BLESSED JORDAN OF SAXONY
All the ecclesiastical writers who have had occasion to speak of the gifts and labors of Jordan of Saxony rank the Friar Preacher among the great and illustrious men of his age. His many virtues have given him a similar place in the list of those of his Order who have distinguished themselves for their zeal and holy lives, In his Ecclesiastical Annals (Annales Ecclesiastici -- A. D. 1236, No. X), Henry de Sponde declares that he was no less noted for his learning, prudence, and piety than for the miracles which, both in life and after death, God wrought through his intercession.(1)
Apparently, one of our blessed's own Order started the story that he was born in Palestine, while his parents were on a pious pilgrimage there, and that he received his first name from the fact that he was baptized in the River Jordan. There is no proof or evidence for such a statement, even though it has been repeated more than once. On the contrary, the German authors cited in the Acts or Lives of the Saints (Acta Sanctorum) declare positively that Jordan first saw the light of day in Westphalia, a part of old Saxony. Paderborn was his native diocese. Father Bertbier gives the castle of Padberg, not far from Marsberg, as his place of birth. Its date has not been handed down to us by the earliest writers of the Order; but Bertbier and others think it occurred about 1190, which, from circumstances, we think can not be far wrong.
Giles Gelenius of Cologne and Bernard von Mallinkrot, dean of Münster (both erudite historians) state that Jordan belonged to the house of the counts of Eberstein.(2) Evidently he was brought up in a most Christian manner by parents, whose piety was as noble as their blood. From earliest youth he showed an inclination to the practice of virtue. Among his characteristics were modesty and a retiring disposition. Another was charity towards the poor. He loved to help them, and he made it a rule to give something to at least the first one who approached him every day. Quite naturally, for it was born of his love of God, this habit gained a stronger hold on him as he grew in years and divine favor.
Our future Friar Preacher began his studies in Germany, where he showed that nature had endowed him with talent and industry far above the ordinary. This no doubt led to his being sent to France, that he might round out his education at the University of Paris. Here, although far removed from home, he did not forget the domestic lessons which had been instilled into his soul during childhood. With serious study he combined a careful practice of piety. Thus his progress in both knowledge and virtue was rapid. Ever cautious to avoid bad babits and the loss of time, he shunned the companionship of wayward youths, and chose only the best for his friends. One of those with whom he thus became associated, as Jordan himself assures us, was Henry of Utrecht, of whom the next sketch will treat.
These two pious, studious young men were wont to spend their spare time in visiting hospitals and prisons, that they might carry consolation and hope to humanity suffering in every form. Their charity in this regard was a source of edification to all Paris. Another habit of Jordan, in which Henry no doubt often joined him, was to attend matins sung in the Church of Notre Dame. As long as he was a student at Paris, he never sLiffered any circumstance or condition of the weather to keep him away from this prayer. If he arrived before the doors of the church were opened, he patiently meditated until the porter came. One morning, in fear lest he should be late, he threw on his cloak and rushed from his room. When he reached the street, a beggar accosted him for an alms. As he had no money with him, he took off his belt and gave it to
the poor man. By this little deed, chosen from many that are too numerous to be given, the reader may judge of our student's good heart.(3)
Just when Jordan of Saxony went to Paris is not known. However, it is certain that he studied there a long time. Some think he began his university course in 1210. It might have been a little earlier. In accordance with the custom of the day, he started with philosophy. Then he took up mathematics. It is said that he wrote two short treatises on geometry, while a student. He also excelled in belles-lettres, and is accredited with a volume of notes on Priscian, a grammarian or rhetorician held in the highest esteem during the Middle Ages. Finally, he made a profound study of Scripture and theology. All the while, he sought to sanctify his soul by prayer, charity, and the practice of virtue.(4)
As has been stated earlier in these pages, Saint Dominic journeyed from Spain to Paris, which he reached late in the spring of 1219. Our German student had then spent some ten years at the noted university, and had attained a ripe scholarship, together with no little reputation for the best, both spiritual and intellectual. He was in subdeacon's orders, and had received the degree of bachelor in theology, which meant much in those days. Evidently, it seems to the writer, he had been in touch with the new Friars Preacher, especially with Matthew of France. Still Jordan had not as yet made up his mind as to his distinctive vocation, although the reception of subdeaconsbip shows that he had embraced the ecclesiastical state. One of the objects of his many prayers was to learn the will of God in the matter.
Through reports, the sermons of the first fathers at Paris, and otherwise, Dominic's reputation was well known in the university circles. When, therefore, Jordan learned that the saint was in the city, he lost no time in hearing him preach. He also went to confession to the man of God, and consulted him about his vocation. It is the subject of our narrative himself who tells us this, as well as that Dominic advised him to go on and receive deaconsbip. But whether the advice was merely that he should receive this order before taking the habit we do not know. In any case, it was not until the arrival of Blessed Reginald of Orleans at Paris, in the fall of 1219, that Jordan positively determined to become a Friar Preacher.
Just what held our Saxon back so long from such a step it would be hard to say with certainty. As he had hastened to hear the sermons of Dominic, so he hastened to hear those of Reginald. Then came confession to him and private consultation, which were followed, this time, by a promise or vow to the holy man to enter the Order. Meanwhile, Jordan busied himself with two of his fellow-students, Henry of Utrecht and a German by the name of Leo, in order to induce them to follow his example. On Ash Wednesday, February 12, 1220 (a few days after the death of Blessed Reginald), Jordan and his two favorite companions received the Dominican habit from the hands of Father Matthew of France.(5)
The remarkable ability of the subject of our sketch was recognized at once. Indeed, it would seem that, through the extraordinary powers given Dominic by the Holy See, and delegated by him to Matthew of France, Jordan was permitted to make his religious profession, either on the very day of his reception to the habit, or within the briefest time. Only under this supposition can we understand bow he could have been chosen as one of the representatives of Saint James', Paris, at the first general chapter of the Order held at Bologna the following May. He himself assures us that he was scarcely two months in the Order when he started for that important assembly. Otherwise it would be hard to believe such a singular fact. Under the circumstances, one is tempted to fancy that Matthew of France and the other fathers of Saint James' must have made him thoroughly familiar with the spirit, aims, and purposes of the new religious institute before he was clothed in its habit.(6)
From Italy Jordan returned to Paris, where he taught for a year at the convent. His thoroughness and ability completely won the hearts of his pupils. At the same time, by his eloquence, zeal, and life, he acquired a great reputation throughout the city. Both citizens and university students flocked to his sermons in ever increasing numbers. So did he at once begin to wield a strong influence over the minds of the young. Doubtless it was in part this that led the second general chapter, assembled at Bologna in May, 1221, to appoint him provincial of Lombardy, though he had been in the Order but a little more than a year, and does not appear to have attended this meeting.(7) Evidently Saint Dominic, who was endowed with a keen insight into the characters of men, had formed a very high opinion of that of his young German confr6re. That the patriarch was not deceived will be seen from what we have now to relate.
Dominic died early in August, 1221. The elective chapter, to which it fell to select a new head for the Order, did not meet until nearly ten months later. Meanwhile, Jordan's government of the province entrusted to his care proved so singularly successful that the eyes of all were turned towards him as the one who should be chosen as the saint's successor. In Lombardy the people and his confrères regarded him as a second Dominic. Accordingly, when the provincials and other representatives of the provinces, which were scattered through the greater part of the then civilized world, gathered at Paris, they unanimously elected the subject of our narrative as Master General. This was late in May, 1222. Possibly the only person surprised at the choice was Jordan himself.
In order to form a correct idea of our Saxon Friar Preacher's reputation for ability, prudence, zeal, virtue, and fair play, as well as of the confidence which his confre'res reposed in him, it is necessary to keep the composition of this general chapter before our minds. In it were men of various nationalities and languages. There were those whose positions and learning had won them a world-wide reputation before their entrance into the Order. There were those who had known Saint Dominic longer and more intimately than the new Master General, and had received greater proofs of the patriarch's trust and affection. There were those who had been in the institute longer, and had had more experience. Most likely, indeed, Jordan was the youngest, both in years and in the religious life, of the entire assembly; for he had worn the habit but a little over two years, whilst the greatest age that any one has ventured to give him at the time is thirty-two years.
The fact that all national, provincial, and personal considerations were so spontaneously laid aside in the interests of the general good speaks volumes not only for the extraordinary qualifications of Blessed Jordan, but also for the sincere religious spirit of those who composed the general chapter of 1222. A writer of our own day, Father Mortier, does not exaggerate, when he says:God . . . . blessed him [Jordan] generously with those masterful qualities which enchant and captivate others. Jordan was a charmer of men. He possessed those bed-rock virtues which compel respect and enforce confidence -- personal austerity, angelic purity of heart, nobility of soul, an unswerving spirit of justice, heroic forgetfulness of self. Providence enriched his strong mind with the most lovable attractions. His speech was ready and gracious. It scintilated with wit, and was as sharp as a sword. In case of need, it could strike the terror of a clap of thunder. This gift he used with the greatest skill, going straight to the point which he wished to inculcate. Affable and easy of approach, kindly in his ways, ever in good humor (often even jovial), his gentle nature disarmed all wrath. He was an ideal Friar Preacher -- a true type of the Order.(8)In the light of this appreciation we can understand why, during the fifteen years Jordan held the position of Master General, it became more and more evident that the selection of him for the place was the work of God. Throughout his long period of government he preserved aglow the spirit of peace and regular observance in the Order. So did he keep burning brightly in the hearts of his subjects that fire of zeal and fervor which ever urged them on to the spiritual conquests for which they are noted in history. In all things, but perhaps especially in the apostolic life, he set the example which he wished the others to follow. This was one of his ways of direction.
No one could have been more careful than the new Master General to carry out the designs of the Order's founder, which he knew perfectly well. One of the ideas of Saint Dominic, in which he never failed, if he could possibly help it, was the yearly convocation of a general chapter. Through these he sought to forestall abuses; or to nip them in the bud, if they had started. He also took advantage of such assemblies of the fathers to procure missionaries for infidel countries, as well as further to enkindle the zeal of those who remained at home.
Like Dominic again, Jordan was a lover of youth, over whom he wielded an extraordinary influence, paid special attention to the houses situated in university centers, and kept up an incessant visitation of the various convents and provinces. In accordance with the law enacted in 1221, the general chapter convened alternately at Bologna and Paris on Pentecost Sunday. Our zealous General made it a rule to preach the preceding lent in whichever of the two cities the meetino, was to be held. His unparalleled eloquence drew immense crowds to his sermons in both places. The university students particularly flocked in numbers to hear him. With these he was perfectly at home, for he knew their life from a to z; and they made him the idol of their hearts. His letters to Blessed Diana show that rarely, if ever, did he fail to receive from twenty to thirty of them into the Order around the Easter time, either at Paris or Bologna.(9)
When the chapter was over, our holy Friar Preacher took his staff, for he always travelled afoot, and began his visitation anew. He would now pass into a different part of Europe from that by which he had come, ending his journey in the city where the next general meeting was to be held. He invariably preached, not only where the fathers had a convent, but also at whatever places he stopped. Everywhere, such were his kindly disposition, good nature, wit, zeal, and the love in which everyone held him, that all vied with his confrères in the welcome accorded him. He drew youth as a magnet draws steel. Not often did he arrive at a house of his Order but that some one came to receive the habit from his hands.
Indeed, we may say that winning of vocations was one of Jordan's specialties. The writers tell us that he himself clothed over a thousand with the habit of the Order. They came from every walk in life. Many of them were men of great learning and distinction before they entered the Order, notably professors in the various universities and schools of Europe. Not a few of them afterwards honored the highest positions in the Church, or attained world-wide fame. We need mention only Blessed Albert the Great, whose broad field of knowledge is still the marvel of scholars.(10)
The novitiates and houses of study were objects of our Master General's tenderest paternal care. The young men in these loved him in return. Many instances of how he solved their doubts, removed their troubles, and encouraged their vocations are recorded in the Lives of the Brethren (Vitae Fratrum). He was the personification of kindness towards them. He liked to see them joyful as well as earnest. Whenever he appeared at one of these houses, they always wanted him to address them. If, at the general chapters of Paris or Bologna, another performed this office, they were not content until Jordan said at least a few words to them. Their confidence in his enlightened judgment was so great that the mere expression of his opinion settled every question for their minds.
In this same connection we must not omit a story that has been banded down to us through the long course of ages. Previously to the general chapter, whether at Paris or Bologna, Jordan always ordered a number of new habits to be made that they might be ready for the clothing which he invariably had after his lenten course of sermons. Not infrequently he did the same at other times. On one such occasion (February 2, 1234) at Saint James', Paris, twenty habits were prepared for bim. Among the applicants was a German, whom, because of his extreme youth, he told to wait a while longer. But, when the holy man bad clothed twenty, the number he had admitted, he noticed that there was still one waiting. Then he discovered that his young countryman had stealthily slipped into the band. Jordan simply said with a gentle smile: "One of you stole the habit from me." The persistent novice remained, and became a man of note.(11)
Pious, recollected, and personally austere though he was, our Saxon Master General evidently did not overvalue what we may style long-faced piety. His practical mind told him that there was a time and place for every good thing, and that excesses should be avoided; whilst his own naturally mirthful disposition made him wish to see his confrères, especially the young, enjoy themselves under the proper conditions. This state of mind explains the incident which we have now to relate. On one occasion, when some ludicrous occurrence in the chapel caused the novices to burst out into laughter, an older father chided them then and there for what he termed their levity. After the community retired from the place of prayer, Jordan bruskly reprehended the would-be corrector. Then, turning to the novices, the holy man told them to laugh to their hearts' content.
One of the things which seem to have given the earnest General no little worry and trouble was the part which he took on himself in the support of so many candidates and students. Another was to pay the debts owed by many when they entered the Order, for he would never suffer such a handicap to interfere with one's vocation. However, God always came to his aid. Ceaselessly did he watch that due care was given to the preservation of the health of these young men, and that the most talented were accorded the best opportunities for their education.(12) Such a superior could not but be loved by those under him. Neither young nor old ever tired of his ardent, affectionate, superbly eloquent exhortations.
Under the leadership of incomparable Jordan, back in that age of faith, the Order continued to make wonderful strides. Its members grew in numbers; its convents multiplied; new provinces were added; foreign missions opened and zealously cultivated. From place to place he travelled back and forth. On his journeys, in spite of his spontaneous sallies of wit now and then, he was as recollected as a hermit in the solitude of his cell. Those with him he trained to speak to God and of God. It is not often that history presents to us a person with so exquisite a combination of the human and spiritual, or in whom the natural was so artistically ordained to the supernatural.
Reference has been made to the importance which the zealous leader of the Friars Preacher attached to the yearly meetings of the fathers from all parts. In 1228, he convoked at Paris the first of the only two most general chapters that have been held in the Order. Because of his anxiety for the spread of the kingdom of Christ on earth, four new provinces were created at this time -- those of Denmark, Poland, Greece, and the Holy Land.(11a) When he called for voluntary recruits for the last mentioned, every member of the assembly and convent present offered his services. It then became a delicate task to select those who should be sent on this mission. Here again Jordan's deft management of men stood him in good stead. Henry of Marsberg, who had been in Palestine before he entered the Order, was placed at the head of the band chosen, and appointed the first provincial of the new province.
While a brief sketch like the present does not permit us to go into the details of this historic chapter, we must not pass over the following incident. At the time of the solemnities, our Master General had some of the best orators of Paris to join with fathers of the Order in delivering discourses in Saint James' Church. One of the outsiders was the celebrated John Giles, an Englishman and a member of the university faculty. In the midst of his sermon on poverty and detachment from the things of earth, John suddenly halted, left the pulpit, fell on his knees at the feet of Blessed Jordan, begged for the habit, and returned to finish preaching dressed in the garb of a Friar Preacher.
Quite naturally the action of the noted professor created a sensation in the immense audience, among whom were many students, who always flocked in numbers wherever Jordan happened to be. It gave the General the opportunity for which he had long prayed. With the consent of the chancellor of the university, whom the students besieged with supplications to that effect, John Giles retained his professorial chair. Roland of Cremona, who had come to the chapter, was at once appointed to lecture under him, after the fashion of the times.(13)
Such was the beginning of the intimate and glorious part which the Friars Preacher played in the University of Paris for centuries, and in which Albert the Great and Thomas of Aquin were most conspicuous figures. Shortly after the Order obtained this opening, the historic conflict that all but disrupted the institution and put an end to Paris as an educational center broke out between the university authorities and civic officials. Professors and students left the city in droves. Only by the wisest measures, under the direction of Jordan, did the fathers manage to keep their place on the teaching staff and retain some outside pupils. Indeed, in no small degree, it was through the General's efforts that peace and harmony were finally restored, that the great school began to flourish anew, and that the capital of France regained its intellectual prestige. His good services in the affair were deeply appreciated by all concerned.
While the conflict was at its height, Henry III invited the professors and students of Paris to England, where he held out the most flattering prospects to them. Great numbers of them went to Oxford. Blessed Jordan also paid a visit to England early in 1230. As, at this time, the University of Paris was almost an "abomination of desolation," he preached the lent of that year at Oxford. The students of the great British school, like those on the Continent, turned out en masse to hear him. At the close of his course of sermons, he notably increased the English Province by those whom he clothed with the habit.(14)
Unpretentious in his ways, nay, simplicity itself, although he was, the Saxon General was a man without fear. We have an illustration of his courage in what is now to be recorded. In May or June, 1229, Frederic II, whose egotism and pretentious pride long gave the Holy See no end of trouble, returned to Brindisi, southeastern Italy, from his brief, farcical campaign against the Turks in the Holy Land. He at once renewed hostilities against Gregory IX. On the receipt of this news, Jordan started forthwith for the camp of the German emperor.
It was not the first time that our Friar Preacher had braved the lion in his own den. Albeit Frederic must have had his suspicions about the character of the visit, he held the blessed in too high esteem to refuse a request for an audience. When the two men came face to face, the monarch simply motioned his guest to a seat. Then there was a prolonged silence. Jordan finally broke it, and the colloquy that followed ran somewhat in this way. "Sire, in the fulfillment of the duties of my charge, I travel through many parts. Hence I am surprised that your Majesty does not ask me about the current reports and public opinion as regards your actions."
Frederic knew well what would be the nature of the answer to any such question. Fixing his eyes on Jordan, therefore, he retorted: "I have my envoys at every court and in every province. These keep me perfectly informed of all that takes place throughout the Empire. Neither am I unaware of what is said about me in other kingdoms. In short, I know the news of the world." Unabashed by the emperor's tremendous haughtiness, as well as fearless of consequences, Jordan rejoined, in his quiet way:
"Sire Frederic, Christ our Lord and Master also knew all things, for He was God. Yet He did not disdain to ask the apostles what the people thought of Him. You are only a man, Sire, and there are many things which you do not know. Nevertheless, it is well that your Majesty should learn what is said about you. It is common report that you oppress the Church and ecclesiastics everywhere; that you spurn the bishops; that you pay no attention to ecclesiastical censures; that you believe in auguries and are superstitious; that you favor the Jews and the Saracens, while you persecute the Christians; and that, in fine, you refuse the Vicar of Christ on earth the honor and obedience that are due to him.
"Surely, Sire Emperor, these things are not becoming in you. Permit me, your humble servant, to say that it is of the greatest importance to you that you should put an end to these universal rumors by a conduct which will meet with the approbation of God and win the esteem of men. Allow me to assure your Majesty that your human glory and the eternal salvation of your soul depend on such deportment."(15)
Unpalatable as was this Christian correction (all the more scathing because of its straightforward simplicity) must have been to the proud monarch, Frederic did not
interrupt it. Nay, he afterwards often spoke of his esteem for the man who had the courage to address him in such a way. There was something in Jordan's manner that inspired awe everywhere.
As a matter of duty and conscience, our Master General strove with all his might that his confrères should deserve well of the Church, aiding her rulers in every possible way. At Rome he kept up the cordial, trustful relations which Saint Dominic had established there. Honorius III held him in the highest esteem. While provincial of Lombardy he contracted an intimate friendship with Cardinal Ugolino di Segni, who was then papal legate at Bologna. April 4, 1227, eight days after he became Pope under the name of Gregory IX, the latter addressed a most affectionate letter to his "Very dear Sons, Father Jordan, Master General, and the Priors and Brethren of the Order of Preachers." The new Pontiff begins the document by telling bow he had been raised to the supreme dignity not only against his will, but even in spite of his resistance. Then he proceeds to ask the prayers of all that he may worthily discharge the duties of his responsible position.(16)
The letters, briefs, and bulls of Gregory to Jordan and the Order must forever remain as a monument of the trust which that Pontiff reposed in the Friars Preacher, no less than of the paternal affection he lavished on them.(17) Both were richly deserved. More than one of the sketches in this volume show beyond peradventure of doubt the loyalty, labors, and self-sacrifice of the fathers in behalf of the Holy See during those troublous times in Italy. They are history written in deeds that can not be effaced. Back of all, as long as he lived, was the gentle, yet adamantine, character of Jordan.
Perhaps no man knew Europe better than our Saxon General. In the exercise of his office he went everywhere, and came in contact with people, whether lay or clerical, from the lowest to the highest rung in the ladder of life. Whilst the confidence which he inspired brought to his knowledge things which would otherwise have been bidden, he took in much on his journeys which would have escaped the notice of a less observant mind. His trained intellect and accurate judgment ordinarily enabled him to form true evaluations. Thus, in the light of the papal documents and the labors of the fathers throughout Italy just mentioned, one can but believe the statement that Jordan was ever a welcome visitor in the Eternal City. Gregory IX, it is said, always received him with open arms, showed him every consideration, consulted him on aff airs far and near, and attached no little importance to his opinions, the value of which was enhanced by his rare practical acumen. More than once he preached, by special request, to the papal court in the presence of the Holy Father.
Overwork and incessant travel gradually told their story on the holy man's health. His constitution was undermined. He became subject to frequent attacks of fever, some of which proved almost fatal. Yet he was hardly able to be on his feet after these, before he started on another journey in the cause of religion and souls. Not a few miracles were attributed to him. One was the multiplication of loaves at the home of a poor family in a village of the Alps, where he stopped overnight with some of his confr6res, and where a number of beggars had gathered.(18)
All the writers speak of our blessed's deep and unfeigned humility, which was never in the least upset either by the success of his labors, or by comradeship with potentates and others in the highest stations in life, whether civil or ecclesiastical. With the exception of those conferred on him by his Order, he is said to have instantly declined the many honors tendered him by the chief authority in the Church. Only the most positive obedience could have induced him to accept them. This meekness alone reveals a man, whose faith and prayers one would expect to see God reward in marvellous ways. He made many extraordinary conversions, and won a number of most unexpected vocations.
A long and dangerous attack of illness at Trent prevented Jordan from attending the yearly general chapter held at Paris in 1232. It was the first he had missed since his election ten years before. Because Saint Dominic's sacred remains reposed there, Bologna was the city he loved above all others. No sooner did he regain sufficient strength to leave Trent than he began to make preparations for the translation of the patriarch's relies at the time of the next chapter. This event, which took place on May 24, 1233, rendered the general meeting of that year the most noteworthy in the history of the Order. All Bologna turned out on the occasion. Bishops and clergy of every rank came from near and far. Neighboring cities sent delegations to represent them. Over three hundred Friars Preacher were there from various parts of the world. It was a day of great rejoicing; but doubtless none were happier than the subject of our sketch. No doubt the celebration hastened the saint's canonization.
By this time, although he was just in the prime of life, ill health, incessant toil, and exposure had so changed the appearance of the zealous General that he seemed to be a broken old man. Still he retained his mental energy, while his spirit had lost none of the fire of youth. He continued to wield an almost mysterious power over students. We have seen how he gave the habit of the Order to twenty-one at Saint James', Paris, February 2, 1234. A few weeks later, after he had preached the lenten course there, he gave it to sixty-one more in the same place, which was perhaps the largest number he ever clothed at any one time.
In connection with these two investitures a beautiful story has come down to us, which illustrates at once our worthy Master General's gentle humility and keen foresight. Among the fathers at the chapter, which was held almost immediately afterwards, were those who feared lest he had suffered his zeal to carry him too far in receiving some so young in years, and others whom they thought not far enough advanced in their studies. In this conviction, they ventured to expostulate with the holy man. Jordan simply said: "Now, give these young plants time to grow. We must not disdain the little ones whom providence sends us. Take my word for it-the day will come, when those to whom you now object will labor and preach with greater fruit for the salvation of souls than some of those whom you regard with more favor." So it happened.(19)
Christ's busy ambassador now started on his usual round of visitations and preaching. This time he directed his steps towards Germany, where he had not been able to go as often as he would have liked. On his arrival at Strasburg, the first days of August, he received word that Saint Dominic bad been formally canonized. Thus it was with the fathers of that city that he had the happiness of celebrating the feast of the Order's founder for the first time.
Urgent business of some kind obliged the General to retrace his steps towards Paris before he had completed his work in Germany. Affairs in the French capital occupied him for some months. Indeed, he fell sick before they were fully settled, and he was riot able to attend the chapter of 1235 at Bologna, or to preach the lent there, as had been his wont. Possibly it was in part to make up for this and the similar assemblage which he had missed at Paris in 1232, that Jordan now sent out a call for a second most general chapter in the latter city in 1236. Meanwhile, in so far as his Strength at all permitted, he labored and busied himself with many things for the glory of God and the good of souls.
In obedience to the summons of their Master General, many Friars Preacher gathered at Paris from the four quarters of the globe for the Pentecost of 1236. Jordan presided over the chapter in his usual happy fashion. But, perhaps more to the disappointment of its members than to himself (for they all loved him from the bottom of their hearts), ill health prevented him from delivering an address to them, as had ever been his custom. Possibly the holy man concluded that now or never should he carry out his long cherished desire to visit the missions in the Holy Land, to inspect the labors of the fathers in that distant field, and to encourage them in their toils and privations. At the close of the Paris chapter, which was the last in which he was to take part, he announced this determination to the assembled fathers. Albert the Great received the appointment of vicar general of the Order during his absence.
No sketch of Jordan of Saxony would be at all complete without some of the stories or incidents of his life which so aptly bring out his magnetic personality, as well as illustrate his character. But we must first briefly tell of a trait which as yet has scarcely been mentioned -- his love for and trust in the Mother of God. He drank in a tender devotion towards Mary from his mother's breast. This veneration became intensified through his brief association with Saint Dominic, through the spirit which the patriarch implanted in his Order, through his own religious life and the many favors which he felt that he had received from her. Everywhere he preached her glory, her immaculate purity, her power before the throne of God.
In the Order and without he strove to inculcate a deep, trustful, and abiding devotion to the Blessed Virgin. To increase the honor paid to her, no less than to obtain her protection for the Order, he induced the general chapter of 1225 to enact a rule that the Salve Regina, or Hail Holy Queen, should be sung in the convents every day after compline. The custom is still observed throughout the world.(20) With the accompanying procession, it is a beautiful ceremony and a characteristic rite of the Friars Preacher.
The anecdotes we may begin with the vocation of an only child of a wealthy German. The young man had been sent to a school in Padua, where he received the habit from Blessed Jordan. When the father learned of the step his beir had taken, he started posthaste for Italy, determined either to regain his son or to wreak vengeance on our Friar Preacher. On his arrival in Padua, the irate father met a person dressed in the Dominican habit, and hotly demanded of him: "Where can I find Master Jordan of Saxony?" "I am the gentleman" was the modest, meek reply. The very tone of the General's voice so overcame the man's wrath that he instantly alighted from his steed, knelt at the priest's feet, confessed his evil designs, and willingly gave up his son to God.(21)
On one occasion, in Bologna, our ambassador of Christ met a man whose life caused him to pass as obsessed. Without warning or provocation, he struck Jordan violently on the cheek. Our blessed calmly turned the other side of his face towards the villain, but -neither spoke nor showed any anger. We are not told what became of the miserable fellow; yet we may suppose that the meekness of God's servant led to his conversion.
Jordan's ebarity towards the poor was almost without bounds. There were those among his confrères who, because they thought he went to excess in his kindness, or feared his goodness was not infrequently imposed u,pon, often remonstrated with him in this matter. Or4inarily he remained silent. If pushed for an answer, he would simply say: "A culprit's word can not be accepted in his own defense; for he will either deny the accusation, or defend and excuse his action."
Once, when about to leave Rome in order to continue a visitation of the houses in Italy, the General went to pay his last respects to the Pope. The Holy Father, as seems to have happened more than once, obliged him to dine with himself. That night Jordan and his travelling companions, overtaken by darkness in a small village, went first to seek lodging at the rectory of the place, but were refused hospitality. Later they were taken in by a poor family who could offer them only a little straw for a bed. When they were left alone, Jordan smiled and said to his confrères: "This is just the thing for us. It is much better for us to sleep on hay in a hovel than to dine at the table of the Sovereign Pontiff. There we may be tempted to vanity. Here we really live up to our profession."
Another time, Gregory IX complained of the slow progress made by some of the fathers to whom he had committed reforms here and there. Trusting to his familiarity with the great Pontiff, and wishing to inculcate patience, Jordan answered somewhat in this fashion: "Holy Father, this reminds me of a visit I once made to a large monastery. As the entrance, lined on both sides by trees, was long and tortuous, I and my companion ventured to cut across the lawn. When we reached the door, the porter cried out to us that we had not come the right way, and ordered us to go back and take the ordinary road. It is the same with these reforms. The ways of the law are long, intricate, and tedious. Unless one starts the work properly, and follows the right path all the way through, it is necessary to begin anew and to do it all over again." The reader need hardly be told that Gregory saw the point. Doubtless the kindly hint rather pleased him.
In his spirit of friendship, Jordan often broke his journeys that he might visit a house of some of the contemplative orders, who largely lived on the income from their property. On one occasion the fathers of the monastery at which he stopped sought to twit him, perhaps half in earnest, by maintaining that his religious institute would be short-lived. The reason adduced was that some time or other, as the Scriptures tell us, charity will grow cold. Then the Friars Preacher, who live on alms, will no longer find the means of subsistence.
"Your argument," replied Jordan goodnaturedly, "favors us, and is against yourselves. The Gospel says that charity will grow cold, when iniquity and consequent persecution arise. Now one of the first acts of the wicked will be to seize your possessions. Then, as you are not accustomed to go from place to place and to live on charity, you will necessarily cease to exist. On the contrary, being spread in all parts, my brethren will reap a richer spiritual harvest, just as the apostles did when they were scattered by persecution. Furthermore, as we know from our experience with such men, they will gladly give us of the booty taken from you, if we are willing to accept their donations."
To one who asked him why more masters in the arts than theologians entered the Order the witty Saxon answered: "Peasants, because wont to drink water, more readily become intoxicated on good wine, when they get it, than the wealthy, who are accustomed to it. So masters in the arts, imbibing only the philosophy of Plato or Aristotle through the week, are easily taken by the word of God which they hear on Sundays and feast days. To theologians sermon matter is not new, for they have often heard and studied such truths. They are like sacristans, whose familiarity with the chureb causes them to forget to genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament."
A layman once asked Jordan: "Why is it that the times are harder, and even the soil less productive, since the coming of the Franciscans and Dominicans than they were before?" "I deny that such is the case," said he with a smile, "and I can prove the contrary to be true. But, were it so, it would only be a just punishment from heaven. Since we came, we have instructed the people as to the enormity of sin, and what things are wrong. Yet, in spite of this knowledge, they continue their evil deeds. Therefore, they deserve greater chastisement. I can assure you that, as you now know better, worse things will come upon you, unless you mend your ways."
The travels of the man of God often brought him in contact with the hierarchy. Possibly his well-known wit and fearless expression of his thoughts not infrequently caused them to ply him with questions. When asked, in such company, why some of the bishops taken from his Order and that of Saint Francis did not prove as exemplary as it had been expected they would, he modestly replied: "You should be able to answer that question better than I can, since the decrease in fervor has always come after they passed to your society. In the orders their faults were corrected."
Then he proceeded to say: "I have been in the Order of Saint Dominic a long time. Yet I do not remember one case in which a Pope, or a bishop, or a cathedral chapter asked me, or any other superior, if such or such a man would make a good prelate. They did their own choosing, and were guided either by a kind of friendship, or other motive that was but little spiritual. Therefore, if some so selected fall short in the duties of such a sublime and responsible position, it is not to us that complaints should be made."
However, one must not conclude from the above that the zealous Master General liked to see a few of the Order's best men raised to the episcopate. On the contrary, he was strongly opposed to such promotions. To friends who remarked that a certain father would be a fine bishop he said: "I should rather see him lying in a coffin than seated on an episcopal throne." Apart from the fact that they were wedded by vow to a state of lowliness and humility, his practical philosophy told him that, unless his subjects were big enough to make model bishops, it were better for all concerned that they should not be so honored; and that, if they were men of real episcopal caliber, the Order could not well afford to loose them.
In the sketch of Father John di Scledo (commonly called John of Vicenza), our readers have seen the German General's characteristic rejoinder to the petition of the citizens of Bologna, at the chapter of 1233, that the wonderful Friar Preacher should be left in their city. We shall not repeat it here. Yet we must not omit Jordan's answer to one of his own subjects, who asked to be relieved of a post which he had filled with credit for some years, and which he felt interfered with his spiritual exercises. "There are four things," said his superior, to be considered in regard to your position -- negligence, impatience, industry, and reward. I release you from the first two, but leave you the others for the remission of your sins and the benefit of your soul." Such brief, quiet replies, we are told, had all the effects of a sermon.
Towards the end of his life, the subject of our narrative lost the sight in one of his eyes. Whenever friends or confrères sought to console him in this affliction, he would say: "No, no; rather thank God for delivering me from one of my enemies. However, you may ask Him to spare me the use of the other, provided it be for His greater honor and glory and the good of souls." Never was he known to complain of his ailments, be the pain ever so great.
One more anecdote, which serves to show the telling eff ect of the holy man's simple remarks, and we are done with this lighter vein of his history. At Saint James', Paris, a university student came to receive the habit. Several of his companions followed him to the convent for the ceremony. As the youth knelt at Jordan's feet, the latter looked at the others, and quietly said: "One would not refuse to accompany a friend to a feast. Now this young man is going to the greatest of feasts. Will you let him be alone?" Instantly one of them stepped forward to be clothed with the garb of the Order. Later he became a man of note, and be always declared that, until the General spoke, he had not even thought of embracing the religious life.
Some of our blessed's remarks, when taken by themselves, might seem somewhat sarcastic and trenchant. Considered in their proper setting, together with the character of the man, they are the very antithesis of the ill-natured. Indeed, he reminds one not a little of Father Matthew A. O'Brien, whom (in his biography) we have styled "An American Apostle." Ever and always Jordan was charity personified. Whenever he arrived at a convent, the first thing he did, after a brief visit to his eucharistic God, was to see the sick of body and the afflicted of soul. Many instances are told of cure of scruples and spiritual torments by mere presence at his prayers.
Quite naturally this goodness of heart combined with his efforts for the good of the Order to win Jordan the confidence and affection of those under him. Their esteem for him was enhanced by his consuming zeal and tireless labors for the salvation of his fellowman. He may be said to have had no home, for he was almost perpetually on the road. While Saint Dominic planned the foreign missions, and had them constantly in mind, he died too soon to see them in the bloom. His successor developed them with anxious care. For this labor he selected only the brave. Unfortunately there are extant none of the communications between him and Saint Hyacinth, or Blessed Ceslas, or Paul of Hungary, or the missionaries in Palestine and adjacent countries. One can not doubt but that they would make edifying reading, no less than greatly add to our knowledge of the history of the Order. It was Jordan, says the Année Dominicaine, who sent Father Andrew Longjumeau as an envoy to the dreaded Tartars.(22)
Perhaps no man of his age showed more interest in the universities of Europe, or greater love for their students, than our Friar-Preacher General. By some he is styled an "apostle of the schools." We have seen how the young men gathered around him, whenever he was in the vicinity. He proved a staunch supporter of Fulk of Marseilles, bishop of Toulouse, and his successor, Raymond de Felgar, in the establishment and maintenance of the University of Toulouse.(23)Jordan also did much for education in his own Order, and placed its course of studies on a solid foundation.
Another subject in which our blessed took a keen and affectionate concern was the Dominican Sisters. He did much to quicken the joy and happiness of their cloistered lives, and set great store by their prayers for the success of the labors of the fathers. Saint Dominic, while at Bologna, had endeavored to start a community of sisters in that city, under the leadership of Blessed Diana Lovello (later called Diana d'Andalo), but was prevented by the opposition of her father and family. Later, as this opposition died down, Jordan renewed the enterprise, and established historic Saint Agnes' Convent. His letters to Blessed Diana, which are happily still extant, throw considerable light on Dominican history, as well as help us to follow him in his travels.(24)
In spite of his otherwise busy life, Blessed Jordan found time to write several works after he became a Friar Preacher. Besides encyclicals to the Order at large and special letters to convents here and there, these included two commentaries on parts of the Scriptures, a book on devotion to the Blessed Virgin, a long prayer to her and another to Saint Dominic, a volume of sermons, and an outline of the beginnings of the Order (De Principiis Ordinis). The last mentioned has since been published in several places. Although we can but deeply regret that it is not much fuller and more detailed, it has placed us under an eternal debt of gratitude to its author. Some attribute the office of Saint Dominic to him. However, this seems to have been the work of Constantine de' Medici, or of Orvieto.(25)
With these odds and ends (sidelights we may call them) of his life out of the way, we may now proceed with the brief remainder of the earthly career of Dorninic's early disciple without further interruption.
Soon after the general chapter of Paris, Jordan took leave of his brethren there and started for southwestern Asia. His companions in travel were a Father Gerard, who often accompanied him, and a Brother Albisius. No account of their itinerary has been handed down to us. Thus we know only that they sailed from some Italian port -- probably Naples or Brindisi. Under the fostering zeal of the second Master General, a number of missionary centers had sprung up here and there in the near-east. Most likely our travellers landed at Ptolemais, where the Friars Preacher had a house. At any rate, Jordan visited them there. The convents at Damascus, Nazareth, and Bethlehem (perhaps other places too) also received his kindly attention. One can not doubt that he was welcomed everywhere with joy, and that he did much to inspirit the zeal of his brother athletes of Christ.
We may consider the journeys to the above cities as steps leading to Jerusalem, which was the great missionary center, as well as the sanctuary which our pious Saxon had long wished to visit. Here, between times of labor and consultation, he poured out his pure soul in prayer at the places sanctified by the tread or blood of our Blessed Saviour. It must have been the spiritual feast of his life. No doubt it gave his heart a thrill akin to that which he experienced at the sight of the lives, zeal, and labors of the confr6res whom he had sent to preach the word of God in those distant parts.
Nor age, nor bad health, nor partial loss of his sight had lessened our General's courage, or zeal, or love for students. Immediately that he finished his work in Palestine, he started for Naples, whence he intended to visit the flourishing novitiates and houses of study in southern Italy. After this, it would seem, he hoped to continue his way into Hungary and Poland for the same purpose. Thus his beloved youths were on his mind until the end. It was on February 13, 1237, that he sailed from Ptolemais for Naples. The travellers had hardly lost sight of land, when their vessel was shipwrecked by a sudden storm. Blessed Jordan and his two companions, together with many others, were drowned.(26) News of the sad catastrophe soon reached Rome. From there two fathers, who were papal penitentiaries, wrote to Saint James', Paris:All through his religious life the second head of the Order had been regarded as a very saintly man. A number of prodigies were said to have been wrought by him. Others came after his death; while several very holy persons declared that, in visions, they saw his soul ascend into heaven. All this, together with the facts recorded in the letter just quoted, occasioned a devotion to the man of God which continued through the course of centuries, and caused him to be given the title of Blessed Jordan of Saxony. After a thorough study of this immemorial veneration by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, Leo XII, who reigned from 1823 to 1829, allowed the Friars Preacher the world over to say mass and recite the divine office in his honor. His feast is celebrated on February 15, with the rank of a duplex. Throughout his Order he is held in an esteem second only to that which is accorded to Saint Dominic.
Fathers Godfrey and Reginald, Penitentiaries of His Holiness, the Pope,You have no doubt heard that our kind Father, Master Jordan, his two companions, and ninety-nine other persons have been taken from this wicked world by shipwreck in a violent storm. However, dear brothers, do not let your hearts be saddened by this awful calamity; for God, in His mercy, has already greatly consoled us, who have become orphans through the untimely death of a good Father. After the storm, the bodies of our three confrères were washed ashore, and bright lights in the form of crosses shone over them every night until they were found and buried where they lay by those who escaped from the disaster. These, together with many others, have borne testimony to the miracle. Moreover, the inhabitants of the neighborhood, drawn to the place of the catastrophe by reports of so marvellous an occurrence, testify that they experienced a sweet fragrance all round; while those who touched the bodies declare that this fragrance did not leave their hands for more than ten days. Indeed, this same sweet odor pervaded the locality until the fathers at Ptolomais came in a boat and took up the bodies for burial in the conventual church of that city. There now repose the remains of our late beloved Master General; and many wonders have in this short time been attributed to his intercession. Blessed be God in all His works. Amen .(27)
to the Venerable and Beloved Prior and Fathers of the Convent, Paris,
Health and the Consolation of the Holy Ghost.
NOTES1. Acta Sanctorum, V (second vol. for February), 720 ff ; ALBERTI, fol. 23 ff; Année Dominicaine, II (February), 487 ff; BERTHIER, Blessed Jordan's De Initiis Ordinis Praedicatorium (preface) ; BZOVIUS (Bzowski), XIII, col. 307 and passim; CANTIMPRE, Thomas, O. P., De Apibus, Book 2, Chap. 57; CASTILLO, pp. 159 ff; FLEURY, Claud, Histoire Ecclésiastique, XVI, 469-472, 526, 537, and passim, XVII, 143 ff; FRACHET, Gerard de, Vitae Fratrum (Reichert ed.), pp. 100 ff ; MALVENDA, pp. 287 ff, and passim to p. 583; MORTIER, I, 137 ff ; PIO, col. 86 ff ; SPONDE, Henry de, Annales Ecclesiastici, A. D. 1236, No. 10; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 93 ff. Cantimpré and de Frachet give many interesting anecdotes in Jordan's life; the Année Dominicaine has a splendid sketch of him; and Mortier outlines the work done under him as General. (Ed. note).
2. Acta Sanctorum, V, 720-721. This is also stated by a number of others. (Ed. note).
3. Ibid., V, 725; also Vitae Fratrum, as in note 1.
4. QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 98.
5. Blessed Jordan himself gives us these facts in his De Initiis Ordinis Praedicatorum (Berthier ed.), pp. 2, 19 ff.
6. Ibid., p. 27.
8. Op. cit., I, 143.
9. For excerpts from these letters see the Année Dominicaine, as in note 1, passim. From now on to the end of the sketch many of the facts and incidents are taken from this publication, but are not arranged in the same order. (Ed. note).
10. Acta Sanctorum, V, 721, No. 5; BZOVIUS (Bzowski), XIII, A. D. 1236; CANTIMPRE, as in note 1; FRACHET, de, as in note 1, pp. 108-109; HUMBERT of Romans, Chronicon Ordinis; THEODERIC of Apolda, Vita Sancti Dominici.
11. Acta Sanctorum, V, 727, No. 15; FLEURY, op. cit., XVI, 537 ff.
12 FLEURY, op. cit., XVI, 538-539.
12a. Such is the data of the codex of the general chapters which has come down to us. This codex belongs to the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century. In view of this fact and the standing of Saint Hyacinth and Blessed Ceslas, one feels inclined to wonder if the Province of Poland was not really established in 1221 (together with the unoccupied provinces of England, Germany, and Hungary); and then divided into the provinces of Poland and Denmark in 1228. See note 31a in sketch of Hyacinth.
13. Année Dominicaine, II, 529 ff.
14. Ibid., 543-545.
15. Acta Sanctorum, V, 733, No. 52; FLEURY, XVII, 144. The Acta and Fleury got all such incidents in Jordan's life from Cantimpré and from de Frachet's Vitae Fratrum. (Ed. note).
16. The Année Dominicaine (11, 522-523) has a French translation of this letter, which is in Archives Nationales, Registres et Cartons, L. 241, No. 1. It is not given in the Bullarium Ordinis Praedicatorum. (Ed. note).
17. Bullarium Ordinis Praedicatorum, I, 18 ff.
18. Acta Sanctorum, V, 727, No. 10.
19. CANTIMPRE, op. cit., Book 2, Chap. XIX, No. 2.
20. FRACHET, de (Reichert ed.), pp. 55 ff ; FLEURY, op. cit., XVII, 147.
21. Acta Sanctorum, V, 728, No. 18. All the anecdotes given after this may be found, almost in succession, in the Acta -- and also in the Année Dominicaine and Vitae Fratrum, as in note 1. (Ed. note).
22. II, 529-530. The writer in the Année says Paul of Hungary was martyred before 1228. As stated in the sketch of Paul, this seems to have occurred a number of years later. (Ed. note).
23. Ibid., 541.
24. Ibid., passim.
25. QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 98 ff. Jordan's De Initiis Ordinis (p. 19, Berthier ed.) is responsible for the statement, which we frequently read, that a large proportion of Saint Dominic's first disciples, while deeply spirituall were men of rather limited learning. However, in the light of history, it seems to us that Jordan spoke in such a sense by way of comparison with the long university courses which he, Blessed Reginald of Orleans, Matthew of France, and a few others had gone through. Yet, as we know, many great men never enjoyed those opportunities. The lives and labors of those Friar-Preacher firstlings show that they were possessed of no little education. One's knowledge depends less on where it was obtained than on talent, industry, and the teachers.
26. Authors as in note 1; CANISIUS, Henry (?), Antiquae Lectiones (?); MOLANUS (van der Metilen (?), John), Martyrologium (?).
27. FRACHET, de (Reichert ed.), p. 130.