In that clime
Where springs the pleasant west-wind to unfold
The fresh leaves, with which Europe sees herself
New-garmented; nor from those billows far,
Beyond whose chiding, after weary course,
The sun doth sometimes hide him; safe abides
The happy Callaroga under guard
Of the great shield, wherein the lion lies
Subjected and supreme. And there was born
The loving minion of the Christian faith,
The hallow’d wrestler, gentle to his own,
And to his enemies terrible. So replete
His soul with lively virtue, that when first
Created, eve in the mother’s womb,
It prophesied. When, at the sacred font,
The spousals were complete ‘twixt faith and him,
Where pledge of mutual safety was exchanged,
The dame, who was his surety, in her sleep
Beheld the wondrous fruit, that was from him
And from his heirs to issue. And that such
He might be construed, as indeed he was,
She was inspired to name him of his owner,
Whose he was wholly; and so call’d him Dominic.
O happy father! Felix rightly named.
O favor’d mother! rightly named Joanna;
If that do mean as men interpret it.
Then, with sage doctrine and good will to help,
Forth on his great apostleship he fared,
Like torrent bursting from a lofty vein;
And dashing ‘gainst the stocks of heresy,
Smote fiercest, where resistance was most stout.
Thence many rivulets have since been turn’d,
Over the garden Catholic to lead
Their living waters, and have fed its plants.
This eulogium, truly worthy of heaven, is placed by Dante, in his Paradiso, on the lips of the most illustrious son of the poor man of Assisi. In the great poet’s journey through the upper world, it was fitting that Bonaventure should extol the Patriarch of the Preachers as in the preceding Canto, Thomas of Aquin, Dominic’s son, had celebrated the father of the family humbly girt with the cord.
The Providence that governeth the world,
In depth of counsel by created ken
Unfathomable, to the end that she,
Who with loud cries was ‘spoused in precious Blood,
Might keep her footing toward her well-beloved,
Safe in herself and constant unto him,
Hath two ordain’d, who should on either hand
In chief escort her: one, seraphic all
In fervency; for wisdom upon earth,
The other, splendor of cherubic light.
O Wisdom of the Father, thou wast the one love of both; Francis’ poverty, the true treasure of the soul, and Dominic’s faith, the incomparable light of our exile, are but two aspects of thee from below, expressing to us, in our time of trial and shadow, thy adorable beauty. Speaking with no less profoundness and with greater authority, the immortal Pontiff Gregory IX says: “The Fountain of Wisdom, the Word of the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, whose nature is goodness, whose work is mercy, does not abandon in the course of ages the vine he has brought out of Egypt; he comes to the aid of wavering souls by new signs, he adapts his wonders to the weakness of the incredulous. When therefore the day was declining towards evening, and while charity was becoming frozen by the abundance of wickedness, the light of justice was beginning to wane, the Father of the family gathered together workmen fitted for the labors of the eleventh hour; to clear his vineyard of the thorns that had overgrown it, and to drive away the multitude of mischievous little foxes that were doing their best to destroy it, he raised up the companies of Friars Preachers and Minors with the chiefs armed for battle.” In this expedition of the Lord of hosts, Dominic was “his glorious charger, full of fire in his faith, fearlessly neighing by preaching the divine word.” In October we shall see the great share in the combat taken by his brother-at-arms, who appeared as a living standard of Christ crucified, in the midst of a society where the triple concupiscence was in league with every error, striving to overthrow Christianity itself.
Finding everywhere this union of sensuality with heresy, which was henceforth to be the principal strength of false preachers, Dominic, like Francis, prescribed to his sons the most absolute renunciation of this world’s goods, and he too became a beggar for Christ’s sake. The time was past when the people, rejoicing in all the consequences of the Incarnation, made over to the Man-God the most extensive territorial domain that ever was, and at the same time placed his Vicar at the head of kings. The unworthy descendants of these high-minded Christians, after having vainly attempted to humiliate the Bride by subjecting the priesthood to the empire, reproached the Church with possessing those goods of which she was but the depository in the name of our Lord; the time had come for the Dove of the Canticle to begin, by abandoning the earth, her return journey towards heaven.
But if the two leaders of the campaign which arrested for a time the progress of the enemy, were but one in their love of holy poverty, this last was the special choice of the Assisian Patriarch. Dominic’s more direct means for obtaining the glory of God and the salvation of souls, was science; this was his excellent portion, more fertile than that of Caleb’s daughter. Less than fifty years after Dominic had bequeathed this inheritance to his descendants, the wisely combined irrigation, by the upper and the nether waters of faith and reason, had brought to full growth the tree of theological science, with its powerful roots and branches loftier than the clouds, whereon the birds of all tribes under heaven loved to perch without fear and gaze upon the sun.
“The father of the Preachers,” said the Eternal Father to St. Catherine of Sienna, “established his principle on the light, by making it his aim and his armor; he took upon him the office of the Word my Son, sowing my word, dispelling darkness, enlightening the earth; Mary, by whom I gave him to the world, made him the extirpator of heresies.” In the same way, as we have already seen, spoke the Florentine poet half a century earlier. The Order, called to become the chief support of the Sovereign Pontiff in uprooting pernicious doctrines, ought, if possible, to justify that name even more than its Patriarch: the first of the tribunals of Holy Church, the Holy Roman Universal Inquisition, the Holy Office, truly invested with the Office of the Word with his two-edged sword, to convert or to chastise, could find no instrument more trusty or more sure.
Little thought the virgin of Sienna, or the illustrious author of the Divina Commedia, that the chief title of the Dominican family to the grateful love of the people, would be discussed in a certain apologetic school, and there discarded as insulting, or dissembled as unpleasant. The present age glories in a liberalism which has given proofs of its power by multiplying ruins, and which rests on no better philosophical basis than a strange confusion between license and liberty; only such intellectual grovelling could have failed to understand that, in a society which has faith for the basis of its institutions as well as the principle of salvation for all, no crime could equal that of shaking the foundation on which thus rest both social interest and the most precious possession of individuals. Neither the idea of justice, nor still less that of liberty, could consist in leaving to the mercy of evil or evil men, the weak who are unable to protect themselves: this truth was the axiom and the glory of chivalry: the brothers of Peter the Martyr devoted their lives to protect the safety of the children of God against the surprises of the strong armed one, and the business that walketh about in the dark: it was the honor of the “saintly flock led by Dominic along a way, where they thrive well who do not go astray.”
Who could be truer knights than those athletes of the faith (as Honorius III referred to them) taking their sacred vow in the form of allegiance, and choosing for their Lady, her who, terrible as an army, alone crushes heresies throughout the whole world. To the buckler of truth and the sword of the word, she who keeps in Sion the armor of valiant men, added for her devoted liege-men the Rosary, the special mark of her own militia; she, as being their true commander-in-chief, assigned them the habit of her choice, and in the person of Blessed Reginald, anointed them with her own hands for the battle. She herself too watched over the recruiting of the holy band, attracting to it from among the elite youth of the universities, souls the purest, the most generously devoted, and of the noblest intellect. At Paris, the capital of theology, and Bologna, of law and jurisprudence, masters and scholars, disciples of every branch of science, were pursued and overtaken by the sweet Queen amid incidents more heavenly than earthly. How grateful were those beginnings, wherein Dominic’s virginal serenity seemed to surround all his children! It was indeed in this the Order of light that the Gospel word was seen verified: Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God. Eyes enlightened from above beheld the foundations of the Friars Preachers under the figure of fields of lilies; and Mary, by whom the Splendor of Eternal Light came down to us, became their heavenly mistress, and led them from every science to wisdom, the friend of pure hearts. She came accompanied by Cecilia and Catherine, to bless their rest at night, and covered them all with her royal mantle beside the throne of our Lord. After this we are not astonished at the freshness and purity, which continued even after St. Dominic, under the generalship of Jordan of Saxony, Raymund of Pegnafort, John the Teutonic, and Humbert de Romans, in those Lives of the Brethren, and Lives of the Sisters, so happily handed down to us. It is instructive to note that in the Dominican family, apostolic in its very essence, the Sisters are founded ten years before the Brethren, which shows how, in the Church of God, action can never be fruitful unless preceded and accompanied by contemplation, which obtains for it every blessing and grace.
Notre Dame de Prouille, at the foot of the Pyrenees, was not only by this right of primogeniture, the beginning of the whole Order; it was here also that the first companions of St. Dominic made with him their choice of a Rule, and divided the world amongst them, going from here to found the Convents of St. Romanus at Toulouse, St. James at Paris, St. Nicholas at Bologna, St. Sixtus and St. Sabina in the Eternal City. About the same period, the establishment of the Militia of Jesus Christ, placed under the direction of the Friars Preachers secular persons, who undertook to defend, by all the means in their power, the goods and liberty of the Church against the aggressions of heresy; when the sectaries had laid down their arms leaving the world in peace for a time, the association did not disappear: it continued to fight with spiritual arms, and changed its name into that of Third Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Dominic.
Let us read in the Church’s book the abridged life of the holy Patriarch.
Dominicus, Calarogæ in Hispania ex nobili Gusmanorum familia natus, Palentiæ liberalibus disciplinis et theologiæ operam dedit: quo in studio cum plurimum profecisset, prius Oxomensis ecclesiæ canonicus regularis, deinde Ordinis Fratrum Prædicatorum auctor tuit. Hujus mater gravida sibi visa est in quiete continere in alve catulum ore præferentem facem, qua editus in lucem, orbem terrarum incenderet. Quo somnio significabatur, fore ut splendore sanctitatis ac doctrinæ, gentes ad christianam pietatem inflammarentur. Veritatem exitus comprobavit: id enim et præstitit per se, et per sui Ordinis socios deinceps est consecutus.
Dominic was born at Calaruega, in Spain, of the noble family of the Gusmans, and went through his liberal the theological studies at Palencia. He made great progress in learning, and became a Canon Regular of the Church of Osma, and afterwards instituted the Order of Friars Preachers. While his mother was with child, she dreamt she was carrying in her womb a little dog, holding a torch in his mouth, with which, as soon as he was born, he would set fire to the world. This dream signified that he would enkindle Christian piety among the nations by the splendor of his sanctity and teaching. Events proved its truth: for he fulfilled the prophecy both in person, and later on by the brethren of his Order.
Hujus autem ingenium ac virtus maxime enituit in evertendis hæreticis, qui perniciosis erroribus Tolosates pervertere conabantur. Quo in negotio septem consumpsit annos. Postea Romam venit ad Lateranense concilium cum episcopo Tolosano, ut Ordo, quem instituerat, ab Innocentio tertio confirmaretur. Quæ res dum in deliberatione versatur, Dominicus hortatu Pontificis ad suos reveritur, ut sibi regulam deligeret. Romam rediens, ab Honorio tertio, qui proximus Innocentio successerat, confirmationem Ordinis Prædicatorum impetrat. Romæ autem duo instituit monasteria, alterum virorum, mulierum alterum. Tres etiam mortuos ad vitam revocavit, multaque alia edidit miracula, quibus Ordo Prædicatorum mirifice propagari cœpit.
His genius and virtue shone forth especially in confounding the heretics who were attempting to infect the people of Toulouse with their baneful errors. He was occupied for several years in this undertaking. Then he went to Rome for the Council of Lateran, with the bishop of Toulouse, to obtain from Innocent III the confirmation of the Order he had instituted. But while the matter was under consideration the Pope advised Dominic to return to his disciples, and choose a rule. On his return to Rome, he obtained the confirmation of the Order of Preachers from Honorius III, the immediate successor of Innocent. In Rome itself he founded two Monasteries, one for men and the other for women. He raised three dead to life, and worked many other miracles, in consequence of which, the Order of Preachers began to spread in a wonderful manner.
Verum cum ejus opera ubique terrarum monasteria jam ædificarentur, innumerabilesque homines religiosam ac piam vitam instituerent, Bononiæ anno Christi ducentesimo vigesimo primo supra millesimum, in febrem incidit: ex qua cum se moriturum intelligeret, convocatis fratribus et alumnis suæ disciplinæ, eos ad innocentiam et integritatem conhortatus est. Postremo caritatem, humilitatem, paupertatem, tamquam certum patrimonium eis testamento reliquit: fratribusque orantibus, in illis verbis, Subvenite sancti Dei, occurrite Angeli, obdormivit in Domino, octavo idus Augusti: quem postea Gregorius nonus Pontifex retulit in sanctorum numerum.
Monasteries were built by his means in every part of the world, and through his teaching numbers of men embraced a holy and religious manner of life. At length in the year of Christ, 1221, he fell into a fever at Bologna. When he saw he was about to die, calling together his brethren and children, he exhorted them to innocence and purity of life, and left them as their true inheritance the virtues of charity, humility, and poverty. While the brethren were praying round him, at the words, “Come to his aid, ye Saints of God, run to meet him, O ye Angels,” he fell asleep in the Lord, on the eighth of the Ides of August. Pope Gregory IX placed him among the Saints.
How many sons and daughters surround thee on the sacred cycle! This very month, Rose of Lima and Hyacinth keep thee company, and thy coming has long since been heralded in the Liturgy by Raymund of Pegnafort, Thomas of Aquin, Vincent Ferrer, Peter the Martyr, Catherine of Sienna, Pius V, and Antoninus. And now at length appears in the firmament the new star whose brightness dispels ignorance, confounds heresy, increases the faith of believers. O Dominic, thy blessed mother, who preceded thee to heaven, now penetrates in all its fullness the happy meaning of that mysterious vision which once excited her fears. And that other Dominic, the glory of ancient Silos, at whose tomb she received the promise of thy blessed birth, rejoices at the tenfold splendor given by thee for all eternity to the beautiful name he bequeathed thee. But what a special welcome dost thou receive from the Mother of all grace, who heretofore, embracing the feet of her angered Son, stood surety that thou wouldst bring back the world to its Savior! A few years passed away; and error, put to confusion, felt that a deadly struggle was engaged between itself and thy family; the Lateran Church saw its walls, which were threatening to fall, strengthened for a time; and the two Princes of the Apostles, who had bidden thee go and preach, rejoice that the word has gone forth once more into the whole world.
Stricken with barrenness, the nations, which the Apocalypse likens to great waters, seemed to have become once for all corrupt; the prostitute of Babylon was setting up her throne before the time; when, in imitation of Eliseus, putting the salt of Wisdom into the new vessel of the Order founded by thee, thou didst cast this divine salt into the unhealthy waters, neutralize the poison of the beast so soon risen up again, an din spite of the snares which will never cease, didst render the earth habitable once more. How clearly thy example shows us that they alone are powerful before God and over the people, who give themselves up to him without seeking anything else, and only give to others out of their own fullness. Despising, as thine historians tell us, every opportunity and every science where Eternal Wisdom was not to be seen, thy youth was charmed with her alone; and she, who prevents those that seek her, inundated thee from thy earliest years with the light and the anticipated sweetness of heaven. It is from her that overflowed upon thee that radiant serenity, which so struck thy contemporaries, and which no occurrence could ever alter. In heavenly peace thou didst drink long draughts from the ever-flowing fountain springing up into eternal life; but while tine inmost soul was thus slaking the thirst of its love, the divine source produced a marvellous fecundity; and its streams becoming thine, why fountains were conveyed abroad in the streets, thou didst divide thy waters. Thou hadst welcomed Wisdom, and she exalted thee; not content to adorn thy brow with the rays of the mysterious star, she gave thee also the glory of patriarchs, and multiplied thy years and thy works in those of thy sons. In them thou hast not ceased to be one of the strongest stays of the Church. Science has made thy name wonderful among the nations, and because of it their youth is honored by the ancients; may it ever be for them, as it was for their elders, both the fruit of Wisdom and the way that leads to her; may it be fostered by prayer; for thy holy Order so well keeps up the beautiful traditions of prayer, as to approach the nearest, in that respect, to the ancient monastic Orders. To praise, to bless, and to preach will be to the end its loved motto; for its apostolate must be, according to the word of the Psalm, the overflowing of the abundance of sweetness tasted in communication with God. Thus strengthened in Sion, thus blessed in its glorious role of propagator and guardian of the truth, thy noble family will ever deserve to hear, from the mouth of our Lady herself, that encouragement above all praise: “Fortiter, fortiter, viri fortes! Courage, courage, ye men of courage!”
From The Liturgical Year, by Dom Prosper Gueranger
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