During the 13th Century, Europe was rising in terms of commerce, power and influence. The ideas of pagan Aristotle and his Arab commentators began to fascinate the mind of the West. Europe was gradually facing a new world. But in the midst of this new life was also ecclesiastical corruption, despite the efforts of reformers like Innocent III. The new middle class of the cities, skeptical, increasingly educated, materialistic, could not be helped by a clergy that was generally untrained, nor by monastic foundations that were largely rural and, by definition, isolated from the currents of daily life. There was, in the words of Amos the Prophet, “a famine of the hearing of the Word of God” (Amos 8:11), and the vacuum was frequently filled by superstition, divisive heresy, and a love for this world. Various attempts were made to respond to the situation. Groups of diocesan priests living in community, the canons, engaged in parochial and theological work. In a number of places, lay preachers like the poor men of Lyons attempted to return to the simplicity of the early Church and to the Gospel-fervor of its early preachers. But most such lay groups quickly sank into doctrinal error, and had, in the end, to be suppressed.
"Arm yourself with prayer instead of a sword; be clothed with humility instead of fine raiment."
- Saint Dominic
It was in such a world that Dominic Guzman grew up, the son of a Spanish noble. Dominic was born in 1170 in Caleruega, Spain. He received his early education in Palencia. Growing up, he sold his books to buy food for the starving. News of Dominic's virtues reached the Bishop of Osma, who summoned Dominic and made him a Canon Regular of his church. Led by Diego de Acebo, the prior of the community, Dominic learned the basics of religious life and contemplation.
Diego became bishop of Osma and invited Dominic to travel with him as he spread the Gospel. Together in 1206, both men offered Pope Innocent III their services to save souls. The pope asked them to go preach to the Cathars of Languedoc. Contrary to the habits of the Cistercians, Dominic and Diego roamed the villages of Languedoc on foot, begging for bread.