Dominican Preaching in the High Middle Ages
Dominic Guzmán came from Spain to southern France in 1206 to join the Cistercian preaching campaign against the Cathars. He was joined by other preachers commissioned by Fulk, bishop of Toulouse, to preach against heresy. From this effort the Dominican order had its beginnings. Honorius III granted formal confirmation in 1216, and the new Order of Preachers (Ordo Praedicatorum) soon afterward described the purpose of its founding as “preaching and the salvation of souls.”
Dominican education was focused on preparation for preaching, as stated in the 1236 Constitutions. The friars of the Order of Preachers rose to prominence in the church hierarchy and outnumbered the Franciscans as bishops, papal legates, and inquisitors. Like the Franciscans, they achieved prominence in the universities, displacing secular masters and provoking a famous conflict at the mid-thirteenth-century University of Paris. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) and his contemporary Bonaventure teamed up to argue against the secular masters in Paris but opposed each other in the controversy over the Franciscan interpretation of the rule of poverty. Houghton MS Lat 265 is a fourteenth-century, heavily annotated copy of Bonaventure’s well-known commentary on the sentences of Peter Lombard. Aquinas composed a similarly focused work, and Houghton pfTyp MS 955 is a single leaf from a fourteenth-century copy of this commentary. Houghton fMS Lat 246, a fifteenth-century collection, contains sermons and other works by Bonaventure as well as an excerpt from Aquinas. Friars in both orders preached widely through European towns and cities and often constituted rivals to the local parish clergy, repeatedly provoking controversy. Peter of Verona preached fiercely against heresy in central and northern Italy; he is remembered for his dramatic sermons in Florence and his death at the hand of an assassin hired by his enemies. This historiated initial in a Dominican breviary depicts his murder.
Dominicans, like Franciscans, wrote and copied many books, notably in Paris where they were at the forefront of the book trade; they also produced various small books, such as Houghton MS Lat 115, a small (13 cm.) mid-thirteenth-century breviary with numerous notations and a few historiated initials. This can be compared with a slightly larger (18 cm.) fifteenth-century Franciscan breviary (Houghton MS Lat 171); its initials for the most part have been excised, but two historiated initials remain intact (f.28). The friars composed numerous works related to preaching as well as collections of model sermons such as those of James of Voragine. In 1279, the Dominican Brother Laurent composed La somme le roi, a vast didactic work for King Philip III of France. This comprehensive guide to the Christian faith became an indispensable resource for preachers and was translated into several vernacular languages and widely disseminated. Houghton MS Fr 123 (fifteenth-century) preserves a Middle French version of this influential text; Houghton MS Fr 123 f.5v shows the beginning of the presentation on the articles of faith.