Sons of St. Dominic

In honor of Festa di San Domenico, we present some words by three of his followers, members of St. Dominic’s Order of Preachers, in reverse chronological order…

Yves Congar OP

I. From Yves Congar, OP‘s The Meaning of Tradition:

[Context: the following passage comes from Congar’s consideration of the role of unwritten tradition in the life of Christian faith.]

The written teaching of the Apostles about the mystery of the Eucharist is contained in some thirty or forty verses. These are texts of an inexhaustible richness, but, in addition to the fact that the Eucharist was celebrated and administered without waiting for them to be written, it is obvious that the faith of the Church goes far beyond what the texts contain.

This faith was formed and continues to be formed in the successive generations of Christians, from the Eucharist itself, taken as a present reality, celebrated in the Church according to tradition.

In order to share the faith of the apostles on this point, and to believe exactly what they believed, it is not so much a matter of reading, studying, and interpreting their written teaching, as of partaking, in our turn, of the Bread and Wine in which the apostles communicated (for the first time from the hands of our Lord), followed by the whole succession of generations after them.

Luther Theses by Ferdinand Pauwels

II. Cardinal Cajetan, OP.

[Context: Pope Leo X sent Cajetan to Germany, to meet with Martin Luther and address Luther’s famous 95 Theses. Luther had written, regarding Confession: “It is not the sacrament, but faith in the sacrament, that justifies.”]

Cajetan replied:

The Lord said to the Apostles, ‘If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven’ (John 20:23). The ministers of the Church have the power to forgive sins by the authority of Christ.

The effect of the words spoken by the priest, ‘I forgive you your sins,’ is no less miraculous than the words ‘This is my Body.’ God effects forgiveness in and with the words spoken by the Church in his name. The forgiveness announced by the priest, and the forgiveness bestowed by God, is one and the same. We believe in and confess that the effect of sacramental absolution is the forgiveness of the sins of a truly repentant sinner, granted albeit authoritatively by God alone but ministerially by the priest through Christ’s sacrament.

The faith given by Christ as a gift to the soul believes that absolution rightly given by the Church’s minister grants grace to a worthy recipient. But it does not belong to that faith to believe in the effect of absolution for this or that particular person, because that is uncertain.

The effect of the sacrament of penance on me remains in doubt in this life. St. Paul commands us to ‘examine ourselves. If we judge ourselves, we will not be judged by the Lord.’ (I Corinthians 11:28, 31)

We fulfill the act of self-examination under the light of God’s Word by humble submission to the priest-confessor, ready to accept pardon or condemnation, and ready to accept appropriate penances. Contrition is the opposite of presumption.

(Taken from “Cajetan and Luther” by Adam G. Cooper)

Let’s note, as a point of interest:

Ecclesiastical authority did not condemn Martin Luther, nor insist on the destruction of his writings, until after a careful debate. Cajetan came to Germany seeking clarification and mutual understanding. Pope Leo did not condemn Luther as a heretic until after Cajetan’s discussion with him.


III. St. Thomas Aquinas

In Article 5 of Question 65 of Part I-II of the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas considers whether you can have divine love in your soul without having faith and hope in God.

St. Thomas faces two problems. 1. Some pagans can and do love God. 2. Christ had perfect charity as a pilgrim, without faith or hope. He had full divine knowledge and perfect certainty about the Father vindicating Him.

So St. Thomas needs to explain the relationship of faith, hope, and charity in such a way as to affirm that you need faith and hope to have divine love, without denying that some pagans do love God, and without saying anything wrong about Christ.

He came up with a few of the most moving paragraphs ever. St. Thomas wrote:

Charity signifies not only the love of God, but also a certain friendship with Him, which implies, besides love, a certain mutual return of love, together with mutual communion. That this belongs to charity is evident from I John 4:16: ‘He that abides in charity, abides in God, and God in him,’ and I Corinthians 1:9, where it is written, ‘God is faithful, by Whom you are called unto the fellowship of His Son.’

Now, this fellowship of man with God, which consists in a certain familiar colloquy with Him, is begun here, in this life, by grace, but will be perfected in the future life, by glory.

Wherefore, just as friendship with a person would be impossible, if one disbelieved in, or despaired of, the possibility of their friendship or familiar colloquy, so too friendship with God, which is charity, is impossible without faith, so as to believe in this fellowship and colloquy with God, and to hope to attain to this fellowship. Therefore, charity is quite impossible without faith and hope.


Tottering Church

st john lateran painting

Again I will restore you, and you shall be rebuilt, O virgin Israel! (Jeremiah 31:4)

Israel. The children of Abraham. The flock of God. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. One essential city reigns over Her, where the successor of St. Peter sits. Rome.

Who knows which church building actually houses the cathedra of the Bishop of Rome? What basilica holds the pope’s throne?

Correct. St. John Lateran. (Not St. Peter’s; that’s where Peter is buried.)

Anyway, 803 years ago, the pope had a nightmare that the building shook to its foundations. The church tottered on the point of collapse. But a poor man, an apostolic man, a man who owned nothing, but lived by pure faith—he stepped forward and bolstered the entire building on his shoulder. The “Atlas” of the Holy Church. Not a myth, but a real person.

Was it St. Francis? Or maybe it was the holy man who died 797 years ago today.

Both St. Dominic and St. Francis lived through the Fourth Lateran Council, when the pope had this nightmare.

That Council defined our doctrine regarding the transubstantiation of the Blessed Sacrament. It laid down the formal rule that everyone has to go to Confession at least once a year. It established procedures for heresy and other failures of discipline by priests. And bishops.

So we can confidently believe: Someone will come along to hold up the building. Yes: it totters on the brink of collapse. If we imagine that it doesn’t, we fool ourselves. The McCarrick scandal has revealed how dangerous our situation is: There’s no one around to lead us out of it.

But someone will come along. In Pope St. Innocent III’s time, many bishops were so worldly that he had to remind them not to bring their hunting dogs with them to the ecumenical council. Dream on, if you think we’re in better shape now.

But an apostolic man will come. Or two. God gave Francis and Dominic to the Church at the same time! The Lateran did not collapse.

McCarrick called us his “sons,” we whom he ordained. Makes me want to spit now.

But St. Dominic had, and has, real spiritual sons. His first maxim for them: “Give to others what you yourself have contemplated.” In other words: Live in the divine love yourselves. Then preach.

A man, or two, or three, who actually follows this, will come along and rescue, restore, and rebuild the tottering Church.

st dominic lateran window
a window in St. Dominic’s, Washington, D.C.–the first Catholic church your humble servant ever entered

St. Dominic’s Style of Success

A Dominican and a Jesuit argued with each other about which founder achieved more greatness. “St. Ignatius fought the Lutheran heresy!” The Dominican answered, “Yeah. St. Dominic fought the Albigensian heresy. And have you run into any Albigensians lately?”

Pope Benedict XV celebrated the 700th anniversary of St. Dominic’s holy death with an encyclical letter. The Pope pointed out three distinctive characteristics of St. Dominic and his followers. First: love for the Pope and the Apostolic See of Rome. Second: devotion to the Blessed Virgin and diligence in praying the Rosary and teaching others to do so. And third: Solidity of doctrine.

How did St. Dominic “fight” the Albigensians? He used no physical violence. The people of southern France knew him as a gentle wanderer, willing to sell himself into slavery to save a poor man from falling into unbelief.

St. Dominic ‘fought’ the Albigensians by calmly and thoroughly explaining the Catholic religion, basing himself on the Sacred Scriptures. He patiently showed how the Albigensians’ own doctrines made no sense.

Why would God become man with a body—and die an agonizing death—if He does not love man, both soul and body? Why would God dwell in the womb of the Virgin Mary, if she were not truly His Mother? Why would the Lord have celebrated the Last Supper and entrusted His Body and Blood to His Church, if He had no intention of feeding His people throughout the ages with the sacrament?

Faith and reason united; preaching and teaching that flowed from hours of quiet study and contemplation. This is the Dominican way; this is the Catholic way.

But before we turn this into some kind of Olympic medal ceremony for the humble Spanish friar, let’s revisit a question we asked ourselves a moment ago: Have we run into any Albigensians lately?

The Albigensians praised abortion. They refused to give food and water to the terminally ill–and sometimes euthanized them. They preferred temporary concubinage to the permanence of matrimony. They believed in reincarnation. They refused to believe that the God worshipped in the Old Testament is the same loving Father of the New Testament. They accepted some parts of the New Testament–and not others. They considered themselves to be the authentic followers of Jesus, Whom the Church had obscured by Her immoral sham of empty ceremonies. They hated the Pope. They insisted that faith in their doctrines was all that mattered; morals did not matter. They denied that justice could be done on earth at all; therefore, criminals should not be prosecuted in court.

Some of these things sound all too familiar to me. Do I have a calm and gentle explanation ready–for why all of these positions are unreasonable and dangerous?

St. Dominic did. Maybe, if we follow in his soft-spoken footsteps, a generation after we die, all the destructive and ill-founded doctrines of our age will have passed into oblivion. Maybe a few centuries after we die, someone will be able to make a little joke about how successful we were in lovingly standing up for the truth.