Dominican Education and the Care of Souls

Excerpt from the article, “Notes on the Education of the Fratres Communes in the Dominican Order in the Thirteenth Century,” pp. 253-54, by Leonard Boyle, O.P., first published in Xenia Medii Aevii Historiam Illustrantia oblate Thomae Kaeppeli O. P. (Roma, 1978), pp. 249-267.

By and large the beneficiaries of these manuals within the Dominican Order were the “Fratres communes” those, that is, who were not selected for special studies at a Studium provinciale or a Studium generale. They were the men who were generally engaged in the day-to-day hearing of confessions or “common” preaching to which the order was specifically committed. 14 (The term “Frater communis” is a l4th-century one: “Communes vero fratres singulis diebus ad scolas vadant lectoris principalis et ibidem lectiones audiant, alias illo die a vino vel a pictantia sine dispensatione abstineant”, Acta capitulorum generalium ordinis praedicatorum, ed. B. M. Reichert, II (Rome 1899), |52-3. For the term “Praedicator communis” [as distinct from the more qualified ,,Praedicator generalis”], see Humbertus de Romanis, Opera, ed J. J. Berthier, 2 vv. (Rome 1888-9), II. 369.) The “Communes” were, in fact, the backbone of the Order and vastly outnumbered the Alberts and Thomases, the lectors and the masters. They are the “iuniores” of the prefaces of so many Dominican manuals and treatises (such as that of Conrad Höxter), to whom the more academic brethren were never slow to communicate their own learning or that of the schools. It was for them, principally, that Raymund, Guillaume Peyraut and John of Freiburg wrote. It was for them, explicitly, that Simon Hinton, probably when provincial of England, wrote his Summa iuniorum,15 (“Ad instructionem iuniorum quibus non vacat opusculorum variorum prolixitatem perscrutari”: prologue of Simon of Hinton as in J. Gerson, Opera omnia (Antwerp 1706), I. 233) and Aag of Denmark, when provincial of Scandinavia, his Rotulus pugiularis.16 (“Ad laudem Iesu Christi pro instructione iuvenum fratrum ordinis Praedicatorum et aliorum qui pro tempore ob salutem animarum praedicationi et confessionum auditioni sunt exponendi, ea quae communia sunt et in sacra theologia magis necessaria simplicibus ad sciendum in unum quasi rotulum pugillarem breviter collecta redegi… Moneo vero iterum atque iterum ne aliqui fratres dicti ordinis Daciae ad praedicta officia praedicationis et confessionis assumantur priusquam de his quae hic conscripta sunt et aliis quae inconstitutionibus praefati ordinis ponuntur ad memorata officia pertinentia diligenter examinati fuerint et approbati”: A. Walz, “Fratris Augustini de Dacia. O.P., Rotulus Pugillaris”, Angelicum 6 (1929) 254. The Rotulus was written while Aag was provincial of Scandinavia (1254-66; 1272-84) They had to be well-trained, well-informed and alert if they were not to betray their calling. From that point of view the preacher and the confessor were as important in the Dominican scheme of education as the professional teachers. As the general chapter of 1259 put it: ” Non fiant lectores vel praedicatores vel confessores nisi sint tam sufficientes quod possint sine periculo notabili huiusmodi officia exercere”17 (Acta capitulorum generalium ordinis praedicatorum, I [Rome, 1898], 100).

From the earliest days of the Dominican Order, great care was taken to see that all the brethren, the “Communes” with the “Docibiles”, “Lectores” and “Doctores”, had a formal training, and that that training had a pastoral bearing. As the prologue to the first constitutions (1220) put it, “Studium nostrum ad hoc principaliter ardenterque summo opere debeat intendere ut proximorum animabus possimus utiles esse”.18 (Ed. A. H. Thomas, De oudste Constituties van de Dominicanen (Louvain 1965), pp. 311-12) The same constitutions specify that no house was to be founded without a superior (“prior”) and a teacher (“lector”),19 (Ibid., p. 358) and insist on the importance of study: “Qualiter intenti debeant esse in studio ut de die, de nocte, in domo, in itinere, legant aliquid vel meditentur, et quicquid poterint retinere cordetenus nitantur”.20 (Ibid., p. 324) The emphasis was wholly on a theological training.