The Dominican Order came into being in the Middle Ages at a time when religion began to be regarded in a new way. Men of God began to travel among the people instead of remaining behind the walls of a cloister. They took as their example the apostles of the early Church. The Order of Preachers was established by a Spanish Priest, Dominic de Guzman, in France. Founded to preach the Gospel and to combat heresy, the teaching activity of the order and its scholastic organisation placed the Preachers in the forefront of the intellectual life of the Middle Ages.
Dominic sought to establish a new kind of order; one that would bring the dedication and systematic education of the older monastic orders, like the Benedictines, to bear on the rapidly growing population of cities, but with more organisational flexibility than either monastic orders or the secular clergy. Dominic’s new order was to be a preaching order trained to orate in the vernacular language. Rather than earning their living on vast farms as the monasteries had done, the new friars would survive by begging.
Dominic inspired his followers with loyalty to learning and virtue, a deep recognition of the spiritual power of worldly deprivation and the religious state, and a highly developed governmental structure. At the same time Dominic encouraged the members of his order to develop a “mixed” spirituality. They were both active in preaching and contemplative in study and prayer. The brethren of the Dominican order were urban and learned, as well as contemplative and mystical in their spirituality.
In the 13th century the order reached all classes of Christian society, fought heresy, schism and paganism by word and book, and by its missions to the north of Europe, to Africa and to Asia, passing beyond the frontiers of Christendom. Its schools spread throughout the entire Church and its doctors wrote monumental works in all branches of knowledge.
The expansion of the Order produced changes. A smaller emphasis on doctrinal activity favoured the development here and there of the ascetic and contemplative life and there sprang up, especially in Germany and Italy, the mystical movement with which the names of Meister Eckhart and St. Catherine of Siena are associated. This movement was the prelude to the reforms undertaken at the end the century by Raymond of Capua, and continued in the following century. At the same time the order found itself face to face with the Renaissance. It struggled against pagan tendencies in Renaissance humanism, in Italy through Dominici and Savonarola, in Germany through the theologians of Cologne. But many Dominicans took part in the artistic activity of the age, the most prominent being Fra Angelico.
The modern period consists of the three centuries between the Protestant Reformation and the French Revolution and its consequences. The beginning of the 16th century confronted the order with the upheavals of revolution. The spread of Protestantism cost it six or seven provinces and several hundreds of convents, but the discovery of the New World opened up a fresh field of activity.
Beginnings of the Order In Ireland
The Dominicans first arrived in Ireland in the year 1224, just three years after the death of St Dominic and the arrival of the friars in England. Two foundations were made in Ireland that first year; one in Drogheda and one in Dublin.
Less than one hundred years previously the Anglo-Norman invasion and conquest of Ireland had begun. The Dominican friars initially made foundations in those regions of Ireland under Anglo-Norman control, but they soon established themselves in the Gaelic parts of the island also. The division within the Irish Church generally (along cultural and linguistic lines: Irish and French/English) was present in the Order right up till the 15th century Observant movement.
Twenty four Dominican communities were founded in Ireland in the thirteenth century, (with only five of these communities having Gaelic founders). They were:
• Drogheda (1224)
• Kilkenny (1225)
• Waterford (1226)
• Limerick (1227)
• Cork (1229)
• Mullingar (1237)
• Athenry (1241)
• Cashel (1243)
• Tralee (1243)
• Newtownards (1244)
• Coleraine (1244)
• Sligo (1252)
• Strade (1252)
• Athy (1253)
• Roscommon (1253)
• Trim (1263)
• Arklow (1264)
• Rosbercon (1267)
• Youghal (1268)
• Lorrha (1269)
• Derry (1274)
• Rathfran (1274)
• Kilmallock (1291)
Irish Growth & Independence
In 1275, 51 years after the arrival of the first Dominicans in Ireland, the communities were formed into a vicariate, subject to the English Dominican province. A number of new communities were founded through the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, mostly in the West of Ireland, i.e. were Gaelic influence was strongest. They were:
• Cloonshanville (late 14th century)
• Portumna (1414)
• Longford (1420)
• Toombeola (1427)
• Urlar (1434)
• Tulsk (1448)
• Burrishoole (1486)
• Galway (1488)
• Clooneymeaghan (1488)
• Ballindoon (1507)
The Dominicans in Ireland were formed into an independent Province in 1636.
19th Century to Present
The contemporary period of the history of the Preachers begins more or less in the early 19th century with restorations in provinces, undertaken after revolutions destroyed the Order in several countries of the Old and New Worlds.
The revival movement was driven in the main by Jean-Baptiste Henri Lacordaire (1802–1861) owing to the reputation and convincing power of the French orator. He took the habit of a Friar Preacher at Rome (1839), and the province of France was canonically erected in 1850. From this province were detached the province of Lyon, called Occitania (1862), that of Toulouse (1869), and that of Canada (1909). The French restoration likewise furnished many labourers to other provinces, to assist in their organization and progress. From it came the master general who remained longest at the head of the administration during the 19th century, Père Vincent Jandel (1850–1872). Here should be mentioned the province of St. Joseph in the United States. Founded in 1805 by Father Edward Fenwick, afterwards first Bishop of Cincinnati, Ohio (1821–1832), this province has developed slowly, but now ranks among the most flourishing and active provinces of the order. In 1910 it numbered seventeen convents or secondary houses. In 1905, it established a large house of studies at Washington, D.C., called the Dominican House of Studies. There are now four Dominican provinces in the United States.
Since 1903 the pulpit of Notre Dame has been occupied by a succession of Dominicans. Père Henri Didon (d. 1900) was a Dominican. The house of studies of the province of France publishes L’Année Dominicaine (founded 1859), La Revue des Sciences Philosophiques et Theologiques (1907), and La Revue de la Jeunesse (1909). French Dominicans founded and administer the École Biblique et Archéologique française de Jérusalem founded in 1890 by Père Marie-Joseph Lagrange O.P. (1855–1938), one of the leading international centres for Biblical research. It is at the École Biblique that the famed Jerusalem Bible (both editions) was prepared.
Doctrinal development has had an important place in the restoration of the Preachers. Several institutions, besides those already mentioned, played important parts. One such is the Biblical school at Jerusalem, open to the religious of the Order and to secular clerics, which publishes the Revue Biblique. The faculty of theology at the University of Fribourg, confided to the care of the Dominicans in 1890, is flourishing, and has about 250 students. The Pontificium Collegium Internationale Angelicum, the future Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum established at Rome in 1908 by Master Hyacinth Cormier, opened its doors to regulars and seculars for the study of the sacred sciences. In addition to the reviews above are the Revue Thomiste, founded by Père Thomas Coconnier (d. 1908), and the Analecta Ordinis Prædicatorum (1893). Among numerous writers of the order in this period are: Cardinals Thomas Zigliara (d. 1893) and Zephirin González (d. 1894), two esteemed philosophers; Father Alberto Guillelmotti (d. 1893), historian of the Pontifical Navy, and Father Heinrich Denifle, one of the most famous writers on medieval history (d. 1905).
The Popularity Of The Dominican Order
Since the beginning of the 19th century the number of Preachers has never to have sunk below 3,500. Statistics for 1876 show 3,748, but 500 of these had been expelled from their convents and were engaged in parochial work. Statistics for 1910 show a total of 4,472 nominally or actually engaged in proper activities of the Order. In the year 2000, there were 5,171 Dominican friars in solemn vows, 917 student brothers, and 237 novices. By the year 2010 there were 5,906 Dominican friars, including 4,456 priests. Their provinces cover the world and include four provinces in the United States.