"Here grew a mighty doctor soon, who scanned
in every part of that vine which, all too sure
Withers if dressed by an unskilled hand."
(Canto XII. 85)
With Canto XII we are still in the solar sphere of luminous souls. St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan, reveals himself to Dante to unfold the life and praise of St. Dominic. In the reference above "that vine" refers to the Church.
Photo courtesy of NASA
"Nor distant from the coastline where the hurled
Waves beat in which, his longest course pursued,
The sun at times hides him from the word."
(Canto XII. 49)
With these lines Dante indicated that Benedict was born in Spain not far from the coastline, the Bay of Biscay. During the summer solstice, after the longest day of the year, the sun sets directly off the west coast of Spain and darkness "hides him" from the known world.Dominic was born in the village of Calahorra, today called Calaruega.
He was born in 1170 into a noble family of Felex and and Joanna Guzman. Many times his nurse found him lying on the bare ground, silent and awake as if to say "for this I was made." As a young man he studied at the University of Palencia and then joined the Cathedral Chapter of Osma who lived by the rule of St. Augustine. Here he was ordained a priest. One day Dominic accompanied Bishop Diego, his mentor, to the Marches of France, in the Languedoc region and it was here that he was struck by the spread of Albigensianism.
"On briars and brakes of heresy he fell
Uprooting them, and still was swift to go
Where opposition was most formidable."
(Canto XII. 100-102)
Albigensianism was a terrible heresy. The Albignesians believed in two principles of creation, Good and Evil. God created the realm of spirit which was good while Evil created the materials world. The material dimension of the human being sprang from matter and was thereby evil. The God of the New Testament was the creator of the human soul which the Evil principle imprisoned in the human body. Earth was a place of punishment, the only hell that exists for the human soul. Christ, although perfect, was only a creature who did not take on a human body because this would have placed him under the evil principle, but a celestial body. Since begetting children meant to imprison their souls in a body, perpetual chastity was strongly encouraged. From all this followed the view that sex was sinful even in marriage and the the aim of life was to liberate the human soul from the body. Sexual generation in the animal kingdom was abhorred therefore, they were forbidden to eat meat except fish. Suicide was considered as a favorable way to escape the body. War and all earthly catastrophes were caused the evil principle.
Pope Innocent III charged the Cirstersians to preach among the Albigensian heretics in Languedoc. For ten years (1205-15) this mission in Languedoc was the work of Dominic's life. Dominic was an ascetic who traveled on bare feet from town to town trying to convince the people and nobles of their error. In time, he formed the Dominican Order, a group of men dedicated to prayers, study and preaching. Their task was not only to fight heresy but also to teach basic doctrine to the people.
Finally in this canto St. Bernard castigates the degenerate state of the Franciscans thus:
"His Family, once orderly aligned
Followed his steps, have so turned head to tail
That those in front collide with those in behind.
(Canto XII. 115-117)
10_Solomon: "None Ever Rose"