Translation of the Article THE FRIARS PREACHERS from the Dictionnaire de Spiritualité:


1. The Soul of Dominican Spirituality
    a) Veritas
    b) contemplata aliis tradere
2. Religious Structures.
    a) Liturgical Prayer.
    b) Theological studies.
    c) Poverty.
    d) Liberty of soul, thanks to dispensation.
3. Dominican Spirituality throughout the Ages.

Dominican spirituality as a concept must be acknowledged even though some reject it. A negative attitude can be explained, in our opinion, by too narrow an understanding of spirituality, the way by which one visualizes all things in relation to God or, more precisely, the concrete manner in which one goes to God. Certain saints, for example, have taught their disciples an ascetic method of ascending toward God. Since we find nothing of this sort in St. Dominic, the expression "Dominican spirituality" is disclaimed: the vocation of the Preachers, they say, is catholic and universal, like the Church. Certainly, the Order received its soul from the Church. But this soul is not, in fact, simply a pure spirit. It is an incarnated spirit, a reality at once sensible and spiritual, undivided. Dominican spirituality, identified with certain structures or forms of life proper to the Preachers, is also the source of their activities. The Dominican spirit was entrusted to Dominic by the Church as a vocation; the preaching of the Word of God. But this task would be performed under certain conditions of life, according to a certain style, one might say. Dominic created for himself and for his brethren after him a framework of exterior life, with help from ideas of others, by which his message was brought to the world. Read M. H. Vicaire on the subject (DS, vol. 3, col. 1524-1532). Let us say here that the vocation of the saint sprang from an interior inspiration, to bring the truth to souls in darkness and a mission conferred by the Church, to preach the Word of God in imitation of the Apostles.

1) The Soul of Dominican Spirituality can be characterized by the two mottos of the Order: veritas and contemplata aliis tradere.

a) Veritas is the term that formulated to begin with the ideal practiced in the encounter with heretics, the light of faith which illumines every life and every action of the apostolate. It enlightened the intelligence of a St. Thomas and enabled him to expose with unique fullness the mysteries of God, and, after him, guided a whole line of theologians. Light of faith united to love of truth impelled Peter of Verona and many martyrs after him to give their blood as witness to their Credo. While other spirits are drawn together by their ardor for the service of the Lord, the disciples of St. Dominic are united in one spiritual family because they are first drawn by the light of divine truth. For there are diverse spiritual orientations in the Church.

Disciples of St. Dominic must always be concerned with truth and the urge to reproduce it, the perfect ideal to which all things must conform. Thus the first quality of faith is the rectitude which does not deviate from truth. This concern perhaps gave rise, in the course of history, to some excesses, even to a certain hardness, because sometimes no true charity existed, and therefore no true light, Nevertheless, every Dominican always tries to fix upon the correct view, by the slender rays of light which, issuing from eternity, mark out for a man his definitive direction, Avid to recognize truth wherever it appears, he has an open soul, capable of discerning truth in the midst of error, of taking possession of it and assimilating it. He thus becomes capable of extracting truth from an obscure source and of rendering it more accessible to his contemporaries.

b) The disciple of St, Dominic lives in the light of truth, He becomes penetrated by truth; it so overwhelms him that he cannot keep it to himself. Hence the second expression of the Dominican ideal, contemplata aliis tradere. We must understand this formula correctly. It indicates a certain relationship of action to contemplation and indicates what we have come to call the mixed life. It is distinguished at once from the purely contemplative life and from the active life. But it must not be a mixture. That it would be if one understood Dominican life as a simple alternation, of times of contemplation in the convent and periods of action in the world, a juxtaposition of two activities. In fact, Dominican life constitutes a single reality within which contemplation and apostolate compenetrate and produce each other mutually, but with priority given to contemplation. It is like the life of a being in which is contained beforehand what the biological rhythm urges it to produce. The fruit does not merely succeed the flower; it is, as it were, already precontained therein, like an energy which little by little takes shape in the living tissues.

On the other hand, the apostolic action which derives from contemplation cannot be just any beneficent action whatever. The Preacher goes to men, but he always finds God there, because he always looks upon them as the beneficiaries of salvation. They are brothers whom he knows to be incessantly urged interiorly by the Holy Spirit, and he brings them the call of the Word which will translate that divine attraction. Thus, the adage contemplata aliis tradere, to be correctly understood, should be interpreted in two ways: "the action overflowing from the fullness of contemplation" because the core of the divine mystery is prolonged in the mystery of the redemption, the salvation of the world; but also as "introducing others, in their turn, into the contemplation of divine things"; for that is the end of all apostleship.

2) Religious Structures.

a) Liturgical Prayer. The Dominican branch of the 13th century issued from the trunk of the canons regular. It follows that liturgical prayer, so important in that form of religious life, also remained characteristic of the Preachers. The privilege granted by Honorius III (22 December, 1216) emphasized this trait clearly: the friars are "consecrated to the divine cult"; "canonical regularity" should be "inviolably observed" (M.-H. Vicaire, Saint Dominique de Caleruega, Paris, 1955, p. 129). The first constitutions, in texts which go back to 1216, set down carefully the arrangement of the Office (pp. 140-141) to create an atmosphere favorable to contemplation.

Upon this religious foundation, Dominic left the stamp proper to his Order. The friars were to be Preachers; hence, even in choral chant, holy haste should be applied, recalling the duty of study and of the salvation of souls. The text of the constitutions therefore states; "All the hours should be recited in the church in a brief, alert manner, at such a pace that the brethren may not lose devotion and yet their studies may not suffer in any way (ibid., p, 143)." The Preachers are not purely itinerants; hence the necessity for conventual quarters which existed from the foundation of St. Romain in 1216 (cf, Jordan of Saxony, in Vicaire, ibid., p. 61, #44). There is nothing astonishing, then, in a sort of hunger for liturgical prayer on the part of Dominic, and for the celebration of mass or the psalmody, even in the course of his travels (see the evidence cited by Vicaire, p. 97, #105a; pp. 206-207, #3, pl 232).

At the origin of a religious order, the founder receives an eminent grace, a kind of treasure into which future generations may delve in the course of time. Choral prayer, for St. Dominic, was one of the elements of this grace. It is not by chance that the Friars Preachers descended from a canonical order. In the new edifice which was being constructed, liturgy was one of the main girders. At the dawn of the Middle Ages, other bands of preachers went about preaching penance and conversion; but do we find any who drew from such an atmosphere of liturgical prayer the truth to be shared with souls, as Dominic and his brethren did?

b) Theological studies.

Their importance is unmistakable. From the beginning of the Order, Dominic took care to rest preaching upon a solid foundation. Very soon, he established his Order in university centers: Paris, then Bologna (Vicaire, p. 67, #51). We have already mentioned how Dominic wished to limit the duration of the psalmody so as not to frustrate study.

Saint Thomas Aquinas expanded still further the theological foundation which would henceforth characterize the spirituality of the Order. Not that its spirituality would be, as has sometimes been said, "intellectualistic." If one or another Dominican has perhaps deserved this qualification, it was an individual eccentricity. Nor does it mean that the Preachers concentrate, in their preaching and direction of souls, on the most gifted souls. They are to preach to all and especially to those who find themselves in moral distress. But because of theological studies, they seek to keep the spiritual life in contact with its authentic sources.

c) Poverty.

The preceding elements enter into the framework of a life essentially constituted by the three vows. But one of them, poverty is lived in a special way. To succeed in the urgent task of preaching, Dominic reverted to the evangelical counsels. We know how this came about: Diego, Bishop of Osma, and Dominic pursuaded the legates and the Cistercians to dispense with their elaborate retinues; they must follow the example of the Apostles, "To close the mouths of the wicked, one must act and teach according to the example of the good master: appear in humble mien, travel on foot, without gold or silver, in short, imitate in all aspects the way of the apostolic life" (William of Puylaurens, Historia albigensium v. 1272, in Vicaire, p. 37, #21). Such advice has resounded throughout the whole development of the Order. It responds to Dominic's conviction (witnesses cited in Vicaire, p. 216, #17; p. 227, #32; p. 233, #38; p. 237, #42). The prescriptions concerning poverty sanctioned at the Chapter of Bologna in 1220 recorded "likewise this law that our brethren would henceforth possess neither real estate nor income, and would renounce what they had received in the region of Toulouse (Vicaire, p. 88, #87)."

A life of total poverty could not help but reflect upon their spirituality. Even if the Preacher is assigned to a convent, he never forgets that he is to carry the word of God to souls. To that word alone is he attached. Earthly accommodations do not count with him. What ought follow is perfect simplicity in his relations with God, complete availability also in his communications with his neighbor. In a word, he enjoys an ease, an authentic freedom in those dealings with other minds which constitutes the foundation of the spiritual life.

d) Liberty of soul, thanks to dispensation.

Dispensation, an innovation at the time, was introduced into the very Rule itself, "On this point," say the first constitutions, "let the superior have power in his convent to dispense the brethren whenever he considers it proper, principally in what might seem to be an obstacle to study, preaching, or the good of souls (Vicaire, p. 138, #2)."

Dominic, says Father Regamey, "made of dispensation from the Rule, granted by superiors in an infinite variety of ways, a normal means and a necessary action. It compensates for the extreme complexity of the elements which the religious life as he conceived of it must integrate. It renders it supple according to the demands of the situations and requirements of the apostolic life. Thanks to it, the Order can at the same time maintain its structures and monastic customs while still devoting itself to all the duties of the apostolate (Principes dominicains..., cited below, p. 61, #4)."

It is also thanks to the principle of dispensation that formalism is rarely to be found in the real Dominican tradition, It is impossible to take refuge in ready-made formulas; to live this life, given by God, one must be capable of adapting it exactly to the task on hand, The Friar Preacher has the freedom of a soul ever docile to the Lord.

It must be added that regular dispensation proved the democratic organization of the Order, a sort of natural disposition adapted beforehand to the liberty of the interior life The democratic structure was formally guaranteed from the beginning in the confirmation granted by Honorius III (1216):

"When you leave, you, the present prior of this place, or your successors, whoever they may be, no one is to be set at the head of the community by secret title or by violence. He alone will occupy the post who has been elected unanimously, or at least by the group which is in the majority and most prudent in judgment among the brethren according to God and the rule of the blessed Augustine (Vicaire, p. 131, #4)."

Such are the essential characteristics of this living body which, born of St. Dominic, has continued to grow through the centuries and in all countries of the world. Through it radiates the ideal summarized in these words: veritas and contemplata aliis tradere.

3) Dominican Spirituality throughout the Ages.

The Dominican Concept of spiritual life is so broad that it can integrate aspects of the Christian life more particularly developed at certain periods. In several representatives of the Order the Dominican ideal, while preserving its essential traits, was colored, so to speak, by other types of spirituality. The preceding chapters have shown this in detail. Here we will emphasize the interrelationship of some currents of spirituality with that of the Order of Preachers.

a) The first Preachers fulfilled the ideal of St. Dominic in its primitive simplicity. Very soon, however, the strong personality of St. Thomas consolidated the scholarly aspect of Dominican life, while his theology supported essential structures with sound reasoning. On the other hand, the orientation toward contemplation took a popular form in the devotion of the rosary, which would remain an asset proper to Dominican spirituality.

b) The mysticism of the Rhineland in the 13th and 14th centuries placed the accent on contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity at once transcendent and intimate to the soul. Insistance on the magnificence of God and on the need of detachment to reach Him remains in line with Dominican contemplation. Likewise, in the devotion to the suffering Christ of a Henry Suso, we perceive the same demanding participation in the Passion as in St. Dominic.

c) The reform movement in the 15th and 16th centuries marked a return to uniformity of observance. It reacted, often excessively, against a too liberal interpretation of dispensation. The life of poverty was reestablished. This movement was vitalized at its beginning by St. Catherine of Siena and later by Savonarola, with a return to scriptural sources and a renewal of devotion to the humanity of Christ. This current continued in the Netherlands and in Germany under the form of an absorption with the ascetic life and strict morals. In Spain it connected the principal trends of illuminism and mysticism.

d) In France, the reform trend found new wellsprings to enrich it: Dominicans were open to the various spiritual currents of the golden age, notably those of the French School. A renewal of Nordic spirituality could then be noted, Mention should also be made, in the Netherlands as well as in France and Bohemia, of a revival of Eucharistic piety, honoring a certain form of theocentric contemplation.

e) The restoration of the Order by Lacordaire marked a return to the sources which continued into the 20th century and which would enable it to fulfill its proper mission in apostolic, theological and liturgical activities.

In the course of these developments, excesses and deviations have occurred. But we should be much more impressed by the assimilation of the spiritual riches of the Church by the living body of the Order of Preachers, maintained during the centuries of its history through its essential religious structures and vivified by the soul which St. Dominic breathed into it in the name of the Church.