Are there white Dominicans

800 years of DominicansWhite robe, black capa

The morning of this January day in the year of the Lord 1208 is dark and cold. Thick clouds of fog hang over the valley of the Rhône, which the icy wind can hardly sweep away.

In his quarters, a modest inn, the papal legate Pierre de Castelnau rises sullenly from his bed to read mass. Then, accompanied by the Bishop of Couserans, he goes down to the river to cross over to the other bank of the Rhône.

Everything happens at lightning speed: Dimly he sees another rider appear in the fog. A short, sharp shimmer in the air and - Castelnau sinks to the ground, pierced by an arrow. He's dead instantly.

"Impertinenza! Impertinenza!" Pope Innocent III snorts in distant Rome when the news of the murder of his legate is brought to him. He immediately convenes the college of cardinals. The prevailing opinion there: enough! The crusade against the Cathars, those rebels in Occitania, among whom the murderer is suspected, is a done deal.

They are a thorn in the flesh of the Church, these Cathars - the "pure" as they call themselves. As a large religious lay movement, they built an opposing church in the south of France under the protection of many French nobles. They preach asceticism and radical poverty and ridicule the Roman Church as the "whore of Babylon" and the "synagogue of Satan".

Dualism as an essential element

The most important element of the Cathar theology is dualism: the material world is seen as bad, the good can only be found with God. The author Hans Conrad Zander:

"The Cathars taught that the whole world - economy, state and society was Satan's work. And with these radical messages about 5000 pure, perfect people in black robes moved to the south of France. But hundreds of thousands believed in them."

Since this movement of "heretics" poses a completely new and extremely dangerous threat to the Church, the Pope had sent a group of clerics to southern France as early as 1206 to bring the Cathars back into the bosom of the Church.

Among the ambassadors of the Curia is the young Spanish nobleman Dominikus de Guzmán, subprior of the cathedral chapter at the cathedral of El Burgo de Osma:

"Dominikus lived in this southern French anarcho scene for twelve years and everything he does in these years is shaped by a single, timelessly valid enlightenment: That the blind, radical zeal of the sectarians is the mirror image for the equally blind, just as radical Corruption of the mighty - in this case the Church. "

Journalist and writer Conrad Zander: "The Cathars taught that the whole world was Satan's work" (imago / Teutopress)

Dominic does not believe in the snooty instructions, exhortations and lecture that are usually given to the Cathars by arrogant papal emissaries. He decides to act, so Zander:

"In a small brick building on the ramparts of Toulouse, the saint and a few friends undertake the experiment of religious intelligence between all fronts of stupidity: live like heretics but believe like the Church."

And so they roam the country, barefoot and without money. And they preach - just like the traveling preachers of the Cathars. But what they preach is not belief in Satan. The Düsseldorf Dominican Elias Füllenbach:

"The Pope had sent legates there who preached to the people from the horse down and that's where Dominic's idea comes up: No, we have to talk to people - but at eye level. Not from the horse. There is this legend that one his first conversions would have taken place in an inn, that he had spoken there for a whole night with the innkeeper, who was such a Cathar, and that this innkeeper would have converted at the end.

"Poverty as a means to an end"

A nice story, so Füllenbach. And one that makes it clear where the beginnings of his order lie:

"Preaching service! This idea then becomes a work, because Dominic gathers men around him relatively early and this small community is confirmed for the first time in Toulouse in 1216. And we are celebrating this papal confirmation this year. The interesting thing is that the order." is confirmed by the Pope as a religious community of preachers ... That is something very special, because back then only bishops or those commissioned by the bishops were allowed to preach. And now the preaching service is being transferred to a whole community. Our real name is not Dominican, but we are called "Ordo Fratrum Praedicatorum", ie "Order of the Brothers Preachers".

The new religious order differs significantly from other brotherhoods of medieval monasticism: The Dominicans no longer want to live in secluded, venerable abbeys far out in the country, but in small communities in the middle of the cities that were flourishing at this time. They do not want to have an abbot over themselves, but rather to fill all offices in free voting. An early democratic principle that still applies today. And they want to be a poor community, a mendicant order.

"For Dominic, poverty is a means to an end. In order not to be tied to possessions, in order to be there for the people."

With this ideal of poverty, says Füllenbach, the Dominicans, like the Franciscans, react to the political and social storms of their time, says the Düsseldorf Dominican:

"The church was in a crisis at the beginning of the 13th century and both Francis and Dominic notice that the credibility of the church also depends on how it deals with wealth and property. And a major criticism of the Cathars was: The church is rich, the church only cares about the nobility and the common people are left in the lurch. "

But the new order is assigned another task: the fight against the heretics!

The Inquisition followed the crusade

After the murder of Pierre de Castelnau, the popes reacted with a crusade against the Cathars; but without being able to stop the sect's triumphant advance. Now Rome is fighting back with another weapon: with the Inquisition.

The fight against heretics certainly corresponds to Dominic's goals, since the founding of the order is a direct result of his encounter with the Cathars:

The philosophy historian Kurt Flasch says:

"The Dominicans are changing from a simple mendicant order to the most important authority of the epoch. They got their intellectual weight from the fact that they were initially intended for the heretic hunt."

They take in the scent of the heretics, confront them and hand them over to the Holy Inquisition. Which brings them the derisive name "domini canes" - "sniffer dogs of the Lord". Her name and deed will remain her trauma for many centuries. It is the black side of their order history. And yet a new, white side develops from it.

Studies as the cornerstone of occidental erudition

Because in order to be able to intellectually refute the teachings of the heretics, Dominic requires his brothers to study thoroughly, explains Dominican Elias Füllenbach, preferably in the spiritual and spiritual centers of the world at that time:

"This is how you come up with the idea: We are founding general studies in the individual countries, in individual religious provinces, where training takes place at the highest level. So such general studies will then be established in Oxford in 1248, but also in Cologne."

And the brightest minds of the time from many European countries will be gathered. Among them the head of the "studium generale" in Cologne, a man who writes European intellectual history: Albertus Magnus:

"A real universal scholar who is building up a lively teaching activity in Cologne."

With their "studium generale" the Dominicans bring a kind of "European education union" into being, paving the way for transnational, occidental scholarship.

Albertus Magnus wrote European intellectual history: Today a statue in front of the main building of the University of Cologne commemorates him. (imago / Manngold)

The very first lectures given by Albertus Magnus in Cologne caused a sensation. They do not apply to the study of the Bible, but to the ethics of Aristotle:

The philosopher Ludger Honnefelder says: "He has found the big formula for how Christian faith and theology on the one hand and the whole world of science - from physics to biology to astronomy - can be combined with one another."

Albert's most famous student is the Italian Thomas Aquinas. About him, who is called "the dumb ox" because of his silence, he notes clairvoyantly:

"You call him the mute ox. I tell you that this mute ox will one day roar so loudly that its roar fills the world." And can be heard to this day!

Synthesis of philosophy and theology

Pope Benedict XVI wrote about Thomas: "The main reason for his appreciation lies not only in the content of his teaching, but also in the method he used, especially in his new synthesis and distinction between philosophy and theology."

Thomas von Aquin and his teacher Albertus Magnus are the light figures of Dominican order history. Until now. An excerpt from a report when Pope John Paul II visited the grave of Albertus Magnus in St. Andreas:

Reporter: "He will now go down the 14 steps into the crypt to the tomb of St. Albertus Magnus. He has reached the crypt. The Pope is now kneeling in front of the Roman sarcophagus in which the bones of St. Albertus Magnus rest."

Reporter: November 1980. Pope John Paul II comes to Germany for the first time as head of the Roman Catholic Church and begins his visit to the Romanesque church of St. Andrew in Cologne. The grave in the crypt is the first destination of his journey. In doing so, he pays tribute to the man who is the only scholar who has ever been nicknamed "the great", Albertus Magnus.

800th anniversary of the Dominican Order: cloister and bell tower of the Jacobin convent in Toulouse. (Pascal Pavani / AFP)

But the glamor of this epoch was followed by dark clouds for the Dominicans. Again in the shadow of Cologne Cathedral:

"... Yes, the clergy used to live here

Your pious nature driven,

This is where the dark men lived;

The Ulrich von Hutten described….

Here Jakob van Hoogstraaten wrote ...

The poisonous informers ... "

The "dark men" described here mockingly by Heinrich Heine are now being confronted by the brightest minds of their time: the humanists of the 16th century. The darkening of the spirit, on the other hand, does not stop at the Dominicans either.

Namely in the famous Cologne Scholars' War in 1515, the offshoots of which occupy even the Pope and Emperor. The core of this scholarly war is the so-called "Jewish book dispute".

It begins with a convert to Christianity named Pfefferkorn demanding that the Jews take away their holy books. Because these books reviled Christianity and stood in the way of the conversion of the Jews.

In his fanatical zeal for converting Pfefferkorn obtained from Emperor Maximilian permission to subject the books of the Jews to an examination. Experts should be heard for this. Named are: the inquisitor and prior of the Cologne Dominicans Jakob van Hoogstraaten and the humanist and Hebraist Johannes Reuchlin. Elias Füllenbach continues:

"Reuchlin says: 'No, you shouldn't burn the books.' Hoogstraaten says in the medieval tradition: 'The Talmud is dangerous. So it must be destroyed.' The Cologne Brothers and Cologne University support the Hoogstraatens position. "

And make themselves so ridiculous that the humanists ridicule them. They see their intellects offended by the narrow-mindedness of the Dominicans and publish the "dark man's letters" - intentionally kept in false and clumsy Latin.

Struggle between old and new thinking

This feud between light and dark, science and superstition, which is fought out on the open stage, is no glory for the Dominicans. It documents the struggle between the old and the new, between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The Dominican, theologian and Judaist Elias Füllenbach:

"You can see: the Dominican order is not a monolithic block, but there are very different figures. There have been very malicious Dominican attempts to fight Judaism, but there have been, sometimes even at the same time, exactly the opposite: Dominicans who preoccupied with Jewish knowledge who studied Hebrew very early on. "

But history, according to Füllenbach, is never just black or white: "History is always more than black and white. Like our religious habit: it is also black and white. It is important to deal with the dark figures and the darker sides has given in the history of the order, but one also has to see the other side. "

The "other side" - these are friars like Aurelius Arkenau, who hid Jews, deserters, forced laborers and communists in the monastery and in his own parsonage during the Third Reich, brothers like Franziskus Stratmann, who after the First World War became a leading figure in the Catholic peace movement and who in April 1933 referred Cardinal Faulhaber to the fate of the oppressed Jews. Or a Giuseppe Girotti, who resisted in German-occupied Italy, was murdered in the Dachau concentration camp and today has a place in the Yad Vashem memorial as "Righteous Among the Nations".

Dominicans in today's society

And what is special about Dominicans today? In a largely secularized society?

An openness, a breadth of thinking, says Christoph Wekenborg, for example. He heads the Dominican monastery at St. Andreas in Cologne. He sees the main task of the around 6,000 brothers and 30,000 sisters worldwide today in pastoral care and work in the congregations.

The Dominicans made history and changed the face of the West. It has produced four popes and 60 cardinals, artists such as Fra Angelico and Fra Bartolomeo come from their ranks, and philosophy and science have left their mark.

Many of them, who did outstanding work, are almost forgotten today. For example Vincent von Beauvais, who wrote the most important medieval encyclopedia in the 13th century with his "speculum maius". Or Johannes Tauler, whose poetry accompanies us to this day - in the well-known Advent chorale "A ship is coming loaded."

And in 1963 a Belgian Dominican woman even landed in the hit parades with a song about the founder of the order:

"He only spoke of God," says the song.

Just like one of Dominikus ‘confreres experienced:

"Wherever I was with him, he only spoke of God or to God."

800 years of "praise, bless, preach". 800 years of service to people and the Church. Praying, teaching, learning and preaching, listening and turning for 800 years. Stability without immobility, cosmopolitanism without secularization - all of this is Dominican tradition.

And that is clear - "more than black and white", says Hans Conrad Zander:

"Have there ever been more beautiful monks than the Dominicans in their white robes and black canons?"