Blessed Cecilia Caesarini, who was received by St. Dominic into his new order, in her old age described him thus:He was thin and of middle height. His face was handsome and somewhat fair. He had reddish hair and beard and beautiful eyes. From his forehead and eyes shown a sort of radiance which drew everyone to respect and love him. He was always cheerful and alert, except when he was moved to compassion at the sight of someone's troubles. His hands were long and fine and his voice pleasingly resonant. He never got bald, though he wore the full tonsure, which was mingled with a few grey hairs.
Our knowledge of Dominic de Guzman's life is chiefly based on the Libellus of Jordan of Saxony, his successor as head of the Order of Preachers which Dominic founded. Jordan knew Dominic personally and wrote only about twelve years after his death, but had not been one of his close companions. The Libellus, although written to promote Dominic's canonization in 1234 is disappointingly sketchy. It tells us more about the origins of the Order than the personality of the founder. Unlike the Franciscans, the early followers of St. Dominic never showed much interest in their founder's cult and seemed to have feared that too much popular devotion to him might hinder the mission he had entrusted to them.
Dominic was born between 1171 and 1173 in the Castilian village of Caleruega, son of Felix de Guzman and Jane of Aza of the Spanish nobility. Christian Spain was still struggling to free itself from Moorish occupation and, even for a knightly family, life was austere in that stark, dry region where Felix as local lord owned little more than range land, a few flocks of sheep, and the manor house and tower (still standing) which served to guard the land. Jane of Aza was noted for her concern for the poor and was regarded by the local people as a saint. When Dominic was seven his education was put in charge of Jane's brother, a priest, and when he was fourteen he entered the school at Palencia, one of the few higher schools in Spain at that time and soon to become a university, where he studied liberal arts and theology for ten years. He lived a rather bookish life but during a time of famine sold his books to assist the poor. In 1196, when he was about 24, he joined the cathedral chapter of Osma.
The canons of the Cathedral were priests associated with the bishop who had recently reformed their community life to live strictly in poverty according to the Rule of St. Augustine. The prior and reformer of this chapter was the remarkable Diego de Azevedo who in 1201 became bishop of the diocese. It was he who had noticed Dominic the student and obtained permission of the former bishop, Martin Bazan, for him to enter the chapter and in a few months to be ordained priest. Soon Dominic was appointed sacristan, then sub-prior, thus gaining useful experience in administration and the work of reform. In 1203 when Alfonso VIII of Castile requested Bishop Diego to travel to Denmark to arrange the marriage of his son to a Danish princess, the bishop naturally chose the young priest to be his companion on the long, dangerous journey.
The journey proved the turning point in Dominic's life, opening his eyes to a wider world and its problems. As they passed through southern France they encountered a shocking situation. While Dominic knew of the Moors and Jews in Spain, here he met former Christians who had become alienated from the Church and converted to the religion of the Cathari (Pure Ones), often called Albigensians from their stronghold at Albi.
This strange cult had its remote origins in the Gnosticism over which the Church had triumphed in the second century but had then passed through the Manichaeism of Persia to the Paulicians of Armenia, then in the ninth century to the Bogomils of Bulgaria, in the tenth to Constantinople, then in the twelfth with the Second Crusaders to northern Italy, France, and the Rhineland, and finally was achieving its greatest success among the nobility of southern France. There it took the form of a radical dualism according to which the visible creation was attributed to an evil god.
Salvation for an elite of the "Perfect" or "Pure" was to be achieved by an extreme asceticism and poverty, but for the majority, who lacked the courage for such a life, by receiving in the hour of death a special sacrament, the consolamentum, administered by the Perfect. This doctrine permitted most of its adherents to live much as they pleased until death, while pointing to their Perfect as exemplifying a holiness which utterly discredited the worldly clergy of the Catholic Church.
One night at an inn in Toulouse, Dominic engaged in a discussion about these doctrines with an innkeeper (who was probably a deacon of the Catharist church). Dominic was so moved by meeting this man deluded by the myth of two gods, one good but remote and hidden, and the other evil but creative, that, weary as he must have been after hours on horseback, he sat up all night talking with him and by dawn had won him back to the true God revealed in Jesus Christ.
From Denmark, Diego and Dominic returned to Spain with news of their mission accomplished, only to be sent back two years later to fetch the princess, and then to find that she would not return. Their time in Scandanavia, however, taught them that to the east there were vast pagan territories waiting for the Gospel. Consequently, on their return journey they went first to Rome to beg the great Pope Innocent III to let them go on the missions together, but he refused, saying the bishop was needed back home. Diego, however, decided to return by way of the famous abbey at Citeaux in France and there received the Cistercian habit, probably in order to induce some of the monks to work in his diocese.
On the way back to Osma at the city of Montpellier in June 1206, Diego and Dominic met the Abbot of Citeaux and two of his monks who had been sent by Innocent to preach against Albigensianism. These three complained to Diego that they had no success in their preaching, chiefly because of the great reputation for holiness which the Perfect enjoyed among the people. Diego gave them a straight answer. They must not abandon their mission but must counter the Catholic clergy's bad example, by preaching as the Apostles had done, barefoot and begging. The Cistercians replied that they did not have the courage for this unless Diego would show them how -- which he, with Dominic, proceeded to do.
For four years the band of preachers traveled about southern France preaching and holding public disputes with the Perfect. It was said that on one occasion the judges for one of the disputes threw the books in which Dominic and his opponents had written their briefs into a fire, and only Dominic's survived the test. In 1207 the preachers were joined by no less than twelve other Cistercian abbots and they separated into smaller bands, and Diego and Dominic, along with a companion, William of Claret, centered their preaching on the town of Prouille. Here Dominic soon gathered a group of about twelve ladies converted from the cult who wished to continue their ascetic life as Catholic nuns, but needed protection from their families. In the same year Diego finally returned to Spain, probably with hopes of returning with new recruits, but died there December 30, 1207.
Three weeks later one of the Cistercians, Peter of Castelnau, was assassinated at the behest of the Count of Toulouse whom he had tried to persuade to oppose the heresy. As a result Innocent III in 1209 launched a crusade against the noble supporters of the heretics under the leadership of Count Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, a hero of the Fourth Crusade. De Montfort took up residence in the hilltop town of Fanjeaux near Prouille where he met and admired Dominic, who became a spiritual adviser of two of his daughters, one a nun. He baptized another daughter and married the Count's son to a royal princess of France. In gratitude the Count gave land and gifts to the convent at Prouille. Unfortunately, Simon, who was on the outlook for an estate, because his mother's lands in England had been withheld from him, soon turned the Crusade into one of conquest rather than conversion. It became a terrible bloody and exhausting civil war which was to last for many years.
In these troubled times, even after the Cistercians had finally returned home, Dominic went on preaching. Sometimes he stayed at the convent in Prouille which in 1213 he rebuilt and where William Claret was his companion. But most of the time he was on the road. At the canonization process at Toulouse three women, Guillelmine Martini, Noguera of Toulouse, and a nun of Saint Croix named Beceda, testified to having given him hospitality many times (probably during 1210-11) and observed his extreme poverty and rigor of life and his frequent exhaustion. He was often threatened with death and was reputed to have performed miracles and successful exorcisms.
Dominic had won the confidence of the local bishops (who were Cistercians) and during 1213 he was made vicar of Carcasonne and in 1214 parish priest of Fanjeaux. By this time he was beginning to see he needed a regular group of helpers and planned to locate them at Fanjeaux, but in 1215 he was called to Toulouse by the Cardinal Legate to preach. Here a certain Peter Seila invited Dominic and several companions Dominic had managed to gather one by one to live in his own house (still standing) which thus became "the cradle of the Order."
In this same year, 1215, Dominic accompanied Bishop Fulk of Toulouse to the IV Lateran Council in Rome and with the help of Cardinal Ugolino (the future Gregory IX, who also sponsored St. Francis of Assisi), gained permission to found an Order of Preachers, provided they would conform to the decree of the Council against new orders by accepting one of the traditional rules. Innocent III, one of the most far-sighted of the Popes, saw in Francis (to whose order he had given oral approval in 1209) and Dominic, whose fidelity to the Holy See he recognized, the solution to the problem of the itinerant preachers over which he had long pondered. Dominic himself seems finally in Rome to have seen (it is said by a vision of St. Peter and St. Paul he experienced in the Old St. Peter's) the universal meaning of the Order for which he had so long served an apprenticeship.
On returning to Toulouse he held a meeting of his companions who now numbered about 16 and announced to them (perhaps at Pentecost) an astonishing decision, which brought protests from the bishop and even from Simon de Montfort. Dominic had been warned in a vision that the Count would soon be killed and the work of preaching in the region stopped by civil war. Moreover, his new concept of the Order gained in Rome determined him to make a daring move -- to disperse his brethren so recently formed into an Order, throughout Europe. The Spaniards included his brother Mannes who joined him before the end of 1207; Dominic the Little of Segovia; Miguel de Ucero, a native of Osma; Miguel de Fabra, a noble, learned enough to be later the first teacher in Paris; Pedro of Madrid; John of Navarre. Sueiro Gomez was a Portuguese knight who had come to France as a crusader. From the south of France were the saintly Bertrand Garrigue who was already a preacher against heresy when Dominic arrived on the scene; William of Claret of Pamier who had been with Dominic from the beginning of his preaching; Peter of Seila of Toulouse who had received the Order into his house; Matthew of France, a canon from the University of Paris who had come with De Montfort; Thomas of Toulouse, an especially gifted preacher; Noel of Repouille, prior at Prouille, who drowned the next year; Vitalis of Prouille, Stephen of Metz, and William Raymond. There were also Lawrence of England, far from home, and the first lay brother, Odier of Normandy, who had been a crusader.
Of these, Dominic kept William Claret and Noel at Prouille, Peter Seila, Thomas of Toulouse and perhaps William Raymond at St. Romaine's; but he sent Pedro of Madrid and Sueiro Gomez as a pair, and Miguel de Ucero and Dominic the Little as another to Spain. To Paris he sent Matthew of France (who had the title of "Abbot" of St. Romaine) and Bertrand Garrigue, and with them as students Lawrence and John of Navarre. John refused to go without money, much to Dominic's distress. In another party he sent Mannes, Miguel de Fabra, and Odier.
Dominic then set out on foot to Rome to obtain further papal privileges to make the work of the Order more effective and to overcome the opposition that had immediately appeared in Paris to the coming of the friars to the University. Successful in this, in 1218 he began a visitation of his dispersed men. Dominic the Little and Miguel de Ucero had already returned from Spain. Bertrand Garrigues and John of Navarre had come from Paris to report on the situation and Dominic then sent them to Bologna thus beginning a center at the second great university in Europe. Dominic, after visiting Bologna, and Prouille, went on to Spain where he set up a house of friars and another of nuns, and in Segovia, Palencia, and San Esteban de Gormaz more houses of friars. To the nuns of Madrid he wrote a short letter, the only writing, other than legal documents, which we have of his, urging them to a strict cloistered, contemplative life and protecting their control of their monastery. He had gathered a group of friars at Guadalajara but they quickly fell away, although through his prayers most returned.
From Spain he returned to Toulouse from which houses at Lyon, Montpellier, and Bayonne were soon to develop. Here he met Bertrand again and traveled with him to Paris, on the way somehow preaching to German pilgrims, although he did not know their language. In Paris under Matthew he found no fewer than thirty brethren, including Henry of Marburg, the first German friar, and Guerric, who was to found a house at Metz, Peter of Rheims, a future Provincial of France, Etienne de Bourbon, to be a famous preacher, and William of Monferrato, a theologian with whom Dominic two years before had discussed going on the missions. While Dominic encouraged study he also sent some of the brothers on missions from which new houses were soon to arise.
Dominic in August 1219 went to Bologna which would remain his home for the rest of his life. Here he found a large community including no less than four Masters from the University. This growth was due to Master Reginald, a teacher of canon law in Paris whom Dominic had previously met at Rome where Reginald had come on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Reginald had later fallen sick, but in a vision was healed by the Virgin who showed him the habit of the Order which Dominic therefore adopted. Reginald had gone on to Jerusalem but then returned to Bologna where his preaching drew many vocations. Dominic immediately sent him back to Paris to deal with the difficulties in the university.
The community in Bologna had its troubles, including demonic incidents which, after Dominic's death, led to the establishment of the Salve Regina procession. Several of the brethren got the idea they should become Cistercians but were dissuaded by Reginald and Roland of Cremona who was to become the Order's first Master of Theology at Paris. Here Dominic also met a rich young lady, Diana d'Andalo who obtained a grant of land from her father for a monastery of nuns of the Order which she wished to enter in spite of much opposition from her family.
Dominic soon went to see the Pope at Viterbo for more letters of recommendation for his brethren now so widely scattered. The Pope sent him to Rome to reform a convent of nuns at San Sisto Vecchio in Rome and with the assistance of some nuns from Prouille he made this his third foundation of Dominican women. By this time his health was beginning to show signs of decline, worsened by grief over news of Reginald's death in Paris, but the Pope made him head of a preaching mission composed of men from several religious orders.
Before starting this mission, Dominic had to return to Bologna for the First General Chapter of the Order with about thirty delegates, already including two from Scandinavia, which met on Pentecost 1220. Dominic first attempted to resign and was refused, but a system of four "definitors" was set up to assist him. At this Chapter it was established that the Rule and Constitutions were not to bind under sin and that all provisions were dispensable for the sake of the preaching mission. The Constitutions was written in two parts: the first covering liturgy and asceticism borrowed from the Premonstratensians but with appropriate modifications; the second, very original, covering the government of the Order. The supreme power of the General Chapter to legislate and the office of the Master of the Order were established. Strict mendicancy was adopted and immediately put into practice by giving up all revenue-producing properties. The studies at Paris were also regulated.
Dominic then proceeded to the preaching mission of the Pope in Lombardy which was also a territory where the Waldensians (an evangelical sect) and Albigensians were powerful, but found the country involved in war and in preparation for a crusade to the Holy Land. His work was cut short by his third illness in a year, and in 1221 he returned to Rome to report to the Pope and to finish the work of establishing the nuns at San Sisto, a community which included Sisters Blanche, Constance, Nubia, Theodora, Thedrana, Nympha, Maximilla, and Sabina.
Dominic was also seeking assistance to found more houses throughout Italy and dealing with a problem of brethren deserting the Order. It was probably at this time that he met St. Francis of Assisi, who was also a friend of Cardinal Ugolino, the future Gregory IX, who had assisted in getting papal approval for both mendicant Orders. After Easter the friars took up residence at the wonderful fifth-century church of Santa Sabina, on the family property of Honorius III, where they built a cloistered convent in which the cell of Dominic is still preserved. In front of San Sisto, Dominic miraculously raised from death or near death a young man, Napoleon, hurt in a horse race.
In May 1221 Dominic returned to Bologna for the Second General Chapter of the Order which set up eight provinces: Spain, Provence, France, Lombardy, Rome, and probably Hungary, Teutonia, and England. This Chapter missioned Master Paul of Hungary, prior of Bologna and canonist who at the request of Dominic had compiled a Summa de Penitentia for the education of the brethren, along with Blessed Sadoc, to Hungary, Solomon of Aarhus with some German brothers to Denmark, Gilbert Ash with companions to England, and Jacek of Opole (St. Hyacinth) and his brother Ceslaus and Henry of Moravia to Poland. By the sixth Chapter there were added the "minor" provinces of Jerusalem, Greece, Poland and Dacia and so the twelve remained to the end of the century.
After the Chapter Dominic continued to travel and preach and had the joy of receiving Diana d'Andalo into the Order and founding her convent of St. Agnes in Bologna. On July 28 he again fell sick and was confined to bed on August 1. Because of the intense heat in the city the brethren moved him to the Benedictine priory of Monte-Mario. On August 6 he called Prior Ventura, confessed, spoke to the brethren, asked to die at home, and was carried to the convent of St. Nicholas, where he again promised the brethren he would intercede to God for them and then died on the evening of the August 6, not yet fifty years old. Jordan of Saxony was elected as his successor, and at the initiative of Gregory IX Dominic was soon canonized in 1234. At the moving of his body a very well attested miracle occurred in the sweet odor of sanctity which filled the entire church and lingered for days.
Besides Dominic's predominant trait of compassion of which I have already written, what was his personality? He left us no writings, except the letter already mentioned to the nuns of Madrid and some letters of penance to heretics he had converted. Moreover, he seems to have been reticent to speak of his spiritual experiences. But his character is clearly manifest in the Constitutions which I will describe in more detail later and in testimonies of the witnesses at the process of canonization, as well as in the life by Jordan of Saxony, who, although he had not known Dominic long, carefully reported what he had heard from those who knew him well.
From these sources we gather that what was most evident to others was that Dominic's compassion for people in their spiritual needs fired him with a consuming desire to preach. To his last days he was constantly on the road, often walking barefoot as much as 35 miles a day, taking the frequent hardships cheerfully, and ready to be martyred for the Gospel. We do not know what his preaching was like except that it moved his audience and himself to tears. Yet it was often rejected by the heretics. He constantly urged his brethren to share in this same mission, even sending out novices to preach, but at the same time very much concerned to have them educated and to encourage them to study that they might preach well. At the end of his life his vision had grown to lead others not of his Order to preach and to extend this to the missions of the pagan east. He wanted nothing to get in the way of this task and therefore tried to turn the administration of the Order over to lay brothers and to resign as Master, and he repeatedly refused offers of the episcopate.
The second mark of his life was his prayer. He was convinced that preaching without prayer would not be effective. An early work called the Nine Ways, which is supported by the other evidence, shows that he loved to pray with his whole body, kneeling, prostrating himself, holding up his hands in various gestures. He prayed on his journey, sang hymns, and at night, even after a long day's journey spent hours in the church in prayer, and even slept there. He sang Mass frequently, often with tears, and he loved the Hours to be sung with spirit. His devotion to the Blessed Virgin established in the Order the tradition that eventually took a popular form in the holy rosary. He loved to keep silence and urged this on his brethren. Several witnesses repeated in the Acts of Canonization that "he spoke only of God or to God." Yet it is also clear from these testimonies that he was always approachable, friendly, and ready to encourage and console.
The third mark was the penitential character of his life, which also was associated with preaching, since he believed it was necessary as a witness to the truth of the Gospel. In addition to the hardships of his traveling and its dangers, he was merciless on himself with regard to fasting (in Lent on bread and water), and even when sick never ate meat. He wore a hairshirt, a chain, and frequently used the discipline to blood when praying at night for those he hoped to convert. His confessor testified that he was a virgin, but he admitted on his death bed that he had perhaps been more pleased to talk to young women than to old. Then he regretted that in thus trying to warn his brethren of the need to guard chastity he had seemed to boast.
Linked to his asceticism was his insistence on poverty. He himself had begged from the beginning of his mission in France, but only gradually came to insist on it for his Order. He wanted the friars to be poor in clothing, housing, food, and even their churches and liturgical vestments. On these points of ascetic observance he was very strict, although gentle in his corrections, and ready to dispense, but only in view of the preaching mission or the actual weakness of the brethren. On his death bed he promised to be of more use to his brethren than in life, but left them as his legacy, "Cherish love, preserve humility, possess only the poverty you have freely chosen."
After his death the early brethren understood very well that Dominic desired no cult of personality in his Order, since the real way to honor his memory was to carry on the "holy preaching."
Spirituality of the Order
Numerous attempts have been made to characterize the spirituality of St. Dominic and his Order. The noted theologian Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange interpreted it by St. Thomas Aquinas' formula, Contemplata aliis tradere, "To give to others what one has contemplated," and emphasized its metaphysical foundation in the love of truth and of St. Thomas' profound insight into the difference between Creator and creature, the supernatural and natural orders, and the growth in holiness through the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Similarly others have taken as their key St. Catherine of Siena's report that God said to her, "I am He who is, and you are you who are not." Père Régamey, summing up the noted historian Père Mandonnet's thought, says that "Dominican spirituality is enlightened, theological, contemplative, personalistic, supernatural, apostolic, liturgical, and ascetic." More recently, Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx says that the "golden thread" which runs through Dominican history is:
- Trust in God not self.
- Evangelical living which proclaims the Gospel.
- Spirituality directed toward Jesus, especially in his humanity.
- Presence to the world, contemporaneity.
- Respect for created reality in its own right.
- Respect for individual gifts (hence dispensation).
- Religious observances and community life common to all religious orders but in a Dominican mode.
These characterizations seem too much colored by the preoccupations of the various writers. Fr. M.-H. Vicaire takes a very objective, historical approach based on Dominic's life and the Primitive Constitutions and groups these traits under the motto "To speak with God and of God":
- With God
- Common life (poverty).
- Of God
- Love for souls.
- Mendicant preachers.
- Mobile soldiers of the Church (clerics).
- Shepherds of the hungry.
- Identification with Jesus, the goal of life.
After Vatican II in the Chapter of River Forest, (Chicago, 1968), the Order revised its Constitutions (with the advice of Vicaire) on the following very significant plan:
Book I: Life of the Brethren
Section I: The Following of Christ
Chapter II: Liturgy and Prayer
Chapter III: Study
Chapter IV: Ministry of the Word
Chapter V: Relation to the Dominican Family
Section II: Formation of the Brethren
Book II: Government of the Order
This raises an important question, discussed in recent years also by the Franciscans. In past reforms of religious orders "reform" always meant a return to "the primitive observance." But Vatican II instead spoke of "renewal" as a "return to the spirit (charism) of the founder." The reason clearly is that Vatican II theology has followed the lines of Cardinal Newman's theory of "the development of doctrine" and emphasized the necessary historical development of spirituality. We cannot simply return to "primitive observance" in a literal fashion because we cannot simply isolate ourselves from the changing world. To attempt to live literally like Dominicans or Franciscans of the thirteenth century would mean becoming museum pieces. In fact it is impossible, because novices today have never had the experiences of those times, and we cannot remake them from infancy. The spirit of the founder, however, remains alive today and must be expressed in appropriate forms.
Renewal of course does not mean simply jettisoning all traditions, because historicity itself demands that the present Order retain its identity not only in spirit but materially by incorporating elements of the past. Thus the Franciscans discuss whether St. Francis' emphasis on poverty is more fundamental, or whether deeper still is his Christocentricity which was made theologically explicit after his death by St. Bonaventure and Bl. Duns Scotus, while the effort to cling literally to this poverty seems to have produced serious aberrations. The same question has been raised whether the Order of Preachers is best characterized by St. Dominic himself or by St. Thomas Aquinas!
The writers of the 1968 Constitutions struggled with this question and finally stated their views in what they called the "Fundamental Constitution" of which the first four paragraphs must be quoted as the most authoritative present statement of the essence of the Dominican Order:1. The purpose of the Order was described by Pope Honorius III in writing to St. Dominic and his brethren in these words: "God, who continually makes his Church fruitful in new children, wishing to bring our times into conformity with earlier days and spread the Catholic faith, has inspired you to embrace a life of poverty and regular observance and to devote yourselves to preaching the Word of God and proclaiming the name of our Lord Jesus Christ throughout the world."2. The Order of preaching friars founded by St. Dominic "was recognized from the beginning as having been established particularly for preaching and the salvation of souls" (Primitive Constitutions). So, according to the bidding of their founder, our brethren "live everywhere like upright religious men who seek their own salvation and that of others and, like the men of the gospels, following in the footsteps of our Lord, speak to God or about God among themselves and with others" (ibid.).3. To perfect our love and neighbor in the following of Christ by religious profession we are enrolled in the Order, completely consecrated to God, in a new way dedicated to the whole Church and "totally engaged in spreading the word of God" (Honorius III).4. Because we share in the mission of Apostles, we also follow their way of life as St. Dominic conceived it: with one mind leading a common life; faithful to the evangelical counsels; fervent in the common celebration of the liturgy, especially the Eucharist and the Divine Office, and in prayer; committed to a life of study and constant in religious observance. All these practices contribute not only to the glory of God and our own sanctification, but are of direct assistance in the salvation of others, since they prepare and impel us to preach, they inform our preaching and are informed by it. These elements are all inter-connected; they modify and enliven one another and in their total harmony are the life of the Order. In the fullest sense this is an apostolic life in which teaching and preaching ought to spring from the fullness of contemplation ....9. The Dominican family is composed of clerical and cooperator brothers, nuns, sisters, members of secular institutes and lay and priestly fraternities [although the Constitutions legislate only for the religious brethren and are intended to give] "unity to the Order without denying appropriate diversity."
This unity is preserved through the office of the Master of the Order (paragraph 6) and a communitarian form of government (paragraph 7). Paragraph 6 also states that religious brethren are constituted of ordained priests who share in the "prophetic function of the episcopacy" by their preaching and administration of the sacraments, and cooperator brothers who through their baptismal priesthood also share in Christ's preaching mission. Hence, the talents of all the brethren are to be developed and used in the Order's mission. The Constitutions do not bind under sin and may be dispensed or changed in view of the preaching mission, provided the features stated in the Fundamental Constitutions are retained (paragraph 8).
As this Fundamental Constitution and the life of St. Dominic make clear, the "spirit of the founder" was the great desire to identify with Jesus Christ and his Apostles in the mission of preaching the Gospel. Fr. Vicaire in his book The Apostolic Life has shown that a return to this life has been the constant theme of every Church renewal and in a particularly literal way of the rise of the mendicant orders in the thirteenth century. St. Francis and his followers were shining examples of this renewal and in the Franciscan Orders, St. Francis, marked by the stigmata, is seen as the eschatological image of Jesus in His naked poverty, humility, and abasement, in which image the Risen Christ is joyously glorified as the very center and goal of all creation. St. Francis was not a priest, nor originally were most of his followers, but they sought to witness to God by presence to the world, carrying on whatever work they were occupied in before their conversion. Some like St. Francis himself preferred the contemplative, eremitic life. On the contrary, Dominic was from the beginning a priest called to ministry. He was not seen as a symbol, but simply as the leading member of a band who called all of them to share in the common imitation of Jesus in his preaching activity. For St. Francis preaching was limited to a simple exhortation to conversion, but for Dominic it was a share in the whole prophetic range of the office of the apostles and bishops.
The Ministry of the Word
Historically, however, there has been no little discussion about the meaning of preaching. After the time of St. Thomas Aquinas, as we shall see later, the emphasis tended to shift to the notion that the purpose of the Order was "preaching and teaching," and that the nobler element was teaching in the sense of lecturing and writing on philosophical and theological topics. Often, "preaching" came to be conceived quite narrowly as preaching in church during the liturgy and it was urged that specifically Dominican preaching is "doctrinal," i.e., directed to the intellect and to intellectuals. Moreover, some were puzzled that this one Order could be specified by its activity of preaching, when most religious orders of men and all the secular clergy are supposed to preach. Others distinguished "preaching" from "teaching" by saying that teaching appeals only to the intellect, preaching principally to the heart. Others pointed out that in time the Order took up many kinds of work, including parochial care and the conduct of schools, and asked, therefore, whether in fact "Dominican work is what Dominicans do."
These confusions not only trouble the Dominican Order but they confuse what type of spirituality it can contribute to the whole Church. To clear them up we must first remember the teaching of Vatican II that all Christians by reason of baptism and confirmation share in the universal priesthood of Christ, the one true priest. As High Priest the services of Jesus and therefore of all Christians are threefold: to proclaim the Gospel (the prophetic office); to build the Christian community (the kingly or shepherdly office which includes all the corporal works of mercy); to praise God and sanctify humanity (the priestly office as such). Of these the third is the ultimate and highest, but the first is the most necessary, since without preaching there can be no faith, and faith is the foundation rock of all Christian activity. This is why Jesus, as founder of the Church, chose the office of preaching as his own principal task.
What preaching proclaims is not any human truth, not even that of theology, but is the Word of God. This Word is the Good News (Gospel) of the coming of the Reign of God, a Reign which is already realized in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh in order to manifest the Father in our world in His life, death on the Cross, and rising to everlasting life. "We preach Christ crucified," as St. Paul said (1 Cor 1:23). Consequently, "preaching" in St. Dominic's sense must never be understood either vaguely or narrowly. It includes whatever truth reveals God through Jesus. Since Jesus came to bring the Good News even to the poor, Dominican preaching must extend to every class of human beings, rich and poor, learned and ignorant, young and old, according to their needs and capacities.
Nor is Dominican preaching in any way restricted in time, place, or mode. "I charge you to preach the word, to stay with this task whether convenient or inconvenient -- correcting, reproving, appealing -- constantly teaching and never losing patience" (2 Tm 4:2). St. Dominic preached not only in church or at Mass, but in private homes, open air, everywhere. Nor did he confine himself to one mode of communication. He conversed, debated, orated. And in time Dominicans were to use every available medium to communicate the Word and every opportunity. What counts is not that the Gospel should be shared by word, writing, picture, whatever, but that it should be communicated in a way that can be understood and change the receiver.
Yet this does not mean that St. Dominic regarded any useful ministry as preaching. He refused to be a bishop, and he constantly strove to keep his men single-mindedly at the task of communicating the Word. Any other activity for him was a waste of time unless it contributed significantly to this one purpose. As we shall see, the Order has always struggled to be true to this single purpose, broad as it is, and not lose its energies in other activities, however noble or necessary. Yet for this same reason there was never any thought preaching should be a monopoly of the Dominican Order. Dominic first preached with the Cistercians and others and at the end of his life was the leader of a band made up of men of many orders. Preaching is a duty of every bishop and priest; the Order of Preachers cannot monopolize it, but seeks to give an example, to train others, and to stir up others to preach, even to the least members of the Church according to their gifts and calling. The Order arose because this fundamental task of the Church was being neglected and it strives to waken all to do their part.
Thus what Dominican spirituality can contribute to the spirituality of the whole Church is an understanding that to be a Christian is to be evangelical, to live in the Word and by the Word and to speak the Word to a world that longs for Good News. It is the spirituality of the Gospel of St. Matthew and the Epistles of St. Paul, Dominic's favorite reading.
The second element of Dominican spirituality which is very evident in all its sources, is that preaching, as the Constitutions say, "is a communitarian work and hence primarily the responsibility of the whole community." St. Dominic learned from his own experience that preaching cannot be done successfully by isolated individuals for two reasons. First, it is difficult and those who preach must have the support of others in their training, their temptations to preach not Christ but themselves, their weariness and discouragement, because it is a frustrating and thankless task. It requires the contribution of many talents and the individual speaker or writer is only the voice of a much larger activity. Secondly, and more profoundly, because the preaching of the Reign of God becomes credible only when the persons who speak have themselves experienced that life of love in a community. Jesus preached to the crowds out of the love he shared with his apostles. Hence not every Dominican must preach directly. In fact in the early days not only the cooperator brothers but many of the priests did not preach. What was important was not "What am I doing?," but "Is the Gospel being preached and am I contributing something to getting this job done."
Community in the mendicant orders meant something different from that in the earlier monasteries. The monks (as the name monachos, solitary, shows) were originally hermits who came together only to support one another in their contemplative life, which remained always centered in silence and solitude. The abbot was the spiritual father who guided his children to the perfection which he in a degree had already attained. In the modern congregations of which the Society of Jesus is the leading example the primarily active character of the life tends to subordinate the life within the community to the tasks at hand, so that each member executes the work assigned him with the guidance and support of the community through its superiors with fraternal assistance when needed but without dependence on living together.
The medieval mendicant brotherhoods, on the other hand, conceived of community in a way intermediate to these extremes. They retained the monastic choral liturgy, the chapter at which community affairs are aired, common recreation, a degree of community study, and a centering in contemplative quietude, while at the same time engaging in a very active ministry. This rhythm of contemplation and action tended to produce a horizontal network of relations different from the vertical relation of abbot to monk, or officer to soldier. In a healthy Dominican community (and they are not always so) there is a conviviality of prayer, of study, and of mission which we see reflected in the atmosphere of early Dominican life and which was evidently created by Dominic himself, in spite of his personal love of silent vigils.
The third characteristic of this life which Dominic so clearly exemplified was dedication to prayer. Dominic retained the monastic liturgy of the Hours and community Eucharist (which modern communities were to privatize in order to free themselves more for their work), although he was willing to dispense brethren from attendance at every service in view of study or preaching. Preaching must flow from contemplation of the Divine Word to be preached and this is most perfectly expressed in community worship based as it is on meditation on the Bible and the commemoration of the great saving events of Christ's life and their imitation by the saints. In addition Dominic spent long hours in private prayer, praying, as I have said, with his whole body and deep emotion, and he established the custom of prolonging Matins (today's "Office of Readings") with a period of private prayer in the Church.
Although there is no historic proof of the story that he received the rosary from Our Lady, it is certainly true that he loved to recite the Hail Mary as he genuflected in her honor and to sing her hymns, and the rosary as a meditation on the mysteries of Jesus' life like that of Our Lady who "treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart" (Lk 2:19) has found its natural home in the Dominican tradition. Out of such meditation preaching naturally flows as "from an abundant spring." This life of personal prayer is also shared with the community. It is true Dominic seldom spoke of his interior experiences, yet since he "spoke only to or of God," he could not have been reluctant to share his faith with his brethren and the whole atmosphere of early Dominican life is one of great openness about spiritual experiences. Dominic did not hesitate to weep, groan, sing to show his feelings and he urged his brethren to sing the Office with spirit.
Closely connected with prayer, so closely that I believe it should not be numbered as a distinct element, is the life of penance which is so prominent in Dominic's life. Today we puzzle over this. We do not read in the Gospels that Jesus undertook special penances with the exception of his fast in the desert at the beginning of his ministry. Is there not something neurotic, masochistic, or at least destructive in the way Dominic and many of his followers abused their bodies by lack of proper food and rest, with painful clothing, flagellations, and overwork? We are used to comfort and give great attention to the proper care of the body as a real duty. I think we must admit that some of these practices in the light of modern medicine and mental hygiene seem harmful and we are not surprised that Dominic wore himself out before he was fifty. Granted all this we cannot help but also admit that these practices were inspired by three motives which have permanent value, nay, are essential to Christian life.
The first of these, common to all religions that emphasize contemplation, is the conviction that our love of pleasure and comfort must be tamed if real serenity of mind is to be achieved. Second is the Christian conviction that original and actual sin are facts of the human condition. We cannot achieve freedom from sin without a discipline that subjects inordinate appetites to the governance of reason enlightened by faith. We have only to think of the ravages of alcoholism and drugs to be convinced of this. Third is the Christian hunger for identification with Christ crucified and with suffering humanity. How can we learn to love as Jesus loved or to find solidarity with those who suffer if we are slaves of pleasure and comfort?
Necessarily, therefore, those who want to learn to pray well must fast, learn to keep silence, learn to keep vigil, and practice poverty and simplicity of life. All these disciplines are especially needed in our day and country which has perhaps the most consumption-minded culture in history. The manner in which we use these disciplines must be regulated no doubt by our modern knowledge of physical and mental hygiene, but we cannot neglect them. For Dominic it was all summed up in his desire to be one with Christ in offering himself for the sinners to whom he preached.
An essential element of asceticism is poverty. Some have said that Dominic copied the poverty of St. Francis, but as we have seen, Dominic's poverty had a different origin and motivation. He wanted to be poor to make his preaching credible to the poor who saw in the poverty of the Albigensian Perfect a holiness superior to that of the worldly Catholic clergy. The longer he lived the more convinced he became of its importance and he insisted on it ever more radically. He wanted his brethren to live a "common life" in which they possessed nothing but lived day to day in dependence on God's care. Only in this way could they be entirely free, he believed, to preach. We will see that this ideal, like that of St. Francis, eventually proved impractical and even seemed to get in the way of the Order's work, and required the moderating interpretation of St. Thomas Aquinas. Nevertheless, it remains essential to Dominican asceticism and therefore to Dominican prayer. Dominicans cannot be free to contemplate and preach the Word if they are occupied with temporal cares and they cannot make that Word credible if they seem to grow rich by their work.
The fourth note of Dominican life is very specific: study as a means of sanctification. For the monks, life was divided between manual work and prayer. When study was not engaged in, it was for the sake of feeding prayer, but was not conceived as itself sanctifying. St. Francis respected learned men and was content to have them remain students and teachers after they joined his Order just as he was content to have manual workers continue as they were, but he was very well aware that study and especially academic honors and competition can chill the heart and blind the intellect to pure faith and so he did not encourage his followers to study. Dominic, who certainly must have been aware of these dangers, nevertheless saw that study was not only necessary to the range of preaching which he had undertaken but could contribute to the sanctification of his brethren. It could be a salutary penitential discipline, and it could lead one to a deeper knowledge of the Scriptures and to a true humility of self-understanding.
The early Constitutions provided that not only should select students be sent to the great university centers but every priory should have a brother appointed as house professor (lector) to continue the education of the brethren throughout their lives. The novices were instructed never to be idle even when traveling, but to be learning and meditating what they had learned. From this arose that "intellectualism" which characterizes Dominican spirituality. This is not to be understood in the academic sense, but in the sense that the life of faith is a life which searches for Divine Truth, Truth which is not just a list of doctrines, but the Person of the Word of God, Jesus Christ. Christian perfection consists, as all agree, in love of God and neighbor, but how can we love God and neighbor if we have a distorted vision of them? If we love them, do we not long to know God and neighbor more truly as they are?
These four elements, therefore, (it seems to me) sum up Dominican spirituality: (1) Dominican spirituality is a share in Jesus Christ the Word in his mission of announcing the Good News of salvation which he himself is: (2) This calling is fulfilled by a community out of its experience of living for God and for neighbors: (3) The source of its light is prayer, especially liturgical prayer, for which one is freed by ascetic discipline and simplicity of life: (4) This prayer is fed by assiduous study of the Scriptures and of all sources of truth that help us to understand the Word of God.