1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dominicans

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DOMINICANS, otherwise called Friars Preachers, and in England Black Friars, from the black mantle worn over a white habit, an order of friars founded by St Dominic (q.v.). Their first house was in Toulouse, where the bishop established them at the church of St Romain, 1215. Dominic at once went to Rome to obtain permission to found an order of preachers whose sphere of activity should be the whole world, but Innocent III. said they must adopt one of the existing rules. Dominic returned to Toulouse and it was resolved to take the Rule of St Augustine, Dominic himself having been an Augustinian canon at Osma (see Augustinian Canons). Dominic went again to Rome, and during the year 1216 he obtained from Honorius III. a series of confirmations of the community at Toulouse as a congregation of Canons Regular of St Augustine with a special mission to preach. Early in 1218 an encyclical bull was issued to the bishops of the whole Catholic world recommending to them the “Order of Friars Preachers,” followed in 1221 by another ordering them to give to the friars faculties to preach and hear confessions in their dioceses. Already in 1217 Dominic had scattered the little band of seventeen over the world—to Paris, into Spain, and one he took with himself to Rome. Within a few months there were forty friars in Rome, at Santa Sabina on the Aventine, and thirty in Paris; and before Dominic’s death in 1221 friaries had been established at Lyons, Limoges, Reims, Metz, Poitiers and Orleans; at Bologna, Milan, Florence, Verona, Piacenza and Venice; at Madrid, Palencia, Barcelona and Seville; at Friesach in Carinthia; at Cracow and Prague; and friars were on their way to Hungary and England.

The order took definite shape at the two general chapters held at Bologna in 1220 and 1221. At first it had been but a congregation of canons regular and had worn the canons’ black cassock with white linen rochet. But now a white woollen habit with a black cloak or mantle was assumed. The Rule of St Augustine was supplemented by a body of regulations, adopted mostly from those of the Premonstratensian canons. At the head of the order was the master-general, elected for life until recent times, when the term of office was limited to six and then to twelve years; he enjoys supreme power over the entire order, both houses and individuals, all of whom are directly subject to him. He dwells in Rome and is assisted by a council. The order is divided into provinces and over each is a provincial, elected for four years. Each friary has its prior, elected by the community every four years. The friars belong not to the house or province in which they make their profession, but to the order; and it rests with the master-general to assign to each his place of residence. The manner of life was very austere—midnight office, perpetual abstinence from meat, frequent disciplines, prolonged fasts and silence. At St Dominic’s suggestion, and under his strong pressure, but not without considerable opposition, the general chapter determined that the poverty practised in the order should be not merely individual, as in the monastic orders, but corporate, as among the Franciscans; so that the order should have no possessions, except the monastic buildings and churches, no property, no fixed income, but should live on charity and by begging. Thus, doubtless in imitation of the Franciscans, the Dominicans became a mendicant order.

The extraordinarily rapid propagation of the institute suffered no diminution through the founder’s death; this was mainly due to the fact that his four immediate successors in the generalate were men of conspicuous ability and high character. In a few years the Dominicans penetrated into Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Prussia and Poland, preaching and missionizing in the still pagan districts of these countries; and soon they made their way to Greece and Palestine and thence to central Asia. St Hyacinth, a Pole received by St Dominic, during missionary journeys extending over thirty-five years travelled over the north and east of Europe and into Tatary, Tibet and northern China. In 1252 the pope addressed a letter to the Dominicans who were preaching “among the Saracens, Greeks, Bulgarians, Kumans, Syrians, Goths, Jacobites, Armenians, Jews, Tatars, Hungarians.” From the 14th century until the middle of the 17th the Dominicans had numerous missions in Persia, India and China, and in the northern parts of Africa. They followed the Spanish and Portuguese explorers and conquerors both to the East and to the West, converting, protecting and civilizing the aborigines. On these missionary enterprises great numbers of Dominicans laid down their life for the Gospel.

Another conspicuous field of work of the Dominicans lay in the universities. It had been St Dominic’s policy to aim at founding houses first of all in the great university towns—at Paris, Bologna, Palencia, Oxford. This policy was adhered to, and the Dominicans soon became a power in the universities, occupying chairs in those just named and in Padua, Cologne, Vienna, Prague and Salamanca. The scholastic doctors Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas were the leaders in this side of Dominican activity, and the order’s influence on the course of medieval theological development was exercised mainly by these doctors and by the Dominican school of theology, which to this day has maintained the principles and methods elaborated by St Thomas.

The Dominican name is in an especial way associated with the Inquisition, the office of Inquisitor in all countries, including Spain, having usually been held by Dominicans. The vicissitudes of the order have been much like those of other orders—periods of relaxation being followed by periods of revival and reform; but there were not any reforms of the same historical importance as in most other orders, the policy having been to keep all such movements strictly within the organization of the order. In 1425 Martin V. relaxed for some houses the law of corporate poverty, allowing them to hold property, and to have fixed sources of income; and fifty years later Sixtus IV. extended this mitigation to the entire order, which thereby ceased to be mendicant. This change caused no troubles, as among the Franciscans, for it was felt that it did not touch St Dominic’s fundamental idea.

The Friars Preachers came to England and were established at Oxford in 1221, and by the end of the century fifty friaries were founded all over England, usually in the towns, and several in Ireland and Scotland. In London they were first on the site of Lincoln’s Inn, but in 1275 they migrated to that now occupied by Printing-house Square, and their name survives in Blackfriars Bridge. The only nunnery was at Dartford. At the Dissolution there were fifty-seven friaries (see lists in F. A. Gasquet’s English Monastic Life, Catholic Dictionary and C. F. Palmer’s Life of Cardinal Howard, where historical notes are added). In Mary’s reign some of the scattered friars were brought together and established in Smithfield, and the remnant of the nuns were restored to Dartford. In 1559 these houses were suppressed and the nuns and two friars expatriated, and for a hundred years there was no English Dominican community. But throughout the reigns of Elizabeth and the early Stuarts there were usually some Dominicans, either Englishmen professed in foreign monasteries or foreigners, labouring on the English mission or attached to the foreign embassies. In 1658 Friar Thomas Howard (afterwards Cardinal) succeeded in establishing at Bornhem near Antwerp a house for the English friars. From that time there has always been an organized body of English Dominicans, again and again reduced almost to extinction, but ever surviving; it now has half a dozen thriving friaries. The Irish province also survived the days of persecution and possesses a dozen friaries. In 1840 Lacordaire restored the French province. In 1900 there were 4350 Dominicans, including lay brothers, and 300 friaries, scattered all over the world. Missionary work still holds a prominent place in Dominican life; there are missions in Annam, Tongking and China, and in Mesopotamia, Mosul and Kurdistan. They have also a remarkable school for Biblical studies and research at Jerusalem, and the theological faculty in the Roman Catholic university at Fribourg in Switzerland is in their hands. There have been four Dominican popes: Innocent V. († 1276), Benedict XI. († 1304), Pius V. († 1572), Benedict XIII. († 1730).

The friars form the “First Order”; the nuns, or Dominicanesses, the “Second Order.” The latter may claim to have chronological precedence over the friars, for the first nunnery was established by St Dominic in 1206 at Prouille in the diocese of Toulouse, as a refuge for women converted from the Albigensian heresy. The second convent was at San Sisto in Rome, also founded by Dominic himself. From that time the institute spread widely. The rule resembled that of the friars, except that the nuns were to be strictly enclosed and purely contemplative; in course of time, however, they undertook educational work. In 1909 there were nearly 100 nunneries of the Second Order, with some 1500 nuns. They have schools and orphanages in South Africa, especially in the Transvaal.

A considerable number of other convents for women follow the Rule of the “Third Order.” This rule was not written until the 15th century, and it is controverted whether, and in what sense, it can be held that the “Third Order” really goes back to St Dominic, or whether it grew up in imitation of the Franciscan Tertiaries. Besides the conventual Tertiaries, there are confraternities of lay men and women who strive to carry out this rule while living their family life in the world (see Tertiaries). St Catharine of Siena was a Dominican Tertiary.

See the authorities cited in the article Dominic, Saint; also Helyot, Hist. des ordres religieux (1714), iii. cc. 24-29, and Max Heimbucher, Orden u. Kongregationen (1896), §§ 86-91; and C. F. Palmer, Life of Cardinal Howard (1867), which gives a special account of the English Dominican province.

(E. C. B.)