CHAPTER VII

 

Dominic’s second journey to Rome – Innocent III’s conditional

approval of the order of Friar Preachers –

Meeting of St. Dominic and St. Francis of Assisi

 

Having seen his idea thus far realized, Dominic allowed himself to hope for the approval of the Holy See.  Therefore, taking advantage of the approaching Lateran Council, he set out for Rome in the autumn of the year 1215, accompanied by the Bishop of Toulouse.  But before taking leave of his disciples, he, by one act, finally traced out for his Order one of the grand routes to be pursued by them.  At that time, Alexander, a celebrated doctor, filled the chair of theology at Toulouse.  While studying one morning at a very early hour, he was so oppressed by drowsiness that he fell into a deep sleep, during which he beheld seven stars appear, which, though small at first, gradually increased in size and brilliancy, until at last France and the whole world was illumined by their splendor.  Awaking from this dream at dawn of day, he summoned the servants who were in the habit of carrying his books, and betook himself to his school.  Just as he was entering, Dominic appeared, accompanied by his disciples, all wearing the white tunic and black cape of the Canons Regular.   They said that they were Brothers, engaged in preaching the gospel to the inhabitants of the province of Toulouse, and that they ardently desired to listen to his teaching.  Then Alexander knew that these were the seven stars just seen by him in his dream; and when staying, later on, at the court of the king of England, at a time when the Order of Friar Preachers had acquired great renown, he related in what manner the earliest members of that new Order had been enrolled among his pupils.

 

After confiding his disciples to the guard of prayer and study, Dominic proceeded to Rome.  Twelve years had elapsed since Don Diégo and he had visited it for the first time, as pilgrims, and both as yet unconscious why from such a far distance they had been led by God to the feet of His Vicar.  Now Dominic brings back to the Holy Father the fruit of his benediction; and although robbed by death of the companion of his former pilgrimage, he does not return alone.  He was destined to form many illustrious friendships; and if Spain, the land of his birth, kept guard over the tomb of the friend and patron of Dominic’s early years, France, the land of his adoption, had given him, in the person of Foulques, another protector and another friend.  Although he had the happiness of finding Innocent III still the occupant of the Papal throne, the Holy Father did not at once accede to Dominic’s request.  He had readily consented to take the convent of Prouille under the guardianship of the Holy See, and had issued letters to that effect, dated 8th October 1215; but the Holy Father hesitated to give his approval to a new Order dedicated to preaching.

 

Historians allege two reasons for this repugnance.  First, that preaching being an office transmitted by the Apostles to the Bishops, it seemed contrary to antiquity that it should be exercised by any other than the Episcopal order.  True that the Bishops had for some time voluntarily abstained from the honor of announcing the Word of God, and that the fourth Lateran Council, recently held, had enjoined that the pulpits should be filled by Priests, capable of preaching in the Bishop’s stead.  Still, it was one thing for each individual Bishop to provide for instructions throughout his diocese by the appointment of vicars revocable at will, and another to confide to a particular Order the perpetual and universal function of preaching.  Would not the latter virtually be the formation of an apostolic order within the Church, and could any other apostolic order exist besides that of the Episcopacy?  Such was the question to which Dominic’s zeal had given birth – a question this which Innocent III could not at once resolve, as, notwithstanding the above-named reasons, much was to be said on the other side.  The apostolate was decidedly languishing, and the increasing spread of heresy was due to the absence of skilled and zealous instruction.  The councils held in Languedoc during the Albigensian war, had unanimously reminded the Bishops of this part of their duty.  But Apostles are created by the grace of God, and not be the decrees of councils.  On returning to their palaces, the Bishops found in the administration of diocesan and state affairs, and in the almost irresistible force of circumstances, an excuse for their religious inertia.  Neither was it an easy thing to find persons who could instruct in their stead.  One cannot say to a Priest, “Be thou an Apostle!”  The apostolic character is the result of a particular course of life.  Such was common in the Early Church, because the whole world having to be conquered, all minds pursued the only course of action capable of attaining that end.  But since the Church has become the universal sovereign of nations, the pastoral office has superseded the apostolic one, the aim being rather to preserve than to extend the kingdom of Christ.  Now, by a law to which all created things are subject – where progress ends, death begins – the conservative régime, though sufficing with the majority, is incapable of restraining certain ardent minds that escape from a service that does not urge them onwards, as soldiers weary when never led to face the foe.  Such souls, though isolated at first, rally together unobserved, creating the excitement they need, until the day when, deeming themselves sufficiently strong, they teach the Church, by their sudden irruption, that the human intellect is kept faithful in its allegiance to truth only by ding of perpetual reconquest. . . The state of Europe had but too well revealed this law of humanity to Innocent III. Ought he then to refuse the succor so opportunely proffered, and resist the Divine Spirit, who, besides raising up to His Church many a worthy Bishop, now gave a band of Monks as their co-operators?  Still, there was a difficulty in the way.  The Lateran Council having decreed, that in order to avoid the confusion and inconvenience resulting from the multiplicity of Religious Orders, no new ones should be founded, how could he act in opposition to this solemn decision?

 

God, who vouchsafes to the Catholic Church an assistance, the perpetuity of which is one of the visible miracles of His wisdom, desiring only to prove Dominic by this final trial, now dissipated the Holy Father’s anxiety.  Sleeping one night in the palace of St. John Lateran, he dreamt he saw the basilica about to fall, and Dominic supporting the falling walls on his own shoulders.  Warned by this inspiration, he sent for Dominic, whom he ordered to return to Languedoc, to select, in concert with his companions, that one of the ancient Rules which should appear to him most suited for the formation of the new militia with which he desired to enrich the Church.  In this way the Lateran decree would be observed, and the seal and protection of antiquity given to a new undertaking.

 

While in Rome, another great joy awaited Dominic.  He was not the only one elected by Providence to succor the Church in those critical times.  Whilst the life-giving stream of God’s Word welled forth from the pure and saintly depts. Of Dominic’s heart, another man had been called of God to revive in His Church, amid the soul-destroying luxury of the age, the love and observance of Poverty.  This sublime lover of Jesus Christ was born in the town of Assisi, at the foot of the Umbrian hills, and was the son of a rich, but miserly, merchant.  Having learnt French in the interests of his father’s business, they called him Francis, although it was neither his baptismal nor family name.  Returning from Rome at the age of twenty-four, he, often solicited by the Spirit of God, was now wholly taken possession of by the same.  Being led by his father into the presence of the Bishop of Assisi in order that he might renounce all his family rights, the heroic young man, stripping himself of all his clothes, lad them at the Bishop’s feet, saying, “Now I can say with more truth than ever, ‘Our Father who art in heaven.’”[1] A little later on, being present at the Holy Sacrifice, he heard that part of the Gospel read where Jesus Christ tells His Apostles to take nothing for their journey, neither staff, nor scrip, nor bread, nor money, neither to have two coats.  On hearing these words, he was filled with an inexpressible joy; he took off his shoes, cast aside his staff, with horror threw away the little money he possessed, and during the remainder of his life wore no other garment than an under one, a tunic, and a cord.  Even these appeared too great riches, and before his death he had himself laid on the pavement in the presence of his brethren, nude as in the day when, on his final conversion, he had placed his garments at the Bishop’s feet.

 

Whilst these events were occurring, Dominic, at peril of his life, was evangelizing Languedoc, and crushing heresy by his apostolic labors.  Unknown to themselves, a wondrous harmony had been established between these two men, and the similarity of their career extended even to the events which followed their death.  Dominic was the senior by two years; and having been trained in a more learned manner for his mission, was in due time joined by this young brother, who needed no universities to teach him the science of poverty and love.  Almost at the same instant that Dominic was laying the foundation of his Order at Notre-Dame-de-Prouille, at the foot of the Pyrenees, Francis was laying the foundation of his at Notre-Dame-des-Anges, at the foot of the Apennines.  An ancient sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, was the sweet and lowly corner-stone of both these edifices.  Notre-Dame-de-Prouille was Dominic’s cherished spot; whilst Notre-Dame-des-Anges was the one spot of ground for which Francis had reserved a place in the immensity of a heart detached from all things visible.  Both had commenced their public life by a pilgrimage to Rome, whither they returned to solicit for their Orders the approbation of the Holy Father.  At first Innocent III refused their appeal, but was afterwards constrained by the same vision to give a verbal and conditional approval to both.  As Francis, so Dominic, embraced within the flexible austerity of his Rule, men, women, and people of the world, making three Orders on single power combating for Jesus Christ with the arms of nature and grace; the only difference was, that while the first members of Dominic’s Order were women, those of St. Francis’ were men.  The same Sovereign Pontiff, Honorious III, confirmed their institutions by apostolic Bulls, and the same Pope, Gregory IX, canonized them both.  Also the two greatest doctors of all ages arose from their ashes; St Thomas from those of Dominic, and St. Bonaventure from those of Francis.

 

Yet these two men, whose destinies were so harmonious in the sight of heaven and earth, were strangers to one another, and although both were in Rome during the fourth Lateran Council, it does not appear that they ever heard of each other.  One night when Dominic was praying, he beheld Jesus Christ filled with wrath against the world, and His blessed Mother presenting to Him two men, in order to appease Him.  He recognized himself as one, but did not know the other, whom he regarded so attentively that the face was ever present to him.  On the morrow, in a church, we know not which, he beheld, in the dress of a mendicant, the face seen by him the preceding night, and running to the poor man, embraced him with holy effusion, uttering these words, “You are my companion; you will walk with me; let us keep together and none shall prevail against us.”  He then related his vision, and thus were their hearts blended in one.

 

The kiss of Dominic and Francis has been transmitted from generation to generation on the lips of their posterity.  The two Orders are still united by the ties of early friendship; they are to be seen filling the same office in every part of the globe; their monasteries are erected in the same localities, and they beg at the same doors; and their blood shed in the cause of Jesus Christ has mingled a thousand times in the same glorious sacrifice; princes and princesses have donned their habit; they have peopled heaven with their saints; their virtue, influence, renown, and aims have ever been the same; and never has the breath of jealousy tarnished the purity of a friendship of six hundred years’ duration.  They have spread together throughout the world, even as two trees equal in age and strength joyously interlace their branches; they have won and shared the affections of nations, as twin-brothers rest on the bosom of the same mother; they have trod the same path to heaven, even as two precious perfumes mounting heavenwards by the same path.

 

Every year when the Feast of St. Dominic occurs, carriages are to be seen starting from the monastery of Sainte-Marie-sur-Minerve, where dwells the General of the Order of St. Dominic, in order to escort the General of the Franciscans from the monastery of Ara-Coeli.  He arrives, accompanied by a large number of his brethren, and Dominicans and the Franciscans proceed in parallel lines to the height altar of Santa Maria, when, after mutual salutations, the former take their place in the choir, the latter remaining at the altar to celebrate the office of their father’s friend.  Then, seated at the same table, they break the bread which for six hundred years has never failed them; and the repast ended, the chanters of both Orders sing in concert, in the midst of the Refectory, this anthem: “The seraphic Francis and the apostolic Dominic have given us Thy law, O Lord!”

 

This interchange of greetings, which takes place is the monastery of Ara-Coeli, has its counterpart, throughout the world wherever a Dominican and Franciscan monastery are sufficiently near to permit the inhabitants interchanging the mutual sign of the hold and hereditary affection by which they are united.

 

 

[1] St. Bonaventure, Vie de St. François, chap. Ii.


 
 


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Text from the 1880 Burns and Oats edition

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