Order of Preachers

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The Order of Preachers (Ordo fratrum Praedicatorum), after 15th century more commonly known as the Dominican Order, or Dominicans is a Catholic religious order, created in the year 1214, when Saint Dominic established a religious community in Toulouse. However, the order wasn't officially recognised until Pope Honorus III in 1216.

In England and some other countries the Dominicans are referred to as Blackfriars on account of the black cappa or cloak they wear over their white habits (for the same reason, Carmelites are known as "Whitefriars" and Franciscans as "Greyfriars"). In Paris, the Dominicans are known as Jacobins, because their first convent in Paris was on Rue Saint-Jacques in Paris, and Jacques is Jacobus in Latin. They have also been referred to using a Latin pun, as "domini canes", or "The Hounds of God", a reference to the order's reputation as most obedient servants of the faith, with perhaps a negative connotation or reference to the order's involvement with the Holy Inquisition.

The Dominican Order was founded by Saint Dominic in the early 13th century under the Augustinian rule. The Dominican Order is one of the great orders of mendicant friars that revolutionized religious life in Europe during the High Middle Ages. Founded to preach the gospel and to combat heresy, the Order is famed for its intellectual tradition, having produced many leading theologians and philosophers. The Dominican Order is headed by the Master of the Order, who is currently Father Carlos Azpiroz Costa.

Foundation of the Order

Like his contemporary Francis of Assisi, Dominic saw the need for a new type of organization to address the needs of his time, and the quick growth of the Dominicans and Franciscans during their first century confirms that the orders of mendicant friars met a need.

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 religious problems of the burgeoning population of cities, but with more organizational flexibility than either monastic orders or the secular clergy. Dominic's new order was to be a preaching order, trained to preach in the vernacular languages but with a sound background in academic theology. Rather than earning their living on vast farms as the monasteries had done, the new friars would survive by begging, "selling" themselves through persuasive preaching. They were initially scorned by more traditional orders, who thought these "urban monks" would never survive the temptations of the city.

Dominic saw the need to establish a new kind of order when travelling through the south of France. He had been asked to accompany his bishop from Osma on a diplomatic mission to Denmark, to arrange the marriage between the son of King Alfonso VIII of Castile and a niece of King Valdemar II of Denmark. At that time the south of France was the stronghold of Albigensian thought, centered around the town of Albi.

This unorthodox expression of Christianity held that matter was evil and only spirit was good, a fundamental challenge to the notion of incarnation, central to Roman Catholic theology. The Albigensians, more commonly known as the Cathars (an heretical gnostic sect), lived very simply and saw themselves as more fervent followers of the poor Christ. Dominic saw the need for a response that would take the good elements in the Albigensian movement to sway them back to mainstream Christian thought. The mendicant preacher emerged from this insight. Unfortunately, Dominic's ideal of winning the Albigensians over was not held by all office bearers and the population of Albi was decimated in the Albigensian crusade. The Dominicans were also set up as the branch of the Catholic Church to deal with heresy. It was in this early period of the Albigensian crusade that St. Dominic ordered the burning of several heretical books. Indeed, many years after this initial crusade, the first Grand Inquistor of Spain would be drawn from the Dominican order, Tomás de Torquemada.

The organization of the Order of Preachers was approved in December 1216 by Pope Honorius III.

History of the Order

The history of the Order may be divided into three periods:

  • The Middle Ages (from their foundation to the beginning of the sixteenth century);
  • The Modern Period up to the French Revolution;
  • The Contemporary Period.

In each of these periods we shall examine the work of the order in its various departments.

Middle Ages

The thirteenth century is the classic age of the Order, the witness to its brilliant development and intense activity. This last is manifested especially in the work of teaching. By preaching it 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 Asia passed beyond the frontiers of Christendom. Its schools spread throughout the entire Church; its doctors wrote monumental works in all branches of knowledge and two among them, Albertus Magnus, and especially Thomas Aquinas, founded a school of philosophy and theology which was to rule the ages to come in the life of the Church. An enormous number of its members held offices in Church and State -- as popes, cardinals, bishops, legates, inquisitors, confessors of princes, ambassadors, and paciarii (enforcers of the peace decreed by popes or councils). The Order of Preachers, which should have remained a select body, developed beyond bounds and absorbed some elements ill-fitted to its form of life. A period of relaxation ensued during the fourteenth century owing to the general decline of Christian society. The weakening of doctrinal activity favored the development here and there of the ascetic and contemplative life and there sprang up, especially in Germany and Italy, an intense and exuberant mysticism with which the names of Meister Eckhart, Heinrich Suso, Johannes Tauler, and St. Catherine of Siena are associated. This movement was the prelude to the reforms undertaken, at the end of the century, by Raymond of Capua, and continued in the following century. It assumed remarkable proportions in the congregations of Lombardy and the Netherlands, and in the reforms of Savonarola at Florence. At the same time the Order found itself face to face with the Renaissance. It struggled against pagan tendencies in humanism, in Italy through Dominici and Savonarola, in Germany through the theologians of Cologne but it also furnished humanism with such advanced writers as Francesco Colonna (writer of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili) and Matteo Bandello. Its members, in great numbers, took part in the artistic activity of the age, the most prominent being Fra Angelico and Fra Bartolomeo.

Modern Period

Bartolomé de Las Casas, as a settler in the New World, he was galvanized by witnessing the brutal torture and genocide of the Native Americans by the Spanish colonists. He became famous for his advocacy of the rights of Native Americans, whose cultures, especially in the Caribbean, he describes with care

The modern period consists of the three centuries between the religious revolution at the beginning of the sixteenth century (Protestantism) and the French Revolution and its consequences. At the beginning of the sixteenth century the order was on the way to a genuine renaissance when the Revolutionary upheavals occurred. The progress of heresy 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. Its gains in America and those which arose as a consequence of the Portuguese conquests in Africa and the Indies far exceeded the losses of the order in Europe, and the seventeenth century saw its highest numerical development. The sixteenth century was a great doctrinal century, and the movement lasted beyond the middle of the eighteenth century. In modern times the order lost much of its influence on the political powers, which had universally fallen into absolutism and had little sympathy for the democratic constitution of the Preachers. The Bourbon courts of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were particularly unfavourable to them until the suppression of the Society of Jesus. In the eighteenth century, there were numerous attempts at reform which created, especially in France, geographical confusion in the administration. Also during the eighteenth century, the tyrannical spirit of the European powers and, still more, the spirit of the age lessened the number of recruits and the fervor of religious life. The French Revolution ruined the order in France, and the crises which more or less rapidly followed considerably lessened or wholly destroyed numerous provinces.

Contemporary Period

The contemporary period of the history of the Preachers begins with the different restorations of provinces undertaken after the revolutions which had destroyed the Order in several countries of the Old World and the New. This period begins more or less in the early nineteenth century, and cannot be traced down to the present day without naming religious who are still living and whose activity embodies the present life of the Order. The revolutions not having totally destroyed certain of the provinces, nor decimated them, simultaneously, the Preachers were able to take up the laborious work of restoration in countries where the civil legislation did not present insurmountable obstacles. During this critical period the number of Preachers seems never to have sunk below 3,500. The statistics for 1876 give 3,748 religious, but 500 of these had been expelled from their convents and were engaged in parochial work. The statistics for 1910 give a total of 4,472 religious both nominally and actually engaged in the proper activities of the Order. They were distributed in twenty-eight provinces and five congregations, and possessed nearly 400 convents or secondary establishments.

In the revival movement France held a foremost place, owing to the reputation and convincing power of the orator, Jean-Baptiste Henri Lacordaire (1802-1861). 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 nineteenth 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.

The province of France (Paris) has produced a large number of preachers, several of whom became renowned. The conferences of Notre-Dame-de-Paris were inaugurated by Père Lacordaire. The Dominicans of the province of France furnished most of the orators: Lacordaire (1835-1836, 1843-1851), Jacques Monsabré (1869-1870, 1872-1890), Joseph Ollivier (1871, 1897), Thomas Etourneau (1898-1902). Since 1903 the pulpit of Notre Dame has again been occupied by a Dominican. Père Henri Didon (d. 1900) was one of the most esteemed orators of his time. The province of France displays greater intellectual and scientific activity than ever, the chief centre being the house of studies presently situated at Kain, near Tournai, Belgium, where are published 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 ["French Biblical and Archæological School of Jerusalem"] founded in 1890 by Père Marie-Joseph Lagrange O.P. (1855-1938), one of the leading international centres for Biblical research of all kinds. It is at the École Biblique that the famed Jerusalem Bible (both editions) was prepared.

Likewise Yves Cardinal Congar, O.P., one of the emblematic theologians of the Twentieth Century, was a product of the French province of the Order of Preachers.

The province of the Philippines, the most populous in the order, is recruited from Spain, where it has several preparatory houses. In the Philippines it has charge of the University of Sto. Tomas, recognized by the government of the United States, two colleges including the Colegio de San Juan de Letran, and six establishments; in China it administers the missions of North and South Fo-Kien, in the Japanese Empire, those of Formosa (now Taiwan) and Shikoku, besides establishments at New Orleans, at Caracas, and at Rome. The province of Spain has seventeen establishments in the Peninsula and the Canaries, as well as the missions of Urubamba, Peru. Since 1910 it has published at Madrid an important review, La Ciencia Tomista. The province of the Netherlands has a score of establishments, and the missions of Curaçao and Puerto Rico. Other provinces also have their missions. That of Piedmont has establishments at Constantinople and Smyrna; that of Toulouse, in Brazil; that of Lyon, in Cuba, that of Ireland, in Australia and Trinidad and Tobago; that of Belgium, in the Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of the Congo), and so on.

Dominican in habit

Doctrinal development has had an important place in the restoration of the Preachers. Several institutions besides those already mentioned have played important parts. Such is the Biblical school at Jerusalem, open to the religious of the Order and to secular clerics, and which publishes the Revue Biblique. The faculty of theology of the University of Freiburg, confided to the care of the Dominicans in 1890, is flourishing and has about 250 students. The Collegium Angelicum, established at Rome (1911) by Hyacinth Cormier (master general from 1902), is open to regulars and seculars for the study of the sacred sciences. To the reviews mentioned above must be added the Revue Thomiste, founded by Père Thomas Coconnier (d. 1908), and the Analecta Ordinis Prædicatorum (1893). Among the 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).

In 1910 the order had twenty archbishops or bishops, one of whom, Andreas Frühwirth, formerly master general (1892-1902), was Apostolic nuncio at Munich (Sanvito, Catalogus omnium provinciarum sacri ordinis praedicatorum, Rome, 1910; Analecta O. P., Rome, 1893--; L'Année Dominicaine, Paris, 1859-- ). In the last two publications will be found historical and bibliographical information concerning the history of the Preachers during the contemporary period.


1. Laudare, Benedicere, Praedicare

To praise, to bless and to preach

(from the Dominican Missal, Preface of the Blessed Virgin Mary)

2. Veritas


3. Contemplare et Contemplata Aliis Tradere

To study and to hand on the fruits of study (or, to contemplate and to hand on the fruits of contemplation)

List of Dominicans

See also: Category:Dominicans

Important Dominicans include:

Four Dominican cardinals have reached the Papacy: Innocent V, Benedict XI, Pius V and Benedict XIII.

Currently, in the College of Cardinals there are two Dominican cardinals: Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna and Georges Marie Martin Cardinal Cottier.

Dominican Sisters

As well as the friars, Dominican sisters , also known as the Order of Preachers, live their lives supported by four common values, often referred to as the Four Pillars of Dominican Life, they are: community life, common prayer, study and service. St. Dominic called this fourfold pattern of life the "holy preaching." Henri Matisse was so moved by the care that he received from the Dominican Sisters that he collaborated in the design and interior decoration of their Chapelle du Saint-Marie du Rosaire in Vence, France.

Scholarly interpretation

Some scholars, including Lester K. Little, in his book on religious poverty in the Middle Ages, have argued that the Dominicans and other mendicant orders were an adaptation to the rise of the profit economy in medieval Europe.

External links

Dominican Founded Schools