Category Archives: Order of Preachers

Aquinas on Work


-by Br Jonah Teller, OP

“The necessity of meat.” Certainly a pithy and memorable way to describe the principal object of manual labor. This is the first of four objects, or reasons, that St. Thomas gives for manual labor (STh., II-II q.187 a.3). The other three objects are as follows: for the sake of staving off idleness, so as to avoid all of the evils that can spring out of the sheer fact of nothing-to-do; for the sake of corralling one’s concupiscence, driving one’s body and training it in penance; and finally, manual labor is directed to almsgiving, working so as to have some way to support materially those who are less fortunate.

Here in this ordering a gradual progression emerges. The four objects of manual labor form four steps of ascent in the spiritual life, as it were. The first object—to obtain food—terminates in the body. We must eat to stay alive. There’s no way to phrase that, it seems, without sounding simple, but there it is. This action stays in the body and on the level of the physical.

The second object—the removal of idleness so as to avoid evil—moves beyond the purely physical realm, taking on a spiritual concern. This second object seems to be a privative or preventative one: stay occupied with work so as to avoid the expanses of time in which temptation creeps in. An image comes to mind: filling a container to its brim so that there’s no room for anything undesired. While this second object progresses from the purely physical nature of the first, it is still mostly negative in character.

The third object—curbing concupiscence by penance—is like the second but with important developments. It is concerned with conquering evil, but here things take on a more direct approach. Whereas the second object of labor focused only on keeping oneself occupied so as to avoid the evils attendant to idleness, this third object of work gives to labor an active quality in which it can be used as an instrument for spiritual purification.

Almsgiving—the fourth object of manual labor—marks an important shift in St. Thomas’ consideration of the question. Up to this point, the objects of labor have been focused on the self of the worker. They are turned inward, though not improperly so, to be sure. Here, however, in viewing manual work as a means by which one can help one’s neighbor, there is a turn outward to facing the other and allowing lives to intersect with each other. The second and third objects of work have a spiritual dimension, but as was noted earlier, they are either privative or combatting some evil. Here, with almsgiving, the spiritual work is positive: a work of charity towards another fellow human.

In all of these objects taken together (and there is no reason that they could not all be combined in the same act of work; indeed it seems that they should be combined), we can see a spectrum of spiritual progress delineated. Work begins as a way to sustain our animal life; it keeps us from many temptations; it addresses evils present within us; and it opens our hearts to our neighbors.”

Ora et Labora,
Matthew

Mystery of Love

“If I meditate on the Cross, and its mystery, I “understand”. I understand how perverse and disappointing this life & world is, my marriage is, the Church can be, everything. In the Cross is the answer to all.” -MPM

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O Jesus, help me to penetrate the mystery of Your infinite love, which constrained You to become our Food and Drink.

MEDITATION

All God’s activity for man’s benefit is a work of love; it is summed up in the immense mystery of love which causes Him, the sovereign, infinite Good, to raise man to Himself, making him, a creature, share in His divine nature by communicating His own life to him. It was precisely to communicate this life, to unite man to God, that the Word became Incarnate. In His Person the divinity was to be united to our humanity in a most complete and perfect way; it was united directly to the most sacred humanity of Jesus, and through it, to the whole human race. By virtue of the Incarnation of the Word and of the grace He merited for us, every man has the right to call Jesus his Brother, to call God his Father and to aspire to union with Him. The way of union with God is thus opened to man. By becoming incarnate and later dying on the Cross, the Son of God not only removed the obstacles to this union, but He also provided all we need to gain it, or rather, He Himself became the Way. Through union with Jesus, man is united to God.

It is not surprising that the love of Jesus, surpassing all measure, impelled Him to find a means of uniting Himself to each one of us in the most intimate and personal manner; this He found in the Eucharist. Having become our Food, Jesus makes us one with Him, and thus makes us share most directly in His divine life, in His union with the Father and with the Trinity.

By assuming our flesh in the Incarnation, the Son of God united Himself once and for all with the human race. In the Eucharist, He continues to unite Himself to each individual who receives Him. Thus we can understand how the Eucharist, according to the mind of the Fathers of the Church, may really be “considered as a continuation and extension of the Incarnation; by it the substance of the Incarnate Word is united to every man” (cf Mirae Caritatis paragraph 7).

COLLOQUY

“O eternal Trinity! O fire and abyss of charity! How could our redemption benefit You? It could not, for You, our God, have no need of us. To whom then comes this benefit? Only to man. O inestimable charity! Even as You, true God and true Man, gave Yourself entirely to us, so also You left Yourself entirely for us, to be our food, so that during our earthly pilgrimage we would not faint with weariness, but would be strengthened by You, our celestial Bread. O man, what has your God left you? He has left you Himself, wholly God and wholly Man, concealed under this whiteness of bread. O fire of love! Was it not enough for You to have created us to Your image and likeness, and to have re-created us in grace through the Blood of Your Son, without giving Yourself wholly to us as our Food, O God, Divine Essence? What impelled You to do this? Your charity alone. It was not enough for You to send Your Word to us for our redemption; neither were You content to give Him to us as our Food, but in the excess of Your love for Your creature, You gave to man the whole divine essence. And not only, O Lord, do You give Yourself to us, but by nourishing us with this divine Food, You make us strong with Your power against the attacks of the demons, insults from creatures, the rebellion of our flesh, and every sorrow and tribulation, from whatever source it may come.

“O Bread of Angels, sovereign, eternal purity, You ask and want such transparency in a soul who receives You in this sweet Sacrament, that if it were possible, the very angels would have to purify themselves in the presence of such an august mystery. How can my soul become purified? In the fire of Your charity, O eternal God, by bathing itself in the Blood of Your only-begotten Son. O wretched soul of mine, how can you approach such a great mystery without sufficient purification? I will take off, then, the loathsome garments of my will and clothe myself, O Lord, with Your eternal will!” (St. Catherine of Siena).”

Love,
Matthew

Saints are made saints together…

Thanks to the Swiss Dominican sisters at Estavayer-le-Lac, we can now identify the many saints depicted in this Dominican family tree. They graciously contacted the Dominican friars of Rue Saint-Jacques, Paris, who located in their archives a Flemish engraving (by Théodore Gall, d. 1663) of the same painting and containing the names of all but one saint. (From left to right) top row: Benedict XI, Innocent V (Peter of Tarentaise), The Virgin Mary, John of Vercelli, John Dominici, Latino Malabranca; 2nd row: Albert the Great, Christian (Patriarch of Antioch), John of Wildeshausen, James of Venice, James Salomoni, Agnes of Montepulciano, Peter González (St. Elmo), Jerome Cala; 3rd row: Unknown friar, Rose of Lima, Louis Bertrand, James of Ulm, The Head Carriers (Céphalophores) of Toulouse, Vincent of St. Etienne, Francis of Toulouse; 4th row: Vincent Ferrer, Thomas Aquinas, James of Bevagna, Jordan of Saxony, Conrad of Marburg, Ambrose of Siena, Henry Suso; bottom row: Raymond of Penyafort, Antonio (Dominic’s eldest brother, priest in the Order of Santiago), Mannes (Dominic’s second brother), Peter Martyr, Hyacinth of Poland, Catherine of Siena, Antoninus of Florence. (Please click on the image for greater detail.)


-by Br Timothy Danaher, OP

“A new biography of Dominican saints has recently been published, Dr. Kevin Vost’s “Hounds of the Lord” (Sophia Institute Press, 2015)—the title based on an early Latin nickname for the Order, Domini canes, dogs of the Lord. Though educated by Dominicans as a young boy, the idea for his present book came from a bookmark, given him by the Nashville Dominican sisters, announcing the Order’s 800th Jubilee. The fruit of his labor is both fun and intelligent, accessible and informative, full of quaint stories and Thomistic theology woven together.

To begin at the beginning, we can defy cliché warnings and “read the book by its cover.” That’s because it’s a great cover. The image, called “The Genealogical Tree of St. Dominic” (pictured above and, in its entirety, below), is an oil painting on wood, and dates from 1675. It is the work of J. Rolbels and now adorns the Swiss monastery of Dominican sisters at Estavayer-le-Lac.

Here is the first lesson of the book (and painting): saints are made saints together. Not only do their examples inspire us today, but they inspired each other while still living. Many of these Dominicans knew each other personally, all part of one intertwining family tree. Take one branch of the tree, for instance, the early Dominicans:

-Jordan of Saxony, the successor to Dominic, went to confession to him in Paris and asked advice on his vocation.
-Before Jordan died in a shipwreck in Syria, he attracted Albert the Great to the Order by interpreting in his homily the student’s fearful, undisclosed vocation dream of the previous night.
-Sent to teach in Cologne, Albert became the teacher of Thomas Aquinas, who later taught in Paris alongside the young Dominican Peter of Tarentaise, who became Pope Innocent V.

All Dominicans, all on the same tree.

Vost’s biography shows how Dominic’s greatness is not personal achievement. The saint, who died young, was a saint with “faith in the future.” He is like the trunk or rootstock of the family tree, whose own holy desires blossom in the lives of his sons and daughters:

-As Dominic dreamed of preaching missions to the pagan east, Hyacinth, whom he received into the Order in Rome, would return to Poland and travel 25,000 miles on foot as a missionary.
-As Dominic had sent brothers to the universities of Europe, Thomas Aquinas would not only learn the doctrine of the Church, but deepen it for the Church.
-As Dominic remained in Rome, laying the foundation of the Order with papal negotiations, Catherine, a girl in her 20s, would march her way to Avignon and persuade the pope to come back home.

And though we have no records of Dominic’s own preaching, his style and genius (shared by all early Dominicans) is preserved in a long treatise by Humbert of Romans. Vost summarizes this work, listing the many spiritual and practical elements of preaching, and even includes charts of scriptural images that Humbert used to describe preachers as eagles, horses, angels, snow, mountains, and even “a powerful soap”.

After the early years, the charism of Dominic and the theology of Thomas grew into a great tree that has spanned hundreds of years and across many seas to the New World. Rose of Lima and Martin de Porres were contemporaries in Lima, Peru (they were even confirmed by the same bishop). Even there Dominican preaching was well known, and as children, each saint learned the teachings of Catherine of Siena, who herself learned Thomas’s theology and dressed it in her own passionate language. The biography ends with Pier Giorgio Frassati, an athlete and a student, who died with a copy of Catherine’s Dialogues at his bedside table.

Finally, if theology or history aren’t your keenest interest, there are plenty of colorful stories to keep you turning the pages, including but not limited to:
-Which Dominican originally wrote the lyrics for “Day by Day” in the musical Godspell?
-Which Dominican had 24 brothers and sisters, yet still managed to have her own room?
-Which Dominican became pope and saved all of Europe from a Muslim invasion?
-Which friar became famous for a wooden spoon he once gave a convent of nuns?
-How one sister joined the Franciscans—until the Virgin Mary appeared, her arms full of stones, telling her to build a Dominican convent instead?
-How a certain girl chose the Dominicans after being visited by a black-and-white butterfly?
-How one friar escaped pressure to become a bishop so that he could remain an angelic painter?
-How one friar accepted the office of bishop but never took off his hiking boots?
-Which famous American author had a daughter who joined the Order after a failed marriage?
-Which friar started a hospital for dogs and would bi-locate to attend med school in Europe?

So if you’ve heard the name St. Dominic but don’t know much about him or his family, check out Kevin Vost’s biography. There you can begin to learn more of a history 800 years strong and still growing!”

Love,
Matthew

Dominic option

Certainly English is not the only language that has plays on words and sounds. Latin for the Order of Preachers is Dominicanes, which sounds terribly like Domini canes, “Hounds of God!” And so, a dog with a lit torch in its mouth is a very Dominican symbol, running through the world setting it ablaze with the truth of the Gospel. -Lk 12:49.  In addition, Blessed Jane of Aza, Dominic’s mother, had a vision prior to Dominic’s conception of giving birth to a dog, and this dog would run through the world, lighting it on fire, with a torch in its mouth.  Indeed.


-by David Warren

“Hounds of the Lord” they used to call them (from the pun, Domini canes, in Latin), these Blackfriars who began strolling Europe eight centuries ago. They were mendicants of the Order of Preachers founded by Dominic of Caleruega in Spain, pledged to a life of strict poverty, prayer, study, and teaching; to a war with ignorance and heterodoxy. They proposed to resume the task of the Apostles.

They were an urban phenomenon, in the main. Though drawn from many obscure places, their focus was the new towns, growing around the cathedrals, and re-occupying abandoned ancient sites, in the early thirteenth century.

For centuries before, Western Europe had been an Arcadian landscape, utterly decentralized under the local governance of monasteries and castles, their abbots and lords – imperfectly unified by the Christian religion. There were small cities, or proto-cities, in Italy, but beyond the Alps, perhaps Paris was the largest urban agglomeration, with a population of a few thousand. All that was changing.

It was a revolutionary age, in the Church, and around her. Through strata of time, we still recognize Franciscans as well as Dominicans from that period, who broke with the monastic tradition of aloofness [Ed. the classical model of religious life up until then, started by the Desert Fathers in the Middle East, in the very early years of Christianity, was that of eremites, or going out alone into the desert, making your spiritual search your primary motive/pursuit in life. In the West, St Benedict formed communal groups of monks, who tended to build monasteries in remote places, they still do today, even in the US, and “ora et labora”, pray and work, providing for their own subsistence, but their spiritual efforts were and still are personal, not popular. The salvation of one’s own soul was paramount, not so much for the secular. In the post-Christian, modern era, some thinkers have proposed Christians replicate this monastic lifestyle of community, even among the lay persons for mutual support and to avoid the perpetual and unpleasant schizophrenia of having to live as a Christian in a secular culture.]; but many other orders were founded, which leave no trace today.

Monks and nuns had been meditatives, but also workers in their agricultural estates, whose innovations spread beyond monastic walls, and whose goods traveled. But they were no part of an integrated economy.

Great cities existed in the Islamic realms, and far beyond, appearing and also disappearing like mushrooms. Western Europe had been a place of extraordinary and enduring silence. Security of food, and against savage invaders, had molded the classic feudal system for which our environmentalists still pine. A hard life, dictated by the seasons; people for whom change could only be associated with destruction. Their arts, as their technologies, were directly to purpose, and nowhere “sophisticated” – except in monasteries where the heritage of past ages was jealously preserved.

Saint Dominic himself, high-born in a desert region of Old Castile, near the frontiers of the Christian Reconquest (Reconquista), was trained in the Augustinian, eremitical tradition, reaching back to classical North Africa, but itself looking forward to a thirteenth-century transformation.

Two dated books from my own shelves – Saint Dominic and His Work by Pierre Mandonnet (1944); Saint Dominic and His Times by M.-H. Vicaire (1964) – provide enthralling accounts of his age and mission, that penetrate beneath mere data. For these authors present a range, depth, and character missing in the scholarship of today.

In telling the life of the founder of their order, these authors are compelled to sketch this age of transformation, which Dominic came to serve. The famous struggle against the Albigensian heretics now covers our historical vision as a veil. The heroic labors of Dominic himself, and of his first cohort – debating the heretics on their own ground at risk of their lives – is itself an effective prelude to the story. But from the beginning the intention was more fundamental.

As the young migrated to the new universities of the towns – set up beyond the control of the older cathedral seminaries (Chartres was a magnet before Paris) – a new, profane intellectual order was emerging. To read of thirteenth-century student life in Paris, and elsewhere, is to encounter many features that have never changed, from youthful arrogance and rebellion, to the drinking and constant appeal for student loans. How often the hardworking of the towns hated and feared these young scholars, as dangerously smart delinquents.

The Dominicans set a standard for seriousness, and real intellectual zeal. They were commanded to exemplary lives under clear discipline. They were also commanded to the pursuit of truth, and in the legacies of Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas – Margaret of Hungary, Catherine of Sienawe find a fearless patience that embodies the order’s ideal. The light of Faith was everywhere mingled with the light of Reason, against forces potentially very dark.

We see this on our campuses today, except, the forces of darkness now prevail. Faith is despised, and as the early Dominicans often were, shouted down with slogans. The Dominicans persisted. Far from retreating where they met hostility, they listened and confuted. Men can be animals, especially the young, but they may also be called to conversion, and a striking feature of the thirteenth century is the scale and speed of the Dominican expansion. [Ed. “Zeal must be met with zeal!” -St Dominic]

It answered to a spiritual hunger. It confronted doubt in new and potent forms, as Europe began to recover pagan learning through Arabic philosophers and Byzantine refugees. All that was good in Aristotle and the ancients was, by Dominicans and others they inspired, assimilated and Christianized, as they found that the “perennial philosophy” was in its own nature compatible with Catholic teaching, and helped us better understand it.

The Dominican approach was to muck in. It was a positive force of intellectual engagement. Christ sent his Apostles on the open road; did not tell them to hole up and wait. He made teachers, to the death. The world needs to be told the joy of Our Savior. It needs to be saved, from the Devil and from itself. It needs to know Who is its Maker. It needs to test all things. [Ed. Dominicans “smelled like the sheep”, before smelling like sheep was cool. -cf Pope Francis]

Saint Dominic himself was a man of broad learning. His way was not narrow. The scholastic methods Dominicans pioneered took questions whole, found answers methodically.

I hardly reject the Desert Fathers, or all that followed in the Benedictine traditions; all that they have accomplished and preserved. As thanks to Rod Dreher, the “Benedict Option” has become a thing, let me add that I applaud and accept it.

Yet I would juxtapose a “Dominic Option,” in resplendent contrast. We may never, as Christians, turn our backs on our neighbors, in their need. And Truth is something that is needed. There will always be obstacles to delivery; we must analyze them, and get through.”

Love, truth, & zeal to meet zeal,
Matthew

Aquinas & “the old woman”


-by Br Isidore Rice, OP

“A little old woman now knows more about what belongs to faith than all the philosophers once knew.” (See here for the full text)

“No one of the philosophers before the coming of Christ could, through his own powers, know God and the means necessary for salvation as well as any old woman since Christ’s coming knows Him through faith.” (Full text)

“Is it not correct that a charity with knowledge is more eminent than a charity without knowledge? It seems that it is not, for then a wicked theologian would have a charity of greater dignity than a holy old woman.” (Full text)

“Unlike the many philosophers through history who tended to absolutize philosophic knowledge and denigrate the simple faith of their less scientifically enlightened neighbors, St. Thomas clearly has a deep respect for the “holy old woman”. However, he also firmly values knowledge. Responding to that last quote, St. Thomas shows that knowledge, of a certain sort, can and does enrich charity: “what is discussed here is a knowledge which exerts its influence. For the force of the knowledge stimulates one to love more since the more God is known, so much the more is He loved.”

The knowledge which makes charity more splendid is not the breadth of knowledge of facts that leads to … victory. Knowing what a certain theologian said about God, the chapter and verse of various Bible passages, or the years of the eccumenical councils can be quite helpful, but the aim of theology, as well as the little old lady’s meditations, is not to know a wide breadth of opinions and facts related to God, but to know God Himself, with depth.

‘The most elementary truths of Christian faith, such as those expressed in the Our Father, are, we find, the most profound truths when we have meditated upon them long and lovingly; when, through the years, we have lived with them, while carrying our cross, and they have become the object of almost continuous contemplation. To be led to the heights of sanctity, it would be enough for a soul to live intensely but one of these truths of our Faith.’ – Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

Love,
Matthew

Only 3 Goods


-by Peter Kreeft

BOLD = Aquinas, Summa Theologiae = ST

“How can I simplify my life? It’s not lacking in good things, it’s too full of them. How can I find space, and time, and simplicity?

The answer is: By realizing that the only things you need are good things, and that there are not as many good things as you think, because there are only three kinds of goods: Goodness is rightly divided into (1) the virtuous, (2) the useful, and (3) the pleasant. . . .

‘Goodness is not divided into these three as something univocal to be predicated equally of them all, but as something analogical to be predicated of them according to priority and posteriority. Hence it is predicated chiefly of the virtuous, then of the pleasant, and lastly of the useful’ (I,5,6).

What is “virtuous” is good in itself. The reason to be virtuous, to do right and not wrong, is simply because it’s right and not wrong. What is “pleasant” is simply what makes you happy. And what is “useful” is whatever is a means to either what is virtuous or what is pleasant.

These are three different kinds of goods. They are good analogically, good in different ways, different senses. They are not the same in rank. They are in a hierarchy. (1) The virtuous good is the “goodest” because it is good absolutely, in itself. (2) The pleasant is next because it is also an end in itself (we seek pleasure for no other reason than pleasure), but it is not absolute but relative (“different strokes for different folks”). Also, not all pleasures are virtuous, though all virtues are pleasant. And the deepest pleasure is an effect of virtue, not vice versa. (3) Finally, the useful is good only as a means to either virtue or pleasure.

Hedonists are fools who seek only pleasure. But these people are never really deeply happy, deeply pleased. Pleasure comes only as a by-product. Pleasure-addicts are like hypochondriacs. They destroy the very thing they seek by idolizing it.

Pragmatists and utilitarians are fools who seek only utility. But as Chesterton says, “man’s most pragmatic need is to be more than a pragmatist”, to have some end to justify all these means, some absolute that all these things are relative to, something all these useful things are useful for.

Most of us are semi-hedonists and semi-utilitarians because we fill up our lives and our thoughts with useful goods first of all, then pleasant goods, then virtue last of all, as a kind of last-minute check. We invert the hierarchy. Especially in modern America, where we idolize our feelings (pleasures) and treat everything else (even unborn babies) as utilitarian, disposable consumer goods.

How can we find more room and time in our lives and our thoughts for the higher goods? By simplifying and minimizing the lower goods, and above all by eliminating everything else that is not really good at all. St. Thomas’ classification gives us a road map for a wonderful simplification of our lives. Everyone needs that today. Everyone complains that their lives are too complex, that there is not enough time, not enough leisure—even though (or perhaps because) we have all these technological time-saving devices, our hundreds of mechanical slaves. We are slaves to our slaves. St. Thomas’ simple common sense can free us from this slavery.

For there are only three kinds of good. So if a thing is not virtuous, useful, or pleasant, it’s not really good. So fugghetaboutit! Simplify your life by throwing out all the things you have that you don’t need, all that’s not virtuous, useful, or pleasant. Don’t do anything for any other reason, e.g., because “everybody’s doing it” or “everybody has one” or just because it’s “expected”, or because you feel a spontaneous desire for it once you see a commercial for it. Do you really need to buy that expensive sneaker or super cell phone, or to read that book that’s on the best-seller list, or go to that dull meeting? Is it your moral duty? Does it give you happiness, or even pleasure? If the answer to all three questions is no, then dump it! A house without a garbage can becomes cluttered and smelly. The same is true of a life.”(1)

Love & truth,
Matthew

(1)Kreeft, Peter (2014-11-28). Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas (Kindle Locations 698-730). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

Lacordaire, OP, (1802-1861) – a model for the New Evangelization (terminer)

“So what happened to Lacordaire? His conferences at Notre Dame were well received despite thinly veiled threats against his life by the King, and his fame steadily grew throughout France. After the revolution of 1848, without his campaigning, he was even elected to the French parliament. However, in his attempt to rise above political parties, and, in his words, “preach the great truths of the Gospel to all factions,” he was rather unsuccessful. He resigned two weeks after taking office. Furthermore, his efforts in the Dominican Order encountered numerous setbacks, both from within and without. Yet, by the time of his death the Catholic Church and the Dominican Order in France were flourishing again.

I think Lacordaire’s example here is of great value in two ways. First, no matter how bad we think things may be, Christ still comes to redeem us. Lacordaire was given the grace to help bring the Faith back to a country that had been massacring nuns in the streets. It can be tempting to view one’s own era as being unique, but just look to history. The Church has always been persecuted, (Ed. and Christians have always frustrated, annoyed, and betrayed other Christians and Jesus, just like Judas. ‘Put no trust in princes, [or princesses, for that matter.]’ cf Ps 146:3) but rather the faithful Christian is called to proclaim that the world has an authority greater than any human government (Ed. or human leaders, even Church leaders). And that authority became man 2,000 years ago in order that we might have true life and freedom in His saving power. (Kyrie Eleison)

Second, Lacordaire gives us an example of what the New Evangelization should look like. His talks are not heavily theological, but more inviting and apologetic. With regard to his conferences at Notre Dame he stated: “It seemed to me that we should not go to metaphysics, nor history, but set foot on the soil of the living reality and seek traces of God.” He re-presented a good that had been rejected. People could see all around them how efforts to organize society without God always end with dissatisfaction and craziness. Lacordaire was able to show them, on their own terms, how to find what they were truly after.

On a personal note, I first became interested in Lacordaire when I was in France several years ago. In the Louvre, in the wing containing many of the most famous pieces from the time of the Revolution, is a portrait of Lacordaire. He was placed at the end, at the far side of the hall. He is portrayed standing upright, arms folded, wearing his outlawed Dominican habit, and looking out confidently. It is almost as if he is placed to watch over the rest of the excesses of the revolutionary age. He came calling his people back to the truth of the Gospel and faith in Christ Jesus. It seems fitting to give him the last word:

‘Let us all stand together, whoever we may be, believers and unbelievers. Let us stand up, believers, with feelings of respect, admiration, faith, love, for a God who has revealed Himself to us with so much evidence, and Who has chosen us among men to be the depositaries of that splendid manifestation of His truth! And you who do not believe, stand up also, but with fear and trembling, as men who are but as nothing with their power and their reasoning, before facts which fill all ages, and which are in themselves so full of the power and majesty of God!’“(1)


-postal commemoratives of Pere Lacordaire’s centenary of his death

Faith, Hope, Love,
Matthew

(1) Br Constantius Sanders, OP

Lacordaire, OP, (1802-1861) – revert & apologist (partie trois)

“In Book 1 of the Summa contra Gentiles, St. Thomas Aquinas discusses the mode of inquiry taken up in theological study. He distinguishes two types of truth which the theologian seeks to understand. The first is that which unaided reason can know on its own. These arguments have demonstrable proof, and demand assent from all who understand them. Arguments like these, such as the (Ed. cosmological, if you subscribe to that type) proofs for the existence of God, or that 2+2=4, can be carried out without the light of faith. The second type of truth is that which surpasses reason and is only known by faith. These truths are above our natural capacities of understanding and we rely upon God’s revelation to know them.

There can be a temptation then to believe that truth is somehow divided and separate: that there is a truth of reason and a truth of faith. These two truths propose different ideas and are accepted variously. Faith becomes opposed to reason, and thus becomes the enemy of a supposedly rational people. Only a generation before Lacordaire, the Cathedral of Notre Dame had been desecrated by the revolutionaries and turned into the “Temple of Reason.” The scene must have been striking. It represented the supposed fall of religion, having been overcome by pure and unfettered reason.

Yet, for St. Thomas, this presents us with a false dichotomy. Faith and reason are not fundamentally opposed, but rather two sources to gain true knowledge. Both come from one source, God. Truth is twofold only for us, by our manner of coming to know it. Yet truth is fundamentally one, for it has one source, God. God is the source for all truth, whether we come to know it by natural abilities or as inspired by Faith. As truth has one source, no two truths can ever contradict each other. A truth of faith can never be contradicted by a truth gained through reason, nor vice versa.

Thus, Voltaire’s critique of the unreasonableness of Christians is itself against truth. Faith elevates what we can know. St. Thomas argues further in the Summa contra Gentiles that it is most unreasonable to assert that we cannot assent to truths which are above reason. We are not the arbiters of Faith, but trust in the inner coherence of the unity of the created world. While some Christians have certainly been guilty of denying rational truths, the real task remains to show the compatibility between Faith and reason. Lacordaire presents us with an example of how this should be done.

In an age not unlike ours, where men seek first to be free, Lacordaire came proclaiming that it was only in God that one could achieve real freedom. This is attained in being released from real bondage. The world was, and remains, captive to sin. What the Incarnation brought was redemption, merited by the blood of Christ. In order to have true freedom, the dream of the Enlightened world, one first needs salvation. Lacordaire showed that only in Christ would the modern ideals, correctly understood and moderated, ever be achieved.

While apologetics as a subject might not be particularly popular today, it still has a place in Catholic theology. Lacordaire provides us an example of how this can be carried out. There are some foundational principles which we can learn from him.

First, good apologetics address the questions that people are really asking in a mode that they understand. In an age like ours, where men seek first to be free, Lacordaire came proclaiming that it was only in God that one found true freedom. It was not “a law of bondage” that some had claimed. He also used numerous external references to history, psychology, philosophy, poetry, and literature to illustrate his points to his own particular audience. A good apologist has to meet people where they are, speaking in a way they can understand, answering the questions people are asking. Dominicans seem uniquely qualified to respond to such questions. A life lived both in prayer and study, as well as in an apostolate, allowed Lacordaire to best confront the issues of his time.

Next, apologetics done rightly show that answers to life’s deepest questions can only be found in the Catholic Church. This is what we preach to a world looking for redemption. Lacordaire gave his orations with expressiveness and enthusiasm, emphasizing that values familiar to his own day and age: liberty, equality, fraternity, patriotism, self-giving, and a sense of sacrifice, could only be truly achieved within the Catholic Church. As he argued, “The Church had the words reason and liberty on her lips when the inalienable rights of the human race were threatened with shipwreck.” Finally, perform apologetics from a position of charity and humility. Nothing is more off-putting to modern man than a position of assumed authority. Again, Lacordaire: “Real excellence and humility are not incompatible one with the other, on the contrary they are twin sisters.” We have to show that we too are pursuing truth, like all people, and that we want to find it with them. The Catholic Church has provided us with answers, and we merely want to share them.”(1)

Faith, Hope, Love,
Matthew

(1) Br Constantius Sanders, OP

Lacordaire, OP, (1802-1861): a great idea extinct? (deuxième partie)


-Lacordaire preaching his Lenten Conferences from the elevated pulpit at Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris, 1845.

“In Advent of 1843, Lacordaire ascended the winding steps of the pulpit at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. About eight years earlier, he had given a series of conferences there which, by all accounts, were a roaring success—reports state that they averaged over 6,000 attendees per conference. The conferences were aimed at teaching the Faith again to a country that had lost it in the Revolution. But this time was different. In 1836 Lacordaire had left France in order to further his education in Rome. While there, he had met the Dominican Order and joined their number. After formation, he returned to France with the expressed aim of restoring the Order in his home country. And did the Dominicans ever need restoring—they had gone from over 20,000 friars in 1789 to less than 5,000 a generation later. Around this time, one John Henry Newman became interested in religious life. Finding the Order much diminished in Europe, he wondered if it was not “a great idea extinct.”


-“Henri Lacordaire At Sorreze” by Anne-Francois-Louis Janmot, oil on canvas, 1847, Chateau de Versailles, Paris, France.

Yet, Lacordaire did not seek to resurrect a nearly extinct religious order simply for the novelty of it. Nor was he against the liberal egalitarian ideals of the revolutionaries. He too was a self-avowed proponent of liberté, égalité, et fraternité. It is reported that shortly before his death he told a confrere: “I die a repentant religious, but an unrepentant liberal.” Lacordaire believed that the desires for true freedom were fundamentally good, but that they could only be fulfilled in Christ. Figures like Voltaire were not the enemy, but misguided and a source for confusion. Faith did not destroy the rational capacities of the believer, but could be a source for greater insight into reality. He sought to show the modern world that Christianity was both true and in accord with what they sought.”(1)

In January 1834, at the encouragement of the young Frédéric Ozanam, the founder the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (a charitable organization,) Father Lacordaire started a series of lectures at the Collège Stanislas. This met with great success, even beyond his students. His thematic emphasis on freedom provoked his critics, who charged him with perverting the youth. Lacordaire was reputed to be the greatest pulpit orator of the nineteenth century. Lacordaire’s preaching was not so much penitential as an exercise in apologetics. He demonstrated that one could be a French citizen and a Catholic. The lectures were a great success.

Monseigneur de Quélen, the Archbishop of Paris, asked Lacordaire to preach a Lenten series in 1835 at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, as part of the Notre-Dame Lectures specially aimed at the catechesis of Christian youth, which had been inaugurated at the behest of his friend Ozanam. Lacordaire’s first lecture took place on 8 March 1835, and was met with wide acclaim. The social event of its day, 6,000 attended. Because of this immediate success, he was asked to preach again the following year. According to Thomas Bokenkotter, Lacordaire’s Notre Dame Conferences, “…proved to be one of the most dramatic events of nineteenth century church history.” Today the Lacordaire Notre-Dame Lectures, which mixed theology, philosophy and poetry, are still acclaimed as a sublime modern re-invigoration of traditional homiletics.

Among those who attended his Lenten sermons in 1836 was Marie-Eugénie de Jésus de Milleret. The encounter with Lacordaire marked a turning point in her life and the beginning of a spiritual journey that would eventually lead her to found the Religious of the Assumption. In a letter written to Lacordaire years later, she recalled, “Your words gave me a faith which henceforth nothing could shake.”

But in 1836 after such considerable success, he was still the object of mounting attacks on his theological stance. Suddenly his mother died. Lacordaire, aware of the need to continue his theological studies, retreated to Rome to study with the Jesuits. There, he published his “Letter on the Holy See” in which he reaffirmed with vigor his ultramontane positions, insisting on the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, “the one and permanent trustee, supreme organ of the Gospel, and the sacred source of the universal communion.” This text ran afoul of the Archbishop of Paris, Monseigneur Quélen, who was a sincere Gallican.

Faith, Hope, Love,
Matthew

(1)  Br Constantius Sanders, OP

Lacordaire, OP (1802-1861) – losing the faith (partie un)


-Henri-Dominique Lacordaire at the convent of Sainte-Sabine in Rome, by Théodore Chassériau (1840), Musée du Louvre

“If the Catholic Church, and the Dominican Order, ever looked dead, it was at the turn of the 19th Century. In the wake of the French Revolution, the Church had been banned in many parts of Western Europe, thousands of Catholics had been martyred for their faith, religious orders had been outlawed, and the Pope had recently died in captivity under Napoleon. Swept up with the ideals of the Enlightenment, the Western world had declared herself to have progressed beyond the supposed naïveté and superstition of Christianity. Nowhere was this more dominantly witnessed than in France, where only a generation before Voltaire had stated, “The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reasoning.”(1)

The son of a doctor in the French navy, Henri Lacordaire was born on 12 May 1802 at Recey-sur-Ource (Côte-d’Or) and raised in Dijon by his mother, Anne Dugied, the daughter of a lawyer at the Parliament of Bourgogne who was widowed at an early age, when her husband died in 1806. Henri had three brothers, one of whom was the entomologist Jean Théodore Lacordaire. Although raised a Catholic, his faith lapsed during his studies at the Dijon Lycée.

He went on to study law. He distinguished himself in oratory at the Society of Studies in Dijon, a political and literary circle of the town’s royalist youth. There he discovered the ultramontane theories of Bonald, de Maistre, and Félicité de Lamennais. Under their influence he slowly lost his enthusiasm for the encyclopedists and Rousseau, though he maintained an attachment to Classical Liberalism and the revolutionary ideals of 1789.

In 1822 he left for Paris to complete his legal training. Although legally too young to plead cases, he was allowed to do so and he successfully argued several in the Court of Assizes, attracting the interest of the great liberal lawyer Berryer. However, he became bored and felt isolated in Paris and in 1824 he re-embraced Catholicism and soon decided to become a priest.

Thanks to the support of Monseigneur de Quélen, the Archbishop of Paris, who granted him a scholarship, he began studying at the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Issy in 1824 over the objections of his mother and friends. In 1826, he continued this education in Paris, which was generally mediocre. He wrote later that: “Those who remember having observed me at the seminary know that they have several times had the temptation of calling me mad.” His seminary experience inspired Sainte-Beuve’s novel Volupté.

At Saint-Sulpice, he met with Cardinal Rohan-Chabot, later archbishop of Besançon, who advised him to join the Society of Jesus. Nevertheless, after long hesitations by his superiors, he succeeded in being ordained a priest of the archdiocese of Paris on 22 September 1827. He was appointed to a modest position as chaplain of a convent of nuns of the Order of the Visitation. In the following year, he was named second chaplain of the Lycée Henri-IV. This experience convinced him of the inevitable de-Christianization of French youth educated in public institutions.

“Yet, within another generation, the French people had begun to return en masse to the Catholic Faith. So what changed? While the short answer would be “grace,” the details are varied and complex. Yet one figure who possibly best represents the reconversion of France is the Dominican preacher, Père Henri-Dominique Lacordaire. Lacordaire sought to reintroduce to France the Faith that had been dismissed in revolutionary fervor. In a society that claimed it wanted to be based on reason and freedom, Lacordaire preached that not only was the Christian Faith eminently reasonable, it was the only way to find the true freedom that man longs for in every age.

He was born Jean-Baptiste Lacordaire in 1802, two years before Napoleon became “Emperor of the French” and was formed in the liberal ideals of his age. As a child he was noted for his aptitude in studies and eventually became a lawyer. Disillusioned with some aspects of his contemporary society, however, he reconverted to the Catholic Faith in 1824 which he had abandoned as a youth. Shortly thereafter he entered seminary and was ordained a priest in 1827. While he longed to go to America to serve the rapidly expanding immigrant Catholic population, Providence had other plans for him. Introduced to different Catholic intellectual movements which had sprung up in the wake of the Revolution, he began to associate himself with some of the brightest Catholic luminaries of his time. Eventually, Lacordaire became a famed preacher and writer in his own right, destined to become the most widely regarded orator of his generation.

In 1830, he became a writer for the French Catholic periodical, L’Avenir, which advocated for a place for Catholicism within the post-Revolutionary world. They argued for universal freedom of religion and the freedom of Catholic presses to distribute their material. Yet these ideals did not have the grand success many hoped they would. French bishops eventually became suspicious of some aspects of their work–including asserting the strong primacy of the Roman Pontiff over the French Church—and recommended their condemnation. Pope Gregory XVI himself eventually condemned some of their more innovative positions. While some of Lacordaire’s associates refused to submit and eventually left the Church, he was quick to acknowledge his error. After this, his stature continued to grow throughout France as an example of the possible return of Catholic vibrancy after a generation of oppression.”(2)

Faith, Hope, Love,
Matthew

(1) Br. Constantius Sanders, OP
(2) Br. Constantius Sanders, OP