“Within that region where the sweet west wind comes blowing…lies Caleruega, fortune-favored town…There the staunch love of the Christian faith was born into the world; God’s holy athlete, kind to his own and ruthless to his foes.”
Writing less than a century after Saint Francis’ death, Dante Alighieri places these words in the mouth of the Franciscan theologian Saint Bonaventure, as he begins his praise of Saint Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers. Only a chapter earlier in the Divine Comedy, Dante had the Dominican scholastic Saint Thomas Aquinas lauding the holiness of Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the Order of Friars Minor. In doing so, he forever enshrined the special connection between the Dominicans and Franciscans.
The Similarities and Differences
Both religious orders were founded at the beginning of the 13th century; striving to follow Jesus as his first disciples did — living together in simplicity and trusting in God’s providence, devoted to prayer and preaching the Gospel.
Both orders are “mendicant” (beggars), so named because of their reliance on others for financial support in order to live the vow of poverty. While Franciscans often place a higher value on poverty as an end in itself, Dominicans tend to see it as a necessity for preaching. Instead of being distracted by temporal affairs, one can focus on proclaiming the Gospel.
Both orders are “itinerant” (travelers), moving from place to place in order to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. This means that both are able to maintain some elements of monastic life, such as prayer in common, and yet are still flexible enough to meet the needs of the universal Church, sending missionaries throughout the world.
Both orders defend the goodness of creation and the Incarnation of Christ. Dominicans originally did this as a response to the heresies being promoted by the Cathar and Albigenisan movements, which proposed a contempt for the material world that resulted in dualism, a belief in the existence of a second principle of evil equivalent to God. Franciscans combated this heresy through a spread of devotions, such as the development of the Christmas crèche. Dominicans, on the other hand, preached about the humanity of Christ, and his Sacred Heart.
Both orders address the questions and concerns of the people they interact with on a daily basis. Since Dominicans are often closer to universities and centers of learning, they stress the importance of study and prayer as a means to prepare for preaching that will be clear and grounded in doctrine. Franciscans, following the example of their founder, tend to focus more on a life of repentance and simplicity. And yet both encourage the practice of the virtues, especially charity, humility and poverty.
The Last Testament of Saint Dominic and Saint Francis’ Salutation of the Virtues indicates why. With his final words, Saint Dominic exhorted the friars to “have charity for one another, to guard humility, and to make a treasure of voluntary poverty.” In like manner, Saint Francis reminds us that “charity confounds all diabolical and fleshly temptations…humility confounds pride…[and] poverty confounds cupidity and avarice and the cares of this world.” Saint Dominic and Saint Francis both knew that in practicing these virtues, we become more like Christ, and better brothers to one another.