The Dominican Order came into being in the Middle Ages at a time when men of God were no longer expected to stay behind the walls of a cloister. Instead, they travelled among the people, taking as their examples the apostles of the primitive Church. Out of this ideal emerged two orders of mendicant friars: one, the Friars Minor, was led by Francis of Assisi; the other, the Friars Preachers, by Dominic of Guzman. Like his contemporary, Francis, Dominic saw the need for a new type of organization, and the quick growth of the Dominicans and Franciscans during their first century of existence confirms that the orders of mendicant friars met a need.
Dominic sought to establish a new kind of order, one that would bring the dedication and systematic education of the older monastic orders like the Benedictines to bear on the religious problems of the burgeoning population of cities, but with more organizational flexibility than either monastic orders or the secular clergy. The Order of Preachers was founded in response to a then perceived need for informed preaching. Dominic's new order was to be trained to preach in the vernacular languages.
Dominic inspired his followers with loyalty to learning and virtue, a deep recognition of the spiritual power of worldly deprivation and the religious state, and a highly developed governmental structure. At the same time, Dominic inspired the members of his order to develop a "mixed" spirituality. They were both active in preaching, and contemplative in study, prayer and meditation. The brethren of the Dominican Order were urban and learned, as well as contemplative and mystical in their spirituality. While these traits affected the women of the order, the nuns especially absorbed the latter characteristics and made those characteristics their own. In England, the Dominican nuns blended these elements with the defining characteristics of English Dominican spirituality and created a spirituality and collective personality that set them apart.
As an adolescent, he had a particular love of theology and the Scriptures became the foundation of his spirituality. During his studies in Palencia, Spain, he experienced a dreadful famine, prompting Dominic to sell all of his beloved books and other equipment to help his neighbors. After he completed his studies, Bishop Martin Bazan and Prior Diego d'Achebes appointed Dominic to the cathedral chapter and he became a Canon Regular under the Rule of Saint Augustine and the Constitutions for the cathedral church of Osma. At the age of twenty-four or twenty-five, he was ordained to the priesthood.
Albigensian Crusade on Cathars
In 1203, Dominic de Guzmán joined Diego de Acebo on an embassy to Denmark for the monarchy of Spain, to arrange the marriage between the son of King Alfonso VIII of Castile and a niece of King Valdemar II of Denmark. At that time the south of France was the stronghold of the Cathar movement. The Cathars (also known as Albigensians, due to their stronghold in Albi, France) were a heretical neo-gnostic sect. They believed that matter was evil and only the spirit was good; this was a fundamental challenge to the notion of the incarnation, central to Catholic theology. The Albigensian Crusade (1209–1229) was a 20-year military campaign initiated by Pope Innocent III to eliminate Catharism in Languedoc, in southern France.
Dominic saw the need for a response that would attempt to sway members of the Albigensian movement back to mainstream Christian thought. Dominic became inspired into a reforming zeal after they encountered Albigensian Christians at Toulouse. Diego immediately saw one of the paramount reasons for the spread of the unorthodox movement- the representatives of the Holy Church acted and moved with an offensive amount of pomp and ceremony. In contrast, the Cathars generally led ascetic lifestyles. For these reasons, Diego suggested that the papal legates begin to live a reformed apostolic life. The legates agreed to change if they could find a strong leader. The prior took up the challenge, and he and Dominic dedicated themselves to the conversion of the Cathars. Despite this particular mission, Dominic met limited success converting Cathars by persuasion, "for though in his ten years of preaching a large number of converts were made, it has to be said that the results were not such as had been hoped for".
Dominican convent established
Dominic became the spiritual father to several Albigensian women he had reconciled to the faith, and in 1206 he established them in a convent in Prouille, near Toulouse. This convent would become the foundation of the Dominican nuns, thus making the Dominican nuns older than the Dominican friars. Diego sanctioned the building of a monastery for girls whose parents had sent them to the care of the Albigensians because their families were too poor to fulfill their basic needs. The monastery in Prouille would later become Dominic's headquarters for his missionary effort. After two years on the mission field, Diego died while traveling back to Spain.