Fall 1982, Vol. 34, No. 3, pp. 244-260.

Jeremy Miller / Simon Tugwell:
      What Is the Dominican Charism? An Exchange of Views

Every Christian is called to live for others and develop an appropriate spirituality. To shed light on that call and its accompanying spirituality, Simon Tugwell, a Dominican of Blackfriars in Oxford, England, in 1979, published a book entitled The Way of the Preacher.(1) In order to achieve his purpose, the author drew upon early Dominican sources about the preaching ministry.

In his presentation, Tugwell offered a fresh interpretation of Dominican life and mission. Jeremy Miller, a Dominican on the faculty of Candler School of Theology at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, has taken up Tugwell's invitation to propose another interpretation. We publish here Miller's response to Tugwell's book and then Tugwell's reply to Miller.(2) Since Miller begins with recapitulating a central theme in Tugwell's work, readers not acquainted with The Way of the Preacher should not have difficulty dropping in on the conversation.

We publish this exchange because, even though it focuses on the Dominican charism, it brings to the surface the centrality of the gospel in Christian life generally, the "instrumental" rather than any "elitist Christian" character of religious life, and the importance of discerning needs to determine ministry. The exchange will be helpful to other religious groups in the process of clarifying their identities in this post-Vatican II era. -- The Editor.

Jeremy Miller: Tugwell's Way of the Preacher and a Proposal for Another Way

AT one time I envisioned a straightforward book review of Simon Tugwell's Way of the Preacher, but too much time since publication has elapsed to claim that genre. Instead, I take up Tugwell's invitation to bring my own "subjective processes" into conversation with his about the nature of the Dominican charism. An earlier phase of my own reflections was occasioned by a movement in North America resulting from a "call" to preaching experienced by some Dominican women.(3) A more recent occasion to probe the Dominican charism was offered by the birth of the newest Dominican Province of men in the order. Twenty friars gathered in 1980 in Dallas, Texas, to frame the statutes for St. Martin de Porres Province. We had to grapple anew with the implications of the charism as we articulated priorities for ourselves within the ethos of the Southern sunbelt. I should like to bring some consequent personal reflections into conversation with Simon Tugwell.

We share some common convictions. Dominicans live from their traditions; our sources offer a particular configuration of the Christian life, yet we do not discover therein something exclusively Dominican but rather typically Dominican, as Tugwell says. Dominicans use certain "materials" in a characteristic way, giving them a "peculiar twist." I share this conviction for the conversation which follows.


First, then, what is Tugwell advancing? He claims that a return to Dominican roots, to Dominic and the earliest legislation, uncovers the notion of gratia praedicationis and that this "grace of preaching" describes the Dominican charism. All through his book runs a caution against a monastic understanding of the charism. Numerous aspects raised by Tugwell are best grasped with this distinction in mind. Let us examine how the distinction plays itself out.

Dominic did not seek to found an institution but a preaching function to which structures were subordinated. The preaching was primarily ecclesial in nature, that is to say, the preaching was mandated by the church's authorities. In this way Dominican itineracy was distinct from the evangelical witness of the wandering ascetic, the latter being a monastic theme. Dominic's order was constituted by its mandate to preach, not by its monastic organization or themes.

In Tugwell's view, the monastic imagery returned to dominance in the thinking of the order, especially as the legislation of the second generation suppressed the concept of the "grace to preach." It became acceptable with Dominican writers to conceive the preacher's function by means of a bowl image, a bowl which first fills up with (monastic) contemplation and overflows into apostolic preaching. Following some suggestions from Catherine's Dialogues, Tugwell instead argues that preaching springs from a specific grace (gratia praedicationis), a gift which immediately seeks to benefit audiences without delaying for a contemplative maturity. The more accurate Dominican image would be the funnel through which living water is continuously dispensed, a funnel connecting to the life of God and thereby constituting the preacher a "co-operator with God in speaking his words."(4)

What is this grace of preaching? Although Tugwell displays a wide and impressive mastery of Dominican sources, Humbert of Romans seems clearly his mentor in addressing this question. The grace is a personal divine gift. The call from the church does not constitute the preacher but the call from God does. "The primary mandate to preach comes from God; it is the task of the Church to discern it."(5) This theological grounding is quite familiar to the Protestant evangelical tradition and clearly distances itself from an institutional ecclesiology. As Tugwell says, not all ordained are preachers and not all inspired preachers are ordained. The charismatic figure seeks the order; the order does not, through office, confer the charism.

Because the grace is inner and personal, how is the gift of preaching discerned from false enthusiasm? Discernment lies in two directions. A poverty of spirit, a radical awareness of one's own unworthiness, guards against the self-assurance of the false prophet (preacher). From this consciousness of personal sin springs the preacher's misericordia for the sins of the world. More empirically, however, the gift is known from its fruits in the hearers. The listeners receive grace through the genuine gift of preaching. Throughout this development Tugwell writes movingly about the preacher's humanity and personal struggle.

The grace of preaching is also a social grace which cannot be savored alone. The preacher does not grow spiritually apart from the hearers of the Word, but is fed as he or she feeds. Quoting the statement of Humbert of Romans: "If you make others drunk, you will be drunk yourself," Tugwell argues that the preacher's faith development is in a dialectic with the hearers and is not to be found in monastic solitude. Here again one finds Tugwell's critique of the bowl (monastic) image.

In some respects I found Tugwell's concluding chapter his best, although I do not sense it resting as clearly within the book's thesis. Chapter 10 probes two relationships, that of the preacher to his or her life when not actually preaching, and that of the preacher to the Dominican community at large. The grace of preaching -- if I am catching the argument properly -- urges the preacher to the "risk of living and being seen,"(6) of being that real person who not only speaks words of the gospel but struggles to live them with others. We are viewing that sphere of private and communal life, that community interchange Tugwell calls the "robust exteriority of the Dominican tradition,"(7) in which our true self, our true face, is met.

This, then, is Tugwell's thesis of the "grace of preaching," if I have understood him properly. Has he articulated what is typically though not exclusively Dominican? There are clearly kinships with Methodist and Baptist theologies of "call," and I myself, who teach in a Methodist University, have sensed similarities between Dominican and Wesleyan itineracy. This comment is more than an aside to my conversation with Simon Tugwell. My sense is that the"grace of preaching" is in one respect too broad and in another respect too narrow as an articulation of the Dominican charism.

In its broadness it defines every preacher from Paul to Dominic to Billy Graham, whether or not the preacher casts his or her lot with other preachers in an intentional community. Nor would it be sufficient further precision to say that an ecclesiastical mandate is crucial, unless such a mandate can be brought into closer accord with discernment of gift. This is never clear in Tugwell's argument.

The narrowness of "grace of preaching" is my main concern. It equates preaching with verbal proclamation. While much can be said for that identity, as Barth's powerful theology has shown, I do not think it defines the Order of Preachers in the breadth of what those women and men are about today and have been about in times past. I should like to try my hand at contributing to the conversation.

My reflections proceed more from experience than from analysis of the "sources," yet this is another way to engage the tradition. I suppose the influence of J. H. Newman lurks here, for I am concerned how the Dominican "idea" ever expresses itself and how ongoing experience unfolds aspects not readily perceived at the beginning of the order.


Whatever the Dominican charism may be, it will not be dislodged from the experience of our vocation by focusing on what we do as much as by focusing on how we go about doing what we do. Merely to say preaching is the Dominican charism does not really help. Others preach and have always been preaching. Some today claim our charism is evangelical preaching, and others used to claim it was dogmatic preaching, and that these activities are typically Dominican but have been co-opted by other groups. These claims are unfruitful points of entry into the experience of who Dominicans are and into the need to articulate that typos with some precision.

Our thinking must begin with a primordial "religious fact": the mystery of God engulfs every person. Where this mystery is embraced as a forgiving presence, there is "justification." Where it is resisted, there is that hardness of heart against which Jesus spoke, which will never inherit the Kingdom. Jesus announced this mystery of God, which is why the Kingdom does not come to one but is already within one, as invitation. If one wishes to relate this point of departure to Christology, then I would say that after the resurrection Jesus himself was perceived to be what he, even in the ministry, had been -- the forgiving presence of the mystery of God. So my point of departure is the engulfing presence of mystery, understood in this sense, and ingredient to one's present experience; even as Dominican.

How is this mystery to be proclaimed in each generation as good news? I prefer to say "proclaimed" rather than "preached," for very often preaching means "spoken exhortation," which, to my mind, suggests a limitation which has characterized classical Reformation Protestantism and, in our own day, Karl Barth and his school. In addition, proclamation of the mystery understood as verbal preaching would be rejected by Eastern Orthodoxy as insufficient ministry. It is in this respect that I find Tugwell's own proposals insufficient.

At issue for the church, and hence for myself as Dominican, is my own grasping of that mystery and then proclaiming it. In fact, the "preacher's" task is better expressed by the passive voice, that is, one's "being grasped" entry into the mystery. To return to not what but how Dominicans function, the "how" which typifies the Dominican tradition is based on a conviction that the mystery is given in its immediacy to us in all facets of human experience. This will be my main contention. Our present experience does include the past, in Whitehead's sense of social inheritance. The Christian community's experience and heritage, hence the Scriptures, the liturgy, and the doctrinal tradition are taken with utmost seriousness as illuminators of that engulfing mystery.

The Scriptures are a privileged expression of the nature and workings of that mystery. But ongoing human experience is crucial too, although this latter must be discerned with greater carefulness, since human sin finds expression in our experience, both personal and collective. The Scriptures also need to be discerned; the New Testament, for example, expresses how the community of the last half of the first century articulated the mystery in relationship to its experience. Although the writings are inspired and express the truth of God unerringly, they are also expressions applied to first-century pastoral problems. This must be appreciated if the gospel is to feed our endeavor today to plumb the mystery of God engulfing us now. I would have the same hermeneutical caution about thirteenth-century Dominican texts.

I perceive, then, two moments to the Dominican charism, a "being grasped" entry into the forgiving mystery of God and a proclaiming of it. Regarding the former, I think Tugwell is too restrictive about the contemplative tradition, although I agree with some of his cautions regarding the bowl imagery. The latter, however, the proclamation, is my main contribution to this conversation.


The manner of proclaiming the mystery has been varied in the Dominican tradition, and this diversity has been a hallmark. There has been verbal preaching, mostly of the itinerant variety in the beginning, but not exclusively so. Church pulpits were given to our care as early as 1216.

In addition, there has been "sacred teaching." It is mistaken to try to make the teacher a "classroom preacher" through some semantic move and hence really Dominican. No, the teacher is Dominican because he or she also entered into the mystery and sought to articulate its wisdom. In my view, Aquinas's Summa theologiae expresses the Dominican charism.

Why, precisely, is this so? The teacher also takes with utmost seriousness the full breadth of human experience as the "material" which should be luminous to the engulfing mystery. To understand who God is, Albertus Magnus engaged natural science, Aquinas embraced Aristotelian psychology, Vittoria delved into international law; in our own day, we may think of Schillebeeckx's work with phenomenology, Congar's work with Protestant experience, and Walgrave's work with Newman's empiricism. All of them, using language appropriate to the teacher, proclaim the engulfing mystery.

Another instance of Dominicanism may make this clearer. Fra Angelico, Matt McGlynn, and numerous Dominican sisters and brothers of our day are not artists on the fringe of the Dominican charism. These artists, par excellence, take a wholistic approach to human experience and then, in an engaging mode of "proclamation," give expression to their grasping of the mystery. Often I have heard, "Angelico, besides painting, also preached and so gave expression to his vocation." How false to Angelico this is!

It is true that Honorius sent the friars of 1216 to "preach the Name." It is also true that at that moment (though not true in the second and third centuries) preaching was restricted to the bishops and that here, with Dominic, an order was charged with an episcopal ministry. Yet if we merely take that fact and fail to view how that particular mandate was discharged, then we mistake the real typos of the charism with its original and, at the beginning, preponderant expression. We cannot account for Thomas or Angelico, and Dominicans become "deindividualized" as soon as Franciscans and others take up the preaching office. I think it also disenfranchises Dominican sisters by equating the ordained preacher with the charism. Both Tugwell and I concur in visioning Dominican women fully within the charism of the order and with the possibility of preaching, but our rationales differ.

I contend that, although "preacher" was a unique self-description of Dominicans at the beginning, very soon it became interpreted by contemplata aliis tradere and by veritas; only in the developing experience of the order does the full significance of "preacher" emerge into the light. Aspects of the idea emerge, as Newman would say.

If Tugwell's leitmotiv is "grace of preaching," mine is veritas, or "truth." It has been my aim to suggest that the engulfing mystery which grasps one and then sends one forth to proclaim its graciousness is the real meaning of veritas, and that no dimension of experience is closed to the presence of it.

Recently Schillebeeckx described the Dominican charism in the image of a golden thread which tied together theme and countertheme, given tradition and countermovement. He was describing Dominic's openness to the vita apostolica. I find this an accurate description at the phenomenological level. I have been seeking the elan beneath that phenomenon. The embracing of the whole breadth of human experience as the place of givenness of the engulfing mystery (veritas) is instanced by one's openness to countermovements and the untraditional. There are really countermovements proceeding forward today out of which God in his mystery speaks. Dominican contemplation of veritas must engage those sectors also, lest the order become hide-bound by its glorious achievements of the past. In a word, I think the Dominican charism is a principle of adventurousness.

It is too restrictive to understand the charism in terms of preaching the Word, if such is narrowly understood as verbal proclamation of the kerygma. While it certainly includes this, Dominicans have been about much more; and therein vibrates the energy of the charism and its adventure.

Needless to say, Dominicans like to dispute. Simon Tugwell has brought forward many wonderful things in his book which win my admiration and convictions. In taking issue with him, I do so with fraternal warmth and in the spirit of ongoing conversation which his scholarship merits and invites.

Simon Tugwell: Comments on Jeremy Miller's "Other Way"

IN response to the suggestion that I should take up Jeremy Miller's invitation to "ongoing conversation," I should like to make a few comments, not so much on my book and on Miller's interpretation of it, but on the more general question of the current quest for our "Dominican identity."

In the first place, I cannot help wondering whether we are not chasing a chimera. It is characteristic of the Dominicans that we have never sought to define ourselves and our modus vivendi with anything like the exhaustiveness sought, for example, by the medieval Cistercians. People are often struck by the extraordinary diversity there is within the order; and if we all feel that nevertheless it does mean something for us all to be Dominicans, in spite of the fact that we are all so different from one another, that "meaning' must probably be located in some kind of Wittgensteinian "family resemblance," rather than in any set of common characteristics that all Dominicans share and that distinguish us from everybody else.

I doubt very much whether there is any single quality in the order which can serve to identify "the Dominican charism." Whether by charism we mean specifically some gratia gratis data or, more generally, any kind of gift, we must surely say that different Dominicans have different charisms and always have had. If, in my book, I gave the impression that I was attempting to isolate "the Dominican charism," that was probably misleading. At any rate, it is not an undertaking I should wish to engage in now.

If there is a family resemblance to be recognized in the order, it is due to "natural selection" rather than to any kind of genetic continuity. Whatever reasons people may have for joining the order, they stay in it (and are allowed to stay in it) because their particular gifts and the use they make of them are at least moderately compatible with the gifts of other members of the order. If someone has totally different gifts, he is unlikely to survive in the order; and if he does survive, either he remains an odd man out, or he starts something new which in due course becomes part of the tradition of the order.

I agree most contentedly with Jeremy Miller that neither the job of preaching nor the notion of gratia praedicationis suffice to define the Dominican typos, either in the sense of distinguishing Dominicans from everybody else, or in the sense of indicating the "vibrant energy" of Dominican life in its totality. There are obviously plenty of other people who preach and who are given the grace to preach, and it is worth recalling that, shortly before he died, St. Dominic himself asked the pope to recruit some preachers to work with him, who were not Dominicans, but whom he believed to have a gratia praedicationis. Not all who have such a grace are Dominicans. Nor is such a grace necessarily given to all who are Dominicans; and even if it is, it is not the only gift they have.

I would also agree without any hesitation that, if we want to catch the full richness of our Dominican inheritance, we need to consider Dominican traditions about all kinds of things -- in my book I was rash enough to express an intention to write about some of them in due course, a promise I still hope to fulfill.

Nevertheless, I think that a certain caution is required before we attempt to isolate the Dominican "bug' by reference to traditions of how Dominicans have carried out their task, for reasons which I shall try to make clear.


Before all the modern talk about "the charism" of various orders began, the more traditional way of defining a religious organization was in terms of its propositum, and there can be no doubt at all about the official propositum of the Dominican order. It is indicated, first of all, by the very name of the order, a name which St. Dominic himself was determined to secure for it: the order of St. Dominic is an order of preachers, and its task is to preach. Secondly, there is the emphatic declaration inserted into the Constitutions, probably in 1220, that the order exists "in order to be useful to the souls of others." The point of this declaration is quite clear too: it is intended to relegate to second place the whole sphere of regular observance.

The significance of this emerges very clearly from a study of thirteenth-century Dominican texts, and particularly from a comparison between Dominican texts and, on the one hand, Cistercian and Cistercian-influenced texts and, on the other hand, Franciscan texts. The Dominicans are not primarily concerned to set up a way of life or a modus operandi; they are primarily concerned to do a job. How they do it must be determined by the job itself.

The comparison with the Franciscans is particularly illuminating. By the latter half of the thirteenth century, they too have become a clerical order, largely devoted to preaching and teaching, just like the Dominicans. But their view of what they are doing is quite different. St. Francis adopted a way of life, and found that preaching was part of it; Diego and Dominic found a job to do, and adopted a way of life that would best enable them to do it. The Franciscans later on argue that because they profess poverty, it is fitting that they should preach; the Dominicans argue that because they preach, it is fitting that they should profess poverty. (Later on, when they found that conventual mendicancy, on which St. Dominic had laid so much stress, interfered with their work, they formally abandoned it.) The Dominicans were remarkably unconcerned about the various kinds of religious perfectionism that were around, because they were far more concerned with getting their job done.

It would seem to me to be a fundamental Dominican tradition to keep the order flexible, not because of any abstract ideal of flexibility, but because the order's style has to be adaptable to the requirements of its job. To formulate the question about Dominican identity in terms of how Dominicans operate incurs the serious risk of distorting the whole discussion. Our question, or at least our first question, is not: "How do I construct a life (a religious life, an intellectual life, a spiritual life, or whatever) to satisfy the proper criteria of Dominicanness?" but, to quote the master of the order: "Who are our Cumans?"Whom are we meant to be preaching to? It is only in so far as we know what our job is, that we shall stand any chance of discovering how to do it.

What is essentially Dominican, in my opinion, is not that we have such and such a way of life, or that we have such and such talents, such and such an intellectual bent, such and such an attitude to the world, but that we put whatever talents we have, whatever intellectual and moral attitudes we have, at the service, directly or indirectly, of the preaching of the word of God.

It does not really bother me that, as Miller points out, this way of identifying Dominicans is both too narrow and too broad. It is not meant to be the whole truth about Dominicans. My concern is to grasp the structure of the Dominican tradition correctly and to get the methodology of the quest for Dominican identity right.

Of course it is true to say that Dominicans are not the only people who preach. But then the task of the order is surely meant to be the same as the task of the whole church. What makes Dominicans tick is, in the last analysis, what makes all Christians tick. As Regamey says, when you get to the bottom of Dominican spirituality, it turns out to be simply Christian spirituality. That is incidentally, why, in principle, Dominicans were quite entitled to have heated disputes with members of other orders. When St. Dominic, allegedly, accused the Cistercians of being Pharisees, he was not complaining that they were un-Dominican but that they were unchristian. When St. Thomas attacked the Franciscan notion of perfection, he was not motivated by Dominican oneupmanship, but by a concern for the proper understanding of the gospel.

If we have particular theological traditions in the order, if we have a kind of spirituality which is typically Dominican, that surely does not mean that we ought to want to confine them to the order. If we hold, say, to a Thomistic account of grace rather than a Molinist account, it is not because one is Dominican and the other not, but because we consider the Thomistic account to be more true than its rival. We should therefore like Jesuits, too, to accept it, but that does not necessarily mean that we should like the Jesuits to become Dominicans. If we try to disengage our own spirituality from other kinds of spirituality, it is not in order to flaunt our idiosyncrasies, but in order to clarify what it means for anyone, not just a Dominican, to be "led by the Spirit."

If there are some facets of Christian belief and Christian life which, historically, Dominicans have affirmed more persistently than others, so that they appear to be a specifically Dominican tradition, that is, perhaps, cause for lamentation rather than celebration. If such things really are part of the gospel of truth and life, they ought not to be distinctively Dominican, and it is our task to try to make them less so. Miller says that, if my leitmotiv is "grace of preaching," his is "veritas." I will gladly join him in celebrating veritas, but surely truth is even less exclusively Dominican than preaching. If truth is a distinguishing hallmark of Dominicans, there is something seriously wrong with the church! Similarly, contemplata ahis tradere, which the order has for centuries taken as an excellent account of its own business, was taken over by Vatican II as an account of every priest's business. And that is splendid. Would that all the people were prophets!

If there are particular Dominican traditions within our whole apostolate of preaching and teaching, it is surely because there was an apostolic need to affirm certain values and doctrines. The intellectual apostolate, for instance, which has been a major characteristic of our order, was called for initially by the situation in the church in the thirteenth century. There was a job to be done. And it is surely characteristic of the great Dominican teachers of the period that they were, precisely, teachers. They were serious academics, certainly, but they were not just servants of truth; they were people concerned to offer to others a service of truth. If the intellectual apostolate is still an important aspect of Dominican life, it is because there is still a job to be done of this kind.

If we want to say -- and I myself would passionately want to say -- that it is important to study and safeguard many such Dominican traditions, it is not simply in order to discover for ourselves the right way to be Dominicans; it is in order to give ourselves the necessary courage arid doctrinal confidence to go on proclaiming certain aspects of Christian truth and life which are at risk. It is to embolden us to suggest that some other ways of stating and living our faith are not as correct or not as adequate as they are made out to be.

It seems to me that there are two ways in which the broad task of preaching is narrowed down to yield more obviously Dominican peculiarities. There are some aspects of Christian truth and life which Dominicans have been more concerned to affirm than most other people, and we are right to go on holding to them because they belong to the whole church, not because they belong to the order. In so far as such aspects continue to be played down or neglected by other people, we also do right to go on affirming them. But if some new presentation of the gospel emerges, which does better justice than ours had done to the aspects of our faith which we were affirming, then our presentation must be modified accordingly. That is one kind of Dominican tradition. The other way in which our apostolate is narrowed down is that from time to time particular apostolic needs become apparent, and sometimes it has in fact been Dominicans who responded to them. But traditions like this surely ought to be abandoned when the apostolic need disappears.

There are, as a matter of historical fact, all kinds of delightful quirks which make Dominicans distinctive; but we surely ought not to be attached to them simply because they make us distinctive or simply because they are ours. Such secondary traditions ought not to be permitted to define us in such a way that we try to retain as our own property what belongs to the whole church, or in such a way that we get stuck in attitudes which were once appropriate to our job of preaching, but are so no longer, or in such a way that we make it impossible for ourselves to respond to new apostolic demands which call for a different modus operandi, and which are not being met by anyone else.

At any given moment, then, of course all kinds of traditions and all kinds of innovations go to the making of Dominican life. But, I submit, we need to be hesitant about making any of them into defining characteristics of Dominican life. What makes them Dominican is that they are, ultimately, directed towards "being useful to the souls of others."

It rather looks, then, as if we are going to have to leave our definition of what a Dominican is too broad to exclude all the many preachers who are not Dominicans. And it does not, perhaps, matter too much if that leaves us with no obvious answer to the question why we are Dominicans rather than something else. Maybe such a question is no more answerable than the question why Jack marries Jill rather than Euphemia, and why Jack and Jill then go on to make friends with Harriet and Cadwallader rather than with Mary Lou and Cucuphat. Maybe people join the Dominicans just because they like Dominicans (past as well as present Dominicans). And if the mixture works tolerably well, they may survive as Dominicans. But what matters then is not that they should be chemically pure Dominicans, but that they should put their talents and so forth at the service of the preaching of the word of God.

So much for the unsatisfactory breadth of the definition. What of the narrowness? Miller evidently feels that my account of the gratia praedicationis does insufficient justice to Dominican teachers like Albert and Thomas, and Dominican painters like Fra Angelico, and that it disenfranchises Dominican sisters.

Once again, I find myself agreeing very happily with nearly everything that Miller says. If there is any disagreement between us, it is largely about the best way to organize our thoughts.


It seems to me that the basic model has to be verbal proclamation (I have no quarrel with the word) of the truth of God. There are serious theological reasons for this (well appreciated by Protestant theologians like Barth). The notion of the word of God is of crucial importance in Christianity; and "faith comes from hearing."

But there is no need at all to confine verbal preaching to pulpit preaching. The best account of it is contained in the phrase which St. Dominic liked to use: "talking about God." The officially appointed praedicatores were people who had been given the job of talking about God, whether in pulpits or at street corners or just to one or two individuals they happened to meet on the road. The fact that nearly all the early Dominican praedicatores were priests does not seem to me to be very significant; it was more a matter of ecclesiastical politics than anything else. Early Dominican sources do not make any particular connection between preaching and ordination. I see no reason why Dominican women and Dominican laity should not be given the job of talking about God, though there are perhaps difficulties about giving the job of liturgical preaching to people who are not ordained.

Another reason for stressing the verbal proclamation of the truth is that what was particularly lacking in the thirteenth century was articulate and intelligent doctrinal preaching. It was ideas that needed clarifying. Dominican preaching was intended to meet this need, and it is a need which is still very much with us. This does not mean that other ways of communicating truth are devoid of values or that they have no place in Dominican work. Painting, music, beautiful liturgies, social work -- all these can play an important part; but they are, surely, analogous extensions of the notion of preaching, and supports for, not alternatives to, verbal proclamation.

Academic occupations, too, surely find their place within the fundamental orientation towards preaching. Teaching theology falls within the definition of preaching as "talking about God," and any attempt to clarify people's understanding by means of philosophy or science or literature has a very close link with talking about God. Albert and Thomas need no defense as Dominicans.

But perhaps the most important point is a more general one. However much a Dominican individual or community may be defined in terms of preaching, it can never be the case that a Dominican is nothing but a preacher. What matters is that Dominicans should put all that they have at the service of the order's work of preaching. As Humbert tells the preacher, he must "preach with all that he is" (toto se praedicet). If this means that he should not cultivate his interests and hobbies and talents at the expense of his preaching, it surely also means that he should cultivate them in the service of his preaching. The richer he is as a person, the better the instrument he puts at the disposal of the Holy Spirit.

And the same is true of Dominican communities. This is why it does not necessarily matter very much if some people join our communities for all kinds of reasons which have nothing to do with preaching. Any group of people, whatever its official purpose, is almost bound to attract some recruits who are only very marginally interested in its official purpose. In the early decades of the order's existence, it seems clear that a lot of people joined who were never going to be much good at preaching (and this is one reason why the more monastic side of the order was pepped up). They seem to have been accepted sometimes simply to flatter the statistical vanity of the brethren. Maybe we still accept people sometimes for much the same reason. And goodness only knows why some of them want to join us.

Surely the diversity of interests and occupations in a Dominican house creates a very rich milieu from which to preach. It would be a pity if we were to wield any criterion of "Dominican identity" too ruthlessly. The chaotic mishmash of human existence fertilizes our preaching in incalculable ways. I do not much mind what Dominicans do or how they do it, so long as the order as a whole maintains the attempt to put all of it somehow or another at the service of the preaching.

So, friend Jeremy and friend editor, thank you for the conversation so far. I hope we shall be able to continue it, and that other Dominicans will join in too. And I hope that St. Dominic will keep on praying for his coetus pauperum (which, salva reverentia, we may perhaps render "his gaggle of rascals").

  1. (Springfield, III.: Templegate).
  2. Both articles appeared in Religious Life Review (Supplement to Doctrine and Life) 21 (January-February 1982): 27-41 and are reproduced here with permission.
  3. See Jeremy Miller, "Dominican Charism, Women, and the Ordination Question;" Religious Life Review 21 (March-April 1982).
  4. Way of the Preacher, p. 31.
  5. Ibid., p. 36.
  6. Ibid., p. 91.
  7. Ibid., p. 94.