Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Dominic, Confessor

[Saint Dominic de Guzman]Article

A.D. 1221

[founder of the Friar Preachers] Saint Dominic was born, in 1170, at Calaruega, anciently called Calaroga, in Old Castille, in the diocess of Osma. He was of the illustrious house of the Guzmans, which has been frequently ennobled by alliances with divers royal families, and which still flourishes divided into several branches, of which some are grandees of the first class, as the dukes of Medina-Sidonia, and of Medina de las Torres; the Marquisses of Azdales, of Monte Alegre, etc., the Counts of Niebla, of Olivares, etc. The Duke of Medina-Sidonia, who is chief of this noble house, is acknowledged patron of the whole order of Saint Dominic. This honourable pedigree of our saint has been demonstrated by Echard, Touron, and Bremond, from the archives of Bologna, drawn up in the saint’s life-time, and from other undoubted monuments of the same age in which he lived; though a Christian derives his true nobility from his spiritual regeneration and grace, and it is the chief glory of the saints that they despised all worldly advantages for Christ. Saint Dominic’s father was called Felix of Guzman, and his mother was Jane of Asa, which family continues still in a flourishing condition in Spain. Their eldest son, Antony, was a priest, and devoted himself to the service of the poor in an hospital, in which employment he died in the odour of sanctity. Mames, the second, embraced our saint’s order, and followed him in his missions. Dominic was the third, and had younger brothers. His mother, whilst she was with child of him, dreamed that she brought forth a whelp which carried in its mouth a burning torch, with which it set the whole world on fire. After his birth it was her first care to procure him speedily the grace of baptism, in which sacrament he received the name of Dominic, in honour of a holy abbot called Dominic of Silos. By her early instructions he was taught happily to turn the first dawning of his reason towards his Creator. Such was his fervour in his childhood that he accustomed himself to rise often in the night to pray, and, leaving his soft bed, used to take his rest lying on the hard boards. His uncle by the mother, the holy archpriest of Gumiel, was his first preceptor. He assisted with this uncle at all the divine offices; and the rest of his time which his studies and other necessary duties left free, he devoted entirely to private prayer, serious or pious reading, and charitable employments; spending none of his moments in the usual amusements of youth, which yet may be sanctified by moderation and a good intention, inasmuch as some exercise is necessary in that tender age to maintain the vigour both of the body and mind.

The saint at fourteen years of age was sent to the public schools of Palentia, which were soon after transferred to Salamanca, where the university, which is the most famous and best provided in all Spain, was erected in the middle of the thirteenth century. Dominic here laid in a solid stock of learning, and became a great proficient in rhetoric, philosophy, and divinity. He was well versed in the knowledge of the holy scriptures and fathers. Instructed by the oracle of the Holy Ghost that the spirit of the Lord rests only on chaste souls, he watched with the utmost attention over his heart, and its avenues, which are the senses; these he kept in constant subjection by austere mortification. Always walking in the presence of God he made his conversation even with the virtuous very short. Boards or the floor were the only bed on which he took his rest. The death of his mother was a sensible affliction to him; but he improved it to a more perfect disengagement of his heart from the world. From her example he had learned a tender devotion to the holy Mother of God, and an extraordinary affection for the poor; to assist whom, in a famine, he not only gave all his money and goods, but sold even his books and his own writings and commentaries. This was in the twenty-first year of his age. So heroic a charity touched the hearts of all the masters, scholars, and citizens; the latter opened their granaries, and the former emptied their purses to supply the necessitous. Thus Dominic, yet a scholar, became by his example a preacher to his masters. The charity with which his heart was moved towards all who were in distress seemed to have no bounds. A poor woman one day begged of him with many tears an alms to redeem her brother, who was made a slave by the Moors. The saint’s heart seemed rent with compassion, and having already given away all his money to others, he said to her: “I have neither gold nor silver; but am able to work. Offer me to the Moor in exchange for your brother. I am willing to be his slave.” The woman, astonished at such a proposal, durst not accept it; but Dominic’s charity was not less before God. As soon as he had finished his studies and taken his degrees, he explained the holy scriptures in the schools, and preached the word of God to the people at Palentia with wonderful reputation and success. Every one looked upon the man of God as an oracle, consulted him in all doubts, whether of learning or of conscience, and acquiesced in his decisions.

Azebedo, a zealous pastor, being made bishop of Osma in 1198, reformed his chapter, introducing into it regular canons of Saint Austin, and invited Saint Dominic, who was a native of his diocess, to accept a canonry. The disciple of Jesus Christ, believing that he heard the voice of God himself in that of his pastor, left Palentia, and received the habit of the regular canons, being then twenty-eight years old. Blessed Jordan, who was familiarly acquainted with Saint Dominic, informs us, that the holy canon had no sooner taken possession of his prebend, than he began to shine as a bright star in the church of Osma. He practised all the austerities of the ancient fathers of the desert, and attained to that purity of heart and perfect disengagement from creatures which made up the character of those great saints. He read the conferences of Cassian, and made them the rule of his conduct. Whilst he thus laboured to make his own soul pleasing to God, the fire of divine love was daily more and more enkindled in his breast, and he was consumed with an ardent zeal for the salvation of infidels and sinners. To move the divine mercy to regard them with pity, he spent often whole nights in the church at prayer, watering the steps of the altar with abundance of tears, in which he was heard to sigh and groan before the Father of mercy, in the earnestness and deep affliction of his heart; never ceasing to beg with the greatest ardour, the grace to gain some of those unhappy souls to Christ. He studied to conceal from the eyes of men as much as possible the holy severity with which he treated his own body; but its effects appeared sensibly in the decay of his strength. His bishop therefore ordered him to mix a little wine with the water which he drank. He still found means to redouble the macerations of his flesh, as he saw the loss of souls and the offences of God multiplied by the growth of heresy and impiety. Since the reformation of the chapter, the titles and offices of dean and provost were changed into those of prior and sub-prior. The bishop himself was prior and Saint Dominic subprior, or the immediate head and superior of that body. He also assisted his prelate in the government and reformation of the whole diocess, and preached in it assiduously with incredible zeal and fruit during five years.

Alphonsus IX, king of Castille, chose the bishop of Osma to go ambassador into La Marche, to negotiate a match between the daughter of the earl of that country and his son, Prince Ferdinand. Some take this La Marche for a province in the north of Germany or in Sweden; others for the territory of that name in Limosin, in France. The bishop took Dominic with him. In their way they passed through Languedoc, which was then filled with the abominations of the heresy of the Albigenses. He in whose house they lodged at Toulouse was tainted with it. Saint Dominic, pierced to the heart with compassion for the unhappy condition of his soul, in that one night made him a perfect convert. The treaty of marriage being concluded, the ambassadors returned to Spain; but were sent back with a sumptuous equipage to conduct the princess thither. They arrived at her father’s house only to assist at the melancholy ceremony of her funeral. Being desirous to devote themselves to labour for the conversion of souls deprived of the light of faith, they sent back their equipage into Spain, and went themselves to Rome, to ask of Pope Innocent III leave either to stay at Languedoc, to labour among the Albigenses, or to go to preach the gospel to the infidels in the north. His holiness, charmed with their zeal and virtue, exhorted them rather to choose the neighbouring harvest, and to oppose a heresy which threatened the church with the utmost fury. The holy bishop begged he might be allowed to resign his episcopal see in Spain. This his holiness would not consent to, but gave him leave to stay two years in Languedoc. In their return they made a visit of devotion to Citeaux, a place then renowned for the sanctity of the monks that inhabited it. They arrived at Montpellier towards the end of the year 1205, where they met several Cistercian abbots, who were commissioned by the pope to oppose the reigning heresies. The archbishop and Dominic proposed that to labour with success, they ought to employ persuasion and example rather than terror: and that their preachers should imitate the poverty of Christ and the apostles, travelling on foot, without money, equipage, or provisions. The abbots readily came into the proposal, and sent away their horses and servants. These missionaries saw the dangers and difficulties that attended the undertaking, but they were persuaded they should be abundantly recompensed for all they could suffer if they should be so happy as to become instrumental in rescuing one soul from the slavery of sin, or to lay down their life in such a cause. The prodigious growth of impiety in that country, and the obstinacy of the disease moved them to compassion, but did not terrify them, though the evils seemed extreme. The heretics, not content to fill their own country with terror and desolation, overran several other provinces in troops of four, five, or eight thousand men, pillaged the countries, and massacred the priests, flaying some alive and scourging others to death; in plundering the churches, they broke and profaned the sacred vessels, and sacrilegiously converted the ornaments of the altars into women’s clothes. King Philip Augustus cut in pieces ten thousand of these banditti in the province of Berri, they having penetrated into the very centre of his kingdom. Dominic undertook to stem the torrent by his feeble voice; and God was pleased to make his preaching the instrument of his grace to strike the rocks, to open the uncircumcised ears, and to soften the hardened hearts of many which even the thunder of a Saint Bernard had not been able to move. The conversion of many most obstinate sinners may be regarded as the greatest of our saint’s miracles.

The first conference of the missionaries with the heretics was held in a borough near Montpellier, and lasted eight days; during which, each day several remarkable conversions were wrought. The apostolic men preached after this eight days at Beziers, where they gained several, though the far greater number shut their ears against the Catholic faith. Diego and Dominic proceeded thence to Carcassone and Montreal. At this last place they disputed during fifteen days with the four chiefs of the Albigensian sect, by which conference a hundred and fifty persons were brought over to the truth. Saint Dominic drew up in writing a short exposition of the Catholic faith, with proofs of each article from the New Testament. This writing he gave to the heretics to examine. Their ministers and chiefs, after much altercation about it, agreed to throw it into the fire, saying, that if it burned, they would regard the doctrine which it contained as false. Being cast thrice into the flames it was not damaged by them. Nevertheless, only one officer who was present, and afterwards publicly attested the miracle, was converted by it. This, Peter of Vaux-Sernay assures us he heard Saint Dominic himself relate. At Fanjaux, the bishop and Saint Dominic were met by Arnold, abbot of Citeaux, and twelve other abbots, and another great disputation was there held with the heretics before arbitrators. The judges and ministers here proposed to cast the same writing of Saint Dominic into the fire. All present agreed to this trial, and a great fire being made in the middle of the company, it was again thrice thrown into it, and as often taken out without receiving any damage. This miracle is recorded by Jordan, and by the ancient writers of Saint Dominic’s life; and Theodoric of Apolda, Bernard Guidonis, and F. Humbert, expressly assure us that this miracle at Fanjaux must not be confounded with the like which had been wrought before at Montreal. This latter was performed in the castle of Raymund Durfort, whose posterity built in it a chapel in honour of Saint Dominic, and gave this castle to his Order. The fruit of this public miracle was the conversion of great numbers of heretics of both sexes.

Saint Dominic saw with grief that many children of Catholic parents, for want of the means of procuring a proper education, were neglected in their youth, or fell into the hands of those who corrupted their morals or their faith. To cut off the source of this fatal disorder, being assisted by the liberality of several bishops, he founded the numerous nunnery of our Lady of Prouille, near Fanjaux, in 1206, which he put under the rule of Saint Austin, adding certain particular constitutions, which were approved by Gregory IX. This house became a sanctuary to many ladies, who desired to find a secure retreat from the corruption of the world, and a nursery of religion and piety for those who were afterwards to encounter its dangers. This monastery is regarded to this day as the chief or mother-house of all the nuns of this Order. In 1207 a great conference was opened between the Catholic preachers and the heretics, in the palace of Raymund Roger, count of Foix, who treated both parties in their turns at his table. His countess and one of his sisters followed the Waldenses; his other sister adhered to the Albigenses. The issue of this disputation was the conversion of a great number of heretics of distinction, and of him who had been appointed judge or arbitrator, a man of learning, who had been a warm abettor of the sect of the Albigenses. After this conference the Cistercians returned to their monasteries, and the holy Bishop of Osma to his diocess, the two years allowed him by the pope being almost expired. The heretics themselves had a great opinion of his sanctity, and called him one of the predestinate. He died soon after his arrival at Osma.

He had been almost two years superior of the mission in Languedoc, in which charge, at his departure, he appointed Saint Dominic his successor, to whom Pope Innocent III. confirmed the same in 1207. The saint, vested with this authority, established wholesome regulations to be observed by the zealous preachers who laboured with him. Some date from this time, but improperly, the institution of his Order. The murder of the pope’s legate, Peter of Castelnau or Chateauneuf, who was assassinated by a servant of the Count of Toulouse and another ruffian, on the 15th of January, 1208, and other outrages committed by the heretics, set all Christendom in a flame, and an army was set on foot to extirpate the authors of these violences. Saint Dominic had no share in those transactions, and made use of no other arms to repulse injuries than those of meekness and patience. He never complained of any affronts or evils which he received, courageously encountered every danger wherever the good of souls called him, being desirous to glorify God by shedding his blood in his cause if called to such a happiness, and he studied only to procure all the good in his power to those who hated and persecuted him. A certain heretic, who was unknown to the saint, offered himself one day to be his guide; but led him through rough ways over stones and briers, so that the saint’s feet were much wounded, for he always walked barefoot. The meekness with which Dominic received the affront, and the joy with which he comforted his treacherous guide when he saw him in confusion, calling his blood the subject of his triumph, so moved the heretic that he became a Catholic. At another time the heretics posted two assassins to murder the saint, at a place between Prouille and Fanjaux, which to this day, from that black attempt, retains the name of Al siccari; but he escaped their hands. Afterwards some of that party asked the saint what he would have done if he had met them: “I would have thanked God,” said he, “and would have begged as a favour that my blood might have been let out drop by drop, and my limbs lopt off one by one, to prolong my torments, and enhance my crown;” with which answer his enemies were exceedingly affected. A poor man, infected with the heresy of the Albigenses, confessed the abominations of that sect, but declared he could not abandon those upon whom he depended for his daily subsistence. Saint Dominic hearing him make this answer, was moved with so tender a compassion for a soul upon the brink of perishing, that he offered to sell himself for a slave to procure this man means for his subsistence, that he might serve God; and he would have done it, had not God furnished the poor man with a provision otherwise, says B. Jordan and Theodoric. When the army of the crusade approached, the saint redoubled his earnestness among an obstinate people, and saved many. When he went among the crusards, the disorders, vices, and ignorance of the mysteries of faith and duties of a Christian life, which he found in many who had joined that army merely for the sake of plunder, moved his compassion and zeal, and he laboured among them with no less diligence than he had done among the Albigenses. The Count of Montfort was so taken with his sanctity, that he thought he could never give him sufficient marks of his affection and esteem. The condition of this disjointed army was such, that the troops of which it was composed returned home as they pleased, after having served forty days, and the general who sometimes saw two hundred thousand men under his banner, was often so much abandoned as to be scarcely able to assemble a thousand. At a time when he had with him only twelve hundred men, he was attacked by an army of above a hundred thousand, some say two hundred thousand; yet Saint Dominic assured him God would grant him a glorious victory. The Count of Montfort threw himself into Muret, a small fortress, and in a sally on the 12th of September, 1213, by his incredible valour and address, routed and dispersed this great army, which left the king of Arragon and sixteen thousand men dead in the field. This prediction was the only share which the original historians mention Saint Dominic to have had in this war, whatever certain moderns with Baillet may affirm. The continuators of Bollandus pretend, that in quality of inquisitor he delivered those among the Albigenses that were taken, and persisted obstinate, to the secular judges, that they might put them to death. But this is mere conjecture founded on mistake, as the learned fathers Echard and Touron have shown. Saint Dominic never appears to have any way concurred to the execution of any of those unhappy persons who then suffered. The authors of his life mention, that by his credit and entreaties, he saved the life of a young man who was going to the place where he was to be burnt, the saint assuring the judges that he would die in the Catholic faith; which was verified when, some years after, he became a zealous Catholic, and made a happy end in the holy Order of our saint. But the original historians mention no other arms to have been used by him against the heretics than those of instruction, patience, penance, fasting, watching, tears, and prayer.

So ardent was his zeal for the salvation of souls, that he was consumed with a burning desire to sacrifice for them his liberty, health, and life. Inured to continual labours, he was indefatigable in his apostolic functions; and the greatest difficulties, far from abating, seemed to raise his courage, and to give new vigour to his heroic soul. To his incredible labours he added the austerities of penance. He often allowed himself, in his fasts, especially during all lent, no other nourishment than bread and water; and spending with his companion a great part of the night in prayer, he reserved only a short time for rest, which he took lying on a board. Regardless of dangers, he never discontinued his missions or preaching among the Albigenses, how much soever their rage was exasperated. He often boldly exposed himself to the most cruel torments and death among them; he even courageously met a band of ruffians near Carcassone, who were still reeking with the blood of a Cistercian abbot and monk whom they had barbarously slain. But God was his protector, and prayer his shield and strength. During the great battle of Muret, Saint Dominic was not in the field, as some moderns have pretended, but in the church, within the fortress, at his prayers. The same was his practice on other like occasions. Theodoric, Stephen of Sasenhac, and others relate, that when Saint Dominic was employed on his mission at Castres, the abbot of Saint Vincent’s one day desired his company at dinner. After sermon, the saint continued at his devotions in the church so long, that he quite forgot the necessities of the body, which he was frequently apt to do. At the hour of dinner, the abbot sent a clerk to seek for him. The messenger knew the church to be the place where he was generally to be found, and going thither, saw him ravished in an ecstacy, raised several cubits above the ground, and without motion. He contemplated him a considerable time in that posture, and waited till the saint, coming to himself, gently fell to the ground, before he durst approach him.

Saint Dominic, during his apostolical labours in Languedoc, instituted the celebrated devotion of the Rosary, consisting of the recital of fifteen Our Fathers and a hundred and fifty Hail Marys, in honour of the fifteen principal mysteries of the life and sufferings of our Blessed Saviour, and of his holy Mother. The divine and most excellent prayer which our Redeemer, who promises to grant all that we request in his name, has drawn up as the form of our supplications, contains the petitions of all those things we are to ask or hope for of God, and comprises the exercise of all the sublime virtues, by which we pay to him the rational homage of our affections. In the Angelical Salutation are comprised our praises and thanks to God for the great mysteries of the incarnation and of our redemption, the source of all our good; and these praises are expressed in words of which the Holy Ghost himself was the author, which, though addressed to the Virgin Mary, contain much more the praises of her Divine Son, whom we acknowledge the cause of all hers and our happiness. The earnest intercession of this Mother of God, and of mercy is also implored in our behalf both at present and for the tremendous moment of our departure hence; and to move hers and her Divine Son’s compassion, we acknowledge our own deep sense of our miseries, which we display before the eyes of heaven under the extensive and most expressive humbling title of sinners. These prayers are so disposed in the Rosary, as to comprise an abstract of the history of our blessed Redeemer’s holy life and sufferings, the great object of the continual devotion and meditation of Christians; for each mystery whereof we praise God, and through it ask his graces and blessings for ourselves and others. The ignorance of many, and the blasphemies of others among the Albigenses, with regard to these most sacred mysteries, moved the zealous and apostolic servant of God to teach the people to honour them by an easy method equally adapted to persons of the weakest understanding, and to those who are most learned, or the most advanced in the exercises of sublime contemplation, who find in it an inexhausted fund of the highest acts of faith, hope, divine love, praise, and thanksgiving, with a supplication for succour in all spiritual and corporal necessities, which they always repeat with fresh ardour. Saint Dominic afterwards established the same method of devotion at Bologna and in other places.

The saint, after having founded his nunnery of Prouille, established an institute afterwards called his third Order, in which the strictest regularity is observed, but no extraordinary austerities are prescribed. Some persons of this third Order live in monasteries, and are properly nuns; others live in their own houses, and endeavour to sanctify their work and the duties of a civil life by certain exercises of regularity and devotion, and by dedicating part of their time to works of mercy, especially in serving the poor in hospitals and prisons. Saint Dominic had spent ten years in preaching in Languedoc, when, in 1215, he founded his religious Order of Preaching Friars, the plan of which he had meditated some time before. He had till then worn the habit of a regular canon of Saint Austin, and followed that rule. But he earnestly desired to revive an apostolic spirit in the ministers of the altar, the want of which in many was a subject of great scandal to the people, and a great source of the overflowings of vice and heresy. This spirit is founded on a sincere contempt of the world, and a perfect disinterestedness; for so long as the love of the world, or a relish for its vanity, delights, and riches, keeps possession of a heart, there can be no room for the Holy Ghost. The fences by which this spirit had been formerly maintained in the clergy, were then by custom easily broken through by many without scruple; wherefore he conceived a design of raising others that might be stronger. With this view he established an Order of religious men, not like the ancient monks of the desert, who were laymen and merely contemplatives, but who, with the strictest retirement and assiduous exercises of contemplation, should join a close application of sacred studies, and all the functions of a pastoral life, especially that of preaching. He prescribed austere fasts, perpetual abstinence from flesh, (which the reformed monasteries of this Order still observe,) and the most severe poverty, ordaining that his friars should receive their coarse subsistence from the alms of the faithful, though their houses are not forbidden, like the Franciscans, to enjoy in common small rents in money. The principal aim of the saint by this institution was to multiply in the church zealous preachers, whose spirit and example might be a means more easily to spread the light of faith, and the fire of divine charity, and to assist the pastors in healing the wounds which the church had received by the inundation of heresy and vice.

Saint Dominic for a long time recommended his design to God by fervent prayer, and communicated it to the bishops of Languedoc and Provence, who all applauded the project, and pressed him to hasten the execution. Every one judged him worthy to be the father of preachers, who was their perfect model. Sixteen of his fellow-missionaries came readily into his project; and Peter Cellani, one of this number, gave some houses he was possessed of in Toulouse, in which they formed themselves into a regular community, under the protection of the bishop. This was the first convent of the Order. To establish it the founder was obliged to go to Rome, whither he accompanied Fulco, the bishop of Toulouse, who was called to assist at the fourth general council of Lateran. Pope Innocent III who had then governed the church eighteen years, received the saint with great demonstrations of kindness, on account of the reputation of his sanctity, and the recommendation of his bishop. He had himself drawn up a decree which he inserted in the tenth chapter of the council, to enforce the obligation of preaching, and the necessity of choosing for pastors men who are powerful in words and works, who will instruct and edify their flocks both by example and preaching, a neglect of which was the source of the ignorance, disorders, and heresies that then reigned in several provinces. Nevertheless, though the saint’s design was most agreeable to his Holiness, Theodoric the bishop of Orvieto, and Vincent of Beauvois say, that he at first made some difficulty to approve his Order, upon late complaints that too great a multiplication of Orders would bring confusion, and that it was better to reform those that were already established. But the same authors add, that the night following, the pope dreamed he saw the Lateran church in danger of falling, and that Saint Dominic stept in, and supported it with his shoulders. Be that as it will, B. Jordan and F. Humbert assure us, that the pope approved the new Order by word of mouth, bidding the founder draw up the constitutions, and lay them before him.

The saint was present at the fourth council of Lateran, which, though very numerous and splendid, lasted only three weeks, having condemned the errors of the Albigenses and other heretics, framed several canons for the reformation of manners, and taken into consideration a new crusade for the recovery of the Holy Land, which had been lately conquered by the infidels a second time. The twenty-first is the famous canon which enjoins, that all the faithful who are arrived to years of discretion, shall confess all their sins at least once a year to their own proper priest, and shall receive the eucharist at least every Easter, unless, with the advice of their proper priest, they abstain from it for some time, upon some reasonable account. The thirteenth prohibits the erecting of any new religious Order. The council, which consisted of four hundred and twelve bishops, and near eight hundred abbots, priors, and deputies of absent prelates, broke up about the end of November, 1215, and Saint Dominic arrived at Toulouse the beginning of the following year. After mature consultation with his sixteen colleagues, of whom eight were Frenchmen, seven Spaniards, and one Englishman, he made choice of the rule of the canons of the great Saint Austin, who was himself an eminent preacher. He added certain particular constitutions, and borrowed from the Order of Premontré the rule of observing perpetual abstinence from flesh, and a rigorous fast from the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross to Easter. Pope Innocent III famous for his great actions, and for several learned and pious books which he composed, died on the 16th of July, 1216, having filled the pontifical chair from January, 1198. Honorius III was chosen in his place. This change retarded Saint Dominic’s second journey to Rome; and, in the mean time, he finished his first convent at Toulouse, to which the bishop gave the church of Saint Romanus. The bishop of Fermo in Italy, a great admirer of our saint’s virtue, also gave him at the same time the church of Saint Thomas, with a convent for his Order in that city.

Saint Dominic arrived at Rome with a copy of his rules in September, 1216. He found access to his Holiness difficult for some time, but was encouraged by a vision recorded by Theodoric, and copied by Fleury. Pope Honorius III. confirmed his Order and its constitutions by two bulls, both dated on the 26th of December, in the same year. He detained the saint several months in Rome to preach in that city; which commission he executed with incredible applause and success. He put the pope in mind that several persons who attended his court could not seek instructions abroad, and therefore a domestic master of the sacred studies in his palace would be of great advantage. His holiness hereupon created the office of Master of the Sacred Palace, who by his place is the pope’s domestic theologian, assists at all consistories, whether public or private, confers the degree of doctor at court, approves all theses and books, and nominates the pope’s preachers. If he be absent from court, he has a right to substitute another in his place. Pope Honorius obliged Saint Dominic to take upon himself that charge, which has been ever since committed to one of his Order. The saint at Rome dictated comments on the epistles of Saint Paul, which are much commended by several writers of that age, though they are now lost. He had learned from Saint Chrysostom what an inexhausted treasure of piety and spiritual knowledge a Christian preacher will draw from assiduous meditation on the inspired writings of this apostle, which he strongly recommended to his religious, and he carried always a copy of that sacred book in his pocket. When not employed in public functions or necessary duties, he was always to be found in the church, or in retirement. When, out of necessity, he conversed with others, his discourse was usually only on God, and always seasoned with so much unction and prudence that worldlings never thought it importunate; and pious persons sought his conversation with extreme eagerness. With the consent of his Holiness he returned to Toulouse in May, and spent some time in forming his religious brethren in the practice of the most perfect maxims of an interior life, the most necessary qualification in preachers of the divine word. He exhorted them strenuously to promote the study of literature in his Order, to attend in the first place to the sanctification of their own souls, and to remember they were the successors of the apostles in establishing every where the kingdom of Christ. He added excellent instructions on humility, a perfect distrust in themselves, and an entire confidence in God alone, by which they were to stand invincible under afflictions and persecutions, and courageously to carry on the war in which they were engaged against the world and the powers of hell. After this discourse, on the feast of the Assumption of our Lady, he dismissed some of his religious to Spain and Portugal, and some to Paris, appointing F. Matthew superior among these latter, and sending with him his own brother Manez de Guzman. The extraordinary reputation of Saint Dominic and his preaching friars drew many learned doctors and other eminent men into this new Order, and the saint settled convents at Lyons, Montpellier, Bayonne, etc.

Saint Dominic went again to Rome in 1217, and the pope desiring that his Order should have a house in that city, gave him the church of Saint Sixtus; and whilst a convent was building there, the saint, by order of his Holiness, read lectures of theology both in the palace and in the city, and preached in Saint Peter’s church with such eloquence and zeal as drew on him the attention and admiration of the whole city. The many illustrious miracles by which God honoured his ministry in that city, procured him the name of the Thaumaturgus of that age. Among others, Theodoric relates, 16 that a certain gentlewoman named Gutadona, coming one day home from hearing his sermon, found her little child dead. In her grief she took him in her arms out of the cradle, and carrying him to Saint Sixtus’s, laid him at the feet of the saint. She said nothing; but her sorrow spoke without words. The servant of God was moved to compassion, and after saying a fervent prayer, made the sign of the cross on the child, and restored him to life. The pope would have published this miracle in the pulpit; but the tears, entreaties, and confusion of the saint prevented him. Saint Dominic likewise raised, whole and sound, a mason who had been crushed to death by the fall of a vault in building the convent of Saint Sixtus. He restored to health a religious man, the procurator of his convent, whilst the brethren were reciting by his bed-side the prayers appointed for one in the agony. The bishop of Ovieto assures us, that he had the account of this miracle from the mouth of the person who had been thus miraculously delivered from the gates of death, and recovered in a moment a state of perfect health which he long enjoyed, and of which he made a very good use.

Saint Dominic, besides many other miracles, raised a third man to life in this monastery of Saint Sixtus, in the presence of a great multitude of honourable persons. This was the young Lord Napoleon. The fact is related by Theodoric of Apolda, F. Humbert, a third very ancient historian quoted by F. Echard, John Longinus, Malvenda, and many others, and happened on the following occasion:—Several nuns lived in Rome without keeping enclosure, and almost without regularity, some dispersed in small monasteries, others in the houses of their parents or friends; for, before the council of Trent, strict perpetual enclosure was not always a necessary part of that state; and though, since that council, Bonacina, and some other canonists, call it an essential law, yet some nunneries in Flanders plead an exemption upon pretence of ancient prescription. Pope Innocent III had made several attempts to assemble all such nuns then in Rome into one enclosed house, but had not been able, with all his address and authority, to compass it. Honorius III, seeing all other methods miscarry, committed the management of this reformation to Saint Dominic. The saint desired that three cardinals should be nominated commissaries with him, in order to facilitate the success of the commission, and his holiness appointed Hugolin dean of the sacred college, Nicholas bishop of Tusculum, and Stephen of Fossa Nuova, cardinal priest of the twelve apostles. Saint Dominic, in order to remove several difficulties, offered to leave to these nuns his own monastery of Saint Sixtus, which was built and then ready to receive them, and which Innocent III. had formerly offered them; and he undertook to build for his friars a new convent at Saint Sabina; 22 to which the pope willingly agreed. The monastery of Saint Mary, beyond the Tiber, was the principal and most obstinate of those that were to be thus reformed. The saint repaired thither with the three cardinals, and exhorted the nuns to a compliance, with such force of reasoning, and so much charity in his heart, that the truth was victorious in his mouth. The abbess first of all, then all the nuns, except one, entered into a voluntary engagement to obey; but the devil was not so easily to be triumphed over. No sooner were the commissaries gone but the parents, friends, and protectors of the nuns ran thither, and buzzed it in their ears, that they would repent at leisure of so hasty a step, which could never be recalled; that their house was too ancient and noble, their conduct too virtuous and irreproachable, their privileges of too old a standing to be struck at, and that no authority could oblige them to rules of that sort, to which they had never engaged themselves, and under which they would never have embraced that manner of life. Such discourses were too flattering not to please persons to whom their present independence seemed too dear and valuable a right to be given up. Accordingly, the whole community changed their former resolution, and were determined never to comply. Saint Dominic gave them some days to reflect, and prevented the pope from having recourse to violent measures, which never gain the heart, and are seldom expedient in duties which must be voluntary; in the mean time he fasted and prayed, recommending the matter to God. After some days he went again to Saint Mary’s, said mass there, and after he had offered the holy sacrifice, made a second discourse to the nuns, mildly reproaching them for their reluctancy, saying: “Can you then repent of a promise you have made to God? can you refuse to give yourselves up to him without reserve, and to serve him with your whole hearts?” He tempered his discourse with that natural sweetness which it was hard for any one to resist, and at the same time, his exhortation was so strong and affecting, that, at the end of it, the abbess and all her nuns confirmed to him by vow their readiness to comply in all things with his holiness’s inclinations. They moreover begged that the saint himself would be their director, and give them his own rule; to which he agreed. Whilst things were making ready for their removal, he shut up the avenues of the cloister, to prevent their friends having access, who might any more endeavour to stagger their resolution.

On Ash Wednesday in 1218, the abbess and some of her nuns went to their new monastery of Saint Sixtus, to take possession of it. They were in the chapter house with Saint Dominic and the three cardinals above mentioned, treating of the rights, revenues, and administration of the new community, when, on a sudden, there came in a person, tearing his hair, and making great lamentation, crying out that the Lord Napoleon, Cardinal Stephen’s nephew, was thrown from his horse, and killed by the fall. At this news the afflicted uncle fell speechless with his head upon the breast of Saint Dominic, who sat by his side; and his silence was more expressive of his sorrow than any words could have been. The saint endeavoured at first to alleviate his grief; then ordered the body of Napoleon to be brought into the house, and bid brother Tancred make an altar ready that he might say mass. When he had prepared himself, the cardinals, with their attendants, the abbess, with her nuns, the Dominican friars, and a great concourse of people went to the church. The saint, in celebrating the divine mysteries, shed a flood of tears, and while he elevated the body of Christ in his pure hands, was himself in an ecstacy lifted up a whole cubit from the ground, in the sight and to the amazement of all who were present. The sacrifice being ended, the blessed man went to the corpse, to implore the mercy of God, being followed by all the company; and standing by the body, he disposed the bruised limbs in their proper places; and then betook himself to prayer. After some time, he rose up, and made the sign of the cross over the corpse; then, lifting up his hands to heaven, he himself being, by the power of God, at the same time raised from the ground, and suspended in the air, cried out with a loud voice: “Napoleon, I say to thee, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, arise.” That instant, in the sight of the whole multitude, the young man arose sound and whole. Not only all present, but the whole city, particularly the sacred college, and the pope, gave solemn thanks to the Almighty, who, in their unhappy days, had vouchsafed to renew the wonders which he had wrought in the establishment of his church. The Dominican friars having taken possession of the church and convent of Saint Sabina, the nuns of Saint Mary were settled in that of Saint Sixtus before the first Sunday in Lent, receiving a new habit from the hands of Saint Dominic, together with his rule. Yvo, bishop of Cracow, and chancellor of Poland, was at Rome when Napoleon was raised to life, 24 and an eye-witness to that stupendous miracle. He entreated Saint Dominic to give the habit of his order to his two nephews, Saints Hyacinth and Ceslas, and to two others of his domestics. The saint sent certain religious brethren to Bologna in 1217, there to lay the foundation of a convent, which has continued ever since one of the most flourishing monasteries in the world.

In 1218 he took a journey from Rome, through Languedoc, into Spain, and founded a famous convent at Segovia, and another at Madrid. He returned to Toulouse in April, 1219, and from thence went to Paris. This seems by all the ancient histories of his life to have been the first visit he made to that city, though Baillet pretends, without grounds, as Touron shows, that he had been there before. He did not stay many weeks in that capital; but gained souls to God by his sermons and instructions, and received into his order many persons of eminence. Alexander II, king of Scotland, happened to be then at Paris, being come to pay a visit to Queen Blanche, the mother of Saint Lewis. He was much taken with the discourse and sanctity of the holy founder, and obtained of him a promise that he would send some of his religious brethren into Scotland, as Hector Boëtus and Bishop Lesley inform us. The saint settled in good order his great convent, which was founded in the street of Saint Jacques, from which the Dominican friars are usually called in France Jacobins. After this he left Paris, and having founded convents on his road at Avignon, Asti, and Bergamo, arrived at Bologna about the end of summer in 1219, 25 which city he made from that time his ordinary residence to the end of his life, though he sometimes made excursions to Rome, Florence, and other places. At Bologna, the curate of Saint Nicholas, with the bishop’s consent, bestowed his church on the saint, and he and several archdeacons, doctors, and eminent professors, entered themselves in his order. In 1220 he waited on Pope Honorius III. at Viterbo, and met Saint Francis at Rome, in the house of Cardinal Hugolin, their common friend, who afterwards succeeding Honorius III, under the name of Gregory IX., chose out of the order of Saint Dominic thirty-three bishops, one patriarch of Antioch, and eight legates. Saint Dominic had till then taken no other title but that of superior. In 1220 Honorius III commanded him to be styled general; and the saint returning to Bologna, there held a chapter of all the superiors in his order, at Whitsuntide the same year.

Wherever the saint travelled, he frequently preached, even on the road; and always with that incredible success which can only be the fruit of continual prayer, animated with the most ardent charity. The greatest part of the night he often spent in churches, at the foot of the altars. Though he was superior, he was distinguished in nothing from the lowest among his brethren, but by his more profound humility, and more rigorous abstinence. The people at Bologna attended his sermons with such insatiable avidity, that whilst he staid there he usually preached every day, and often several times the same day.

The incredible fatigues which this apostolic life cost the servant of God, were no motive with him to abate his continual fasts and other austerities; so different is the spirit of fervour with which the saints are animated, from the sloth of those Christians who seek every shadow of pretence for dispensing themselves even from fasts of precept, to serve as a cloak to cover their sensuality and remissness. The saint, on the contrary, burned with a holy zeal to make his body a perpetual victim of penance; and therefore allowed it no condescension but what necessity made indispensable. He embraced with joy the occasions of suffering which were continual in his ministry, and when, by walking barefoot in the roughest roads, his feet were bruised or sore, he cheerfully called it a part of his penance. To nourish in his heart a perfect contempt of the world, and disengagement from its toys, he was a sincere lover of holy poverty, being sensible how easily a secret glue sticks to the affections, amidst riches, vanity and abundance. A perfect spirit of disinterestedness being essential to virtue, and the strictest obligation of a state in which the preliminary condition is, that the heart be, in the most perfect manner, dead to the world, the holy man was most scrupulous that no pretence should weaken this virtue, which was deeply rooted in his soul. He took all possible precautions to prevent riches ever becoming the portion and the bane of his Order. He strenuously refused to accept large or superfluous donations. When a rich man of Bologna by a public deed which he had procured secretly to be ratified by the bishop, hoping that the prelate’s authority might overcome the saint’s reluctance, had settled his estate on his convent of Saint Nicholas, the holy founder was no sooner apprized of it than he renounced the donation for ever; and, notwithstanding the entreaties of many, publicly tore the deed in presence of the benefactor, as F. Ralph of Faënza, 26 an eyewitness, relates. Much more was he an enemy to sordid presents, any indirect ways of procuring them, or that importunity in asking which is a kind of extortion, and, when for superfluities, a robbery of the poor. That minister of the altar debases the dignity of the sacred character with which he is invested, and of the divine mysteries with the dispensation of which he is honoured, who suffers any view of temporal interest to steal into his heart, or secretly to have any share in his motives of action. Such a one is a hireling, and by covetousness loses the fruits of his labours. He who serves the altar is entitled to live by it; but a faithful minister is careful not to lose his eternal reward by seeking one that is temporal, and fears to impair the divine honour by suffering the purity of his intention in seeking only God in all that he does, to be sullied by the least mixture or deliberate thought of any thing else. To prevent, as much as possible, the danger of such a snare, Saint Dominic desired to cut off all superfluities in his Order, and the more easily to remove the passions and desires which they beget in the heart, he would have all that could be spared given immediately to the poor, and allowed no one to be solicitous for the morrow. To one so perfectly dead to himself and the world, the victory over his passions seemed natural and easy; and its visible fruit was a happy tranquillity and evenness of soul, which nothing seemed able to disturb, or ever move to the least impatience or complaint. By these virtues and happy dispositions, he was fitted for an admirable purity of heart, and sublime grace of prayer, to which we are chiefly to ascribe the high degree of sanctity to which he was raised, and the wonderful fruits of his zeal in converting so many hardened sinners, and in promoting the spiritual advancement of others. He never began to instruct any one, or to do any other spiritual function, without first imploring on his knees the intercession of the Mother of God. Prayer and holy meditation were his darling exercises, to which he devoted both his days and nights, whenever other duties or necessary functions allowed it. In conversing with others it was his delight to speak only of God and heavenly things; and in travelling he often used to say to his companions: “Walk a little before, and let us think on our Redeemer.” This he did that he might give a freer scope to his sighs and tears.

Humility gave his prayer its force and efficacy. Before he came into any town he fell on the ground, and begged of God that the entrance of such a sinner might not draw down his vengeance on the people. He behaved himself as the servant of all his brethren, and desired as much as possible to bear the burdens of every one; and if he lay under a necessity of giving an account of his actions, his modesty and sincere humility appeared in all his words. He extolled the zeal and charity of the bishops and magistrates, and the devotion and piety of the people; forgetting only the share which he had in what was properly his own work. He never spoke of his birth, the success of his labours, his great enterprises, or any thing else that could tend to his honour. It was his study to conceal his charities to the poor, and the graces which he received from God. Nevertheless, to show the excess of the divine mercy, he sometimes communicated certain secret sentiments of his heart to some intimate friends who were great servants of God. Thus, as he was one day conversing with a devout prior of the Cistercian Order, who was afterwards bishop of Alatri, speaking of the goodness of God, he said, that he had never asked any particular favour of the divine Goodness which he had not obtained. “Why then,” said the prior, “do not you ask that master Conrad may receive a call from God to enter himself in your Order?” This Conrad was a German, a man in the highest repute, doctor and professor in laws, and in his inclinations most opposite to such a state. Saint Dominic spent that night in the church at prayer, begging this favour of God. Next morning, at the hour of prime, Conrad came into the church, and threw himself at the holy founder’s feet, begging that he might be admitted to the habit; and he became a great ornament to this Order by his learning, and much more by the sanctity of his life. Constantine, bishop of Orvieto, assures us that he received this account from the aforesaid prior when he was bishop of Alatri. Saint Dominic never ceased to pray for the conversion of infidels and sinners. It was his earnest desire, if it had been God’s will, to shed his blood for Christ, and to travel over all the barbarous nations of the earth to announce to them the happy doctrine of eternal life. In these warm sentiments of holy zeal he made the ministry of the divine word the chief end of his institute; would have all his religious to be applied to it, every one according to his capacity, and those who had particular talents for it, never to discontinue the office of preaching, except in certain intervals allotted to retirement, that they might preach to themselves in silence. To this great function he prepared his religious by long habits of virtue, especially of prayer, humility, self-denial, and obedience. It was a maxim which he frequently inculcated to them, “That a man who governs his passions is master of the world. We must either command them or be enslaved to them. It is better to be the hammer than the anvil.” He taught his missionaries the art of preaching to the heart by animating them with an ardent zeal and charity. Being once asked after preaching, in what book he had studied his sermon? “In no other,” said he, “than in that of charity.”

Though mild, and in things indifferent full of condescension to all, he was inflexible in maintaining the severe discipline he had established in his Order. Saint Francis of Assisium, coming to Bologna in 1220, was so much offended to find the convent of his friars in that city built in a stately manner, and not consistent with his idea of the austere poverty and penance which he professed by his rule, that he would not lodge in it, and went to the monastery of Saint Dominic, which was mean and low, where he staid some days to enjoy our saint’s conversation. Saint Dominic made frequent missionary excursions; and founded convents at Bergamo, Brescia, Faënza, and Viterbo, and visited those he had already founded. He sent some of his religious into Morocco, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, and Ireland; and brother Gilbert with twelve others into England, who established monasteries of this Order in Canterbury, London, and Oxford. The holy patriarch, in his second general chapter, held at Bologna in 1221, divided his Order into eight provinces, and sent some of his religious into Hungary, Greece, Palestine, and other countries. Among these missionaries F. Paul of Hungary founded in Lower Hungary the monasteries of Gever and Vesprim, converted great numbers of idolaters in Croatia, Sclavonia, Transylvania, Valachia, Moldavia, Bosnia, and Servia; and leaving the churches which he had there founded under the care of other labourers, preached with like success in Cumania, the inhabitants of which country were most savage and barbarous. He baptized among them a duke called Brut, with his vassals, and one of the chief princes of the country named Bernborch, Andrew the king of Hungary and father of Saint Elizabeth, standing godfather. This zealous apostle of so many nations suffered a glorious martyrdom with ninety religious friars of his Order, dispersed in those parts; some being beheaded, others shot with arrows, stabbed with lances, or burnt by the Tartars in 1242, in their great irruption into those countries. Bishop Sadoc, with forty-nine religious of this Order, were butchered for the faith by these barbarians in a second irruption in 1260, at Sendomir in Poland, and are honoured on the 2d of June.

Saint Dominic had a foresight of his happy death long before it happened. Setting out on a journey from Bologna for Milan, he said to his friends there: “You now see me well in health; but before the glorious assumption of the Virgin Mother I shall depart hence to the Lord.” He returned to Bologna in the heats of summer, and was seized with a burning fever, which from the beginning was judged mortal. Nevertheless, according to his custom, he desired to pass a great part of the night in the church at prayer; but after matins was obliged to retire to his chamber, though he did not lie down on a bed. During his sickness he continued always cheerful in his countenance. When he was grown very weak he assembled his religious brethren, and in a moving discourse which he called his last testament, and the inheritance which he left them, he exhorted them to constant humility, poverty, fervour and watchfulness, in particular against the enemy of purity. Seeing them weep about him, he promised never to forget them when he should be gone to God. After having received the last sacraments he continued in secret prayer till he calmly expired on the 6th of August, 1221, being fifty-one years old. Cardinal Hugolin, at the news of his death, hastened to Bologna, performed his funeral obsequies, and composed his epitaph. A history of a great number of miracles performed by means of this saint, and attested by eye-witnesses, may be read in the Bollandists. His relics were taken up, and translated to a more honourable place in the church, with the greatest pomp and devotion, by an order of Gregory IX in 1233, twelve years after his death. They have been since enclosed in a mausoleum, which is one of the finest monuments in Italy, and the church is one of the best finished, whether we consider the structure, or the riches, order, taste, and beauty of the ornaments. Saint Dominic was canonized by Gregory IX in 1234.

The characteristical virtue of this saint was an eminent spirit of prayer, and the constant recollection of his soul in God: and this practice he recommended above all others to his disciples. One of the greatest lights of his Order, and of the church, Bartholomew de Martyribus, archbishop of Braga, addresses himself to all pastors on this subject as follows: “Woe to you, ministers of the Lord, if the source of devotion be dried up in your souls. This tender and sincere spirit of piety is the spring of living water which communicates fertility to all our virtues, and sanctifies all our exercises and actions, which, without it, are dry and barren. This is a heavenly wine which fortifies our hearts with a joy altogether divine. This is the balsam which heals our passions. It is also the tongue with which we speak to God, and without which our souls are dumb before him. It is this that draws down upon us the heavenly dew that strengthens our hearts, and is the spiritual nourishment which enables us to labour with fruit in the vineyard of the Lord.”

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Dominic, Confessor”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 5 December 2013. Web. 27 August 2014. <>