Saint Dominic and the Order of Preachers, Part 1 – The Biography of Saint Dominic

cover of the ebook 'Saint Dominic and the Order of Preachers'. The cover image a detail of a stained glass window of Saint Dominic, date and artist unknown. It is in the Saint-Suplice church in Fougères, France, was photographed on 28 December 2017 by GO69, and swiped from Wikimedia CommonsBirth and Childhood

Unfortunately for posterity, the mediaeval chronicler did not attach the same importance to exactitude in the matter of dates as does his modern brother, trained to scientific methods. Consequently, we cannot authoritatively assign to any particular year the event of Saint Dominic’s birth. So we must content ourselves with the statement that about the year 1170 the future saint was born in Calaroga in Old Castile.

Historians unanimously assign to Felix de Guzman and Joanna d’Aza, the parents of Dominic, a conspicuous place among the nobility of Spain; and some of the saint’s biographers have not hesitated to connect them with the reigning house of Old Castile. But whether or not this latter contention be well founded, it is certain that they possessed those princely qualities of soul that unmistakably identified them with the royal household of their heavenly King; and these qualities, which alone constitute true nobility, they transmitted unimpaired to their children.

From the beginning of the thirteenth century Joanna d’Aza was held in popular esteem as a saint. This popular veneration was in a measure sanctioned officially by the Church when, in 1828, she was beatified by Leo XII. Nor were Blessed Joanna and her illustrious son, Saint Dominic, the only members of that distinguished family whose sanctity won the formal approbation of the Church. Manes, the second son, one of the first members of the Order founded by his younger brother, was beatified by Gregory XVI; while Antonio, the oldest son, a canon of Saint James, was also distinguished for his extraordinary piety.

Among the many interesting and beautiful legends that cluster around the infancy of Saint Dominic there are two which are especially worthy of notice: It is narrated that while Joanna d’Aza was awaiting the birth of her third son she seemed to see him, in a dream, born under the appearance of a white and black dog, holding in his mouth a torch which illuminated the entire world. Again, we are told that on the day of his baptism his godmother beheld him, in a vision, with a brilliant star gleaming on his forehead. These two legends have found a place in the coat of arms of the Order, on the shield of which is to be found the dog with his torch, and the shining star of the saint’s baptismal day. Whatever may be said of the authenticity of these legends, it is certain that they have received not a little justification from subsequent events in the life of him concerning whom they are narrated. Was it a mere coincidence that the habit in which he chose to clothe his children was made up of black and white garments? And certainly none can deny that he held high the torch of divine truth in the benighted land of the Albigenses. It is equally certain that in the glorious galaxy of the Church’s missionaries no star shines more brilliantly than that of the heroic apostle of Languedoc. Another link in the chain of coincidences, if such they be, is this: The popular name for the religious children of Saint Dominic is “Dominicans,” the Latin equivalent of which is Dominicani. In the schools of the Middle Ages they were wont to divide the Latin word in two and, changing the final “i” into “es,” render it “Domini canes” – watchdogs of the Lord. This was in recognition of the well-known vigilance of the Order in safeguarding the rights of the Church, and its jealous watchfulness lest heresy mar the beauty of God’s eternal truth.


During the first seven years of little Dominic’s life – the fateful years when enduring impressions are received and influences make for future character – his pious mother watched carefully over his training and education. Then, feeling the need of providing greater opportunities for study than could be found at home, she placed him in the care of her brother, the arch-priest of Gumiel d’Izan. After seven years, spent under the helpful tutelage of his uncle, the latter, in turn, realized that the rapidly developing mental power of his pupil demanded a wider range of study than he could personally provide. Accordingly, Saint Dominic was sent to the University of Palencia. Here for ten years he followed the various courses of its curriculum with such ardor and success as to win the admiration of his professors and enshrine his memory in the traditions of the university as long as it endured.

It is interesting to know, in view of the false reputation for cruelty with which hostile historians have sought to invest him, that it was during these university days that Saint Dominic began to manifest that heroically self-sacrificing charity which characterized his entire life. During his residence at the university, Spain was visited by one of those terrible famines which more than once scourged the Middle Ages. Palencia suffered with the rest of the kingdom, and people died in the streets for want of food. To relieve the sore distress of these poor people Dominic sold his priceless books, annotated with his own hand. When we consider the scarcity of books in the days before the invention of the printing-press, their inestimable value, and the further fact that these particular books had written into their margins much of the knowledge garnered from his years of study, we begin to appreciate the magnitude of the sacrifice he made for the poor of Palencia.

On another occasion during his university days, he endeavored to sell himself into captivity to effect the freedom of a poor man who was held in slavery by the Moors. These and many other heroic acts of charity characterized his years at Palencia.

Canon of Osma

His studies finished, Dominic was elevated to the priesthood and at the invitation of the bishop took his place among the cathedral canons of Osma. In numbering Saint Dominic among the members of his official household the bishop had in mind the assistance which a priest of his well-known piety and learning could give in effecting a reform among the canons, which for a long time he had contemplated. In this he was not disappointed, and in recognition of his part in the accomplished reform Dominic was made sub-prior of the chapter.

On the accession of the prior of the chapter, Don Diego d’Azevedo, to the bishopric of Osma, 1201, following the death of Bishop Martin, Saint Dominic was made prior of the cathedral canons. His life as a canon of Osma was entirely given over to the chanting of the divine praises in the cathedral, earnest meditation on the eternal truths, and fervent and frequent prayer. Blessed Jordan, his first biographer, tells us that during these years of interior life his constant prayer was that God would give him a true charity which would be “efficacious in procuring and securing the salvation of men.” Thus, nine years were spent at Osma – years that were fruitful of wisdom and grace for the active apostolate to come.

His biographers describe the prior of Osma as a man of middle size, thin and wiry. His countenance, possessing some color, was pleasant, and his disposition cheerful. His hair and beard were red and he was somewhat bald. He was possessed of a boundless sympathy, and consideration for others held first place in his thoughts.

A Mission of State

The virtues and talents of Saint Dominic were not destined to be forever hidden in the obscurity of the chapter-house of Osma. An event now took place that led him out of his retirement and was soon to plunge him into the depths of his life-long apostolate. Alphonsus IX, King of Castile, desired the daughter of the Lord of the Marches (presumably a Danish prince) as a wife for his son Ferdinand. For the negotiation of this delicate business the King chose the Bishop of Osma, and he, in turn, selected Saint Dominic to be his companion and counsellor. They set out on this important embassy in 1203.

The course of this journey took them through Toulouse, in the southern part of France, where they beheld with amazement and sadness the utter demoralization wrought by the Albigensian heresy. As he contemplated the ravages of these modern Manichaeans, the spirit of the apostle seized the soul of the saint and he longed to tarry among them, to shed upon their benighted souls the light of revealed truth, to kindle once again in their chilled hearts the fire of divine love, and thus to bring them back to the paths that lead to Christ and salvation. Unable at that time to realize this holy yearning of his soul, he resolved that, God willing, he would consecrate his life to the extirpation of heresy and the propagation of the Faith of Christ.

Missionary Aspirations

Having returned to Spain after the successful issue of their mission, Dominic and Diego were again despatched to the north, with a magnificent retinue, to escort the betrothed lady to Old Castile. But a higher power willed otherwise and this second mission came to a mournful end. Arriving at the Marches, Don Diego and his companion learned that the prospective wife of Prince Ferdinand had died during their absence. Relieved in this unhappy manner of the further responsibilities of their mission, the two ecclesiastics, who held in common the holy ambition of consecrating their lives to the conversion of the heathen, set out for Rome to offer themselves to the Holy Father for work among the Saracens. It was towards the end of 1204 that they arrived at the Eternal City. Innocent III was much more concerned, however, with the pagans nearer home than with the Saracens, and instead of granting their petition sent them to Languedoc to preach to the Albigenses.

The Albigensian Heresy

This heresy took its name from the town of Albi, France, which was its principal stronghold. It made its first appearance in Europe in 1022, and, while it received its death-blow from Saint Dominic and his brethren, it did not utterly disappear for more than a century afterwards. Among the many heresies that directed their poisoned shafts against the revealed truths of Christ, it was undoubtedly one of the most virulent. In fact, it had but very little in common with the Christian religion and smacked strongly of orientalism. In its logical consequence, it was subversive of Christianity and the civilization founded on it.

The Albigenses denied the doctrine of the Trinity and taught that there were two creators – the one good, the other bad. The former was the creator of the invisible, which alone was good; the latter, of the material world. Indeed, they called the creator of the visible world a murderer and a liar. The Old Testament they regarded as the bible of the devil. All the patriarchs and prophets, they asserted, were damned. Christ, they blasphemously contended, was a wicked man. For John the Baptist, whom they regarded as one of the greatest demons, they had a special hatred. They rejected all the sacraments, but matrimony was the special object of their aversion. This, however, did not keep them from committing the most monstrous crimes against natural and supernatural morality. After they had received the “Consolamentum” and were made perfect, they were free to commit suicide, and often did.

These emissaries of darkness were at the height of their power when Saint Dominic and his companion arrived in Languedoc. Strenuous but unsuccessful efforts had been made by various Pontiffs to crush this vile system, which was filling the south of France with vice and error. Various and vigorous were the means resorted to. The Council of Rheims (1148) excommunicated the protectors of the heresy. The Council of Tours (1163) decreed that the heretics should not only be excommunicated but that their property should be confiscated. The Third General Council of the Lateran (1179) renewed its anathemas against all protectors and abettors of the heresy and called upon the secular power to exert itself that this plague on society and religion might be effectually suppressed. In this the council but imitated the heretics, who themselves had repeatedly appealed to force to further their ends. With the accession of Innocent III (1198) the work of conversion and repression was vigorously prosecuted. In the very first days of his pontificate this zealous Father of Christendom assigned a number of monks of the Order of Citeaux to the task of converting and reconciling the heretics through the ministry of preaching and penance. Their success, however, was inconsiderable and in 1204, utterly discouraged, they gave way to Peter of Castelnau and the monk Rodolph, who were afterwards joined by Arnold, Abbot of Citeaux.

Failure of Papal Legates

At Montpellier Saint Dominic and Don Diego joined the missionaries sent by Innocent, whom they found in deep discouragement over the poor fruits of their labors. They were unanimously in favor of drawing up a frank statement of their failure and despatching the same to Rome, with the request that they be relieved of their mission among the heretics. Before doing so, however, they consulted the newly-arrived missionaries. From them they learned in no uncertain terms the cause of their failure. One of the chief sources of influence possessed by the leaders of the Albigenses was their affectation of piety and mortification. Their pretentious poverty and austerity gave them a strong hold upon the imagination of the people. But unfortunately, in all-too-many instances the Catholic missionaries sent among them did not possess the love of evangelical poverty and simplicity which their state implied. This was also true of the delegates at Montpellier, who prosecuted their campaign against the heretics attended by all the circumstances of feudal pomp and luxury. This in no small measure accounted for the failure of their mission. Diego and Dominic took in the situation at a glance. Diego, voicing as he knew the sentiments of his companion, fearlessly informed the delegates that their failure was in a large degree due to themselves. He admonished them to dismiss their equipages and numerous attendants, and to conform to the example of Him who first preached the Gospel on foot and in poverty, destitute of all creature comforts. The Legates were humble enough to accept this salutary if somewhat austere advice and, dismissing their retinue, plunged into the work of their apostolate with new hope and ardor.

His Apostolic Zeal

Up to this time Saint Dominic held but a secondary place in the events narrated. But now that the real, systematic work of the apostolate had begun, though still subject to Don Diego, whom all the missionaries had elected as their director, by force of the very magnitude and success of his work he assumed the leading part. After all, up to this time he was but a simple priest, without episcopal dignity or papal authority, other than permission to preach. His claims to distinction lay in his sterling worth, his heroic sanctity. It would seem that in obscurity he awaited this hour which was to inaugurate the work of his life, reveal him, in the words of Dante, the “hallowed wrestler” of Christ, and enshrine his memory in the grateful homage of the universal Church.

Into the work of the spiritual crusade he plunged with tireless zeal and all the burning ardor of his heroic soul. The splendid training and vast erudition he had acquired during the ten years spent at the University of Palencia now proved of inestimable value to him. These advantages, united to a natural gift of eloquence and supernatural gifts of grace, made him at once the most successful and the most dreaded of all the missionaries. There was no one who could refute his arguments, no one who could remain insensible to the spell of his eloquence, no one who could deny his personal sanctity, no one who could gainsay his fearless zeal or the disinterested character of his apostolate. Day after day he went among them, pale and emaciated by reason of his long night vigils before the tabernacle of some neighboring church, pleading before the throne of mercy for the conversion of these obdurate people. Once, when informed that a band of heretics, whose anger he had incurred by his fearless denunciation of their vices, lay in wait for him at a certain place to assassinate him, he deliberately approached that place, singing joyously, to the utter amazement of his hidden enemies.

The Miracle at Fanjeaux

Montreal and Fanjeaux were among the first places they visited. In the latter city took place the first miracle recorded of his apostolate in Languedoc. Public and formal disputations under the direction of an umpire were not an unusual experience for those who championed the Faith in the land of the heretics. Consequently, they were not taken by surprise when challenged to a public debate by the Albigenses of Fanjeaux. Among the papers prepared by the missionaries, that of Saint Dominic was adjudged the best, and to him was committed the honor of defending the Faith against its adversaries. The disputation was held before a large audience and resulted in the complete discomfiture of the heretical champion. But the umpires would not render the obvious verdict, fearing, no doubt, the enmity of the heretics among whom they lived. They called, instead, for a further trial, in which the decision would be automatically rendered – the trial by fire. A large fire was to be kindled into which the documents containing the respective arguments of Saint Dominic and his adversary were to be thrown. The document that remained undestroyed was to be regarded as containing the truth. The necessary preparations were made, and the papers of the heretic, having been cast into the flames, were immediately consumed. Thereupon Saint Dominic cast his defense also into the fire. Not only did it remain unharmed, but to the amazement of the entire assembly, was immediately cast back. A second and a third time it was thrown into the flames, only in each instance to be thrown out again, thereby attesting beyond doubt the divine character of the truth it contained. But even as the stiff-necked Jews refused to be convinced of the divinity of Christ in the presence of the mighty miracles He performed, in like manner the Albigenses remained strongly rooted in their errors even in the presence of this convincing phenomenon.

Institution of the Second Order

Montpellier, Servian, Beziers and Carcassone were in turn the scenes of Saint Dominic’s labors and innumerable triumphs for Christ. But Prouille eventually became his headquarters and the place of his first foundation. Among the most enthusiastic supporters of the Albigensian heresy were many of the women of Languedoc. A number of these women were among the converts of Saint Dominic, and from them he learned of the systematic methods employed by ,the heretics to propagate their iniquitous and pernicious doctrines. Among these means, not the least effective was the erection of heretical convents which offered special inducements to the children of the better class who were about to begin their education. But their real purpose was to inoculate these children with the virus of their heretical beliefs. Moreover, a serious difficulty confronted Saint Dominic in safeguarding his female converts from the danger of relapsing into heresy. Left in the homes of their heretical relatives, they were subject to incessant importunities to renounce their Faith and relapse into their former beliefs. In order to avoid both of these dangers the saint conceived the idea of establishing a community of nuns which would at once give protection to the women converted from heresy, and afford proper religious instruction for the children of the more prosperous class, who were patronizing the convents of the heretics. The Bishop of Toulouse, to whom Saint Dominic presented his plan, warmly endorsed it, and towards the end of 1206 turned over to the saint “the Church of Saint Mary of Prouille and the adjacent land to the extent of thirty feet.” This generous gift was made in behalf of the women who were already converted, or should be converted in the future. This community of nuns, which was to be known as the Second Order of Saint Dominic, was therefore the first in priority of foundation. The religious rule which the founder drew up for the community at Prouille, and afterwards for that of Saint Sixtus at Rome, has guided to heights of perfection for over seven hundred years the self-sacrificing lives of the members of the Second Order. They are a cloistered order and, therefore, contemplatives devoted to lives of mortification and prayer. Only such work is engaged in as may be necessary for their maintenance and may be done entirely within the cloister.


When Don Diego was despatched by Innocent III on his mission to the Albigenses, it was for a period of only two years, for he still remained Bishop of Osma. That time having now expired, the holy bishop took his departure from Languedoc and set out for his own diocese in Spain. This was in 1207. On the departure of Don Diego Saint Dominic found himself practically alone. Over the few who remained with him he exercised no real canonical authority, since both he and Don Diego labored under the authority of the Legates, Peter of Castelnau and Arnold, Abbot of Citeaux. They alone received their authority directly from the Holy See.

The departure of Don Diego, his friend and counsellor of many years, and the desertion of the greater part of his fellow missionaries, only had the effect of stimulating Saint Dominic to greater effort. To the faithful William Claret of Pamiers and Dominic of Segovia, who had remained steadfast, he added several other zealous preachers anxious for the reign of Christ upon earth. Indefatigably they labored under the direction of the inspired Dominic. Day after day, and through many a long night, they preached, disputed and prayed in the cause of Christian truth. But though they made many converts, the general situation went from bad to worse. Heresy, now backed almost openly by the secular authority, became brazen and defiant. Saint Dominic and his companions more frequently met with insults and derision than with a respectful hearing. They even began to experience difficulty in obtaining the meager fare necessary to sustain life. It was in this crisis that the good Bishop Foulques of Toulouse again came to their assistance. The benefice of Fanjeaux, with all its tithes and first fruits, was conveyed to Saint Dominic, that he and his associates might have a fixed abode when resting from their missionary labors, and some guarantee of support when preaching among the heretics. What human foresight could have discerned at the time that this Dominic Guzman, now little more than a parish priest, would one day be the head and inspiration of a wonderfully organized apostolate as universal as the Church it would loyally serve; that in his own brief day he would number his associates by thousands and recruit several hundred of these from the most learned men of the universities, and would fill the Church with the praise of their splendid deeds? Yet such, in the designs of Providence, was to be his achievement.

The Inquisition

There are two things in the life of Saint Dominic around which much controversy has been carried on, and which demand at least a passing notice – the Inquisition and the Rosary.

We must preface this chapter with the remark that the Inquisition here treated of is neither the Roman Inquisition (which was not established by Gregory IX for more than ten years after the death of Saint Dominic) nor the Spanish institution of that name, the pet aversion of rural controversialists. That Saint Dominic was not the founder of the Inquisition is historically certain, for the reason that it began its operations in 1198 while he was yet an unknown canon of Osma. Saint Dominic arrived in Languedoc in 1205. The first Legates of Innocent III, Guy and Rainier, upon whom the Holy See conferred full inquisitorial power against the Albigenses, began the exercise of this power in 1198, seven years before the canon of Osma inaugurated his missionary career. Their successors, the Abbot of Citeaux, Peter of Castelnau and the monk Rodolph, were named Inquisitors in 1204, and were in the full exercise of their authority when the Bishop of Osma and his canon joined them in 1205 at Montpellier.

Furthermore, it is certain that he was never officially designated by the Holy See, so far as extant documents can prove, as one of the Inquisitors commissioned to labor among the Albigenses. Whatever authority he enjoyed was delegated by the Cistercian Legates, in whose name he expressly exercised it. Thus, for instance, in the following official document (1208) by which he admits to penance Ponce Roger, an old offender in heresy whom he had converted, he expressly states that he acts in the name and by the authority of the Abbot of Citeaux: “To all the faithful in Christ to whom these presents may come, Brother Dominic, canon of Osma, the least of preachers, 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 Roger, converted by the grace of God from heresy to the Faith, etc.” In this document, in which he defines his authority and announces his titles, he distinctly asserts that his powers are not ordinary but delegated by the Abbot of Citeaux; and while he announces himself as a canon of Osma, he is silent concerning the title of Inquisitor, which would certainly not be the case were he possessed of it. Towards the end of the year 1214, when his apostolate in Languedoc was almost finished, he issued another letter authorizing William Raymond, a master-furrier of Toulouse, to admit to his house without prejudice to himself an erstwhile heretic. In this document, in which he refers to himself merely as a canon of Osma, he again asserts that he acts subject to the approval of the Legate. It will be seen, therefore, that throughout his entire apostolate among the Albigenses he neither bears the title of Inquisitor nor exercises the authority proper to the office.

That Saint Dominic did participate in inquisitorial activity is incontrovertible; but his influence and his office were always on the side of mercy. All the acts of his life among the heretics that are known to us are acts of absolution and of reconciliation with the Church. In the judging and condemning of impenitent heretics he had no part. That was the function of the secular power. His was the duty of assigning canonical penances to those who renounced heresy and renewed their allegiance to the Church, and this, a part of the Church’s penitentiary discipline, pertained to her ministry of reconciliation. It is evident, therefore, that those anti-Catholic writers who have depicted Saint Dominic as a cruel monster stalking up and down the land with the blood-lust in his heart, searching out obstinate heretics for execution at the stake, dipped their pens in falsehood and in hate rather than in the truth of history.

The Rosary

In the whole life of Saint Dominic there is nothing, perhaps, that so endears him to the great body of the faithful as the beautiful devotion of the Rosary. Tradition accounts for the origin of this prayer in the following manner: One night as Saint Dominic was sweetly complaining to the Mother of God of what, to his ardent soul, appeared the poor fruits of his labors, she graciously deigned to answer him. Making known to him what we now call the Rosary, she bade him go forth among the heretics and preach and teach its use everywhere. She promised him that under its sweet influence heresy would yield, and that love for her Divine Son would once again burn brightly in the souls of those who now despised Him. Tradition, too, records the fidelity with which Saint Dominic fulfilled his mission and the complete success that attended his efforts. Such is the story of the origin of the Rosary, accepted by the Church as authentic for now seven hundred years.

But in our day the spirit of captious criticism is abroad in the land, and there are some few self-sufficient historians who would reject this universally accepted tradition because, forsooth, it is not corroborated by the saint’s contemporaries and by them reduced to the form of duly authenticated historical documents. It is certainly strange to hear tradition discounted as a witness to the truth by those who claim familiarity with the sources of Catholic doctrine. When this doubt was proposed to Benedict XIV, one of the most learned among the successors of Saint Peter, his answer was that the opinion that Saint Dominic was the author of the Rosary rested on “a most solid foundation.” Again, he writes: “You ask if Saint Dominic was really the institutor of the Rosary; you declare yourself perplexed and full of doubt upon the subject. But what account do you make of the decisions of so many sovereign Pontiffs – of Leo X, of Pius V, of Gregory XIII, of Sixtus V, or Clement VIII, of Alexander VII, of Innocent XI, of Clement XI, of Innocent XIII, of Benedict XIII and of so many others who are unanimous in declaring the Rosary to have been instituted by Saint Dominic himself?” Leo XIII of our own day, one of the most learned men of his age, speaking of the origin of the Rosary, says: “Enlightened from on high, he (Saint Dominic) understood that this prayer (the Rosary) would be the most powerful weapon for overcoming the enemies of the Church and defeating their impiety. And the event proved that he was right; for, in fact, the use of this prayer having been spread and practiced according to the instruction and institution of Saint Dominic, piety, faith and concord once more flourished. The enterprise of the heretics failed and their power gradually decayed.”* With the citation of these illustrious witnesses, and without entering into a more technical defense of the truth of the Rosary tradition, we may dismiss this unwarranted criticism and unite with the universal Church in acclaiming Saint Dominic as the distinguished author and propagator of this beautiful devotion.

The Crusade

What would have been the ultimate success attending the efforts of this little band of apostles upder the direction of Saint Dominic if they had been allowed to prosecute their saving mission undisturbed, must be forever a matter of conjecture; for this time an event took place which changed the whole aspect of affairs. On the 15th of January, 1208, Peter of Castelnati, Papal Legate, was foully murdered by a squire of Raymond, Count of Toulouse. The latter was a renegade to his Faith, the protector of heretics and the propagator of their doctrines. He had repeatedly broken faith with the Holy See and secretly plotted the overthrow of the Church within his territory. As the murder of an ambassador was a crime so heinous as to leave no other recourse than a call to arms, Innocent III reluctantly appealed to the secular power to put an end to this utterly intolerable situation. The Catholic chivalry of England and northern Frarace answered his appealing cry and the Crusade was on. Under the gallant leadership of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, the war was prosecuted to a successful issue, even though the fruits of victory were not to endure for long. If the reader wonder that the Vicar of Him whose advent the prophets foretold under the title of “Prince of Peace” should appeal to physical force, let him remember that the Albigensian heresy was not merely an attack on religion, but a conspiracy against society, government, and even civilization itself. One of the most hostile writers that ever attacked the Church has said: “If the Albigenses had triumphed, Europe would have returned to the horrors of barbarism.”

Saint Dominic was a constant witnessed the breaking out of violence and bloodshed which following out of hostilities, and which must have sorely distressed his sympathetic heart. But instead of putting a stop to his zealous efforts, the crusade called for even greater activity on the part of the saint. The active part, however, which he took during these stormy times was exclusively a spiritual one, and therefore served the cause of mercy.

It is asserted by many historians that he did not hesitate to risk his own life by throwing himself into the midst of the conflict, during the sack of Beziers, to plead for the lives of the women and children, the aged and the infirm. Whether or not this be so, it is certain that during the period of the crusade we usually find him following the victorious army, wielding the sword of the spirit while others plied the blood-stained weapons of war. He was commonly in the wake of the advancing army, preaching the Gospel, reconciling such heretics as had escaped the arms of the crusaders, with the Church they had abandoned.

It was probably in 1204 that Saint Dominic first came in contact with Simon de Montfort and formed with him that close friendship which lasted till the chivalrous knight fell mortally wounded beneath the walls of Toulouse, June 25, 1218. They were together at the siege of Lavour (1211) and again at the capitulation of Le Penne d’Ajen (1212). It was at the request of De Montfort, whose living faith was not a whit less aggressive than his martial spirit, that we find him laboring for the restoration of religion and morality at Pamiers, in the latter part of 1212. On the eve of the battle of Muret he sits with the commander-in-chief of the Christian forces in the council of war preceding the taking of that city. While the conflict raged, he knelt before the altar of Saint-Jacques earnestly imploring the God of Battles that He might vouchsafe victory to the Catholic arms. To such an extent did Simon de Montfort attribute to Dominic’s prayers his great success before Muret that, it is said, he erected in the Church of Saint-Jacques a chapel which he dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary.

Refusal of Episcopal Honors

In the meantime, the fame of Saint Dominic’s sanctity, learning and zeal was growing day by day, and more than one diocese whose episcopal throne was vacant sought to secure him as its bishop. In all, three distinct efforts were made to invest him with the episcopal dignity. In 1212 he was elected Bishop of Beziers, but immediately refused the honor. Shortly after this he again rejected the honors of the episcopate, to which he had been called by the canons of Saint Lizier when the See of Comminges had been made vacant by the transfer of Bishop Garcias de L’Orte to the See of Auch. The third time he felt called upon to refuse the mitre was when the above-named bishop sought to have him placed at the head of the Diocese of Navarre. But nothing could tempt the Apostle of Languedoc to accept honors of any kind. Indeed, he had a kind of holy horror for distinctions of that sort, and often said that he would rather take flight in the night, with nothing but his staff, than accept the episcopal office. He never for a moment lost sight of the project, formed eleven years before, of founding an order for the extirpation of heresy and the propagation of religious truth. He would allow no personal glory to deflect him from this purpose, to which he believed himself elected by a divine vocation. He could not, however, entirely escape episcopal responsibility, and during the Lent of 1213 Guy, Bishop of Carcassonne, induced him to act as his vicar general during an absence from his diocese necessitated by his obligation of preaching the crusade.

The First Community House

At Carcassonne Saint Dominic resumed his preaching with his usual extraordinary success. The year 1214 found him again in Toulouse. His little band of followers had not grown very much since he had become their leader on the departure of Diego, six years before. In fact, they now numbered but seven, all told. This, however, did not prevent him from setting about the realization of his life-long dream of founding an order for the conversion of heretics and the spread of Christian truth. Over nine years’ experience in combating the Albigenses had further convinced him that the only way the heretics could be opposed successfully was by an organization of preachers consecrated to that work and prepared for its accomplishment by long years of study. But how was this to be realized? His little community possessed no fixed place of abode; the foundation at Fanjeaux was not a community house. Their only sources of revenue, and they meager enough, were the tithes conferred by the Bishop of Toulouse and a donation made by Simon de Montfort.

In the following year a piece of good fortune came to Saint Dominic’s little band of preachers that, all unknown to them, was to be the first step towards the realization of the leader’s dream of perpetuating their work through the medium of a religious order. Brother Peter Seila, a wealthy citizen of Toulouse who had placed himself under Saint Dominic’s direction, conveyed to his spiritual director a commodious house for the use of himself and his associates. While Saint Dominic might claim Fanjeaux as his nominal home, the community as such, up to this time, possessed no fixed quarters, trusting to Providence to provide for them in such places as their preaching might lead them to. This gift, which was to hold an unique place in the history of the Order, was made about Easter, 1215.

Approval as a Diocesan Community

The next step was even more important. As a religious community the little band of missionaries enjoyed no canonical standing. Their only bond of union was their common zeal for the honor and glory of God’s house and their desire to labor under the direction of Saint Dominic. However effectively this spirit of good will might unite them for the present, it offered no guarantee for the future, when, as they hoped, their numbers would rapidly increase. To meet this situation and supply its needs their devoted friend, the Bishop of Toulouse, again came to their assistance. By an enactment of July, 1215, at the request of Saint Dominic, he canonically established the community in his diocese as a religious congregation whose mission should be the propagation of Christian truth and morals and the extirpation of heresy. The saint now had an approved organization of earnest apostles to work with; and in that organization he possessed a guarantee of stability and the highest efficiency in the fulfillment of their mission. Moreover, in the house given them by Peter Seila they had a home where they could follow the exercises of the religious life when not actually engaged in the work of preaching.

Council of the Lateran

Yet, notwithstanding the greatly improved circumstances of his little community, how far was he still from the realization of that splendid dream he had when for the first time, some twelve years before, he came in contact with the blighting influence of the Albigensian heresy! He had then planned a worldwide apostolate; and now he had but a single small diocese in which to labor. He had dreamed of an unfettered service of preaching throughout the universal Church; and here he was hobbled with the responsibilities of a parish priest and his obedience to the Bishop of Languedoc. But in the inscrutable ways of Providence things were speedily developing, unknown to our saint, for the fullest realization of his project.

In September of this same year the Bishop of Toulouse set out for Rome, accompanied by Saint Dominic as his theologian, to attend an ecumenical council set for the following November. The express purpose of this council was to legislate for the improvement of morals, the suppression of heresy and the quickening of the Faith. In fact, it proposed for its own consideration the very things that Saint Dominic had made the end and aim of his Order. Here, surely, was a splendid opportunity for pressing the cause of his Institute, and for soliciting that papal sanction which would invest it with an apostolate coextensive with the universal Church. But, on the other hand, would it not be presumptuous for him to offer himself and his little unknown community to serve the momentous purpose that had necessitated the convening of an ecumenical council? Outside of Languedoc he and his associates had probably never been heard of. Indeed, they were only a band of diocesan missionaries whose corporate character was but a few months old. Would he dare ask in behalf of this Institute a charter for a universal apostolate of preaching? In the eyes of human prudence such a request seemed unreasonable even to fatuity. But, then, the entire life of Saint Dominic was marked by deeds, rich in results, which were not conformable to the dictates of human prudence. He resolved, therefore, on his arrival in Rome to present his petition to the Sovereign Pontiff.


Scarcely had the assembled prelates begun their deliberations when something happened which greatly encouraged him and strongly confirmed him in his purpose. The council bitterly arraigned the bishops for their neglect of the work of preaching, which was essentially an episcopal prerogative, as well as obligation. It instructed them to associate with them in the apostolate of the Word capable and worthy priests to preach the Gospel to the people. This was precisely what Saint Dominic was prepared to do – to offer his associates as capable and worthy men to share with the episcopate the right of preaching, at the same time enjoying freedom from the ordinary jurisdiction of the bishops in whose territory they might labor. Furthermore, Innocent III had already taken the convent at Prouille under his protection. The action of the Council, therefore, had already been anticipated by the Bishop of Toulouse in associating with him Saint Dominic and his brethren in the work of preaching. And yet it was a bold and original scheme the saint wished to propose to the Sovereign Pontiff – to give to an unknown association, but a few months old, freedom from all parish restrictions and responsibilities, exemption from the jurisdiction of bishops, and a charter to preach throughout the entire world!

And, then, there was the recent decree of the Council forbidding the approval of any new religious rules or orders. The preceding century and a half had witnessed the institution of no fewer than twelve new orders; and Innocent III himself had approved of two in the last seven years. It is no wonder, then, that the Father of Christendom hesitated when the little community of Saint Dominic sought his sanction. But the Almighty was preparing a way to bring the matter to a successful issue. Constantine of Orvieto describes the incident as follows: “One night the Sovereign Pontiff sees in his sleep a divine vision in which the Lateran Church is rent and shattered. Trembling and saddened by this spectacle, Innocent sees Dominic hasten up and endeavor, by placing himself against it, to prevent it from falling. The prudent and wise Pontiff is at first amazed by this marvel, but he quickly grasps its significance, and without further delay praises the scheme of the man of God and graciously grants his request.” In this manner, according to tradition, it was given to the holy Pontiff to understand that the contemplated order was pleasing to heaven, and would eventually become one of the most powerful supporters of Holy Church as well as a most efficient promoter of her mission upon earth.

However, Innocent III could not completely ignore the recent law of the council forbidding the institution of any new orders. Accordingly, he instructed Saint Dominic to return to Prouille and select one of the already existing rules for the government of his Order and thus comply with the spirit of the law. On the saint’s return to Rome, he promised that the new Institute should receive his full and formal approbation. Thus, the ultimate success of Saint Dominic’s project was guaranteed, though the full joy of its realization was deferred.

Meeting of Saint Dominic and Saint Francis

It was during this visit to Rome that Saint Dominic met for the first time the seraphic Saint Francis. Having seen him in a vision one night, the next day, when they met in one of the churches of Rome, he recognized him and, rushing up to him, embraced him. Saint Francis was in Rome on the same mission as himself – to obtain papal approval of his Order of Friars Minor. As a result of this meeting, an intimate friendship sprang up between these two patriarchs which continued throughout their lives and has been perpetuated by their spiritual children even to the present day. “The kiss of Saint Dominic and Saint Francis,” as Lacordaire expresses it, “has been transmitted from generation to generation by the lips of their posterity. The friendship of youth still unites the Preaching Friars to the Minorites…they have gone to God by the same paths, as two precious perfumes gently reach the same spot in the heavens.”

Innocent III Names the Order

It is unique in the history of religious orders that an institute should receive its official name from one reigning Pontiff and be formally approved by another. Such was the experience of the Order of Preachers. Shortly after the departure of Saint Dominic from Rome, Innocent had occasion to write to the holy patriarch. When the note was finished, the Pontiff directed that it be addressed “To Brother Dominic and his companions.” After a moment’s deliberation he said: “No, do not write that; let it be, ‘To Brother Dominic and those who preach with him in the country of Toulouse.'” Correcting himself yet a second time, he instructed his secretary to address the communication “To Master Dominic and the Brothers Preachers.” Accordingly, when in the following year Pope Honorius confirmed the Order he employed as its official title the name under which it was first addressed by his illustrious predecessor. “The Order of Brothers Preachers,” or, in its simpler form, “Friars Preachers,” has been its official title from the beginning of its career. This, in turn, has been further condensed to “Order of Preachers.” Hence the letters “O. P.,’ which follow the name of every Dominican.

Selection of a Rule

Having received from Innocent III the promise of approbation for his Order, nothing remained for Saint Dominic to do but to return to Toulouse and arrange for the selection of a rule. It was characteristic of the democratic spirit of the founder that Selection of a Rule instead of arbitrarily choosing a rule himself he should call his brethren, who were to be subject to its direction, into consultation, that they might express their views on so weighty a matter. During his absence these brethren had increased in number from six to seventeen. The choice of a rule was a matter of momentous importance and one not to be approached lightly or with merely the wisdom of human prudence. Consequently, their deliberations were preceded by the celebration of the Mass of the Holy Ghost in the little chapel of Our Lady at Prouille. As a result of these devout considerations the Rule of Saint Augustine was chosen to be the foundation of the spiritual life of the Order. Not the least of the reasons that influenced them in the selection of this Rule was its flexibility, which permitted its easy adaptation to all the future needs of the Order. To this rule was to be added, of course, their own “Constitutions.”

Confirmation of the Order

As soon as the brethren were settled in their community life under the Rule of Saint Augustine and their own Constitutions, Saint Dominic set out for Rome to obtain the promised confirmation from Innocent III. This, his third journey to Rome, was begun in August, 1216, about five months after the choosing of the rule. He had not gone far on his way when he received the distressing news of the death of his good friend Innocent III. Honorius III had been elected his successor.

It was with no little trepidation that Saint Dominic learned of this unfortunate event. Innocent was familiar with his plans and purposes and stood ready to impart to them his official sanction. But what would be their fate at the hands of Honorius, to whom he was a complete stranger? He immediately took refuge in that constant and fervent prayer which was his comfort in every trial. Nor was he disappointed. Honorius received him most graciously, assuring him that he would keep all the promises made by his predecessor. Pursuant to these promises, the successor of Innocent confirmed the Order of Preachers in two bulls issued December 22, 1216. The first of these bulls, perhaps the shortest by which any order was ever confirmed, was as follows:

“Honorius, Bishop, servant of the servants of God, to our dear son, Dominic, prior of Saint Romain, of Toulouse, and to your brethren who have made, or shall make, profession of regular life, health and apostolic benediction. We, considering that the brethren of your Order will be the champions of the Faith and the true light of the world, do confirm the Order in all its land and possessions present and to come; and we take the Order itself, with all its goods and rights, under our protection and government.

“Given at Saint Sabina, at Rome, on the 11th of the Kalends of January, the first year of our pontificate.


Thus, after many years of obstacles, discouragements and delays, was realized the dream of Saint Dominic. He had at last established a real religious Order, possessing the approbation of the Holy See. Its purpose was the diffusion of Catholic truth by preaching; its field was coextensive with the universal Church. It is true his Institute was in power and numbers but in its earliest infancy, but in the five years of earthly labor that still remained to him be was to see that infant grow into the proportions of a colossus of apostolic power that would bestride the continent of Europe from end to end.

Dispersion of the Brethren

Upon receiving the bulls of confirmation Saint Dominic did not immediately take his departure for Toulouse, but spent that Lent in Rome preaching in several churches, and before the Pope and the Papal Court. It was in recognition of the success of his work in the Eternal City at this time that the office of Master of the Sacred Palace, or Pope’s Theologian, as it is sometimes called, was created and bestowed upon him. The incumbent of this position exercises a special supervision over all the literature published at Rome. All books written by Catholics must receive his approval before they may be printed. He is also a consultor in the Congregations of the Inquisition, the Index and Rites. For seven hundred years this high, and most responsible, position has been filled exclusively by Dominicans.

Saint Dominic left Rome after Easter, 1217, and arrived a month later at Languedoc. For the second time he summoned the brethren to meet him at Prouille on the Feast of the Assumption of this same year. But this time it was not to deliberate over the selection of a rule, as they had done on a previous occasion, a little over a year before. The second gathering was for the purpose of learning the founder’s heroic intention of immediately scattering them broadcast over the face of Europe in pursuit of their apostolic mission. We can readily understand the consternation of the little band of seventeen when they heard that within eight months of their confirmation as an Order they were to be dispersed through many nations to garner the fruits of their glorious apostolate. Was it not hazardous to scatter this little band of youthful missionaries, as yet hardly familiar with the spirit of their Institute, throughout the length and breadth of Europe? Undoubtedly it was not in accordance with the dictates of human prudence, and some of his most steadfast friends – Foulques of Toulouse, the Archbishop of Narbonne, Simon de Montfort, and even some of his own brethren – attempted to dissuade him from carrying out his purpose. But the wisdom of Saint Dominic was not the product of human experience. The light that guided his actions was born of grace. Consequently, he was not to be moved from his purpose by the counsels of men. The result of this action, which at the time seemed little short of suicidal, proved how sure the founder was of the source of his inspiration.

On the day of this convocation, just before the act of dispersion took place, Saint Dominic again manifested that spirit of Christian democracy which was not the least element of his noble character, and which was so effectively infused by him into the genius of his Institute. He realized the necessity of an assistant superior who would rule in his absence or in the event of his death. Instead of arbitrarily appointing such a superior from among those who most fully shared his views, as he might have done, he ordered an election, that they who were to ruled might select their leader. The choice fell upon Matthew of France, who assumed the title of Abbot. This designation was permanently discontinued at the death of its sole bearer.

With a parting exhortation to be faithful to their glorious mission, Saint Dominic dismissed his brethren without a single misgiving. One group of four directed their steps towards Spain. Another, among whom was Manes, Saint Dominic’s own brother, left for Paris under the leadership of Matthew of France. Two remained at Saint Romain’s at Toulouse, and two others at Prouille. Dominic, with a single companion, directed his course towards Rome.

Miracle at Saint Sixtus

In order to facilitate the work of his spiritual sons, now widely scattered, the founder on his arrival at Rome sought further concessions in their behalf from Pope Honorius. The Sovereign Pontiff, equally solicitous for the success of the infant Order, generously acceded to his request. Accordingly, on February 11, 1218, he despatched a bull to all archbishops, bishops, abbots and priors bespeaking their assistance “on behalf of the Order of Friars Preachers, begging them to assist them in their needs,” and to help in every way “the most useful ministry to which they were consecrated.” He himself granted them the church of Saint Sixtus, in Rome, for their permanent headquarters.

At this convent of Saint Sixtus took place one of those prodigies – and perhaps the most beautiful of them all – that proclaimed the great sanctity of the patriarch and unmistakably attested the favor in which he stood before God. As yet generally unknown to the people of Rome, the members of the new Order did not always receive the support necessary for their maintenance; As they practiced a rigorous poverty, subsisting on the fruits of their mendicancy, they oftentimes went hungry. On a certain occasion when the hour for dinner had arrived the procurator announced that there was nothing for the community to eat. Undismayed, Saint Dominic ordered the brethren, who numbered forty, to repair to the refectory. Grace was chanted as usual and they took their accustomed seats, while the saint immediately lost himself in prayer. Suddenly there appeared in the refectory two young men of extraordinary beauty, laden with loaves of bread. Whence they came no one knew. Beginning with the youngest members of the community, they began to distribute the bread, which was contained in white cloths slung from their necks. When the last loaf had been placed before Saint Dominic they disappeared even as they had come. Thus did Divine Providence watch over the brethren and provide for them in their hour of need. From that time a custom has prevailed in the Order which has long since been incorporated in the Constitutions – that of serving first the youngest at table and the prior last. This custom, while it never threatens the superior with the deprivation of his meal, often leaves him with little opportunity for selection.

The Order and the Universities

Saint Dominic had planned that his sons should be learned preachers “of the Word,” and therefore that the profound study of science should be one of the first considerations in their training for the future apostolate. In conformity with this design, one of his first official acts was to establish them in the vicinity of the great universities of Europe, where they might enjoy the advantages of the most liberal education. It was for this purpose that he despatched Matthew to Paris, where the latter in 1217 succeeded in making a foundation near the famous university of that city. So strongly did he and his companions entrench themselves in the good will of the university professors by reason of the sanctity of their lives, their earnestness of purpose and their capacity for study, that in the following year a member of the faculty, Jean de Barastre, professor of theology, bestowed on them the house of Saint Jacques, of which they took possession August, 1219. Soon after this another foundation was made in the vicinity of the University of Bologna.

So quickly did the community grow at Saint Sixtus, in Rome, that in a short time it was entirely inadequate for the needs of the brethren, whereupon Honorius – who seemed to delight in bestowing favors upon the sons of Saint Dominic – in 1219 conveyed to them the Basilica of Santa Sabina and one-half of his own family palace adjoining the church on the Aventine Hill. In the short space of two years all these and many other convents in Spain and Italy had been established. Surely the seed that had been so daringly scattered at Prouille had taken root and brought forth fruit increased an hundredfold! Thus was triumphantly vindicated the holy imprudence of Saint Dominic in the dispersion of his little community.

Journey to Spain

We can readily believe that more than once since his Order had been firmly established, the saint had cast a longing glance in the direction of Spain, and yearned for the opportunity of implanting in the soil of his native land a branch of that religious tree which in so short a space of time had matured, blossomed and borne abundant fruit in the other countries of Europe. At last this opportunity presented itself. Having appointed Reginald of Orleans vicar during his absence, he set out in the autumn of 1218, accompanied by several of the brethren, to cross the Pyrenees. In 1219 the first fruit of the journey was gathered in the foundation of a convent of the Order at Segovia. In Spain, also, the founder adhered to his former policy of identifying his brethren with the universities of Europe. Accordingly, he succeeded in establishing them near the University of Palencia, his own Alma Mater. It is not difficult to imagine the joy of the faculty in receiving into its halls of study the spiritual children of one whom they themselves had trained for the great work of moral reform in which he was now engaged. At the request of the Bishop of Barcelona a convent was also established in that city.

Returning from Spain in the spring of 1219, he directed his steps towards France and spent Easter with the brethren at Toulouse. The following June found him in Paris, where he rejoiced to learn that the community had in the short period of its existence increased to thirty members. At Paris, by his learned and pious conferences, and especially by the edification of his personal life, he helped to perfect the religious formation of the community and then sent them forth to make new foundations. In this mission they were eminently successful, for the establishment of new convents quickly followed in Limoges, Rheims, Metz, Poitiers and Orleans.

Foundations in Italy and Poland

In July, 1219, the saint arrived in Bologna and, as at Paris, immediately took up the work of instructing his brethren in the principles of the religious life. This done, he dismissed them as on two previous occasions that they might extend their missionary labors throughout Italy. At Milan, Bergamo, Asti, Verona, Florence, Brescia and Placenza new houses of the Order sprang up to perpetuate the blessings the missionaries had brought them. So pleased was the Sovereign Pontiff with the rapid spread of the Order that he addressed complimentary letters to all who had assisted in the work of its propagation.

To understand adequately the tireless zeal of Saint Dominic we must bear in mind that all these journeys between France and Italy, from Rome to the western coast of Spain, and back again across the Pyrenees to France and Italy, were invariably made on foot. On these pilgrimages he never lost an opportunity to preach the Word of God. By the wayside, at crossroads, in hamlets and villages, as well as in the great cathedrals of Europe, he proclaimed with the same inspired eloquence the eternal truths of religion. When the opportunity to preach did not present itself, he retired within himself and in meditation fervently communed with God.

While Saint Dominic was thus engaged in spreading his Order throughout Western Europe, there came to him quite unexpectedly the opportunity of widening in a notable degree its field of missionary effort. In 1220 he met at Rome Ivan Odrowantz, Archbishop of Gnesen. The archbishop was accompanied by his two nephews, Hyacinth and Ceslaus, canons of Cracow, and by three laymen – Herman the Teutonic, Henry of Moravia and Stanislaus of Cracow. All these attendants of the archbishop entered the Order of Friars Preachers and were soon professed. Consequently, when the zealous prelate begged Saint Dominic to send him some of his religious to labor among the pagans and schismatics, idolatrous Turks and heathen Finns, the saint was able to comply with the request by sending back to Poland with the archbishop the members of his own suite whom he had but shortly before received into the Order. They arrived in Poland towards the middle of 1220 and immediately established themselves at Friesach. Not long after this the civil and religious authorities of Cracow provided them with a church and sufficient money for the erection of a large convent. This foundation subsequently became the headquarters for all the brethren laboring among the Slavs. Other foundations were made at Prague, Sandomir and Plockow. Nor were Denmark and Russia closed to the missionary activities of Dominic’s zealous preachers. Judging by the number of convents established in so short a time by the original little band of Dominicans sent to Cracow, we can readily understand how great was the success of these apostolic men and how enthusiastically their ministrations were received by the people. “Before his death,” says Lacordaire, “Hyacinth Set up the Dominican tents in Kief itself under the very eyes of Greek schismatics and amid the noise of the Tartar invasions.”

The First General Chapter

The first four years of the Order’s existence had taught Saint Dominic the necessity of still further increasing the efficiency of its apostolate and of strengthening its government by embodying in its Constitutions the fruit of the practical experience of the brethren in the field. Consequently, on the Feast of Pentecost, 1220, the first general chapter, which had been announced some months before, was convened at Bologna under the direction of the founder.

In the convocation of this chapter the founder again gave expression to the principle of popular representation in the affairs of the Order which he desired to be characteristic of its government. It must be remembered that the saint had full power from the Holy See to enact whatever laws he might deem necessary for the successful prosecution of his mission. This power he had received when Honorius III made him Master General of the Order, shortly before the opening of the chapter. This prerogative, however, he would not exercise, preferring that the legislation of the Institute should represent the opinions of the majority of the brethren. Indeed, at the very first session of the chapter he startled the assembled brethren by resigning into their hands the office of Master General. Needless to say, the resignation was not accepted. He decreed, however, and he immediately acted on his own ordinance that the Master General should possess no authority during the progress of a General Chapter; and that during this time the Order should be governed by four definitors elected by the chapter. So by his own act the humble founder reduced himself to the level of a simple Friar Preacher in attendance at the chapter. This was but one of the many acts by which Saint Dominic showed forth his breadth of mind, disinterestedness of purpose and humility of soul. It is this strength of character, breadth of vision and chivalry of spirit that have marked him for all time as one of the most imposing figures of the Middle Ages.

It is greatly to be regretted that none of the enactments of this chapter are still extant. One thing, however, is certain – they renounced the first revenues they had enjoyed in the struggling days of the Order, and resolved in the future to throw themselves entirely upon Divine Providence for their maintenance in the work of the apostolate. It was furthermore decided that they should annually hold a general chapter to meet the needs that each year might bring forth.

Preaching in Lombardy and the Third Order

Immediately on the close of the chapter, Saint Dominic set about the execution of a commission he had received from Honorius III – the conversion of the Lombard heretics. The Sovereign Pontiff had addressed letters to the religious superiors of San Vittorio, Sillia, Mansu, Floria, Vallombrosa and Aquila, instructing them individually to place several members of their respective communities at the disposal of Saint Dominic for the purpose of preaching in certain of the Italian provinces. But because of reasons which history does not record, this elaborate plan of cooperation was not supported by the religious who had been invited by the Holy Father to participate in it. This, however, did not prevent the saint, weakened as he was by illness, from throwing himself whole-heartedly, with a number of the brethren, into the work of converting the heretics of Lombardy. History records that more than one hundred thousand of the heretics were converted through the miracles and preaching of the saint. But, as the event soon proved, in this heroic effort he literally spent himself for the greater honor and glory of God.

According to the testimony of Lacordaire and other writers of the Order, it was during this preaching of the Divine Word in Lombardy that the saint organized the Third Order, or The Militia of Jesus Christ, as it was then called. This remarkable organization was made up of men pledged to the protection of the rights and property of the Church. It was at first a distinctly military body; but afterwards, under the title of The Order of Penance of Saint Dominic, its character was changed to enable men and women still living in the world to acquire something of the spirit of the religious life. It assumed a still greater influence and importance when it established branches for its women members who desired to retire from the world and practice the religious life in all its fullness. These religious of the Third Order, as it is commonly called, constitute one of the most important and fruitful branches of the entire Dominican family. It cannot be more fittingly described than in the following beautiful words of Father Faber: “There is not a nook of the mystical paradise of our Heavenly Spouse where the flowers grow thicker or smell more fragrantly than this order of multitudinous childlike saints. No where in the Church does the Incarnate Word show His delight at being with the children of men in more touching simplicity, with more unearthly sweetness or more spouse-like familiarity.”

After his spiritual crusade in Lombardy, Saint Dominic returned to Rome in December, 1220. His arrival at the Pontifical Court was marked by new favors at the hands of Honorius III. In the early part of the following year three consecutive bulls were issued, bearing the respective dates of January 18, February 4 and March 29, establishing the Order in all its rights and privileges and commending it to the prelates of the entire Church.

The Second General Chapter

Meanwhile the saint prepared for the opening of the next general chapter, which like its predecessor was to be convened at Bologna. Its opening session was held May 30, 1221. At this chapter Saint Dominic decided that the time was now opportune for introducing his Order, which now numbered over five hundred members, into Hungary and Great Britain. It was in the former country that he himself had hoped to labor among the Cuman Tartars in the early days of his priesthood. Now that he knew his days on earth were rapidly drawing to a close, he saw that this splendid ambition of his generous youth would have to be realized through the instrumentality of his devoted brethren. The young apostles to whom this glorious task was assigned met with signal success, and before long had a flourishing convent at Alba Royal. This convent soon became the center of a large band of missionaries and served the same purpose for southeast Europe as did Cracow in the northeast. Within a year after its foundation this convent was able to send missionaries into Transylvania, Serbia and Wallachia.

Simultaneously with the foundation of the Hungarian missions, Saint Dominic despatched twelve of his brethren to England. At the suggestion of the Archbishop of Canterbury, they located at Oxford where, in connection with the university, they founded the King Edward School.

“These two missions in England and Hungary,” as Lacordaire says, “had given Dominic possession of Europe. His work was now done, and perhaps not unknown to him, the angel of death, bearing the final summons for him, was already on the wing.”

Another important enactment of the second chapter of Bologna was the division of the Order into eight provinces, each ruled by a provincial. These were the provinces of Spain, Provence, France, Lombardy, Rome, Germany, Hungary and England. The Order was now thoroughly organized and solidly united. Each of its province-units was possessed of a complete local government and all were under a central government, or hierarchy. It contained all the machinery necessary to perpetuate its existence and at the same time to guarantee the utmost efficiency in the discharge of its exalted mission. From Venice, whither he had gone after the second chapter, Saint Dominic returned in the middle of July, 1221, to Bologna on his last earthly journey. He had already fallen a victim to what was to prove fatal illness when he arrived at his convent in that city. He knew that within a month his earthly career was to be terminated, and so spent every remaining moment in giving his last counsels to the brethren and in preparing for the final reckoning. After three weeks of illness, during which he edified all by his heroic patience, his fervor and profound spirit of resignation, he breathed forth his soul into the hands of his Creator 6 August 1221. In the full stature of heroic sanctity, in the hour of supreme triumph, he passed out of life into eternity, to the possession of his everlasting reward. He was canonized in 1234 by Gregory IX, who said of him that he had no more doubt of his saintliness than he had of that of Peter and Paul.

Saint Dominic’s Character

Saint Dominic was cast in heroic mould. His was not the gentle spirit of Saint Francis nor the genial spirit of Saint Philip Neri. He was the uncompromising champion of truth and duty at a time when their enemies were numerous, powerful and active; and though his heart was brimming over with Christlike charity for his fellow men, as many incidents in his life attest, yet he would suffer nothing to come between him and the glory of God and the honor of His holy Church. He permitted nothing to interfere with the stern sense of duty which guided every action of his life. If he castigated the fallacies and abominations of the heretics, it was because he loved truth and the glory of his Father’s house. But he never failed to distinguish between sin and the sinner. He presented an insurmountable barrier to the progress of heresy and victoriously fought its champions to almost the last hour of his life. Consequently, for hundreds of years he has been a shining mark for the calumnies of heresy-lovers. Indeed, it has required the long perspective of seven hundred years to reveal him in his true stature and place him in his proper light. He was born in a great age, amidst elemental movements in whose direction he played a leading part. Preeminently the ideal Knight of Christ, he won his spurs in many a victorious conflict with the powers of darkness. The knightly qualities of chivalry, valor and gentleness were blended in his character with a marvelous harmony. A lion when he confronted the enemies of the Church, he was gentleness itself with repentant sinners. The fair one for whom his lance was always poised was the Lady Truth. In him the love of eternal truth was a divine passion consecrated to the salvation of souls. His was not the method of battering down the bulwarks of heresy by the sheer force of ecclesiastical authority. He sought and attained his spiritual conquests by the manifestation of truth and by the influence of divine grace, obtained through prayer and mortification. He kindled in the souls of the heretics the fire of his own charity, and then led them back willing captives to the pale of Holy Church. Among the strayed sheep of Christ he did not bear himself arrogantly, as one conscious of self-righteousness, but even as the lowliest among them. He was ever ready to stoop to conquer a soul for Christ.

When the salvation of a soul was at stake he would dispute as readily and courteously with a field laborer as with the accredited champions of heresy. His soul was like a furnace – aflame with the fire of divine love. He was himself the most luminous example of all his preachings. Outstripping all others in his austerities and labors, he was at the same time the most tolerant of the weakness of his associates. There never was an apostle of the Faith less self-centered than he. At a moment’s notice he was ready to divest himself of office, power and influence and become even as the lowliest among his brethren. His very life was constantly at the service of his apostolate. Like Saint Ignatius of Antioch, he actually yearned for martyrdom.

When the exigencies of the apostolate did not require for the moment the exercise of his boundless zeal, he solaced his spirit by meditation upon the Gospel of Saint Matthew and the Epistles of Saint Paul, which he always carried slung at his belt. In this manner he constantly stored the arsenal of his mind with the arms of the spirit in preparation for the next conflict, and re-energized his soul by intimate contact with God. Thus he passed with the utmost facility from action to contemplation, and from prayer to battle with the enemies of Christ. Broad of mind and of far-reaching vision, he did not shackle his Order with the customs of the age that watched over its cradle. Instead, he breathed into it the spirit of all humanity and of all future ages. He imparted to it an elasticity which would enable it, like an agile athlete, to adapt itself to every attack of the enemy and meet it with the weapons best suited to victory. Impelled himself, throughout his lifelong service, by the single incentive of love, he would not hold over his followers the whiplash of punishment and so make them the craven slaves of fear. Like his own service, theirs must be the fruitage of divine love. For the love of God alone he would have them faithful to their Rule and Constitutions. Consequently, he would not attach the penalty of sin to the violation of either. Surely Saint Dominic was the ideal Knight of the Church – valorous, chivalrous, magnanimous. We cannot more fittingly close this sketch than by quoting Dante’s beautiful appreciation of the founder of the Friars Preachers:

“There where the gentle breeze whispers among the young flowers that blossom over the fields of Europe, not far from that shore where break the waves behind which the big sun sinks at eventide, is the fortunate Calaroga; and there was born the loyal lover of the Christian Faith, the holy athlete, gentle to his friends, and terrible only to the enemies of truth. They called him Dominic. He was the ambassador and the friend of Christ; and his first love was for the first counsel that Jesus gave. His nurse found him often lying on the ground, as though he had said, ‘It was for this that I came.’ It was because of his love for the Divine Truth, and not for the world, that he became a great doctor in a short time; and he came before the throne of Peter, not to seek dispensations or tithes; or the best benefices, or the patrimony of the poor, but only for freedom to combat against the errors of the world by the Word of God. Then, armed with his doctrine and his mighty will, he went forth to his apostolic ministry even as some mountain torrent precipitates itself from a rocky height. And the impetuosity of that great flood, throwing itself on the heresies that stemmed its way, flowed on far and wide, and broke into many a stream that watered the garden of the Church.” Such was Saint Dominic, founder and first Master General of the Order of Preachers.