Dominican Seminar 2013 – Fr Gerald Vann OP
Gerald Vann OP was one of the great Dominican communicators of the last century. Though much of his ministry was exercised as teacher and headmaster of the Dominican school of Laxton, he gained a much wider audience through his books and radio broadcasts on the spiritual life. He was one of that notable generation of Dominicans between the 1930s and Vatican II, which Aidan Nichols OP describes in Dominican Gallery. His writings, above all The Divine Pity, continue to exert great influence on the spirituality of Dominicans today. So, Fr Vann was a good choice for the theme of this year’s Dominican Seminar:
|Gerald Vann OP and the New Evangelisation|
Once again, members of the Dominican Family converged from all corners of Britain and Ireland on Hinsley Hall in Leeds. The programme, as always, includes talks, liturgy, meals and informal social gatherings. The talks all aimed at showing how Fr Vann had communicated the truth of the Gospel so effectively to his generation, in order to learn something about how we might do to same to ours.
Fr Aidan Nichols began by characterising Fr Vann’s project as sapiential, seeking to inculcate wisdom and not just knowledge, in the boys he taught at Laxton and those who heard him preach. This wisdom must pay attention to symbols, both natural and supernatural, which help to define us and our place in God’s creation.
There followed two talks on the socio-political dimension of the Gospel. Dr Patrick Doyle gave personal insights from his life’s work in local politics, and emphasised the need to translate theological jargon into plain language for wider audiences. Sr Helen Alford, Professor of Economics and Business Ethics at the Angelicum, then gave a nuanced perspective on whether Fr Vann would approve of Catholic neoconservative economics, with special reference to the work of Michael Novak, and adding the perspective of the Dominican theorist of social ethics, A. F. Utz.
Br Andrew Brookes had scoured Fr Vann’s corpus for his Mariology, and found that there was no overarching approach to the Virgin Mother. Rather, Fr Vann often speaks of Mary in connection with other themes, particularly that of suffering (hence, the ‘seven sorrows’ of Our Lady). Suffering, moreover, was the dominant theme of Fr Richard Conrad’s talk on the Lenten sermons at Westminster Cathedral in 1947, later published as The Pain of Christ and the Sorrow of God, which open with this powerful statement: ‘The history of humanity is a love-story.’
God’s loving kindness towards humanity was beautifully represented in a meditative session led by the Irish Dominican Sisters, using Scripture and readings from Fr Vann’s work (which is itself thoroughly scriptural). In the final seminar discussion, we focused on The Divine Pity, which connects each of the Beatitudes with a different prayer, Gift of the Holy Spirit, and Sacrament.
I always enjoy the social aspect of these Dominican gatherings, catching up with other Friars, Sisters, Laity and members of the Dominican Secular Institute, some of whom I haven’t seen in over a year, and also meeting new people for the first time. The social evening on the last night was an obvious opportunity for singing, dancing and a bit of ‘magic’, but really the whole seminar is a social occasion. In trying to rediscover Gerald Vann’s ability to communicate the Gospel to our contemporary culture, we couldn’t do better than start with the joy that comes from our brotherhood and sisterhood in Christ.