Saturday, July 30, 2016

St. Martin de Porres, Donatus


As some readers know, I am currently on research leave (commonly. but incorrectly. called "sabbatical") from my teaching at the Dominican School of Philosophy in Berkeley.  The project I have been working on will, I hope, result in a history of the non-ordained Dominican brothers.  Today these brothers are normally called "cooperator brothers," but in the past they were referred to as "lay brothers" (in contrast to priest brothers, who are "clerics") or, most commonly in written documents, conversi (singular conversus), a word hard to translate into English, but basically meaning an individual who has undertaken a "conversion" of life to live like a religious, often within the context of a monastery. In our order, however, conversi (lay brothers) made solemn vows and were not mere affiliates of the order, but brothers in the same sense that the clerics are and were. One of the surprises for me during this research  was to discover that there is no contemporary evidence whatsoever that the great Dominican saint Martin de Porres (1579–1639) was ever a lay or cooperator brother.

The usual version of the saint's life (for example, in Butler's Lives of the Saints, the New Catholic Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, or even Giuliana Cavallini's biography prepared for his canonization in 1962) says that originally Martin was first a member of the Dominican Third Order who was permitted to live in the Dominican community, what was and is still called a donatus, which might best be translated "oblate," a term usually associated with the Benedictines. Then, because of his holiness, he was supposedly allowed to make profession as a lay brother, the date usually being 1603.  This struck me as strange, as the oldest painting of the saint, reproduced in this post, does not show him in the habit of a conversus or lay brother.  Rather, he is wearing the habit of a tertiary.  Modern members of the Dominican Laity do not wear a habit, unlike those before the 1700s.  The reason is that before the late 1700s all Dominican tertiaries made a promise of celibacy. They were in a loose sense "religious" as we now understand the term.  Their habit was a white tunic bound with a leather belt and a black cape or mantle. They did NOT wear a scapular of any color.  Contrary to the usual images and statues, this is how St. Catherine of Siena dressed, as can be seen in the oldest painting of her by her contemporary Andrea Vanni, which I also reproduce in this post.  She correctly wears a white (tertiary) veil, no scapular, and a black mantle, just like Martin de Porres in the famous painting. Technically in the language of the time, Martin would have been a "religiosus donatus" or a "tertiarius professus."  The former term, donatus is still used for men who have made promises as a member of the Dominican laity but are allowed to live in a Dominican community and wear the modern clerical (white) habit.

Therein lies a problem that had been bothering me.  After his supposed profession as a lay brother in 1603 at the age of 24, Martin de Porres, would not have worn a tertiary habit. When professed, he would have worn the lay brothers' habit, which, in his time, had a gray scapular.  The lay brothers' scapular was changed to black in the late 1600s, after his death.  Nearly every painting and statue I have ever seen of Martin shows him, anachronistically, with the "modern" black lay brothers' scapular.  But the problem with the painting is that it portrays Martin in late middle age, not in his twenties, and he is still wearing the tertiary habit.  That the image is accurate is shown by a modern reconstruction of Martin's face based on forensic reconstruction from his skull.  I have also included a photo of that reconstruction to the right.You can read about this here. If accurate for the face, even more so for the habit. So, now the problem: why isn't the elderly Martin wearing a lay brother's habit?

In the course of my work, I discovered the startling reason.  After Martin's death, his obituary was included in the acts of the Dominican General Chapter of 1642.  When I reached those acts in the nine-volume Latin edition of the "acta" of all the chapters from 1220 to 1844, I was shocked to find that he is not called "conversus" but rather "donatus."  The text reads: "In provincia s. Ioannis de Perù in conventu Limensi ss. Rosarii obiit vir mirae virtutis et santimoniae fr. Martinus de Porres, donatus,"  That is: "In the province of St. John [the Baptist] of Peru, in the priory of the Holy Rosary in Lima, a man o f great virtues and holiness died, brother Martin de Porres, donatus."  Note it does not say "conversus" that is "lay brother."  And this is not an accident.  The same acts also give obituaries for two holy lay brothers of the Province of Peru, and it calls them "conversus."  This led me to try and find any evidence that contemporaries referred to St. Martin as a lay brother (conversus).  I found none.  Instead, I find that the life composed in Spain at the time of the first move to canonize him in 1675 specifically calls him "de la tercera Orden de N.P. Santo Domingo" ("of the third order of Our Holy Father Dominic"), not a lay brother.  And the process of his canonization published in 1686 calls him "religiosus donatus professus" ("professed oblate religious"), not "lay brother."  I have not found any evidence that anyone ever referred to him as a lay brother before the twentieth century.  In fact, at the time of his beatification in 1837, the life prepared for that process (which is available online) specifically calls him "terziario," a member of the Third Order, not a lay brother.

So where did the idea that he was a lay brother come from?  I suspect, and this is just a guess, that, it happened when statues started to be made of him after his beatification, like that reproduced on the left.  It was natural to portray him like a nineteenth- and twentieth-century donatus, who would have worn the "modern" lay brothers' habit.  No one would have remembered what a seventeenth-century tertiary habit looked like, just as they would not have known what a lay brother's habit of Martin's time (gray scapular and a large black poncho rather than the modern cappa or cape) would have looked like.  So the saint's image in modern art is, I suspect, the origin of the mistaken idea that he was a lay or cooperator brother.

UPDATE: I now have found more information on St.  Martin's status.  The Lima Process for his canonization, containing witnesses questioned in 1660, 1662, and 1671 (ed. Valencia, Spain, 1960), consistently refers to the saint as "religioso donado," as do the later documents I have already cited.  But the testimony given in 1683 at Lima by Bernardo de Medina, who wrote the first biography of Martin, reads as follows: "sa' che il detto servo di Dio Fra Martino de Porres fu religioso donato professo dell'ordine de Predicatori, e che in quanto ad giorno, mese, e anno che ricevette l'abito e professo', si rimette ai libri delle profezioni."  That is: "He knows that the said servant of God, Bro. Martin de Porres, was a professed oblate (donado) religious of the Order of Preachers, and as to the day, month, and year when he received the habit and professed, one may refer to the books of profession."  What this profession entailed, is explained in the Summarium prepared in 1732 as part of his canonization process.  It reads as follows: "Vix quindecim annos natus Ordini S. Dominici tamquam donatus  seu tertiarius laicus nomen dedit, ac post noviciatus annum, ad sollemnem trium votorum professionem, quod perraro hac tempestate donatis concessum est, die 2 iun ii anno 1603 admissus fuit."  That is :At about the age of fifteen years, [Martin] give in his name as a donatus or lay tertiary, and after a year of novitiate he was allowed on June 2, 1603, to make solemn profession of the three vows, something very rarely permitted to donati at that time.  I quote these texts from Acta Sanctorum 68 (Nov. III): 111, 115.

So St. Martin's status is now clear.  He was not a conversus or lay brother, but a tertiary oblate (donatus), however one who was granted the privilege of making solemn vows as would clerical friars, lay brothers, or cloistered nuns.  But he did so while remaining a donatus and not thereby changing his category to that of a lay brother.  So, the profession of 1603 and his tertiary habit in he painting are now both explained.  All that remains to trace is the origin of the erroneous identification of him as a lay brother, something that seems to be 20th-century.

Now (Aug. 28) another update! I just got a copy of Celia Cussen's book Black Saint of the Americas: The Life and Afterlife of Martín de Porres, which came out from Cambridge Univ. Press in 2014. This is a major work and the first "historical" study of St. Martin. She correctly identifies him as a donado. The "afterlife" section includes a review of images of the saint in art. These show, with one interesting exception that up to the 1800s he was always shown in the tertiary habit, not the lay brother's habit. The one exception she considers 17th-century, but it is "anonymous" and "whereabouts unknown." If it is authentic, it is the earliest example of the mistaken habit. Oddly, Dr. Cussen does not notice the discrepancy. I urge those intenersted in Martin and his remarkable life to take a look at this book. It seems that I am not the first to wonder about whether St. Martin was actually a lay brother.


Brendan McAnerney said...

Fascinating... thank you Augustine!

Dominic McManus, OP said...

Is Juan Macias one of the other "holy Friars" similarly misnamed?

Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P. said...

Dear Brother Dominic,

No, Juan Massias was still alive, so there is, obviously, no obituary in 1642. And there is not reason to believe that the two other brothers with obituaries in 1642 were anything but "conversi" or lay brothers. My point was that the Peru friars knew the difference between a "conversus" (lay brother) and a "donatus" (member of the third order living in community with the friars).

Benvenuta said...

I thought it was offered to him toward the very end of his life but he refused it?
Before that he was "just" a tertiary living with the friars.
I suspect that he probably became a "lay" brother out of a common usuage not meaning cooperator brother. In the same way St. Catherine di Ricci wasn't a NUN and many cloistered beatae were not technically nuns but sisters (except there wasn't a canonical category back then of sister) but they looked like it! For example, we here at Summit weren't nuns until 1953 but we followed the "2nd Order" Rule and looked like nuns.
This is awesome research! We look forward to your new book!

Emily Chudy said...

This is fascinating -- thank you for sharing!

martin farrell said...

Dear Fr. Augustine,

This is FASCINATING!!! I wish you would produce more information from your research about early, daily OP life that dealt with minutiae which has been forgotten in more recent years. That Tertiaries promised to be celibate makes perfect sense to me now, especially in light of much of what I've read about Third Order communities which lived in proximity to First and Second Order houses. I wondered why "spouses" were never mentioned, and now I know!

Here's a question which I have always been troubled by: While I know that 3rd Order "Regular" communities of men have existed in the past, such as Lacordaire's teaching community, why is it that the First Order seems so resistant to the development of 3rd Order Regular communities of men today? Apart from the community of Tertiary friars in the Phillipines who work among lepers, I am familiar with no successful attempts which have been supported by the Order in modern times.

Thanks for your work!
fr. Martin Farrell, op
Ottawa OP Community

Patricia Hale said...

The Anglican Dominicans are reading about your work with great interest!
Blessings and peace,
Mo. Patti Hale, OPA

Mr. Jody Lamar (Thomas-Mary) Finklea, O.P. said...

Fr. Augustine,

Thank you for this post and your research. Like Saint Francis from your earlier work, these historically accurate depictions of our saints more truly bring them to life in the contemporary world.

Cletus Nwafor said...

Thank you,friar Thompson for this incredible update. Warm greetings from Nigeria!
~Cletus Nwafor,OP

Cletus Nwafor said...

Thank you,friar Thompson for this incredible update. Warm greetings from Nigeria!
~Cletus Nwafor,OP

iantonb said...

Thank you, fr. Augustine. I have a doubt. You say that "before the late 1700s all Dominican tertiaries made a promise of celibacy", but The Rule of Munio said in the third paragraph that women only can profess with public consent of their spouses ("nisi de virorum suorum licentia et consensu, de quo consensu fiat publicum instrumentum", according to the text of Caffarini). And the Rule claims the same requirement for the men in the fourth paragraph.

Thanks again and greetings from Spain.

Ignacio Antón (lay dominican)

Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P. said...

Actually, those texts of the rule indicate just the opposite of how you read it. NOrmally Dominican penitents were widows (the most common) or unmarried (e.g. Catherine of Siena, Cattherine de' Ricci and many many others) and so chastity was not an issue. Married women (and married men--very rare before 1800) could only become penitents with permission of their spouses because chastity was required for the status and a living spouse had a right to the "marriage debt." I am glad to see that you know that Munio did not write the Rule. It was composed about 1400 and approved by the pope only in 1405. For the sake of readers, this was proven about ten years ago by Prof. Maiju Lehmijoki-Gardner (see her book "Dominican Penitent Women".

Also note that the Rule speaks of a "publicum instrumentum," not a "profession." This is because, since the 1200s, one became a pentitent by making a legal declaration before a notary, not by professing vows publicly. Penitents made their "vows" privately before their confessor. Canon law did and still does require that a spouse get the other spouse,s consent before making a vow of chastity (even private). But no chastity, then no possible status as a third-order penitent, at least until after the French Revolution.

Married Tertiaries who do not make a vow of chastity are an invention of the 19th century. That lack of the vow of chastity is also the reason that they do not wear habits, the way all earlier tertiaries did. Of course the celibate tertiaries did wear habits and often still do (they are "Third Order Regulars," what we call "Dominican sisters" today). Tommaso Caffarini had a big struggle to get Maria of Venice permission to become a tertiary because her abusive husband had abandoned her and they could not get him to give her permission to undertake the chastity required of penitents. Even though he didn't live with her! See "Dominican Penitent Women" on this.

iantonb said...

Thank you very much for your answer.

Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P. said...

You are most welcome. Thank you for the observations. I hope, when I have finished the book I am writing on the history of the Dominican lay brothers to begin one on the history of the 3d Order / Dominican laity. I have given a talk on the current status of studies on the penitents here:

Eddy said...

If you agree, I'd like to translate into Italian.

Edoardo Mattei
Lay Dominican
Provincia Romana - Provincia di Santa Caterina da Siena (Italy Center)

Unknown said...

Is there a difference other than in name? Was there some difference in the requirements to say the Holy Office, ownership of personal property, or to profess vows of one degree or another., and if so what was the difference. Having read the post, it seems a difference in name only. Is the nature of the state in which he was admitted to your order related to the accidents of his birth. In comparison, the SMOM in past times, men of common birth would only be allowed to join as professed members in the rank of Donatus, which still survives as a professed vocation, at least in statute, to this day.

One author I had read stated clearly that it was his race that precluded him from being admitted to Holy Orders, or his legitimacy. Of course, there is no mention of his believing he had or was called to a priestly vocation, so the author did not establish that there was ever an instance in which such presumed injustice might have occurred. But my initial thought upon reading the work in question was that it St. Martin's work as a surgeon that would have prevented the consecration of his hands to service at the altar. This leads me to wonder if perhaps a canon was in place debarring surgeons' and obstercians from religious life at the time analogous to that canon debarring them from Holy Orders. Here again, comparison might be made to the Order of Malta, engaged in that time in its nursing vocation, as ever it has been, which provides in its statues arround this time for the presence in its Hospital in Valletta of a surgeon and what amount to surgeons in training (barbieri, I think was the term used), who do not seem to be members of the order.

I had once spoken to missionary priest who was given a dispensation to be a surgeon during the time when the 1917 Code of Canon Law was in place, who said the prohibition was from the possibility of contact of the surgeon's hands with blood or lochia or both, which would render the surgeon ritually unfit for service at the altar in direct imitation of the Old Testament prohibition of the those becoming ritually unclean through such contact from entering the precints of the Temple, whether they were priest or no.

So while he, in acknowledgement of his great piety, may have been given the dignity of the habit even as some non-espicopal prelates are given the dignity to wear pontificals, maybe it was his work in caring for the wounds of the malades of Lima that prevented his entering into the state of being a conversus, since his presence in choir might in some way profane (in the truest sense of the word, I suppose) the action of the choir imitating Christ in the Temple Not Built by Human Hands in their recitation of the Divine Office.