Saint Dominic, a Model Saint in the Fight for Christian Truth
It is true that all the saints we remember throughout the year, as well as those whose names have been forgotten, were holy people who lived – and often died – for the Catholic faith and worked to strengthen God’s Church on earth. However, the lives of some saints are especially dear to our hearts, and the effects of their actions on the world and our Church today seem particularly apparent. St. Dominic De Guzman is one of these saints, whose words and actions eight centuries ago remain in our conscious mind today. While the heresies Dominic had to combat were different to those we face today, it has never been more important to live and spread the true Gospel of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
A Brief Biography
St. Dominic was born around 1170, at Calaroga in Old Castile (a historic region of Spain) to a family of Spanish nobility. He was well educated and began studying at the University at Palencia in 1184. For ten years he studied there, a picture of seriousness and devotion amidst the frivolities of a university city. For this reason, Dominic stood out among his peers and great things were expected of him. He was concerned with the well-being of others over his own needs, especially the poor, even as a youth. He once sold his own books – a pricey commodity in those days before the printing press – to provide for the starving poor and on two occasions attempted to sell himself into slavery to obtain money for the liberation of captives of the Moors. Happily, this was not accomplished, because God had other work for Dominic to do.
He became active in preaching against a heresy that was spreading through Europe, the Albigensian heresy which taught, among other things, that the body is evil and suicide is virtuous. The motivation behind Dominic’s foundation of a new religious order was to establish an order that would combat this – and any other – heresy. In 1206, he and a companion first established a convent to protect women from the heretical Albigensian convents that had been erected in the area. Then in 1215, Dominic established the Order of Preachers (now also called Dominicans, after the name of the founding saint), with the mission to disseminate true doctrine and combat heresy.
The life of St. Dominic is filled with wonderful acts, too much to explore in depth here. Tradition holds that at least 100,000 were converted because of his preaching and miracles, and he was a model of charity throughout his entire life. There is much to learn from this Dominic, who unceasingly preached against heresy, no matter how the world opposed him. To learn more about the life of the great saint than what can be neatly summarized here, read Saint Dominic, a biography of the beloved holy man, or Model Saints To Live By, a beautifully bound hardcover book of eleven stories of popular saints of the Church. This brief biography also drew on information from the Catholic Encyclopedia. If you would like to learn more about the lives of other holy people who followed in Dominic’s footsteps, you may be interested in Dominican Saints, a book of the lives of some of the most influential saints from the Order of Preachers.
St. Dominic and the Holy Rosary
The rosary, a favorite and ancient Catholic devotion, is deeply connected with the Dominican Order. A legend has developed that names St. Dominic as the one the rosary was first revealed too. However, this legend developed long after Dominic’s death. In fact, the early form of the rosary pre-dated him, and was popular and widely-known prior to his birth. Using beads to count prayers is, in fact, a tradition from the early church in the East - a tradition believed to have spread into the West centuries before St. Dominic's birth.
After some time, the Dominican Order began to promote the rosary. This was actually a later development but in part lead to the connection between the rosary and the great saint. It is also true that Dominic integrated reflection on the Gospels and the praying of the Hail Mary in his preaching. It wasn’t under the form of the rosary, but contained the spirit of the rosary that the world would eventually come to know and love. There was also another Dominic, a Carthusian monk, who in the early 1400s first implemented the practice of meditating on the Gospels within the rosary, which we continue today. It may be that due to his name, some confusion arose.
In the 1400s a well-meaning, but ultimately mistaken, Dominican Friar – Alanus De Rupe – preached about St. Dominic’s discovery of the rosary. Although this is not historically accurate, the Order of Preachers did still play an enormously vital role in promotion of the rosary throughout the 15th
centuries and beyond, cementing the Dominican Rosary, as it is often called, into the devotional lives of the faithful. For more on the history of the rosary, pick up The Rosary Handbook