STEPHEN OF METZ
Although Stephen seems to have been one of the first disciples of Dominic especially beloved and trusted by the saint, the early writers used very little time or paper to tell us about him. Mortier says Carcasonne, France, was the place of his birth. Others give this honor to Metz. He has come down in history under the name of Stephen of Metz, which may be due to his religious life in that city. Certainly he had become associated with the founder of the Friars Preacher by 1213. Possibly the two men had labored together against the Albigenses prior to that date; but of this we can not speak with assurance.(1)
In his Life (or Legends) of Saint Dominic, Father Constantine de Medicis (called Constantine of Orvieto, from the fact that he was bishop of that diocese) tells us that Stephen of Metz was Dominic's companion in Carcasonne, while the saint acted as vicar general for Bishop Guy during his absence from the diocese. This was in 1213. From the same source we learn that Stephen often spoke of Dominic's preaching in the cathedral of Carcasonne for the lent of that year; and of his prophecy of the final victory of the faith over the Albigenses, who were still a formidable power.(2) Similarly, in his short Life of Saint Dominic (written for the lessons of the divine office), Blessed Humbert of Romans says: "Stephen of Metz was also wont to relate how the man of God, Dominic, during all the lent he spent at Careasonne, ate only bread, drank only water, and never used his bed. Yet, when Easter came, he said that he felt the better for it. So did he appear stronger and fuller of body."(3)
These statements leave little or no doubt about the close friendship that existed between the two holy men. Indeed, they convince us that Stephen was one of the saint's trusted confidants. From this time the missionaries were certainly often together. All the writers agree that Stephen was among the six companions whom Dominic first gathered in the Peter Seila house, Toulouse; and whom some, though we think erroneously, believe to have been the saint's earliest disciples. Possibly none of the little party followed the patriarch's actions at this time with greater concern, or entered into his views with more sympathy. At least this is what one would expect from a character like that which the subject of this paper seems to have had.
Malvenda, who says that he was not able to ascertain whether Stephen of Metz and Stephen, "the Spaniard," were two distinct men, or one and the same disciple with two names, could not have seen de Medicis' or Blessed Humbert's short lives of Saint Dominic. Neither was the Spanish author acquainted with the story of his fellow-countryman, Stephen, the Spaniard, who entered the Order at Bologna in 1219, became the provincial of Lombardy, and was afterwards appointed archbishop in Sardinia.(4)
Father Bernard Gui says that Stephen of Metz subjected himself to the severest penalties and mortification. Alberti repeats this, and adds that he was a man conspicuous for his sanctity. Mamachi subjoins that he practised extraordinary abstinence, as well as labored with his whole heart and soul for the salvation of others. These traits, the last author thinks, our French Friar Preacher imbibed from his leader; and they were what made him so beloved by the saint.(5) Possibly we have here the explanation of why, at the time of the dispersion of the brethren at Prouille in August, 1217, Dominic reserved Stephen as a travelling companion for himself.
Until this time the subject of our sketch had evidently labored with zeal for the good of religion in southern France. But now we lose all trace of him for two years or more. Dominic went from Prouille to Toulouse, whence he journeyed through Italy as far as Rome. Late in 1218, the saint left the Eternal City for Spain. From there he travelled to Paris by way of Toulouse. Whether, or how far, he took Stephen on these missionary tours, after leaving the Eternal City, we can not say, for there is no mention of the French confrère in any account of them. Mother Augusta Theodosia Drane, on page 191 of her Life of Saint Dominic, says that the saint went to Metz shortly after the dispersion at Prouille, and left Father Stephen to start a convent in the Alsatian city. Adrian Baillet and others make the same remark.(6) However, this statement seems to be based on one of the many uncertain, or groundless, traditions that have grown up around the life of the founder of the Friars Preacher. It is not found in any of the earliest writers of the Order, some of whom simply say that Stephen helped to start the convent there. So is it opposed to the opinion of the three eminent authors whom we have now to name.
It will be remembered that Saint Dominic, on his return from Spain, reached Paris at the end of May, 1219. His stay there was short. Yet, as Mamachi and Chapotin, in union with others, tell us, at that time he sent fathers from Saint James' to establish several houses in France. Among these was that at Metz. Father Guerric, a native of the city, was placed at the head of those who were to found it. Likely the choice of him as superior, though he was an excellent religious, was partly due to the fact that he belonged to a family of means. At any rate, he started the convent in a house which came to the Order through him. It is not improbable that fear lest Stephen's austerity with himself might lead him to be too severe with others prevented his appointment as prior of the new institution.
In his History of the Province of France, to which Metz belonged, Chapotin makes the tradition of Dominic's visit to that city place him there in 1215, and says nothing of Father Stephen being with him. Mamachi, who made a study of all who had written before him, says expressly that the subject of our sketch was one of the founders and early glories of the great convent at Metz. Mortier, the latest writer on the subject, also classes him among the first laborers at this institution.(7)
None of the earlier authors whom we have seen give the date or place of Father Stephen's death; but some of them appear to suppose that it occurred at Metz. Mother Drane, on the page of her work referred to, says that he died in that city before he could execute the task of founding a convent, as he had been instructed to do by Saint Dominic. We have already given our opinion of the tradition on which this statement is based. However, it seems highly probable that our early disciple ended his days in Metz, where he had helped to plant his Order. Yet the information which he supplied for the Life of Saint Dominic, as given above, shows that he outlived the patriarch. Echard says that some of the things he told clearly indicate that he travelled in Italy with the saint.(8) He shone for his holiness even in a holy company.
1. ALBERTI, fol. 180; BALME-LELAIDIER, II, 133,285 ff; CHAPOTIN, pp. 28 ff ; MALVENDA, p. 171; MAMACHI, pp. 371, 411, and col. 368; MORTIER, I, pp. 27, 28, 90; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 16.
2. In QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 34.
3. In MAMACHI, cot. 295. In those days all nine lessons were not infrequently the life of the saint.
4. MALVENDA, p. 171. See sketch of Stephen of Spain.
5. GUI (in MAMACHI, cot. 368); ALBERTI, fol. 180; MAMACHI, p. 371.
6. TOURON, Vie de Saint Dominique, pp. 210-211. See BALME-LELAIDIER (II, 146) and QUETIF-ECHARD (I, 16) on the tradition of such a journey by Dominic.
7. CHAPOTIN, p. 29; MAMACHI, p. 505; MORTIER, I, 28.
8. QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 16.