Saturday, January 06, 2007

Dante: St Dominic

Canto 12 of the Paradiso describes Dante`s journey through the Heaven of the Sun.

Prior to these lines, Dante (a Tertiary Franciscan) has listened to St Thomas Aquinas (a Dominican) praising St Francis of Assisi.

Now, in these lines, St Bonaventure (a Franciscan) is praising St Dominic, the founder of the Dominican order.

St Dominic is presented, together with St Francis as one of the two champions of the Church. As narrated by St Bonaventure, St Dominic is the epitome of loving self surrender to combat for the Faith. Zealous and learned, he fought heresy which is to be regarded as the enemy of Truth.

Lines 46 to 111 describe St Dominic:

In that part of the West where gentle Zephyr
rises to open those new leaves in which
Europe appears reclothed, not far from where, 48

Behind the waves that beat upon the coast,
the sun, grown weary from its lengthy course,
at times conceals itself from all men's eyes 51

There, Calaroga, blessed by fortune, sits
under the aegis of the mighty shield
on which the lion loses and prevails. 54

Within its walls was born the loving vassal
of Christian faith, the holy athlete, one
kind to his own and harsh to enemies; 57

No sooner was his mind created than
it was so full of living force that it,
still in his mother's womb, made her prophetic. 60

Then, at the sacred font, where Faith and he
brought mutual salvation as their dowry,
the rites of their espousal were complete. 63

The lady who had given the assent
for him saw, in a dream, astonishing
fruit that would spring from him and from his heirs. 66

And that his name might echo what he was,
a spirit moved from here to have him called
by the possessive of the one by whom 69

He was possessed completely. Dominic
became his name; I speak of him as one
whom Christ chose as the worker in His garden. 72

He seemed the fitting messenger and servant
of Christ: the very first love that he showed
was for the first injunction Christ had given. 75

His nurse would often find him on the ground,
alert and silent, in a way that said
'It is for this that I have come.' Truly, 78

His father was Felice and his mother
Giovanna if her name, interpreted,
is in accord with what has been asserted. 81

Not for the world, for which men now travail
along Taddeo's way or Ostian's,
but through his love of the true manna, he 84

Became, in a brief time, so great a teacher
that he began to oversee the vineyard
that withers when neglected by its keeper. 87

And from the seat that once was kinder to
the righteous poor (and now has gone astray,
not in itself, but in its occupant), 90

He did not ask to offer two or three
for six, nor for a vacant benefice,
nor decimus, quae sunt pauperum Dei- 93

But pleaded for the right to fight against
the erring world, to serve the seed from which
there grew the four-and-twenty plants that ring you. 96

Then he, with both his learning and his zeal,
and with his apostolic office, like
a torrent hurtled from a mountain source, 99

Coursed, and his impetus, with greatest force,
struck where the thickets of the heretics
offered the most resistance. And from him 102

There sprang the streams with which the Catholic
garden has found abundant watering,
so that its saplings have more life, more green. 105

If such was one wheel of the chariot
in which the Holy Church, in her defence,
taking the field, defeated enemies 108

Within, then you must see the excellence
of him-the other wheel-whom Thomas praised
so graciously before I made my entry.

Dante. Paradiso XII, 46-111


Lines 46-54:
This refers to Spain where the West Wind (Zephyr) rises. The coastline is the Bay of Biscay. St Domiinic was born in the city of Calahorra in Old Castile. The coat of arms of the city included two castles and two lions: one castle was above one lion; the other castle was below the other lion.

Lines 58-69
The legend is that St Dominic`s mother whilst pregnant had a vision that she would give birth to a dog with a burning torch in his mouth. The Dominicans are also called "the dogs of the Lord" (Domini canes)

Prior to his baptism, the godmother of St Dominic had a dream of him as a bright star in his brow which illuminated the world.

At Baptism, he was given the name "Dominic" which means "of the Lord".

Line 75
It is not clear which counsel is intended. It is generally believed to be poverty. But others think that it refers to the First Beatitude ("Blessed are the poor in Spirit")

Lines 81-87
Platonic philosophy provided that the inherent quality of things was in the name of the thing. Accordingly, Dominic`s father was called "Felix" (Latin for "happy" or blessed) and his mother was called "Giovanna" (Hebrew for "abounding in the grace of Jehovah")

Dominic dedicated himself to a life of true knowledge and wisdom for their own sake and not out of personal ambition. Dominic is contrasted with other theologians who pore over the works of Henry of Susa (Cardinal of Ostia in 1261) (renowned for a formal commentray on the Decretals, the Papal decrees forming part of the Canon Law) and Aldreotti (renowned for medical treatises based on Hippocrates and Galen). By concentrating on such works as the Decretalists and medical works, Dante is saying that theologians allow error to take hold.

Lines 88-90
Dante makes the important distinction between the Papacy which is guiltless and the holder of the office (in this case, Boniface VIII, whom Dante had consigned to Hell).

Lines 91-96
Unlike other clerics, Dominic did not apply for for dispensations to be allowed to reduce the amounts of income due to the poor. Rather, he only applied for permission to fight error and for Truth.

Line 102
Refers to Provence where the Albigensian heresy was prevalent. A crusade against them was launched in 1209.

Lines 109-117
Reference is made to the excellence to St Francis. However the degenerate state of the Franciscans is censured.


Further References:

Letter of Pope John Paul II to the Master General of the Order of Preachers From the Vatican, 28 June 2001

Fausto Appetente Die: On St Dominic Encyclical of Pope Benedict XV promulgated on June 29, 1921

Wikipedia: On St Dominic

Catholic Encyclopaedia: On St Dominic

Lives of the Brethern of the Order of Preachers 1206-1259 Translated by Placid Conway O.P.
Edited with Notes and Introduction by Bede Jarrett O.P.

On the 750th Anniversary of the Canonization of St. Dominic Letter from the Master of the Order. September 1984
Fr. Damian Byrne, OP

The Dominicans: A Short History By William A. Hinnebusch, O.P., D.Ph. (Oxon.)

The Contemplative Dimension of Dominican Spirituality