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Dominic

DOMINIC

DOMINIC (11701221), Christian saint and founder of the Order of Friars Preachers, popularly known as the Dominicans. Born at Caleruega in Old Castile, Spain, of parents of the lesser nobility, Domingo de Guzmán received his early education for the clerical state from his archpriest uncle before going to Palencia to study arts and theology from 1186 until 1196. In the latter year he became a canon regular of the reformed cathedral chapter of his home diocese of Osma, where he was ordained to the priesthood and spent the next seven years. A diplomatic mission to Denmark in 1203 brought Dominic, as the traveling companion of his bishop, Diego d'Acebes, into contact with the Albigensian, or Catharist, movement in Languedoc.

This dualist heresy, which had its origin in the teachings of the Persian religious thinker Mani (216276), had come to western Europe from the Bogomils of Bulgaria, spreading along medieval trade routes in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The Albigensians (the name derives from the city of Albi, near Toulouse) offered a viable religious alternative for many men and women in southern France who were disenchanted with the institutional church, and the austere lives of the Albigensian teachers, known as the perfect, often stood in marked contrast to the wealth and immoral behavior of the Roman Catholic clergy.

Confronted with a profound challenge to Catholic teaching and authority, Innocent III (11981216) had enlisted the services of the Cistercians as preachers among the Albigensians. When Dominic and Diego arrived at the papal court in 1205 on their way home to Spain, after the unsuccessful completion of their Danish mission, Innocent sent them to join the Cistercian preaching mission. The nine years of Dominic's preaching among the Albigensians (12061215) constituted the germinating period for his understanding that the ecclesial crisis represented by the Albigensian movement could be met only by a group of doctrinal preachers who would proclaim the gospel and live in apostolic poverty. While in Languedoc, Dominic established a form of religious life for a group of converted Albigensian women at Prouille. This first community of Dominican nuns marked the beginning of countless ways in which women over the centuries would come to share in and help create the Dominican vision.

In 1215 Dominic gathered his first companions in Toulouse, and with the approval of Bishop Fulk they began to preach and live a communal religious life within the diocese. Dominic's vision, however, extended far beyond the confines of Languedoc. Hence he accompanied Fulk to the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 to obtain papal approval for his dream of a band of doctrinal preachers available to serve the universal church wherever there was need. Innocent III approved of Dominic's idea in principle, but since the council had just forbidden the establishment of any new religious orders, the pope told him to return when he and his companions had selected an already approved rule under which they would live.

Dominic and the first friars chose the rule of Augustine, the rule under which Dominic had already lived as a canon regular, supplemented with legislation borrowed from the Premonstratensians and modified in ways appropriate to their new circumstances. In a series of three bulls between December 1216 and February 1217, Honorius III (12161227) officially approved Dominic's plan for a universal preaching brotherhood and addressed its members as "the Order of Preachers."

In 1217 only four years remained of Dominic's life, but they were to be years of intense activity in which he set forth the basic design for the Order of Preachers with bold strokes. Since Dominic believed that doctrinal preaching was required to meet the spiritual needs of men and women in an increasingly urban and academic culture, he saw study as essential to a universal preaching mission. Upon his return from Rome in 1217, Dominic dispersed the first sixteen friars gathered in Toulouse throughout Europe, sending seven of them to establish a religious house at the University of Paris. From the dispersal in 1217 until the spring of 1220, Dominic was on the road, preaching, visiting the friars he had sent out, gathering new members for the order, founding new houses, and seeking continued papal support for the work of the preachers.

Dominic's thought has survived not in his writings, for only a few of his letters are extant, but rather in the formative guidance that he gave to the first two general chapters of the order in 1220 and 1221. The idea of a general chapter was not unique to Dominic; begun by the Cistercians in the previous century, it had become the common form of unifying and promoting the life of a religious order. Dominic, however, saw the general chapter not as a gathering of abbots but as an assembly of brothers elected by their peers who would legislate for the common good. In Dominic's vision the master of the order was to be the center of unity on the universal level, the provincial on the regional level, and the prior on the local level. But the friars themselves, functioning through the general, provincial, and local chapters, were to assume responsibility for carrying on the life and mission of the order.

Under Dominic's dynamic leadership, the chapters of 1220 and 1221 established the basic constitutional framework that would ensure constant flexibility in adapting the order's preaching mission to diverse situations. They gave a primary place to study as essential to doctrinal preaching, embraced mendicant poverty, provided for dispensations from the constitutions when necessary so as not to impede preaching or study, and universalized the mission of the order by establishing eight provinces in western Europe. The chapters of 1220 and 1221 brought Dominic's vision to life: an order of preachers whose preaching would flow from a life of study and common prayer, lived in a community of brothers professing the vows and being jointly responsible, through a chapter system of representative government, for a universal preaching mission in cooperation with the bishops and with the papacy's protection and support.

Dominic fell ill during a preaching tour in Lombardy after the meeting of the general chapter of 1221, and he died in Bologna (where he is buried) on August 6, 1221. In 1234 he was canonized by Gregory IX (12271241), and he is commemorated in the Roman calendar on August 8. The influence of Dominic perdures in the shared vision of a religious family of men and women dedicated to preaching the gospel to all people while living in a community that is committed to common prayer and simplicity and whose members are jointly responsible for their life and mission.

See Also

Dominicans.

Bibliography

The most scholarly and reliable biography of Dominic is the work by M.-H. Vicaire, O.P., Saint Dominic and His Times, translated by Kathleen Pond (London, 1964). The documents that constitute the primary sources for Dominic's life have been collected by Francis C. Lehner, O.P., in Saint Dominic: Biographical Documents (Washington, D.C., 1964).

Thomas McGonigle (1987)

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