(d. 1237 A.D.)
Christendom was badly mixed up in the 13th century. People were getting greedy and their faith had become clouded by false ideas. God therefore sent two great saints to straighten things out. St. Francis countered greed by preaching: “You can’t take it with you.” St. Dominic countered false ideas by preaching: “Listen again to the truths that matter.”
Like St. Francis, St. Dominic founded a religious order to carry on his message. One of the most notable members of the early Dominicans (or “Order of Preachers”) was Blessed Jordan of Saxony, the brilliant thinker and orator who succeeded St. Dominic as general superior of the Dominican friars. Jordan had not only a sharp and golden tongue; he also had wonderful common sense.
Blessed Jordan was a native of the German kingdom of Saxony. As a promising theological student, he was sent to the University of Paris. It was there in 1219 that he made the personal acquaintance of St. Dominic. So attracted was he to the founder of the Order of Preachers that in 1220 he asked to be admitted as a member. His ability and eloquence were already so obvious that in the very same year this young new friar was summoned to Bologna, Italy, to take part in the first general convention of the Dominican order. Not long after that, he was chosen head of the order’s Lombard province. And, when St. Dominic died in 1222, the community elected Jordan to succeed as father general, even though he had been a member for only two years.
Friar Jordan’s generalate saw the rapid extension of the order, especially throughout the Germanic countries, and from there north into Scandinavia. The master general did much traveling himself, particularly to university cities like Oxford in England.
By his own powers of persuasion and oratorical skill, he succeeded in attracting several outstanding candidates to his order. One of them was the great theologian and bishop, St. Albert the Great. But Jordan was no intellectual snob. At Paris some of his confreres once expressed concern because their 60 novices were proving slow-witted in their studies. “Let them be,” he replied. “Despise not these little ones: I tell you that many among them will become excellent preachers.” And so they did. (Some persons bloom later than others.)
Blessed Jordan also allowed for human frailties. One evening when he was beginning to recite the community night prayer with a group of young aspirants, one of them started to giggle nervously, and the giggling spread to the rest. An older friar was shocked at the levity and wanted to stop it. Not Friar Jordan. After they had finished the prayer, however imperfectly, he reproved the shocked brother. “Who made you novice master?” he asked him. Then he said to the youngsters, “You may well laugh, for you have escaped from the Devil, who formerly held you in bondage. Laugh away, dear sons!”
Father Jordan also had wise answers for fussy questions. A proud friar once asked if an “Our Father” could possibly please God as much when prayed by an uneducated layman as it would when prayed by a learned priest who fully understood it. Jordan replied, “A jewel in the hand of one who cannot appreciate its worth loses none of its value!”
To another who asked whether reading the Scripture or praying was better, he said, “You might as well ask me which is better – eating or drinking!’ “What is the best way to pray?” asked third person. “The way in which you can pray most fervently,” he answered.
Father Jordan and two other Dominicans were drowned off the coast of Syria in 1237. They had been bound for the Holy Land. His body, washed up or the beach, was buried at Acre. A young Carmelite of Acre who was troubled about his own vocation commented “This Friar Jordan was a good man and all he got for it was to be drowned!” It is said that Blessed Jordan appeared in a vision to this doubter and said, “Don’t fear, Brother. Everyone who serves Jesus Christ to the end will be saved.”
That’s a reminder we can all find reassuring.
–Father Robert F. McNamara