All who are acquainted with the life of Saint Dominic will readily recall the name of Father Peter Seila -- or Cellani, or Seilan, as he is sometimes called. The reader can hardly be unacquainted with him, for he has received honorable mention more than once in the course of these pages. Toulouse seems certainly to have been his native city; but the date of his birth is not known. Nor are we told when or how he first met the founder of the Friars Preacher. Mr. Bertrand, in his Facts about Some Toulousans (Des Faits des Toulousains), says that Dominic stopped at the house of Peter Seila at the time of his first visit in Toulouse, that Seila was then converted from Albigensianism, and that out of gratitude for this he became the saint's benefactor. However, there is not the slightest proof for such a statement. None of the earliest writers would have overlooked so important a fact. Yet not one of them refers to it. Besides, circumstances indicate that Peter was a mere youth at the time.(1)
The first mention we find of Peter Seila, in connection with Dominic, is in a document of date April 25, 1215. It is the instrument of conveyance of Seila's house to the saint and his companions.(2) Evidently the young Frenchman, who must have been already a missionary, or at least about prepared to receive ordination, bad become a disciple of the patriarch prior to this time. The Seila residence stood near the Chateau de Narbonne, the palace of the counts of Toulouse. Here Dominic began at once to gather the rest of his followers, and to train them in the religious life. It was their first distinct home. From it he made his journey to Rome in 1215 for the confirmation of the proposed Order. But all this has been told before. Suffice it to state that Peter Seila took a keen interest and had his part in the various deliberations about the pious enterprise, with which the reader has become acquainted.(3) In his advanced life our early disciple used jocosely to tell his younger confrères that the Order did not receive him; but that he received the Order by taking it into his own house, and then making the fathers a present of it.
In the dispersion of the brethren at Prouille Peter Seila and Father Thomas, another citizen of the same city, were sent back to Saint Romanus', Toulouse. Peter became the prior. This, it will be remembered, was late in the summer of 1217, or somewhat less than two years and a half after the community had taken possession of his house, and a little over a twelvemonth from the time they moved from it to Saint Romanus'. As we have told the story of these transactions in previous sketches, it is not necessary to repeat it here. Yet it should be noted that Malvenda's assertion that Peter Seila was Dominic's first disciple is palpably incorrect.(4)
From the start, the Albigenses regarded the new religious institute with no little uneasiness and hatred. They dreaded the zeal of its members. As Seila, who had acted under Dominic for at least two or three years, now took up the work of the holy man with earnestness on his own initiative, he became the center of their animosity. His labors also highly displeased Raymond VI, count of Toulouse, and his son Raymond, who ever showed themselves abetters of those who were disturbers of peace and order, whether civic or ecclesiastical. The venom of the two unprincipled politicians was all the greater because they had lost their sovereignty through their own misdeeds.
History shows that in and around Toulouse things were in a decidedly precarious condition. Uncertainty reigned everywhere. For a time fear held the enemy in check. Meanwhile, Peter Seila continued his efforts in the cause of religion and the salvation of souls. On June 25, 1218, brave Count Simon de Montfort was killed by a stone in the siege of Toulouse. Through this unfortunate incident the two Raymonds were brought back into power. The Albigenses regained their ascendency. Although he had never been known to shrink from any danger to himself, Dominic was evidently much distressed over the peril of Father Seila; for he at once sent him to Saint James', Paris. It would seem that the saint felt the sweet, placid temperament of Blessed Bertrand of Garrigue rendered him. better suited to guide the fortunes of the Order through such an unsettled situation. At least, he now exchanged places with the subject of this sketch.
In northern France Peter took up his labors with the same energy that had characterized his apostolate in the south. They won the admiration of the new community, as well as produced splendid effects among the faithful. No doubt they had their part in causing Dominic to select him to establish the Order at Limoges. This was at the time of the saint's visit to Paris late in the first half of 1219. Possibly Father Seila's experience at Toulouse combined with his humility to make him seek to avoid the position, for we read that he accepted it only under the irresistible persuasion of his highest superior.
Results show that no wiser choice could have been made. The Right Rev. Bernard de Savène, bishop of Limoges, and the Very Rev. Guy de Clusel, archdeacon of Saint Martial's and dean of Saint Yrieix, not only received our Friar Preacher with open arms, but even looked after the construction of a convent and a house of worship for the proposed community. This left him more time for preaching to the people, who flocked to his sermons in great numbers. Thus Dominic's promise that God would be with him, that he would bring many souls to Christ, and that lie would accomplish much good in Limoges began to be realized from the start.
The convent was completed in 1220. To the joy of the prior he saw it filled with earnest religious almost at once. These he trained so thoroughly in the spiritual and apostolic life that the community soon became noted throughout and beyond France for its zeal, discipline, and labors. Its reputation for learning was not less. During the centuries of its existence, Seila's convent gave the Order and Church a real galaxy of men of Tare piety and superior minds. Two of them, Stephen de Salagnae and Bernard Gui, deserved so well of early Dominican history that there are few to whom the Friars Preacher owe so much in that field of knowledge. Father Gui tells us that, from the time of the foundation of the Limoges priory to 1313 (that is, in somewhat less than a century), two hundred of its members died in the odor of sanctity. Many of these must have passed to their glorious reward in its founder's lifetime. One of those who received the habit from his hands, became widely known for holiness of life and learning, and attained the miter (shortly after Peter returned to Toulouse), deserves special mention. This was Father Peter of Saint Astier, whom Gregory IX appointed bishop of Perigueux in 1234. For more than thirty-two years he governed the diocese in a most saintly marmer. Then he resigned his see into the hands of Clement IV that he might spend the remainder of his days in the convent of Limoges, where he was received into the Order by Peter Seila. He lived for nearly a decade longer, died the death of the just on July 14, 1275, and was buried in the conventual choir. The epitaph on his tomb tells the story of his beautiful life.(5)
Father Stephen de Salagnac, who received the habit from Peter Seila, and made his profession to him in Limoges, tells us that not only were both the clergy and the people of the city and diocese charmed by his virtues and manners; they regarded him as a saint, and listened to him as to a prophet.(6) Possibly his removal from his beloved convent caused him no less sorrow than it gave the faithful and clergy of Limoges. Yet, as he had taken the vow of obedience, he obeyed at once and without remonstrance.
Although the war against the Albigenses came to an end with the submission of Raymond VII, the last count of Toulouse, in 1229, these misguided people still continued to be a danger to both Church and State. They assiduously carried on their propaganda under cover. When brought before the public tribunals, they claimed that they were persecuted, and accused the officials of the law of being tyrants. From complaints they not infrequently passed to threats, which they put into execution when they felt it could be done with impunity. Ever-watchful Gregory IX urged the hierarchy and princes of France to use all their power for the extirpation of the evil. The bishop of Tournai, Walter de Marvis, was appointed papal legate for that purpose.
In 1234, the saintly archbishop of Vienne, John de Bournin, succeeded de Marvis as the papal ambassador. One of the influences behind this extraordinary activity against the Albigenses was the recollection of their excesses when they were in the ascendency; for, while denying liberty to others, they claimed every license for themselves.
It was this situation that called Father Peter Seila from Limoges back to his native Toulouse. The summons came direct from Gregory IX through a bull of date March 23, 1234. Peter now became associated, as an inquisitor of the faith, with his confrère, Blessed William Arnaud. Doubtless, like practically all the Friars Preacher appointed to that ungrateful position, he accepted it only in obedience to the Holy See. It was an arduous task, from the perils of which not even the careful protection of the secular authority could efficiently safeguard those so engaged. (7)
Like their confrères employed in this work against their wills, Seila and Arnaud labored at it with their whole souls as a matter of duty and conscience. They needed not the repeated urging which they received from Rome. Neither hardship nor danger ever caused them to recoil from their obligations. Nevertheless, even in the extremest cases, they retained their patience and sought to follow the dictates of charity for the greater good. Not a few were recalled to the faith through their instructions and kindness; while others were retained within the fold, in part, through dread of their fearlessness. Many Albigenses abstained from violence because of the knowledge that it would soon bring them into contact with the two inquisitors. In short, these ambassadors of Christ strove to become all things to all men in order to win them to God.
William Arnaud, together with ten associates (two of whom belonged to his own Order), finally received the crown of martyrdom as the reward of their faithfulness. This was at Avignonet, May 29, 1242.(8) The tragedy rather quickened Peter Seila's zeal than anywise daunted his intrepidity. Ever athirst for the salvation of souls and the good of religion, as well as prepared to sacrifice his life in the cause of Christ, he continued to execute his duties with unrelaxed vigilance. At the same time he held the office of prior at Toulouse, which he filled with no less wisdom than that which had characterized his long government at Limoges.
So labored this early disciple of Dominic zealously on until the end of his model and useful priestly life at the convent in Toulouse. He seems to have been the last of the original "Sixteen," with whom the saint began his Order. Some place Father Seila's death on February 22; others on March 1. Practically all agree on the year 1257, and say that he died in the odor of sanctity.(9) Some of the earlier writers call him blessed. With Alberti, they assure us that "Father Peter was a man endowed with a splendid mind, of a striking appearance, intrepid in adversity, steadfast and upright in all his deeds." For at least forty-two years he bravely bore the standard of the Friar Preacher. Nearly all that time he held the office of superior, which alone should show the love of his brethren for him, as well as the confidence which they reposed in his ability and integrity.
There are those who state that Peter Seila was of noble birth. That his family were well-to-do for that age may be seen from the document of conveyance of his house to the incipient Order of Preachers. Although the fathers soon moved from his building to Saint Romanus', they still retained possession of it. Afterwards, and for a long time, it was known as the "Convent of the Inquisition," which would indicate that it was used in connection with that institution. The little room occupied by Saint Dominic, while the first community lived there, became a chapel dedicated to his honor. So it continued down through the course of centuries -- perhaps until the French Revolution swept the religious orders from every part of the country. Later the Jesuits occupied the Seila home for a time; and then the Sisters of Marie Reparatrice. Since 1905 it has been the residence of the archbishop of Toulouse.(10)
1. ALBERTI, fol. 179; Annèe Dominicaine, II (February), 715 ff ; BALME-LELAIDIER, 1, 498 ff; BZOVIUS (Bzowski), XIII, col. 662; CASTILLO, pp. 57 ff; CHAPOTIN, op. cit., p. 36; GUI, Bernard, Commentarium de Ordine Praedicatorum (? mss.); JORDAN of Saxony, Opera (Berthier ed.), pp. 13-14, and in Acta Sanctorum, XXXV, 546, No. 30; MALVENDA, pp. 178-179; MAMACHI, pp. 352, 372, 411, 503, 629; MORTIER, I, passim; PIO, col. 10-11; SALAGNAC, Stephen de, O. P., De Quatuor in Quibus Deus Praedicatormn Ordinem Insignivit (mss.). We could not find the first name of author Bertrand, or anything about his book. (Ed. note).
2. BALME-LELAIDIER, I, 498.
3. See sketches of Blessed Mannes, Matthew of France, Blessed Bertrand of Garrigue, and John of Navarre.
4. See the preceding note, and MALVENDA, p. 179.
5. Gallia Christiana, II 1473; GAMS, Series Episcoporum, p. 598; FONTANA, Theatrum Dominicanum, p. 263. Through an oversight or error, Gams fails to note that Bishop Peter of Saint Astier was a Friar Preacher. (Ed. note).
6. De Quatuor in Quibus Deus Praedicatorum Ordinem Insignivit (mss. in Archives of the Dominican Master General).
7. Annèe Dominicaine, V (May), 756; CATEL, William, Historia Comitum Tolosanorum (?), Book 2, p. 357; FLEURY, op. cit., XVII, 56 ff; PUY-LAURENS, William de, Chronicon de Albigensibus, Chap. 43; RAYNALDI, Oderic, Annales, ad Annum 1233, No. 59.
8. These martyrs were beatified by Pius IX, October 6, 1866. See Année Dominicaine, V (May), 757, 763.
9. Father Bernard Gui, as quoted in the Cartulaire de Saint Dominique, I, 506, places Seila's death in 1258. Mortier (I, 29) places it 1259; but this seems to be certainly a typographical error.
10. KIRSCH-ROMAN, Pèlerinages Dominicains, pp. 157-158.