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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

St Dominic

Unknown Master (Spanish)
Scenes from the Life of St Dominic
1300-20
Tempera on wood, 134 x 193 cm
Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona

This is the front panel of the altarpiece from Tamarit de Llitera (Huesca province). This province was under strong influence of Castile and Aragon, this explains the early appearence of an altarpiece dedicated to St Dominic who was of Castilian origin

Master of the Virgin of the Catholic kings (Spanish)
The Virgin of the Catholic Kings ca. 1491
123 cm x 112 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

This work comes from the chapel of the Royal Lodgings at the Monastery of Santo Tomás in Avila.

It depicts the Virgin Mary, with the Christ Child on her lap, who is worshiped by the Catholic Kings, Isabel (1451-1504) and Fernando (1452-1516), two of their children, and others.

On the right of the composition, accompanying the Queen, are Saint Dominic, one of the Queen's daughters and a kneeling male figure without a halo.

The veneration of the Dominicans for the Virgin Mary began with St Dominic and is a hallmark of the order.

The order was particularly strong in Spain. After all he was born in Old Castille.

The kneeling male figure without a halo and with the sword on his chest (which implies martyrdom) has been associated with Pedro de Arbués, the Inquisitor of Aragon who was assassinated in 1485.

On the left, behind the King, Saint Thomas (the titular saint of the monastery from which this work comes), Prince Juan (1478-1497), and a Dominican identified as Friar Tomás de Torquemada (1420-1498), the Inquisitor General.

The association of the Order with the Inquisition has been a difficulty in modern times.



It is noteworthy that the Pope in his recent discourse on Saint Dominic did not attempt to skate over or ignore the association.

At the time of writing the full discourse on 3rd February 2010 is not available in English on the official Vatican website and is only available at the moment in Zenit.

The points which the Pope emphasised are:

1. his supernatural zeal and ardour for God and his mission in proclaiming the Word

2. his boundless charity

3. his service to the Church rendered with "dedication and humility" and his total lack of concern with advancement, prestige and power

4. his mission ad gentes, that is, to those who did not yet know Jesus, and the mission to those who lived in the city, especially in the universities, where new intellectual tendencies were a challenge for the faith of the well-educated.

5. his foundation of an organization that stimulated fraternal life and the responsibility of all the members of the community, exacting strong personal convictions.

6. his emphasis on the importance of study towards a solid theological foundation so that he and his followers could demonstrate and communicate the beauty of Christian truth in their mission

7. his great Marian devotion

8. his bellief in the importance of intercessory prayer.

9. he believed in the importance and need for good preaching of the Gospel

These of course are points of universal application and importance and therefore St Dominic is a giant for the whole Church to contemplate, admire and imitate: not simply for the order which he founded.


The Pope said:

"Dear brothers and sisters,

Last week I presented the luminous figure of Francis of Assisi; today I would like to speak to you of another saint who, in the same period, made an essential contribution to the renewal of the Church of his time. It is St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, known also as the Dominican Friars.

His successor in the leadership of the order, Blessed Giordano di Saxony, gives a complete portrait of St. Dominic in the text of a famous prayer:

"Inflamed by zeal for God and supernatural ardour, by your limitless charity and the fervour of a vehement spirit, you consecrated yourself wholly with the vow of perpetual poverty to apostolic observance and to evangelical preaching."

It is in fact this essential feature of Dominic's witness that is underlined: He always spoke with God and about God. In the life of saints, love of the Lord and of neighbor, the seeking of God's glory and the salvation of souls always go together.

Dominic was born in Spain, in Caleruega, around 1170. He belonged to a noble family of Old Castille and, supported by an uncle priest, he was educated in a famous school of Palencia. He was distinguished immediately for his interest in the study of sacred Scripture and for his love of the poor, to the point of selling books, which in his time constituted a good of great value, to help victims of famine with what he collected.

Ordained a priest, he was elected canon of the chapter of the cathedral in his native diocese, Osma. Although this appointment could represent for him some motive of prestige in the Church and in society, he did not interpret it as a personal privilege, or as the beginning of a brilliant ecclesiastical career, but as a service to render with dedication and humility.

Is not perhaps the temptation to a career, to power, a temptation to which not even those who have a role of leadership and governance in the Church are immune? I recalled this a few months ago, during the consecration of some bishops: "We do not seek power, prestige or esteem for ourselves. [...] We know how in civil society and often also in the Church things suffer because many people on whom responsibility has been conferred work for themselves rather than for the community" (Homily, Cappella Papale per l'Ordinazione episcopale di cinque Ecc. mi Presuli, Sept. 12, 2009).

The bishop of Osma, who was named Diego, a true and zealous pastor, very soon noticed the spiritual quality of Dominic, and wished to make use of his collaboration. Together they went to Northern Europe to carry out diplomatic missions entrusted to them by the king of Castille.

While traveling, Dominic became aware of two great challenges for the Church of his time: the existence of people who were not yet evangelized, in the northern limits of the European continent, and the religious scourge that weakened Christian life in southern France, where the action of some heretical groups created disturbance and a falling away from the truth of the faith.

Missionary work on behalf of those who do not know the light of the Gospel and the work of re-evangelization of the Christian community thus became the apostolic goals that Dominic intended to pursue. It was the Pope, to whom Bishop Diego and Dominic went to ask advice, who requested the latter to dedicate himself to preaching to the Albigensians, a heretical group which held a dualistic concept of reality, that is, of two equally powerful creative principles, Good and Evil.

This group, consequently, had contempt for matter as coming from the principle of evil, even rejecting marriage, and reaching the point of denying the incarnation of Christ, the sacraments in which the Lord "touches" us through matter, and the resurrection of bodies. The Albigensians esteemed a poor and austere life -- in this sense they were even exemplary -- and they criticized the wealth of the clergy of that time.

Dominic accepted this mission enthusiastically, which he carried out precisely with the example of his poor and austere existence, with the preaching of the Gospel and with public debates. He dedicated the rest of his life to this mission of preaching the Good News.

His sons would fulfill St. Dominic's other dreams: the mission ad gentes, that is, to those who did not yet know Jesus, and the mission to those who lived in the city, especially in the universities, where new intellectual tendencies were a challenge for the faith of the well-educated.

This great saint reminds us that a missionary fire must always burn in the heart of the Church, which drives incessantly to take the first proclamation of the Gospel and, where necessary, to a new evangelization: Christ is, in fact, the most precious good that men and women of all times and all places have the right to know and to love!

And it is consoling to see how also in the Church of today there are so many -- pastors and lay faithful, members of old religious orders and of new ecclesial movements -- that with joy spend their life for this supreme ideal: to proclaim and witness the Gospel!

Other men associated themselves to Dominic Guzmán, attracted by the same aspiration. Thus, gradually, from the first foundation of Tolosa, was born the Order of Preachers. Dominic, in fact, in full obedience to the directives of the Popes of his time, Innocent III and Honorius III, adopted the ancient Rule of St. Augustine, adapting it to the needs of apostolic life, which led him and his companions to preach, moving from one post to another, but returning, later, to their own monasteries, places of study, prayer and community life.

In a particular way, Dominic wished to highlight two values considered indispensable for the success of the evangelizing mission: community life in poverty and study.

First of all, Dominic and the Friars Preachers presented themselves as mendicants, that is, without vast properties of land to administer. This element rendered them more available for study and itinerant preaching and constituted a concrete witness for the people. The internal government of the Dominican monasteries and provinces was structured on the system of chapters, which elected their own superiors, confirmed later by major superiors; hence, an organization that stimulated fraternal life and the responsibility of all the members of the community, exacting strong personal convictions. The choice of this system stemmed precisely from the fact that the Dominicans, as preachers of the truth of God, had to be consistent with what they proclaimed. Truth studied and shared in charity with brothers is the most profound foundation of joy.

Blessed Giordano of Saxony said of St. Dominic: "He received every man in the great bosom of charity and, because he loved everyone, everyone loved him. He made a personal law for himself of being joyful with happy persons and of weeping with those who wept" (Libellus de principiis Ordinis Praedicatorum autore Iordano de Saxonia, ed. H.C. Scheeben, [Monumenta Historica Sancti Patris Nostri Dominici, Romae, 1935]).

In the second place, with a courageous gesture Dominic wished that his followers acquire a solid theological formation, and he did not hesitate to send them to the universities of the time, even though not a few ecclesiastics regarded with diffidence these cultural institutions. The Constitutions of the Order of Preachers give great importance to study as preparation for the apostolate. Dominic wanted his friars to dedicate themselves to study, sparing no effort, with diligence and compassion -- to study founded on the soul of all theological learning, that is, on sacred Scripture, and respectful of the questions posed by reason.

The development of culture imposes on those who carry out the ministry of the Word, at various levels, to be well prepared. Hence I exhort all, pastors and laity, to cultivate this "cultural dimension" of faith, so that the beauty of the Christian truth can be better understood and faith can be truly nourished, reinforced and also defended.

In this Year for Priests, I invite seminarians and priests to appreciate the spiritual value of study. The quality of the priestly ministry depends also on the generosity with which one applies oneself to the study of revealed truths.

Dominic, who wished to found a religious Order of Preachers-Theologians, reminds us that theology has a spiritual and pastoral dimension, which enriches the spirit and life. Priests, consecrated persons and also all the faithful can find a profound "interior joy" in contemplating the beauty of the truth that comes from God, truth that is always up-to-date and always living.

Hence, the motto of the Friars Preachers -- contemplata aliis tradere -- helps us to discover a pastoral yearning in the contemplative study of such truth, by the need to communicate to others the fruit of one's contemplation.

When Dominic died in 1221 in Bologna, the city that declared him its patron, his work had already had great success. The Order of Preachers, with the support of the Holy See, had spread to many countries of Europe to the benefit of the whole Church. Dominic was canonized in 1234, and it is he himself, with his sanctity, who indicates to us two indispensable means for apostolic action to be incisive.

First of all, Marian devotion, which he cultivated with tenderness and which he left as precious legacy to his spiritual children, who in the history of the Church have had the great merit of spreading the prayer of the holy rosary, so dear to the Christian people and so rich in evangelical values, a true school of faith and piety.

In the second place, Dominic, who took care of some women's convents in France and in Rome, believed profoundly in the value of intercessory prayer for the success of apostolic work. Only in Paradise will we understand how much the prayer of the cloistered effectively supports apostolic action! To each one of them I direct my grateful and affectionate thoughts.

Dear brothers and sisters, may Dominic Guzmán's life spur all of us to be fervent in prayer, courageous in living the faith, profoundly in love with Jesus Christ. Through his intercession, we ask God to enrich the Church always with genuine preachers of the Gospel."

The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I wish to speak of the great contribution made by Saint Dominic to the renewal of the Church in the Middle Ages.

As a priest of the Spanish diocese of Osma, he was sent on missions throughout Europe, which drew his attention to the need for sound and zealous preachers to bring the Gospel to the people.

He was entrusted with the task of refuting the heresy of the Albigensians, who denied the incarnation of Christ, the resurrection of the body and the value of marriage and the sacraments.

Embracing a life of poverty, Dominic dedicated himself to the task of preaching the Gospel, and with a band of followers he established the Order of Preachers, also know as Dominican Friars.

Adapting the rule of Saint Augustine to the needs of the apostolic life, Dominic placed emphasis on theological study, prayer and community life for his friars. Thus fortified, they would be sent out on missions as itinerant, mendicant preachers.

Hence the Dominican motto, contemplata aliis tradere -- to hand on to others the fruits of contemplation. One important way in which the Dominicans did this was by promoting the prayer of the rosary, a beautiful means of contemplating, through the eyes of Mary, the truth revealed in the mysteries of the life, death and Resurrection of her son."

It is perhaps rather unfortunate that at the moment the official Vatican website only sets out what the Pope said in English and not his whole speech which as you can see from the above is a very deep and thoughtful sermon with a message for a wider audience in the Church.


Those who might wish to look for more about St Dominic and the Dominican Order might like to follow the following links:






The last website contains twenty five Lectures in Dominican history given in 1986 to Dominican friars of the Province of St. Joseph by Fr. John Frederick Hinnebusch, O.P., of the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C which are available as audio downloads as mp3 and i tune files.