Principles and Practice
A GENERAL VIEW of DOMINICAN LIFE
The Dominican enters the Order of Friars Preachers to save his soul. He could have saved it outside the Order, but, once he takes vows, must save it through the spirituality of the Order. Nothing could be more vital for him, therefore, than to understand Dominican spirituality. It is composed of the end St. Dominic chose for his Order and the means he established to realize this end. In practice, the Order’s spirituality means living the religious life as it is prescribed in the Rule of St. Augustine, the Constitutions, and the family customs which have developed over the centuries. If the Dominican lives these things established for him, he follows a spirituality that will lead him to salvation.
St. Dominic embraced the same general elements of the Christian life shared by others in the Church, but blended them into a specific spirituality that is original, balanced, and unique. The spiritual life of the Friars Preachers draws from Sacred Scripture, bases itself on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Sacraments, and the liturgy, incorporates principles of traditional asceticism, and drinks from the purest sources of Western mysticism and monasticism. It shares characteristics found in the spirituality of the clergy, in earlier monasticism, and in the evangelical movements of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. But the Order of Preachers has given all these common elements a Dominican emphasis. Even where its spirituality most closely touches that of another group, such as the Franciscans, it emphasizes shared elements in a distinctive way. For example, though poverty is a major characteristic of the spiritual life of Dominicans, it has never dominated the spiritual horizon as it does among Franciscans. Instead Dominican life has pivoted around the preaching apostolate.
The spirituality of the Friars Preachers is exceedingly lofty. It is theocentric, Christological, sacerdotal (in origin, the Order is a branch of Canons Regular and is, therefore, predominantly priestly in membership), monastic, contemplative, and apostolic. It is, in truth, the spirituality of Christ the Preacher and of the Apostles. The primary intention is to elevate the friar to the heights of contemplation, but going beyond this, Dominican contemplation itself is intended to fructify in the apostolate for souls, especially through preaching, teaching, and writing. Contemplation is the generic element, the one the Friars Preachers share with other contemplative Orders; the salvation of souls through preaching is the specific note distinguishing Dominicans from all other Orders. The Constitutions clearly indicate this twofold character:
The principal reason we are gathered together is that we dwell together in harmony and have one mind and one heart in God, in other words, that we be found perfect in charity. . . Our Order is known to have been founded from the beginning expressly for preaching and the salvation of souls.
. . .This end we ought to pursue, preaching and teaching from the abundance and fulness of contemplation in imitation of our most holy Father Dominic, who spoke only with God or of God for the benefit of souls.
The Second Order places the same double purpose before its members: “The nuns of the sacred Order of Preachers . . . strive after Christian perfection; and by means of that perfection, implore for the labors of their brethren abundant fruit in holiness.” The same orientation of spirituality is found in the Constitutions of the sisters of the Third Order:
The principal and essential end of our Congregation is the personal sanctification of the sisters. The secondary or special end is the education of Catholic youth, care of orphans, the nursing of the sick, or the conducting of retreat houses.
Members of the secular Third Order, tertiaries, endeavor to sanctify themselves according to the Dominican spirit. Their Rule adapts the basic ends of the Order to their life as members of the laity:
The end of the Third Order is the sanctification of its own members by the practice of a more perfect Christian life and the promotion of the salvation of souls in a way that is suitable to the state of the faithful living in the world.
The contemplative aspect of the Order’s life is found especially in elements borrowed from the monks and canons (See Summa Theol., II II, q. 188, a. 8, ad 2 ) . The Constitutions enumerate three contemplative features of traditional monasticism among the four fundamental means of attaining the Order’s ends, namely,”. . . the three solemn vows of obedience, chastity and poverty, the regular life with its monastic observances, the solemn chanting of the Divine Office, and the assiduous study of sacred truth:” These are essential means which can never be radically altered. They separate the Dominican from the world, direct him to God, and oblige him to live a contemplative and penitential life in the pursuit of Christian perfection.
The Contemplative Quality of Dominican Life
The solemn chanting of the Divine Office, especially, disposes the friar for contemplation. It centers his life around the liturgy and nourishes the life of his spirit. In the early Order, two periods of “secret prayers”, the one after lauds, the second after compline, prolonged the effect of the canonical hours. In the modern Order, fixed periods of mental prayer continue this early practice. During these “secret prayers,” the friars, in imitation of the prayer of St. Dominic, were permitted much liberty of spirit. Some recited vocal prayers, psalms, and Aves; others visited altars, making abundant use of gestures, genuflections, and prostrations. St. Dominic himself was always in prayer. The short work, The Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic, indicate that he employed a variety of methods and bodily postures. Here is how he occupied himself during the period of secret prayers:
He had yet another manner of praying at once beautiful, devout, and pleasing, which he practiced after the canonical hours and the thanksgiving following meals. He was then zealous and filled with the spirit of devotion which he drew from the divine words which had been sung in choir or refectory. Our father quickly withdrew to some solitary place, to his cell or elsewhere, and recollected himself in the presence of God. He would sit quietly, and after the sign of the cross, begin to read from a book opened before him. His spirit would then be sweetly aroused as if he heard Our Lord speaking. . .
St. Dominic taught his friars to contemplate even while on the highways. He would say to his companion: “Let us think of the Savior:” He himself often sang the Veni Creator or the Ave Maris Stella as he walked.
He delighted in giving himself completely to meditation disposing for contemplation, and he would say to his companion on the journey: “It is written in Osee: ‘I will lead her (my spouse) into the wilderness and I will speak to her heart.”‘ Parting from his companion, he would go on ahead or, more frequently, follow at some distance. Thus withdrawn, he would walk and pray; in his meditation he was inflamed and the fire of charity was enkindled.
He constantly urged his friars “to speak only with God or of God” and had this exhortation incorporated into the Constitutions. For more than seven hundred years, this paternal admonition has stood at the head of the Constitutions. Concerning the special end of the Order, preaching for the salvation of souls, the Constitutions state: “This end we ought to pursue, preaching and teaching from the abundance and fulness of contemplation, in imitation of our holy father Dominic who did not speak except with God or of God for the good of souls:” They also admonish the master of novices to instruct his charges about the contemplative end of the Order.
Before everything else let the novice master teach the novices and earnestly recommend to them that they carry out fully the precept concerning the love of God and neighbor, at the head of the Rule . . . along with the nature and general end of the religious life — the personal sanctification of each member — let the novices be taught the special end of our Order, namely, to communicate to others the things they contemplate in prayer and study . . . .
Dominican spirituality is also penitential. This quality is found especially in the vows, the regular observances of monasticism, and in the community life. These elements of the Order’s life are indeed directed to more sublime purposes than penance, and we shall note these in later chapters, but the friar would be mistaken if he overlooked the many opportunities for mortification and sacrifice that life in the priory presents. We can readily appreciate the penitential nature of fasting and abstinence, disciplines, silence, the continual attempt to purify conscience according to a comprehensive code of faults to be declared in chapter, and wearing the religious habit. Even the Office chanted together in choir, while serving the supreme ends of religion and promoting the highest spiritual good of the friars, has its penitential aspect. Humbert of Romans refers to this feature of choral recitation: “The greater part of our penance consists in the recitation of the Divine Office.”
The penitential character of the Order’s regular observances is better appreciated when their source is considered. They were borrowed bodily from the Premonstratentians, who, in turn, took them from the austere Cistercians. The Founder accentuated these traditional observances by adding a chapter on silence to the Constitutions and by embracing the severe deprivations of mendicant poverty — a poverty which abandoned fixed revenues and secure income, not only for the individual but for the entire Order. Such total surrender of property entailed a profound reliance on Divine Providence. When the conditions of European life changed, Pope Sixtus IV mitigated this strict regime, in 1475, permitting and commanding all Mendicant Orders, except the Franciscans, to own corporate property. The Order, nevertheless, still looks on poverty as a primary means of asceticism for its members and as an effective instrument of its apostolic work. The poverty of Dominican religious and the moderate character of their houses and convents witness to the “other-worldly” character of the Christian message.
St. Dominic had such a high estimate of the monastic part of the Order’s life that he carried it as much as possible into the apostolate.
Almost always when he was outside the priory, on hearing the first stroke of the matins bell from the monasteries, he used to arise and arouse the friars. With great devotion he celebrated the whole night and day Offices at the prescribed hours so that he omitted nothing. After compline, when traveling, he kept, and had his companions keep, silence, just as though they were in the priory. Then in the morning, while en route, he had them remain silent almost until tierce every day…
When Brother Dominic was in a priory where he had to make a stop, he conformed to the community in food and drink, kept the rule entirely and fully, and did all he could to have his friars keep it.
Besides their penitential aspects, Dominican community life and observances serve another purpose, forming the friar and preparing him for contemplation. Constant fidelity to the rule imposes considerable self-control on the religious, demands constant scrutiny of conscience, and whole-hearted obedience to rule and authority. This regime leads to a more perfect exercise of many virtues. Thus it restrains the natural impetuosity of his senses and emotions, establishes peace in his soul, and nourishes his fraternal charity, a prime requisite for contemplation and apostolic activity.
The Priestly Character of Dominican Life
Since the Order of Friars Preachers is at root, by papal confirmation and the use of the Rule of St. Augustine, an Order of Canons Regular, its spirituality is priestly, theocentric, and Christological. The solemn worship of the Church is a fundamental element in the life of a Canon. By origin, the Canons were officially designated by the Church to continue without interruption her official prayer-life, carrying out in the cathedrals and collegiate churches of the world the solemn acts of the liturgy — the solemn Mass and the solemn chanting of the Divine Office. In framing the Order’s first Constitutions St. Dominic began them with a detailed regulation of the conventual Mass and the singing of matins and the canonical hours. The present Constitutions impose the choral recitation of the Divine Office as an essential means for achieving the aims of Dominican spirituality and the apostolate.
During Dominic’s own lifetime, the Order endeavored to establish a uniform rite, so that its children everywhere might praise God through the use of a single liturgy. These efforts did not cease until 1256 when a highly satisfactory Dominican Rite had been developed. Its excellence was so appreciated that many dioceses and other Orders adopted it.
The priestly spirituality of the Friars Preachers has always accented loyalty to the Church, to the Pope, and to the truths of the Catholic Faith. From these loyalties has sprung the Order’s marked emphasis on preaching and the salvation of souls. Primarily the Order seeks to do the work of the apostle, propagating the Faith, defending it, and carrying out the final command of Christ: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).
The love of Catholic truth directed Dominican attention immediately on God, the beginning and end of all creation, on Christ Jesus, “the way, the truth, and the life”, man’s way of return to God, on the Mass and Sacraments (especially the Eucharist), and on Mary, the Mother of God.
Devotion to Christ
The Order’s tender affection for the Person of Christ arose from the example of St. Dominic, from the pursuit of personal sanctification by the friars, and from its mission to preach Christ Crucified. Though springing from these sources, it flowed in channels common to the Middle Ages. The friars were drawn like their contemporaries toward the Sacred Humanity of Christ. They manifested and helped develop the devotions which focused on the Sacred Passion, the Precious Blood, the Five Wounds, the Pierced Heart, and the Blessed Sacrament.
Engrossed in his contemplation of the sufferings of Christ, St. Dominic would remain before the altar or in the chapter room with his gaze fixed on the Crucified One, looking upon Him with perfect attention. He genuflected frequently, again and again. He would continue sometimes from after compline until midnight, now rising, now kneeling …. Thus there was formed in our holy father, St. Dominic, a great confidence in God’s mercy . . . .
St. Thomas, earnestly gazing at the crucifix, was raised upward toward his Crucified Savior and heard him say from the Cross: “You have written well of me, Thomas. What do you desire as a reward for your labors?” Thomas replied: “Lord, only yourself.” Bl. Henry Suso, seeking union with the Divinity, complained to his beloved Eternal Wisdom: “I look everywhere for your divinity but you show me your humanity; I desire your sweetness but you offer me your bitterness; I want to suckle but you teach me to fight.” Eternal Wisdom replied:
No one can arrive at divine heights or taste mystical sweetness without passing through my human bitterness. The higher anyone climbs without passing through my humanity, the deeper will be his fall. Anyone who wishes to attain what you are seeking must tread the road of my humanity and pass through the gate of sufferings. Therefore, dismiss your faintheartedness and join me in the arena of knightly valor . . .
Henry pioneered in developing the Way of the Cross. He customarily made a hundred meditations on the Passion of Christ which carried him from the Last Supper to Calvary. He began meditating in the chapter room of the priory and progressed, station by station, through cloister into choir, where he ended his devotion at the foot of the crucifix which stood above the screen between nave and choir. During this sorrowful journey he pictured the Passion in detail,
so that Christ’s every pain, from beginning to end, was individually recalled …. Not content, however, with keeping this devotion to himself, he wanted to share it with other souls who might experience the same difficulty and dryness while meditating on the passion, sole source of our salvation. Therefore, he wrote out the meditations.
Bl. Alvarez of Cordova, returning from a visit to the Holy Land in 1402, conceived the idea of spiritually renewing his pilgrimage by means of tableaux. In the gardens of Scala Coeli, founded by him in 1423, he set up a series of oratories with pictures recalling the holy places in Palestine.
St. Catherine de Ricci, who for twelve years, from 1542 to 1554, experienced an ecstatic vision of the Passion every week, developed a devotion called the Canticle of the Passion. Its verses, selected from the Scriptures, are arranged as a summary of Christ’s sufferings. The brief meditation made on each verse powerfully impresses the soul with the greatness of the Passion and brings it the fruits of redemption. This devotion is still practiced in some of the priories of the Order. At Santa Sabina, its headquarters in Rome, the Canticle occupies the period of mental prayer on the Fridays of Lent. The cantor, kneeling before the altar, begins the verses, which are taken up by the choir, or he sings them alone. Between each he pauses for some minutes to permit the friars to ponder the verse just sung. As a fitting close to the exercise, though not part of it, he blesses the community with a relic of the True Cross which, meanwhile, has been exposed on the altar, flanked by lighted candles.
Devotion to the suffering Christ focused the attention of the early friars on the Five Wounds. The devotion carried them inward to the Pierced Heart of Christ. Albert the Great saw the Blessed Sacrament as the love-gift of the Divine Heart. Meister Eckhart took a step further; speaking of the Eucharistic Heart, he said:
We see how heat draws all things to itself . . . with such fire did our Lord Jesus Christ burn on the Cross. His heart burns like a fire and a furnace from which the flames burst forth on all sides. He was thus inflamed on the Cross by his fire of love for the whole world. Therefore, he drew all the world to himself with his heat of love.
Saints Catherine of Siena and Catherine de Ricci experienced an “exchange of hearts” with Christ. In ecstasy, St. Rose of Lima heard him saying, “Rose of my heart, be thou my spouse.” St. Martin of Porres merited to drink from the side of Christ.
The wound in the side of Christ, the Precious Blood, and the Pierced Heart were a constant preoccupation of St. Catherine of Siena. In a beautiful passage in one of her letters, she summarizes the inner meaning of these devotions:
Place your lips to the side of the Son of God, for it is an opening which emits the fires of charity and pours forth its Blood to wash us from our iniquities. The soul which reposes there and looks with the eyes of its soul on the Heart opened and consumed by love will be made conformable to him, for seeing itself so much loved it cannot fail to love in return. That soul becomes perfect because what it loves it loves for God and it loves nothing outside of him. In desire it becomes to him another self, since it has no other will but that of God.
St. Catherine of Siena, St. Catherine de Ricci, Bl. Lucy of Narni, and, it is estimated, eighty-three other Dominicans were favored with the stigmata.
The Order’s devotion to the Holy Name sprang from its preaching mission. By vocation, the Order was commissioned to carry knowledge of this name to every tribe and nation on earth. Henry of Cologne, drawn to the Order in 1220 by Reginald of Orleans, was the first Dominican to manifest this devotion. Jordan of Saxony, who loved Henry as a brother, closes his affectionate summary of his friend’s life with these words:
He was accustomed to propose the Name of Jesus, most worthy of all reverence and worship, that Name, I say, which is above all names; so much so, that even today when in church or during a sermon this Name is pronounced, the affection of many hearts is immediately stirred to a manifestation of reverence.
Perhaps it was the knowledge of Dominican preaching of this devotion that prompted Pope Gregory X to turn to Bl. John of Vercelli, Master General, for implementation of the decision of the Second Council of Lyons. The Council had decreed that the faithful should be taught to bow their heads when the Holy Name was mentioned in reparation for the blasphemies and irreverence of Christians. Vercelli organized an Order-wide preaching campaign to obey the pope’s command. Devotion to the Holy Name was continued in the fourteenth century by the Dominican nuns of the Rhineland under the urging of Blessed Henry Suso, who preached “the love of the sweet name of Jesus far and wide,” seeking “with great enthusiasm to enkindle the name of Jesus in all cold hearts.”
In the fifteenth century, Dominicans established the Holy Name Society in many places. The most glorious pages in its history, however, were written in the United States by Father Charles Hyacinth McKenna, the “Apostle of the Holy Name and of the Holy Rosary”. After Fr. McKenna obtained a papal indult in 1896 permitting its establishment in every church, his preaching made the Society popular throughout the country. The Society has fostered the faith of Catholic men and ensured their frequent reception of the Sacraments. Great Holy Name parades and conventions have given the people of the United States striking manifestations of the Catholic Faith.
A prominent characteristic of the spiritual life of Saints Dominic, Thomas Aquinas, Catherine of Siena, Vincent Ferrer, and many other Dominicans was devotion to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament. Nowhere did St. Thomas display his faith in the Eucharist more forcefully than in his protestation when receiving Holy Viaticum:
I am receiving thee, O price of my soul’s redemption: all my studies, my vigils, and my labors have been for love of thee. I have taught much and written much of the most sacred Body of Jesus Christ; I have taught and written in the faith of Jesus Christ and the holy Roman Church, to whose judgment I offer and submit everything.
The outstanding love of St. Thomas for the Blessed Sacrament, and his writings on the Eucharist merited for him the title “Eucharistic Doctor.”
Devotion to Mary
Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God, flowed from Dominican devotion to Christ. The friars were convinced that the Order owed its foundation to her intercession. They placed her name in the profession formula, promising obedience “to God, and the Blessed Mary, and St. Dominic, and the master general”. The Order obliged its children to recite Mary’s Little Office daily, except on major feasts. The friars celebrated her Saturday Office, her many feasts, solemnly chanted the Salve Regina to terminate Compline, visited her altars, saluted her images, and recited the Ave Maria hundreds of times daily. Through the Rosary Confraternity, they gave the most excellent Marian devotion to the Church. Focusing attention on the principal mysteries of Our Lord’s life, the Rosary in a sense epitomizes Dominican spirituality. It summarizes the liturgical cycles, combines tender devotion to Christ and his Mother with strict theology, and leads to contemplation. The Rosary is a way of proclaiming the truths of faith expressed in the form of praise.
Dominican Apostolic Spirituality
St. Dominic joined the spiritual practices of the Order’s life and its apostolic activity in an inseparable union. Going beyond traditional monasticism, he made Dominican spirituality apostolic. His own prayer and penance were strongly oriented toward, and motivated by, the salvation of souls. The canonization witnesses unanimously speak of his compassion, prayer, and penance for sinners. His estimate of the apostolic value of penance is well illustrated by an episode that occurred while he was still preaching to the Albigenses. On one occasion, when on their way to debate with heretics, St. Dominic and his companions, including the bishop of the place, walked barefooted at the Saint’s suggestion. Losing their way, they asked directions from a native, an Albigensian, who maliciously led them through a thicket where their legs and feet were severly torn by thorns. Then Dominic encouraged his companions: “Let us hope in the Lord, for the victory shall be ours; already our sins are washed away in blood.” Often he took off his shoes when traveling to endure the penance of the stony roads. He was constantly alert to benefit spiritually by unexpected mortifications. When he stubbed his toes against the stones, was poorly served at meals, was scoffed at and mistreated by the Albigenses, his only answer was, ” It is a penance.”
Dominic’s apostolic spirit gained the highest recognition a few years after his death when his friend, Pope Gregory IX, prepared to canonize him. When the friars came to beg this favor from the Pope, he chided them for being so slow to promote Dominic’s cause. “In him,” he said, “I knew a man who lived the rule of the apostles in its totality.” John of Spain during the Canonization process testified:
He was filled with compassion for his neighbors and most ardently desired their salvation. He himself constantly and frequently preached and, in every way he could urged the friars to preach, begging and advising them to be solicitous for the salvation of souls, and sending them to preach.
Jordan of Saxony wrote of Dominic:
God gave him the singular grace of weeping for sinners, the unfortunate, and the afflicted. He carried their miseries in the sanctuary of his compassionate heart and poured forth his burning love in floods of tears. Spending the whole night in prayer, he was accustomed to pray to his Father over and over again in secret. His frequent and special prayer to God was for the gift of true charity capable of laboring for and winning the salvation of men, since he deemed that he would be a true member of Christ only when he could devote himself entirely to gaining souls, like the Lord Jesus, the Savior of all, who offered himself completely for our salvation.
The modern Order cherishes these lessons of St. Dominic. The 1962 general chapter pointed out anew the close connection between prayer, penance, and the apostolate:
We earnestly urge and advise our brethren who are engaged in the sacred ministry that they make the note of austerity which is proper to our Order evident also in their apostolate, especially in their way of life, clothing, means of transportation, etc., so that their preaching may become more efficacious through the testimony of their lives.
The contemplative Dominican preacher must pursue evangelical perfection; his must be the spirituality of the Apostles; he must imitate the Poor Christ of the Gospel, the Preacher, who, having formed his Apostles, sent them two by two to preach the Gospel. St. Dominic established apostolic spirituality as the criterion for his children. They must imitate the lives of the Apostles and follow the evangelical way of preaching. Here are the instructions for preachers St. Dominic incorporated into the Constitutions:
When those who are approved are sent out to preach, they shall be assigned companions by the prior according as he judges expedient in the light of their character and dignity. Receiving a blessing, they shall then go forth as men desirous of their own salvation and the salvation of others. Let them act with religious decorum as men of the Gospel, following in the footsteps of their Savior speaking with God or about God to themselves and their neighbor, and being careful to avoid undue familiarity with others. Furthermore, those going out to exercise the office of preaching or traveling for any other reason shall neither receive nor carry with them any gold, silver, money or gifts, but only food, clothing, books, and other necessities . . . .
The Friars Preachers must strive to be apostles who converse with God or who in the classic phrase of St. Thomas: “contemplate and give to others the fruit of their contemplation.” The Rule and Constitutions, and the religious life they establish, are directed to the grand purpose of sanctifying the preacher and making him an apostle. The entire complexus of life in the cloister is designed to awaken fraternal charity and lead to contemplation. These qualities are nourished on the truths of revelation and sustained by the virtues which are generated and strengthened by the penitential observances of the common life. Through these elements of his inner life, the religious prays for souls, makes reparation for them and reaches out to them in apostolic work; the preacher testifies by “work and example”, while his spiritual life merits for his apostolate many graces.
The Doctrinal Approach
The Dominican cannot pursue these contemplative and apostolic objectives without constant study. If he neglects it, he jeopardizes his vocation. It too must be carried on in a contemplative spirit. The Constitutions establish “the assiduous study of sacred truth” as a fundamental means for attaining the Order’s ends. St. Dominic wanted his friars to search for sacred truth chiefly in the Holy Scriptures. He “often admonished and exhorted the friars of the said Order by word and letter to study constantly in the Old and New Testament.” His Constitutions forbade the foundation of a priory without providing it with a professor as well as a prior. They incorporated an academic code for students, permitted the brethren “to read, write, pray, sleep, and also, those who wish, to stay up at night to study” in their cells, and instructed the master of novices to teach his charges “how they ought to be so intent on study that day and night, at home or on the road, they read or meditate something.”
The study of sacred truth is the Dominican’s primary preparation for preaching, but when obedience sends him into activities other than preaching, he is then committed to the study of every area of truth which will make his work for souls a success. The broadened apostolate of today places on the friar the obligation of studying and mastering any field of work into which he is sent. He must constantly study its material, master its techniques, learn its methods. Not only must Dominican pastors, teachers, writers, missionaries, retreat masters, or nursing sisters, remain up-to-date, mastering the advances in their special fields, but they must also never let their understanding of sacred doctrine become stale.
The busy priest might hold up his hands in dismay when considering these obligations, but remaining current is a matter of perseverance, rather than of extended and intense study. Many sisters and priests cannot find time for formal study, but they can keep their background-knowledge fresh and meaningful by an intelligent choice of books for daily spiritual reading, or, if they are engaged in teaching or other specialized works, by attention to recent bibliography and to technical journals of their field. Even the busiest Dominican, with a continual round from dawn to midnight: with classes to teach, lessons to prepare, papers to correct, or with Masses to celebrate, funerals to conduct, instructions to give, marriages to arrange, sick calls to make, as well as prayers to say, can with a minimum of two or three hours a week read a considerable number of sound theological or spiritual works during a year. Refectory reading, a traditional practice of monastic life, adds a welcome supplement to this basic diet of reading. Constant reading not only keeps the friar’s own inner life vigorous but refreshes his knowledge and gives him a steady increase of material for his work in the pulpit and confessional.
Study and Contemplation
The most representative and saintly members of the Order, even its speculative theologians, have combined study and contemplation. St. Albert the Great outlined the contemplative approach to theology in his commentary on the De mystica theologia of Dionysius: “The method for one who teaches things divine is to gain by grace the truth of the divine doctrine he must hand on to others, because in every theological undertaking one ought to start with prayer.”
William of Tocco, the first biographer of St. Thomas, writes: “The entire life of Thomas was spent in prayer and contemplation, in writing, dictating, lecturing, preaching, or disputing.”
Père Marie Joseph Lagrange, the Order’s great biblical scholar, gave solid proof in his own life that the intimate bond between saintliness and learning, which distinguished Albert and Thomas, is still found in the modern Order. The remarks of a reviewer of Père Braun’s, The Work of Père Lagrange, are most pertinent: “The most persistent impression that haunts the reader of this entire volume is that Père Braun intended to depict the lineaments of Lagrange the scholar, and wound up with the profile of a saint.” We stop wondering why this should be so when we read the spiritual testament of this humble priest, found among his papers after his death in 1938:
I declare before God that it is my intention to die in the Holy Catholic Church to which I have always belonged with my whole heart and soul since the day of my baptism, and to die there faithful to my vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, in the Order of St. Dominic. To that end, I commend myself to my good Savior Jesus, and to the prayers of his most holy Mother who has always been so good to me. I declare also most expressly that I submit to the judgment of the Apostolic See all that I have written. I believe that I can add that I have always had the intention, in all my studies, of contributing to the good, and by that I mean to the reign of Jesus Christ, to the honor of the Church, to the welfare souls.
Only through such contemplative study, motivated by a deep love for God and souls, can the priest grasp the supernatural truths of the faith which he needs to propagate them zealously and clearly. This was the conviction of St. Thomas and the early friars. Humbert of Romans, his master general, reasoned this way in his commentary on the Rule o f St. Augustine:
The religious state is a state of contemplation. But things that are preached are gathered in contemplation, according to the words of Bl. Gregory, who says: “In contemplation they drink in what later they pour out in preaching.” Therefore, it would seem that the religious state would have more that ought to be preached than the secular state, since it is more contemplative. Thus preaching befits it more because, not just by way of instruction but by way of contemplation as well, it possesses in abundance what it preaches.
The Balance of Dominican Life
The Order’s spirituality is complex and made up of many elements, but they are unified in a single goal that is sublime. All its constituents lead to a contemplation which seeks to fructify in the apostolate. This evangelical vocation vitalizes all the other parts of Dominican life, carrying them upward to their highest development, which is exemplified by Christ and the Apostles. In his own life, St. Dominic demonstrated the unity amidst diversity which marks the spirituality he fashioned for his Order. Here is how Père Petitot describes the beautiful equilibrium of Dominic’s life:
That which especially characterizes him is the concord, the harmonious synthesis, of virtues, apparently the most contrary: gentleness with energy, love of study with love of action, genius for contemplation with the spirit of organization. Hence we have the figure of an apostle so happily balanced that, to find his equal, we must compare him with St. Bernard and St. Paul. From his birth to his death, St. Dominic followed one path, a marvelously straight trajectory, without turning back and without the slightest deviation of any sort . . . . He was not a poet like Gregory Nazianzen or Francis of Assisi, nor was he a writer like Augustine, but he was theologian, orator, apostle, ascetic, mystic, and saint.
The spiritual life of the Friars Preachers is delicately balanced and, for those who are less than saints, hard to live. If thrown off center its constituents destroy themselves — the sacerdotal element becomes “parochial”, mired in local interests; the monastic element becomes “monkish”, considering the apostolate a distraction; the doctrinal element becomes “bookish”, having little to do with the salvation of souls; the apostolic element becomes “activistic”, spending itself in feverish activity. To escape these extremes, the Dominican must nourish his zeal with a burning desire for Christ, must make contemplation primary in his life. His contemplation must center on Christ Crucified, thus engendering the apostolate. Père Regamey has crystallized this truth in these few words: “An apostolic message that has not been shaped in the sanctuary, the choir, and the cloister is never complete.”
Dominican spirituality, born in the distant past, is not out of date. The current Constitutions are based on a thorough revision made in 1932, when Dominican law was brought into harmony with the Code of Canon Law. At that time ancient ordinances, prescriptions, and practices which had long been obsolete were combed out of the text, secondary practices were modified and adapted to modern life. Essential elements of the Dominican life and spirit, which cannot be changed without destroying the Order, were left unchanged. This work of “aggiornamento”, the task of keeping the Order abreast of the times goes on constantly. The delegates sent to the general chapters (meeting at three-year intervals) bring to the highest legislative body of the Order the experience of priests from all over the world. Each chapter continues the work of its predecessor in making the Dominican life and apostolate more effective.
The priestly and apostolic qualities of the Order’s spirituality do not render it unsuitable for the members of the Second and Third Orders. Dominican nuns, sisters, and tertiaries, marked in their souls with the characters of baptism and confirmation, bear the likeness of Christ’s priesthood. They have the power to participate in Christian worship and the strength to extend its fruits to others. All members of the Order of Friars Preachers must be priestly and apostolic, thirsting for the salvation of souls.