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

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place of the order, and the scene of S. Dominic's first
and most heroic labours, contributed to cherish these
feelings ; for it sounds like a passage out of the life of
the great patriarch, when we read of the chapter held by
Michaelis at Fangeaux, the scene of that celebrated
miracle which attested the triumph of S. Dominic over
the Albigenses. Michaelis' labours were not without fruit,
and the communities reformed by him, especially that
of Toulouse, became, as in old time, the nurseries of
saints. Indeed, we have evidence that not in France
only, but in Spain, and Italy, especially at Naples and
Salamanca, the reformed convents restored the regular
observance of the rule with a severity and zeal which is
truly extraordinary. We have F. Marchese's description
of the convent of Salamanca, of which he was himself


a member; and our readers will allow that the religious
spirit was not yet extinct among the Friars Preachers,
whatever may have been the partial relaxation. "In
that convent," he says, "the happy state of primitive
religion seemed never to have grown old. It was a
perpetual alternation of prayer and study, so that the
religious were always employed either in the praises
of God, or in attending to the salvation of souls. No
indulgence was admitted in the rigours of fasting, Ibe
exactness of inclosure, or the observation of silence, which
last was indeed but little felt; for the work was so cou-
tinual that even had any desired to speak they would have
found no time to do so." Some of the most interesting
sketches left us by this writer are of the Neapolitan
religious whom he had himself known, and whose lives
are a sufficient evidence that the cloisters of the Friars
Preachers were still nurturing chosen souls to the heroic
degrees of sanctity,

The reformation of their own order and the defence of
the Church against the progress of heresy were the two
objects to which the efforts of the Dominicans were now
directed ; and none was more distinguished for his zeal
and devotion in both these objects than the celebrated
Anthony Le Quieu, who embraced the religious life in
the convent of the Annunciation, founded by the Pere
Michaelis as the model house of his reform. In this
house he became the master of novices to many of those
destined eventually to revive the spirit of religion through-
out the order ; but even the strict observance of this
foundation did not satisfy him, and his ardent tempera-
ment was ever devising schemes of new establishments,
wherein the exact observance of the constitutions should
be united to an apostolate for the extinction of heresy in
every province where the new convents should be erected.
We can scarcely study the history of any order with-
out being forcibly struck by the singular family likeness
that exists among its great men : we see not only
their virtues, but their infirmities continually reproduced,
and it is evident that the same rule and spirit attracted
tc itself men of congenial natures. If one may systema-
2 a2


tize in sueh things, we should be inclined to say, that
a certain romance and enthusiasm, sometimes carrying
its possessors beyond the bounds of discretion, but
always noble and full of chivalry, was the hereditary
infirmity of the Friars Preachers ; it sometimes gave to
their plans of perfection, as in the case of Bartholomew
de Las Casas, a character rather ideal than practical, and
in that, of Le Quieu eventually led him to go beyond the
very constitutions whose exact observance he desired to
revive. Nicholas Rodolph, the general of the order,
entered warmly into his views, and after receiving the
benediction of the Sovereign Pontiff, he proceeded to
enter on his work, and became the founder of six convents
in various provinces of France, which were united together
under the title of " the Congregation of the Blessed
Sacrament." In these we must particularly admire the
way in which he succeeded in bringing out the great idea
of the Dominican institute in its integrify ; namely, its
union of the contemplative and the apostolic life ; his
religious were men of prayer and men of preaching, and
in the description left us of these convents, as in those
founded by Michaelis, we seem to see a reproduction
of the early foundations of S. Dominic. The indiscretion
of Le Quieu to which we have alluded consisted in his
desire to introduce the custom of going barefooted ; a
practice which had never existed in the order, or formed
any part of its rule, and which would inevitably have led
to some separation from the main body of the order, and
thus have deprived it of what has been one of its greatest
glories and privileges, its unbroken unity. The scheme
was, however, overruled by the authority of the general,
and Le Quieu was in future obliged to content himself
with the degree of poverty and austerity prescribed by
his rule.

Ten years before his death he commenced his apostolic
missions in the territory of Geneva. The heretics of the
south of France had already learnt to fear him, as onoo
their forefathers had feared the preaching of S. Dominic,
and now the whole diocese of Annecy (whither the
bishops of Geneva had removed their episcopal see) felt


the influence of this extraordinary man. " Wherever he
preached," gays his biographer, the Pere Archange, "he
introduced the devotion of the Forty Hours. He
preached twice and sometimes three times every day, and
would spend ten or twelve hours in the confessional,
passing the nights on the altar-step. His repast was
only a handful of bread, and he might often have been
found on the wayside taking it by the margin of some
running stream which supplied his drink, and this when
he was seventy-five years of age." His singular devotion
to the Blessed Sacrament led to his forming a foundation
for the express purpose of promoting its honour. This
was a convent of nuns of the Perpetual Adoration estab-
lished at Marseilles in 1659, and one of the first establish-
ments of the kind of which we find any notice in history.*
They followed the rule of S. Austin, with constitutions of
their own given them by Le Quieu, which were approved
by the Holy See. This convent still existed at the period
when Touron wrote his history.

The only other of these modern reformers whom we
will mention is F. John Baptist Carre, the founder of the
Noviciate-General of Paris, who, like Le Quieu, was a
disciple of the reform of Michaelis, and had received his
religious education in his convent at Toulouse. He also
filled the same office of novice-master at the Annunciation,
and in 1632 the admirable scheme for the establishment of
one noviciate for the whole of the French provinces was
carried out, and placed under his management by Nicholas
Rodolph the general of the order. Indeed at this

« We say one of the first, for the first convent of this description
was undoubtedly that founded in Paris in the year 1653 by
Caiherine de Barr. under the patronage of Anne of Austria.
Thi3 community followed the ,Benedictine rule. Marchese men-
tions a convent of Dominican friars in Spain about the same time,
where the Perpetual Adoration was kept up. In fact, devotion to
the Most Holy Sacrament has always been a distinguished feature
of the order of Preachers: we find the arch-confraternity of the
Blessed Sacrament established at the Minerva by Paul III. in
153J, from which other branch-confraternities took their rise,
though that of S. Martin at Liege was probably of yet earliei


period France may be considered as the rallying ground
of the Dominican Institute. In spite of the spread
of Jansenism, and the attacks on the liberties of the
Church which mark the ecclesiastical history of France
in the seventeenth century, there was probably no age
when the ranks of her clergy were filled with more illus-
trious members. Among these the most distinguished
of ajl may be claimed by the order of S. Dominic, of
whioh he was a professed tertiary. We allude to M.
Olier, the founder of the seminary of S. Sulpice, and one
whose influence over the society of his day was of the
most extraordinary kind. It is well known that the
sanctification of this great man, and his devotion to the
work which afterwards produced such vast results on the
whole body of the French clergy, has been formally
acknowledged by many of the Sulpician ecclesiastics as
principally owing to the influence of the Venerable Agnes
of Jesus. Perhaps it was his close connection with this
celebrated religious of the Dominican order that moved
him with the desire to attach himself to the same institute.
As he knelt to receive the scapular in the chapel of S.
Sulpice, we are told that " he confessed with lively emotion
that he owed every grace he had up to that time received
to the order of S. Dominic." "lam rejoiced," he added,
" to see myself a child of S. Dominic, and more than ever
a brother of the revered Mother Agnes of Jesus, to
whom I owe so much." Following his example, many
other priests of the seminary entered the third order about
the same time.

Whilst speaking of those who reformed the order, the
English Dominicans ought never to forget one to whom
they owe in no small degree the restoration of its existence
among themselves. This was Philip Thomas Howard,
one of the noble house of Norfolk who entered the order
in the year 1645, and during the Protectorate of Crom-
well founded a monastery of English friars at Bornheim
in Flanders, and a convent of nuns of the second order at
Vilvorde, which was afterwards removed to Brussels,* his

-:<- We have called Sister Antoinette Howard, sister to the cardinal,
on the authority of Touron, but by the unpublished manuscript


own sister Antoinete Howard being the first of the
English nation who offered herself to join the proposed
foundation. At the French revolution in the following
century, when so many religious communities took refuge
in England, these two houses were broken up, and their
inmates settled in our own land, which thus saw the

memoirs of the community of Vilvorde (now settled at Atherstone
in Warwichshire), it would not appear that she was so nearly related
to him.

She was out sixteen years of age when she took the habit, hav-
ing removed from the convent of Tempes with two of the religious
of that commuunity, for the purpose of commencing the new foun-
dation. " She was the first Englishwoman," says the MS., "that
had taken the habit of the holy father since the unhappy fall of
religion in England. A short time of her noviceship passed when
it pleased God to try her with a grievous sickness ; and He rewarded
her virtuous intentions and fervent desires to be consecrated to
Him in holy religion, with a clear sight of His Sacred Mother,
the ever-blessed Virgin, about an hour before her happy death,
which took place on the 8th day of October, 1661, four months after
she took the holy habit." After some particulars of her illness,
the account continues as follows : " A little while after, she fell
into a trance, in which for about a quarter of an hour she ap-
peared quite dead ; then smiling, she opened her eyes with great
signs of joy, and presently after fell into another trance, which
lasted not so long, but by the signs of joy and satisfaction far ex-
ceeded that that she had showed before ; this moved the father
confessor to ask her the cause of her joy, to which she made no
reply, but looked upon him and us that were by her very cheerfully
and made some signs with her hand which we could not understand.
Then her confessor, much surprised to see this strange satisfaction,
so very unusual at such a time, said thus to her, " Child, I command
you in virtue of holy obedience, to declare the cause of your joy at
this dreadful time, when you are going to give a strict account of
every thought, word, and deed, which God exacts with such
severity that the greatest saints have trembled to think of it."
She, without any change of countenance, answered, " I see it."
" Child," said the father, " what do you see ? tell what you see.'
She said, " I see our Blessed Lady with a crown in one hand and
a rosary in the other — a fine crown." " Child," said the father,
" have a care what you say ; do you see our Blessed Lady ? " She
very cheerfully replied, " Yes, I do see our Blessed Lady with a
fine crown and rosary, ! fine crown ! 1 fine rosary ! I desire
to see no more of this world." Then the Confessor (F. William
Collings) said to her, " Child, would you have the absolution
of the rosary ?" She answered, "'I made signs for it many times
when I could not speak." Then devoutly preparing herself to re-
ceive it, he gave it to her, and presently after, with a pleasant
smiling countenance, she left this wretched life to pass to eternal
felicity — She was professed on her death-bed.


restoration of the order just two hundred years after the
nuns of Dartford had been driven from her shores in the
manner we have described. F. Howard was raised to
the purple in 1675, and at the instance of James II. was
afterwards declared Cardinal Protector of England.
He was also the founder of a new college at Louvain
in favour of religious of his own order and nation.
Towards the end of the seventeenth century the opinions
of the Quiet ists began to trouble the Church ; their
errors had long before been minutely described and con-
futed by Taulerus ; and in their modern form they found
a vigorous opponent in Pere Anthony Massouli6. the
enthusiastic defender of S. Thomas, whose principles of
theology are the weapons he uses, in his celebrated trea-
tises on prayer, and the love of God, to condemn the
erroneous doctrines of his adversaries. Other writers of
the greatest eminence flourished about this time : among
whom we may notice Goar, the illustrious convert from
the Greek schism, but, in particular, the theologian and
ecclesiastical historian, Natalis Alexander, whose works
were declared by Cardinal Orsini to be a library in

We find among the literary notices of this century the
name of one writer, whose celebrity is of so curious a
kind that we shall not hesitate to give her story at length.
It is well known that not a few of the religious women of
the Dominican order have in all ages maintained the
character of their institute for learning and the cultiva-
tion of the arts, and have found means to unite these
pursuits to the virtues of their vocation in a truly admir-
able manner. We have alluded to the two sisters,
Plautilla and Petronilla Nelli, the painter and authoress,
of the Ruccellai convent at Florence. During the same
century a singular amount of talent was to be found in
convents of the female Dominicans. The nuns of
Florence were among the earliest and most zealous
encouragers of the art of printing. Their spiritual
director, Fra Domenico of Pistoja, established a printing-
press in their convent, which they worked with their own
hands. Marchese mentions Sister Aurelia Fiorentini, of


the convent of Lncca, one of whose paintings may yet be
seen over the high altars of S. Dominic's Church in that
city, where it was placed after the removal of the
Madonna della Misericordia, the chef cCceuvre of Fra
Bartolomeo. Besides a great many of other female
painters whose names have been recorded by Marchese,
the convent of Prato, celebrated as that of S. Catherine
of Ricei, was the residence of the well-known elegiac
poetess, Lorenza Strozzi, of whom Echard has given a
long and interesting account. After her entrace into
religion she applied herself to the study of languages,
and became a perfect mistress both of Greek and Latin.
Her Latin hymns and sapphics, for the feasts of the
Church, have been translated into French verse, and were
much esteemed. But the learning of Sister Lorenza
fades into nothing by the side of that of Juliana Morelle,
to whom we made allusion above. She was a native of
Barcelona ; and previous to her entrance into religion,
her father, Anthony Morelle, applied himself to the
task of cultivating her natural talents by devoting her to
a course of study very unusual in those of her sex. We
are told that when only twelve years old she spoke
Castilian, French, Italian, Greek, and Hebrew, with per-
fect facility. She employed nine hours every day in
study, and attained such eminence in the sciences of
logic, and of physical and moral philosophy, that in 1607
(she being then but thirteen years of age), she sustained
public theses of philosophy at Lyons, and which were
afterwards published, and dedicated to Margaret of
Austria. Besides these acquirements, she studied meta-
physics, jurisprudence, and music. Her father wished
her to take her degree as Doctress in Law, and for this
purpose conducted her to Avignon. The whole city was
stirred at the news of her arrival, and the most distin-
guished persons of either sex were eager to see and speak
with her. By her wisdom and erudition, but far more
by her singular modesty and humility, she excited general
admiration ; and the vice-legate of Avignon, wishing to
have some proof of her learning, appointed a day for a
public disputation to be held at his palace, in the presence


of the Duchess of Conde, and a crowd of illustrious ecclesi-
astics and religious, with other persons of rank and
eminence. Juliana for the second time was obliged to
defend the public theses, answering every argument and
objection of her opponents with so much depth and readi-
ness as to astonish all who listened. Nevertheless, in the
midst of all the flattery which was heaped upon her, her
humility never once gave way ; and the simplicity and
sanctity which were observable in her conduct rendered her
far more worthy of applause than did the learning on
which her father and the public set so high a value. She
very early took the resolution of retiring from the eyes of
the world, and entering religion ; and took the veil in the
convent of S. Praxedes, at Avignon, when only fifteen
years of age ; so brief had been the career that created so
extraordinary a renown.

Probably some of our readers may have formed no
favourable idea of the young doctress and public disputant,
but they must surely admire the purity and true spiri-
tuality of a soul that could unite such gifts, and a
reputation so uncommon, to the virtues of a religious
vocation. They must forgive Juliana her learning, should
that be an offence in their eyes, when they hear how she
bore herself in her religious probation. In the midst of
the most humbling trials to which her superiors con-
sidered it right to subject her, in order to prove her
vocation, and to prevent her from being puffed up by her
extraordinary knowledge, she always showed herself
equally humble, patient, submissive, and grateful to all.
She never exercised her talents save with permission
of her superiors, or for the service of the sisters. When,
in order to test her, they would show contempt for the
explanations she gave of anything, Juliana lost nothing of
her customary sweetness and humility. She was a
most exact observer of her rule, and was several times
elected novice-mistress and prioress of her community,
always discharging these offices with a union of zeal,
sweetness, and spiritual wisdom. She had a great love
to the poor, anc ! . distributed to them everything in her
power to give. At length, after twenty-five years oi


constant sickness, she died in 1653, and several miracu-
lous cures were attributed to her after her death. " This
great religious," continues the author of the Dictionnaire
UniverseUej " whom several learned authors have not
hesitated to call the honour of her sex, the wonder of her
age, the glory of her monastery, and one of the brightest
ornaments of her order, has left several devout works.
Amongst these are a 'Retreat of ten days on Eternity,'
a beautiful commentary on the ' Treatise on the Spiritual
Life' of S. Vincent Ferrer, together with a commentary
on the rule of S. Austin, some Latin prayers, and a history
of the reform of her monastery of S. Praxedes. Besides
these, she wrote a brief exposition of the dispositions
proper for religious profession." She is spoken of in
terms of eulogy by Lopez de Vega, and several other
writers. Later in the same century, Sister Maria Villani,
of the convent at Naples, attained a yet higher reputation
as mystic writer. Few biographies can rival hers in
beauty and interest, for she was of most saintly life. She
left " eleven large volumes full of the profoundest doc-
trine," says E chard, who gives a list of her works in
his "History of the Dominican writers," where we shall
find an interesting notice of all the illustrious women of
the order.

Their reputation has been supported nearer our own
time by Sister Anna Vittoria Dolara, prioress of the
monastery of S. Mary Magdalen on Monte Cavallo,
founded by Magdalen Orsini, and now inhabited by the
nuns of the Perpetual Adoration. She was alike remark-
able for her piety, her poetical genius, and her excellence
as a painter. When Pius VI. was carried into exile by
the soldiers of the French republic, they spared the con-
vent of the sisters, but at the same time stripped it of all
means of support. Vittoria Dolara contrived in this
emergency to raise a sufficient subsistence for herself and
her sisters by incessant application to her pencil, and it
was during this period of suffering that she wrote the
"Complaint of the Roman Virgins," a little poem of
singular beauty and pathos. "This accomplished nun,"
says Marchese, " possessed a considerable knowledge of


Latin; she was also well skilled in vocal and instrumental
music, and was wont to cheer her afflicted sisters with her
melodious strains. Pius VII., who held Sister Dolara in
the highest esteem, often visited her, and more than once
sat to her for his portrait. These likenesses were admir-
ably painted, and Leo XII. conferred a similar honor on
this ornament of the cloister. Thus were all the accom-
plishments of Plautilla Nelli the paintress, and Lorenza
Strozzi the poetess, revived in the person of the gifted
Dolara." She died in 1827, aged 63 years.


Pontificate of Benedict XIII. Missions and Martyrs of China.
Dominican Saints. Conclusion.

On the death of Innocent XIII. in 1724, the fourth
and last pontiff of the Dominican order ascended the
chair of S. Peter, in the person of Cardinal Orsini,
archbishop of Benevento, who assumed the title of
Benedict XIII. His pontificate, which lasted six years,
was chiefly remarkable, like those of his predecessors, for
its measures of peace and conciliation ; and, we may add,
for the singular zeal displayed by the venerable Father
in the discharge, not only of pontifical, but of pastoral
functions. The times were not heroic; and there was
little opportunity for a display of great or brilliant
qualities; nevertheless, there is a character of touching
simplicity in the narrative of Benedict's career, which
supplies for the want of more striking interest. But if
the Church history of Europe in the eighteenth century .
was in some degree wanting in sublimity, the same could
not be said of her missionary annals. We have neces-
sarily been compelled to pass over in silence much that


exhibits the order of Friars Preachers to us in its
grandest character, as one of the chief apostolic bodies
existing in the Church. Nevertheless, the missions and
martyrdoms of China which took place during the ponti-
ficate of Benedict XIII. form so very remarkable a
portion of her history, that we cannot omit som« notice of
them in this place.

The number of Christians in China had been greatly
increased during the course of the seventeenth century
by the labours of the missionaries of various religious
orders, especially of the Jesuits and Dominicans. Among
the latter, John Baptist Morales, Dominic Navaretto, and
Gregory Lopez, a native Chinese, who entered the order
of Preachers, and became the first of his nation elevated
to the Christian episcopacy, had evangelized a vast tract
of country, which retained its hold of the faith in spite
of the cruel persecutions to which the new converts were
subjected. It was in 1715 that Peter Martyr Sanz set
foot on the soil of China ; and after the course of a few
years he was consecrated bishop of Mauricastro, just at

Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 33 of 37)