Woods opens his work with an Introduction where he comments briefly on the development of Dominican spirituality and its full flourishing in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries AD. He then proceeds to explore what is understood by the term "spirituality," and takes into account the contributions of Simon Tugwell, OP, and Joann Wolski Conn who view spirituality as "an attitude," "a way of life," "a way of viewing things" (Tugwell, p. 16), and that which is both a lived experience and an academic discipline (Conn, p. 16). Woods asserts that spirituality is first and foremost "a biblical perspective" that involves a person's receptivity to God and God's life being transmitted through that person (p. 16).
In chapter 1, Woods focuses on the Dominican Order and its spiritual tradition, and notes that within Dominican spirituality, there is a wealth of resources. He then outlines the essential elements of Dominican life: simplicity, prayer, study, the search for Truth, poverty of spirit, and contemplation that finds its expression in the active participation in ministry and the mission of Christ.
Continuing his focus on Dominican life in chapter 2, woods next looks at the life of Dominic and the early preachers of the Order to highlight the simplicity of Dominican life and spirituality. Included in his discussion are Blessed Jordan of Saxony, Reginald of Orleans, Hugh of St. Cher, Humbert of Romans, Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart, and Albert the Great.
The conversation shifts in chapter 3 where Woods discusses the darkness of God and the "negative way." He grounds these two topics in the Jewish and Christian biblical tradition, and then develops the themes further by appealing to the thought and works of select post-apostolic writers such as Augustine, Clement, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzen, Leo the Great, Dionysius, John Scottus, John Sarracenus, Columban, John Damascene, among others.
In chapter 4, Woods draws particular attention to Thomas Aquinas whom he calls "the prince of mystical theology" (p. 59). First he discusses Aquinas' life as a scholar and his commitment to contemplation. Next he looks at Aquinas' spirituality, i.e., his way of prayer, his spiritual doctrine in relation to his theology, and his understanding of God. After outlining Aquinas' three ways of knowing the unknowing God, he comments on how Aquinas' life and thought is reflective of the Dominican charism and spirituality.
Following his discussion on Aquinas, Woods in chapter 5 examines the thought and work of Meister Eckhart which emphasizes the "darkness or nothingness of God" and "the necessity of radical detachment" (p. 77). Complementing the discussion on Eckhart is Woods' analysis of the life and work of Catherine of Siena in chapter 6. Here Woods notes Catherine's commitment to mission in the context of her deep sense of contemplation, and the extraordinariness of her prophetic consciousness. Woods observes that Catherine's mysticism was intricately woven to her everyday life, and was the impetus for her becoming a renown reformer, a spiritual guide, a woman of vision, and a profound preacher. Characteristic of her spirituality was her immense love for all God's creation. She had a special affinity for the poor and suffering. Heralded as a Doctor of the Church, Catherine had an intense passion for justice and an uncompromising desire for mercy.
In chapter 7, Woods considers the contributions of other exemplary Dominicans who followed Catherine, in particular Henry Suso and John Tauler. After a brief note on the German school of theology and spirituality, Woods deals with the classic work, The Cloud of Unknowing, and then the writings of Jan van Ruysbroeck and Nicholas of Cusa.
Chapter 8 concludes Woods' study. Here he summarizes his main points, and notes that throughout the ages, many Dominican saints, mystics, and spiritual writers have made notable contributions to the Order, the Church, and the world. Woods' final word is that God is beyond all names and remains nameless. A selected bibliography on various topics and personalities discussed throughout the study draws the entire work to a close.
Woods' study is concise, provides a general overview to mysticism and prophecy in the Dominican tradition, and serves well as an introduction for those interested in this topic from a particular perspective and within a particular context. His discussion on spirituality is illuminating, and his focus on the contributions that great Dominican men and women have made to the topic throughout the ages, by way of their lived experience and their works, is impressive. However, Woods' work falls short of establishing the definite links that can be made between mysticism and prophecy, as the title of his work suggests. His use of the biblical tradition as a grounding for spirituality needs more thought, as does his understanding of the prophetic tradition and how it can indeed flow from and relate to the experience of mysticism. Woods' work sets the stage for a continued and much needed conversation in the field of spirituality.