The Approval of the Foundation of the Order – 22 December 1216

The Approval of the Foundation of the Order – 22 December 1216

The Order of Preachers honours St Dominic de Guzman (c.1174 - 1221), who was born in the small Castilian village of Caleruega, as its founder but, as fr Simon Tugwell OP notes, “the Order was not simply his personal brainchild and he was not, and never claimed to be, its sole inspiration or even the primary embodiment of its nature and ideals.” Rather, Dominic was raised up by Providence to bring to birth a new movement within the Church - itinerant mendicant friars - and he accomplished this by engaging with the needs of his time and in collaboration with other people. “It was always with his brethren and with the authorities of the Church that he shaped the nascent Order of Preachers.

The Cathars

In 1203 - 6, Dominic, now a canon of the cathedral at Osma, travelled with his bishop, Diego through the south of France and encountered the Albigensians (or Cathars) who taught that the physical world is evil. As fr Isidore Clarke OP says, this heresy “devalued not only our own humanity, but also Christ’s and the sacramental life of the Church.” After an all-night debate in Toulouse with an Albigensian inn-keeper whom he converted, Dominic was moved by compassion and realised the great ignorance of the Faith that existed. Thus, he saw the need for preachers who could explain and defend the true faith.

Servants for Preaching the Word

So began the friars’ life of itinerant mendicancy, with their base at the newly-founded monastery of nuns at Prouille. After Diego’s death in 1207, Dominic assumed responsibility for this community of nuns and eschewing the violence which was then being waged against the Albigensians, Dominic devoted himself to preaching and the rigours of the apostolic life which he had begun with bishop Diego.

In Languedoc, where Dominic called himself “the humble servant of the preaching”, a small band of co-workers had joined him and in 1215, Bishop Fulk of Toulouse approved the foundation of a new religious order. “Concern for the Faith was the main concern of the new Order”. Later that year, he travelled with Fulk to Rome to meet Pope Innocent III. The pope advised Dominic to adopt an existing Rule as new rules were forbidden by the Fourth Lateran Council. In 1216, Dominic and his brethren adopted the Rule of St Augustine which he had already been keeping as a canon of Osma. fr Vladimir Koudelka OP notes that “they chose the Augustinian Rule, not for what it contains, but for what, by virtue of its universality, it does not contain. This enabled them to specify in the customs which they added to the rule the goal of their order and the new means for attaining their goal, without contradicting the rule.”

Official Foundation

On 22 December 1216, Pope Honorius III approved the foundation of the St Dominic’s community and took them under papal protection. Finally on 21 January 1217, Pope Honorius III issued a second bull to Dominic which crowned the first and completed the confirmation of the Order. Whereas the earlier bull had confirmed the Order, it had left much unsaid. The new bull conferred on the new Order a ‘revolutionary’ name and office - an order of preachers rather than just an order comprised of people who are preaching. The pope thus addresses Dominic and his sons as “Friars Preachers” and entrusts them with the preaching mission. Dominic had obtained, explicitly and officially, what he had first petitioned from Innocent III: “An Order which would be called and would be an Order of Preachers.”


(22 December 2016)