Praedicator gratiae, ‘preacher of grace’
The title ‘praedicator gratiae’ can be taken in three senses all of which are realised in the life of Saint Dominic as we know about it from Jordan of Saxony’s book on the foundations of the Order and from the canonisation processes.
Grace was often the topic of his preaching – he spoke about it regularly. The close connection for the first Dominicans between preaching and hearing confessions brings it out clearly: the mercy of God, and the forgiveness and reconciliation brought about through the sacrament of penance, all this was the goal of the preaching. In countering Albigensianism he wanted to convince people particularly about the grace of God coming through the sacramental life of the Church.
A second meaning of this phrase is that grace happened when Dominic preached. There are many moments in his life that confirm this: people were converted, people were healed, people felt loved by him. The power of God’s grace was ‘felt’ by many of those to whom Dominic preached and many of those for whom he exercised pastoral care. The key moment of the scattering of the brethren – ‘seed stored rots’, he said – was one in which he was clearly under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It was, as all saw later, a moment of grace, though at the time many of his brothers and friends thought it unwise to spread out so thinly at such an early stage of the Order’s life.
Finally ‘preacher of grace’ can mean he was an attractive, gracious, preacher. His presence was warm and encouraging in something like the way people spoke about Bede Jarrett – his personality and presence themselves, gifts of nature and rearing, became instruments of the Spirit in his work of bringing people to God. We have from one of the first Sisters of the Order, Cecilia, a physical description of St Dominic, as a handsome and attractive man.
Dominicans are proud of their interest in grace both theologically and pastorally. It is a great privilege to be entrusted with the responsibility of preaching this good news, that God is love, and that towards us God’s love is always gracious, merciful and steadfast.