The Dominicans by Benedict M. Ashley, O.P.
The fourteenth century, called by Barbara Tuchmann A Distant Mirror of our own, was a time of declining population, economic regression, and political and religious turmoil. The Great Famine of 1317 was followed by the Black Death of 1347 with outbreaks throughout the century. In 1337 began the Hundred Years War in which the French fought to expel the English, while in the East the Crusades no longer gave hope of stopping the advance of Islam.
The papacy fell under the control of the French Kings and moved to Avignon in the “Babylonian Captivity” from 1309-1376. In 1311 an ecumenical council was held at Vienne, which at Philip the Fair’s behest suppressed the rich Order of Knights Templar. John XXII (1316-1334) carried on a bitter struggle against the claim of Louis of Bavaria to be emperor, and condemned the extreme views on poverty of the Spiritual Franciscans led by William of Ockham whose “modern way” of Nominalism in philosophy and theology came to dominate the universities. When Gregory XI (1370-1378) finally returned to Rome the election of his successor Urban VI (1378-1389) was repudiated by the French cardinals and a Great Western Schism splitting the Church into a Roman and Avignon obedience began. Meanwhile at Oxford John Wyclif (d. 1386) put forward a radical ecclesiology that anticipated the Protestant Reformation.
Yet this was also the time of Dante (d. 1321), Petrarch (d. 1374) and Boccaccio (d. 1375) in Italy and in England of William Langland (d. c. 1400) and Chaucer (d. 1400), of Perpendicular and Flamboyant Gothic in architecture and International Gothic in painting and sculpture, a brilliantly elegant style with a taste for such morbid themes as the danse macabre. Chivalry in warfare waned, but as a life style for the aristocracy flowered in courtly love, music, poetry, fantastic dress and armor.
In these complex times Dominican community life suffered one of its sharpest declines in the Order’s whole history. Although by 1303 it had reached 20,000 friars, the Black Death carried away a third and perhaps half. Even earlier community life was falling apart, because of frequent dispensations to own income-producing properties and for individuals to keep gifts and stipends. This abandonment of strict mendicancy had led Boniface VIII in 1299 by the bull Super Cathedram to tax one fourth of their income in favor of the seculars. Benedict XI, a Dominican, suspended this decree but the Avignon popes reinstated it.
A class system grew up because the Masters of Theology and Preachers General (distinctions eagerly competed for and abusively multiplied) could claim one of the better preaching territories (“terms”) and keep its rich stipends to live a private life in their own apartments on an upper floor of the convent, with a lay brother servant to serve each his own meals, while the fratres communi lived the common life on the ground floor, often lacking even necessities. After the Plague instead of consolidating their diminished communities the survivors struggled to maintain half-empty buildings. Night office was often neglected and Masters and Preachers General were exempted from choir altogether. Friars competed for office, condemned authority, quarreled over elections, and stubbornly resisted correction. As the Church fell into three parts so did the Order.
For the first half of the century the General Chapters were hampered by the rapid turn-over of Masters. Albert Chiavari (1300) died after three months; Bernard de Jusix in two years; Aylmer of Piacenza’s (1304-11) longer term was frustrated by his resistance to the revival of the Super Cathedram tax and to Clement V’s suppression of the Templars. Berengar of Landorra (1312-1317) attempted reform and imposed the following of Thomism. Hervé Nedellec (1318-23) confrmed this and obtained Thomas’ canonization. Barnabas Cagnoli of Vercelli (1324-1332) continued these policies and saved the growing Third Order from papal suppression. Hugh of Vaucemain (1333-1341) resisted a project of the former Cistercian, Benedict XII, for general reform of religious orders because Hugh feared this would mean the end of the Mendicants. Gerard of Domaro de la Garde (1342) after four months in office was made cardinal. Pierre of Baume-lesDames (Palma) (1342-1345), Garin de Gy l’Eveque (dead of plague in 1348), and Jean de Moulins (made cardinal in 1350) were ineffective leaders, although Jean, who had assisted the Pope’s efforts to end the Hundred Years War, is also remembered for urging Humbert II, King of Dauphine, to resign his crown, become a Dominican, and will his kingdom to France.
Simon of Langres (1352-1366) had a long term, but was so harsh and so frequently absent on papal business that only the Pope’s favor prevented his removal by the General Chapter. Elias Raymond (1367-1389), who recovered the body of St. Thomas for the Order and tried unsuccessfully to end the privileges of the Masters of Theology and Preachers General, remained Master in the Avignon obedience of the Great Schism after Bl. Raymond of Capua’s (1388-1400) election for the Roman obedience.
Raymond, born in 1330 at Capua of the noble family Delle Vigne, studied law at Bologna under the famous canonist Giovanni d’Andrea and his daughter Novella (so beautiful she lectured behind a curtain!). He was called in prayer at the tomb of St. Dominic to enter the Order for the Province of Sicily about 1347. After his studies he taught and then became confessor to the nuns founded by St. Agnes of Montepulciano and wrote her life. Elected prior of the Minerva in Rome in 1367, and appointed in 1374 Regent and Lector in Sacred Scriptures at Siena, he became confessor to St. Catherine whose life he was also to write. During the Plague he risked his life caring for the poor. On Catherine’s peace mission to Florence he was present when she received the stigmata. Prior of the Minerva again in Rome in 1377 he witnessed the disputed election of Urban VI, whose legitimacy he always defended. In 1379 he was made Master of Theology and in 1380 elected Master of the Order.
Catherine died just before Raymond’s election, but under her inspiration he began the reform of the Order in earnest. He relates in a letter how he arrived at a method of reform when requested by Conrad of Prussia to permit him and some companions to form a house of strict observance:
. . . I did not want to refuse them without their having an opportunity to observe those things instituted by the Holy Fathers, and so I granted what they sought, with the intention of later, after they were confirmed in their regular observance, to disperse them through diverse convents, that they might be, as it were, a leaven for others, and thus that the whole Order might be strengthened and reformed, without any coercion at all, replacing the dispersed with others in the same convent who meanwhile had learned perfect observance, and after they taught, to disperse them also, like the ones before (Opus. et Lit. VIII, p. 57-70).
Raymond then answers objections. The observants, he claims, will not divide a province since the Order’s unity comes from its Founder and Constitutions. Nor will a change in customs cause a schism since only volunteers will be asked to live in the houses of observance. No public scandal will arise because a reformed house will be the only one in a city. Moreover, the laxity of many houses is already notorious. Finally, Raymond apologizes for not giving an example of keeping the constitutional fasts himself. He has tried repeatedly but fainting spells and even fever have forced him to dispense himself.
The reform began in Germany under Conrad of Prussia, first at Colmar, then at Nuremberg and also at Utrecht in the Lowlands; some other attempts failed. Its second locus was in Italy led by Catherine’s disciples: Bartholomew of Siena, Thomas Caffarini, and especially BI. John Dominici into the next century. On the whole Raymond’s method succeeded, but it was based on the assumption which today must be questioned that religious renewal can be a literal return to “primitive observance” in the face of historical changes. He failed to distinguish between those elements of Dominican life which define its permanent purpose and those which had become obsolete.
Hence Raymond’s reform, though it saved the Order, also had some unhappy consequences. “Monastic observance” came to overshadow St. Dominic’s single-minded goal of an Order of Preachers. Also the government of the Order became more centralized in order to empower the Master to defend the “observants” against the hostility of General Chapters elected by “conventual” majorities. Hence after 1370 Chapters met not annually but only every two or three years. Finally, the conventuals remained the majority in many provinces and their dislike of the observants made for constant faction and friction. Fortunately, unlike the Franciscans, Carmelites, and others, the Dominicans never split into separate orders.
While the First Order underwent this drastic decline and slow revival, the Second Order flourished especially in Germany, although the sad state of the friars led some of the nuns to disaffiliate, so that the Second Order only increased slowly in this century. For economic reasons the Master of the Order allowed no monastery to have more than 50 nuns. The Master or a local provincial appointed a friar as vicar for these convents and often several priest confessors and a lay brother or two to help with manual work resided at a convent. At that time the cloister was not as strict as later, but we read of frequent efforts to enforce it and to prevent the friars from exploiting the nuns’ hospitality or interfering in their life. The vicar’s supervision was to assist the nuns economically, provide them the sacraments, and protect them from the heretical movements of the time.
Especially significant in this century was the rise of the Third Order. We have seen that the bishops urged the beghards and beguines to affiliate to an order. Many had already lived according to an old Rule of the Brethren of the Order of Penance, of unknown origin. In 1221 the Franciscans made a revision of the Old Rule to give it a distinctively Franciscan character. Innocent IV in 1247 asked them to make a canonical visitation of the Italian members, but some did not affiliate to the Franciscans, or, especially in Germany, attach themselves to the Dominicans. For example, in Cologne there were 39 houses of beguines under guidance of the Dominican priory. Consequently, in 1285 Munio Zamora made a Dominican version of the Old Rule. The Franciscan rule received papal approval in 1289, but the Dominican, not until 1405 by Innocent VII through the efforts of Thomas Caffarini, a disciple of Catherine and Raymond. Caffarini mistakenly believed it had originated with the Militia Jesus Christi, a sort of military confraternity supporting the Albigensian crusade.
After Munio revised the rule, the Third Order spread widely in Italy, as at Siena, Florence, Lucca, etc. Members wore a white tunic, black mantle and belt; brothers, a black capuce and sisters, a white veil. In Lent and Advent and all Fridays they fasted, and ate no meat Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Their office was a certain number of Our Fathers recited at the canonical hours, and they kept vigils on great feasts.They were not to take part in public festivities, nor without the director’s consent to leave the city. Each chapter elected its prior or prioress with the consent of the older members who could expel any who failed to live by the Rule. Some women’s chapters lived in community, supporting themselves by manual work, caring for the poor, and praying in the local Dominican church, and some of these communities eventually affiliated to the Second Order as cloistered nuns.
This century was not a great period of Dominican scholarship, but it saw some important developments in the intellectual life of the Order. The Paris condemnation of Averroistic tendencies in the Arts Faculty in 1277 had cast a shadow over the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas which many thought was tainted by the same tendencies. Thomism was strongly opposed at Oxford, as we have seen, by a prominent Dominican, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Kilwardby. When Kilwardby was made a cardinal in 1272, his successor was a Franciscan John Peckham (d. 1292) who was even stronger in his opposition. I have already recounted in the last chapter how a group of Oxford Dominicans sprang to Aquinas’ defense and then others at Paris.
There was, however, another current of thought in the Order which also stemmed from St. Albert the Great promoted by those who followed Albert’s Neo-Platonic rather than his Aristotelian interests. It was this tradition which culminated in Meister Eckhart’s mysticism. Hugh Ripelin of Strasbourg and Ulrich (Engelbrecht) of Strasbourg were both pupils of St. Albert. Hugh, prior of Zurich, 1232-42 and again in 12521259, and who lived to 1268, wrote a Compendium of Theological Truth, a simple textbook which followed the plan of St. Bonaventure’s Breviloquium, but was closer to Aquinas. It was used by Henry of Suso and many later writers. Ulrich (d. 1277) was more original. He produced an Aristotelian and a Sentences commentary, but his chief work is On the Supreme Good, a kind of summary of all theology explaining the Divine Names of the Pseudo-Dionysius. Ulrich conceived God as the Absolute Truth or Pure Intellectual Light from which all reality flows out in lesser rays of truth.
This “light metaphysics” is also evident in Theodoric (Dietrich) of Fribourg (d. 1310) who was at the University of Paris by 1276, provincial of Germany in 1293, and probably Regent Master at Paris in 1297. He wrote on a wide range of philosophical and theological subjects and in his theology followed the Neo-Platonic tradition. His most remarkable work, however, was in the science of optics. Using a truly Aristotelian method he produced the first satisfactory mathematical theory of the rainbow in a work written at the request of the Master of the Order, Aylmer of Piacenza in 1304. In a major work On the Intellect and the Intelligible (which curiously contains one of the first references to the discovery of eyeglasses), he closely follows the Neo-Platonist Proclus in his theory of knowledge.
Nicholas of Strasbourg (f. 1323-1329) wrote a Summa philosophica synthesizing the work of Albert and Thomas. He was a lector at Cologne, a vicar of the Master of the Order in reforming the German Province, and a defender of Eckhart. As a result of this defense he was excommunicated by his bishop but rehabilitated by the Pope. Basing himself on writings of John Quidort (d. 1306), he produced a work, On the Advent of Christ, and left German sermons. His contemporaries were the brothers John and Gerard Korngin (of Sterngassen), natives of Cologne, who both knew Eckhart. John was a lector at Strasbourg and prior and probably Regent of Studies at Cologne in 1320. He left a Sentences commentary. Gerard wrote a Meadow of Souls or Remedy of the Sick Soul (Pratum animarum aut Medela animae languentis). Bertholdus of Moosburg, a lector at Ratisbon and Cologne and Vicar of Bavaria (d. after 1361), wrote a huge Neo-Platonic Exposition on Proclus’ Elements of Theology which was to influence Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa in the next century.
A second non-Thomistic current within the Order favored the “Modern Way” of Nominalism, which under the leadership of the Franciscan William of Ockham (c. 1300-c. 1350) came to dominate the universities during this century. Nominalism was a style of thought which put great stress on logical technicalities and rigorous methodology with the result that it “deconstructed” (as philosophers today would say) the efforts at a grand synthesis of faith and reason in theology at which the “Old Way” of the great thirteenth-century scholastics had aimed. The Dominican James of Metz, teaching at Paris 13001303, departed from Aquinas by denying that our knowledge is wholly derived from our senses, that material things are individuated through their matter not their form, and that each angel is a distinct species. Such views are more like those of the Franciscan Duns Scotus (d. 1308) against whom Ockham reacted than those of Ockham himself.
More truly Nominalistic were the views of Durandus of St. Pourçain (d. c. 1334). In his Sentences commentary Durandus put forward many novel opinions: he denied the reality of universal concepts, of all relations except causality, and the passivity of the human intellect in relation to its object. The General Chapters of 1278, 1279, and 1309 had already demanded with increasing strictness respect for “Brother Thomas”‘ teachings. Now, as a result of these dissenting voices, the Chapter of Metz under Berengar of Landorra in 1313 delcared that:
Since the teaching of our venerable doctor, Friar Thomas Aquinas, is regarded as sounder and more common and our Order is especially bound to follow it, we strictly command that no brother in lecturing, in solving questions, in answering objections, dare to assert anything contrary to what is commonly believed to be the opinion of the aforesaid doctor.
Thus in preaching, teaching, and writing, silence was imposed on anyone who could not plausibly argue that his views were consistent with those “commonly believed to be the opinion” of Aquinas. This phrase indicates there was already disagreement as to just what Aquinas’ opinion was on a good many matters. Hervé Nedellec, head of the commission (which included Peter de la Palu, John of Naples and seven other luminaries) which in 1314 condemned Durandus, himself rejected the composition of essence and existence in creatures which later Thomists were to consider the touchstone of Thomistic authenticity! Hervé carried on his controversy with Durandus for twenty years, while Durandus first toned down his views, then reasserted them, escaping the control of the Order by becoming a bishop. Besides the works of Hervé, a work Evidences Against Durandus (c. 1330) by an author known only as Durandellus seems to have ended Durandus’ influence in the Order.
Hervé himself was not only Master of the Order, but also the outstanding Dominican theologian of this not so outstanding century. His own commentary on the Sentences dates from his teaching at Paris in 1302. He became a master around 1307 and was the first Dominican to write against Duns Scotus. He was an opponent of Jean de Pouilly who had revived the old secular campaign against the mendicants at Paris, but he also wrote a treatise On the Poverty of Christ against the “spirituals” not only among the Franciscans but within his own Order. He wrote some forty works, including ones on logic, commentaries on philosophical works, on the Scriptures, theological treatises, disputed questions, polemical works, etc.
Peter de la Palu who taught with Hervé was the second most distinguished theologian of the period. He was of noble family, served in the case of the Templars (to whom he was rather favorable) and was Regent Master at Paris in 1314-17, succeeding Durandus, whom he opposed. He, too, was a vigorous opponent of Jean de Pouilly. As an ambassador to Flanders for the King of France he was accused of treason but escaped conviction. He became very involved in the poverty question and favored the liceity of the conventual form of poverty which with a superior’s permission allowed religious to keep gifts and stipends for personal use. In 1329 he was made Patriarch of Jerusalem and worked unsuccessfully for a crusade. After much service to the popes, however, Peter fell into disfavor with Pope Benedict XII, who undertook to reform the Order in a way to which Peter objected. He apparently was forced into retirement as bishop, dying in obscurity at Paris in 1342. He was a prolific writer, and besides his Sentences commentary, left many Scripture commentaries, a treatise on poverty, a concordance of St. Thomas’ Summa Theologiae, two treatises on the power of the pope, polemical works against Jean de Pouilly, sermons, and saints’ lives. His works show great knowledge as a canonist and a moralist, but he is by no means consistently Thomistic.
Besides the controversies already referred to concerning poverty, the legitimacy of the mendicant orders, and the status of Thomism, others occupied a good deal of thought and writing during these times. First, we have seen the struggle of Boniface VII and King Philip the Fair of France who led Durandus, Hervé Nedellec, and Peter de la Palu to write on papal authority, its extent and limits. Later in the century many wrote in defense of the election of Urban VI or contrariwise for the Avignon popes. To these political controversies must be added the Dominican participation in the trial of the Templars where Peter de la Palu showed his fairness, and in the trial of St. Joan of Arc in which Dominicans were on both sides, but later worked successfully for her rehabilitation.
Second, was the fending off once more of renewed attack by the secular master of Paris Jean de Pouilly on the right of mendicants to hear confessions. Third, was the role they played in the almost comical controversy over Pope John xxll’s opinion that the blessed do not enjoy the beatific vision until the Last Judgment. John XXII was always favorable to the Dominicans, but before his election had put forward his eccentric opinion and as Pope is said to have favored in his appointments theologians who supported this opinion. In 1233, however, the Faculty of Paris with Dominican support condemned his view as heretical, and in the next year the Pope was forced to declare that it was merely a private opinion and not his teaching ex cathedra. Nevertheless, this matter became a charge against him by Louis of Bavaria whose claim to be emperor the Pope had refused to recognize. Dominicans were at the Pope’s death-bed to make sure he fully submitted his theological opinion to the future judgment of the Church.
The fourth and undoubtedly most notorious controversy of this time was over the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On this question St. Thomas Aquinas, just as St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Bonaventure, and almost all the great scholastics except the Franciscan Duns Scotus, had taken a conservative, negative position. Aquinas taught that Mary, like every merely human person, had been cleansed of all sin only by the merits (in her case foreseen) of her Divine Son and that this cleansing took place before the angel’s message came to ask her consent to the Incarnation; but that for some time, however short, she must have been in the state of original sin.
Scotus, after Aquinas’ death, was the first to point out that Mary’s redemption could have been “preventative” so that she came into personal existence not in sin but in grace. This explanation cleared the way for the general acceptance of the doctrine in the Church after the establishment of the feast by Sixtus IV in 1476 and its solemn definition by Pius IX in 1854. Clearly if Mary had to be perfect in grace in order to be prepared in the name of the human race to speak her “Fiat” in perfect faith, it was necessary that she be free not only of personal sin, but also of original sin and all its effects by which her faith might have been weakened.
Thus Aquinas had already granted the essential premises of the doctrine without yet seeing how they concluded. His hesitation should be attributed to his theological honesty and sobriety, as Scotus’ solution to his theological genius but even more to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit without which divine mysteries are impenetrable. Unfortunately, after the official approbation of Aquinas as the Doctor of the Order, most Dominicans felt bound to reject the doctrine and combat the Scotistic explanation.
The controversy broke out when John of Montesono (d. 1412) of Valentia on incepting as Master of Theology at Paris proceeded in lectures and sermons to attack the doctrine with the result that 14 articles taken from these were condemned by the Faculty of Paris in 1387. John appealed to Clement VI of the Avignon obedience only to be excommunicated in 1389; whereupon he transferred to the Roman obedience and wrote in his own defense and that of Urban VI. During the rest of the century a whole flood of literature from Dominicans and a counter flood from Franciscans poured out. The result was the exclusion of Dominicans from Paris degrees for some years and, paradoxically, an increase in devotion to Mary in the Order as a way of proving that the Thomistic position was not impious.
The 1300s were a time of great mystics, especially in two centers, first Germany, and then Italy. In Germany was the great Meister (i.e., Master of Theology) John Eckhart, at Hochheim near Erfurt where he entered the Order. He studied philosophy at Paris under the Averrorist Siger of Brabant about 1277, five years after Aquinas left there, and theology at Cologne where he probably met the aged St. Albert who died in 1280. In 1293-94 Eckhart returned to Paris to teach but was soon elected prior in Erfurt and Vicar Provincial of Thuringia. Again in Paris in 1302, he became a Regent Master and taught during 1303, only to be elected provincial of the new province of Saxony in 1304 and to hold that office until 1311, as well as that of Vicar General to reform the ailing Province of Bohemia. He then taught for two years in Paris, but returned to Strasbourg 1314-1322 or 1324 as vicar of Masters Berengar of Landorra and Hervé of Nedellec for the nuns of Alsace and Switzerland, becoming famous as their preacher and spiritual director. Again in Cologne as Regent of Studies, he also had a great following as a preacher.
His preaching in German soon raised accusations to the Archbishop of Cologne of heresy both from Dominicans and Franciscans. Eckhart had already been cleared by Nicholas of Strasbourg, then papal visitator of the province, and when the archbishop’s commission was about to condemn a long list of heretical statements taken from his sermons, he appealed to the Holy See. Accompanied by his Dominican superiors he traveled to Avignon to defend himself before Pope John XXII (himself accused of heresy by Dominicans for novel views), but soon died there in 1328. A year later the papal commission reported that Eckhart had faithfully accepted the decision of the Church in advance and therefore was not a formal heretic, but that some 17 propositions excerpted from his works were, as they stood, heretical and 11 theologically rash.
Eckhart’s own Defense has facilitated a critical edition of his authentic Latin and German writings. He planned a vast Work in Three Parts to consist of a General Prologue (extant), a First Part of over 1,000 “propositions” (theses) each with its commentary (only its Prologue consisting in the first proposition “Existence is God” survives), a Second Part to consist of a series of disputed questions following the order of Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae (nothing extant except five questions against a Franciscan Gonsalvo of Spain) and a Third Part to consist of a series of commentaries on books of the Bible along with sermons, which were themselves commentaries on selected texts. Its Prologue and commentaries, Genesis, Exodus, Wisdom, Sirach, Chapter 24, The Song of Songs (fragments), the Gospel of St. John, and 56 Latin sermons, many little more than outlines, survive.
The Middle High German works include the 86 sermons established as authentic by the modern editor Joseph Quint, as well as several short treatises, Counsels of Discernment (probably his earliest work, written for young Dominicans), The Book of Divine Consolation (written for Queen Agnes of Hungary on the assassination of her father, to which was added a sermon On the Noble Man), and On Detachment. The Latin works make clear Eckhart’s essential orthodoxy by their exact scholastic terminology and the fact they were edited by him and not merely reported as were the sermons, but it is the German sermons which have been most influential by their sometimes shockingly paradoxical and thought-provoking style.
Eckhart, though well versed in the works of Aquinas and respectful of them, was no Thomist but followed the other Neo-Platonic, Pseudo-Dionysian aspect of the teachings of St. Albert the Great. In German Sermon 53 he sums up his favorite themes:
When I preach, 1 am accustomed to speak about detachment, and that a man should be freed of himself and of all things; second, a man should be formed again into that simple good which is God; third, he should reflect on the great nobility with which God has endowed his soul, so in this way he may come to wonder at God and, fourth, at the purity of the divine nature, for the brightness of the divine nature is beyond words. God is a word, a word unspoken.
Eckhart’s theology is radically negative (apophatic) since ultimately it names God only as The One; while Aquinas, though he admits that “we rather know what God is not than what He is,” yet seeks to name Him positively by analogies taken from creatures. Aquinas interprets God’s answer to Moses, “I am who am,” to mean that God is Existence (Being); but for Eckhart this answer means “Do not ask my unknowable name,” and says that if we are to give Him any other name than One it should not be “Being” but “Mind.” Hence in the 1800s the German idealists called him their forerunner. He accepted Aquinas’ central thesis that in God essence and existence are identical, but in creatures really distinct, but unlike Aquinas, understood this to mean that creatures have no existence of their own, but exist only by God’s existence within them. Thus he can say that “the creature as such is simply nothing.” He even speaks of the need to transcend the Trinitarian nature of God to enter into the formless “wilderness” or “desert” of the Unity of the Three Persons. Yet he still affirms the Trinity as a procession or “bubbling up” (bullitio) within the One, just as creation is a “boiling over” (exbullitio) outside the One. Unlike the Neo-Platonists, however, he holds that creation is not a necessary but a free act of God.
It follows from this conception of God that union with God is not primarily through love but through “letting go” (Gellasenheit, detachment). Love is great because it compels us to undergo all suffering for God, but detachment “compels God to love,” since God cannot refuse the soul that is empty of self and open to Him alone. Then the Word is born in the soul and the soul is “formed again into that simple good which is God.” This union takes place in the very ground of the soul where intelligence and will are one, its “inner castle” or very “isness.” Yet since we have no existence of our own but exist only by the presence of God within us, this divine spark (vünkelin or scintilla animae) is not something of the soul itself, but is simply God present to the soul, and hence Eckhart (to the alarm of the inquisitors, and no wonder!) could say that the ground of the soul is “neither created nor creatable.” This separation from creatures as they are separated from God by creation and entrance into God’s own eternal unity is called by Eckhart a durchbruch, “breakthrough” or, better, “penetration,” or total return from the state of “unlikeness” (St. Augustine), plurality, or alienation from God which creation or the going out from God entailed.
Although Eckhart’s writings were suspect, his influence was great. One who fell under his spell was a younger man of great literary gifts, Henry Suso. Suso was the friend and director of a Dominican nun of the monastery of Töss, Elsbeth Stagel, who composed from the notes she had taken of his confidences to her a Life of the Servant of Divine Wisdom which is the first spiritual autobiography in German and which, although chronologically vague and very incomplete, provides a vivid account of his spiritual development considered by specialists authentic, though somewhat dramatized. He was born on the shores of Lake Constance in Switzerland about 1295 of a knightly family. His mother was spiritual but his father, a coarse man, seeing his frail and sensitive son was not fit for anything else let himbenter the Dominican novitiate at Constance at only thirteen (an abuse of the time). He says his first years in religious life were spiritually shallow, but at eighteen he began to seek God in earnest. Under the influence of courtly literature, his life was at first very dreamy and romantic because, as he says, “he had a heart made for love.”
Henry delighted in gathering flowers for the Virgin’s altar and heard angels singing with him in choir. The Eternal Wisdom was his lady love to whom he composed songs as would a courtly knight. Yet this Wisdom was also his friend Jesus to whom he swore fidelity and whose Holy Name he actually carved in his flesh over his heart. During this time his life was full of ups and downs of poetic ecstacy and deep depressions over troubles of conscience, including fear his vows were invalid because his parents had paid to get him admitted to the novitiate. Yet, though he dreaded pain he began to realize he needed a life of penance if he was to master his temperament and become conformed to the Crucified. With characteristic impetuosity he began a life of extreme rigor, relentless fasting, bloody flagellations, vigils, cold, thirst, silence in imitation of the Desert Fathers, but it was hardly impetuousity that enabled him to maintain this for twenty long years of agony!
Henry was a gifted student and in 1324 he was sent to Cologne for higher studies. Here, Meister Eckhart relieved his scruples about his vows and taught him the spirituality he followed the rest of his life, but the other theologians at Cologne seemed to him to be playing intellectual games and he had no desire to share in their competition for academic advancement. Eckhart himself at this time was being investigated for heresy and Suso probably suffered with him and at his death in 1327.
At about this time Suso returned to Constance as Lector where he was to continue his life of rigorous penance in the convent located on an island in the lake, spending as much time in solitude as his duties permitted. At this time, it seems, he finished his first work, The Little Book of Truth, a very expert explanation in an orthodox sense of the points of Eckhart’s doctrine which had been found suspect. This work makes clear that while Suso had thoroughly grasped and accepted the Meister’s principal ideas, he also recognized their dangers and had been able to understand them in a manner completely free of pantheism or Pelagianism.
Somewhat later about 1328 he wrote a much more personal work The Little Book of Eternal Wisdom in which in vivid, poetic language he developed his chief theme of a spiritual marriage to the Crucified as the Eternal Wisdom through total emptying of self and a sharing in His Passion. After Henry’s twenty years of penitential life and commitment to solitude, the Eternal Wisdom said to him:
You have spent enough time in the elementary school and are ready to take up higher studies. Follow me: I will conduct you to the spiritual graduate school where you will be instructed how to bend your stiff neck to the divine yoke. This will establish your soul in holy peace and bring your devout beginning to a blessed end.
This meant he must put aside his external penances and give himself to the work of preaching and the guidance of souls. A voice told him to look out the window, where he saw a dog playing with an old rag, and the voice warned him that now he would be like “the dog’s plaything, tossed about and tattered by the tongues of men.” The Life gives a whole series of adventures by which this prophecy was fulfilled, a colorful picture of the trials of an itinerant preacher in those days. Among these incidents was the story of how he converted an ex-nun, his own sister. During these years Suso preached widely in Alsace, Swabia, and down the Rhine to Holland, especially ministering to the nuns of that area. Unfortunately, we have only two authentic sermons, but a considerable number of letters of spiritual direction. These, along with the Life, The Book of Truth, and The Book of Eternal Wisdom, were put together with a spurious The Soul’s Love-Book to form his works in German under the title of The Exemplar.
Suso was also elected prior of the Constance convent. His concern for reform appears especially in his later work in Latin, The Clock of Wisdom, so titled because it is divided into 24 meditations for the hours of the day. Written a little after 1331 it uses materials from The Little Book of Eternal Wisdom but is an independent work sent to the then-Master of the Order, Hugh de Vaucemain. During this time, according to the Life, Suso was accused by a prostitute to whom he had given alms of fathering her child and the story was widely believed. Suso was almost driven to despair but was finally vindicated. In 1339 because of the troubles between the Pope and Louis of Bavaria, the Dominicans of Constance, most of whom took the Pope’s side, had to flee to Deissenhofen until 1343, where Suso seems to have been re-elected prior, but when they returned to Constance, Suso was assigned to Ulm where he remained until his death in 1366, continuing to preach and counsel.
The other great disciple of Eckhart was John Tauler, who did not leave us a spiritual autobiography (the Life of the Master is fictional). He was born in Strasbourg about 1300-04 and was probably with Suso a student of Eckhart during the time of the Meister’s troubles with the Inquisition. He never became a Master of Theology but devoted himself to preaching, with Strasbourg as his residence. He favored the Pope in his struggle with Louis of Bavaria and as a result had to move to Basel before 1339 and was still there in 1346, as we know from Henry of Nordlingen’s letters. Sometimes he visited Cologne to preach there, but died at Strasbourg in 1361 in the garden of the convent of St. Nicholas where his sister was a nun.
These bare facts do not tell us much, but from Henry’s letters we see that Tauler was the leading figure of the Rhineland “Friends of God” of whom we will hear more later. His Sermons (or Spiritual Conferences) is the first important collection of sermons in the German language and became enormously influential not just among Catholics but later among Protestants. They are not his own writings but reportationes. Older editions contained sermons by Eckhart and the great Dutch mystic (not a Dominican) Jan Ruysbroeck, but criticism has established about 80 as authentic. These are not parochial homilies but conferences to nuns and other “Friends of God.” While Eckhart shocked his audience by paradoxes, Tauler is determinedly pastoral. He presents Eckhart’s essential themes, yet is careful not to mislead his hearers in their lives and prayer. Thus he insists that “detachment” requires the practice of the virtues:
Our preparation requires four things: detachment, self-giving, interiority, and unification. The outer man should be at peace and practiced in the natural virtues, and the lower faculties rightly governed by the moral virtues, then the Holy Spirit will clothe the higher faculties with the theological virtues. All must be guided and ordered by the virtue of discretion, so we may discover if all our actions and our life are lived . . . for God. But if we find anything in our life which is not for God alone, we must so correct it (Sermon for Sunday after Ascension).
Tauler, although respectful of Aquinas, explicitly prefers Eckhart’s views on spirituality as “incomparably more sublime” (XXIX, Second Sermon for Feast of Trinity), but like Suso insists the only way to God is through identification with the Crucified.
The development of Eckhartian mysticism grew out of and in turn stimulated the phenomenal growth of the Second Order in Germany not through aristocratic foundations as in most of Europe, but largely from the middle-classes. The wars and other troubles of the century had led, it would seem, to a great excess of single women over men and thus to social pressures favorable to entrance into religion. In 1303 out of 141 convents of nuns in the Order, 74 were in the German and Saxon Provinces, but some communities actually dropped their affiliation with the Order during this century. Today, of the 74 houses of 1303 only Linz, Regensburg (Ratisbon, from which many American houses have descended), Schwyz, and Spire still survive.
The biographies of certain outstanding nuns have been preserved in the chronicles of the cloisters of Adelhausen, Diessenhofen, Engeltal, Kirchberg, Oetenbach, Töss, and Unterlinden in the Rhineland. The earliest of these, the Chronicle of Unterlinden (the only one in Latin) written during the years 1330-40 by Sister Catherine von Gebweiler, sketches the lives and virtues of some 43 aristocratic and middle-class women, and some working-class lay sisters. Catherine wrote to Venturino of Bergamo about these nuns’ distress that the interdict launched by the Pope in the conflict with Louis of Bavaria sometimes deprived them of the Eucharist. His letters assured them they still had access to the graces of the Eucharist through prayer. He recommended they meditate on the Five Wounds of Christ while flagellating themselves and cultivate mutual charity within the convent.
Adelhausen at Freiburg im Bresgau had a chronicle composed by Anna von Munzingen during her term as prioress beginning in 1327. This cloister had been visited by Hugh of St. Cher and St. Peter Martyr in 1244, who had preached to them in Latin which many of them understood. This Chronicle is replete with visions and prophecies. More convincing is that of Tóss in Switzerland written by Henry Suso’s friend, Elsbeth Stagel (c. 1300-60) which relates the lives of some 37 nuns from its founding in 1233 until 1340. Besides editing Suso’s life and letters, she also wrote a life of Elizabeth, grand-niece of St. Elizabeth of Hungary which shows Stagel knew Latin, had a good theological education, and a sense of literary style. The anonymous chronicle of Oetenbach stresses the inner purgative trials of contemplatives. Thus Ida von Hohenfels suffered for five years from temptations against faith and another five as if she was already forever in hell, until she cried out, “Even if I shall never see God, I will serve him faithfully,” and Ida von Hutwell underwent six years of the “dark night” but then experienced a vision of the Sacred Heart from which the light of love and mercy streamed over land and sea. The chronicle of Kirchberg near Wurtemburg was written by a Sister Elizabeth, perhaps of Jewish ancestry. In this convent many Sisters received what they called “the grace of rejoicing,” often at communion, which they sometimes experienced for many days or even years. Thus one Sister Eite von Holzhausen says when she was granted this grace she felt “like a bread crumb dipped in a honey jar” so permeated was her whole being with the joy of heaven.
Engelthal, near Nuremburg, had a chronicle titled The Little Book of Grace written by Christine Ebner (1277-1356). This chronicle is marked by its emphasis on the ethical aspects of the spiritual life, as well as extraordinary phenomena, and one sister is especially praised who admitted she had no such experiences. The cloister of St. Mary Magdalen at Medingen near Dillingen did not preserve a chronicle of this sort, but it was the residence of Margaret Ebner (only a remote relative of Christine’s) (1291-1351). Born at Donauwbrth, Swabia, she entered the Medingen convent at 15. At 21 she became chronically ill and often bedridden for the rest of her life, but she did penance as she could and devoted herself especially to meditation on Christ’s Passion, with a special devotion to the Lord’s Infancy. In 1325 the war forced her to leave the cloister with a lay sister to stay briefly at home. After she had returned she met the secular priest Henry of Nordlingen, first known to us at Avignon in 1335 as a strong supporter of the pope against the Fraticelli and Louis of Bavaria. Returning to Germany, Henry became an itinerant preacher, often in danger from Louis’ party.
About 1332 Henry began to write letters to Christine Ebner at Engelthal and Margaret Ebner at Medingen, among the first of this literary form in German. The warmth of these letters is sometimes a bit embarrassing as when Henry (who had a taste for relics) requests one of Margaret’s nightgowns that he may wear it to protect his chastity! Yet generally, they exhibit his great prudence and skill as a spiritual guide. Free of Eckhartian language, they are very Scriptural and Thomistic. Henry insists on strict orthodoxy for the nuns and moderates their more extreme penitential practices. It was he who translated into High German Mechtilde of Magdeburg’s work. In 1339-49 he settled at Basel, where he became one of Tauler’s “Friends of God,” which included the mystic, Margaret of the Golden Ring (c. 1320-c. 1404), a lay woman and her Dominican brother John, and there were other “Friends” at Strasbourg.
If today this style of spirituality seems to us somewhat too fanciful, too colored by unresolved neuroses, and lacking proper physical and mental hygiene, we cannot deny that a good percentage of the members of these cloisters seems to have attained a high level of contemplation, selfless love of Christ, and dedication to intercessory prayer, the very purposes for which Dominic founded his Second Order. In northern lands outside Germany there was also a vigorous cloistered life but we are not very well informed about it. Italy provides us with a level of prayer life quite equal, but very different, from that in Germany. We have already seen that Venturino of Bergamo is a link between them through his letters to German nuns.
After Venturino the most important Italian spiritual writer of this period was Dominic Cavalca. He was born about 1270 at Vico Pisano perhaps of the Gaetano family, important in the Pisan government. After the novitiate at St. Catherine’s in Pisa he was educated in the Roman provincial studium, which had an excellent library. Yet he never became a lector but passed his life in Pisa preaching and caring for the poor, sick, and prisoners, and monasteries of nuns, especially the Dominican monastery of St. Martha for converted prostitutes, which he founded. He died in 1342.
His writing seems a product of his preaching and he is more a popularizer than an original thinker, yet his works have considerable literary quality. He translated from the Latin the Dialogue attributed to St. Gregory the Great, the letter of Jerome to Eustochium, the Lives of the Desert Fathers, and finally the Acts of the Apostles. His own compositions include a pair of treatises based on James 3:1-12, one devoted to the sins of speech, The Wounding Tongue and the other to its good uses, Fruits of the Tongue, namely, praise of God, preaching, and confession of sins. He also wrote a guide for confession, The Mirror of Sins; On Patience or the Medicine of the Heart; Thirty Follies on the obstacles to true conversion and victory over temptations; Discipline for the Devout on the chief faults of those striving for perfection (vanity, presumption, rash judgment, contempt for manual labor); and an Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed which was not completed. In these he drew a great deal from Guillaume Peyraut’s Summa of Vices and Virtues.
Cavalca’s masterpiece, which seems to have influenced St. Catherine of Siena, was his The Mirror of the Cross which he introduces by saying that since each of us will be judged by the talents God gave us, he has decided to write a book for the simple in which Christ himself, seated on the chair of the Cross, will teach us all we need to know for salvation. He shows that from the Cross flow the Seven Last Words, the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy, the Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy, and the Eight Beatitudes. He thus provides a complete catechesis of the Christian life. Because these works were so popular many spurious works are attributed to Cavalca.
As Eckhart was central to the development of Dominican spirituality in the first half of the 1300s in the North, St. Catherine of Siena was to the second in the South. She is known to us through the biography written by her confessor, Bl. Raymond of Capua, its supplement by another confessor, Thomas Caffarini, and other contemporary reports. Raymond’s work, full of marvels, has undergone severe critical scrutiny by R. Fawtier, A. Grion and others, but has proved one of the most authentic of medieval saints’ lives. The critics admit the authenticity of the over 300 letters written through much of her active life to a wide variety of persons which confirm the essential facts of her life and give a clear notion of her principal spiritual ideas.
Catherine was born in Siena March 29, 1347 (the year of the Great Plague), the twenty-fourth of twenty-five children born by her mother, Mona Lappa. Her father, Giacomo di Benincasa, was a well-to-do wool dyer. She grew up in the parish of San Domenico under the preaching and pastoral care of Dominican priests and at the age of six had her first vision of Christ, dressed as the Pope and seated on his throne over the entrance of the parish church. At seven she vowed her virginity to Christ and later steadfastly refused the exasperated efforts of her mother to have her married like the rest of her daughters. She began to practice severe penances and to receive spiritual guidance from Tommaso delta Fonte, a brother of her brother-in-law, who had lived with the family after his parents’ death from the plague in 1349 until he became a Dominican priest.
From seventeen to twenty-one Catherine lived as a contemplative in her own room which in that crowded household her father had reluctantly assigned her, and at twenty-one experienced a mystical espousal to Christ and an exchange of hearts with Him. He then commanded her to take up active social work in the care of the poor, sick, and imprisoned. She wore the habit of the Third Order, which she managed to join in spite of the reluctance of the elderly women who chiefly constituted the parish Chapter. Her charities brought her into contact with many different sorts of people who were so attracted to her (though she was no beauty) that they formed a bella hrigatta or “fair company” who called her “Mama” and hung on her every word. She was in effect their spiritual director, but she herself from 1368 was under the direction of a Dominican, Bartolomeo d’Dominici. In 1370 she underwent a “mystical death” for four hours. She had visions of St. Dominic, the Virgin, the Trinity, purgatory and hell. In 1372 she received permission (then rare) for daily Communion and found herself no longer able to eat or sleep.
About 1373 or 74 she visited Florence for the first time and met with her future biographer Raymond of Capua who then became her confessor and one day as she confessed to him saw her transformed into the image of Christ. She worked miracles of multiplying bread and of healing and converted many. She also began to write letters to political figures calling for social reform and to the pope Gregory X1 calling for a crusade, which he actually undertook in 1373 ordering Raymond to preach it in Italy. To win support for this crusade in 1375 Catherine journeyed to Pisa and Lucca. At Pisa she received the stigmata of Christ but prayed that she might suffer the constant pain without the wounds being visible until after her death. She there also converted a young murderer Niccolo di Tuldo and accompanied him to the scaffold.
In June of 1376 with several companions she journeyed to Avignon to plead the cause of the city of Florence and to personally urge Gregory XI to end the Babylonian Captivity of the Church as he had vowed to do at his election and as he had been urged to do also by another mystic, St. Bridget, Queen of Sweden. This Gregory actually did in September. Returning to Siena by way of Genoa and Pisa she found that Raymond had been made prior of the Minerva in Rome. In 1377 she founded a monastery for nuns at Belcaro just outside Siena and then stayed for a time at Rocca d’Orcia, some twenty miles from Siena, working for the reconcilation of feuding factions. It was here she had the vision which became the basis of her great work, the Dialogue. She also visited Sant’ Antimo and Montepulciano where Raymond had been chaplain and where she venerated the incorrupt body of St. Agnes.
Again at Gregory XI’s request she returned to Florence in 1378 to make peace and insure the continuance of the crusade, only narrowly to escape assassination. In March of 1378 Urban VI succeeded Gregory in a stormy election. When its validity was challenged by the French cardinals, the Great Western Schism began. Back in Siena Catherine wrote to many important people to support Urban as the true successor of St. Peter. Urban called her to Rome to assist him, and with a group of followers she went to Rome in 1378, but not before dictating her Dialogue. In Rome she was reunited with Raymond whom, however, the Pope soon sent on a mission to the king of France. He never got to Paris because of his fears of assassination, much to Catherine’s sorrow, as she wrote to him. She was never to see him again.
From the beginning of 1380 Catherine suffered greatly, beginning with a vision she experienced in St. Peter’s of the Bark of St. Peter (in Giotto’s fresco over the entrance of the old St. Peter’s, still retained as a mosaic in the present edifice) descending on her shoulders as she prayed for the end of the Schism and the reform of the Church. Each day she dragged herself the mile to St. Peter’s for morning Mass and prayer until vespers. After a three day’s illness in bed she died at the age of 33, April 29, 1380. She was canonized by Pius II in 1461.
Critics have minimized the actual influence of Catherine on Gregory IX’s return, pointing out her lack of political realism in not foreseeing the conflicts between the Romans and the French cardinals which precipitated the disastrous Schism. Her efforts to promote peace in Europe, to further the Crusade, and to reunite, free, and reform the Church were all failures; yet because her efforts and those of other saints were not supported by the powers of the day, ecclesiastical and civil, the still greater schism of the Reformation some hundred years later became inevitable. Hers was the greater realism of vision and she gave her all to bring about the true reform which eventually took place. In reading about the many miracles recounted by her contemporaries we must also take into account the medieval perception of reality which I have already discussed. Perhaps most troubling are the suspicions that she suffered from anorexia nervosa. Yet as recent studies have pointed out, such a phenomenon can be the effect of very diverse causes, and Catherine’s inability to eat reflected her intense love for God and suffering humanity and deep concern for reform of society and the Church.
What Catherine’s life was really about can best be seen in the Dialogue written near her early death and summing up all that she hoped and worked for. It was dictated in ecstacy in a very short time, but probably by combining several shorter pieces written previously. Did her Dominican censors distort her thought in editing it? Probably not, since: (1) the ideas are also found in her letters as the critical edition by Cavalini has demonstrated; (2) the priestly editors, if they had dared, would have corrected certain passages in which Catherine makes some minor theological gaffes. The Dialogue contains themes that seem traceable to Augustine, Cassian, Gregory the Great, Bernard of Clairvaux, John Colombini, and the Dominicans Aquinas, James of Voragine, Passavanti, and in particular Dominic Cavalca, and even to Franciscans such as Ubertino di Casale. But Catherine who was almost illiterate could easily have known these authors from conversation and sermons. While her thought is in harmony with the Thomism of her Dominican guides, it was open to other influences as well.
The Dialogue is based on a letter she wrote in October 1377 to Raymond of Capua from Rocca d’Orcia (Letter 272) relating how one morning at Mass she made four petitions to God and received His answers. In the Dialogue written a year later Catherine somewhat modified these petitions but its structure is essentially the same. In a Prologue (c. 1-2) she relates the vision and the petitions. Then (3-12) God the Father answers her petition for her own sanctification by an instruction on discretion in penance and the love of God and neighbor. Next (13-25) he replies briefly to her other three requests, but she asks for fuller answers, so in reply to her petition for the salvation of the world, God explains his plan of salvation by the metaphor of Christ the Bridge over which all must pass to heaven (26-87), and appends two special instructions, the first on the role of “tears” (affectivity) in the spiritual life (88-97) and another on how she is to give “light” (spiritual direction) to those who ask her counsel (98-109). Next, God replies to her petition for the reform of the Church by teaching her about the Mystical Body and the dignity of the Eucharist and the priesthood (110-134); and then to her petition for a special person (Raymond of Capua) by instructing her on His Providence and the cooperation of religious with it by their vow of obedience, since disobedience has been the cause of the decline of their orders (135-153). To each of the Father’s replies, Catherine returns thanks, and the whole dialogue is completed by a summary and a magnificent, eucharistic prayer of thanksgiving to the Trinity (166-167).
What is most striking about Catherine’s spirituality, as contrasted to that of Eckhart, is it objectivity and universality compared with his subjectivity and individuality. Her prayer moves from herself to the salvation of the world and the reform of the Church and the Order while his looks intensely toward the interior life of the individual soul. The Father instructs Catherine to seek him through service of the neighbor, and in spite of her intense contemplative life and intimate espousal to Christ, her love, like Dominic’s, is expansively apostolic. Her spirituality is also much more ecclesial and sacramental than Eckhart’s. For her, Christ in the Eucharist is the center of the Church and of the Christian life and in the Eucharist she sees Christ mercifully forgiving the world through his blood dispensed by the power of the keys given to Peter. She also sees Christ in the successor of St. Peter in whom the Church is united and who is the symbol on earth of Christ’s mercy and forgiveness. Her love for the Dominican Order is equally intense, because she is profoundly convinced that without the light of faith, the preached Truth of the Word of God, the world remains blind and helpless. She longs to preach this truth and to give her life’s blood in its witness.
It is significant that this most perfect disciple of Dominic, the inspiration for the reform of the Order, was a woman and a member of the Third Order or Dominican Laity. Her influence on the Order’s subsequent history, as we shall see, has been profound. Because of her great loyalty to the Holy See she was declared (along with St. Francis of Assisi) a chief Patron of Italy by Plus XII in 1939. She and Teresa of Avila were declared Doctors of the Church by Paul VI in 1970, the first women so to be honored.
In the 1300s Dominicans continued producing preaching aids. The ars praedicandi of Thomas Walleys (d. 1349) is called How to Compose Sermons. He was an Oxford professor famous for his attack on Pope John XXII’s theories about the beatific vision, who got delated for his own theories on the subject. His preaching manual treats very technically in nine chapters all aspects of a sermon. Directed to more popular preaching is the large Summa of Preaching of another Englishman, John Bromyard (d. 1352), rich in exempla and painting a vivid picture of the practical difficulties a preacher faces. Jean Gobi the Younger (fl. 1323), lector at St. Maximin in France, in his Ladder of Heaven listed exempla alphabetically. Bartolomeo da San Concordio (d. 1347) of Pisa (author also of a popular Summa of Cases of Conscience) collected the sayings of many authorities on prose composition in his Teaching of the Ancients in Italian. Giacomo of Fusignano (d. 1333), Provincial of the Roman Province, then a bishop, counselor, and friend of Charles II of Naples, also wrote an Art of Preaching. Jacopo Passavanti (d. 1357) of Florence is notable for the eloquence of his Italian The Mirror of True Penitence filled with exempla skillfully narrated. Finally, Arnaldo de Podio, a Catalan (fl. c. 1379-97), wrote an important, still unedited Art of Preaching.
Another author of a Book of Exempla and Similitudes was Giovanni di San Gimignano (d. 1337), who also left some 480 sermons in Latin (but many delivered in Italian) for Sundays, Advent, Lent, and for funerals. He was a lector in many houses of his province and prior in Siena, and his sermons reflect the thought of Aquinas, under some of whose pupils he had studied. A fine example of his preaching is a sermon for the feast of St. Dominic in which he interprets the seven stars of Revelations as the seven great lights of the Order: Dominic, Raymond of Pennafort, Hugh of St. Cher, Albert, Thomas, Robert Kilwardby, and Peter of Tarentaise.
Giordano da Pisa (d. 1311) left a collection of vernacular sermons of which more from this century than from the thirteenth survive. During the Lent of 1305 Giordano preached at Santa Maria Novella in Florence twice every day and three times on Sunday, sometimes in church, sometimes in the plaza before it. The rest of the year he preached at least six times a week, sometimes to the clergy in Latin. In a sermon of March 26, 1304, on the Creed, he began by urging his hearers to believe not only about God, nor even merely believe God, but to believe in God. He first praised faith as the foundation of the whole Christian life; second, he showed that believers ought also to love; third, that lovers ought to serve God by doing good; and fourth, they must love faithfully unto death. He concluded with Jesus’ word to the Samaritan woman “to worship in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:24). On April 11, 1305, preaching on the text “Christ was made obedient for us unto death” (Phil 2:8), he referred to the brazen serpent Moses raised in the desert and then showed this serpent to be Christ crucified as a sinner, but a serpent that did not poison but healed. Therefore, look to Christ crucified, because only in the Sinless can spiritual health be found.
The most popular preacher of the times, however, was undoubtedly the sensational Blessed Venturino of Bergamo (1304-44) who had wanted to go to the eastern missions but was assigned instead to preach in northern Italy where he soon became famous. Of middle height, black hair, eyebrows, and beard, a brown complexion, with an oval, emaciated but striking face, beautiful hands and a habit of walking with bent head, sparing in words and fond of silent meditation, yet kindly and pleasant in expression and conversation, he profoundly impressed his audiences. He lived very simply, “hated money like poison,” and became known for his cheerfulness and compassion and his visits to the sick, the poor, and the imprisoned. He was in frequent correspondence with the Rhineland mystics and wrote a work on asceticism, On the Spiritual Journey, a very severe, penitential conception of Dominican living.
Venturino, to dramatize his preaching, organized converted penitents in bands of twelve, wearing white tunics and long blue cloaks with a red and white cross on the right shoulder and a dove with an olive branch on the left, girded with cords with seven knots to flagellate themselves while reciting Our Fathers and Hail Marys. They trudged the roads carrying pilgrim staffs after a leader carrying a banner of the Madonna and St. Martha. As they marched they proclaimed, “Mercy! Peace! Justice!” These penitents were often men who had once been mortal enemies in the many feuds of those days, especially between the Guelfs (the Pope’s party) and Ghibellines (the Emperor’s party). Now as brothers they traveled through the villages to pray for peace for Italy at the tomb of St. Peter in Rome. No doubt Venturino got the idea from the “Alleluia” preaching of the friars in the previous century.
The peace pilgrimage grew much larger than Venturino had anticipated and war-torn Rome, at that time deserted by the Avignon popes and hardly more than a village, was overrun by huge crowds. When the news reached Benedict XII at Avignon, he suspected that Venturino was seeking to be pope and denounced him as a “hypocrite.” But Venturino, innocent of any such ambition, leaving the pilgrims to fare for themselves, hastened to Avignon to defend himself. The naive answers he gave to the papal inquiry have been preserved. The Pope accepted his good intentions but banished him to France, where he became spiritual advisor to Humbert II of Dauphine, whom he urged to join the Crusade which Benedict’s successor, Clement VI, commissioned Venturino to preach, as he did with immense success. Humbert proved a poor leader and Venturino died in Syria while Humbert resigned his crown, willed Dauphine to the king of France, became a Dominican, and eventually a bishop. After Venturino’s fiasco, it is hardly surprising the Master of the Order denounced the flagellant movements and at the time of the Black Death strongly opposed them in Germany where they became especially bizarre. Yet, St. Vincent Ferrer (d. 1419) adopted similar methods in his enormously successful preaching.
Outside Italy there were many other famous preachers, some of whose sermons have been preserved but remain as yet unpublished and unstudied. Jacques de Lausanne (d. 1322), professor at Paris and French Provincial, who besides a Sentences commentary, left Moralities (spiritual reflections on the Bible) and many Latin sermons enlivened with French proverbs, examples from the natural sciences, and satires on the clergy, merchants, and government officials. Though a Dominican, he preached the Immaculate Conception. Henry van den Castre (d. 1303) of Louvain left many vernacular sermons and a Letter on Six Things Which Make One Live in Constant Union with God. Henry of Cologne (Henry of Cervo?) also left many German sermons. Thus this troubled century added much to the Dominican heritage, especially a deeper interiority.