In 1215, St. Dominic traveled to Rome with his bishop, Foulques of Toulouse. Foulques was attending the Fourth Lateran Council. Not an invited participant at the Council, Dominic had his own reasons for making the trip.
Earlier that year, Foulques had established Dominic and his first companions as a new congregation of preachers dedicated to serving the needs of Toulouse. This was a welcome step forward, but only a first step for Dominic. His plans were larger. Dominic knew that soon his preachers would be in demand everywhere. Truth, after all, is a universal need. He therefore accompanied Foulques to Rome to transform his local congregation into a universal order. For this, he needed the recognition of the Pope.
At first, Dominic’s plans were frustrated. He arrived in Rome to learn that, among the many decisions made at Lateran IV, the Council Fathers agreed that no new religious orders were to be created or recognized. At the time, the bishops judged that groups were multiplying faster than the Church could assure their authenticity. They concluded, therefore, that any new association seeking approval from the Church would have to adopt one of the ancient monastic rules already in use. Among these were the Rules of Augustine, Basil, and Benedict.
This new legislation prevented Pope Innocent III from recognizing Dominic and his companions right away. Until they formed themselves under one of the Church’s ancient rules, they would remain a small local congregation in Toulouse. With some disappointment, Dominic returned to Toulouse already certain of the rule he would choose.
After conferring with the brethren, Dominic returned to Rome in 1216 to inform Pope Honorius III (Innocent died just after the Council) that he and his followers had chosen the Rule of Augustine. For many reasons, the choice was a natural one. First of all, Augustine’s was the rule Dominic himself lived under as a canon of the Cathedral of Osma. He knew it by heart, and he understood its potential for forming priests in holiness. Secondly, Augustine’s rule is one of the more flexible in the Church’s tradition. Unlike St. Benedict, Augustine did not use his rule to legislate the particular customs of a monastic community. Instead, he outlined only the general principles that should order a group of monks living together in charity. This flexible rule was more suitable to the new Order of Preachers, whose members would spend a lot of time traveling and preaching outside the priory. Their customs would have to adjust to space and time, all the while being guided by the lasting principles of Christian monasticism. Lastly, Augustine himself could serve as a saintly example for preachers dedicated to the study of truth. As the greatest of the patristic fathers, St. Augustine demonstrated in his own person that contemplative prayer, deep study, and pastoral care can all coalesce into one fruitful priestly life. His rule bears the marks of one who lived the mixed life perfectly.
For 800 years now, the sons of St. Dominic have lived also as the spiritual sons of St. Augustine. How fitting then that from the Dominican tradition the Common Doctor of the Church has arisen, St. Thomas Aquinas, who in many ways put the finishing touches on the doctrines of the Doctor of Grace.
To read the Rule of Augustine, click here.
Lord, renew in your Church the spirit you gave Saint Augustine. Filled with this spirit, may we thirst for you alone as the fountain of wisdom and seek you as the source of eternal love.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.