It is the 6th of August 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1221,
It was the beginning of the end of the high Medieval period. You may wonder what we mean by that. By Medieval, we say "Middle," which is what Medieval means, the "middle times." And it was a name given to the era by those renaissance figures who saw the ancient world as worthy of praise, but then, according to them, everything went dormant until they were "reborn." That's what "renaissance" means: rebirth. Many saw the world, roughly between 500 and 1500, as the "middle" or "dark" ages. Usually, those early Modern/Renaissance characters saw the immediate medieval past, which had declined a good bit, which we call, the "Late Middle Ages." Why does this matter? Because our year today is in the high Medieval period, it is a rather bustling time and anything but just "middle" or worse, "dark."
It was the era of crusades and councils. Medieval urban centers were growing as cities.
It was also, as you may know, the time of Genghis Khan. The Mongol Marauder had recently taken Beijing and was now moving west. Following the Indus river to the Northwest, the towns of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Merv were ruthlessly put down. The fear, of course, was not only the Mongols coming west, but the Persians were being pressed to the Western border.
The church had its own quixotic impulse in this era as well. Just two years before 1221, the fifth crusade ended, as usual, without success. And it is on this day that we remember St. Dominic, whose feast day is today in many churches. The founder of the Dominican order died on this, the 6th of August, in 1221.
One of the most significant achievements in Medieval church history was the development of new orders of Christians, following particular orders and taking on specific tasks from caring for the poor to preaching, teaching, and for keeping houses of prayer, contemplation, and study.
The big order was the Benedictines. They had been around since the 6th century, following the Rule of St. Benedict. By 1100, the Cistercians, a sort of a stricter Benedictine branch, had also been formed. It was at the end of the high Middle Ages that the Franciscans and Dominicans would be established as two of the most important and long-standing religious orders in the Catholic church.
Domingo de Guzman, the later St. Dominic, was born in 1170 in Castille. He was from a well to do family who sent him to school, but it is said that he sold his books and gave the money on the poor. He eventually joined the Canons Regular, a form of a medieval religious order.
It is here that he was sent to the south of France, where he encountered the Albigensians, also called the Cathari. We've talked about them on the show before. Essentially, they were a gnostic sectarian group. They believed that the world was the theatre of a battle between the ultimate good God and the Evil One. Both are roughly as powerful as the other. This is a Manichean worldview that not only sees everything in duality but also rejects anything physical. Matter is inherently evil according to them, and thus our bodies are corrupt, and the incarnation would have been an insult to God.
The Pope was unable, by Crusade or missionary activity, to put an end to the heretical group. Dominic, seeing the austerity and poverty of the Albigensians, asked the Pope if he could preach to these people, during which he would imitate their austere life. He was successful, and many began to follow this young monastic preacher as he set up houses across Europe.
In 1215, he traveled to Rome to attend the 4th Lateran Council. It is here that he likely met Francis of Assisi. The two had much in common, such as their emphases on begging (what we call 'mendicant orders') and the importance of preaching and study. The differences came down, mostly, to spiritual disciplines. The Dominicans would become famous for their Marian devotion and the use of the Rosary. The Franciscans and Dominicans would set up different houses, but to this day, have emphasized how closely aligned they can be. The Dominicans have an especially strong academic pedigree. Within the century, Thomas Aquinas would become the most well-known of all the Dominicans.
In 1219, Dominic set out on a preaching tour, barefoot, to check in his religious houses from Rome to France and to Spain and back again. This took over two years and took its toll on Dominic, who fell ill and died on this, the 6th of August, in the year 1221.
The reading for today is the first stanza of Aquinas' famous hymn, "Pange Lingua."
Sing, my tongue, the Savior's glory,
of His flesh the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our immortal King,
destined, for the world's redemption,
from a noble womb to spring.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 6th of August 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man in his very own middle ages, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.