THE DOMINICAN STORY
CHAPTER I: THE GOLDEN YEARS
by fr. Gregory Anderson, OP (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It would be impossible to condense the 773 years of Dominican history into the short space we have . If you are interested in getting that kind of history Benedict Ashley's The Dominicans or William Hinnebusch's The Dominicans: A Short History are recommended If you really want to go into full detail, including warts and all, Father Hinnebusch has a three volume work that will give you practically everything.
What we will try to do in these chapters is to give the highlights of our history, show the major trends and developments in the life of the Order over the centuries. This will, we hope, give you an appreciation of the glories of our Order, its contributions to the life of the Church and what we can expect from it in the future. The emphasis will be on the Friars although we will touch on developments in the other branches as they occur. It can be safely be said that as the Friars go, so does the rest of the Order.
We will begin with what can aptly be called the Golden Years, a period of 82 years from the death of St. Dominic to 1303.
Jordan of Saxony
The Order was fortunate to have a series of great Masters all during most of that period. The first of these was Blessed Jordan of Saxony who was Master from 1221 to his death in 1237, a period of sixteen years. Jordan had only been a Dominican for two years when he was elected to succeed St. Dominic as Master of the Order, but he had so completely captured the ideals and spirit of Dominic that he was able to carry out the plans Dominic had in his mind at his death and make his dreams a reality. During Jordan's time as Master the Order grew tremendously in numbers. By 1250, there were 13,000 friars, 10,000 of them priests. At the time of Dominic's death, there were 8 provinces; by the time of Jordan's death there were twelve, one of them in the Holy Land, which at that time was under the rule of the Crusaders. When Dominic died, there were 15 priories; by 1227, there were 404. Each priory had a theological school attached to it under the direction of a lector as professor. All the friars had to attend his lectures. In addition, the Order was firmly established at all the major universities of Europe, including Paris, Oxford, and Bologna.
In 1237, Jordan was drowned in a shipwreck while returning from the Holy Land where he had gone on pilgrimage as well as to make a visitation of the Province there. But all was not lost. He was succeeded by St. Raymond of Pennafort.
Raymond of Pennafort
St. Raymond was one of our greatest Dominicans although not appreciated as he deserves to be. He was a Spaniard from Catalonia, born in 1175. He became an expert in Canon Law, being educated in Bologna, the greatest school of Canon Law in Europe. He became a professor there but later returned to Barcelona where he met St. Dominic on one of his journeys through there. That and the impression made by the Dominicans he knew in Bologna moved him to enter the Order in 1222. At that time, he was 47 years old and already recognized as the greatest canon lawyer in the Church. His entry into the Order understandably made a great impact on the academic community. The result was that many other academics were inspired to become Dominicans.
After his novitiate was over, he was called to Rome by Pope Gregory IX, the great friend of St. Dominic, to be his confessor. Since this was not, obviously, a full time job, he was set to work by the Pope to write the Decretals, an orderly codification of the laws of the Church which until that time had never been collected or organized, which, quite possibly, was the real reason Gregory called him to Rome. Raymond's decretals were to remain the basic law of the Church until 1918 when a new code of canon law was issued. When this massive work was completed Raymond was offered an archbishopric which he turned down only to be elected Master of the Order in 1238 to succeed Blessed Jordan of Saxony.
As Master, he revised the Order's Constitutions, putting them in strict canonical form. Various General Chapters had passed a great deal of legislation but it had never been put into a coherent body. The result was no one was completely sure of what the law of the Order was. Raymond's successors certainly appreciated his work. After this necessary task was completed, the saint resigned the office of Master in 1241 on the grounds of poor health and old age. He was 66 years old. He still had 34 years to live, dying at the age of 100.
During his "golden years" he became interested in converting the Moors and Jews in Spain and to that end he asked St. Thomas Aquinas write one of his greatest works, The Summa Contra Gentes which was a summary of arguments to be used against the teachings of the Muslims and Jewish rabbis who were especially learned in Spain. He also established schools to train Dominicans in the languages of the Near East, in addition to a number of other activities aimed at developing an apostolate to Islam.
Canon lawyers are generally thought of as being cold and legalistic. Raymond was not that at all. He was rather a kindly, compassionate and understanding confessor whose advice to his fellow confessors was most pastoral and gentle.
John the Teuton
He was succeeded in 1241 as Master by John the Teuton, who had great talents as a diplomat. He was first a priest and professor at the University of Bologna and received the habit of the Order from St. Dominic and made profession to him in 1219. At the time he was over 40 years old. In 1227, he was made provinical of the Province of Hungary and then bishop of Hungary. It was a very difficult position requiring all his diplomatic talents. He acquited himself with great success but finally the situation got so bad that he resigned as bishop and went back to the discipline of the Order. But he was still a bishop because bishops are bishops forever. Nonetheless, he was made the provincial of Lombardy, another hot bed of trouble where once again he was able to prevent a blow up between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope. He did so well, in fact, that he was elected Master of the Order to succeed Raymond. He was unique among our Masters for he was the only one to be a bishop at the same time.
John continued the policies of his precedessors in regard to study, regular observance, liturgy and preaching. He also carried on the work of St. Raymond of Pennafort with the Muslims, supervising the foundation of the schools for instruction in the languages, customs and belief. In addition, he extended the work of the Order in the Middle East. He died in office in 1252.
Humbert of Romans
He was suceeded by one of the greatest Masters of the Order, Humbert of Romans. Despite his name he was a Frenchman and he got his name from the fact that he was born in the French town of Romans in the year 1193. In 1224, while he was a professor at the University of Paris he joined the Order. As a Dominican, he was tranferred to the University of Lyons. He was elected Provincial of Lombardy. In 1244, he was Provincial of France. He was nearly elected Pope at the conclave that chose Gregory IX, St. Dominic's great friend. He succeeded John the Teuton as Master in 1252. Among his contributions to the life of the Order was his commentaries of the Constitutions and the Rule, a letter on the vows and instructions on the offices of the Order. His commentary of the Rule was still being used until recently. He was also responsible for our Dominican Liturgy that remained in use until the nineteen sixties.
John of Vercelli
In 1264, Humbert. resigned as Master of the Order. He was succeeded by Blessed John of Vercelli who had been the Provincial of Lombardy, which seems to have been the training ground for the early Masters of the Order. Blessed Jordan of Saxony had given him the habit of the Order in Paris where he was professor of canon law. When elected, he was in his sixties and was crippled. As Master he followed the example of his predecessors and walked all over Europe visiting houses of the Order. It was during his term that the relics of St. Dominic were transferrd to the tomb that now holds them. When Pope Clement IV died, John was almost elected to succeed him, but he got out of town fast so that a friend of his was elected instead.
His greatest accomplishment was the acceptance for the Order of the commission given by the Council of Lyons to preach reverence for the Holy Name of Jesus --- they swore in those days too. From this came the Holy Name Society which has been the most powerful organization of men in the United States for many years. The Society is now engaged in a campaign to get Blessed John canonized as a saint. He also laid the cornerstone for the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, commonly known as the Minerva, in Rome where St. Catherine and Blessed Fra Angelico are buried. He died in 1283.
Munio of Zamora
He was succeeded by Munio of Zamora, a Spaniard, who should be held in the greatest reverence by the Dominican Laity for it was he who recognized that the lay people who had associated themselves with the Order needed a rule to guide them which he issued in 1285. It was tacitly approved by Pope Honorius IV in 1286 and received explicit papal approval in 1404. Munio had been Provincial of Spain before he was elected Master but he was one of the most beleagured Masters of the Order. His own brothers made unproved charges against him and even though the General Chapter of the Order exonerated him he was disposed from office by Pope Nicholas IV. He then retired to his native Spain where he was made bishop of Palencia where St. Dominic had done his university training. He continued to be assailed by his enemies in that position. He had had enough. He resigned and retired to Santa Sabina in Rome. He died in 1300 and is buried there in the middle of the church where you can see the mosaic on the marble slab that covers his grave to this day.
Etienne de Besançon
Then came Etienne de Besançon who was a famous preacher and theologian but he only lived for two years before he died. He as elected in 1292 but died in 1294. After him came Nicholas Boscasini who served less than two years before being made the Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia. In 1303 he was elected Pope with the name of Benedict XI. He was later beatified as Blessed Benedict XI.
Thus ended the golden age of the Order. Father William Hinnebusch, O.P. sums it up in these words:The Order's first century (1215-1303 ) witnessed the flowering of its ministry, the formation of its school sysstem, the eminence of its scholarship, and the leadership of an exceptional number of able masters general who gave every sign of listening to the Spirit. Under their fearless leadership friars developed apostolates as preachers, inquisitors, ambassadors, legates, mediators and arbitrators, attended gereral councils and worked for the union of the eastern and western churches. The holiness displayed by these early Dominicans illustrates that the tension caused by the Order's thrust towards both contemplation and ministry can be harmonized, and most perfectly so at the summit of excellence. It is an excellence resulting from conformity to Christ the Preacher; the poor, chaste, and obedient God-man who proclaimed the Good News of salvation. Dominican men and women, prayerfully pondering and experiencing the word of God, both Incarnate and written, become like Christ , contemplative apostles working for the Kingdom of God and the salvation of men. (The Dominicans: A Short History, page 44).
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