Feast Day: August 08
Born in old Castile, Spain, Dominic was trained for the priesthood by a priest-uncle, studied the arts and theology at the age of fourteen, and 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. Dominic immersed himself in Scripture, writing notes in the margins of his parchment copy of the Bible. However, when famine struck, he sold all of his possessions, including his precious parchments and used the money to aid his starving neighbors. “I will not study on dead skins,” he said, “when living skins are dying of hunger.”
On a journey through France with his bishop, he came face to face with the then-virulent Albigensian heresy at Languedoc. The Albigensians regarded everything physical as wicked—hence they denied the Incarnation and sacraments, abstained from procreation, and took a minimum of food and drink. They also refused to admit that Christ’s death on the cross—a physical event—could have any spiritual significance.
Dominic sensed the need for the church to combat this heresy and was commissioned to be part of the preaching crusade against it. He saw immediately why the preaching was not succeeding: The ordinary people admired and followed the ascetical heroes of the Albigensians. Understandably, they were not impressed by the Catholic preachers who traveled with horse and retinue, stayed at the best inns, and had servants. With three Cistercians, Dominic began itinerant preaching according to the gospel idea. He continued this work for ten years, being successful with the ordinary people but not with the leaders.
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 (Dominicans). His ideal, and that of his order, was to link organically a life with God, study and prayer in all forms, with a ministry of salvation to people by the word of God. His ideal: contemplata tradere: “to pass on the fruits of contemplation” or “to speak only of God or with God.” He and his Dominicans became particular advocates of frequent recitation of the rosary and defended the faith against Albigensian attacks.
Dominic’s spirituality was both simple and strategic. He simply held to the New Testament basics of prayer, Scripture study, community, and action. In addition, he strategically understood the needs of the thirteenth-century church and created communities that brought it new life.
Dominic’s lifetime coincided with that of Saint Francis of Assisi, and on one occasion, they met. Both men shared a similar ambition: to take the message of the Gospel out of the cloister and directly to the people in the streets and in the countryside. Dominic died in the Dominican priory of San Nicolo delle Vigne in Bologna, Italy; he was buried behind the high altar of the priory church.
Craughwell, Thomas J. “Saints Preserved-An Encyclopedia of Relics.” New York, NY: Image Books, 2011.
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day.” Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2009.
Ghezzi, Bert. “Voices of the Saints.” Chicago: Loyola Press, 2000.