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Liam G. Walsh, OP

Presented at a meeting of the International Commissions of the Dominican Order, Prouilhe, France, April, 2006 celebrating the coming 800th anniversary of the foundations of the Order.

1. Flame, fire, torch, light - they are images we use for what Dominic is for us. For us. Who and what is this ‘us’? Who are the ‘we’ that Dominic is ‘for’, what are ‘we’? Dominicans, indeed. But we can only be Dominicans because first we are Church. It is as lumen ecclesiae, not lumen ordinis that we salute Dominic day after day. It was in being ‘light of the Church’ that he became and is light, torch, flame, fire for us for whom he is elder brother and founding father. His passion was to bring light to the Church. It was to make that light shine and continue shining that he gathered sisters and brothers around him and made them Preachers. And, of course, the Church is light, not for itself but for the world. The light that Dominic made to burn more brightly in the Church is the light that makes it be lumen gentium.

2. The Church. Lumen gentium. What is it, where is it, who is it? What does it mean to us that we are of, that we are in, that, indeed, we simply are the Church? If that question is in our hearts and on our lips today it was no less surely in the heart and on the lips of Dominic as, eight hundred years ago, he walked these roads of Languedoc where we walk today. What grew out of his contemplation as he walked those ways, and what became the active driving vision enlightening everything he did in the fifteen years of life that remained to him? I believe it was an understanding of the light that should burn in the Church, a light that the Church should be if it was to be the light of the world. It was what made Dominic first join the sacra praedicatio that already existed, then take charge of it, then re-model it and make it the paradigm for a complex network of institutions that now forms the family of sisters and brothers who serve the ‘holy preaching’ in the Church of today and call themselves Order of Preachers, Dominicans. Dominic lived that vision himself and bound others together to live it. It was what made him lumen ecclesiae, and be the flame that we want to take fire from, so that we collectively, in our day, can be lumen ecclesiae.

The Ecclesiology of Dominic

3. What I want to do, sisters and brothers, is to invite you to try to enter into the ecclesiology of Dominic as it is manifested in the things he did during those fifteen years. I am asking you to try to imagine for yourselves how he would have thought about the Church and how that understanding of the Church is expressed in the things he did to promote ‘holy preaching’ in the Church. Let us try to enter into Dominic’s ecclesiology. It might well be the deepest source of the light, the flame, the fire that we want to bring to the world today by our preaching.

4. It is, of course, something of an anachronism to speak of the ecclesiology of Dominic, and to speak about it in a way that contrasts it with other models of ecclesiology that can be used to think about the Church. Ecclesiology as a theological subject did not come to exist until some centuries after Dominic. But he had an ecclesiology, even if he did not call it that. He had a theological understanding of the Church. He had it, as Thomas will have it after him, within a theology that was about God before it was about Popes and prelates and power. It was part of his understanding of the God who gathers all his children to himself in Christ and the Spirit. It was an understanding of how his parents Jane and Felix were, by living the Christian life, more foundational in the Church than his priest uncle. It was an understanding of how the evangelical life-style adopted by his bishop Diego was more important than his episcopal authority. At the same time it was distinguished from other charismatic ecclesiologies that were appearing in the world of Dominic’s day in that it gave an integral and necessary place to Popes, Bishops and priests and to their authority in the preaching of the Gospel and the ministry of sacraments.

5. So let us try to imagine Dominic’s ecclesiology. He first encountered the Church in his home in Caleruega, at home with Jane and Felix his parents, and with his brothers Antonio and Mannes. He belonged to, grew up in the primary lay reality of the Church, with its domestic and social ministries. He encountered other ministries of the Church, the ordained ones, in the parish church where he was baptized and took part in the Eucharist. He encountered the teaching Church with his priest uncle who educated him and at the university of Palencia where he studied. It is recorded that during those years at Palencia he encountered the reality of the Church in a profound way, that would prepare him for more dramatic encounters of the same kind in later life. He came upon a woman who, not having the social and economic resources that sheltered Dominic from the famine and pestilence that was devastating the city, was poor and hungry. The Church appeared to Dominic in the movement of the Spirit that made him sell his books to be able to draw that excluded, abandoned person into the bonds of love and care. Such acts of care for the poor were the foundational acts that Jesus used to gather disciples to himself, and to make those bonds be the core reality of the reign of God, the living heart of the Church. Dominic experienced the Church as the gathering in of those who, for whatever reason, were needy and lost. The Church would always be for him the gathering-place of those who were otherwise excluded. Words, and the books they came out of, would never work without the gathering in of the outsider and the sinner by acts of mercy and love.

Learning about the Church in Languedoc

6. The calm, structured stable life of service as a canon of the cathedral of Osma gave Dominic another view of the Church that would help him to decide about the institutional form the preaching should take when he came to live through the defining experience of Church that awaited him in Languedoc. What was new to Dominic in Languedoc was not the Church as a canonically structured reality. All of that he knew from previous experience. The Church that he came to know there was the Church faced with the excluded. There were so many being excluded. They were called heretics, which is the Church’s canonical name for those who are separated, cut off from its communion. How they had come to be separated, and were continuing to be separated, Dominic would have to learn by slow stages. But what tore at his heart was that here was a Church that was not gathering all God’s children together in love and truth. When Dominic prayed My God, my mercy, what will become of sinners’, he was praying for the Church. The Church is the community of salvation in which sinners become saints. Sinners belong. The Church gathers them to its table, as Jesus did. If t is not opening its doors to the excluded it is failing as Church. It might judge that they are excluded by their own fault. But if it believes in the saving power of Christ, it has to believe that it has within itself the resources to overcome all sin and to draw people, willing and unwilling, into the community of salvation. It has a word of reconciliation that it can never stop speaking. If it does not itself have faith in the power of that word - if it stops talking to people who are on the margins, or if its only word for them is a word of condemnation - it is failing as Church. To borrow from an image that was common at the time of Dominic, and that was used to describe his own vocation, it would become a dog that was unable to bark. A dog without a bark cannot frighten away the wolves; but more importantly it is useless for rounding up the flock and keeping it together. In Languedoc Dominic began to learn about how the Church can fail to gather the straying sheep and give everyone their place in the flock.

7. The steps taken by Bishop Diego and his Canon Dominic show what they were coming to learn about the Church. The records of those years show us an ecclesiology in action. It was a new ecclesiology, or rather a renewed ecclesiology, because it was something that had been there from the beginnings of the Church. This ecclesiology is one of the things that should interest us most about Dominic. It is something that must be operative in the way we live out and structure our preaching mission as Dominicans among the present-day Cathars and Cumans and plain Christians who form the world to which we are sent as preachers.

8. We know that what Diego and Dominic espoused was the vita apostolica, the way of life that Jesus prescribed for his disciples of the apostolic age when he sent them out to preach (Matt 10:5-42) and that we find described in the Acts of the Apostles, especially in passages such as 2:43-47 and 4:32-37. The feature of it that stood out most strongly in the choices of Diego and Dominic was its poverty. Poverty is a profound spiritual value for all Christians. It is a school of that detachment that opens the human spirit to the possession of God. It is a school of how Christians are meant to depend on one another for the needs of this life. As Dominic came to experience poverty, it was all that - and it was more than that. It was an apostolic strategy, a way of making the Church and its preaching be more truly apostolic. When those who preached had nothing - nothing that they would be inclined to defend and protect as their own - they would be keeping open house. No one, no publicans or sinners, no heretics, no prostitutes would be automatically excluded from their table. They were empty-handed with the empty-handed. Or rather, what they had belonged to everyone. Dominic would again be seeing the face of the poor, famished woman of Palencia in the faces of all the other excluded ones he came across in the Lauragais. The option for poverty and the option for the poor was something far deeper than a moral choice for Dominic. It was a revelation to him of the true face of the Church and of preaching.

9. In the vita apostolica Diego and Dominic were also re-discovering the truth about their own apostolic ministry. They espoused the vita apostolica, the one as a bishop, the other as a presbyter. The apostolic community that Jesus gathered was, like Israel of old, structured under twelve heads, and one of the twelve, Peter, was head of their group. The first Christian community was gathered together in ‘the doctrine of the Apostles’. Diego and Dominic never called into question their role as men who continued that apostolic ministry in the Church. Others of their day pursued the restoration of the vita apostolica in a way that gave little or no place to that apostolic ministry. Lay preachers and some clerics, exasperated with the failures of their priests and bishops, had gone ahead with their preaching with little or no reference to the ministerial structures of the Church. From his days with Bishop Diego, on through his days with Bishop Fulk in Toulouse, and in his reliance on Popes Innocent and Honorius, Dominic worked within the apostolically grounded structures of the Church. Papal legates and papal mandates, Bishops and their authority, canonical mandate to preach, ordained ministry to absolve and celebrate the Eucharist - all continue to figure in his project and practice. He respected not only the structures themselves that claimed their origin from the Scriptures but the canonical prescriptions that had been developed in the Church to articulate those structures. He respected canonical arrangements and conventions, including those that regulated preaching. But he also saw their limits and ambiguities. There were things in them that could claim Gospel grounding. But there were other things in them that were making the excluded feel even more excluded - and so were hampering the inclusiveness of the Gospel.

10. What Diego and Dominic proceeded to do in Languedoc was not a frontal assault on these ambiguous canonical structures. In many ways they continued to work within them. But what they initiated began to have the effect of little by little freeing preaching from things that were inhibiting its apostolic energy. A movement was begun which led in time to the replacement of measures that were proving restrictive by new canonical arrangements that provided the Church with more expansive ways of structuring its preaching.

Preaching and Proulihe

11. Barbara has told us about the first and crucial phase of that process. She has told us about how the sacra praedicatio developed around Prouilhe. Let me remind you of some of its features and suggest how they might be taken to embody what I have been saying to you about Dominic’s ecclesiology.

12. Without abandoning its reference to the still existing papal mandate that authorised the sacra praedicatio, and with regular reference to Bishop Fulk of Toulouse, the preaching became less geo-political and more dedicated to building up local churches in a limited geographical area. It addressed itself to the towns and villages and countryside of the Lauragais. This made it more genuinely ecclesial and freed it from geo-political compromises that would have threatened its inclusiveness. The sacra praedicatio under the direction of Dominic had, as far as we know, nothing to do with the crusade of Simon de Montfort.

13. The preaching found a centre that was not dictated by the canonical geography of the area. It was not in Carcassonne, where Dominic was at one time a Vicar in spiritualibus for the diocese, nor in Fanjeaux where Dominic was parish priest, but in Prouilhe. This was a place of no great ecclesiastical consequence. There was indeed a chapel there. But what made it the centre of the sacra praedicatio was that it was the place where Diego and Dominic had gathered a community of women. These women had been excluded persons - heretics themselves or from heretical families - who had been drawn into and given a home in God’s Church. They formed a new Church community. They were, in one sense, fruit of the preaching, as every Christian community is. But in another sense they were the preaching. They lived the vita apostolica in a determined way. They provided a setting and an atmosphere in which others could live it. The men who went out to speak the word came back to the home that this community of women was creating in Prouilhe, and from there they went out again. Those preachers gained effectiveness from the fact that they could claim identity with that community of women who formed the base of their preaching. It would let the heretics know that the life of asceticism and prayer which they prized in their own leaders was being lived in a stable manner by Church people. It would let them know too that, when they converted, there was a home for them in the Church.

14. What was coming into existence at Prouilhe became institutionalised, gathered into the structures of the Church. It was an institution that was made up of distinctive groups. There was the community of religious women. There were lay men and women who sold what they had and gave themselves and their possessions to Prouilhe. By doing so they became integrated in the sacra praedicatio. And there were the clerics. Clerics were men who had made some commitment to service in the Church, had embraced a way of life and received an education that would make them suitable candidates for ordained ministry. When they were actually ordained they could become parish priests or canons living in some form of community life. The clerics who formed part of the community gathered in Prouilhe – maybe no more than one other with Dominic – both ministered to their own community, and went out from it to preach the Gospel in the surrounding towns, villages and countryside. With this arrangement the sacra praedicatio was being given a new face and the a new voice. The clerics, like the Apostles in Jerusalem, were able to give themselves to ‘the word and to prayer’. Their word could be an apostolic word for a number of reasons: firstly because they were part of an apostolic community, that was, in all its members, living the vita apostolica; secondly, because they had the theological education that helped them to know the ‘doctrine of the Apostles’; thirdly because they had a canonical mandate to preach; and fourthly, because, as ordained priests, they were able to gather the excluded ones back into the Church through the reconciling word of the sacrament of Penance and the celebration of eucharistic communion. The originality - and it was not really originality because it was a recovery of what was lived by the first Jerusalem community - was that the spoken word of preaching and the canonical legitimacy that it enjoyed was being done from within a full ecclesial community that was made up of men and women, contemplatives and actives, ordained and lay, clerically educated and uneducated. Because it was modelled on the Jerusalem community it held within itself a power to preach the Gospel, not just to the Lauragais but eventually to the whole wide world.

15. Ecclesiologically speaking, Dominic was discovering what preaching is. Dominic did not invent preaching; he discovered it. At Prouilhe he was discovering a truth that parallels a more familiar ecclesiological truth, one that is centred on the Eucharist. The traditions say that the Eucharist makes the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist. Dominic was discovering that preaching makes the Church and the Church makes preaching. He was discovering that preaching done according to the Gospel gathers together the scattered children of God into the Church. He was coming to see the mystery that had already been at work in his own gathering into the bonds of charity and truth of the poor woman of Palencia, of the innkeeper of Toulouse, of the Cathars of Montreal and of the other towns and countryside around Prouilhe. Dominic was discovering that the Church that preaching makes is an inclusive Church. And he was, at the same time, discovering that the Church that makes preaching is the inclusive Church. The Church that preaches, he was coming to realize, is the whole Church, in all its members and in all its gifts. It is the Church that is made up of all those who live according to the Gospel and rejoice and pray together in the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is the Church that is united in its belief in the doctrine of the Apostles. It is the Church of women and men, of the baptised and the ordained, of the monastery and of the world. It is the Church in which some go out to speak the word and others stay at home to serve at table. It is the Church that, in the diversity of its members, does miracles of healing and manifold works of mercy. What Dominic came to see was a Church that was not just doing the preaching of the Gospel, but actually was the preaching of the Gospel. The Church was the sacra praedicatio and the sacra praedicatio was the Church.

16. Obviously those who went out to speak the word and to engage in debate with the heretics had a special role in that Church and were being called preachers in a particular sense. Those who spoke the word were qualified for their task on several scores. Firstly, they lived the vita apostolica, and in this they were no different from their sisters and brothers with whom they lived in Prouilhe. Secondly they had some theological education, to which they had access because they were clerics. Thirdly, they had a mandate from Church authorities, specifically from the papal legate but also from the local bishop, to speak in the name of the Church. Fourthly, some of them at least were ordained priests and so were able to absolve sinners sacramentally and gather them in the celebration of the Eucharist. These qualifications distinguished them from others who belonged to the sacra praedicatio. But it did not separate them into a distinct class. They belonged together with these other men and women in an apostolic fellowship. Their preaching could be inclusive in the sense of gathering in the scattered and alienated children of God because the community out of which they preached was itself inclusive. Theologically speaking, it was the inclusive relationship between the groups making up the sacra praedicatio that made their preaching be fully ecclesial.

17. It was also that fellowship in the vita apostolica that gave a particular quality to the doctrinal component of their preaching. The preaching of Dominic and his companions had to be a teaching of doctrine, because one of the things that alienated heretics most from the Church was wrong thinking about the faith. People’s thinking about the Gospel was distorted by the false philosophical and religious presuppositions of Catharism. Dominic was a theologian. He made theological debate be a plank of his preaching. However, his success as a preacher was not just a matter of winning theological debates. It was because he and his companions were actually living the Gospel that his thinking and teaching about the Gospel converted people. It was accepted in those days that lay men and women who lived the apostolic life could preach conversion’. But they were not supposed to preach the doctrine of faith. Doctrine was to be the business of clerics. It seems to me that Dominic accepted that distinction of forms of preaching but broke through the separation of roles that it was thought to require in those days. His preachers of doctrine would live the apostolic life and bring the converting power of that way of life to their teaching words. And sooner or later the preaching of conversion that all the members of the sacra praedicatio were doing would take on a theological quality that would make it also be teaching. If there were to be differences in the balance between call to conversion and call to understanding in the work of individual preachers, it would be based on something other than the fact that they were men or women, cleric or lay. It would be based mostly on their theological education.

From Toulouse to Rome and Back

18. By 1215 Dominic had left Prouilhe for Toulouse. He did so, it seems, at the behest of the Papal Legate responsible for the preaching against heretics in the Midi, and of Fulk, the Bishop of Toulouse. It appears that Fulk wanted Dominic to set up, at the centre of the diocese, the kind of preaching community that he had developed so successfully in Prouilhe for the benefit of the Lauragais. Dominic brought his ecclesiological vision with him and Fulk does not seem to have put obstacles in his way. He did not force Dominic into the clerical structures of the capital. He did not, for example, try to make him a canon of his cathedral. Dominic, in fact, found also in Toulouse the kind of support he had got from the lay people who had donated their goods to the praedicatio in Prouilhe. Pierre Seilhan, gave him a non-ecclesiastical house in a street of the city. The men preachers were housed there and formed a community around Dominic. There is evidence that Dominic immediately set about gathering a community of women in the city, and there are hints that the core of that community would have been a group of excluded ones - converted prostitutes. This is perfectly in keeping with the inclusive conception of Church and of Church preaching that he had come to believe in in Prouilhe.

19. There are historical uncertainties about the next step taken by Dominic. Within a year of arriving in Toulouse he set out for Rome, accompanying Bishop Fulk. In Rome he was presented once again, this time presumably in the company of Bishop Fulk, to the great Pope Innocent Ill. What were the respective roles of the Pope, of the Bishop and of Dominic in this meeting? What was the significance of its outcome? One of the outcomes that historians assure us of is that Dominic went back to Toulouse and, with the support of Fulk, proceeded to organise a group of his male companions into a canonical religious community. When he went back to Rome the following year (1216) he sought approval of that canonical foundation. Opinions have varied about how that request was related to any project that Dominic might have originally presented to Innocent Ill in 1215. They range from the view that Dominic had gone to Rome by his own choice to ask for confirmation of ‘his Order of Friars Preachers’, to the view that what he and Fulk put before the Pope was the full reality of the preaching that Dominic had been doing in the Lauragais, and was hopefully beginning to do again in Toulouse. In the first hypothesis the return to Toulouse, the choice of the Rule of St Augustine, and other canonical arrangements agreed on, would simply have been the tidying up of details for a project already agreed in substance. In its most extreme the second hypothesis would see Dominic going back to Toulouse ‘with a flea in his ear’, forced to settle for a much more conventional form of organisation of the preaching than he had proposed.

20. I am not in any position to make a judgement about these competing historical hypotheses. What I do propose to do, however, is to reflect theologically, in the light of what I have called the ecclesiology of Dominic, on the pieces of evidence that are available. It seems to be not unreasonable to propose that in Toulouse, Dominic would have continued to act out of the ecclesiological vision of preaching that he had put into practice in Prouilhe. It seems reasonable to propose that this ecclesiology would have marked his dealings with Popes Innocent III and Honorius III. It seems reasonable to interpret his actions as a religious founder in the light of that ecclesiology.

21. And perhaps this is not entirely irrelevant to the historical issue. I would venture to suggest that those who write the history of Dominican origins have never been entirely free of the influence of ecclesiological presuppositions. If one’s view of the Church convinces one that certain things cannot be done then no amount of historical evidence will convince one that Dominic actually wanted to do them. When a historian assumes, for example, that the Church is so constituted that only male, ordained clerics can preach, and if one is convinced that an ‘order’ in the Church can only mean a homogeneous community of people united under one superior, then he or she will readily assume that to found an Order of Preachers is to found a clerical religious order of men. But if one has an ecclesiology that sees preaching as a function of the whole Church, in which all the members of God’s prophetic people can have a part, one may be prepared to interpret what Dominic did somewhat differently. And if one thinks that an ‘order’ in the Church can be conceived, not primarily as a juridical structure, but as a communion of different people in a common task, one may interpret Dominic’s actions accordingly. My thesis is that in order to interpret Dominic’s actions in founding the Order one needs to try to enter into the ecclesiological vision that his activities around Prouilhe seem to manifest. And I will be then wanting to say that if one wants to make proposals for how the Order should develop today, one cannot do better than try to make that ecclesiological vision one’s own and try to make it live again among Dominicans.

22. What I have been suggesting up to now is that in his Prouilhe years Dominic was developing an ecclesiological vision that was much closer to the kind of biblical and patristic ecclesiology that has been recovered for us by Vatican I than to the post-Reformation ecclesiology that dominated Catholic thinking until the first half of the twentieth century. It is in the light of that hypothesis that I want to look now at some of the evidence of what Dominic actually did from the time he went to Toulouse, in 1215, (or maybe at the end of 1214 according to Vicaire) until his death.

Setting Up an Order of Preachers

23. When Dominic and his first companions set up house in Toulouse they did not do so in an ecclesiastical building but in a ‘secular’ house donated to them by the Seilhan brothers. It is not clear to me what relationship these brothers had to the diocesan clergy of Toulouse. Dominic and his companions were certainly not being integrated in that clergy. They wanted to be something different, They were not at first attached to any church and seemingly had to go out to the nearby chapel of Saint Romain for Mass and perhaps even for the canonical offices. It was after Fulk and Dominic came back from seeing Innocent Ill in Rome that Dominic was given the church of S. Romain, and Dominic can be described in the first bull of foundation from Honorius III as ‘Prior of S. Romain’. Why was one of the first things that Dominic tried to do when he got to Toulouse the setting up of a community of women? it is not unreasonable to think that it came from his conviction that the purest sign of Gospel preaching is that it reaches out to the excluded and draws them into the communion of reconciliation and mercy that is the real Church. But was Dominic’s concern just for the salvation of these women, or had it also something to do with recognizing they had a role in the preaching? It had been that for the women in Prouilhe. It would be that for the women in Bologna, for whom Dominic would want a monastery built before a priory could be built for the brothers.
24. When Dominic came back from Rome early in 1216 he immediately undertook the task of forming the brothers who lived with him in the house of Peter Seilhan into a canonically structured community of religious life. It is tempting to conclude that this is what he had gone to Rome to have approved, and that what he had learned there was simply the terms on which it would be approved. This, however, attributes to Dominic an ecclesiology that does not seem to square with the thinking about the Church and its preaching that Dominic had developed in his Prouilhe days. Can one not reasonably claim that it was this vision and this understanding of preaching that Dominic took with him to Rome. His vision was primarily about praedicatio, and with praedicatores only in function of the way he understood praedicatio. If I am right about his ecclesiology he must have thought that, while preaching certainly required the action of men who were clerics and ordained priests, it required something more than a religious community of such men in order to be fully a Church preaching. If that is true, one cannot reduce his charism as founder to creating a clerical religious order of men.
25. Dominic was a man who respected the structures of apostolic ministry in the Church. He further respected the need for these structures to be given canonical shape. Could it not be that what emerged from his conversations with Pope Innocent was that the praedicatio as envisaged by Dominic needed to be structured according to the canons. The canons would require that the different groups who formed the praedicatio would be organised in appropriate ways. In that hypothesis, what Dominic did was to go back to Toulouse with the intention of giving canonical status to the different groups who made up the praedicatio, and also to the relations that existed between them. We know most about the way he organised the brothers who gathered around him in Toulouse. They were clerics, and at least some of them were ordained priests. But then, or at least soon after, they also included conversi, that is to say, men who made profession in the community of preachers without becoming clerics or being ordained. The ordo praedicatorum envisaged by Dominic began to come into being canonically when these men of the preaching were organised as a canonical religious order.
Ecclesiology and Legislating for an Order of Preachers
26. Some ecclesiological reflection can help one to understand the significance of these canonical step that Dominic was taking One of the issues in any ecclesiology has to deal with is the way the canonical structures of the Church are related to its deeper reality. The purpose of the canons, as of any law, is to serve the common good. It is to support community and communion between people. It is to make all the members of the community be and be seen to be included. However, what brings about communion among Christians - the communion that forms the Church - is not law but the grace of the Holy Spirit. Any laws that are adopted have to minister to that inner principle of communion. Within forty years of the death of Dominic, his brother Thomas, writing out of the movement of Gospel recovery that he had embraced in becoming a Dominican, would theorize brilliantly about this whole question of law and the Gospel. He would say that the New Law of the Gospel is the interior grace of the Holy Spirit, not a written code:
Now that which is preponderant in the law of the New Testament, and whereon all its efficacy is based, is the grace of the Holy Ghost, which is given through faith in Christ. Consequently the New Law is chiefly the grace itself of the Holy Ghost, which is given to those who believe in Christ. This is manifestly stated by the Apostle who says ... (Romans 8:2): “The law of the spirit of life, in Christ Jesus, hath delivered me from the law of sin and of death.” Nevertheless the New Law contains certain things that dispose us to receive the grace of the Holy Ghost, and pertaining to the use of that grace: such things are of secondary importance, so to speak, in the New Law; and the faithful need to be instructed concerning them, both by word and writing, both as to what they should believe and as to what they should do. Consequently we must say that the New Law is in the first place a law that is inscribed on our hearts, but that secondarily it is a written law. (la-llae, q.106, a. 1)

27. The way Dominic acted seems to me to indicate he had a clear understanding of this relationship between canonical prescriptions and the Gospel of grace. The grace of the Holy Spirit first began to take canonical shape in the apostolic community of Jerusalem. There are canons that have their origin, in one way or another in that apostolic community: they express the Spirit-given apostolic structure of the Church of Christ, and as such are always maintained in the Church. At the other end of the spectrum of legality, there are canons that are particular, dated, local prescriptions that can and should be easily and frequently changed. But then there are also canons that lie somewhere between these two extremes, prescribing things that are more or less close to the divinely-given foundations of the Church, but that also have something of the human, the temporal and therefore the changeable in them. These are the ones in which the grace of the Holy Spirit has to be discerned most delicately.

28. Dominic can never have wanted to do any canonical re-arrangement in favour of preaching that would interfere with the divinely-given bonds of communion that made the Church be the Church of Christ - the practice and profession of the true faith, proper participation in the Eucharist, ordained ministry and the interplay of apostolic authority and obedience. His ecclesiology was, indeed, a bringing to light of features of the Church that would surprise many of his contemporaries. But there is no evidence that anything he did called into question the profound values that the canons were meant to protect. For all the de-clericalizing of the Church that he did, he never acted in a way that would undermine the distinction between the baptised and the ordained. There is no evidence that he ever wanted to preach a Gospel message that could be set over against a doctrine that had developed in the Church and was sanctioned by its magisterium; that he ever opposed a charismatic freedom of prayer to the sacramental and liturgical prayer of the Church; that he ever opposed a free, Gospel-centred vagrant way of life to canonically regulated religious life. And, most significantly of all, he never, to my knowledge, opposed the preaching of mercy and conversion to the preaching of doctrine. Nor did he ever oppose a preaching that would draw its power from Gospel living and Gospel mercy to a preaching that would depend for its power on canonical mandate.

29. But I believe there is good reason to think that Dominic was coming to realize that at least some of the current canonical prescriptions and conventions that were taken to express and support these fundamental values were unfruitful for preaching. They were turning distinctions that had to be made into separations and oppositions that were impeding rather than helping the Church to be a full preaching of the Gospel. If they were doing that, they could not be thought to belong to the divine, immutable nature of the Church. There were canons that supported the status of the ordained that had the effect of leaving little or no place for the non- ordained; there were procedures that protected orthodoxy but left little room for Gospel-centred renewal of the faith; there were regulations that promoted the respectability of clerical life but enforced clerical privilege at the expense of lay gifts; there were laws that ensured the dignity of liturgical celebration but cramped the spirit of prayer; there was a clerical culture that all but eliminated the space that belongs to women in the Church’s life and ministry. The conventional ecclesiology of Dominic’s time might have claimed these canons and conventions expressed things that belonged to the divine nature of the Church. But Dominic’s own ecclesiology of preaching was calling many of them into question. His vision of preaching, and therefore of the Church, was bringing together the ordained and the non-ordained, those living the clerical and religious ways of life with secular lay people, women with men. It was cultivating a life of prayer that could take highly individual and creative forms while being centred on the Church’s liturgy. It spoke a word that was building up the communion of the Church by being both healing word of mercy and orthodox word of doctrine.

30. One can see Dominic setting about finding a way around and through the canons that were unhelpful to the kind of inclusiveness and ecclesial fullness that his understanding of preaching required. One can see him forcing through the adoption of new canons that would allow preaching, as he and his brothers and sisters were living it, to flourish in the Church. But one can also see Dominic, I believe, recognising that his ecclesiology of preaching could not be translated all at once into appropriate canonical terms. He set about changing what could be changed and creating an attitude and a process that could, with time, lead to further changes. I dare to think that he believed that the grace of the Holy Spirit, the grace of preaching, would sooner or later put more suitable laws and structures in place. In the life of the Friars, this Gospel-centred attitude to law would come to be expressed, for example, in the way the law of dispensation for the sake of preaching became a normal component of their obedience to laws. It would also underlie the provision made for the ongoing modification of their Constitutions at frequently-held General Chapters. I believe we experience it today in the search for appropriate ways of structuring juridically the grace-relationship that exists between the different groups that form the Dominican Family.

31. I believe one can see Dominic’s strategy of gradualness at work in the way he went about having the Friars established and given the name ordo praedicatorum. Our historians - Vicaire, Koudelka, Tugwell - have written fine pages about the way the successive documents of approval issued by the papal chancery show how, little by little, Dominic’s vision for the preaching intrudes itself into already-existing papal formularies, to make them gradually give more and more explicit canonical approval to his project. His preoccupation was with the praedicatio and with getting canonical recognition for the people engaged in it.

32. Although Mandonnet and Vicaire have shown the sense in which the Bishops were thought, in the 13th century, to constitute the ordo praedicatorum, it has also been suggested by Simon Tugwell that all those who were recognised as preachers in the Church could be thought of in those days as forming an ordo praedicatorum. (1) At the same time, those who were gathered together in the profession of a particular form of religious life were understood to form an ordo. What Dominic did when he came back to Toulouse was to structure the preaching brothers gathered around him in the house of Peter Seilhan as an order that could be called, and was ordo praedicatorum – to be translated, Simon Tugwell suggests, as an order, not as the order of preachers. Simon Tugwell and others have shown how the first Friars, wanting to set themselves up as an order that would define itself, not by a rule but by the ministry of preaching, cut through the established laws for Canons Regular and Monks, and side-stepped the prescriptions against the founding of new religious orders emanating from the Fourth Lateran Council. They made an important contribution to the forging of the new canonical configuration of ‘Friars’. This was a configuration that included recognition of the fact that many members of the community were ordained priests, but that there was also a place for the non-ordained, for laymen, in the person of the fratres conversi (in English called lay-brothers). The lay brothers were professed as full members of the institutions - and so recognised as belonging to the ordo praedicatorum. It is true that their predominantly practical gifts and their lack of theological education were taken as reasons for restricting their full participation in the life of the community - in the divine office, for example, and in chapters where their voting rights were restricted. Nor were they expected to preach. But then, ordained brothers also experienced restrictions. Although members of the ordo praedicatorum, not all of them were recognised as having the ‘grace of preaching’; not all of them were actually sent out to preach. The integral place of the lay brothers in the preaching project is manifested in the fact that Dominic wanted responsibility for the material needs of the community to be in their hands, as they had been put in the hands of the seven ‘deacons’ in Jerusalem. In spite of the presence of the non-clerical lay brothers within it, later Canon Law found it convenient to call this gathering of preachers a ‘clerical order’. However, it has to be always remembered that, in theological terms, the poverty and unpretentiousness of the Gospel life-style prescribed for the members was quite the antithesis of much that ‘clerical’ evoked at the time of Dominic. Clerical titles and privileges were abolished. All the members were ‘brothers’ to one another.

33. They were also brothers to those others who, following the understanding of preaching Dominic had developed in Prouilhe, remained their partners in the work of preaching. If Dominic’s vision was to prevail, those brother preachers, the Friars, had to remain related to the other groups who had formed the preaching with them. Concentration during those years from 1216 to 1221 on regularising the status of the Friars of the ordo praedicatorum cannot have driven the other components of his vision for the praedicatio out of the mind of Dominic. The same canonical sorting out would have to be done for them, in their organisation as a distinctive group and in their relations with the other groups who formed the praedicatio.

Friars, Nuns, Laity and Sisters

34. The evidence we have concerning Dominic’s action in favour of groups other than the Friars is almost exclusively in relation to the Nuns. I believe it allows one to claim that Dominic created a new form of monastic life for women. My suggestion is that Dominic’s preaching-centred ecclesiology is a necessary premise for understanding the evidence about the part he played in organising the life of the Nuns. If monasteries of Nuns were an essential component of preaching, as he wanted it to flourish in the Church, the Nuns’ way of life would have to reflect their relationship to preaching and to their preaching brothers, the Friars. That relationship was mutual, and so it also affected the way the Friars saw themselves.

35. There is evidence that Dominic continued to occupy himself with the canonical status of Prouilhe, and with the Nuns in Toulouse. Then, we have that rather forbidding letter that he wrote to the Nuns in Madrid. (2) The terms of that letter need to be interpreted in the light of the delightful description that Sister Cecilia has left us of the relations that Dominic and his brothers had with the Nuns of San Sisto, and of the account of the founding of the monastery at Bologna that I have already alluded to. What makes the letter to the Nuns of Madrid look forbidding is that it is very precisely canonical. He wants the Nuns to be properly situated in the structures of the Church. Otherwise they could not contribute to a preaching that was truly ecclesial. Like the Friars, the Nuns had also to be canonically respectable. But then, Dominic also wants to bring canonical clarity to relations between them and their brother preachers. That relationship was of the theological essence of the lives of both as preachers. The relationship required the brothers to respect the legitimate autonomy of the Nuns. They are not to interfere in admissions to the monastery. That is the business of the prioress. The letter gives one of the brothers, who seems to be Dominic’s own blood-brother Mannes, the kind of canonical authority over religious that a monastery normally had to live under in those days. It extends even to the right to remove the prioress from office - but only, it is stipulated, “provided that a majority of the Nuns agree”.

36. We do, then, know something about how Dominic set about organising the communities of women who belonged to his vision for the praedicatio into monasteries of Nuns. We have some information about his relationships with lay men and lay women, but nothing about what he might have done to give these relationships some canonical structure within the praedicatio. It is not, however, unreasonable to find evidence of his intentions in, for example, a statute for the Congregation of St Dominic in Bologna, that was approved less than 25 years after his death, in 1244, in which we read: ‘The grace of God’s regard has shone in your hearts, inspired by the example of St. Dominic and confident of his help and support you have joined together to devote yourselves to works of kindness by which the wretchedness of the poor will be relieved and a service provided for the salvation of souls”. (3) And there is the even more beautiful Statutes of Our Lady, Arezzo, approved in 1262: they are centred on the practice of mercy; they seem to be formulated primarily for men but they do include the prescription: “Because there is no difference in the sight of God between men and women in the performance of the works of salvation, we want both men and women to be received into the saving company”. (4)
37. Women had been an integral component of the preaching as it developed around Dominic from his earliest days in Narbonne. Gathering some of these women together in monastic communities that would have a permanent relationship with the Friars was one sure way of situating them canonically within the preaching. And, of course, it gave canonical shape to that witness of evangelical life, and the eschatological fullness of it, that was at the very heart of Dominic’s vision for preaching. There were other women associated with the preaching who were called to religious consecration but not in its monastic form. How provision was made for their canonical status within the preaching is another story. It began with the first Congregations of Dominican Sisters in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and continues to our own day.

38. The ongoing canonical organisation of the preaching is a story that we Dominicans need to mediate on. We need to meditate on it theologically, always starting from what we can learn about Dominic’s theological vision for preaching. Because it is ecclesiological, that vision will include canonical expressions and structures. But it will submit those canonical expression to the same theological scrutiny that led Dominic to recognise, on the one hand, the need for fidelity to canons that give form to unchanging realities received from the Apostles, and on the other hand the need for daring creativity about canons that, from time to time, need to be abolished, modified or supplemented.

The Preaching Goes On

39. When we look at our Dominican story as it unfolds over the centuries, we can see times and events in which the theological criterion was buried under the weight of canonical inflexibility. In spite of being educated in the school of Thomas, Dominicans have at times acted as if they believed the grace of the Holy Spirit was co terminus with established Church law. The Friars have been particularly prone to this failing. They have had the law on their side and knew how to manage it. When they drifted into ecclesiologies that were dominated by clerical concerns, they were in a position to appeal to and when necessary create laws that would put the right to preach exclusively in their hands. The would see themselves, in a way their sisters and brothers were not, to be the Order of Preachers - while all the time piously telling their sisters and brothers who were not Friars that they belonged’ to the Order of Preachers. Thank God our history show how the grace of preaching again and again re-asserted itself and broke through the stranglehold of the canons - doing it very often, paradoxically, by recovering and beginning to obey again the original life-giving canons. Catherine of Siena will be forever cherished among Dominicans as the best model of someone who opened the eyes of her sisters and brothers once again to the theological vision of Dominic. She became a face and a name that stands for all the women — most of them for so long faceless and nameless - who have been part of the preaching from Dominic’s day onward. It is painful to think that, at one point in her life, Catherine had to wish she were a man in order to be able to model what Dominicans should be. But she did that modelling, in fact, very much as a woman, and as a lay woman. She was a Preacher who was neither Friar not Nun. Catherine has finally been recognised as a theologian, as a Doctor of the Church. At the heart of her theology was a vision of the Church and for the Church. It is within that ecclesiological vision that she understood preaching and did her own preaching. Aniceto Fernandez quotes with approval his predecessor as Master, Michael Brown, who, in a message to mark Catherine’s being recognized as a Doctor of the Church, says that Catherine was the second founder of the Order. In Dominican iconography she comes to appear along with Dominic in moments that were thought to be significant in defining what the Order is - moments such as when it received the Rosary from Mary. Whatever about the historical accuracy of those portrayals, they express a truth that is profoundly important for our understanding of the Order of Preachers.

40. The nineteenth century saw another great revival of Dominican life. The Friars have not been slow or bashful about telling their part of that story. The Nuns have been more reticent and I am not aware of much telling on the part of the laity. The Dominican women who have told their stories best are those who belong to our Dominican Congregations of Apostolic Life, many of which came into existence in that century. When the Sisters tell their stones, relations with the Friars are usually a prominent theme; less so relations with the Nuns and with the Laity. But, in one way or another all our stories overlap. Our awareness of this has been facilitated by a term fr. Hyacinthe Cormier gave official currency to in our language - a term that can, indeed, be found much farther back in our history - the term ‘Dominican Family’. The concept of Family has been very precious in helping us to understand that each of our stories is part of a common story. It has also helped us to face up to the fact that as we work, eight centuries after the foundation of Prouilhe, at bringing our canonical structures into line with the sense we have of what it is to be preachers, we need also to look again at the canonical shape of our relations with one another. It was out of his passion for preaching that Dominic developed a vision of what the Church is and of what preaching is in that Church. That vision was embodied in the way he brought together men and women, the ordained and the non-ordained, religious and seculars in a comprehensive form of preaching. He worked to give canonical shape to the life of these groups and to their relations with each other. Our nineteenth and early twentieth century desires to make men and women live again that glorious pattern of preaching was to some extent hampered by canon law but, much more importantly, by the predominant ecciesiology of the times. The Second Vatican Council has brought about a renewal of ecclesiology and a corresponding renewal of canon law that should make our task today more manageable. The ecclesiology of Vatican II is a recovery of the very Gospel sources about Church life and organisation that inspired the ecclesiology of Dominic. It is for that reason, and not just because it is of Vatican II, that we should cherish it.

41. The ecclesiology of Vatican II, and the subsequent direction taken by church law, have given us grounds for revising the different constitutions by which we live. Most of us, in our different branches of the Family, have been comfortable about doing that, and have done it well, because we knew it is what Dominic did when he worked at translating his vision for preaching into fresh institutional terms at the beginning of the thirteenth century. The part of the work that we have been least sure of and most tentative about is, without doubt, the form to be given to our relations with one another. Most of us have sensed that the canonical precedents for relations between the different groups who form the Dominican Family are inadequate and sometimes stifling in relation to Dominic’s vision of preaching that we share. It is the kind of experience Dominic himself had in his dealing with Popes and Bishops and indeed with his own brothers and sisters. He worked at it and promised to keep working at it from heaven. What better place for us to do some hard thinking and prepare some creative decisions about our relations with one another in the preaching than here in Prouilhe/Fanjeaux, where the vision of what preaching is came to Dominic, and where the sacra praedicatio took its first institutional shape 800 years ago.

(1) I have found particularly enlightening Simon Tugwell’s article, “Friars and Canons: The Earliest Dominicans”, published in Monastic Studies, The Continuity of Tradition, II, edited by Judith LOADES. Headstart History, Bangor, Gwynedd, 1991. 193-208
(2) English translation of the text to be found in Early Dominicans. Selected Writings, edited by Simon TUG WELL, in the series Classics of Western Spirituality, page 394
(3) English translation in Early Dominicans. Selected Writings, edited by Simon TUGWELL, in the series Classics of Western Spirituality, page 433
(4) op cit, page 444.
(5) Fr. Fernandez text in To Praise, To Bless, To Preach. Words of Grace and Truth, Dominican Publications, Dublin. 2004. The text of fr. Brown he is referring to is in Analecta OP, 1961, 167-178.

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...Obviously those who went out to speak the word and to engage in debate with the heretics had a special role in that Church and were being called preachers in a particular sense.

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...When we look at our Dominican story as it unfolds over the centuries, we can see times and events in which the theological criterion was buried under the weight of canonical inflexibility.


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