STEPHEN OF SPAIN, ARCHBISHOP
The addition "of Spain," or rather "the Spaniard," which is ever annexed to the baptismal name, Stephen, of this early Friar Preacher, shows his nationality. But neither the date nor the city of his birth is known. In his youth, his parents sent him to Bologna that he might complete his education at Italy's celebrated university. There, as he himself tells us, he met Saint Dominic for the first time, though he had known the holy man by reputation before. This was in 1218, or 1219. From the start, a friendship arose between the two men, and Stephen chose Dominic for his confessor, whenever the saint happened to be in the city.(1)
This bond of union, however, seems to have been something holier than the merely natural inclination which leads us to associate, in a strange land, with those who speak the same language and belong to the same country. On the part of Stephen, it was his love and admiration for the virtues of the saint, whose sermons he often beard. On the part of Dominic, it came from his love for good, pure young men. The two often met and conversed. Yet, as Stephen assures us, the saint never broached the subject of his becoming a Friar Preacher. It is this that renders the suddenness and manner of the Spanish student's divine call altogether singular. The story, as given by the future provincial and archbishop himself, runs thus.
One evening, when Stephen and some of his fellow students had gone into their common dining ball for supper, two members of Saint Nicholas' community came and told him that Father Dominic wished to see him at the convent. He said he would go just as soon as he had eaten. "But," they replied, "he wants you to come immediately." The young man did as requested. When he entered the conventual church, he found Saint Dominic there with a number of his confrères. The venerable patriarch at once said: "Show this young man what to do for the reception of the habit." As Dominic clothed him in the garb of a Friar Preacher, he remarked, with a smile: "I want to give you arms with which you must fight the devil all your life."(2)
Father Stephen felt then, and ever afterwards believed, that the saint acted under divine inspiration. Indeed, the Spanish Friar Preacher's after life would indicate that this opinion was not far from correct. From this time he strove incessantly to perfect himself as a religious and priest of God. When he received the habit, 1219, he was already far advanced in his studies. Under the guidance of Saint Dominic he made rapid progress, and was soon advanced to holy orders. Then he accompanied his beloved master on a number of missionary tours, receiving further instructions for the harvest of souls which were to stand him in good stead.(3)
Father Stephen must have been at Saint Nicholas', Bologna, when Dominic died. Twelve years later, he was called upon to be a witness for the saint's canonization, being the seventh examined. His testimony is one of the longest. In it he shows clearly not only his love for the great man of Caleruega, but also how minutely he had followed his life. From his sworn statements we learn some facts about the founder of the Friars Preacher which otherwise might never have been known.(4)
Those days were the age of young men in the Order. In 1221, shortly before his death, Saint Dominic appointed Blessed Jordan of Saxony provincial of Lombardy, although he had been in the institute but the briefest time. The next year Jordan became Master General. Father Stephen of Spain then took his place as provincial of Lombardy, and made a worthy successor to one of the most extraordinary men ever in the Order of Saint Dominic. For sixteen years he governed the Province of Lombardy as its head. He labored hard, and God blessed his efforts. The province grew; studies flourished; discipline prevailed everywhere; preaching and missionary endeavors increased. Father Stephen ruled with his heart, as well as with his mind, which caused him to he beloved even more by his brethren than by those not under his jurisdiction.
In whatever made for good the provincial seems to have led the way. Besides his other activities, he not infrequently assisted Saint Peter of Verona and wonderful Father di Seledo of Vicenza in their phenomenal apostolates for the Catholic faith and civic peace. Although Gregory IX and other Popes demanded their services in a special manner, they both belonged to the Lombardan Province, and acted under Stephen's directions. He was one of the fathers who took a particularly active interest in the translation of Saint Dominic's relies and in having him placed in the Church's catalogue of canonized heroes.
Thus labored on in Lombardy Father Stephen of Spain until the general chapter, which was held at Bologna in the spring of 1238. Here, as Blessed Jordan of Saxony had been drowned in a shipwreck the year before, the electors chose the great canonist, Saint Raymond of Peñafort, as Master General of the Order. Raymond was not at the chapter, but in Barcelona, Spain. For this reason, a committee, composed of some of the most distinguished men in the electoral body, was dispatched to Barcelona to notify him of his election and induce him to accept the office. Among these were the subject of this sketch, Father Philip, ex-provincial of the Holy Land, Father Hugh of Saint Cher, provincial of France and a renowned Scriptural scholar, and Father Pontius of Scara, provincial of Provence. It was a noted collection of divines; for it was felt, as indeed was the case, that only such would be able to induce the humble Raymond to accept so responsible a position.(5)
Evidently prior to this, Gregory IX, who had shown Lombardy's provincial more than one mark of esteem and confidence, had selected him for another important post, and notified him that he must accept. The Archdiocese of Sassari, Sardinia, had become vacant by the death of its metropolitan, the Most Rev. Placentino Opizzo, or Opizzone. The Holy Father, therefore, turned his eyes towards Father Stephen of Spain as one whose tried zeal, prudence, and wisdom in the guidance of souls eminently fitted him for that see. No doubt it was for this reason that the general chapter of 1238 released him from the provincialship. At any rate, he was consecrated archbishop of Sassari before the close of the year. Later Innocent IV appointed him papal legate for the islands of Sardinia and Corsica.(6)
Father Pius B. Gams, O. S. B., says that the archbishop died on April 12, 1259.(7) Thus he had charge of Sassari a little more than twenty years. The Dominican writers give neither the date of his death, nor any detailed account of his activities during this time. However, Fontana and others assure us that he was a prelate of great zeal, profound learning, and edifying piety, and that he sought in every way to guide his Rock in the path of virtue.(8) No doubt, his services to the Church of Sardinia were as faithful and fruitful as had been those which he gave to his Order at an earlier period of his life.
1. FONTANA, Sacrum Theatrum Dominicanum, pp. 53, 108, and Monumenta Dominicana, p. 41; GUIDONIS (or Gui), Bernard, either Compilation Historique sur L'Ordre des Dominicains, or Libellus de Magistris Generalibus Ordinis Praedicatorum (cited by QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 52) ; MALVENDA, p. 171; MAMACHI, p. 544, and col. 123 ff; PIO, col. 49; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 52-54.
2. QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 52.
3. Ibid., 53.
4. Father Stephen's testimony is published in Acta Sanctorum (latest ed. and first vol. for August), XXXV, 637 ff; MAMACHI, col. 123 ff; and QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 52-54. (Ed. note).
5. See Acta Capitulorum Generalium Ordinis Praedicatorum (Reichert Ed.), I, 10; and MORTIER, D. A., O. P., Histoire des Maîtres Généraux de L'Ordre des Frères Prêcheurs, I, 258. (Ed. note).
6. Bullarium Ordinis Praedicatorum, I, 49, 113; FONTANA, as in note 1. It is from the Catholic Encyclopedia (XIII, 485), that we learn that the archbishop, was also a papal legate. The Archdiocese of Sassari grew out of that of the old Turris Libissonis (or Arborea), by which names it was long known in ecclesiastical literature. For this reason, Father Stephen is sometimes called the archbishop of one or the other of these two places. (Ed. note).
7. GAMS, Pius B., Series Episcoporum, p. 839. It is hardly necessary to say that Gams wrote long after Touron. (Ed. note).
8. CAVALIERI, John Michael, O. P., Galleria Domenicana, I 13; FONTANA, Monumenta Dominicana, p. 41; PLODTO, Par; 2, Book 1; TAEGIO, Ambrose, O. P., (mss.) Monumenta Ordinis Praedicatorum.