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The Early Years

Dominic’s Order was a new kind of religious Order. For the first time a religious Order incorporated, as an integral part of its religious life, a ministry sharing in the bishop’s fundamental duty to preach the word of God. This mission was conferred by the Apostolic See.

The Order of Preachers seeks to place at the service of the bishops a body of educated and trained preachers prepared to assist them in the laborious duty of preaching. The fourth Lateran Council called on bishops to appoint just such co-operators with themselves to remedy the long-standing need of the Church for regular and competent preaching, especially in the towns and cities. While the preaching ministry was, in time, opened to other Orders, it has remained the vocation of the Order of Preachers to be concerned that the preaching needs of the Church be met.

Shortly before or after the bull of 21st January 1217, which granted this mission, Dominic had a vision of the apostles Peter and Paul while he was praying in the old basilica of St. Peter. Peter handed him a preacher’s staff and while Paul handed him the book of the Gospels, saying to him, “Go and preach; for this you have been sent.” Then he saw the brothers of the new Order going two by two through the world preaching.

The bull of 21st January, the vision of Peter and Paul, and perhaps the discouraging conditions in southern France made Dominic determined to scatter the brothers to the four winds. Both the brothers and his friends tried to dissuade him. “It seemed to their worldly prudence,” wrote Jordan of Saxony, “that he was tearing down rather than raising up the building that he had started.” Dominic answered “Seed when scattered fructifies, when hoarded, rots.” He urged the brothers to go without fear, promising that he would pray for them and they would succeed.

On 15th August 1217, the feast of Our Lady’s Assumption, he sent seven brothers to the university city of Paris “to study, preach, and found a priory,” and four to Spain. Three stayed in Toulouse and two at Prouilhe to help the sisters. Dominic himself remained in the area until 13th December, when he left for Rome. While passing through Milan and Bologna, he prepared for future foundations.