St. Dominic and his disciples meet at Notre-Dame-de-Prouille –
rule and constitution of the Friar Preachers – Foundation
of the Monastery of Saint-Romain-de-Toulouse
During Dominic’s absence, God had both blessed and multiplied his little flock; in lieu of the six disciples left by him in Pierre Cellani’s house, in Toulouse, he now found fifteen or sixteen. After the first effusions of joy at re-union, Notre-Dame-de-Prouille was appointed by Dominic as the meeting-place where to deliberate, in conformity with the Pope’s commands, as to the selection of their Rule. Until that time, in the spring of 1216, their community had only an indefinite and provisional form, as Dominic had devoted himself rather to action than to writing, after the manner of our Lord, who formed His Apostles for their mission, not by written Rules, but by word and example. Now the hour had arrived when the Dominican family must receive its Rule, so that its mode of life might be defined and perpetuated. Already a father, Dominic must now become a legislator, and after giving birth to a generation of men like unto himself, he was now about to ensure their perpetuity, and arm them against the future, by that mysterious power which confers durability. If the perpetuity of an earthly family be a chef-d’œuvre of virtue and skill, if the foundation of empires demand human genius of the highest order, what must not be requisite to establish a society purely spiritual, not owing its existence to human affections, nor its defense to sword or shield? Ancient legislators, alarmed at their task, attributed a divine origin to their nations, and this by a lie but too apparent. Living in the Christian era, when the plentitude of reality had replaced the ruins of fiction, Dominic had no need to deceive. Ere venturing to trace a single law, he cast himself at the feet of God’s Vicegerent, imploring that benediction which is the germ of a lasting posterity. Then withdrawing into solitude, and placing himself under the protection of the Virgin Mother, he ardently besought God to grant him a share of that Spirit to whom the Catholic Church is indebted for her lasting foundations.
St. Augustine and St. Benedict, born a century apart, where the founders of monastic life in the West, but neither had the end in view proposed by Dominic. St. Augustine, recently converted, retired with a few friends to a house at Tagaste, his native place, in order to devote himself to the study of divine things. Later on, when raised to the priesthood, he founded another monastery in Hippo, which, with its predecessor, was but a reminiscence of the famous Cenobitic institutions owing their origin to St. Anthony and St. Basil. Having succeeded the aged Valerius in the See of Hippo, although his views changed, he still retained his ardent love for community life. He opened his house to the clergy of Hippo, forming his cooperators into one single community. This Episcopal monastery served as a model and starting-point for the Canons Regular, as that of Tagaste had served as model to the religious known as the hermits of St. Augustine. As for St. Benedict, his work was still further removed from the end Dominic had in view, inasmuch as the former merely revived the purely monastic life, divided it between the service of the choir and manual labor.
Compelled to select as ancestor one of these great men, Dominic’s choice fell on St. Augustine. The reasons are easily discerned; for although the illustrious Bishop had no intention of founding an Apostolic Order, he had been apostle and doctor too; his life had been spent in preaching God’s Word, and in defending it from the heretics of his day; and therefore his Rule seemed the most appropriate to the new Order of Friar Preachers. Moreover, it was a rule no unfamiliar to Dominic during the many years spent by him in the Chapter of Osma, and was well adapted to his new Order. Also the rule of St. Augustine possessed this advantage, that being a simple exposition of the fundamental duties of a religious life, it prescribed no settled form of government, no observance, save community of goods, prayer, frugality, and the careful guard of the senses, mutual correction of faults, obedience to the monastic superior, and, above all, that chastity, the name and unction of which fills those pages, so admirable but so brief. In submitting himself to these prescriptions, Dominic accepted in reality nothing but the yoke of the evangelic counsels; as to the rest, he was left unfettered by this sketch, designed by a hand apparently less desirous of creating a cloister than a city, within whose ancient ramparts the structure of the Friar Preachers was to be erected.
One question presented itself, which was this: should an Order destined to the apostolate adopt a monastic life, or one resembling that let by the secular priesthood? Three was no question of the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, without which we can imagine no spiritual society existing, any more than we can imagine a nation not subjected to the poverty of taxation, the chastity of the marriage-tie, and obedience to the same laws and governors. But would the end in view be furthered by the observance of such customs as the public recitation of the Divine Office, perpetual abstinence from meat, long fasts, silence, the chapter called “culpa,” penances inflicted for non-observance of the Rule, and manual labor? Would this rigorous discipline, fitted to mold the solitary heart of the monk and sanctify the leisure of his days, be compatible with the heroic liberty of an apostle who has to take his onward way, sowing on each hand the good seed of the truth? Dominic thought so. It seemed to him that by replacing manual labor by the study of divine things, by the mitigation of certain practices; by the use of dispensations with regard to those Religious who were more strictly occupied in teaching and preaching, it would be possible to reconcile apostolic action with monastic observance. Perhaps the idea of separating them never entered Dominic’s mind; for the apostle is not only a many understanding and preaching God’s Word, he is also a man whose whole being preaches Christianity, and whose very presence is in itself a manifestation of Jesus Christ. What so fit as the austerities of the cloister to impress on him the sacred stigmata of that remembrance? Dominic was naught else that an intimate union of the monk and the apostle. Study, prayer, preaching, fasting, sleeping on the ground, walking barefoot, performing penances, making proselytes; such being his daily life, who could better know all the affinity between the cloister and the apostolate?
The monastic traditions were therefore received at Prouille with some modifications, the first and most general being: “That each prelate should have power to dispense the brethren from the ordinary regulations whenever he should think fit, specially in those things which would hinder study, preaching, or the welfare of souls. Our Order having been originally and specially constituted for the purpose of preaching and for the salvation of souls, all our efforts must incessantly tend to promote the spiritual welfare of our neighbor.”
Therefore it was decreed that the Divine Office should be said in the church with brevity and succinctness, so that neither should the devotion of the brethren suffer, nor their studies be hindered; that when journeying, they should be exempted from fasting, save during Advent; on certain Vigils; and on the Fridays throughout the year; that they might eat meat out of their own monasteries; that absolute silence should not be enjoined; that strangers, women excepted, would be admitted within the monasteries; that a certain number of students should be sent to the most celebrated universities; that they should take scientific degrees, and should hold schools. Regulations these which, without destroying the monastic character of the Friar Preacher, raised him to the rank of an apostolic laborer.
As regarded the administration, each monastery was to be governed by a Prior; each province, consisting of a certain number of monasteries, to be governed by a Prior Provincial, and the whole Order by one chief, since known as the Master-General. As all the degrees of this hierarchy were to be confirmed by the superior power, emanating in the first place from the Sovereign Pontiff, and where to be elected by their inferiors, a spirit of fraternity would thus be ensured. A twofold sign would be visible on the brow of all in office – the election of his brethren and the approval of the superior power. The monks would elect their own Prior; the province, represented by the Priors and one deputy from each monastery, would elect the Provincial; the whole Order, represented by the Provincial and two deputies from each province, would elect the Master-General; whilst, on the other hand, the General would confirm the choice of the Prior Provincial, the Prior Provincial that of the Prior of the monastery. All these functions, save the highest, were temporary, so that to stability should be associated the emulation attendant on change. Chapters-General, held at frequent intervals, would counter-balance the power of the General, and the Provincial Chapters that of the Prior Provincial. A council was assigned the Prior of the monastery to assist him in the most important duties of his office. The wisdom of this form of government has been proved by experience. By it the Order of Friar Preachers has fully accomplished its destiny, preserved alike from license and from oppression. A sincere respect for authority, added to a certain frankness and naturalness, reveals at first glance the Christian freed from fear by love. The majority of the Religious Orders have been subjected to reforms dividing them into several offshoots; that of the Friar Preachers has retained in unity amid the vicissitudes of six hundred years, extending its vigorous branches throughout the whole world, without a single one being separated from the parent stock.
Another question remained: how should the Order subsist? From the first day of his own apostolate, Dominic had trusted to the Divine bounty, living on daily alms, handing over to Prouille all save just enough to provide for his immediate wants. Not until he had witnessed the growth of his spiritual family, did Dominic accept from Foulques the sixth of the tithes of the Toulouse diocese, and from Montfort the estate of Cassanel. But all his affection and all his heart was given to poverty. He discerned the wounds inflicted on the Church by opulence too clearly to desire for his own Order other riches than those of virtue. Nevertheless the assembly at Prouille deferred to a future day the statute concerning mendacity. Dominic doubtless feared that Rom might oppose so daring a though, and therefore preferred reserving its execution for a less critical time.
Such were the fundamental laws laid down by the founders of the Dominican Order. In comparing them with those of the Canons Regular of Prémontré, despite the diversity of aim, one remarks a likeness which proves that Dominic had carefully studied the work of St. Norbert. Probably he had done so while at Osma; and the reform of Prémontré may have served as a model for the reform of the Chapter of Osma.
Foulques, ever occupied in furthering Dominic’s designs, gave him three churches; one at Toulouse, under the invocation of St. Romain the Martyr; the second at Pamiers; and the third situated between Sorèze and Puy-Laurens, and known by the name of Notre-Dame-de-Laurens, and known by the name of Notre-Dame-de-Lescure. Although it was intended to erect a Dominican monastery in each of these spots, none was ever built at Notre-Dame-de-Lescure, nor at Pamiers, until the year 1269. As we have already stated, the heretical city of Toulouse was the first to witness the erection of a Dominican monastery; for although the monks had dwelt together since the previous year, their house resembled a monastery in nothing save the life of its inmates. Therefore it was necessary to erect a suitable building, which was speedily reared in the form of a modest cloister attached to the Church of St. Romain. A cloister is a court surrounded by a portico; in the midst of which court, according to ancient traditions, should be a well, symbol of that living water springing up to eternal life. Beneath the stones of the portico or covered walk were the tombs; funeral inscriptions were graven on the walls; and in the arched vaulting of the portico were painted the acts of the saints belonging to the Order, or to the monastery. This spot was sacred; the very monks paced there in silence, their minds filled with the thoughts of death, or the memory of their predecessors. The sacristy, refectory, and large general rooms were ranged round this solemn gallery, which communicated with the church by two doors, the one leading to the choir, the other to the nave. A flight of stairs led to the upper stories, constructed above the gallery and on the same plan. Four windows, opening at the four corners of the corridors, supplied them with abundant light, and four lamps illuminated them at night. Along these spacious and lofty corridors, whose sole luxury consisted in their cleanliness, the charmed eye discerned a symmetrical line of doors on the right hand and on the left. In the intervening spaces were suspended a thousand simple souvenirs of heaven and earth, such as old pictures, maps, plans of cities and ancient castles, and a table of the monasteries of the Order. At the sound of a clock every door gently opened. Hoary and serene-looking old men, men of precocious maturity, young men in whom penance and youth had formed a type of beauty unknown to the world, every age of life here appeared wearing the same garb. The cell of the Cenobites was poor, but sufficiently large to contain a straw or horse-hair bed, a table and two chairs; a crucifix and a few religious pictures being the sole ornaments. From this tomb, where he spent his mortal life, the monk passed to that tomb which precedes immortality. Even there he was not separated from his living and departed brethren. He was laid, in monastic garb, beneath the pavement of the choir; his dust mingled with that of his predecessors; whilst the praises of the Lord, sung by his contemporaries and successors in the choir, re-echoed around his tomb. Amiable and holy dwellings! Earth has witnessed the erection of splendid palaces, sublime sepulchers, temples all but divine; yet never have human sill and love created aught so perfect as the cloister.
That of St. Romain was ready by the end of August in the year 1216. In structure it was unpretending; the cells were six feet broad and not quite so long; the partitions were not the height of a man, so that the brothers, while occupied in their respective duties, were at the same time partly in each others’ presence. All the furniture was very poor. The Order retained this monastery only until 1232, when the Dominicans removed to a larger house and church, of which they were deprived by the French Revolution, and the magnificent ruins of which no serve as shops and barracks.
 Consititutions de l’Ordre des Frères Prêchreurs, Prologue, n. 3.
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