THE GREAT TRADITIONS OF CATHOLIC SPIRITUALITY – PART IIII
TRADITION – THE DANCE OF FAITH AND REASON
I. St. Dominic founded the Dominican order, more formally called the Order of Preachers, to help teach and ground the true faith in faith and reason, service and prayer.
A. Saint Dominic de Guzman (1170-1221) was an Augustinian canon (a sort of monk) at the cathedral in Osma, Spain at about the same time as St. Francis= life. In combating heresies, he came up with the inspiration for this order.
1. In 1204, while
traveling with his bishop Diego to help arrange a royal wedding, he
was passing through southern France, where Albigensians (a sort of Gnostic
sect) held sway. By prayer, argumentation, patience and an exemplary
life, they were able to reconvert most of the heretics.
2. From this experience, St. Dominic realized his mission to form a preaching order, which was confirmed by Pope Innocent III and, when he died, Pope Honorius III in 1216.
3. They would
live very simple lives as a mendicant order, that is, they would keep
very little property and ask for alms. There was a strong focus
on learning and prayer, but a learning and prayer that would make them
more able to teach and serve.
B. In the thirteenth century, the great universities were expanding and knowledge of philosophy and science was growing rapidly.
1. Thus, the
liberal arts, led by studies of logic, grammar and rhetoric, and flowing
up with studies of geometry, music, mathematics and astronomy, were
central in education.
4. The Dominicans
tried to sanctify this growing knowledge by combining it with faith
and prayer, so that both the secular and theological realms could benefit
5. Saint Albert the Great (1206-1280), a second generation Dominican who taught at the Universities of Paris and Cologne (and was also briefly bishop of Ratisbon), is among the founders of modern science. He described numerous types of animals (including the first description of the arctic bear and the weasel) and considered the study of science to be a noble concern.
an admirer of Aristotle, he did not want simply to accept what had been
thought, but rather to test it by experiments. For example, he
knew the ancient conclusions well, but would often rebut them with such
comments as "We have shown this to be false by experiment" or "but
this has not been sufficiently proved by a certain experiment."
C. St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) was the greatest theologian among the Dominicans and with St. Augustine, has dominated Catholic theology ever since.
1. He was from
a high noble family based in the city of Aquina in northern Italy.
Knowing his devotion, his family intended to have him become a Benedictine
monk at Monte Cassino, the central Benedictine monastery in the world.
2. However, he
discerned God's calling to be a Dominican and eventually wore down
his family's resistance. At first, because of his quiet demeanor,
he was considered a slow student at the University Paris, being called
"the dumb ox." However, St. Albert the Great soon realized
his brilliance and ensured that he would rise to the heights of theological
- He used
heavily the philosophy of Aristotle, along with Plato, and the theology
of the Church fathers, especially St. Augustine, whom he referred to
as "the theologian."
E. St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) was a devout young woman and the youngest daughter of a wealthy family during a century that was experiencing disasters, such as the Hundred Year=s War, the papacy away from Rome, and the Black Death. Joining a branch of the Dominicans, she brought a greater understanding of the faith to a difficult century.
1. Opposing her
family=s desire for a noble marriage, she
became a third order Dominican, i.e., one that would join in the spirituality
of the Dominicans but live in the world.
2. In addition
to guiding the families of Siena and the surrounding areas to live at
peace with each other, serving plague victims with astonishing strength,
and guiding the papacy to return to Rome, she wrote her Dialogues, conversations
3. She emphasized very much a constant desire of prayer, describing that connection with God as being as the inner circle of a wheel; all other desires are meant to be distributed proportionally around it.
4. She very strongly
emphasized knowing oneself in the light of Jesus, focusing on His presence
and asking what He thinks of one=s life. Progress of prayer is
measured not in feeling, but in charity.
II. Dominican emphasizes growth through connecting together study, prayer, teaching and a sense of the mystery of God.
1. In St. Thomas'
Summa, he organizes moral theology according to the virtues, with additional
emphasis on the beatitudes and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Dominicans
thus describes sins are contrary to the virtues. The moral law
is thus designed to make us more perfect. See Matthew 5:48.
5. The Beatitudes,
described especially in Matthew 5:2-8, likewise, give us a first promise
of the joy of the saints in heaven, a joy that is available to everyone.
See Summa Theologica II-I, question
6. One thus sees
the law of God, expressed in Scripture, the Church, and other reasoning,
not as a burden, but as guidance to this heroism and joy.
7. And our calling
is thus to practice each of the virtues, the Beatitudes, see Matthew
5:2-8, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, see Isaiah 11, as perfections
of human nature. As one always seeks to develop skills in any field
(e.g., scholarly, professional, artistic, athletic) one should continually
attempt to develop the skill of being a Aprofessional@ at holiness. See 1 Tim. 2:4-6.
B. Dominican spirituality is thus very much based very much on contemplation and action, the two complementing each other. There is a very strong sense that nature and grace, faith and reason support each other.
1. But there is also
a strong notion that we can get nowhere unless we put our faith into
practice, especially in teaching. As St. Catherine of Siena, a
third order Dominican of the fourteenth century said AThere is not virtue nor any faith,
which is not manifested by means of one=s neighbor.@ St. Thomas emphasized that,
while contemplation is in itself higher than action, God will not grant
that contemplation unless we respond to His will.
2. Dominicans understand
that we can begin with the experience of the world and rise to God.
When we see His goodness in creatures, we form concepts to understand
Him better, and gradually rise even above those concepts towards greater
and greater understanding of God.
1. As St. Thomas
Aquinas emphasized over and again, God is the author of both the faith
and reason, and would never contradict Himself. As a result, faith
and reason can never finally be in conflict. Rather, each one
assists the other. As Pope John Paul II said at the beginning
of his 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio, "Faith and reason are like
two wings of a bird on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation
of the truth." In that encyclical, he dedicated an entire section
to the "enduring originality of the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas,"
which emphasized how he brought out the harmony of faith and reason.
2. We need the teachings of the Church, especially in theology, because human reason is limited, both individually and as a whole. Because reason can only go so far, and can go astray, Scripture and the Church guide us to a greater ability to understand the truth. See Summa Theologica I question 1 article 1.
a. The teachings
of the Church thus enables anyone, theologian or not, to enter deeply
into the truths of God. As St. Thomas said in his commentary on
the Apostle's Creed, "Before Christ's coming no philosopher by
his entire sustain effort could have known as much about God and the
truths necessary for salvation as can a humble old woman now that Christ
b. Such teachings
allow us theologians to use their own reason creatively without going
entirely off on their own. We thus avoid either the divisions
of the more liberal tradition, which allows any interpretation of the
faith, or the constraints of fundamentalism.
3. Reasoning is also essential to understand the faith better, and to be able to explain it to the world. As St. Anselm (a Benedictine, but one whose thought would inspire Dominicans) said, "I believe that I may understand; and I understand that I may believe better."
c. It is
also crucial to understand our faith, and its implications better and
better. While it is true that a person with very limited intellect
can be holy, using the intellect we have well is essential if we are
really to advance toward God. For we cannot love God, or His Church,
or His people, without knowing them. The faith allows us to know
He whom we love better and better and, by that knowledge, to love Him
more. Thus, for example, Scripture will be more delightful, prayer
with the saints deeper, the Providence of God clearer with more understanding.
1. Thus, for example, there is a notion that we should try to understand different points of view and try, even when a point of view in error, to see what is right in it. For no idea can appeal to the intellect unless there is some truth in it. Furthermore, even accurate views should be developed further. St. Thomas Aquinas once said, ARarely affirm completely, never deny completely, always distinguish.@
- The Dominicans, and especially St. Thomas, mastered the approach of Scholasticiam, which involved describing the views opposed to one's own conclusion and trying to adapt as much as possible of it to one's own through careful distinctions and subtle reasoning. In addition, in Scholastic thought, especially as used by St. Thomas, it was crucial to begin by describing opposing views accurately, and then see how they can be improved.
2. The Dominican approach highly values broad learning, but does not rely heavily on authority for own sake, except that of Scripture and the Church. There is an attempt to find truth wherever it may lie, but always true to the faith.
there is a notion that learning in all legitimate fields can contribute
to our understanding of the faith. For example, St. Albert used
analogies from science commonly. And St. Thomas relied heavily
upon the philosophy of Aristotle, Plate, the Jewish theologian Mamonides,
and the Muslim theologian Averroes.
the broad range of commentaries on the faith should be consulted, rather
than being overly attached to any one of them. The Vatican II
Council took up this idea, as well as the need to remain faithful to
the Church and the consistency of Scripture when it said in Dei Verbum
12 that three principles must guide all interpretation of the Scriptures:
(1) the unity of the Bible, such that one passage is read consistently
with another; (2) the teachings of the Church believe as a matter of
faith; and (3) the tradition of the entire Church, insofar as the broad
range of wisdom throughout time and space is highly valued. Within
that context, the Council then encouraged modern research and commentaries
to develop this wisdom further.
is also a notion that virtues are needed for the intellect to function
properly and that sins and vices lead to errors and poor reasoning.
5. In addition,
while sloth is one barrier to true learning, a more common barrier is
curiositas, an undisciplined desire for knowledge (e.g. looking up every
random piece of news, concern about gossip, focusing on who is getting
ahead, or what is in fashion.) People naturally want knowledge,
but tend to spend their time learning irrelevancies or even harmful
things, or jumping to conclusions, rather than focusing on what is important.
spirituality also recognizes very strongly that there is a mystery of
God beyond our understanding that we must simply kneel before.
St. Thomas Aquinas, near the end of his life, say a vision of heaven
and said, AI have seen things, and things have
been revealed to me, that make everything I have written look like straw.@
Some fourteenth century theologians, including the Rhineland mystics
(Miester Echhardt, Johannes Tauler, and Blessed Henry Suso) would emphasize
the idea of going above concepts, simply being with God and finding
God in all work.
F. Overall, Dominican
has a strong sense of unifying all aspects of life: physical, emotional,
intellectual, and spiritual. One should ask how our actions, friendships,
tastes, environment, and so forth affect our prayer, and how prayer