In the thirteenth century the people's faith was deep. The Church still dominated the society which she had overcome. However the European world-view, which had been slowly worked upon by time and by Christianity, was approaching the crises of adolescence. The vision of Pope Innocent III has seen from his bed --a Church that was tottering -- Saint Dominic revealed to the whole world. When everyone believed that the Church was queen and mistress, Dominic declared that nothing less than a resurgence of the primitive apostolic preaching was required to save her. Disciples responded to Saint Dominic as they had to Peter the Hermit: many became preachers just as many had become crusaders.
All the universities of Europe contributed masters and students. Jordan of Saxony, the second Master of the Order, gave the habit to more than a thousand friars, whom he had attracted to this new kind of life. In five years, Saint Dominic who, before the bull of Honorius had only sixteen collaborators --eight Frenchmen, seven Spaniards and one Englishman-- founded sixty convents filled with exceptional men and many who were quite young.
Like their Master all of them wanted to be poor at a time when the Church was rich, poor even to the extent of being beggars. All of them, like their Father, at a time when the Church was powerful, wanted to exercise only one kind of authority: the voluntary surrender of human minds to virtue. They did not say as the heretics did: "The Church must be despoiled!" But rather they despoiled the Church in themselves and by themselves. Thus they could show the people a pure Church as it was at the beginning.
They loved God, they loved God truly, they loved God above all else. They loved their neighbor as themselves and more than themselves. They had received in their hearts that wound which has made all the saints eloquent. In addition to this asset of a passionate soul, without which no orator has ever existed, the Friars Preachers showed considerable shrewdness in grasping the kind of preaching which was suited to their time.
I shall mention some of the name which oblivion will never destroy: in the thirteenth century Saint Hyacinth, apostle of the north, whose progress could be followed by means of the convents he planted as he went; Saint Peter of Verona who was felled by the assassins' sword after a long apostolic career and with the blood that flowed from his wounds wrote the first words of the Apostles' Creed on the ground, "I believe in God." In the fourteenth century Henry Suso, that lovable young man from Swabia, preached with such success that enemies set a price on his head. During the same period, John Tauler was acclaimed in Cologne and throughout all of Germany.
I also mention Saint Vincent Ferrer who in the fifteenth century evangelized Spain, France, Italy, Germany, England, Scotland, and Ireland. Girolamo Savonarola was burned alive in the midst of an ungrateful people, but to no effect, since his virtue and his glory rose higher than the flames at the stake. Pope Paul III declared that he would regard as suspect of heresy anyone who dared to accuse Savonarola of heresy.
I also mention Saint Thomas Aquinas who quickly became the most distinguished doctor of the Catholic Church; Fra Angelico, of whom Michelangelo said, no one could paint such figures unless he had first seen them in heaven; Bartolome de las Casas, and others.
Let us leave these revered names in the safe-keeping of those who know them and call upon them, and let us end our brief sketch of this huge Order with the words in which the fourteenth century one of the greatest of Christian poets, the celebrated bard of the Divine Comedy, sang its praises:
"He was called Dominic, and I speak of him as the gardener chosen by Christ to help him in his garden. By his teaching as well as by his willing apostolic zeal Dominic rushed in to the garden as if he were a torrent of water falling from the heavens. From him there flowed many small streams which watered this catholic garden."
All you Dominican Saints, whether known and unknown to us, pray for us!