The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

Built on the four pillars of our Dominican life – preaching, prayer, study, and community – Godzdogz offers many resources for exploring the Catholic Faith today.
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What would St Thomas make of Pleasantville?

Monday, January 30, 2012
I recently saw the film Pleasantville for the first time. It's about two 1990's teenagers, David and Jennifer, who are magically transported into a 1950's sitcom called Pleasantville where they are forced to play the characters Bud and Mary Sue. In Pleasantville, everyone is pleasant to each other, it never rains, and the school basketball team never lose a game. But there's a catch. Pleasantville is very dull. It's literally in black and white. There's no art, no books, no sex, no creativity. That is, until David (Bud) and Jennifer (Mary Sue) are transported into this world.

Now the film has some very positive aspects. The film is beautifully made; as colour, joy and passion comes into this world, it really draws our attention to the beauty of creation, and to how we so often fail to recognise this beauty. Surely St Thomas would appreciate this aspect of the film. But what I think St Thomas would strongly object to is the attempt to retell the Adam and Eve story. Before David (Bud) and Jennifer (Mary Sue) were transported into Pleasantville, it was an ordered world of innocence, dull but nice. There are enough hints to suggest that this is how we are to think of the Garden of Eden.

At one point, a beautiful girl offers Bud (David) a nice red apple, and it is at this moment he realises that all this beauty and colour that is beginning to come into this world cannot coexist without evil. What is happening is a kind of felix culpa, a happy fault. Now for St Thomas, this retelling of the Genesis story just wouldn't hang together. St Thomas believed that before the Fall, the garden would have been very beautiful, Adam and Eve would have had passions, they would have had sex, and in fact, their joy and appreciation of creation would have been much more intense than it is now:
sensible delight would have been the greater in proportion to the greater purity of nature and the greater sensibility of the body (ST 1a,q98 a.2)
When this foreign element of sin came into their world, it dulled their senses, they became repressed and the world became a less delightful place. The Fall of Man wasn't a happy fault because it brought colour into our world, but because it merited such and so great a Redeemer. Read more

28th January - Saint Thomas Aquinas

Saturday, January 28, 2012
I'm afraid I have to own up to the fact that before I joined the Dominican Order, I knew very little about St Thomas Aquinas. Like many laymen, I thought that the study of theology was for theologians and that St Thomas was just one among many. Those were in the days when I tried to live a kind of double life – a life of faith and a life of reason – and since these two lives had very little to do with each other, I ended up being neither particularly faithful or particularly reasonable. By not making any effort to think about my faith, I wasn't following the greatest commandment of them all 'to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' If we are to follow this commandment and love God with our minds, we should make some sort of effort to penetrate more deeply the mysteries of salvation. In undertaking this task, you can do no better than turning to St Thomas. He is specifically recommended as a teacher in the Code of Canon Law, so St Thomas is not just another theologian.

Coming to St Thomas for the first time can be a bit daunting, and although he says the Summa Theologiae is meant for beginners, it can be confusing the first time you dip into it, especially if you're unfamiliar with the scholastic method of questions, objections, counter proposals and responses. But there are many highly readable accounts of St Thomas' theology by authors such as Timothy McDermott, Herbert McCabe, Josef Pieper and G K Chesterton. If you spend a little time with any of these books, any prejudice that St Thomas is cold and cerebral can be quickly dismissed. Happiness is a recurring theme in St Thomas and this is beautifully expressed in Timothy McDermott's concise translation of the Summa:

Happiness is seeing God. Happiness is another name for God. God is happy by nature; he does not attain happiness or receive it from another. But men become happy by receiving a share in God's happiness, something God creates in them. And this created happiness is a life of human activity in which their human powers are ultimately fulfilled: for the goal of anything is fulfillment in activity.
Thinking about our faith and entering more deeply into the divine mysteries should be a joyful experience. When I was younger I was frightened of thinking about my faith because I thought I might lose what little I had, but discovering St Thomas has totally relieved me of this anxiety. On this feast day when we honour this great saint and theologian, let us ask for his prayers, that through a growing appreciation of his writings, we may come to share in the same happiness that he now shares in, which is none other than God Himself.

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Scripture Study Day in Leeds

Thursday, January 26, 2012
Earlier this month Fr. Richard Ounsworth OP and I were invited by the Leeds Cathedral Young Adults Group to lead them in a study day on scripture. I enjoyed the day immensely, it was a pleasure to get to know this lively group of young Catholics and good to see such enthusiasm for the faith. Over the course of quite a full programme, which included an exploration of some of the various 'types' of Christ found in the Old Testament and an introduction to the theology of St.Paul, one of the particpants expressed his surprise and delight to discover that 'the Bible is Catholic.'

I thought this was an interesting and revealing comment. Perhaps in the past there has been a tendency to separate scripture and tradition. Perhaps there has even been a slight suspicion of the scriptures, an anxiety that they are a bit 'Protestant' and opposed to Catholic sacraments and liturgy. One of the objectives of the Second Vatican Council was to allay such fears and draw Catholics attention back to the scriptural foundations of the Church's teaching and life. This, it was hoped, would facilitate a spiritual and evangelical renewal of the Body of Christ.

Fr Richard speaking in Leeds

For the Council, neglect of our scriptures means the neglect of our own Tradition (in the fullest sense) and the neglect of our mission. This scriptural outlook of Vatican II was interestingly anticipated by Bede Jarrett OP, the founder of Blackfriars Oxford and Provincial of the English Province between 1916-1932. In 1908 Fr. Bede wrote to congratulate a Brother who was to be assigned to the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem for higher studies declaring: 'Scripture is the study above all others that appeals to the religious side of the English character.'

This, it seems to me, is as true now as it was then, and perhaps the English fascination with the Bible is not as distinctive or unusual as Bede Jarrett implies. If we are to preach effectively to societies that have lost touch with their Christian roots then we must preach with words that 'seem to come from God' (1 Peter 4: 11). Studying and meditating upon the word of God would seem to be an excellent preperation for such preaching. The increased interest of young Catholics in scripture must therefore be a tremendous sign of hope for the future.  Read more

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity - The Future

Tuesday, January 24, 2012
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Week of Prayer for Christian Unity - Martyrs of Disunity or Unity?

Sunday, January 22, 2012
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Can you hate religion, but still love Jesus?

Saturday, January 21, 2012
Zeitgeist Read more

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity - Christian Unity in the First Millennium

Friday, January 20, 2012
When we talk about divisions among Christians, it’s all too easy to suggest that everything was just great until 1054, when there was the schism with the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and then there was a further split in the West at the Reformation, and all our problems stem from those two events. Leaving aside the question of whether 1054 is really the date when East and West definitively split, this schema overlooks the struggles to maintain the unity of the Church, some more successful than others, that went on throughout the first millennium. Read more

Dominican Seminar 2012

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Vicariate of Dacia

Friday, January 13, 2012
As the Dominican Vicariate of Dacia had their annual meeting recently, I would like to present this group of friars to the readers of Godzdogz. Being a Norwegian brother, I come from a region which the French call 'Le Grand Nord', and apart from believing that it is a cold place and far from everywhere, they often do not know much about this part of Europe at all. One exception would be the French Dominicans, who embarked on a courageous initiative in the Nordic countries during the last century, in an effort to re-establish the order. I would now like to take you through the main historical lines of the presence of Dominican brothers in the region, before briefly describing our situation today and our future hopes. Read more

Christ Crucified our Bridge: the spiritual teaching of St Catherine of Siena.

Thursday, January 12, 2012
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