Dominic’s third journey to Rome – Confirmation of the

Order of Friar Preachers by Pope Honorius III



Whilst the monastery of St. Romain was rapidly progressing under the eyes of Dominic, an unforeseen occurrence saddened the heart of the holy patriarch.  Innocent III died at Perouse on the 10th July, and two days later, Cardinal Conti, of the ancient race of the Sabelli, was, by a hasty election, raised to the pontifical throne under the name of Honorius III.  Death had thus deprived the Dominicans of a faithful protector, and exposed them to the uncertainties attendant on a new régime.  Innocent III belonged to that family of rare men whom Providence had given as friends and protectors to Dominic; he was of kindred blood with Azévédo, Foulques, and Montfort, that generous constellation of which the stars were being quenched one by one.  Azévédo was first to depart, leaving his heroic designs uncompleted; and now that Dominic had succeeded in furthering their execution under the auspices of Innocent III, this great Pontiff disappeared before completing his promised work.  This trial was but of short duration.  A third time Dominic crossed the Alps, and, in spite of the embarrassments attendant on a new administration, at once obtained the reward due to his protracted labors.  On December 22, 1216, his Order was solemnly confirmed by two Bulls, as follows:-


“Honorius, Bishop, servant of the servants of God, to his dear son Dominic, Prior of St. Romain of Toulouse, and to the professed Brethren, present and future, health and apostolic benediction.  It behoves that those professing the religious life should be placed under apostolic protection, lest they should be turned aside from their aim by rash attacks, or, which god forbid, their religious life be imperiled.  Therefore, dear sons in the Lord, we readily accede to your just demands and take under the protection of the blessed Apostle Peter, and under our own, the church of St. Romain of Toulouse, in the which you have dedicated yourself to the divine service.  We decree, first, that the canonical Order established in this church, according to God’s will and the rule of St. Augustine, be perpetually and inviolably observed there; moreover, that the possessions justly acquired by the said church, or eventually accruing to her by pontifical concession, the alms of the faithful, or in any other legitimate way, remain irrevocably in your hands and those of your successors.  We also deem it well to name the following possessions, the church of Prouille and its dependencies, the estate of Cassanel, the church of Notre-Dame-de-Lescure with all its dependencies, the hospital of Toulouse called Arnaud-Bérard and its dependencies, the church of the Sainte-Trinité of Lohens with its dependencies, and the tithes which our venerable brother Foulques, Bishop of Toulouse, in his pious and thoughtful generosity, has, with the consent of his Chapter, ceded to you.  That no one presume to demand tithes on the lands cultivated by you, or at your own expense, or on the produce of your cattle.  We permit your receiving and retaining, without fear of hindrance, clerics and laics desiring of quitting the world, provided they are bound by no other ties.  We forbid your Religious, after their profession, to quite their Order without their Prior’s permission, unless it be to embrace a severer Rule, and we likewise forbid any one to admit such without your consent.  You will provide for the services of the parish churches belonging to you by presenting to the Bishop of the diocese Priests worthy of being appointed to the cure of souls, and who will be responsible to him, in things spiritual, and to you, in things temporal.  We forbid that your church be subjected to any new conditions; we forbid that either it or you should be laid under an interdict or excommunicated, unless for a reasonable and manifest cause.  In case of a general interdict, you may celebrate the Divine Office in a low voice, without bells, and with closed doors, after such as are excommunicated and under the interdict have quitted the church.  Chrism, holy oil, consecration of altars or basilicas, ordination of your clerics, shall be obtained from the bishop of the diocese, provided that he be Catholic and in the grace and communion of the Holy See, and that he consent to give you the above without any unjust conditions; in the contrary case, you shall apply to any Catholic bishop you may please to select, provided he be in the grace and communion of the Holy See, and he shall comply with your requests in virtue of our authority.  We grant you the right of sepulture in your church; and forbid any opposition to the pious and last wishes of such as desire to be interred there, unless they are excommunicates or under an interdict, and provided that the right of sepulture attaching to other churches be not interfered with.  At your decease and that of your successors in the office of Prior, let no one take possession of the office by ruse or violence, but he who has been duly elected by all, or by the majority of the brethren, according to God and the Rule of St. Augustine.  We also ratify the privileges, immunities, and reasonable customs introduced of old and still existing in your church, and desire that they may be observed inviolate.  Let none disturb the peace of this church; seize or retain, diminish or meddle, with its possessions; but, saving by apostolate authority or the canonical decision of the diocesan, let such possession remain intact, for the use and support of those to whom they have been conceded.  If any person, ecclesiastical or secular, cognizant of the above, dare to infringe this Order, and on being warned a second and third time refuse to give satisfaction, let him be deprived of all power and honor, and let him know that he has rendered himself guilty in the sight of God; let him be cut off from the communion of the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and at the final judgment may he suffer severe punishment.  On the other hand, may the blessing of our Lord Jesus Christ be upon all those who respect the rights of this church, and may here below receive the reward of their good deeds and an eternal recompense from the Sovereign Judge.  Amen.”[1]


The second Bull, brief as it is prophetic, runs thus: -  “Honorius, servant of the servants of God, to the dear son Dominic, Prior of St. Romain of Toulouse, and to the professed brethren, health and apostolic benediction.  We, considering the that Religious of your Order should be the champions of the faith and the true luminaries of the world, confirm your Order, with all its lands and possessions, present and future, and take beneath our shield and protection the Order itself, together with all its possessions and privileges.”[2]


These two Bulls were issued at St. Sabine on the same day.  The first bears not only the signature of Honorius, but the signatures of eighteen Cardinals also.  Still, however favorable its terms, Dominic’s wish was not fully granted; for he desired that the name of his Order might be a perpetual sign of the aim he had set before him in its institution.  From the commencement of his apostolate he delighted in the name of Preacher, and be a deed of homage, at the signing of which he was present, on 21st June 1211, it is noticeable that he made use of a seal on which were graven these words, “Seal of Brother Dominic, Friar.” When in Rome during the Lateran Council, says the Blessed Jourdain de Saxe, he proposed obtaining from the Pope an Order of Religious filling he office and bearing the name of Preachers. A remarkable fact occurred at this time.  Innocent III, having just encouraged Dominic by a verbal approval, and being under the necessity of writing to him, called his secretary, saying, “Write such and such things to Brother Dominic and his companions;” then, after a moment’s delay, continued, “Do not write that, but say: ‘To Brother Dominic and to those who preach the gospel with him in the province of Toulouse;’” then, stopping once more, he added, “To Master Dominic and to the Friar Preachers.”[3] Notwithstanding this, Honorius abstained from giving the new Order any name in the Bulls issued by him.  It was doubtless to make reparation for this silence, that a month later, on the 20th January 1217, he dictated the following letter: - “Honorius, Bishop, servant of the servants of God, to his dear sons the Prior and the religious of St. Romain, Preachers in the province of Toulouse, health and apostolic benediction.  We render due thanks to the Author of Grace for all the gifts He has conferred upon you, and in which we hope to see you persevere even unto the end.  Consumed by the fire of charity, you shed around you a sweet odor, rejoicing the hearts of such as are whole, and restoring those who are sick.  As skilled physicians, you offer them spiritual mandrakes preserving them from sterility, that is, the seed of the Word fertilized by fervent eloquence.  Faithful servants, the talent entrusted to you has fructified within your hands, and you will restore it to the Lord with increase.  Invincible and strong in Christ, girt with the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation, you fear not those who can kill the body; courageously wielding against the enemies of the faith, that Word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, and hating your lives in this world that you may save them in that which is to come.  But as only the end crowns the work, and only he who perseveres will be saved, we pray and exhort you seriously, by these apostolic letters, by your charity, and for the remission of your sins, to fortify yourselves yet more and more in the Lord, preaching the gospel in season and out of season, thus fully accomplishing the work of evangelists.  If you endure tribulation for the Word’s sake, bear it not only with equanimity, but, with the Apostle, glory and rejoice that ye are deemed worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus.  For these light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work out an exceeding weight of glory, to which the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared.  We also beseech you, whom we regard with peculiar affection as our much loved sons, to intercede for us with God in your prayers, that so He may perchance vouchsafe to your petitions that which our own merits cannot obtain.”


Thus were the office and name of Friar Preachers ascribed to the Dominicans by the Sovereign Pontiff.  The three acts just cited show a remarkable gradation. In the first Bull, deliberated on in Consistory and signed by the Cardinals, there is no question whatever regarding the intention of the Order, which is simply mentioned as a canonical Order under the Rule of St. Augustine.  The second Bull is briefer and more concise, and names Dominic’s spiritual children champions of the faith, true lights of the world.  The last Bull openly styles them Preachers, praises them for their past apostolic labors, and encourages them with regard to the future.  Historians have been puzzled as to the motives for this course of action, and especially so as to the Sovereign Pontiff’s reasons for issuing two Bulls on the same subject, and on the same day.  They have conjectured that probably the first was destined to be kept in the archives of the Order, and the second to be used as a kind of daily passport.  But why should an Order sanctioned by the Holy See need to present a Bull to all comers?  Is not its very existence a proof of its authenticity?  And in the case of opposition, is it not clear that the important document is the one defining its rights and privileges, ad on the one, consisting of a few lines, in which the question of its canonical status is left untouched?  The progressive recognition of the Order of Friar Preachers sets us on another track, and it seems to us probably that at the pontifical court there was some opposition to the establishment of an apostolic Order, and that this was the cause of the absolute silence observed in the first Bull regarding the aims of the newly authorized Order; but that the Sovereign Pontiff, yielding to divine inspiration and to Dominic’s urgency, signed a declaration on the same day, stating the special motive by which Dominic was led; and a month later deemed it well to express himself openly and without reserve.  On the 7th February Honorius ratified his first Bull by a Brief, forbidding the Friar Preachers to quit their Order save for a more austere one.


Having obtained his wish, Dominic must have been impatient to return to his spiritual children; but Lent was at hand and retained him in Rome, where he seized the opportunity thus afforded of commencing his ministrations in the very capital of Christendom.  His success was great.  He expounded St. Paul’s Epistles to a numerous audience in the Vatican, thus proving that, apart from his controversies with the heretics, he followed in his teaching the method adopted by the Fathers, viz., the expounding Scripture to the people, not be detached portions, but in regular order, so that history, dogma, and morality were blended together, the main objects of his eloquence being to impart instruction.  The pulpit is a school of popular theology, and from the lips of the priest, initiated in divine science the streams of eternal life, mingled with the traditions of the past and the hopes of the future, should flow to water the world.  As this stream ebbs and flows, so does faith wax or wane.  Elected by God to revive the apostolic office within the Church, Dominic had doubtless considered what was the best way of handling the Scriptures, and judging b y his first essay in Rome, when in the prime of his maturity, we must conclude that he gave the preference to a continuous exposition of Holy Writ.  A noteworthy fact attests the success of his teaching.  The pope, desirous to secure to the Roman people and the members of his court a continuance of such instruction, made the office perpetual, and gave to the one filling it, the title of Master of the Sacred palace.  Dominic was the first to be invested with this office, which his descendants have honorably filled until the present day.  Hits privileges and duties have increased with time.  From preacher and doctor holding a spiritual school in the Vatican, the Master of the Sacred Palace has become theologian to the Pope, universal censor of books printed at or brought into Rome, the only one having power to confer the degree of Doctor in the Roman University, and the elector of such as preach before the Holy Father during the sacred seasons, - functions to which are allied many honorable privileges, the heritage of which has been justly and inviolably transmitted from Dominican to Dominican.


During the time that the holy Patriarch was becoming known in Rome by his preaching, he was also a frequent guest of Cardinal Ugolino, Bishop of Ostia, and a member of the noble house of Conti.  The venerable Ugolino had worn the purple for twenty hears, and was at that period sixty-three years of age.  He was the friend of St. Francis of Assisi, who had often predicted that Ugolino would one day wear the tiara, and who often addressed him in his letters thus: “To the very Reverend Father and Lord Ugolino, future Universal Bishop and Father.”  Despite his years, Ugolino felt drawn to Dominic, as he had been to Francis, to both of whom his still young heart was capable of extending the same loving friendship.  It is the privilege of certain souls to be susceptible of loving impulses even to their latest hour.  So it was Dominic’s privilege never to lose one friend without gaining another.  God willed that the venerable Cardinal, destined to die Pope at the age of nearly a hundred, should render the last honors to Dominic, celebrate his funeral, and cherish his memory with pious affection, and, with the infallibility appertaining to his office, inscribe his name on the roll of the Saints.  This was not the sole result of this illustrious friendship.


Among the members of the Cardinal’s household was a young Italian named Guigliolmo de Montferrat, who had come to spend Easter at Rome, and on whom the appearance and discourses of Dominic made so deep an impression as to inspire him with the resolution described as follows: - “About sixteen years ago, I came to spend Lent in Rome, and the present Pope, then Bishop of Ostia, received me into his house.  At that epoch, Dominic, the founder and first Master of the Order of Preachers, being at the Papal Court, often visited the Lord Bishop of Ostia, so that I became acquainted with him, and, taking pleasure in his conversation, began to love him.  We often discoursed of the things appertaining to our common salvation; and it seemed to me that though I had frequently conversed with many holy men, never had I seen one who excelled him, nor any who appeared animated with such zeal for the salvation of men.  The same year I went to Paris to study theology, because I had arranged that after two years spent in study, I would, as soon as Brother Dominic had made the final arrangements regarding his Order, accompany him, and labor with him for the conversion of the Persians and those dwelling in the northern countries.”[4] Thus did Dominic gain the heart of the old man and that of the youth; and although his Order was scarcely established, he already meditated going in person to open to it the gates of the North and of the East.  Fettered by European civilization, his heart yearned to those nations on whom the light of Christianity had not yet dawned, among whom he ardently desired to end his days and seal his labors by his own blood. 


He was encouraged in these ardent desires by a vision.  One day that he was in St. Peter’s, praying for the preservation and extension of his Order, St. Peter and St. Paul appeared, the former presenting him with a staff and the latter with a book, and a voice was heard saying to him, “Go and preach, for thereto have I chosen thee.”[5]  At the same moment he beheld his disciples, two by two, spreading throughout the whole world on their mission of evangelization.  From that day the Epistles of St. Paul and the Gospel of St. Matthew were his constant companions, and he was never seen abroad without a staff in his hand.





[1] Bulls of the Order of Friar Preachers, p. 2.

[2] Ibid., p. 4.

[3] Etienne de Salanhac, Des Quatre Choses en quoi Dieu a honoré l’Ordre des Frères Prêcheurs.

[4] Actes de Bologne, second deposition.

[5] Le B. Humbert, Vie de St. Dominique, n. 26.


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Text from the 1880 Burns and Oats edition

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