St Dominic and St Francis

[Extract from the book, “Saint Dominic: the grace of the Word” by Guy Bedouelle O.P.]

At almost the same time that Dominic, in the Church of Our Lady of Prouille at the foot of the Pyrenees, laid the foundations of his Order, Francis was preparing his at the Church of Our Lady of the Angels, at the foot of the Apennines. An ancient sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mother of God was for each the humble and sweet cornerstone of their edifice. Dominic cherished Our Lady of Prouille above all other places; Francis reserved for the small plot of land sheltering Our Lady of the Angels a special affection, within the immensity of a heart detached from all visible things. Each began his public life with a pilgrimage to Rome; each returned there to beg the sovereign pontiff’s approbation for his Order. Innocent III at first rebuffed them both, and the same vision persuaded him to grant them both a verbal and provisional approbation. Dominic, like Francis, included within the austere flexibility of his Rule men and women religious and laymen, making of three Orders a single power to fight for Jesus Christ with all the weapons of nature and grace; only Dominic began with women, Francis with men. The same sovereign Pontiff, Honorius III, confirmed their institutions by apostolic bulls; Gregory IX canonized them both. Finally, the two greatest doctors of all centuries have done honour to their memories, St. Thomas for St. Dominic, St. Bonaventure for St. Francis.

Yet these two men, whose destinies created such admirable harmonies for both worlds, heaven and earth, never knew each other. Both were in Rome during the Lent when the Fourth Lateran Council met, yet it seems that neither had ever so much as heard the other’s name. One night Dominic, at prayer according to his custom, beheld Jesus Christ looking upon the world in wrath and his Mother presenting two men to him to appease him. He recognised himself as one of them but did not know who the other was. Fixing his gaze on him he tried to memorize his features. The next day in some church – no one knows which – he saw, clothed in the habit of a mendicant, the figure revealed to him the night before. Running up to this poor man he embraced him with holy affection and said: “You are my companion, you will go with me, let us stay together and nothing shall be able to prevail against us.” The embrace of Francis and Dominic has often been presented and stylized to illustrate the theme of ‘holy friendship.’