their convents, in Poland, Moravia and Bohemia.
In the Low Countries frightful cruelties were practised :
at Ghent, for instance, the brethren were seized to the
number of a hundred, tied two and two, and placed in
their own refectory to be starved to death ; but at the
end of three days their captors determined on shooting them
to shorten their trouble, and were about to execute their
design, when the senate interfered and desired that the
friars should only be driven from the country. And this
was instantly done ; the half-dead and famishing religious
being compelled, though scarce able to stand, to begin the
journey, in the course of which many perished on the road-
side of hunger and exhaustion.

But it may perhaps be thought unfair for Catholics to
complain of persecution, as though their adversaries enjoyed
a monopoly of cruelty in a persecuting age. The Hugue-
nots of France, it may be said, had to bear as much as
they inflicted. "We will, therefore, turn to a country where
there has been no rivalry in the matter ; in whose history,
at least, Catholics can only appear as sufferers, the voice
of whose wailing has gone forth to the ends of the earth,
and whose emerald soil has been dyed red in the blood of
martyrs. We will pass over the suppression of the order
in England, where forty-two convents were swept away by
Henry VIII. with the usual scenes of sacrilege and
violence which accompanied the proceedings of that illus-

* Among other methods of slaughter, it was the practice of the
Huguenot3 to tie the priests to a crucifix, and in this way make them
marks for their arquebus-shots. "Who can relate all the martyr-
doms and persecutions suffered by the Fathers,'' savs Michel Pio,
" and that not in one place, but in every part of France ? Some
were cut to pieces, others thrown into wells, others dragged about,
poisoned and pierced with swords and arrows ;" whilst, venting\
their rage even on the dead carcases, they would stuff them full of
corn and hay, and so make them eating-troughs for their horses. " In
the midst of these inhumanities," he adds, '' the Huguenots would
raise the cry, ' Vive V Evangile ! P ",— (Travagli

Li dell' Ordine, p. 353 )


trious reformer, and where tlie nation showed #s re-
viving appreciation of letters by publicly burning the works
ot the angelic doctor. The English province was entirely
destroyed, and though partly restored by Queen Mary,
the renewed persecution under Elizabeth completed its
extinction. An interesting letter is given by Michel Pio,
from the English provincial of the period, F. Richard
Hargrave, to the master-general, describing the exile of a
community of Dominican nuns of Dartford, and the state of
destitution in which they were then living in the island of
Zealand. One of the religious of this little community,
the last remains of the English province, was a sister
of the martyred Fisher, bishop of Rochester, " and a
martyr of no less will and constancy," says F. Hargrave,
" than was her brother."

In Ireland, however, many circumstances rendered it dif-
ficult for the English sovereigns to carry out their measures
for the destruction of religion with the same success as had
attended their efforts in their own island. They were
there wholly without popular support, and though the
laws against Catholics were framed for both countries,
yet they were never able to root up the Church or her
religious orders, as they had done in England. Never-
theless, the Catholic religion endured great sufferings.
We will give one specimen of the system pursued by
Elizabeth on her accession to the crown, taken from the
" Epilogus Chronologicus," of Father John O'Heyne.
It was in the year 1602, that a number of religious,
Benedictines, Cistercians, and others, together with seven
Dominicans, were assembled in the island of Scattery,
under orders to leave the kingdom. A royal ship of
war took them on board, with the purpose, as was pre-
tended, of conveying them to the coasts of France or
Spain. But though this was the professed design, the
captain had his private orders conveyed by a royal man-
date ; and so soon as they were out of sight of land, every
one of the prisoners, to the number of forty-two, was thrown
overboard. Elizabeth, however, had a character to keep
up, and therefore, on the return of her officers, after
despatching her royal orders, they and all on board were


cast into prison. But let not the reader suppose that this
was intended as any mark of displeasure on the part of
their sovereign ; — on the contrary, having by this act suf-
ficiently vindicated her reputation for justice and tolera-
tion, the prisoners were after a few days released, and by
another mandate rewarded for their good service by being
put in possession of the very abbey-lands which formed the
property of their victims.

Protestant writers of course pass over facts like these;
and their Protestant readers will therefore go on to the
end extolling the glories of that " bright occidental star,"
whose rising put an end to the inhuman cruelties of the
Papists. That can be scarcely called ignorance which
refuses to know the truth'; and the martyrdoms of Irish
Catholics under Elizabeth were not few in number, neither
are they left without full historical records. They put
the inquisition to the blush ; hanging was thought too
mild a death to inflict on the victims of " religious
tolerance." The ingenuity of the Indian savages was
imitated in the devising of new and strange tortures.
They were roasted, and pressed to death ; their nails
were slowly torn from their feet and hands ; they were
exposed to die of cold and starvation ; and the imagina-
tion of their tormentors was racked to invent originalities
in the way of cruelty. What, for instance, are we to
think of the punishment "inflicted on Dermot Hurle,
archbishop of Cashel, a Dominican ? He was sentenced
to be hanged ; but previously to his execution, was sub-
jected to an extraordinary barbarity. His entire legs and
feet were covered with a corrosive plaster made of pitch,
sulphur, brandy, salt, and other combustible materials,
which slowly consumed the flesh ; the plaster was renewed
hour after hour, till the arteries and muscles were destroy-
ed, and the very bones appeared ; and his enemies, having
thus satisfied their savage malice, then conducted him to
the scaffold, though we are told they did so before brealc of
day, lest the circumstances of his previous tortures should
become public.

A great number of the religious of the order suffered
during the reigns of James I. and Charles I., yet still it


survived in spite of all that the rack and the gibbet could
do to extinguish it. But during the conquest of the
island by Cromwell, Ireland was made to drain to the very
dregs the chalice of her misery. We have neither space
nor inclination to dwell at length on the barbarities in-
flicted by that champion of religious liberty, yet wo
cannot omit an allusion to one or two among the many
illustrious martyrs whose deaths shed an additional lustre
over the Irish province of the Friars Preachers. There
is something that reminds us of the acts of the early
Christian martyrs in the account, for instance, given us
of the death of F. Richard Barry, prior of Cashel, who
was seized in the church with a number of other
Catholics, both secular and ecclesiastic, after having
insisted on his brethren seeking safety by flight. He
was a man of noble and stately bearing, and when the
leader of the hostile troop came into his presence, he was
bo struck by his appearance that he offered him his life

Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 31 of 37)