Category Archives: Order of Preachers

“One necessary thing”, Lk 10:42 & Aquinas

Why do we sin?

“Seek what you seek, but it is not where you seek it. You seek Life in the place of death.” –St Augustine, Confessions


-by Peter Kreeft

BOLD = Aquinas, Summa Theologiae = ST

“All created perfections are in God. Hence He is spoken of as universally perfect (“all-perfect”), because He lacks not any excellence which may be found in creatures.

This may be seen from two considerations.

First, because whatever perfection exists in an effect must also be found in the effective cause . . . Since therefore God is the first effective cause of things, the perfection of all things must pre-exist in God in a more eminent way . . .

Second, from what has already been proved, God is existence (being) itself. Consequently, He must contain within Himself the whole perfection of being . . . Since therefore God is subsisting being itself, nothing of the perfection of being can be wanting to Him. Now all created perfections are included in the perfection of being, for things are perfect only insofar as they have being after some fashion. It follows therefore that the perfection of no being is wanting to God (ST,I,4,2).

Whatever is desirable, in whatsoever beatitude (happiness, joy), whether true (beatitude) or (even) false (i.e., merely apparent beatitude), pre-exists wholly and in a more eminent degree in the divine beatitude.

As to contemplative happiness, God possesses a continual and most certain contemplation of Himself and of all things else.

And as to that which is active, He has the governance of the whole universe. As to earthly happiness, which consists in delight, riches, power, dignity, and fame, according to Boethius (The Consolation of Philosophy III,10), He possesses joy in Himself and all things else for His delight: Instead of riches, He has that complete self-sufficiency which is promised by riches; In place of power, He has omnipotence; For dignities, the government of all things; And in place of fame, He possesses the admiration of all creatures (I,26,4, “Whether All Beatitude is Included in the Beatitude of God?”).(1)

“All sin, therefore, comes from a lack of faith—faith in this very fact, that God contains all perfections, not just some. God is not an option for “religious people”, whomever they are. God is the only game in town(2).”

“Here, in St. Thomas, is a powerful aid to obeying the first and greatest commandment. (“I AM the Lord thy God. You shall have no other gods before Me” -Ex 20:2-3. And, “You shall love the Lord, thy God, with ALL your heart, ALL your soul, and ALL your mind.” -Mt 22:37) It is the realization that every finite perfection we love and seek in the creation is to be found in an infinitely perfect form in God. What are we seeking in human love, in nature, in creativity, in thought? It’s desirable only because it’s a little like God. All that we love in creatures is a reflection of the Creator. There, and there alone, in Him, can we find everything we are seeking in them. The reflections of His perfections in the mirror of creation should send us away from the mirror, not into it. And when we run into the mirror, seeking our happiness there, the mirror breaks and our happiness shatters. For every truth is a reflection of His truth, every good is a reflection of His good, every beauty is a reflection of His beauty. The reflections are real, but they are only real reflections. They point back to the Reality they reflect. All truth is God’s truth. All goodness is God’s goodness. All beauty is God’s beauty. He must contain in Himself the whole perfection of being.

And therefore He is what we need, He is all of what we need, and He is the only One we need. For if we need something else besides God, something in addition to God, then God is not God.

There is a mystery about our desires: they have no limit! We are never totally and absolutely satisfied. Why? Because they are about God.

“The form (nature) of the Desired is in the desire.” St. Thomas means by that saying that there is no such thing as desire simply, desire with no specific object, desire for nothing, or for everything in general, for an abstraction. There is only desire for food, drink, sleep, truth, goodness, beauty, sex, love, friendship, etc. The form of the object of each desire is in the desire itself, and gives it its nature: desire for sex is sexual desire, desire for knowledge is curiosity, desire for friendship is loneliness.

And thus since the form of its object is in the desire itself, and since what we most deeply desire is God, the infinite source of all finite perfections, therefore the infinite nature of God is “in” this infinite desire for God, like a negative photograph, or like a silhouette. When your mother dies, your grief is a mother-shaped grief; when you lack God it is a God-shaped lack, a God-shaped (and God-sized) vacuum. The desire for God has no limit because its object (God) has no limit.

St. Thomas here simply explains, in philosophical language, St. Augustine’s beloved and famous saying that summarizes the whole meaning of life: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and [that is why] our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” (Confessions I,1).

How this frees us from worry! Jesus tells foolish, fussing Martha the startling good news that “There is only one thing needful!” (Lk 10:38-42). It’s Him. Mary knew that, and Martha didn’t, even though both loved Him. No thought more liberating, more simplifying, more unifying than that thought has ever entered into a human mind. Your life can be one. You can be one. You do not need to be torn apart, harried and hassled, bothered and bewildered. You can become one great person by having one great love.

For you are what you love. Your love is your destiny. Augustine says your love is your gravity (amor meus, pondus meum).

In speaking to Martha, Christ speaks to all of us. He sees us in her, and he wants to liberate us out of her confusions, her illusions, and her worries, and into Mary’s “one thing needful”. He is the One we need to seek, and find, and meet, and love, and serve in all things. Because everything we seek, every good, every happiness, every joy, every perfection, is There.”(3)

Love,
Matthew

(1) Kreeft, Peter (2014-11-28). Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas (Kindle Locations 605-622). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.
(2) Kreeft, Peter (2014-11-28). Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas (Kindle Locations 627-629). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.
(3) Kreeft, Peter (2014-11-28). Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas (Kindle Locations 634-663). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

Becoming a Lay Dominican

In August 1988, the 14th, to be exact, I entered the Province of St Joseph, (Eastern Province USA), of the Order of Preachers, aka the Dominicans, and received my habit. I had graduated from college almost exactly two months earlier. I know that date exactly since it is written in the front of my physical Bible, which was a gift of a religious sister, Sr. Yvonne, who had taught my siblings in Catholic school, and had remained friendly and close to the family even as I grew up. That Bible was my graduation gift from her. I treasure it. It is thoroughly highlighted and underlined in red. Those instruments are immediately in the front pocket of the cover, for easy, and constant access.

After nine months as a novice, and never a day off, I suppose that was part of the “test”, since one who professes “obedience”, and that is the only vow Dominicans take, everything else follows, there are no “days off”, literally, or poetically. Rational, since The People of God need to be buried nearly every day; life, faith, and relational crises won’t/don’t wait well; Catholics marry, and need to be baptized, have their sins forgiven, etc., on weekends, and then, there’s Sunday. Whew! And, then it’s back to classes and the daily grind, Monday. Repeat. Any Dominicans I know ARE busy people!

The only vow that “freaked” me out was obedience, the biggy. It still does. I guess I’m not docile, just so. I haven’t grown any more comfortable with the idea either, quite worse, in fact, in the last thirty-two years, having seen human leadership, or rather, it’s failure, imho; granted not necessarily inspired by the Gospel, but even when supposedly so, still.

I went to bed Holy Thursday night 1989, God’s timing has a sense of the dramatic, no? I had on my mind the same question I had since my very first consideration of priesthood, “Am I supposed to be here?”

Catholics use the word vocation in a very literal sense, much more so, intentionally, than any other aspect of life I have encountered. And, that night, I didn’t dream especially, but awoke with my answer: calm, confident, serene, not reasoned out, but still present in my heart and in my mind. I call it, even now, and it could have been just my subconscious finally poking through, but “God spoke to me.” The organ for speaking and listening to God is always the heart. “in the heart are the highways to Zion (Heaven)” (Ps 84: 5).

After A LOT OF PROCESSING!!!!!, this Spring, I will request/have requested to make my temporary promises for a three year period:

“To the honour of almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of Saint Dominic, I, Matthew McCormick, promise before you ___ ___, the President of this Fraternity/Chapter, and ___ ___, the Religious Assistant, in place of the Master of the Order of Friars Preachers, that I will live according to the Rule of the Laity of Saint Dominic [for three years] or [for my entire life].”

Becoming a Lay Dominican

Pray for me, please.

Love,
Matthew

2nd miracle: Bl Pier Giorgio Frassati, OP, (1901-1925), Lay Dominican

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-by Will Duquette, Aleteia

“In 2011, Kevin Becker fell from the second floor of a house he shared with a couple of college roommates, fracturing his skull in five places and damaging every lobe of his brain. After an emergency operation he lay stable but unresponsive for nine days. The doctors thought he wouldn’t live; and if he did he would suffer from gross cognitive deficits.

Less than three weeks after his injury he was wheeled to the door of the hospital, where he stood up, slung his bag over his shoulder, and walked to the car … tossing a football with his brother.

This is not the usual way.

A week after his injury, the doctors were talking of putting him into a medically induced coma, a last-ditch effort. Days later he opened his eyes, and was soon speaking, standing, and walking normally.

After Kevin left the hospital he went to physical rehab, and found that he was five steps ahead of the others there, including those who had been in recovery for six months to a year. On October 11th he took a battery of cognitive tests, and completed them in just two hours rather than the usual six. A month later, his doctor asked him how he thought he’d done. He answered, as he says he would have answered about any test he took, “I think I did OK.” The doctor told him he’d done “not just OK,” but as though he’d never been injured. He was cleared to return to college where he finished his degree; he now works making loans to small businesses.

Again, this is not the usual way.

I had the pleasure of hearing Kevin Becker speak about his experiences on October 29th of this year, at a celebration of the 800-Year Jubilee of the Dominican Order. During his coma, he remembers waking up in the house he shared with his friends, and hearing someone downstairs. That was odd; he says he’s always the first one up. He investigated, and in the living room he found a young man he didn’t know.

“Who are you?”

“I’m George, your new roommate.”

“That can’t be. I already have two roommates.”

“They aren’t around anymore.”

“Oh.”

He then spent a long timeless day with George. An ardent soccer player who hates staying indoors, Kevin kept trying to leave the house but George wouldn’t let him go. They fought about it, as if they were brothers, but George was adamant. He encouraged him to be patient. Kevin remembers passing the time by doing schoolwork—which he says would surprise anyone who knew him before his accident—and sitting on the couch with George playing a soccer video game called “FIFA.”

Eventually he awoke in the hospital.

Later, Kevin mentioned his new roommate to his mother, calling him a “good spirit.” After he described him his mother showed him a picture of a man he immediately recognized as George. It was a picture of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati that had been sent to his mother by a cousin, who suggested she ask for Frassati’s intercession. (Frassati, a Lay Dominican, died of polio in 1925 at the age of 24, after a life in which his family knew him mostly for his love of mountain climbing, and the poor of Turin knew him as their beloved friend and benefactor.) Becker’s mother did so, and placed the picture at his side. He woke the next day.

Pier Giorgio Frassati, was a model of charity, who annoyed his father by constantly “losing” pieces of his fine wardrobe, including shoes and coats. Kevin had never heard Pier Giorgio Frassati’s name before his accident.

They say that an encounter with a saint can change your life; it changed Kevin’s. Not only was he completely healed, he says that he’s better than he was before his injury. In school he’d always been the clown sitting in the back row making smart-aleck remarks and not paying attention to his schoolwork. From the moment he woke, his studies became important to him, and his grades improved remarkably.

The records of Kevin’s case have been sent to the Vatican; and his recovery may well be the miracle that leads to Frassati’s canonization. Kevin says he doesn’t care about that. He doesn’t know why God healed him as he did, but he’s determined that God’s work won’t be wasted. And he remains confident of George’s presence nearby, and sometimes hears his whispered voice in his ear.”

Love,
Matthew

St Thomas Aquinas on Islam

Taj Mahal Agra India

“[Muhammad] seduced the people by promises of carnal pleasure to which the concupiscence of the flesh goads us. His teaching also contained precepts that were in conformity with his promises, and he gave free rein to carnal pleasure. In all this, as is not unexpected, he was obeyed by carnal men.

As for proofs of the truth of his doctrine, he brought forward only such as could be grasped by the natural ability of anyone with a very modest wisdom. Indeed, the truths that he taught he mingled with many fables and with doctrines of the greatest falsity.

He did not bring forth any signs produced in a supernatural way, which alone fittingly gives witness to divine inspiration; for a visible action that can be only divine reveals an invisibly inspired teacher of truth. On the contrary, Muhammad said that he was sent in the power of his arms—which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants.

What is more, no wise men, men trained in things divine and human, believed in him from the beginning. Those who believed in him were brutal men and desert wanderers, utterly ignorant of all divine teaching, through whose numbers Muhammad forced others to become his followers by the violence of his arms.

Nor do divine pronouncements on the part of preceding prophets offer him any witness. On the contrary, he perverts almost all the testimonies of the Old and New Testaments by making them into fabrications of his own, as can be seen by anyone who examines his law.

It was, therefore, a shrewd decision on his part to forbid his followers to read the Old and New Testaments, lest these books convict him of falsity. It is thus clear that those who place any faith in his words believe foolishly.” –Summa Contra Gentiles (SCG) 1, 6, 4.

Love,
Matthew

Jul 9 – Bl Adrian Fortescue, OP, (1476-1539) – Soldier, Patriot, Husband, Father, Martyr, Lay Dominican – like me!!

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-please note the collar brooch Bl Adrian wears in this image. It’s design is of the Dominican shield, in black & white. It is a classic design, widely recognized by those familiar. I have similar lapel pins, worn on appropriate occasions!! Can I hope, too, for the blessing of martyrdom? Bl Adrian pray to our Father it may be so!!! Ultimately, His will be done!!! Viva Cristo Rey!!!!!

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-by Br Samuel Clarke, OP, English Province

“After a remarkable life, Bl. Adrian Fortescue died a martyr at the strike of an executioner’s blade at Tower Hill in 1539. A husband and father, a Justice of the Peace, a Knight of the Realm, a Knight of Malta, and a Dominican Tertiary (Lay Dominican); he was at once a loyal servant of the Crown so far as he could be, but still more, he was a man of unshakeable faith.

The House of Fortescue into which Adrian was born is said to date from the Battle of Hastings where Richard le Fort saved William the Conqueror’s Life by the shelter of his “strong shield”, and thereafter was called “Fort – Escu”. His family had a history of service to the Crown although this was later complicated by the dynastic battles of The Wars of the Roses. Vicissitudes notwithstanding, his great uncle, Sir John Fortescue (d.1479) became Chief Justice of the King’s Bench (1442-61). Sir John’s writings on the law and politics of England were arguably the most significant contribution of the fifteenth century, and are still studied by lawyers and political theorists today. Adrian’s father, also named Sir John, fought for the victorious Lancastrians at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 when Adrian was but a young boy. And later in his life, Adrian’s first cousin, Anne Boleyn, became King Henry VIII’s second wife (before her eventual beheading in 1536). We can say with some justification then that the Fortescues occupied a privileged position at the Rroyal court.

The first mention of Adrian Fortescue is in 1499, by which time, aged about 23, he was already married to Anne Stonor. He lived at his wife’s family seat at Stonor Park in Oxfordshire. This estate would later become the subject of an acrimonious legal dispute between him and his relative. In 1503, on Prince Henry becoming Prince of Wales (after Prince Arthur’s death) Adrian was made a Knight of the Order of Bath. Sir Adrian took the motto Loyalle Pensée; his loyalty was indeed to be tested.  By his first wife, Fortescue had two daughters: Margaret and Frances. By his second wife, Anne Rede, he had three sons and two daughters: John, Thomas, Anthony, Elizabeth, and Mary.

Like his forebears, Adrian served King Henry VIII in his ambitious military campaigns. He helped to rout the French the Battle of Spurs in 1513, and fought again in 1523. King Henry rewarded his support and in 1520 invited him to the splendorous Field of the Cloth of Gold where Henry famously wrestled with the King of France. Closer to home, Sir Adrian was made a Justice of the Peace of the county of Oxfordshire. In this period of history, royal favour could also take more peculiar forms. Sir Adrian had the dubious honour of being made a Gentleman of the King’s Privy Chamber, forerunner to the august body now known as the Privy Council.

In addition to being an assiduous servant of the Crown, Sir Adrian was evidently also a man of strong religious conviction and charity. His accounts reveal a number of benefactions to clergy and religious foundations. In 1532, he became a Knight of Devotion in the Order of Malta. The following year in July of 1533, he was admitted as a Dominican Tertiary at Blackfriars, Oxford, which he would visit from Stonor. But he also had a strong association with the Dominican Priory in London. His lodgings in the capital were in the precincts of the Blackfriars, close to the present eponymous tube station.

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-Collegio di San Paolo in Rabato in Malta

Not long after becoming a Lay Dominican began what Adrian called his “trobilles”. At the start of Summer 1533, he assisted in the Coronation of his cousin, Anne Boleyn – then six months pregnant – as Queen of England. He must have realised that the marriage was not valid but perhaps thought, at that stage at least, that in the words of Sir Thomas More, it was not his business “to murmur at it or dispute upon it”. This narrow compromise was to prove short-lived.

The King’s infidelity and presumption were rebuked when the Pope refused to grant an annulment declaring Henry’s marriage to Catherine as valid on 23rd March 1534. The following month on 13th April, Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More refused to take the Oath of Succession. Sir Adrian was similarly arrested that same year but he was released without explanation, probably in the Spring of 1535. Fisher and More were afforded no such clemency, and the two Saints were executed in Summer 1535.

The Act of Supremacy was also passed in 1535, making Henry supreme Head of the Church “immediately under God”. As a matter of law, Henry expressly denied the Pope’s authority. A writ affirming this and dated the following year can be found in Sir Adrian’s extant Missal. Tellingly, perhaps, it has with a line struck through it: apparent evidence of his disapproval. The die, it seems, was cast.

In February 1539, Sir Adrian was again arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. In the sitting of Parliament that Spring, a number of laws were passed in what has been described as the most servile Parliamentary session in history. Among the draconian laws enacted was a novel provision whereby a sentence of death might be passed without any trial of the accused. Under this procedure, no evidence was needed, neither could a defence be heard. Ironically, the architect of the law, Thomas Cromwell (then Lord Chancellor) was himself condemned by the same measure a year later leading to his own execution. This device was put to use on 11th May 1535 when a Bill of Attainder was passed condemning fifty people of High Treason who opposed Henry’s ecclesiastical policies. The names included Sir Adrian, Reginald Cardinal Pole, and the Countess of Salisbury.

Sir Adrian’s Book of Hours contains a Rule of Life written in his own hand, and giving an insight into the interior life of a man who exemplified holiness and virtue in his conduct. He led a life of asceticism and honour, trying to follow God’s will in all things and daily seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. His pursuit of God’s truth brought him to a martyr’s death on 8th July 1539 (but possibly 9th or 10th) when he was beheaded at Tower Hill. His servants were also killed for treason on the same day but were hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. As one later account neatly puts it, “Sir Adrian Fortescue died for his faith in Him whose acts Parliament was not competent to repeal”.

Pope Leo XII declared Adrian Fortescue blessed on 13th May 1895 and as a layman, he ranks among the great Dominicans as an outstanding example to all Christians.”

Prayer:

O God, since all things are within your power, grant through the prayers of blessed Adrian, your martyr, that we who keep his feast today may become stronger in the love of your name and hold to your holy Church even at the cost of our lives. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.(-from: The Missal with readings of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes, & of Malta, London 1997) The Order of St. John of Jerusalem, aka Knights Hospitaller, has advocated devotion to Blessed Adrian as a martyr since the 17th century.

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-Breast star of Knight of Grace of the Order of St John

Love,
Matthew, OP

Aug 8 – St Dominic’s Nine Ways of Prayer

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St Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers, to which I belong now joyfully as a layperson, having been a novice after college, but called by God to my current state, to serve Him in His plan, “left no writings on prayer, but the Dominican tradition has collected and handed down his living experience in a work called: ‘The Nine Ways of Prayer of St Dominic’… and each one — always before Jesus Crucified — expresses a deeply penetrating physical and spiritual approach that fosters recollection and zeal. The first seven ways follow an ascending order, like the steps on a path, toward intimate communion with God, with the Trinity…the last two positions… correspond to two of the Saint’s customary devotional practices. First, personal meditation…Then come his prayers while traveling from one convent to another. He would recite Lauds, Midday Prayer and Vespers with his companions, and, passing through the valleys and across the hills he would contemplate the beauty of creation. A hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God for his many gifts would well up from his heart, and above all for the greatest wonder: the redemptive work of Christ…St Dominic reminds us that prayer, personal contact with God is at the root of the witness to faith which every Christian must bear at home, at work, in social commitments and even in moments of relaxation; only this real relationship with God gives us the strength to live through every event with intensity, especially the moments of greatest anguish. This Saint also reminds us of the importance of physical positions in our prayer. Kneeling, standing before the Lord, fixing our gaze on the Crucifix, silent recollection — these are not of secondary importance but help us to put our whole selves inwardly in touch with God…the need, for our spiritual life, to find time everyday for quiet prayer; we must make this time for ourselves…to have a little time to talk with God. It will also be a way to help those who are close to us enter into the radiant light of God’s presence which brings the peace and love we all need.”Pope Benedict XVI, August 8, 2012

These ways of prayer were written by an anonymous author, possibly a Dominican friar, who had most probably received this information from a Sister Cecelia of the Monastery of St. Agnes at Bologna (who had personally received the habit from Saint Dominic) and other people who had known him personally.

The Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic presume a connection between the body and the soul, devotion and prayer. Each of the ways speaks to the importance of what is called “vocal” prayer. Such prayer goes beyond words that are said out loud. Bodily though it is, such prayer reaches for that true and total spiritual worship advocated by St. Paul in Romans 12:1-2. It takes up gestures of the body which move the soul with devotion so that the grace-filled and Holy Spirit imbued soul might move the body in true worship to make Christ-like sacrifices of love:

1. The bowing of one’s head and heart with humility at the beginning of prayer before the crucifix, at the altar, in the Name of the Trinity;
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2. The throwing down and prostrating of one’s whole body with tears of compunction for the sins of others when one can find no more tears for his own;
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3. The welcoming of all the physical difficulties and the patient endurance of all kinds of bodily discomforts during prayer as part of prayer itself, as a way of offering one’s body to God in praise;
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4. The fixating of one’s gaze on Christ crucified while kneeling and standing with bold petitions filled with confidence in the indescribable goodness of God and sober acceptance of one’s own weakness;
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5. The raising of one’s hands to heaven with eyes wide open in the ancient orans of the first Christians;
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6. The stretching out of one’s arms cruciform with a cry for help in heartbreaking situations;
St Dominic in prayer
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7. The standing strong with hands folded in prayer like an arrow shot into the heart of God;
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8. The sitting in holy reading and contemplation – that ancient practice of lectio divina; and
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9. The frequent quest for solitude in which one resists fantasies and evil thoughts like flies and prepares for spiritual battle against diabolical malice by the sign of the Cross.
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Love & prayer,
Matthew

Why Aquinas? How Aquinas? What Aquinas?

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-“Apotheosis of Saint Thomas Aquinas”, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1631, Museum of Fine Arts, Seville, Spain.

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-by Dr. Randall Smith, PhD, Dr. Smith is the Scanlan Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas.

“These are the times that try men’s souls. Some days it can seem as though, if it weren’t for bad news, we wouldn’t have any news at all. Brutal acts of terrorism, political correctness run rampant, and a horrible election between perhaps the two worst candidates in America. It’s times such as these when we have to return to the important things – the things that will last and provide a solid foundation on rock, rather than sand. Which is precisely why I’m taking this occasion not to comment on any of our current troubles and write instead about Thomas Aquinas.

I’m sometimes asked, “What should I read by Aquinas?” This question usually comes from a person who has almost no acquaintance with his thought or writing, except perhaps a cursory experience years ago with the so-called “Five Ways,” the five “proofs” for the existence of God. They know that Aquinas is important; some even know that he has been called “the Common Doctor of the Church.” Interested in nourishing their faith, they think: “I should read some Aquinas. But what?”

Like people who decide they should “read the Bible,” and then get a short way into Exodus or Numbers only to regret their decision – “Isn’t there some easier way of doing this?” (There is: go to daily Mass) – so too there are those who decide they should “read some Aquinas,” pick up his great Summa of Theology, and get about three questions in before giving up in despair. “Wow, this stuff is hard.” 🙂 Uh-huh.

Yes, you probably wouldn’t know it from most of your high school religion classes, but theology can in fact be hard. It can make your head hurt (Ed. it does!) like the hardest bit of chemistry or advanced physics. Thomas’s Summa was meant as a “beginner’s” text. Why so many teachers feel it’s necessary to “dumb down” theology when they would never consider “dumbing down” chemistry, biology, or physics, I’ll never know. But they do, and that’s where many people find themselves.

So let’s say you want some of the wisdom of St. Thomas, but you’re a little intimidated by the Summa. You’re not alone in this. What do you do?

Well, you could start with a good introduction, like G. K. Chesterton’s The Dumb Ox or Ralph McInerny’s delightful First Glance at Thomas Aquinas (A Handbook for Peeping Thomists). Or, if you like listening, you could go to the website of the International Catholic University and get Prof. McInerny’s lively “Introduction to Thomas Aquinas.”

But let’s say you want to get right to reading some Aquinas. This shows a good spirit on your part. Where do you begin? I have a suggestion. A good place to begin for someone who isn’t used to reading medieval disputed questions is to begin with any of Thomas’s “sermon-conferences” on the Apostle’s Creed, the Hail Mary, the Our Father, or the Ten Commandments. All of these were meant for an educated audience of non-specialists. They are not “dumbed down.” Thomas still challenges his listeners to think and think deeply. But they’re less technical than the Summa or Thomas’s commentaries on Aristotle.

Most of these texts have been published separately at one time or another. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little “trade secret.” If you want to find anything by Aquinas in English translation, go to the superb web site kept up by my former classmate, Dr. Thérèse Bonin: Thomas Aquinas in English: A Bibliography. It’s an invaluable resource.

But you can also buy all these treatises together in a volume entitled The Aquinas Catechism: A Simple Explanation of the Catholic Faith by the Church’s Greatest Theologian. Thomas didn’t actually set out to write a single “catechism,” so the title is a bit misleading. But it’s fair enough because the editors have brought together in this one volume Thomas’s commentaries on the Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Hail Mary, and the Our Father – to which they have added at the end some material on the sacraments.

Regarding this material on the sacraments, the reader should exercise some caution. Thomas wasn’t able to finish the Summa before he died at the relatively young age of 49. What was left unfinished at the time of his death, though, was the final section of the Summa on the sacraments. So what his students did – out of their love for their teacher – was “finish it off” with material they found in some of Thomas’s earliest writings: his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. A noble gesture, but this would be like “filling in” your teacher’s final book, his magnum opus, the fruit of a lifetime’s learning, with material from his doctoral dissertation. So it’s worth exercising some care.

When the news is bad, or just plain silly, as it is pretty much all the time these days, why not skip it? Listen to McInerny talk about Aquinas instead of listening to the evening news. Read Aquinas on the Apostle’s Creed rather than reading The New York Times. Less fretting over the news, and more reflecting on the Good News.

C.S. Lewis used to say he rarely read the news. If there was anything important that he could do something about, he trusted his friends would tell him. As for the rest, he thought the best response to those things he couldn’t do much about — horrible wars, people dying, government scandals — was to fast and pray. If you truly believe that God is the Lord of History, then often the most practical thing you can do is pray. And now while you’re praying the Hail Mary or the Our Father, you can say to yourself: “Didn’t I read somewhere that Thomas Aquinas wrote commentaries on these prayers?”

Yes you did.”

STA
-the St Thomas Aquinas, OP, statue I keep on my desk, always in sight, for inspiration. Patron saint of students, pray for us!

Love & Thomism,
Matthew

n.b. I have found “The Aquinas Catechism: A Simple Explanation of the Catholic Faith by the Church’s Greatest Theologian”, by St Thomas Aquinas/Ralph McInerny, very accessible. This is a collection of Lenten sermons by the Common Doctor given in 1273, the last year of his life.

Pope Francis to the Order of Preachers

Insigne_Francisci
-papal coat of arms of Pope Francis.

This year is a very special year for the Order, it’s 800th anniversary. The Master General of the Order is required, if physically possible, to visit each and every single Dominican community, and every individual, if possible, no matter where they are in the world during his term as Master General of the Order. He travels a lot. I had the privilege of meeting Fr Cadore Oct 29th 2014 @Blessed Sacrament Parish, Madison, WI as the Dominican community celebrated evening prayer with him. His guide in the US was a classmate of mine in novitiate, Fr (David) Dominic Izzo, OP, who was also provincial for Eastern Province, 2002-10, and Vicar for the Master General of the Order for Santa Sabina.

“Pope Francis has called on the Dominicans to rededicate themselves to their founder’s example and has urged them to testify to mercy. According to Vatican Radio, Pope Francis did this in a telegram to the Master General of the Order of Preachers – the Dominicans – who are currently holding the General Chapter of Priors Provincial in the central Italian city of Bologna.

In a telegram, Francis expressed his wish that all Dominicans find the spiritual wherewithal to rededicate themselves to the charism and legacy of St Dominic their Founder, who was, “a tireless apostle of grace and forgiveness, compassionate towards the poor and an ardent defender of truth.” The telegram was signed by Vatican Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, on the Pope’s behalf.

“Testify to mercy, professing it and embodying it in life,” the Argentine Pope encouraged, before calling on all Dominicans to be signs “of the nearness and tenderness of God, so that society might in this day rediscover the urgency of solidarity, love, and forgiveness.”

The General Chapter of Priors General is the second of three specific kinds of General Chapters, each being held at three-year intervals for a 9-year cycle that ends with the election of a new Master General. The sequence begins with General Chapter of delegates – called “diffinitors” in Dominican parlance; then the General Chapter of Priors Provincial; and then, the Elective General Chapter. This General Chapter of Priors Provincial is taking place in the context of the 800th anniversary of the confirmation of the Order under Pope Honorius III, and in the middle of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
***

Please find the full text of the English translation prepared by the Dominicans, below, provided by Vatican Radio:
R BRUNO CADORE, OP
MASTER GENERAL
ORDER OF PREACHERS
CONVENTO SANTA SABINA
PIAZZA PIETRO D’ILLIRIA, 1
00153 ROMA
ON THE OCCASION OF THE GENERAL CHAPTER OF THE PRIORS PROVINCIAL OF THE ORDER OF PREACHERS, TAKING PLACE IN BOLOGNA, IN THE CONTEXT OF THE EXTRAORDINARY JUBILEE YEAR OF MERCY AND OF THE EIGHT HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE CONFIRMATION OF THE ORDER BY POPE HONORIUS III, HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS, IN SENDING HIS CORDIAL AND GOOD WISHES, INVOKES THE GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, RECALLING THAT MERCY IS THE PILLAR THAT SUPPORTS THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH.

ALL OF ITS PASTORAL ACTION MUST BE EMBRACED BY TENDERNESS AND NOTHING OF ITS PROCLAMATION OR WITNESS BEFORE THE WORLD CAN BE WITHOUT MERCY. THE CREDIBILITY OF THE CHURCH COMES THROUGH THE PATH OF MERCIFUL AND COMPASSIONATE LOVE WHICH GIVES NEW LIFE AND THE COURAGE TO LOOK TO THE FUTURE WITH HOPE.

THE HOLY FATHER WISHES THAT ALL WHO FOLLOW THE CHARISM OF SAINT DOMINIC – TIRELESS APOSTLE OF GRACE AND FORGIVENESS, COMPASSIONATE TOWARDS THE POOR AND AN ARDENT DEFENDER OF TRUTH – SHOULD TESTIFY TO MERCY, PROFESSING IT AND EMBODYING IT IN LIFE, AND SHOULD BE SIGNS OF THE NEARNESS AND TENDERNESS OF GOD, SO THAT SOCIETY TODAY MIGHT REDISCOVER THE URGENCY OF SOLIDARITY, LOVE AND FORGIVENESS.

WHILE REQUESTING YOUR PRAYERS TO SUPPORT HIS PETRINE MINISTRY, HE, THROUGH THE INTERCESSION OF OUR LADY OF THE ROSARY AND OF ALL THE SAINTS OF THE DOMINICAN FAMILY, IMPARTS TO YOU, AS WELL AS TO ALL THE CAPITULAR FRIARS, THE REQUESTED APOSTOLIC BLESSING, EXTENDING IT GLADLY TO THE ENTIRE ORDER.

FROM THE VATICAN, 15 JULY 2016

CARDINAL PIETRO PAROLIN

SECRETARY OF STATE OF THE HOLY FATHER

“Zeal must be met by zeal, humility by humility, false sanctity by real sanctity, preaching falsehood by preaching Truth.” – St Dominic

Love,
Matthew

More Dominican answers

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-more Eastern Province Dominicans who reside at the House of Studies, Wash, DC, please click on image for greater detail.

ccpecknold
-by C.C. Pecknoldassociate professor of systematic theology at Catholic University of America.

“Recently I attended a seminar on religious liberty at Villanova School of Law. I wanted to learn how the law could help protect the Church as we advance into increasingly difficult cultural waters. Instead, the legal eagles offered a much more pessimistic prognosis: legal protections are eroding fast, and law follows culture, so don’t count on the law to protect the Church for long. While I did not walk away entirely hopeless about what the law can do to protect the Church, it did heighten my sense that we are rapidly running out of options. Christians can no longer rely on a cultural consensus and its legal expression in favor of religious belief, especially religious belief that insists on having a place in the public square. After meeting with the lawyers, I had to ask: Now what?

I thought about this question when reading Dale Coulter and Bianca Czaderna’s responses to my “The Dominican Option.” For a number of years I have followed Alasdair MacIntyre and his famous call for “a very different St. Benedict.” As a result, I have often heard MacIntyre’s vision described as “an ethic of withdrawal.” It’s an old canard. It’s not true. But there you have it. I’ve heard it over and over again, not only about the Catholic MacIntyre, but also about Lutherans like George Lindbeck, who embraced a “sociologically sectarian” view of Christian community, and most frequently about the Methodist Stanley Hauerwas. To get beyond these tired disputes about withdrawal and cultural engagement, I proposed the ancient Vita Mixta that St. Augustine recommended: evangelistic witness flowing from cloistered monastic formation. Perhaps the most controversial thing about this was that I suggested that the Dominicans offer us the most visible image of this mixed pattern today.

Dale Coulter responded that the “Options for Cultural Engagement” were much wider than the Benedictine or Dominican options allowed, and he rightly pointed to the diversity of the Body of Christ. Building on Coulter’s critique, Bianca Czaderna argued that there were “Lots of Options,” so many options that even to suggest one “paradigmatic example” was a useless and invidious enterprise. These critiques would have been spot-on if I had argued that the Dominicans provide the one way of being the Body of Christ in the world. But I did not make such a claim. My point in arguing for the Dominican Option was not to pit religious orders against one another, but to raise up a visible model to help us to think about how lay Christians (Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic) can meet the new challenges for Christian witness in America by committing ourselves to a more intensive formation ordered to the conversion of souls that make up American culture.

Christians do indeed have “lots of options” for living as the Body of Christ. But the culture is giving us a rather different set of options: accommodate or it’ll cost you. Our current legal-cultural regime is effectively saying: “Those are nice stained windows you have there; It’d be a shame if anything happened to them.” That threat is a prelude to a cultural concordat, and many Christians will be all too eager to be accommodating in order to be accepted.

Our families are going to need to live according to a rule if we are to endure—very much as religious orders do—with daily habits of prayer, confession, adoration, ingesting the Scriptures, emulating the great saints, learning to think with the doctors of the Church. We will need to find ourselves more habitually engaged in works of charity and mercy, corporal and spiritual. The words of St. Catherine of Siena OP come to mind: “If you are what you should be, you will set all of Italy (the world) ablaze.”

The Dominican Option is meant to challenge us to double down on communal formation, and double up on our missionary endeavor. It’s precisely this mixed pattern of life that must be wholly devoted to forming saints, and must also preach in the public square, in word and deed, about the charity and truth which lead souls to Christ. That’s really our only option.”

Love,
Matthew

Dominican answers

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Eastern Province Dominicans who reside at the House of Studies, Wash, DC, please click on image for greater detail.

ccpecknold
-by C. C. Pecknold, associate professor of systematic theology at Catholic University of America.

“There’s been a long conversation in America about the degree to which Catholic Christianity is compatible with liberalism. From the beginning of the American founding, bishops and theologians claimed that for all the flaws of liberal political philosophy, the American founders “built better than they knew.” And yet Pope Leo XIII could warn Cardinal Gibbons to avoid the errors of an “Americanism,” which would distort the teaching of the Church on the proper relationship between politics and the church.

First Things’s default position derives from this “built better” argument. Yet the incompatibility side has always been there as well, and now is coming to the fore. The cultural and political landscape has changed. If the “built-better” argument made sense for nearly two centuries, it has become clear that evidence in its favor is currently in short supply. Without necessarily saying that the “built-better” argument is always wrong, we need to face up to the growing discord between Catholic Christianity and the new world liberalism that is building in America.

What is to be done about this discord? I have always been drawn to Alasdair MacIntyre’s prediction that we need “a new, doubtless very different Saint Benedict” that enables the great Christian tradition to be passed on, preserving the seeds for a new civilization to emerge after the moral poverty of today’s liberalism leads us into dark, chaotic valleys. Rod Dreher has popularized MacIntyre by formulating this hope as the Benedict Option. It refers to our need for small communities of virtue, a new localist movement, and a return to the land or the place of one’s birth. The Benedict Option means cultivating a new counterculture that can resist the barbarian onslaught.

On one level, the Benedict Option is deeply attractive. Its greatest strength is that it sees that Christians need to attend to their communal formation as a whole. It is not enough to simply go to church on Sundays, for the religion of lifestyle liberalism is working on us the rest of the week. Rather, we need an all-embracing form of life coordinated and ordered to the love of God and neighbor. We can look to the very real Christian witness of cloistered, vowed religious life and say, “see, it can be done.” That should give all of us enormous hope.

On another level, however, “the Benedict Option” has a serious flaw. It can be summed up in one word withdrawal. Neither MacIntyre nor Dreher have intended anything like withdrawal from the common good, or even from a commitment to political institutions. But I must confess that the image of withdrawal is powerfully associated with the Benedictine monastery, and so appeals to the Benedict Option miss something.

Better, therefore, to speak of the Dominican Option. When I see them in the white habits at prayer, or giving lectures, or playing guitars and banjos on the subway, I have a plausible image of a “contrast society” that is very much engaged with the world—an evangelistic witness which is joyful, intellectually serious, expansive, and charitable.

St. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers after a long contemplative season which, in the words of one biographer “burst into flame” when he encountered Albigensians (ancient Manichean dualists) on travels through southern France. Dominic stayed up all night arguing with one Albigensian, and by morning the man turned away from his heresy and turned towards the Catholic faith. Dominic’s missionary zeal flowed directly out of cloistered contemplation, but it convinced him of the need for a new evangelistic order.

Dominic told his men to go into the world without fear. They should study, they should pray, and they should preach. His Order harmonized the life of a contemplative with the activity of an evangelist. This meant intellectual training. One only needs to think of St. Thomas Aquinas at the University of Paris to understand the impact this had. Dominicans studied other languages, and other religions, in order to preach more effectively. Aquinas himself wrote the Summa Contra Gentiles precisely to assist the brothers’ preaching to Muslims.

This is what we need today as well: the right pattern of formation and evangelistic witness. Not every Christian will be a Dominican, of course. But we all have something fundamental to learn from the Dominican pattern of life.”

Love,
Matthew