Our author closes his sketches of the first "sixteen" of Saint Dominic's disciples with Peter Seila. Yet they all deserve at least honorable mention in these pages. To omit Father William Claret might almost seem spite. He was born at Pamiers, in Ariége, one of the southernmost departments of France. We find no date given for his birth; but circumstances justify us in placing it between 1170 and 1180. From his youth he was, acquainted with the abominations of the Albigenses, for he lived in their midst. Although it is not known just when he joined the missionary forces against them, it is certain that he became one of this apostolic band at an early date, and that he was among the first who allied themselves with Saint Dominic. When, in 1207, Didacus de Azebes, bishop of Osma, left southern France to return to his diocese, William Claret was given charge of the temporal affairs of the little company of priests who had organized to combat the Albigenses.(1)
This fact shows that Father Claret had been thus engaged long enough to prove his zeal and to win the confidence not only of the missionaries, Saint Dominic included, but also that of de Azebes and Fulk, bishop of Toulouse. From this time on for more than twenty years, Claret's name appears in most of the civic documents relating to the community at Prouille. We need no stronger proof of the trust Saint Dominic placed in him, or of the high regard in which he was held by the Order. Certainly he must have exerted no little influence in the early steps taken towards the foundation of the Friars Preacher.
At the time of the dispersion of the brethren from Prouille, August 15, 1217, Father Claret was left at Prouille with Father Natalis, who apparently belonged to that village. Natalis was made prior. William still retained the management of the temporalities.(2) In 1218, on Natalis' death, William Claret became prior of the institution. We find him holding the same post in 1219, 1222, 1224, and 1229.(3) In view of the long tenure of office at that day, it is quite possible that he remained superior nearly all this time. About the last date, a tradition, which has every appearance of truth, informs us this early disciple gave up the apostolic Order which he had helped to found, and joined a contemplative community of Cistercians in his native diocese, Pamiers.
Father Ambrose Taegio tells us that Father Claret "was a man endowed with every virtue -- shining faith, consummate prudence, great discretion, deep piety, pure morals, a spirit of prayer, and an overflowing charity." The confidence which Saint Dominic certainly reposed in him and the favor in which he was evidently long held by his confrères dispose one to accept this estimate of the early Friar Preacher's character.(4) Possibly, as he saw the end of his life approach and perceived the vanity of the world in a clearer light, he felt irresistibly drawn to shut himself up in the quiet of a Cistercian abbey. Possibly also he had been inclined to that sort of solitude from early manhood, and had been held back only through his love of Saint Dominic and the good which he could do as a Friar Preacher. It may be, too, that the management of the temporal affairs of the Prouille community for so long a time had its part in his determination.
Whatever the cause of his change of allegiance, it must be admitted that Father Claret deserved well of the Order of Preachers while he was a member of it. Whether as an apostolic man, a religious, or syndic, he did his duty faithfully and effectively. No one can justly censure him forgoing to the Cistercians. In this not merely did he do no wrong; he followed a course permitted by the Church without let or hindrance. His action should not lead us to deny him the honor that is his due.
Tradition tells us further that the early disciple of Saint Dominic, when he went to the Cistercians, endeavored to induce the Dominican Sisters at Prouille to go over to that order also. If this be true, he was at fault, however innocent his intention. It was a lapse in judgment and prudence for which he should be blamed. While he had a perfect right to become a Cistercian himself, it was absolutely wrong of him to attempt to disrupt a community by leading them to follow his example.
For the sake of fairness, we must note the possibility of an error in this part of the tradition. Few are the traditions that are altogether void of truth. Yet, espe,cially when there is something more or less odious involved in them, they are apt to be enlarged beyond the facts. In this instance, Father Claret's departure for the Cistercian Order might, in time, have led to the growth of the tradition until it included an effort to make Cietercians of the Dominican Sisters of whom he had charge. His candor, honesty, and deep religious spirit, which are denied by no one, at least suggest that he be given the credit of such a doubt. If the accusation be true, it speaks well for the loyalty of the Prouille community that not one of them could be so guided by the priest who had been their trusted spiritual director for many years. Their veneration for Saint Dominic must have been strong indeed.(5)
From the time he dropped out of the Order for a more retired and contemplative life, we find no record of Father William Claret in Friar-Preacher annals. We doubt not that he continued to lead a holy life, and died a happy death among the Cistercians of Boulbone, whom he is said to have joined.
1. This sketch is taken principally from MAMACHI, who speaks of Claret on pp. 159, 164, 167-168, 173, 187, 368, and col. 368. Other general references are: BALME-LELAIDIER, I, II, and III, passim; MALVENDA, p. 180; MORTIER, I, 27, 90, 166, 351; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 16.
2. QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 16.
3. MAMACHI, 368.
4. Ibid. Mamachi seems to think that Taegio was not aware that Father Claret left the Order for the Cistercians. But we see little reason for this conclusion.
5. The careful Father Bernard Gui, an author of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century, seems to have been the first to commit this tradition to writing. We may be sure that it was existing in the Order in southern France during his lifetime.