Saint Dominic and the Order of Preachers, Part 2 – The Genius of the Order

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 CommonsCharacter of the Times

The last half of the twelfth and the first half of the thirteenth century constituted in Europe a period of general unrest. Titanic forces were struggling for the mastery. Great principles, pregnant with human interest, were seeking expression and recognition. The human mind was in travail, and ideas were born which were to mark a new and glorious epoch in the history of human thought and civilization. A bitter struggle between the Papacy and the House of Hohenstaufen, which was to continue for a century, had already begun when Saint Dominic was born. The very year of his birth had witnessed the murder of Saint Thomas a Becket. Innocent III was gradually reestablishing papal supremacy. The early years of the thirteenth century had seen the English barons wrest Magna Charta from King John. On the border-lands of Christianity the fifth crusade was waging the battle of truth and virtue.

From an intellectual standpoint the age was even more momentous. Europe was rapidly emerging from the twilight of knowledge that had characterized the tenth century. Two spirits seemed to contend for the mastery of the intellectual world; the old spirit, which began with the invasions and still smacked of barbarism, a spirit which contented itself with the barest rudiments of learning – the spirit of feudalism; and the new spirit, conscious of the dignity and power of knowledge, conscious of principles, laws and forces in the realms of physics and metaphysics, as yet unknown to the world at large; conscious of the need of new methods for the attainment of larger results – a spirit altogether inquisitive and keen in the pursuit of knowledge. It was the spirit of a new civilization. The head and front of the new movement was the Church. Not only did she found and endow schools, colleges and universities, but she loaded the student and scholar with privileges, emoluments and honors. Whenever town was in conflict with gown, which was often enough, the Church always manifested, within the bounds of justice, a tender, parental indulgence for the wearer of the gown.

While the battle still hung in the balance, the crusades, introducing a new method and color of thought from the East, and the general diffusion of the teaching of Aristotle, injected a new element into the struggle, and one that was hostile to the spirit of feudalism. The new spirit triumphed; schools multiplied, scholars abounded, universities sprang up and numbered their students by the thousands. The whole age was marked by rapid and radical changes, great ideas and mighty movements, many of which have endured with undiminished influence to the present day. It was altogether a forceful, impetuous and chivalrous age, possessed of a giant’s strength and a child’s discretion. Indeed, the thirteenth century’s tireless quest of truth has often been likened to the persistent inquisitiveness of a precocious child.

Danger of this Movement

But this intellectual revival was not without its disquieting element. Human reason, fostered and developed under the guidance of the Church in the middle years of the twelfth century, dazzled by the consciousness of its own power, began to take on an overweening arrogance towards faith and authority. From this time on it asserted its absolute and undivided supremacy in the realm of knowledge, human and divine. It undertook to measure all truth by the capacity of its own understanding. Faith was impugned, dogma challenged, and even the mystery of the Trinity was held to be not beyond the reach of scholastic analysis. It placed its own judgments above God Himself, and demanded that they be accepted as the infallible criteria of truth. Saint Bernard thus describes how generally this spirit had permeated the times: “Along the streets and in the squares people dispute about the Catholic Faith, about the child-bearing of the Virgin, about the Sacrament of the altar, and about the incomparable mystery of the Trinity.” Of course, this license in human thought could have but one effect, and that a disastrous one, on the souls of men and the cause of truth alike.

The Struggle Against Rationalism

The Church met this new situation with intellectual forces of no mean caliber. William of Champeaux and Saint Bernard attacked the rationalists with all the resources of their great intellects. If any criticism of their work be permissible, it is that their method was in some degree insufficiently constructive. With fervid eloquence and burning zeal they denounced the impiety and unbelief of the rationalists, and clearly pointed out the fatal tendencies of the dialectical system in the hands of proud and irreverent men. But they did not seek to purge that system of its abuses and employ it as a weapon of defense. This was to be the work of another century. The immediate consequence was, however, that the three thousand logic-mad students, if that expression may be permitted, who followed Abelard in his peripatetic course, sneeringly turned from the champions of the Faith as the Athenians turned from Saint Paul, saying: “We will hear thee again concerning this matter.”

A policy of repression was next adopted, and in 1209 the Bishop of Paris convoked a council to condemn the heresies of Amalric of Bena, who taught not only the incarnation of Christ, but also of the Father and the Holy Ghost. Though he had been dead two years, his desiccated bones were disinterred and deposited in unhallowed ground. Even harsher methods were applied to some of his disciples. This council also forbade the reading of the physics of Aristotle. Six years later Robert de Courcon, a Papal Legate, condemned the metaphysical works of Aristotle. Perhaps it would be more in accord with the truth of history to say that the council and the delegate condemned the Arabian translations and commentaries of the philosophical works of Aristotle.

Yet, drastic as these measures were, they failed of their purpose, and the spirit of rationalism swept on. In the thirteenth century it attained the height of its power. This century deified Aristotle and regarded him as one who had said the last word on all subjects, and whose conclusions were the infallible criteria of truth. In this century men began to speak of the Philosopher much as Saint Augustine says the masters of Carthage spoke of the Aristotelian categories in his day – “with cheeks bursting with pride, as of something altogether divine.” Avicenna, indeed, had said that Aristotle was the only man God had permitted to attain the highest summit of perfection. It was clear, therefore, that a crisis was imminent in the struggle between Western belief and Eastern unbelief, and the outcome was of supreme concern to the cause of Christianity. The age certainly had need of some tutelary genius whose dominant spirit would guide its splendid energies to high aims and worthy ends.

This was the condition of the intellectual world when Saint Dominic stood pleading with Innocent III for permission to found a new religious order.

Saint Dominic’s Grasp of the Situation

As the patriarch contemplated the age in which he lived, he discerned in it three fatal defects, to which could be traced all its evils: First, the notable absence of the contemplative spirit among men of the active life; secondly, the lack of reverent yet scientific scholarship; thirdly, a want of anthoritative and effective preaching. It was to supply these wants of his times that Saint Dominic established the Order of Friars Preachers. Though the founder was a leader among men and an ardent progressionist among thinkers, he was not a frivolous innovator or a wanton iconoclast. His habit of thought was of a strictly constructive character. He was a thinker whose work was to mark a distinct epoch in the intellectual world, and to exert a remarkable influence on the development of scientific thought. But this was not to be accomplished by the levelling of all existing institutions and the utter condemnation of all accepted methods. His were not the methods of the hysterical and sensational demagogue. Novelty for novelty’s sake did not appeal to him. He was a builder who could avail himself of “old things and new.” He, therefore, adopted the contemplative spirit of monasticism, and not only united it to the active life, but made it the very basis of the apostolate. He knew full well that reverence is born of contemplation; that contemplation also begets knowledge, knowledge love, and love zeal for souls – the indispensable virtue of a successful ministry.

Contemplative Element

Since it was the purpose of the Order of Friars Preachers to labor in the world for the salvation of souls through the ministry of the Divine Word, it was necessary that every opportunity for self-sanctification be afforded the prospective Dominican. In no other way could he hope to vitalize his utterances with the spirit of sincerity and illustrate them by his own example. It was equally necessary that he have ample time for meditation – time to ponder over eternal truths, unfold their divine significance, assimilate their substance and thus prepare himself to proclaim a true and substantial message of comfort and hope to the hungering souls of men. As his life’s work would be, in the terse phrase of Saint Thomas, “to convey to others the fruit of his own contemplation,” it was necessary that he should have the spirit of a contemplative no less than that of an apostle. With these ends in view Saint Dominic chose his rule and formulated his first ordinances, and thus determined the spirit and trend of the Order for all future time. It is not a little to the credit of the Friars Preachers that in all the subsequent legislation of seven hundred years they have faithfully endeavored to interpret the mind of their blessed founder and perpetuate his spirit. In these fundamental principles of organization weighty stress was laid on the contemplative element of the Order; for, while it was subordinated to the apostolate, it was regarded as an essential means to the attainment of that end. Spiritual formation through contemplation and mortification was the training best fitted to fill the soul of the prospective preacher with fervor and zeal. It were vain to expect him to inflame the souls of others with the fire of God’s love if he had not first kindled that divine passion in his own soul. Consequently, the twin spirits of contemplation and apostolic activity were indissolubly united in the Dominican ideal. The children of Saint Dominic were to be neither monks nor secular priests, but a happy and effective blending of both, plus the apostolic spirit which was their special and priceless inheritance from their founder. In the words of Etienne de Salagnac the Dominican was to be “a canon by profession, a monk in the austerity of his life and an apostle by the office of preaching.”

The saint had prayerfully and studiously planned the scheme which was to make for the personal sanctification of his followers, and to guarantee their zeal and efficiency in the world-wide vineyard of the Lord. It was to this end that he appropriated the substance of the monastic life, in so far as it would not interfere with the future activity of the Order. He had conceived a bold and original plan for a new age, new conditions and new interests; but he must temper to the work the tools to be employed in its development. For this purpose the monastic spirit, stripped of many of its fettering forms, was as serviceable as it had ever been. This spirit he did not appropriate directly from the old monastic institutes, but from the Canons Regular, who some time before had combined its essentials with the activity of a local ministry.

The Vows

The three vows of religion – poverty, chastity and obedience – he adopted in all their pristine severity. During the first four years of the Order’s existence, while it was trying to find itself, as it were, he permitted the Institute, as a whole, to possess property and revenues to the extent necessary for the maintenance of the brethren; but never for a moment would he suffer personal possessions on the part of its individual members. Once the infant Order had taken its first venturesome steps, it heroically renounced even corporate possessions. In the very first chapter of the Order, that of Bologna in 1220, at the suggestion of Saint Dominic, the Fathers not only reaffirmed their personal obligation of detachment from all earthly possessions, but, furthermore, by renouncing all the revenues they had enjoyed up to that time, they pledged themselves to a life of austerest poverty. It was at this chapter, too, that Saint Dominic endeavored to persuade his brethren to enact a law turning over to the lay-brothers the management of all the temporal affairs of the Order. In this he was not successful, as the previous experience of many of the Fathers had proved the plan impracticable. The founder humbly submitted to their views, though as Master General, invested with the fullest powers, he might have arbitrarily forced compliance with his wishes. One of the early chapters determined that the cells of the brethren should contain no other ornaments than a statue of the Blessed Virgin and a crucifix. After this manner the Institute identified itself absolutely with the mendicant orders whose sole provider was the merciful God Himself. This was no new manifestation of the spirit of poverty on the part of Saint Dominic. We recall that on the threshold of his apostolate among the Albigenses he frankly ascribed the failure of the papal delegates, in their labors among the heretics, to a disregard of evangelical poverty, and respectfully suggested that for the future they more closely follow the poverty exemplified in the life of the Savior.

From all of this it is apparent that the founder of the Friars Preachers did not esteem poverty a whit less than his brother saint, the Seraphic Francis. But, unlike his saintly friend, he valued it principally as an effective means for the attainment of the ends of his apostolate. His attitude in this respect was based upon a twofold motive – principle and expediency. Poverty was an essential element of the religious life. Its office was to detach the soul from all material interests, with their attendant cares and distractions, in order that it might give itself entirely to the business of loving and serving God. As a matter of expediency, it was necessary that his followers be free from all encumbrances and the preoccupations which the possession of property entails, that they might enjoy a greater opportunity for study and possess the mobility necessary for the activities of their apostolate. Poverty, then, Saint Dominic regarded as a means to an end; and if he expressed himself with the utmost vehemence in regard to those who should be unfaithful to its obligations, it was only because he foresaw that such infidelity meant the failure of their vocation as Friars Preachers. But he was farsighted enough to see that circumstances might arise which would render a rigorous observance of poverty a serious impediment to the work of saving souls, and he was broad-minded enough to meet this difficulty, as well as others of a similar nature, by placing in the hands of all superiors the constitutional power of dispensation.

Chastity, of course, was adopted according to the one ideal – that of Jesus Christ – which has ever and always obtained in the religious institutes of the Catholic Church.

In the matter of obedience, Saint Dominic expected of his followers a whole-hearted, prompt and cheerful compliance with the exactions of the Rule and Constitutions and with the expressed wishes of their superiors. Indeed, their vow of obedience is the only one mentioned in the act of profession. The reason is that, according to the intention of the Church, it includes the vows of poverty and chastity. In the ceremony of profession the Dominican’s obedience is vowed to God, to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to the Master General of the Order of Friars Preachers. This includes also, of course, obedience to his immediate superiors. His first vows, pronounced after a year of novitiate, are simple though perpetual. Three years after, solemn vows are taken.

Spirit of Dominican Discipline

Neither the Rule nor the Constitutions bind under penalty of sin, except in disobedience involving formal contempt. The founder himself declared in the chapter-house at Bologna, for the comfort of the weaker brethren, that the Rule did not bind under pain of sin, and that if he could think otherwise he would go to every cloister and hack it to pieces. These words were recorded by one who heard them from the saint’s own lips. The chivalrous Dominic could not imagine a religious who needed to be spurred to the discharge of his obligations by the craven fear of punishment, either in this world or the next. Divine love was the one impelling power that actuated him in all his relations with God, and he would have it likewise with his followers. It was this spirit embodied in the Constitutions, of the Order which led Saint Catherine of Sienna to exclaim: “The Rule of our Holy Father is so broad, so joyous in character and of so sweet savor!”

Silence, prayer, fasting and abstinence were strictly enjoined by the founder as pertaining to the very essence of the religious life. Fasting was enjoined from the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross – September 14 – to the following Easter Sunday. Abstinence was perpetual, except for the sick and the superannuated.

Silence, always characteristic of the religious life and inseparable companion to the spirit of contemplation, was also required. The famous portrait of Saint Peter Martyr, painted by his brother Dominican, Fra Angelico, which represents the saint with finger on lips bespeaking silence, is beautifully symbolic of the silence that haunts the cloisters of Dominican houses. It is the spirit of the Rule that, outside of the usual recreation, this silence be broken only in class and chapter-room and in the choir, when the brethren in full, sonorous volume and in spirited staccato measure chant the Divine Office and alternate with the angel choirs in singing the praises of God.

Dispensations

All these adjuncts of the religious life were embodied by Saint Dominic in his Constitutions and strictly enforced by him as effective means for promoting the spiritual perfection of his children, who were to be, in the language of Honorius III, “the champions of the Faith and true lights of the world.” But it must be again insisted on that in the Dominican Order these things were not intended solely for the sanctification of its members, as in the old monastic institutes, but as means also to a higher end – the apostolate. With a clear understanding of the mission of his Order, the founder equipped his infant Institute with rules of remarkable detail and wondrous efficiency. With that far-reaching range of vision characteristic of all great thinkers, he planned not merely for his own age but for all time. He did not make his Order the creature of his own times merely, nor hobble it with the conventions of the age that witnessed its birth. Neither did he limit the field of its activity to the older and more enlightened nations of Europe. He planned an organization which would breathe the spirit of catholicity, embracing all ages, races and nations. With this end in view, he imparted to the laws with which he equipped it an extraordinary flexibility and elasticity which would permit their adjustment to all times, places and conditions. With extraordinary wisdom and liberality, he embodied in the Constitutions themselves, as we have already seen, the power of dispensation when rigid adherence to the letter of the law would fetter the exercise of apostolic zeal.

The mind of Saint Dominic on this point was admirably expressed by one of the most illustrious of his disciples, Blessed Humbert, when he said: “When some point has been insisted upon as calculated to forward a certain end, it cannot be permitted to prevent the attainment of that end. It is for this reason that points of rule in the Order must not be observed with a rigidity which is calculated to preclude the attainment of the very end for which the Order itself was founded.” Each superior is, therefore, empowered prudently to dispense his subjects from any particular requirement of the Rule which might interfere with the work of saving souls. But while superiors may, for good and sufficient reasons, dispense their subjects, they cannot under any circumstances abolish one jot or tittle of the law. The wonderful efficiency of the Order, as witnessed by its varied and monumental achievements throughout the world, its marvelous vitality after seven hundred years of service, its adaptability to every need of the Church – is in a very large measure due to the wise provisions of dispensation which the bold and original mind of Saint Dominic implanted in the very foundation of his legislative system.

Rule and Constitutions

The machinery by which the abstract rules of the religious life were to be reduced to practice, and the ends of the Order attained, were the Rule and Constitutions. The first formal expression of law to be identified with the Dominicans was the Rule of Saint Augustine and the “Customs,” largely borrowed from the Premonstratensians. Both of these instruments had been selected by Saint Dominic and his little band at Prouille, the former just before, and the latter immediately after the confirmation of the Order. They provided for the ascetical and canonical requirements of the community. But the fundamental and characteristic legislation of the Order was enacted at the first Chapter of Bologna, convened by Saint Dominic himself in 1220. Around this nucleus was woven the elaborate fabric of law of all the succeeding general chapters. It constitutes a body of legislative enactments which for wisdom, efficiency and moderation has elicited the praise and admiration of historians and statesmen throughout the course of seven hundred years. It was this legislation which gave to the Order its permanent form and government. Twenty-one years later the legislation of the Chapter of Bologna was rearranged by the famous Dominican canonist, Raymond of Pennafort, without, however, substantially changing the text of the original draft. This text of Saint Raymond was given the weight of law by the general chapters of 1239, 1240 and 1241. Augmented by the enactments of subsequent general chapters, this text constitutes the body of Dominican legislation as we have it to-day.

Organization

The Order of Preachers is divided for the purpose of government into provinces, of which there are at present thirty-three, presided over by provincials. Also there are embryonic provinces called “congregations.” The latter are districts lacking the necessary number of priories to qualify as provinces. They are governed by a vicar-provincial appointed by the Master General. The working unit of the province is the priory,* administered by a prior. Other foundations of minor dignity are called “vicariates.” These foundations are tentative and are expected ultimately to develop into priories. At least three priories are necessary for the foundation of a new province. The superior of a priory is elected to office for a term of three years by the clerical members of that priory who have been subject to vows for at least nine years. The religious elected must have been professed for at least twelve years. The election, however, is subject to the approval of the provincial, who may set it aside and call for a new election. Once every four years a provincial chapter is held for the election of a provincial. Each priory is represented at this election by its prior and a delegate (socius). The latter is elected by those who are qualified to vote in the election of a prior. While the prior represents his community at the chapter ex officio, the delegate represents it for the special occasion of the election. Ex-provincials, Preachers-General and Masters of Theology also have a voice in the election of the provincial. At this chapter the general business of the province is transacted. But the enactments of the chapter do not become operative until they have been approved by the Master General, who may also annul the election and thereby necessitate a reassembling of the elective college. During the progress of the chapter, the administration of the province rests in the hands of the prior in whose priory the chapter is held, and four others, called “definitors,” elected by the brethren attending the chapter. From the close of the chapter until the newly-elected provincial has been confirmed, the province is administered by a vicar chosen in accordance with the customs of the several provinces.

Two years after each provincial chapter, an “intermediate chapter,” or “congregation,” as it is called, attended by ex-provincials, Masters of Theology and priors, is held under the presidency of the provincial to transact the affairs of the province. Like the enactments of the provincial chapter, those of the intermediate congregation are also subject to the revision and approval of the Master General.

General chapters are held by the entire Order every three years. As a matter of convenience these chapters take place in Europe. The elective chapter at which the Master General is elected is held every twelve years. In this chapter both the governing and the governed elements are represented, but the representatives of the latter are twice as numerous as those of the former. The provincials from all the provinces, with two other representatives (definitor and socius) for each province, are the constituent members of this chapter. All these members of the general chapter, except the provincials who attend ex officio, are elected by the provincial chapters of their respective provinces, which immediately precede the general chapter. During the first six hundred years of the Order’s existence the Master General held office for life. In 1804 his term was reduced to six years, and in 1862 extended to twelve. Three years after the election of the Master General another general chapter is held which is attended by one delegate (definitor) from each province and his “associate.” The delegates to this chapter represent the governed element of the Order. Three years after this, the provincials of all the provinces representing the governing element of the Order are again convened in general chapter. The next chapter, like the second, is a definitors’ chapter; while in the next, which is an elective chapter, both provincials and definitors participate. At all but the elective chapter, the Master General presides over the deliberations of the brethren.

During the life of the general chapter the administration of the Order is placed in the hands of the provincial in whose province the chapter is held, and of committees, to each of which is entrusted the working up of one of the subjects to be brought before the chapter. This arrangement, as we have already seen, was first effected by Saint Dominic at the Chapter of Bologna, in 1220. Before the chapter adjourned this arrangement was embodied in the Constitutions for all time.

“Such,” says the Frenchman Delisle, “was the simple mechanism which imparted to the Order of Friars Preachers a powerful and regular movement, and secured them for a long time a real preponderance in Church and State.” The entire government and organization of the Dominican Order represents an harmonious blending of monarchical and democratic elements which Saint Thomas proclaims the best of all practical forms of government. The democratic side of the Order is best illustrated by its representative character and the election of its officers. Its laws are enacted by representative bodies in provincial and general chapters to which provincials and Masters General are responsible for their acts. The elective power permeates it from top to bottom. Every cleric of the Institute who has been professed nine years has a right to express his choice for immediate superior of the convent to which he is assigned. Indirectly the brethren may, through their elected representatives, express their choice for provincial and general officers. Directly or indirectly, their superiors are responsible to them for their acts. It is their right to express to the chapter their opinion whether their prior should be retained in office or removed. The same right is exercised by the priors at the intermediate congregation in regard to the removal of the provincial. From this it is evident that the principle of “the recall,” now so strenuously agitated in civil politics as both new and progressive, has been in use in the Dominican Order for centuries. No superior is irresponsible; none can become a law to himself. Priors are in some measure answerable to their subjects; provincials and generals to their chapters. On the other hand, the monarchical element is seen in the powers vested in the superiors of the Order. In few, if any, other institutes are superiors clothed with such power as the rulers among the Friars Preachers. As the provincial can remove from office for sufficient reason any superior in his province, and locate every one of his subjects where he will within the confines of the province, in like manner the Master General can act towards the superiors and subjects of the entire Order, while he himself can be removed from office by the general chapter. Thus, the principles of check, counter-check and balance have been skillfully employed in the Dominican scheme of legislation to prevent an inordinate and dangerous accumulation of arbitrary power in the hands of any individual, or group of individuals, but without at the same time giving to the administration of the Order the character of mob rule. It is worthy of note that, as Father Mandonnet remarks, the absolutist governments of Europe showed but little sympathy for the democratic Constitutions of the Preachers. In this effective blending of the monarchical and democratic forms of government the legislation of the Institute but reflects the spirit of Saint Dominic. Possessed of the most autocratic kind of power, bestowed on him as Master General by Honorius III, he possessed also in no less a measure the spirit of true democracy. Time and time again in the all-too-few years of his government he emphatically expressed the desire, and translated it into practice, that his Order should possess a representative form of government. While other founders of religious institutes arbitrarily dictated rules, constitutions and methods, and, with the best of intentions undoubtedly, jealously safeguarded the power with which they had been invested, it was Dominic’s constant effort to seek the counsel and guidance of his brethren and to share with them his authority and power. Such was his purpose when he consulted them in the selection of a rule at Prouille; and, again, when he assembled the brethren at Prouille in 1217, just before he dispersed them through Europe, in order that they might elect a vicar-general to rule in his absence or in the event of his death. It was in pursuit of the same object that he convoked two general chapters at Bologna, one in 1220 and the other in 1221; that he sought to resign his office of Master General into their hands, and, failing that, renounced all authority during their deliberations. With the same end in view, in deference to the opinion of the brethren, he abandoned his cherished plan of placing all temporals in the hands of lay-brothers. In Saint Dominic the monarchical element was represented by his unrestricted power, and his spirit of democracy by the way in which he divested himself of that power.

A learned German historian has well said: “We do not deceive ourselves in considering the organization of the Dominican Order the most perfect of all monastic organizations produced by the Middle Ages.” As imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, undoubtedly the greatest compliment paid to its efficiency was its adoption in toto by the Friars of the Sack, and the influence it exercised in the organization of a great many other mediaeval institutes. We need not be surprised, in the light of the foregoing, at the words credited to the Italian historian, Cesare Cantu: “Wonderful is the Dominican legislation, which in every particular seems admirable, even after seven hundred years”; or at the following sentiment attributed to Niccolo Macchiavelli: “With these laws (of the Dominican Order) a great and flourishing republic could be governed.” Truly, Saint Dominic was a constructive statesman, and justly did Newman ascribe to him “an imperial spirit of government.”

Study

The second great need of the times, as viewed by Saint Dominic, was a reverent, yet scientific, scholarship, not only in the schools but in the pulpit as well. The disciples of the saint were to be professedly, not incidentally, preachers of the Divine Word. Consequently, they must be thoroughly trained and perfectly equipped, not only to stir the faithful to greater fervor, but to enter the schools and combat the rationalistic tendencies of scholars already steeped in oriental error. They must be prepared to face the heresiarchs of the Albigenses and other sects, and by controversial preaching as well as by written polemics vindicate the truth of Christ for the honor of God and the salvation of souls. In order that we may fully grasp the plan of the founder it is necessary briefly to review the methods of theological teaching that had succeeded one another up to and including his time.

Theological Systems

The method of theological exposition in the first six centuries of the Church’s existence was that introduced by the Fathers. It was, of course, based upon the Scriptures, and developed by patristic commentaries and the tradition and decisions of the Church. With the beginning of the seventh century a new method made its appearance. Already the teachings of the Fathers had come to be looked upon as authoritative in an eminent degree. They were, therefore, made the basis of the new method conjointly with the Scriptures, tradition and the decisions of the Popes and Councils. The writings of the Fathers were mostly made use of through the medium of compendia and extracts from their writings.

At the beginning of the thirteenth century yet another method had come into general use, which was to be known as the scholastic method. It is impossible to ascribe with any degree of certainty the beginning of scholasticism to any particular individual or time. Some refuse to acknowledge any other than Albert the Great as the first scholastic; others hark back to the person and times of Abelard; others, still, affirm that its rise dates from the controversy over the Eucharist, participated in by Lanfranc, on one side, and Berengarius on the other; while others still looked to Scotus Erigena and the ninth century for its origin. One thing, however, is certain – the appearance in the twelfth century of more numerous and more complete translations of the Stagerite gave to this method a new and powerful impetus. It was, in substance, an alliance of faith and reason – the dialectic system applied to the elucidation of theology. It consisted in developing, expanding, illustrating and clearing of objections, in a didactic manner, the dogmas of religion.

Need of a New Method

Whatever service the dialectic method conferred on theology, it had proved a dangerous weapon in the hands of the proud and headstrong. Personified by Erigena, Berengarius and Abelard, it stood for dominant reason and irreverence. Scotus Erigena had said that “authority is derived from reason.” Abelard taught that “liberty was the right to consult reason, and to listen to it alone.” In the persons of Averroes and Avicenna it championed pantheism and naturalism in many of the universities of Europe. It was not always employed in the service of truth, but often for mere vain display. The great need of the times, therefore, in the judgment of Saint Dominic, was an order of men capable of defending the supremacy of the Faith with sacred and profane science – science not acquired for the vain purpose of academic display, but for the defense of truth and the salvation of souls. He realized the urgent need of a body of men capable of refuting the brilliant aberrations of future Abelards, of combating the Hebrew and Arabian philosophers who were injecting their subtle poisons into the thought of the times, of purging the Philosopher himself of error and of harmonizing his teachings with the Scriptures and patristic writings.

The Church then possessed no such institute to meet the needs of the times. Before Saint Dominic’s time the religious Orders were holy asylums for the promotion of personal sanctity by labor, fasting and prayer. The work of Saint Anthony and Saint Pachomius was hidden in the wilderness. Its spirit of solitude was unsuited for the turbulent times of the thirteenth century.

In the sixth century Saint Benedict founded the monastic Institute of the West. But its spirit, too, was purely contemplative, and not of an active, aggressive apostolate in the outer world, though the necessities of the times more than once forced it to enlarge its scope. For more than six hundred years monasticism had served gloriously the needs of the Church, and in its schools and scriptoriums the cause of education and civilization. But in the twelfth century monasticism, representing the synthetic and mystic spirit of Saint Benedict, had begun to lose its ascendency, and at the beginning of the thirteenth century its influence upon the times was wholly negligible. The contentious character of that century was not in accord with the spirit of “quies” that filled the cloistered silence of the mountain abbey. Not later than the year 1118 the monks, as though in protest against the irreverent spirit of the schools, closed their doors against all lay students. The Fourth Lateran Council had endeavored to meet the situation by issuing a decree authorizing the appointment of a Master of Theology for each of the cathedral schools. This, however, had not proved effectual.

Saint Dominic’s Plan

It was under these circumstances that Saint Dominic conceived the idea of founding an order of men versed in sacred and profane science, trained in dialectical skill, who, though formed in the silence of a cloister, could enter the noisy arena of the university and successfully measure lances with the arrogant knights of reason in defense of the Faith. His followers were to be students, scholars and educators, not by chance, personal inclination or indulgence, but by design and the requirements of their vocation. Truth – universal truth – its acquisition and diffusion, was the intellectual ideal he would realize in his followers. “Veritas” was the motto emblazoned on the escutcheon of the Order. Such was the chivalrous design of Saint Dominic. The very conception of such a scheme indicated the greatness of his mind and the sweep of his vision. How effectively he planned and how true to his ideals were his associates, may be seen in the fact that within a hundred years his Institute was universally designated “the Order of Truth.”

Saint Dominic was well qualified intellectually to plan so great an undertaking. He was a man whose native gifts of intellect were of the highest order. “Dominic,” as Cardinal Newman says, “a man of forty-five, a graduate in theology, a priest and a canon, brought with him into religion the maturity and completeness of learning which he had acquired in the schools.” He was a profound student of the history of the Church, knew its trials, understood the dangers that menaced it, and was thoroughly familiar with its needs. The active part he had taken in suppressing the Albigensian heresy, and his extensive travels with the Bishop of Osma, added to his academic knowledge a vast fund of practical experience and imparted to him a deep insight into the spirit and trend of his times. He had taken a conspicuous part in the apostolate of the written as well as of the spoken word. Doctors of wide renown, scholars of highest repute, sought his advice and called him “Master.” Honorius III recognized his scholarly attainments when he created the office of Pope’s Theologian and appointed him to fill it.

Even before he had taken the first step towards realizing his splendid dream, and while it was still taking form in his brain, Saint Dominic determined that his followers should be learned preachers of the Divine Word. Scarcely had the little band of seven taken possession of the house of Peter Cellani as a diocesan community than he led them to the school of Alexander Stavensby, a famous scholar of Toulouse. The significance of this act lies in the fact that they were all priests, and, therefore, ordinarily well versed in theological science. By this action he made clear his intention that the members of his Order should acquire a larger knowledge of sacred science than that possessed by the average priest. He realized that only an unfailing devotion to study could make a “full” preacher, out of whose abundance souls would be nourished with the eternal truths of God.

Indeed, the very spirit of the times made necessary the formation of such preachers. As much of the preaching was to be directed to unbelievers – Albigenses or rationalists – and must needs be, therefore, of a polemical nature, it was imperative that the brethren have a firm and comprehensive grasp upon the principles and facts of ecclesiastical science. This was especially true of the departments of philosophy, dogmatic theology and Sacred Scripture – in the last of which many among the heretics were remarkably well versed. It was to be the work of the Friars Preachers, as Jordan of Saxony expressed it, “to defend the Faith and destroy heresy.” Such, too, was the anticipation Honorius III expressed in the bull in which he confirmed the Order: “Expecting the brethren of your Order to be the champions of the Faith and the true lights of the world, we confirm your Order.” That this great expectation was not unfounded is demonstrated by the fact that fifty years after the Order’s institution Clement IV could proclaim it “the guardian of truth.”

For the attainment of this “magnificent aim,” as Cardinal Newman calls it, Saint Dominic instituted an Order in which the pursuit of knowledge was to go hand in hand with the quest for spiritual perfection, and both were to be ordained to the salvation of souls through the ministry of the Word. It was a wholly original idea, unsuggested by anything in the rules or constitutions of the religious institutes that antedated the foundation of the Friars Preachers; and we must admit that it was as bold as it was original when we consider the noisy, arrogant and heretical character of so many of the scholars of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It is to his own Order that Blessed Humbert, fifth Master General, assigns the honor of having been the first to unite the formal and systematic prosecution of study with the conventional exercises of the religious life. From this exposition of the plan of Saint Dominic it will be seen that the great lights of sanctity and learning who with unfailing regularity rose in each succeeding generation were not accidental to the Order, but the legitimate fruit of its founder’s genius and planning.

Its Execution

As the architect of the new Institute, Dominic not only drew up the plan and general design, but carefully worked out each detail and specification. Clearly he saw that to maintain the high standard of scholarship he had proposed for his spiritual children it would be necessary to afford them the best educational advantages obtainable. It is not surprising, therefore, that among the very first official acts of Saint Dominic, as Master General, was the drafting of rules designed to promote the educational efficiency of the Order. Immediately on his return from Rome, after the confirmation of the Order, he gathered his companions about him at Toulouse and in two words summed up for them their vocation as Friars Preachers – to study and preach.

With this fixed purpose in mind he despatched several of the brethren to the university cities of Paris and Bologna, and subsequently to the schools of Padua and Palencia, when he dispersed his little flock in 1217. It was the same consideration that led to the selection of Matthew of France, a learned man “ready to meet every point of doctrine,” to be superior of the little community that settled close to the gates of the University of Paris; and of Reginald of Orleans, professor and Doctor of Law at the same school, to be put in charge of the convent of the University at Bologna.

The very first chapter of the Order, convened by Saint Dominic at Bologna, admonished the brethren to attend assiduously to books and studies. It was on this occasion, too, that the custom originated of having the general chapters choose the lectors who were to direct the studies in each convent – studies in which even the superior was obliged to participate. Other observances might be relaxed for reasonable causes, but study, never. In the chapter of 1228, superiors were empowered to dispense with any article of the Rule that interfered with study. If any one culpably exempted himself from the daily class in theology, it was ordained by the chapter of 1305 that on that day he should practice a special abstinence at table for a penance. In 1336 a provincial chapter held at Toulouse reluctantly dispensed from attendance at these daily lectures those who had spent fifty years in the Order. In 1250 a prior in Dacia was removed from office and punished because, by enlarging the study halls, which were considered ample for their purpose, he had interrupted the studies of the convent.

The obligation of study was to be deeply impressed upon the novice from the moment of his entrance into the Order. “It is his (the novice-master’s) duty,” the Constitutions say, “to make them (the novices) realize that they have to apply themselves seriously to study; that they are under obligations to read, and reflect day and night upon what they have read, and that they must endeavor to commit to memory as much as they can.” In “The Book for the Instruction of Novices,” examined and approved by the general chapter of 1283, the novice is informed that after profession his life is to be occupied with three things – spiritual exercises, study and the apostolate; and at considerable length it makes clear to him how great is the importance of science. In fact, the author devotes an entire treatise to the importance the novice must attach to the acquisition of knowledge, and the attention which, from the first day of his entrance into the Order, he must give to it. The cell of the Dominican religious was to be a sanctuary consecrated to the threefold service of study, writing and prayer. The first two were to be dedicated to the service of God no less than the last.

Everything not essential to the spiritual formation of his subjects Saint Dominic subordinated to study. While prayer was to be practiced assiduously, the spirit of austerity kept undiminished, the choral obligation discharged with unfailing fidelity, yet it was the spirit of study which was to permeate the entire life of the Order. The Divine Office was to be chanted, not drawlingly and tediously, as among the monastic orders, but “spiritedly and without dragging.” The time thus saved was, of course, to be devoted to study. Among the decrees of the Order in the saint’s own time, we find the following: “Let the brethren be more occupied in books and study than in singing responses and antiphons.” It required considerable courage to make this declaration in the early part of the thirteenth century, when the forms of monasticism still constituted the prevailing type of the religious life. It was not, however, to invest the Order With the glamour and fame of intellectual achievement in the schools that this insistence was placed on study, but rather to promote the Dominican apostles’ efficiency in the vineyard of the Lord. Blessed Humbert expressed this clearly when he said: “Study is not the chief end of the Order, but is eminently necessary for preaching and redeeming souls.” In no other way could they hope to fulfill the injunction of Saint Paul: “Preach the Word; be instant in season and out of season; reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine.” While in the last analysis they must depend upon divine grace for the fruits of their labors, that fact did not in the least dispense them from the necessity of employing secondary causes, among which science was one of the most effective.

Obstacles to Study Eliminated

It was also for the purpose of providing his followers with a greater opportunity for study that Saint Dominic eliminated from his Rule the practice of manual labor. From the very beginning of monasticism this form of employment had been one of its characteristic institutions. But Saint Dominic’s purpose was not to adopt monasticism in its entirety, but only such parts of it as were not inconsistent with an active apostolate of preaching. As the performance of physical labor would necessitate the sacrifice of precious time which could be more profitably spent in study, he blazed a new path in the religious life by eliminating it from the plan of his Institute. Such work of this kind as was necessary in the care of convents he assigned to lay-brothers.

One of the saint’s several reasons for insisting, in season and out of season, on rigorous poverty was that the spirit of study might not suffer because of solicitude for material possessions. He would have the Order, even as a corporate entity, deprived of the power of possessing anything of value either in the form of estates or fixed revenues. He knew full well that where the heart is, there also is the mind. Attachments to the possessions of worldlings have never yet fostered the spirit of study in laymen or religious. In order, therefore, that the brethren, free from every possible distraction, might devote themselves uninterruptedly to the acquisition of sacred knowledge he even proposed that the care of material concerns be entrusted entirely to lay-brothers. But in this he humbly submitted to the almost unanimous opposition of the Chapter of Bologna.

Schools of the Order

When the founder despatched a considerable contingent of his first disciples to the University of Paris, it was not his purpose that they should content themselves with only such instruction as was to be received from daily attendance at the lectures of the University. From the very beginning of their foundation at Paris he arranged that they should follow a complete course of study in their own convent. This was a bold innovation which had never before been attempted at the university, where the Masters were extremely jealous of their professorial prerogatives. But Saint Dominic was not much concerned with such matters where a principle of great importance was at stake. The convent at Paris, and those subsequently founded at Toulouse and Oxford, immediately took on the character of real colleges, and in some instances, even of universities as they existed in those days. This was the beginning of the system of grouping a number of colleges around a university, each with its own system of studies supplemented by the university courses. After seven hundred years of trial this system is still in vogue at the great universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Dublin. It was undoubtedly original with Saint Dominic, who before dismissing his little band of disciples at Prouille in 1217 instructed them as to how they should derive the greatest advantage from their studies at Paris. We find nothing similar to it before the foundation of the Convent of Saint James by the Dominicans in Paris in 1217.

Undoubtedly there had been so-called colleges at Paris long before the Friars Preachers arrived on the scene, but they were colleges only by courtesy. In fact, they were but hostels where the students lived while they followed the courses at the university. Such an institution in our own day is the American College at Rome. No lectures were given in them and their occupants were entirely dependent on the professors at the university for their instruction. It remained for Saint Dominic to conceive the idea of making these colleges active educational adjuncts to the work of the universities. The best possible testimony to the excellence of this plan was offered by the number of religious orders that adopted it in the houses they had founded and affiliated with the University of Paris. These houses were graded according to the character of the studies conducted in them. Besides the ordinary convents, in which the course of studies included the Scriptures, moral and dogmatic theology and ecclesiastical history, there were larger convents with higher and more elaborate curricula. The schools of these larger convents, like that of Toulouse, were called Higher Schools (Studia Solemnia). The courses in these institutions lasted three years. They afforded a kind of normal training for those students of more than ordinary ability whom the Order intended for the work of teaching. The Higher Schools (Studia Solemnia) contained a faculty of four: lector, sub-lector, master of students and prior. To the lector and sub-lector it belonged to give the daily lectures. The master of students was concerned with the discipline of the student body and sometimes assisted in teaching. Also, he might allot the students private cells and permit them lights for the purpose of study. All, of course, were under the jurisdiction of the prior, who, nevertheless, was himself obliged to attend the daily lectures. A yet higher grade of convents was that composed of General Schools (Studia Generalia). They possessed the highest and most elaborate of all the courses. The first of these was established in conjunction with the University of Paris, and others were afterwards established at Montpellier, Toulouse, Cahors, Bologna, Naples, Florence, Genoa, Barcelona, Salamanca, Cologne and Oxford. These courses also required three years for their completion. They were followed by students who had finished their studies in the Higher Schools and who, as a rule, were the most richly gifted of the entire Order, as well as the most liberally endowed with the opportunity of perfecting their talents. Each province was obliged to maintain at least three students at the University of Paris.

The pedagogical system was as simple as it was effective. The master lectured daily on the subject-matter of the class. The following Friday one of the students was called upon to give a substantial summary of all the lectures of the current week. Every two weeks the students were called upon to take part in “circles,” formal disputations, the theme of which was selected by the master, who also presided at these academic exercises. The subjects of these discussions were taken from matter under consideration in the class. This was the simple method by which the greatest lights of the Order, including Saint Thomas of Aquin, were formed, and which made it possible for Cardinal James de Vitry to say that the Order was “a congregation of the scholars of Christ.” And it was this simple yet highly organized system of instruction which led Larousse to say, in his great Universal Dictionary, that “Dominic was the first minister of public instruction in modern Europe.”

New Studies

In the time of Saint Dominic it was contrary to custom for either priests or religious to take up courses in the liberal arts and natural sciences. The former had been a prolific source of heresy and the latter had fallen into disrepute through the quackery of the alchemists and other pseudo-scientists. But here, also, the Friars Preachers introduced a departure from the established usage. The authorities of the Order first conceded to individual students the privilege of studying the liberal arts. Then followed the institution of the School of Arts, comprising a three years’ course, for the exclusive use of religious. In 1260 the School of Natural Science was founded. Instead of being hotbeds of heresy, as they had been under lay management, these schools, under the direction of Dominicans, forged some of the most powerful weapons of Christian polemics, which in the hands of Albert the Great, Saint Thomas of Aquin and other brilliant sons of Saint Dominic accomplished wonders in the extirpation of heresy and the vindication of truth, natural and divine. This course, it will be seen, substantially paralleled the curriculum at the University of Paris and imparted to the General Schools of the Order the character of small universities.

But the contemporaries of Saint Dominic, and those who immediately followed him, knew too well his plans and drank too deeply of his spirit to content themselves with merely the conventional studies of their times. Any and all branches of knowledge that could be made available for the salvation of souls were to be utilized for the greater efficiency of their apostolate. For this reason in 1236, just fifteen years after the death of Saint Dominic, the chapter of that year ordered that the religious of each convent should acquire the languages of the countries adjacent to their own. Some fourteen years later a School of Arabic was established at Tunis with a view to preparing missionaries to labor among the Arabs. Within the next thirty years similar schools were established at Barcelona, Murcia and Valencia. The general chapter of 1310 authorized the foundation of schools in various provinces for the study of Hebrew, Greek and Arabic. To these schools each province was obliged to send one student. In the fourteenth century the teaching of philosophy, which had been rehabilitated by Albert the Great and Saint Thomas Aquinas, was revived in various convents of the Order.

This extraordinary academic activity on the part of the youthful Order led Molinier, the Protestant historian, to say of the Dominicans: “They were not content with professing in their convents all the divisions of science, as it was then understood; they added an entire order of studies which no other Christian schools of the time seem to have taught, and in which they had no other rivals than the rabbis of Languedoc and Spain.” And this is literally true, for the Plan of Studies (Ratio Studiorum) drawn up by Vincent of Beauvais, one of the most learned men the Order has ever produced, covered all the knowledge of the times, whether in the domain of art, history, Scripture, philosophy or theology. Cardinal Newman conceived it to be the magnificent aim of the children of Saint Dominic “to form the whole matter of human knowledge into one harmonious system, to secure the alliance between religion and philosophy, and to train men to the use of the gifts of nature in the sunlight of divine grace and revealed truth.”

Character of Students

How thoroughly equipped the Order was to realize this ambitious scheme of education may be judged from the fact that in the first century of its existence it was recruited in an extraordinarily large measure from the students and professors of the universities. Saint Dominic himself drew heavily on the student and professorial bodies of the Law School of Padua, whilst Matthew of France and Reginald of Orleans levied a similar tax upon the universities of Paris and Bologna. These scholars did not forswear their allegiance to science when they put on the white habit of Saint Dominic; rather did they consecrate that allegiance to the cause of religion, that they might extend the reign of Him who is called “Lord of Knowledge.”

Owing to the Order’s ability to select and sift the multitude of candidates that applied for admission to its ranks, it maintained a uniformly high standard among its members. This, taken in conjunction with the supernatural motive which constituted the impulse of their efforts, and the rigorous religious discipline to which they were subject, produced scholars among them who were of heroic dimensions. They were quite different from the heterogeneous mass of students at the universities, many of whom, as in our own day, were attracted to academic halls by the glamour and excitement of University life, and were possessed of no devouring hunger for knowledge.

It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that within eight years after the death of their sainted founder the Friars Preachers had been allotted one of the twelve chairs of theology at the University of Paris, and a second shortly after. It is without exaggeration, then, that Dr. O’Leary, a distinguished Protestant divine of England, says that “although Paris became the great center of theological study, we may perhaps venture to say that the Dominican Order itself surpassed even Paris in the completeness of its theological training.” So it is not without reason that Cardinal Newman in characterizing the three great patriarchs of the Church, while assigning to Saint Benedict for his distinguishing badge the Poetical, to Saint Ignatius the Practical and Useful, assigns to Saint Dominic the badge of Science. How fittingly, therefore, the Church salutes the holy founder of the Order of Preachers with the titles of “Light of the Church,” “Doctor of Truth!”

Deficiency of Preachers

The third great deficiency of the times, in Saint Dominic’s estimation, was a learned and zealous body of priests unfettered by parish duties and unrestricted by diocesan boundaries, who, like the Apostle, should go forth and preach the Gospel to the entire world. Preaching, generally speaking, had practically ceased before the advent of Saint Dominic. Undoubtedly this was in a measure due to the turbulent condition of the times and to the many and pressing affairs resulting from rapidly changing conditions which absorbed the time and activities of the hierarchy, to whom alone the duty of preaching belonged by right. But while those whose prerogative and responsibility it was to preach failed in their duty, others, unfitted and unauthorized, had usurped this sacred function to the great detriment of the Faith. The heresy of the Waldenses had but recently sprung from the usurpation of the preaching office by ignorant laymen. On the other hand, the Albigensian heresy had flourished in no small measure because of the neglect of preaching on the part of those who were both competent and responsible.

Preaching the Vocation of Dominicans

This condition of affairs had been clearly recognized by the Fourth General Council of the Lateran, which Dominic had attended in the character of a theologian. This council severely arraigned the bishops, to whom the office of preaching primarily belonged, for the neglect of this most sacred and necessary duty; and it decreed that in the future, either in their own persons or through capable and zealous representatives, they should provide preachers for the people. It was primarily to supply these preachers, not as the representatives of the bishops but of the Holy See, that Saint Dominic conceived the idea of instituting a religious order whose single purpose should be preaching and whose apostolate should be coextensive with the Church. And the moment the Institute was confirmed, preaching did become its dominating idea, imparting to every other one of its constituent elements their significance, purpose and power. If the saint embodied in his plan a modified monasticism, it was to sanctify his followers, that they might preach with greater fervor and unction; for they who would inflame others with the fire of divine love must themselves first burn with that celestial sentiment. If he insisted on an unflagging devotion to study, it was that they might expound the Word of God with increased effectiveness and, while disarming their opponents, equip themselves with every weapon that could be brought to bear on the enemies of the Church through the ministry of preaching. Study, therefore, was not cultivated for merely academic display, but for the salvation of souls. This principle had been formally and permanently embodied in the Constitutions of the Order in these words: “Our studies must principally tend, and that with an ardent zeal, towards assisting the souls of our neighbors.” Humbert of Romans, fifth Master General of the Order, conveys the same idea in the following words: “Our studies should tend principally, ardently, and above everything to make us useful to souls.” And, again, he gives preaching the primacy of excellence among all the interests of the Order: “Of all the good works accomplished by the Order, the best and most fruitful is the work of preaching.” In order that there might be no misconception regarding the matter, and that neither local needs nor personal preferences might lead the Institute from the designs of Saint Dominic, its purpose and mission were indelibly recorded in the Constitutions in the following words: “Our Order has been especially instituted for preaching and for the salvation of souls.” Saint Thomas, therefore, is supported by unimpeachable authority when he claims for the Order freedom to preach as its right and its honor.

It will be seen, then, that the brethren, apart from the significance of their official title – Order of Preachers – were to constitute a religious community consecrated by its founder as well as by the Holy See to the dissemination of religious truth through the medium of the pulpit. So zealously and effectively did they devote themselves to their mission, even in the days preceding their confirmation, that it seemed eminently proper to Innocent III to address them as “the Order of Preachers.” Also, it was in the character of apostolic preachers that they were confirmed by Honorius III in these words: “Honorius, the Bishop, Servant of the servants of God, to our dear son Dominic, Prior of Saint Romain of Toulouse, we, considering that the brethren of your Order will be the champions of the Faith and true lights of the world, do confirm the Order, etc.” Innocent IV acknowledged the supremacy of preaching among all the works of the Order when he thus expressed himself: “The work of evangelical preaching by which you come to the assistance of the clergy in their labors among the faithful must be the most carefully safeguarded of all works that are undertaken for the good of souls, and no kind of charitable works whatever must be allowed to interfere with it.” These words were addressed to the Master General when the latter, in full agreement with his brethren, objected to having the spiritual direction of various sisterhoods imposed upon them.

Saint Dominic’s Plan Unique

In its plan and purpose the Institute is unique, for of all the orders of the Middle Ages the Friars Preachers was the only one formally approved by the Holy See for the single purpose of universal preaching. It had occurred to no other founder of a religious institute to petition the Holy See for permission to establish an order in which the practice of apostolic preaching, after long years of scientific training, should not be a temporary privilege but an inherent right.

It is true that, a century before, Saint Norbert had received for himself a general permission to preach wherever he would. Afterwards it was suggested to him by the Bishop of Laon that he found an order for the purpose of continuing his work after his death. This he did, but provided for the administration of parishes as well as preaching in his institute. And although the followers of Saint Norbert rapidly increased in number until they became a most numerous body, the division of their efforts between parish work and the larger apostolate of preaching rendered it impossible for them adequately to supply the urgent needs of the pulpit. This is clearly shown by the burning words of the Fathers of the Fourth Lateran Council deploring the lack of effective preaching in the Church. Nor does Saint Norbert seem to have adopted any special measure to qualify them as a body to preach more effectively than the parish clergy. To Saint Dominic, therefore, must be accorded the credit of having first conceived the splendid idea of an institute wholly given over to the extirpation of heresy and the propagation of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The administration of parishes did not enter into its interests because Saint Dominic desired his disciples to possess not a local but a universal character – to preach the Word of God not one day in the week but every day. The chapter of 1228 decided the matter formally when it forbade the brethren to accept churches that carried with them parish obligations.

Preaching the Chief Work of the Order

So jealous were the Friars Preachers of their glorious mission to preach the Gospel throughout the entire world that they could not suffer the thought of being diverted from it by any other work, however meritorious in itself. This applied, as we have seen, to the care and direction of other religious communities. At the Most General Chapter of 1228 the following was enacted: “In the name of obedience and under penalty of excommunication, we formally forbid any of the brethren to arrange in any way for nuns or communities of religious women of any sort to be committed to the care of the Order. And at the same time we forbid any one to receive any woman to the habit or to profession.” This did not at first apply to the Dominican nuns, whose Order Saint Dominic himself had founded. But when their numbers greatly increased with succeeding years the prohibition was extended to include them also. It was the mission of the Friars Preachers to proclaim and reveal the glory of divine truth to a world given over to untruth, and to show forth the beauty of the Christian life to an age of sensuousness and luxury. To this end they would bend all their energies, as long as the Church did not call upon them to assume new interests and obligations.

From the very foundation of the Order all its enlightened legislation, its scientific organization, its spiritual exercises and its academic activities were directed to the end of forming preachers devoted to the cause and zealous in the the work of preaching the Word of God and defending the Faith against the attacks of its enemies. It is true that the urgent necessities of the New World, and the missionary character of our own country in particular, have compelled the Friars Preachers to add to their apostolate the care of parishes. But this is merely incidental to the real work of the Order, which even in America, is and ever has been preaching. Were the followers of Saint Dominic disposed for any conceivable reason to depart from the path of their vocation,the very name they bear – Order of Preachers – would prevent them from doing so. Before all else, and in spite of all else, they must be an order of religious consecrated to the sublime mission of preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Should they ever lose sight of that end, they would be false to the sacred purpose for which they were founded, disloyal to the spirit of their holy founder and unworthy of the name they bear. Fortunately, the ever-growing and widening activity of their zealous apostolate precludes the possibility of such a misfortune. The preaching of the Word was the one field in which Saint Dominic labored throughout his active life and the end to which he directed the efforts of all his followers. He himself, as his contemporaries tell us, strove to speak of God to every one he met on the highways. He scarcely ever passed through a town on his many exhausting journeys without preaching to the people, either in its churches or in its streets. This was the spirit of apostleship which he left as a priceless legacy to his brethren. To this inheritance the Order has remained true for seven hundred years, and the glorious fruitage of its long centuries of consecrated effort are the myriad souls that through its instrumentality have attained eternal blessedness.

Preachers to All

Eager to begin his work for souls, Saint Dominic lost no time in launching his Order upon its chosen mission. When they were as yet but seventeen in number, and only a few months approved at Rome, he dispersed them over the face of Europe, that they might at once begin the planting of the seed which in a few short years would produce so bounteous a harvest. They were not to be mechanical oracles of the Divine Word, discharging their duties in a perfunctory manner, as mere routine tasks and in dull conventional form. They were to possess a divine passion for souls that would beget in them the spirit, the very soul, of apostolic preaching. Their efforts were not to be confined to imposing churches, vast congregations and formal occasions; but everywhere, at all times and under all circumstances, they were to seize the opportunity to proclaim to listening ears the glory of God’s kingdom and the qualities of its citizenship. And this was the spirit of Dominican preaching. Like true disciples of their founder,the Friars addressed themselves with touching simplicity to the humble folk in the rural districts, in the villages and along the highways. With a masterful grasp of the Scriptures and with incisive logic they confronted and confounded the heretic and the rationalist. In the university pulpits of Europe they astonished students and professors with the variety and extent of their erudition, while at the same time they touched their hearts with the moving fervor of their message. Before crowned heads they preached disagreeable truths with the fearlessness and intrepidity of apostles. In universities, courts and cathedrals, in village churches, convent chapels and in the open streets, they announced the eternal truths of God with that impressive earnestness and convincing sincerity that constitute the very soul of true eloquence. They were no respecter of persons, and admonition, rebuke and reproach fell from their lips with equal force on nobility and rabble. To the saint they offered a new and greater incentive for his love and service. To the sinner they brought the grace of repentance and reform. It was, therefore, an obvious truth to which Humbert of Romans gave expression in the following words, addressed to his brethren thirty-nine years after the death of Saint Dominic: “We teach the people, we teach the prelates, we teach the wise and the unwise, religious and seculars, clerics and laymen, nobles and peasants, lowly and great.”

Once the Order was instituted preaching was no longer confined to the universities and towns, but was exercised for the benefit of those in the country hamlets and villages; and even the mountain districts were in turn visited by the zealous children of Saint Dominic, and from their eloquent lips heard the Word of God. What a chronicler relates of Thuringia was the case almost generally: “Before the arrival of the Friars Preachers the Word of God was rare and precious, and very seldom preached to the people. The Friars Preachers alone preached in every section of Thuringia.”

In 1273 half the preachers employed in the principal churches of Paris were Dominicans. Six years before that the Bishop of Amiens complained that his people refused to hear the Word of God from any save a Dominican or a Franciscan. So filled with the spirit and responsibility of their mission were they that many of the brethren refused to eat till they had first discoursed to the people on the eternal truths. If a congregation failed them, they compromised with their consciences by holding spiritual conversation with some one not unwilling to listen. Like those to whom our Lord said, “Go ye into the entire world,” they journeyed far beyond the confines of their own country, beyond the boundaries of Christendom, even of civilization, as Saint Dominic had done and in a larger measure attempted to do. To the nations sitting in spiritual darkness they were, indeed, “the true lights,” as Honorius had called them, that first revealed to them the glorious vision of salvation through Christ. In the all-too-few years of Saint Dominic’s administration of the Order they had preached in every country of Europe, as well as to the pagan tribes of Cumans who inhabited the steppes of the Danube and the Dnieper.

Preaching to Infidels

So great was the confidence placed by the Church in the preaching of the Dominicans that they were especially authorized by the Holy See to preach crusades against the Saracens in defense of the Holy Land. Of such great importance did this work finally become that to secure its greater efficiency Humbert of Romans wrote a book entitled, “A Tract on Preaching Against the Saracens, Infidels and Pagans.” Indeed, it would seem that the greater part of their preaching in the first century of their existence was to non-Catholics, whether to the Albigenses, who infected the simple people with the virus of heresy, the infidels, who rejected the magistracy of the Church, or the rationalists of the schools, who made the human intellect the god of their idolatry. It was so with Saint Dominic himself, and it was but natural that the Order should wish to follow in his footsteps. So faithfully did they discharge this duty towards those who, led by false teachers, had left the pale of the Church, that in the early part of the fourteenth century Giordano da Rivolto, a famous pulpit orator of the time, could say that, owing to the activity of the Order, heresy had almost entirely disappeared from the Church.

The natural consequence of this all-embracing apostolate was that the preaching of the Dominicans took on a decidedly doctrinal character. The moral virtues were never neglected, and when the occasion was suitable they were inculcated with earnestness and unction. But the times demanded that, more than anything else, the Faith be defended against the attacks of the heretics and against the insidious poisons which oriental philosophy was injecting into the universities of Europe.

As we have already seen, the leaders of the Albigenses were well versed in the Scriptures, which they distorted to their own purposes, and supported their heresies with specious reasoning. In the schools many a sophism was set forth and many a heresy defended with a plausibleness well calculated to disconcert any one not thoroughly familiar with the science of theology and philosophy. To meet these enemies of truth, and to destroy their evil influence over the minds of their victims, it was necessary that the Friars Preachers be well versed in the sacred sciences and that their preaching be solid and doctrinal. “The preacher,” as Blessed Humbert puts it, “must clearly grasp what he wishes to say, for the subject-matter of his sermons is God, the angels, man, heaven, the evil one, the world, hell, the commandments, the evangelical counsels, the sacraments, Holy Scripture, the virtues and the vices. From this summary of the Dominican preacher’s topics it is quite evident how necessary it was that he have an exceedingly comprehensive grasp of theology and that his training in ecclesiastical science be most thorough; and such indeed it was.

Not All Preachers

It must not be supposed, however, that because the Institute bore the name “Order of Preachers” all its clerical members were, without exception, highly gifted preachers. While such was the main consideration in the selection of candidates, it was impossible to guarantee that each novice invested with the habit would develop along the physical and mental lines necessary for the efficient discharge of that office. Those who were to be assigned to the work of preaching must have the necessary ability to profit by the long and exacting course of studies which constituted the preparation for that work. Those who fell short of those requirements were assigned to some other occupation; for the Friar Preacher in the pulpit must be above all things a representative member of that Institute to which the Church in a special manner had committed the work of preaching the Gospel throughout the world. But, on the other hand, those gifted with the necessary qualities were not to be diverted to other tasks. Thus it is recorded in the Constitutions: “Those suited to the office of preaching shall be employed in no other work.” Indeed, it would be almost impossible to imagine a wiser and saner body of laws guarding in every way the dignity and efficiency of the sacred office of preaching than that formulated in various chapters and set forth in the Dominican Constitutions.

In this way the Order planned and legislated to keep always before the eyes of its members the fact that as Dominicans their chief business is preaching the salutary truths of religion. If their spiritual character was formed along the lines of what was best in the ancient asceticism of the Church, it was to the end that they might proclaim the Gospel of Christ with the touching fervor and compelling force of personal piety and conviction. If their intellectual training was of the severest character, if the curricula of their colleges embraced the whole field of knowledge, human and divine, it was in order that they might be prepared to meet successfully the enemies of the Faith, whatever the weapons of warfare employed against them. How well the end sought in this magnificent plan has been achieved is written in indelible characters on every page of the Church’s history for the last seven hundred years. The detailed recital of this achievement shall be the subject of the following pages.