The Dominican Tradition is part of a series that also examines Benedictine, Carmelite, Franciscan, and Ignatian spiritualities. Each tradition is presented through an anthology of writings by or about persons in that tradition through its history. This method is, in the present volume, very effective in communicating both the history of the tradition and the character of its spirituality.
The first chapter outlines the early history of the Dominican Tradition to provide the context for the rest of the book. It describes the thirteenth century urban world of Dominic de Guzman and the difficult spiritual challenges it presented, from the many non-ecclesial (often anti-ecclesial) lay spiritual movements, such as the Waldensians, to the re-emergence of dualism in the Cathars and Albigensians. Dominic (along with Francis of Assisi) saw a need in this situation for communities of men and women committed to living the apostolic life within the Church. The foundation of the Order of Friars Preachers was Dominic’s response to this need. The first community he founded was of Dominican nuns at Prouille in France. The Order included both men and women from the beginning, though there were disputes over the years about support for the women (as Schillebeeckx discusses in his selection in the book). The Order was approved by Pope Honorius III in 1216. The mission of the Order is “preaching for the salvation of souls.” To achieve this mission members commit to: the three vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty; to community life with the monastic observances, following the Rule of St. Augustine; to the solemn recitation of the Divine Office; and to the study of sacred truth. These provide the contemplative basis for the activity of preaching. Traditionally the Order has been divided into: the First Order, the Friars, clerical brothers and lay brothers; the Second Order, contemplative nuns living in cloisters; and the Third Order, divided into the Third Order Regular and the Third Order Secular. Originally the Third Order Regular was composed of Dominican nuns who did not live in cloistered monasteries; now it also includes Papal and Diocesan congregations of Dominican Sisters. The Third Order Secular, now called the Dominican laity, are lay men and women associated with the Order.
The following chapters present sixteen Dominicans and their writing. Dominican spirituality is described as “the lived legacy of St. Dominic’s followers.” The sixteen of St. Dominic’s followers included here are seen as representative of the thousands of others through the eight centuries. Each chapter begins with a brief biographical introduction to the person. They are presented in chronological order so these introductions constitute a brief historical look at the different eras in which the Dominicans were adapting the tradition to their times. The list begins with Dominic himself although he did not write much (only three samples of his writing survive) and not much is known about his life. The other Dominicans included are: Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Mechtild of Magdeburg, Meister Eckhart, Catherine of Sienna, Antoninus Fierozzi, John of Fiesole (Fra Angelico), Bartolome de Las Casas, Martin de Porres, Henri Dominique Lacordaire, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, Georges-Yves Congar, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Timothy Radcliffe. The selections are all relatively short and very accessible.
In his selection Schillebeeckx describes Dominican spirituality as a fabric woven by thread and cross thread. The thread is critical reflection on the tradition as it has been handed down. The cross-thread is whatever new religious possibilities are being offered in a given time. “Therefore it can never be a material repetition of what our Dominican forebears have themselves done admirably. Nor however can it be an uncritical acceptance of whatever ‘new movements’ (in the mystical or political sense) are now evident in our midst. For Dominic the essential thing was the question of truth.” (p. 103) The Dominican Tradition is a nice example of that thread of critical reflection on the tradition in the service of truth.
This book is an excellent introduction to the Dominican Tradition and its spirituality. It is well-conceived and well-written. It does not gloss over negative aspects of the tradition, such as the Inquisition, but puts them in context. It includes a bibliography for each chapter. It would be a useful text for an undergraduate or graduate spirituality class. As a lay teacher in a Dominican university I found the book very valuable in deepening my own understanding of and appreciation for Dominican charisms and spirituality.