At a time when clerical wealth and abuse had robbed the Roman church of credibility, a bright light arose in Spain. He was a quiet person named Dominic Guzman, drawn to prayer and study. At 26 he became a cathedral canon and seemed headed for a predictable life of routine, when his bishop took him along to southern France on a preaching tour.
One response to the scandalous behavior of Catholic priests and bishops was the Albigensian movement in France. These people stressed poverty and austerity, but ended up rejecting the entire material world as something evil. Dominic realized that the only effective response to the Albigenses was for Catholic clergy to return to lives of poverty and simplicity and again study theology prayerfully so that they could become effective preachers. Dominic embraced such a life, and founded the Order of Preachers when others began to join him.
In this icon Dominic carries a walking staff as a symbol of his tireless journeys throughout southern Europe, preaching the Gospel. He carries his favorite books: The Gospel of Matthew and the Epistles of Paul. Filled with compassion for those who suffered, he once sold his precious books to feed the hungry. "I will not study dead skins when people are dying of hunger." Although he himself led an austere life, he was always radiant and joyful.
While Dominic’s response to the Albigenses was to reform his own life and preach the Gospel, Rome’s response was to unleash five years of indiscriminate slaughter in southern France. Both Albigenses and Catholics were slain by Pope Innocent III’s armies, giving that pope the distinction of having murdered more Catholics than Diocletian. Using force to overcome dissent is a constant temptation for church authorities, in the twentieth century no less than the thirteenth. Dominic reminds us that truth is never served by force. Truth draws people to itself gently, by example alone.
His feast day is August 8.
St. Dominic (sometimes spelled St. Domonic) was born Dominic Guzman around 1170 in Old Castile, Spain. He was born into a family of privilege and educated in Spain where he attended university for ten years, studying the arts and theology. Education and learning were centerpieces of his life, as were kindness and charity. Saint Dominic Guzman is the patron saint of scientists and astronomy, among others.
The life of St. Dominic is very interesting, as he traveled widely and met people from every level of society. His strong belief in education was cemented in the early 13th century whenhe accompanied the Bishop of Osma on a diplomatic mission that crossed into the south of France. There they encountered the Cathars, a group of educated people who were yet heretics. His attempts to preach to them failed, but he came away from the experience having seen a successful model: learning faith through schooling.
He returned to the region later and established the first Catholic nunnery at Sainte Marie de Prouille, and the nuns later became known as the Sisters of Saint Dominic. He worked very hard in the following years to spread education about Christ. One well-recounted miracle associated with the story of St. Dominic occurred when he was in Fanjeaux, participating in a theological disputation or debate. His manuscripts and those of his adversaries were compared and various points highlighted. Someone suggested that the manuscripts of both sides be subjected to a 'trial by fire'. The manuscripts were cast into a fire, and St. Dominic's miraculously levitated from the flames three separate times, while the other manuscripts were consumed.
Afterward, St. Dominic petitioned the Pope for the right to establish a new religious order dedicated to preaching. Having others besides priests being able to preach was a new idea at the time, and St. Dominic carried it farther by requesting that these new preachers be able to cross diocesan boundaries. His idea was to preach the Gospel to people wherever they needed it. He was known to travel by foot, often barefoot, living a very austere life wherever he roamed, but preaching with great fervor.In 1215 the Bishop of Toulouse offered the use of a house and church in Toulouse, and it was here that the original Dominican order was founded. By the time of his death only six years later in 1221, the Dominican order had spread widely and friaries could be found in most larger cities in western Europe. Thirteen years after his death, in 1234, he was canonized by Pope Gregory IX.
The life of Saint Dominic, works and death were marked by quiet piety and unceasing devotion to the hard work of spreading the Gospel during a turbulent time. He believed in education because an educated person could read the Bible and Dominic had no doubt would then make the informed decision to switch to Catholicism.
In the centuries since his death and canonization the Dominican friars have become renowned for their dedication to teaching as well as study of the Holy Scriptures. Their motto "To praise, to bless, to preach" sums up the core of Dominican beliefs, originating from their founder
Born: 1170 at Calaruega, Burgos, Old Castile
Died: August 4, 1221 at Bologna
Canonized: July 13, 1234 by Pope Gregory IX
Name Meaning: Belonging to God