Saint Dominic and the Order of Preachers, Part 3 – Dominican Achievements

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 CommonsEducation

As we have already seen, the Order of Friars Preachers was the first to be established by the Church with an academic mission. It was inevitable that such an order, which made science one of the formal and essential means to the attainment of its purpose, and was recruited so largely from the students and professors of the universities, should itself in time exercise educational functions. Like Minerva, springing full-armed from the head of Jupiter, the Friars Preachers emerged from their first cloisters fully equipped to exercise the most profound influence upon the educational trend of their times.

The high standards of education which Saint Dominic had set for his followers necessitated schools possessed of the most comprehensive curricula and presided over by teachers whose competency could not be questioned. It was in the pursuit of this policy that the saint sought, whenever possible, to establish foundations in the university cities of Europe. But the studies which might satisfy the ordinary university student, lay and cleric, could not, of course suffice for those whose vocation made them the formal champions of the Faith and the dreaded antagonists of its enemies. For this reason, as we have seen, the university courses at Paris were supplemented by lectures at the convent which enabled the youthful Dominican thoroughly to cover the matter of his study and obtain a fixed and accurate knowledge of his subject. From time to time the curriculum was expanded, until before long the course of study at Saint James rivalled that of the university itself.

It was not long before the fame of the professors at the Dominican convent began to attract the attention of both students and professors of the university. Many of the former abandoned the courses at the older institutions to follow the lectures of the Friars Preachers. A yet larger number alternated between both institutions. The growing popularity of the Dominican school and the fame of its teachers were not lost upon the faculty of the university hard by, and before long the priory college received the extraordinary compliment of being incorporated with the University of Paris, the foremost educational institution of the Christian world. A further recognition of the professors at Saint James was expressed when Roland of Cremona, its doctor of theology, was awarded a chair of theology at the university in 1229. Two years later another chair was conferred upon John of Saint Giles, also one of the professors at the Dominican school. Thus the Friars Preachers enjoyed the unique distinction not only of being the first religious Order to be represented in the faculty of the university, but of being the only one to possess two chairs in that illustrious body. So it happened that while the sons of Saint Dominic came to Paris to learn, they remained to teach.

The school at Paris represented the highest class of educational institutions among the Dominicans. Similar convents of higher studies were established at Oxford, Cologne, Montpellier and Bologna in 1248; and at Florence, Genoa, Toulouse, Barcelona and Salamanca at the end of the century. But besides these schools of the highest order there were two other grades of educational establishments in use among the Friars Preachers. The first of these were the simple priories in which only Scripture and theology were taught. These were for the use of students who were disqualified from aspiring to an academic career or the apostolate of preaching. But in these, as well as in the two higher grades of schools, there were doctors of theology, as prescribed by the Constitution. The schools of the middle class – Studia Solemnia – corresponded to our modern normal schools and possessed an elaborate faculty and a more comprehensive curriculum. All of these schools were open to the public and were freely attended by secular as well as Dominican students. Over all these schools the Order exercised a most careful supervision. In the beginning the professors were all appointed by the general chapters of the Order. Each year an official supervisor, called “visitor,” carefully examined these institutions of learning and reported to the Master General on their efficiency and respective needs.

Among the decrees formulated at the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) which Saint Dominic had attended, was one commanding all archbishops to employ a Master of Theology in their metropolitan churches for the better education of candidates for the priesthood. It is significant, however, that the archbishops who possessed Dominican priories in their sees felt themselves dispensed from carrying out this enactment of the council; for every such priory was a seminary possessing an elaborate course of studies, available to secular as well as religious students. Even when, some time later, they were obliged to obey literally the mandate of the council and establish their own metropolitan schools of ecclesiastical science, almost invariably they invited Dominicans to fill the chairs of Scripture and theology. So it was at Lyons for three hundred years. So it was at Toulouse, Bordeaux, Tortosa, Valencia, Urgel and Milan.

When a university was established in a city in which a Dominican house already existed, no provision was made in its pontifical charter for a theological faculty. It was understood that the neighboring convent of the Friars Preachers would supply the place of a school of theology. And when the growth of these institutions made it desirable that they should possess a theological faculty affiliated with the university, this need was met by the incorporation of the Dominican school with the university. This practice, begun in the closing years of the fourteenth, continued till the early part of the sixteenth century.

In this manner the Order began to exercise a profound influence, not merely upon the theological thought of the times but upon the entire intellectual life of the age. Indeed, it can be truthfully said that by 1260 the Dominicans had taken possession of the universities of Europe. As we have seen, they filled two chairs at Paris. John of Saint Giles successively held the chair of theology in no fewer than four universities. Oxford and Bologna, which had given so freely of their students to swell the ranks of the Order, were soon rewarded for their generosity by receiving back from the Dominican Order some of their most renowned professors. Side by side with the universities of Orleans, Toulouse and Montpellier, their schools sprang up and flourished. It may be said that they practically created the University of Dublin. Their influence was supreme at Oxford, Paris and Bologna. Of the Dominicans at these institutions a modern writer has said: “They did more than any other teachers to give the knowledge taught in them its distinctive form.”

The older religious Orders generously recognized the preeminence of the Friars Preachers in the domain of ecclesiastical science and sought their assistance to enable them to participate in the intellectual life of the thirteenth century. The Cistercians employed Dominican Masters of Theology to preside over the theological schools of all their abbeys. Many of the other religious orders did likewise.

But perhaps the highest tribute paid to the educational efficiency of the Dominicans in the fourteenth century was their selection by the Roman pontiffs themselves to constitute the theological faculties of their Roman schools. In 1305 Clement V appointed a Dominican to preside over the theological school of the papal court at Avignon. It is not without reason, therefore, that Dr. O’Leary, the Protestant biographer of Saint Dominic, says: “It is worth while observing that the Dominicans were the first to undertake the regular theological training of the clergy.” In their own priories and in the schools of other orders, in metropolitan seminaries and university halls, the Friars Preachers reorganized the whole system of ecclesiastical studies of the thirteenth century, expanding their scope and enhancing their efficiency by means of a pedagogical system which placed them on a solid and scientific basis. When we consider the vast number of these educational institutions controlled by the Order of Preachers, we can readily understand their influence on the age and their primacy among the educational institutions of the thirteenth century. It was, therefore, no empty compliment to ascribe to Saint Dominic the honor of being the first minister of education in Europe.

As we have already seen, ecclesiastics took no part in the teaching or study of the liberal arts and natural sciences in the time of Saint Dominic. The Friars Preachers, however, saw that in these studies, conducted under proper auspices, there were vast possibilities for the defense of the Faith against the assaults of the rationalists. But it would have been imprudent boldly to run counter to the usage of the times by abruptly throwing open their lecture halls to the study of the proscribed sciences. Consequently, they aimed at a gradual introduction of these subjects to the student body. The study of the liberal arts was first permitted to individuals, and some time later, in 1250, their place in the Dominican curriculum was firmly established.

In 1260 a yet bolder step was taken in the introduction of the natural sciences to the attention of the religious students. By the beginning of the fourteenth century the moral sciences had so clearly established their claim to the consideration of ecclesiastical students that the general chapter of 1315 commanded the Masters of Students to lecture on the ethics, politics and economics of Aristotle for the benefit of their own religious – a privilege which was shortly after extended to secular students. In the following century the services of the Friars Preachers were in great demand for the teaching of these subjects, and the chairs of philosophy in many of the universities were filled by members of the Order.

But it was not merely as expositors of ecclesiastical subjects that the Friars Preachers won their conspicuous place in the front rank of the educators of the Church. Nothing in the entire realm of truth was foreign to their interests. No opportunity was lost to establish educational institutions in the fields in which they labored. Thus, colleges of higher education were founded by them, such as that of Saint Gregory at Valladolid, in 1488; and the College of Saint Thomas, founded in 1515 at Seville.

To the Dominicans belongs the honor of introducing the blessings of education into the New World of Columbus. They lost no time in establishing universities in each of their principal American provinces. Forty-six years after the discovery of America these Dominican pioneers, who came not to exploit the Indian but to confer upon him the blessings of Christian civilization, established a university at San Domingo in the West Indies. In 1605 the Dominican bishop of Santiago de Cuba, Juan de las Cabezas, instituted the University of Havana. A similar institution was founded in Santa Fe de Bogata in 1612, and in Quito in 1681. At Havana the Dominicans established a university in 1721. The famous University of San Marcos, in Lima, was founded by the Friars Preachers during the incumbency of the Dominican, Jerome de Loaysa, the first bishop and archbishop of that city. From the nearby Dominican Priory of the Rosary, also founded by the saintly archbishop, the university drew its chief professors. The University of Saint Thomas in Manila was founded by the Order in 1645 and is still in a most flourishing condition. Affiliated with the university are two colleges, also administered by the Order. From its foundation till the present day the ecclesiastical faculties of the University of Fribourg, in Switzerland, with the exception of a single chair have been composed exclusively of members of the Order of Preachers. The most recent of Dominican educational institutions is the Collegio Angelico at Rome, which enjoys the character of a pontifical college. To these may be added the famous biblical school of the French Dominicans at Jerusalem, founded some twenty-six years ago.

In this rough sketch of the institutions of learning established and presided over by the Dominicans is set forth in some manner the fidelity of the Friars Preachers for seven hundred years to the cause of Christian education and the scope and variety of their educational interests.

Theology and Philosophy

When we consider the elaborate scheme of education evolved by Saint Dominic for his followers, the thorough manner in which it was carried out, the avidity with which its opportunities were seized upon, and the high end to which they were consecrated, it will be readily understood that the prodigies of learning who, with unfailing regularity, rose in each succeeding generation, were not accidental to the Order’s career but the legitimate fruit of the holy founder’s genius and planning. In tracing the educational activities of the Friars Preachers we have in large measure treated of their work, as an Order, in the fields of theology and philosophy. In this chapter, therefore, we shall devote ourselves to the consideration of those sons of Saint Dominic who have won imperishable renown in these departments of ecclesiastical science.

The first star to shine in the Dominican firmament was Albert the Great, “the Universal Doctor.” He was the first of the youthful Order publicly to teach philosophy, as he was the first systematically to apply the Aristotelian philosophy to the elucidation and defense of theology. In 1228 he was invited to the University of Cologne to reform its curriculum and method of teaching.

As we have already seen, the rationalistic movement, which received such a powerful impetus from the genius and popularity of Abelard, as well as from a widespread diffusion of the Arabian translations of the Stagyrite, had assaulted the very citadels of theology. The ecclesiastical authorities had employed condemnation and repression without avail; the movement had already acquired alarming proportions. At this critical juncture a new method of attack, as unique as it was bold in its conception, was inaugurated by Albert. He had made a profound study of all the writings of the Philosopher, as well as of his Arabian and Jewish commentators, and he was convinced that the trouble lay not so much in the real teachings of Aristotle as in the unwarranted conclusions of his interpreters, and the false readings of his ignorant or prejudiced translators. Acting upon this knowledge, Albert purged the peripatetic philosophy of its errors, reduced it to a system adapted to the needs of Christian apologetics, and employed it as a weapon of defense for theology. In his hands philosophy could be truly defined as “intellectus quaerens fidem.”

The boldness of this step caused the sincere, but short-sighted, element in the schools to gasp with amazement. Then a storm of vituperative abuse and false accusations burst upon him. He was accused of enthroning a pagan within the very sanctuary, and of giving him the place of honor in the magisterium of the Church. He was spoken of in such endearing terms as “the ape of Aristotle” and “the Aristotelian ass.” Yet it was this method which, without derogating in the least degree from the dignity and preeminence of Catholic theology, gave the first permanent check to the progress of rationalism and pantheism in Europe. Their utter rout was to be accomplished by one even greater than himself.

It would be difficult to overestimate the influence of Albert upon the philosophical and theological thought of the thirteenth century. Among others of his ecclesiastical writings, his contributions to ethics are of special value. He formulated two new proofs of the existence of God, completed the Lombard’s doctrine of reprobation, and refuted with consummate skill Aristotle’s doctrine of the eternity of the world. To him belongs the credit of introducing a method of theological exposition which began the disarmament of pantheism, checked rationalism, and which, in the hands of his most illustrious pupil, was to result in the utter discomfiture of the enemies of supernatural truth. This in itself was more than enough to rank him with the foremost scholars of the Church; but, as we shall see later on, his great mind studied and illuminated other than ecclesiastical and cognate subjects.

Albert the Great was not only a prodigy of learning, but he was what is almost as rare, a successful teacher. Knowledge and the power to impart it to others do not always go together. But in this great Dominican they were united in an extraordinary degree. He taught some of the greatest intellects of the thirteenth century, among whom were Roger Bacon, the famous Franciscan scientist, Thomas of Cantimpré and Saint Thomas of Aquin – the last two Dominicans. But of this brilliant triumvirate, immeasurably the greatest was the Angel of the Schools, Saint Thomas Aquinas.

It is impossible to give more than the barest outline of his varied and priceless service to thirteenth-century thought. He found the spirit of rationalism still aggressive, and pantheism still exercising a baneful influence in many of the universities of Europe. It was his allotted task to take up the work of Albert and drive home the attack so successfully begun by his illustrious teacher.

One of the greatest results achieved by Saint Thomas in his active scholastic career was to force upon the learned world the recognition of the fact that the spheres of faith and reason are distinct; and that reason alone can exercise no independent jurisdiction in the domain of supernatural truth. This was an event of vital importance in the conflict between rationalism and faith. In the development of philosophical thought, many questions, originally of a strictly metaphysical character, took on in their implications a theological significance whose solution the theologians claimed for their exclusive function. In reprisal, the intellectual liberals of those days, following the example of Erigena and Abelard, identified the science of philosophy with that of theology, and declared that the mysteries of religion constituted legitimate matter for the searchings and probings of human reason.

By the brilliancy and incontrovertible character of his argument, Saint Thomas forced the admission that the domain of reason does not extend to all the facts of supernatural truth; that, while philosophy may be the efficient handmaid of theology, it can never be its mistress, or even co-laborer, in the determination of supernatural knowledge.

No more brilliant exponent of the power of human reason ever existed than the Angel of the Schools; yet none was more keenly conscious of its limitations and its utter impotency where the mysteries of religion were concerned. With unerring precision he drew a line of demarcation between natural and supernatural truths, and forced the withdrawal of the latter from all discussion that was based entirely upon human reason. In fine, the result of his encounter with the rationalists was, as Dr. Uberweg puts it, “the complete accomplishment of the until then imperfect separation of natural from revealed theology, revelation being now withdrawn as a theological mystery from the sphere of philosophical speculation.” This victory found concrete expression in a decree approved in Paris in the year 1271, which asserted the supremacy of theology and forbade the professors of the philosophical faculty to treat of any essentially theological questions. But this was only one of the many triumphs of the master-mind, to whom Huxley referred in his “Science and Morals” as “the other Doctor of the Catholic Church, ‘Divus Thomas,’ as Suarez calls him, whose marvelous grasp and subtlety of intellect seem to be almost without parallel.” Saint Thomas’ marvelous power of synthesis finds its most perfect expression in his Summa. This monumental work was begun in Bologna in 1271. It is a vast summary of all Catholic theology and philosophy and, more than all his other writings, furnishes the key to his thought and the manner of its expression. In this stupendous work he gathers the scattered and seemingly unrelated elements of Christian theology, and clarifies, co-ordinates, harmonizes and weaves them into a magnificent fabric, wherein theology and philosophy conspire to show forth the beauty of God’s eternal truth. Not only did the Angelic Doctor summarize, systematize and illumine all theology, placing it safely beyond the destructive assaults of rationalism, but he completed the work of Christianizing the philosophy of Aristotle. In fact, the Angelic Doctor built up his magnificent system of theology on that very Aristotelianism which had come in for so much condemnation at the hands of the early Fathers of the Church as the prolific source of all theological errancy, especially the Arian and Monophysite heresies. He effectively refuted the dangerous teachings of Averroes and Avicenna, proving them heretics even in the peripatetic school of philosophy, created a Christian psychology, subordinated reason to faith, and established the supremacy of dogma in the schools. His theological writings may be summed up in the words of Ozanam as “a vast synthesis of moral science, in which was unfolded all that could be known of God and man and their mutual relations.”

It has been well said that “Saint Thomas surveyed the field of human thought from a loftier standpoint than any sage of Greece or Rome, and mapped it out with a fullness and precision unattained by him whom he reverently calls ‘The Philosopher’.”

Not the least service conferred by the Angelic Doctor upon his Order was the founding of a school of theology which now for over six hundred years has held the devotion and preserved the doctrinal unity of all succeeding generations of Dominicans. Ambrose of Sienna elaborated a theological system of his own and one well worthy of his great genius. But he destroyed all his books and notes out of regard for Saint Thomas and to preserve unity of teaching in the Order.

The paternal affection entertained by Albert the Great for his illustrious pupil, Saint Thomas, is beautifully illustrated by the following incident: The agitation which followed the adoption of the Aristotelian philosophy was increased by the new methods and new opinions of Saint Thomas. Four years after the Angelic Doctor’s death, this hostility on the part of the reactionaries had not abated. On the seventh of March (strange coincidence) 1277, Stephen Tempier, Bishop of Paris, condemned four of his propositions. Albert, hearing of the impending censure, though over eighty years old, and burdened with the infirmities of age, traveled all the way from Cologne to Paris, after the laborious manner of those days, to defend the memory of his Dominican brother and illustrious pupil. In the light of the bitter opposition to the entrance of religious among the professors of the University of Paris there is no more honorable page in the history of that university than the eloquent and pathetic letter addressed by the united faculties of Paris to the Master General of the Dominicans bewailing the death of Saint Thomas, and praying that the university might be given the honor of watching over his tomb.

As the encomiums showered upon Saint Thomas by popes, councils and theologians are without number, we can afford place for only three of them. Speaking of his writings Innocent V said: “The teaching of this Doctor beyond all others, has fitness of terms, manner of expression and soundness of opinions; so that he who holds it will never swerve from the path of truth: while on the contrary he who attacks it must always be suspected.” In even more eulogistic terms Pope John XXII said: “His doctrine was not other than miraculous. He has enlightened the Church more than all other doctors, and more profit can be gained in a single year by the study of his works than by devoting a lifetime to that of other theologians. He has wrought as many miracles as he has written ‘Articles’.” Among many other beautiful tributes Leo XIII has given expression to the following: “The oecumenical councils, where blossom the flowers of all earthly wisdom, have always been careful to hold Thomas Aquinas in singular honor.” Significant also are the words of the apostate Bucer: “Take away Saint Thomas and I will destroy the Church.” It will be seen, therefore, that it was not without reason that the historian Hallam called him “the polar star of every true Dominican.”

Pope Saint Pius V proclaimed Saint Thomas a Doctor of the Church in 1567. During the Council of Trent his Summa Theologica reposed side by side with the Bible throughout the deliberations of that august body. On August 4, 1880, Pope Leo XIII proclaimed the Angelic Doctor “Patron of all Universities, Academies, Colleges, and Catholic Schools.” Great as a theologian, he was even greater as a saint, and so by common consent the Catholic world honors him with the title of “Angelic Doctor.”

Another distinguished philosopher and contemporary of Saint Thomas was Robert of Kilwardby, Archbishop of Canterbury. A master in the old Augustian school of theology, he had but little sympathy with the new methods and the novel views of his younger Dominican brother, Saint Thomas. His treatise on the origin and division of knowledge has been called the most important introduction to the philosophy of the Middle Ages.

As the primary purpose of the Order’s existence is the extirpation of heresy and the defense of the Faith, Catholic polemics assumed from the very beginning a place of the greatest importance in the Dominican school of theology. The Albigenses, Waldenses, Averrohists, Nominalists, Rationalists, Arabs and Jews were the principal opponents of the Dominican apologists; and against these enemies of the Faith they launched their attacks with consummate skill, tireless energy and, usually, with entire success. Among these valiant athletes of Christ who fought so courageously in defense of His honor and glory we can mention only a few of the most conspicuous: In 1244 Moneta of Cremona, famous throughout Lombardy for his erudition, sanctity and religious zeal, wrote his work “Against the Cathari and Waldenses.” It is regarded as the most scholarly work produced in the Middle Ages against these sectaries.

Saint Thomas of Aquin was the unconquerable apologist, as well as the brilliant expositor, of Catholic doctrine. His “Treatise Against Unbelievers,” one of his greatest compositions, was written at the request of Saint Raymond of Pennafort, who recognized the urgent necessity of a philosophical exposition of the Catholic Faith for the use of the missionaries combating the Arabian and Jewish philosophy, then so wide-spread in Spain. It is said that during its composition the saintly author was often seen in ecstasy. His “Treatise Against the Errors of the Greeks” was written at the request of Urban IV, who cherished the hope of effecting a union of the Greeks with the Latin Church.

Saint Antoninus, the gentle Archbishop of Florence, while not an apologist, was one of the foremost theologians of the Order. The creation of the science of moral theology in its present form is generally conceded to date from the publication of his monumental work on that subject. No less worthy of mention among the great theologians of the Friars Preachers is Peter Soto, the last of the brethren to lecture publicly at Oxford, and Capreolus, professor of theology at the University of Paris, called “Prince of Thomists.”

In the last quarter of the thirteenth century Raymond Martin wrote his scholarly work entitled, “The Champion of the Faith,” against the errors of Judaism. Its worth is in no small measure the result of the author’s extensive and first-hand knowledge of rabbinic literature. It is generally conceded to be the most important medieval contribution to the literature of oriental philosophy. Scarcely a half-century later Riccoldo di Monte Croce, a missionary in the East, composed his “Defense of the Faith” against the teachings of the Koran. It is based entirely upon Arabian literature. Luther thought well enough of it to translate it into German in the sixteenth century.

The fidelity of the children of Saint Dominic to the Holy See and the intrepid defense of its rights is proverbial throughout the Church. Was it not their devotion to the Spouse of Christ, and the Faith of which she is the divinely appointed depository, which won for them the sobriquet “watch dogs of the Lord,” by which they soon became known throughout the Church? Few among them better deserved this honorable title than John Torquemada. A man of vast erudition and great intellect, his best efforts were given to an uncompromising defense of the teachings of the Church and the rights of the Holy See. Because of his devotion to these interests Eugenitis IV conferred upon him the glorious title, less worthily borne by a king of England, of “Defender of the Faith.” He must not be confounded with his much more widely known nephew, Thomas Torquemada, of the Spanish Inquisition.

Luther’s defiance of Rome and the reign of religious anarchy which followed it made it imperatively necessary for the loyal children of the Church to rally to her defence in this her sorest hour of need. With vigorous rhetoric, some learning and boundless arrogance the arch-heretic was daily rejecting the doctrine and repudiating the authority of the Holy See. The unreligious, whose passions he unbridled, whose excesses he justified, whose faith he destroyed, were constantly growing in numbers behind him. It was urgently necessary, if the tide of rebellion was to be stemmed, that the ablest of the Church’s sons should hasten to exert their best efforts for the defense of the Faith. It is needless to say that the Friars Preachers were among the first to fling themselves into the conflict. To rhetoric they opposed reason; to the errors of a darkened intellect, divine Faith; to human arrogance, the humility of Christ. Concerning the part played by the Friars Preachers in this great crisis of the Church’s history the learned historian, Dr. Paulus of Munich, has written: “It may well be said that in the difficult conflict through which the Catholic Church had to pass in Germany in the sixteenth century, no other religious order furnished, in the literary sphere, so many champions, or so well equipped, as the Order of Saint Dominic.”

The first of the Order to be called to assume a conspicuous part in the defense of the Faith was Sylvester Prierias. By command of Leo X he answered the arguments of Luther; and most effectively did the Master of the Sacred Palace accomplish his task. Tetzel followed with his learned theses, written in German, “On Indulgences and Grace.” Later, at the University of Frankfort on the Oder, he controverted the errors of Luther in one hundred and six propositions characterized by sound reasoning and great erudition. In 1518, at the same university, Tetzel defended the papal power in fifty propositions dealing with that subject.

But of all the Dominican opponents of Luther, by far the most illustrious, and the one the most feared by him, was Thomas de Vio, better known as Cardinal Cajetan. He was created a Master of Theology at the age of twenty-six and was regarded as one of the most learned theologians of his age. Pope Leo X, who placed implicit confidence in his ability, appointed him papal legate to receive the submission of Luther at Augsburg. His wonderful commentary on the Summa Theologica of Saint Thomas merited for him the title of “Prince of Commentators.”

The opening year of the sixteenth century marked the beginning of the Spanish-Dominican school of theologians and writers, which included some of the ablest scholars of the Order. Among them were Francis of Vittoria, the teacher of Cano, Medina and Soto, who more than any other man of his times influenced theological teaching in the universities of Spain; Dominic Soto, chief professor of theology at the University of Salamanca and one of the most distinguished theologians at the Council of Trent; Melchior Cano, the celebrated author of the classic work, “Concerning Theological Sources”* and the creator of the modern school of apologetics; Bartolome de Medina, whose name is inseparably associated with the system of Probabilism; and Dominic Banez, the spiritual director of Saint Theresa, whose commentary on the Summa of Saint Thomas entitles him to a place among the greatest theologians of his times. In the following century the succession of illustrious Dominican theologians was continued in the land of Saint Dominic’s nativity. The controversy between the Jesuits and the Dominicans on the relations of free will and grace revealed in heroic stature more than one of the Dominican champions of Thomism. Thomas de Lemos was the learned opponent of the system of Molina before the illustrious congregation (de Auxiliis) which sat in judgment upon the controversy at Rome. But previous to his appearance before the council the cause of Thomistic theology, in relation to the subject of the dispute, had been learnedly and valiantly defended for three years by his confrére, Diego Alvarez. John of Saint Thomas was the glory of the University of Alcala and the light of the Spanish Church of his time.

The opening of the Council of Trent offered yet another opportunity to the Friars Preachers to place their valuable services at the disposal of the Church, an offer of which the Holy See was not slow to take advantage. In all, over fifty members of the Order were present at its sessions. Dominic Soto was present as personal representative of Charles V. and at the head of all the theologians sent to the council by his Imperial Majesty. In the first six sessions of the council he also represented the Master General of the Order. Barthelemy de Spina was another Dominican who took a conspicuous part in the deliberations of the council. Leonard Marinis, Archbishop of Lanciano, was present as papal legate, and subsequently, in company with two other members of the Order, Giles Foscarari and Francis Forerio, was chosen to draw up what was to be known as the “Catechism of the Council of Trent.” If the Angel of the Schools was not present in the flesh he was there in spirit, for his immortal Summa reposed by the side of the Bible on a table in the chamber of the council. His teaching dominated in a very large measure the discussions and the decisions of the council. Indeed, more than one of the Tridentine decrees is couched in almost the very words of Saint Thomas, a fact due no doubt to the presence of Dominic Soto, who with others was deputed to formulate the dogmatic decrees of the council. To such an extent did the teaching of the Thomists permeate the deliberations of the council that in 1593, when Clement III expressed the wish that the Jesuits should follow the theological system of Saint Thomas, he could point out that this great council had approved and accepted his works.


The two studies which were most generally followed in the Middle Ages were Scripture and theology. In the curriculum of the Order they held places of equal honor. The study and teaching of the Scriptures were entered upon with enthusiasm from the very beginning of the Institute. Each Dominican had to have at least three books – a Bible, the Sentences of Peter Lombard and an ecclesiastical history. In the light of their preaching vocation it was necessary that they be thoroughly familiar with the contents of the sacred pages. The unlettered populace might not be able to grasp a theological argument, set forth with scholastic precision and formality, but it could always catch the meaning of the scriptural texts profusely employed to illustrate the preacher’s discourse. The simple language, the familiar examples and the inspiring truths of the Scriptures were fully within the scope of their understanding. Consequently, whatever might make the contents of the sacred pages more available to the preacher, and the accuracy of the text more reliable, was to the Dominicans a matter of vital importance. It was with this end in view that the general chapter held in Paris in 1236 ordered that a “concordance” of the entire Bible be prepared by members of the Order. This “concordance” was a dictionary of the Bible, with all the words of the sacred text arranged in alphabetical order and accompanied by references indicating the book, chapter and verse in which they would be found. A work of this kind had been attempted before the Friars Preachers undertook it, but it had met with but a scant measure of success. To Hugh of Saint Cher, afterwards the first cardinal of the Order, who edified all France by his piety, as he astonished it with his learning, was intrusted this important work, and under his direction it was brought to a completely successful issue by the brethren at Paris in the famous convent of Saint James. Under the title of “The English Concordance” it was amplified in 1276 by the English Dominicans, Richard of Stavensby and Hugh of Croydon, under the direction of John of Darlington. In this work not only was each word given, but the entire phrase in which it occurred.

In the absence of the art of printing in the Middle Ages, it was necessary for the multiplication of copies of the Bible to resort to the laborious efforts of the copyists, who reproduced, letter by letter, the entire contents of the Sacred Scriptures. But as even Homer nodded, it was only natural that from time to time, by the inadvertence of these devoted monks, errors should creep into the pages of the volumes on which they labored. When detected, these inaccuracies were noted in the margin of the text. After a while they became so numerous that it became necessary to embody them in a separate volume called a “correctory.”

In 1236 the Friars Preachers brought to a successful conclusion the task of revising the entire Vulgate text of the Bible, embodying all their amendments in the first Dominican correctory. This tremendous task was accomplished, like the work of the concordance, by the community of Saint James, under the direction of Hugh of Saint Cher, then a professor of the University of Paris. The collation with the Hebrew text was accomplished, by the subprior of Saint James, Theobald of Saxonia, a converted Jew. This was the first corrected copy of the Scriptures in the Middle Ages. The general chapter of 1236 commanded that all the Bibles of the Order be corrected according to this exemplar. Eight of the manuscripts of Hugh of Saint Cher in connection with this work are still extant. Two other correctories were produced within the following thirty-one years. The Bible on which the University of Paris based its lectures was a particular Alcunian text of the Vulgate. The great vogue which this Bible enjoyed for so long a time was due to its divisions into chapters by Hugh of Saint Cher. To his prodigious industry was also mainly due the Bible of Sens.

When we consider the difficulties under which these scriptural scholars labored – the scarcity of books, the absence of archaeological studies and the related sciences, the lack of data which is now within the reach of every student of the Bible – we are able to form some idea of the vast industry, varied learning, profound study and tireless research necessary for these and the subsequent contributions to Dominican biblical literature.

In the immensely important work of translating the Bible into the vernacular of the different countries of Europe the Order of Saint Dominic played an especially creditable part. Theirs were the first translations into the vulgar tongues of many of these nations. The Dominican James of Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, was the first to translate the Bible into Italian. This translation appeared about 1260. So great was the zeal for souls of the first missionaries of the Order that Blessed Bartolommeo Parvi, of Bologna, missionary bishop in Armenia, did not hesitate to undertake amidst his arduous apostolic labors to translate the Bible into Armenian. This he successfully accomplished about 1330. Augustine Gustiniani, who introduced the cultivation of oriental tongues into the University of Paris, translated the Psalter into five languages. The Dominicans, Jean de Sy, Jehan Nicholas, William Vivien and Jehan de Chambly, were the principal authors of the manuscript Bible of King. John the Good, which was begun in the second half of the fourteenth century. Though never finished, it has been described by competent authority as “a work of science and good taste.” Notwithstanding the oft-repeated assertion of Protestants that Luther first gave the Bible to the people in their native tongue, the first translation of the Bible into German was made by John Rellach of the Order of Preachers. On the strength of a Nuremberg manuscript, Jostes established the fact that this translation appeared before 1450 – thirty-three years before Luther was born. A complete manuscript version of the Bible in Italian was made by the Dominican Nicholas de Nardo in 1472, and is now preserved in the National Library in Paris. For the benefit of the Hungarians, John Sylvester translated the Scriptures into their vernacular in 1541. Members of the Order also translated the Bible into Catalonian, Valencian and Castilian. An interlinear version from the original languages was made in the first half of the sixteenth century by the famous Dominican scriptural scholar, Xantes Pagninus. Its literal fidelity to the originals made it acceptable even to Jews and Reformers. A similar translation was begun by Thomas Malvenda, who died in 1628 before he had finished the Book of Ezechiel. A notable translation of the New Testament was made in 1542 by the Italian Dominican, Zaccaria Florentini. Another German version that ante-dated that of Luther – this time by eighteen years – was that published at Mainz in 1534 by John Dietenberger. He was the second Dominican to anticipate Luther’s so-called and much-lauded unlocking of the Scriptures in the interests of the German people. Fifty-eight editions of this version had been published by 1776. One of the three collaborators who gave to the Catholics of Holland their first authoritative Dutch Bible was the Dominican, Godevaert Stryode. This version was revised after it had gone through seventeen complete editions. It first appeared in 1545. In 1547 John Henton brought out at Louvain a corrected text of the Vulgate, with variants, which met with a favorable reception and was subsequently republished at Antwerp in 1583. Two of the most interesting contributions by Dominicans to Bible literature are of our own times. To offset the influence of a mutilated reprint of the Arabic Bible circulated by the Protestant Bible Society, the Dominican Fathers at Mosul, in Mesopotamia, issued from their own press in 1878, a complete Arabic version of the Bible. The other is a publication by the Fathers of the same place of the Syriac version of the Bible issued from the Dominican printing-press at Mosul. This is the version known since the ninth century as the “Simple” or “Peschitto.” It dates back to the second century. The publication of this new edition was superintended by Monsignor Henry Aitmayer, the Dominican Apostolic Delegate. The, Patriarch of the Babylonians, Monsignor Abolynam, has approved this edition and ordered its use in his provinces. The foregoing, though the most important, are by no means all the translations of the Bible which owe their existence to the industry of scriptural scholars of the Order. The lack of space forbids a longer list.

But it was not merely in the field of revision, translation and concordances that the Friars Preachers prosecuted their scriptural labors. They achieved even greater renown in the work of biblical commentaries. To Hugh of Saint Cher, that prodigy of scriptural scholarship, must be accorded the credit of giving to the Church the first complete commentary on the Scriptures. This enormous work fills eight folio volumes. The lectures delivered in the Dominican schools by Albertus Magnus and Saint Thomas were afterwards put into permanent form and now constitute the biblical commentaries of those two giant intellects. The “Golden Chain” of Saint Thomas was an exposition of the four Gospels written for the benefit of clerics. It was made up of excerpts from the Fathers so arranged as to constitute a continuous commentary on the text. In 1845 Cardinal Newman finished its translation into English. What Saint Thomas did for the four Gospels, Nicholas of Trevet accomplished with regard to the entire Bible. In the sixteenth century a large number of Catholic scholars were engaged in correcting the New Testament of the Vulgate by the Greek. Conspicuous among them were the Dominicans, Cardinal Cajetan and Santes Pagninus. It was the solid and brilliant scholarship of these, and a host of other Bible scholars who followed them, that led Vercellone to pay the Order the following compliment: “To the Dominican Order belongs the glory of having first renewed in the Church the illustrious example of Origen and Saint Augustine by the ardent cultivation of sacred criticism.”

The contributions of the Order to the cognate branches of Bible science were of the most substantial character, and in many of these studies Dominicans were pioneers. Thus, Sixtus of Sienna, a converted Jew, in the sixteenth century created in his Bibliotheca Sancta the department of introduction to the Sacred Scriptures. To Riccoldo da Montecroce must be accorded the credit of having introduced in his Itinerarium the study of Bible ethnology; and Biblical archaeology owes much to Raymond Martin,the founder of biblical orientalism.

That the ancient love of scriptural study has by no means diminished within the Order is witnessed by the famous biblical school conducted by the Dominicans at Jerusalem. From the time of its foundation, some twenty-six years ago, it has been the foremost institution of its kind in the Church. Its comprehensive curriculum embraces every department of science pertaining to the study of the Bible – Semitic languages, Greek, epigraphy, topography of Jerusalem, geography of the Holy Land and the other biblical countries, history, introduction, exegesis and many other cognate branches. The academic studies are supplemented by archaeological journeys around the Holy City and by expeditions across the hills and deserts of Palestine.

The wide-spread fame of its professors is based not merely upon the enthusiastic admiration of their students, but upon the many original and scholarly works with which they have challenged the attention of the learned world and compelled its applause. Chief of this distinguished body is Father Lagrange. Among his most celebrated works are La Methode Historique; La Messianisme chez les Juifs; Etudes sur les Religions Semitiques: Commentary on Judges. These with his commentary on Saint Mark prove how familiar he is with the problems of the Old and New Testaments. The latter is considered one of the best commentaries on the second Gospel and a complete refutation of the heretical doctrines of Loisy. Pére Dhorme is known among biblical scholars throughout the world, not only for his commentary on the Books of Samuel, but for his constantly growing reputation as an Assyriologist. Pére Vincent is the archaeologist of the faculty. His work on Canaan has already assumed the character of a classic. For twenty years he gathered matter for a history of Jerusalem, in the writing of which he collaborated with P&ecaute;re Abel. These and others of the faculty at Jerusalem have given to the school at that place a position of unrivalled honor in the Church. We shall close the consideration of this subject by pointing out that when, in 1901, Pope Leo XIII founded the famous Biblical Commission at Rome, he included in its membership four well-known Dominican scholars – Fathers Esser, Lagrange, Lepidi and Scheil.

Canon Law

In the person of Raymond of Pennafort the Order gave to the Church one of its greatest canonists. At the request of Gregory IX he gathered together in one work all the decrees of the Roman councils, scattered through various documents and letters. He supplied the decretals omitted by the Benedictine monk, Gratian, and edited those given out after the time of that indefatigable compiler. These he published in 1234. So accurately was this great work compiled that not only the individual documents contained therein, but the compilation itself, has been recognized as authoritative by all the pontiffs from Gregory IX to the present incumbent of the Holy See. By pontifical decree it became the official text-book on canon law at the universities of Paris and Bologna, and finally supplanted completely the work of Gratian. The collection has the same force of law to-day that it had almost seven hundred years ago. This encyclopedic work, as the result of the author’s tireless industry, was completed in three years, and immediately acquired such enduring fame that to-day it is known simply as “The Decretals.” It was the last complete summary of ecclesiastical legislation.

In the latter half of the thirteenth century Martin of Troppan, Bishop of Gnesen, and Martin of Fano Mayor of Genoa before his entrance into the Order were among the famous canonists of their day. Nicholas of Ennezat, in the fourteenth century, and in the sixteenth, John Dominic and John Torquemada, were ranked by their contemporaries among the foremost canonists of the age in which they lived.

The two standard works of the Middle Ages dealing with laws governing the Inquisition were, Directorium Inquisitionis hereticae pravitatis and the Directorium Inquisitorum. The former was the work of Bernard Guidonis, and the latter of Nicholas Eymerich, both of the Order of Saint Dominic.


The universal character of the preaching apostolate which constituted the vocation of the Dominicans made it mandatory for them to acquire the widest possible familiarity with languages. Their mission in the Church was neither local, nor national, nor continental, but universal – catholic. To participate in the true spirit of their Order the Friars Preachers must not look forward to a lifelong apostolate in their native land. Like the Apostles, to whom the Lord said, “Go ye into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature,” they must be prepared to be assigned to any quarter of the world or to any people on the earth for their life’s labor. It was necessary, therefore, for the greater efficiency and scope of their labor that they should be, as a body, familiar with every language spoken by the tongues of men.

It was accordingly decreed by the Most General Chapter in 1236 that in all convents the language of the neighboring countries should be studied. In this manner each member of the Institute was enabled to extend his apostolate beyond the confines of his native land, and so participate in the universal spirit of the Order.

But a European apostolate was not the idea of universality which Saint Dominic had conceived for his Institute. It was to be truly a world power, in a spiritual sense. The truths of Christianity were to be proclaimed and defended not only in France, Poland, Russia and Sweden, but in Palestine, Arabia and the farthest Orient.

The study of oriental languages was, moreover, cognate to the study of theology and philosophy, since many of the writings of Aristotle and other philosophers were accessible only through translations from the Hebrew and the Arabic. These two languages constituted the serviceable medium for the introduction into Europe of more than one heresy. Aristotle’s brilliant reasoning came forth with halting step from the miserable versions of Averroes and Avicenna, who corrupted it to bolster up their own peculiar systems. In order, therefore, the more effectively to refute these and other Eastern commentators the Arabic and Hebrew languages were immediately taken up and given a permanent place in the Dominican curriculum.

The General Chapter of 1310 commanded the Master General to establish in several provinces schools for the study of Hebrew, Greek and Arabic, to which each province of the Order should send at least one student. But long before this law was enacted the study of foreign languages had been provided for by individual provincials and priors. This was especially true of superiors in whose territory many Orientals dwelt.

It was, of course, necessary for the Dominican professors at the University of Paris to be familiar with Arabic for the purpose of combating the teachings of Averroes and Avicenna, which were beginning to exercise an unwholesome influence upon the thought of the times. To counteract the growing power of the Jews in Spain a knowledge of Hebrew was not less imperative. From the beginning of the Order the Friars Preachers recognized the necessity of acquiring these languages. Consequently, when Augustino Gustiniani, a versatile linguist as well as a profound scripturist, appeared at Paris he was able to accept the invitation to inaugurate a course of public lectures in Hebrew at the university. So familiar were the members of the Order in the first part of the century with the Hebrew language that on their appearance at the University of Oxford they were assigned a place for their convent in the Ghetto, that they might labor the more effectively for the conversion of the Jews. So proficient in the use of these languages did they become that in 1237 Father Phillippe, Provincial of the Holy Land, could write to Gregory IX to inform him that his religious had preached to the people in the different languages of the Orient, especially in Arabic. About the middle of the thirteenth century Saint Raymond Pennafort, third Master General of the Order, established schools of oriental languages at Tunis and Barcelona. A school of Arabic was established at Tunis about the middle of the thirteenth century; at Barcelona, another, in 1259; yet another at Murcia in 1267; in 1281 one at Valencia. The same province established schools for the study of Hebrew at Barcelona in 1281 and at Jativa in 1291. The purpose of these schools was to combat the increasing aggressiveness of the Jews and Mohammedans, who constituted a very large, powerful and hostile element of the population of Spain. Twenty of the brethren conversant with Hebrew and Arabic were sent to these colleges to write and preach against the errors of the unbelievers. It was for this reason, too, that at the request of Saint Raymond Saint Thomas wrote his magnificent philosophical summa, Contra Gentiles.

Raymond Martin was the most illustrious product of the schools founded by Saint Raymond for the study of oriental languages. This famous champion of the Faith could speak and write fluently Hebrew, Chaldaic and Arabic. He composed a work in Arabic against the Koran, and another in Hebrew against the Talmud. These works remain to this day astounding monuments of the varied erudition of the thirteenth century. Clement VIII generously expressed his appreciation of the work done by the Dominicans in the study of oriental languages when he said that by the introduction of Hebrew and Arabic learning Saint Raymond had contributed to the glory of both Spain and the Church, and had been the cause of the conversion of over ten thousand of the infidels, many of them among the most learned of their kind.

In the study of Greek the Order took even a greater interest. Shortly after the death of Saint Dominic familiarity with this language was widespread among the Dominicans. Every year a number of young men were sent to Greece to perfect themselves in the language of Plato and Aristotle. Though not a consummate Hellenist, in the sense of the Humanists, Saint Thomas possessed an excellent working knowledge of the Greek language. In the Catena Aurea, alone, he cites the opinions of sixty Greek writers. In the Summa he cites twenty ecclesiastical and about the same number of secular Greek authors, including Heraclitus and Aristophanes. His commentary on De Interpretatione offers some criticisms on the Greek text.

William of Brabant, sometimes called William of Moerbeke, was one of the young Dominicans sent to Greece to study the classic language of that country. On his return, in 1268, he was made chaplain to Clement IV, and afterward to Gregory X. He was also appointed Greek secretary at the Council of Lyons in 1274. At this Council he was one of those who chanted the Nicene Creed in Greek, thrice repeating the words Qui ex Patre Filioque procedit, contested by the Greek Church.

At the instance of Saint Thomas, William of Brabant produced, in 1273, a literal Latin translation of the Greek text of all the works of Aristotle. After this it was possible to study Aristotle without having recourse to the corrupted translations from the Arabic, which soon fell into desuetude. He was made Archbishop of Corinth in 1277, but continued to translate from the Greek into Latin. Besides Aristotle, he rendered into Latin Simplicius, Proclus, Ammonius, Hippocrates and Gallen.

Thomas of Cantimpré, who entered the Order in 1232, also acquired great renown as a translator from the Greek. He rendered into Latin most of Aristotle’s works on morals.

Geoffrey of Waterford translated the Physiognomica and De Regimine Principum of Aristotle from the original Greek.


One of the most striking things about the literary activities of the Friars Preachers, especially in the Middle Ages, is that, besides their original and creative works, they were constantly summing up in encyclopedic form the world’s knowledge in general, as well as on individual subjects. As the Dominicans corrected the entire Vulgate version of the Bible, codified the entire body of canon law, and wove the whole fabric of Christian theology and philosophy into a synthetic and harmonious work of moral science, they may justly lay claim to the credit of summing up all the existing knowledge of Christendom. Such was the stupendous work of Albertus Magnus, covering almost every subject that had engaged the attention of the human intellect. Such, also was the Summa Theologica of Saint Thomas, in which every subject related directly or indirectly to theology was examined and elucidated. As we have already given some consideration to these works under other titles we shall immediately enter upon the consideration of one of the greatest works producd by the human intellect in any age of the world’s history. This is “The Greater Mirror” of that intellectual giant of the thirteenth century – for there were giants in those days – Vincent of Beauvais. Albert the Great, Saint Thomas and Vincent of Beauvais constitute a trilogy of intellects such as is rarely found in the entire history of an Order, not to speak of a single decade. Vincent was without doubt one of the greatest encyclopedists who have thus far attempted the task of summing up the world’s knowledge. He conceived and executed the heroic design of writing a work which would be a temple consecrated to the custody of universal knowledge. This work, one of the most remarkable contributions to general literature in any age, he realized in his encyclopedia called “The Greater Mirror.” In this tremendous work he compiled the then sum of the world’s knowledge under the heads of “Nature,” “Morals,” “Doctrine” and “History,” adding his own luminous commentaries and special treatises.

Under the head of “Nature,” he deals, following the order recorded in Genesis, with the whole work of creation – the heavens, the earth, the natural kingdoms, and the corporeal and mental make-up of man. This part is contained in a folio volume of two thousand double-columned, closely-printed pages and is divided into thirty-two books containing four thousand chapters. In describing this wonderful work the Encyclopedia Britannica says: “It was, as it were, the great triumph of medieval science, whose floor and walls are inlaid with an enormous mosaic of skillfully arranged passages from Latin, Greek, Arabic and even Hebrew authors.”

The second part, entitled “Morals,” is contained in two folio volumes, and treats of the conclusions of all the great theologians of the age. Under “Doctrine” he writes of all the arts and sciences. The historical part contains a history of the world.

In this marvelous work, which has served for the basis of even modern encyclopedias, Vincent reviews, arranges, and compiles all extant knowledge, sacred and profane, Christian and pagan. In an age in which books were so scarce and so costly, we can readily understand how scholars in every branch of learning journeyed from the remotest parts of Europe to consult “The Greater Mirror” of Vincent of Beauvais.

Dr. Julius Pagel, in his treatise on “Medicine in the Middle Ages” asserts that Vincent of Beauvais must be considered the most important contributor to the generalization of scientific knowledge, not alone in the thirteenth, but in the immediately succeeding centuries. With true scientific spirit he constantly cites the authorities from whom his information is derived. He cites hundreds of authors and there is scarcely a subject he does not touch on. This great work would have failed of accomplishment, a fact to which Vincent himself bears witness, had it not been for the splendid and harmonious cooperation of his Dominican brethren in collecting material, collating references and verifying quotations. They sank their own ambitions in the general good, and found ample reward in the service they conferred upon the cause of human science. “The Greater Mirror” is a fair example of the earnest and tireless efforts of the Friars Preachers for the diffusion of knowledge throughout the Middle Ages.

Thomas of Cantimpré considered by Pagel, the Protestant author just quoted, as one of the three most popular writers of the thirteenth century, is another Dominican whose writing took on encyclopedic proportions. One of his works, “Concerning the Nature of Things,” contains twenty books and required fifteen years for its writing. The variety of its learning is indicated by the fact that it treats, among other things, of anatomy, animals, birds, fishes, serpents, precious stones and the elements of the universe.

We have already considered the encyclopedic work of Raymond of Pennafort. In his work, “The Decretals,” he summarizes, harmonizes, condenses and orders the laws of the Church for over twelve hundred years. It may be truthfully said, therefore, that these great master minds of the Order, Hugh of Saint Cher, Albertus Magnus, Saint Thomas of Aquin, Raymond of Pennafort, Thomas of Cantimprè and Vincent of Beauvais summed up among them the contents of human knowledge and made it easily available for all who sought it.

Another member of the Order who, though now unheard of outside the circles of historians and bibliophiles, was Hugh Ripelin, one of the best known writers among Dominican theologians. His “Compendium of Theological Truth” was the most widely used and most famous manual of theology in the Middle Ages.

In his century Saint Antoninus continued amid the exacting duties of his archiepiscopal office the encyclopedic efforts of the giants of the previous century. Not only did he practically create the science of modern moral theology and make pioneer contributions to the science of economics, but over and above all these absorbing tasks he could find time to write the first complete history of the world. Over a century before Saint Antoninus wrote his “Universal History” his brother Dominicans Ptolemy of Lucca and Bernard Guidonis, were regarded as the two great ecclesiastical historians of the early fourteenth century. In the sixteenth century Bartholomew de Las Casas wrote his well-known “History of the Indies”; while in the latter part of the seventeenth century Noel Alexander published his twenty-four-volume history of the New Testament and his dissertations on the history of the Old Testament.

Though Saint Thomas had never given to the world the Summa he still would have won literary immortality by virtue of the Office of Corpus Christi which he wrote at the request of Pope Urban IV. His hymns to the Blessed Sacrament have been for over six hundred years the very language of the sanctuary. Depth of thought, felicity of expression, graceful energy, epigrammatic doctrine, and tender piety are in evidence in every line of the Office of Corpus Christi. The hymns of Saint Thomas, touching the most sublime subjects, teaching the most vital truths, breathe in every line the truest and purest of poetic sentiment and feeling. Couched in an exactness of language that seems almost impossible to rival, free from ostentatious adornment, giving poetic expression to the deepest of divine mysteries in that epigrammatic style to which the Latin is so well adapted, it is almost a hopeless task to attempt to render them into English. Of two of his poems Archbishop Vaughan thus writes: “The Pange Lingua and the Sacris Solemniis, so exquisitely theological, so tenderly effective, so reverently adoring, so expressive of every want and aspiration of the human heart – where are two hymns so touching, so poetical, so angelical as they are? It is almost impossible to resist the tender piety and the prayerful appeal contained in the Adoro Te. To the soul of a poet the Angel of the Schools united the heart of a saint and the vision of an angel and all three he consecrated in his verse to the honor and glory of his Eucharistic God.” With truth has he been called “the sweet Psalmist of the Eucharist.”

Among the notable contributions by Dominicans to Italian literature is the “Mirror of True Penance,” by Father Passavanti. It was translated into Italian from the Latin by the author. A reprint of it was published in 1861. The editor of the Della Cruscean Academy speaks of it in the following glowing terms: “‘The Mirror of True Penance,’ by Father Passavanti, a Florentine by birth, a Dominican by religious profession, written in the style of his day, but adorned with the purest gold of the most refined eloquence, has gained a more than ordinary applause both for the sacred matter it contains and the charm and beauty of its composition. And as many have thought that it might without disadvantage be compared with the writings of the most learned among the first Fathers of the Church, so we also may consider it as inferior to none of the choicest and most renowned masters of the Tuscan tongue.”

Another Dominican who enriched the Italian language by his literary compositions in its formative period, the middle of the fourteenth century, was Bartholomew a Santa Concordia. His work, “The Teaching of the Ancients,” receives high praise at the hands of Leonardo Salvati for “its force, brevity, clearness, beauty, grace, sweetness, purity and simple ease which are there to be seen in language worthy of the best era of literature.” The same critic adds: “This work is written in the best and noblest style which the age had yet produced, and it would be fortunate for our language were the volume larger.” The distinguished literary critic, Pignotti, places these two Friars Preachers, together with their Dominican brother, Domenico Cavalca, among the fathers of Italian literature.

No less worthy of a place among the makers of the Italian language is the illustrious Dominican, Jordan of Pisa, whom his contemporaries described as “a prodigy of nature and a miracle of grace.” He was among the first to attempt to establish the unformed and chaotic language of Italy on a scientific and literary basis. In the few fragments of his sermons that are extant are to be found all the essential elements of the best modern Italian. Not only was he deeply versed in theology and philosophy, but also, as Marchese, quoting Leander Albert, tells us, “joined the eloquence of Tully to the memory of Mithridates.”

But Italian was not the only language to which the Friars Preachers helped to impart a scientific and literary character. To Tauler, the famous Dominican mystic, the German language owes its first appearance in the form of permanent literature. Of this famous preacher and writer Hallam thus speaks: “John Tauler, a Dominican Friar of Strasburg, whose influence in propagating the mystical theology gave a new tone to his country, we may deem to be the first German writer in prose.” “Tauler,” says the same historian of literature, “in his German sermons mingled many expressions invented by himself which were the first attempts at a philosophic language, and displayed surprising eloquence for the age in which he lived.” Tauler died in 1361.

But of all the books of the Middle Ages that came from the pens of Dominican writers none approached in popularity, in the modern sense of the term, “The Golden Legend,” written by James of Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa. It treated of the lives of the greater saints of the Church from the beginning of Christianity, and of the legends and miracles associated with them. Its purpose was to inculcate by means of these concrete examples the excellence of the Christian virtues. Dr. Walsh, in his work, “The Thirteenth Century” includes it among the three most widely read books of that century. Other historians assert that its popularity continued unabated through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It was translated into every language of the West and was one of the first books to be chosen to illustrate the new art of printing in Italy.

In our own day the Order has given to ecclesiastical literature the works of such theologians as Lepidi and Dummermuth; philosophers like Cardinals Zigliara and Gonzales, and historians of the calibre of Denifle, one of the most famous writers of medieval history, and Guglielmotti, whose “Military and Maritime Dictionary” is the standard work of its kind in Italy. “The History of the Pontifical Fleet” by the same author, is regarded as a classic. Leo XIII held both these works in such high esteem that he planned to have second editions of both issued from the Vatican at his own expense. At Civita Vecchia, his native city, an imposing monument was erected to his memory in 1913.

The names of Dominican writers and their works cited in this chapter on the Order’s literary activity have been chosen because they best illustrate the industry, ability and versatility of the Friars Preachers in this field of religious endeavor, and not with a view to give a comprehensive list of the writers of the Order. In all there have been over seven thousand writers of distinction in the ranks of the Friars Preachers.

Among the more important of the publications of the Order are the following. In France, L’Annee Dominicaine, Le Revue des Sciences Philosophiques et Theologiques, Revue Biblique and Revue Thomiste. In Spain is published La Ciencia Tomista. The Analecta Ordinis Praedicatorum is the official organ of the Order and is published at Rome.


Physical and applied sciences were not without their devotees among the Dominicans of the thirteenth century. Albert the Great was doubtless the greatest scientist of his age. Without noticing the fanciful legends that have been woven into the biography of this altogether extraordinary man, it may be said that his achievements in the field of physical science were, in some instances at least, centuries ahead of his times. He wrote extensively on astronomy, cosmology, botany, mineralogy, geography and natural history. The a priori methods of the schools did not blind him to the necessity of an inductive system in the work of experimental science. This principle he was the first to put into practice, and with the most gratifying results to science. He, too, was the first to perceive the law of affinities in the composition of metals. With the same earnest love of truth which characterized his ecclesiastical writings, he combated the popular fallacy of the transmutation of baser metals into gold by means of the philosopher’s stone. He clearly taught the influence of the sea on littoral countries, and of similar influences exerted by mountains and forests. The phenomena of disappearing islands and others produced by volcanic action were not unknown to him. Dr. Jesser, who wastes no love on Catholic scholars, equals Albert in his Cosmos to Aristotle and Humboldt.

In his astronomy he taught that the “Milky Way” was nothing but a vast assemblage of stars and that the figures visible on the moon’s disk are due to the configuration of its own surface. He rejects the teaching of Aristotle concerning the rare appearance of lunar rainbows and asserts that they may be seen as often as twice a year.

No less remarkable was his knowledge of botany. “No botanist,” says Meyer, the German historian of botany, “who lived before Albert can be compared to him, unless Theophrastes, with whom he was not acquainted; and after him none has painted nature in such living colors or studied it so profoundly until the time of Conrad Gesner and Caesalpino.” His botanical works were edited by Meyer and published in Berlin in 1867.

Humboldt, a German naturalist of the early nineteenth century and one of the most distinguished scholars of his time, thus expresses his appreciation of Albert as a scientist: “Albertus Magnus was equally active and influential in promoting the study of natural science and the Aristotelian philosophy. His works contain some exceedingly acute remarks on the organic structure and physiology of plants. One of his works bearing the title Liber Cosmographicus de Natura Locorum, is a species of physical geography. I have found in it considerations on the dependence of temperature concurrently on latitude and elevation, and on the effect of different angles of incidence of the sun’s rays in heating the ground, which have excited my surprise.” The work thus praised by Humboldt is rich in original observations on ethnography and physiology. In fact, Albert not only reviewed and compiled the entire scientific knowledge of his day, but he enlarged and enriched it with the fruits of his own acute observation and tireless experimenting. Considering the range and magnitude of his labors, Hallam grudgingly says of him: “He may pass for the most fertile writer of the world.” Altogether he was, as Englebert, his contemporary, says, “a man so Godlike in all science that he may be suitably called the wonder and miracle of our times.”

Saint Thomas, like his master Albert, applied himself to the study of natural science and made important contributions to the world’s knowledge of this subject. It was he who first gave expression, at the University of Paris, to the principle, “Nothing is ever annihilated” (Nihil omnino in nihilum redigetur). In announcing this principle concerning the indestructibility of matter he anticipated by six hundred years the recognition of the same truth by the chemists and physicists of our own day. In the formulating of this principle he also included the conservation of energy. To him also is assigned the authorship of a remarkable book on the building of aqueducts and another on bridge construction.

In the early part of the fourteenth century a Dominican scientist, Father Dietrich, wrote a work on the “Theory of the Rainbow” which has recently been translated into German by Professor Wuerschmidt of Erlangen. Speaking of this work, another learned German, Professor Hellmann, the famous meteorologist of Hamburg, says: “It is the greatest achievement of its kind in the West during the Middle Ages.” He describes it as a most valuable contribution to the sciences with which it deals. In regard to its author the well-known Max Jacobi says: “Master Dietrich was the first to discover that the rainbow originates through the double breaking and one reflex of the rays of the sun in the raindrop. We have to thank him for the first correct design of the path of the ray as it enters and leaves the little sphere.”

Among the engineers of his day there was none that excelled the Dominican, Ignatius Dante. When the tyrant Charles Emmanuel of Savoy menaced the freedom of Genoa, the republic called him to her assistance to superintend the strengthening of the city’s walls in preparation for the coming conflict. Soon after he was called to Rome and made Master of the Sacred Palace, thereby proving that he was as well versed in sacred as in profane science. But his engineering skill was soon again to be requisitioned. He was called upon to plan and superintend the construction of the defensive works of the Island of Malta when it was threatened by the Turks in 1640. On his return to Rome he was made a cardinal by Urban VIII.

That the Dominicans employed their knowledge of science in behalf of those among whom they labored is evident from the many valuable and enduring works they erected on their missions. A single example of this was a bridge designed and built by a Dominican engineer in the Philippines. This bridge – the famous old Tuguegaro bridge some years ago being in need of repairs, an American engineer, Mr. Barrens, was appointed to make a survey of the work and determine whether it should be replaced by a modern structure. Mr. Barrens, who praised in unqualified terms the work of its builder, the noted Dominican missionary, Father Lobate, advised against replacing the old bridge by a modern iron one. He expressed the opinion that the old bridge, if properly repaired, would last more than a hundred years longer, while one of modern material would cost 18,000 pesos and would have to be rebuilt within thirty years.

We cannot more appropriately close this chapter on the scientists of the Order than by quoting the following statement of a modern historian: “There are, moreover, an unnumbered multitude of Dominican mathematicians, astronomers and geographers who are not unknown to the historians of these branches of learning. But at the present day one may drag out from obscurity – if only the next moment to slip back again – the name of Joseph Galien, professor of Avignon University, who in 1755 edited a little work on the navigation of the air.” Thus, the Friars Preachers not only compiled all existing knowledge in their various encyclopedias and summaries, and by their luminous commentaries made it available to a multitude of students, but by their experiments and observations blazed the way to important discoveries and applied their knowledge to constructive works that have made them substantial benefactors of humanity.

Missionaries and Martyrs

The most perfect expression of the Dominican spirit is to be found in its missionary achievement. More than all other works of the Order they realized in fullest measure the ideal of Saint Dominic. The three dominant elements in the spirit of the Order are preaching, science and Catholicism; and these three found concrete expression in the missionary activities upon which the Friars Preachers entered with such divine enthusiasm from the very first years of their existence. The work of the missions was, of course, essentially a work of preaching – patient, tireless, hazardous preaching. The applause of the multitude and the admiration of the scholars, which might prompt the zeal of those who preached in the great cities of the older Christian nations, found no place in the motives of those who journeyed to the ends of the earth to preach the Gospel at the peril of their lives to those who knew not Christ, or knew Him but to hate Him. For the success of their work it was necessary that they be familiar with the language of those to whom they preached; that they be versed in the errors of the unbelievers, and in the science of Christ with which to refute them. Not all of those among whom the missionaries labored were barbarians. Some, indeed, such as the Arabians and Jews, were in touch with all the intellectual movements of the times, as well as deeply versed in their own schools of divinity and philosophy. Consequently, it was incumbent upon the missionaries, if they would effectively represent the cause of Christ, that they be not wanting in that science which Saint Dominic had adopted as one of the most effective weapons against the enemies of Christ. The catholic or universal element of Dominicanism found expression in the world-wide character which the missionary activities of the Order assumed from its very beginning. Indeed, one of the most wonderful things in the beginnings of the Dominican Order was the astounding rapidity with which the Friars Preachers spread their apostolic missionaries over the face of the entire world, as it was known in those days.

The one dominant thought in the mind of Saint Dominic was the missions. Impelled by a charity towards men that was world-embracing, he longed to carry the light of Christ’s evangel to those who sat in darkness even in the remotest parts of the earth. Long before he conceived the idea of instituting a religious order, he had planned that he himself should be a missionary. It was the missionary needs of the Church in Europe and beyond its confines that suggested to him the plan of founding an order of apostolic preachers which should perpetuate his own missionary labors and expand them to the ends of the earth. The only bond that bound together his little band of followers before they received the approbation of the Holy See was their common missionary interests. Even in those days, so full of apostolic zeal and personal hazard, Saint Dominic did not abandon his long-cherished hope of one day carrying the light of the Gospel to the heathen. “When we have established our Order,” he said to one of his followers, “we shall go out to evangelize the Cuman Tartars.”

In the light of these circumstances it can hardly be a matter of wonder that the first activities of the Order took the form of missionary labors. In the very last year of Saint Dominic’s life Paul of Hungary founded a province in his native land, on the frontier of the country inhabited by those very Cuman Tartars whom the holy patriarch had himself so earnestly longed to convert. The members of this, one of the last two provinces established in the lifetime of Saint Dominic, immediately entered with holy ardor upon the task of evangelizing these fierce nomadic tribes. Their efforts were ultimately attended by entire success. Thus, the cherished dream of the founder was vicariously accomplished by his zealous missionaries. Simultaneously the Gospel was preached by the same fearless missionaries to the people of the Balkans, and the reign of Christ firmly established among them.

In the earliest years of their missionary activity the Dominicans extended their apostolic zeal to the outposts of civilization. In 1237, the Province of the Holy Land was prosecuting its missionary labors in Asia with great success. In that year its provincial reported to Gregory IX that wonderful results had been attained among Jacobites, Nestorians, Maronites, and Saracens. Throughout the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries these missionaries continued to expand their field of labor till they had reached Bagdad and India. They were the first Christian missionaries to plant the cross in China.

In 1330 the missions in Armenia, which had been inaugurated towards the middle of the previous century were firmly established throughout the country. From the ranks of the Preachers the first ruler of the Church in that country was taken in the person of Blessed Bartholomew of Bologna, Archbishop of Naksivan. So successfully did the missionaries combat the Greek schismatics that they practically ceased to exist, and the Armenians in ever-increasing numbers returned to the pale of Holy Church. According to the ancient Christian traditions of the country, seven dioceses were founded at that time whose bishops were taken from the ranks of the Dominican brethren. Not even the triumph of Mohammedanism could dispossess them of their chosen fields of labor, and against great odds they continued to contest valiantly the empire of souls with the followers of Islam.

No less successful were the labors of the Dominicans in Persia. Under John XXII, Franco of Perugia was made Archbishop of Sultana, and the creation of six other dioceses, all of them governed by bishops chosen from the Order, raised him to the dignity of a metropolitan. Perhaps his most important individual conquest was the conversion of the Primate of Armenia, whom he brought into union with and submission to the See of Rome. So rapidly did the missions of the Order in Asia grow that in 1312 the Master General organized them into a special congregation called the “Friars Pilgrims,” which was recruited from all the other provinces of the Institute.

But even before these missions in the East began to produce their unfailing harvests of souls, the Friars Preachers had directed their attention to the missionary fields of Eastern and Northern Europe. Among the most apostolic of the laborers in this vineyard of the Lord was Saint Hyacinth, whom Saint Dominic himself admitted to the Order. His zeal was boundless, and while his first missionary efforts were directed to the conversion of the countries lying to the north and east of France, they ultimately extended to half the then known world. Journeying north from Rome with his brother Ceslaus, to whom also Saint Dominic had given the habit of the Order, he founded as he went the Province of Germany and organized that of Poland. Under his leadership the brethren in Prussia and Lithuania materially advanced the work of civilization which had been inaugurated by the Teutonic Knights. Bohemia, the Russias and Livonia were the next scenes of his truly apostolic labors. In Scandinavia he established a province of the Order, which in its turn evangelized the arctic regions of Greenland two hundred years before America was discovered. Even the shores of the Black Sea were not beyond the reach of his apostolic zeal, and along these he made his way to the Grecian Archipelago. Turning towards Central Asia, it is said he even penetrated into Tibet and China. Wherever he went he left behind him convents of his brethren to witness and perpetuate his missionary activities. Everywhere countless souls fell under the spell of his eloquence, his sanctity and tireless zeal. Under his tutelage they pledged their fealty to the Christ whom he had made known to them and to his Vicar at Rome.

While Saint Hyacinth thus extended his apostolate over Europe and Asia, Ceslaus, in every way worthy of his apostolic brother, labored in the same holy cause among the Bohemians, Silesians and Poles. In 1225 the first Spanish Dominicans preached the Gospel in Morocco and in the same year the superior of the mission, Father Dominic, was consecrated first Bishop of that place. In 1258 the Order evangelized the Ruthenians, while at the same time Saint Raymond of Pennafort established missionary colleges at Tunis and Tripoli.

The Fathers of the English Province were not a whit behind their brethren of the older provinces in extending the boundaries of Christ’s kingdom upon earth. To the apostolic zeal of their Latin confrères many of them added administrative ability of a high order, which led to their being chosen to rule over the newly-established dioceses in their missionary districts. In this manner Henry of England became an archbishop of Russia in 1244 and converted the King of Litten in Livonia. In 1248 Father Thomas administered the bishopric of Abo in Finland. The diocese of Ebron in Palestine was ruled over by Father Geoffrey. Father William was appointed Archbishop of Rages, and Father Belets Archbishop of Sultana in 1403. As early as 1330 Father Richard was made Bishop of Lesser Tartary. In 1468 Father Bennett was elected to the See of Panido, in Roumania.

Thus the Friars Preachers in thousands pushed on to the remotest outposts of civilization, bearing the message of salvation to those who knew not Christ nor His holy Church. In 1253 – that is, thirty-two years after the death of Saint Dominic – Innocent IV, writing to the Friars Preachers, addressed them in these significant terms: “To our dearly beloved sons, the Friars Preachers, preaching in the lands of the Saracens, Greeks, Bulgars, Cumans, Ethiopians, Syrians, Goths, Jacobites, Armenians, Indians, Tartars, Hungarians and the other heathen peoples of the East, health and apostolic benediction.” Thus the Vicar of Christ bears eloquent testimony to the far-flung labors of the children of Saint Dominic in the very infancy of their Order. Their activities and their triumphs recall the days of the Apostles and constitute one of the most remarkable achievements in the ever-wonderful history of the Catholic Church. Nor were the older nations neglected for the benefit of the oriental missions. The white-robed missionaries penetrated into every corner of Europe, combating heresy and stimulating by their eloquence and austerity the flagging spirit of religion. For twenty years Saint Vincent Ferrer, to cite but one of them, preached throughout Western Europe, exercising over his auditors a spell that was but little short of miraculous. A multitude of penitents, sometimes to the number of ten thousand, followed him in his apostolic wanderings, unwilling to lose the benefit of his spiritual direction. Waldenses and Catharini alike fell under the charm of his eloquence and cheerfully made their submission to the Holy See. But it was in his native Spain that his greatest triumphs were achieved. Here the number of his Jewish converts alone was twenty-five thousand; and to them he added thousands of Moors.

The Portuguese conquests in Africa and the East Indies opened up a new field of missionary opportunity which the Dominicans were not slow to turn to the advantage of God’s honor and glory. As early as the end of the fifteenth century Portuguese Dominicans reached the west coast of Africa. Later, they accompanied the explorers around the Cape of Good Hope to establish their missionary enterprise on the east coast of the African continent. From there they eventually worked their way in quest of souls into India, Ceylon, Siam and Malacca.

When it seemed in the last quarter of the fifteenth century that every country of the world had been reached by the heroic apostles of the Order, and that the pioneer labors of the previous three centuries must now give way to the less hazardous task of organization and development, Columbus added to the then known world the two magnificent continents of the Western Hemisphere. His glowing stories of the New World’s immeasurable extent, its wealth, fertility, its innumerable opportunities excited in the venturesome souls of the nation that had financed his enterprise, dazzling dreams of conquest, power and wealth. But for the children of Saint Dominic it had another meaning – the spiritual conquest of its teeming millions for Christ. Enraptured, they contemplated the opportunity of traversing its vast distances; of bearing the first glad tidings of salvation to its benighted peoples; of lifting them up from the darkness of heathen ignorance and superstition to the clear, white light of God’s eternal truth; of planting the cross in every settlement and center of human habitation, and of thus establishing the spiritual sovereignty of the Church of Christ.

The discovery of the New World had a special significance for the Order of Saint Dominic; for it was owing to the assistance of Diego de Deza and other Dominicans of Salamanca that Columbus succeeded in convincing the sovereigns of Spain of the feasibility of his plan. Columbus himself generously acknowledged this when he said that it was to the Dominican, Diego de Deza, who made possible his voyage of discovery, that the sovereigns of Spain owed their possession of America.

In 1510 the first band of Dominican missionaries landed on the sod of the New World and immediately plunged with ardor and zeal into the work of winning it for Christ. With extraordinary rapidity they extended their labors from the West Indies to the mainland, and across the continent of South America to the Pacific, which, in turn, they crossed eventually to extend their saving mission to the Philippines, China and Japan.

A band of twelve missionaries inaugurated the work of evangelizing the natives of New Spain in 1526, and so greatly did the work prosper that before long their foundations had reached the number of one hundred, all centers of apostolic activity. By 1540 the Order had erected sixty houses and churches in New Grenada alone. This was the field in which Saint Louis Bertrand, undoubtedly the greatest of South American missionaries, began his zealous labor for souls in 1562. A brief description of the efforts of this great saint will help us to understand the quality and extent of the work of the Dominican missionaries, of which work they are typical, on the continent of South America.

From Cartagena, the first scene of his labors, Saint Louis went to Panama, where, we are told, in an incredibly short time he converted six thousand of the natives. Tubera was his next scene of conquest, and here his heroic zeal resulted in the conversion of the entire community, to the number of ten thousand. And the marvelous part of it is that all these neophytes were thoroughly instructed before they were permitted to enter the Church. Cipacoa and Paluato yielded a harvest of souls not less than that of Tubera. At Saint Martha fifteen thousand converts were the reward of his tireless labors. While at Saint Martha a tribe of fifteen hundred Indians came to him in a body from Paluato to beg for baptism, which they had refused to accept while he labored among them. Teneriffe, Mompax and several of the West India Islands were in turn visited by the saint in his never-ending quest for souls, and yielded rich harvests under the spell of his sanctity and tireless zeal. The bull of his canonization asserts that to facilitate the work of converting the natives he was miraculously endowed with the gift of tongues.

But the name of Saint Louis Bertrand is not the only one that looms large in the history of the Dominican missions of South America. On the northern coast of this continent, forty years before the arrival of the saint, Las Casas became a Dominican, and with redoubled fervor and energy continued his valiant championship of the Indians. In another chapter we shall give proper consideration to the great Dominican and his heroic labors in behalf of the aborigines.

Some idea of the number of Dominican missionaries in the New World, and the far-reaching scope of their labors, may be inferred from the rapid growth of the Order in this new field of missionary labor. The Province of the Holy Cross, including San Domingo and the neighboring islands, the first of the Western Hemisphere, was established in 1530. This was quickly followed in 1532 by the Province of Saint James in Mexico. In 1539 the Province of Saint John the Baptist in Peru was founded. Twelve years later the Provinces of Saint Vincent in Guatemala and Saint Antoninus in New Grenada were called into existence. The year 1580 saw the Province of Saint Catherine in Peru established; while in 1592, just a century after the discovery of America, the Province of Saint Lawrence, in Chili, which numbered over forty convents, was founded. From South America they went to the Philippines and thence to China, which they entered in 1590, and eleven years later extended their missionary labors to Japan. To the ordinary student of history it was perhaps but a fortuitous circumstance that the New World was discovered and opened up to the courageous missionaries of the Catholic Church only a few decades before Luther began his career of protestation and subversion. But the one who sees in the seemingly tragic and contradictory events of life the harmonious elements of a great plan, conceived in eternity and executed, age after age, by the hand of Divine Providence, the discovery of America by a Catholic nation must appear as a God-given opportunity for the Church to recoup in the New World the losses she was to sustain in the Old by the rebellion and defection of so many of her children under the blind leadership of the embittered and vengeful heresiarch. What is true of the Church in general is especially true of the Order of Friars Preachers. The revolt of Luther cost the Order six provinces and hundreds of convents. In that selfsame fateful sixteenth century the Order founded seven new provinces and hundreds of convents in America. Truly the finger of God was here!

That the splendid qualities of heroic zeal and self-sacrifice which characterized the pioneer missionaries of the Order in the first centuries of its existence have not in our own day departed from its ranks is witnessed by its many undertakings in this field of religious effort. To the care of the Dominicans have been entrusted the missions in Mesopotamia and Kurdistan, and they furnish the incumbents of these archiepiscopal sees. The Belgian Dominicans are laboring heroically in the Congo. To the care of the Dutch Dominicans have been confided the missions of Porto Rico and Curacao. The Spanish and French provinces furnish the missionaries for Brazil, Chili and Ecuador. For several centuries before the Spanish-American War the missionary province of the Philippines devoted itself to the evangelization of those islands; and of five vicariates in China and Tonquin. This province is made up of Spaniards, to the number of six hundred. Their virtual expulsion and the consequent loss of faith to thousands of the Philippinos is one of the saddest chapters in the missionary history of the Church.

We cannot, perhaps more fittingly conclude this subject than by quoting the following beautiful tribute paid to the missionaries of the Order by Mgr. Vaughan in his splendid “Life of Saint Thomas”:

“Within twenty years after Saint Dominic’s death the Gospel had been preached in almost every country. * * * During the Middle Ages the pulses of the mighty heart of the great Order were felt throughout the whole of the known world, from the northwest coast of Africa to the great water courses of Asia; from Fez and Morocco as far as Greenland. A party of Dutch sailors was struck with astonishment, when, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, touching on the coast of Greenland, they found that men clothed in the white wool of Saint Dominic had been preaching, praying and studying in that inhospitable region for upwards of four hundred years. It was through Dominican influence at the court of Spain that Columbus obtained the ships in which he made the discovery of the New World; and they were Dominicans who followed upon the footsteps of the enterprising subjugators of that vast continent and planted the standard of the cross wherever the others had been victorious with the sword. At the commencement of the sixteenth century they colonized the East and West Indies. In 1550, in the Peninsula of Malacca and the adjacent islands the Dominicans had eighteen convents and made sixty thousand converts. Then they penetrated into Siam and were the first Christian missionaries who set foot in China, where they established schools and built churches. They had already settled in San Domingo, Mexico and the Floridas. In 1526 they sent twelve brothers to New Spain where they soon had a hundred houses and convents. In 1540, they possessed in New Grenada sixty houses and churches. In Chili they had forty convents. The Philippine Isles, Mozambique, and the eastern coast of Africa were under Dominican influence, while at Manila and Lima they established universities for the education of the higher classes. Within a hundred years (1234-1334) they could number thirteen thousand three hundred and seventy martyrs.”

Even though the concluding sentence of the previous paragraph had not prepared one for it, it might easily have been inferred that these great conquests of souls had not been accomplished without the sacrifice of thousands of the heroic missionaries upon the altar of truth. Plunging, as they did, into the very heart of heathendom where there were neither ambassadors nor consuls from home to whom they might look for protection, they knew full well that they must fertilize the land of their labors with their life’s blood if they would gather the harvest for Christ. It was with this expectation and this longing that they entered upon their sublime mission. Indeed, it would have been strange had it been otherwise, since their holy founder had constantly yearned to give up his life for the Faith. We recall that when his life was threatened at Carcassonne he joyously approached the place where the would-be assassins lay in wait, in the hope that the outpouring of his blood might bring the blessing of God upon the labors of his companions.

From the very beginning of its career even to the present day the Order has furnished a multitude of white-robed martyrs who heroically laid down their lives in testimony of the truth they preached. Every ten years since its foundation, as a modern writer tells us, it has offered victims on the altar of truth. Even in his own day Saint Dominic had the happiness of seeing hundreds of his faithful missionaries in Hungary measuring up to the supreme test of martyrdom. In a single massacre two hundred of them gave up their lives to witness the Faith of Christ. Some time after this, in 1242, Blessed Paul, the founder of the Hungarian Province, together with ninety of his brethren, laid down his life for the conversion of those among whom he labored. Many of the brethren died at the hands of the Albigenses, among whom the missionary career of the Order was inaugurated. Eighteen years later Blessed Sadoc and forty-seven of his community were martyred at Sandomir, in Poland, as they chanted the “Hail, Holy Queen,” which they finished before the throne of God in heaven. In 1261 two hundred Friars Preachers fell beneath the sword of the Mussulman. As Saint Peter Martyr lay dying from the blow of a heretic’s dagger, he doubly witnessed the faith within him by writing on the ground with the blood which flowed from his wounds these words: “I believe in one God” (Credo in unum Deum). A general chapter held at Valencia drew up a list of 13,370 members of the Order who had been martyred between 1234 and 1335 – a single century! In the sixteenth century the number had reached the stupendous figure of 26,000.

Saint John of Gorcum and his companions gave up their lives in Holland in defense of the dogmas of the Church. In England, Scotland and Ireland the blood of Dominican martyrs was poured forth in copious streams during the Reformation. It is recorded of Father Barry, the Dominican prior of Cashel, in Ireland, that the captain of the soldiers sent to execute him, strongly impressed with the friar’s holy and noble bearing, offered him his life if he would fling off his habit. The heroic Dominican replied: “This habit is for me the livery of Christ and an emblem of His passion; it is the uniform of the military service I owe Him. Since my youth I have worn it; I will not give it up in my old age.” The fire was then lighted, and as the flames enveloped him the head which would not bend before the altars of Henry VIII fell in full devotion to the Faith of Jesus Christ.

The soil of Japan was also fructified with the blood of Dominican missionaries. In the seventeenth century one hundred and three of the brethren received the crown of martyrdom. As they stood before their executioners, William Courtet and Michael Orazata cried out: “O Jesus, it is sweet to suffer for Thee! Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, pray for us!”

Even in the nineteenth century the Order has not failed to increase the number of those glorious heroes who were not afraid to give testimony of Christ with their life’s blood. We can find space for only the most distinguished of the valiant missionaries who were martyred in Tonquin: Bishop Ignatius Delgado died in prison July 21, 1838; Bishop Dominic Henares, his coadjutor, was beheaded July 25, 1838; Father Joseph Fernandez, Vicar Provincial, was beheaded July 24, 1838; Bishop Joseph Mary Diaz was beheaded July 20, 1857; Bishop Melchior Garcia San Pedro was cut into pieces on July 28, 1858, and in the midst of his agony continued to render thanks to God for the opportunity to die for Him; Bishop Jerome Hermosilla and Bishop Valentine Berrio-Ochoa were beheaded November 1, 1861. The latter were beatified in 1906 by Pope Pius X. Eight years after the death of these devoted apostles in the Orient, five of their brethren were shot down in the crowded streets of Paris by order of the Commune for no other reason than their devotion to the Faith.

This brief sketch of the martyred apostles of the Order is eloquently suggestive of the heroic spirit of the devoted missionaries who labored so disinterestedly to bring the nations to the knowledge of Christ, and the immeasurable sacrifices they were prepared to make for God and His Church. The full recital of their sufferings contained in the voluminous records of the different provinces is undoubtedly the most glorious chapter in all Dominican history.

Saints and Mystics

A certain lack of initiative in promoting the canonization of its saints has been traditional among the Friars Preachers from the time that the canonization of Saint Dominic was first mooted, shortly after his death. To the friends of the Order who importuned them to present his cause to the Holy See the first Dominicans replied that the heroic quality of the founder’s sanctity was known to God and that was sufficient. It was only when the Holy Father himself expressed the wish that they should inaugurate the process preparatory to his elevation to the altars of the Church that they became active with that end in view. Even a few decades ago when the last of their heroic brothers were solemnly beatified by the Church, it required a special exhortation from the Holy See to stir the authorities of the Order into action in behalf of their saintly brethren. To the same indifference to public recognition is due the irreparable loss of the history of many wonderful missionary achievements. So long as they labored tirelessly for God and the salvation of souls, and willingly died for His name’s sake, it mattered not to them whether their names and the details of their apostolic work were inscribed on the pages of history for the admiration and applause of men. Hence it is that during seven hundred years but ten of the Friars Preachers and four of the Dominican sisterhood have been solemnly canonized by the Church. To these, however, may be added the names of more than two hundred others who have been solemnly beatified.

It is not the spirit of the Dominican Order to cast all its subjects in one mould and thus produce a monotonously uniform type of religious. It is rather the genius of its spiritual formation not only to preserve the individuality of its members but to develop it to the utmost on a solid foundation of the Dominican spirit. Consequently, whatever natural talents or inclinations the student may have, whether they be ecclesiastical or secular, are developed with a view to turning them to the service of religion. Originality and initiative are encouraged rather than suppressed; for to these qualities in no little degree is attributable the enduring good wrought by the Friars Preachers. Thus, while all possess the common qualities that make up the Dominican spirit, each gives it expression according to to the manner of his own personality. It is largely owing to this policy that the works of the Order have been so varied and its interests have reached out to so many spheres of action.

The same striking diversity of personality is to be found distinguishing saint from saint and characterizing the work of each. A modern writer thus strikes off the characteristic qualities of some of the Dominican saints: “Saint Dominic, with his imperial spirit of government, as Cardinal Newman calls it; Saint Hyacinth, the adventurous Knight of Christ; Saint Peter, the intrepid controversialist; Saint Thomas, the calm, dispassionate theologian; Saint Antoninus, the gentle, fatherly archbishop; Saint Pius, the uncompromising champion of Christendom; Saint Louis Bertrand, the missionary whose view of life was always overshadowed by sadness; Saint Catherine, the idealist and practical mystic – all are types that charm, yet in what divers ways.” Saint Dominic united within himself the apparently contradictory qualities of the fiery apostle and uncompromising champion of orthodoxy, on the one hand, and on the other those of the tolerant, broadminded practical legislator. The Angel of the Schools lived the same life as his spiritual father, Saint Dominic, fought the same fight and served as effectively the same ends, without ever leaving his cell except to journey from university to university. While Saint Dominic combated thousands of his enemies face to face, Saint Thomas combated hundreds of thousands of them with the arms of reason on the field of the intellect, and combats them no less successfully today, six hundred years after his death. It is peculiar to the Dominican Order that in its most distinguished lights science and sanctity have been united in a preeminent degree. In truth, its greatest scholars have been its greatest saints. Without further reference to Saint Dominic or Saint Thomas, we may point out that Saint Raymond was one of the greatest canonists in the history of the Church. Saint Hyacinth was a Doctor of Law and Divinity of the University of Bologna at a time when only those of rare intellectual distinction could aspire to such a degree. Saint Peter Martyr, made general inquisitor by Gregory IX, was the destroyer of the Manichean heresy throughout Italy. Saint Antoninus attained fame as a theological writer and economist. Saint Vincent Ferrer discharged the duties of professor of theology at Valencia, confessor to the Queen of Aragon and legate a latere. Pius V was for sixteen years professor of theology and philosophy. And if Saint Louis Bertrand and Saint John Gorcum did not measure up to the greatest of the Order’s intellectual celebrities, neither were they destitute of intellectual gifts of more than ordinary character. Enough has been said in other chapters concerning the intellectual endowments of Blessed Albert the Great to rank him among the greatest scholars of all time; and his sanctity was but little, if any, inferior to the greatness of his intellect. Saint Rose was not the only member of the Order in the Western Hemisphere to win the formal recognition of the Church for sanctity of an eminent degree. The virtues of Martin Porres, a half-caste Indian, and John Massias, both of the Province of Peru, who humbly served in the ranks of the lay-brothers, also received the formal recognition of the Church.

While the Dominicans conferred a priceless service upon the Church by defending Catholic orthodoxy against the aberrations of darkened intellects with the luminous reasoning of its great doctors, at the same time it provided spiritual food for the hearts of the people in the devotional writings of its great mystics, Eckhart, Tauler, Suso, Saint Catherine and Savonarola. Indeed, the fame of the mystics of the Order is more generally known throughout the universal Church even than that of its dogmatic theologians and apologists. It is not confined to the knowledge of scholars and ecclesiastics, but is familiar to the religious of every congregation of the Church, as well as to thousands of the devout laity.

One of the most famous schools of mysticism in the Order was that founded in Germany by Meister Eckhart. Saint Thomas of Aquin and Meister Eckhart, though they considered the matter from different points of view, were probably the greatest medieval authorities on the mystical life. The latter, born about 1260, is universally recognized as the father of German mysticism, and by many as the greatest of the German mystics. A profound theologian, a lucid philosopher, an eloquent preacher, a successful professor of theology at the universities of Paris, Strasburg and Cologne, an efficient administrator in the offices of prior, vicar-general and provincial, he was anything but an unpractical dreamer. Indeed, it was because of these many accomplishments and fields of experience that he was able to found a school of mysticism characterized by sanity and soundness, which even so great an apostle as the Dominican John Tauler – a hater of all forms of exaggeration – could approve and embrace. Another illustrious disciple of Meister Eckhart was Blessed Henry Suso, who might be called the poet of the school of German mysticism. These men were not recluses or visionaries dreaming their lives away in the fruitless meditations of undisciplined and vacant minds. Well trained and instructed in the efficient schools of the Order, their mysticism was founded upon the definitive and positive theology of the Church and directed to practical ends. We have seen the practical character of the life-work of Eckhart, the founder of the German school. Tauler was no less practical. As a preacher it was said of him that “he set the whole world aflame by his fiery tongue.” With the facility of a true Dominican he passed from contemplation to preaching, and, his preaching finished, he resumed his meditations. A kindred spirit was Blessed Henry Suso, to whom Bellarmine referred as “a preacher eminent for piety and learning.” The celebrated Louis of Blois spoke of him as “the zealous defender of the Catholic faith, whose writings are not merely orthodox but even divine.” As contemplative, teacher, writer and preacher, he exercised a wonderful influence over the souls of those with whom he came in contact. His “Little Book of Eternal Wisdom” was one of the most popular works on mysticism in the Middle Ages, and in its English translation continues in our own day to inspire souls with an ever-increasing love of God. Both Tauler and Suso were contemporaries and disciples of Meister Eckhart.

Among Italian mystics the names of Jerome Sayonarola, Giordano da Rivalta, Domenico Cavalca and Jacopo Passavanti are to be found. Not only were they famous for their mastery of Christian mysticism but for the dignity of style in which they gave it expression.


It is customary for the irreligious social reformer to assail the religious organizations of the Church as being non-producers; as though material productiveness were the sole test of social or economic utility. Under such a test some of the most generous contributors to social progress and civilization would have to be branded as parasites on the body politic. It is not they who have turned out the commodities of trade with hand and tool, but they who have labored in the workshop of their fecund intellects that have shaped and accelerated the progress of mankind. Such were the priceless contributions of Saint Dominic and his Friars to society, apart from their purely religious activity. Whatever pertained to the betterment of the human race enlisted their interest and earnest efforts. Thus, Balmez, the great Spanish philosopher and historian, tells us that “if the illustrious Spaniard, Dominic de Guzman, and the wonderful man of Assisi did not occupy a place on our altars, there to receive the veneration of the faithful for their eminent sanctity, they would deserve to have statues raised to them by the gratitude of society and humanity.”

With divine enthusiasm, and actuated only by love of their fellow men, they labored with might and main to eradicate the deep-seated ills which kept Europe in a state of chronic belligerency, and made wide-spread poverty a permanent dweller in the land. They were tireless and most successful advocates of peace and implacable opponents of wanton war. They organized societies to promote the ends of peace and to create a sentiment hostile to the perpetual conflicts waged by unscrupulous princes to further their own selfish ends. Oderic Raynaldus graphically describes the crusade of protest led by Blessed Ventura of Bergamo against the nobility and tyrants of Italy who were drenching the land with the blood of their fellow countrymen in personal and purposeless quarrels. Ten thousand penitents, whom he had persuaded to abandon their ancient feuds and animosities, were formed by him into a vast peace society, and these he led in pious pilgrimage to Rome to seal on the tomb of the Apostles their vows of life-long amity and concord. Through the different cities of Europe they journeyed towards their goal in perfect order, chanting the praises of God and crying, “Peace, Penance and Mercy!” Throughout the entire journey they were a source of edification to all who beheld them. To many a strife-torn town through which they passed they brought peace and concord and a wholesome abhorrence of senseless war.

No less famous as a promoter of peace was John of Vicenza, podesta (mayor) of Verona, who captivated all Lombardy with the eloquence of his preaching. Concerning him a medieval historian says: “Never since the time of our Lord Jesus Christ were there seen such multitudes gathered to hear this friar preach peace. He had such power over all minds that everywhere he was suffered to arrange the terms of reconciliation. * * * Families and states sought his counsel, and not without profit. So great was the confidence in his judgment that prisons were opened at his word and their inmates restored to liberty. Family feuds which had endured for centuries succumbed to his peacemaking efforts.” Governors, kings and pontiffs availed themselves of his great wisdom and sound judgment to promote the ends of blessed peace. So complete was the confidence of the people in the good judgment of the Dominicans that many of the cities of Lombardy placed their affairs and their statutes in the hands of the Friars Preachers for correction and rearrangement when necessary. The pontificates of the Dominican Popes Innocent V and Benedict XI were conspicuous for their achievements in promoting the peace of Europe and especially of Italy. Innocent V effected a reconciliation between Guelphs and Ghibellines in Italy and established peace between Pisa and Lucca. Cardinal Frangipani,the Pope’s representative,became known throughout Italy as the Prince of Peace. Benedict XI, while Master General of the Order, was made a member of a most important embassy which had for its purpose the arranging of an armistice between Philip IV of France and the English King Edward I. As Pope, he established peace between the Papacy and the French court.

Not a few of the great reforms accomplished by the Dominicans were due to the fact that so many of the Friars Preachers acted as confessors to the reigning families of Europe. During the Middle Ages the French monarchy sought most of its confessors in the ranks of the Order. The dukes of Burgundy and the kings of England employed them in a similar capacity. The kings of Castile and of Spain invariably chose their spiritual advisers from the ranks of the Friars, as did the kings of Portugal. Consequently, many channels of great influence were open to them through which they directed their benevolent efforts for the amelioration of the many distressing conditions prevalent in medieval Europe. The thought of being of service to the bodies as well as to the souls of men occupied the minds of the greatest of the Order’s saints and scholars. Thus, Albert the Great and the Englishman, John of Saint Giles, a former professor of medicine at the University of Paris, made exhaustive researches in medicine, herbs, plants, etc., for the purpose of discovering new elements of medicinal value. Saint Vincent Ferrer founded orphanages in almost every city in Spain, and multiplied hospitals throughout Spain and Brittany. Not only did the Dominicans serve the normal needs of afflicted humanity by the establishment of hospitals throughout Europe, but in the fearful epidemics that scourged the Middle Ages they ministered in person, like their illustrious brothers, Saint Antoninus and Saint Louis Bertrand, to the plague-stricken of their respective cities. In such a crisis, Saint Antoninus, Florence’s most beloved archbishop, was to be seen leading a mule laden with everything that he could find to ease the sufferings and alleviate the distress of those who had fallen victims of the plague.

Of Saint Antoninus Pius II truly said that “the hands of the poor were the depository of all that he possessed.” He converted his palace into a common lodging house and divided up his gardens into plats in which the poor might grow their vegetables. One of his most effective and enduring works was the institution of a society, known as the Buonosnini di San Martino, for befriending the poor. This society, founded in 1441 in the Dominican Convent of Saint Mark, was made up of twelve of the leading men of Florence. To them Saint Antoninus announced his plan of dividing the city into twelve districts and assigning one of them to each district for the purpose of ministering to the poor in their district. The alms collected were not to be invested nor spent on office-rent, salaries, investigations or the keeping of records, but were to be paid out directly and immediately to the deserving poor, especially to those who were ashamed to make known their wants. It was an admirably planned and effectively executed work, and its continuance for over four hundred years proves the value of its service. His plan for the reformation of the morals of Florence must have seemed to any one not familiar with his capacity for achievement, to be the dream of a visionary. Yet before long it had been so fully realized that blasphemy, gambling, usury and other disorders had become entirely a thing of the past. So completely did he heal the feuds and quarrels of its citizens that Pope Pius could say that “all enmities were banished out of the city.”

Among all the great reformers given to the Church none stands out so heroically or towers so high as the famous Florentine prior, Savonarola. From his earliest youth he cherished high ideals and gave evidence of the strength of character necessary to realize them. At the suggestion of the famous scholar, Picus Mirandola, he was invited to Florence by Lorenzo de Medici. Thus were brought into contact, and eventually into conflict, two characters as different in their tastes, aims and manner of life as two personalities could possibly be. It was not long before Savonarola was elected prior of Saint Marks, an office which carried with it considerable authority and influence in even the civic affairs of the city. At the time of his death the community at Saint Mark’s numbered two hundred religious and eighty novices, among whom were to be found statesmen, scholars and former courtiers. So great was the number attracted to the religious life by the preaching and example of Savonarola that the Convent of Saint Mark had to be enlarged to accommodate them. Florence was at this time the fountain-head of the Renaissance. The Neo-paganism of the Humanists flourished here in every department of the arts. Through the channels of government as well as of art and literature it poured its corrupting poison into the hearts of the people. In the form of pagan art it had even invaded the sanctuary. Debauchery threw off its natural concomitants of darkness and secrecy and brazenly exhibited itself in public places. The standards of public decency had fallen to such a deplorable degree that the morals of even the school children were in grave danger of being corrupted. Such was the condition of affairs that con fronted Savonarola on his entrance into Florence. This saintly character, who lived only for God’s honor and glory and the salvation of souls, immediately entered upon the herculean task of cleaning out the Augean stables of Florence. From the pulpit of Saint Mark’s he lashed the corruption of the people with fiery eloquence. In his holy crusade he was no respecter of persons, and neither dignity of office nor rank nor station served to shield the guilty from his burning castigation. None more than Lorenzo de Medici, the tyrant of Florence and the abettor of its immorality, felt the weight of his denunciation. The fact that he was a generous patron of the convent of Saint Mark did not save him from the condemnation of its fearless prior. In his sermons Savonarola attacked the false conceptions and the degrading use of art which so powerfully contributed to the decline of morals, and vividly set forth in opposition to its revolting naturalism the true ideal of spiritual beauty. He extolled the civilizing and Christianizing influence of true art and vehemently protested against its prostitution to the ends of sensualism and naturalism. So irrefutable were his statements and so moving the eloquence with which they were expressed that many of the artists of Florence brought to him their objectionable paintings and destroyed them in his presence, promising never again to offend against the true spirit and purpose of art. Many of them, captivated by his holiness of life and his sublime conception of beauty, entered the Order to consecrate their talents directly and exclusively to God. Among these was the famous painter, Fra Bartolomeo, the instructor of Raphael.

No less effective was his crusade against the laxity of morals among the pleasure-loving Florentines. So profound was the influence of his campaign against the revolting sensualism of his age that even the school children petitioned the government to protect them against the unclean spirit of the times. The public carnivals held on special occasions, which were orgies of debauchery that outraged public decency, became religious pageants depicting eternal truths. Improprieties of dress, suggesting those of our own day, were abolished and conformity to the standards of Christian modesty restored. In the reform carnival of 1497 all the vanities of the sensuous Florentines and their adjuncts of sin were gathered together in the Piazza dei Signon and burned. Priceless tapestries, defiled by unclean representations, paintings and sculpture that outraged modesty, books that reeked with indecency and the poison of false teaching, cards and dice that squandered the earnings of the poor, false hair, paints, powders and other artificialities with which women concealed their physical deficiencies, masks, costumes and other things pertaining to the pagan carnivals – all were thrown by their penitent owners upon the colossal pyramid which was quickly given over to the flames. Even the form of government was changed to meet the political and economic teachings of Savonarola and took the form of a theocratic democracy whose supreme ruler was Christ, and whose social and political institutions and organic law were firmly founded on the teachings of the Saviour. Such was Savonarola, the great Dominican reformer, whose tragic end proved the sincerity of his purpose and his unconquerable devotion to the cause of Catholic reform.

There is no more inspiring story in the history of the settlement of the New World than the Order’s championship of the rights of the American Indian. A race by no means robust, and unaccustomed to toil, they fell easy victims to the Spanish explorers’ insatiable greed and lust for power. To this fact Prescott, by no means addicted to the praise of Catholics, bears generous testimony. “The brethren of Saint Dominic,” he says, “stood forth as the avowed champions of the Indians on all occasions and showed themselves devoted to the cause of freedom in the New World.” So well known was their sympathy for and efforts in behalf of the Indians that the most illustrious of all their defenders, Bartholomew de Las Casas, joined the Dominicans in order that he might consecrate his life to the defence of the aborigines. That his efforts in their behalf were fully approved by his newly-found brethren in the Old World, as well as in the New, we may infer from the words of Hallam who says that “Dominic Soto, always inflexibly on the side of right, had already sustained by his authority the noble enthusiasm of Las Casas.” So insistently did this great champion of the oppressed keep before the Spanish Crown the wrongs of this enslaved people, and so effectively did he present their right to freedom and the pursuit of happiness, that in 1515 he was nominated Protector General of the Indians. Never were the functions of any earthly office more conscientiously and enthusiastically filled than those of the office of Protector General of the Indians by its first incumbent. Tirelessly he combated the boundless greed of the Spanish adventurers who exploited the untutored savages for their own profit. The powerful interests arrayed against his benevolent efforts could not force him to abate his zeal in behalf of his helpless charges one jot or tittle. When the authorities in America could not, or would not, afford him the assistance he sought, he personally took appeal directly to the Spanish Throne. Seven times he crossed the ocean to plead the cause of the Indians at court. At last he succeeded, though with the help of a brother Dominican, Garcias de Loaysa, President of the Indian Council, in having a code of laws drafted “having for its express object,” as Prescott tells us, “the enfranchisement of the oppressed race.” “And,” he adds, “in the wisdom and humanity of its provisions it is easy to recognize the hand of the Protector of the Indians.” Up to the last he persisted in refusing the sacraments to those who held the natives in slavery contrary to the provisions of this code. In 1544 he was consecrated Bishop of Chiapa and with the increased influence which his episcopal office gave him continued his strenuous defense of the Indians in the face of the greatest opposition. To him alone it was due that slavery found no foothold in South America as it did on the northern continent. In the words of Sir Arthur Helps, “his was one of those few lives that are beyond biography, and require a history to be written in order to illustrate them.” His last work was to write a voluminous history of the West Indies, which is the most reliable authority on the events of the New World up to the year 1522.


As we have already seen so often, every medium, of whatever kind, that was capable of giving expression to religious truth was eagerly seized by the Dominicans to further the ends of their apostolate. Among the many mediums not necessarily allied with religious propaganda, which the Order converted to this end, not the least serviceable was Christian art. Only too often a most effective means of accomplishing spiritual ruin, in the hands of the Friars Preachers it served the cause of religion by presenting in concrete form to the unlettered masses of the Middle Ages the eternal truths of God. It was for this reason that the Dominican Order created a school of religious art, influenced art and inspired artists by establishing higher standards, truer ideals and nobler ends for their genius. To the Dominican mind it seemed there could be no nobler consecration of art than its application to the temples of God, themselves already consecrated to the cause of religion. The motto of the Order is “Truth”; and truth and beauty are convertible terms. It was but natural, therefore, that in their tireless diffusion of truth the Friars Preachers should seize upon the beauty of religious art to give fuller and more tangible expression to the truths of salvation. In this manner they became not only the patrons but the creators of art. “The Dominicans,” says Cesare Cantu, “soon had in the chief towns of Italy magnificent monasteries and superb temples, veritable wonders of art. Among others may be mentioned: the Church of Santa Maria Novella, at Florence; Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, at Rome; Saint John and Saint Paul, at Venice; Saint Nicholas, at Treviso; Saint Dominic, at Naples, at Perugia and at Prato; the splendid tomb of the founder, at Bologna; the Church of Saint Catherine, at Pisa; Saint Eustorgius and Sta. Maria delle Grazie, at Milan; and several others remarkable for rich simplicity and of which the architects were mostly monks” (Dominicans).

The greatest glory of the Order in the field of Christian art was, of course, Giovanni da Fiesole, commonly known as Fra Angelico. He is the earliest as well as the most famous among the painters of the Dominican school of which he was the founder. An ideal religious among his brethren, he was also an immortal among artists. A modern critic has said of him that painting was his ordinary prayer. Certain it is that in his painting he but visualized his long and earnest meditations. The glorious things he beheld with the eye of the spirit in his hours of prayer he reproduced upon his canvas clothed in the colors of the rainbow. Indeed, the great Michael Angelo, whose own brother was a Dominican, said of Fra Angelico’s picture of the Annunciation: “No man could have designed such figures had he not first been to heaven to see them.” We are told that he never took up his brush without first having recourse to prayer. So intense was the religous feeling that dominated him when he stood before his easel that, as the outlines of the crucifixion began to appear upon his canvas, his eyes were suffused with tears. Nor would he, we are told, consent to paint Christ and His Blessed Mother in any other posture than upon his knees. Under such circumstances it is hardly to be wondered at that his pictures contain a supernatural atmosphere lacking in the religious paintings of even the greatest artists of the Middle Ages. He was no slavish imitator of his predecessors. He was, in fact, a daring innovator who blazed his own path and created his own style. Under his magic touch the old subjects of religious art were transfused with the light of heaven and clothed with the gorgeous draperies of his own colorful imagination. Dante, it may be said, with his “sweet new style” translated the Summa of Saint Thomas into the verse of the “Divine Comedy,” while Fra Angelico visualized the luminous principles of one who, like himself, was called “angelic,” and the sublime imagery of the master poet, and blended both in one immortal symphony of form and color. Thus in the glorious trilogy of theology, poetry and art the Friars Preachers furnished two of its master builders and inspired the third.

Baccio della Porta, better known in the annals of art as Fra Bartolomeo, acquired fame as a painter second only to Fra Angelico. His work was done in that golden age of art, the Italian Renaissance. The friend and follower of Savonarola, he put on the habit of the Order in the convent of Prato the morning after the great reformer met his tragic fate. Soon after his profession he was sent to the convent at Florence where his best work as a painter of religious subjects was done. Rosini called him “the star of the Florentine school.” Not his least notable contribution to art was the influence he exercised on the great Raphael. When the latter, as a young man, came to Florence to study the works of Michael Angelo and Leonardo da Vinci he placed himself under the instruction of Fra Bartolomeo, as the nearest to them in his knowledge of coloring. More than one of Raphael’s masterpieces is the fruit of their collaboration.

In the art of glass-painting, as in other departments of art, the Dominicans founded their own school several of whose members achieved immortal fame in their cloistral studios. That their work was not done for earthly fame or glory is witnessed by the fact that so little is known of their personalities and that their love of prayer was equalled only by their love of beauty. Indeed, one of these artists, James of Ulm, a lay-brother of Bologna, has been formally beatified by the Church. When he died in the closing years of the fifteenth century he left behind him, firmly established in its efficiency and fame, the school of glass-painting which he himself had founded. Another member of the Order, William of Marcillat, who died in 1529, was regarded as the greatest painter on glass that had ever lived. Thus it came to pass that while the Dominican Fathers preached with apostolic zeal from the pulpits of Europe, the humble and all-unknown brothers, reproducing their own simple meditations in the unfading glory of form and color, preached no less eloquently from the storied windows of many a chapel, church and minster of medieval Europe. Long since the eloquent tongues of these clerical brethren were hushed in the silence of the grave. But the lessons taught by their humble auxiliaries in the universal language of mankind are still retold with undiminished interest from century to century. From the emblazoned windows of many an ancient edifice in Germany, England, France and Italy they still tell the glory of Christian virtue and its incomparable reward.

In architecture no less than in painting the Friars Preachers established a well-founded claim to a conspicuous place among the makers of art. In the uprearing of the magnificent churches of the Order the lay-brothers again outstripped the Fathers in the magnificence of their achievements. Among the most famous of Dominican churches that of Santa Maria Novella, at Florence, is best known. Built in 1278, it was entirely the work of Dominican lay-brothers. None but members of the Order participated in its construction. Fra Sisto and Fra Ristoro were its architects and under their able direction this magnificent temple of Christian art was erected to the honor and glory of God. So enamored of its chaste beauty was Michael Angelo that he was wont to call it his “gentle and beautiful bride.” Within the walls of this splendid edifice Cimabue as a boy, studying its glorious frescoes, received the inspiration which made him one of the immortals of medieval art. And, as if in poetic justice, it was hither his famous masterpiece, “The Madonna,” eventually came to find its final resting place. Under the skillful direction of the famous Father Passavanti, Orgagna and Memmi multiplied their magnificent frescoes till Santa Maria Novella became a veritable museum of Christian art.

In Germany, France and Spain the Order upreared convents and churches which were monuments of architecture. Brother Diemar built the Dominican church at Ratisbon in the last quarter of the thirteenth century; while at the same time Brother Volmar exercised his genius as an architect in Alsace and especially at Colmar. To the genius of Brother Humbert is due the architectural beauty of the church and convent at Bonn. The Dominican church and convent at Batalha in Portugal, in the opinion of competent critics, are probably the finest ever possessed by a religious Order. Nor is England destitute of witnesses to the skill of Dominican architects. If we may credit tradition, the concert hall of Saint Andrew, in Norwich, was once a Dominican church planned and executed by members of the Order. The wonderfully beautiful lantern-topped tower of Saint Nicholas at Newcastle is also credited to the constructive genius of the brethren. The Dominican Church of the Minerva, the only Gothic church in Rome and one of the most notable edifices of the Eternal City, was designed by two Florentine Dominicans. This church, as well as that of the Dominicans at Bologna, was successfully restored in our own day by Girolamo Bianchedi, a Dominican lay-brother.

More than one of the famous bridges of Europe is the work of Dominican engineers. The Rialto of Venice, for instance, was built by Fra Giacondo of Verona, architect royal to Louis XII of France. Under a commission from the French King, Louis XIV, the Port Royal of Paris was built by the Dominican architect, Fr´re François Romain of Ghent. The stone bridge across the Aar in Bonn, for centuries the most beautiful in the city, was built by Brother Humbert who also built the Dominican church and convent of that city.

The Order was not content to consecrate to the cause of Christian art those of its members who were naturally talented in that way, but actively and systematically cultivated the love of art and exercised a profound influence over it to the end that it might reflect the highest possible ideals of beauty. No greater patron of art existed among the Dominican brethren than Blessed John Dominic, afterwards Cardinal of Saint Sixtus. He himself was an artist of no small merit, and during his life at Santa Maria Novella he acquired considerable fame as a miniaturist. In all the Dominican convents of men and women over which he exercised any jurisdiction he endeavored to stimulate a love of painting among their members. This interest in art was, of course, to be dedicated to the ends of religion, such as illuminating choral books and missals. The same was true of Savonarola. In every convent in which he exercised any influence he awakened a lively interest in painting and modelling according to principles which are now recognized by the artistic world as essential for the highest expression of beauty. The lay-brothers were exhorted to develop any talent they might have in sculpture, painting or architecture. During his incumbency of Saint Mark’s he received into the Order some of the foremost artists of Florence. Within the cloister walls of that famous old convent their art was passed through the alembic of religion, and thus purified and supernaturalized, it was consecrated to the service of God. Nor was the interest of the Friars Preachers in matters of art confined to their own community. They freely patronized the greatest painters of their times. Thus it came to pass that Cimabue’s famous Madonna was brought to the Dominican Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, and that Leonardo da Vinci painted his immortal “Last Supper” on the refectory wall of the Dominican Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie, at Milan.

We have already noticed at some length Savonarola’s influence on the art of his day. He found it dedicated to paganism, characterized by sensuality and supported chiefly by the rich profligates of Florence. Against all this he inveighed with burning eloquence. To their very faces he denounced the Medici for their encouragement of licentiousness in art, vividly portrayed its demoralizing influence on the people of the city, and then expounded the sublime principles, ideals and purposes of art in the light of religious truth. In the end he succeeded in purifying and christianizing it and consecrating it to the cause of religion. Nor did his untimely end terminate his influence in the realm of art; for in the persons of his artist-converts that influence lived and served the ends of virtue and religion. Especially in the person of his Dominican brother, Fra Bartolomeo, the master of Raphael and the friend of Michael Angelo, it continued to live and serve the cause of religious truth. It has been truly said of Fra Bartolomeo that “he influenced all that was best in Venice, Florence and Rome, expounding in color what Savonarola had taught with the eloquence of his lips.”

In Other Fields of Service

In order to keep the present work within the limits originally set for it, we can give only a passing notice to many fields of endeavor in which the Friars Preachers labored for God’s honor and glory and the salvation of souls. As a result of the confidence the Church placed in the Order she drew heavily upon such of its members as were capable of filling her highest offices and discharging the duties of her most important commissions. Consequently, as early as 1250 Matthew of Paris could say: “The Friars Preachers, impelled by obedience, are the fiscal agents, the nuncios and even the legates of the Pope.”

To the Papacy the Order has given four popes – Innocent V, Benedict XI, Pius V and Benedict XIII. Of these Innocent V and Benedict XI have been solemnly beatified and Pius V canonized. In fact, he was the last pope to be elevated to the altars of the Church. Eighty-one Dominicans have been called to the College of Cardinals. Four Dominicans were Presidents of General Councils, twenty-five Legates a Latere, eight Apostolic Nuncios and one Prince-Elector of the Holy Roman Empire. From the ranks of the Order the Church has drawn twenty-three of its patriarchs, over six hundred archbishops and more than fifteen hundred bishops. From the days of the founder himself the office of Master of the Sacred Palace has been filled uninterruptedly by members of the Order. Upon the institution of the Inquisition Gregory IX turned over its administration to the Friars Preachers. None guarded more jealously the rights of the Papacy than the sons of Saint Dominic. Cardinal John Dominic was the intrepid champion of the legitimate Pope, Gregory XIII, at the end of the Great Schism; and in his name resigned the Papacy at the Council of Constance. The famous Dominican Cardinal John Torquemada brilliantly defended the rights of the Papacy at the Council of Basle. It was the great scriptural scholar, Cardinal Hugh of Saint Cher, whom the Pope sent to Germany to persuade the Germans to accept William of Holland after the deposition of Frederick II. From the foundation of the Roman Congregations in the sixteenth century the titulars of the Commissariat of the Holy Office and the Secretary of the Index have always been chosen from the members of the Order. The office of Consultor to the Holy Office also belonged by right to the Dominican Master General.

The influence of the Friars Preachers was not infrequently exercised in the foundation or reformation of other religious orders or congregations. Saint Raymond of Pennafort was one of the three to whom the Blessed Virgin appeared and communicated her desire that an order be founded for the redemption of captives among the Moors. On the feast of Saint Lawrence, 1223, Saint Raymond led Saint Peter of Nolasco – the founder of this order – to the cathedral at Barcelona, where the latter, in the presence of the bishop and king, took the usual vows of religion, to which was added a third – to devote his life, substance and liberty to the ransoming of captives. In this manner was the Order of Mercy called into existence. The constitutions of the new Institute were drawn up by Saint Raymond, who has always been considered its second founder. Before Pope Pius IV would confirm the rule of the Barnabites of Saint Paul he ordered that it be submitted for examination and revision to the Dominican, Leonard de Marini, papal nuncio at the Council of Trent. To Bernard Geraldi was committed the task of revising the rule of the Order of Grandmont, to which he was appointed visitator by Honorius IV in 1282. Again, it was on the recommendation of Saint Peter Martyr, the heroic Dominican inquisitor of Lombardy, that the Order of Servites was confirmed. At his suggestion they adopted the active rather than the contemplative life. The Servites number him among their chief protectors and patron saints. In the revision of the Carmelite rule, the Dominican Cardinal Hugh of Saint Cher, whose monumental labors we have already noticed, was appointed to be its interpreter. Three hundred years later, when the Dominicans again took a notable part in the reformation of the Carmelite rule, Saint Theresa could say: “We observe the rule of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, without any mutilation, as it was ordained by Cardinal Hugo of Santa Sabina and confirmed by Pope Innocent IV.”

The “imperial spirit of government” which Cardinal Newman attributed to Saint Dominic, was in a measure handed down by the holy patriarch to his spiritual children. On more than one occasion their services were sought by civil as well as ecclesiastical bodies for the purpose of drafting laws, drawing constitutions and, in an advisory capacity, for administering governments. Speaking of their own form of government, the Protestant writer Barker says in his work, “The Dominican Order and Convocation”: “The Dominicans had availed themselves of that possibility (institution development) and the vogue and the prestige which this compact and admirably organized community enjoyed in the thirteenth century both with statesmen like de Montfort and prelates like Langton (father of Magna Charta) would tend to the spread of its institutions. Here was an approved type – and it is the law of human nature that the approved type should be at once imitated. The majority of the religious orders of the thirteenth century followed quite closely Dominican legislation, and the Church considered it the typical rule for new foundations.” The same author attributes the beginning of convocation in the Church in England to the advent of the Dominicans, with their representative form of government. Simon de Montfort and Archbishop Stephen Langton, through their friendship for the Dominicans, became acquainted with the methods of convocation in the Order and, realizing their advantages, introduced them into the administration of the diocese of Canterbury. So firm and comprehensive was Saint Thomas’ grasp upon the philosophy of legislation that at the request of the King of Cyprus he wrote a work entitled “Concerning the King and the Kingdom.” At the invitation of the Countess of Flanders he wrote a treatise entitled “Concerning the Government of Subjects.” We have already seen how the cities of all Lombardy placed their statutes in the hands of the Dominicans for revision and such changes as they might deem necessary. At the request of the Florentine government Savonarola wrote a dissertation on the administration and government of the city of Florence. Father Justin de Poro was so eminent in his knowledge of law that he was consulted by the Argentinians in the drawing up of their constitutions.

The reader will bear in mind that the names and facts cited in this third part are in no wise intended to be an exhaustive list of the activities and accomplishments of the Order of Saint Dominic. They have been selected for notice because they seemed to the writer typical of the spirit and purpose of the Order. Did the limit we have set for ourselves permit they might easily be paralleled by innumerable others equally worthy of mention and praise.

Such in the history of seven hundred years is the Order of Preachers instituted by the holy patriarch Saint Dominic. It was Lacordaire who said that monks and oaks alike are immortal. And certainly it would seem that this statement has been verified in the Order of which the great preacher was himself a most illustrious member. Through schisms which rent the Church itself in twain it has come down the centuries practically alone, of all the older orders, untorn and undivided. This does not mean, however, that it did not share the vicissitudes which the Church experienced in the political and religious upheavals of these seven hundred years. The so-called Reformation deprived it of hundreds of convents while it furnished it with hundreds of martyrs. The French Revolution utterly destroyed all the provinces in France. But while they might destroy its outward form and substance in this country or that, neither heretic nor infidel could touch its deathless spirit. Crushed to earth, here and there, it was sure to rise and flourish elsewhere; and ever, from the midst of its own ashes, phoenix-like, it rose with renewed youth and courage to serve anew the cause of truth and virtue. It is ancient, as Lacordaire says, but not antiquated. Today, after seven centuries of persecutions, calumnies, banishments and every kind of vicissitude, it is still spreading over the face of the earth and waxes stronger day by day. Its youthful spirit, its flexibility, its ability to adapt itself to ever-changing times and customs, its fidelity to its original purposes, bid fair to perpetuate its saving mission as long as the Church needs its zealous apostolate to preach Christ, and Him crucified, to the wayward souls of men.