The Dominicans ~ A Short History
- The Dominicans ~ A Short History (William Hinnebusch, O.P.)
- The Foundation of the Order
- The Growth of the Order, 1221-1303
- The Missions to 1500
- The Fourteenth Century
- Fifteenth Century ~ The Life and Ministry of the Order
- Renewal and Reform in the Fifteenth Century
- The Sixteenth Century
- The Seventeenth Century, An Age of Absolutism
- The Eighteenth Century Until 1789
- The Order From 1789 to 1872
- The Last 100 Years 1872 to 1974
THE GROWTH OF THE ORDER, 1221-1303
The thirteenth was the greatest Dominican century. Full of life and enthusiasm, the Order attracted or developed men of outstanding ability. Its ideals and methods were in harmony with the times and were characterized by an inner strength that had not yet lost its initial verve and momentum. This strength, reinforced by an explosive expansion of membership, enabled the Order to enter new areas of ministry. While Dominic still lived it made foundations in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Scandinavia. Under his presidency the second general chapter, 1221, divided Europe into eight provinces and sent friars to Hungary, Poland, and England. When Dominic died there were about twenty priories and perhaps 300 friars.
Growth during the next thirty-five years was phenomenal. From a letter Humbert of Romans seat to King Louis IX of France in 1256, we can deduce that there were 10,000 priests. Probably we could add 3,000 novices, students, and cooperator brothers. The total enrollment would then stand at 13,000. Fragmentary statistics indicate that the membership was about 12,600 when the century ended. The general chapter ordered a census in 1336 but, if taken, no figures have survived. After the Black Death had done its work (1348-1349) , membership of the Order and clergy was sharply reduced. Unsettled conditions generally made recruiting difficult during the remaining years of the medieval period.
We can also measure the Order’s growth by consulting three catalogues of priories. The first, from 1277, lists twelve provinces and 404 priories. The second, from 1303, shows eighteen provinces and 590 priories. On the 1358 list there are no new provinces, but priories have increased to 630. Growth slowed down then until colonization began in America and Asia. After 1358, the three provinces of France established fewer than twenty new priories; the two German provinces exhibit the same growth rate. Only one priory was founded in England. The province of Scandinavia remained stationary.
Monasteries of Dominican nuns jumped from the four in existence when Dominic died (Prouille, San Sisto, Madrid, and St. Stephen of Gormaz in Spain) to fifty-eight in 1277, 141 in 1303, and 157 in 1358. Nuns of other monasteries followed the Order’s laws and wore its habit, but were under the bishop’s jurisdiction. Often the Order provided for them spiritually.
As the number of friars and priories increased, the provinces began to find administration cumbersome, but until the end of the century the inherent unwillingness of organizations to fragment their own strength nullified the attempts of the general chapters to divide them. In 1294 the King of Sicily had the Pope separate the Dominicans of his kingdom from the province of Rome and established them as a province. Between 1301 and 1303, the province of Aragon was carved from the province of Spain, Bohemia from Poland, Saxony from Germany, and Toulouse from Provence. It was late in the fourteenth century before any new provinces were added to the roll.
Dominican Leadership and Life
The strong sense of self-identity the Order inherited from Dominic aided its growth and development. The qualities of this identity were a spirit of prayer, a thirst for the salvation of men, love for the Scriptures, an appreciation of study and learning, and a sharp awareness of its preaching mission and the ways to achieve it. A family spirit and unbroken unity were the results. During the century two new elements heightened this sense of identity and unity: a unified liturgy and the theology of Thomas.
The Order was fortunate in the first five successors of Dominic -Jordan of Saxony (1222-1237), Raymond of Penyafort (12381240), John of Wildeshausen (1241-1252), Humbert of Romans (1254-1263) , and John of Vercelli (1264-1283) . Men of ability, learning and remarkable goodness (the Church has canonized Raymond and beatified Jordan and Vercelli), they respected the original inspiration of the Founder, yet they encouraged sound growth and built wisely on the foundations he had laid. During their terms of office, the Order’s basic development took place, especially during the tenure of Jordan. Under them, the Order organized and expanded its academic system and its ministries: preaching, foreign missions, and service to the Church and people. After the last of them had died, there were twenty-five years during which the generals ruled for so short a period or encountered such difficulties that they were unable to provide the forceful leadership of their predecessors. They were Munio of Zamora (1258-1291), Stephen of Besançon (1292-1294), Nicholas Boccasino (1296-1298), who has been beatified, Albert Chiavari (1300), and Bernard of Jusix (1301-1303). During this period, the Order’s original vitality weakened and its momentum became sluggish.
The many friars who became bishops soon after Dominic’s death evoked fear that talented men would continually be lost to the Order. Jordan of Saxony tried to reverse the trend by forbidding friars to accept election to the bishopric without permission. However, he could not control the popes; friars continued to enter the hierarchy. In 1244 Innocent IV created Hugh of St. Cher cardinal, the first Dominican to receive the red hat. Before the medieval period ended, Peter of Tarentaise (Bl. Innocent V) and Nicholas Boccasino (BI. Benedict XI) reigned as popes, twenty-eight Dominicans became cardinals, and many served as bishop. Others occupied the office of master of the sacred palace (the theologian of the papal curia), functioned as penitentiaries or chaplains, and worked in lesser posts at the papal court. Raymond of Penyafort, papal penitentiary and able canonist, made a memorable contribution to the Church when he codified its laws. Commissioned by Gregory IX in 1230 and promulgated by him in 1234 as the sole official code of the Church, the collection bears the title Decretals of Gregory IX.
Dominican theologians and bishops took part in the general councils of the medieval centuries. Tangible evidence of the Order’s contribution to the second Council of Lyons (the first at which there was a notable Dominican presence) is the treatise Humbert of Romans prepared in response to Gregory X’s invitation to bishops and generals. He devoted attention to the objectives the Holy Father set for the Council-security of the Holy Land, union of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, and reform. Thirty Dominican bishops attended, among them Albert the Great, and some of the Order’s theologians. William of Moerbeke, who had worked in Greece as a missionary, and John of Constantinople, a Franciscan, led the chanting of the Creed in both Latin and Greek to celebrate the union of the Churches that was achieved by the Council. William, a noted translator of early Greek works, rendered some of them into Latin “at the request of Friar Thomas Aquinas:” Thomas died while journeying to the Council.
Besides St. Dominic, the Church has canonized the following medieval Dominicans: Hyacinth, Peter of Verona, Margaret of Hungary, Raymond of Penyafort, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Agnes of Montepulciano, Catherine of Siena, Vincent Fewer, and Antoninus. In addition, the Order venerates twenty-one friars, seventeen Dominican women, Joan of Aza, the mother of Dominic, two groups of martyrs, and five individual martyrs.
In 1233 Jordan of Saxony removed the relics of Dominic from the brick vault where they had rested since 1221 and placed them in a plain marble tomb. In 1267 John of Vercelli transferred them to a sarcophagus ornamented with bas-reliefs, attributed to Niccolo Pisano (probably aided by William of Pisa, a cooperator brother), depicting the role of Dominic as apostle and founder. Though the tomb reflects the position of influence and popularity the Order had reached in its fifth decade, it also symbolizes its departure from the simplicity that Dominic had wanted, and it had practiced in its earlier days. The tomb gradually assumed its present form as the result of many transformations and additions, contributed by noted sculptors, among them Michelangelo. The contemporary tomb of Peter of Verona, still standing in Milan, represents the original form of Dominic’s 1267 tomb.
The Order’s Government and Laws
The general chapters between Dominic’s death and 1228 perfected the machinery of government for the Order and provinces, granted provinces more autonomy and chapters more control over elected officials, balanced and safeguarded the relative powers of provincials and diffinitors in general chapters, and provided a method of making laws through the action of three successive chapters. In addition, they prohibited riding on horseback, carrying money when traveling, and eating meat. The chapter of 1228 made many of these additions and added four new provinces. It and the 1236 chapter were most general, i.e., equivalent in authority and composition to three ordinary chapters. From 1245 cities such as Cologne, Montpellier, Trier, London, Budapest, and Metz played host to these assemblies that brought friars from all over Europe. When he was master general, Raymond of Penyafort made it easier to consult the Constitutions by putting them in a more logical and juridical form. His arrangement endured until 1924, when the Order brought its laws into harmony with the 1918 Code of Canon Law.
If Raymond codified the laws of the Order, Humbert of Romans crystallized its spirit. The books he wrote after he resigned as master general have had a marked influence on the Dominican character. They enshrine his thought and rich experience. He dealt with the religious life, compiled materials and sermon outlines for preachers, and suggested solutions for contemporary ecclesiastical problems. His influence on later generations came from his long ascetical exposition of the Rule of St. Augustine, an unfinished commentary on the Constitutions, and a book on the offices of the Order. In this last book he ranged from the master general down to the porter of a priory, detailing the duties of all offices and how they should be performed. Printed editions of the Constitutions carried this work until the last century. The semi-official acceptance of it and the commentaries indicates that the Order looked on them as outstanding descriptions of its spirit and ministry.
The Dominican Rite
The Order’s drive to attain a single liturgy for itself underscores its esteem for the worship of God and its own prayer life. The drive for a unified liturgy, apparently begun during the days of Dominic, resulted very early in the fashioning of a primitive Dominican Rite and breviary. Demands for greater uniformity led to the appointment of a four-friar commission in 1245, whose revisions, though accepted in 1248, proved to be unsatisfactory. Therefore the 1254 chapter entrusted Humbert of Romans, just elected general, with a further revision. He finished it in 1256 and that year’s chapter confirmed it. Clement IV gave ecclesiastical approval in 1267. Enduring until the liturgical revisions that followed Vatican II, the Dominican Rite forged a link in family unity.
The Friars and the Nuns
The Order solved another family problem during this time. After Dominic died, the Order’s monasteries increased so rapidly that many friars feared the preaching ministry would be harmed. How serious the threat was can be seen from the custom of stationing some friars at the monasteries to care for the spiritual and temporal welfare of the nuns. As this ministry claimed increasing numbers of men, at the petition of Master General Raymond of Penyafort, the Holy See exempted the Order from this charge. When San Sisto in Rome and St. Agnes in Bologna, two of the oldest monasteries, appealed this decision, the Pope declared the ruling inapplicable to them. Then, when all seemed settled, Cardinal Hugh of St. Cher, papal legate in Germany; opened the flood gates again. He ordered the German Dominican to care for the monasteries as before. John of Wildeshausen laid the problem before the 1252 general chapter. It enumerated the priorities: work for souls, foreign missions, the claims of study, and crusade preaching. Supervision of the nuns was not a top priority. Innocent IV took the side of the chapter. Only Prouille and San Sisto might have friars to assist them. Other monasteries could keep the habit and Rule but not demand Dominican help.
It was a hollow victory. The nuns won their point in 1267 when Clement IV placed the monasteries under the general’s jurisdiction. It was a compromise. The Order would take care of the nuns spiritually, preaching and hearing confessions, but would have no responsibility for their temporal welfare. The bond of unity thus restored was not broken even when the Council of Trent placed all nuns under the jurisdiction of the bishops.
Even before the dispute with the nuns was settled, Humbert of Romans moved toward unifying their life. Until then they had lived under the primitive Constitutions imparted to Prouille by St. Dominic. This code was known as the Rule of San Sisto. The sisters added statutes to it between 1228 and 1232 to bring their life into greater conformity with that of the fathers and brothers. In addition, masters general and provincials issued local statutes to individual monasteries. To bring order to this disarray of documents, Humbert promulgated revised Constitutions for the nuns in 1259. Imposed on all the monasteries, it remained their law until 1932.
The Pastoral Crisis
While these family problems were moving toward solution, the Order entered its first crisis. The friars had expected that they would cooperate with bishops and pastors. This was the intention of the Church. Many bishops and parish priests welcomed them, but after 1240 the hostility of many of the clergy toward the new Order became evident. The growing number of friars, their organization of the preaching ministry, and their success caused opposition. As bishops and priests realized that the friars exercised a ministry that was beyond their control, many of them severely hampered the work of the mendicant Orders (a name referring to the strict poverty of the friars). By mid-century the dispute reached crisis proportions. The attack threatened the very life of the Dominicans and Franciscans.
The controversy revolved mainly around the exemption of the friars from episcopal control, their privileges, and their ministry, especially preaching and its financial rewards. If the attack had succeeded, the originality of the new Orders would have been destroyed and the development of the religious life set back for centuries. However, the popes came to the support of tile friars. The Church had created the Orders and found them a valuable arm in furthering its policies.
The danger became acute when the University of Paris joined the conflict, seeking to terminate the teaching of the friars. In November 1254, Innocent IV, prompted by William of St. Amour and delegates of the University, revoked the friars’ privileges and subjected their ministry to the local clergy. However, their victory was short-lived. Two weeks later Innocent was dead and the friars claimed they had prayed him into his grave. Alexander IV canceled the bull of Innocent one month after it had been issued.
The controversy over hearing confessions went back and forth until 1281, when Martin IV granted Dominicans and Franciscans who were licensed by their superiors power to hear confessions everywhere without seeking further authorization. He not only sustained the ministry of the friars but officially approved the liberty of the faithful to confess to any priest who had jurisdiction, provided they confessed once a year to their own priest. It was a step toward greater freedom of conscience and more fruitful use of the Sacrament of Penance. Still the controversy continued. In 1300 a statesman-like compromise of Boniface VIII solved some of the pressing problems of the conflict, conceding something to each side. The friars might preach without hindrance, except when a bishop was preaching, or a sermon was delivered in his presence. For hearing confessions, the prior was to present to the bishop priests capable of administering this sacrament. Should he refuse to accept these candidates, they might proceed to preach and hear confessions. In either case authorization came from the pope. This procedure was required for a valid use of the authority granted. Though the decision of Boniface was a workable compromise, the controversy simmered until the Council of Trent established the present law, under which priests must apply to the bishop for authority.
The dispute with the diocesan clergy was necessary. Had they not threatened to submerge the friars in the parochial system, the friar Orders would not have become as strong and useful as they did. Though the ministry of the friars was under attack, the pope safeguarded it by granting them a complexus of rights and privileges that exempted them from episcopal control and guaranteed them an efficiency, mobility, and flexibility they did not have when they were founded. The preaching and sacramental work of the friars, the counsel and help they gave the faithful were removed beyond the interference of the diocesan clergy. As ultimately developed, mendicant privileges extended to the following points: direct dependence on the Holy See, exemption of the internal affairs of the Order from episcopal control, the right to erect churches and public oratories, the privilege of burying the faithful in their cemeteries, freedom from paying tithes on legacies, funeral fees, and bequests, the right to teach theology in their own priories and at the Universities.
The controversy served another purpose. The secular clergy acted as a counterweight to the mendicant movement. Without such a balance the friars might have completely disrupted the ecclesiastical organization. They had to be assimilated but not the way the clergy intended. The strength of the friars, nourished by papal support, was dynamic enough to withstand the attack. By forcing them to turn to the pope.:, the opposition prevented the friars from drifting towards extreme doctrinal positions that had carried other movements, such as that of the Humiliati, Waldenses, and Fraticelli, into heresy.
In summarizing, we should note the following factors. The Order relied on prayer during this crisis, commanding litanies and prayers to be recited during the height of the controversy with the University of Paris. It sought to establish closer collaboration with the Franciscans, and advised the friars to use their privileges moderately and make agreements with the local clergy. Finally, it worked in close dependence on the Holy See.
Intellectual Training and Doctrinal Mission
Dominic laid the foundation for the Order’s doctrinal mission and is the founder of its system of schools. He sought to ensure a solid theological training for his sons. The Constitutions drawn up under his presidency in 1220 called for the founding of a theological school in each priory and regulated the activity of professors and students.
As the Order grew numerically and geographically, it built an elaborate scholastic organization that provided a network of schools; priory schools, provincial schools of philosophy and theology, and a graduate program pursued at general houses of studies, usually associated with universities.
The schools developed first at the lowest and highest levels -priory schools and general houses of studies. Classes began as soon as a priory was established. When Dominic died there were about fifteen priories; in 1217, when the first census was taken there were 404. Evidence shows that the Constitutions were observed, and a professor was appointed in each priory. Thus in 1277 there were 404 Dominican schools of theology in existence.
The general house of studies was a school where select students studied advanced theology. The roots of the Paris general house were grounded in 1227 when the friars arrived and John of St. Albans, a secular master, was engaged to teach. When Roland of Cremona graduated in 1229, the Order obtained its first chair of theology. It acquired a second the following year when John of St. Giles, a secular master, became a Dominican. About the same time another secular master, Robert Bacon, took the habit in England, giving the Oxford studium its chair.
A quota system permitted each province to send three students to Paris. When it could no longer accommodate all the students who wanted to come, as the Order grew in numbers, a partial solution was found in the creation of provincial houses of theology. A more far-reaching solution was a mandate of the 1248 general chapter commanding four additional general houses to be founded: at Oxford, Bologna, Montpellier, and Cologne. Each province might send two students to each.
Although this mandate was probably not immediately implemented in all four places, the legislation itself was extremely important. Albert Hauck, a German historian, brought out its full significance, pointing out, first, that the founding of the four studia was important in its primary intent, namely, a great religious corporation had solved its academic problems. Until then no one else had attempted such a thorough solution; instead chance had usually had full play in academic matters. Secondly, by gathering advanced students preparing for the professorship into selected houses of studies, the Order distinguished between advanced theological work and theological preparation for the ministry; scholarship was given an independent right. Thirdly, since the new houses of studies were restricted to the theological disciplines, the Order took a giant step toward categorizing the sciences. Theology took its place as a special field of learning for the first time.
Additional general houses of studies were founded late in the thirteenth century. The 1304 general chapter ordered all the provinces, with the exception of three small ones, to found a general house of studies. When this order was implemented there were fifteen Dominican general houses of studies in Europe. The close bond between these schools and the universities kept Dominicans in the path of the intellectual current sweeping through Europe. In fact, until the middle of the fifteenth century, the Holy See restricted the teaching of theology, outside of Paris and Oxford, to the houses of studies of the mendicant friars.
In 1259 the Order promulgated its first academic code at the general chapter meeting at Valenciennes, completing its academic organization. The code was the work of five masters of theology, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Peter of Tarentaise, Florence of Hesdin, and Bonhomme of Brittany. These masters were appointed by the chapter to draw up the code, which was occasioned by academic developments at the University of Paris, whose Faculty of Arts had broadened its philosophical courses in 1255. In a brief and concise document, the commission of five masters regulated many aspects of Dominican studies. In the 1240’s and 1250’s two provinces had permitted some of their schools to introduce philosophy courses, a step made necessary by the increasing interest in the subject caused by the introduction of works of Aristotle and other eastern writers. The code legislated for a development that was already in progress, authorizing the general establishment of schools of philosophy. This was a progressive step, acknowledging dialectics and logic as legitimate tools of theological speculation, a step taken in full accord with the most advanced trends in the field of thought. It completed the Dominican academic network. The road down which Dominic had walked when he led his first disciples to the courses of Alexander of Stavensby had been followed to its logical destination.
The 1259 code provided for academic exercises in the schools similar to those of the universities: lectures, disputations, determinations, and repetitions. It set down the duties of lectors, bachelors, priors, student masters, visitators, and students. The five masters designated a method of choosing students for advanced courses, safeguarded the rights and privileges of lectors and students, took measures to prevent them from being distracted from their studies, permitted them to be dispensed from certain other duties, required them, and even priors and lectors who were not currently teaching, to frequent classes regularly. They stipulated what books students were to take to lectures and made provisions for their support. The ordinances also provided machinery for the regular supervision of studies. The Constitutions had commanded the visitators, sent out annually to the priories, to inquire into academic matters. The code amplified these duties, directing them to recommend friars for advanced studies and to determine whether lectors were faithful to their classes held disputations, and gave magistral solutions to problems. They were obliged to report to the provincial chapter and notify it when a priory needed a professor. Because of the training imparted under the code, Dominican students coming to the general houses of studies for advanced work encountered no difficulty in being accepted at the universities as fully qualified, able to stand on an equal footing with students who had completed their courses in the Faculty of Arts.
The study of philosophy had raised the same questions and problems in the Order as it did in the Church. Older, more conservative friars, questioned whether it should be studied at all. Other scholars, like John of St. Giles, who were aware of the necessity of philosophy for the scientific study of theology, vacillated in their approach to the eastern philosophers. While not opposed to philosophy, they cautioned theologians against the excessive cult of Aristotle. Others, like Vincent of Beauvais, peppered their writings with numerous quotations from Aristotle but did so with apologies and qualms of conscience. The code marked the victory of Albert the Great and the masters, who, with the full support of Master General Humbert of Romans, had advocated the use of philosophy in theological studies. The career of Thomas, his literary productivity, and the excellence of his works, paralleling the enforcement of the code, are a concrete witness to the value of philosophy. The code’s implementation promised the Order a succession of scholars and theologians and assured them a place in the vanguard of theological thought. It manifests how completely the Order had accepted its doctrinal mission.
The Teaching Ministry under Attack
Thomas became a bachelor (1252) and Humbert the master general (1254) when the secular clergy at Paris intensified their attack on the friars (part of the campaign of the diocesan clergy). Having no clear understanding of the new mendicant way of life, the clergy confused friars with monks and objected to their preaching, teaching, and care for souls. Resenting the popularity of the mendicant professors, the secular masters at Paris disliked the independence of the friars, their appeals for papal dispensations and privileges, and their indifference to the local concerns of the Parisian clerics. They were intent on training their men for the wider apostolate of reviving Christendom.
Dominicans were especially vulnerable because they held two chairs of theology. The Order’s policy of advancing bachelors to graduation as soon as the regent master had completed his two-year period of obligatory regency gave their teaching a freshness that the long-tenured secular masters could not attain. Dominicans discussed urgent questions of the day with dynamic comprehension, offering balanced and moderate solutions. Men like Robert Kilwardby, Remigio de Girolami, Peter of Tarentaise, Bernard of Trilia, and Richard of Knapwell, to say nothing of Albert and Thomas, produced a volume of writings that surpassed the slender production of the seculars.
By the fall of 1255, feeling against the friars had reached such a pitch at Paris that St. Jacques priory was virtually under siege. Mud, stones, garbage, and insults rained on friars who ventured out. The University refused to permit Thomas to graduate as master. However, .Alexander IV licensed him to teach. When Thomas gave his inaugural lecture in 1256 his audience had to be protected by the soldiers of Louis IX.
After hearing Albert the Great’s reply to William of St. Amour’s book, The Perils of the Latter Times (a vicious attack on the friars), the Pope condemned it and banished the author and his lieutenants from Paris. Meanwhile Thomas and Bonaventure replied pointedly to the Perils. With William in exile, the conflict now died down. Ten years later Gerard of Abbeville, an ardent disciple of William, renewed it. Thomas, who had left Paris to teach in Italy in 1259, returned in 1269 and penned several works defending the mendicant Orders.
How serious the danger had been for the friars was seen when many bishops came to the 1274 Council of Lyons, petitioning the abolition of all the friar Orders. It suppressed the minor ones, left the fate of the Carmelites and Augustinians in balance, but praised the Franciscans and Dominicans.
Attacks on the teaching of Thomas soon after his death moved the Order quickly toward official acceptance of his teaching. It became a link in Dominican unity. The first attack came in 1277, when Bishop Stephen Tempier of Paris and Archbishop Robert Kilwardby of Canterbury (former English provincial) included theses of Thomas in lists of condemned propositions. Unlike Archbishop Kilwardby, Albert the Great, even though he differed with Thomas on some points, traveled from Cologne to Paris to speak for his former disciple. The next year, the general chapter sent two men to England to punish scholars who were disparaging the writings of Thomas. Both in France and England disciples defended the teaching of Thomas with voice and pen. The 1279 general chapter moved positively to protect his reputation and system of thought; the one in 1286 commanded the friars to promote and defend the doctrine of Thomas, “at least as an opinion.” Those who did not accept it were not to attack it. The 1313 chapter capped the triumph of Thomas when it called his doctrine “sounder and more common”. Long before that, friars who had studied in Paris had carried his books back to their provinces and were expounding and developing his doctrine. They compiled epitomes, concordances, commentaries, and indices to facilitate the penetration of his thought.
Dominicans were interested chiefly in biblical and theological studies, but their conviction that truth has many faces and may be taught in many ways led them down other paths as well. Over the centuries more than 5,000 writers produced thousands of volumes. We can give but a slender sampling of those written in the thirteenth century. Works in theology, Scripture, and philosophy were the most numerous. Many friars commented on the books of the Bible; Hugh of St. Cher expounded all of them. Teams of friars at Paris produced several concordances of the Scriptures and corrected the Vulgate version. Albert the Great, a universal genius, wrote books an animals, vegetables minerals, botany, an encyclopedic commentary on Aristotle’s philosophy, and works in theology and Scripture.
In pastoral theology, history, and other fields, Dominican writers compiled reference books, summas, epitomes, and manuals. The most helpful was the large handbook Raymond of Penyafort wrote for confessors, though scholars and preachers used it also. The best known is the Speculum maius, a large encyclopedic work in which Vincent of Beauvais stocked lore from many fields. Preachers collected sermons and sermon materials and published saints’ lives. James of Voragine’s collection of lives, the Golden Legend, is still being read. Some writers penned guidebooks for the laity. Laurence of Orleans wrote a book on the virtues and vices, the Somme le Roi, a medieval best seller, for Philip III of France. Dominican history writing began when Jordan of Saxony wrote an account of Dominic’s life and the early days of the Order, a precious source for historians. Bernard Gui devoted himself to the history of the Order, while other friars recounted the story of a nation, city or prominent person. Theodoric Borgognoni of Lucca, a surgeon’s son and a surgeon himself, published a manual of surgery. Moneta of Cremona, Bernard Gui, and Nicholas Eymeric, inquisitors themselves, prepared guidebooks for their colleagues. Thomas of Cantimpré, besides saints’ lives, compiled the De natura rerum, one of the first encyclopedias of the natural sciences. The Catholicon of John Balbus of Genoa, written in 1286, was the first medieval dictionary. It dealt with the grammar, rhetoric, prosody, and orthography of late classical and medieval Latin.
The Preaching Ministry
The Order’s ministries, especially its preaching and foreign missions, came to full bloom during the generalates of John of Wildeshausen and Humbert of Romans. The scarcity of able preachers and good preaching led Dominic to found his Order; preaching was the goal he set for it in the Constitutions: “. . .our Order was founded from the beginning for preaching and the salvation of men.” Its name, “Order of Preachers”, summarizes its nature and function, and presents a challenge.
Dominic structured the life of the Order and developed many innovations with preaching in view. He introduced a kind and quality of education that prepared men for preaching, abandoned manual labor, granted extensive power to dispense to superiors, prohibited undertaking parishes, coupled contemplation and ministry, and insisted on mendicant poverty in order to place at the service of the Church a self-perpetuating body of trained preachers. In the Constitutions Dominic instructed preachers to “go forth as men who seek their own salvation and that of others,” living “as men of the Gospel,” who, following in the footsteps of their Savior, “speak with or about God among themselves and others.” To exemplify a Christlike and apostolic life, preachers were to go on foot and carry no money; nor were they to beg while preaching. Only mature and well prepared men were to be sent out.
The life and career of William Peyrault illustrates all that the Constitutions expected of a preacher. Trained in the schools of the Order in its early days, his preaching and writing demonstrate in an outstanding manner the effectiveness of Dominic’s ideal. Contemporaries spoke of his high character, virtuous life, and selfless zeal: “In keeping with his religious profession, he evangelized by word, pen, and example; even in death he did not cease preaching.” Surprisingly, he never became a preacher general; nor did he study at Paris or teach. His career spanned most of the century. Born before 1200, he entered the Order in the 1230’s and died in the early 1270’s. All the great Dominicans of the century were his contemporaries: Reginald, Bl. Diana and BI. Cecilia, Jordan, Raymond, Humbert, Albert, Thomas, John of Vercelli. Peyrault preached for many years. Every Lent he went into the deep valleys of the Burgundian Alps, preaching and hearing confessions until late in the day. Three times he published his sermons, numbering about 500. Four other important works came from his pen, especially the Summa o f Virtues and Vices, a comprehensive theological treatment of inestimable value to preachers, as its popularity attests. We know the names of many who matched William’s record, but others, who must have preached as much remain anonymous.
The Order appointed experienced preachers to the office of preacher general. To qualify for this position, a friar had to have a firm theological knowledge, and must have preached successfully in a variety of places and under many circumstances. To keep his office, he had to preach often, be ready for special sermons, and attend the provincial chapter. Only one preacher general was to be assigned to a priory, though when friars began to consider the position an honor rather than a function an excessive number were appointed.
Stephen of Bourbon exemplifies the career of an outstanding preacher general. He lived at the priory of Lyons when Humbert of Romans was its prior, and William Peyrault and Peter of Tarentaise (theologian, archbishop of Lyons and pope) were members of the community. For forty years, Stephen preached extensively throughout France, especially in the southeast and Burgundy. He was one of the best known figures in the country and knew most of his famous contemporaries. When old, he prepared a handbook of materials for preachers, recording the anecdotes and experience which had lent color to his own sermons.
Stephen’s book is only one of the hundreds of preaching aids prepared by Dominicans. They gathered materials, collected sermons and outlines, compiled works of reference, discussed preaching methods, and compiled handbooks of anecdotes and other source material. The encyclopedic Speculum mains of Vincent of Beauvais was a gold mine for preachers. The fourteenth-century Summa praedicantium of the English Dominican John of Bromyard is a large reservoir of preaching lore, theological, historical, and illustrative. Other books in the arsenal of the preacher were biblical glossaries, commentaries, and concordances, the Decretals of Gregory IX, chronicles, histories, lives of the saints, and the works of the Fathers. These books were readily available in the well-stocked Dominican libraries. Speaking from experience, Stephen of Bourbon refers to the effectiveness of examples:
We have learned by much long experience that preachers who use plenty of examples have preached more graciously and gathered more fruit. Indeed, examples are useful for all men, all states of life, for illustrating all kinds o f material. They help to turn people from evil and to inculcate, acquire, and promote every good. They can be employed in all times and places, in all kinds of sermons and exhortations.
Medieval preachers used legends, referred to natural phenomena, cited historical events and scientific facts, quoted from saints’ lives and drew on personal experience.
To speak the word “friar” is to cause the image of a wandering preacher to flash across the minds of many people. They picture him walking down roads and highways, stopping to preach at crossroads, in the market places and on street corners. There was much outdoor preaching in those days, especially in warm climates. Preaching crosses stood at crossroads in cemeteries and churchyards. We know that the priories of Brecon, Bristol, London, Norwich, and Herford in England had such crosses. The last two still stand.
Outside preaching was not the norm; usually the friars preached in their own chapels or in parish churches, when these were open to them.
As soon as the friars increased in number, the Order organized its preaching ministry. Each priory worked and begged alms within a definite territory assigned to it. Friars visited this area regularly, especially during Advent and Lent. They preached mostly in cities and towns and went to country villages outside great liturgical seasons. Siger of Lille preached so successfully in his native city during the 1230’s, even before a priory stood there, that he became spiritual director of Margaret of Ypres and a group of women who formed around her. Priories subdivided their territory and entrusted each subdivision, called a “limit,” to an experienced preacher, a “limner,” to use the name made famous or infamous, by Chaucer’s friar.
There was a Friar, a wanton one and merry,
A Limiter, a very festive fellow.
In the fifteenth century, the priory of Langres had eight major and eight minor limits. One of them included fifty-seven parishes. When he worked in an outlying district, a friar stayed for days at a time. In the fifteenth century, the friars maintained small preaching houses in which the friars could stay, even for weeks.
When the mendicants realized that parish priests were unwilling to let them preach in the churches (after 1240), they built priory churches with roomy, hall-like naves to accommodate large congregations. To reap greater fruit from their preaching, and the confessions that often followed it, the friars gained permission from the Church to impart indulgences, absolve
from reserved sins, hold services during interdicts, and bury the faithful in their churches. To draw people to their sermons, they promoted their Third Orders, founded confraternities honoring Jesus, Mary, and Dominic, and developed new devotions. The traditional processions on the four Sundays of the month venerating Mary, the Holy Name, the Blessed Sacrament, and St. Dominic, each originally a confraternity obligation, illustrate these devotions. During the processions and confraternity meetings popular hymns, especially Marian, were sung. Often after the Hail Holy Queen was chanted at the end of Compline, the people stayed to sing hymns in Mary’s honor. When the friars shortened their liturgical services to permit more time for sermons, parish priests complained, probably considering the move an unfair tactic.
Matthew Paris, an English Benedictine monk, who resented the friars, gives unintentional witness to their zeal when he grumbled that their “urgent preachings,” defrauded the “legitimate Orders,” i.e., canons and monks of their customary offerings. He tells how the friars “poor indeed in food and clothing, . . . went through the cities villages, and boroughs preaching the word of the Gospel.. . they went shod in aid of the Gospel, slept clothed used mats for their beds and sacks for pillows on which they lay their heads.”
Dominicans preached often. Sermons delivered to the congregations in priory churches often averaged 240 to 250 a year. The friars preached morning and evening, on Sundays and feastdays, on every day of Lent, on the vigils of Christmas and Pentecost, on Rogation Days and the Saturdays of Ember weeks and during the octaves of Easter and Pentecost. Preachers of penance like John of Vincenza, Vincent Ferrer, Manfred of Vercelli, and Savonarola are noted for the frequency and power of their preaching. Vincent Ferrer preached daily for forty years, often two or three times.
An impressive number of Dominicans filled both the professor’s chair and the preacher’s pulpit, men like Albert and Thomas. An important duty of professors in the Order’s schools and at the universities was to preach on days reserved to them. Vincent Fewer had been a successful teacher and writer before he began the preaching tours that rank him among the Church’s great evangelists.
Sermons covered the whole range of Christian doctrine and practice. “Totally dedicated to the preaching of the word of God,” existing “to stamp out heresy, uproot vice, teach the faith and train men in good morals,” Dominicans gave their sermons a strong, evangelical content, often embedded in layers of illustrative material. They avoided bare exhortation.
When Dominic founded the Order of Preachers, he enabled bishops, by delegating the friars, to carry out a recommendation of Lateran Council IV. The Holy Father, too, found the friars important auxiliaries in executing his plans and often entrusted special preaching assignments to them. Any time a pope declared a crusade, he commissioned the friars to proclaim it. Albert the Great was one of the many who preached the Cross. When Lyons Council II (1274) sought to remedy the blasphemy and cursing that were prevalent, it ordered that the faithful should reverence the name of Jesus “by bending the knee of their hearts and showing this by bowing the head.” After the Council, Gregory X commissioned the Dominicans to preach the Holy Name. From these roots, at a later date, sprang the Holy Name Confraternity, which became such a power in drawing men to the sacraments in twentieth-century America. In the fourteenth century, John XXII deputed all the mendicants to preach against gambling.
Dominic rendered a great service to the faithful when he opened the doors of preaching for his Order. This becomes clear when we review the little preaching that was done and the sparse amount of preaching material produced during the centuries that stretch from the age of the great Fathers to the days of Dominic. Before the thirteenth century reached mid-point, the great scarcity of preachers that had led to the foundation of the Order of Preachers had vanished. The door Dominic opened for it remained open and the other Orders and priests marched
through too. He cut the cords that had checked priests other than pastors from proclaiming the word of God. In the thirteenth century Franciscans preached as often and produced as much sermon material as Dominicans.
Preaching involved Dominicans in many related activities. Following his sermon, the preacher usually stepped into the confessional. Common people, aristocrats, kings, and sometimes popes chose a friar as confessor. The disciples of Dominic guided the English royal house until the Plantagenet line came to its sad end under Richard II. Other friars acted as counsellors, legates, ambassadors, arbitrators, executors of wills, visitators of churches and monasteries, and peacemakers. Geoffrey of Beaulieu was confessor of St. Louis IX of France. He went with him on his crusade of Tunis and wrote his biography. In 1239 the King sent Friar James and Andrew of Longjumeau to Constantinople to bring the Crown of Thorns, a gift of Baldwin II, to Paris. Louis built the jewel-like Sainte Chapelle to house the relic.
Honorius III and Gregory IX thought so well of the prudence and tact of Bl. Guala of Bergamo that they sent him on a number of difficult affairs, among them a mission as peacemaker in Lombardy. A very early peace effort involving Dominicans was the preaching campaign of 1233, known as the Alleluia. A freelance preacher inaugurated the movement, proclaiming pence, expiation, and self-renunciation. He sought to unite the faction and heal the feuds which kept Lombardy at the boiling point. Dominicans joined the campaign and John of Vicenza became its leader. Franciscans too came into action. Towns became reconciled. Some of them entrusted the revision of their statutes to John Vicenza and Verona appointed him podestà. Following much preliminary preaching and arbitration, he attempted to introduce a general peace, preaching an open air sermon from a high platform at Paquara, August 28, 1233. Chroniclers claim that more than 400,000 people were present. But the peace John made was as meteoric as his own career. The year 1233 saw his rise, climb to power, loss of influence, and the collapse of the peace movement. It shared the fate of similar efforts in Italy before and after John. Perhaps personal ambition contributed to his failure.
In response to the works of the friars, the faithful invited them to found priories helped them construct their buildings, gave them alms and chose burial in their churches. Louis IX was a munificent friend of the Order. He put up buildings for St. Jacques, founded the Priories of Caen and Compiègne, and encouraged the one at Evreux. English kings often sent money and supplies to the Dominicans, and, in the fourteenth century, founded and built the house at King’s, Langley and the nuns’ monastery at Dartford.
Dominican and Franciscan Rivalry
An unfortunate by-product of Dominican success was rivalry with the Franciscans. Brothers in spirit and ministry, the sons of Dominic and Francis clashed over theological opinions, the making of foundations, sources of alms and benefactions, and
recruits. To attract vocations, each side pointed to its own apostolicity, claiming closer imitation of the Twelve than its rival. Like the Apostles in their preaching and poverty, they were unlike them in the ambition and self-seeking they sometimes displayed. The two Orders are so much alike-Dominicans imitate Christ the Preacher who was poor, while Franciscans follow Christ the Poor Man who preached the Good News-that they could not help clashing from time to time. From the quarrels came mutual respect and love. The century-old custom of having Dominicans officiate at their liturgy on the feastday of Francis, and Franciscans on the feast of Dominic is the symbol of this deeper harmony.
Gregory IX, who organized the medieval inquisition in 1231, soon enlisted Dominicans as inquisitors. They were not the only inquisitors. Immediately appointed by their provincials, these friars, when active, were largely outside the Order’s control. They engaged in work that Humbert listed as odious, since it turned people away from the Order and its ministry. Yet, as mistaken as the inquisition is now seen to be, its basic intention of defending the faith and reclaiming the heretic, was in keeping with the Order’s vocation to proclaim God’s word and preserve it from adulteration. The inquisition was never active in some countries (England was one of them) and not equally active in all places or all times. Early in its life (1242) Albigenses, die heretics Dominic worked among, murdered Bl. William Arnault, inquisitor in Toulouse, two companions, and several diocesan priests at Avignonet. The more noted martyr, St. Peter of Verona, and his cooperator brother companion were ambushed and killed by heretics in northern Italy in 1252. In the fourteenth century, the inquisition at Avignon imprisoned Thomas Waleys, an English Dominican, for daring to attack the erroneous opinions about the beatific vision that John XXII held as a private theologian. When the inquisitors brought another charge against Thomas, the Pope held him in the papal jail for eleven years. The most noted victims of the inquisition in medieval times were the Knights Templars, St. Joan of Arc, and Savonarola, with his two companions. These cases were unworthily motivated. Dominicans were involved in the first, reluctantly cooperated in the second, and were victims in the third.
The Last Eighteen Years
The first five generals who followed Dominic had a combined tenure of sixty-two years; the next five governed for eighteen, from 1285 to 1303. The election of Munio of Zamora in 1285 signalled the passing of the Order’s great age. Some have called it golden but this glowing description betrays reality. Even in its earliest and best days, the Order had to pursue apostate and fugitive brethren, imprison incorrigible friars, punish ambition and imprudent zeal, settle squabbles between priories and provinces, and inflict penances on a hoard of individual friars. Yet it was a time of great achievement. It was coming to an end when Munio was elected; events were becoming too strong for men to control. Tendencies began to appear which the best insight, most suitable plans, and finest character were unable to check. Economic recession, wars, and natural disasters were waiting in the wings as Munio took office. His choice seemed to promise years of capable administration and a continuance of achievement. He himself was determined to uphold discipline and maintain morale at its peals. General chapters held under his presidency punished breaches of poverty, appetite for honors and titles, and gossip that ran to slander and calumny.
Munio himself fell victim to false rumors. The 1287 chapter inflicted heavy penances on a number of friars for spreading unproved charges against him. Nevertheless, Nicholas IV deposed him in 1291. The pope fired the opening gun at Munio when he granted two Dominican cardinals wide authority “to order, arrange, correct, reform, and do sundry other things that they shall before God deem appropriate for the advance of the Order.” Delegated by the cardinals, four friars carried their letters and instructions to the 1290 chapter. The diffinitors were to persuade the general to resign; should he prove reluctant they were to depose him. After examining his conduct, they did the opposite, commending him. When the four friars high-handedly deposed Munio, the chapter appealed to the Holy See and commanded the Order to pray daily to the Blessed Mother during their masses, matins, and vespers. Nicholas IV remained adamant. He ordered Munio to resign at the next chapter, in 1291, and notified the diffinitors that the general’s authority would expire when the chapter began. Munio did not resign, and the papal letter never reached its destination. Thereupon Nicholas removed him. The unfortunate general retired to his native Spain.
In 1294 Munio was elected to the episcopate of Palencia. Pope Celestine V confirmed him in the post, but before the end of the year enemies apparently began to sabotage him again. Under Boniface VIII he was charged, investigated, and cleared. But he had had enough. With papal consent he resigned his bishopric and went to Rome to live at Santa Sabina. There he died in 1300 and was buried under the church floor. A magnificent mosaic, executed by a Dominican co-operator brother, decorates the marble slab that perpetuates his memory.
Munio seems to have been caught in a mesh of papal politics involving the Kingdom of Aragon, a part of his jurisdiction when he was provincial of Spain. Though the reasons for the Dominican opposition to him are not known, they seem to be linked with the attempts of the chapters he presided over to remove abuses. The 1290 chapter emphasized the common life and counteracted a growing desire for security, manifested in the acquisition of houses, mills, and other sources of fixed revenue. Also, the multiplication of preachers general during the 1280’s, when professors, priors, and former provincials were elevated to the office, testifies to inordinate ambition. It became a reward for services rather than the entrusting of a function.
Munio of Zamora organized an important arm of Dominican action and influence when he promulgated a Rule for the Third Order. Perhaps this was the most lasting act of his regime. The Franciscan and Dominican Third Orders grew from the twelfth-century, lay, penitential movement. Brothers and Sisters of Penance were not affiliated to any Order but sought spiritual guidance from nearby priests. When Dominican or Franciscan priories were founded, they grouped around them, depending on their proximity to one or the other. Though Munio’s Rule did not receive explicit papal approbation until 1405, Honorius IV tacitly approved it when he granted privileges to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Dominic in 1286.
The Order’s first century (1215-1303) witnessed the flowering of its ministry, the formation of its school system, the eminence of its scholarship, and the leadership of an exceptional number of able masters general who gave every sign of listening to the Spirit. Under their fearless leadership, friars developed apostolates as preachers, missionaries, and confessors. They served as bishops, inquisitors, ambassadors, legates, mediators, and arbitrators, attended general councils and worked for the union of the eastern and western Churches. The holiness displayed by these early Dominicans illustrates that the tension caused by the Order’s thrust towards both contemplation and ministry can be harmonized, and most perfectly so at the summit of excellence. It is an excellence resulting from conformity to Christ the Preacher; the poor, chaste, and obedient God-man who proclaimed the Good News of salvation. Dominican men and women, prayerfully pondering and experiencing the word of God, both Incarnate and written, become like Christ, contemplative apostles working for the Kingdom of God and the salvation of men.
Many reasons explain the glory of the Order’s first century. Father Dominic, the Founder, had listened to the Spirit and the Church. Given to the Church by the Spirit, his Order responded to her vital needs and those of society. The Order of Preachers was the first to demonstrate strikingly the ministerial potentialities of the religious life. Until Dominic, the active ministry had been an appendage, not an integral part, of the religious life. He breached the wall through which later Founders marched with their Orders. As its first century ended, the Order began to weaken, but so did the Church and Western Christendom. The conflicts of Boniface VIII with Philip of France and Edward of England, kings of new national states, heralded a new age, an age made great by mystics and saints but weak by disaster, confusion and schism. The Order shared both the greatness and the weakness.
- The Dominicans ~ A Short History (William Hinnebusch, O.P.)
- The Foundation of the Order
- The Growth of the Order, 1221-1303
- The Missions to 1500
- The Fourteenth Century
- Fifteenth Century ~ The Life and Ministry of the Order
- Renewal and Reform in the Fifteenth Century
- The Sixteenth Century
- The Seventeenth Century, An Age of Absolutism
- The Eighteenth Century Until 1789
- The Order From 1789 to 1872
- The Last 100 Years 1872 to 1974