Let’s meet the great Spanish Saint
Saint Dominic de Guzman (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
THREE MINUTES WITH THE SAINTS by Paul Combs
Several months ago I wrote a piece about St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order. In today’s installment of “Three Minutes with the Saints,” we look at the founder of another well-known religious order, the Order of Preachers; they are better known today as the Dominicans, and their founder was St. Dominic de Guzman.
Dominic de Guzman was born on August 8, 1170, in Calaruega, Spain. His early education was conducted by an uncle who was a priest before he went on to study theology and the arts at the cathedral school in Palencia, which became the first university in Spain. In 1191, a famine ravaged the country and in an early example of Dominic’s propensity for putting his faith into action, he sold everything he had (including clothes, furniture, and even the manuscripts he needed for his studies) in order to raise money for the suffering poor.
In 1194, he joined a Benedictine Order in Osma. The prior of the order was Diego de Acebo, and Dominic succeeded him as prior in 1201 when Diego was named Bishop of Osma. The two were close friends, and it was while traveling with Diego through France in 1204 that Dominic first encountered the Albigensian heresy that was spreading across France. The Albigensians (also known as Cathars, or “perfect ones”) regarded all physical matter as evil and believed a strict diet and sexual abstinence were required to attain the perfection they sought. As has been the sad case throughout Church history, they practiced a form of Gnosticism, believing they alone held secret knowledge necessary for salvation.
Dominic was inspired to form an order of preachers to combat this heresy; as part of this he required they give up staying in the most comfortable inns, traveling with servants, and owning horses as was common for the clergy at the time. His preachers also used persuasion and peaceful discussion, rather than threats and cajoling, to draw the wayward back into the Church. After ten years of successfully battling the Cathar heresy, his new order was confirmed by Pope Honorius III in 1216; within a short time, there were Dominicans preaching in cities and universities throughout Europe.
Though he was now the Superior General of the Order, Dominic himself continued to travel throughout France, Spain, and Italy on preaching missions, with his base of operations at Bologna. He died there on August 6, 1221 and was canonized just thirteen years later in 1234 by Pope Gregory IX.
The legend that St. Dominic invented the rosary is historically unlikely, but the Marian rosary in its current form did not exist before the Virgin Mary appeared to him in 1214 and gave him the rosary we use today. It is a devotion of special importance to Dominicans, and they promote it everywhere. St. Dominic was a contemporary of St. Francis of Assisi, and they met at least once in Rome, beginning a camaraderie between their two Orders that continues today.
As for the Order he founded, the main characteristics of Dominican spirituality to this day are prayer, study, preaching, and community, with their ultimate goal the same as Dominic’s was: that we would know, love, and follow Christ. Some notable Dominican Saints include St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Albert the Great. And if you ever wondered why the pope wears a white cassock, it’s because of Pope Pius V, who was a Dominican and chose to keep his Dominican habit after his election to the papacy. It has remained so since 1566, and in a serendipitous confluence of religious orders, today we have a Jesuit pope, wearing a Dominican habit, named after St. Francis of Assisi.