Home  »  Volume X: October  »  St. Dominic, Confessor

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume X: October. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

October 14

St. Dominic, Confessor

[Surnamed Loricatus.]  THE SEVERITY with which this fervent penitent condemned himself to penance for a fault into which he was betrayed without knowing it, is a reproach to those who, after offending God with full knowledge, and through mere malice, yet expect pardon without considering the conditions which true repentance requires. Dominic aspired from his youth to an ecclesiastical state, and being judged sufficiently qualified, was promoted to priest’s orders; on which occasion his parents had made a simoniacal stipulation with the bishop, to whom they had made a handsome present. The young clergyman coming soon after to the knowledge of this crime, condemned by the divine law, and punished with the severest penalties and censures by the canons of the church, was struck with remorse, and could never be induced to approach the altar, or exercise any sacerdotal function. In the deepest sentiments of compunction he immediately entered upon a course of rigorous penance. In a desert called Montfeltre, amidst the Appenine mountains, a holy man called John led a most austere life in continual penance and contemplation, with whom, in eighteen different cells, lived so many fervent disciples who had put themselves under his direction. Amongst them no one ever drank wine, or ate flesh, milk, butter, or any other white meats. They fasted every day with only bread and water, except on Sundays and Thursdays; had a very short time allowed them for rest in the night, and spent their time in manual labour and assiduous prayer. Their silence was perpetual, except that they were allowed to converse with one another on Sunday evenings, between the hours of vespers and compline. Severe flagellations were used among them as a part of their penance. Dominic, after spending some time in a hermitage at Luceolo, repaired to this superior, and begged with great humility to be admitted into the company of these anchorets, and having obtained his request, by the extraordinary austerity of his penance gave a sensible proof how deep the wound of sorrow and compunction was, with which his heart was pierced. After some years, with the leave of his superior, he changed his abode with a view to his greater spiritual improvement, in 1042, retiring to the hermitage of Fontavellano at the foot of the Appenine in Umbria, which St. Peter Damian then governed according to the rule of St. Bennet, which it changed in the sixteenth century for that of Camaldoli. The holy abbot, who had been long accustomed to meet with examples of heroic penance and all other virtues, was astonished at the fervour of this admirable penitent. Dominic wore next his skin a rough iron coat of mail, from which he was surnamed Loricatus, and which he never put off but to receive the discipline, or voluntary penitential flagellation.  1
  The penitential canons, by which a long course of most severe mortifications was enjoined penitents for grievous sins, began about that time to be easily commuted, through the indulgence of the church, out of condescension to the weakness of penitents, among whom, few had courage to comply with them in such a manner as to reap from them the intended advantage. Being therefore found often pernicious rather than profitable to penitents, they were mitigated by a more frequent concession of indulgences, and by substituting penitential pilgrimages, crusades undertaken upon motives of virtue for the defence of Christendom, or other good works. It then became a practice of many penitents to substitute this kind of voluntary flagellation, counting three thousand stripes whilst the person recited ten psalms, for one year of canonical penance. Thus the whole psalter accompanied with fifteen thousand stripes was esteemed equivalent to one hundred years of canonical penance. Dominic, out of an ardent spirit of mortification, was indefatigable in this penitential practice; which, however, draws its chief advantage from the perfect spirit of compunction from which it springs. If in sickness he was sometimes obliged to mingle a little wine with his water, he could never be induced to continue this custom after he had recovered his health, even in his old age. St. Peter, after an absence of some months, once asked him, how he had lived? To which Dominic replied with tears: “I am become a sensual man.” Which he explained by saying, that, in obedience, on account of his bad state of health, he had added on Sundays and Thursdays a little raw fennel to the dry bread on which he lived. In his last sickness his spirit of penance, far from being abated, seemed to gather strength. The last night of his life he recited matins and lauds with his brethren, and expired whilst they sung Prime, on the 14th of October, 1060. See his life written by his superior and great admirer, St. Peter Damian, l. 1. ep. 19. Also compiled at large, with several dissertations, by Mr. Tarchi, printed at Rome, an 1751.  2