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Heresy, Truth, and the Order of Preachers

-by Br Bonaventure Chapman, OP  (Br. Bonaventure Chapman entered the Order of Preachers in 2010. He received an M.Th. in Applied Theology from Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, where he studied for the Anglican priesthood.)

“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 cozy 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.”

(c) The University of Edinburgh Fine Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) The University of Edinburgh Fine Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

-oil on panel, The University of Edinburgh Fine Art Collection, circa 1650-1689

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3–4)


Nov 2 – All Souls, Prayer for the Attainment of Heaven

“Through sin, death entered the world.” (cf Rm 5:12)

“Sin directs the heart of the wicked man;
his eyes are closed to the fear of God.
For he lives with the delusion:
his guilt will not be known and hated.
Empty and false are the words of his mouth;
he has ceased to be wise and do good.
On his bed he hatches plots;
he sets out on a wicked way;
he does not reject evil.”

-Psalm 36: 1-5

-by Br Raphael Forbing, OP

“Sin directs the heart of a wicked man,” reads Psalm 36. We spend our lives struggling to master our passions and avoid temptations, yet we fall time and time again. Though every sin is an offense against God’s perfect goodness, some of our failures are more serious than others. The Catholic tradition generally divides actual sins (those committed by our own free will) into two categories: mortal (grave sin) and venial (less serious sin).

Mortal sins are offenses that concern grave matter, and are made with full knowledge and deliberate consent. Baptism removes both the guilt and the punishment due to original sin, as well as all personal sin in baptism received after infancy. The grave personal sins we commit after baptism, however, incur both guilt (responsibility for sin) and punishment (the exercise of Divine justice). These sins entirely remove God’s grace in the soul, and “mortally wound” the supernatural love that grace creates in our souls. Venial sins, though they do not kill the life of grace as mortal sin does, yet damage the life of grace and charity in our souls as though inflicting a flesh wound. God offers to forgive even the darkest of sins, and seeks not only to restore the life of grace in our souls, but also to make it richer than before. It is Christ alone who restores this life in us, though He does it through the ministry of the priesthood.”

Prayer for the Attainment of Heaven

O God of all consolation, You who see in us nothing but your own gifts, I entreat You to give me, at the close of this life, knowledge of the First Truth and enjoyment of Your divine majesty.

Most generous Rewarder, give to my body also the beauty of lightsomeness, responsiveness of flesh to spirit, a quick readiness and delicacy, and the gift of unconquerable strength.

And add to these an overflow of riches, a spate of delights, a confluence of all good things, so that I may rejoice in Your consolation above me, in a place of lowliness below me, in glorification of body and soul within me, in delight of friends and angels all around me.

Most merciful Father, being with You may my mind attain the enlightenment of wisdom, my desire, the fulfillment of its longing, my courage the praise of triumph.

For where you are is avoidance of all danger, plentitude of dwelling places, harmony of wills.

Where You are is the pleasantness of spring, the radiance of summer, the fecundity of autumn, and the repast of winter.

Give, Lord God, life without death, joy without sorrow, that place where reigns sovereign freedom, free security, secure tranquility, delightful happiness, happy eternity, eternal blessedness, the vision of truth and praise, O God.


-St Thomas Aquinas, OP (1225-1274 AD)


Blessed Feast of All Souls!!!  
Happy Celtic New Year!!!! 

What’s Wrong with Catholic Preaching?

“What’s Wrong With Catholic Preaching?”
by Fr. Charles E. Bouchard, O.P., Prior Provincial
Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great
Remarks delivered at the Minneapolis Club, November 17, 2011

The famous Southern Catholic novelist Flannery O’Connor says that after a relative converted to Catholicism (which would have been unusual in the American south in the 1950s), many people were aghast. They wondered why on earth anyone would do such a thing. “Well,” the relative said, “the preaching was so bad I figured there must be something else to keep folks coming back.”

Unfortunately, Catholic preaching still falls far short of what it could be. Too often it fails to inspire, uplift and console; it fails to answer the real questions people bring. Sometimes, it fails to interpret – or even to mention – the Scriptures.

There are a number of reasons for this.

Preaching is hard. If you didn’t know better, you might think preaching is a 10 minute ramble about your latest hunting trip, your vacation, your favorite TV show or anything else that happened to cross your mind as you entered the sacristy (Garrison Keillor once mentioned a pastor who “just kept talking till he found something worthwhile to say”). In fact, preaching is an art and a highly disciplined process of interpretation. It starts with the Scriptural text, and through prayer and study brings that text to life in a persuasive message for a particular group.

The first step in this process is to understand what the biblical word meant in its original time and place. This requires knowledge of biblical languages, culture and history. Then the preacher has to figure out what the word means today, for this group of people. Finally, the preacher has to ask the “so what?” question. If this is God’s word and if it is true, then what difference does it make? Who does it compel me to be? What does it compel me to do?

One of the biggest challenges is to bring the word to the actual world in which they find themselves to answer the questions that people really have. I remember being at mass once during the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal. The preacher read the Gospel, and then made a comment about Monica Lewinsky. All of us thought he was going to preach on it, to help us make sense of this mess, to help us see it in light of the Scriptures. Instead, he moved on to a completely different topic. He had missed a “preachable moment” – a chance to let the Scriptures speak to what was on everyone’s mind, to help us see a way through the darkness. There was a palpable feeling of disappointment. We felt cheated.

For Catholics preaching is even more complicated because it usually takes place during the Eucharist. So in addition to understanding and interpreting the Scriptures, the preacher must also put them in the context of this great act of thanksgiving, and relate it to the liturgical season.

Good preaching takes time. I was shocked when a homiletics professor told me that the preacher should spend one hour of preparation for each minute of a homily. I have come to believe this is true. Yet who has the time? It is no secret that our priests are stretched too thin. Our congregant-to-clergy ratio is much higher. A large Catholic parish might have two or possibly three priests. A large Protestant “mega-Church” might have 7 or 9 full time pastors It’s not hard to see why Protestant preaching is better. Yet despite the demands on their time, Catholic preaching could be much better if priests allocated their time as though preaching were their top priority. Study after study shows that’s exactly what parishioners want them to do.

The talent pool is too small. In the Christian tradition, ministry requires at least two things: gift and office. This means that anyone who wants to minister must first give evidence of the gifts of the Spirit that would make this ministry effective (remember St. Paul’s enumeration of various gifts, all of which are necessary for the Body of the Church?). But these gifts also need to be authorized, or ordered, for the sake of the community. In the Catholic Church we call this ordination. Unfortunately, office and gift do not always go together. You can have the office of priesthood without the requisite gifts (think of a validly ordained priest who can’t speak in public). Or you can have the gifts without the office – think of a woman who is a highly skilled preacher but can’t be ordained.

When I was president of our graduate theology school, we provided preaching education for hundreds of seminarians, priests, lay people and sisters. We saw great talent for preaching in each group, but only the priests were allowed to preach on Sunday morning. There is no reason the Church cannot widen the pool of preachers by finding ways to authorize or “ordain” others who have specific gifts to do so. Failure to do so is an offense to the Gifts that have so obviously been given.

Preaching is overwhelmed by our sacramental life. If you ask a hundred people what is most distinctive about Catholicism, most of them will respond “the mass,” or “the sacraments.” Indeed, this is what Flannery O’Connor’s cousin referred to as “something else.” Yet for us, it cannot be one or the other. We need a vital sacramental life AND we need excellent preaching. For without preaching, how would we know what these sacraments are? They would become mere magic. Preaching helps us understand the mysteries we celebrate and prepares us to be fully open to sacramental grace.

Preaching is a two-way street. It’s easy to blame the preacher for a bad homily, but the congregation has a role to play as well. Good preachers don’t preach “in general.” They preach to a specific congregation before them whose needs, hopes and fears they attempt to address. But congregations are not passive receptacles. They have an active role in receiving, nurturing, pondering and even challenging the word they have received.

Congregations must uphold their end of the bargain by preparation – reading and praying with the Scriptures before they are preached and asking, “What does this passage mean? What does it say to me? How does it speak to what I just read in the news?” They must challenge their preachers, ask them questions and above all, let them know that they are paying attention. When priests know that parishioners are listening, they will devote more time to their preparation.

Catholic preaching may not be as good as it could be, but if all of us – preachers and hearers of the Word alike – assume our respective roles, we can together make excellent preaching the lifeblood of the Church.


Oct 18 – St Luke & The Yoke of Love, “If you would be my disciples…”



-by Br Bonaventure Chapman, OP

“Doctors are prominent in my family’s lineage: my great-grandfather was a doctor, my grandfather was a doctor, my uncle is a doctor, and my brother is carrying on the tradition in the youngest generation. So naturally St. Luke, the “beloved physician,” has always attracted me. Except for his symbol, that is. An ox? Really? As compared with Mark’s lion, Matthew’s angel, or John’s eagle, Luke’s ox seems a consolation prize, as if he showed up late when the Holy Spirit was doling out emblems. Who would want to be associated with an ox?

These symbols of the evangelists are rooted in the Scriptures. Just to take two examples, in Ezekiel 1:1–14 they show up as the different faces of four living creatures sent to the prophet. And in Revelation 4:5–11 they are the four living creatures singing the Trisagion (“Holy, Holy, Holy”). The first ascription to the four evangelists seems to come from St. Ireneaus (ca. 120–202) in Against Heresies. There he gives the reason for St. Luke’s ox:

[The Gospel] according to Luke, taking up [Christ’s] priestly character, commenced with Zacharias the priest offering sacrifice to God. For now was made ready the fatted calf, about to be immolated for the finding again of the younger son. (3.11.8)

St. Augustine follows this identification saying that “Luke is intended under the figure of the calf, in reference to the pre-eminent sacrifice made by the priest.” The ox (or calf) signifies the priestly and sacrificial character of Christ in St. Luke’s account. This has never quite satisfied me. Surely St. John’s account emphasizes the sacrificial aspect of Christ with his title of “Lamb of God.” And St. Mark’s account is one long Passion narrative. Not to mention the temple scenes in St. Matthew. Is there any other reason that the ox might be fitting for St. Luke?

Well, what do you think of when you hear “ox”? After “big, dirty animal,” I think of a yoke. Oxen don’t just sit in the field; they are yoked together and put to work. An ox without a yoke is like an angel without wings—it just doesn’t seem right. And a yoke isn’t for one; like the disciples sent two by two, oxen work together. An eagle, lion, or angel can be by himself, but oxen are meant to be together.

And what is this yoke? St. Thomas, another saint associated with the ox, comments on Matthew 11:29: “Take, therefore, my yoke, namely, the gospel lessons. And he says yoke because just as a yoke fastens and joins the necks of oxen, so the doctrine of the Gospel fastens the people to its yoke.” The yoke of sin has been replaced, through the sacrifice of Christ, with the yoke of forgiveness and new life. And while this yoke of Christ will bring suffering in this life, it is still light and easy because, according to St. Thomas, it is a yoke of love:

“All who desire to lead a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim 3:12). But [these persecutions] are not burdensome, because they are seasoned with the condiment of love; for when a person loves someone, it is not a burden to suffer anything for him. Hence love makes easy all difficult and impossible things. Therefore, if one loves Christ properly, nothing is difficult for him; consequently, the New Law does not impose a burden. (Commentary on St. Matthew’s Gospel 11.3)

There is something utterly fitting about this ox-yoke symbolism for St. Luke, who was St. Paul’s traveling companion and “beloved physician.” Being yoked to St. Paul must not have been easy, with all the ship-wrecks and persecutions and whatnot, but St. Luke’s love of his dear friend is found in the careful account we have of St. Paul in the Acts of the Apostles. The ox might not be as noble as an eagle, as regal as a lion, or as splendid as an angel; but an ox is a symbol of love and a shared mission, St. Paul and St. Luke sowing and plowing the field of the Lord’s harvest.”

-“The Evangelists St Luke & St Mark”, by Matthias Strom, 1635, oil on canvas


Jul 28 – Sts Pedro Poveda Castroverde, (1874-1936), Priest & Martyr – The Eleven Martyrs of Almeria, Spain


The Spanish Civil War began in 1936. It has been described as a struggle between atheism and belief in God. One particular object of persecution was the Catholic Church. In three years, twelve bishops, 4,184 priests, 2,365 monks, and 300 nuns died for the faith. Today we celebrate eleven of those martyrs: two bishops, a diocesan priest, seven brothers of the Christian Schools, and a young laywoman. The bishops were from Almeria and Gaudix, Spain. The seven brothers of the Christian Schools were teachers at St. Joseph College in Almeria. Father Pedro Castroverde was a well-known scholar and founder of the Teresian Association. Victoria Diez Molina belonged to the Teresians. She had found a spiritual treasure in the way this group prayed and lived their Christian lives. Victoria was a teacher in a country school and was very active in her parish.

All eleven martyrs chose to die for Jesus rather than give up their Catholic faith. Brother Aurelio Maria, the director of St. Joseph College, said: “What happiness for us if we could shed our blood for the lofty ideal of Christian education. Let us double our fervor so as to become worthy of such an honor.”

Their names are: Bishop DIEGO VENTAJA MILAN of Almeria, Bishop MANUEL MEDINA OLMOS of Guadix, Bro. AURELIO MARIA from Zafra de Zancara, Bro. JOSE CECILIO from Molina de Ubierna, Bro. EDMIGIO from Adalia, Bro. AMALIO from Salinas de Oro, Bro. VALERIO BERNARDO from Porquera de los Infantes, Bro. TEODOMIRO JOAQUIN from Puntedey and Bro. EVENCIO RICARDO from Viloria de Rioja.

The two Bishops and seven Christian Brothers died for the faith in 1936, a few weeks after the outbreak of the Civil War that ravaged Spain for almost three years. The Revolutionary Committee of Almeria decided to imprison anyone suspected of not supporting the revolution, particularly priests and religious.

On 22 July 1936, several persons came to St Joseph College and took the brothers they found there into custody. During their imprisonment they were a model for the other prisoners, encouraging them to have continual recourse to God.

On the night of 30-31 August, Brothers Edmigio, Amalio and Valerio Bernardo were executed; Brothers Teodomiro Joaquin and Evencio Ricardo on 8 September; and on the night of 12-13 September, Brothers Aurelio Maria, the director of the college, and Bro. Jose Cecilio.

The last days of Bishop Diego Ventaja Milan of Almeria and Bishop Manuel Medina of Guadix were intertwined with those of the Christian Brothers imprisoned with them. On the night of 29-30 August 1936, they were taken out to the place of execution with 15 other prisoners. Bishop Medina asked permission to speak and, according to an eyewitness, said: “We have done nothing to deserve death, but I forgive you so that the Lord will also forgive us. May our blood be the last shed in Almeria”.

These exemplary Bishops always showed pastoral concern for all their people and tirelessly traveled throughout their Dioceses to strengthen and deepen their brothers’ and sisters’ faith at a truly difficult time.

Blessed Pedro’s life was marked by simplicity and constant devotion to study. Several times he expressed a desire to live his faith to the point of sacrificing his own life. He lived the spirituality of a martyr, which served as a preparation for that fateful day when he did give his life on the morning of 28 July 1936.

Born December 3rd, 1874 at Linares, Spain and raised in a pious family, Fr Pedro felt an early call to the priesthood. He entered the seminary in Jaen in 1889, then the seminary of Guadix, Grenada. Ordained on April 17th, 1897, taught at the seminary, continued his studies, and received his licentiate in theology in Seville in 1900. He ministered in Guadix to a group of people so poor they lived in caves. He built a school for the children, and provided vocation training to the adults.

He was transferred to Madrid, and was named a canon of the Basilica of Covadonga, Asturius in 1906. His time in Guadix had impressed Pedro with the need for education for the poor. He prayed on the topic, and wrote on the need for professional training for teachers. In 1911 Pedro founded the Saint Teresa of Avila Academy, the foundation of Institución Teresiana. He joined the Apostolic Union of Secular Priests in 1912, wrote on the need for more teachers, and opened teacher training centers. He returned to teaching at the seminary at Jaen, served as spiritual director of Los Operarios Catechetical Centre, and taught religion at the Teachers Training School. In 1914 he opened Spain’s first university residence for women in Madrid. In 1921 he was transferred to Madrid and was appointed a chaplain of the Royal Palace. In 1922 he was appointed to the Central Board Against Illiteracy, and he continued to work with the Teresian Association; it received papal approval in 1924, and later spread to Chile and Italy.

In the early morning hours of the day of his execution, Bl Pedro was asked to identify himself by his captors. He cried out, “I am a priest of Christ!” He was shot by firing squad on July 28th, 1936 at Madrid, Spain.


Bishop Ventaja of Almeria had many opportunities to flee the country. He chose instead to remain with his suffering people, his suffering Church. Father Castroverde, the Teresian founder, wrote in his diary: “Lord, may I think what you want me to think. May I desire what you want me to desire. May I speak as you want me to speak. May I work as you want me to work.”


Victoria Molina was jailed on August 11, 1936. She and seventeen others were led to an abandoned mineshaft and to their death. Victoria comforted the others and said: “Come on, our reward is waiting for us.” Her last words were: “Long live Christ the King!”



Oct 9 – Robert Grosseteste, (1175-1273), Bishop of Lincoln, UK, Inventor of the Scientific Method

-1896 stained glass

As an applied scientist, I have a passion for people of Faith & Science.  There is NO contradiction; quite to the contrary, I feel.  Those who believe there is are either intentionally confusing both, themselves, and others.  Or, they really demonstrate their ignorance of both subjects.

I have shared before Rev. Georges LeMaitre, Inventor of the Big Bang theory, (NOT the tv show), & St Albert the Great, OP.  Check out:, &

While not a beatus, Robert Grosseteste was a scientist.  He is considered the first mathematician and physicist of his age.

From about 1220 to 1235 he wrote a host of scientific treatises including:
     De sphera. An introductory text on astronomy.
     De luce. On the “metaphysics of light.” (which is the most original work of cosmogony in the Latin West)
     De accessu et recessu maris. On tides and tidal movements. (although some scholars dispute his authorship)
     De lineis, angulis et figuris. Mathematical reasoning in the natural sciences.
     De iride. On the rainbow.

He also wrote a number of commentaries on Aristotle, including one on Aristotle’s Physics, which has survived as a loose collection of notes or glosses on the text.  It has been argued that Grosseteste played a key role in the development of scientific method.

Grosseteste did introduce to the Latin West the notion of controlled experiment and related it to demonstrative science, as one among many ways of arriving at such knowledge.  Grosseteste was the first of the Scholastics to fully understand Aristotle’s vision of the dual path of scientific reasoning: generalizing from particular observations into a universal law, and then back again from universal laws to prediction of particulars.

Ink drawing of bishop

-13th century manuscript


-Grosseteste chapel

The Riverside Church
January 19, 1936

My dear Dr. Einstein,

We have brought up the question: Do scientists pray? in our Sunday school class. It began by asking whether we could believe in both science and religion. We are writing to scientists and other important men, to try and have our own question answered.

We will feel greatly honored if you will answer our question: Do scientists pray, and what do they pray for?

We are in the sixth grade, Miss Ellis’s class.

Respectfully yours,


January 24, 1936
Princeton, NJ

Dear Phyllis,

I will attempt to reply to your question as simply as I can. Here is my answer:

Scientists believe that every occurrence, including the affairs of human beings, is due to the laws of nature. Therefore a scientist cannot be inclined to believe that the course of events can be influenced by prayer, that is, by a supernaturally manifested wish.

However, we must concede that our actual knowledge of these forces is imperfect, so that in the end the belief in the existence of a final, ultimate spirit rests on a kind of faith. Such belief remains widespread even with the current achievements in science.

But also, everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is surely quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.

With cordial greetings,

your A. Einstein

Prayerfully & Scientifically yours,

Sep 30 – St Jerome, (347-420 AD) – Priest, Author, Translator of the Bible, Doctor of the Church


-“Saint Jerome in his Study”, by Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1480, Church of Ognissanti, Florence

Most of the saints are remembered for some outstanding virtue or devotion which they practiced, but Jerome is frequently remembered for his bad temper! It is true that he had a very bad temper and could use a vitriolic pen, but his love for God and his Son Jesus Christ was extraordinarily intense; anyone who taught error was an enemy of God and truth, and St. Jerome went after him or her with his mighty and sometimes sarcastic pen.

He was above all a Scripture scholar, translating most of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. He also wrote commentaries which are a great source of scriptural inspiration for us today. He was an avid student, a thorough scholar, a prodigious letter-writer and a consultant to monk, bishop and pope. St. Augustine (August 28) said of him, “What Jerome is ignorant of, no mortal has ever known.”

St. Jerome is particularly important for having made a translation of the Bible which came to be called the Vulgate. It is not the most critical edition of the Bible, but its acceptance by the Church was fortunate. As a modern scholar says, “No man before Jerome or among his contemporaries and very few men for many centuries afterwards were so well qualified to do the work.” The Council of Trent called for a new and corrected edition of the Vulgate, and declared it the authentic text to be used in the Church.

In order to be able to do such work, Jerome prepared himself well. He was a master of Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Chaldaic. He began his studies at his birthplace, Stridon in Dalmatia (in the former Yugoslavia). After his preliminary education he went to Rome, the center of learning at that time, and thence to Trier, Germany, where the scholar was very much in evidence. He spent several years in each place, always trying to find the very best teachers. He once served as private secretary of Pope Damasus (December 11).

As a student in Rome, he engaged in the superficial escapades and wanton behaviour of students there, which he indulged in quite casually but for which he suffered terrible bouts of repentance afterwards. To appease his conscience, he would visit on Sundays the sepulchers of the martyrs and the Apostles in the catacombs. This experience would remind him of the terrors of hell:

“Often I would find myself entering those crypts, deep dug in the earth, with their walls on either side lined with the bodies of the dead, where everything was so dark that almost it seemed as though the Psalmist’s words were fulfilled, “Let them go down quick into Hell.”(Ps 55:15)  Here and there the light, not entering in through windows, but filtering down from above through shafts, relieved the horror of the darkness. But again, as soon as you found yourself cautiously moving forward, the black night closed around and there came to my mind the line of Vergil, “Horror unique animus, simul ipsa silentia terrent'”.   Jerome used a quote from Vergil — “On all sides round horror spread wide; the very silence breathed a terror on my soul.” — to describe the horror of hell. Jerome initially used classical authors to describe Christian concepts such as hell that indicated both his classical education and his deep shame of their associated practices, such as pederasty which was found in ancient Rome. Although initially skeptical of Christianity, he was eventually converted.

After these preparatory studies he traveled extensively in Palestine, marking each spot of Christ’s life with an outpouring of devotion. Mystic that he was, he spent five years in the desert of Chalcis so that he might give himself up to prayer, penance and study. Finally he settled in Bethlehem, where he lived in the cave believed to have been the birthplace of Christ. On September 30 in the year 420, Jerome died in Bethlehem. The remains of his body now lie buried in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.

Jerome was a strong, outspoken man. He had the virtues and the unpleasant fruits of being a fearless critic and all the usual moral problems of a man. He was, as someone has said, no admirer of moderation whether in virtue or against evil. He was swift to anger, but also swift to feel remorse, even more severe on his own shortcomings than on those of others. A pope is said to have remarked, on seeing a picture of Jerome striking his breast with a stone, “You do well to carry that stone, for without it the Church would never have canonized you” (Butler’s Lives of the Saints).

“In the remotest part of a wild and stony desert, burnt up with the heat of the scorching sun so that it frightens even the monks that inhabit it, I seemed to myself to be in the midst of the delights and crowds of Rome. In this exile and prison to which for the fear of hell I had voluntarily condemned myself, I many times imagined myself witnessing the dancing of the Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them: In my cold body and in my parched-up flesh, which seemed dead before its death, passion was able to live. Alone with this enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and I tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks. I am not ashamed to disclose my temptations, but I grieve that I am not now what I then was” (“Letter to St. Eustochium”).

“You say in your book that while we live we are able to pray for each other, but afterwards when we have died, the prayer of no person for another can be heard…. But if the apostles and martyrs while still in the body can pray for others, at a time when they ought still be solicitous about themselves, how much more will they do so after their crowns, victories, and triumphs?” – Saint Jerome from Against Vigilantius, 406

“I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: “Search the Scriptures,” and “Seek and you shall find.” For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. No one should think that I mean to explain the entire subject matter of this great book of the prophet Isaiah in one brief sermon, since it contains all the mysteries of the lord. It prophesies that Emmanuel is to be born of a virgin and accomplish marvelous works and signs. It predicts his death, burial and resurrection from the dead as the Savior of all men. Whatever is proper to holy Scripture, whatever can be expressed in human language and understood by the human mind, is contained in the book of Isaiah.” -Jerome: from a commentary on Isaiah

“The person who is dedicated to Christ is equally earnest in small things as in great.” -St. Jerome


-“St Jerome Reading in the Countryside”, by Giovanni Bellini, 1505

Prayer for Christ’s Mercy

“O Lord, show Your mercy to me and gladden my heart. I am like the man on the way to Jericho who was overtaken by robbers, wounded and left for dead. O Good Samaritan, come to my aid, I am like the sheep that went astray. O Good Shepherd, seek me out and bring me home in accord with your will. Let me dwell in Your house all the days of my life and praise You for ever and ever with those who are there.  Amen.”  -St Jerome


Sep 21 – St Matthew


-Caravaggio, The Call of Matthew, ~1600, Oil on canvas, 322 cm × 340 cm (127 in × 130 in), Contarelli Chapel, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome


“…but the best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” And he repeats: “I ​​am one who is looked upon by the Lord. I always felt my motto, Miserando atque Eligendo [By Having Mercy and by Choosing Him], was very true for me.”

The motto is taken from the Homilies of Bede the Venerable, who writes in his comments on the Gospel story of the calling of Matthew: “Jesus saw a publican, and since he looked at him with feelings of love and chose him, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” The pope adds: “I think the Latin gerund miserando is impossible to translate in both Italian and Spanish. I like to translate it with another gerund that does not exist: misericordiando [“mercy-ing”].

Pope Francis continues his reflection and says, jumping to another topic: “I do not know Rome well. I know a few things. These include the Basilica of St. Mary Major; I always used to go there. I know St. Mary Major, St. Peter’s…but when I had to come to Rome, I always stayed in [the neighborhood of] Via della Scrofa. From there I often visited the Church of St. Louis of France, and I went there to contemplate the painting of ‘The Calling of St. Matthew,’ by Caravaggio.

That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew.” Here the pope becomes determined, as if he had finally found the image he was looking for: “It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff.” Then the pope whispers in Latin: “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.””


More important than food…


-Blackfriars, Oxford

Prayer allows me to participate in life. “Man does not live by bread alone…” (Mt 4:4) Finish it yourself.

-by Br Thomas Davenport, OP

“Words have a certain staying power. Most of them are in one ear and out the other, but every once in a while words seriously hit home and have a lasting impact. Jan 17 the Western Church celebrates St. Anthony of Egypt, the “Father of Monks.” As a young man, he walked into a church one day and heard the words of Jesus proclaimed in the Gospel, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mt 19:21). While he had probably heard these words many times before, something was different that time. He left the church with a firm conviction to do exactly what Jesus said. He sold all his possessions and became a hermit in the Egyptian desert.

While Christians relish the response of St. Anthony and the holiness of his life, we are not all called to respond in the same way to those words. Still, by the grace of God, the truth, even a truth we may be quite familiar with, has a way of giving us a much needed slap upside the head.

I can still remember a particular phrase that hit home for me. After a year of graduate school, I was down in some pretty serious dumps through a particularly paradoxical combination of overwork and laziness (with an added dose of emotional baggage). Nothing seemed to be going right. Just getting up in the morning seemed to be a monumental task. I was in a rut of bad habits and I needed help getting out. When I was finally fed up with simply trying to slog my way through the day, I did what I should have done weeks before and called a good friend of mine, a priest, back home. Having put up with my initial round of whining, he cut me off before I had a chance to really get going. He asked me bluntly, “Are you praying?” I attempted to dodge the seriousness of the question and responded by simply saying that I was not praying enough. I was still making it to Mass on Sundays, and even an occasional daily Mass, but I had little to no prayer life outside of that.

Then came the line that has stuck with me ever since, “You’ve got to pray every day. Prayer is more important than food.” We kept talking for a while after that. While I forgot all of his other words of wisdom, that phrase about prayer stuck with me.

I would like to tell you that I have not eaten another bite of food since then and that I have been surviving for seven years on Hail Marys and Our Fathers, but of course that did not happen. I did put that line on a sticky note on my desk, and every day whenever I managed to roll myself out of bed, before I’d let myself pour a bowl of cereal, I’d sit down and pray—five minutes at first, then ten, then a bit more. And, you know, it worked. Surprisingly enough, when I stopped trying to take on everything myself and asked God for help, getting up in the morning wasn’t quite so challenging, my work wasn’t quite so daunting, and those ruts I had dug didn’t feel quite so deep.

“Prayer is more important than food.” These words are a bit silly, and my friend doesn’t even remember saying them. Still, these words have stuck with me through the years. When nothing seems to be going right, I know the question to ask is, “Am I praying?”

Whether it’s “I’m too busy” or “I’m too distracted,” whatever excuses I hold up for neglecting prayer are simply that, excuses. That silly phrase is a reminder that the true power behind any word or action lies first and foremost in God.”



grace, open hand, free gift, blocks, God, Christian

I believe in grace.  I can cite you examples in my own life, confidentially, where I have experienced the efficacious power of grace, and for which there is no other explanation I am aware of; certainly, the least of which would be my own efforts.  I believe in grace.  I rely on it desperately.  I seek it constantly.  I pray for it fervently.  I have no other hope; nor, wish any.

-by Br Thomas Davenport, OP

“It happens whenever a group of people spend a lot of time studying the same thing. Physicists tell quantum-mechanics jokes, musicians tell voice-part jokes, and Dominicans tell virtue-ethics jokes. Often enough, a word means one thing in common parlance and something very different in a specialized context, whether that context be physics, music, or moral theology. In this particular case, we were talking about our struggles in community life, and a brother was self-deprecatingly going through a litany of ways in which he lacks self-control. Summing them up, he profoundly declared, “I am the incontinent man.” Everyone burst out laughing.

Of course, we all knew what he meant. Aristotle defines an incontinent man as someone who thinks things through and knows, in general, what he ought to do; but, when a particular action is required, he succumbs, against his better judgment, to his malformed passions.

In a certain sense, it’s strange that this should happen—strange that someone who knows what he should do, doesn’t do it. On the other hand, it’s a very common experience—one that most of us know only too well—and it’s perfectly described by St. Paul: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I hate” (Rom 7:15).

Clearly, no one wants to live in a state of incontinence. In fact, a defining trait of the incontinent man is that, although he does the wrong thing, he is unhappy about it. (This is in contrast to the truly vicious man, who does the wrong thing and wouldn’t have it any other way.) It’s encouraging, then, that Aristotle suggests that a man can, by effort and training, rise above incontinence and achieve continence, or self-control.

Continence, however, is only half the battle, according to Aristotle. In a certain sense, nothing has changed about the way a continent man approaches an ethical choice. He still reasons to the same correct ethical conclusion, and he still feels the same base passions against it; it’s just that, now, he is able to subdue his passions and do the right thing. Obviously, doing the right thing is better than failing to do so, but is this the best we can hope for? Does the ideal of the moral life amount to gritting our teeth and fighting against our lower appetites, constantly tiptoeing our way through a minefield of passions?

Unfortunately, many really do see the moral life this way. In fact, following Immanuel Kant, some claim that the only way we can know we have done a good act for a good reason, and not from some selfish motive, is by fighting against our natural inclinations. On this view—which many well-intentioned Christians implicitly accept—the moral life is a constant battle against ourselves. The good life is reduced to a mere external fidelity to the Commandments, a joyless battle against disordered passion.

Unlike Kant, Aristotle doesn’t regard continence as the height of human virtue. For him, the truly virtuous man is the man who not only does the right thing because he knows it’s the right thing, but also does it with ease—that is, with the help, not the hindrance, of his passions. In fact, a truly virtuous man’s natural appetites are so attuned to the good that he hardly even needs to deliberate about moral actions. There is nothing pulling him in some other direction. For such a man, Aristotle says, virtue has become “a second nature.”

As inspiring as this picture of the virtuous man is, Aristotle seems to imply that if we aren’t raised this way from birth, we’re simply out of luck. Once we let any of our baser appetites go astray, there’s not a whole lot we can do except constantly struggle not to give in to them. Needless to say, this is not a very happy prospect.

Thankfully, this is where St. Thomas takes up the baton and gives us more hope.

He agrees with Aristotle about the dim prospect of becoming virtuous by natural means. No purely human agency, according to St. Thomas, can heal our moral brokenness. Fortunately, though, the grace of God is intimately at work in our lives, transforming and perfecting our nature, and the power of this grace can lift us out of whatever rut we may be stuck in.

This supernatural perspective teaches us two things. First, while we must continue to strive against the things that lead us into sin, we need not struggle alone. Second, if we try to go it alone, relying only on natural supports, we are ultimately bound to fail.

The grace of God doesn’t just help us attain true virtue; it makes such virtue possible. Even better, it makes the moral life something more than just a constant grind, a mere assent of the will against the angry protest of our passions. It makes it the right ordering of our entire humanity—intellect, will, and emotions—into the person God created us to be. This way, what we know we should do is not only what God calls us to do, but also what we truly desire.

This idyllic portrait of the virtuous man can be hard to accept for those of us still slogging it out in the realm of continence and incontinence. Yet we have the witness of the saints to give us hope. Though well aware of their sinfulness, and even beset by temptations, the saints are not grim figures who stoically suppress all of their passions. Rather, they are caught up in the love of God. They joyfully and wholeheartedly follow wherever He leads, depending on His grace every step of the way.”