The Dominicans by Benedict M. Ashley, O.P.
A New Rival to the Gospel
During the later 1600s the intellectual elites of Europe became increasingly disillusioned with Christianity and its religious wars between Catholics and Protestants on the Continent, and Anglicans and Puritans in England. The “Enlightenment” was essentially a search for an alternative to Christianity: first deism and then an agnostic or atheist secular humanism, bolstered by a co-option of modern science and technology, first developed in the 1600s under Christian auspices. Popular religion was at first unaffected, but as this Enlightenment spread from England to France, then to Germany, it attacked the religious orders with devastating ridicule. Gallicanism and German Febromanism, by removing the Church’s counterforce to secular absolutism, cleared the way for the French Revolution in 1798 and the dictatorship and imperial wars of Napoleon Bonaparte up to 1815.
Moreover, this rival to Christianity fostered many values we all recognize today as genuine progress: democracy, emphasis on human rights, higher standards of living and health, the knowledge explosion-powerful pragmatic arguments that secular humanism had a greater claim to truth and effectiveness than the Gospel. The Church, ill-prepared for this unexpected challenge, could only denounce its outrages. The Dominican Order might have assimilated the Enlightenment as in the thirteenth century it assimilated pagan thought, but it was so caught up in the controversies on grace and Probabilism that it also was paralyzed by this “future shock.”
In 1721 the long regime of Cloche was succeeded by the brief term of Augustino Pipia (1721-25), an Aragonese, and Master of the Sacred Palace. He constantly insisted that all correspondence with him be brief and precise and that all the brethren be undeviatingly Thomistic. In 1724, the Dominican Cardinal Orsini, became the fourth Pope from the Order, Benedict XIII, and during his six-year term showed himself its great friend, often coming to choir in its churches and even receiving the discipline with the other friars. He heaped privileges on the Order which were largely annulled by his successor. Perhaps his greatest favor was the bull Demissas preces which made clear that the Holy See’s condemnation of Jansenism in no way applied to Thomism, as the Molinists had claimed. In 1724 he made Pipia a cardinal.
Pipia’s successor was Tomas Ripoll, another Aragonese, and a contemplative, who had been the companion of both Cloche and Pipia. The elective Chapter received a letter from Benedict XIII insisting on attendance at choir, on the removal of all class distinction in the Order, and on strict Thomism. Benedict also restored the church of San Sisto Vecchio where St. Dominic had established his second community of nuns, and he tried to fuse the Congregations of Santé and St. Marc de Gavotis in the Kingdom of Naples and form a Province of Santé but his successor reversed this. Ripoll made no visitations. With his support, many of the important studies on the documents and history of the Order were completed and the Jansenist controversy brought to its end. In 1740 the great scholar Pope Benedict XIV, who had always been and continued to be a great friend of the Order and supporter of Thomism, was elected. Ripoll died in 1747.
Antonin Brémond, of the Province of Toulouse, a very lovable and popular friar but frail in health, was elected Master by acclamation in 1748. He had been a missionary for five years in Martinique, then under Ripoll an editor of the Order’s documents, and had written a Useful Manual for the Christian Life for the children of the English King James II, exiled in Rome. His health prevented much accomplishment and he died in 1752. One of the consolations of his term had been to see the revival of the Order in German lands.
The Spaniard Juan Tomás Boxadors had been a diplomat at the court of Emperor Charles VI. He had been a man of the world, well-informed, a connoisseur of the arts, when in 1755 he received news of his brother’s death in the great Lisbon earthquake, renounced his ambitions and entered the Order. But after teaching theology for some years, he was chosen as a companion of Master Brémond, and then elected his successor in 1756. The elective Chapter had as always commissioned him to promote Thomism and the rosary and Boxadors did so faithfully. Through four years he painstakingly visitated the Spanish Provinces, enduring many discomforts of travel.
In the meantime the propaganda of the Enlightenment was beginning to have its effect, and to the young religious life began to appear obsolescent. By 1758 the Provinces of France, Paris and St. Louis had only three novices, Toulouse only one. In 1765, 28 Benedictines of the Congregation of St. Maur petitioned Louis XVI to absolve them of their vows and this led to the appointment of a royal commission to reform the religious orders. This commission was dominated by the Archbishop of Toulouse, one Loménie de Brienne, who was strongly influenced by the Enlightenment. No man less than 21, or woman less than 18 could be admitted as a novice, no religious house could have less than nine members, and each Order must rewrite its constitutions for royal approval. The same trend spread in the Empire under Joseph II and in Tuscany where all novitiates were closed. In 1773 Clement XIV was forced by nominally Catholic kings to suppress the Society of Jesus. Until made cardinal in 1776 Boxadors absolutely but helplessly resisted these attacks on the Order.
The elective Chapter of 1777 still had delegates from 30 provinces but was the first in twenty years. Pius VI, following the precedent of Benedict XIII and XIV, opened the Chapter in person. It chose one of Boxadors’ officials, Baltasar de Quiñones of the Province of Spain, who, like Master Ridolfi, had a reputation for lavish generosity. The acts of this Chapter forbade public disputations that might anger secular authorities
and were silent on the dire situation of the Order under secular attacks. They called for a Chapter in 1780, but in fact none was to meet until 1835! In the next years France was in the turmoil that led to the Revolution in 1789. Then the Constituent Assembly forced the clergy to swear primary allegiance to state authority, and by 1792 made clerical celibacy optional, forbade the religious habit, and began to depose and frequently to execute clergy who refused the loyalty oath.
In 1790 there were still at least 1,200 professed Friar Preachers in the seven provinces of France (an average of seven clerics and one lay brother per convent). As a result of the long struggle for reform within the Order, the friars’ observance of their Constitutions was generally true to its essentials and in many houses quite strict, although their numbers had sharply declined and their average age was rapidly increasing. Most of the other orders were also relatively sound. Yet the First Republic suppressed them all, pensioning those who wished to be freed of their vows, while sending those who would not leave to government residences not of their choosing nor under their control. For example, in the Bordeaux convent (average in observance but larger than average) of the 25 choir religious, 13 wanted to remain, 6 wanted to leave, 4 abstained, 2 were absent; of the 7 lay brothers 1 stayed, 2 left, 4 abstained. The last convent to survive in France was the Paris General Novitiate, finally closed in 1793. Many friars suffered imprisonment, death, or deportation. Others fled to Germany, England, and Spain but found their best reception in Italy.
On the eve of the Revolution there had been 45 Dominicans provinces, 30,000 to 40,000 friars in 1,200 houses, and 200 monasteries of nuns. After 1765 the governments of Vienna, Naples, and Madrid more and more interferred with any recourse to the Master of the Order. All religious houses in France, Belgium, Germany and many in Italy were suppressed from about 1789 to 1850. In Russia, Lithuania, and Poland this also occurred after 1842. The Portuguese and Spanish Provinces were separated from the Master’s jurisdiction from 1802 to 1872. Only nine Provinces continued without interruption. At the end of the 1700s, the Master of the Order, Quiñones, as far as is known, remained strangely indifferent to these disasters. Exiled by Plus VI to La Quercia and then returning to Spain in 1798, he died at Florence.
Right up to the French Revolution the chief theological issues which occupied Dominicans were still the debates with the Jesuits over the doctrine of grace in dogmatic theology and of Probabilism in moral theology. These issues were confused by the fact that on both issues the Jansenists also opposed the Jesuits in the name of authentic Thomism. Moreover, the all too patriotic French Dominicans were driven by their Gallicanism into resenting the efforts of the popes to suppress Jansenism and to resist the secular attacks on the Jesuits. Typical was the case of one of the greatest Dominican scholars of the age, Noël (Natalis) Alexander (d. 1724), who taught at Paris, was Regent of Studies for his own and other provinces, Provincial of the Province of France, tutor of the son of the great Minister Colbert. He was an enormously erudite controversialist who battled John Launoi of the Paris faculty, the man who denied that Aquinas was the author of the Summa Theologiae, and wrote learned polemic works on the Sacrament of Penance, simony, clerical celibacy, the authority of the Vulgate, Molinism, Probabilism, and the question of the Chinese rites.
Alexander also produced a large Moral and Dogmatic Theology according to the order of the Catechism of Trent and a literal and moral commentary on the New Testament. But his greatest work was his vast Church History which was put on the Index (along with some shorter works) by Innocent XI because of its Gallicanism (although an annotated edition by another Dominican, Roncaglia, was later permitted to be published by Benedict XIII and Benedict XIV) and he was forbidden to teach by Master Monroy in spite of the intercession of the French king on his behalf. In 1714 he became an “appellant” against the condemnation of the Jansenists, not because he favored them, but because he thought the decree condemned Thomism in favor of the Jesuit views on grace. He became blind, and shortly before his death submitted to papal authority, much to the relief of most Dominicans.
The two most distinguished dogmatic theologians of this century (although they also dealt with moral questions) were Gotti and Billuart. Ludovico Vincenzo Gotti (d. 1742), was an Italian who became cardinal and patriarch of Jerusalem. He wrote a five-volume Scholastic-Dogmatic Theology, works on celibacy and papal authority, an immense 12-volume Apologetics and many other apologetic works. He also wrote a study on the definability of the Immaculate Conception, advising against any further papal action. His treatise, On the True Church, was translated into Latin and annotated by Thomas Covi in 1752.
Charles René Billuart (d. 1757), a Belgian, was almost made a Cardinal. He had taught philosophy at Douay, theology at Revin, been regent of studies, prior several terms, provincial twice, and was a noted preacher especially on devotion to the Eucharist. His major work was a 19-volume commentary on the whole of the Summa Theologiae. His work was not especially original, depending in considerable measure on Gotti, and in its historical information on Noël Alexander, but it provided a comprehensive and up-dated statement of Thomism which was for a long time the standard interpretation. He wrote other works on the Eucharist and the question of grace. He was involved in the discussion over the spiritual works of the distinguished saintly and humanistic French Archbishop Fénelon, for a time suspected of Quietism.
More specifically on the great problem of grace Jacques-Hyacinthe Serry (d. 1738), a noted French preacher, besides many sermons, lectures on the Trinity, Christology, ecclesiology, papal authority, and defenses of St. Catherine of Siena and Melchior Cano, produced a History of the Commission on Grace, heavily biased on the Dominican side but unsurpassed in thoroughness and documentation. He was defended against Jesuit protests by Melchior-Thomas de L’Hermite (d. 1730). Many others defended the Thomistic view, such as Cardinal Tommaso M. Ferrari (d. 1716) who actively opposed the Jansenist Quesnel, and supported the Augustinian Cardinal Henry Noris in his notable study of the history of Pelagianism, a work much resented by the probabilists; and Gregorio Gelleri (d. 1729), Master of the Sacred Palace who wrote eight volumes to defend the papal decree Unigenitus condemning Jansenism. Norbert d’Elbecque (d. 1714), who published Noël Alexander’s moral theology and wrote to refute the theory of “philosophic sin,” was also thought to favor Jansenism, although he taught in Rome. On the other hand Vincent Rigal (d. 1722), Regent of St. Jacques in Paris, was repeatedly rebuked by Master Cloche for pertinaciously favoring Molinistic opinions; Sebastian Kippenburg (d. 1733) opposed the views of Lemos, the great defender of the Thomist position; while Antonio Dionysio Simon D’Albizzi (d. 1738) also of St. Jacques so harshly attacked the Molinists that the King’s Jesuit confessor had him imprisoned (he later became an “appellant” against Unigenitus).
Some have charged a Dominican professor in Vienna, Pietro M. Gazzaniga (d. 1799), of falling into Calvinism in his attacks on Molinism. Finally, Giorgio Francisco Albertini (d. 1809), author of works on marriage and on original sin, seems to have yielded a good deal to Molinism. It is evident that Dominicans felt themselves very much on the defensive on this question in an age when deistic tendencies were beginning to make the Thomistic doctrine of the total dependence of human freedom on the concursus of God a distasteful doctrine.
Not all Dominican writing in dogmatic theology, however, was on the grace controversy. Ambrosio Peretti (d. 1712) of Prague wrote on happiness, as well as on logic; Giuseppe M. Tabaglio (d. 1714) on the Mystical Body; Jean des Holias (d. 1715) on Purgatory, etc. Unusual undertakings were a historical and critical study (in 12 volumes!) of the principal signs by which humans, angels, devils, and God communicate with each other, by Alphonse Costadau (d. 1725), and another by the Belgian Matthias Dolman (d. 1728) to prove against Protestant attacks on the memory of St. Dominic and St. Pius V that the Pope is infallible in solemn canonizations.
Easily first among Dominican moralists of the time was the redoubtable Daniel Concina (d. 1756) who studied at a Jesuit college in Goritz, Austria, and then entered a strict observant Dominican congregation in Venice. He taught philosophy and preached extensively in North Italy, striving to revive the simplicity and austerity of the life of early Christianity. He wrote a work to refute the idea of the Bollandists that St. Dominic derived his ideal of poverty from St. Francis and attacked the claim of Raphael de Pornasio, O.P., (d. 1465) that modern Dominicans practice the same poverty as that of the first days of the Order, and in another work attacked the use of private accounts by religious, producing, of course, a vigorous controversy.
Concina’s most important role, however, was played in the Probabilist controversy. The condemnation of certain Laxist moral opinions by Alexander VII (1665, 1666) and by Innocent XI (1667) had by no means ended Laxism which was even more congenial to the Enlightenment than to the Baroque Age. Benedict XIV was particularly concerned about this relaxation of morals and favored Concina’s approach as when in his encyclical of 1741 he adopted Concina’s view on the Lenten fast. But it was the Dominican’s History of Probabilism and Rigorism (1743) which aroused great opposition from the Jesuits because it seemed to identify Probabilism as the root of modern Laxism. They were even more disturbed by his great 12-volume Christian Dogmatic-Moral Theology (1749-55) and its two-volume compendium, which were widely used as texts free of Probabilism. Benedict XIV rejected Jesuit efforts to have this work condemned and Concina declared he had no intention to attack the Society. While Concina’s opinions on some topics inclined to severity, he was not a Rigorist but a Probabiliorist who, in keeping with the teleological rather than legalist moral theory of Aquinas, sought to inculcate the use of the most effective means to attain the ultimate end of union with God through charity. With papal support he worked to maintain the spiritual values of the Christian life in the face of the indulgence of hedonism promoted by the Enlightenment philosophes. In beginning his treatment of charity, he writes:
It is necessary for me to warn you, my Reader, lest I should incur many criticisms, that I will write about love at more length than younger writers are accustomed to do. For they accuse me of using the style of a preacher, padding my folios with too many words, figures of speech, and exhortations. But I will not tarry over these criticisms and I am astonished at their ignorance of the true method of teaching Christian theology. For the ethics of morals should not only illumine the mind but conquer the will and subdue the passions. Therefore if this is to be well constructed it is necessary to follow the right path to this end, a path that appears to the new casuists just the one that is sterile and thorny, but which the older Fathers left us as a theology fertile, flowery and most apt to excite the will.
An important supporter of Concina’s views was Giuseppe V. Patuzzi (d. 1769) who produced an eight-volume Ethica Christiana and two works refuting the Aequiprobabilism of St. Alphonsus Ligouri and a defense of Aquinas against the old charge of favoring tyrannicide. Patuzzi, like Dante, wrote a work on the future state of the impious in which he detailed the degree of punishment awaiting each type of sinner or infidel. He did not seem aware that this mode of moralizing exposed Christian morality to the ridicule of Enlightenment satirist. Rather, what was needed was a revision of moral theology to free it from late medieval legalism and to revive the emphasis on true virtue of Aquinas and the other high scholastics. Fulgenzio Cuniliati (d. 1759), besides a complete moral theology and many saints lives, wrote an interesting application of moral theology to preaching, The Catechist in the Pulpit, and Dionysio Remedelli (d. 1765) performed an important service to moral theology by editing the great work of St. Antoninus of Florence.
Others dealt with special topics in moral theology, for example, Giovanni-Maria Muti (d. 1727) wrote against dueling and Machiavellianism; Joseph Roux (1748) on the duty to give alms to relieve a famine in France; Albert Oswaldt (d. 1711) and Edmund Burke (d. 1739) on the sorrow required for forgiveness of sin, etc. Although canon law played a great part in the moral theology of this time not many noted Dominican canonists can be mentioned.
It was the century when Richard Simon (d. 1712) opened the way to historico-critical study of the Bible, but Dominicans played little part in this new movement. The not very distinguished names that can be mentioned in this field are: Vincenzo M. Ferri (d. 1714) on Matthew; Giuseppe M. dalla Torre (d. 1719), introduction to the Bible; Emmanuel da Encarnacao (d. 1720) on Matthew; Lorenzo-Filippo Virgulti (d. 1735), a Hebraist engaged in polemics with the rabbis; Nicolo Agostino Chignoli (d. 1767) on Daniel; Vincenzo Penzi (d. 1773) on the authority of Scripture in theology; Dominicus Czerny (d. 1780) a text of hermeneutics; F.H. Arizarra (d. 1783) on the origin and antiquity of Hebrew writing; Giovanni Domenico Stratico (d. 1799) on the pastoral use of Scriptures; and Gabriel Fabricy (d. 1800) on the reliability of the Hebrew text of the Bible.
The Dominican achievement in patrology and liturgy was considerably better due primarily to the brilliant work of Michel Le Quien (d. 1733) whose Oriens Christianus on the Eastern Churches and his edition of the works of St. John Damascene were among the major scholarly works of the period. He also defended the Hebrew text of the Scriptures against the Septuagint; wrote on the nullity of Anglican ordinations, and produced numerous other works. Giordano Polisicchio (d. 1744) proved the correspondence of Jesus and Abgar of Edessa to be spurious and probably Arian.
Le Quien was a leader among the Parisian Dominicans in “appealing” against Unigenitus because they thought it denigrated the authority of Aquinas. Bernard M. De Rubeis (d. 1775), who while in Paris was a friend of Le Quien, Echard and other scholars, wrote numerous historical studies on the early Church, but his main work, still of importance, was his historical notes on Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae. Vincenzo M. Fassini (d. 1787), an excellent writer but a violent polemicist, was a friend of De Rubeis and edited the life and studies of Concina (getting himself into trouble with the censors for arguing that the Jesuits had invented the “myth” of Jansenism). He wrote on Eucharistic practices of the Eastern Churches, on early Christian names, on the apostolic origin of Gospels, on the canonicity of the Apocalypse, and on Josephus.
Many Dominicans at this time engaged in historical writing, some of which has already been mentioned, such as the Church History of Noël Alexander and The History of the Congregation on Grace of Serry. The other most notable achievements was the completion (to 1700) of the Writers of the Order of Preachers started by Jacques Quétif (d. 1698) and completed to 1700 by the indefatigable Jacques Echard (d. 1724). About this work a sarcastic modern author wrote:
These Friar Preachers who have destroyed the books of others, have written many themselves which have almost all been preserved; and they even have had the good fortune that the history which they have left of their Brothers who have written, is a masterpiece of literary history. Of course, it is true that it has been written at a time when they could no longer burn anyone!
Echard like Le Quien was a leader of the Paris “appellants.”
Also of capital importance are the Bullarium O.P. and Annales O.P., edited by Antonin Brémond (d. 1755) (assisted by Hermano Benedicto Christianopoli, Francisco M. Polidori and Vincenzo M. Badetto), collecting fundamental documents of the Order, and the Illustrious Men of the Dominican Order by Antonin Tournon (d. 1775) who also produced a 14-volume General History of America and apologetic works. Of more general interest was the great Church History of Cardinal Giuseppe Agostino Orsi (d. 1776) against Fleury’s Gallican-tainted history. In 21 volumes Orsi got only to the seventh century but it was continued to 1529 in 42 volumes by Filippo Becchetti O.P. Orsi strongly defended papal infallibility.
Ignace-Hyacinthe Amat de Graveson (1733) also wrote an eight-volume Church History, a Bible history, a life of Christ, a work on the Messiahship of Jesus and interesting letters on theological method. He was influential in persuading the Jansenistic and Gallican Cardinal Archbishop Noailles finally to submit in the affair of the Unigenitus. Tommaso M. Mamachi (d. 1792), from the island of Chios, a friend of Benedict XIV and of Cardinal Orsi, wrote a pioneering work on Christian antiquities, defended the power of the Pope over councils, and worked with Remedelli on the edition of the works of St. Antoninus and on the Annales O. P. He had a controversy with the great collector of conciliar documents, Mansi on the dates of St. Athanasius and on what he regarded as his Laxist moral opinions. There were Dominican antiquaries such as Francisco Orlandi (d. 1733) who wrote an ecclesiastical geography and a work on feet-washing and forms of altars, Joseph M. Verdova (d. 1744), an expert collector of antique Roman coins; and Giuseppe Allegranza (d. 1785) an archaeologist, student of ancient tombs and inscriptions.
Many wrote on the missions, to mention only the Bolivian half-Indian Alonso de Zamora (d. 1717) on New Granada, and Francisco Serrano (d. 1748) on the Dominicans, many of them martyrs in China. The eighteenth century was avid for travelogues, and Dominican missionaries such as the Frenchman Godefrid Loyer (d. 1714), in his Relation of a Voyage to the Kingdoms of Issyny, the Gold Coast, and Guinea in Africa, were happy to oblige.
The liveliest writer in this genre was Jean-Baptiste Labat (d. 1738) who wrote an account of his missionary experience in the West Indies, especially Martinique, the frankness of which so offended its government as to prevent his ever returning. Subsequently, he wrote of his voyages in Italy and Spain, and then (with considerable imagination) voyages in Africa and the Near East based on the accounts of others. Finally, he wrote further on his memories of the West Indies. These works were literary and popular successes because of his vivid, humorous, and very personal style, quite different from that used by most of his confreres in their immense theological tomes.
There were innumerable writers of saints lives, such as those by Michael Navarro y Soria (d. 1739) and José de Natividad (d. 1753). Many of these were uncritical, such as the efforts of Jean-Dominique Gavoty, (d. 1714) and Benedictus Behm (d. 1715) to defend the legends about Mary Magdalene; but there were also efforts to define standards of historical criticism as by Jacinto Segura (d. 1752). And there were studies of local interest, such as Augustin Michael (d. 1714) on the Christians of Mozambique; Pedro Monteyro (d. 1735), counselor of the King and Dauphin of Portugal, who left many documentary studies; and J.B.M. Contareni (d. 1752) and Giuseppe H. Triverio (d. 1754) on Italian topics.
In all these efforts, primarily theological in character, the underlying philosophy remained firmly Thomistic, yet sadly there was still no extensive effort to meet the challenge of the new science and philosophy since Descartes. The most successful statement of Thomistic philosophy was the Summa Philosophica (1777 in six volumes) of Salvatore M. Roselli (d. 1785). This work which had several editions is generally sound Thomism but shows some influence from a widely used work by Joseph Valla (d. 1790), General of the Theatines, which was moderately traditionalist and influenced by Descartes’ and Malebranche’s doctrine of innate ideas, and with Jansenistic tendencies. On the other hand, this work still rejects the Copernican-Galilean revolution in science as condemned by the Church!
Many wrote on logic (it seemed a safe subject), such as Augustinus Adler (d. 1711) and Pedro de Candamo (d. 1717); or grammar, Giacomo-Maria Rossi (d. 1727). Others wrote complete manuals: Giacinto-Rosa Cameroni (d. 1710), Philosophy of Aristotle Purged from Errors; Paulus-Maria Cauvinus (d. 1716); Antoninus Perenger, (d. 1717); Juan Villalva (d. 1722). Some, however, directly attacked the new science principally as mechanistic and atomistic, as Henrico Saccardi (d. 1716); Giovanni Domenico Siri (d. 1737) in his General Aristotelico-Thomistic Philosophy against Descartes and Gassendi (1719); and Giovanni Domenico Agnani (d. 1746) Philosophy New Yet Old (Neo-Palea). Nicolo M. Gennaro (d. 1714) also engaged a Franciscan in a controversy on atomism and Alberto M. Mannoliti (d. c. 1736) left a lengthy refutation of this error unpublished; but others such as Vitus Kahl (d. 1735) serenely continued to comment on the works of Aristotle.
What is surprising is that a considerable number of Dominicans of this as in the previous century wrote or at least taught mathematical and engineering subjects, such as Gundisalvo Steffani (d. 1721); Tommaso Pius Maffei (d. 1717), an astronomer at Padua who was a Copernican and wrote on solar and lunar cycles and on the mechanics of Galileo and Descartes, and who, no doubt because of his eminence, had no difficulty with the censors of the Order; Philip Serrano (d. 1718) a lay brother who was an expert mathematician but did not publish; José Francisco (d. 1723), Juan Syra y Ferrer (d. 1730); and Benedetto M. Del Castrone (d. 1748) who wrote extensively on mathematics, geography, and navigation. But the most distinguished scientist and inventor in the Order at this time was Joseph Gallen (d. 1762). Although accused of Jansenistic tendencies in his theological writings, he also vigorously opposed the Jansenist denial of the integrity of pure human nature apart from grace. He taught physics and meteorology at the University of Avignon, and became famous for his proposal (which he labeled an “Amusement”) for aerial navigation to take troops to Africa. This proposal was based on previous discussion by two Jesuit scientists; but it probably influenced the Brothers Montgolfier who made the first hotair balloon ascension in 1782.
The most important new development in Dominican studies in this century, however, was the attention given to apologetics in the face of the rising deism, agnosticism, and atheism of the Enlightenment. Early in France Ignace Piconne (d. 1713) was writing against “infidelity.” In Belgium Francis Van Ranst (d. 1727) wrote works titled, Truth is in the Middle, and History of Heretics, and in England Ambrose Burgis (d. 1747), son of an Anglican minister, at Louvain a work on the Early Church and an Introduction to the Catholic Faith, but most of the apologetic works came in the latter part of the century. M.A. Bonetto (d. 1770) wrote on the existence of God; Pierre Thomas La Berthonie (1774), a defense of the Christian religion against unbelievers, Jews, and Spinozists; the Dominican historian already mentioned Antonin Touran (d. 1775), a comparison between the unbelief of ancient Israel and modern infidelity; Tommaso M. Cerboni (d. 1776), an important On Revealed Theology; Tommaso M. Soldati (d. 1782), on the role of the state in supporting or undermining religion; Edward Anthony Hatton (d. 1783). on the effects of the Reformation in England; Antonio Valsecchi (d. 1791), on the sources of impiety and the truth of Catholicism; and Ulrich Reiss (d. 1795), on true and false miracles.
Two Dominicans were especially important in this field. One was Casto Innocentio Ansaldi (d. 1779), who, like many of his time, found scholastic method distasteful, fled from his religious superiors for many years, then returned to the Order to write erudite and original apologetic works. Among these are studies in Egyptian, early Jewish, and Roman religion, on the notion of “primitive revelation,” on the historicity of Herod’s massacre of the Innocents (against Scaliger), and several studies on the historicity of the Christian traditions about the early martyrs.
The other, Charles Louis Richard (d. 1794), is called by Daniel-Rops the most distinguished apologist of the eighteenth century because of his Universal Dictionary of the Sacred Sciences (six folio volumes of almost 5,000 pages, completed 1765) written to counteract the famous Encyclopédie of Voltaire, the Bible of the Enlightenment. He also produced A General Dictionary of the Theological Sciences (Bibliothèque Sacrée, 1822, in 29 volumes, the basis of many later works) and 79 polemical works, plus four volumes of sermons characterized by one critic as “simple, natural, intelligible to all; it instructs, touches and convinces.” In 1778, he fled the Revolutionary Assembly of Paris to Brussels, but could not keep quiet when he found that the University of Louvain had become Josephist, and fled again to Lille and Mons where he wrote The Parallel, comparing the execution of King Louis XVI by the French to the killing of the Messiah by the Jews. Hence when the Republican armies in 1794 entered Mons they arrested this octogenarian prophet. He refused a defender, admitted he had written The Parallel and declared he would sign it with his blood. To his condemnation he answered Deo Gratias, and in prison sang the Te Deum. Before his execution he divided what little he possessed with his barber and the jailers, saying, “Charity should be strong as death and zeal unyielding as hell.”
Finally, in this time there were not a few Dominicans engaged in the patient work of the bibliographer, compiler, and editor. Some, such as Jacques Echard, have already been mentioned but other examples are the Bohemian Reginald Braun (d. 1742), editor of works of Vincent Ferrer, Henry Suso, etc.; Alfonso Manrique (d. 1711) who published an encyclopedic School of Princes and Knights on Geography, Rhetoric, Economics, Politics, Logic, and Physics, an annual cycle of Dominican saints’ lives, and a compendium of moral theology; Thomas M. Alfam (d. 1742), founder of a Neapolitan academy of scholars; and Giuseppe B. Audiffredi (d. 1794), a bibliographer.
Although religious observance was essentially sound in most parts of the Order at the time of the Revolution, it had markedly receded from its height during the reforms of the seventeenth century. Thus by 1686 strict observance was declining throughout the French provinces as regards midnight office. By 1697 habits and tonsure were relaxing and private life was beginning again. The General Chapter in 1706 pointed out that the former model Province of St. Louis was slipping. By 1710 vocations were diminishing, and houses were reluctant to send novices to the General Novitiate. Friars had private accounts, and superiors had special dishes. Often the Divine Office was not said when the organ had to be used. Fewer people came to church because sermons were less frequent. By 1758 the General Novitiate in Paris had such poor food that it was decided to send the novices elsewhere, but this was not actually done until 1773. Elections became quarrels and many were disaffected by the results. In 1778 the Archbishop of Paris protested to Master Quiñones against the election of a certain Dominican as provincial saying the friars were “worldly and dissipated.” As the historian Abbé Roy remarks:
Their elegance and an entirely worldly manner distinguished them. Was it the air of the most dissipated street of Paris which had changed them? If so, what would St. Dominic have said if he saw them with curled and powdered hair, trimmed and coifed like the little Lords of the World?
In such an atmosphere it is no wonder that prayer did not flourish in this century. Yet it was not lacking in sanctity, as is obvious from the history of the many martyrs in the missions. But there were also many contemplatives, especially among the women of the Order. Only a few of these, however, are known through their own writings. Thus Ottavia Arditi (d. 1739) left spiritual meditations and letters; Gertrude Salandri (d. 1748) a spiritual autobiography, as did Columba Scagilone (d. 1753) along with letters; and Deodata del Divino Amore (d. 1754), a number of works that have not been published.
Others left no writings but are known to us through biographies of their directors or others, of whom perhaps the most notable is Maria Rosa Giannini (d. 1741) of the Dominican laity, who attained the mystical marriage fifteen years before her death, and who spent her life caring for the poor of Naples. Other women with a reputation for sanctity were: Claudia De Angelis (d. 1715); Frialetta R. Fialetti (d. 1717), directed by the learned moralist Patuzzi; Benoite Rencurel (d. 1718), of the Dominican laity from a very poor family, a stigmatic who lived in a hermitage near the shrine of Our Lady of Laus; Maria della Volonta di Dio (d. 1722); Maria Caterina Rosetti (d. 1754); Domenica Prati (d. 1804); Columba Wifl (d. 1783); Columba Weigl (d. 1783); Paule Graessle (d. 1793). In Spain some seven stigmatized nuns of this period have been listed. In the lives of some of these women it is especially noted as in the case of Cecilia Mayer (d. 1749) that they offered themselves in prayer and penance for the survival of the Church under the Enlightenment onslaught.
The canonized saint of the Order (other than the martyrs) of this period is St. Louis Grignon de Montfort (d. 1716), significantly perhaps not of the First but the Third Order. Born in Brittany, he had a long struggle to be ordained, and then began a remarkable mission of preaching to the rural poor of France who under the Ancient Regime had become very much neglected. He especially preached the rosary, and in order that he might do so effectively joined the Dominican Tertiaries, but founded his own institutes, the De Montfort Fathers and the Daughters of Wisdom. He especially worked against the spirit of Jansenism, which in spite of its reforming intentions made the access of the simple poor to Jesus seem too difficult. Consequently, he wrote two spiritual classics, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin and The Book of the Eternal Wisdom. These should be read together to see how much De Montfort is in the tradition of Henry Suso. To consecrate oneself to Mary is to build one’s spiritual life on total trust in Jesus, the Eternal Wisdom.
Blessed Francis de Posadas (d. 1713), a child of war refugees, was in Spain, as what De Montfort was in France, a great preacher who commonly preached six times a day, and left five volumes of posthumous works, chiefly sermons. He was also remarkable as a confessor, seemingly gifted with the ability to read the secrets of souls. The Blessed Pope Benedict XIII (Pietro Francesco Orsini, d. 1730) was for many years as priest and bishop a man of upmost pastoral dedication. As Pope he continued this attitude, and spent as much time as he could living the Dominican life with his brothers. His reign, however, suffered greatly from his trust in a friend, who as a powerful cardinal proved as corrupt as Benedict was a saint. Benedict’s mother and sisters joined him in the Dominican family as Tertiaries.
As ever there were many writers on the rosary during this century, such as Louis Meijere (d. 1729), whose works on the rosary and on the Holy Name were frequently republished; and Giovanni T. Bianchi (d. 1748), who produced no less than 12 volumes on the Perpetual Rosary! In spite of the critical researches of Echard, some still defended the rosary legend, such as Tommaso Vincenzo Moniglia (1767), of the Casanatensian Library, who had at one time been persuaded to leave the Order for a life in London, but had returned — an example of the absentee clergy not uncommon at this time. There were many other Marian works like that of De Montfort. Thus Pedro Sanchez (d. 1719) wrote on Mary at the Cross; Sante Pascucci (d. 1728) and Serafino Montorio (d. 1729) on her feasts; Giacinto M. Anti (d. 1732) on her life; Matthaeus De Brie (d. 1738) on her name and a Rosa Mystica; Piero G. Caravadossi (d. 1746) on her maternity.
Otherwise the spiritual writing of this period is not outstanding. Jean Francois Billecoq (d. 1711), associated with Alexander Piny mentioned in the last chapter, wrote on similar topics. Francois Chauchemer (d. 1713) published thirty years of sermons, many delivered during his term as Preacher Royal and a two-volume On the Advantages of a Christian Death. He was cautious about mystical experiences and was involved in the cases of Fénelon and of the Spanish Franciscan Maria of Agreda, but he used the mystical writings of Louis Chardon. Similar caution was shown by Domenico Ricci (d. 1712) who wrote against Quietism and Cardinal Thomas-Maria Ferrari (d. 1716) who criticized Fenelon’s Maxims. But Thomas Du Jardin (d. 1733) of Louvain, an opponent of Jansenism, defended the Dominican mystical tradition of Tauler and Suso.
The style of many of these works was aimed at a refined and “sentimental” audience. The Pole Nicolaus Oborski (d. 1716) wrote Familiar Instructions on the Practice of True Devotion and The Ways of God. Gaspar-Charles de la Feuille (d. c. 1724) wrote Familiar Instructions for Ladies, Theology of Heart and Spirit in 11 volumes, and Reflections of a Penitent Soul for Every Day of the Year, a bit melancholy but not Jansenist in tone. Other authors were more traditional such as Andreas Roth (d. 1735) on God as Alpha and Omega; Hyacinthus Reisner (d. 1743) on the soul and the fall; Peeter van Muyssen (d. 1744) on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; Seraphino Brienza (d. 1752), who had a great reputation as an exorcist, wrote an interesting work on Thomistic spiritual direction, making use also of the tradition of Tauler and Suso; and there were composers of prayers and hymns such as Raymund Bruns (d. 1780).
Some followed the Jesuit method by producing “spiritual exercises”: Francois Mespolié (d. 1727), a famous preacher; Cesare Samminiati (d. 1729); P.M. Lauro (d. 1763); Salvatore Arcieri (d. 1788). Others dealt chiefly with various states of the life, such as Dominique Vautrin (d. 1713), Rule of Life for Soldiers; Stephan De Foucher de Salles (d. 1718), The Perfect Lay Person; Giuseppe Aldrisi (d. 1730), A Model of Religious Life; Gundisalvo Carattini (d. 1734), Claustral Life; Domenico M. Pascucci (d. 1746), Spiritual Exercises for the Clergy. Others were devoted to special devotions: Giovanni Battista
Mazzoleni (d. 1712), devotion to the Holy Cross; Domenico M. Celli (d. 1730) to Holy Communion; José Garcia Fulla (d. 1749) to the Sacred Heart. Some wrote on purgatory as Dominic Bullaughan (d. 1746) on pilgrimage to the purgatory of St. Patrick and Giacomo Boni (d. 1747). Many others such as Seraphino Thomas Miguel (d. 1722), Emmanuel Guilherme (d. 1730), Domineco Ponsi (d. 1740) and Louis Robyn (d. 1743) wrote saints’ lives.
Eighteenth-century preaching ranged from the remnants of Baroque eloquence to the beginnings of a new simplicity and naturalness just as its art and literature moved through the Rococo to Romanticism. Examples of the more Baroque style are Jacques- Hyacinthe Fejacq (d. 1715), a renowned preacher often called on as a panegyricist for the French royal family; Michael Nanca (d. 1714), an Italian panegyricist; the Swiss Leonard Leo (d. 1715), whose published sermons are titled Sweet Honey from the Lion’s Mouth; the Polish orator Cyprian Sapecki (d. 1724); and Vincenzo M. Sasseti (d. 1729) who left two volumes of sermons in a turgid style in which biblical events are described as if they were works of sculpture.
Preaching on the rosary was common everywhere, but what is notable at this time is the prominence of preachers in many of the more peripheral provinces of the Order. Thus in Ireland and England we note Ambrose O’Connor, (d. 1711), Provincial of Ireland, imprisoned for four years; Dominic Williams (d. 1739), English bishop; and Bl. Arthur MacGeoghan (d. 1713) martyr — among these were Peter O’Higgins, hanged, drawn and quartered; John O’Mannin who lived after having his back broken and returned to preach; — and Bishop Edmund Burke (de Burgo) (d. 1776) author of a history of Irish Dominicans. Thomas Buccelini (d. 1718) was an Italian who preached in German and refounded the Hungarian Province. In Poland we have Johannes-Thomas Bogdanowicz (d. 1718) whose preaching took on an apocalyptic tone; Dominic Frydrychowicz (d. 1718), a prolific writer; and Johannes-Evangelista Gawlowicz (d. 1720), a renowed orator, as well as Bonaventure Awedyk (d. 1743), an Armenian preaching in Poland; and in Bohemia Cajetan Burger (d. 1740), whose orations were often expositions of symbolic images, and Leopold Erbeni (d. 1743). In Spain, France, and Italy a host of preachers published sermons and some wrote works on the art of preaching as Alberto Maria Pontierei (d. 1738), Christian Eloquence for Beginners, and André Le Fee (d. 1717), a very famous preacher (and also a promoter of a patent medicine), The Ideal of Preachers, Their Dignity, Duties, and the Abuses of Their Ministry, with the Uses Their Hearers Should Make of God’s Word.
No great preacher through the arts can be named for this period, yet in the rococo age when the arts were becoming ever more secularized there were still friars engaged in art, music, and literature. There were composers, such as the Portuguese Domingo Núñez Pereira (d. 1729) and Joao Chrysostomo a Cruce (d. 1743), author of an Art of Music: and the Frenchman Gabriel Deslondes (d. 1733). Thomas-Maria Napoli (d. 1724) was an important Neapolitan architect who specialized in fortresses. But the chief activity was in poetry, none of it very distinguished, but plentiful. Thus a Belgian Gregorie de Lewincque (d. 1711) wrote a Latin ode with the bombastic title Louis XIV Triumphant, Happy, Pious. More modestly Giovanni Baptista Pichi (d. 1715) composed Sacred Poems; Thomas Gay (d. 1717) Elegies. Also in elgiac verse was Isidore López’ (d. 1732) The Passion. Giacinto-Maria Anti (d. 1732) wrote Sacred Sonnets; Phillip Joly (d. 1734), poems in the Burgundian dialect; and Lucas a Sancta Catherina (d. 1740) and Francois Dominique Rouvière (d. 1743), various poems. Another poet, Louis Robyn (d. 1743) incurred the wrath of Master Ripoll for engaging in a publicized discussion with Jesuits that seemed to cast some doubt on the accepted account of St. Dominic’s life and work. Some others tried other literary forms such as Vincenzo M. Dinelli (d. 1754) who carried on the Probabilist controversy in satirical poems; Thomas Leopoldus Gaianzell (d. 1716) and Joseph Maria Ferrarini (d. 1744) devised epigrams; and Thomas Spinelli (d. 1748) wrote a critical work, The Mustard Seed of Letters.
During this time of general Christian decline in Europe the missions, although very active, also began to suffer. In the New World the Latin American missions continued to progress, although at the end of the century the Enlightenment began to spread to these regions and eventually to place the governments of the new nations as they won their independence from Spain under anti-clerical ideologies. Mention should be made of Bartolomé Navarro a S. Antonio (d. 1710), the Mexican Provincial, an author of theological treatises and many sermons, who set a high standard of religious observance, and Augustino de Quintana (d. 1734) who produced catechetical works in the native languages.
In the Far East the missions in the Philippines flourished. Notable were the linguist Juan de Yñiguez, (d. 1720) and the preacher reputed for holiness, José a Sanctissimo Rosario (d. 1742). The missions in Vietnam (Tonkin) were initiated by Juan de Santa-Cruz (d. 1721), who left many letters and other works describing missionary problems, as also did Francisco Gil de Federich (d. 1745).
Among the martyrs of Vietnam were Bl. Bishop Pedro Sanz and Companions (d. 174748) of Tonkin (now Vietnam). The bishop was beheaded, the other four priests and a catechist were tortured, imprisoned, and finally strangled.
The Spanish Provinces continued to send missionaries to China and Japan with at first great success. But soon the great problem of the Chinese rites brought a severe reversal to these missions. The Jesuit missionaries under the remarkable Matteo Ricci had penetrated into the court circles of the Chinese Empire by skillfully combining Western and Eastern culture and had advocated a form of “missionary adaptation” which permitted their many converts to conform to the Confucian rites as civil rather than religious ceremonies. The missions of the Franciscan and Dominican friars and of the French secular missionary priests, however, were to the peasant classes, and these missionaries regarded such adaptations as a compromise with the rank superstition and idolatry of the people. The endless series of protests and explanations to Rome, begun in the previous century, continued, e.g., in the works of Pedro Muñoz (d. 1730), Francisco González a S. Petro (d. 1730); and Hernando Eusebio Oscot y Colombres (d. 1743). After long and serious discussion these adaptations were condemned by the learned Benedict XIV. Subsequent experience and reflection have led the Church to a much broader view of such adaptation and seem to have justified the Jesuit position, but the difficulty of the question even today cannot be underestimated. In any case, these condemnations were received by the Chinese as an insult to their culture and resulted in a severe persecution from which the missions still have not recovered.
The most hopeful outcome of the age, however, was the beginning in the Order of a new active role for the communities of Third Order Sisters who until this time had been simply less strictly cloistered versions of the Second Order contemplative nuns. St. Catherine of Siena had provided a model for a Dominican woman engaged in active apostolate in the world, and this model had been followed by many Tertiaries as individuals, as we have seen, but not by communities. A wonderful example of this during the Revolutionary period was Catherine Jarrige (1754-1836), a peasant woman who organized an underground refuge and escape network for priests during the Terror, and who then spent the rest of her long life in the care of the poor with whom she lived as a Tertiary.
But the real originator of a new model of Dominican women’s community was Marie Poussepin (d. 1744). From a working-class family, raised by her mother who was the treasurer of a charitable confraternity founded by a disciple of St. Vincent de Paul (founder of the Sisters of Charity as one of the first active women’s communities). Marie ran her father’s business after her parents’ death and cared for her brothers until they could take it over. Then she met François Mespolié (already mentioned as a spiritual writer and preacher) and became a Tertiary. At this time Louis XIV was organizing a system of schools and hospitals, and Marie seized the opportunity to start the Sisters of Charity of the Presentation of Tours. The community was eventually recognized by the bishop of Chartres in 1728 with 20 houses in six dioceses. The community, although dispersed in secular garb by the Revolution, survived and revived, but did not receive recognition as part of the Dominican family, as Marie had always desired, until 1897.
It was also at this dark hour of the Order’s history that Dominic Edward Fenwick founded the first Dominican community in the United States in 1805.