Dominic was born to a wealthy family of some renown. His father was well-known in his community and highly respected. His mother lived a fairly typical life for a woman of wealth and social standing. However, she had a peculiar dream when she was pregnant with Dominic. She dreamed that a dog burst forth from her womb into the world. This dog carried a torch in its mouth and began to run from the home no matter how hard they tried to contain it. It began to set the world on fire. Dominic's mother was confused and slightly frightened by this dream but it would prove to be, at the very least, slightly prophetic. Further, Dominic was also raised by his uncle who was an archbishop--for better and worse.
Dominic was an intelligent boy and was eager to learn. He studied the arts for many years but, also, gave many years to the study of theology. His skill and intellect was apparent to his tutors and guides and he was given considerable admiration by his colleagues and fellow students. However, in 1191 a famine ravaged Spain and people became desperate for food and sustenance. Dominic was finishing his studies and felt a strong conviction concerning the lives of those who were suffering. It shocked his colleagues and tutors but Dominic began selling his clothes, furniture, books, and other possessions so that he might give his money away to the hungry. He began a process started in his conversion--pouring himself out for others so that they may have life and know compassion, mercy, and grace.Dominic was motivated by the love that God had shown him and when his colleagues asked him how he could sell his precious books he replied: "Would you have me study off these dead skins, when men are dying of hunger?"
For Dominic, moments like this would mark the time of his life. In many ways, Dominic set the world on fire with astounding love and heartbreaking compassion. But, more than this, he was marked by being a champion of orthodoxy. He spent many years combating heresies and teaching. He, primarily, debated and disputed with the Cathars. He was keen to note and comment that heretics did not seem to be ignorant people but, rather, people who had strayed from orthodoxy and found it to their liking. In a way, this means it was the Church's failure to teach and guide its members. In other words, Dominic feared that the Church had many members but less disciples. Further, heretics did not offer respect to the pomp and pageantry of the religious elite like the elite expected. Noting this, Dominic once replied to a confused but richly adorned group of rejected priests:
"It is not by the display of power and pomp, cavalcades of retainers, and richly-houseled palfreys, or by gorgeous apparel, that the heretics win proselytes; it is by zealous preaching, by apostolic humility, by austerity, by seeming, it is true, but by seeming holiness. Zeal must be met by zeal, humility by humility, false sanctity by real sanctity, preaching falsehood by preaching truth."Dominic grasped something that all else had missed. Heresy thrives when the Church fails to be what it is called to be. When the Church does not demonstrate the life of faith and, instead, settles for bland control, then it no longer proclaims redemption but, rather, reinforces the status quo. In this vacuum, heresy abounds because it takes up the mantle the Church should be wearing. It, ultimately, fails because only the Church can live into the mantle but they do damage to themselves and the world while they try.
Dominic, of course, would go on to found an order of "Friar Preachers" that would combat heresy by orthodox teaching and ministry to the needy. Starting as Dominic and six trusted friends, they traveled and preached hoping to move the Church to live into its calling and mission. Though they had their failures, the Dominicans (noted by the initials O.P. after their name) have followed after Dominic's calling to provide teaching and preaching throughout the world. As his mother's dream suggested, Dominic's life helped set the world on fire both in terms of compassion and formation but, also, by the reformation that Dominic's life led many other Christians to experience.