Dominicana (Dominican Students of the Province of St. Joseph)
It’s absolutely beautiful! We went cliff jumping in an awesome spot today . . . then enjoyed sea bass, gelato, and fresh mojitos on the beach tonight at the ancient ruins of Diocletian’s palace.
When my sister wrote me earlier this semester about her travels in Croatia, this line made me smile. What has become of history that the lodgings of an emperor have become a stoop for the cocktail parties of American teenagers? What kind of stare would Diocletian cast down his long Roman nose on these intruders dressed in hoodies, muddying his porch with their flip-flops?
Diocletian certainly isn’t a “nobody” in history, being one of Rome’s most successful military generals and political organizers. He is most known, however, as one of the bloodiest emperors for his severe persecutions of the early Church—hence the irony of Christians socializing over drinks at his home. While historians recall his name, the average visitor asks, “Dio-who?”
While some might rightly point to the poor state of modern education, it’s also the case that some history simply loses its importance with time. Even if a group of university classicists made a tour of Croatia, the fact remains the same: the palace walls would still house a row of quaint cafés, where even these enlightened fellows would undoubtedly stop for lunch. Palaces of the past are bound to become museums, inhabited by tourists in fanny packs and hired guides tied to their scripts.
The state of Diocletian’s ruins raises an important issue: our desire to be remembered. We fight vigorously against the thought of being forgotten. This is exaggerated in figures like Nero, but it burdens every last one of us, from the high school athlete down to the Ph.D. candidate. Presidents write memoirs for their country, but grandfathers do the same for their families. A Roman man would name his children after himself, but family trees today are still full of “juniors.”
Each of us wants to be noticed, and, even more, we want to be remembered. This is a natural desire, but for each of us it can be taken too far. The psychologist in T. S. Eliot’s play The Cocktail Party has something similar to say:
Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm; but the harm does not interest them. Or they don’t see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.
To a greater or lesser degree, all of us stand guilty as charged. Unless we find something outside of ourselves to live for, we live for asserting ourselves. It is perhaps our deepest disease, the fruit of pride which ruined our original communion with God and neighbor. Even if by God’s grace we learn charity and pass over from the isolation of “self” to an “other,” we don’t stay in this disposition too well. Charity with consistency is the stuff of saints, and most spend a lifetime in flux between selflessness and reverting back to the ego.
It’s interesting that in the Gospels the scribes and Pharisees are never given names: “Some Pharisees approached him and tested him . . .” (Mt 19:3). Those who spend their careers trying to make a name for themselves are forgotten. They remain an anonymous group, their identities lost to history.
In contrast, those who follow Christ are given names: the twelve apostles, Martha and Mary, the blind Bartimaeus. They are remembered in the Gospel because they were associated with its protagonist. Jesus of Nazareth is perhaps the most preserved personality in human history: the details of his public life are read aloud at Mass, every hour of every day since the early Church. And within his story is the story of his friends, those healed by him and called by him. A third-grader will respond with a blank stare at the mention of Caligula or Hadrian, but he will likely recognize Zacchaeus. Of the woman who anoints Jesus at Bethany, he says, “Wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Mk 14:9). And even a Pharisee is named, Joseph of Arimathea, who offers his own grave for the body of Jesus.
We can read the details of Diocletian’s life in textbooks, but no one today celebrates his birth or mourns his death. Rome’s heroes have passed away with Rome, just as our own Founding Fathers will someday pass away with America. Christ has said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mt 24:35).
Only what is holy lasts. Diocletian’s mausoleum, the site of his burial, is today the Cathedral of St. Domnius, named after the local bishop whom the emperor himself martyred. Where the dead emperor was laid to rest, now rests Jesus in the Eucharist. While it rightly jars us to see old churches turned into nightclubs, ordering mojitos in the palace courtyard doesn’t raise anyone’s eyebrows.
The records show that, when the martyrs are asked for their names, their unanimous response is, “I am a Christian.” They were meant to be erased from history, but they died for Christ’s name and are remembered today. I have never met a newborn baby named Trajan or Decius, but there are many named Cecilia, Lucy, Agnes, or Catherine.
Most of us will be forgotten, even the hidden saints in our families or religious orders or workplaces. But God who made us cannot forget us. “He remembers us and will bless us” (Ps 115:12). God save us from wanting too much to be remembered—by anyone, that is, but him.
Image: Diocletian’s Cafe, Split, Croatia (altered version of a photograph by Ken Mayer)
Damien Hirst’s Battle Between Good and Evil (2007) consists of two beach balls, one black and one white, suspended in the air by an air blower above a surface geometrically divided into white and black spaces. Occasionally the balls bounce into each other.
The point is clear enough: this whole morality thing is a dirty little trick made to make man feel imperiled, keeping him locked in conflict hovering just above the surface of the real world. Art, able to see things more clearly, can use both good and evil as playthings to be batted around.
Inter mirifica, the oft-neglected Vatican II decree on the media of social communications whose fiftieth anniversary was yesterday, proposes a different view of the relationship between art and morality. The call for the arts and media to be moral, to allow men to rise to their full dignity, sounds throughout the document. It is the moral order that
by itself surpasses and fittingly coordinates all other spheres of human affairs—the arts not excepted—even though they be endowed with notable dignity. For man who is endowed by God with the gift of reason and summoned to pursue a lofty destiny, is alone affected by the moral order in his entire being. And likewise, if man resolutely and faithfully upholds this order, he will be brought to the attainment of complete perfection and happiness (IM 6).
But what does it really mean for art or media to be moral? Can we determine the morality of a movie just by tallying up the number of curse words, violent acts, and intimate rendezvous and weighing it against the number of sage priests, confessing penitents, and confounded evildoers? If Good Things outweigh Bad Things in the work, do we have a moral work of art?
The temptation to answer “yes” to these questions is more strongly present in contemporary America than the soft relativism of our culture might lead us to expect. Most of us acknowledge that some matters “deserve reverent handling” and others “quite readily arouse base desires” in those who see or hear them depicted (IM 7); what we differ on is the things we disapprove of. Some protest that sex in movies corrupts the youth; others protest that smoking in movies does. Some protest featuring same-sex parents on prime-time sitcoms because it undermines the family; others protest their absence, because that undermines the family. So is art always doomed to charges of immorality?
Inter mirifica proposes a subtle solution to this problem by bypassing its unspoken premise: that a work of art depicting immorality is by that fact immoral. Within the limits of prudence and reverence,
the narration, description or portrayal of moral evil, even through the media of social communication, can indeed serve to bring about a deeper knowledge and study of humanity and, with the aid of appropriately heightened dramatic effects, can reveal and glorify the grand dimensions of truth and goodness (IM 7).
At first glance, this is obvious: without the ability to depict evil seriously, art would cease to be a serious route by which man comes to understand his fallen state. But the Council Fathers are also making a deeper point about the inner dynamic of artistic creation, which is to “reveal and glorify . . . truth and goodness.” Within reasonable bounds, a work of art does not become moral or immoral based simply on what it depicts, but on what it reveals about truth and goodness, which are fundamental dynamics of reality as given to men by God. As John Paul II stated in his Letter to Artists, “Every genuine art form in its own way is a path to the inmost reality of man and of the world”; art that intentionally deviates from this path undermines its own meaning and may cause real harm. The call for moral art, then, is a call for art that reveals reality, that makes known the inner meaning of man’s life by means of the artist’s own radically personal engagement with that reality and his interpretation of it.
In this light, the artist begins to walk a troublesome road when he gives up his quest for the deepest reality he can reach and settles instead for a limited, partial, and more easily managed version of reality. Just pick up a piece of proletarian literature from the early twentieth century (Hayama Yoshiki’s “Letter Found in a Cement Barrel” comes to mind) to understand how easy it is for the ideologue to write literature, and how deeply he corrupts its meaning. Ideology, sensationalism, scandal-mongering, pandering, and sentimentalism sell big at bookstores and on the silver screen, but at a big cost: abandoning both reality and art in favor of something less.
Genuine art comes into being where truth and goodness well forth in splendor to reveal some mysterious aspect of reality; a work of art in which these diverse components (truth, goodness, and beauty) are set at odds or in conflict transgresses not only the moral order but the authentic character of art by limiting some aspect of reality in a fundamentally dishonest way. Morality in art, then, is not an external force imposing baneful restrictions on man’s free creativity, but rather it is the way in which that authentic creativity realizes itself. It is at once subjective and objective, perspectival and universal, ordered and free. In its own way, Inter mirifica shows that to set these alternatives against each other, as Hirst does by having “art” vanquish “good and evil,” is not to set man free to realize his dignity as an artist, but to reduce him to playing with beach balls.
Image: Damien Hirst, Battle Between Good and Evil
Reading some verses of Psalm 8—“When I see the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him?”—cannot help but stir the soul towards contemplation of the Almighty and Invisible God. St. John Damascene perhaps gained inspiration from this psalm, since he dedicated his life to the defense of the goodness of the created world and the use of plain old matter as a means of drawing close to the Lord.
St. John lived when the heresy of Iconoclasm waxed strong, plaguing the Eastern Church in the eighth and ninth centuries. He fought vigorously against the decrees of Emperor Leo III, which forbade the use of icons by Christians on account of the laws against idolatry in the Old Testament. Pope Benedict XVI, in his collection of audiences on the Church Fathers and Teachers, credited St. John with being “among the first to distinguish in the cult, both public and private, of the Christians, between worship (latreia) and veneration (proskynesis).” St. John noted that worship was due to God alone, while veneration, a lesser form of honor, was given to the saints. Icons too could be venerated, because they were images of Christ (and the saints) which called to mind and taught about the invisible God who loved men enough to become one of them.
St. John explains in his Discourses against those who calumniate the Holy Images that man can progress from the knowledge of the senses to knowledge of the Divine:
Since He is no longer physically present, we hear His words read from books and by hearing our souls are sanctified and filled with blessing, and so we worship, honoring the books from which we hear His words. So also, through the painting of images, we are able to contemplate the likeness of His bodily form, His miracles, and His passion, and thus are sanctified, blessed, and filled with joy. Reverently we honor and worship His bodily form, and by contemplating His bodily form, we form a notion, as far as is possible for us, of the glory of His divinity. Since we are fashioned of both soul and body . . . it is impossible for us to think without using physical images. Just as we physically listen to perceptible words in order to understand spiritual things, so also by using bodily sight we reach spiritual contemplation.
Already in his own day, St. John says, it was held to be an ancient tradition of the Church to use material images as aids to prayer and to teach the faithful. He also notes that God was the first to make images. Some things He made are purely material and contain only a trace of His perfection. He made man, though, in imitation of Himself by also giving him an intellect and will. Man is a composite of soul and body, and does not simply have innate ideas of things. He learns by abstracting ideas from the physical things he comes into contact with. As St. John says, “A certain perception takes place in the brain, prompted by the bodily senses, which is then transmitted to the faculties of discernment, and adds to the treasury of knowledge something that was not there before.”
In the Discourses St. John wrote too that there are different kinds of images. The natural or perfect image is the highest kind. The Son of God, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, images God the Father in this way. The nature of the Father is shared by the Son. Everything that belongs to the Father except for the property of being unbegotten belongs also to the Son. “But when the fullness of time had come,” the Perfect Image took on the imperfect image of human nature in order to save us. Now that Jesus Christ has ascended to heaven we use material images to remind us of His life and all that He did.
Pope Benedict used St. John’s own words to sum up the place of images in our faith:
But since God has now been seen in the flesh and lived among men, I represent that part of God which is visible. I do not venerate matter, but the Creator of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to live in matter and bring about my salvation through matter. I will not cease therefore to venerate that matter through which my salvation was achieved.
Image: Domenico Morelli, The Iconoclasts
It likely passed unnoticed, but last Wednesday marked a Dominican anniversary. As of November 27th, it is now fourteen years since ten Dominican nuns journeyed to the mountains of southwest British Columbia to found a new monastic community. Nestled in the Tantalus Mountain Range along the Squamish River, Queen of Peace Monastery was completed just a year and a half ago, and is home to fifteen contemplative Dominicans nuns, twelve of whom are fully professed.
A twenty-five minute drive from the nearest town, this community is truly set apart. Their land is shared by bears and cougars, and the rushing creek which can be heard from the monastery is filled with salmon. Glaciated mountain peaks are framed by the windows of the chapel, and a farm truck sits in the driveway.
Each day in the monastery brings a schedule rooted in the rhythm of the Liturgy of the Hours. Five times a day, the community gathers in the chapel to recite the psalms, celebrate Mass, and pray the rosary. In the designated times for manual and intellectual labor, the nuns devote themselves to the indoor and outdoor maintenance of the monastery, print religious cards, make soap, study, produce sculptures and icons, write, and cultivate a garden.
Attached to the monastery is a guest house, where visitors are warmly welcomed. The community considers extending hospitality an important part of their mission, as they offer people in the area an opportunity to step away from busy schedules and encounter that special witness which only contemplative communities can provide to the world. When visitors accept this invitation and make the drive up the pristine Squamish River Valley, they are given an opportunity to hear the voice of God in both the surrounding wilderness and in the prayer of the nuns.
When the original ten, arriving from various Dominican monasteries in the States, first came to this area, they filled a sorely-felt void. The Squamish region had hitherto been home to no religious communities. However, the nuns’ arrival has not only brought their own presence to the area, but has instigated the formation of nearby lay Dominican groups.
Queen of Peace Monastery is a hidden place, the kind of place that you would only find if you were looking for it. Many people pass the exit off the highway which leads up the river valley to the nuns’ home, and most of them never know what they have missed. But whether they know it or not, on the other side of the steep ridgeline to the west of the highway, there is a little lodging where the channel of communication between God and man is kept wide open, where bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood, and where souls are constantly praying for you and me.
Image: The Refectory, Queen of Peace Monastery
“It’s not just those who bomb churches and kill Catholics in the Middle East who are our antagonists, but it’s also those who restrict our religious freedoms and want to close down our embassy to the Holy See,” Raymond Flynn, former American ambassador to the Vatican, told the National Catholic Reporter.
Those are pretty dramatic words for the Obama administration from a Clinton appointee, but anger at closing the U.S. embassy to the Holy See is an issue that can unite the former Democratic mayor of Boston with a former Republican National Committee chairman. They were among the five former ambassadors who voiced objections in an article by John Allen.
While it may not seem like a big deal, especially if we accept the administration’s explanation about security, diplomacy is largely a matter of symbols. It is hard not to interpret this move in light of the U.S. history of anti-Catholic populism.
The United States broke off relations with the Papal States in 1867 amid increased populist anti-Catholic sentiment. American Catholics, who were largely immigrants, were treated with suspicion. How could a Catholic be a loyal American when he also had loyalty to Rome? Catholics were seen as foreigners with divided loyalties.
It took more than century for anti-Catholic fervor to calm down enough for President Ronald Reagan to send the first U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. It was a hard won victory for American Catholics trying to enter the mainstream.
While the U.S. will continue to send an ambassador to the Holy See, he or she will now occupy an annex of the embassy to Italy. “In the diplomatic world, if you don’t have your own separate space, you’re on the road to nowhere,” as former ambassador Francis Rooney put it.
But why should the U.S. have an embassy for the Pope and not any of the other religious leaders in the world? Or as Josef Stalin is alleged to have asked, “The Pope? How many divisions does he have?”
Despite having an army that numbers a mere 110 men, world leaders have long found diplomatic relations with the spiritual head of 1.2 billion Catholics necessary. The Holy See’s unique international status gives it a significant place in the realm of international affairs. As a non-state sovereign entity, the Holy See has the freedom to speak on issues of grave importance without the anxiety provoked by domestic concerns. Moreover, the breadth of countries with which it maintains ties allows it to serve as a go-between for nations that have severed relations with each other.
“The Holy See is a pivot point for international affairs and a major listening post for the United States,” former ambassador James Nicholson told the National Catholic Reporter, “and to shoehorn [the U.S. delegation] into an office annex inside another embassy is an insult to American Catholics and to the Vatican.”
Flynn’s reaction might seem too forceful at first glance, but in light of the other ways the Church’s freedom is under threat in the United States—from the contraception mandate to proposals for an end to its tax exemption—this is an ominous sign of the times, indeed.
Image: Jean-Leon Gerome, The Reception of Siamese Ambassadors by Emperor Napoleon III at the Palace of Fontainebleau, 27 June 1861
Christmas time is almost here… and so is the winter issue of Dominicana print journal! The journal makes a great gift for a family member, a friend, or a treat for you!
The winter issue, Dominicana 56:2, is the second of two issues celebrating the Year of Faith that focused on the two “watch-words” of the Second Vatican Council: ressourcement and aggiornamento. This issue is dedicated to aggiornamento.
In Dominicana 56:2 you will meet Br. Gabriel as he reflects on one of America’s greatest modern novelists, David Foster Wallace, as he searches for faith. Br. Aquinas will demonstrate the usefulness of sociological game theory to explicate the modern dating scene. Br. Patrick Mary updates social media in his reflection on Inter Mirifica, alongside an enlightening interview with a master of modern communication, Fr. Robert Barron. Brs. Gregory and Henry square off on modern economic theory and practice, and Br. Innocent reflects on e-publications and an ancient abbey. Urban poetry and Hegel, airport baggage mysteries and entrepreneurial ecclesiology, all things new find a place within the pages of this volume.
A very special act of aggiornamento is also included: the first ever translated piece of one of our own, a Dominican theologian by the name of Fr. Tomas Tyn, OP. Fr. Tyn’s story, found in the introduction to his stimulating piece on tolerance, is inspiring. And it is with great pleasure that we commend his cause to your prayers as his process for canonization progresses in Rome.
For the Table of Contents and the full Introduction, visit the journal website at dominicanajournal.com. You can subscribe to the journal at the website as well! If you act now you can be sure to have the journal delivered before Christmas!
From all the brothers working for Dominicana, may you have a blessed Advent season and a wonderful Christmas!
In the most recent issue of the Dominicana print journal, I wrote an article about how the Second Vatican Council called for a ressourcement—a return to the sources—regarding the Church’s liturgical music. At the same time, the Council also called for aggiornamento—a bringing up to date or renewal. Our new album, In Medio Ecclesiae—which makes a great Christmas gift for family and friends alike—is our contribution to the fulfillment of both principles, in the authentic spirit of Vatican II.
The Council begins its treatment of music with ressourcement:
The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy . . . The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care. (Sacrosanctum Concilium 112, 114)
Most of the music for the album is drawn from this “treasure of inestimable value,” and we hope that our contemporary recording allows it to be “preserved and fostered with great care.” Two of the tracks are chant (tracks 5 and 12) and several of the other tracks are Renaissance polyphony (tracks 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 10, 11, and 14): these genres are the two which the Council names in particular as part of this treasure of sacred music. All of the music on the recording has been sung for liturgical worship at the Dominican House of Studies.
The Council then finishes its treatment of music with aggiornamento:
Composers, filled with the Christian spirit, should feel that their vocation is to cultivate sacred music and increase its store of treasures. Let them produce compositions which have the qualities proper to genuine sacred music, not confining themselves to works which can be sung only by large choirs, but providing also for the needs of small choirs and for the active participation of the entire assembly of the faithful. The texts intended to be sung must always be in conformity with Catholic doctrine; indeed they should be drawn chiefly from holy scripture and from liturgical sources. (Sacrosanctum Concilium 121)
Two of our tracks in particular aim to fulfill this goal. Tracks 3 and 8 are recent compositions for our liturgies at the Dominican House of Studies and are intended to “cultivate sacred music and increase its store of treasures.” The texts for both compositions are drawn “from holy scripture and from liturgical sources.” While most Americans will hear a song or hymn at the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion during the Mass, each of those parts actually has an assigned chant in the official chant books that is a setting of an assigned text. It is these proper texts of the Mass that form the basis of our two new compositions. The compositions themselves were written not for large choirs but rather for our own relatively small Schola Cantorum of men’s voices and are to be sung a cappella, that is, without accompaniment by the organ or any other instrument.
Track 3, “Thine Are the Heavens,” is a simple and short setting of the proper Offertory text for the Mass of Christmas Day: “Thine are the heavens, and thine is the earth: the world and the fulness thereof thou hast founded. Justice and judgment are the preparation of thy throne” (Ps 89:12, 15a). I wrote the setting for Christmas in 2011 in response to the desire to have a more contemporary English-language setting of the Offertory, in accord with Sacrosanctum Concilium 36: “Since the use of the mother tongue . . . frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply . . . to some of the prayers and chants.” The setting is in four parts with a homophonic texture (each part sings the same words at the same time) that uses contemporary, sweet-sounding harmonies and text painting.
Track 8, Ubi caritas, is a harmonic setting of the proper Offertory chant for Holy Thursday. This chant was originally used for the washing of the feet, the text being a meditation on how love of neighbor makes manifest the love and presence of God. Following the custom of omitting the use of the organ between the Glorias of Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil, the piece is an a cappella harmonization of the unison chant from the official chant books. The composer, Fr. James Moore, O.P. (the director of our Schola), harmonized first the refrain for Holy Thursday in 2011, and set the verses as well in 2012. In this piece, also, the harmonies are contemporary, but the original chant melody, which is clearly present throughout the piece, is the most prominent part, as can be heard on the album.
By sharing with you sacred music both old and new, in accord with the mind of the Second Vatican Council, our hope is to present an offering that is truly in medio Ecclesiae, in the midst of the Church, and truly beautiful, so as to draw all who hear it closer to God. As we begin to prepare for the celebration of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ at Christmas, we pray that the music of In Medio Ecclesiae will inspire those who hear it to give their lives, whether for the first time or in a renewed way, to Him.
Image: Gentile da Fabriano, Music, Playing the Organ
Upon the hand of him who holds no things,
A gracious dove may perch on empty palm.
But mind the man who grasps the wealth of kings,
By him ne’er shall be heard her grateful song.
Her praise was born with life upon the earth
When unbound man beheld his naked bride,
And Eden’s air rang with immortal mirth,
And Truth was near, and beauty never died.
But, fruit-snatched, God-spurned, bitter twist of hate:
About the dove’s frail form man closed his fist.
He killed her joyful song and passed shame’s gate.
Death-bound, he mourns; now empty hands he lifts.
O Adam’s son, give thanks: God heard thy plea;
Give thanks, the Son of God hast died for thee.
Image: Fra Filippo Lippi, Annunciation
Today, as folks would say back home in Tennessee, is a travelin’ day. Today, airports are packed with parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins on their way to visit children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews and cousins, while highways are jammed with college students caravanning home for the extra-long weekend.
Here an obvious analogy could be made: just as today people are making the journey to be with the ones whom they love and who love them, so our very life is a journey towards the One whom we love and who loves us first. This is true and profound, but let’s admit it—the life-as-journey paradigm has become a little cliché.
Now I don’t want to be entirely dismissive here, because much good could be said: God is our final end for whom we strive and towards whom we naturally tend; Scripture is full of walking and traveling imagery which clearly symbolizes our lives; suffering, sin, and various other obstacles seem to stand in our way, but grace enables us to overcome them. Still, these things aside, I quickly become wearied by articulations of spiritual truths that sound as if they were propounded by a teenager who’s listened to too much Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix: “Life . . . it’s a journey, man.”
But today is not just a travelin’ day; today is also a day of preparation. Obedient children are frantically sweeping, dusting, and vacuuming the house to prepare for incoming guests (the disobedient are still deliberating), while turkey chefs are reviewing their recipes to make sure they won’t forget anything tomorrow (I have no doubt that my mother will send my sister to the grocery store at least two or three times today).
Here another analogy can be made: just as today people are preparing their homes for guests, so our very life is a preparation for receiving a divine Guest; just as today people are preparing their kitchens for a feast, so our very life is a preparation for the eternal banquet.
Thanksgiving guests who will arrive today are coming early—the feast isn’t until tomorrow. God, our divine Guest, also comes to us before the eternal feast—he comes to us during this life, now, today. Why? Because for the eternal feast, our own preparations are ultimately insufficient. Only God can make those eternal preparations, so he comes to make our hearts ready. But God does not remain a Guest. He invites us to his heavenly banquet—and there, we are no longer guests, but sons and daughters: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are . . . Beloved, we are God’s children now” (1 Jn 3:1–2).
Over the years, I was scolded by my mother countless times for eating bits of the food before the dinner itself—a piece of turkey here, a spoonful of mashed potatoes there—and rightly so, because the food is for the feast. But it’s different with God. He wants us to taste of the eternal feast prepared for us in heaven, so he gives us a Sacred Banquet here below, in which Christ becomes our food, the memory of his passion is celebrated, the soul is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us. He has given us bread from heaven, having all sweetness within it.
Image: Fra Angelico, Communion of the Apostles
At 67, insight trumps muscles.
So I thought to myself as I watched Escape Plan the other night. The two action movie paragons, Schwarzenegger and Stallone, shared the screen in this film about an escape from a perfectly designed prison. Without pretending to review the movie or its artistic merits—as an incorrigible fan of cheesy action movies, I am rather blind to their faults—there is an element worth noting here.
These ’80s action heroes have long since peaked physically: Conan the Barbarian and Rocky are now more than 30 years old. So what is left for them to do? Why not cede the stage to Christian Bale and Jason Statham for Escape Plan?
I would like to propose a slightly implausible reason contained in the film itself: Stallone has become primarily a “watcher of men” (Job 7:20), and not simply a killer of them in the older character he plays in this movie. He spends most of the scenes not brawling or shooting but rather studying: the routine of the guards, their characteristics, the warden, the religious motivations of his fellow prisoners, etc.
When the raw physicality of youth fails, other powers come into the foreground and take precedence in the human person. Cicero wrote about the difficulties of old age, but he testifies to its value:
The great affairs of life are not performed by physical strength, or activity, or nimbleness of body, but by deliberation, character, expression of opinion. Of these old age is not only not deprived, but, as a rule, has them in a greater degree. (De Senectute, par. 6)
Cicero assumes that virtues of the mind have been at least minimally present in the youth all along, but they acquire a new importance when the body weakens. Yet our cultural milieu rejects this weakening as a foolish concession to nature. The quest for perpetual youth is on display everywhere: at drugstores, on billboards, in gyms, etc. This is an understandable desire, but ultimately an unnatural course for human life. To be young with bodily strength forever is impossible. Cicero points out “control of the passions” as one of the fruits of older age. To finally have self-mastery is most definitely worth being a little slower in movement. The Church has always agreed with Cicero on this one, and ranked the goods of the intellectual soul over the goods of the physical body. Maturity is the integration of the two and old age involves the ascendancy of the soul.
From my vantage point in my twenties, I can only agree that it would be ideal to have the vigor and vitality of 26 paired with the wisdom and insight of 76. But as an older priest in the province reminded me a few months ago: “I don’t think it works that way.” It can seem like a tragic trade-off. The saying “youth is wasted on the young” is just another articulation of this desire to have both. But there is a natural progression. It is applicable, as we’ve been considering it, in the life of nature, but also in the life of grace. The Christian soul develops integrally with our natural lives: training and strengthening in youth, appreciation and longing for the sight of God at the end.
To go back to the movie, Stallone and Schwarzenegger are trapped in a prison deep below the surface. They are outnumbered by guards, hemmed in by the strictures of prison life, and cut off from outside support. They need the intellectual virtues, not simply the physical or martial ones, to escape. It is a curious contrast with their earlier films, where (occasional strategic thinking notwithstanding) the amount of munitions or punches is the determining factor. The sight of God Himself in the Beatific Vision is the conclusion, the goal, of our life here. Analogously, it takes physical prowess (with grace assisting at every step) to get to the view, but like our heroes getting to the surface of the prison, our reason and the accumulated wisdom of the years will serve us in better stead than raw force.
Image: Nicholas Roerich, The oldest, the wisest
All kings, in their different ways, have power over life and death. In the case of absolute monarchs and tyrants, this power is made manifest very clearly. A thumbs-down or a single phone call could result in the death of a troublesome subject. In these governments, the king is the cause of great fear and a sense of dependence in his people. In other places, the power over life and death is more subtle. We can imagine a medieval king who, through negligence of his duties, can cause the death of many. Without wise and prudent policies for knights and farmers alike, his kingdom will eventually collapse and death will come upon his people. His subjects may not be as consciously aware of it, but they too are dependent on the king for life.
This latter type of kingship makes evident the reciprocal dependence between the ruler and the ruled. If the farmers don’t farm and the guards don’t guard, the king will suffer along with his subjects. And so it is in the king’s best interest to govern his kingdom well, thereby ensuring the health and happiness of his people. Without the cooperation of the king and his people, neither party could thrive.
Yesterday’s Solemnity reminded us that Christ too is a king. But unlike an earthly king, Christ doesn’t depend on man despite man’s dependence on Him. Aquinas discusses the issue of dependence by explaining that God cannot depend upon creation because then we would be forced to say that God needs creation in order to be God. But God created out of his will and, thus, created freely and not necessarily. Man’s relation to God, however, is still one of absolute dependence, because without God constantly thinking of man, man would cease to exist.
At various times in our lives we see this utter dependence on God more clearly than others. It is often most evident during times of trials, when we have nowhere else to go. It is then that we confess with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). We find the widow from today’s Gospel in this same situation. She comes to the Temple alone with no other person to depend on and “from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood” (Lk 21:4). This widow is a model for the self-awareness of our utter dependence on God.
In the Gospel, the widow offers the whole of her meager wealth—but two small coins—into the treasury of the Temple. We must note that the physical treasury is not the throne of God that dispenses life and death. It is not the case that the widow has found the material way to save her life through tithes. Rather, her material generosity is an illustration of her reliance upon God for her very life. She realizes that her life is not sustained by her own possessions, but that it is God alone who can sustain her.
But where, then, is Christ’s throne before which we may fall prostrate, if it isn’t the treasury? Surely it is in heaven at the right hand of the Father. But it is also here below in the cross. One way in which the medievals often depicted this was by portraying the crucified Christ wearing a crown. It is from the cross that Christ reigns as the king who has the ultimate power over everlasting life and death.
Image: Valentin Serov, Coronation of the Emperor Nicholas II in The Uspensky Cathedral
Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul. —Proverbs 22:24
Not by warriors’ hands the tyrant fell; not giants smote him, not heroes of the old time barred his path; it was Judith, Merari’s daughter, Judith’s fair face that was his undoing. —Judith 16:8
“Another round, Bill!” Coady had cash. Single, 23, and rich as a movie star—well, rich as a movie star who makes around $90,000 a year, relaxing in Manning, North Dakota. Manning? Just a little town north of Dickinson, south of Williston: Oil Country. What used to be a bar for farmers to get a drink on the weekend now has become the hub for young oil workers looking for a good time. They come from all over, setting out for the black-gold rush on the prairie. The blizzards and wind are enough to drive a guy crazy, but unlike the 49ers of old, the 09ers are guaranteed a paycheck and enough cash to leave whenever the land wins out. But sometimes the greatest storms they have to weather are more subtle.
Coady, the new guy, sidled up to one of the few women in the bar. “What’ll ya have?” “Whiskey,” she said, without looking at him. “Bill get . . .” “Hey what’s your name?” “Bailey.” “Hey Bill, get Bailey a Jack!” The glass arrived. “So you work on one of these drills?” “Nope.” “What do you do?” “Truck driver.” “Ah. Coming down 22’s pretty scary stuff, huh?” “Yeah.”
Coady usually had an easier time speaking to women. He didn’t notice it at first, but now he realized that a single woman standing by herself is a rare sight here in the Wild West. Even still, a guy can only take one word answers for so long before he gives up and moves on. One more try. “Yeah, I almost had a head-on collision a couple days ago. Trucker texting, if you can believe it. Should get his license taken away.” She took a drink. Now he was mad. “Hey, I’m just trying to have a good time, what’s your deal?”
Bill walked up to him from behind the counter and said calmly, “Hey Coady, just let her alone, she’s had a rough go.” He persisted, “Is that right, Bailey, you had a rough go? It’s rough for all of us, no one wants to live up here, but we just make do by talking and carrying on and drinking. Why can’t you do your part? Oh, you too good for us? Okay, okay. I’ll move on.” He didn’t move on. “What’s up, you got a big bad boyfriend who don’t let you talk to strangers? Well bring him on.” Bailey took another drink. Her face was expressionless. “Coady, lay off now. Come on, maybe it’s time you go to bed or something. She’s not worth getting all worked up over.” He didn’t notice Bill. “Hey, I bought you a drink, don’t you owe me something?” She started to take out a $5 bill from her pocket. Coady snarled, “I don’t need your money,” and threw two $100 bills on the counter and stormed out. He lit up a Marb red outside the door.
His buddy Jake from Arkansas was outside. He had been working here for 3 years. “Hey Jake, you know that Bailey inside?” “Yessir I do.” “What’s her deal, where’s she from?” “Just up the road in Killdeer.” “Oh wow, local.” “Got a chip on her shoulder. Wanted to get outta here, but her dad got sick, so she had to support him. Mom divorced him a while ago, moved to Colorado. They don’t talk.”
“That’s no good. None of us want to be here, though. We all got stuff. Why’s she have to be all stuck up? And how do you know so much about her? She didn’t say more than 3 or 4 words to me.”
“I asked around town. She comes to this bar every night. She’s pretty, I wanted to get to know her, but got as far as you did. I gave up eventually, just like the rest. With her, I found out it was change or go crazy stayin’ the same.”
“Well, why’s she come to the bar? May as well just buy a bottle and drink at home with Pa.”
He laughed darkly to himself. All ginned up from booze and being turned down, he walked back into the bar. “Alright folks,” he shouted, “We got ourselves a local lady who’s too good for us strange-folk.” Bill the bartender turned off the music. “Coady, shut up!” “I ain’t gonna shut up till she speaks up. Hey Bailey?” He stumbled a bit, but regained his footing. “Why you come here instead of drinking at home, you hate us so much?” Bailey finished her drink calmly and stood up. “I am home.”
She walked out of the bar past him and put a $5 bill in his pocket. She got in her pickup and drove up 22 to Killdeer. As for Coady, he stumbled out to his pickup and tried to start it, but fell asleep in the driver’s seat. Jake came up and moved him over to the passenger seat. He was dry as a bone, been that way for 2 years and 324 days. “Yeah, boy, you’ll learn. No one cross Bailey and win,” he chuckled to himself. “She’d tame a wild horse just by looking at him.”
Image: Edvard Munch, Tavern in St. Cloud
Few doctrines are more widely misunderstood than the Catholic teaching on purgatory. One of the most common misconceptions is that this doctrine denies the efficacy of the redemption by requiring that we be punished despite Christ’s death on the cross. We can get a better sense of the true nature of purgatory with a little help from an early nineteenth-century Anglican curate who early in his life didn’t even believe in the doctrine.
Long before he was reconciled with the Catholic Church, Blessed John Henry Newman preached a sermon titled “Holiness Necessary for Future Blessedness” based on Hebrews 12:14, which says, “Strive for peace with all, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” In the sermon Newman sought to explain why it is that holiness is a precondition for enjoying eternal life. The answer he gave, in a nutshell, is this: “Even supposing a man of unholy life were suffered to enter heaven, he would not be happy there; so that it would be no mercy to permit him to enter.” What does Newman mean?
Many people are under the impression that heaven is a place where you can do whatever you want. But Scripture, Newman points out, paints a different picture: there we will spend eternity worshiping the Lord. Thus, he suggests that heaven is like a church: “For in a place of public worship no language of this world is heard… Here we hear solely and entirely of God.” For the person who rejects God in this world, entering heaven would be more like hell: “In this house of God, he would hear only of that one subject which he cared little or nothing about, and nothing at all of those things which excited his hopes and fears, his sympathies and energies.” If we don’t have a taste for the things of God in this life, we won’t be prepared to enjoy them for all eternity in the next. And so, according to Newman, the purpose of growth in holiness is to prepare ourselves for the joys of heaven—joys that would be hell to those who would enter unprepared.
Because habits take time to develop, it would seem that one cannot prepare himself for heaven overnight. This leads Newman to the difficult question of late-in-life conversions: how can someone who has lived his whole life alienated from God and set in vicious habits hope to enjoy eternal life? Newman’s answer is stark: “It follows at once, even though Scripture did not plainly tell us so, that no one is able to prepare himself for heaven, that is, make himself holy, in a short time; – at least we do not see how it is possible.” In his Anglican days, Newman did not believe in the doctrine of purgatory, and so he could not see any way for a person to enter eternal life by means of a deathbed conversion.
If we follow Newman’s logic, we will see purgatory for what it really is: another aspect of God’s mercy. Purgatory is not a sadistic post-mortem torture chamber, a punishment in addition to Christ’s death on the cross. Rather, purgatory is a final preparation to enjoy life in God’s presence for all eternity. In purgatory we will be completely purged of our self-centered tendencies and refashioned so that we can enter into the never-ending exchange of love that is the inner life of the Blessed Trinity. The process will be painful because ridding ourselves of our sins, even in this life, is painful, but the end result will far outweigh the pain.
Needless to say, we should all strive now with the help of God’s grace to prepare ourselves to enter eternal life. It is true—despite the Anglican Newman’s hesitancy—that someone can have a late-in-life conversion and be received directly into heaven (perhaps, for instance, through the reception of baptism upon one’s deathbed). Nonetheless, for more “typical” cases, if we don’t manage to strip ourselves completely of our vices in this life, we can thank God that in His mercy He will not turn us away. Even the most hardened sinner, provided he repents, can hope to spend eternity joyfully in the presence of the One Who made us for Himself, and in Whom our hearts will ultimately find their rest.
Image: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Madonna of Carmel and the Souls of the Purgatory
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI refers to his collection of books as his “old friends,” and in this, many friars preachers will surely sympathize with him. Ever since the earliest days of the Order, Dominicans have sought out books to feed the life of the mind and give grist for their preaching. The first friars were enjoined to read constantly, so that through their study, they may share the things contemplated for the salvation of souls. Since Dominicans were sent to preach and teach in universities across Europe, they had to grapple with the best minds and the most persuasive ideas of the day. What’s the use of a preacher if he can’t reach the minds, hearts, and souls of those he preaches to?
The same ethos is present in the Order today, and the friars of the Dominican House of Studies do a brisk trade in books of every sort. The books a preacher reads inevitably inform his preaching. They enrich his language, the timbre and cadence of his words. They broaden his imagination and sharpen his arguments. The books a friar reads gradually shape his voice—in the pulpit, in the confessional, in the classroom. Show me a Dominican’s bookcase, and I’ll tell you what his preaching will be like.
Of course, the first and most important book that shapes any preacher of the Word is Sacred Scripture. Between the liturgy, lectio divina, and private study, the inspired word of God has primacy of place in Dominican life, and rightfully so. St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae also looms large on any Dominican bookshelf, since the Order of Preachers is powerfully shaped by the Angelic Doctor’s particular way of understanding and explaining the drama of salvation history. Even aside from these works, the student brothers are still prodigious readers. Directly and indirectly in the many books they peruse, the brothers find different ways of presenting the Gospel, different ways of seeing Christ in the world.
Ask any student brother for a list of his favorite books, and you’re liable to receive a prolonged reply. To give a manageable sample, I asked a small cross-section of the studentate to share with me some of the most important books on their shelves with respect to preaching, the Bible and the Summa excepted. Unsurprisingly, no two brothers wrote back with all the same titles. I’ve grouped and summarized their replies into four sections, and present them as a portrait of diversity in unity amongst the preachers of tomorrow. At the very least, they should provide good fodder for Amazon Wish Lists and Christmas shopping plans. And since what you hear in the pulpit years from now is shaped by books and authors like these, it counts as a sort of preview of coming attractions.
Unsurprisingly, works by Dominican authors feature prominently among the brothers’ favorites. The collected works of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, the famed Thomistic theologian, were mentioned by several of the brothers. With his tremendous acumen and great precision, Garrigou-Lagrange makes for a difficult but illuminating read. Titles like Providence and his Last Writings link the grand sweep of Thomist philosophy and theology with the realities of the life of faith. One brother pointed to the early Dominican Lives of the Brethren as a powerful précis of the founding spirit and animating principles of the Order, which still inform our preaching today. The English Province of Dominicans has produced some standout writers in the past century or so, and their works are a happy combination of beautiful prose and excellent content. Friars like Bede Jarrett and Gerald Vann were part of an early twentieth century Renaissance amongst English Dominicans. Their spirit lives on in the work of Simon Tugwell, whose books on prayer in practice and the history of spirituality are tremendously helpful. And across the Irish Sea, Paul Murray’s poetic voice draws out the best of the Dominican tradition.
Not every great work on the spiritual life came from a Dominican pen, of course. Brothers pointed out the importance of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a rich and reliable guide to all the central questions of the faith. St. Augustine, whom one brother called “the original preacher of grace,” is foundational to the entire Latin tradition in the Church, and one whose vivid writing and personality seem to leap off the page. Another brother included The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, noting their profound wisdom and insight along with their enduring ascetical example. St. Thérèse of Lisieux appears on many bookshelves here for her privileged insight into the truth of God’s love, and several friars have found her to be an unexpected gateway to understanding the passionate vision of St. Thomas that lies hidden beneath his scholastic style.
Again, great British authors inspire many brothers for their eloquence and sanctity. The sermons of John Henry Newman and Ronald Knox are some of the best preaching in the modern English language. Writers like G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis are known the world over for the high caliber of their works and distinctive insights. Less well known is Abbot Columba Marmion, the “doctor of divine adoption” and a master of the spiritual life. Finally, some more recent works were proposed as already being classics for preachers, chief among them Joseph Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity.
Philosophy & Politics
In the tradition of St. Thomas, who saw the sound reason of great pre-Christian thinkers as compatible with the faith, the brothers find many secular works useful for preaching. Several of our friars have particular regard for the works of Plato, whose philosophical wisdom has much to offer when read in the light of faith. From my own perspective, the works of the great Anglo-Irish statesman and thinker Edmund Burke have much to offer any reader, but especially a preacher. Aside from his great eloquence and style, Burke’s insights on society and behavior, on government and leadership, and on the sublime and the beautiful are a powerful hermeneutic for understanding the world and its need for the Church and the Gospel. Contemporary authors exploring the faults and fissures of our post-Christian age—like Charles Taylor in A Secular Age and Alasdair MacIntyre in After Virtue—also help would-be preachers better understand the world to which they will speak.
Literature & Poetry
An older friar of our province once observed that it’s essential for preachers to read literature and poetry, both for the good of their own souls and to better tell the story of salvation. One brother praised the Collected Poems of Philip Larkin as “indispensable for learning how to speak about God to men who have forgotten him.” A different brother highlights the work of Jessica Powers, the American poet who became a Carmelite nun. Of course, the epic Divine Comedy by Dante needs no justification to be on any list of essential books.
The brothers’ taste in fiction varies widely. Some mentioned Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings as the best example of modern Catholic imagination, as well as Flannery O’Connor, who (in the words of C. S. Lewis) reminded us that “though God is good, he certainly isn’t tame.” There are the Collected Plays of Brian Friel, notable for “his attention to the dynamic of self-deception and self-representation,” along with Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. From the high brow and literary—see Patrick Leigh Fermor’s travel journals, starting with A Time of Gifts—to the more accessible Louis de Wohl and his charming novels on the lives of the saints, the brethren covered a wide range of authors and styles. Finally, one brother thought it prudent for there to be at least one copy of The Complete Shakespeare in every Dominican priory.
Again, this is but a narrow cross-section to show the the great variety of influences that shape a preacher’s voice. These works are a testimony to the power of the written word in forming the spoken word, all in service to the Word made flesh.
Image: Carl Spitzweg, The Bookworm (Der Bücherwurm)
On November 9 this year, all eight of us first-year student brothers at the Dominican House of Studies were installed in the office of Lector. This office is a formal step towards ordination to the priesthood, but it is also an office with its own proper function of “reading the word of God in the liturgical assembly.” This office, like all of the Church’s offices, is one of service, witness, and a continual call to be transformed by the Gospel in order to live a more faithful life.
In his 1972 motu proprio Ministeria quaedam, Pope Paul VI eliminated the old minor orders of porter, lector, exorcist, and acolyte along with the major order of sub-deacon, and created two new offices or ministries: lector and acolyte. These offices, like the minor orders they replaced, are required for those seeking ordination to the priesthood, and they are received only once. However, they no longer denote entrance into the clerical state, which now occurs with ordination to the diaconate. One is installed in the office by the bishop or major superior of a religious congregation. This also means that, according to Ministeria quaedam, laymen are eligible to receive the office, pursuant to the policies of the local bishop. The formal offices of lector and acolyte differ, respectively, from readers and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, who are common in many parishes. The latter are temporary, with a single instance of service or a term of three years (with the possibility of renewal) being the most common forms in the US. They are open to men and women, and are conferred with a blessing or commissioning by the pastor.
I was an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion prior to entering the Dominicans, and thus have formally served in two capacities. It is evident that these offices or ministries—involving service either of a permanent or a temporary nature—have much more in common than what separates them. The formal duties associated with each are necessary and distinct, but they are overshadowed in the instructions and blessing/institution by two themes: the witness of one’s life and the call to be faithful.
While the technical aspects of reading aloud in public are important (diction, projection, phonation, etc.), alone they will fail to transmit the living word of God to those hearing unless the readers themselves are shaped by that same Gospel. Of course, we all are and will always be sinners, but the Church charges each of her lectors to accept the word of God and to “meditate on it constantly” so that he will become “a more perfect disciple of the Lord.” Only thus are we able to let the Gospel permeate and shape our lives. In a similar way, in the commissioning of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, the pastor declares to the candidates: “you must be examples of Christian living in faith and conduct; you must strive to grow in holiness.” How can we give Jesus Christ himself to others if we have not first received him ourselves? We may not be great orators, but we can present the living God to all peoples in word, sacrament, and the witness of our lives.
In the witness of our lives, we are also called to be faithful, and the Church stresses this call most fervently in the prayers of commissioning/institution for these offices/ministries: “that they may be faithful.” Faithfulness and fidelity are the only sure ways to give to the people Jesus Christ. Mother Teresa famously commented that we will not always be successful, but we must always be faithful. In these offices, we see that faithfulness is more important than any of the actions or skills we may have or acquire.
In petitioning for this office, we accepted a burden to be of service to all people, to place our lives under greater scrutiny before God and man living as public witnesses to the Gospel. Christ tells us in that Gospel that one who is faithful in small matters will be faithful in great ones. Please pray for us that we may be faithful in the office of lector and live our lives as true witnesses of Jesus Christ.
Image: Newly Installed Lectors at the Dominican House of Studies with the Prior Provincial, November 9, 2013
Truth is the end of the universe.
—St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, I.1
Truth envelops heaven and earth, and covers the natural and the supernatural on the roads of reason and faith. But not everyone sees a unity between reason and faith. Few actually wage war against religion. Many just find belief uncomfortable, and would prefer not to see creeds and confessions of faith spill into the realm of rational inquiry. Others keep faith apart from daily life, keeping difficult religious questions segregated from other aspects of their lives. The question remains—why do we need faith beyond natural knowing?
Four facts about the relationship between faith and reason can help us answer that question:
First, faith and reason are distinct. We all desire to know, but in several modes or ways—in one way by natural reason, in another by faith. Reason is proper to our nature, to who we are. It aids us in discovering the world and joins our mind to that world in a cognitional unity we call “truth.” To say we know the truth, after all, is to say that our minds conform with external realities. Faith also regards truth, but it does not do so simply by natural reflection. Faith is a cognitional assent to what is not immediately apparent. It is supernatural when directed to God.
Second, faith and reason do not compete. The wise man is the one who orders, and there is a perceived order among the truths of faith and reason. Both faith and reason seek what is true, but neither encroaches on the other’s method of knowing. Some truths about God exceed the ability of our natural reason—like the fact that God is triune, and that the Incarnation is possible. But there are other truths about God and the world that natural reason is able to reach—the laws of physics, for example, or even the fact that all matter finds its source in a single, creative cause. Truth is not contrary to truth, so neither is a point of reason opposed to an article of faith. If something is known to be true by faith, then reason cannot conclude its contrary. Likewise, if reason provides certainty on a given issue, then an opposed faith-claim would be a false belief.
Third, salvation is real. Both reason and faith have the same source in God, who is Divine Wisdom, the author of our existence as well as our salvation. Our salvation is supernatural, and so it requires a supernatural act on God’s part to bring us to eternal life. This divine act is called grace, and it gives us what we need to believe in God and in every truth given to us about him. God gives us faith through grace so that we may believe in what pertains to our salvation.
Fourth, revelation is both possible and necessary. We can’t perfectly move from natural causes and natural reason to all that pertains to God in his infinite being. This does not mean that reason is weak, but that it has a particular scope that can only know so much without faith. Mysteries hidden in God are proposed to us for belief in revelation, which, had they not been revealed, could not have been known simply by natural knowledge. Therefore, faith that regards the truths of revelation complements and extends reason; it does not limit or lessen its power.
Truth, then, is found in a twofold wisdom. To reason clearly is to see clearly, and to see what is beyond reason’s realm requires faith. Faith perfects us naturally and supernaturally. It gives us a complete perspective of the world, and shows an inner harmony within our body of beliefs along with what we know by reason. As the means by which we assent to what is divine, faith leads us to our perfection in attaining supreme wisdom. By reason and faith, therefore, let us pursue Wisdom itself:
Blessed is the man who meditates on wisdom and who reasons intelligently.
He who reflects in his mind on her ways will also ponder her secrets.
Pursue wisdom like a hunter, and lie in wait on her paths…
[You] will be sheltered by her from the heat, and will dwell in the midst of her glory.
—Sirach 14:20-22, 27
Image: Childe Hassam, Sunset at Sea
Before I entered the Dominican Order, I taught an introductory statistics class at a small college founded by Dominican Sisters in my hometown. Since the school was too small to have distinct departments for each scientific field, all of them, including mathematics, were housed in St. Albert Hall, a building named for today’s patron saint. A fitting attribution—for the thirteenth-century German Dominican friar was an expert not only in philosophy and theology, but also in several natural sciences: constructing an early greenhouse, discovering the chemical element arsenic, and developing experimental methods that would later become standard in modern science. For his integration of scientific domains and the newly-rediscovered philosophy of Aristotle with the study of divine revelation in theology, Saint Albert the Great is fittingly honored as the Doctor Universalis, the “teacher of everything.”
In today’s academic climate, however, a “teacher of everything” is hard to find. Departments and disciplines have become so specialized that lectures given on one topic are often barely understood by others in the same department, and whole conferences and journals are devoted to the narrowest of subfields. In learning to be an expert in one area, other fields are ignored, to the point that scholars in the sciences can deem theological claims to be either over their heads or not worth their attention. Without a unifying vision of all knowledge, one may even reach the conclusion that science and theology contradict each other, as seen in the debates between random evolution and intelligent design, for example. How can a seeker of truth resolve this dilemma?
One scholar, the evolutionary biologist and agnostic Stephen Jay Gould (d. 2002), proposed a solution: that of “non-overlapping magisteria.” In this model, which he described in a 1997 article, both science and religion have separate domains over which each has competency, and neither one impinges on the other. As he writes:
The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty). To cite the arch clichés, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven.
The separation of domains of teaching authority, or “magisteria” as Gould appropriates the word, seems attractive; Christians believe that God created the human race directly in His image and likeness on theological grounds, for example, and biologists hold that humanity came to be through a long evolutionary process of many random mutations on scientific grounds. The dignity of the human race as being in the image of God is primarily a moral statement, while the origin of the species is a theory based on empirical data, and the two explanations seem to fall into disparate domains.
Yet, the various magisteria do, in fact, inevitably overlap. Another evolutionary biologist, the outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins, replies:
It is completely unrealistic to claim, as Gould and many others do, that religion keeps itself away from science’s turf, restricting itself to morals and values. A universe with a supernatural presence would be a fundamentally and qualitatively different kind of universe from one without. The difference is, inescapably, a scientific difference. Religions make existence claims, and this means scientific claims.
In other words, if God is held to be the Creator of the universe, then He has a direct effect on all that exists (namely, He bestows existence on it), and everything studied in science, or art, or history, can be considered in relation to God. While Dawkins’ analysis limps in asserting that claims of existence are scientific, for many things exist that are not subject to natural science, he properly identifies that theology does exert an influence on science.
To investigate how these bodies of knowledge overlap and interact with each other, it helps to examine the work of St. Albert’s most prominent student, St. Thomas Aquinas. He explains that theology “has no concern to prove the principles of other sciences, but only to judge of them” (ST, I, 1, 6, ad 1), and that it “can in a sense depend upon the philosophical sciences, not as though it stood in need of them, but only in order to make its teaching clearer” (ST, I, 1, 5, ad 2). To continue with the example, theology tells biology that it cannot exclude divine activity in forming the human race (especially with regard to the immaterial soul by which we reason and choose freely), while biology provides the details of how the human body was formed from the earth. Both fields, taken together, give a fuller and more robust understanding of what is to be known. By considering the relationship of theology to the other sciences, we can see how each field of study aims at the same truth according to its own method.
In this, we should follow the example of St. Albert the Great, who saw in everything that he studied the God who made it and to whom it is ultimately ordered. Surely, as Pope Leo XIII remarked, “Truth cannot contradict truth”; hence, let us join the “teacher of everything” by allowing everything we study to lead us to the contemplation of God, the Supreme Truth.
Image: Tommaso de Modena, Saint Albert the Great
In Medio Ecclesiae, the first album from Dominicana Records, is now available for purchase as a CD. To order the CD online and have it shipped to you directly, click on button below or go to our Records page and click the button “Buy CD” towards the bottom of the page. If, due to the number of sales, the CD is on backorder, we will be sending more copies to our distributor as quickly as possible. For those in the Washington, D.C., area, the CD is available at the bookstore of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. For other locales, check the Records page periodically—we will list new locations as they are arranged.
Currently you will find the title track, the chant In medio ecclesiae, streaming on our Records page. In celebration of today’s release of the hard copy, we also offer you a chance to listen to an additional track, the beautiful hymn “Round Us Falls the Night,” at the top of this post.
The music on the album includes some of the finest examples of the Church’s musical tradition, which the Second Vatican Council called a “treasure of inestimable value.” Especially in light of Pope Benedict XVI’s efforts in the renewal of sacred music, we are confident that the music on our album is in medio ecclesiae—in the midst of the Church. The repertoire is taken from the various seasons of the liturgical year, as well as the feasts of St. Dominic, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Joseph. Chant, Renaissance polyphony, hymns, and contemporary compositions by Dominican friars are all featured on the album, which was recorded a cappella in the historic Church of St. Dominic in downtown Washington, D.C.
As the universal Church seeks, through the new evangelization, to call back to the fold cultures that have forgotten the Gospel, we offer these treasures of the Church’s worship of God not only to those who are firmly planted in the Church, but also to those who have become less connected to the Church or who are not Catholic. We hope that all may find in this music what we have found: a beautiful sign that draws us to the heavenly vision of the Creator, the source of all beauty.
Thanks to the many of you who have already purchased the album online since our digital release on All Saints’ Day and to those who have been waiting for the CD version. As Christmas draws nearer, we ask you to consider In Medio Ecclesiae when thinking about the right gift to give to your loved ones. And if you know of places that might be interested in carrying In Medio Ecclesiae or that might want to feature a piece on the album—such as a Catholic or classical radio station, a favorite blog, or a diocesan newspaper or parish bulletin—please contact the brothers promoting Dominicana Records at email@example.com.
Please check back on the Records page as we continue to add retailers, and please keep this project in your prayers.
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God? (Lk 17:18)
Around the world, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini is fondly remembered as a devoted servant to her countrymen. She founded her congregation to serve Italian immigrants seeking a better life for themselves and their families. This was not simply window dressing: around the turn of the previous century, the challenges faced by Italian Americans (and other immigrant groups) were immense. While work was plentiful, it was often grueling and hazardous. Immigrants were despised by many for their ignorance of English and of American customs in general. Their neighborhoods lacked proper sanitation and health services, the cause of much suffering for the unfortunate residents. Tenement buildings, while a vast improvement on earlier urban housing, were often poorly maintained.
Even as they adapted to their new homeland, they were still viewed as less than fully American. Whenever they were deprived of their wages, or suffered from other wrongs, the local police did not always feel compelled to enforce justice—as several accounts of my own family’s history can attest.
St. Frances did not see herself as an apostle to her own people, but she was well prepared by her own sufferings to bear the sorrows of those in need. Weak as a child, and prone to illness, the congregation she sought to join thought her physically incapable of living the vocation. Undaunted, she became a public school teacher, eventually being called upon to head the reform of a lapsed religious community in her native Italy. While she thrived in this role, she had a wider purpose: like St. Dominic, who wished to evangelize the Cumins and the Tartars, she too hoped to work in the East, amongst the Chinese. And, like St. Dominic, she felt a strong desire to submit her designs to the Holy Father and to receive his decision. Pope Leo XIII knew much of the suffering that Italian immigrants faced throughout the world, and prevailed upon Mother Cabrini to serve those closer to home with the same reasoning that compelled Holy Father Dominic to seek out the lost in southern France.
And so, well prepared by her own sufferings, she accepted the Pope’s charge, and accepted still more sufferings for the sake of the mission. Deathly afraid of sea travel, she nevertheless crossed the Atlantic—over the course of her life, she managed over thirty transatlantic voyages. When she first arrived in New York, Archbishop Corrigan advised her that the school she had been sent to manage in the United States had been dissolved—the pressing work that Leo XIII had entrusted to her was no longer necessary. Instead, he recommended that she should just head back to Italy, as there was no need for her anymore in America. Mother Cabrini knew better than to settle for this: the Holy Father had sent her this country, and so she would stay. Perhaps unsurprisingly in retrospect, her ministry quickly began to flourish.
For all the challenges she faced in serving immigrants, she did not have to confront one difficulty that we associate with assisting migrants today: bureaucratic and legal obstacles to entering the country. While Ellis Island is famous for screening all seeking admission into the United States, its sole purpose was to prevent the admission of communicable diseases from immigrants. Beyond this, families and individuals were free to come and go as they pleased with no injury to their “immigration status.” Families (including my own) thought nothing of moving to America, returning home, then moving back to America again a few years later. The modern immigration system as we have it today—with quotas, waiting periods, and countless other restrictions—only dates from the mid 1920’s. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini was taxed with many burdens for her ministry to immigrants, but an onerous amount of paperwork was not one of them.
This fact struck me with particular force this past summer, as I was assigned to work in the immigration office of the Diocese of Providence. Having witnessed what it takes to become an American citizen, it seems fair to say that much of the process, with all its paperwork, stems from the prudent determination to preserve the quality of life for Americans. However, it must also be said that the documentation is often processed in an arbitrary manner. The government proposes to treat all those applying for citizenship fairly, but often treats would-be citizens with a presumption of guilt over any problem that appears in their documentation, or that arises in the interview process.
Catholic social teaching certainly emphasizes the right and duty for nations to safeguard their citizens and their borders. The Church is just as insistent, however, that immigrants be welcomed and treated fairly, and without unnecessarily onerous requirements—in recognition of the fact that we all have been intended to share a common citizenship.
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini is justly remembered as the first citizen of the United States to be canonized a saint. However, both sanctity and citizenship came to Mother Cabrini not by blood, nor through force of will, nor a single gesture on her part, but through her submission to ongoing change. Naturalized by passing a written exam, she became a citizen of heaven through a starker test: whether the spark of Divine grace she received in her heart could be fanned into transforming flame. Some can claim to be native-born citizens of an earthly city, but given this test no one on earth can claim to be a “native-born” saint. Rather, only this spark, won by Christ’s victory, can lead us to glory in the Eternal Jerusalem.
Image: Childe Hassam, Italian Day, May
If you ask a Dominican to compare the success of the Order of Preachers to that of the Society of Jesus, you may be treated to the following jocular comment: “Well, the Dominicans were founded to defeat the Albigensian heresy and the Jesuits were founded to defeat the Protestant Reformation. How many Albigensians do you see running around today?”
As a convert and student of the Reformation I have always found this comment a bit ironic. And not because of the obvious historical fact that, at least according to Luther, we Dominicans got the whole “late unpleasantness” started with the preaching of Johann Teztel, O.P., and his famous ditty: “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings / a soul from purgatory springs.” This fact alone should incline any Jesuit enthusiast to retort to the Dominican heckler, “You started it! Clean up your own mess!”
But, and I always fear giving Jesuits anti-Dominican ammunition, it is a lesser known although more crucial figure of the Reformation that proves the joke’s irony. For if there were a Time magazine of the Reformation, and if it were in the habit of recognizing a “Man of the Reformation,” it’s almost certain that this honor would go to an ex-Dominican friar named Martin Bucer.
Bucer was a Reformation force; he had his hand in almost every strand of Protestant development. Born in Schlettstadt, Germany, in 1491, he joined the Order of Preachers at age sixteen and was ordained to the priesthood in 1516. He taught at the Dominican studium until 1521, when he left the Order to begin his career as a reformer. He moved to Strasbourg, leading the reformation in that city. Bucer was a theological polymath. He was conditioned, according to Ian Hazlett, “by an extraordinary coalescence of humanist, Erasmian, Aristotelian, Thomist, Neoplatonist, Augustinian, Lutheran, and biblical influences.” This vast learning, owed to his Dominican education and formation, allowed him to be the “Elder Statesman” for the major branches of the Reformation: Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican.
Bucer was with Luther from the beginning, encountering him at the Disputation of Heidelberg in 1518 and undergoing a religious conversion based upon this encounter. He continued to play a key role in Lutheran theological development through his work with Philip Melanchthon and his various failed attempts at union between Luther and Zwingli. In Strasbourg, Bucer mentored the young John Calvin during a time when, as Bernard Cottret writes, “Calvin became ‘Calvin.’” This young French Reformer took what he learned from Bucer and went back to Geneva to found the center of Reformed Protestantism, one of the most famous—or infamous—cities in Western civilization.
Just in case the Continent wasn’t enough, Bucer moved to England during the trials and travails of the Reformation there in the 1550s. He was a key advisor to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, and the English Reformer happily looked to the man of Strasbourg for theological and political counsel. While Strasbourg itself did not live up to its aspirations as the Rome of the Reformation, Bucer asserted a quasi-papal influence around the globe during the Reformation, and a significant reason for his power was, without a doubt, his training as a Friar Preacher.
So what can we learn from this less-edifying episode in the history of the Dominican Order? Two things, I think. First, while Dominican involvement in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation was by no means all negative (think of Cardinal Cajetan and Pope Pius V, as well as all those delightfully Thomistic decrees from Trent!), Martin Bucer is a reminder that the greater the climb, the greater the potential fall. St. Thomas argues that, because of his greater excellence and thus greater temptation to pride, it is understandable that it was the highest of the angels—not some pipsqueak angel!—who fell from grace (see ST Ia. q. 63, a. 7). The devil is no idiot, but expansive erudition is no infallible guard against sin, or even against heresy or schism.
Secondly, and more positively for poor Bucer, while his great learning allowed him to be so influential during those years, his campaign was always one of reunion with the Church, not absolute separation. Before Trent he was at the forefront of all dialogues and colloquies between the Catholic Church and the Protestant traditions; he urged troubled Catholics not to leave the Church but to attempt reform within, and he even accorded a primacy of honor to the pope. His was not the radical withdrawal of Zwingli, of the older Luther, or of Calvin, and, when members of these more separatist groups challenged his commitment to the Reformation, he chided them by saying: “It is all very well for those supping wine and beer in cosy bars to rubbish those who slave away at these controversies and struggles.” Perhaps his residual Romanism and drive for reunion was due to his solid scholastic theology in the Dominican studium.
There may not be any Albigensians running around these days, but there are still plenty of separated brethren of the various Protestant communities, and in large part due to this former Dominican. And if Bucer’s Dominican heritage allowed him to influence all the strands of Protestantism, so too can this same Dominican tradition allow us not just to engage with his ecclesial heirs, but to achieve the reunion of all Christians in Christ’s Church.
Image: Josef Ehrismann, Martin Bucer as a Mediator between Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli