St. Dominic, Founder of the Preaching Friars
St. Dominic, the glorious patriarch and founder of the famous Order of the Friars Preachers, was born in Spain of illustrious and pious parents. His mother, before his birth, had a vision in her sleep, in which it seemed to her that she was bearing a little dog, which carried in its mouth a burning torch that illuminated the whole world. At the time of his baptism, a noble matron saw a bright star on the brow of Dominic. By this God probably intended to foreshadow the future labors of St. Dominic and their effect; how, by his sermons, he would drive away the heretics–those veritable wolves in the Christian fold– and how while he illumined the whole world with his teaching and virtues, he would at the same time inflame it with love of God.
Dominic evinced, in his earliest youth, a love of virtue quite unusual for his age. He would rise in the middle of the night to pray; he was extremely moderate in eating and drinking, and modest in all his ways. He detested all worldly amusements, avoided all questionable society, was compassionate towards the poor, and sought all his pleasure in prayer, in visiting the churches and in study. He acquired knowledge suitable for his station in life, was sent to the most renowned Universities, where he never departed, in the least, from his pious course. He preserved his innocence and purity unspotted till his death, and the means which he employed to do this were, avoidance of idleness, and of intercourse with the other sex; temperance in eating and drinking.
After having finished his studies with great honor, James Azebedo, bishop of Osma, received him into the number of the regular canons. When thirty years of age, he began to preach, and continued for two years, with great success. After this he accompanied the bishop to France, which was, at that period, greatly disturbed by the heresy of the Albigenses. When they arrived at their destination they took lodgings in a house where the people were tainted with the heresy; but Dominic soon convinced them of their error and they returned to the true faith. They were the first of the heretics converted, and Dominic consecrated the first fruits of his labors, in profound gratitude, to the Almighty, feeling within himself a daily increasing desire to devote himself entirely to the extermination of this new heresy. Obeying the admonition of the Divine Voice that spoke to his heart, he asked of the Pope the necessary permission and prepared himself with a few other zealous priests, by prayers, fasts and other penances, for so great a work.
After this, taking a staff in his hand, in imitation of the holy Apostles, he wandered barefooted through all the cities and villages where the Albigenses had sown the seed of their heresy, preached with great zeal the truths of the Catholic faith and refuted the errors of the heresy, without allowing himself to be in the least disturbed by the ravings of the enemies of the church. Authentic historians say that he converted more than 100,000 heretics to the truth faith. The gift of miracles which God bestowed upon His unwearied apostle to confirm his words, added much to his influence. The Albigenses had written a book filled with heretical doctrines, which they gave the Catholics to read. St. Dominic refuted this by another book, and to convince the people that his was the true one, he threw both into the fire, in the presence of a crowd of heretics and faithful. The heretical book was instantly seized by the flames and consumed, while the book written by the Saint remained intact, raised itself up, fluttered a little while in the air, and then lighted upon a beam to the utter amazement of the spectators. This miracle was repeated a second and a third time, and not only strengthened the faith of the Catholics, but confounded the heretics. At another time, when the celebrated Count Montfort, with a small force of Catholics numbering 1800 men, attacked a large army of Albigenses, St. Dominic by floods of tears, obtained from God so signal a victory for the Catholics, that 20,000 of the enemy remained upon the field of battle, others were driven into the river and drowned and the rest were routed.
It is also related that this holy man relieved many who were possessed, cured many who were sick, and raised the dead to life. These and similar miracles could not fail to obtain for the Saint the veneration of men, and they were the means of converting many heretics. To preserve these in the true faith and to bring others to the knowledge of the truth, he resolved to found an order, the principal aim of which would be to preach the Gospel, to lead sinners to repentance, confirm Catholics in their faith, and convert the heretics. Pope Innocent III. at first refused to give his consent to this plan; but, one night, he dreamed that the walls of the Lateran church appeared to fall, but were supported by St. Dominic, and saved from the impending destruction; he concluded from this that St. Dominic had been elected by God to be the pillar of His church, and no longer withheld his consent to the founding of the new order. Pope Honorius III. who followed Pope Innocent, confirmed the order, to the great comfort of the Saint. It may, in truth, be said that by means of this order, the destruction which menaced the whole world through the heretics and false teachers, was averted.
One night, when St. Dominic prayed in the church of St. Peter, he saw Christ sitting on a throne in the clouds, surrounded by indescribable splendor. He held three spears in his hand to punish the world with three chastisements, famine, war and pestilence, because of the iniquity of the people. Not one of the Saints dared to oppose the anger of God with prayers. At last, the Blessed Virgin herself came to His feet, and humbly asked mercy for those whom He had redeemed with His precious blood. She assured Him that St. Dominic and St. Francis, who was then in Rome, to obtain the approval of his order, and their brethen, would do all in their power to move the sinful world to repentance and reformation. The prayers of His Blessed Mother appeased Christ, and He approved of the intentions of the two holy men. This vision was not only a great comfort to St. Dominic, but an incentive to use all his endeavors to reach the end he had proposed to himself.
For many years he strove, with incomparable zeal, to accomplish his design, when it pleased the Almighty to call him to receive the reward of his unwearied labors. He received the announcement of his death from Our Lord Himself, Who appeared to him during his prayers and said: “Come, come to enjoy true happiness.” After this, he fell ill, and having made his confession, he so fervently and devoutly received the Blessed Sacrament, that he drew tears from the eyes of all who were near him. Before his end, he exhorted his disciples to obedience, poverty, chastity, and brotherly love. He further commanded them to work zealously for the salvation of souls, to trust unwaveringly in God, to love their heavenly Father above all things, to avoid idle discourses, to speak only with or of God. At last he requested them to read aloud for him the usual prayers for the departing soul. When they came to the words: “Come to his assistance, ye Saints of God, come forth to meet him, ye Angels of the Lord, receiving his soul, offer it to the Most High,” he calmly closed his eyes and gave up his soul, filled with so many merits, into the hand of God, in the year 1221, the 50th of his age.
He left to posterity, not only the holy Order which he founded, but the most noble example of virtue. His heart was filled with the love of God; hence he endeavored most assiduously to prevent others from offending the Divine Majesty and to move sinners to repentance. Frequently he passed the whole night in prayer and in chastising his body, offering it to God for the conversion of sinners, saying that he would willingly give every drop of his blood, if by it he were able to prevent a single sin, or to convert a sinner. It was his wish to suffer and to give his life for the love of Christ. Humility made him three times refuse a bishopric. He desired nothing but to work for the salvation of souls, to suffer and be despised. Towards himself he was extremely severe; he constantly wore a rough hair-shirt, fastened around the loins with an iron chain, drawn so tightly, that it cut into the flesh. The steps of the altar or the bare boards were his bed. He scourged himself three times each night, first for his own sins; secondly for the sins of other men; and thirdly, for the souls in purgatory. His life was, besides, a continual fast. He never tasted meat. To live on alms and to aid the poor was all he desired. While he was still a student, he sold his books and clothes more than once, and gave the money to the poor. To a widow who asked him for alms to release her son from captivity, he offered himself as ransom, so that her son might return to her.
Many other splendid examples of admirable virtues must be omitted here, for want of space; but the great devotion he always entertained for the Queen of Heaven must be mentioned. This devotion arose from his great love for her. He began nothing without invoking her assistance with filial confidence, and he disseminated veneration for her by the use of the Rosary, which the Almighty deigned to confirm by many miracles. He advised Blanche, the pious Queen of France, who had no issue, to have recourse to the Divine Mother, and to say the rosary devoutly in her honor. Blanche followed his advice and in the course of time, gave birth to Louis, the holy and celebrated Catholic king. To the devout use of the rosary is also ascribed the above-mentioned victory of Montfort over the Albigenses; for, the Catholic soldiers, at the instance of St. Dominic, wore the rosary around their necks, and thus under the protection of the Blessed Virgin, attacked and defeated the enemy. How many miracles the Almighty performed after St. Dominic’s death, at his intercession, is to be found in the books of those authors who have written his life more minutely.
The life of St. Dominic is filled with examples of the most perfect virtues, of which we can, however, now only select a few for practical consideration.
I. First, three means were used by this holy man to preserve his innocence and purity among many dangers; and these were: Avoidance of idleness, of intercourse with the other sex, and temperance in eating and drinking. If he had abandoned himself to idleness, entertained much unnecessary communication with the other sex, and had been less temperate in his meals, his purity would soon have been endangered and perhaps lost. If you would be pious and chaste, let me recommend these three means; for Holy Writ, as well as experience, teaches us that persons who do not occupy themselves with work suitable to their station in life, who, without necessity have much intercourse with the opposite sex, or who are not temperate in eating and drinking, do not long remain pious, innocent and chaste. Such persons fall easily into temptation and yield to it, because they give themselves the opportunity; while others either suffer no temptations at all or overcome them easily, as they are strengthened by the Almighty for the combat; for, it is a well known proverb, that “God helps those who help themselves.” But how can he, who does not endeavor to help himself, but rather does the contrary, expect particular graces from the Almighty?
II. St. Dominic gave his whole life to the service of God and to the practice of good works and the salvation of souls. He used all his abilities to reform sinners, convert heretics and thus open Heaven to all. Through his love for God, he endeavored to prevent all offenses against His Majesty. It is not surprising then that Christ invited him to come and partake of eternal joys. How do you pass your life? In whose service? For what are your solicitations? Were you ever the means of bringing a sinner to repentance or a heretic to the true faith? Have you ever endeavored to lead a single soul upon the road of everlasting life? Have you ever prevented one single sin, which it was so easy to do, and which perhaps, in your office or occupation, it was your duty to do? Try henceforth to do it, and if you can do nothing else, pray at least for the conversion of sinners and heretics, and offer your good deeds to the Almighty for this end. Prevent offenses to God when you are able. Let love for your Creator inspire you to do this. “If you love Jesus with your whole heart, how can you be silent when He is offended in your presence?” says St. Bernard. “How can you say that you love God, when you despise His laws?” “Who can say: ‘I love the emperor, but his laws I do not esteem?'” asks St. Ambrose.
III. St. Dominic, desiring to further the devotion to the Blessed Virgin, instituted the use of the rosary, and God has confirmed it by many miracles. There are in our time, many families, who either daily or on Sundays and holidays, say the rosary. Many Catholics, the laity as well as the clergy, daily do the same. Only heretics and Catholics who are no honor to the church, are ashamed to be seen with the rosary in their hands. May you not be among their number! It is well known that, to evince their love to their Saviour and His Blessed Mother, many Saints, at the hour of their death, would have a crucifix and a rosary in their hands. If you desire to die happily, as they did, follow also, their example during life, that you may have the right to say: “O Lord, I am thy servant, I am thy servant and the son of thy handmaid,” (Psalm lxv.), that is, the son of her who, though chosen to be the mother of the Most High, still called herself His handmaid: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” (Luke, ii.)
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.