Saint Dominic - Watchdog of God
“I give you arms, with which throughout your life
you may fight against the devil.”
Arming a young man with the double-edge sword of which St. Paul spoke, St. Dominic intoned these words, as he vested him in the habit of the Friars Preachers. This would be Dominic’s will and testimony, the legacy he would leave, to all the young and courageous who would pick up his torch and lead the way to Jesus.
The birth of a Saint
Our story takes us to Spain, a Christian part of Spain recently freed from more than four hundred years of cruel domination. The small, sleepy village of Caleruega, resting unnoticed between the lofty cities of Burgos and Segovia, will bring the world a treasury of Saints. If we travel back in time, we can see turrets and ramparts majestically dominating the horizon, proudly announcing the nobility who dwell within. Today, all that is left of the grandeur of yesterday, is the tower of the Guzmán palace, where a Saint and two Blesseds lived and loved. Our story is about the Saint - Dominic. In 1170, he was born into the nobility of this world; he and his family predestined to be part of that nobility; but instead that nobility would produce souls who would spend their life journeying toward eternal life with the nobility in Heaven.
This area was reconquered in 1040 A.D. The entire country was reconquered after 700 years of domination.
Saints beget Saints, as we will see in our story of one of the greatest Defenders of the Faith, Mother Church has ever raised to the Heavenly Halls of Canonized Saints, Saint Dominic - Founder of the Order of Friar Preachers.
Dominic’s father was Felix Guzmán, commander of knights, the brave and loyal knights who were instrumental in recovering Spain for Christ. During the stormy, bloody days of her resurrection from slavery, he and his army protected the borders of Christian Spain, defending her against the fierce and determined hordes of Moors advancing on Castille, where his palace was located.
Dominic’s mother Juana of Aza was also of an old Castilian family, of the nobility like her husband. But this mother because of the life she led and the great influence she had on her children would be declared Blessed. She would raise a future Saint - Dominic, and a Blessed - her oldest son Mannes; historians conjecture they wouldn’t be surprised if her other son Anthony would also be raised to a Blessed, as he died caring for victims of the plague.
Before Dominic was born, his mother Juana had a prophetic vision of a dog carrying a lit torch in his mouth, igniting everything in his path, as he sped throughout the world. She was confused and troubled by the vision and went to pray at the Shrine of St. Dominic of Silos, after whom she later named her third son, Dominic. [This is how we often see images of St. Dominic - accompanied by a dog with a lit torch in his mouth.]
There was another prophecy foretelling the destiny of this special child. When his godparents held the baby Dominic over the font to be baptized, his godmother saw a brilliant star shining on his forehead. When later writing of St. Dominic, authors and historians often recount these two incidents, the one with the dog and the one with the star. Almost everyone who knew him testified that a certain splendor always radiated from his face, as if from a star.
God, with His Eyes on those He has chosen, placed our future Saint into a home filled with virtue and piety, his mother praying with her children, bringing them closer to God and His Will for them. It will not come as a shock, therefore, when her child Dominic chooses the path to holiness and sainthood. The only problem is that before Dominic was born, his two older brothers were already preparing for the priesthood. The estate and the father’s responsibilities passed to the only son left, Dominic!
[With many Latin families, Mama rules, with the key she holds to their hearts. Juana was declared Blessed for the part she played in bringing about the miracle that came to pass in this noble house. Destined to produce brave knights for Spain, instead the House of Guzmán brought forth loyal knights to serve God in His royal Priesthood.]
What did Juana do? Knowing in her heart that this child, too, belonged to God, she sent Dominic at age seven, to her brother, who just happened to be a priest! Dominic studied under his uncle, learned how to serve as an altar boy, was made proficient in Latin and learned the tenets of our Faith. That might have been where it ended and Dominic would have grown into a very holy knight, in the world. But again God, the Master Chess-Player, has set His pieces in place strategically! Gumiel d’Izan, where Dominic was staying, was on the way to Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims, on the way to the Shrine, to plead with Santiago (St. James) to intercede with God for deliverance from the Moors, always stopped in Gumiel d’Izan to rest. They recounted the torture and atrocities inflicted on those who dared practice their Catholic Faith, adding they were personally exposed to the Moors’ “conquer through terror” technique that was being carried out even in Christian Spain.
We never know what our children are taking to heart; was this when the seed was planted in Dominic’s heart to go and preach to the millions of pagans who did not know Jesus and the Church He founded? At age fourteen, Dominic left for Palencia to broaden his studies. We know little of those days, except it has been told that when Dominic encountered refugees who were starving and had no shelter, he sold all his books and gave them the money. Now, possibly today that might not mean much, but in those days, before the printing press, all books were copied by hand; so Dominic had no books to study and little or no opportunity to have them replaced. But when questioned he replied, “How can I study from dead skins when living men are starving?”
As his Lord before him, Dominic had an urgency about him - too much to do with too little time to do it. This and his thirst for knowledge, he would pass on to future preachers who would follow. He was charismatic and filled with compassion for those starving not only from lack of food but the Word of God. This passion for God and His children would draw many young men and women to him in the days ahead. His life, filled with days and nights of peaceful but exciting pursuits of holiness, was to come to full fruition, the day Dominic was ordained to the priesthood in around 1195.
Now 25 years old, Dominic realized his walk was not as a secular priest but as a religious. At that time, Dominic’s bishop Martin Bazan voiced a desire to bring about reform; he wanted the canons of his cathedral to live a shared life as religious, as part of a community. He and the new prior of the canons, Don Diego de Asevedo, had heard of Dominic’s piety and wisdom, and his desire to be a religious. Their hope was that he could convince these self-absorbed, strong-willed clerics into coming together and join the Canons Regular; they summoned Dominic! So after he was ordained a priest, Dominic was vested in the habit of the Canons Regular of Osma, made his profession to that Order, and for the next nine years faithfully followed the Rule of St. Augustine. One of his companions said of him, at this time,
“Now it was that he began to appear among his brethren like a bright burning torch, the first in holiness, the last in humility, spreading about him an odor of life which gave life, and a perfume like the sweetness of summer days. Day and night he was in the church praying without ceasing. God gave him the Grace to weep for sinners and for the afflicted; he bore their sorrows in an inner sanctuary of compassion which pressed on his heart, flowed out and escaped in tears. It was his custom to spend his nights in prayer and to speak to God behind closed doors.”
Dominic consecrated himself, dedicating his life to the salvation of souls for Christ. He was happy! He thought this was where God had placed him, but that was to come to an end, when Don Diego, now Bishop of Osma, chose him to accompany him on a mission to Denmark, which would be the first leg of a long journey of suffering, pain and torment. meaning he is always last to receive or taking the last place
As they traveled through southern France, Dominic’s heart felt like it would bleed to death, as he encountered the enormous suffering brought about by a new threat against the Church and her children - the Albigensian Heresy. The churches were empty; the bells no longer tolled; Sunday you could see people working in the fields. There was a funereal spirit over the villages, as if God Himself was moaning over the death of His children’s souls. They were like men, women and children walking in their sleep through a dark cloud shutting out all sun.
Tired and downcast, Dominic and the bishop stopped at an inn in Toulouse, only to discover that the innkeeper was a heretic. Dominic could not go peacefully to sleep, while there was the danger that a soul could be lost. He talked to the man throughout the night, showing him the error of this heresy and the long-range effects disobedience has first on one soul and then on those he encounters. Dominic, clarifying the errors put forth by the heretics, and bringing him the true teachings of the Faith, when dawn came peeking into the dark of night, the innkeeper’s heart and soul were filled with the same light which flooded the room; he renounced the heresy and pledged to follow the true teachings of Mother Church.
Was it here that the seed to start a religious Order, dedicated to defending the Church, correcting errors and bringing the Truth to the faithful, was planted in Dominic’s heart?
Dominic turns to Our Lady for help
Dominic always turned to his Heavenly Mother for help! When Dominic and the bishop visited the Court of France, they found the Queen grieving deeply because she had no children. Dominic told her to pray the Rosary. Not only did she adopt this prayer, she brought that devotion to all the citizens in her realm, asking them to join her in praying for a male child who would wear the crown of France, one day. A boy was born, the future St. Louis of France. They prayed the Rosary, softened the Heart of God, and a future Saint was born; a great Saint was given to the Church and to the world!
Their mission was successfully completed in Denmark. But God had a greater plan in mind. Seeing the death of faith overtaking the world, before they returned to Spain, the bishop and Dominic stopped in Rome. Bishop Diego asked to be relieved of his bishopric, so that he could spend the rest of his days correcting the heresies that were rotting away the very foundation of the Church. Both he and Dominic had been witnesses, seeing with their own eyes the devastating attacks upon Mother Church from all fronts, with hordes of heathens laying siege on Christ’s Kingdom on Earth on one front, and those within the Church attacking on another, the enemy of God flanking her on all sides with relentless attacks, leaving her, dear Mother that she is, bleeding.
Having seen the helplessness of the faithful in the Nordic countries, the bishop and Dominic asked Pope Innocent III for permission to go to Tartary and the Pope refused! They stopped at the Abbey of Citeaux with the idea of becoming Cistercians, then decided against it, as the bishop realized his first responsibility was to the diocese that had been entrusted to him. They had hoped to receive the deep scarlet crown of Martyrdom among the heathen in Tartary; that was not to come to pass. They had desired to live among the Cistercians; that was not to be. Eager to serve God and Church but not knowing how it would come to pass, they resignedly turned their eyes toward Spain, believing that God’s Will lay in their obedience to the Pope.
Dominic joins the battle to combat the Albigensian Heresy
On their way, they stopped at Montpellier. There, they discovered a pot of errors bubbling, spilling over dangerously into every walk of life. No one and nothing was free from the Albigensian Heresy10 which threatened to drown the Church. How were these heretics able to attract so many? First of all, like cults of today, such as the Jehovah Witnesses, they provided for their bodily needs. They gave people easy answers to the many evils in their lives, many of which they brought about themselves. The heretics delivered fiery, very dramatic sermons; in those days, our priests did not deliver any sermons. Many of our priests led lives of wealth and comfort, and their parishioners went hungry; whereas, the heretics gave generously to their followers, while leading a very austere lifestyle. Of course, everything they gave came from other followers. Was Jesus going to allow these misguided children of His be lost? No, He sends Saints into the melee to fight the good fight!
During the papacy of Innocent II, Albigensianism was spreading like wildfire throughout southern France. The Pope put the job in the hands of the Cistercians. First, he sent two; when they weren’t successful, he sent another two. Then he sent in thirty Cistercians, twelve of them abbots. These were the most disciplined, most learned religious of the times; but compared to the austerity of the heretics, their lifestyle was relaxed and easygoing. It became obvious that it would take more than these followers of St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
Now a new Pope in power, Innocent III turned to Dominic and the Bishop of Osma for help in erasing this threat from the Church. St. Dominic and the bishop went to the Cistercians and appealed to them to live a more heroic life, a life which more exemplified that of the Savior Whom they were called to imitate. St. Dominic and the bishop told them that the common folk joined the Albigensians more because of the life they saw them leading, than by their preaching. They asked the Cistercians to cease traveling by horse with an entourage, to no longer stay at comfortable inns, with servants to wait upon them. Dominic said that first they had to begin by truly living the Gospel, then the people would listen to gentle persuasion and loving dialogue. This, rather than intimidation and dictatorial pressure is what would bring heretics back to the Church. The Cistercians wanted no part of this so they left.
As Albigensianism was considered now more a religion than a heresy, it was extremely dangerous to evangelize and preach against it. The Heretics did not want to lose their brainwashed followers, who would do almost anything for their false gods, the Heretics. And so they were not above using force. At the recommendation of Don Diego, the Bishop of Osma, Dominic and his followers were sent into the area to live, much like Francis and his followers were living in central Italy. There were seventy two of them. They carried no money, no staff, no possessions. They truly lived the austere Gospel life, in an effort to convert by example. And against overwhelming odds, convert they did! The example they set bore fruit, and by the end of ten years, there were a great deal of conversions. But Albigensianism was still very strong and firmly entrenched.
Dominic begins to open houses for former heretics
Because so many noble families had lost all they had as a result of the horrible war which had stripped everyone of all their possessions, many of their children had no recourse but to attend schools provided by the Albigensianists. They were actually sold into slavery to the Heretics. Dominic combated this by setting up convent schools available to teach the True Faith. The Church was not proficient in the ways of the world, ill-equipped to combat this insidious poison, now being promulgated by some of the most respected families. Dominic knew the only answer was to organize the Church, and engage in a Gentle Revolution!
Where did Dominic go? Now Dominic had always had a deep devotion to the Mother of God. One evening, as he was praying on a hill in Prouille, overlooking the Shrine of Our Lady of Prouille, a church he frequented on his journeys through the southern part of France, he saw a globe of fire shoot down from the heavens and come to hover over the little chapel. Dominic took this as a sign from Heaven this was where he was to establish his first convent. The first nine sisters were converts from the Albigensian Heresy; they initially came to Dominic, seeking asylum from their families, who had been thoroughly indoctrinated into the Albigensian Cult. Like his dear friend Francis of Assisi with St. Clare, these nine had not only heard Dominic preach the Truth but most exemplify what he preached; their eyes were opened, and they wanted that Truth Who alone can make them free. They were to be a cloistered community devoted to the education of young women in danger of being exploited by the Albigensianists. At that time he also opened a friary for the brothers who came to serve.
Time came for his good friend and mentor, Bishop Diego to go back to Spain and his diocese. His promise to send reinforcements, to help Dominic, never came to pass, as he died soon after arriving home. With the news of his death, instead of more help, the few Dominic had, returned to Spain. Now, alone, with the monumental task God had given him, Dominic committed himself to the Lord as His solitary preacher, if need be. As if that was what God was waiting for, another friend and mentor entered into his life, Foulques, Bishop of Toulouse. Like Dominic, he had a fiery passion to serve Mother Church. This was truly a gift from God, for one of Dominic’s greatest crosses was the lack of courage and determination he found among the bishops and clergy, the absence of strength required to act upon and fulfill the Will of God. For the next ten years, this prelate would be Dominic’s benefactor, affirming him when he was in most need, the right arm Dominic needed in the face of endless adversity.
It was time! Dominic began the Order of Preachers, better known today as the Dominicans.11He founded a house for Albigensianists who wished to leave the sect. Everything was going fine, until the local Count of Toulouse tried to close the house down. The Count had allowed the heretics to operate freely, to serve his own political ends. The sect controlled a considerable voting block, and was very influential. St. Dominic was causing problems for the Count; he couldn’t allow him to continue.
A papal legate is assassinated, and war breaks out!
Pope Innocent III sent his papal legate Peter of Castelnau, to resolve the matter quickly. Peter tried to dissuade the Count from supporting the heretics, to no avail. As the Count would not cease his attack on the Church, Peter had no recourse but to excommunicate him. In addition, the Count, Raymond of Toulouse had broken every promise made to the Church. When the excommunication was announced, the Count sent two of his henchmen, who waylaid and killed the legate of Rome.
Peter of Castelnau had spent his life preaching on the Word Who is God. Dying, he would end his life just as the Word before him, his last words, asking forgiveness for his murderers. Turning to the missionaries he was leaving behind, Peter told them to be strong and carry on this most solemn work of saving the lost lambs of the Church.
Peter of Castelnau was bitterly hated by the heretics. He often said: “Religion will not raise its head in Languedoc until it is watered by the blood of a martyr.” As he lay there, he fulfilled his own prophecy, the ground soaked by his blood, he was martyred for the Faith. Never compromising, this legate, named after our first Pope, died as he had lived, faithful to the Church, to the end!
When news of Peter of Castelnau’s death reached Pope Innocent III, he sent letters to the kings of France and Spain to lay aside their differences, their self-interests and unite behind the banner of the Church and fight this “rage of heresy.”12It was no longer a war between ideological differences; words were no longer the sole means of attack; the Church was being raided by armed thieves vandalizing and stripping churches and convents; then leaving nothing - burning them to the ground.
Maligned and defamed, Mother Mary cries for her Dominic
The man placed in charge of the Catholic combined forces, was the legate - Arnold of Citeaux; it was not Dominic! Dominic played a very minor role in this campaign, nothing more than that of a chaplain serving the crusaders’ souls: and yet after the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century the word was that it was Dominic, “the infamous preacher” who caused the bloodshed of the Albigensian war. This accusation is so against his most gentle character, his compassionate heart and soul, it makes one weep to hear him so maligned. But as always, from the time of Adam and Eve, when the father of lies called God a liar, the innocent have been attacked by the guilty, the holy by the wicked. It began in the Garden of Eden and witless instruments of the devil have carried on his work, and will, I am afraid, till the Lord comes again.
What was Dominic doing while this bloody encounter was going on? He and the small band who had remained with him, went around the countryside, barefoot, without roof over their heads, completely dependent on alms, preaching the Word of God; and if that makes him the “bloody Dominic” they called him, then please Lord allow us to walk beside such as he.
The mission bestowed upon him and Bishop Diego by Pope Innocent III never having been rescinded, Dominic continued to carry out the role of reconciling heretics to the Church and assigning them penances. For this he was given the name of “First Inquisitor,” which could not have been more misleading. There is no entry in history of Dominic’s participation in the Inquisition! Had he played the crucial role they have discredited him with, there assuredly would be some mention in the annals of that period. Furthermore, as no such office existed before the Lateran Council of 1215, and it was in 1230, nine years after Dominic’s death that the Council of Toulouse assigned a share of the governing body to the Friars Preachers, Dominic would have had to have exercised his duty from the grave.
In addition, when the jurisdiction was originally handed down, to judge and, upon finding guilty, denounce heretics, it was not assigned to the Dominicans but to the Cistercians! At that time, Dominic lived in Fanjeux and Carcassonne, more than one hundred miles from Toulouse, near his Lady of Prouille. He preferred to be known simply and humbly as the parish priest of Fanjeux. He would walk seventeen miles each day to Carcassonne to people who scoffed at him, leveled abuses at him, threw dirt and stones at him, all the time calling him foul names, making a sport of playing him for the fool; and he, the great fool of Christ came back for more.
One day, coming upon a gang of heretics, about whom he had been forewarned, he calmly passed through them joyfully singing hymns. Possibly stunned by his bravery, they did not carry out their plan to kill him. But later, having recovered, they confronted him, again, and challenged him, threatening, “So you’re not afraid to die. What would you have done if we began killing you?” Dominic replied, “I would beg you to not finish me with one quick blow but little by little.” They avoided him, from that time on, believing being killed was just what he wanted.
Our Lady gives St. Dominic the Rosary
The heresy of Albigensianism, which had started in Southern France in the Eleventh Century, had become a deadly cancer threatening the entire Church. Although he would fight with all his might to defeat this heresy, it was an uphill fight. He prayed for help. The Angels brought his prayer to the feet of Our Lady. One night in 1208, while St. Dominic was hard at prayer in the Chapel of Notre Dame de la Prouille,13Our Lady appeared to him. Holding the Rosary, She said,
“Be of good courage, Dominic; the fruits of your labor shall be abundant. The remedy for the evils which you lament will be meditation on the life, death and glory of my Son, uniting thereto the recitation of the Angelic Salutation (Hail Mary) by which the mystery of redemption was announced to the world.
“This devotion you are to inculcate by your preaching, is a practice most dear to my Son and to me - as a most powerful means of dissipating heresy, extinguishing vice, propagating virtue, imploring divine mercy, and obtaining my protection. I desire that not only you, but all those who shall enter your Order, perpetually promote this manner of prayer. The faithful will obtain by it innumerable advantages and will always find me ready to aid them in their wants. This is the precious gift which I leave to you and to your spiritual children.”
Dominic begins preaching on the Rosary
War and hate killing the innocent, who did not know why they were fighting, or for that matter being killed, it was time for the Mother of God to instruct Her children through Dominic as to the true meaning of the Rosary, Her Life and that of Her Son Jesus. She was calling them to meditate on what Mary and Jesus’ yes cost Them. Although the Rosary had been prayed for generations before the Blessed Mother came to Dominic, it was more of a vocal repetitious praying of Hail Mary’s, Glory be’s and Our Father’s fingering the beads of the Rosary. With Mother Mary giving him this new mission, he was able to have the whole Church participate with Her and Her Son in what They lived through, that we might be saved.
So, we see Dominic, in the midst of hell, with the rabid dog of war wildly, indiscriminately attacking the innocent along with the guilty, no one exempt; and he is preaching the Rosary! Does this sound incredulous? Do we not need to say the Rosary, today, meditating on how Our Lord and Our Lady walked to the Cross for us, how this Church which has been so under attack for the last 2000 years flowed from the pierced Heart of Jesus? Do we think about the price He paid for the Church? Is this what gave them the courage to climb insurmountable heights and face unbeatable foes?
Our Lady of the Rosary intercedes and the war is won!
When Dominic became vicar to the Bishop of Carcassonne. But his peace was to be short-lived. Things were out of hand, conditions deplorable. Life would again change for him, along with the course of the Albigensian war. As war is about power more than ideology, more sons would have to die to satisfy man’s gluttonous appetite for might. As this was a war over men’s souls, neither side would give up, the knowing ordering and the unknowing following, “Rachel was once more crying for her children.”
Peter, the King of Aragon, marched into Carcassonne with his massive forces and united them with the Albigensian soldiers. The defenders of Mother Church were so overwhelmingly outnumbered, only a miracle would save her. A council was called in Muret to determine what course to take. Dominic was summoned and went hurriedly to Muret; but on the way he stopped to pray before the tomb of St. Vincent the Martyr. When one of the canons sought him out, he beheld Dominic levitated in ecstasy before the altar.
September 10th, the King of Aragon converged on Muret with forty thousand men. The Count of Montfort was caught with only eight hundred men. With no other course possible, the Count advised his forces he was going to abdicate. He went into the chapel to prepare himself for the inevitable, his death. At the suggestion of Dominic, the Catholic forces began praying the Rosary. The Count of Montfort, fully clad in his resplendent knight’s armor knelt before the bishop and, after receiving his blessing, solemnly pledged his undying love and faithfulness to the God and Church through the Mother of God, “I consecrate my blood and life for God and His Faith.” The Rosary having been said, the troops marched out to battle and the priests retired to the church to pray.
The Count of Muret and his small army, first charged, then made as if to retreat, and then charged once again, only furiously this time, plowing right through the middle of the thousands of advancing soldiers, clear to the center of the camp, where King Peter of Aragon and his nobles were seated. Completely dazed and dejected by the unexpected coup, his army deserted, leaving the king dead.
And where was Dominic throughout the battle? He was not, as some very prejudiced historians like to write (fabricating for their own agendas), in front of the attacking forces leading them on to victory. This would have been impossible; he had absolutely no training in the art of war. More accurate and honest is that he was with other priests and the women praying for the brave men whom they believed were going to a certain death.
Innocent III calls the Council of Lateran
Dominic was returning to Rome with Bishop Foulques of Toulouse. It had been eleven years since his first visit with Bishop Diego of Osma. So much had happened! Innocent III was still the Pope and had called the Council of Lateran, which has gone down in history as second only to the Council of Trent in importance to our Faith. Hundreds and hundreds of bishops, abbots and friars, along with heads of all the Royal houses of Europe were there to discuss the condition of the world. This council defined some of the most important tenets of our Faith. From her very inception, Mother Church has called councils to declare dogmas which we have always believed from the very beginning, but have not defined until attacked. Thanks to the Heresy of Albigensianism, the Council defined Church doctrine addressing this and other heresies16which threatened to sink the Barque of Peter.17
Pope Innocent III recognizes Dominic and his brothers
Ten years before the commencement of the Council of Lateran, there had been a flurry of preachers, often uneducated, tickling the ears of the unknowing faithful with errors. They were, for the most part anti-clerical and anti-papal. So, it was with some apprehension and caution that Innocent, although he knew of Dominic’s reputation, opened himself to presenting Dominic’s brief to the bishops. As the Church had ruled no new Orders be founded, the Pope advised Dominic to return home and choose one of the older Rules. It was at this time that the Pope had a dream and recognized the two friars holding up St. John Lateran,18as Francis of Assisi and Dominic.
After much prayer, Dominic and the brothers decided they would follow the Rule of St. Augustine.19 But the Order of Preachers is not a duplication of any other Order; it is unique with its own charism and apostolate. Though affirmed by other Popes, we quote Pope Clement IV:
“Your Order is a fortified city which guards the truth and welcomes the faithful through its portals. It is the sun shining in the Temple of God, the cypress on the heights, lifting minds that regard it, the field of the Lord fragrant with celestial roses.”
Pope Innocent III dies; Dominic has a new friend and Pope
It was with a sad heart and more than a little concern that the brothers received the news that Pope Innocent III had died. He had been a good friend and supporter of Dominic and his friars. Nevertheless, Dominic set out for Rome, and approval of his new community. He arrived in September, only to find that the new Pope, Honorius was not in Rome. Considering the work-load awaiting the new Pope, you would think that Dominic would go home and come back after the Pope was settled. Not Dominic! He slept in the churches. Believing in the Son’s love for His Mother, Dominic prayed to his most precious Blessed Virgin for her intercession.
She came through! In December of that same year, just three short months after being elevated to the Chair of Peter, Pope Honorius issued the first Bull granting Dominic certain privileges and impunities, with rights to formerly held lands, churches and property which had been donated by Bishop Foulques of Toulouse. In the second Bull which was much shorter than the first, Honorius referred to them as “champions of the faith.” What an awesome privilege and opportunity, as well as responsibility, this heritage carries for all the men and women religious who make up the Order of Preachers.
Eager to get back to his family of preachers, and be about his mission of evangelizing to those who had left the Church, Dominic would have to wait once more upon the Lord’s timetable. Always believing that God speaks through the Pope, Dominic peacefully remained with the Holy Father, who, like his predecessor, had also grown fond of Dominic. He was commissioned to be the Pope’s theologian, where he was required to teach before the court and the Cardinals, and appointed as censor20 of all books, an office filled by a Dominican till today. While there Dominic made another friend, one who would become the future Pope Gregory IX. As Cardinal, he was familiar with the work of the two powerful living Saints the Lord had raised up for this crucial time in the Church, and loved Francis and Dominic.
Finally Dominic was able to return to Toulouse and his community. The whole village turned out! His friars were filled with joy! Their merriment was short-lived when the time came to tell them they must part. Dominic explained that the work was great and the laborers few; they would have to go out, two by twos, to countries near and far, to preach the Good News, strengthening those who had remained in the Catholic Church and bringing back those who had strayed. Everyone advised him against this move, but he insisted saying some of the wisest words I have ever heard:
“Do not oppose me, for I know very well what I am doing. The seed will moulder (decay) if it is hoarded up; it will fructify (bear fruit) if it is sown.”
It was the Feast of the Assumption in 1217, when Dominic chose to announce that this was to be the last time they would all be assembled under one roof. He celebrated the Mass. All the people of Languedoc were there. He preached, as he had never before. He told the parishioners because of their hard hearts, their blindness, he and the apostolate had come to realize that they would have to leave and settle elsewhere. Then he turned to his brothers and told them to always have the courage to speak the truth.
Dominic continued to live a simple life, wearing the same patched, worn tunic in the freezing winter and the suffocating summer. In the evening, after a hard day’s work, he would spend his evening hours praying at the different altars in the church, often found in the morning having fallen asleep on the altar steps. He would do penance, flagellating himself first for his sins, then for those of sinners, and third for the Poor Souls in Purgatory. He would get so involved with the ongoing Sacrifice of the Cross, the Sacrifice of the Mass that he would weep throughout the consecration when Jesus comes to us, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. He was deeply involved in the formation of those in his care; as a holy father chastising his children when necessary, and then balancing with generous compassion at other times.
Pope Honorius gave them the church of St. Sixtus located on the Appian Way to use for a convent. Miracles began from the very beginning! They were digging beneath the old building when a huge mass of dirt fell smothering a worker beneath the rubble. The friars ran to save him, but saw it was too late! However not for Dominic; he began to pray, as he simultaneously instructed the brothers to dig! Imagine their amazement when having removed all the earth, there was the man alive and breathing.
The Pope and his predecessor Innocent III had been trying to reform the women religious in Rome to no avail. This would be the mission assigned to Dominic. It was no mean task; they had gotten used to this casual life and did not want anyone interfering, especially men. They were women of wealthy families who encouraged them to be independent; they had seriously relaxed the rules of cloister life, having visitors at all hours of the day or night; their superiors had little or no authority; they would not even listen to the Cardinals!
Dominic proposed giving up his convent to a group of Nuns, who were living in St. Mary on the Tiber convent. Although it met with fierce opposition initially, the abbess agreed, with the proviso that a miraculous picture of Our Lady come with them; Dominic agreed. All was in order when the Nuns repented of their promise and refused to move. Dominic went to their convent and celebrated Mass for them; as he spoke so compassionately, their hearts were moved, they agreed to move into the convent at St. Sixtus and go into deep cloister.
But Dominic, wise father that he was, took the keys to the convent and made the brothers porters of the door, with strict instructions the Nuns not be allowed to have families and friends visit, except at assigned times. Their piety and joy became well known in Rome and attracted more young women. This became the second convent under St. Dominic.
We would just like to share a miraculous occurrence that Dominicans speak of till today. One day the brothers had been unsuccessfully begging for alms all day and were dejectedly returning to the convent when they met up with a woman. Feeling compassion on them, she gave them a loaf of bread. They walked a few steps when they were stopped by a poor man begging; he asked them for their loaf of bread. They, at first, insisted that it was all they had, but upon his persisting pleading turned the bread over to him. Now, while this was happening, the Lord had enlightened St. Dominic what had come to pass, so when the brothers approached he asked them if they had returned with nothing! When they recounted what had transpired, he said, “Have no fear; it was an Angel of the Lord.”
Dominic summoned the whole community to come and eat in the refectory. He insisted, over their protests, they prepare the tables for their nightly meal. They were all seated; Dominic gave the blessing and one of the brothers began to read, aloud. Dominic prayed! Suddenly two handsome young men appeared and began distributing bread. After the last loaf was dispensed, they disappeared. Then Dominic instructed the community to eat the bread the Lord had provided. Dominic then charged the brothers to pour the wine; and when they said there was none, he insisted they obey him, take the vessels and pour the wine which the Lord has provided. They obeyed and they not only filled all the glasses, they had enough wine and bread for three days! The third day, Dominic instructed them to keep none, but give the rest to the poor.
The Friar Preachers had worn the habit of the Augustinians when the Mother of God appeared and gave them the habit they wear till today. A new brother was entertaining joining the Order; he had just met Dominic when he fell seriously ill. The young man, Reginald, was on his death bed; Dominic began pleading for the healing of this child whom the Lord had just given him, only to be taken away from him so quickly. Our Lady answered Dominic’s plea by appearing to Reginald, the ailing young man, accompanied by two breathtakingly beautiful handmaidens from Heaven. She told him to ask what he willed and she would grant it. Just as he began searching in his heart what to ask for, one of the maidens suggested he leave it up to Our Lady. Our Lady anointed his head, “his eyes, nostrils, mouth, hands and feet.”21As she anointed his feet, She said, “Let your feet be shod for the preaching of the Gospel of Peace.” Then she showed him the habit the Order was to wear. No one would have known of Our Lady’s appearance, if it had not been Her wish the Order know of the habit she had chosen for them to wear. Reginald begged Dominic not to tell the brothers what had happened till after he was dead. Dominic did as he had requested, then gave the Order the habit; but did not disclose the origin till one year later, when Reginald went to dwell with his Fair Lady, his Mother Mary.
A tradition that has transcended time states that Dominic was a man who went preaching through the cities drawing hearts to him like a magnet. Dominic visited all his communities. He left Rome to visit Bologna and remained a short time; then he was on his way to Spain. Dominic arrived in Segovia! He was so happy; this was his native land; they understood him! But there was a sadness that crippled the people of Segovia; they were starving; a drought had robbed them of their crops. One day, as they were all gathered around, he exclaimed: “Fear not, my brothers, but trust in God’s Divine Mercy. I bring you Good News. Today the Lord will shower rain down from Heaven and the drought will be no more.” It came to pass that very afternoon; the people were drenched before they could arrive home! In Segovia, he formed a Confraternity of the Holy Rosary, and is known there as the Saint of the Preachers of the Rosary.
Dominic went to Paris, to direct those working in the apostolate, and to draw others to join. Then he was off to Italy and on May 27, 1220 Dominic arrived in Bologna, to attend the first General Chapter, which was called to define the rules of the Order. Dominic proposed a democratic form of government. The friars did not always agree with him; for example they all voted for Dominic as Master General, against his will. They addressed the slaughter of brothers by heretics against whom they were preaching.
At night, when Dominic walked through the halls, looking in on the friars, he would sometimes encounter the devil walking as well, trying to distract the brothers when they were praying. He would sometimes take on the form of the Blessed Mother and pretending to be her, tell a brother who was disobeying his superiors, or not studying, that he was holy and the Lord was pleased with him. The devil told Dominic that he liked coming to the convent, but disliked the chapter room because of the good accomplished there.
Many times, Dominic would meet up with Blessed Mother, just walking around the convent, checking in on her little chicks, sometimes sprinkling them with holy water as they were sleeping. Mother Mary would most often appear with beautiful young women, accompanying Her. This one night Dominic saw Mary sprinkling water on the friars and making the Sign of the Cross on each: but then he noticed she did not bless one of the friars. When he asked her why, she said that the friar wasn’t in a state of grace.
Dominic went off to pray and suddenly he went into ecstasy and had a vision of Jesus with the Blessed Mother standing on His right; looking around he saw every Order but his standing before the throne of God. He began to weep, as if his heart would break; the Lord asked him why he wept; to which Dominic replied, “I weep because I see every Order before You but mine.” The Lord said that that was because He had entrusted his Order to His Mother. Then when the Lord asked him if he desired to see his Order, Mother Mary opened her mantle wide so that it covered all the heavens and underneath were friars extending beyond where the eye could see. With that he awakened from his ecstasy; he called the friars to prayer and began instructing them on the love and veneration owed to the Mother of God, Mary most holy.
It is time for Dominic to go Home
The friars saw Dominic shaky from the fevers that had attacked his already weakened body. They knew the end was near, but they refused to accept it. But Dominic had been foretold by a voice from Heaven that his journey on earth was coming to an end; and that he would serve the Church in Heaven. This did not deter the work he had to do; he spent every drop of energy in his body. But when he returned to Bologna, the friars were alarmed; he had aged so rapidly in the two months he had been on the road. They begged him to go to bed. He insisted on praying the Office with the friars, but could barely stand after the matins22were over. His head was swimming.
They tried to put him to bed, but he insisted on being laid on the ground. Then they knew, their father was going Home! He had the friars summoned. His joy belied the drawn lifeless look of death on his face. The brothers tried to keep from crying but failed miserably. The tears streamed down their cheeks; their beloved father was leaving them for the last time. They carried him to a hilltop (thinking the air would help him). He called them to draw near and gave them his last will and testament: “Have charity toward one another; Guard humility; Make your treasure out of voluntary poverty. You know to serve God is to reign; but you must serve Him in love and with a whole heart. It is only by a holy life and by fidelity to your rule that you can do honor to your profession.”
They carried Dominic back to the convent. He was losing ground; one of the brothers wiped the sweat that was pouring down his face. A brother cried out; “Dear Father, you leave us desolate and afflicted; remember us, and pray for us to God.”
Then Dominic, summoning his last ounce of strength, lifted his eyes and hands to Heaven and prayed:
“Holy Father, since by Thy mercy I have ever fulfilled Thy will, and have kept and preserved those whom Thou hast given me; now I recommend them to Thee. Do keep them; do Thou preserve them.”
Then he turned to his children: “I shall be more useful to you where I am going, than I have ever been in this life.”
He confessed some small sin he thought he had committed and then, arms outstretched to Heaven, he breathed his last breath for Church and community. It was 6 P.M. the 6th of August, 1221. Friars in different parts of Italy and the world reported having seen visions of Dominic rising to Heaven at the time he died.
As the church, where St. Dominic’s body was entombed, had need of repair, St. Dominic’s remains had to wait to be translated. When the church was in readiness, the Cardinal who had been Dominic’s friend was now Pope Gregory IX and he gladly gave permission. May 24, 1223, hundreds of friars, with all the Fathers of the Order, bishops, prelates and men of every rank were there solemnly awaiting the translation and subsequent opening of the coffin.
As the dirt parted, and the cement fell away from the tomb, a deep sweet fragrance began to emanate from the sarcophagus; the perfume filled the church when Dominic’s coffin was carried in. Tears began to flow from the loving bystanders, as the lid was lifted to reveal their Father just as he had looked two years before when he died. When John of Vicenza, a friar dear to Dominic made way for the bishop, Dominic’s body turned to face John; and when John moved again, the body turned once again to face him. With this sign Dominic was saying that he treasured his friars and their love above all honors that could be bestowed upon him.
Miracles upon miracles were reported and verified, far more than was required. It gave Pope Gregory IX the deepest joy to issue a Bull raising Francis, founder of the Friars Minor and Dominic, founder of the Friars Preachers, to the altars of the Church during his pontificate - On July 16th, 1228, Francis was canonized and on July, 1234, Pope Gregory IX declared Dominic a Saint!
Through all the battles, victories and defeats, the Lord used St. Dominic and his followers to save the southern part of Europe from the spreading Albigensianist heresy. The tide turned in 1229 when the University of Toulouse was opened, and the Dominicans became the major teaching influence in the University. It was also at that time, that the Council of Toulouse instituted an Inquisition, unlike the one in Spain, some three hundred years later, which, due to the State’s interference with the Church, became more political than religious. The Dominicans were put in charge, a post they handled with the real spirit of Christianity that their Father and Founder St. Dominic had projected when alive. The Order of Preachers grew and grew, so that in less than a hundred years, they had close to 400 convents in the area that had been infested by the heretics.
The Albigensian heresy was finally put down. If we were to pick one shining light responsible for the ultimate demise of the Albigensian heresy, it would have to be St. Dominic. Our Lord knew who to put in the right place, at the right time, to keep His promise that the forces of hell would not prevail against His Church. Once Dominic and his friar preachers showed that they truly lived what they preached, the heretics were open to hearing the truth: The Church does not depend on man and his way of life, but on the infallible Word of God, entrusted to the Church by Jesus Himself. Through their witness they were able to knock down the massive walls blocking the faithful from the Truth, the whole Truth Who dwells in the One, Holy and Apostolic Roman Catholic Church.
God chose a man and filled him with urgency, and Dominic used that urgency to found an Order, which would live on after him. For five years after he saw his dream complete, he died, passing on the torch to others.
About the Authors:
Bob and Penny Lord are renowned Catholic authors of many best selling books about the Catholic Faith. They are hosts on EWTN Global Television and have written over 25 books. They are best known as the authors of “Miracles of the Eucharist books.” They have been dubbed, “Experts on the Saints.”