On the Feast of All Saints of the Order of Preachers, we offer you this excerpt from Henri-Dominique Lacordaire’s Treatise on the Re-establishment of the Order of Preachers in France. In it, he highlights briefly some of the most beloved of the Dominican saints, including Dante’s description of our Holy Father Dominic.
In the thirteenth century faith was deep. The Church still held sway over the society which she had conquered. However, the European mind, which had been slowly worked upon by time and by Christianity, was nearing the crisis of adolescence. What Innocent III had seen from his bed in a dream—a Church that was tottering—St. Dominic revealed to the whole world. When the whole world believed that the Church was Queen and Mistress, he declared that nothing less than a resurrection of the primitive apostolic life was required to save her. Men responded to St. Dominic as they had to Peter the Hermit: they became crusaders.
All the universities of Europe contributed their quota of masters and students. Brother Jordan of Saxony, the second General of the Order, gave the habit to more than a thousand men whom, by his own efforts, he had won for this new kind of life. People said of him, “Do not go to Brother Jordan’s sermons, for he is a courtesan who catches men.” In an instant, or, to speak literally—for here truth surpasses the metaphor—in five years, St. Dominic who, before Honorius’s bull had only sixteen collaborators, eight Frenchmen, seven Spaniards, and one Englishman, founded sixty convents filled with exceptional men and a flourishing younger generation.
All of them, like their master, wanted to be poor at a time when the Church was rich, poor even to the extent of being beggars. All of them, like him, at a time when the Church was supremely powerful, wanted to exercise only one kind of influence: the voluntary surrender of men’s minds to their virtues. They did not say, like the heretics, “The Church must be stripped bare.” Instead they stripped her in their own persons and showed her to the people bare as she was at first.
In a word, they loved God, they loved him truly, they loved him above all else, and they loved their neighbor as themselves and more than themselves. They had received in their hearts the ample wound which has made all the saints eloquent. In addition to this asset of a passionate soul, without which no orator has ever existed, the Friars Preachers also had great skill in grasping the kind of preaching which was suited to the time.
All the same, I shall mention some of the names which are best preserved from oblivion. St. Hyacinth, apostle of the North in the thirteenth century, preached Jesus Christ in Poland, Bohemia, Great and Little Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Livonia, on the banks of the Black Sea, in the islands of Greece, and all down the coastline of Asia Minor. His progress could be followed by means of the convents he planted as he went. St. Peter of Verona was felled by the assassin’s sword after a long apostolic career; with the blood that flowed from his wounds he wrote the first words of the Apostles’ Creed in the sand: I believe in God. Henry Suso, that lovable man from Swabia in the fourteenth century, preached with such success that a price was put on his head. During the same period, brother John Tauler was much acclaimed in Cologne and throughout the whole of Germany.
Let me also mention St. Vincent Ferrer who, in the fifteenth century, evangelized Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and the kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and achieved such a high reputation that he was chosen to be one of the arbitrators to decide on the succession to the throne of Aragon, and the Council of Constance sent a deputation to implore him to come and take his seat at it; and Girolamo Savonarola, the constant friend of the French in Italy, the idol of Florence, whose liberties he defended and whose morals he wanted to reform. He was burned alive in the midst of an ungrateful people, but to no effect, since his virtue and his glory rose higher than the flames at the stake. Pope Paul III declared that he would regard as suspect of heresy anyone who dared to accuse Savonarola of heresy.
I also add Thomas Aquinas, who became in a short time the Catholic Church’s most famous doctor. There is also brother Angelico—when Michaelangelo saw the picture of the Annunciation which our Friar Preacher had painted in the church of St. Dominic in Fiesole, he said that no one could paint figures like this unless he had first seen them in heaven. There is also Bartolomé de las Casas and many others.
Let us leave these revered names in the safe-keeping of those who know them and call upon them, and let us end our slight sketch of this huge Order with the words in which, in the fourteenth century, one of the greatest Christian poets, the most celebrated singer of the Divine Comedy, sang its praises:
He was called ‘Dominic,’ and it is to him that I refer as the gardener chosen by Christ to help him in his garden. He poured forth, like a stream from a lofty spring, his teaching and will and apostolic life. From that stream flow many brooks, by which the garden of the Catholic faith is watered.
Image: Fra Angelico, Altarpiece from the Convent of San Domenico, Fiesole, Italy
The saints on the left and right sides are (from left) St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Barnabas, St. Dominic, and St. Peter of Verona.