The Dominican Spirit-Intro

Because of their immense focus on their preaching mission, an understanding of Dominican spirituality naturally entails a knowledge of their history. The Order of Preachers had its beginnings in the early thirteen century. Dominic was born around the year 1170 in Castile. His father was Felix de Gusman and his mother Jeanne d’Aza. Dominic followed a clerical life, helped by an uncle who was an archpriest. Dominic from early on displayed a great inclination to serve others, in one occasion selling his books to help the poor during a famine, for example. According to one of his biographers, he twice tried to sell himself into slavery in order to rescue captives taken by the Moors. His piety and zeal were so evident, he was recruited by Diego, prior of the canons in Osma, where he is said to have spent nine years in a life of contemplation and obscurity. Diego was to have a great influence in the life of Dominic. Dominic found his vocation while traveling with now bishop Diego. King Alphonsus sent Diego to Denmark to arrange the marriage of a Danish princess with his son. In these travels, Dominic saw the desperate situation of Christianity because a great number had fallen into the Cathari heresy. These Cathari were in their beginnings popular, reactionary groups that had formed after their members had read the Bible and found the great discrepancy between the simple life of itinerant preachers that Jesus and his apostles had led. Their movement was in a way a reaction the the clericalism of the age. It is unfortunate that the hierarchy rejected this movement towards apostolic preaching and poverty, resulting in the Cathari being pushed to the heretical fringes. In their heretical form, their beliefs were not unlike the dualist beliefs of the Gnostics, and Manicheans. It was the genius of Diego, and of Dominic to recognize this genuine yearning of the people, and to meet it with their preaching. Once Diego and Dominic made it back to Spain, they were immediately sent back to Denmark to fetch the princess, only to find out she wouldn’t return with them. A turning point in Dominic’s life happened when he and Diego on their way back encountered three Cisternian papal legates that had been sent in a preaching mission against heretics. The legates had found little success, and were pondering whether they should return. Diego would not have that, and instead suggested changing their tactics. Instead of traveling in the impressive style of church dignitaries, they would instead return to preaching in the original style of the apostles: in evangelical simplicity and poverty. This would mean that they would also imitate the style of the heretics. It is well known that because of political, as well as religious motives; the struggle with the heretical groups turned violent. Also well known is the fact that through the turmoil, Dominic kept at his preaching, winning many converts, and acquiring a band of followers. It had been Dominic’s intention all along to form an order of preaching men. Dominic and his followers adopted the Rule of St. Augustine for their religious life, and pope Honorius III granted them official recognition. From there, Dominic continued to preach, and to found religious houses for man and women. We will now look at the different characteristics that make up the Dominican life and spirituality.

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