28: St. Dominic Founds the Order of Preachers

The third great religious movement which gave new life to the Church in the Middle Ages was the founding of the mendicant orders, with the first of them being the Dominicans. Their St. Dominic was born in north central Spain in 1170. Raised by his uncle, an archbishop, Dominic was always at home in the clerical world. He enjoyed the best education available, with it consisting of six years of the Liberal Arts, followed by four years of Theology. But, in the midst of a famine, Dominic interrupted his studies and pawned his books and school gowns to feed the poor. 

At twenty-six Dominic was ordained as an Augustinian canon, and he slipped into the sweet routines of choir life. Then, at thirty-one, he was made part of a strange mission. Castile’s king chose him to be the companion to a bishop on a trip to Denmark from where they were to bring back a princess for the king’s son. The two arrived in Denmark to find that the princess had died. Then, on their return from Denmark they passed through Languedoc, and Dominic made his first contact with the Cathars, a people with whom he would be occupied for the rest of his life. 

Nominal Christians returning from earlier crusades had brought a strange religion back to Languedoc. Borrowing from Zoroaster and the Manichaeans, they held for a second evil creator who fashioned our physical side. The Cathars had both male and female priests who avoided everything of an animal nature, including sexual activities and eating animal products. The ordinary believers had somewhat normal lives while they were preparing to take priestly vows of perfection; but even the ordinary believers avoided any use of power as coming from the evil one. 

Many of the Cathars settled in the town of Albi, and that brought Rome to refer to all of them as Albigensians. 

The Kingdom of France was anxious to annex the southern provinces where the Cathars had settled, and to that end the crown secured authorization from Rome to conduct a crusade against the Albigensians; and those poor people, regarding all exercises of power to be the work of the evil creator, allowed the forces of the crown to mow them down.

Rome, then, in an attempt at meeting with the survivors of that so-called crusade, sent a delegation of prelates to bargain with their leaders. However, the Cathars, frightened by the high diplomacy, fled from all confrontations.  It was then that the pope sent Dominic and his companions to settle in Languedoc as officers of the Inquisition.

The term inquisition is the dirtiest word in our language, but with Dominic it was an honorable venue for freeing people from destructive notions. 

Dominic and eight companions established themselves at Toulouse where they gave themselves to a thorough study of the beliefs and personalities of the Cathars. Their observations led them to honor the Cathars as a humble and abstemious people.

People jokingly say, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” That’s what Dominic and his companions did. They set aside their fine clothing and housing, along with their wines and meats. They became mendicants, or beggars, asking around for each day’s bread.

That meek approach made way for them to engage in talking with the Cathars. Using the Scriptures, they weaned many Cathars away from the cruel belief in a second evil creator. Their favorite Bible passage was from Chapter One of Genesis. It spoke of  how with each thing that he created, God stood back and saw that it was good.

The very first thing I learned about St. Dominic wasn’t true. From the wonderful Dominican Sisters in grade school, I often heard that Mary had appeared to St. Dominic, giving him a rosary and instructing him about the prayers and the mysteries.

The scholars who do such research tell us that no writings from Dominic’s time make any mention of the rosary. The story of Mary’s appearance to Dominic began  making its rounds three centuries later. Alain de Roche, a Dominican preacher with a great devotion to the rosary, began telling the story that he had heard and had believed to be factual.  Our evidence in regard to the rosary’s beginnings points to it having been gradually developed by peasants as their way of joining in the prayers of monastery monks.  


Your Take 

--Would the Cathars agree with Flip Wilson’s saying, “The devil made me do dat”?

 --Did St. Dominic’s way of going about it make the Inquisition seem reasonable?

 --If Mary did not give the fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary to St. Dominic, are we then free to make up our own mysteries?