A Spirituality Of Preaching
The way in which Dominicans live out their religious life is an expression of what one might call ‘Dominican spirituality’. As fr Paul Murray OP notes, “the primary concern of the early Dominicans was not to announce the arrival of a new spirituality, but rather… to preach the good news of the Gospel.” However, “a number of underlying themes and concerns, ideas and reactions, which recur in the writings of Dominicans” and of course, elements found in the Constitutions and Ordinations of the Order, point towards four ‘pillars’ of Dominican life drawn from a common spirituality. These are
They are inspired by the example of St Dominic who was said to be always either “talking to God or talking about God.”
Preaching on behalf of the Church
The Constitutions say that “the mission of the Friars Preachers [is] to serve the Church by preaching the name of Jesus Christ to the nations” (LCO 108 § I). This mission of preaching is “a sharing in the prophetic office of the bishops; therefore the preachers must accept the entire gospel message and cultivate a living understanding of the mystery of salvation as it is handed down and explained in the Church” (LCO 99 § I). Therefore, “in all things the brothers should be of one mind with the Church” (LCO 80).
It might seem obvious to us today that the Church should have an order devoted to itinerant preaching, but in the thirteenth century, Dominic’s Order was rather revolutionary, for at that time, those who wandered around begging and preaching were largely members of heretical groups and serious religious were supposed to stay in one place.
Consequently, Dominicans were labelled ‘gyrovagues’, and many early Dominicans wrote in defence of their new way of life. One Stephen of Bourbon tells the story of a novice who was enticed to join a more ‘serious’ order, but he replied: “When I read that the Lord Jesus Christ was not a white monk or a black monk, but a poor preacher, I want rather to follow in his footsteps than that of anyone else.”
This slightly polemical tale points out to us an important aspect of Dominican spirituality, i.e., the Dominican saw himself firstly as a follower of Christ and the apostles. As preachers, Dominicans share in the ministry of the bishops, who are successors of the apostles, and whose charism is to give voice to the Word in the world.
The grace of preaching
The fifth Master of the Order, fr Humbert of Romans, delighted in speaking about the “grace of preaching”. By this he meant that preaching is a special vocation, in which the preacher is assisted by the Spirit of Truth, and he spells out the vital importance of preaching: “Preaching is truly necessary, for without it the glory of heaven would never be realized, hell would be filled up all too soon… demons would rule, hearts would have neither hope nor joy in their salvation, nations would not know the Christian faith, and God’s Church would have no foundation, growth or stability.”