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

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The other letter is of a severer character ; it is as fol-
lows : " To all the faithful in Christ to whom these pre-
sents may come, Brother Dominic, canon of Osma, wishes
health in the Lord. By the authority of the Lord Abbot
of Citeaux, who has committed to us this office, we have
reconciled to the Church the bearer of these presents,
Ponce Royer, converted by the grace of God from heresy
to the faith ; and we order, in virtue of the oath which
he has taken to us, that during three Sundays or feast-
days he shall go to the entrance of the village, bare to the
waist, and be struck with rods by the priest. We also
order him to abstain for ever from flesh, eggs, cheese, and
all which comes from flesh, except at Easter, Pentecost,
and Christmas, when he shall eat some to protest against
his former errors. He shall keep three Lents each year,
fasting and abstaining from fish, unless from bodily infir-
mity or the heat of the weather he shall be dispensed.
He shall dress in religious habit, as well in the form as
in the colour, t© the ends of which shall be hung two
little crosses. Every day, if possible, he shall hear mass,
and he shall go to vespers on festival days. Seven times


a day he shall recite ten " Pater Nosters," and lie shall say
twenty in the middle of the night. He shall observe
chastity, and once a month he shall, in the morning, pre-
sent this paper to the Chaplain of the village of Cere.
We desire this Chaplain to have great care that his peni-
tent lead a holy life, and observe all we have said until
the lord legate shall otherwise ordain. If he neglect to
do so through contempt, we will that he be excommuni-
cated as perjured and heretic, and be separated from the
society of the faithful."

Such was still the Church's discipline in the thirteenth
century. We who live in days when that discipline has
been gradually, though reluctantly, relaxed, because of
the relaxing love and faith of penitents, are amazed at
its severity : we are even disposed to lay the responsi-
bility of its seeming harshness on the head of him who
pronounced the sentence. But Dominic was in no way
the legislator in such a case as this : he was simply the
executor and dispenser of the Church's law. The above
diploma is one of those monumental records of canonical
penances which we occasionally find preserved in the
course of history, and which when so stumbled on are
almost invariably rocks of offence to those who are
accustomed to look on a litany, or a ' Salve Regina,' as
a reasonable penance for the sins of a life. The ac-
cumulation of indulgences in modern times ought surely
to have its significance to such minds. In those days,
men really performed the penances which are now dis-
pensed. The rod which descends so gently on the head
of the wandering stranger in the Roman basilicas, — that
ghost of the ancient penitential discipline, — fell with a
hearty earnestness on the shoulders of our fathers; and
we cannot too often remind ourselves, by means of such
documents as that we have just read, of a difference
which should cover us with humiliation for the feeble-
ness of modern penitence, rather than send us to criticize
the severity with which the Church has ever looked on


The institution of the Kosary. The Council of Lavaur. The
battle of Muret.

We have given a few anecdotes of the life led by
Dominic during a time when war and bloodshed were
raging around him. They are all that are left us to
mark his course for many years. But it was during this
time, though it would be difficult to affix the precise
date, that he propagated that celebrated devotion which
would alone entitle its author to our veneration, did we
know him in no other way than as the first institutor of
the Rosary. The universal voice of tradition affirms this
devotion to have been revealed to him by the Blessed
Virgin herself; and if we consider its almost super-
natural character, combining as it does the simplest
prayers with the profoundest meditations, or again if we
remember the extraordinary power with which it has
been blessed, and its adoption through the universal
Church as the very alphabet of prayer, it is difficult
for us not to believe it something more than a human
invention, but rather as a gift which came to us as the
most precious token of the love of our dear Mother.
Although, however, there is ample ground for this belief,
the details of any such revelation have not been pre-
served to us for the circumstantial accounts of the
giving of the Rosary, which are so popular with later
writers, are not to be found in any of the more ancient
authors, who leave the date and the manner of its first
institution in obscurity.* Dominic's life during these
years was, for the most part, a lonely and hidden one:

* Local tradition declares the sanctury of Notre Dame de Dreche,
near Albi, to have been the scene of the vision of our Lady ; it is
certain that this sanctury first attained celebrity during the Albi-
gensian troubles, and was one of the favourite resorts of fc>. Dominic
in the course of his apostolic labours.


his communications with heaven remained locked within
his own breast ; for it was not with him as with so many
other saints, on whom a hundred busy eyes were always
fixed to mark every indication of supernatural grace, every
phenomenon, if we may so say, of their ecstacy and prayer :
his own lips were the only source from whence the secret
favours of God could ever have been made known, and
they certainly were the last which were ever likely to speak
of them to another.

We again remark in the institution of the Rosary
something of that characteristic feature of S. Dominie to
which we have before alluded. It was not altogether a
new devotion. There was nothing novel in the frequent
repetition of the " Angelical Salutation," or the " Pater
Noster :" such devotion had been common in the Cnureh
from time immemorial, and we read of the hermits of the
deserts, counting such prayers with little stones, in the
same way as we use the beads. The novelty was the
association of mental and vocal prayer in those mys-
teries, which gather together, under fifteen heads, all the
history of the life of Christ. This working out of the
materials which lay before him, and which others had
used before him, is the peculiarity of which we "have
spoken. It is the distinctive humility of our Saint. If
we reflect on the way in which all his greatest actions
were performed, we may safely say, that they came from
a soul in which the petty desire of personal reputation,
of making a noise in the world, of being known as the
founder of an institution, or the originator of a noble
thought, was never felt. Nay, if we may so say, there
is something which perpetually reminds us of our Lord's
own way of working; when He took His parables and
similitudes from the common things before His eyes, and
was content to let His Church grow out of the relics of
Judaism, as its visible temples may sometimas be seen
standing among the ruins of heathen fanes, converting
all their beauty to a sacred use. In all S. Dominic's
institutions we see this unconsciousness of self, which is
an evidence of the highest class of mind, and it is
probably from this cause that, in the commencement of


all of them, there is an obscurity and uncertainty ?f date
which is rarely found to attach to the inventions of human

We may, however, consider it as certain that the Rosary
had begun to be propagated before the year 1213, as we
are assured that it was used by the soldiers of the Count
de Montfort's army before the battle of Muret, which
took place in that year. Many stories are told of the
wonders which followed on its first adoption. Some de-
spised it, and ridiculed its use ; among whom was one of
the bishops of the country of Toulouse, who, hearing the
Rosary preached by S. Dominic, spoke of it afterwards
with contempt, saying it was only fit for women and
children. He was soon convinced of his error ; for shortly
afterwards, falling into great persecution and calumnies,
he seemed in a vision to see himself plunged into thick
mire from which there was no way of escape. Raising his
eyes, he saw above him the forms of our Lady and S.
Dominic, who let down to him a chain made of a hundred
and fifty rings, fifteen of which were gold; and laying
hold of this he found himself safely drawn to dry land.
By this he understood, that it was by means of the de-
votion of the Rosary he should be delivered from his
enemies, which shortly took place after he had devoutly
commenced its use. Another similar story relates how a
noble lady opposed the new confraternities of this devo-
tion with all her power, but was converted by the follow-
ing vision, which was granted to her one night in prayer.
Being rapt in ecstasy, she saw an innumerable company of
men and women, surrounded by a great splendour, who
devoutly recited the Rosary together; and for every "Ave
Maria" which they repeated, a beautiful star came forth
from their mouths, and the prayers were written in a book
in letters of gold. Then the Blessed Virgin spoke to her
and said, " In this book are written the names of the
brethren and sisters of my Rosary, but thy name is not
written; and because thou hast persuaded many not to
enter it, there shall befall thee a sickness for a time, which
yet shall turn to thy salvation." The lady was soon after
seized with sickness, and, recognizing the truth of the


prediction, she caused herself, on her recovery, to be in-
scribed among the members of the confraternity. The
spread of this devotion was the most successful weapon
in the eradication of the Albigensian heresy. The child of
ignorance, it fled before the light of truth; and as the
mysteries of the faith were gradually brought back to the
minds and hearts of the people, the mysteries of falsehood
disappeared. The doctrine of the Incarnation, so specially
commemorated in the Rosary, became then, as ever, the
bulwark of the truth ; and wherever the sooiety was esta-
blished, and the name of Mary was invoked, that name, as
the Church sings, "alone destroyed all heresies."

During the time that Dominic exercised the office of
vicar to the Bishop of Carcassona, the position of the
contending parties in Languedoc was considerably altered
by the arrival of Peter, king of Arragon, who joined the
forces of the Count of Toulouse with a powerful army.
He was allied to the count by marriage, but had hitherto
contented himself by negotiating in his favour with the
court of Rome. In the beginning of the year 1213,
however, a council was summoned at Lavaur, at which
the king formally demanded from the legates and Catholic
chiefs the restitution of the towns and lands which they
had taken in the course of the war from the Count of
Toulouse and the other nobles who had espoused .his
cause, and their restoration to the communion of the
Church. The council consented to admit the others on
the terms proposed, but refused to include the Count of
Toulouse, whose repeated perjuries and evasions had
rendered him unworthy of trust. This answer was con-
sidered by the king as an evidence that there was a re-
solve to destroy the house of Toulouse, from motives of
personal ambition on the part of the Count de Montfort ;
and he, therefore, declared the family of Raymond under
his protection, and appealed to the Holy See against the
decision of the council. The legates, on their part, repre-
sented to the Pope that the only chance of restoring peace
to the distracted country was by the entire removal of
the house of Toulouse, and the destruction of its heredi-
tary power. The contradictory appeals and reports which


were sent him, rendered it difficult for Innocent to judge
in a cause involved every way in embarrassment. That
he was very far from advocating unnecessary or undue
severity towards Raymond and his family, we may gather
from his own letters to the Count de Montfort, in which
he urges him not to let the world think that he fought
more for his own interests than for the cause of the faith.
On the other hand, he complains, in a letter, that
the king of Arragon has misled him as to the state of
affairs, and enjoins him to proceed no further against the
Count de Montfort, until the arrival of a cardinal whom
he is about to despatch to the spot, to examine the whole
question as his delegate. It was too late. Before the
order arrived, the king had passed the Pyrenees, and,
joining the troops of the Counts of Toulouse, Foix, and
Comminges, prepared to advance against the army of the
crusaders. Their position seemed indeed but gloomy,
for the forces of the heretic leaders far outnumbered those
of the Catholics. A lay brother of the Cistercians, who
watched the progress of the war with painful interest,
went in company with Stephen de Metz, another religious
of the same order, to consult Dominic at this juncture A
well knowing that God often revealed to him the secrets
of coming events. "Will these evils ever have an end,
Master Dominic?" asked the afflicted brother. He re-
peated his question many times, but Dominic remained
silent. At length he replied, " There will be a time when
the malice of the men of Toulouse will have its end ; but
it is far away ; and there will be much blood shed first,
and a king will die in battle." Brother Stephen and the
Cistercian interpreted this prediction to allude to Prince
Louis of France, the son of Philip Augustus, who had
joined the army of the crusaders in the previous February.
"No," replied Dominic, "it will not touch the king of
France : it is another king whose thread of life will be cut
in the course of this war." This prophecy was very shortly
to be accomplished, and Dominic himself was destined to
be present on the spot where the decisive struggle took
place which witnessed its fulfilment.

Very shortly after uttering the prediction, he left Car-


cassona on the return of the bishop, intending to join a
congress of the Catholic prelates and legates which was
to be held at Muret. On the road thither he passed
through the city of Castres, where the body of the martyr
S. Vincent was preserved, for the veneration of the faith-
ful. Entering the church, to pay his devotion at the
shrine of the saint, he remained so late that the prior of
the collegiate canons of Castres, who w r as his host for the
time, despatched one of the brethren to call him to din-
ner. The brother obeyed, but on going into the church,
he saw Dominic raised in the air in ecstasy before the
altar ; and not daring to disturb him, he returned to the
prior, who himself hastened to the spot, and beheld the
spectacle with his own eyes. So forcible was the impres-
sion it left on his mind of the sanctity of the man of God,
that shortly after he joined himself to him, and was one
of those who formed the first foundation of the order.
This was the celebrated Matthew of France, afterwards
the prior of the convent of S. James in Paris, and the
first and last who ever bore the title of abbot among the
Friars Preachers. After this incident, Dominic proceeded
on his road to Muret.

It was on the 10th of September of the same year, that
the king of Arragon suddenly appeared before the walls of
this place, with an army, according to some writers, of
100,000 men, or, as others more probably state, of 40,000.
The intelligence of his approach reached De Montfort at
Fanjeaux. It seems probable that this hostile movement
took the Catholic chieftain by surprise; for only a few
weeks previously, he had been invited to a friendly con-
ference by the king, and so little was he prepared for any
active measures at the time (owing to the pending nego-
tiations with the Roman court), that he had no more than
800 horse, and a small number of men-at-arms with him,
with which to come to the relief of the besieged. To
oppose so contemptible a force to the army of the king,
seemed little less than madness, yet he never hesitated.
On the day following that on which the news reached
him, he set out from Fanjeaux, taking with him the
bishops and legates, amongst whom was Fulk, bishop of


Toulouse, -with the intention of at least attempting a
pacific settlement before the last appeal to arms. He
stopped on his way at the Cistercian monastery of Bol-
bonne, and going into the church, laid his sword on the
altar, as though to commend his cause to God, and remained
for some time in prayer ; then taking back his sword, as
now no longer his, but God's, he proceeded to Saverdun,
where he spent the night in confession and preparation
for death. His little company of followers did the same,
and on the morning of the following day they all com-
municated, as* men who were about to offer their lives as
a sacrifice. Some authors tells us that Dominic was pre-
sent with the other legates and ecclesiastics in the army ;
others name him as being in their company only at
Muret ; but it seems probable that he had joined them
previously, and if the current tradition is the correct one,
that the crusaders ascribed their subsequent victory to
the particular assistance of Mary, whom they had united
to invoke in the prayers of the Rosary, we may well be-
lieve that this appeal to our Lady of Victories came from
his counsel and exhortation. The army reached Muret
on the side of the town opposite to that where the forces
of the king of Arragon were drawn up; but, before en-
tering the gates, the bishops were dispatched with pro-
positions of peace to the enemy's camp. A contemptuous
sarcasm was the only reply they received, and returning
to the army they all entered Muret together. But they
determined on one more effort, and very early in the
morning dispatched another message to the king, to the
effect that they would wait upon him barefoot, to bring
about the terms of reconciliation. They were preparing
to execute this design, when a body of cavalry attacked
the gates ; for the king had ordered the advance, without
even deigning a reply to this second embassy.

The scene that morning within the walls of Muret was
surely a religious one. Eight hundred devoted men, for-
tified by prayer and the sacraments of reconciliation, were
about, as it seemed to human judgment, to lay down their
lives as a sacrifice for the faith. There might be seen
how the holy sacrifice was celebrated iu the presence of


tliein all ; and how, when the Bishop of Uzes turned to
say the last "Dominus vobiscum," De Montfort knelt
before him, clad in armour, and said, " And I consecrate
my blood and life for God and His faith ;" and how the
swords and shields of the combatants were once more
offered on the altar; and when it was over, and the horse-
men were gathering together, and the very sound of the
attack was at the gates, these men all once more dis-
mounted, and bent their knee to venerate and kiss the
crucifix, extended to them by the Bishop of Toulouse. He
had come to give them his parting words and blessing.
Did his voice falter, or his eye grow dim at the spectacle
before him ? Something there certainly was of human
emotion at that moment which history does not notice;
for we are told it was not he, but the Bishop of Com-
minges who stood by his side, that spoke the last charge
to the army, and, taking the crucifix from the hands of
Fulk, solemnly blessed them as they knelt. Then they
rode out to battle, and the ecclesiastics turned back into
the church to pray.

Nothing more heroic is to be found in the whole history
of chivalry, than this battle of Muret. It was a single
charge. They rode through the open gates, and after a
feigned movement of retreat, they suddenly turned rein,
and dashed right on the ranks of their opponents, with
the impetuosity of a mountain-torrent. Swift as light-
ning they broke through the troops that opposed their
onward course, scattering them before their horses' hoofs
with something of supernatural energy, nor did they
draw bridle till they reached the centre of the army
where the king himself was stationed, surrounded by
the flower of his nobles and followers. A moment's
fierce struggle ensued; but the fall of the king decided
the fortune of the day. Terrified by the shock of that
tremendous charge, as it hurled itself upon them, the
whole army fled in panic. The voice and example of
their chief might again have rallied them, but that was
wanting; Peter of Arragon lay dead on the field, and
Dominic's prophecy was fulfilled.


And where was he meanwhile? and what place has
this page of chivalry in the annals of his apostolic life ?
The flash of swords, and the tramp of those galloping
steeds, startle us strangely from the story of his quiet,
lonely wanderings over the mountains, filling their echoes
with the sound of his hymns and litanies, as he goes
about to preach. Where are we to look for him in such
a scene ? Protestant writers are ready enough to tell us
he was at the head of the Crusaders, carrying a crucifix,
and urging them on to slaughter. We must be suffered
to think, however, that neither in the schools of Palencia,
nor in the canonry of Osma, could he have fitted himself
for such a post as the leader of a cavalry charge whose
equal is scarce to be found in history. Yet the battle of
Muret forms part of the story of Dominic's life ; he had
his place there ; for that one moment, and, so far as
history gives us any token, for that one alone, he was
brought in contact with the stormy scenes of the Crusade.
He had his place; but, to find it, we must leave the
battle-field, and go back to the church of Muret, where
a different sight will greet us. When the Christian
knights were ridden forth to the battle, the churchmen
had gone before the altar to pray. They had sent their
comrades, as it seemed, to certain death ; and their prayer
had in it the anguish of supplication. Prostrate on the
pavement, which they bathed with their tears, they
poured out their souls to "God. F. Bernard, of the Order
of Preachers, who lived in Toulouse at the beginning
of the following century, and who wrote whilst the
memory of these events was still fresh in the minds
of the people, thus describes them : " Then going into
the church, they prayed, raising their hands to heaven,
and beseeching God for His servants who were exposed
to death for His sake, with such great groans, and cries,
that it seemed not that they prayed, but rather howled."*

* A very popular tradition has represented S. Dominic as ascend-
ing one of the towers on the wall, and displaying the crucifix for
the encouragement of the Christian troops. This assertion has been
supported by the exhibition, in later ages, at Toulouse, of a crucifix
pierced all over with arrows, which is supposed to have been the



But from this agonizing suspense they were roused by
the shouts of the populace. The cry of victory sounded
in their ears ; they hastened to the walls, and beheld the
plain covered with the flying companies of the heretics.
Some plunged into the waters of the Garonne and
perished in their armour ; others trampled their own
comrades to death in the confusion of their flight ' r many
died under the swords of the Crusaders. It is computed
that no fewer than 20,000 of the heretic forces were
slain, whilst we are assured by all authorities that eight
only of the Catholics fell during the combat of that day.
As the Count de Montfort rode over that victorious field
he checked his horse by the bleeding and trampled body
of the king of Arragon. De Montfort had some of the
failings, but all the virtues, of his order : he was cast in
the heroic type of Christian chivalry. Descending from
his horse, he kissed the body with tears, and gave orders
for its honourable interment, as became a gallant enemy ;
then, returning barefoot to Muret, he went first to the
church to return thanks to God, and gave the horse and
armour with which he had fought to the poor. It was a
true picture of the ages of faith.

We need scarcely be surprised that so wonderful a victory
was looked on as miraculous, and counted as the fruit of
prayer. De Montfort himself ever so regarded it ; and

identical one used by him on the occasion. Polidori, who in all
things strictly adheres to the ancient authors, and is careful to
repudiate every modern addition of less authority, rejects this tale

Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 5 of 37)