a translation of
Gerald de Frachet, O.P.

(Vitae Fratrum)

Joseph Kenny, O.P.




1. by an anonymous early editor

2. by Humbert of the Romans, Master of the Order


Part 1: The beginning of the Order:

Part 2: Material on St. Dominic not included in other biographies

Part 3: Material on Blessed Jordan

Part 4: The progress of the Order

Part 5: The passage of brothers to the next life

Part 6: The mission to the Cumans




To build up religious fervour was the principal purpose of the Lives of the Brothers. Miracles and wonders fill its pages. That is why many may dismiss them as mythical pious legends. Whatever their authenticity, (1) it is a historical fact that the book, when first published, enjoyed the approval of the highest authorities of the Dominican Order. It is a product of the Order in its first fervour, when the general view was that miracles were a common and ordinary feature of God's providence and predilection for this Order.

In spite of strong rational scepticism, there is now as ever a strong undying popular interest in miracles, apparitions, prophetic dreams etc., both in charismatic and traditional Catholic circles. The Lives of the Brethren will appeal to such people. They will also challenge readers of whatever tendency with less familiar dimensions of modern spirituality. Some of these are the extensive and rigorous demands of Christian fidelity, a boundless trust in God that makes any miracle seem a small thing, a sense of the communion of saints which includes not only Mary, Dominic and the great saints, but also the brothers one has lived with and have gone beyond.

Apart from its principle purpose of edification, other aims seem to have been to promote an image of the Order that would compete with the Franciscans and at the same time contribute to the defence of the Order's legal privileges in the Church. From a contemporary perspective, the book, prudently used, is also a valuable source for the early history of the Order of Preachers.

As a historical source it must be read in conjunction with the Acts of the early general chapters, (2) the primitive Constitutions, (3) Raymond of Peñafort's edition of the Constitutions, (4) Jordan's book on the beginnings of the Order of Preachers, the process of canonization of St. Dominic, the legends of Peter of Ferrand, Constantine of Orvieto and Humbert of Romans, (5) the legend of Jean de Mailly, (6) the letters of Jordan (7) and his immediate successors, (8) the miracles of St. Dominic reported by Sister Cecilia, (9) Dominic's nine ways of prayer, (10) his only personal letter, (11) diplomtic documents concerning the Order in the time of St. Dominic, (12) as well as the sources on Raymond of Peñafort, (13) the work of Stephen of Salanhac and Bernard Gui on the four characteristics by which God distinguished the Order of Preachers, (14) and the numerous chronicles of the provinces and convents of that time. (15) Much, but not all of this, has been translated. (16)

Gerald de Frachet (17)

Gerald de Frachet took the habit of the Dominican Order on 11 November 1225 at the hands of Matthew, the prior of the convent of Saint Jacques in Paris, and made profession the next year on 25 March, the feast of the Annunciation, at the hands of Blessed Jordan. He became prior of the convent of Limoges in 1233, where he built the house on a new site. During this time he is described by Bernard Gui, as:

gratiosus et dilectus Deo et hominibus, persona cunctis spectabilis, praedicator facundus et foecundus. Praefuit et profuit annis xii.

He then became prior at Marseilles, and in 1251 was elected provincial of the province of Provence. He stepped down as provincial in June 1259 and the same month was elected prior of Montpellier. Stepping down from this job in 1264, he was sent as a delegate to the elective general chapter of 1264. In 1266 he was diffinitor to the provincial chapter.

The origin of Vitae Fratrum

In 1252 the provincial chapter held at Montpellier, probably at the behest of the Master John of Wildeshausen, urged the brothers to send to the prior provincial death notices of the brothers and the miracles associated with them. The Master of the Order, Humbert, in 1255 asked for the same from all other provinces. The general chapter held at Paris in 1256 reiterated the request for provinces to send written lives of their brothers to the Master. Humbert then handed over the material to Gerald to make a book of it, and the first edition was published in 1260. As Humbert says in his prologue, this edition was only the basis for an evolving edition.

The book contains an appendix, the first part of which concerns the mission to the Cumans. I have kept this as Part 6 of the present translation. The remainder are various miracle stories, which I thought best to insert (as some manuscripts did) in their relevant places in the other parts of the book.

The book later came to include a Chronicle of the Order. This was an earlier work, finished by 1258 at the latest; it too went through many stages of editing. (18) Although not by Gerald de Frachet, it serves as a useful background to the Lives of the brothers, and I have included it as an appendix.

The edition and translation

This translation is made from the Latin edition of B.M. Reichert O.P. in Monumenta Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum Historica, vol. 1 (Louvain, 1896). This edition, as Simon Tugwell points out, is far from perfect, but it is all we have at our disposal. Therefore this translation, like that by Placid Conway a century ago, (19) can be considered only as provisional. Translating a work like this is complicated because the Latin is a medieval dialect, with its own orthography, syntax and vocabulary. (20) Conway's translation is evidently based on serious research, but it frequently is mere guesswork, with imaginative interpolations and reconstructions. Because of these inaccuracies, the omission of many passages, and the archaic style of its language, a new translation is necessary.

In Reichert's edition the later additions are in italics and given the number of the preceding passage, so that the text is full of bis numbers; I have renumbered everything consecutively. The information supplied in the footnotes are all from Reichert unless indicated otherwise; the dates of the foundations of houses are relegated to an appendix. It would be beyond the scope of this book to give a historical commentary on each person or event mentioned.

As for names of persons, I have used Anglicized forms, even though the Latin betrays verancular forms, such as "Hainricus" = "Heinrich", translated as Henry. For Biblical passages, I have used the Jerusalem Biblet or my own translation of the Psalms (21) if these do not differ significantly from the Vulgate; if they do I translate the passages myself, indicating the difference in a footnote.

Peculiarities of early Dominican life

Certain terms need explanation because of differences in customs between Dominican life in the thirteenth century and now:

An established house of the brothers was called a convent, now usually called a priory. Each convent had a church which was open to the public, although it was not a parish. The choir was an area demarcated by a low wall and was reserved for the brothers. The dormatory was a large hall sectioned off by dividers into cells where individual brothers slept. A convent also had a cloistered refectory, a library, lecture rooms for the brothers (a Dominican school was also open to outsiders), workshops, store rooms, bathing and toilet areas, and parlours for conferring among brothers or receiving outside visitors. The chapter room was particularly important; there the brothers met each morning for a talk by the prior and to confess their open faults against community life. A penance sometimes consisted of flogging, while moderate self-flogging was a common practice.

In the beginning there was no novitiate in the sense of an introductory spiritual year; reception to the habit and profession took place at the same time, but very soon a variable period of probation was introduced before profession. This first profession was solemn and for life; not even the Pope, Thomas Aquinas said, could dispense from it, although such a person could be allowed to transfer to another order. A novice was a professed brother doing his basic studies for ordination. Each house took novices and trained them to the priesthood under the guidance of a lector (lecturer), but better students were sent to a provincial studium or a studium generale, where they were given a more thorough education.

Also, at that time there were brothers who remained unordained, whose task was to assist the Fathers, especially with the material administration of the house; these were called lay brothers. Although all brothers were members of the Order of Preachers, only certain qualified priests were allowed actually to preach, and these had the title of preacher. Since the brothers always went out two by two, a preacher always had a companion with him who was not a preacher.

A prior of a house and a prior provincial, once elected, had no fixed term of office, but was "absolved" (relieved) from office by a provincial or general chapter, often because the brothers were dissatisfied with him or because he was wanted elsewhere. Diffinitors were chapter delegates with functions similar to what they have now.

The hours of the Divine Office then were: Matins, a longer form of Office of Readings, consisting of nine Psalms and nine lessons, celebrated about 2:00 A.M. This was followed by Lauds (morning prayer), with five Psalms. Prime with Pretiosa, a reading from the Martyrology, were celebrated about 6:00 A.M. Mass might follow then. The day hours of Terce, Sext and None were theoretically celebrated at at 9:00, 12:00 and 3:00 respectively. Vespers, with five Psalms, was the evening prayer, and after supper there was Compline.

Among ecclesiastical titles which were in use at that time but have since mostly been abandoned (except in the Anglican Church) are archdeacons, deans, and canons.

In the universities of the time there were generally two faculties, Arts, which does not refer to fine arts as it does in many universities today, but included the old trivium and quadrivium as well as the new sciences brought in from the Arabic world, and the faculty of Theology, which included Canon Law. Academic ranking began with the cursor biblicus, who was an assistant lecturer, then, in theology, there was the bachelor or sententiarius, who commented on the book of Sentences of Peter Lombard. The top of the ladder was the master, who was called a regent-master as long as he occupied a university chair. The term doctor was sometimes used as the equivalent of master, but both terms, outside the university, were used of any teacher, of any subject.

The underlying theology of the Lives of the Brothers

In the Lives of the Brothers one will notice some opposition to the study of philosophy and the arts. This opposition prevailed in the early days of the Order until corrected especially by Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas, who saw the importance of these studies as preparation for theology.

The theological method of this work is inductive, using the religious experience of the brothers as the basis of its positions. The manner of argumentation is enthymatic, because the conclusions are seldom stated, but merely implied by the examples set forth.

While private revelations and miracles are taken as common and normal, there is virtually no analysis of religious experience, with all the distinctions that Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross make. In almost every case revelations are made to a person while he is asleep, dozing or dreaming, whether in bed or at prayer in the church. Revelations are distinguished from ordinary dreams first by their content, secondly by the strong effect (consolation or fear) left on the person when he wakes up, thirdly by the discernment of a confessor or superior (to exclude diabolic deceptions), and finally by events that confirm whatever information was received.

While such religious experiences are taken as divine graces which are to be valued, the recipients are warned to be humble. They should not expect these experiences as their right and, if they receive them, they should not consider themselves specially holy. Above all, they should not brag about or publicize what they experience, but report it only to the superior, confessor or special confident, unless it was meant for the whole community.

One very noticeable feature of the book's composition was its insistance on authentic reporting. Stories must come from trustworthy eye witnesses, the more the better, and often in the form of sworn testimony.

There is no doubt that, granted a divine origin of the messages received, they pass through the mind of the recipient and are cast in the images and way of thinking peculiar to the person and his time and culture. For example, we can take the popular preaching of the time as the origin of the image of Christ as an irate judge who has to be restrained by his more compassionate Mother. The same can be said of St. Catherine of Siena's Dialogue, with its Augustinian tripartite division of the soul into intellect, memory and will; this and other ideas are simply reflections of sermons she heard in church by Dominicans not trained in Thomism.

So, however edifying and useful private revelations may be, we must be guided first of all by the teaching of the Church, the guarantor of the divine truth contained in Scripture and developed by theology and tradition.


an anonymous early editor (22)

The very abundant glorious examples of the Holy Fathers of the New and the Old Testament are like so much bread for the nourishment of the people of God which the Lord took, broke and had distributed to the crowd. His command to his disciples to pick up the fragments "so that they may not be lost" applies to the history of the Order of Preachers. The fragments that we collect will easily fill twelve baskets, which symbolize the twelve apostles, whose number the Order of Preachers represents.

Thus the Gloss says, on 1 Kings 10:20, that the twelve little lions standing on the six steps of Solomon's throne represent the Order of Preachers following the apostolic life.

So, for the advantage of readers, we are putting together in one volume all the examples and wonderful deeds of our brothers, by whose work and sweat the Order began and by whose merits it continues to exist, as well as anything related to the Order which is worth noting. Our purpose is that future generations may know the dignity of their Order and may see how perfectly earlier brothers, our fathers, lived and stood for the truth. In this way they should avoid falling from the holiness and fervour of our predecessors and be ashamed of their negligence and sloth.

This will not only be easy but also sweet, especially with the help of the Queen of Heaven, our Lady Mary, whose Son has bound her to the Preachers as their companion until the number of the elect is complete. Thus Ruth, representing Mary, said: "Hemy Son commanded me to stay with my harvestersthe Preachersuntil they have harvested all the graini.e. gathered all the faithful" (Ruth 2:21). So may Mary be the foundation and beginning of this work, since she initiated our Orderas is piously believed and testified by examples. May she be the material and consummation of this work, since she requested and obtained this Order from her Son, as will be clear from the examples given in the text.

In this book, which we have entitled Lives of the Brothers, we will arrange the material under certain headings, putting near the beginning some material about St. Dominic which is not contained in his biography, then all that we can report about Master Jordan of holy memory. Near the end we will summarize the lives of individual brothers who are now in heaven, describing how they were moved by God to despise the world and enter the Order.

Therefore we call on the Holy Spirit, who dwells in those who are described in this book and enabled them to live an exemplary life, to enable us to complete this book we have begun for the benefit of many.

At the same time we ask the reader, if he finds in it anything worthy of admiration and praise, to praise the Lord who is praiseworthy and wonderful in all his works. But if he finds anything he finds uninteresting, even in details, let him leave it to someone with better tastesince not all have the same taste and what is tasteless to one is sweet to another. But if something is disagreeable, especially to one who has high ideals, let him not tear it with dogs' teeth or rip it apart. If anyone thinks that great things are impossible and edifying examples are of no value, then let him despise this book. But innocent and loving people believe quickly and easily accept such material, and to these readers we dedicate this book.


Humbert of the Romans, Master of the Order

To all my brother preachers, dear to me in the dear Son of God Jesus Christ, I, brother Humbert, your useless servant, wish you salvation in the homeland and on the way constant preoccupation with saving exercises. The Saviour of the world, who cares for the salvation of all ages, sent his Holy Spirit into the hearts of many, inspiring them to put down in writing certain laudable and edifying deeds and words of some of his servants. May this written record be of benefit to many in future generations. Thus Eusebius wrote his Ecclesiastical history, St. John of Damascus his Book of Barlaam, Cassian his Collations of the Fathers, Gregory his Dialogue, Jerome, Bede, Florus, Odo and Usuardus various martyrologies, while Gregory of Tour, Peter of Cluny and so many others edited many booklets of this nature.

Certainly, a great variety of reports from brothers of different nations have made us realize that many things have happened in or in connection with the Order that could, if written down, greatly contribute to the consolation and spiritual advance of the brothers for all time. Besides, many brothers devoted to God have requested us not to neglect having such a book compiled before everything is buried in oblivion, where already so many of our brothers' recollections have gone.

We discussed this matter with the Prior Provincials in the general chapter celebrated in 1256 at Paris; by their advice all the brothers were commanded, if anything worth remembering occurred, to let us know of it. Although many failed to carry out this instruction by inexcusable negligence, some supplied us with copious material. We handed over these reports to our dearest brother Gerald de Frachet, then Prior Provincial of Provence, in whose hard-working ability I had great confidence. I asked and commanded him to read and examine each report, to select the better ones and edit them in a book. This is what he did, and this book is the result. After many respectable and discrete brothers read his manuscript and judged it worthy of approval, we had it published and distributed among the brothers. Yet we do not want it to be spread outside the Order without our special permission.

So, my very dear brothers, when you read this book, take note of the great care divine providence has had for the Order. With this in mind you will be more and more strengthened to love it. We advise and request all who have been negligent in writing to us the material we requested diligently to correct their negligence. Any who come across similar material in the future should write it down and sent it to us or whoever is Master at that time, so that it may be written down for the use of the Order in another book, or be inserted in an appropriate place in this book.

1. Regarding Thomas Aquinas, Jean-Pierre Torrell says, "Cantimpré et Frachet sont contemporains de Thomas, mais le premier n'est guère fiable et le second s'intéresse plus à ses visions qu'à sa biographie." Initiation à saint Thomas (Fribourg, 1993), p. vi.

2. Ed. B. Reichert, MOFPH, vol. 1 (Rome, 1898).

3. To be found in Analecta Sacri Ordinis Praedicatorum, 2 (1895-96), pp. 621-648, in H.C. Scheeben, Die Konstitutionen. Quellen und Forschungen zur Geschichte des Dominikanerordens in Deutschland, 38 (Cologne, 1939), 48-80, and A.H. Thomas, De oudste Constituties van de Dominicanen (Louvain, 1965).

4. Ed. R. Creytens, in Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum, 18 (1948), 5-68.

5. These five documents are edited by M.-H. Laurent, A. Waltz and H.C. Scheeben in Monumenta Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum, 16:2 (Rome, 1935); see also Vl.J. Koudelka, "Les dépositions des témoins au procès de canonisation de saint Dominique," Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum, 42 (1972), 47-67, and Simon Tugwell, "Notes on the life of St. Dominic," Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum, 66 (1966), 5-200.

6. Translated into French by A. Dondaine, Jean de Mailly O.P.: Gestes et miracles des saints (Paris, 1947), and into English by Simon Tugwell in Early Dominicans.

7. Edited by A. Walz, Monumenta Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum Historica, 23 (Rome, 1951), and T. Käppeli, "Iordani de Saxonia litterae encyclicae (1233)", Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum, 23 (1953), 177-185; see also Elio Montanari, ed., B. Iordanis de Saxonia, Litterae encyclicae annis 1233 et 1234 datae, Spoleto, 1993.

8. Ed. B. Reichert, MOFPH, 5 (1900).

9. Edited by A. Waltz, Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum 37 (1967), 5-45; there is a translation in Lehner.

10. Edited in Analecta S. Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum, July 1922), 93-106; but see S. Tugwell, Early Dominicans, for references for a more critical edition, which he published in Mediaeval Studies, 47 (1985), 1-124. He is preparing yet another revised edition.

11. Edited by Simon Tugwell, "St. Dominic's letter to the nuns in Madrid," Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum, 58 (1986), 5-13. Two other letters deal with the mission in the south of France.

12. Edited by M.-H. Laurent in MOFPH 15:1 (1933), superseded by that of V.J. Koudelka in MOFPH 25 (1966).

13. Edited by F. Balme and C. Paben in Monumenta Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum Historica, 6:1 (Rome, 1898), now superseded by J. Rius Serra, San Raimundo de Penyafort. Diplomatario (Barcelona, 1954).

14. Edited by Thomas Käppeli, Monumenta Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum Historica, 22 (Rome, 1949).

15. For example, Bernard Gui's histories of the convents of the provinces of Toulouse and Provence, edited by P.A. Amargier, Monumenta Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum Historica, 24 (Rome, 1961); the early acts of the province of Rome, ed. T. Käppeli & A. Dondaine, MOFPH, 20 (1941); the catalogues and chronicles of Laurence Pignon, ed. G. Meersseman, MOFPH, 18 (1936); the continuation of the Chronicle of the Order that is translated in this volume, together with the chronicle of Peter of Arenys, edited by B. Reichert, Monumenta Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum Historica, 7:1 (Rome, 1904); the chronicle of Galvano Fiamma, ed. B. Reichert, MOFPH, 2:1 (1897); the chronicles of the convents of Segovia, Paris, Bologna, Friesach and Cologne, in Analecta, 1 (1893-94). See also the numerous editions of texts and critical studies contained in Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum.

16. See F.C. Lehner, Saint Dominic, biographical documents (Washington D.C.: Thomist Press, 1964) and Simon Tugwell, Jordan of Saxony: On the beginnings of the Order of Preachers (Dublin: Dominican Publications, 1982) and his Early Dominicans, Classics of Western Spirituality (N.Y.: Paulist Press, 1982); the latter is indispensible for bibliographical references. Consult also M.-H. Vicaire, St. Dominic and his times (London, 1964); W.A. Hinnebusch, The history of the Dominican Order, vol. 1 (New York: Alba House, 1965); M.-H. Vicaire, "Saint Dominique chanoine d'Osma," Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum, 63 (1993), 5-41; Simon Tugwell, "Notes on the life of St. Dominic," Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum, 65 (1995), 5-169; 66 (1966), 5-200.

17. This information is taken from the Reichert's introduction to the Latin edition.

18. This and many other parts of the Chronicle exist in two different versions, which Reichert calls the "earlier" and the "later". The "earlier" one, Tugwell tells me, is probably by Gerald de Frachert. For the most part, in this translation I have put together the information contained in both. Another edition of the "later" version was edited by Reichert in Monumenta Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum Historica, 7:1 (1904); this chronicle, continued by a later hand, finishes the term of Humbert and goes on to the year 1496. I do not include this later material which goes beyond the scope of the Lives of the Brethren.

19. Lives of the brethren of the Order of Preachers, translated by Placid Conway, O.P., edited with notes and introduction by Bede Jarrett, O.P. (London: Blackfriars, 1955), being a new edition of the original published by Mawson and Swan in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1896.

20. An indispensible tool for this translation was Du Change, Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis, 10 vols. (Paris, 1937). Also helpful was J.F. Niermeyer, Mediae latinitatis lexicon minus (Leiden: Brill, 1976).

21. Daily Psalms and Canticles (Lagos: Dominican Publications, 1995).

22. Simon Tugwell assures me that this first prologue is almost certainly not by Gerald de Frachet.