CHAPTER XVI

 

First general Chapter of the Order – St. Dominic’s stay in

Lombardy – Institution of the Third Order

 

 

Although scarcely three years had elapsed since the dispersion of the Friars at Prouille, they had already possessed monasteries in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and even in Poland.  By God’s blessing they had flourished and multiplied.  Dominic, having witnessed and aided their progress, thought it was now time to rejoice them by the sight of their own strength, and this not to excite them to vain satisfaction, but to encourage them in still more arduous labors, to ensure their unity, and give the finishing touch to the legislation by which they were governed.  He therefore convoked a General Chapter of his Order at Bologna, to be held at Pentecost in the year 1220.  Dominic left Rome at t he end of February of the beginning of March.  He spent a few days at Viterbo with the Holy Father, from whom he received fresh proofs of affection, consisting of three letters addressed to the people of Madrid, Segovia, and Bologna, thanking them for their kindness to the Friars, and exhorting them to persevere in the same.  These letters are respectively dated the 20th, 23rd, and 24th of March.  On the preceding February he had written to the Religious of Notre-Dame-des-Champs in Paris, congratulating them on having granted the Friars right of sepulture in their church.  On the 6th of the following May he recommended them warmly to the Archbishop of Tarragona, and on the 12th he gave permission to the monks of different Orders to associate themselves with Dominic in the office of preaching.

 

On the day of Pentecost, Dominic was at Bologna, surrounded by the Friars of San-Niccolà, and by the representatives of the whole Order.  We know the names of none, save that of Jourdain de Saxe, who on taking the habit had been sent from Paris with three other Friars.  In the midst of this assembly Dominic arose, no longer merely Prior of a few Religious, but Master-General of an Order extending through the whole of Europe; holding his Chapter, not, as before, in a simple village church like that of Prouille, but in the very heart of a great and celebrated city, the rendezvous of the intellectual youth of many nations.  No longer a source of anxiety to friends, his undertaking firmly established, Dominic at the age of fifty beheld himself surrounded by many able supporters, whose loss the universities did not cease to regret.

 

The first proposal he made to the Chapter-General was the renunciation of all the property held by the Order, so that henceforth it should subsist only on daily alms.  He had mentally formed this resolution long before, and from the time of the meeting at Prouille in the year 1216, the Friars had adopted it in theory, though not yet in practice.  Dominic had always subsisted on charity since the momentous interview at Montpellier, from which time his apostolic labors date, as also his conviction that voluntary poverty was the only weapon by which heresy could be vanquished. Still there was a wide difference between a few missionaries and a whole Order subsisting on daily alms.  All the traditions of the past seemed to discountenance so daring a step.  From the time when she could hold any possessions, the Church made use of her riches, so that he might be independent of her enemies, liberal to the poor, and generous to her God.  The very hermits of the East bought and sold, and gloried in earning their own living.  Because riches had been abused, need they be entirely renounced?  And supposing the world of that day stood in need of a striking example, would it be wise to make such an example a lasting one when the necessity for it might have passed away?  Whether such reasons as these influenced Dominic, it is certain that he had accepted territorial possession for his Order, with the intention of renouncing them at some future day.  It is said that his intercourse with St. Francis of Assisi had inspired him with this idea, and it is certain that St. Francis had received from God the special mission to revive within the Church the love of poverty; but long before quitting all for Christ’s sake, Dominic had traversed Languedoc, barefooted, clothed in a hair-shirt and an old mended tunic, trusting to Providence for his daily bread.  During the fourth Lateran Council the two Saints, whose virtues had already edified the world, met for the first time in Rome, whither they had gone to solicit the approval of their Orders from Pope Innocent III.  St. Francis of Assisi made instant choice of poverty as the patrimony of his Order.  Dominic, not less austere as regarded himself, hesitated to impose the same observance on others until experience had proved the wisdom of his plan; then he renounced all the wealth acquired by his Order, which, with the consent of the whole Chapter, was ceded to the different Orders.  A perpetual decree was made that for the future the Friars’ sole treasure in this world should consist of their virtues.  Dominic desired to go still farther, and leave the management of domestic matters entirely in the hands of the lay brothers, so that the others might give themselves wholly to prayer, study, and preaching.  The Fathers of the Chapter opposed t his, citing the recent example at Grandmont, where by a similar regulation the whole monastery had been left at the mercy of the lay brothers, and reduced to a state of degrading servitude.  Dominic therefore yielded. 

 

Other constitutions, sill in force, were decreed by the Chapter General, but we have no details regarding them.  Dominic entreated the fathers to relieve him from the weight of government, saying, “I deserve to be deposed, for I am unprofitable and useless.”[1] Apart from the feeling of humility by which he was prompted, he still desired to end his life among the infidels, and in bearing them the truth, win the palm of martyrdom, which he had always so ardently longed for.  More than once he expressed a wish to be scourged and hewn in bits for Christ’s sake.  In the effusion of his heart he one day said to Friar Paolo de Venezia, “When we have regulated and formed our Order, we will go and preach to the Cumans, and win them for the Lord.”[2]

 

This moment seemed now to have arrived.  Had he not established the government and form of his Order?  Was it not there before his eyes as a flourishing vine? What better thing could he do than offer himself up as a living sacrifice? The fathers would not hear of his resignation; far from so doing, they confirmed his election as Master-General, which office he held with the approval of the Holy See.  One thing Dominic obtained, which was that his power should be limited by certain officers named Definers, who during the holding of the Chapter should have the right of examining into and of regulating the affairs of the Order, and even of deposing the Master-General, should he betray his trust.  This remarkable statute was afterwards approved by Innocent IV.

 

The Chapter separated after decreeing that it should reassemble annually, holding its sittings at Bologna and Paris alternately, excepting in the following year, when Bologna was to be again the meeting-place.

 

Of all European countries, Northern Italy was the one most tainted by heresy; her intercourse with the East and the baleful influence of the schismatic Emperors of Germany had made her swerve from her allegiance to the Church.  Therefore Dominic resolved to evangelize it, and traversed the greater part of Lombardy during the summer of 1220.  Contemporary historians record the fact, but give no details.  The majority of the Lombard towns claim the honor of having received and listened to the holy Patriarch, and their annals contain many anecdotes relative to his sojourn there; but they were not written at the time, and there authenticity is not fully proved.  Certain it is that he visited Milan, and fell sick there.  Friar Bonvisi, who accompanied him in this journey, thus describes his patience under suffering; - “When I was at Milan with Friar Dominic, he had an attack of fever.  I nursed him during his sickness, and never heard him utter a complaint.  He gave himself to prayer and contemplation, and this I knew by certain signs apparent on his countenance, and which were familiar to me, inasmuch as I had always remarked them whenever he prayed or meditated.  As soon as the attack had passed, he began discoursing with the Friars on the love of God; occupied himself with reading, or was read to; as was his wont, he rejoiced more in affliction than in prosperity.”[3]

 

At Cremona Dominic met St. Francis of Assisi.  Whilst conversing together some Franciscans approached, saying, “We have not pure water in our monastery, therefore we beseech that you, who are our fathers and the servants of the Most High, will intercede for us with the Lord that He may bless our well, the water of which is thick and unfit to drink.”  The two patriarchs looked at one another, each expecting the other to reply; then Dominic said to the Friars, “Draw some water and bring it to us.”[4] They obeyed, and Dominic addressed Francis in these words, “Father, bless this water in the name of the Lord.” Francis replied, “Father, bless it yourself, for you are the greater.”[5] This pious dispute went on for some time, until at last Dominic, yielding to Francis, made the sign of the Cross on the vessel, and commanded that its contents should be poured into the well, the waters of which were thenceforth pure.

 

A French Canon, en route for Rome, hearing Dominic preach at Modena, went to him at the close of the sermons and confessed that he was in despair as to his own salvation, and this on account of a temptation against chastity which he had been unable to overcome.  “Take courage,” replied the Saint; “trust in God’s mercy, and I will obtain for you the gift of continence.” The saint fulfilled his promise. 

 

When traveling, it was Dominic’s wont to visit the monasteries which lay on his road.  Among those where he stayed was that of Colombo in Parmesan, where the following incident is supposed to have taken place.  Arriving at a monastery late one evening when the inmates had retired to rest, he, fearing to disturb them, lay down on the ground before the door with his companion, praying the Lord to provide for their necessities without awakening the monks.  At the same instant they found themselves within the monastery.

 

Colombo was a celebrated Cistercian monastery founded by St. Bernard; it was destroyed by Emperor Frederick II in the year 1248.

 

That Dominic had returned to Bologna by the Feast of the Assumption is proved by the fact that Conrad the Teuton took the habit on that day.  He was a Doctor at the University of Bologna, and so renowned for wisdom and virtue that the Friars ardently desired that he should be added to the number of those remarkable men who had joined their Order.  On the Eve of the Assumption, Dominic was conversing familiarly with a Cistercian monk, who afterwards became Bishop of Altari, but was at that time Prior of Casemare.  Dominic knew him in Rome, and had conceived a warm affection for him; therefore, opening his heart that evening, he said, “Father Prior, I will reveal to you something that I have never yet mentioned to any one, and which I pray you will keep secret until after my death.  It is this: “God has never refused me anything that I have asked Him.”

 

The Prior was greatly astonished at this, and knowing how anxious the Friars were to posess Master Conrad the Teuton, he replied, “If such is the case, Father, why do you not ask God to give you Conrad, whom the Friars are so desirous to have?” “My good brother,” said Dominic, “what you ask me is very difficult to obtain; but if you will to-night join your prayers with mine, I am confident that the Lord will grant the favor you desire.”[6] After Compline the servant of God remained in church according to his usual custom, the Prior of Casemare being there also.  They were present at the Matins of the Assumption, and at Prime, whilst the chanter was intoning Fam lucis orto sidere, Master Conrad entered the choir, and throwing himself at Dominic’s feet, at once demanded the habit.  The Prior of Casemare, faithful to his promise, never revealed the above incident until after the death of Dominic, whom he survived more than twenty years.  He reared lest he might be summoned first, and mentioned this to the Saint, who assured him that such would not be the case.

 

Among those whom Dominic received into the Order at that time was Thomas de Pouille, a young man of great purity and simplicity of manners, tenderly loved by the Saint, and styled his son.  Some of the new Friar’s former companions, angry at losing him, enticed him from the monastery and began tearing off his monastic dress.  On learning this, Dominic at once went into the church to pray; and when the assailants, having robbed Friar Thomas of his woolen shirt, were endeavoring to clothe him in a linen one, their victim uttered lamentable cries, saying that he was burning; he would not rest until they led him back to the fold, robed in the rough and beloved garments of which they had stripped him.  A similar thing happened to a jurisconsult of Bologna.  His friends entered, armed, into the cloister of San-Niccolà in order to carry him off.  The Friars wanted to oppose force to force, and for this purpose desired to fetch some knights who were friends of the Order, but Dominic said to them, “I behold around the church more than two hundred angels, whom the Lord has appointed to guard the Friars.”[7]

 

The servant of God often preached in Bologna, were he was held in such veneration that the people, instead of awaiting him in the church, were he was to preach, met him at San-Niccolà and accompanied him to his destination.  One day when the crowd had arrived in search of him, two students drew near, one of whom said to Dominic, “I pray you to beseech God to forgive me my sins, for I believe that I am penitent, and have made a full confession of them all.”  Dominic, who was still within the church, knelt before one of the altars, and after praying a little while, returned to the young man, saying, “Take courage; persevere in the love of God, for He has forgiven all your transgressions.” Then the other student, hearing these words, addressed the Saint saying, “Father, pray for me also, for I have confessed all my sins.” Dominic again knelt at another altar and prayed.  But on returning to the suppliant said, “My son, do not attempt to deceive God; your confession was not complete; you kept back one sin through shame.” Then drawing him aside, told him what sin he had withheld.  The student replied, “Father, you are right; pardon me.”[8] Dominic conversed with him for some time and then set out with his escort.

 

 

This prophetic spirit was habitual with him.  One day, meeting a Friar who was starting on a mission, he stopped him, and after a few moments’ conversation, feeling inwardly convinced that this Friar was guilty of some transgression, interrogated him as to whether he had any money with him or no.  The Friar humbly answered that he had, Dominic commanded him to throw it away instantly, and then imposed a penance, for he never allowed any fault to pass unpunished.  Thierry d’Apolda says, “He was t he first to observe the statutes of his Order, and did his utmost to ensure their observance by others.  If through human weakness any Friar failed in this respect, Dominic did not spare him; but he so tempered severity by mildness that the punishment was received in the spirit in which it was intended.  He did not reprove the transgressor at once, or allude to the fault until a fitting opportunity occurred, when he would say to the delinquent, ‘Brother, on such and such an occasion you did wrong; glorify God and confess your sin.’ Paternal in correction, he was tender as a mother to all in affliction.  No speech more sweet or reassuring than his, and no mourner came to him who did not return comforted.  He was as vigilant over the souls of his Friars as he was over his own soul, zealously watching over their progress in holiness and righteousness.  And as it is written that a man’s gait, and the expression of his countenance, and the fashion of his garb bwray the character, never could he endure to see any of the Friars deviate in dress from the strict poverty enjoined by the Rule.  Unless any serious obstacle prevented, he preached or discoursed daily to the Friars, and that which such fervor, and amid such an abundance of tears, that his hearers were filled with deep compunction, none touching their hearts as he did.”[9]

 

According to the same historian, there were three things which Dominic strictly enjoined upon his children: always to converse of God, or with God, to take no money with them on their journey, and not to accept any temporal possessions.  He incessantly exhorted them to study, and to preach the Divine Word; he discerned if any had a talent for preaching, and could not endure such a one to be employed in any other work. 

 

As is the case with all the Saints, Dominic had great power over Satan, and many times exorcised him from the Friars who were possessed.  Sometimes the Prince of Darkness assumed various forms, in order the mar the Saint’s meditation or to disturb him in his preaching.  The following recital is borrowed from Thierry d’Apolda:- “One day when the Saint, as a vigilant sentinel, was keeping watch before the city of God, he encountered Satan prowling around the monastery like a wild beast.  Stopping him, he said, ‘Why prowlest thou thus?’ The demon replied, ‘Because of the prey.’ Asked what he found in the dormitory, he answered, ‘I rob the Friars of their sleep; I persuade them not to rise for their Office, and when permitted, I send them dreams and illusions.’ The Saint led him into the choir, asking him what he gained there.  He replied, ‘I make the Friars come in late, go out too soon, and I also disturb their devotions.’  Interrogated as to the refectory, he said, ‘Who but eats more or less than is requisite?’ When conducted to the parlor, he exclaimed, laughing, ‘This is my territory; it is the scene of laughing, of foolish reports, and idle words.’  But when taken into the Chapter, he tried to flee, saying, “This place is an abomination to me; I loose here all that I gain elsewhere; here the Friars are warned of their faults; here they make self-accusations, do penance, and receive absolution.’”[10]

 

While traversing Lombardy, Dominic had seen many sad proofs of the decrease of faith.  In several localities the ecclesiastical patrimony had been seized by the laity, every one pillaging the Church under the pretext that she was too rich.  The clergy, reduced to a state of degrading servitude, could no longer fittingly provide for the celebration of divine worship, nor exercise the duty of almsgiving; and the sole means of justifying this spoliation was the perpetuation of the heresy to which it owed its birth.  There can be no situation more dire for the Church than this.  The goods she has lost, transmute their holders into her implacable enemies; heresy is a condition of their tenure; and time, which effaces all else, seems powerless to withstand this alliance of temporal interests and spiritual blindness.

 

As founder of a mendicant Order, Dominic had more right than others to oppose this fearful combination of evil.  Therefore, to stem this, he instituted an association which he named the Militia of Jesus Christ.[11] It consisted of men and women living in the world, who undertook to defend the liberty and property of the Church by every means in their power.  They dressed as other people, save that their garments were of the Dominican colors, black and white; the former, symbolic of innocence, the latter, of penance.  Although not bound by the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, they conformed their life as much as possible to the religious life, observing vigils, fasts, and abstinence, and reciting a certain number of Pater Nosters and Ave Marias in lieu of the Divine Office.  They were authorized to elect a Prior of their own, and on stated days they assembled in a church belonging to the Order, to attend Mass and listen to a sermon.  When Dominic has been canonized, the members of this association took the name of the Militia of Jesus Christ and of the Blessed Dominic.  Later on, its militant character disappeared with the cause that gave it birth, and the association consecrated itself to the work of interior sanctification, under the appellation of St. Dominic’s Brothers and Sisters of Penance, under which title it was confirmed and its rules modified by Munion de Zamora, seventh Master-General of the Order.  At different epochs Popes Gregory IX, Honorius IV, John XXII, and Boniface IX granted it special privileges, and Pope Innocent VII approved its Rule, as drawn up by Munion de Zamora. The Bull is dated 1405, and was published in 1439 by Eugenius IV.

 

The Militia of Jesus Christ was the Third Order instituted by St. Dominic, or rather the third branch of one single Order, embracing in its plenitude both men and women of the world.  By the institution of Friar Preachers, Dominic had drawn monastic phalanxes from the desert, and girt them with the sword of the apostolate.  In forming the Third Order, he introduced religious life within the home; at the hearth; and nuptial couch.  The world beheld girls of tender age, widows, married persons, and men of all ranks, publicly wearing the insignia of a Religious Order whose practices they observed in the privacy of home.  The spirit of association, so prevalent in medieval times, favored this movement.  As one becomes a member of a family, country, or society, in virtue of birth or promised service, so persons were desirous to become members, of their own free will, of those glorious bands serving Christ Jesus by preaching and by penance.  They donned the garb of St. Dominic or St. Francis, grafting themselves on one or other of those stems, that they might be nourished by its sap, though still retaining their own individuality; they frequented the churches of the Order; participated in its prayers; were united to it by ties and deeds of friendship, and copied the virtues of its members as nearly as they could.  Retirement from the world was no longer considered an absolutely necessary condition to leading a saintly life; each chamber became a cell, each house at Thebaïd.  When age, or the course of events, released the Christian from his worldly duties, he then devoted himself more fully to the cloister.  If the death of wife or child severed the ties which bound him to the world, or revolution hurled him from his rightful sphere and drove him into exile, another family was waiting to welcome him to its embrace, another city awaited him as its citizen; and, as youth conducts to manhood, so he passed from the lowest Order to the first.  The history of this institution is most interesting.  It has formed saints in every rank and condition of life, and its number view with those of the desert and the cloister.  Women, especially, have enriched the Third Order with the treasure of their virtues.  Too often the unwilling bearers of a yoke imposed in early childhood, the garb of St. Francis or St. Dominic enables them to escape from the tyranny to which they are subjected.  They could not seek the convent, so the convent comes to them, and in some obscure corner of the paternal or conjugal home they erect a mysterious sanctuary, filled with the presence of the Invisible Spouse, sole object of their love.  Who has not heard of St. Catherine of Sienna and St. Rose of Lima, those two Dominican stars by which both hemispheres have been illuminated?  Who but has read of the Franciscan St. Elizabeth of Hungary?  Thus God aids His own, proportioning his miracles to their necessities; and after having trained them in the wilderness, he leads His people forth.

 

 

[1] Actes de Bologne, Rodolfo di Faënza’s deposition, n. 4.

[2] Actes de Bologne, deposition of Paolo de Venizia.

[3] Pierre Cali, Vie de. S. Dominique, n. 21.

[4] Le B. Humbert, Vie de. S. Dominique, n. 51.

[5] Rodrigue de Cerrat, Vie de. S. Dominique, n. 31.

[6] Le B. Humbert, Vie de. S. Dominique, n. 50.

[7] Thierry d’Apolda, Vie de. S. Dominique, ch. xvii. n. 209.

[8] Pierre Cali, Vie de. S. Dominique, n. 18.

[9] Vie de. S. Dominique, ch. xvi. n. 186 and 187.

[10] Vie de. S. Dominique, ch. xv. n. 174 and 175.

[11] Historians vary as to the epoch when this was founded.  Some say it was during Dominic’s sojourn in Languedoc; others, during his stay in Lombardy.  We favor the latter opinion, which is supported by the most ancient record of the event.  It is as follows:- “This scandal existed in many places in Italy, and grieved the holy Father  


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