THE MISSIONS TO 1500
Dominican missions sprang naturally from the Order's soil and drew nourishment from the Founder's spirit. Though frustrated in his own burning ambition to evangelize unbelievers, he had hungered for the conversion of the Cumans in the East, the Moors in his homeland, and the pagans of the North-Dominic passed the torch to his sons.
Missionaries came from all over the Order. As a rule, only volunteers were sent and appear to have been well qualified and educated. Often chroniclers remark that a missionary was "trained in letters," "sufficiently instructed in theology." Franco of Perugia, for example, had been bachelor of the Sentences before going to the East as a missionary.
Though the Lives o f the Brethren was written to console the brethren, help them advance in the spiritual life, and show them "how carefully Providence has befriended our Order," it contains valuable illustrations of the spirit of the early generation of friars. It reports several incidents that show the missionary zeal of the early Dominicans. It notes that when Jordan of Saxony asked the brethren who were present for the general chapter, probably at Paris in 1230, for volunteers for the Holy Land, there was scarcely a person who did not beg with tear-filled eyes "to be sent to that land which the Lord's Blood had hallowed:" Jordan's concern for the missions carried him on an inspection tour of the province of the Holy Land. He died on his return journey when his ship foundered off the coast of Palestine.
The 1255 and 1256 encyclicals of Humbert of Romans testify to the continuance of enthusiasm for the missions and to Humbert's own zeal. His request for volunteers got such a response that all who came forward could not be accepted. He had to write in 1256 urging those whose services could not be used at once to be patient. Of course, such zeal did not remain at fever pitch. Humbert shrewdly observed that two things keep men from volunteering for the missions, "love of one's own country and ignorance of languages."
To encourage missionaries, the Order made concessions to the mission provinces of Greece and the Holy Land, and to the Congregation of Pilgrim Friars, founded in 1360 for work in eastern Europe and Asia. Not taxed for common endeavors, they might recruit missionaries anywhere and were not subject to levies on their own manpower. However, they were obliged to respect the membership of each other.
In his book on the officers of the Order, Humbert reminds the master general of his duty to promote the missions. As general, Humbert had exemplified what he had written. Not only did he seek volunteers, but, to encourage them, reported their successes to the Order. His 1256 encyclical gives a glowing account of their work in the Near East.
Raymond of Penyafort showed zeal for the missions both before and after his term as general. While still penitentiary at the papal court, he replied in detail to a series of questions the Dominican and Franciscan missionaries in Tunis had sent to him. After he had retired to Spain, following his resignation from the generalate, Raymond lifted the veil which usually hides the day-by-day work of the missionaries when John of Wildeshausen asked him for a report on the Spanish and African missions. Dominicans were working among the many Christian soldiers in the pay of the Arabs, reconciling apostates from the faith and instructing Christian slaves who were descendants of the pre-Arab population of northern Africa and ignorant of any language but Arabic. Others who were on the verge of apostasy because of poverty or the blandishments of the Moors, they strengthened. They confirmed in the faith, and sometimes liberated, Christian prisoners. Especially in Murcia, many Arabs, even some prominent men, had accepted Christianity. The friars were also answering Moors and apostates who charged that Christians were idolators because they venerated statues and images. It was Raymond's opinion that the field was ripe for more conversions, provided missionaries would come.
The Study of Native Languages
In Spain, Raymond became the foremost promoter of the missions. With his encouragement, his province opened a school of Arabic studies at Tunis in 1250. For varying periods it maintained other schools for Oriental languages at Barcelona, Valencia, Xativa, and Murcia. Well into the next century, the general chapters encouraged study of eastern languages, as did the general council of Vienne in 1312. The 1333 general chapter required the vicar of the Pilgrim Friars to appoint language teachers at Kaffa and Pera in Constantinople to prepare for an influx of new missionaries who were expected in response to John XXII's appeal for fifty volunteers.
That Raymond intended something more than linguistic study at these schools is demonstrated by his request to Thomas Aquinas, asking him to write something on the doctrines of faith to help prepare missionaries for their work among unbelievers. Though Thomas had additional purposes in mind when he wrote it, he produced his Summa contra Gentiles in reply.
Probably most missionaries learned the native tongues in the field. Writing to Gregory IX in 1236, Provincial Philip noted how zealously the members of the province of the Holy Land were studying the Oriental languages. Three years earlier, when two Dominicans and two Franciscans came as papal emissaries to the Greek Emperor at Nicea, Dominicans of Constantinople provided an interpreter who spoke Greek fluently and had studied the Greek fathers. With pardonable pride, Franca of Perugia, first vicar of the Pilgrim Friars, boasted of his own linguistic prowess: "I preached within a year after I began to study the barbarian tongue. By the grace of God I preach to the people, hear confessions, and also translate writings from the Latin." Louis of Tabriz was appointed director of St. Anthony parish at Pera in 1403 because he was able to preach to the inhabitants, merchants, pilgrims, and travelers who passed through the city in Greek, Latin, Persian, Tartar, and Armenian.
The Order made an effort to provide books for the missionaries. The Master General had a duty, Humbert of Romans reminded him, to provide "treatises exposing the errors of these people, so that the friars can drill themselves in them." Like the preachers, the missionaries wrote books to help their fellows. They were of two kinds. The first were polemical works that prepared men for discussion with Dissidents, Jews, Moors, and pagans. Other books, originating mostly in the East, described the experiences of the missionaries or recorded the beliefs and practices of Moslems. A few examples will illustrate this activity.
Raymond Martin, a pioneer orientalist in Spain, restricted his Halter of the Jews (Capistrum Judaeorum) to Jewish controversy, but directed his Dagger of the Faith (Pugio Fidei) toward both Jews and Moslems. He also compiled an Arabic dictionary. Ricoldo of Montecroce, who worked in Mesopotamia and Syria, in his Itinerary enriched Western thought with a wealth of ethnological and religious details about Tartars, Curds, Sabei, Jacobites, Nestorians, and Moslems. He also wrote a Refutation of the Koran. His five letters sent after the fall of Acre in 1291 are a beautiful and unforgettable tribute to Dominican mission idealism. The tolerance and conciliation William of Tripoli exhibits in his study of Islam explains why he could boast that he had baptized more than 1,000 Moslems. Burchard of Monte Zion's description of the Holy Land, a mine of information, was for three centuries the classical manual of Palestinian and Near-Eastern topography. The Itineraries of Felix Fabri, who went as a pilgrim twice to the Near East in the late fifteenth century, describe the Holy Land for "stay-at-homes" rather than missionaries. The crusading treatises of William Adam and Raymond Stephen were not missionary books but aimed to further "the business of the Cross."
The Mission Fields
The friars preferred some mission fields over others. French and Italian Dominicans sought the Near East and Asia; French friars were in the majority in thirteenth-century Palestine; Italians were in the forefront in fourteenth-century Mesopotamia and Persia. An occasional English, German, or Spanish friar found his way to the East. After 1300, wanderlust or thirst for adventure rather than zeal induced some friars to join the Pilgrim Friars. The frontier provinces-Scandinavia, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Greece, and Palestine had a first duty to mission territory inside their limits. But from these springboards their friars and volunteers from other provinces jumped into mission lands.
The efforts of the Spanish, Scandinavian, and Hungarian provinces reflect the zeal of Dominic. He had sent the first men to Spain and Scandinavia; during his last days, friars assigned by the second general chapter were traveling to Poland and Hungary. In 1225 contingents were en route to Greece and the Holy Land, areas the 1221 chapter had designated as future provinces.
Spanish Dominicans labored among Jews and Moors at home, across their southern borders in the Peninsula, and in Africa. They entered Morocco before 1225 and Tunis before 1230.
Alexander IV spurred renewed interest in the Tunisian mission, when he called for Dominican and Franciscan volunteers in 1254 and 1258. On his deathbed King Louis IX singled out Andrew Longjumeau, who had preached in Tunis, as best fitted to head the Tunisian preaching apostolate. The crusade of Louis temporarily halted missionary work, but the subsequent treaty and commercial agreements of Italian cities with Tunis created more favorable conditions for evangelization. However, it was still greatly restricted. Apparently on the advice of Raymond of Penyafort, in 1242, James I of Aragon prescribed Jewish and Moorish attendance at sermons preached by bishops and friars. A similar policy was resumed in 1263 at the urging of Pablo Christiani, a Dominican convert Jew.
In southern Italy the Order was entrusted with preaching to the Saracen soldiers in the armies of Frederick II in 1233.
The Scandinavian Dominicans not only worked to complete the Christianization of their own lands but pushed eastward to the pagans surrounding the Baltic Sea. They entered Finland in the wake of the Swedish conquests there in 1239. Ten years later they placed a priory in Abo. It was still the only religious house in Finland more than 150 years later. The pope appointed Dominicans to preach in central Europe, enlist recruits, and gather funds for the Finnish crusade of the Teutonic Knights. The treaty with the Finns provided for their conversion. The laborious work of really converting the natives involved the cooperation of bishops, parish priests, and friars. Dominicans were appointed to three of the four bishoprics established. The Order was so influential that Finnish dioceses adopted its liturgy.
Polish friars toiled among the Russian Orthodox in Kiev. There Hyacinth, who had introduced the Order to Poland, had founded a priory in 1222. Unfortunately, the history of the priories founded in Russia in the 1250's is unknown. Hyacinth established a strategic point for the evangelization of Prussians, Lithuanians, and Latvians when he opened a house at Gdansk (Danzig) . The Polish and German provinces played a predominant role in organizing the church of Lithuania, following the conversion of King Mindowe. His untimely death (and perhaps apostasy in 1235) terminated this missionary attempt for a century.
Following an initial setback, Hungarian friars made so much progress in converting the Cumans that Friar Theodore was named their bishop in 1227, the first Dominican to enter the hierarchy. The Tartar invasions of 1241 overwhelmed the Cuman areas and Hungary, killing ninety friars and burning down two priories. The Cumans were scattered, but drifted back after the invasions. Mission work began again. In 1256 Humbert of Romans spoke of "a great multitude of Cumans" that had been converted, but, for the most part, work among them was discouraging. In 1339, nearly 100 years later, most of the Cumans were still pagan.
The Hungarian provincial, John of Wildeshausen, took part in unsuccessful attempts to reunite the Bulgarians to Rome. His versatility is illustrated by his ability to speak five languages and by the offices he held. In turn he became bishop of Bosnia ( resigning later), provincial of Lombardy, and master general.
The most romantic and difficult exploit of the Hungarian Dominicans was their search for the remnants of their people who had remained in the primitive homeland on the middle Volga River, called Greater Hungary. The friars read in chronicles how part of the clan had migrated and part stayed behind, "sunk in the error of infidelity." They knew Greater Hungary was in the East, but none could say where. From 1232 to 1237 four contingents set out to search for it. After great hardship, only Friar Julian reached Greater Hungary. Its people received him royally; when he returned a second time in 1237, he found that the Tartars had submerged them and mission work was impossible. Julian's reports describing the search are epic in the sheer heroism they record and valuable for the fresh knowledge of Russia and the Tartars they preserve.
The Order also worked in Albania, where it founded some priories. Thirteenth-century efforts in southern Russia are shrouded in darkness. A foundation was made at Tiflis, Georgia, before 1238. Continuing work in the Near East is illustrated by the preaching and debating of Ricoldo of Montecroce among the Jacobites, Nestorians, Jews, and Arabs in Mosul and Bagdad during a twelve-year stay in Mesopotamia. He met other Dominicans in Bagdad, where the Order had no house, in 1289.
The Order founded provinces in Greece and the Holy Land in 1228. Both were always small provinces with six or seven priories at the most and both saw their effectiveness as missionary enterprises destroyed through enemy action early in their existence. The Dominicans of the Grecian province worked among the western Christians in the Latin Empire of Constantinople, in the colonies of Venice, and among the Dissident Christians in Greece and its islands. It lost its chief priory in Constantinople when the Byzantine Empire was reestablished there in 1261, and its remaining priories, except Candia, to the onrushing Turks, who took Constantinople in 1453. The province continued in Crete until that island also fell to the Turks in 1669.
The Dominicans of the Holy Land evangelized western and Dissident Christians, Moslems, and Jews, inside their territory and eastward. After the fall of Acre in 1291, the province continued in three priories on Cyprus until the Turks captured the island in 1571. Its friars reunited several prelates of the separated churches and Rome during the generalate of Jordan of Saxony and converted many Saracens.
Probably the most lasting contribution of the friars to the union of the Greek and Latin Churches lies in the field of writing. A number of them who had personal contact with .Easterners, or scholars with other sources of information, produced writings dealing with Eastern problems during the medieval centuries. At the request of Urban IV, Thomas Aquinas interrupted his composition of the Summa contra Gentiles to write the Contra errores Graecorum. In the book he examined the procession of the Holy Spirit and statements of the Greek Fathers about it.
Nicholas of Vicenza and William of Tripoli, who had done excellent work in Palestine, lost a chance for undying fame when Pope Gregory X gave them letters for the Grand Khan in central Asia and sent them in the company of the Polo brothers. After spending long years in China, Marco Polo, their nephew, returned to a fame that has never been tarnished. However, the friars turned back soon after setting out when the campaign of Sultan Bibars of Egypt frightened them.
The Asiatic Tartars and the Dominicans
Dominican contact with the Tartars was extended by a design of Innocent IV. Thinking he could contain the Moslems and perhaps facilitate their acceptance of Christianity, the Pope inaugurated a plan for an alliance with the Tartars in Asia and their conversion. In 1245, he sent four embassies, two of Dominicans and two of Franciscans, to the Tartars in southern and central Asia. Franciscans, headed by John of Plano Carpini, reached the Grand Khan in Karakorum. John's colorful account of their travels is well known. The Dominican groups contacted Tartar generals in Mesopotamia. Simon of St. Quentin described the experiences of one of the Dominican bands. It is incorporated into the Speculum maius of Vincent of Beauvais but does not rival the Franciscan report. Andrew of Longjumeau, who had headed one of the groups, had hardly returned when Louis IX sent him back to the Tartars. He reached the court at Karakorum.
Innocent's grand plan came to nothing. Though doing credit to his missionary zeal, it presumed that the political situation and aims of Asia matched those of Europe. Even had the objectives of the Tartars and Innocent been in harmony, the practical obstacles to carrying them out were insurmountable. The report of St. Quentin shows that at least one of Innocent's embassies lacked diplomatic finesse when it made demands on the Tartar general as though he were a papal subject. The Dominican ambassadors were lucky to escape with their lives. However, the anger of the Tartars died down and the lengthy stay of the friars among them ended on a happier note.
Garden-variety missionaries also worked in Asia. Returning from China in 1254, the Franciscan, William Rubruk, met two contingents of Dominicans who were seeking to enter the Tartar dominions. In 1274 two Dominicans made their appearance, perhaps as interpreters, in the company of a Tartar embassy to the Council of Lyons. In the fifteenth century, the Dominican Archbishop in eastern Armenia, John of Sultania, knew Tamerlane, the Khan of the Tartars, and led an embassy to Europe for him.
The Congregation of Pilgrim Friars
The missions of the Order lagged for a time after the Saracens took Acre in 1291 and closed the trade routes originating in Palestine. The friars could not travel eastward and were forced off the mainland to footholds on Cyprus. However, a new organization rallied the Order's eastern missionaries. Founded between 1300 and 1304, the Society of Friars Travelling for the Sake of Christ among the Gentiles, later called the Congregation of Pilgrim Friars, began to work from outposts on the shifting frontiers between Christendom, Islam, and paganism. Governed by a vicar general under statutes given by Master General Berengar of Landorra, the Pilgrims were more flexible than a province. They had no fixed territory and recruited their men from the rest of the Order. The Congregation reached the peak of its activities about 1330, when it had missions at Trebizond and Chins, at two points in Turkey, in Georgia, Turkestan, Persia, and India. The Pilgrims tried in vain to enter China. Before they were founded, Nicholas of Pistoia started to China with the Franciscan, John of Montecorvino, but died while preaching in India. Montecorvino reached Pekin, where he established a successful mission. One of the Pilgrims, Jordan of Catalani, founded a mission at Quilon in India, becoming its first bishop.
After Poland conquered Red Russia in 1349, Polish friars founded priories in that area, but a quarter of a century later turned them over to the Pilgrim Friars.
The Black Death destroyed all but three of the missions of the Pilgrims, Pera, Kaffa, and Trebrizond. It forced the 1363 general chapter to incorporate these houses into the province; of Greece. Restored in 1373, the Pilgrims evangelized in Russia, Poland, Lithuania, and the Danubian principalities of Moldavia, Wallachia, and Ruthenia. The Congregation was suppressed a second time (1456-1464 ) following the fall of Constantinople. Then restored to life, it endured until 1857 ( from 1603 under the name Congregation of the Orient and of Constantinople). At that time the remaining houses were incorporated into the province of Piedmont. At the house in the Pera-Galata, suburb of Istanbul, the Piedmontese Dominicans are presently engaged in Islamic studies.
The Unifying Friars of St. Gregory
Greater Armenia ( on the Black Sea in Iran) was one of the areas evangelized by the Pilgrim Friars. They supplied the bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Sultania in western Persia, erected by John XXII in 1318. Their most striking success was the conversion of the eastern monks of Qrna in 1330. Under Abbot John Qrna adopted the Dominican liturgy, Constitutions (minus their perpetual abstinence and absolute poverty), and the habit of the cooperator brothers ( white tunic with blank scapular and hood). Other monasteries soon joined Qrna. With Dominican guidance, Abbot John then formed the Unifying Friars of St. Gregory the Illuminator. Their aim was to work for the union of the Armenian and Latin Churches by preaching, teaching, and writing. Aided by Dominican translators, especially James Targman ( the Translator), the Armenian friars translated the Dominican Constitutions and liturgical texts and many Western theological works, notably those of Thomas Aquinas. When Innocent VI approved the Unifiers in 1356, he placed them under the care and jurisdiction of the Dominican master general. Their monasteries stood in Armenia, Georgia, and Crimea.
During the last twenty-five years of the century, the Unifiers are said to have enrolled 700 members, living in fifty monasteries. If these figures are realistic, they soon dropped after 1381 when zealous nationalists opposed the Unifiers, and the new Tartar incursions began. When the Dominicans mitigated their perpetual abstinence and strict poverty in the second half of the fifteenth century, the distinction between them and the Unifiers began to melt away. It became customary to regard and speak of the Unifiers as Dominicans. Finally, the Order incorporated them as the province of Naxivan in 1583. Its friars continued to work in Armenia until the wars, beginning in 1750, drove them out. The last of them died at Smyrna in 1813.
The Unifying Friars of St. Gregory made an interesting attempt to serve as a bridge between the Roman and Armenian Churches and provide a well-trained native clergy. It was no fault of theirs that wars, persecution, and the ill feeling of their separated brethren stultified their effort.
Evaluation of the Missions
Dominican missionaries of the Middle Ages suffered all the handicaps and exhibit most of the flaws found in the methods of their day. Some of these were a matter of mistaken policy, such as mass or forced conversions, exemplified in Prussia where the Teutonic Knights required reception of Baptism in their treaties with the natives, employing friars to administer the Sacrament. Kings in Spain obliged Jews and Moors to attend sermons. There was also little continuity or follow-up. Ricoldo of Montecroce, during his long apostolate in Mesopotamia, established sound principles for work among Dissidents, but, after making conversions, even he hurried on to new conquests. The missionaries were plagued by distance and the hardships of travel, and a disaster could cripple an organized effort. Thus the Black Death in 1348 decimated the Pilgrim Friars. Political conditions sometimes interrupted or destroyed promising beginnings. In this way, the Tartar invasions in 1241 halted and almost put an end to the work of the Hungarian Dominicans among the Cumans. The fifteenth-century incursions of Tamerlane destroyed churches and buildings in Georgia. When he returned to Asia, the friars had to begin again. Likewise, Western missionaries misunderstood the oriental mind and failed in their appeal to the people and clergy. In Saracen lands political law and social convention made conversion difficult. Evangelization was done secretly and little record of it remains.
Dominicans gave their lives for the faith. Tartars killed ninety-four friars, among them Bl. Sadoc, their leader, and destroyed five priories in Poland and two in Hungary. Another group of Dominican martyrs suffered at Sandomir, Poland, but the time and circumstances of their death are unknown. When Acre fell in 1291, the last Dominican priory in Palestine offered thirty of its members as a holocaust. Ricoldo of Montecroce found Dominican vestments, books, breviaries, and blood-stained habits pierced by swords among the booty brought into Bagdad from Acre. A Dominican nun, the lone survivor, gave him details of the slaughter.
Bl. Anthony of Neyrot presents an interesting case. Captured by the Moors and taken to Tunis, he first apostatized, but then repented and preached Christ. The Bey had him stoned to death in 1460.
Even though the historian can point to few lasting results of the heroic self-sacrifices of the medieval Dominican missionaries, he must admit they added luster to the Church, testified to the vitality of the Order, and excited later missionaries to similar efforts. They illustrate the need to search constantly for enlightened methods of evangelization.
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