Translation of the Article THE FRIARS PREACHERS from the Dictionnaire de Spiritualité:


1. The Middle Ages.
2. The Modern Era.

1. The Middle Ages.

13th AND 14th CENTURIES.

St. Dominic had been dead three years when the Dominicans of the Province of France founded a convent at Lille. This auspicious initiative stimulated the brethren of the Province of Teutonia to do likewise. They founded the convent of Ghent as early as 1228, and, through the combined efforts of the two Provinces, foundations multiplied (1229 at Liege, 1233 at Valenciennes, 1234 at Louvain and Bruges; others followed). Convents of Dominican nuns were, on the contrary, much less numerous in the Netherlands. We know of only four whose foundations date from the 13th century: Marienthal in Luxemburg (1248), Val-Duchesse near Brussels (1262), the Abiette at Lille (1274) and the Val-des Anges near Bruges (1286).

From the first, devotion to the suffering Christ and to Mary took priority in Dominican convents. This is the impression one receives from reading the life of Thomas of Cantimpre (+1270-1272) by the Canon Regular John Gielemans (+1487), and especially of Henry of Louvain (+ after 1302) in the anonymous account reproduced by H. Choquetius (Sancti Belgi ordinis praedicatorum, Douai, 1618, pp. 79-87. With the marks of the Passion Christ appeared to them. The intervention of the Blessed Virgin in the life of the brothers seems to have been much more frequent. Gerard de Frachet (Vitae Fratrum, ed. B.M. Reichert, MOPH, vol. 1, Louvain, 1896, pp. 45-46 and 171-172) related for example the case of two brothers of Flanders who were held back by the Virgin at the moment when they were about to abandon conventual life. The Miracula fratris Henrici de Calstris tells that she was a support to Henry of Louvain when he was taking his courses at the studium of Cologne or when he preached to the faithful. Until the end of the 13th century the marvelous had, indeed, a great share in the spirituality of our provinces. Besides the interest in mysticism demonstrated by Thomas of Cantimpre in his Vita piae Lutgardis (AS, June 16, Anvers, 1701, pp. 234-262), we find in his Miraculorum et exemplorum memorabilium sui temporis libri duo (ea. G. Colvenerius, Douai, 1597) a rather large number of quite unlikely tales. Thomas was the only Dominican author of note in the Netherlands in the course of the century of foundations.

Interest in the marvelous diminished, however, during the last years of the 13th century, and we possess some texts by Henry of Louvain and a sermon by the "rector of Strasburg" which were conceived in a different spirit. Thus, the former expatiates, in a sermon delivered at Cologne (ea. St. Axters, De zalige Hendrik van Leuven... als geestelijk auteur, OGE, vol. 21, 194i, pp. 251-254), on humility and purity of heart. His letter to a pious person (ibid., pp. 248-249), which St. Peter Canisius (+1597) included in his edition of the works of Tauler and translated into Latin by the Carthusian Lawrence Surius (+1578), even outlines a complete rule of life. It recalls the modesty to be observed in one's dress and conversation, the primordial importance of purity of heart and abnegation, and finally the urgent duty of directing our actions to God as their sole object.

The Sermon on the Golden Mountain of the "rector of Strasburg" (ed. St. Axters, De preek op den gulden berg.., in Tijdschrift voor Taal en Letteren, vol. 28, 1940, pp. 5-58) is a chapter sermon which Nicholas of Strasburg probably gave in 1326-1327, as a visitator from Teutonia for the Dominicans of Louvain. The golden mountain symbolizes the merits of Christ from which we should draw without measure; anyone who would presume on his own merits would have a longer purgatory than the sinner who, in spite of his sins, would have taken advantage of the merits of Christ.

That sermon, disseminated in numerous Netherlandic manuscripts, was the object of a commentary (ibid., pp. 40-41) by John of Schoonhoven (+1432), successor to B1. John Ruysbroeck (+1381) as Prior of Groenendael.


The 15th Century was more outstanding than the preceding. Toward the middle of the century, some Dominicans from the Netherlands who, in the course of their studies at Bologna, had lived in a house of strict observance (cf. above, p. 99), felt a desire to return to a more regular conventual life than had been observed among the Dominicans of the Netherland since the Black Plague of 1348. Thus it was that, by the combined efforts of the convents of Rotterdam, Calcar, Lille and Ghent, they were able to erect, in 1457, the Congregation of Holland, a congregation of strict observance stemming directly from the Master General of the Order; subsequently, it would extend from Magdeburg and Rostock as far as Nantes. The courageous reformed congregation became prominent very soon through the vigorous appeal for more strict observance made in 1471 by John Uyt den Hove, also called Excuria (+1489), to Charles the Bold (+1477), and by the Planctus religionis of John de Bomal (+1478), in which the religious state complained of the decadence into which many Dominicans had fallen.

The renewal of Dominican life in the Netherlands stimulated by champions of religious reform could not help but advance the development of spirituality, Hence devotion to the suffering Christ and the Marian devotion have always remained fundamental to the piety of Dominican religious. The Passion of our Lord was in a sense the meditation book of Marguerite de Gerines (+1470), a nun of Val-Duchesse, who divided her meditation on the principal hours of the Passion among the different days of the week (cf. Gesta venerabilis ac religiosissimae virginis Margaretae de Gerines, ed. H. Choquetius, Sancti Belgi ordinis praedicatorum, pp. 237-238). The nuns of Val-Duchesse also set a high value on devotion to the five Wounds, the Head of Christ, and the Holy Face. Finally, devotion to Christ could not help but be stimulated by frequent communion which, according to John Meyer (+after 1475; Buch der reformatio Predigerordens, bk. 5, chap. 38, ed. B.M. Reichert, in Quellen.., vol. 3, Leipzig, 1908, p. 95), meant in most reformed monasteries weekly communion.

Marian devotion in the 15th century, however, left even clearer traces. Devotion to the Immaculate Conception penetrated, despite some resistance, several convents of Dominicans. As early as 1490 the Marian Confraternity of the Dominicans of Utrecht was placed under the patronage of Mary Immaculate (cf. G. Meersseman, Etudes sur les anciennes confréries dominicaines, III Les congrégations de la Vierge, AFP, vol. 22, 1952, p. 172).

Dominicans were interested also in the Seven Dolors and the Seven Joys of Mary; thus, Michael Franscois (+1502) and his Decisio quodlibetica super VII principalibus B. Mariae Virgini doloribus.., Antwerp, 1494 (DS, vol. 5, col. 1107-1115, especially col. 1110). Thierry of Delft (+ after 1404) dealt with the Seven Joys in his vast summa entitled Tafel van der kersten Ghelove (ea. L.M. Fr. Daniels, collection Tekstuitgaven van Ons Geestelijk Erf, vol. 4-7, Antwerp, 1937-1939, pp. 182-187).

In the 15th century, devotion to the rosary, known up to that time as a psalter of 150 Ave Marias, received its definitive form. Alain de la Roche (+1475), of Breton origin, devoted a part of his apostolic activity to the Netherlands, and at Douai he erected, in 1470, the first confraternity of the rosary, followed shortly by those of Ghent, Louvain and Cologne. In spite of his rather unbalanced accounts of visions (cf. J.A. Coppenstein, Alanus de Rupe, redivivus de Psalterio seu Rosario Christi ac Mariae eiusdemque Fraternitate rosaria, Mainz, 1624, p. 29), his merits are incontestable (DS, vol. 1, col. 269-270).

Devotion to the rosary was not, indeed, the only apostolic activity of the Dominicans at the end of the century. We still possess several collections of sermons by Dominicans of that period which are remarkable for the "examples," so cherished in the middle ages, and sometimes for the influence of scholasticism. Such is the case for the Sermoenen van de geboden Gods (Sermons on the ten commandments of God, Ghent, University library, ms 2422) which an unnamed licenciate in theology preached in the church of the Dominicans of Ghent. The scholastic influence is even more prominent in two sermons which we owe to a master in theology who, according to various indications, could be Thierry of Delft. Those sermons are extant only in a single manuscript (Library of Bruges, ms 408, fol. 265r-279r), where the author deals especially with devotion to the angels and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, we still possess many sermons which Dominicans of the convent of Brussels composed between 1466-1474 for the nuns of the monastery of Jericho in the same city. John of Namur, also known as John of Harlennes, first Prior of the convent, was one of the preachers. The doctrinal value of the sermons is almost nil; in conformity with the taste of the era, the marvelous frequently replace, the spiritual, but their literary stamp and indeed the poetic charm of most of the texts cannot be contested.

All the following sermons are in Dutch:

We have already mentioned Thierry of Delft, of whom we still possess a vast number of works for the use of the laity, which he dedicated to Duke Albert of Bavaria (+1404). His Tafel van den kersten Ghelove (Tableau of the Christian religion)includes problems of spirituality which are dealt with in a didactic way with the help of a rather extensive plagiarism of great writers.

The Hantboexken, or handbook, which John de Baerle (+1539) published about 1535, at Bois-le-Duc, is undoubtedly more original. It is true that the Perle évangélique (Antwerp, 1538), probably influenced it, but it is significant enough that our author does not identify himself with the views of the béguine of Oosterwyk on the Christlike life. John de Baerle confines himself to more fundamental considerations of the two forms of Christian life which he deals with in turn. The active life, to which some are called, is sometimes more meritorious than the contemplative life. The latter is, however, more open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit; but those who dedicate themselves to it should not, on this account, neglect vocal prayer and meditation. They should certainly not overestimate the importance of sensible consolations. All of this is presented with many fine distinctions and it may be said that the Hantboexken is, in a sense, our first Dutch manual of ascetical and mystical theology (Een hantboexken beslutende een cortte ende schoen verclaeringhe off onderwijssinge voer gemeyn simpele dochedelijcke ende devoete menschen).


A sketch of the history of Dominican spirituality in the Middle Ages would not be complete were we not to mention Dutch translations of the spiritual works of foreign Dominicans. Some of them were widely diffused in the Netherlands. This was especially the case with Bl. Henry Suso (+1366), author of the Horologium aeternae sapientiae, with John Tauler (+1361), and with Master Eckhart (+1327). However, all of the texts and extracts circulating under Eckhart's name do not carry the same stamp of authenticity. The writings of the three Rhenish mystics were not the only ones to be widely diffused in the Low Countries. The Dutch manuscripts of the Legenda aurea of Bl. James of Voragine (+1298) are as frequent as those of Suso's works. Other Dominican authors are not so often reproduced, but it would be a mistake to ignore the Dutch translations of Humbert de Romans and St. Catherine of Siena, of Alan de la Roche and Jerome Savonarola (cf. St. Axters, Bijdragen tot een bibliographic.., cited below, ##57-58, 65-93, 110-197, 205, 257-262).

2. The Modern Era.


The Dominican Province of lower Germany, founded in 1515, immediately encountered a situation which was far more difficult than that which the Congregation of Holland had had to face before being replaced by the new Province. The Netherlands had indeed experienced, from the middle of the 16th century, all the horrors of civil war and religious persecution; the iconoclastic wave of the years 1566-1578 was but one such episode. After the division of 1581, the young republic of the United Provinces became mission territory under Calvinist protection. The southern provinces reconciled with the Spanish regime resumed a more normal life with the arrival of Archduke Albert (+1622). Hence, the foundation of new convents at Lierre (1612), Braine-le-Comte (1612-1622), Mons (1620), etc. and the erection of two novitiates in Antwerp (1625) and Maastricht (1627) indicate that the unfortunate events of the century had not been able to stifle the vitality which the suppressed Congregation of Holland had bequeathed to the new Province.

Dominicans have also had their martyrs. St. John of Cologne underwent martyrdom (July 9, 1572) at Brielle in Holland, with eighteen companions who had all confessed their faith in the Real Presence. Anthony Temmerman was beheaded at Antwerp on March 28, 1582, for presumed complicity in the attack on William the Silent (+1584) on the 18th of the same month.

G. Estius Hesselius, Historia martyrum Gorcomiensium, AS, July 9, Antwerp. 1721, pp. 754-835. A. De Meyer, Le procesde l'attentat commis contre Guillaume le Taciturne... Etude critique de documents inedits, Brussels, 1933. P.L. Lotar, Memoire sur l'affaire Jauregui, Anvers, mars 1582: le cas du P. Antoine Temmerman, Brussels, 1937.


1) A strong movement toward prayer life stimulated and nourished by meditation vitalized the period. It was precisely the taste for and practice of meditation that Corneille Woons (+ after 1672; Den goeden gheestelycken morghen), James van Damme (+1723) (Onderwijs der onwetende.., pp. 144-199) and Thomas Dujardin (+1733) (Geestelycke t' samenspracken.., pp. 28-37) tried to inculcate in the reader. James Buyens (+1604) (Den beginnenden mensch, pp. 2039) also preached devotion to the divine Presence.

The dominant orientation of the spirituality is Christocentric. Vincent Hensbergh (+1634) (Des Bruydegoms bloemich beddeken, pp. 3-20) saw in Christ the Spouse of the devout soul. Charles Myleman (+1688) (Het opprecht christen herete ende de teeckenen van eenen goeden gheest) recalls that the Christian life consists above all in the imitation of Christ Nicholas Georgius (+1655) (De naer-volghinghe des doodts onses Heeren Jesu.., pp. 139-168), Vincent Hensbergh (Den gheesteliicken dormter.., pp. 138 and 151) and others, were of the opinion that we should also re-live the various situations which Christ experienced in the course of his Passion.

Devotion to Christ would not be complete without devotion to the Eucharist. We find in the collections of prayers of our Dominican authors a rather ample choice of prayers preparing for communion. Thus the Hortulus animae of Damian van den Houte (+1577); the Hortulus precationum of Peter de Backere of Bacherius (+1601); the opusculum De geestelycke communie of Francis Deurwerders (+1666) urges the faithful to supply by spiritual communion for sacramental communion which was not generally permitted at that period more than once a week.

Collections of prayers also contain prayers to the Holy Trinity, a devotion never ignored by Dominican writers. Several writers, James Buyens (En corte oeffeninghe, published as an appendix to Het merchader zielen oft wande wolcomenheyt alder deuchden, p. 305), for example, delighted in dwelling upon the three-fold psyche which constitutes a kind of image of the Blessed Trinity in each of us.

The Dominicans of Holland limited somewhat the scope of their preaching. For Vincent Hensbergh (Viridarium marianum, pp. 45-167 and 197-213), the recitation of the rosary was the time for meditating on the wounds of our Lord. With Thomas Dujardin (Rosetum Jesu-Marianum) devotion to our Lady of the Rosary was a whole school of virtue.

Other devotions were also in vogue. Giles of Lalaing (+1674) (Handt-bussel der historien ter eeren vanden hooghweerdigen name Godts Jesus, pp. 11-13) was inspired by the traditional rosary to propagate the rosary of the Holy Name, consisting similarly of 150 invocations and meditation on fifteen different mysteries. Francis Deurwerders (De dynsdaeghsche devotie tot den H. Dominicus...) and Charles Myleman (Kort verhael vanden oorsuronch des dyssendaesghche communie...) recommended to the faithful communion on fifteen consecutive Tuesdays in honor of St. Dominic. Finally, the confraternity o the Angelic Warfare was established in Louvain as early as 1649, in Maastricht and Ghent in 1684.

From the 16th to the 18th century, the Dominicans of Holland remained completely orthodox. Thomas Dujardin (Geestelycke t' samenspraeken.., op. cit., above, pp. 60-119) in fact repudiated (DS, vol. 3, col. 17751776) the quietist theses, much debated since the last decades of the 17th century. Translations of the great Dominican spiritual authors of other countries only strengthened the Dominican spirituality of the Netherlands in its orthodoxy. According to the Bibliotheca catholica neerlandica impressa, 1500-1727 (The Hague, 1954), Tauler was published 29 times during this period, Catherine of Siena 7 times, Savonarola 20 times, Louis of Granada 113 times (in Latin, Flemish, French or even English). See M. Llaneza, Bibliografia del V.P. Fr. Luis de Granada, 4 vol., Salamanca, 1926-1928.


In addition to the works cited in the course of the text, see: Acta capitulorum generalium ordinis praedicatorum, ed. B.M. Reichert, MOPH, vol. 3-14.

Stephen G. AXTERS

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