Essay on St. Dominic
A man curious about Catholicism approached a Dominican friar. He asked the Dominican about various subjects and eventually the conversation turned to religious orders. “So you are a Dominican?”
“What can you tell me about the Dominicans?”
“Well, in short, we were founded by St. Dominic in the 13th century, in part to counter the Albigensian heresy.”
“I see. What about the Jesuits I keep hearing about?”
“They were founded by St. Ignatius of Loyala in the 16th century, in part to counter the Protestant Reformation.”
“Hmmm … so which is the greater order?”
The Dominican pondered this question for a moment and then replied: “Well, when was the last time you met an Albigensian?”
As many of you are aware, I recently became a Postulant in the Anglican Order of Preachers (a.k.a. The Dominicans). So that you don’t get the impression that I’m about to run off and join a monastery, I’ve decided to write a short series of articles about St. Dominic Guzman, the founder of the Order, and the Dominicans. We’ll come back to the Albigensians in a moment, but we must begin at the beginning and the beginning of this story was a dream. Not mine, but the dream of Jane of Aza.
In 1170 a.d., Jane dreamed “that she carried a dog in her womb, and when it was born it broke away from her and ran with a burning torch in its mouth to set the whole world aflame.” Such dreams might seem to spring from the mind of Stephen King, but this one was prophetic in nature and spoke of Jane’s unborn son, Dominic. (Hint: Dominic would become the hound and the flame was the truth of the Gospel message.)
Dominic was born in the rural community of Caleruega, Spain. There he began to receive a formal education, but also an education of faith and charity that was provided by his mother, who was “full of compassion toward the unfortunate and those in distress.” Witnessing such lessons from his mother, led Dominic to later sell his books to aid the poor stating, “How can I keep these dead skins when living skins are dying for hunger?” Perhaps this lesson and others like it laid the groundwork for Dominic’s greater mission of charity towards those who were poor in spirit, for following his university studies and ordination to the priesthood, he began to discern the need for the truth to be preached, particularly amongst those who were either ignorant of that truth or in error, specifically the error of the Albigensians that he first encountered while traveling through southern France.
The error of the Albigensians was the Manichaean Heresy, which taught that there were two gods: the god of the Old Testament (evil) and the god of the New Testament (good). As the god of the Old Testament is the creator god, then the Manichaes taught that the physical world—our bodies included—were evil, therefore, the Albigensians denied the Incarnation of Jesus (how can anything created be good?), insisted on a very austere life, and denied themselves the sacraments, including marriage, amongst other issues. Dominic could not comprehend how anyone could view creation as evil and ignore the teachings of the Church, so he set about the mission of correcting the Albigensians, and in doing so, set aflame, not just that small region of France, but the entire world with the truth of the Gospel and the teachings of the Church. At the heart of the mission—one that continues to this day—is preaching, preaching that finds its inauguration in study and prayer.
The study and learning was so that the friar would become someone who “proclaims with integrity the Word of God as received from the Church” for the purpose of evangelization, and prayer served much the same purpose. To paraphrase Thomas Aquinas, a later Dominican, the purpose of prayer in the life of the Dominican is “to contemplate and to hand on to others the fruits of one’s contemplation.” In other words, for Dominic and the Dominicans, study and prayer are tools and a means to an end, the end being the sermon and the preaching. This may seem odd to us today. We so often see our prayer as a time for petition, intercession, and thanksgiving, but for the Dominican, prayer is very much a tool in the preacher’s tool belt. Those things God shows the Dominican are not only for private consumption, but given to be shared, that others might benefit in their walk with God. So that the friar might focus all of his energies (and her in the Anglican Order of Preachers!) on the “Order’s job” of preaching, Dominic established the three vows of the friar: poverty, chastity, and obedience. The Anglican Order of Preachers translates these into the context of the 21st century: simplicity, purity, and obedience, all three of which are designed to free the life and mind of the Dominican so that there is more space for fulfilling the calling and mission of the Order.
At some point, a Latin pun on the name Dominican was introduced: domini canes or “hounds of the Lord.” Not only does this reference the dream of St. Dominic’s mother, but it also points to the loyal and obedient nature of the Order. An Order that today, combining the Roman and Anglican Churches, consists of over 6,000 members. The Lord has greatly used Dominic’s passion for preaching to indeed set the world aflame with the Gospel.
Deanesly, Margaret. A History of the Medieval Church, 590-1500. London New York: Routledge, 1969.
Goergen, Donald. St. Dominic: the Story of a Preaching Friar. New York: Paulist Press, 2016.
John-Julian. Stars in a Dark World: Stories of the Saints and Holy Days of the Liturgy : with Supplementary Readings According to the use of the Order of Julian of Norwich. Denver, Col: Outskirts Press, 2009.
Jones, Cheslyn, Geoffrey Wainwright, and Edward Yarnold. The Study of Spirituality. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
Zagano, Phyllis, Thomas C. McGonigle, and Augustine. The Dominican Tradition. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 2006.