JOHN OF NAVARRE
The subject of this sketch is ordinarily called John of Navarre, although we sometimes see him designated as "John, the Spaniard." Father Touron thinks that he was born in Biscay, one of the three Basque provinces of northern Spain. It would seem that John was in the company of the Right Rev. Didacus (or Diego) de Azebes, bishop of Osma, while that saintly prelate was in France endeavoring to convert the Albigenses, and that he remained in Languedoc, when de Azebes returned to his diocese. In that way, he and Saint Dominic most likely knew each other in their native land. Certainly they must have often labored together before the holy man from Caleruega actually began to lay the foundations of the Order of Preachers.(1)
Just when Dominic first broached the project of establishing an apostolic Order to John is not positively known. However, in his testimony given (in 1233) before the commission appointed to examine into the heroic virtue and life of the saint, John states that he entered the Order founded by Dominic the year of the fourth Lateran council under Innocent III; that, to the best of his memory, it will be eighteen years next Saint Augustine's day (August 28) since he received the habit from the hands of the patriarch; and that he made his profession to him on the same day at Saint Romanus', Toulouse.(2) Father Touron interprets John's words as meaning that he received the habit on August 28, 1215, and made his profession on the same feast in 1216; for Saint Romanus' Convent did not come into the hands of the Friars Preacher until in the latter year.
This interpretation of Touron fits in nicely enough with what we know about the gradual development in Dominic's mind of the plan of the great work of his life. In 1206, before the return of Bishop de Azebes to Spain, the saint had gathered, at Prouille, nine ladies converted from Albigensianism, and with these begun the first house of Dominican Sisters. Azebes, his immediate superior, certainly consented to his taking up this work. Fulk, bishop of Toulouse, not only approved of it, but even made a donation of Saint Mary's Church, Prouille, and adjacent land for the purpose.(3)
Bishop de Azebes left France for his Diocese of Osma. the next year. In his Life of Saint Dominic, page 72, Father Touron assigns July, 1207, as the time of his departure. Prior to that, he placed Dominic over the few Spanish missionaries who remained in Languedoc to combat the Albigenses. With these were also evidently associated some French clergymen who acknowledged him as their leader. The little band, it would seem, had already decided to make an effort to establish a missionary order. Thus, April 17, 1207, Berengarius (or Bérenger) II, archbishop of Narbonne, bestowed on the sisters at Prouille the tithes of the Church of Saint Martin of Limoux, in the district of Razés, now in the Department of Aude. In the document of conveyance Dominic, as superior of both the sisters and the missionaries, is designated "Brother Dominic." One of his "companions" is also mentioned by name, and called "Brother William Claret."(4)
Only a few months later, August 15, 1207, Sancius Gase and his wife Ermengarde Godolina bestowed a house at Villasavary and a garden at Villeneuve-le-Comtal on "Master Dominic of Osma and all the Brothers and Sisters, present and future."(5) From this nomenclature it would seem that the missionaries had thus early begun to be considered in the light of religious. Several subsequent documents of the same character, given in the Cartulaire de Saint Dominique, use similar designations for Dominic and his companions. Prouille was the center of their spiritual activities, and the place where they met for consultation. Dominic was certainly the superior of both his confr6res and the sisters. Both appear to have considered him their prior, although the fathers had as yet bound themselves by no vows. Beginning with early 1213, we find him given that title in official papers. Father William Claret and Natalis (or Noel) of Prouille, especially the former, seem to have had charge of the temporalities, which were held for the common benefit of the two institutions. Natalis even becomes prior before the approbation of the Order.(6)
Indeed, apparently from the time the sisters were encloistered at Prouille, Dominic and his followers in the apostolic life bad a house alongside theirs. Here the missionaries lived, when in the village. On their journeys they stopped wherever charity opened' the door for them. Except for matters of business, not often were more than one or two of them at home simultaneously. Their abode, together with the nuns' convent, was sometimes called the abbey, but more commonly went by the name of the "House of Holy Preaching." Possibly, when there were enough, present, the fathers held community exercises in adjoining Saint Mary's Church, which later became known as Notre Dame de Prouille.(7)
Eventually Dominic obtained the gift and opportunity for which he had doubtless long prayed. This was in the spring of 1215, when Peter Seila of Toulouse joined the little band, and donated his house in the same city to the saint that he might establish a community of missionaries in it. The instrument of donation is dated April 25, 1215, and notes the name of "Brother William Raymond," of whom, as he is mentioned by none of the earlier writers, nothing more is known.(8)
Dominic certainly wished to place his confrères in cities and educational centers, for he wanted them to be learned and able exponents of the divine truth, as well as exemplary religious. No sooner, therefore, did he obtain possession of Peter Scila's house than he began to gather his followers therein, and to introduce community life in earnest. Ordinarily one reads about the "first six," with whom he started the Order there. Yet the very document of the conveyance of this homestead mentions "Father William Raymond," who is not given by the writers as one of the six. He would make the number at least seven. John of Navarre (the subject of the present sketch) and Blessed Bertrand of Garrigue are nearly always included in this band.
In the light of the official papers published in the Cartulaire de Saint Dominique it would seem that the founder, at first, brought in only as many of his little band as he could accommodate in Seila's house, or circumstances suggested. Father Touron held this opinion; for, when naming the first "sixteen" disciples of Dominic, he says that the saint "had previously tried out the most of them on the missions." Father Echard expresses the same view. One can scarcely suppress the conviction that Peter Seila and Father Thomas of Toulouse, though they are always classed with the "first six," were really among the last of the original "sixteen" who placed themselves under Dominic's banner. The six or seven whom he gathered in Toulouse at the start Dominic placed under the celebrated English professor, Alexander Stavensby, who afterwards became bishop of Coventry, in his home land. Apparently, it was this circumstance that gave rise to the the tradition of the "first six" disciples. (9)
Fulk, the bishop of Toulouse, was so delighted at the tangible shape the projected Order now began to assume that, about July, 1215, he bestowed on Dominic ecclesiastical tithes to provide for the support of himself and confrères.(10) On August 28, according to the opinion of Father Touron, the founder gave the habit to John of Navarre. Others, no doubt, received it at the same time. Very probably the entire band was at Toulouse on the occasion for the same purpose. Then came the journey of Fulk and Dominic to the fourth Lateran council in Rome, and their return with the promise of Innocent III to confirm the Order, when the candidates should agree on a rule, as told in the three sketches immediately preceding. John of Navarre went with the rest to Prouille for prayer and deliberation on this important matter. Just as soon as the question was settled, Fulk, in order to further the plan still more, gave the little band Saint Romanus' Church and a vacant priory attached to it (in July, 1216) both in the episcopal city.(11)
By this time all the sixteen disciples of the saint had been called to Toulouse, with the exception of those who were left at Prouille to look after the sisters. They were now transferred to the Priory of Saint Romanus, which was enlarged at once. There, on August 28, 1216, took place possibly the first profession in the Order. Father John of Navarre tells us expressly that he was professed there on that day. Then followed in quick succession Dominic's third visit to Rome, the formal approbation of the Order by Honorius III, and the renewal of their vows by all at Prouille on August 15, 1217. After this came the dispersal of the brethren, as previously stated.(12)
We have dwelt at such length here on the steps that gradually led up the founding of the Order because we felt the subject should be more fully discussed somewhere in the sketches of Dominic's original disciples, and chose that of John of Navarre as the most logical place. Ile was one of the first to place himself under the saint's standard, and he was the only one of those who gathered around him at Prouille and Toulouse called to bear witness to his heroic life and virtue in the cause of his canonization.
That John of Navarre was a man of strong will, and given to say what he thought, may be seen from his actions. First, we are told that he was one of the most outspoken in his objections to the dispersion of the brethren by the founder of the Friars Preacher, until they had become more numerous and were better prepared for their work. Then, when, as stated in a previous sketch, Saint Dominic assigned him among the number who were to establish a house of the Order in Paris, he openly showed his unwillingness to go on that mission. Nay, he positively declined to obey, until Dominic, who wished his confrères to live by alms while on their way, gave him some money for his expenses.(13)
This was a fault, it is true; yet the subject of our sketch was by no means a bad or unruly man. He simply had not yet acquired the spiritual instinct of the saint. Worldly wisdom, of which he had not quite rid himself, made him rebel against what he considered imprudent, to say the least. Dominic seems to have understood this, for he treated him with the greatest consideration. John's genuine humility, candor, and open character are shown by the fact that the knowledge of his short-lived failing has come down to us through himself. He declared it in his testimony in the cause of Dominic's canonization. He told it to Father Stephen Salagnac that it might be recorded.(14) Truthfulness and a desire to make amends could hardly do more. It makes one love him. Doubtless it was this spirit that caused Father John to be so cherished by the Order's founder, who afterwards always showed him every mark of esteem and confidence.
John's stay in Paris was of short duration -- perhaps less than six months; for we soon find him in Rome, where he seems to have been sent, together with Lawrence of England, by Matthew of France to consult Dominic in connection with the difficulties with which the new Friars Preacher were confronted in the French capital. Thence the saint dispatched him and two or three others to the university city of Bologna, where they founded the Convent of Santa Maria della Mascarella, which was later transferred to Saint Nicholas, now known as Saint Dominic's.(15) Henry di Fratta, then bishop of Bologna, received them with open arms. Some one has stated that the disciples whom Dominic dispersed from Toulouse and Prouille were "preachers by name and in fact." Their spoken word had all the greater force because of their virtues and saintly lives. Thus it is no matter for any great surprise that, as one might express it today, they "took Bologna by storm" from the start. The subject of this sketch had his part in making the good impression.
From this time John of Navarre appears to have lived at the convent in Bologna. Father Touron assures us that he was ever on his guard not to fall into any indiscretion like that which had threatened to mar his character on the occasion of the dispersal of the brethren at Prouille. Indeed, he sought in every way to prevent that action from proving a scandal to others. He was a model Friar Preacher, whether in point of observance or the active apostolate. From 1219 until his death in 1221, Saint Dominic made Bologna his domicile. During this epoch, if we may judge from John's deposition before the papal delegates appointed to examine into the founder's heroic life and virtue, there was no one whom the holy man admitted into closer association with him than John of Navarre. Everyone loved and admired him.
Father John played his part in the transfer of the Bolognese community from Santa Maria della Mascarella. to Saint Nicholas'. He saw, no doubt with un-mixed joy, the marvellous growth of his Order in the great university city. We may also believe, for the ,convent of Bologna was his home, that he was present at the death and burial of Saint Dominic, being the only one of the original Prouille-Toulouse community, with the possible exception of Michael de Uzero, to have had this sad consolation.(16) Twelve years later (1233), John alone of the first sixteen who rallied to the support of Dominic for the foundation of the Order enjoyed the happiness of taking part in the first solemn translation of the saint's relies.
One can but believe that Father John of Navarre should be placed among those who took an active interest in urging the canonization of the founder of the Friars Preacher. As stated above, he was the only one of Dominic's original band summoned to give his testimony for that purpose. He was the fifth among the nine Dominican witnesses. His deposition, while not the longest, is one of the most interesting. Throughout it shows the great love of the witness for him in whose cause he testified, as well as the close relations which existed between the two men of God.
More than one writer, not without reason, appeal to the fact that Dominic sent John of Navarre to the university centers of Paris and Bologna, in which men gathered from all parts of the world, as a proof of his ability, learning, and exceptional life.(17) There is no record of his having been superior. Possibly, in his humility, he studiously shunned such a position. Such an attitude is by no means unknown to history. Often bigger men are seen in the rank and file, while those of smaller caliber hold the reins of authority. Not infrequently it is well that it should be so, for many intellectuals are impractical. Besides, freedom from the cares and impediments of office affords a gifted man a broader field for the use of his talents and the accomplishment of good. Somewhere in his works Saint Thomas of Aquin advises the choice of the prudent for superiors rather than either the saintly or the learned.
Whether John of Navarre lived to see the event for which he no doubt devoutly prayed (the canonization of Saint Dominic), and to take part in its first celebration, we can not say with certainty. Father Touron tells us that it is commonly supposed that he passed to his reward shortly after the occurrence. Father Berthier says he died ("in the odor of sanctity") in 1233, or the year before the founder of the Friars Preacher was accorded the honors of the altar.(18) Whatever the date, it is thought that Father John surrendered his soul to God in the Priory of Saint Nicholas, Bologna. His name is too intimately connected with the history of the Friars Preacher ever to be forgotten.
1. Acta Sanctorum, XXXV (first vol. for August), 547, Nos. 39-41, 634, No. 27 ff; BALME-LELAIDIER, I, passim, II, 135-136, 186-187, and passim; CASTILLO, pp. 56, 61; JORDAN of Saxony, Opera (Berthier ed.), 17, 18; MALVENDA, pp. 175-176, 194-195; MAMACHI , pp. 371, 387, 409, 411-412, and passim; MORTIER, 1, 29, 90; PIO, col. 17-18; QUETIF-ECHARD, 1, 18, 49. This sketch is largely taken from authors other than Father Touron. Some say Father John of Navarre was born at Saint Jean Pied de Port, which was then in the extreme northern part of Navarre, but now belongs to France, and is in the Diocese of Bayonne. (Ed. note).
2. Acta Sanctorum, XXXV, 634, No. 27; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 49.
3. BALME-LELAIDIER, I, 147 ff.
4. Ibid., I, 154 ff.
5. Ibid., I, 161 ff.
6. Ibid., I, 371 ff. Most of the documents referred to in notes 3, 4, 5, and 6 are also given in the Rev. John Guiraud's Cartulaire de Notre Dame de Prouille. (Ed. note).
7. Ibid., I, 164; GUIRAUD (see preceding note), 1, CCCXXVII; Histoire A Monastère de Notre Dame de Prouille, p. 19.
8. BALME-LELAIDIER, I, 498 ff,
9. Touron, Vie de Saint Dominique, p. 189; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 11-12. Father Bernard Gui was the first to search out and give the names of Saint Dominic's Prouille-Toulouse disciples, in so far as he could discover them. His manuscript is still preserved in the archives of the Order at Rome -- Codex Rutinensis, p. 79. The early writers said there were "about sixteen" (circiter sexdecim). It seems certain that there were a few more. But the number "sixteen" has become all but canonized. (Ed. note).
10. BALME-LELAIDIER, I, 515 ff.
11. Ibid., II, 44 ff.
12. CHRONOLOGY OF EARLY EVENTS IN REGARD TO THE ORDER: -- Assembly of the sisters at Prouille (November 22, 1206). -- The sisters are cloistered (December 27, 1206). -- House for the missionaries established at Prouille (before the end of 1207). -- Gathering of some of the companions in the house of Peter Seila and Dominic's visit to Rome (1215). -- Saint Romanus' Priory, Toulouse, another visit to Rome, and confirmation of the Order (1216).-- Renewal of vows and dispersion of the brethren (1217).
13. MALVENDA, pp. 175-176; and Acta Sanctorum and QUETIF-ECHARD as in note 2.
14. See the preceding note.
15. JORDAN of Saxony, as in note 1, p. 18. One of the others sent to Bologna at this time was a Father Bertrand, whom some have erroneously supposed to be Blessed Bertrand of Garrigue. (Ed. note).
16. De Uzero was sent to Bologna shortly after John of Navarre, but we do not know with certainty how long he remained there. See sketch of him later. (Ed. note).
17. In his deposition as regards Dominic's heroic life and virtue, John says he was sent to Paris to study. One is tempted to think that the saint wished him to prepare to teach in the Order; that John objected to this, after years spent in the active life of preaching to the Albigenses; and that his unwillingness in the matter might have had its part in the misunderstanding of which we have spoken. (Ed. note).
18. Page XI of the preface to Blessed Jordan's Opera.