It is unjust to Dominic that his name should suggest the Inquisition. He was not its founder, nor was he responsible for its terrors; his own activity was to convert by example and preaching. He was of sterner stuff than Francis, but revered him as the saintlier saint; and Francis loved him in return. Essentially their work was the same: each organized a great order of men devoted not to self-salvation in solitude but to missionary work among Christians and infidels. Each took from the heretics their most persuasive weapons—the praise of poverty and the practice of preaching. Together they saved the Church.
Domingo de Guzman was born at Calaruega in Castile (1170). Brought up by an uncle priest, he was one of thousands who in those days took Christianity to heart. When famine struck Palencia he is said to have sold all his goods, even his precious books, to feed the poor. He became an Augustinian canon regular in the cathedral of Osma, and in 1201 accompanied his bishop on a mission to Toulouse, then a center of the Albigensian heresy. Their very host was an Albigensian; it may be a legend that Dominic converted him overnight. Inspired by the advice of the bishop and the example of some heretics, Dominic adopted the life of voluntary poverty, went about barefoot, and strove peaceably to bring the people back to the Church. At Montpellier he met three papal legates—Arnold, Raoul, and Peter of Castelnau. He was shocked by their rich dress and luxury, and attributed to this their confessed failure to make headway against the heretics. He rebuked them with the boldness of a Hebrew prophet: “It is not by the display of power and pomp, nor by cavalcades of retainers and richly houseled palfreys, nor by gorgeous apparel, that the heretics win proselytes; it is by zealous preaching, by apostolic humility, by austerity, by holiness.”66 The shamed legates, we are told, dismissed their equipage and shed their shoes.
For ten years (1205–16) Dominic remained in Languedoc, preaching zealously. The only mention of him in connection with physical persecution tells how, at a burning of heretics, he saved one from the flames.67 Some of his order proudly called him, after his death, Persecutor haereticorum—not necessarily the persecutor but the pursuer of heretics. He gathered about him a group of fellow preachers, and their effectiveness was such that Pope Honorius III (1216) recognized the Friars Preachers as a new order, and approved the rule drawn up for it by Dominic. Making his headquarters at Rome, Dominic gathered recruits, taught them, inspired them with his almost fanatical zeal, and sent them out through Europe as far east as Kiev, and into foreign lands, to convert Christendom and heathendom to Christianity. At the first general chapter of the Dominicans at Bologna in 1220, Dominic persuaded his followers to adopt by unanimous vote the rule of absolute poverty. There, a year later, he died.
Like the Franciscans, the Dominicans spread everywhere as wandering, mendicant friars. Matthew Paris describes them in the England of 1240:
Very sparing in food and raiment, possessing neither gold nor silver nor anything of their own, they went through cities, towns, and villages, preaching the Gospel… living together by tens or sevens … thinking not of the morrow, nor keeping anything for the next morning…. Whatsoever was left over from their table of the alms give them, this they gave forthwith to the poor. They went shod only with the Gospel, they slept in their clothes on mats, and laid stones for pillows under their heads.68
They took an active, and not always a gentle, part in the work of the Inquisition. They were employed by the popes in high posts and diplomatic missions. They entered the universities and produced the two giants of Scholastic philosophy, Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas; it was they who saved the Church from Aristotle by transforming him into a Christian. Together with the Franciscans, the Carmelites, and the Austin Friars they revolutionized the monastic life by mingling with the common people in daily ministrations, and raised monasticism in the thirteenth century to a power and beauty which it had never attained before.
A large perspective of monastic history does not bear out the exaggerations of moralists nor the caricatures of satirists. Many cases of monastic misconduct can be cited; they draw attention precisely because they are exceptional; and which of us is so saintly that he may demand an untarnished record from any class of men? The monks who remained faithful to their vows—who lived in obscure poverty, chastity, and piety—eluded both gossip and history; virtue makes no news, and bores both readers and historians. We hear of “sumptuous edifices” possessed by Franciscan monks as early as 1249, and in 1271 Roger Bacon, whose hyperboles often forfeited him a hearing, informed the pope that “the new orders are now horribly fallen from their original dignity.”69 But this is hardly the picture that we get from Fra Salimbene’s candid and intimate Chronicle (1288?). Here a Franciscan monk takes us behind the scenes and into the daily career of his order. There are peccadilloes here and there, and some quarrels and jealousy; but over all that arduously inhibited life hovers an atmosphere of modesty, simplicity, brotherliness, and peace.70 If, occasionally, a woman enters this story, she merely brings a touch of grace and tenderness into narrow and lonely lives. Hear a sample of Fra Salimbene’s guileless chatter:
There was a certain youth in the convent of Bologna who was called Brother Guido. He was wont to snore so mightily in his sleep that no man could rest in the same house with him, wherefore he was set to sleep in a shed among the wood and straw; yet even so the brethren could not escape him, for the sound of that accursed rumbling echoed throughout the whole convent. So all the priests and discreet brethren gathered together … and it was decreed by a formal sentence that he should be sent back to his mother, who had deceived the order, since she knew all this of her son before he was received among us. Yet was he not sent back forthwith, which was the Lord’s doing…. For Brother Nicholas, considering within himself that the boy was to be cast out through a defect of nature, and without guilt of his own, called the lad daily about the hour of dawn to come and serve him at Mass; and at the end of the Mass the boy would kneel at his bidding behind the altar, hoping to receive some grace of him. Then would Brother Nicholas touch the boy’s face and nose with his hands, desiring, by God’s gifts, to bestow on him the boon of health. In brief, the boy was suddenly and wholly healed, without further discomfort to the brethren. Thenceforth he slept in peace and quiet, like any dormouse.71