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

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He knew his last hour was at hand ; the sadness of deep
disappointment was in his heart, but he surely made that
day a solemn offering and resignation to God of the life
whose human hopes had failed. When the priest elevated
the sacred host, De Montfort knelt, and uttered the words
" Nune dimittis." Then he went out to the scene of


combat. His presence had its wonted efiect on his fol-
lowers, as well as on his enemies. The men of Toulouse
fled back to the city, pursued by the victorious crusaders ;
but a stone from the wall struck their gallant leader to
the ground; and smiting his breast with his hand, ho
expired, recommending his soul to God, and with the
name of Mary on his lips.

His friendship towards the order of Friars Preachers
survived in his family. One of his daughters, Amice, or,
as the Italians sweetly name her, Amicitia, the wife of
the Seigneur de Joigny, bore so peculiar a love to the
children of Dominic that she used all her endeavours to
induce her only son to take the habit. He, however, fol-
lowed the army of S. Louis to the Holy Land; but whilst
detained in the island of Cyprus, he was taken with a
mortal sickness, and on his death-bed, remembering his
mother's prayers, he sent for the friars and received the
habit from their hands. When the tidings were brought
her, she gave thanks to God, and on the death of her
husband resolved to enter the order herself. She was
constantly repeating the words, " If I cannot be a Friar
Preacher, I will at least be one of their sisters ;" and she
succeeded, after much opposition, in founding the convent
of Montaign, where she herself took the habit, and died
in odour of sanctity about the year 1235.

Toulouse, the nursery of the Dominican order, con-
tinued to be closely linked with its history for many a
year, though after the death of De Montfort we hear less
of the triumphs of its champions than of the sufferings of
its martyrs. Among these we find some hardly to be
passed over without notice, such as the blessed Francis
of Toulouse, one of the first who received the habit, and
whom Taegius calls one of the most intrepid preachers of
b*s time : he fell into the hands of the heretics, who tor-
mented him in every way that more than pagan barbarity
could suggest; but he preached through it all, and pro-
claimed the Catholic faith. Then they plaited a crown c f
thorns, and placed it on his head ; and Francis received i t
joyfully, counting himself unworthy to be made partaker
in one of the sufferings of his Lord ; and still, as the bloai


streamed down his face, "he confessed and denied not,"
but boldly preached the word of God, and the faith of
His Church. Then they shot him to death with arrows ;
and so, standing like Sebastian with his face to his ene-
mies, and with that glorious crown upon his brow, he
went to Christ. This was in 1260; a few years previously
Toulouse had witnessed the confession of others of the
order, among whom was William of Montpellier and his
companions. They were all of the convent of Toulouse,
and Count Raymond, the successor to the dominions and
the heresy of the Raymond of Dominic's time, enraged at
their boldness and success among his subjects, tried first
to starve them into submission. He gave orders that
none, under pain of death, should bring any meat or drink
to the convent, or hold any communication with it, and
posted guards about its boundaries to see his orders en-
forced. But angels set his guards at defiance, and were
seen going -to and fro with provisions, so that no man
durst hinder them. Then he drove them from the town,
stripped them of all things they possessed, and condemned
their houses to be burned : this did not disturb them ; they
went on their way, singing the Creed and the Salve
Regina with joyful countenances as they left the city
gates. But though forced to retire, they soon returned to
the province, and everywhere carried, as before, the light
of truth among the people; so that in 1242 Raymond
determined on yet more violent measures. Being then
at his country house of Avignette, and seated at his ease
at the window of his private room, William, with ten other
companions, some of his own order, some of that of the
Friars Minors, were brought before him, and severely tor-
tured in various ways ; Raymond looking on and enjoying
the scene. And whilst his eyes were satisfied with the
spectacle of their sufferings, there was not wanting music
for his ears, if indeed it were of a kind that such a soul
as his could understand. Under the very knives of their
torturers, the dying martyrs raised a sweet harmony with
their failing breath ; they sang clear and loud the canticle
Te Deum, and taught their murderers, even with their
expiring voices, that the triumph of that hour belonged

86 LIFE OF S. t)OMlNlC.

to tlieir victims, and not to them, This happened on the
vigil of the Ascension, 1242.

— c#o


Dominic's fourth visit to Rome* His mode of travelling.

The October of the year 1217 saw Dominic crossing
the Alps on foot, for the fourth time, on his way to Home,
in company with Stephen of Metz, A considerable ob-
scurity hangs over this journey. According to an ac-
count sent to Rome by the fathers of the convent of SS.
John and Paul at Venice, it was at that city that he first
stopped, having, as it is said, the intention of carrying out
the design already spoken of, namely, to embark for the
East, and preach the Gospel to the Saracens in the Holy
Land. Whilst there he preached publicly on several oc-
casions, with such eifect that several of the inhabitants
demanded the habit, and the authorities of the Republic
granted to him and these new brethren the little oratory
of S. Daniel. The words of this document are as fol-
lows: — "In the year of our Lord 1217, the holy father
Dominic came to Venice with a few other brethren, and
received from the Republic the oratory then called S,
Daniel, but which after his canonization was called the
chapel of S. Dominic, and since the year 1567, down to
the present day, has been called the chapel of Rosary.
In this oratory, which was at first very small, S. Dominic
erected a little convent for his brethren, and in the place
now called the novitiate may still be seen, in the windows
and walls, the remains of this ancient fabric." Whether
indeed this relation may be trusted, in so far as concerns
the foundation of the convent at Venice, seems a matter
of doubt; yet there appears every probability that the
saint did visit the city at that time with the intention of
embarking for the Holy Land ; an intention which, it is
well known, he entertained whilst yet at Toulouse. What
the circumstances were which induced him to abandon it
does not appear ; nor is there any certain account preserved


of his manner of passing the months which intervened
between his departure from Toulouse and his arrival at
Rome at the close of the year 1217. "We find, however,
that he stopped at Milan on his way, and was there
courteously entertained by the Canons Regular of San
Nazario, who received him as one of their own order, for
he and his brethren still wore the Augustinian habit;
nor did they change it until after the vision granted to
Blessed Reginald, of which we shall speak further on.

In default of exact details concerning this fourth jour-
ney to Rome, we will present our readers with the picture
which has been so faithfully left us of Dominic's mode of
performing all his journeys, and leave them by its means
to fill up the blank, and to follow him thus in their mind's
eye as he crossed the Alps on foot and made his way
through the plains of Lombardy, and, as some have not
hesitated to add, through the valleys of Switzerland and
the Tyrol, preaching as he went. It will help us to a
more intimate acquaintance with him, and set him before
us with a more personal reality, as we enter on the most
important period of his life.

Dominic always travelled on foot, with a little bundle
on his shoulder and a stick in his hand. As soon as he
was a little out of the towns and villages through which
he passed, he would stop and take off his shoes, perform-
ing the rest of his journey barefoot, however rough and
bad the roads might be. If a sharp stone or thorn en-
tered his feet, he would turn to his companions with that
cheerful and joyous air which was so peculiar to him,
and say, " This is penance," and such kind of sufferings
were a particular pleasure to him. Coming once to a
place covered with sharp flints, he said to his companion,
Brother Bonvisi, " Ah ! miserable wretch that I was, I
was once obliged to put on my shoes in passing this spot."
" Why so ?" said the brother. " Because it had rained
so much," replied Dominic. He would never let his com-
panions help to carry his bundle, though they often begged
him to suffer them to do so. When he looked down from
the heights which they were descending, over any country
or city which they were about to enter, he would pause,


and look earnestly at it, often weeping as he thought of
the miseries men suffered there, and of the offences they
committed against God. Then, as he pursued his journey
and drew nearer he would put on his shoes, and, kneel-
ing down, would pray that his sins might not draw down
on them the chastisement of Heaven. For there was in
his character a singular mixture of that frank and joyous
bonhomie, so invariably to be found in a high and
chivalrous mind, with the tenderness of a melancholy
which had in it nothing morose, but was rather the con-
sequence of a profound reverence for the purity of God,
the outrages against Whom, as they hourly came before
him, were felt with an exquisite sensibility. He seldom
looked about him, and never when in towns or other
places where he was not alone. - His eyes were generally
cast down, and he never seemed to notice anything
curious or remarkable on the way. If he had to pass a
river he would make the sign of the cross, and then enter
it without hesitation, and was always the first to ford it.
If it rained, or any other discomfort disturbed him on the
road, he encouraged his companions, and would begin
singing in a loud voice his favourite hymn, the Ave
Maris Stella, or the Veni Creator. More than once at his
word the rain ceased, and the swollen rivers were passed
without difficulty.

He constantly kept the fasts and abstinences of his
rule, and the silence prescribed by the constitutions
until prime; and this silence he insisted on being also
observed by the others; though, as regarded the fasts
and abstinences he was indulgent in dispensing with
them for the brethren whilst they were travelling; an
indulgence he never extended to himself. Then, as they
went along, he would beguile the way with talking of the
things of God, or he instructed his companions in points
of spiritual doctrine, or read to them ; and this kind of
teaching he enjoined on the other brethren when tra-
velling with younger companions. Sometimes, however,
he was used to say, " Go on before, and let us each think
a little of our Divine Lord." This was the signal that
he wished to be left to silent meditation. At such times


lie would remain behind, to escape observation, and
would very soon begin to pray aloud, with tears and
sighs, losing all thought of the road he was following, or
the possible presence of others. Sometimes they had to
turn back and search for him, and would find him kneel-
ing in some thicket or lonely place without seeming to
fear wolves or other dangers. The dread of personal
danger indeed formed no part of Dominic's character.
His courage, though always passive, was essentially
heroic. Over and o\ r er again he had been exposed to
the assaults of his enemies, and warned of their in-
tentions against his life ; but such things never so much
as made him change his road and alter the plan of his
journey in any particular; he always treated the subject
with silent indifference. When his prayers were ended,
his brethren, who often watched him on such occasions,
would see him take out his favourite book of the gospels,
and, first, making the sign of the cross, pursue his road,
reading and meditating to himself. However long and
fatiguing was the day's journey, it never prevented him
from saying Mass every morning whenever there was
a church to be found; and most frequently he would
not merely say but sing it ; for he was one who never
spared his voice or strength in the divine offices. We
are constantly reminded of the heartiness of the royal
psalmist, in the character left us of Dominic's devotion.
" I will sing to the Lord with all my strength," was the
language of David ; "I will sing to the Lord as long as
I have any being." And Dominic had no indulgence for
any indolence or self sparing in the praises of God. He
always rendered Him the sacrifice, not of his heart only,
but of his lips; and called on all his companions to do
'he same, for he felt it a good and joyful thing to praise
the Lord.

It must be acknowledged, that his wonderful bodily
constitution was no little assistance in this matter to the
fervour of his soul. In his animal nature, no less than
in the cast of his mind, there was much of the gallant
spirit of a soldier ; he never felt that fatigue, or in-
disposition, or other little ailments and difficulties, could


be an excuse for doing less for God. Therefore when he
stopped for the night at some religious house, which he
always preferred doing when it was possible, he never
failed to join them in the singing of matins ; and he gave
it as his reason for choosing to stop at a convent, in
preference to other lodgings which he might have ac-
cepted, saying, " We shall 'be able to sing matins to-night."
At such times he generally chose the office of waking
the others. These passing visits to the convents, either
of his own or of other orders, were always full of profit
to their inmates. They made the most of the few hours
of his stay, and Dominic never thought of pleading for
the privilege of a weary traveller. If the convent were
under his own government, his first act was to call
together the religious, and make them a discourse on
spiritual things for a "good space;" and then if any
were suffering from temptations, melancholy, or any
kind of trouble, he never was tired of comforting and
advising them till he had restored them to the quiet
and joy of their souls. Very often these little visits were
so delightful to the religious who entertained him, that
on his leaving them in the morning they would ac-
company him on his way to enjoy a little more of his
discourse ; for the fascination of his conversation was
universally felt to be irresistible. But if there were
no such nouses to receive him, he left the choice of the
night's lodging to his comrades, and was all the better
pleased if it chanced to be incommodious ; he made it a
rule, before entering, always to spend some time in the
nearest church. When people of high rank entertained
him, he would first quench his thirst at some fountain,
lest he should be tempted to exceed religious modesty at
table, and so give occasion of scandal ; a prudence which,
in a man of such austerity of life, gives us a singular idaa
of his humility. When ill, he would eat roots and fruit
rather than touch the delicacies of their tables ; and even
when canon of Osma he never touched meat; he would
take it and hide it in his plate, not to be observed.
Sometimes he begged his bread from door to door,
thanking his benefactors for their scanty alms on his


knees, and with uncovered head. His sleep was taken
on the floor, and in his habit ; and very often those who
slept near him could hear that the night was spent in
prayers and tears, and "strong crying" to God for the
salvation of souls.

Thus journeying, he would stop and preach at all the
towns and villages in his way: what kind of preaching
this was, we may easily guess. " What books have you
studied, father," said a young man to him one day, "that
your sermons are so full of the learning of holy Scrip-
ture ?" " I have studied in the book of charity, my son,"
he replied, " more than in any other : it is the book
which teaches us all things." "With all his strength,"
says blessed Jordan, "and with the most fervent zeal,
he sought to gain souls to Christ without any exception,
and as many as he could ; and this zeal was marvellously,
and in a way not to be believed, rooted in his very
heart." His favourite way of recommending to man the
truths of God, was the sweetness of persuasion ; and yet,
as his parting address to the people of Languedoc shows
us, he knew (according to his own expression) " how to
use the stick." Finally, to cite once more the words of
the writer just quoted, "Wherever he was, whether on
the road with his companions, or in the house with the
guests or the family of his host, or among great men,
princes or prelates, he always spoke to edification, and
was wont to give examples and stories whereby the souls
of those who heard him were excited to the love of Jesus
Christ, and to contempt of the world. Everywhere, both
in word and deed, he made himself known as a truly
evangelical man." The same testimony was borne by
those who were examined on his canonization : " Where-
ever he was," they say, " whether at home or on a journey,
he ever spoke of God or to God; and it was his desire
that this practice should be introduced into the consti-
tutions of his order." We must, however, conclude these
brief notices, so precious in the personal details they have
preserved to us of some of his characteristic habits, and
once more take up the thread of his story, which finds him
for the fourth time under the walls of the eternal city.


The convent of S. Sixtns. Kapid increase ot the Order. Miracles
and popularity of S. Dominic. The visit of the angels

Dominic was received at Rome with renewed evidences
of affection and favour from Pope Honorius, who showed
every disposition to forward the view with which he had
returned thither, namely, the foundation at Rome of a
convent of his order. The church granted to him by the
Pontiff for this purpose was chosen by himself; it was
one already full of ancient and traditionary interest, which
its connection with the rise of the Dominican order has
certainly not lessened. There is a long road that stretches
out of Rome, following the course of the ancient Via
Appia, which, deserted as it now is by human habitation,
you may trace by its abandoned churches and its ruined
tombs. In the old days of Rome, it was the patrician
quarter of the city ; the palace of the Csesars looks down
upon it, and by its side stand the vast ruins of Caracalla's
baths, with the green meadows covering the site of the
Circus Maximus. This circumstance of its being formerly
the place of popular and favourite resort, accounts for the
abundance of Christian remains which mingle with fhe
relics of a pagan age, and share their interest and their
decay. For here were formerly the houses of many of
noble and some of royal birth; and when their owners
confessed the faith, and died martyrs for Christ, the vene-
ration of the early church consecrated those dwellings as
churches, to be perpetual monuments of names which had
else been forgotten. But in time the population of Rome
gathered more and more to the northern side of the
Caelian Hill, and the Via Appia has long been left to a
solitude which harmonizes well enough with its original
destination, for it was the Roman street of tomb3. There,


mixed with the ruined towers and melancholy pagan
memorials of death, where the wild plants festoon them-
selves in such rich luxuriance, and the green lizards and
snakes enjoy an unmolebted home, stand these deserted
Christian churches, never open now, save on the one or
two days when they are places of pilgrimage for the crowds
who flock to pray at shrines and altars which at other
times are left in the uninterrupted silence of neglect.
Among these is one dedicated to S. Sixtus, pope and
martyr, and the tomb of five others, popes and martyrs
like himself. If the English traveller visit it now, on one
of those days of which we speak, when its doors are opened
to the devotion of the faithful, and should chance to ad-
dress himself to any of the white-robed religious whom
he may find there, and who seem to be its masters, he
will be startled with the sound, so sweet, and alas ! in a
place of holy association, so strange to his ears, the accent
of his own English tongue. The church of San Sisto is, in
fact at this time, the property of the Irish Dominican
convent of San Clemente a circumstance not without its
interest to ourselves.

This was the church chosen by Dominic for his first
foundation at Rome, and Honorius did not hesitate to
grant it to him, together with all the buildings attached.
These had been erected by Innocent III., with the inten-
tion of gathering together within their walls a number of
religious women who were at that time living in Rome
under no regular discipline. The design had never been
carried out, and Dominic was ignorant of it when he ap-
plied for and obtained the grant of the church. His first
care was to reduce the house to a conventual form, and
to enlarge it so as to be capable of receiving a consider-
able number of brethren. To do this he was obliged to
solicit the alms of the faithful, which were indeed abun-
dantly supplied; the Pope himself liberally contributing
to a work in which he felt no common interest. Mean-
while Dominic laboured at his usual trade of preaching.
Whilst the walls of his convent were daily rising above
the ground ajad growing into shape, he was busy forming
a spiritual edifice out of the hearts and souls of those


whom his eloquence daily won from the world to join
themselves to God. In our own day we are often tempted
to talk and think much of our great successes, and the
extraordinary impulse given to our religious life. It is a
style known only to those among whom that life is still
but feeble, and would doubtless have sounded strange in
the ears of our fathers; and nothing is better fitted to
humble and silence our foolish boasting, than a glance at
the results of a religious impulse in the ages of faith. It
is nowhere painted to our eyes in more vivid and magni-
ficent colours than in the period of this Church's history.

Many influences certainly paved the way for what in
these days would be called the " success" of Dominic and
Francis. As we have before said, they were wanted by
their age: the world was restlessly heaving with the ex-
citement of new feelings, which stirred men with emotions
they neither understood nor knew hpw to use. We need
not therefore wonder at the enthusiasm with which they
flung themselves into the ranks of the two leaders whom
God had sent them. For, after all, great men are not
the exponents of their own views or sentiments. Be they
saints, or heroes, or poets, their greatness consists in this,
that they have incarnated some principle which lies hidden
in the hearts of their fellow-men. All have felt it ; they
alone have expressed and given it life; and so when the
word is spoken which orings it forth to the world, all men
recognize it as their own; they need no further teaching
and training in this thought, for unconsciously to them-
selves they have been growing into it all their lives; and
the devotion with which they follow the call of him who
guides them is, perhaps, the strongest sentiment of which
human nature is susceptible; made up not merely of ad-
miration, or loyalty, or enthusiasm, but in addition to all
these, of that gratitude which a soul feels towards that
greater and stronger soul whose sympathy has set its own
prisoned thoughts at liberty, and given them the power
and the space to act. Then like some pent-up and angry
waters, that have long vexed and chafed themselves into
foam, and beaten aimlessly against the wall that kept
them in, when the free passage is made, how impetuously


they rush forth ! At first agitated and confused, but
gatliering majesty as they flow, till the torrent becomes
a river, and the river swells into a broad sea, the dash of
whose long united waves no barrier can resist. This is
what we call a popular movement. Europe has seen such

Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 9 of 37)