As has been noted, in the thirteenth century, the cities of Italy supplied the University of Bologna with able professors and an exceedingly large number of students. From this celebrated educational center the new Order of Preachers drew many of its most capable subjects, who contributed not a little to its renown for study and learning by placing their knowledge, talents, and piety at its disposal. Like Father Chiaro, the sketch of whose life immediately precedes this one, Father Roland came to the Friars Preacher from Bologna's noted school.
He was born at Cremona, in the old Duchy of Milan. We do not know the date of his birth, for the old chroniclers do not often give that important item in one's life. However, he and Moneta, a fellow-Cremonese and fellow-student, of whom we shall speak in the next sketch, went through the University together. When his studies were completed, Roland became affiliated with his alma mater as one of its professors in philosophy. Later he was appointed regent. Through all this he attained a great reputation, because of the success which crowned his efforts. Nevertheless he had paid little or no attention to his spiritual life. Taken up with his university work and students, his soul, so to express it, was closed to grace through vanity. The time for his conversion came when he least thought of such a thing.(1)
It was brought about in this way, says one of the same century. Roland of Cremona spent a festive day in all the joy and diversions of the event. That he might appear the more important, he dressed in splendid scarlet clothes for the occasion. When night came, and he returned to his rooms, the love of God touched his heart. Or was it his conscience that reproved him for his folly? As he sat alone musing, he thought unto himself:
"Well, these pleasures have come to an end. They were not what I fancied they were. I left nothing undone that I might enjoy them to the full. Now where are they? Those amusements, those pleasant companions, that éclat, and that pomp all enchanted me. But what do they amount to? Should I spend every day in this fashion, it would only serve to wear out my body, and to render my soul the more guilty before God. To be candid, I must regret the loss of this day. Yet my whole life must pass, just as it has done. And if my life is misused like today, by what right, when I appear before God, may I ask that reward which is promised only to virtue?"(2)
Similar wholesome reflections arise in the mind of every one from time to time; but those who are wrapped up in the world all too often discard them, however importunate they may be. Perhaps Roland of Cremona himself had not infrequently turned a deaf ear to them. This time, for he was a profound philosopher, he hearkened to the inner warning. Throughout the night he lay absorbed in thoughts of the future. On the morrow, he went to Saint Nicholas' Priory, and made his way to the chapter hall, where Blessed Reginald of Orleans was giving an instruction to the assembled community. Without hesitation Roland threw himself at Reginald's feet, and begged to be given the habit. He received it at once. The church bell was then rung, which brought a great crowd of people, possibly in expectation of hearing a sermon. The news of so unexpected a vocation was the cause of universal joy.(3)
Father Roland of Cremona was altogether a different man after he received the habit of a Friar Preacher, 1219. His correspondence with grace was perfect. That which had been the joy of his life in the world he now held in contempt. That from which, in his fastidiousness and pride, he had formerly shrunk in horror he now embraced with his whole heart. Poverty, fasting, abstinence, meditation, the choral office became henceforth a joy to his soul. He counted it little to have quitted the world, unless he took up the cross of Christ, and renounced his own will in order to be ever ready to obey the voice of God speaking through his superiors. Deeply did he regret the years he had spent in vanity and spiritual indolence.
Because of his virtue he was soon appointed master of novices. The day he gave to the discharge of this sacred trust. A large part of the night he spent in prayer. Among the things which he sought to instill into the minds of those placed under his care was the spirit of obedience and sacrifice. How well he succeeded in these spiritual efforts may be seen from the fact he trained Saint Peter of Verona, Blessed Bartholomew di Braganza, and a host of other apostles of Italy in the thirteenth century.
For ten years after joining the Friars Preacher Father Roland of Cremona labored in and around Bologna. His eloquence charmed all, while his virtue won their hearts. In 1228, the Province of Lombardy sent him to the general chapter, which was held in Paris. There he was taken by the Master General and associated with the theological faculty in the University of Paris. He now lectured for three years on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, under the celebrated John Giles, a native of England. In 1231, or thereabouts, Roland surrendered his class in the French capital to Father Hugh of Saint Cher, afterwards one of our most famed Scriptural scholars. Roland then taught theology at the University of Toulouse for two or three years more.(4)
Providence evidently led the learned and zealous Friar Preacher to Toulouse that he might continue the work of Saint Dominic. He gave up his professorship at the university to combat the Albigenses and Waldenses, who bad again begun ardently to spread their doctrines, but in secret. Continually did he expose their errors, both in writing and in his sermons.(5) Through his energy he drew upon himself reproaches from politicians, who were more interested in the concealment of heresy than in its destruction. Still, less wise in the ways of the world, or better informed as to what was done in the nightly assemblies of the Albigenses and Waldenses, he followed the counsel of the Prophet Jeremiah, and continued his attacks on the enemies of God and religion.(6)
Bishop Fulk of Toulouse used Father Roland of Cremona for the protection of the Church, just as Valerius, bishop of Saragossa, Spain, employed Saint Vincent, the martyr, for the same purpose in the fourth century.(7) Fulk, however, died shortly after the Friar Preacher took up the spiritual cudgel in his behalf. Father Raymond de Felgar, O. P., provincial of Provence at the time, then succeeded to the miter of Toulouse. He not only continued his confrère in the work of clearing the cockle from the good grain, but also gave him the most ample powers to this effect.
Roland was thus busily engaged in that part of France in which Saint Dominic had been so conspicuous a figure, when his superiors recalled him to Italy. This was in 1233, or five years after he left Bologna. It would seem that Gregory IX wanted the fearless Friar Preacher back in his native land; for he now appointed him an inquisitor of the faith for Piacenza and other cities in northern Italy, where the same errors as be combatted in the Diocese of Toulouse were gaining a frightful headway. Thus the change of place involved no change of labor, except in its increase.
The Italy of that day, especially Lombardy, bad need of apostolic men, whose courage would enable them to oppose the evils with which it was afflicted, and to resist the enemies of religion. Through contact with sectarians, the morality of many Catholics had been corrupted. The soldiers of Frederic II, who were scattered everywhere, showed an insolence that brought fear to the hearts of even the brave. The cruelty of the tyrant Ezzelino da Romano spread terror near and far. Hardly had he arrived in this new field of activity, when Roland of Cremona began to toil with his accustomed zeal and energy. Ever ready for martyrdom, he shrank before no danger; for he dreaded not man, who could kill only his body. Such is the picture of the former vain professor at the University of Bologna drawn by the old authors. He shared in the toils and perils of Peter Martyr. If he did not, like his Veronese confrère, shed his blood for the faith, he at least suffered much for the cause of Christ.
In his History of Piacenza, Pietro Maria Campi tells us that, on one occasion, when Father Roland preached in front of the cathedral in that city, a mob of Manicheans, together with their abetters, surrounded him. Some pelted him with stones. Others, sword in hand, tried to scatter the audience so they might do away with the preacher.(8) Gregory IX and the magistrates of Piacenza did not permit this murderous attempt to go unpunished. Still the Manicheans did not become less obstinate. Nor did they lose their hatred for a man who attacked their teaching everywhere, and spared them only in so far as justice permitted. Their threats caused him no fright. He always won the victory in set debates with them. Not infrequently, in order to bring them to mend their ways, he availed himself of all the power given him by the Holy See as Inquisitor General for all Lombardy.(9)
In the imperial suite of Frederic II was one Theodore, who prided himself on being a philosopher. This man always strongly defended the party of the Manicheans. Through his dialectic subtlety, and naturally dazzling eloquence, he rendered himself formidable to the orthodox. He heaped insult and contempt on those who dared defend the cause of God. Like another Goliath, he challenged all to combat; and he incessantly boasted that he had defeated every Catholic who had been bold enough to argue with him.
Finally reports of the conduct and blasphemy of this braggart reached Roland's ears. At once the Friar Preacher started in search of him, following him even into the military camp of Frederic before the walls of Brescia. There, in the presence of many officers and all who wished to hear the debate, Roland gave the would-be philosopher the choice of either proposing his arguments against Catholicity, or of answering those of the Friar Preacher in its favor. Theodore elected to be the attacker; but he soon found that he was no match for the brave athlete of the faith. He met with utter defeat. Although he was humbled, and discredited in the sight of those whom he had led astray by specious arguments, he was too proud to be converted.(10)
One of the greatest enemies of the Church in Italy at that time was the notorious Ezzelino da Romano. What rendered the tyrant the more dangerous was that he was as powerful as proud and wicked and cruel and unscrupulous. At all times he boasted that he feared neither God nor man. He struck at the authority of the Pope, whenever and wherever he could-hesitated at nothing to gain his point. Nor life nor rights nor property were held sacred by him. While an open persecutor of the good, he ever declared himself a friend of rebels, brigands, and infidels, whose crimes he blushed not to abet.
Such was the character whom Innocent IV (elected Pope in 1243) wished to have cited before the papal court. But it seemed like sending a man to certain death to charge him with such a commission. It would appear also that Innocent could find no one who would run so great a risk. Finally, recalling the diplomacy and intrepidity of Father Roland of Cremona, the Holy Father dispatched him a brief, March 12, 1244, in which he was urged to undertake the perilous enterprise for the glory of God.(11) This was enough for the zealous Friar Preacher. Laying aside all fear of danger, he started at once to face the lion in his den. Unfortunately, Father Touron does not tell us the outcome of this undertaking. Yet one may fancy that the summons itself made little impression on so hardhearted a villain as Ezzelino. That the notorious Ghibelline spared the life of the papal envoy shows that even Ezzelino respected courage.(12)
Few, if any, members of the Order of Saint Dominic have labored harder or more courageously than did Father Roland of Cremona during his forty years as a Friar Preacher. He was the first (if not the only one) of the contemporary disciples of Saint Dominic appointed to teach theology in the University of Paris, and the earliest Friar Preacher to obtain the degree of Master in Sacred Theology there. By all he was held in the highest esteem for his holiness as well as for his learning. He died a saintly death in the convent at Bologna. Alberti says that it occurred in 1259; while Marchese places it on August 29, that year.(13) Fathers Stephen de Salagnac and Louis of Valladolid say that Roland wrote an excellent theology and several works on philosophy.(14) He was a true type of the many brave men of his Order who faithfully served the Church without fear or hope of earthly reward in the middle ages.
1. ALBERTI, op. cit., fol. 183; BZOVIUS (Bzowski), op. cit., passim; CASTILLO, op. cit., pp. 72-73; FLEURY, Histoire Ecclisiastique, XVI, 465; DE FRACHET, op. cit., (Reichert ed.), pp. 26, 38 and passim; MALVENDA, op. cit., p. 249; MAMACHI, op. cit., pp. 510, 512; MARCHESE, op. cit., IV, 440; SIGONIO, Charles, Historiae Ecclesiasticae (De Episcopis Bononiae or Bononiensibus), p. 162; QUETIF-ECHARD, op. cit., I, pp. 125 ff.
2. DE FRACHET, op. cit., (Reichert ed.), p. 168. Nearly all the writers give practically the same story of Roland's conversion as Touron. (Ed. note).
3. Ibid., p. 26; FLEURY, as in note 1.
4. QUETIF-ECHARD, op. cit., I, 125.
5. Ibid., 126.
6. Father Touron simply says "he followed the counsel of a prophet." But evidently refers to Jeremiah. (Ed. note).
7. See Catholic Encyclopedia, XV, 434 -- article on Saint Vincent, martyr. (Ed. note).
8. CAMPI, Pietro Maria, Historia Ecclesiastica di Piacenza, Book 17, p. 149.
9. Bullarium Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum, I, 69, 135.
10. ALBERTI, MALVENDA, MAMACHI, MARCHESE and QUETIF-ECHARD, as in note 1.
11. Bullarium Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum, I, 135.
12. We regret that we have no book at hand that gives the result of this meeting. (Ed. note).
13. ALBERTI, op. cit., fol. 183; MARCHESE, op. cit., IV, 442.
14. QUETIF-ECHARD, op. cit., I, 127.