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.

Sanctity and the Mystical Life

BASIC to the many works of the Preachers, the problem of the sanctification of the members of the Order endured with a general and permanent finality, rooted in the very nature of the religious life. The personal sanctification of the Preacher was not conceived in an absolute sense or for itself, but relative to the special aim of an apostolic order. Since for every Christian sanctity consists in the exact accomplishment of the duties of his vocation, the Preacher had to sanctify himself by fulfilling as perfectly as possible the obligations of his state. The very work of his interior perfection, in its most personal aspect, was to be directed to the spiritual service of his neighbor and to the salvation of souls. But as we have seen in connection with their apostolic mission, either on their own initiative or by force of circumstances the Preachers were obliged to enlarge and extend the kinds of their activity. As a consequence, the religious had to strive for their spiritual perfection under most varied conditions. Moreover, with the affiliation to the Order of numerous convents of women, whose spiritual direction it had assumed, as well as of a secular clientele that constituted the Order of Penance of St. Dominic, the question of the sanctification of the members of the Order embraced the spirituality of these two new groups privileged to participate in the general life of the Preachers, and seeking to imitate, in their own degree and in their respective positions, the virtues and the holy life of the friars. The Second Order and the Third Order, at least in some localities, developed with a notable intensity the mystical elements of the religious life and in their turn, though only partially, reacted to some extent on the Order of Preachers.

The motivating force communicated to the Order at its foundation strengthened its spiritual vitality as well as the rest of its action. The life of the Founder was that of a heroic saint who strove to realize in himself the perfection he desired to see transmitted to his brethren. The hopes of St. Dominic were not disappointed, whatever the imperfections or shortcomings inevitable in an immense body. In a universal fashion, the voice of authority in that age highly praised the holiness of the Order of Preachers. The Church with its advantage over others in judging, never ceased to express the most complimentary praise. The Church regarded the Preachers as raised up for an example to the Christian world and as practicing in their life what they taught in their sermons. It is not unusual to find thirteenth-century chroniclers and other writers calling the friars "the holy Preachers." Numberless announcements and records have been preserved, which emphasize the exceptional virtues of the religious whose memory they perpetuate. Lastly, official declarations of sanctity made by the Church enable us to judge the tree by its fruit, and the whole Order by its elect members who have been placed on the altars. During one century, before 1320, the Order could count forty canonizations or beatifications; moreover, a few of these declarations named several persons, even a large group, such as the forty-nine martyrs of Sandomir.


If the intensity of Dominican holiness is remarkable, so also is its universality. Frequently the saints of religious orders belong to a class of souls dedicated exclusively to the ascetical or mystical life, dwelling apart in a state of humility which hides them from the view of the world. That is not at all true of Dominican sanctity. It has radiated on all the constitutive elements of the institution, on the various offices and missions confided by the Order to its subjects. In the most exalted as well as in the humblest works, in contact with the world or in an obscure cell, Dominican saints have everywhere found a place, thus testifying that the sanctity of the Preachers was profoundly vital and eminently adapted to the structure of their institution.

Dominican saints have risen to high virtue, some in the administrative offices of the Order: among them were masters general like St. Dominic (d. 1221), Jordan of Saxony (d. 1237), St. Raymond of Peñafort (d. 1275), John of Vercelli (d. 1283), and Nicholas Boccasini (d. 1304). Others occupied the chair of Peter, like Innocent V (d. 1276) and Benedict XI (d. 1304). The Dominican episcopate gave Blessed Guala, bishop of Brescia (d. 1244), Peter of Tarentaise, archbishop of Lyons (d. 1275), Albert the Great, bishop of Ratisbon (d. 1280), and Jacopo de Voragine, archbishop of Genoa (d. 1298). The professors and the learned produced St. Thomas Aquinas, doctor of the Church and the prince of Catholic theology (d. 1274); his master, St. Albert the Great, the most famous scholar of the century (d. 1280); St. Raymond of Peñafort, the eminent canonist of his age (d. 1275), and others less illustrious. Preachers, as would be expected, are represented by the largest number. Most of the names already cited are included in this category. But the following should be added: Blessed Reginald of Orleans (d. 1220); John of Salerno (d. 1242); Peter Gonzalez, better known under the name of St. Elmo (d. 1240); St. Hyacinth, apostle of northern Europe (d. 1257); his brother, Blessed Ceslaus (d. 1242); Jordan of Pisa (d. 1311). An Order vowed to the defense of the faith could not but produce martyrs: such were Blessed William Arnaud and his companions (d. 1242), St. Peter of Verona (d. 1252), Blessed Sadoc and his companions (d. 1260). The Second and Third Orders also contributed their lists to the roll of sanctity, and if one were to be drawn up for the seculars affiliated to the Order, it would be necessary to carry it even to the Virgin of Siena, St. Catherine (d. 1380), for she was the very incarnation of the Dominican spirit as it vitalized its lay members.

The lives of the Dominican saints display a great diversity by reason of the varied situations in which they developed. Nevertheless, in Dominican sanctity there are, as it were, common characteristics and family traits. St. Dominic drew the fundamental lineaments in a few words in his Constitutions when he wrote for the direction of his friars: Let them "conduct themselves everywhere as upright and religious men who desire to procure their own and their neighbor's salvation; as evangelical men, following in the footsteps of the Savior, by speaking with God or of God, either among themselves or when in converse with their neighbor." This is the whole plan of the Summa theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, viewed from a practical angle, and there is no doubt that Dominican sanctity has its most adequate theoretical expression in the work of the great doctor of the Order. Dominican sanctity goes directly to God through the

Savior and subordinates the other elements of the spiritual life and other practices of Christian piety to these great essential realities, God and Jesus Christ, which should never yield place to secondary or supererogatory devotions, however excellent the latter may be.

This hierarchical sense of religious values in the structure of Dominican sanctity grows out of the fact that it is strongly theological. In strict harmony with the faith of the Church, it testifies to an utter fidelity to the teaching authority as well as to its practical impulses. It is, so to speak, meticulously orthodox. Through its affinity for contemplation and science, it is an intelligent, an enlightened, sanctity; for it is the sanctity of an Order specially vowed to the doctrinal life and the illumination of others, according to the definition of the Dominican vocation given by Thomas Aquinas: contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere ("to contemplate and give to others the fruits of contemplation"). Hence its taste for truth and its cultivation of it, which early won for it the name Ordo veritatis. Hence likewise, in its direction of others, its sense of moderation and prudence which led Sovereign Pontiffs to say: "Your Order is renowned for prudence."

In the domain of the will the dominant virtue of Dominican saints, as characteristic in the spirituality of the Order, is the virtue of fortitude. The names of "champions" and "athletes," which the Church and its contemporaries were pleased to give to the Preachers, have their warrant in lives dominated by energy and courage. Fortiter viri fortes were the words resounding in the ears of St. Dominic's disciples. Catherine of Siena was merely translating the import of this idea when she formulated this precept for herself and her Order: "Act manfully; manfully endure."


The ascetic element to which the Dominican Constitutions devoted much space, while moderating the practice, sometimes had a preponderant place in the life of a certain numb er of pious and holy Dominicans. It is even more particularly under this form that the intensity of the work of sanctification is manifested in the first period Of the Order. The mystical life, considered strictly as the habitual or frequent state of pure contemplation and of quietude, to obtain the immediate union of the soul with God, flowed only secondarily from the Dominican spiritual temperament. The Preachers were vowed to too active and too studious a life to be normally free for prolonged repose of the spirit. The Order, however, has seen an exceptional flowering of mystics, especially toward the close of the thirteenth century and particularly in the Germanic countries and in northern and central Italy. The appearance and development of this phenomenon can be accounted for by the incorporation into the Order of numerous convents of women, and by the spiritual direction given by the Preachers to devout souls of both sexes in the world, who placed themselves under their guidance. These clients, eager for spirituality, formed good soil for the doctrinal sowing of an Order vowed to preaching and the direction of souls. Out of this state of affairs there grew an intense mystical life, which has left us most precious literary monuments in the three branches of the Order. For the Third Order they are represented by The Book of the Emanation of Divine Light by Mechtilde of Magdeburg and the Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena; for the Second Order by the accounts of lives of the sisters of numerous convents throughout the valley of the Rhine; and with the Preachers, by the sermons and other writings of Master Eckhart, John Tauler, and Henry Suso, to name only the best known. Eckhart attempted to set forth a theory of mystical life. Many of his expressions, in their pantheistic tinge, have been unfortunate; but for the richness of his language and the depth of his views, Eckhart remains one of the greatest theorists of the mystical life and has exercised a wide and lasting influence on later writers who have treated of these obscure subjects.