(Aug. 8, 1170–Aug. 6, 1221)
Those people of a certain age will remember a song performed by a singing Belgian Dominican nun that, against all probability, topped the charts in America in the 1960s — “Domi-nique:”
Domi-nique -nique -nique s’en allait tout simplement,
Routier, pauvre et chantant.
En tous chemins, en tous lieux,
Il ne parle que du Bon Dieu,
Il ne parle que du Bon Dieu.
Domi-nic -nic -nic went about simply,
a poor singing traveler.
On every road, in every place,
he talks only of the Good Lord,
he talks only of the Good Lord.
Dominic was born in old Castile, Spain. He entered the priesthood by studying with his uncle, who was a priest. His concentrations were in the arts and theology. He became a canon of the cathedral at Osma, where there was an attempt to revive the apostolic common life described in Acts of the Apostles.
On a journey through France with his bishop, Dominic came face to face with the Albigensian heresy, promoted from southwestern France to northern Italy by a group called the Cathari. They subscribed to two principles — one good, one evil — in the world. They believed that all matter is evil — hence they denied the Incarnation and the sacraments.
On the same principle, they abstained from procreation and took a minimum of food and drink. The inner circle led what some people regarded as a heroic life of purity and asceticism not shared by ordinary followers.
Dominic was commissioned to be part of the preaching crusade against the Cathari. He realized that the current attempts by the church were not succeeding because ordinary people admired and followed the ascetical heroes of the Albigenses. He understood how ordinary citizens were put off by the Catholic preachers who traveled in retinues by horse, stayed at the best inns and had servants.
Dominic, with three Cistercians, determined it would be more effective preaching itinerantly according to the Gospel ideal. He continued this work for 10 years and had significant success with the ordinary people. The leaders of the Cathari were pursued by the French barons of the north and King Louis IX, until driven underground by a decisive defeat in 1244. Vestiges of the sect lingered, however, until the early 1400s.
Dominic and his fellow preachers gradually became a community, and in 1215 he founded a religious house at Toulouse, the beginning of the Order of Preachers or Dominicans.
Dominic’s ideal, and that of his order, was to organically link a life with God, study, and prayer in all forms, with a ministry of salvation to people by the word of God. His ideal was expressed in “contemplata tradere:” “to pass on the fruits of contemplation” or “to speak only of God or with God.”
Adapted by A.J. Valentini