St. Dominic Refuses Episcopate

Stained glass window from St. Dominic’s Church in Washington, D.C. Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.
Stained glass window from St. Dominic’s Church in Washington, D.C. Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

The following reflection is part of an ongoing series about the life of St. Dominic & the Order of Friars Preachers.

Dominic’s holiness endeared him to all. His way of winning souls and his virtues of humility, patience, and charity led church officials to encourage his promotion to the highest offices of the church. Three times Dominic was offered the episcopacy–the position of bishop–but each time he refused the offer. Around 1212 he was asked to serve as bishop of Beziers, France; in 1215 he was offered the see of Comminges; and at approximately the same time it is believed that he was offered the episcopacy of the diocese of Couserans. Bishop Garsic de L’Orte is shown with hands outstretched, holding a bishop’s cross and chain, with Dominic making a gesture of refusal.

Dominic could not, however, avoid a temporary appointment as grand vicar to Guy, bishop of Carcassonne, who called to preach during the French Crusades. While filling in for the bishop, during Lent of 1213, Dominic resided in the episcopal palace and discharged all the duties of the office without allowing them to interfere with his own preaching. Dominic’s systematic refusal of high church office was partially due to his true humility, but he was also known to have extreme contempt for worldly honors and earthly glory. He justified his refusal to church authorities by claiming that he had to care for his recent foundations–that of the preachers and that in Prouille. Dominic wanted nothing more than the freedom to preach the Gospel.

Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. (a member of the English Province) was invited by the Dominican Foundation to take pictures of some of the locations where our friars serve throughout the Northeast. During his time in Washington, D.C., Fr. Lew photographed the interior of the Church of St. Dominic. St. Dominic’s has been the church where our friars are ordained to the priesthood each May. Surrounding the church, is a collection of beautiful stained glass windows that chronicle the life of St. Dominic & the foundation of the Order of Preachers. Fr. Lew accomplished a great work by capturing the splendor of these windows, and in the process, the life of a towering saint.