CHAPTER XV

 

Dominic’s fifth journey to Rome – The Blessed Reginald’s

death – the Blessed Jordain de Saxe enters the Order

 

 

It was in the height of summer in the year 1219 that Dominic descended, for the last time, the steep declivities of the Alps, and beheld again that rich, vast plain in which he was destined to spend the greatest part of his life.  His infancy and youth had been passed in old Castile; the most perfect years of his maturity were given to Languedoc, Rome was the spot whither he was incessantly led by the ardor of his faith; Lombardy was destined to be his tomb.  We know not by what route he traveled there; early historians are silent as to his itineracy, until his arrival in Bologna, where the Prior and Friars of San-Niccolà received him with great joy.  His first act was one of disinterestedness.  Odéric Gallicani, a citizen of Bologna, had recently made over to the Friars some very valuable lands.  Dominic tore up the contract in presence of the Bishop, declaring that he desired hat his children should beg their daily bread, and that he would never permit them to amass any riches.  No virtue was so clear to him as poverty.  The whole year round he only wore a tunic of coarse material, in which garb he was not ashamed to appear in the presence of the grandest nobles.  He desired that his Friars should dress has he did; that their houses should be small; that neither silk nor purple should be worn, even at the altar; and that they should possess no vessels of gold or silver excepting the chalices.  The same spirit pervaded the meals.  Two dishes were served, but the Friars partook of only one.  Rodolfo de Faënza, procurator of the Bologna monastery, relates that having sometimes augmented the daily fare during Dominic’s stay, the Saint called him, and whispering in his hear, said, “Why do you kill the Friars with such an allowance as this?”

 

When, as sometimes happened, bread or wine failed, Friar Rodolfo sought out Dominic, who would tell him to go and pray, and would often accompany him to the church to pray likewise, and Providence did not forsake them, but sent a dinner for his children.

 

One fast day, when the whole community was seated in the refectory, Friar Bonvisi went to Dominic and told him that there was nothing to eat.  The Saint raised his eyes and hands to heaven with a joyous air, thanking God that he was so poor.  But soon two strange young men entered the refectory, one of them carrying loaves, and the other dried figs, which they distributed to the community.  Another day, when there were but two loaves in the monastery, Dominic ordered them to be broken into small fragments; then he blessed the basket, and told the server to go round the refectory, and give each Religious two or three of these small pieces.  When this was done, Dominic commanded him to go round a second time, and not to leave off until all had received enough.  The Friars generally drank nothing but water, but they always endeavored to have a little wine for those who were sick.  One day the infirmary attendant complained to Dominic that there was no wine, and gave him the empty vessel.  The servant of God began praying, as was his wont on such occasions, humbly exhorting the rest to do the same, and when the attendant took up the vessel, he found it full.  Historians make but passing allusion to the joy of the Friars at Dominic’s arrival in Bologna, but we can easily conceive the effect of his presence among those who, though as yet they knew him not, were nevertheless his sons.  Then they beheld with their own eyes the Spaniard who had converted them to God by the lips of a Frenchman, and who, renewing the early wonders of the Church, had formed a band of apostles consisting of Christians of every nation.  They beheld him, and his virtues, miracles, speech, and physiognomy fart exceeded any pre-conceived idea that they had formed concerning him.  And so great was the ascendancy he gained within and outside the monastery, that its numerous and pious inmates were greatly multiplied during his brief sojourn there.  Nothing could be more singular than the manner in which Stefano the Spaniard was called to enter the Order.  He himself relates it in the following words: - “Whilst studying at Bologna, Master Dominic arrived, and preached not only to the students, but to others also.  I went to him for confession, and was impressed by the kindness of his manner.  One evening, as I was preparing to sup in my hotel with my companions, he sent two Friars, who told me that Friar Dominic requested my presence, and desired I would come immediately.  I said I would do so directly after supper.  They, replying that he expected me at once, I arose and followed them to San-Niccolà, where I found Master Dominic surrounded by many of the Friars, to whom he spoke, saying, ‘Teach him how to make the prostration.’  And when they had so done, I prostrated myself with docility, and he gave me the habit of a Friar Preacher, saying, ‘I desire to arm you with the weapons with which you will fight against Satan all the days of your life.’  I was filled with surprise then, and never do I recall the incident without wondering by what instinct Friar Dominic had called me, and clothed me with the habit of his Order; for never had I spoken to him of entering religion, therefore must he have been guided by some divine inspiration or manifestation.”[1]

 

As in Paris, so in Bologna, Dominic sent forth many of his Friars to preach and to found monasteries in Northern Italy, always acting on his own favorite maxim, that seed must be sown and not kept.  Milan and Florence received colonies of Friar Preachers, and he judged it expedient that Reginald should leave Bologna for Paris, hoping that his eloquence and renown would effect the final establishment of the Order in France.  The Friars beheld Reginald’s departure from Bologna with deep regret, weeping to be so soon severed from their mother’s breast, for thus Jourdain de Saxe expresses himself, adding, “But all these things happened in accordance with the will of God.  There was something indescribably marvelous in the way in which the blessed servant of God dispersed the Friars hither and thither throughout the Church, and this in spite of the remonstrances he received, by none of which was his courage ever dimmed by one shadow of hesitation.  It seemed as if he were conscious of a success revealed to him by divine inspiration; and who can doubt that this was indeed the case?  At first he had but few Friars with him, and those chiefly simple and illiterate men, whom he dispersed in small numbers throughout the whole Church, so that in the judgment of the children of the world, who try all things by the test of prudence, he, instead of building up a mighty edifice, was but destroying what was already begun.  Dominic’s prayers accompanied his children, who by the grace of the Lord greatly increased.”[2]

 

Dominic also quitted Bologna about the end of October.  Crossing the Alps in the direction of Florence, he tarried a while on the banks of the Arno, where Santa-Maria-Novella and San Marco, to celebrated monasteries of his Order, were to be founded.  The Friars were in possession of a church, at the side of which dwelt a woman named Béné, notorious for her abandoned life, whom God had chastised by abandoning her to the power of the Evil One.  This woman was converted by Dominic’s preaching, and by his prayers she was freed from the power of Satan.  This very deliverance was the cause of her relapse, and on Dominic’s return to Florence five years later, she confessed the evil consequence of her deliverance.  Dominic gently asked whether she was willing to return to her former condition, and on her replying that she submitted herself to God’s will and to his, the saint besought God to do what was best for the salvation of her soul.  In a few days’ time the evil spirit began tormenting her anew, and the punishment of her previous transgressions became a source of merit and perfection.  She eventually took the veil, and with it the name of Benedetta.  It is also recorded that on Dominic’s return she bitterly complained of an ecclesiastic, by whom she had been greatly persecuted on account of her attachment to the Order, and whose dislike to the Friars was grounded on the fact that the church, of which he had formerly been chaplain, had been given to them.  Dominic replied, “Be patient, my daughter, for you persecutor will one day belong to us, and will labor much on behalf of the Order.[3]  Events proved the truth of this prediction.

 

At Viterbo, Dominic met the Sovereign Pontiff Honorius III, who, on the 15th November  1219, gave the Friars letters recommendatory to the Bishops and Prelates of Spain, and on the 8th December following to the whole hierarchy.  Honorius also made a formal donation of the monastery of San Sisto in Rome to Dominic and his Friars, who, until that period, held it in virtue of a verbal concession only.  As the nuns were included in the Order, and were under the temporal and spiritual administration of the Master-General, this is doubtless the reason why no mention is made of them in the deed of transfer.  This was not the Saint’s first visit to Viterbo.  Three years before, as he was returning to France after the confirmation of his Order, he arrived there with Cardinal Capocci, who gave him the chapel and monastery of Santa-Cruz, erected on a neighboring hill, as also an adjoining church which he was then building.  The Cardinal had been warned in a dream to erect this church in honor of Our Lady; his friendship for Dominic induced him to offer it to the latter, even before its completion, fearing delay, lest anything should occur to divert him from his purpose.  Though he did not live to complete it, he secured it to the Order, and under the name of Nostra-Signora-di-Gradi it has become one of the most renowned monasteries of the Roman Province.  Remains of the ancient chapel of Santa-Cruz, where Dominic had often passed his nights, and where until the last century traces of his blood were to be seen, are still visible.

 

Dominic was in Rome at the commencement of the year 1220.  An historian mentions his having presented the nuns of San-Sisto with some ebony spoons he had brought them from Spain.  What simplicity in so great a man!  In the midst of the business and fatigue of a long journey of six or seven hundred leagues, he thought of the poor nuns, and, in order to gratify them, carried them back a souvenir of his native land.  I say carried, for he would never permit anyone to relieve him of his baggage.

 

Reginald had arrived in Paris, where he preached with all the power of eloquence and faith.  He was, next to Dominic, the highest luminary of the new Order.  The eyes of all the Friars were fixed on him, and though little anticipating how soon death would rob them of their founder, they rejoiced to know that there was another capable of carrying on his work.  God soon dispelled their loving hopes.  Reginald was attacked by a fatal malady, and that at the very moment when most was expected from him.  Matthew of France, Prior of St. Jacques, announced to him the arrival of the last struggle, and asked whether they should not administer extreme unction.  He replied, “I do not fear the combat; I await it joyously; and I look for the Mother of Mercy, who with her own hands anointed me at Rome; but lest I should appear indifferent to the ecclesiastical unction, I wish to receive it also.”[4]

 

At that time the majority of the Friars were ignorant of the mysterious manner in which Reginald had been called to enter the Order, for he had besought Dominic not to mention it during his life.  But the recollection of this signal grace recurring to his mind at the moment of death, he felt compelled to allude to it, and gratitude wrung from him a secret which his humility had concealed till then.  Another of his previous saying has been preserved to us by Matthew of France, who, having known his celebrity and the refinements of his former mode of life, expressed surprise at his having embraced so severe a rule: “There is no merit due to me,” said he, “for I have always liked it but too well.”[5]

 

The exact day of his death is unknown, but it was either late in January or early in February of the year 1220.  At that time the Friars having no right of sepulture within their own church, Reginald’s remains were interred in the neighboring edifice of Notre-Dames-des-Champs.  Miracles were wrought at his tomb, and during four centuries his relics were the object of a devotion that promised to be lasting.  But in the year 1614 the church of Notre-Dame-des-Champs was given to the Carmelites of the Reform of St. Theresa, and the nuns removed Reginald’s remains into the interior of their own cloister.  In spite of the hereditary veneration in which he has been held by them, he became in time almost forgotten by the outside world; his memory and tomb became the secret of those who love and live in the past.  Now his very tomb exists no longer; it disappeared together with the church and monastery of Notre-Dames-des-Champs; and the founder of the monastery of Bologna, him whom the Friars named their Staff, he whom the Blessed Virgin had called, and whose limbs she had miraculously anointed, and who gave the last and hallowed form to our habit, for him, the Blessed Reginald, there exists no cultus, not even in that Order of which his whole life, his eloquence, and the number of his illustrious children render him one of the most striking ornaments.[6] Many illustrious scions sprang from that root, even on the very eve of Raymond’s short and fatal illness.

 

We remember the Saxon student whom Dominic knew in Paris, and whose vocation, marked as it was, he feared to hasten.  This precious flower, which, by a delicate presentiment, Dominic had reserved for the honor and consolation of the last days of one of the worthies of his sons, was culled by Reginald’s hand.  The following is the description given by Jourdain de Saxe of his own, and his friend Henri of Cologne’s entrance into the Order: - “The very night in which the sainted Reginald’s soul entered the presence of the Lord, I, who, though not yet vested with the habit, had nevertheless taken the vows of the Order, beheld, in a dream, a ship having the Friars on board; suddenly the ship sank, but the Friars were saved.  I think the vessel denoted Friar Reginald, whom the Friars regarded as their great stay.  Another person was in a dream a limpid stream, which suddenly ceased flowing and was replaced by two gushing fountains.  Supposing that the vision had a hidden meaning, I felt too conscious of my own weakness to attempt its interpretation.  All I know is this, that while in Paris, Reginald received no other profession than mine and that of Friar Henri, afterwards Prior in Cologne, a man whom I loved in the Lord, and for whom I felt a deeper affection than I ever experienced for any other person.  He was indeed a vessel of honor, and of such perfection that I never remember seeing any one more full of grace.  The Lord speedily recalled him to Himself, and therefore it will be will to make some mention of his virtues.

 

“Henry was of distinguished birth, and when quite young had been appointed a Canon of Utrecht.  From his earliest years he had been trained in the fear of the Lord by a very holy man, also a Canon of the same church, and by whose example Henri had been taught to overcome the world by crucifying the flesh and by the practice of good works.  He made him wash the feet of the poor, love the house of God, shun evil, despise luxury, and love chastity.  This young man, naturally of an excellent disposition, willingly bore the easy yoke of virtue; he grew in goodness as in stature, seeming an angel in whom purity was innate.  He came to Paris, and soon the study of theology drew his quick genius and well-balanced mind from the pursuit of all other sciences.  Often meeting in the same hôtel, our acquaintance ripened into deep friendship.  Friar Reginald, of sainted memory, was in Paris at the same time, and so impressed was I by his preaching, that I made a silent vow of joining his Order, which seemed to me a sure way of salvation, and such a one as I had pictured in my own imagination, before I knew the Friars.  Having made this resolution, I was desirous that the friend and companion of my soul should take the same vow, for in him I discerned all the qualities of nature and grace requisite for a great preacher.  Though I met with opposition, I still continued to urge him, and at last persuaded him to go to Friar Reginald for confession.  On his return I opened the prophecies of Isaias, and alighted on the following passage: ‘The Lord hath given me a learned tongue, that I should know how to uphold by word him that is weary: He wakeneth me in the morning that I may hear His voice.  The Lord hath opened my ear, and I do not resist: I have not gone back.’[7]  Whilst interpreting to him this passage, so descriptive of the state of his own heart, and which I pointed out to him to be a heavenly counsel, exhorting him to submit to the yoke of obedience, we noticed a little lower down these two words, ‘Let us stand together,’ which we regarded as in intimation not to separate from each other, but consecrate our lives to he same object.  It was in alluding to this, that, in writing to me one day when he was in Germany and I in Italy, he said, ‘Where now is the let us stand together?  You are at Bologna and I at Cologne!’  I replied, ‘What greater merit and more glorious crown can we win than by sharing the poverty of Christ and His Apostles, and giving up all for love of Him?’  Though his reason was convinced, his will still resisted.

 

“The night on which we held the fore-named conversation, he went to hear Matins in Our Lady’s Church, and remained there till daybreak, praying the Mother of our Lord to quench his rebellious spirit; but not perceiving any amelioration in himself, began to say, ‘O Blessed Virgin! Now I fell that thou has no pity on me, and that there is no room for me in the assembly of Christ’s poor ones.’  This he said sorrowfully, feeling a desire to embrace poverty, the value of which, at the last day, had been manifested to him by our Lord in the following manner.  He saw in a dream our Lord seated on His judgment throne, and two countless multitudes, of which one was already judged, and the other was passing judgment, with our Lord.  Whilst with quiet conscience he calmly regarded this scene, one of those near the Judge suddenly pointed to him, exclaiming, ‘What hast thou ever renounced for the Lord’s sake?’  This question filled him with consternation, as he had no answer to give.  He desired to embrace poverty, but the requisite courage was wanting.  He withdrew from the Church of Notre-Dame, sad at not having obtained the grace he had entreated.  But at that same moment He who has regard unto the humble melted his heart; torrents of tears streamed from his eyes; he poured out his soul before the Lord; all obstacles vanished, and the yoke of Christ, which had formerly appeared so burdensome, now appeared, as in reality it is, light and easy.  In his first transport of joy he arose and hastened to Friar Reginald, who at once received his vows.  Then he came to me, and whilst gazing at the traces of tears on his angelic countenance, I asked him where he had been.  He replied, ‘I have vowed to the Lord, and I will fulfill my vow.’  We deferred taking the habit until Lent arrived, and during the interim we gained another companion, Friar Leon, who afterwards succeeded Friar Henri as Prior. 

 

“When the day arrived on which, by the imposition of ashes, the Church reminds the faithful that of dust they are made and to dust they shall return, we prepared to fulfill our vow.  Our acquaintances knowing nothing of our intention, one of them, on seeing Friar Henri quit the hotel, asked him whither he was going.  He replied, ‘I go to Bethany,’ alluding to the meaning of the word in Hebrew, ‘house of obedience.’  We all three proceeded to St. Jacques, entering at the moment when the Friars where chanting ‘Immutemur Habitu.’ Our visit, though unexpected, was nevertheless opportune, and we put off the old man to put on the new, the Friars chanting that which we were doing.”[8]

 

Reginald did not see Jourdain de Saxe and Henri of Cologne take the habit.  He had returned to God before this; like the aloe, which dies in flowering, and never sees its own fruit.

  

 

[1] Actes de Bologne, deposition of Stefano the Spaniard, n. 2.

[2] Vie de St. Dominic, ch. ii. n. 45.

[3] Constantin d’Orviéto, Vie de St. Dominic, n. 37.

[4] Gerard de Frachet, Vie des Frères, Bk ii. ch.v.

[5] Le B.Jourdain de Saxe, Vie de St. Dominique, ch. iii. p. 46.

[6] These words only apply to the cultus ratified by the Church, for the Blessed Reginald has never ceased to be the object of a warm devotion, which it is hoped will one day be confirmed by the Holy See,

[7] Isaias l. 4,5.

[8] Vie de St. Dominique, ch. iii. n. 47, &c.

 


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