To become a Dominican is to love study-to love study not merely for its own sake, but also for the benefits it brings to one’s soul and to one’s ability to reach others with the truth. If you are contemplating a Dominican fraternity vocation, perhaps it is because you love to read, study, think, and talk about truth. By no means, however, does this mean you are the “intellectual type.” You just love and want to learn.
St. Dominic studied with the same intensity with which he did everything else in his life. He thirsted for truth. With urgency and determination, he pored over his books, especially when he was a young man in school in Palencia studying the liberal arts and theology. (St. Dominic’s formal education in Palencia lasted a total of ten years. He studied the liberal arts and philosophy for six years and theology for four. We should note that this degree of formal education was a tremendous gift in those days. St. Dominic’s privileged family was blessed with the means to put him through school and, knowing what a precious gift this was, he never took school for granted.) Particularly zealous was his study of theology. Blessed Jordan of Saxony writes of St. Dominic, “He spent four years in these sacred studies during which he drank avidly and incessantly from the streams of Sacred Scripture. So indefatigable was his zeal to learn and retain tenaciously the truth of those things which he was learning that he would spend almost whole nights without sleep. . .”
St. Dominic understood that study of the truth forms the human soul and makes a man alert and attentive in his knowledge of and life in Christ. In addition, though, St. Dominic shows us a further reason why we study: the saint thirsted for souls, longing to spend his life to the last drop in order to share the truth of his Christian convictions with all he met. Everything that St. Dominic studied deepened his thirst and longing for God. And because of this first love for Christ, everything that St. Dominic studied would ultimately be put to use in some form in his apostolic life in order to serve and save souls: his solid formation in Scripture and theology prepared him to found his Order and educate his brothers and sisters; his appreciation for diverse subjects made him an effective evangelist of many different types of people; his firm grasp of truth helped him to refute heresy with cutting accuracy.
In founding his Order St. Dominic valued study so highly that he made it a religious duty to study, placing it beside prayer as a service of God (taken from Mary Sheehy). Study, Sheehy writes, would occupy the place that manual labor had taken among monks during previous centuries. St. Dominic designed the Order so that his friars, who were constantly preparing themselves through prayer and study, would be able to throw themselves at a moment’s notice into preaching where they were needed. As Sheehy notes, St. Dominic’s genius lay in fusing these active and contemplative spheres, for although the work of preaching and teaching is an active work, it finds its source in the contemplative-and must find its source in the contemplative, or else the good effects of one’s preaching will never last.
For Dominicans, all study leads to God, but this does not mean that one only studies theology. Since the founding of the Order, Dominicans have studied and taught many different subjects and have contributed great treasures to the Church. It is fair to say that they have been at the forefront of academia since the Middle Ages. Here we note just a few of their contributions (these examples are drawn from the Third Order Dominican novitiate booklet):
In the 13th century:
- Raymond of Penyafort-at the Pope’s command, he prepared a collection of existing canon law; he was an early Master General of the Dominican Order; he was a peacemaker among feuding families and cities.
- St. Thomas Aquinas-a great teacher, scholastic, and mystic, he wrote many theological papers and the standard theological text, the Summa Theologica.
- St. Albert the Great-St. Thomas Aquinas’ teacher, St. Albert had encyclopedic interests. He wrote over 1000 works on the natural sciences, music, art, and theology.
In the 14th century:
- St. Catherine of Siena
In the 15th century:
- St. Antoninus-prior of the convent in Florence where Fra Angelico and Savaronola lived, later Archbishop. He was a moral theologian, a historian, and a teacher. He wrote many letters of instruction and encouragement to nuns.
- Blessed Fra Angelico-an artist whose paintings and holiness of life make him one of the most revered religious artists of the Italian Renaissance.
In the 16th century:
- Pope (St.) Pius V-the Pope shortly after the Council of Trent and at a time when the Muslim Turks were invading Eastern Europe. He worked for the reform of the clergy and reintroduced devotion to the rosary.
In the 17th century:
- St. Louis de Montfort-French priest and fraternity member who preached widely on the topic of Mary and the rosary and who wrote several books on Mary.
In the 20th century:
- Pere Legrange-French pioneer of Biblical scholarship and founder of the Ecole Bibilque, who produced the widely acclaimed Jerusalem Bible, among other major scholarly works.
- Maisie Ward-American woman and co-founder of the Sheed and Ward Publishing Company, a highly respected publishing house for Catholic authors.
- Yves Congar, Marie Dominic Chenu, Edward Schillebeeckx-among the fifty Dominicans who participated in The Second Vatican Council as bishops and theologians.
One thing that these Dominican achievements highlight for us is how valuable every Catholic’s contribution is to the world. No matter what a person’s specialty is, every person is called through the particular discipline in which he excels to share truth with those around him. These Dominicans are examples of those who “contemplated” and “shared the fruits of their contemplation.” Pursuit of truth in the lives of these individuals and an energetic sharing of the truth has made a lasting impact on the history of the Church.