Project to Mark 800 Years of the Order of Preachers

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Project to Mark 800 Years of the Order of Preachers

Last year, the eight hundred years since papal confirmation of the new order took place and here at Dominican Publications we wanted to also mark the event. We invited each of the brothers in our houses and priories in Ireland, and those working abroad; to every member of their Lay Dominican Chapter; each sister in the Cabra Congregation, whether at home or abroad, and to each and every contemplative nun in the monastery in Drogheda to choose a text (or object of art or piece of music) from a Dominican author or artist of any period in our history and, tell us how this text had inspired them. 

Here are some of the writings that we received: 


The Old Page Is New Each Morning

By Liam G Walsh, O.P

This dThe Old Page Is New Each Morning By Liam G Walsh OPoctrine is wisdom above all human wisdom … he who considers absolutely the highest cause of the whole universe, namely God, is most of all called wise. Hence wisdom is said to be the knowledge of divine things, as Augustine says (De Trin. xii, 14). But sacred doctrine essentially treats of God viewed as the highest cause - not only so far as He can be known through creatures just as philosophers knew Him—"That which is known of God is manifest in them" (Rom 1:19)—but also as far as He is known to Himself alone and revealed to others (quantum ad id quod notum est sibi soli de seipso, et aliis per revelationem communicatum). Hence sacred doctrine is especially called wisdom.

St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Ia, q.1, a.7

The first word from chapter one of the book that lodged in my memory and imagination was sapientia, wisdom. William went on about it at length – how precious a starting point it was for Thomas, and for the whole Dominican tradition; how it invited us to see the doing of theology as the search for Wisdom.

William himself was a memorable model of that way of doing theology. When we came to reading the Summa Theologiae, wisdom, sapientia was there again in the very first question. Article 7, quoted above, establishes that theology is Wisdom. In reading it in Latin a little phrase from it lodged in my memory, and has been a headline in my theological search for Wisdom ever since. In Latin the phrase has a lovely bit of alliteration, which has made it attractive and easy to remember: the repeated “s” in sibi soli de seipso caught my fancy. To be told that doing theology was to be sharing in the very knowing that God, and God alone, enjoys of Godself was mind-blowing; and to be told that one was going to be part of the process of revelation in which God communicates this intimate self-knowledge of his to others offered a profound understanding of the meaning of preaching – the activity towards which my doing of theology was being directed. That way of thinking about theology soon became wedded to the understanding of Dominican spirituality that I had imbibed from my novice master, fr Anselm Moynihan. Anselm had written a beautiful booklet called The Presence of God. Being a Dominican, he taught us, was to live in the presence of God. He spelled this out for us, as he had done in his book, along the lines that Thomas had set in q.8 of the Prima Pars, on the presence of God. All four levels of the presence were to be delighted in, and brought together in our living of the fourth level, which is that of grace. The ‘grace presence’ is experienced in knowing and loving God. It makes one, I was learning, a partner to, a participant in quod notum est sibi soli de seipso, in God’s intimate self-knowledge. And in that contemplative participation one becomes qualified to take part in the et aliis per revelationem communicatum, in the divine communication by revelation that preaching is meant to make happen.

Many theological themes have filled out the cherished theological nugget I received from Thomas: the Trinity is the personalizing of God’s intimate self-knowing and self-loving; grace is supernatural, not just because it is relatively beyond nature but because it is God’s personal domain absolutely inaccessible to creatures except in the measure in which God chooses to communicate it; contemplation is entry into the inner life of God, not just by study and virtuous living but by the gifts of the Holy Spirit made accessible to us by Christ; the vision of God given in our resurrection to eternal life is the bringing to light of something we can have been enjoying all through life in our exercise of Faith, Hope and Charity. All happiness in heaven and on earth is knowing God quantumad id quod notum est sibi soli de seipso.

The Rosary: more a method of preaching than of praying

By Gabriel Harty, OP

The Rosary: more a method of preaching than of praying  By: Gabriel Harty, OP





Pious legend has it that the Mother of God came to Dominic in the forest of Bouconne, west of Toulouse, with the remedy of the Rosary:

Wonder not that until now you have had such little fruit from your labours. You have spent them on a barren soil, not yet watered with the dew of divine grace. When God willed to renew the face of the earth he began by sending down the fertilizing dew of the Angelic Salutation. Go, preach my Rosary and you will obtain an abundant harvest.

The Dominican Rosary was born into a barren land. The puritanical Cathars were preaching a divided humanity, with flesh warring against spirit, with women downgraded and life itself despised. Dominic’s answer came in the proclamation of the Word made flesh and born of woman.  ‘Hail... the Lord is with you... you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son.’

Whatever critical historians may have to say about the legend of the Rosary, it bears witness to the charismatic gift entrusted by the Church to the Order of Preachers, a gift we exercise by reason of profession, by our legislation and by the constant exhortation of the See of Rome. 

‘Go preach’ – that is the Dominican tradition of the Rosary. Dominic is above all the Man of the Book. Art may show him without the beads, but never without the Scriptures. The well-known fresco ofCristo deriso, (Christ mocked) in Florence’s San Marco contains the three elements of the Dominican Rosary. Firstly, Jesus seated on a throne, the centre of our contemplation and of our preaching. Secondly, Mary, at the foot of the throne pondering these things in her heart. Thirdly, inviting Dominic on the other side to keep her company. The Rosary is not so much a prayer to Mary as a keeping her company as we meditate on the mysteries of her Son.

The Gospel of the Votive Mass of the Rosary, which appeared in the old Dominican missal, is not the modern one of Gabriel and the baby to be born. It is that of the Sower and the seed, which ends with the challenge: To you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom. It points to the Rosary as our particular method of preaching.

In the golden age of the Rosary, it was common practice to open up any detail of the lives of Jesus and Mary to this preaching of the mysteries of the Kingdom. Huge volumes are to be found in the Santa Maria Novella library in Florence, on the lines of a modern Lectionary, entitled: Annualia andFestivalia, giving a whole panorama of the Gospel. A typical example is that of the woman with the issue of blood, who said: If only I can touch the tassel of his robe. The preacher would hold up the beads, saying: Here it is, touch it in faith and be healed. This would explain the old adage that has meant so much to me over the course of my ministry as a Dominican preacher: Rosarium magis est modus praedicandi quam orandi. (The Rosary is more a method of preaching than of praying.)


The Spiritual Study of the Voice of God

Gerard Norton, OP

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“Now for Christian thinking in the twentieth century two slogans have been wisely adopted: aggiornamento, or keeping abreast of the times, and approfondimento, or deepening of theological thought. This double programme must be for the Bible too.  Its first part can be carried out by translating into the language we use today, its second part by providing notes which are nether sectarian nor superficial.”

Alexander Jones.  Editor’s foreword to The Jerusalem Bible, Darton, Longman, Todd, 1966, p. v.  

From my Parents, September 1976

That is the inscription on the front of my Jerusalem Bible.  I persuaded my parents to buy it for me in preparation for the noviciate, on the instructions of our novice master, Albert Leonard OP.

This Jerusalem Bible was different from the red soft covered C.T.S. one of my schooldays: in addition to the citation from the foreword given above,  I read there for the first time of the work of a great Dominican school of the Bible in Jerusalem who had produced a French translation in 1956 with explanatory notes and cross references to different parts of the Bible to help the reader.

Over the years, some flaws of this English translation became evident, and a New Jerusalem Bible was produced. Perhaps regrettably, many editions of the Jerusalem Bible were produced without the notes that were such a core part of the initial drive. The notes are not just a simplification of the Biblical text.  They stir us to engage with the various features of the text as Word of God and as incarnate in our history.

Whatever the flaws, this first Jerusalem Bible was a fine achievement.  The layout itself, with helpful headings, and a single column per page invited me, as a reader, to engage with the text.

In that noviciate year, I became attached to that Jerusalem Bible in a way that has haunted me ever since. Today when I hear people contrasting a fruitful Lectio Divina with the aridity of scientific scripture study, I remember the vision of the Jerusalem Bible foreword.  Not just that, I recall a whole tradition of Dominican study that began with the spiritual study of the voice of God in the Scriptures, but was then given the grace of science.  As one writer put it, we did not spurn the meat of science for the milk of the spiritual interpretation. In case that seems a fanciful image, it is borrowed from Jordan of Saxony’s life of St Dominic.

From that initial Dominican commitment to balance the spiritual sense of scripture with the scientific one, we can trace a strong line of fruitful scientific study of the Bible to our day.   For Dominicans, scholarship entails courageous fidelity to a mandate given by the Order and accepted in obedience.  In our preaching and teaching over 800 years, in many countries, we have offered God’s people the meat of science with the milk of spiritual nurture.  Long may that continue.

 A text by Aquinas that encapsulates Dominican theology and spirituality

Vivian Boland, OP

imagesF8R3MTUMSumma Theologiae Ia pars, question 43, article 5, reply to the second objection

Thomas Aquinas writes –

By grace the soul is divinized. When by grace a Divine Person is sent to someone, the receiver must be made like the Person sent through a particular gift of grace. Since the Holy Spirit is Love, the soul becomes like the Holy Spirit through the gift of charity: so it is in charity that the mission of the Holy Spirit is seen. And the Son is the Word: not just any word, however, but the Word that breathes Love, as Augustine says in De Trinitate, book IX, ‘the Word as we intend it here means knowledge accompanied by love’. Consequently, the soul becomes like the Word not by any strengthening of the mind, but only by that forming of the mind that bursts forth into love. We read of it in John 6:45, ‘everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me’, as well as in Psalm 38(39):4, ‘at the thought of it, the fire blazed up’. Augustine pointedly says that ‘the Son is being sent whenever someone has knowledge or perception of him’, for ‘perception’ indicates a kind of experiential knowledge. This is properly called ‘wisdom’, sapientia coming from sapida scientia, a tasted knowledge, as Sirach 6:23(22) puts it, ‘wisdom is like her name’.
Vivian Boland writes –

The 43rd question of the Prima Pars is one to which I have returned again and again. I have done so not only when I have been teaching a course on, for example, the theology of grace, but when preparing retreat conferences, reflecting on great biblical passages like John’s Prologue, giving short introductions to the theology of Aquinas, as well as for my own spiritual reading.

It is one of the linking questions that you find in the Summa, the last question of one section which is also the first question of the following section. This question finishes Thomas’ account of the Blessed Trinity but it also begins his treatment of creation. The missions of the Persons of the Trinity are the sendings of the Son and the Spirit by the Father into this world and its history.

This question takes us straight to the heart of Thomas’s theology which is always focused simply on God and on grace. In concluding what he says about the Blessed Trinity, he feels obliged to speak already about creation and salvation, grace and deification, the world and its history, time and eternity, nature and the supernatural, God making Himself visible through all this and yet remaining invisible in the darkness to which all our theology points. One of the reasons for returning to this question is that it is, like a very good brandy, a rich distillation of an entire theological vision.

The passage I have chosen from question 43 is a key text on divinization, which some might regard as the property of Eastern Orthodox theology. Yet here it is in Thomas, for of course it is a biblical teaching: ‘we have become partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4) and ‘if someone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’ (John 14:23). This divinization happens through the coming to us of the Son and the Spirit, the indwelling of the Persons of the Trinity. Sanctifying grace enables us to receive these Guests and their dwelling in us has the effect of shaping our nature and our abilities in new ways. The Spirit who is Love makes us to be lovers: Thomas has extraordinary texts on this point elsewhere in his writings. If the Spirit is Love, bringing charity, then the Son shapes our intellectual nature because he is the Word. The presence of the Divine Word will mean not simply a new knowledge or understanding but always also new love, a new experience. The Word is verbum spirans amorem, ‘the Word that breathes Love’, for me one of the most beautiful phrases in all of Thomas’s writings. To experience this Word is to be wise.

For me question 43 encapsulates Dominican spirituality and theology: we do not have to choose between Son and Spirit, institution and charism, head and heart, doctrine and experience. Dominican theology is holistic, all-embracing, as the Father embraces the world and its history with both his ‘arms’, the Word and the Spirit.

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