Saint Dominic is known for his life of prayer, heroic virtue, sanctity, and penance. Tireless were his efforts to preach the saving gospel, assist the poor, and teach the belief of the Church. His mission was that of Christ: the salvation of all.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
8 August 2019
Saint Dominic was born (c. 1170) at Calaroga, in Old Castile, into Spanish nobility. Influenced by the piety and holiness of his parents, Felix Guzman and Joanna of Aza, Dominic displayed a high degree of sanctity even at a young age. During his studies at the University of Palencia, he was respected for his academic excellence, integrity, virtue, and holiness of character. He is also known for his tenderness toward the poor. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that he once sold his books to assist the starving of Palencia, and, on two occasions, tried to sell himself into slavery in order to buy captives held by the Moors their freedom.
He is known for his life of prayer, heroic virtue, sanctity, and penance. Tireless were his efforts to preach the saving gospel, assist the poor, and teach the belief of the Church. St. Dominic’s mission was that of Christ: the salvation of all. In his life, he sought to perfectly image the Savior, who is truth and life itself—the goal of every true disciple of Christ.
Saint Dominic is the founder of the Order of Preachers, known as the Dominican Order, of which he first conceived in an effort to combat the Albigensian heresy that flourished in southern France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The heretics were called also Catharists (from katharos, “pure”).
The Albigensian Heresy
The Albigensian heresy is related in some ways to Gnosticism in that it adhered to a dualism in which reality consists of the co-existence of two mutually opposing principles, good and evil. The good principle is thought to be the creator of the spiritual; whereas the evil principle is thought to be the creator of matter. Hence, everything that is material is viewed as evil because its source is evil. This includes all visible things in the physical universe and natural events, like thunderstorms or hurricanes. The evil creator is attributed with the creation of the human body and the originator of sin; therefore, the body is itself evil and sinful. The Albigensians denied the resurrection of the body. They believed that, although he was sent by God, Jesus was a creature. According to their heresy, Jesus only appeared to have been born of the Virgin and have a human body. His death on the cross was only apparent, like a theatrical act, and his redemptive action was merely instructive as opposed to operative, and thus was not the real cause of redemption for humankind.
The human soul was viewed as good, since the Albigensians held that it was created by the good principle. However, the soul was thought to be trapped in an evil, material body. Echoing Platonic thought, the liberation of the soul from the body was viewed as the true end of the human person. In this light, suicide was encouraged as a method of freeing the soul, which often took the form of deliberate starvation.
Conjugal union in marriage was deemed evil and unlawful since it could lead to procreation, which would result in further soul entrapment. Married people were encouraged to abandon their spouses and live a single, ascetic life. Since animals were composed of matter, they were viewed as evil. Therefore, procreation in the animal kingdom was abhorred by the Albigenses. Consequently, they ate only fish and practiced rigorous, long-term fasts.
The Albigensian heresy is, of course, incompatible with God’s divine revelation on every level. In the first place, Christians reject the dualistic notion of good and evil as two, universal, and opposing creator-principles. Catholics and other Christians believe that there is only one Creator, God, who is himself perfectly and absolutely good. Consequently, creation is itself good. Although man can choose to use created things in disordered ways and commit moral evil, the physical universe, the human body, etc., are good in that they flow from the hand of the perfectly good, all wise and loving God.
The greatest danger the Albigensian heresy posed was its denial of the full divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ, which ultimately placed the entire doctrine of salvation in Christ at risk. If, as they thought, Christ did not have a real human body, then he could not elevate humankind to the heavenly realm. If he did not possess an individual and complete human nature, then he could not save the humanity he did not assume. If he only appeared to have died in the flesh, then his death on the cross was not a saving death but rather a fiction. Further, if Jesus was merely a creature, then in no way could he redeem anyone at all, let alone humankind collectively.
The Life of Saint Dominic
The life of St. Dominic was characterized by the constant pursuit of prayer, the love of truth and its promulgation, penance in atonement for sin, heroic virtue, and holiness. The Catholic Encyclopedia sums it up this way:
The life of St. Dominic was one of tireless effort in the service of God. While he journeyed from place to place he prayed and preached almost uninterruptedly. His penances were of such a nature as to cause the brethren, who accidentally discovered them, to fear the effect upon his life. While his charity was boundless he never permitted it to interfere with the stern sense of duty that guided every action of his life. If he abominated heresy and laboured untiringly for its extirpation it was because he loved truth and loved the souls of those among whom he laboured. He never failed to distinguish between sin and the sinner. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, if this athlete of Christ, who had conquered himself before attempting the reformation of others, was more than once chosen to show forth the power of God.
Saint Dominic, pray for us!
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel.