Vision of Innocent III

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.

In September 1215 Dominic accompanied Bishop Fulk of Toulouse to the Lateran Council, to be convened in Rome in November, where he sought approval from Pope Innocent III for his new Order. Innocent, renowned for raising the medieval papacy to its most prestigious level by reasserting papal supremacy over secular monarchs, was not convinced of the need for another formal order. There already existed too many orders that were poorly organized and prone to abuses, and the conciliar fathers were inclined to restrict new foundations to the two established orders, the Benedictines, and the Augustinians. But Innocent may have privately sympathized with the friar movement, recognizing that the Dominicans’ theological training would make them ideal combatants in the church’s fight against heretical movements.

One night in a vision Innocent saw the Lateran basilica about to fall when suddenly Dominic threw himself against the building to steady it. This vision persuaded the pontiff that Dominic’s Order was pleasing to heaven and would become one of the most powerful supporters of the church. Calling Dominic to him the next day, Innocent gave his initial approval and promised to confirm the Order at a later time. Dominic was to return to France and with his brothers choose an existing and approved rule (he decided on the Augustinian rule). Innocent approved the new Order in a communication addressed to “Master Dominic and the Brothers Preachers.”

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.