The mendicant orders the able Dominicans

The foundation of the Franciscans and the Dominicans shortly after 1200 resulted from a new surge of religious feeling and desire for vita apostolica, in imitation of the lives of the apostles. The story of Dominic is less extraordinary - and thus more easily understandable - than that of Francis. Dominic was a canon who followed his bishop, Diego of Osma, into the Midi, where both of them were shocked by the success of the Cathar heretics. The only opposition to these preachers came from Cistercian abbots commissioned by the pope and unable to get their message across.

The Cistercians had never learned to preach, except in chapter, and it is no wonder they were unsuited to the rough and tumble of live confrontation with men whose way of life may have seemed more devout and ascetic than that of pompous abbots. Dominic was much better equipped: he had been living as a canon under the Rule of Saint Augustine, and it is this rule which provided the basis of the order that he initiated. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 tried to prevent a too rapid growth of monastic orders by requiring that any new foundations make use of an already existing rule. Thus the Dominicans fulfilled the promise first shown by the Premonstratensians as an order of canons dedicated to preaching.

From the start the Dominicans seem to have been at ease with their vocation. We call them mendicants because they, like the Franciscans, begged for alms. But they were primarily, as they called themselves, the Order of Preachers. Everything in their training and convent life was meant to facilitate the ability to make good sermons to convey the Gospel to the laity. As formulated in the constitutions of 1236, nothing was to get in the way of studying and sermonising: 'Let all who have been appointed to preach or study have no duty or responsibility for managing temporal goods, so that they are able better and more effectively to fulfil the spiritual service enjoined

22 Magna vita sancti Hugonis, vol. 1, ed. Decima L. Douie and Hugh Farmer (London: Thomas Nelson, 1961), 90-1.

to them.' Similarly, time spent in church was to be cut back in order to leave more time for study: 'They shall be able in their cells to read, write, pray, sleep and even work through the night if they wish, for study's sake.'23

Dominic and the first friar preachers were determined to make it possible for the word of God to be preached, heard and understood. Thus many Dominican churches, such as St Catherine's in Ribe in Southern Denmark, have no transept. The simple hall shape was intended to improve acoustics and facilitate the hearing of the sermon. There is no doubt that such architecture was in keeping with the wishes of Dominic. He is often portrayed as rather anonymous, but in the affidavits given about him for his canonisation, he emerges as an affable, passionate man, who believed very much in poverty as a way of life.24 He lacks the fanatic concerns of Francis, and comes across as a gentle man of organisation: 'I never heard an idle or harmful word from him, whether of flattery or of detraction.'25

The Dominican way of representative government was unprecedented in its time. The prior of a convent was directly elected by the brothers in chapter. They also elected a companion, socius, to accompany the prior to the annual provincial chapter. A special session of the provincial chapter attended by priors plus two representatives from each priory elected the prior provincial. In order to keep business under control, the Dominicans imitated Cistercian practice and delegated some matters to four 'diffinitors'. The general chapter of the order met yearly, with the master general and one representative sent from each provincial chapter. For two years in a row, elected representatives of each province were in attendance, but in the third year, it was the provincial prior who came. A principle of rotation secured representativity but also guaranteed leadership.

Any new statute had to be accepted by three successive chapters. An enlarged session of the general chapter elected the master-general. This elaborate but still simple form of government was the achievement of Dominic and his successor, Jordan of Saxony. But the Dominicans were more than effective governors of their own affairs. Behind their rational intelligence is also human passion, as can be seen in Jordan of Saxony's description of Brother Henry of Maastricht: 'It was easy for him to touch the hearts of everyone, and he was so affable to everyone that, if you only spent even a little time with him, you would come away thinking that you

23 Rosalind B. Brooke, ed., The Coming of the Friars (London: Allen & Unwin, 1975), 199.

24 Simon Tugwell, ed., Early Dominicans: Selected Writings (New York: Paulist Press, and London: SPCK, 1982), 66-93.

25 'Testimony of Brother Frugerio of Pennabilli', in Tugwell, ed., Early Dominicans, 84.

were the friend he loved most in the world.'26 The same Jordan also expressed his love for Diana of Andalo in her Dominican convent in Bologna.27 His letters to her indicate that the Dominicans continued the male-female friendships of the religious life that had formerly characterised the Cistercian rapprochement with women.28

The Dominicans seemed almost always to do the right thing, and so it is no wonder that they quickly became papal darlings, heading up the new inquisition that was to be set up in dioceses where there was suspicion of heresy. Until now such investigations had been the responsibility of bishops, but once the Cathars had scored their successes, it seemed necessary for the pope to take responsibility in exposing heretical beliefs and practices. By 1230 the Dominicans were taking their place as papal legates to carry out a new and more effective inquisition.29

Even the Dominicans could sometimes cause controversy. At the University of Paris they, together with the Franciscans, began taking over chairs of theology. The secular masters, who had succeeded in organising themselves into an academic guild, resented the fact that their own positions were now going to outsiders. At the same time they must have noticed how effective the friars were in their teaching and administration: their life in an order provided a material and spiritual foundation that the secular masters lacked.

Outside the universities the friars caused similar resentment in many town parishes, whose pastors had to put up with Dominicans and Franciscans who were accused of luring away their parishioners. It was bad enough that friars preached at the town square, but soon they were building their own churches. Hearing confessions and administering the oil of the sick, the friars ended up burying the men and women for whom they had cared. This attachment brought testamentary gifts, income that was thus kept out of the hands of parish priests. For all their seeming gentleness the Dominicans could be rough competitors in the university or in the parishes.

26 Jordan of Saxony, On the Beginnings of the Order of Preachers, ed. Simon Tugwell (Dublin: Dominican Publications, 1982), 19.

27 Tugwell, ed., Early Dominicans, 401-8. Also Brian Patrick McGuire, Friendship and Community: The Monastic Experience (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1988), 394-8.

28 'The Cistercians and the Transformation of Monastic Friendships', in Brian Patrick McGuire, Friendship and Faith: Cistercian Men, Women, and their Stories, 1100-1250 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002).

29 Edward Peters, Inquisition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 52-8.

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