It is the 22nd of December 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The Year was 1216.
We may do well, as moderns, to lament aspects of our modern church. One way we do this is to pine for "the good old days" when things were more straightforward and purer. The myth of a golden age can be both a theological and secular trap.
It is not uncommon to find the 13th century portrayed as a kind of "golden age" for a specific type of Western Catholic. This was the century of Aquinas and St. Francis and Scholasticism and the 4th Lateran Council and Pope Innocent III. Add to this the rediscovery of Aristotle, the building of cathedrals, the first universities, and the Magna Carta, and you have an impressive edifice from which you might build an argument that this was indeed the Medieval church's finest century.
But as any downer of a historian will do, I might contend that it was more business as usual, and that's not always a good thing. The 4th Lateran council may have done wonders for the Western Roman church to build theological group cohesion. Still, it was also a time of codifying a distinct form, a kind of scholasticism or Aristotelianism, that would segregate this church into a particular intellectual ghetto.
The Western catholic church in the 13th century was impressive from a worldly perspective and unique from an architectural and artistic perspective. But as we have seen, this can cloud the message intended not just for the elite but for those disconnected from the august halls of power or prestige.
It's not an uncommon story, but we have seen the church in various ways attempt to adapt, to alter this pattern, and counter its ill effects. The Medieval papacy could be as administrative as it was spiritual, or at least it may have appeared to be.
In this context, Pope Honorius III, on this day, the 22nd of December in 1216, issued the Bull "Religiosam Vitam." In doing so, he was attempting to combat particular ills in the church. And he was doing so by establishing the Dominican Order, the Order of Preachers whose motto would be "Laudare, benedicere, praedicare:" To praise, to bless, and to preach."
Religious orders went back to St. Benedict and the Benedictines in the 6th century. But these orders could splinter, such as the division between Cluniacs and Cistercians, else the orders became more like Freemasons than monks. We've discussed Carmelites and Discalced Carmelites on the show as well as Mendicant orders, Franciscans, and certainly those Jesuits.
So, who were the Dominicans? Dominic Guzman is perhaps unlike other founders with names like Benedict, Augustine, and St. Francis. Simon Tugwell wrote: "the Order was not simply his brainchild, and he was not, and never claimed to be, its sole inspiration or even the primary embodiment of its nature and ideals."
They were primarily called upon to be preachers, evangelists, and catechists. A lack of theological understanding made those living in relative isolation susceptible to newfangled heresies. Dominic was called to a new kind of Crusade, one that didn't involve the Middle East or even necessarily weapons. This was the Albigensian Crusade, one of the very few of its type. The Albigensians were a gnostic sect in the South of France, centering around the town of Albi. They were also known as the Cathars or Cathari, this a derivative of a word meaning "pure." These were the "flesh is bad" type, the super-spiritual type, and the usually undereducated type. The Dominicans were to head into the south of France, and then the world with the goal to "Laudare, benedicere, praedicare," that is, "To praise, to bless and to preach."
Fun fact, if you meet a nice Catholic with the initials OP, this is not a reference to them being the first to post something, nor to being overpowered in a video game. It stands for Ordo Praedicatorum, the Order of the Preachers. These are the Dominicans, and we remember their founding on this, the 22nd of December in 1216.
The reading for today comes from Charles Wesley. These are the last two stanzas to his "Hymn for Christmas Day." This hymn would be reworked by George Whitefield as "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," here are two verses you may not know:
Adam's Likeness, LORD, efface,
Stamp thy Image in its Place,
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy Love.
Let us Thee, tho' lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the Inner Man:
O! to All Thyself impart,
Form'd in each Believing Heart.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 22nd of December 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, whose favorite Dominicans include Dominic, Aquinas, and Sosa. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. And remember, the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.