Saint Dominic (+1221) was one of those souls destined from birth to do great things – as, we may suppose, all saints are in some way. But all the contemporary accounts attest to his burning desire for God from the earliest age: His mother, Jane of Aza (eventually canonized by Pope Leo XII in 1828) had a prophecy during pregnancy of a dog with a flaming torch in its mouth setting the world ablaze – some say the story made up, after the name of the Dominicans – Domini canes, the ‘dogs of the Lord’. But like all legends, there is at least some truth to it: After all, her son did set the world on fire.

Dominic, destined for the religious life, first joined the Augustinians, and was sent on a mission to convert the Cathars in southern France, a heretical sect that denied the goodness of God’s creation, including children, a mediaeval version of the early Manichees, who thought the noblest thing one could do was commit slow suicide by starvation. At the very least, do not procreate.

It was demonic, and Dominic realized that the best way to convert them was to imitate their own lives of poverty and austerity, but not out of fear or loathing, but joy and love: To be cheerful paupers for Christ, yet at the same time highly educated and persuasive. Dominic had already spent ten years in university studies, and was already living an ascetical life, with long hours in prayer and meditation.

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