This episode is titled, Dominic & continues our look on monastic life.
In our last episode we considered Francis of Assisi & the monastic order that followed him, the Franciscans. In this installment of CS, we take a look at the other great order that developed at this that time – The Dominicans.
Dominic was born in the region of Castile, Spain in 1170. At an early age he excelled as a student. At 25, he became a priest & a few years later he was invited by his bishop, Diego of Osma, to accompany him on a visit to Southern France where he ran into a group of heretics known as the Cathars. Dominic threw himself into the Church-sanctioned movement to suppress the Cathars by going on a preaching tour of the region.
Dominic proved effective in debating the Cathars. He persuaded many who’d been leaning toward their sect to instead walk away and à join the resistance. For this, the Bishop of Toulouse gave Dominic 1/6th of the diocesan tithes to continue his anti-Cathar work. Another wealthy supporter gave Dominic a house in Toulouse so he could live right in the heart of their region.
We’ll come back to the Cathars, & several other pseudo-Christian sects of that time in a future episode.
Dominic visited Rome during the 4th Lateran Council, the subject of a future episode as well. He was encouraged by Pope Innocent III, but the Pope refused Dominic’s request that he be allowed to start a new monastic order. The Pope suggested instead he join one of the already existing orders. Since a Pope’s ‘suggestion’ really meant command, Dominic chose the rule of the Augustinians. He donned their black Monk’s habit & built a convent at Toulouse.
He returned to Rome a year later, staying for about a half year. Pope Honorius II decided to grant him his petition and allowed him to start his own order. This “Order of Preaching Brothers,” as it was officially called, was the first religious community dedicated to preaching. The order grew rapidly in the 13th C, gaining 15,000 members in 557 houses by the end of the century.
As soon as he returned to France, Dominic began sending out monks to start colonies. The order quickly took root in Paris, Bologna, & Rome. Dominic returned to Spain where in 1218 he personally established 2 monastic communities; one for women the other for men.
From France, the Dominicans launched into Germany. They quickly established themselves in Cologne, Worms, Strassburg, Basel, & other cities. In 1221 the order was introduced into England, and at once settled in Oxford. The Blackfriars Bridge, London, carries in its name the memory of their great friary there.
Dominic died at Bologna in Italy in Aug., 1221. His tomb is decorated by the artwork of Nicholas of Pisa & Michaelangelo. Compared to the speedy recognition of Francis as a saint only 2 years after his death, Dominic took 13 years, which is still a pretty quick canonization.
Dominic lacked the warm, passionate concern for the poor and needy that marked his contemporary Francis. But it Francis was devoted to Lady Poverty, Dominic was pledged to Sir Truth. If Francis & Dominic were both members of a cruise ship’s crew – Francis would be the activities director, Dominic the lawyer.
An old story illustrates the contrast between them.
Interrupted in his studies by the chirping of a sparrow, Dominic caught the bird and plucked it. Now, this didn’t really happen, but it conveys the sentiment marking the distinction between the 2 men. For one thing, Francis would not have been studying, and 2nd à he wouldn’t harm any creature.
Dominic was resolute in purpose, zealous for propagating the orthodox faith, and devoted to the Church and its hierarchy. His influence continues through the organization he created.
At the time of Dominic’s death, the preaching monks, or “friars” as they were called, had 60 monasteries & convents scattered across Europe from Spain to Hungary, from England to Italy. A few years later, they’d pressed out to Jerusalem & into northern Europe. Because the Dominicans saw themselves as the preaching authority of the Vatican, they received numerous privileges to preach any- & everywhere.
Mendicancy, or begging, as a means of support, was made the rule of the order in 1220. The example of Francis was followed, and the order, as well as the individual monks, renounced all right to possess property. The mendicant feature was, however, never emphasized as among the Franciscans. It was not a matter of conscience with the Dominicans, and the order was never involved in divisions over the question of holding property as the Franciscans were. The obligation of corporate poverty was removed in 1477. Dominic’s last exhortation to his followers was that they should have love, do humble service, and live in voluntary poverty. But those precepts were never really taken much to heart by his the bulk of his followers.
Unlike Francis, Dominic didn’t require manual labor by the monks. For work with their hands he substituted study & preaching. The Dominicans were the first monastics to adopt rules for studying. When Dominic founded his monastery in Paris, and sent 17 of his order to man it, he told them to “study & preach.” A theological course of 4 years in philosophy and theology was required before a license was granted to preach, & 3 years more of theological study followed it.
Preaching & the saving of souls were defined as the chief aim of the order. No one was permitted to preach outside the cloister until he was 25. And they were not to receive money or other gifts for preaching, except food. Vincent Ferrer and Savonarola were the most renowned of the Dominican preachers of the Middle Ages. The mission of the Dominicans was mostly to the upper classes. They were the patrician order among the monastics.
Dominic would likely have been just one more nameless priest among thousands of the Middle Ages had it not been for that fateful trip to Southern France where he encountered the Cathars. He’d surely heard of them back in Spain but it was their popularity in France that provoked him. He saw & heard nothing among the heretics that he knew some good, solid teaching & preaching couldn’t correct. He was the right man, at the right time doing the right thing – at first. But his success at answering the errors of the Cathars gained him support that pressed him to step up his opposition toward error. That opposition would turn dark & sinister & into what is arguably one of the great dark spots on the Church’s history – the Inquisition. Though hundreds of years have passed, the word still causes many to a shiver of terror.
Dante said of Dominic he was, “Good to his friends, but dreadful to his enemies.”
Here we go; I say it again à We’ll take a closer look at the Inquisition in a later episode. but for now à
In 1232 the conduct of the Inquisition was committed to the care of the Dominicans. Northern France, Spain, and Germany fell to their lot. The stern Torquemada was a Dominican, and the atrocious measures which he employed to spy out and punish ecclesiastical dissent, have left an indelible blot upon the Dominicans.
The order’s device or emblem as appointed by Pope Honorius was a dog with a lighted torch in its mouth. The dog represented their call to watch, the torch to illuminate the world. A painting in their convent in Florence, St. Maria Novella, which I’ve visited, represents the place the order came to occupy as hunters of heretics. It portrays dogs dressed in the Dominican colors, chasing away foxes, representing heretics. All the while the pope and emperor, enthroned and surrounded by counselors, look on with satisfaction at the scene.
As we end this episode, I thought it would be good to make a quick review of the Mendicant monastic orders we’ve been looking at.
First, the Mendicant orders differed from previous monastics in that they were committed, not just to individual but corporate poverty. The mendicant houses drew no income from rents or property. They depended on charity.
Second, the friars didn’t stay sequestered in monastic communes. Their task was to be out & about in the world preaching the Gospel. Because all of Europeans society was deemed to be Christian, the mendicants took the entire world to be heir parish. Their cloister wasn’t just the halls of some convent, it was the public marketplace.
Third, the rise of the universities at this time presented both the Franciscans & Dominicans with new opportunities to get the Gospel message out by educating Europe’s future generations.
Fourth, the mendicants promoted a renewal of piety via the Tertiary orders they set up, which allowed lay people an opportunity to attend a kind of Monk-camp.
Fifth, The mendicants were directly answerable t9o the Pope rather than local bishops or intermediaries who often used the monastic orders to their own political or economic ends.
Sixth, the friars composed an order & organization more than a specific house as the previous orders had done. Before the mendicants, monks & nuns joined a convent or monastery. Their identity was wrapped up in that specific cloister. The Mendicants joined an order that was spread over dozens of such houses. Monks obedience was now not to the local abbot or abbess, but to the order’s leader.
Besides the Dominicans & Franciscans, other mendicant orders were the Carmelites, who began as hermits in the Holy Land in the 12th C; the Hermits of St. Augustine, & the Servites, who’d begun under the Augustinian rule in the 13th C, but became mendicants in the 15th.