In August the Dominican family worldwide remember their founder, St Dominic Guzman, whose solemnity is celebrated on the eighth of this month.
The son and youngest child of Felix de Guzman, a noble, and Blessed Joan of Aza, he was born in Calaruega, Spain, in 1170.
He was educated by his uncle, the archpriest of Gumiel d’Izan and in 1184, he began studying at the University of Palencia. During this time, he became a Franciscan canon regular at the Cathedral of Osma.
As a priest he led an outwardly uneventful life for seven years, devoted to prayer and penance. He made such an impression on his fellow canons that by 1201 he had been appointed subprior.
The journey begins
The first step towards his discovery of the distinctive task to which God was calling him came in 1203. Diego, the Bishop of Osma, was sent by the King of Castile on an embassy to the Marches of Denmark (the part of northern Germany which was then under Danish rule), to negotiate a marriage for the Infanta. Diego took Dominic with him.
On their way to the North, they spent a night in Toulouse, where their landlord turned out to be a supporter of the Dualist anti-church of the Albigensians. This was a heresy which because it regarded all matter as evil denied the incarnation. Dominic sat up all night arguing with him, and eventually persuaded him of the truth of the Catholic faith.
In 1208, Peter of Castelnau, the papal legate was murdered by the Albigensians. Pope Innocent II subsequently started a crusade to put an end to the heresy. Dominic accompanied the army in order to preach to the Albigensians. He had no share in the violence and massacres then perpetuated but used only the peaceful instruments of instruction and prayer.
His experiences showed him how greatly people were in ignorance of the faith. There was an urgent need for preachers who could explain and defend its tenets. Dedicated to preaching Christ and the faith he loved, Dominic founded the Dominican Order for that purpose.
Legend has it that one day, feeling despondent at his lack of success in convincing the Albigenesians to denounce their ways, he was praying to Our Lady when she appeared to him and gave him the Rosary, saying, ‘Dear Dominic, go among the people and teach them my prayer.’
While it is not historically proven that Dominic actually initiated devotion to the Holy Rosary, he did introduce the process of devoting meditations on particular mysteries to each decade. The description “Dominican Rosary” is justified because the friars simplified and standardised a universally treasured prayer in the course of their preaching and founded Rosary Confraternities.
A New Order
Dominic spent the last years of his life organizing the Order. He travelled throughout Italy, Spain, and France. His plan was to provide communities, which were centres of sacred learning, whose members would be devoted to study, teaching, and preaching as well as prayer.
The Dominicans relied upon the usual religious customs and traditions but provided intellectual pursuits that attracted great scholars.
When Dominic sent his brethren forth, he told them to go with their Blessed Mother and most importantly to depend on God and let the Holy Spirit enlighten their words and deeds. Dominic asked them to always speak with God and about God, and that is how he lived himself.
A Saint in the Making
Dominic used to spend most of the night in prayer. When he was travelling, if he was not speaking about God, he would pray and often sing hymns as he went. He was devoted to the bible and always carried St Matthew’s gospel and the epistles of St Paul with him, and he encouraged his students to be earnest students of God’s word.
From the testimony of people who knew him, Dominic was easy to live with. Although he was readily moved to tears, either by the wonder of God’s gifts or by the distress of his fellow men, he was always cheerful. It was said that he was someone whom it was easy to love.
He could be a stern disciplinarian, but he was always affable and a good companion. People trusted him; they knew they were genuinely free to disagree with him or, for that matter, to have their little jokes with him.
Popular devotion to Dominic sprang up soon after his death and he was canonized in 1234.
Pictures of St Dominic show a hound at his feet with a torch in its mouth. The reason for this can be attributed to a dream that Dominic’s mother had before his birth. She dreamt that instead of an infant she was carrying a dog or hound which, when born, broke away from her with a lighted torch in its mouth to set the world on fire.
Dominic’s one desire in life was to set the hearts and minds of men and women on fire with love for God.