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.

Academic Organization

By declaring, in the letter of foundation, that the Preachers were to be "the champions of the faith and the true lights of the world," Honorius III stated equivalently that they were to be devoted to study. St. Dominic and his companions comprehended this feature in their vocation, when they provided in their Customs, composed about six months before the publication of the papal letter, "that they were to apply themselves to study, day and night, at home and abroad," and left the religious free even to prolong their night vigils for purposes of study. The regime established by the Preachers, therefore, was one not only of study, but of intense study. The fifth master general intimated its importance when he declared that, although study is not the aim of the Order yet it is necessary for the attainment of the end, and he was careful to establish that the Preachers was the first order vowed to study, a distinction that was part of its glory. Nor did Dominican leadership in the thirteenth century cease to watch with jealous care over the intellectual growth required of the religious.

With conditions as they were in that age, study was possible only with a master or in a school. Therefore the Preachers organized their Order as a vast hierarchical academic system, an arrangement which accounts for the statement that "St. Dominic was the first minister of public education in Europe." Strictly speaking, the Preachers might have established schools exclusively for their own personnel; but they would thereby have been unmindful of the fact that they were created for the service of Christian society and that the dearth of theological schools was then one of the gravest difficulties awaiting solution by the Church. Consequently instruction in sacred science was required by the Preachers as the sine qua non for every conventual foundation, and that instruction was public. Recognizing this, Conrad of Scharfeneck, bishop of Metz and chancellor of the Empire, in his letter of April 22, 1221, recommended the establishment of the Preachers in his diocese, since he considered that a convent of the Preachers would be not only of great profit for the laity by reason of the preaching of these religious, but also for the clerics by reason of the lectures in the sacred sciences. Moreover, the example of the Lord Pope in giving them a house in Rome had been imitated by a large number of archbishops and bishops.


The Dominican program was planned first and foremost to give theological training. The vocation of the Preachers required this, and theological knowledge was both the most necessary and the most lacking in the ecclesiastical world of the period. Nevertheless the Order conceded that it could not completely disregard profane learning, and from the beginning left an opening in the Constitutions in favor of the secular sciences, until it should give them full admittance in the middle of the century. Such a move was not in accord with established custom; that it might not seem too great an innovation, the liberal arts schools established by the Order were not open to the public. This arrangement was gradually modified, but only about the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the next century. The great development of academic life among the Preachers soon caused the office of professor to be considered superior to that of preacher. The imparting of sacred science to the clergy was a work more exalted by nature than that of giving sermons to the laity, and Humbert of Romans said there would be good preachers only so far as there were good professors. Therefore, in considering the activity of the Order of Preachers, we should examine the character of their academic and doctrinal program before speaking of their apostolic labor.

The general basis of instruction for the Preachers was the conventual school, which was frequented by all the religious of the house and by other clerics. It was directed by a doctor, called later, but not everywhere, a lector. His principal subject was the text of Scripture which he interpreted, relating to it questions of theology. Peter Lombard's Book of Sentences, Peter Comestor's Scholastic History, and the Summa of cases of conscience were used as secondary texts. In large convents that did not have the title studia generalia and were at times called studia solemnia, the teaching personnel was completed by the addition of a sublector, or by one or two bachelors. The principal master held discussions approximately every fortnight. Each convent had a magister studentium, who supervised their program, and ordinarily also a tutor. The appointment of the academic corps, masters and students, depended on the provincial chapters.

Of higher rank than the conventual school, whether ordinary or solemn, were the studia generalia. The first possessed by the Order was that of the convent of St. Jacques at Paris, with a first chair or school obtained in 1229, and a second in 1230. The Preachers were thus the first religious order to take part in teaching at the University of Paris. After they had received their theological degrees there and for some time, these masters were dispersed to the great schools of Christian Europe. The convent of St. Jacques was the principal academic center of the Preachers during the whole medieval period.

The development of the Order led to the establishment in 1248 of four new studia generalia: at Oxford, Cologne, Montpellier, and Bologna. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, with the division of several provinces, new general study centers were created at Naples, Florence, Genoa, Toulouse, and Salamanca.

The studium generale was organized with a master or regent, and two bachelors who taught under his direction. The master interpreted Scripture and every fortnight held a public disputation, to which were later added one or two quodlibet debates during Advent or Lent. The principal bachelor interpreted the Master of the Sentences, and the other the Bible, scanned rapidly. The regents and the bachelors were appointed by the general chapters, or by the master general, delegated for this purpose. Upon the founding of convents, many of these schools of theology were incorporated into the already existing universities that had a faculty of theology. This was the case at Paris Toulouse, Oxford, Naples, and other places. But when, in the course of the thirteenth century and even later, a university was established in a city where there already existed a Dominican convent which always had a school of theology, the papal letters erecting the University did not grant the faculty of theology. That was regarded as already existing, by reason of the school of the Preachers and of other mendicant religious who followed them in their plan of instruction. In such cities the Dominican theological schools simply existed along with the universities without juridical dependence on them, although in relation to them they filled the place of the faculty of theology. But in the second half of the fourteenth century, when princes or cities petitioned the Holy See to establish a faculty of theology in a university, then the Preachers' schools of theology ordinarily became incorporated with the new faculty.

The study of the liberal arts, at first limited to a small number of religious, quickly took a place in regular academic instruction. About the middle of the thirteenth century, the provinces established in one or more of the convents studies in logic, which were supplemented a little later by lectures in the natural sciences, and finally in moral and political science.


From the beginning, the ministerial work of the Order, especially in more distant places in contact with barbaric nations and in particular with the Greek, Arabic, and Jewish world, required the study of languages. The Chapter Generalissimum of Paris in 1236 ordered that the religious of all the convents and provinces learn the languages of the neighboring peoples. About this time a school of Hebrew seems to have been established in Paris. The Province of the Holy Land, which was already devoting itself to the study of Arabic, added for its convents that of the languages of the peoples of Asia; the Province of Greece cultivated especially the Hellenic tongue, and the Province of Spain established on the peninsula and even at Tunis flourishing schools of Arabic and Hebrew. In 1310 the general chapter ordered the master general to establish in several provinces studia for Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic, to which each province of the Order was to send a student.

The academic activity of the Preachers extended beyond the limits already outlined. The archbishops who, by the decree of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), should have established a master of theology in their metropolitan church, generally considered themselves exempt from this obligation, in consequence of the creation in their city of a Dominican school open to the secular clergy. However, when they felt responsible for carrying out the decree of the Council, or later were constrained to do so by the Church, they frequently called upon a Dominican master to fill the chair of their school. Thus it was that, until the beginning of the sixteenth century, the metropolitan school of Lyons was continually entrusted to the Preachers. Though for a less continuous period, the same arrangement occurred frequently, as in Toulouse, Bordeaux, Tortosa, Valencia, Urgel, Milan, and other places.

During the thirteenth century the popes were generally content with the schools established by the Preachers and the other religious who succeeded them in the cities where the Curia resided. The Dominican master in that position was known as the lector curiae. But when the Sovereign Pontiffs went to Avignon in the beginning of the fourteenth century, they instituted a school of theology in their palace. This initiative was due to Clement V (1305-14). At the request of the Dominican Cardinal Nicholas Albertini of Prato, this office was confided in perpetuity to a Friar Preacher, who had the title of magister sacri palatii.

When finally, in the middle of the thirteenth century, the ancient monastic orders began to enter into the academic movement of the times, the Cistercians in particular appealed to the Preachers to provide masters of theology for some of their abbeys. At the close of the thirteenth century, the Preachers had a teaching personnel of at least fifteen hundred religious, about half of whom were engaged in the public teaching of theology.