ST. DOMINIC GUZMAN:
FOUNDER OF THE DOMINICAN ORDER
(ORDER OF PREACHERS)
St. Dominic was born Domingo de Guzman on about 1170 at Calaruega, Castile, Spain the youngest son of wealthy nobleman Don Felix (Warden ofCalaruega) and Blessed Juana of Aza. Dominic remained under the care of his mother until he was seven years old. It is said that when she gave birth to Dominic she had a vision of St. Dominic of Silos that told her that Dominic would be a shining light to the Church. Thus in thankfulness she had him baptized with the name of Dominic.
After his ordination he became canon at the Cathedral ofOsma in Castile He soon became prior superior of the chapter of the order which was noted for its strict following of the Rule of St. Augustine of Hippo. He was then 31 years old.
It was when, in 1203 accompanying Bishop Diego d’ Azevedo of Osma on a diplomatic mission to northern Germany (or possibly Denmark to negotiate a marriage for the king’s son that he passed through Languedoc, a town in southern France. It was here when his life changed dramatically. Stopping at an inn in Toulouse he was horrified to find that the inn keeper, like the rest of his townspeople, were leaving the Church to follow a strange false teaching.
The Albigensian Heresy
Named after the city of Albi in Languedoc where the heresy thrived and was widely propagated (thereby drawing a lot of Catholics to leave their faith) the religion was really a revival of the ancient Gnostic heresy.
In simplest terms they were dualists seeing two opposing conflicting spirits in the universe: good and evil. This led to the creation of a spiritual world which was good and the domain of an infinitely good God as distinguished from the earthly or material world which was carnal and corrupt, the domain of an infinitely evil Satan or the devil.
Since all matter is evil the Albigensians or Cathars meaning “the pure” denied the Incarnation and the sacraments. Thus they did not regard Jesus (who was matter) as Savior but merely a teacher. Other than that they tried to live in the spiritual world by leading lives of “abstemious purity.” Thus they had churches similar to Catholics complete with bishops, laity and liturgical services. They even read incessantly the Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul which was in their own French dialect (unlike the Catholic Church who even then had no vernacular scriptures for the laity to read.)
It was when Dominic literally spent the whole night successfully converting the owner of the inn back to the faith that he finally knew what God wanted of him: using his special charism – preaching.
On the return back to Spain the bishop and he passed by Rome where Dominic asked Pope Innocent III permission to preach in Russia. Instead the pope convinced Dominic that he was needed more at home to combat and oppose the heresy that was threatening the Church.
Passing by Citeaux and Montpellier whose monks were officially appointed by the Pope to be in charge of combating the heresy, they soon found out the reason for their failure to do so: the heresy was not due so much to a rejection of the Catholic faith as to a “woeful ignorance of its essential tenets.” Furthermore while the Albigensians upheld a life of great austerity, the monks lived a luxurious lifestyle traveling with horses and retinues staying at the best inns with servants.
Dominic decided to remain in France to not only preach against and debate with the heretics but to devise a plan that would bring them back to Catholicism.
Following the evangelical pattern of the original apostles, the monks from the Abbey of Citeaux would travel on foot going two by two without money depending solely on begging for their food. They would preach whenever and wherever there was an audience using persuasion and peaceful discussion instead of threats and overbearingness to exemplify the gospel ideas of faith and charity. But before setting out they had to be well-trained in theology, doctrine and in the art of communication. Thus their preaching would be knowledgeable, inspired and present a challenging alternative to the heresy. This was the birth of Dominic’s “evangelical preaching.”
He next established a convent of nuns at Prouille near Toulouse. These were a group of women who had converted from the heresy.
But the following year disaster struck. When papal legate Peter of Castelnan was murdered by the Albigensians the pope called upon the Christian princes to take up arms against them led by Simon de Montfort. For the next 7 years civil war ensued and dragged on until 1213 with Simon’s victory at Muret.
Dominic had followed the army although he opposed the use of force to combat errors; so instead he preached to the heretics. The only arms he used against them were “instruction, patience, penance, fasting, tears and prayer.” He would often say, “The enemies of the faith cannot be overcome like that. Arm yourself with prayer, rather than a sword; wear humility rather than fine clothes.” When asked from which book he studied his outstanding sermons, with great humility he said, “In no other than the Book of Love”.
However even he failed to get the Albigensians to give up their contrary views of Christianity and accept Roman Catholicism. The 7-year war killed many but converted few.
By around 1214 Dominic, having been given a castle at Casseneuil by Simon, he together with six followers finally began founding his dream of a preaching order devoted to the conversion of Albigensians. His principal aim was to multiply in the church zealous preachers who would be an example and means to more easily spread the faith and heal the wounds the Church had received from false doctrine. They would not be monks settled in one place but “Friars” (which means “brothers”) and their call was to bring the gospel message on the road to wander, beg, study and teach.
Later in October 1216 he received papal sanction for his OrdoPraedicatorum or Order of Friar Preachers since generally known as Dominicans or Black Friars because of their black vestments. The pope said, “Considering that the religious of your order will be champions of the faith and a true light of the world, we confirm your order.”
Dominic had decided that moral persuasion and scholarly arguments were to be his new order’s approach. His brothers were advised to speak only to God or with God. His willingness to preach everywhere and anywhere made his order so successful that it is one of the principal orders of the Church today spread all over the world where he directed his brothers to sow the seed, not hoard it.
Dominic and Francis of Assisi
It was while Dominic remained in Rome till after Easter that he met and formed his friendship with St. Francis of Assisi, the great founder of the other Mendicant Orders – the Franciscan Order.
The story goes that Dominic who was born 12 years earlier than St. Francis saw in a vision the sinful world being threatened by divine anger but saved by the intercession of our Lady who pointed out to her Son two figures. While Dominic recognized himself as one of them, the other was a stranger to him.
It was only the next day while praying in church that he saw a ragged beggar come in. Immediately recognizing him to be the other figure he embraced him and said, “You are my companion and must walk with me. For if we hold together no earthly power can withstand us.”
Thus did the Dominicans with their contemporaries the Franciscans start a new era in religious life – the age of the so-called mendicants or beggars. They proclaimed the gospel on the road rather than living within an enclosed monastery.
While Francis and Dominic were significantly different in vision and style they were alike in their zeal and great love for God.
Francis was the troubador, poet, mystic of nature who received marks of the stigmata because he identified himself so closely with Christ. Poverty was his acknowledged cherished bride and his mission was to be a witness to the spirit of the Beatitudes.
Dominic, on the other hand, identified himself more with the missionary apostles at the service of the church. That his friars might be more effective preachers like himself he urged them to study theology and doctrine and become experts in its exposition. Thus the Dominicans produced such great theologians as Thomas Aquinas and Catherine of Siena. Dominic, himself, was the first ever appointed Papal Theologian, a position that has since been held only by a Dominican Priest.
Unlike Francis who aspired to personify the gospel Dominic merely aspired to be its effective propagator. Thus “his legacy was not in the example of personal holiness but in the apostolic movement he instituted and inspired.”
The Franciscans and Dominicans have always remained close celebrating the famous meeting of the two founders twice a year. On their respective feast days the brethren of the two orders sing Mass in each others’ churches and afterwards sit at the same table.
Death and Canonization
Having finally received papal approval and support Dominic devoted the few remaining years of his life to structuring the order’s government, academic program, preaching work and the observance of poverty. The brothers who were to be “the successors of the Apostles in establishing the Kingdom of God” were to preach as they traveled living on very little.
By the time he died in the general headquarters in Bologna, Italy on August 6, 1221 worn out by his labors the Friars Preachers or Dominicans had become phenomenally successful in conversion work with the weapons he had given them: prayer especially the holy Rosary since he was a great lover of Mary. (However the claim that Dominic was the one who introduced the devotion of the rosary has not been accepted by all). Besides prayer, he armed them with charity, humility, and willing poverty. Thus he died in Brother Moneta’s bed because he had none of his own and in Brother Moneta’s habit because the habit he had previously been wearing was already worn out.
On August 6, 1221 when Dominic knew he was at death’s door he gathered his brethren around him and made his last testament to them saying, “These, my much-loved ones, are the bequests which I leave to you as my sons: have charity among you; hold to humility; keep willing poverty.”
But he died fulfilled because he had already seen established 4 monasteries and over 60 friaries spread across 8 provinces and converted some 100,000 unbelievers! The Order of Preachers is now world-wide. His religious order that combined the contemplative life of the monks with the active apostolate of the evangelists had helped to rejuvenate the Church which badly needed it at that time. They became the leading orders of missionaries and teachers establishing the University of Sto. Tomas here in the Philippines, even earlier than Harvard in the United States.
When Dominic was canonized in 1234 by his friend Pope Gregory IX he said that Dominic “had lived the life of the apostles toperfection. . .” that he no more doubted the sanctity of Dominic than he did that of St. Peter or St. Paul. Dominic, a very humble saint had even refused 3 times to be made a bishop! He truly lived the meaning of his name Domingo in Spanish which means “I belong to God.”
It is to St. Dominic and his Dominicans that we owe the spread of the beautiful practice of saying the Rosary. He is the patron saint of astronomers.
Dominic is represented generally holding a book – hisRule. Other times he is accompanied by a black and white dog with a torch clamped in his jaws. Legend has it that before he was born his mother had a dream of a dog bearing a similar torch which was symbolic of truth and light or of the fire of his zeal for souls. It is more probable that the symbolic dog arises from a pun-dominicanis (sounds like Domincan) which is Latin for ‘the master’s (the Lord’s) dog.
Another emblem of Dominic is the star. This is because his mother or godmother saw a star in his brow in a vision.
Dominic is also seen as holding a rosary or receiving one from the Virgin Mary whom he dearly loved. Another legend tells us that once when Dominic was despondent because of the slow progress he was making against the Albigensian heresy suddenly the Blessed Virgin appeared with a rosary made of a wreath of roses. She told him not only to say the Rosary everyday but to teach the people everywhere to also pray the it. When Dominic did as she instructed the heresy began to disappear. The recitation of the Rosary became Dominic’s way of honoring his beloved Mary.
Dominic frequently told his friars: “A man that governs his passion is master of the world. We must either rule them or be ruled by them. It is better to be the hammer than the anvil.”
Learning, study of the Bible and teaching has always been of first importance in his order, but the spirit of prayer and recollection has always been characteristics of Dominicans.
Sources of Reference
ST. DOMINIC GUZMAN
Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Vol. III pp. 258 – 264
The Illustrated World Encyclopedia – p. 145
The Book of Saints – p. 207
Pocket Dictionary of Saints – pp. 147 – 148
The Watkins Dictionary of Saints – pp. 69 – 70
A Calendar of Saints – p. 150
All Saints – pp. 339 – 341
Saints for Everyday – pp. 285 – 286
A Year With the Saints – August 8
Butler’s Saint for the Day – pp. 369 – 372
Illustrated Lives of the Saints – Vol. I – pp. 350 – 352
My First Book of Saints – pp. 174 – 176
Saint Companions – pp 291 – 193
Saints for Our Time – pp. 165 – 166
Saint of the Day – pp. 196 – 198
Lives of the Saints – Part I pp. 328 – 330
Saints – A Visual Guide – pp. 212 – 213
Voices of the Saints – pp 358 – 359
Best Loved Saints – pp. 71 – 73
The Way of the Saints – pp. 134 – 135
Book of Saints – Part 4 – pp. 24 – 25
Saints of the Roman Calendar – pp. 230 – 232
Saints for Our Time – pp. 165 – 166
Saints and their Symbols – pp. 157 – 158