The Rev. Canon Laura Howell
Trinity Church, Bethlehem

The year was 1203, and in the south of France, the Albigensians (Cathars) were restoring the old Gnostic heresy of Manichaeism.  They believed that there were two gods–a good one and an evil one–and that the evil god had created the physical universe.  The goal of this sect’s religion was to free the human spirit–created by the good god–from captivity in the evil flesh.    

A young priest from Spain visited the area with his bishop and in preaching to some of the heretics, restored them to the traditional life of the church.  The priest was Dominic, who felt he had discovered the vocation God was calling him to–preaching the Gospel and fighting evil, not through the force of law, but through rational persuasion.

Dominic was born in 1170 in Castile, Spain.  Following ordination to the priesthood, he discovered a call to the contemplative life and a strong sense that the life of a comfortably well-off cleric was not what God required of him.  Legend has it that in 1191, he sold everything to provide for people starving during a famine. He recognized that sumptuous vestments, fine horses and troops of retainers were a barrier to preaching the Gospel to people who were poor and struggling.  So the fledgling Order that he founded was grounded in the concept of holy poverty.

Dominic and his companions continued to preach to the Albigensians, and in 1216, the new Order of Preachers was given official status by the Pope.  Recognizing the need for the best education for members of his new Order, Dominic organized houses in two large university cities: Paris and Bologna.  He died in Bologna in 1221.

Two of the best known Dominican saints are St. Albert the Great (Albertus Magnus 1200-1280) and St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Albert’s student, both closely associated with higher education.  The image of St. Dominic above is taken from a stole buried with St. Albert the Great. 

We owe an enormous amount to the inspiration of St. Dominic.  Legend has it that he saw a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary, giving him the rosary to pray for the salvation of the world.  We have his insistence that the church must be among and part of the people it is called to serve.  And we have the nurturing of thoughtful scholarship, balanced with contemplative life, placed at the service of God.   

Almighty God, whose servant Dominic grew in knowledge of your truth and formed an order of preachers to proclaim the good news of Christ: Give to all your people a hunger for your Word and an urgent longing to share the Gospel, that the whole world may come to know you as you are revealed in your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.