O Worthy Successor of St Dominic
When Bl Jordan was asked what Rule the Friars Preachers professed, he answered: "The Rule of the Friars Preachers. And this is their Rule: to live virtuously, to learn, to teach." And if we were to ask what he meant by living virtuously, we need only look to his life and example. As the Benedictus antiphon from the Dominican Supplement sings: "He showed himself in all things to be a minister of God, in his labours, in vigils, in fasting, chastity, knowledge, forbearence, and his unfeigned charity." This charity was evident in Bl Jordan through his care and concern for novices, for the brethren and for the salvation of souls, but above all he had a special care for the nuns of St Agnes in Bologna and Bl Diana of Andalo. His letters to her survive as a unique testament to the love between two saints which was perfected in their love for Christ and passion for the saving Gospel of Truth.
The Dominicans Nuns of Summit (NJ) are reprinting the book 'To Heaven with Diana!' by Gerald Vann, OP and these letters are contained within. If you're interested in this account of one of the great pairings in Christian spiritual writing, do check out the sisters' blog on Jordan and Diana.
Of all these letters, one stands out for its ardour, longing and beauty. It is the last letter (which I reproduce in full below) that Bl Jordan wrote to Bl Diana in 1236 shortly before Diana's death and then Jordan's own death on 13 February 1237 when he and two companion friars drowned after a ship from the Holy Land - where he had been visiting the new Dominican priory in Acre - was caught up in a storm at sea and wrecked on a beach. Jordan's premature death was a tragedy for the Order but he had guided the Friars Preachers in the spirit of St Dominic for fifteen years - and drawn over a thousand novices to the Order - and we thank God for the gift of so worthy a successor to St Dominic! It has been said that "Jordan who, more than any one man after St Dominic himself, created the spirit of the Order, gave to it a joy and an informality in its daily life which are amongst its greatest treasures, for they enshrine and express a whole theology of religious life."
The Vitae Fratrum records that at his death, "there shone each night great lights from heaven over their unburied bodies as they lay upon the beach. At such a marvel the natives came in crowds, and those who witnessed the miracle do further testify that an exceedingly sweet fragrance exhaled from the bodies of our three brethren, which for ten days clung to the hands of the men who carried them to their graves. And the same perfume was perceived all round the spot where they were laid, until our brethren came in a ship and carried them away to Acre: and there the blessed father lies bestowing benefits on many." Sadly the Priory at Acre was destroyed by the Turks and the relics destroyed but there is no doubt that Blessed Jordan still blesses the Order from his place in heaven.
The Prior of Limoges attested to seeing a vision in which he "beheld Master Jordan emerge from the bosom of the deep, clad in the habit of the Order and looking happier and more majestic than ever he had seen him before. Then with his eyes fixed on a crucifix which he held, his hands and feet apart as artists love to represent St Andrew the apostle, he speedily and confidently mounted heavenwards."
This same confidence in Christ's salvation and love for the Passion is seen throughout Jordan's letters; his valedictory letter to Diana gives us a glimpse of this and is offered here in tribute to the blessed Master who "spoke and preached the Lord Jesus and [for whom] the hand of the Lord was with him" (Magnificat antiphon).
"To his dearest daughter Diana, at Bologna: Brother Jordan, useless servant of the Order of Preachers: salvation and the continual friendship of Jesus Christ.
Since, my dearest Sister, it is not possible, as we should both wish, to visit you with my bodily presence and to console myself in your company, I yet find some refreshment and relief for my heart's desire when I can visit you by means of a letter, writing to let you know how things are with me, as I would like to know concerning you, for your progress and your joy are sweet nourishment for my spirit. But you do not know with any certainty to what ends of the earth it may fall to my lot to journey, and if you did know, you would not find messengers who would bring me your letters. Yet what we have written to each other, my beloved Sister, is a very small thing; the ardent love with which we love each other in the Lord is in our inmost hearts; and in this intimate affection of charity you speak with me and I with you continually, things which no tongue can worthily express or letter contain.
O Diana, the present condition of our life which we have to bear is wretched, since in this life we cannot love each other without pain or think of one another without anxiety. For you are pained and troubled because it is not granted to you to see me continually, and I suffer because [the joy of ] your presence is too seldom granted to me. Who will lead us into the Strong City, into the city of the Lord of Hosts which the Most High himself founded, where we shall suffer no more from longing either for him or for one another? Here we are wounded daily and the very fibres of our being wrenched asunder, and each day these very miseries of ours make us cry out: 'Who will deliver us from the body of this death?' Yet we must patiently bear with this life and, as far as our daily poverty will allow us, fix our mind solely on him who alone is able to deliver us from our necessities, in whom alone is rest found, and apart from whom, whatever we contemplate, we shall find only tribulation and abundance of sorrow. Meanwhile, let us accept with joy whatever share of sadness falls to our lot; for in the same measure that tribulations have been meted out to us will joy be measured to us, poured into us by the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to whom is honour, glory, power and empire for ever and ever. Amen.
Pray for me, as I know you do. Greet the Prioress for me, and Galiana. Greet our special friends outside the convent and very specially those who are in the house with you, if they happen to come and see you, and recommend me to their prayers.
Farewell, beloved daughter, in Jesus Christ the Son of God."
May Blessed Jordan of Saxony pray for the Order of Preachers today and always and grant an increase of vocations to the Dominican Family. May he stir up the hearts of young men, as once he did on this earth, with a fervour for truth and to give themselves in its service in the Order of Preachers. May he clothe us novices with his zeal and passion for Christ the Word and may he give the novices cause to laugh with joy, as once they did, in his company for ever.
The stained glass, above left, is from St Dominic's church in Washington D.C. and it shows Pope Gregory IX canonizing St Dominic in 1234. I am assuming that the friar kneeling at the Pope's feet and receiving the canonization decree is Bl Jordan, successor of St Dominic who stands behind observing the scene. The fresco, above right, is by an assistant of Bl Fra' Angelico.