From: St. Dominic and His Work, by Pierre Mandonnet, O.P.,
        Translated by Sister Mary Benedicta Larkin, O.P., B. Herder Book Co., St. Louis/London, 1948.

Constitutional Organization (1220-21)

FOR the celebration of the general chapter, Dominic convoked friars from different convents of the Order. Among the four from Paris was Jordan of Saxony. With numerous foundations, several years of experience, and the counsel of the Church, Dominic and his companions proceeded to the enactment of firm legislation for the final organization of the Order. The chapter of 1220 elaborated the Constitutions which form the second part, or "distinction," of the law of the Preachers.

Compared with the style and contents of earlier or contemporary rules, the form of the Dominican Constitutions is striking. As formulated, the Constitutions of the Preachers are a work of pure law. It would be vain to search in them for the ethical elements that are treated, more or less fully, in the ancient rules, without contributing to an effect of organic unity. Among the Preachers of Bologna, there were former professors of law in the University, and their competence was utilized, no doubt, in framing the Constitutions of 1220. But what makes this work of Dominican legislation an exceptional juridical monument is that it represents the nature and organization of an association firmly founded and already mature. It reads not as a possible ideal; it stands as the reflection of a reality achieved. We cannot help being struck by the enormous difference between the Constitutions of the Preachers and the rules or statutes which served as a point of departure for other religious orders established in the thirteenth century. Whereas the legislation of the Preachers is solid, precise, and detailed in regard to the end of the Order, its organization, and the determination of means, that of other societies is rudimentary, indecisive, and silent on numerous points already clearly and definitively settled in Dominican legislation. This can be accounted for by the fact that the Order of Preachers was founded by a churchman with a personnel of educated clerics whereas all the other religious companies of the thirteenth century were started by laymen with their lay followers, persons without intellectual culture and unprepared for the ecclesiastical ministry. Hence the rudimentary character of their early association and of their legislation simply reveals the tenor of their primitive way of life. Under the influence of the Church, these groups evolved into organizations with forms of ecclesiastical life which more or less approximated the type characteristic with the Preachers. Then their legislation gradually shaped itself with varying degrees of difference on that of the Preachers, and a number of these new orders took substantial parts from the Dominican Constitutions and embodied them into their own.


The legislative work of the general chapter of 1220 had a purely negative and accessory aspect, as well as a positive, fundamental, and essential result. A certain number of practices inherited from regular canonical life were abandoned; these will be enumerated later when the nature of the Order of Preachers is treated. Then, too, there will be a review of the organization of the Order as it was established by the legislation of the chapter of 1220. The chapter of 1221, held likewise and exceptionally at Bologna, would accomplish more important legislative action than subsequent chapters; but it is certain that the essential articles in the law framed by the Preachers were the work of the first general chapter. Dominic, the Roman Curia, and the Preachers had delayed four years in the enactment of their Constitutional law in order to test, through practical living, propositions already fully developed in 1216. Schooled in experience, the Preachers assembled for the first general chapter with precise and conclusive ideas and found no difficulty in formulating laws on all the basic matters affecting their institution.

At the chapter of 1221, the Order was divided into eight provinces.(1) Probably the move had been postponed a year to give time for further increase in a membership that was growing rapidly, though too slowly for the zeal of Dominic and Honorius III. This was likewise the year of the great dispersal. After the chapter, twelve friars under Gilbert of Fraxinet left to open a house at Oxford, the great academic center of England;(2) another group went with Paul of Hungary, a former professor of law at Bologna, to his native country.(3) The Danish friar Solomon set out for Denmark and the Scandinavian countries;(4) others embarked for Greece. This notable expansion in 1221 had been planned by Dominic and the Roman Curia, and nothing is more informative than the two appeals made by Honorius III after Dominic's report to the Curia in the first months of 1220.

In April of that year, just before the convocation of the general chapter, the Pope through personal letters successively addressed urgent appeals to nearly all the bishops of the Christian world, but particularly to the archbishops and bishops within the boundaries of Europe. He asked them to find within their dioceses four, three, or even two men of good will of any religious order whatever, but recommending Cîteaux, who would be ready to work in the vineyard of the Lord by preaching, and if necessary to suffer martyrdom. He reproved those religious who were devoting themselves to the repose of sterile contemplation, instead of working for the propagation of the kingdom of God. The bishops could disregard any opposition forthcoming from the superiors of these religious, whom the Pope expected to assemble in Rome for the next feast of St. Martin, (November 11, 1220) to be dispersed at his appointment among the different nations.(5)


At the same time letters were sent on May 12 to six religious, designated by name, the members of six Italian monasteries, from the collegiate Church of St. Victor, near Bologna, to the Cistercian Abbey of Flora in Calabria. Honorius III told them that he had learned from Brother Dominic of the Order of Preachers, that the grace of preaching with which they had been endowed could be very useful for the salvation of their neighbor, and be commanded them, while retaining the habit of their own order, to place themselves under the leadership of Dominic, to cooperate with him in the ministry of the word of God.(6) This double appeal made to the prelates of Christendom and to particular religious in Italy shows how the Curia again took measures to promote an enterprise, attempted more than once from the outset of the pontificate of Innocent III, that of organizing great missions in Christendom and even among infidel nations. When the Holy See found Dominic in 1204, it recognized the man of its hopes; and when the Preachers were established in 1216, it had in its hands a powerfully organized force which quickly proved its strength. But the needs of Christendom were immense, and the numerical development of the Preachers, notwithstanding an accelerated growth, was not sufficient to make a rapid change in such a world. The Church had a leader and a select company of Preachers. Would it not be possible to raise up auxiliaries to help them in a campaign in Lombardy and northern Italy, infested as it was by heresy, and could not others be found to cooperate in the missions of the friars who were to be sent to distant places the following year?

The Curia and St. Dominic probably considered this plan on the occasion of the last journey of the Master of the Preachers to Viterbo and to Rome. The new mission was undertaken in conditions undeniably more favorable than were those of former missions attempted again and again by the Holy See, from the time the first was organized in 1199 under Foulques de Neuilly in Paris and the neighboring places. There was no way to foretell what response would be made to the papal appeal for missioners.

There is nothing to authorize our saying that it met any other response than silence. In 1220 it was still as hard to find apostles as it had been when innocent III began his pontificate. The clergy as a whole were inert and sterile, engrossed in concern about temporal interests. Only unlettered but religious laymen volunteered their services everywhere and continued to do so throughout the century. Unfortunately the experience with the Waldenses made ecclesiastical authorities wary and often rendered most difficult the problem of using the new volunteers. Yet Pope Honorius' appeal was not a total failure. The episcopate, faced once more with the knowledge of its duty and of its own powerlessness to preach the gospel to the people, was prepared, at least, to receive with favor the Preachers provided by the Church.

After the chapter of 1220, Dominic and his friars, with or without other auxiliaries, started the work of preaching the gospel in Lombardy. Following the general chapter of 1221, the Patriarch went to Venice to continue his customary conferences with Cardinal Ugolino, the permanent legate in northern Italy.(7) Dominic would abandon his ministry only under the attacks of a malady that rapidly exhausted him. Furthermore, in 1221, he could give to the apostolic ministry only a small portion of his time. Instruction of the friars and their religious training in a continually growing community, the foundation of new convents, and the organization of mission bands for the far ends of Europe, all this activity greatly absorbed his time. But what he could not himself do, he attempted, even through the least of his disciples, with an amazing confidence and extraordinary energy. The testimony of one of them at the process of canonization (August, 1233) is significant. Buonviso of Piacenza had been received into the Order at Bologna. When he was still a novice, Dominic sent him to preach in his native city. The young man protested his lack of ability; he had never preached or even studied theology. Gently the master persuaded him to obey: "Go confidently," Dominic said to him, "the Lord will be with you and He will place on your lips the word of preaching." Buonviso obeyed and departed. As he himself said, God gave such great efficacy to his word that he won three friars to the Order of Preachers.(8)

Dominic had prematurely spent himself in the toils of his apostolic ministry, the incessant labors attending the establishment of his Order, and his own heroic way of life. To show with what a spirit of faith and serenity of soul he endured suffering, witnesses of his life mention attacks of illness during his journeys. In 1220 he had an attack of fever at Milan, and early in the summer of the following year he returned from Venice, seriously ill.(9) During the few days still left to him be gave instructions to his brethren and, like a dying patriarch, consoled them at the prospect of his approaching death. Again and again be said: I shall be more useful to you after my death than during my life."(10) His sons have kept the memory of this sacred promise in the antiphon of their office: "O spem miram quam dedisti mortis hora te flentibus."

Dominic died in the peace of the Lord, August 6, 1221.(11) He rendered to his Creator the soul of one of the greatest servants and apostles of the Church. Cardinal Ugolino officiated at the funeral, surrounded by many bishops and abbots. Later, as Gregory IX, Ugolino in the bull of canonization recalled "the great intimacy" which reigned between him and Dominic. Their souls, as he said elsewhere, were united "by the bonds of charity."


1 The appointment of Jordan as Provincial of Lombardy in 1221 was the one inaugural decree of this new assembly (Jordan, no. 88).

2 Ibid.

3 Pfeiffer, Die ungarische Dominikanerordensprovinz, pp. 143 ff.; Analecta, I, 325.

4 Altaner, Die Dominikanermissionen des 13. Jahrh., pp. 205 ff.; according to a chronicle written about the middle of the thirteenth century (Scriptores rerum danicarum m. a., V, 500; Altaner, p. 207). In regard to Greece, the only thing absolutely certain is that convents of the Preachers existed there before 1228 (Altaner, P. 10).

5 This bull is addressed to "Strigonensi episcopo Colocensi archiep. et singulis terris et provinciis et regnis archiep.," etc. It may be found in A. Theiner, Vetera monumenta historica Hungariam, sacram illustrantia (Rome, 1859), 1, 27 f. The editor, without giving details, places it chronologically among the documents of April, 1220.
Within the text, however, the expression, in the fifth year of our pontificate, seems to place it between July, 1220, and July, 1221, Potthast (no. 6042), places it between the first and fifteenth of April, 1219; and again (no. 6599), on March 25, 1221. It is certain that at this date the Curia dispatched identical letters to a great number of prelates, the list of whose names is given by Potthast. Everything points to a great mission; to suppose otherwise is out of the question, according to Theiner.
Altaner (Die Dominikanermissionen des 13. Jahrh., 1924) considers this letter a proof that in 1221 the Cistercians continued to be the missionary order par excellence in the eyes of the Pope, and that the mendicants still had no rating in this field. The conclusion is surprising. The missioners desired by the Pope had to be preachers. How could Honorius prefer the Cistercians, who did not conceal their attitude in this matter, to the Preachers and the Minors who had already given proof of their apostolic power? In reality, the Pope appealed in these letters only for religious other than mendicants. The Preachers and Minors were, in a way, considered out of the running. Their centralization and direct dependence on the Holy See gave the Pope a liberty of action In their regard more immediate and efficacious than the encyclicals in the case of the bishops. It would be difficult to admit that the expansion of the Preachers and Minors, as it was realized in that very year and just a few weeks later, was foreign to the plans and direct decrees of Honorius.

6 Laurent, no. 113 (May 12, 1220).

7 Processus (Bologna), nos. 7, 30, 41. Ugolino was in Venice on June 13 and again after July 1; at Padua and Treviso on the eighth and fifteenth; at Reggio the twenty-fourth; at Bologna the twenty-eighth; he remained in the neighborhood of that city during the month of August (Levi, pp, 253-54). Dominic might have accompanied the Cardinal on his journeys during July, according to indications in the Process of Canonization. This would explain, too, how Ugolino was able himself to celebrate the obsequies of St. Dominic. Under these circumstances, this death must indeed have grieved him deeply.

8 Processus (Bologna), no. 24.

9 Ibid., nos. 7, 20 22; previously, in the journey to Rome (end of 1219), then at Viterrbo in 1220 (ibid., no. 12). It seems to have been a case of chronic enteritis, aggravated by acute attacks..

10 Ibid., nos. 8, 33.

11 Ibid., no. 8.