The continuing relevance of St. Dominic Guzman, the hound of the Lord


San Domingos Church is one of the favorite places in Macau for tourists and, in particular, for Christians and believers. The old main altar of the church is graced by a royal statue of Our Lady of the Rosary, accompanied on her right side by St. Dominic of Guzman and on her left by St. Catherine of Siena, co-patron of Macau. (The original church was established by the first three Spanish Dominican missionaries who arrived in Macau about September 1, 1587). On August 8 of every year, the Church invites the Christian family, in particular the Dominican Family, to remember St. Dominic. But who is St. Dominic?

St. Dominic was born in the noble town of Caleruega, Burgos, in Castile (Spain) around the year 1170. His parents, Felix de Guzman and Juana de Aza, were just, pious and compassionate. He had two brothers: Antonio, who became a priest, and Mannes, who joined St. Dominic in the creation of the Dominican order. At six, St. Dominic began his instructions under his uncle who was a priest. When he was about fourteen years of age, Dominic was sent to the famous school of Palencia, which was then attached to the Palencia Cathedral where he pursued his studies: liberal arts, including philosophy and arts (6 years) and especially theology (4 years) that was centered on Sacred Scriptures, which St. Dominic loved. During his theological studies, St. Dominic was called by God to become a priest.

Through his student years, St. Dominic had three loves: study, prayer and thepoor. These three loves would ground his future apostolic life and evangelical mission. When he was a student of theology, St. Dominic showed a special love for the poor. He sold his books in a time of famine, saying, “I will not study on dead skins while men are dying of hunger.” With a group of students, he founded an institution – a sort of charity house (an NGO) – to take care of the poor, the hungry, and the sick.

Thereafter, one may distinguish three main stages in the life of St. Dominic. First stage: St. Dominic, the contemplative canon regular (11961204). By 1196, we see Dominic at Osma Cathedral, where he became a canon regular. The group of canon regulars (cabildo) was attuned to “the winds of the movement of evangelical and apostolic renewal” (Vito-Tomás Gómez García). Here, St. Dominic made his novitiate and his “profession” of poverty, chastity, prayer, charity, study and penance; and was ordained priest. A witness says that St. Dominic “showed himself kind with all – rich, poor, Jews, gentiles, who abounded then in Spain.” The first office of St. Dominic was sacristan and the second, around 1201, sub-prior. The prior was Diego de Acebes, who later became bishop and chose St. Dominic to accompany him in two diplomatic missions to Denmark in 1203 and 1205. They passed by the southern part of France, stopping in Toulouse where St. Dominic converted a popular heretic.

Second stage: St. Dominic, the active apostle of Christ (12041215). Throughout the Languedoc region in Southern France, Dominic, with the group of preachers founded by Bishop Diego Acebes (1207), preached the Word of God, the true doctrine against the heresies of the Cathars or the Albigenses. When Bishop Acebes died in the odor of sanctity (December 30, 1207), the group dispersed. St. Dominic, however, continued preaching and some others joined him. One year earlier (1206), St. Dominic had helped a group of converted women and provided them with a place to live together as nuns so that they could pray and do penance for his preaching project. On November 22, 1206, St. Dominic founded the Monastery of Notre-Dame-de-Prouille, which housed the community of nuns.

Third stage: St. Dominic, the contemplative-active founder of the Order of Preachers (12151221). Bishop Fulk of Toulouse supported St. Dominic’s project and in 1215, the good bishop confirmed St. Dominic and his companions as “diocesan preachers leading the apostolic way of life.” Later on, Dominic’s community decided to choose the Rule of Saint Augustine, which was followed by canon regulars. Living as a community consecrated to God, St. Dominic and his band of itinerant preachers prayed, studied and proclaimed the Word throughout Europe. He gave primary importance to preaching, to the original preaching of the apostolic community, grounded on a simple lifestyle.

On December 22, 1216, Pope Honorius III confirmed Dominic’s community as the First Regular Order: “a canonical community living according to the rule of St. Augustine.” At that time, they were 17 friars: 8 French, 8 Spanish and 1 English. Later, around 1220, he founded the Third Order of Penance, whose members were lay men and women. The order of nuns, although established first, came to be known as the Second Order. (Today, there is no distinction between  the first, second and third orders. They are but one Dominican familycomposed of friars, nuns, sisters, and lay and priestly fraternities).

In his religious project, St. Dominic gave radical significance to prayer, poverty, common life, and study. These essential elements were ordered to the goal of preaching of the Word – the Truth (Veritas) – for the salvation of souls.  With his companions, St. Dominic wanted to go back to the roots of faith, to the Gospel, and to follow and imitate Christ as closely as possible. He was “vir evangelicus et apostolicus”: an apostolic man, who followed closely the life of the Apostles of Christ and committed himself and his companions to proclaim the Gospel, evangelium. St. Thomas Aquinas captured perfectly the essence of the Order of Preachers in the well-known Dominican motto: contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere – to contemplate and to give to others what was contemplated.

In 1217, St. Dominic was in Rome. One night he had a vision: the Apostles Peter and Paul appeared to him. Peter gave him a walking stick (symbol of authority and itinerancy), and Paul, his Epistles. Both told Dominic: “Go and preach, because this is the ministry to which you have been called.” St. Dominic was, above all, a preacher: “never asking for reward, he just talks about the Lord.”

The witnesses for his canonization tell us that St. Dominic was “Patient, kind, compassionate, sober, loving, humble and chaste, and he was always a virgin”; “I never knew anyone to compare with him in holiness of life”; “He rarely spoke except with God or about God in prayer and he encouraged the brethren to do likewise.” Dominic said that the night is for God, and the day for the neighbor, because God has made the night for thanksgiving and the day for mercy. Praying during the night, Dominic often wept for sinners. He was always humble and joyful. God the Father told St. Catherine: “The religion of your Father Dominic is joyful and lightsome.”

            St. Dominic was also a great devotee of Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother. In fact, he placed his apostolate under her constant protection. It is said that once St. Dominic was praying while walking through the woods of Toulouse, France. It appeared to him that the preaching ministry was hard and the results, meager. Tradition has it that our Lady appeared to him and told him to try the Angel’s salutation to her, the Hail Mary: “When God willed to renew the face of the earth, He began by sending down the fertilizing dew of the Angelic Salutation.” Dominic contributed much to the foundation of and devotion to the Rosary of Mary.

The brothers in Bologna were sorrowful when St. Dominic was about to die (August 6, 1221).  St. Dominic said to them: “I shall be more useful to you and more fruitful after my death than I was in my life.”

Miguel de Unamuno says that Christ did not write any book or article but gave us the best book: palabras vivas (living words). St. Dominic wrote no book really, but founded a living word: the Dominicans.

[Image: Saint Dominic de Guzmán, painted circa 1685 by Claudio Coello (1642–1693). Location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain]