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.

Influence on Ecclesiastical and Civil Society

THE Order of Preachers carried on a social action in Christendom through the principal forms of its apostolate. Through the teaching of sacred science, the dissemination of the written word, and the creation of a sound and strong philosophical and theological system, its influence penetrated the ecclesiastical order. Through preaching, hearing confessions, and the power of example it affected the lay world. Great as was the efficacy of this twofold action, it embraced neither in its totality nor in its diversity the labors which the Preachers voluntarily undertook in the service of Christian society or into which they found themselves drawn by the very force of circumstances.

From the outset, the Order gave a considerable number of the Preachers to the ecclesiastical hierarchy and to the administrative offices of the Church. Two Preachers became popes: Peter of Tarentaise, under the name of Innocent V (1276), and Nicholas Boccasini, a former master general, under the name of Benedict XI (1303). Before the pontificate of John XXII, fourteen had been clothed in the cardinalitial purple, from Hugh of St. Cher, elevated in 1244, to Matteo Orsini, named in 1327. The episcopate especially took its toll. Masters and general chapters resisted with all their energy these continual bleedings, which drew valuable men from the Order. Humbert of Romans, then master general, did not hesitate to dissuade Albert the Great from accepting the see of Ratisbon (1260), declaring he would rather see him buried than elevated to the episcopate. In endeavoring to renew the hierarchy by introducing into it men of learning and virtue, the Holy See gave but slight heed to the objections of the Preachers. These appointments in a continuous stream began about the year 1230 with Gregory IX and went on with such increasing frequency that in the middle of the fourteenth century nearly 450 appointments or transfers of patriarchs, archbishops, and bishops had been effected, involving friars of the Order. If it is recalled that one or perhaps two religious were granted as companions to the Dominican bishops, within one hundred and twenty years, more than a thousand members had been given by the Order for the immediate service of the dioceses of Christendom.

The Roman Curia itself provided liberally for its own needs from the ranks of the Preachers. Not to speak of the Dominicans residing at the papal court and the few exceptional offices to which religious of the Order were attached, the popes often confided to Preachers the distinguished office of vicar of Rome. In the absence of the Sovereign Pontiffs, they were the administrators of the city. But the penitentiaries and papal chaplains, drawn from most of the provinces of the Order, constituted a large class, and since they were well known to the pope, many ended their careers as prelates. Lectors of the Curia, while in the service of clerics attached to the papal administration, did not go out from the Order; but with the institution of Masters of the Sacred Palace, from the time of the transfer of the Holy See to Avignon, a new order of persons was placed directly at the disposal of the heads of the Church.

In addition to those who were in attendance on prelates selected from the Order, other Friars Preachers were called into service either permanently or temporarily by cardinals, bishops, and even dignitaries of lesser rank, to serve as penitentiaries, visitators, or in other capacities.

Commissions of every kind, some of vast import for the Church and Christian society, others more unpretentious and of local character, were entrusted to religious of the Order by the Church. Tasks of the first sort were ordinarily carried out by Preachers already elevated to ecclesiastical dignities. Often, however, they were carried out by religious who, once their mission was accomplished, returned to their regular life. Affairs of secondary importance were frequently confided to provincials, conventual priors, and religious of ordinary rank.

Often there were papal appointments of great consequence, as in the case of legates and nuncios. The first of such honors conferred on a Preacher was that on Guala of Bergamo, who was regularly the mandator of Gregory IX in his dealings with the communes of Lombardy and with Frederick II. Innocent IV gave Hugh of St. Cher the delicate task of inducing Germany to accept the rule of William of Holland, after the deposition of Frederick II in the General Council of Lyons (1245). Thomas of Lentino and Nicholas of Hanappes, both patriarchs of Jerusalem and legates in the Holy Land, had to defend the Christian interests in Palestine upon the overthrow of Latin domination in Asia; the second of these friars died heroically in the disastrous fall of St. John of Acre (1291). The legations of Cardinals Latino Malabranca (1280) and Nicholas Albertini of Prato (1304), for the pacification of Florence. have remained famous in the history of that Republic.


Commissions of lesser importance were also frequent. They included the visitation of dioceses and monasteries, the settlement of cases diverse in character, the preaching of crusades, the publication of excommunications or interdicts, collection of taxes, and so on. But no work confided by the Church to the Preachers would be more delicate or more serious than that of judges in matters of heresy. The Order tried in vain to escape this burden. Toward the middle of the thirteenth century it succeeded in having a part of the inquisitorial jurisdiction delegated to the Order of Minors, and in this way its task was notably lightened.

The Preachers also exerted an extensive influence on different religious orders, particularly on foundations that approximated in some degree their own type of institution. Members of the Order cooperated in the establishment of other religious communities: Raymond of Peñafort for the Order of Mercy; St. Peter of Verona for the Servites; Hugh of St. Cher for the Carmelites. Moreover, the forms of activity undertaken by the Preachers served as an example on which the mendicant orders partially modeled their own. The Constitutions and the social organization of the Preachers gave a still wider scope to their influence, because in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries religious institutions in the throes of evolution or adaptation tended, though not uniformly, toward the pattern of Dominican life and frequently included in their legislation even literal extracts from the Constitutions of their forerunners.

In the direction and instruction of numerous convents of women religious, the Preachers were obliged to take a notable part. In spite of a long and tenacious resistance, they were constrained to incorporate into the Order a large group of convents, and frequently had to care for the spiritual welfare of houses which were not even juridically under the administration of the Order. The Preachers of Strasbourg during the thirteenth century attended to eight convents in the city, and in Milan the friars bad charge of twelve at the beginning of the fourteenth century, although the houses were not incorporated with the Order.

Beyond the scope of their principal mission, the Preachers covered an almost limitless range in their service to the ecclesiastical world, a service that had its parallel in their work in civil society and among the laity.

Most of the princes of Europe selected their confessors from the Order. The nobility of France was unfailingly loyal to them. The long series of royal confessors began with Geoffrey de Beaulieu, who was for twenty years the spiritual director of St. Louis. The Plantagenets in England imitated the kings of France and it was John of St. Giles who initiated this ministry in 1239 with Henry III. The kings of Castile followed the practice of those of France and England. Dominican confessors were also found at the courts of Portugal and Aragon. It was a Preacher, Guala of Bergamo, whom Gregory IX sent to Frederick II in 1227 when the Pope wished to have the Emperor helped in ordering his conscience, and it was another Preacher, Bernardine of Montepulciano, who assisted Henry VII when he died in 1313 on his Italian expedition. An insidious calumny tried to fasten the death of the Emperor on his confessor.

Often, too, princes took advantage of the ministry of the Preachers for embassies to other princes or to the Sovereign Pontiffs. The communes, especially in Italy, imitated the princes and frequently appealed to the same religious to establish peace between cities and to serve as arbiters between rival factions within a city.

The social organization of the Preachers reacted in its turn, it seems, on the political regime of Europe, by its fundamental principle of election and of representation in deliberative assemblies. The wealth of literature produced by the Order on the education of princes and the government of states, and further still, the diffusion Of the Politics of Aristotle, unknown previously in the Latin world, as translated by William of Moerbeke and commented on by St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Albert the Great, put into circulation new elements, essential for the development of the national life of Europe.

Life among the people felt a shaping force from the work of the Preachers, through societies that sprang up almost everywhere for the purpose of edification and economic solidarity. Congregations or fraternities of the Blessed Virgin and of the saints which held their meetings in the Dominican convents were instructed or directed by the religious. Groups of penitents and of persons practicing continence, who early responded to the teaching apostolate of the Preachers, formed a clientele which, though not juridically dependent on the Order, was morally so, until the Master General, Munio de Zamora, by his Rule of Penitence of St. Dominic (1285) finally constituted a Third Order.

This universal action of the Preachers, in addition to their specific mission of preaching and teaching, was too marked in Christian society not to evoke a testimony from the pen of a master general as observant as Humbert of Romans. In one of his circular letters he described the state of the Order and its activity, remarking the consideration poured out upon its members: "Who could adequately express," he wrote in 1256, "the favor bestowed by the Church on our Order and on each of us who perseveres in his vocation? What kindness is evinced toward us by the majority of prelates! What honor and veneration from kings, princes, and nobles! What charity from other religious! In fine, what devotion everywhere from the faithful!" And in 1260: "The great call us into their councils and seat us in their midst. Prelates confide their business to us. Our Mother the Holy Roman Church favors and protects us. The people nearly everywhere are marvelously devoted to us. We are honored by nobles and peasants and by the whole human race."