Happy Feast of St Dominic – and how to discover more about his life

Filed in Spirituality by on August 8, 2014 0 Comments

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I wish everyone a happy Feast of St Dominic today. I had the joy of visiting Blackfriars, Cambridge, at the weekend, which is the Novitiate House of the English Dominicans. They seem to be thriving, and they are awaiting the new batch of novices who arrive over the next few weeks.

I lived there for two years when I was doing further studies as a priest. As a diocesan priest welcomed into their community, I had all the benefits of Dominican life without any of the restrictions! The photograph above shows the main chapel, a simple but dignified space that has been hugely improved with the addition of this outstanding Dominican medieval altarpiece. Well, a copy of…

If you want to know more about St Dominic, from the original sources, I have just discovered this wonderful site that posts the major biographical documents, carefully edited 50 years ago by a Dominican team.

Here is the Introduction to the collection:

Saint Dominic

BIOGRAPHICAL DOCUMENTS

Edited with an Introduction by FRANCIS C. LEHNER, O.P.
Foreword by MOST REVEREND ANICETO FERNANDEZ, O.P.
Master General of the Order of Preachers
Foreword

This little volume, St. Dominic – Biographical Documents, presents to the English-speaking world the primary sources of information on the life of St. Dominic, our Holy Founder, and on the first years of our Order’s existence. It fulfills a hope expressed by the Very Reverend Terence S. McDermott, then Vicar General of the Order, in an introduction written for a similar volume in the French language, that comparable translations in the other modem languages would soon be published.

Within these pages the principal early documents, as well as some of a later date which supplement them, speak to the reader with the voice of those who knew the Saint personally or had first-hand information about him. These sources possess the simplicity of truth. Their message is not beclouded by the reflections and interpretations which can so easily creep into biographies written at a later date. Although the pictures drawn are often fragmentary, they are genuine. The witnesses write of what they have heard and seen.

This book will be of great value to members of the Order. The Fathers will find in it a splendid means of renewing their own spirit and a rich source of material for their conferences and sermons. Students, Novices and Brothers will learn the great purposes of their Order from the most authentic fonts of Dominican history. The Sisters will draw from it a better appreciation of their relationship to the First Order and through it will share in the zeal and spirit of their spiritual Father. In this book Tertiaries will see the breadth of the apostolate envisaged by St. Dominic and will be inspired to contribute to its realization. Everyone interested in the history of the thirteenth century will, in these records, discover valuable insights into the characteristics of that great age which continues to work its influence on present-day culture.

To Father William A. Hinnebusch, to Father Francis C. Lehner and to all who assisted in the publication of this excellent volume, I extend my sincere congratulations. May St. Dominic bless the work.

Aniceto Fernández, O.P.
Master General

Introduction

There have been many biographies of St. Dominic. These works are necessary and important, but they are all, to some degree, unsatisfactory. Some of them, linking together incidents from Dominic’s life in a way which seems to divorce him from the concrete circumstances of life, lack vitality. Others fail to catch his spirit. Those who have best succeeded are Père Henri Lacordaire, Father Bede Jarrett, and Père M. H. Vicaire. The work, Histoire de Saint Dominique, by Père Vicaire is the most reliable of all accounts of the Saint’s life.

All biographies, whatever their merit, lose something of the freshness and vigor of the sources, but we must not be harsh in judging their authors. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to match the vividness with which the Saint’s contemporaries have reported him. The best way to look at a saint’s life is through the eyes of his contemporaries, the people who knew him, saw him, spoke to him, and loved him. In this conviction we present this volume of translations from the biographical sources for St. Dominic’s life. They are arranged to provide a progression in understanding St. Dominic. Thus the reader, having considered these documents, may put down this book with the judgment: “Now I begin to appreciate the life of St. Dominic.”

We start with Jordan of Saxony, the Saint’s best biographer, inserting therein quotations from other historians such as Humbert of Romans, Constantine of Orvieto, Peter de Vaux Cernai, and Gerard of Frachet. The sections borrowed by these latter authors from Jordan we do not translate in their entirety, but present only those passages which supplement Jordan or add more colorful details. St. Dominic’s letters conclude the first part of the volume.

The second part embraces documents concerning Dominic’s sanctity: the process of canonization (the official investigations into his life and miracles), the bull of canonization, St. Dominic’s Nine Ways of Prayer, Sister Cecilia’s account of Dominic’s miracles, and Jordan of Saxony’s prayer to St. Dominic.

To complete the presentation, we add, in the third part, an important document related to the organization of the Order of Preachers: the primitive legislation of the Order. These Constitutions embody the thought and wishes of St. Dominic, although the actual wording (except for the first part which incorporates the legislation of the Premonstratensians) is probably that of Jordan of Saxony, written under Dominic’s supervision.

Our translations aim at presenting the precise sense of each text in idiomatic English. The style will occasionally seem quaint. This comes from the text itself and has been retained to give the flavor of the original.

The part of the editor has not been the greatest, or even the most important, in the production of this book, which is a work of collaboration. A number of individual Dominicans and two provinces of the Order have made their contribution. Father William A. Hinnebusch initiated the work and constantly encouraged and counselled those who carried it out. The major part of the translation was done by Father R. F. Larcher, who did the English renderings of the Libellus of Blessed Jordan, the excerpts from Peter Ferrand, Frachet, the Chronica, Cernai, Humbert of Romans, Constantine of Orvieto, Bartholomew of Trent, and the Process of Canonization at Toulouse. Father Ceslaus Hoinacki has provided the translations of most of the testimonies at Bologna, and Father Andrew Kolzow made the translation of The Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic. The names of the other translators have been noted in connection with each piece. A word of acknowledgement is due also to the Very Rev. M. H. Vicaire, whose arrangement of the minor pieces as worked into Jordan’s Libellus was adopted. Brother Pius Cangelosi wrote the particular introductions.

And here are the links to the documents themselves:

St. Dominic: Biographical Documents
  1. St. Dominic: Biographical Documents

  2. The Libellus of Jordan of Saxony

  3. The Letters of St. Dominic

  4. The Process of Canonization at Bologna

  5. The Process of Cannonization at Toulouse

  6. The Nine Ways of Prayer for St. Dominic

  7. The Miracles of St. Dominic

  8. The Bull of Canonization of GREGORY IX

  9. Prayer to St. Dominic

  10. The Bulls of Approbation

  11. The Encyclical Letter of Jordan of Saxony

  12. The Primitive Constitutions of the Order of Friars Preachers

  13. Bibliography

  14. Notes

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About the Author ()

Fr Stephen Wang is a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Westminster. He is currently Senior University Chaplain for the Archdiocese. Some of his articles have previously been published on his personal blog, Bridges and Tangents. See: http://bridgesandtangents.wordpress.com/

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