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DOMINICAN MONASTIC SEARCH
Volume 9 Fal 1/Ni nter 1990
DOMINICAN MONASTIC SEARCH is published by the Conference of the Nuns
of the Order of Preachers of the United States of America. The Conference is
an organization of independent monasteries whose purpose is to foster the
monastic contemplative life of the nuns in the spirit of Saint Dominic.
Sr. Mary of God, O.P. (North Guilford)
Sr. Mary Martin, O.P. (Summit) Coordinator
Sr. Maria Agnes, O.P. (Summit) Sr. Mary Thomas, O.P. (Buffalo)
Sr. Claire, O.P. (North Guilford)
Sr. Mary of the Sacred Heart, O.P. and
Sr. Mary of the Precious Blood, O.P. (West Springfield)
DOMINICAN MONASTIC SEARCH is a spiritual and theological review written by
the nuns. Its purpose is to foster the Dominican monastic contemplative life
by the sharing of insights gained from study and prayer. It is published once
a year as a service to the nuns. It is also available to the wider Dominican
Family and others upon request. A donation of $8.00 to aid in the cost of
printing would be appreciated, when possible.
Contributions to this review should be researched and prepared with concern
for literary and intellectual quality. Manuscripts submitted should be clearly
typed, single spaced, on one side of the paper only. The deadline for manu-
scripts is September 1st of each year. Minor editing will be done at the dis-
cretion of the editors. If major changes are desired, these will be effected
in dialogue with the authors. The editors, in consultation with the Conference
Council, reserve the right to reject inappropriate manuscripts, though reasons
will be given to the author with courtesy and encouragement.
Contributions should be sent to Sr. Mary Martin, O.P. , Monastery of Our
Lady of the Rosary, 543 Springfield Avenue, Summit, NJ 07901.
CONFERENCE OF NUNS OF THE ORDER OF PREACHERS OF 'HIE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
All Rights Reserved
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TABU OF CONTCNTS
Some Reflections on the Metaphysical Basis of Communio
According to St. Thomas Aquinas 2
Sister Mary of the Precious Blood, O.P. (Buffalo)
Gentle Bloom 4
Sister Mary Thomas, O.P. (Buffalo)
Community as the Image of the Trinity 5
Sister Mary of the Annunciation, O.P.
In Silence 10
Sister Myriam of the Holy Spirit (Bocaue, Philippines)
Nehemiah, A Model Leader 11
Sister Mary Emily, O.P. (Lufkin)
Authority and Communio in Philemon 15
Sister Mary Thomas, O.P. (Buffalo)
Wood Notes 18
Mother Marie Rosaria, O.P. (Cainta, Philippines)
Towards A Greater Democracy: A Look at the Shift
in the Role of Authority Between Pachomius and Augustine 19
Sister Mary Lucy of the Divine Word (Buffalo)
Sister Mary Joseph, O.P. (Los Angeles)
Regular Chapter as a Workshop for Unity and Charity 25
Sister Maria Agnes, O.P. (Summit)
Flame Out of Heaven 32
Sister Maria of the Eucharist, O.P. (W. Springfield)
Community Discernment in Choosing Those in Authority 33
Sister Mary Jeremiah, O.P. (Lufkin)
Community and Solitude 39
Sister Susan Heinemann, O.P. (N. Guilford)
The Search 45
Sister Mary Joseph, O.P. (Los Angeles)
When We Cry: "Abba, Father!" 46
Mother Mary Margaret, O.P. (Buffalo)
Communio in the Monastic Life of Paulinus of Nola 49
Sister Mary of the Immaculate Conception, O.P. (W. Springfield)
Open Forum 53-55
Sister Mary Agnes of the Infant Jesus, O.P. (Buffalo)
Sister Mary Emmanuel (Buffalo)
Sister Mary John, O.P. (N. Guilford)
Three Haiku 56
Sister Maria of the Cross, O.P. (Summit)
Cibavit Eos 56
Sister Maria of the Cross, O.P. (Summit)
Dominican Monastic Tradition
Lectio and Eruditio in the Rule of San Sisto 57
Sister Mary Martin, O.P. (Summit)
Blessed Jordan of Saxony on Lectio Divina 61
Sister Mary Catherine, O.P. (Elmira)
The Dominican Nuns: Historical Highlights
Rev. Guy Bedouelle, O.P.
Part One: The Beginnings 75
Part Two: Era of Saints and Mystics ... .82
Frontispiece: Sister Mary Michael, O.P. (N. Guilford)
Section Dividers: Sister Virginia Mary, O.P. (Summit)
As the Rule reminds us, the first reason for
which we are gathered together in community
is to live in harmony, having one mind and
heart in God... The unanimity of our life,
rooted in the love of God, should furnish a
living example of that reconciliation of all
things in Christ which our brethren proclaim
in their preaching of the word (LCM 2:1,11).
The theme for this issue of Dominican Monastic Search
is community life. Although basic to the Dominican charism
in all its forms, community life resonates with special
meaning for us, the nuns of the Order, as designating a
reality at the very heart of our vocation and of our
apostolic witness. The papers presented here reflect this
special meaning, if not explicitly, then at least in the
passionate interest with which they were researched and
written by their Dominican monastic authors. Many of the
papers are the fruit of the 1990 Study Program which pursued
the correlative theme of communio and authority. In the
context of this issue, they provide a balanced view of how
authority supports community life while, at the same time,
being an intrinsic part of it. The specific sub-topic of
friendship in community is addressed in the Open Forum
This year we have the privilege of publishing two of
the talks given by Guy Bedouelle, O.P. at the 1988 General
Assembly on: "The Dominican Nuns: Historical Highlights."
As a sort of introduction, we offer two papers by the nuns
themselves, investigating the importance of lectio in the
life of the early nuns. Together these presentations pursue
what has become an ongoing theme of DMS , namely Dominican
monastic tradition. Enriching the issue as a whole is a
wealth of poetry mined from the abundance of our
As editor, I continue to be excited by the quality of
the items submitted for publication and by the breadth of
interest shown throughout our communities. \ T ew names make
their appearance this year as more sisters, young and
not-so-young, respond to the challenge to share the richness
of their lives in writing. I wish to thank the members of
the Editorial Board and the contact persons in each
community who have done their utmost to encourage this
sharing. In so doing we place ourselves at the very center
of what our Conference is all about.
Sr . Mary Ma rt in , O.P.
Some Reflections on the Metaphysical basis of Coromuni_o
According- to Saint Thomas Aquinas
Sister Mary of the Precious Blood, O.P.
Buffalo, New York
You may wonder why I 've chosen to offer some reflections on the subject of
communio from a metaphysical perspective. What does communio have to do
with metaphysics: that branch of philosophy dealing with the kinds of things there
are and the mode or manner in which they exist? If we can take St. Thomas' word
for it, the human person's desire and ability to live in community with other
human beings arises from the very nature of existence itself. Aquinas asserts
that the concept of communio, of many individuals dwelling together united in
mind and heart, springs from the nature of existence as such, so that all being is
geared toward self -communication and intei — relation with others.
The interrelation of being and action
In St Thomas' understanding of existence, there is a close connection between
being and action. When we speak of "action" here we're referring to anything that
brings about some change or motion in something else in the physical sense. The
existence of any being is not a static presence. It is' first of all a presence in
itself, that, by the natural dynamism of its initial act, becomes an active
presence, manifesting itself to the community of other ex i stents. Existence is a
powei — filled presence, which tends immediately to flow over into action, reaching
out to others, exerting its influence on them. Action becomes the natural
self -manifestation of a being, both of its presence (its act of existence) and the
manner in which it exists (its essence). Aquinas never tires of repeating the
phrase "action naturally flows from existence." 1 Here real being is conceived of
as a dynamic inner act of presence, which has a natural aptitude and tendency to
flow over into activity proportionate to and expressive of its nature. Every act",
Aquinas says, is naturally communicative of its own perfection, according to the
degree that it is in act. 2
At this point we might ask, "why is action the self-communication of being?"
Saint Thomas tells us that when a being acts on another, it produces some change
in the other, it affects the other. Every effect must in some way be similar to
its cause because it proceeds from its cause, it receives its manner of existing
or even its existence as such, from its cause. Since a cause could not give what
it didn't already possess, at least in some equivalent higher measure, there must
always be a relation of likeness between effect and cause. Every being, says St.
Thomas, by the very fact that it exists in act, tends to be self-corrmunicative
through its characteristic action. 3 The entire universe of real beings may be
seen as a unified system of mutually interacting, mutually self-corrmuni eating
centers. Action, you might say, is what allows beings to get together with each
other, to come out of their inward looking self -presence to be present to and
for others. As the act of existence is the bond of unity of the universe,
making all things intrinsically similar to each other, so is action the basic
dynamic bond bringing them together, connecting them up with each other.
As This Relates to God
Does what we've just said hold true of God also? Saint Thomas speaks cautiously
here; he doesn't want to say that reason alone can deduce that the divine nature
is essentially self-communicative within itself. The fact that this is so can be
known only through the free divine revelation of the mystery of God as three
Persons in one nature. Aquinas doesn't want to say that God necessari 1y shares
His own goodness in a created universe, so he argues by analogy that if all the
creatures we know in fact manifest this self-communicativeness of their own
goodness, it follows that the divine nature, the exemplar of all creatures, should
have this same aptitude in the highest degree and that it is most "fitting" that
it should exercise it. Although reason can't determine the actual mode of this
divine self -communication, Christian revelation fills in the picture. According
to this revelation, it is essential to the very personality of God as Father that
he communicates the whole fulness of the divine perfection (or nature), without
remainder, to the Son, and that both together, in a mutual act of love,
communicate the identical fulness of the same divine nature to Their love- image,
the Holy Spirit.
As This Relates to Ourselves
Now, how does all this apply to us and to conmunio? Well, as we have seen,
all being is caught up in the unending dialectic of within and without, the
in- itself and the toward-others , the inward-facing act of existential presence in
itself and for itself, and the outward- facing act of self-expression and
self -communication to others. So too, the life of personal being revolves around
this basic polarity of presence to self and to others. Human consciousness does
not start off in full, luminous self -presence. It begins, rather, in a kind of
darkness, a state of being in potency toward knowing all things, in act toward
none. To actualize itself, to make it luminously present to itself in act, it
must first open itself up to the world of others, be awakened by their action on
it and its own active response. Only then, through the mediation of the other,
can it return to itself, to discover itself as "I," as this unique human
person. 4 I discover who and what I am by engaging actively in interpersonal
relations with the- other human persons around me, who treat me as a "thou" in an
interpersonal ist social framework of "l-thou-we."
St. Thomas was quite explicit in stressing the social nature of man in general; he
beautifully describes the spontaneous joy there is in human ccrrmunity when he
says, "It is natural for human beings to take delight in living together." 5 He
asserts that all human beings need each other; they need to abide together in an
ordered social matrix in order to develop properly and satisfy their needs on al 1
levels. And we know from Christian revelation that man's most basic need, his
goal and end, consists in uniting himself with God in perfect love. Man finds
himself in loving God, and in finding himself he finds freedom and wholeness. When
man's free response to God's invitation to love resembles the response of God's
Son, man becomes an "icon" of the Divine, fully human and morally perfect through
participation in God's own life.
Ccximunio, then, the idea of many individuals dwelling together as one, is
intimately bound up with the concept of being. It follows that to be
authentically for a human person is to live in communion with others, to make self
the center of the widest possible web of relationships to all things, especially
to all persons, to express self by loving, to live in love. For St. Thomas, the
final perfection of the whole of being is to form a community of reciprocally
self-corrmuni eating persons in act. On the human level, this offers a description
of cooBJunio, on the divine level, this approaches a description of the
Tr i n i ty .
I. Summa Contra Gentiles , Book I, ch.43, (Garden City: I mage/Doub 1 eday , 1955),
2. De Potent ia , q.2, art.1, ad 1, (Westminster: Newran Press, 1952), p. 45.
4. Surma Theologiae , q.87, art. 1, (London: Blackfriars/Eyre and Spott i swoode ,
1969), p. 107.
5. De Veritate , q.10, art. 8, ad 8 and 9, (Chicago: Regnery, 1962), p. 43.
Gentle bloom at summer's end
Not like June
Shouting, cavorting, spilling over lawn and walk
Clamoring with color, odor: "Extra! Extra!"
You are different.
I go out cautiously,
Not to intrude on the garden's pre-dawn privacy
Lit only by a handful of stars and a lingering moon.
There it lies in fragrant abandon,
Relaxed, unclutching as a child fallen asleep over its prayers.
Alone on this bush
Eerie, as if
Yourself were made of moonlight
Lifting your pale face.
Hoist, creased like the face of the newborn
Unbelievably here, now.
- But if I should come tomorrow, gentle bloom?
- Sr. Mary Thomas. Buffalo
COMMUNITY AS THE IMAGE OF THE TRINITY
Sister Mary of the Annunciation O.P
In this article I would like to reflect upon communio in the light
of being made in God's image. We are created in the image of God who
is Trinity, a communion of three distinct persons in the unity of one
divine nature. We are somehow like God whose existence is an eternal
relationship of reciprocal self-giving and communication. God gifts us
with the capacity for communion and by the grace given to us in Christ
Jesus enables us to enter into this divine communion of love and life.
It is in the mystery of the unity of christian community that we are
able to give deepest expression to our creative reality and salvific
destiny of being "imago Dei."
Theological Dimensions of the Divine Persons
In the New Testament we find the divine persons spoken of in terms
of their mutual relations. The Father is the origin, the source of the
self-giving love and communication in God. The second person, the
Word, is the speech and communication within God and with us through
Jesus. The Spirit is the essential bond of love in the self-giving and
self-communicating relationship of the Tri-Unity. The Trinity is the
interpersonal sharing and communication of the divine life by Father,
Word/Son and Spirit. The divine persons are constituted by their
relationship to one another. God's inner life is a communication of
life in a movement of ceaseless self-giving. Each person is a total
self -gift to the other two. "The relatedness of one person to another
in the Trinitarian mystery stands at the core of personality." (1)
Human Person as the Image of God
Our creation in God's image both constitutes the source of personal
fulfillment and bestows the task of seeking unity and solidarity. We
are created as unique and individual, as well as social beings. Both
of these realities find their source in the Triune God.
The doctrine of man and woman as the image of God is the basis of
biblical anthropology. Genesis tells us that God created us in
integrity and harmony, giving humanity a very special relationship to
the Godhead and to all creation. We stood at the pinnacle of material
creation as knowing and loving beings, created in the image and like-
ness of God. Each person is called to know and to communicate with God
in an intimate love relationship.
Our whole existence as persons can be defined in terms of relation-
ship: relationship to God in whom we find completion, and an
ordered relationship to others and to the universe. By our very nature
we are called to an intimate relationship with God and with others.
God's gift to us in our very creation is a fundamental capacity for
communion. Humanity is made in the image of God not only because each
individual is like God as a rational and free being, but equally
because in our common humanity we are called to live in a communion of
love, to be a communion of persons. This communion reflects in the
created world the communion of love that is in God.
Before sin all these elements that make up our person and nature
were in harmony. Through sin this relationship to God was broken off,
resulting in our alienation from God, ourselves, others and all
creation. Man and woman entered into the land of unlikeness. In our
sinfulness we reflect God, at times, like shattered crystal. The
grace of Christ has again opened to us the divine communion of love.
Our history is the history of God's presence with us. The whole
event of salvation is anchored in the most intimate union between
Father, Word/Son and Spirit. The sending of the Word has revealed the
divine relations as a communion. Jesus' whole action is to declare
the reality of God's presence dwelling in our midst and to seek to draw
us into the same communion shared by the Father and himself. This
communion is the root of all salvific action (Jn 15:5) and the source
of the sending of the disciples and bestowal of the gifts of the Holy
Spirit on individuals for the upbuilding of the community. The Spirit
is the Gift given to us by the Father and the Son, whereby a full
working out of the communion between Father and Son is accomplished in
us as a permanent gift .
Through the coming of Jesus we become heirs with him by faith, in
such a way as to become partakers in the divine nature. Baptized into
his death and sharers in his resurrected glory, we enter into this
communion through the dynamic movement of faith, knowledge and love.
Such knowledge and love is a sharing in the eternal cycle of knowledge,
communication and love between the Father, Son/Word and Spirit. We are
taken into the divine unity of communion: as the Father and Son are
one, we are one in them. Our communion with one another is to
resemble, in the mystery of God's divine plan, the union of the Son
with the Father in and through the love of the Spirit. In our union
with one another Christians are "Imago Dei." We are united to God and
in God with one another.
Our Trinitarian history reveals to us the eternal communion of the
Father, Son and Spirit in their dispensation of salvation. Thereby
creation is brought into the unity of the Trinity.
We see this reflected in Colossians where Paul speaks of Christ
bringing all things into one and then subjecting them to the Father
(Col 2:15-20). Unity is the perfection of creation and the fulfillment
of humanity. The reality of human solidarity — or the communion of
persons — finds its source in the inner life of communion between the
three persons of the Trinity and is the perfection toward which we are
called by God. The unity of God and our participation in that unity
and love demand unity in our christian life.
Christian Community as "Imago Dei"
The New Testament does not give as the primary model for
perfection the unity of the solitary subject in relation to God.
Our individual perfection is completed through the building up of the
communion of persons which constitutes the Body of Christ called
together by and in the one Spirit. The interpersonal at-oneness of the
Triune God is reflected in the experience of the community of Christ,
established through baptism and united in the Spirit. The community is
meant to be a living icon of the Trinity. It is love in the Spirit
that moves and binds us together in the community of Christ, in the
koinonia of believers. The unity of Jesus and his Father is given to
us as the model of Christian perfection (Jn 17:21-23). The Trinitarian
unity is both model and source of the unity of believers. This unity
has its origin in the divine life and action. It is christian commu-
nity which is the perfect and completed image of the Triune God. To be
in communion, one mind and heart, is directly related to imaging God
and the goal of our perfection.
The three persons share the divine life by communicating it to one
another. The self-giving and self-communication of each person in
christian community are analogous to the Trinitarian communication. I
define self-giving as the communication of what one is rather than
what one has or does. In order to be in commmunion with one another we
need to communicate our presence in self-giving. The full reality of
the human person can only be found through a sincere gift of self.
When we speak of our likeness to God we must always speak in terms of
that which in some mysterious way is truly "like" and at the same time
so radically different too. Our "self-giving" and "self-communication"
to one another are necessarily incomplete and imperfect. Whereas God
is the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that sharing is
the Divine Essence, we though many become one as we enter into the
mystery of God by loving and giving ourselves in love. Love acts in
self-giving and self-communication. The deepest meaning of the human
person is not a reality defined simply by individualism but includes,
as essential to the definition, one who is interrelated.
Human personality is seen as a center of relationships
through self-consciousness (self-possession) and self-
giving. A person is therefore someone complete in
himself but also someone who is constituted by his
relations . (2)
Christian community is, then, a gathering of persons called by God
in Chris't, empowered and animated by the indwelling presence of the
Spirit, who freely give themselves to one another in love. The human
person as "Imago Dei" is called to share in the shared love of the
Trinity and to communicate that love to others. The shared love of the
Trinity is expressed most fully in human terms in the shared love of
the community of Christ, sustained by the indwelling presence of the
In the abiding presence of God-with-us we are called into divine
friendship which actualizes our communion and friendship with one
another while transcending and fulfilling the unique personhood of each
member. This community of friendship with God and each other gives a
sense of the dignity of the human person. In this way, by following
the law of Christ which is love, we reveal God in the truth of the
divine reality: a communion of eternal reciprocal love and self-
giving. Through our solidarity, our communion with one another, we
embrace more fully our creation as "Imago Dei."
In such a community of friendship rooted in the Spirit the
dignity of each person is recognized. Unity is achieved through a
sincere donation of self which is reciprocated by a corresponding gift
on the part of the other. Only thus can a true unity be established
according to the dignity of each person. A personal commitment is
required for the perfection of community. By following the law of
Christ which is love, we reveal God who is love. Thus, through the New
Testament revelation, we see from the interpersonal love in the Trinity
what human love in God's image is to be. Love is the foundation of
community expressed by and through communication and mutuality, a free
and reciprocal commitment. As each individual member is able to give
and to grow in the mystery of "shared love," there will be a great
variety of relationships in the mystery of christian community.
Community as The Gift of the Spirit
Christian community is first of all a gift of the Holy Spirit. It
is the indwelling Spirit who makes us one. The continuing work of
unity is effected through the Spirit who is the source of unity and
also the source of diversity and giftedness in the community. It is
the Spirit who brings to completion in believers the unity that is like
the union between the Father and the Son. We become partakers in the
communion of the Trinity through the unitive love^of the Spirit who has
been given to us by the Father and the Son.
We are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit,
baptized into the believing community, the Body of Christ, and by our
love we reflect the unity of love in the Trinity. Each person has a
unique contribution. It is not a unity without distinction, and this
distinction of persons also reflects the reality of the interpersonal
self-communication and self-giving of the Father, Son/Word and Spirit.
Gifts of the Spirit for the Community
In Paul's letter to the Romans, christian community is principally
defined as the unity of a diversity of members, who, animated by the
Spirit, share a common task and a common destiny. A personal
principle and a principle of unity are brought into harmony in the
gifted diversity of God's people, bonded in one Spirit yet with
multiple functions which enable us to complete the work of Jesus.
Unity is not impaired but served by the various gifts and
functions. The interdependence of the gifts forms community and makes
the unity a reality. Unity does not consist in uniformity, with the
suppression of individual differences, but in the distribution of the
needed gifts to individuals for the sake of the community. Each one's
gift is completed through each one's relationship to the entire
community and the interworking of community living. Here we have in
the community an analogical, necessarily finite and limited image of
the Trinity, "like" yet very different at the same time: that is, the
harmony of persons in their distinctiveness engaged in a relationship
of reciprocal love and self-giving.
Our unity finds its source in being members of God's household
(Eph 2:18-22). The initiative comes from God. Our communion is
founded in God and not solely in our own efforts. Thus communion is
characterized by God's promises and gifts which call forth our response
and commitment. Ephesians 4:16 stresses the interdependence of the
members in contributing to and through one another the vital forces
which derive ultimately from the head, Christ. The goal of the
community is the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God.
Sin has not destroyed but diminished the reality of our "Imago
Dei." Examples of our "unlikeness" to God abound in our dealings with
one another, politically, socially and in our destructive use of
creation. Our "likeness" to God is also there to see in our ongoing
striving for renewal, in the implementation of the Gospel call to
justice, and in our seeking to enter into a communion of love with one
another. To love, to enter into a communion with our brothers and
sisters, to build in the Spirit the community of Christ in our world is
to become more fully human. In the final analysis, it is indeed in the
transcendent reality of "communion with" that each person will be
Solidarity among peoples and nations is the realization of the
essential call and task of each person as the fulfillment of their
created reality as "imago Dei." Entering into communion with the
Father, Word/Son and Spirit is a dynamic process of involvement with
God, and therefore with society and the world through love.
St. Augustine very clearly put community as the primary tool
for formation in his monasteries, and the striving for love as the
way of perfection. We as Dominican nuns strive always to be the
community of reconcilation that is the Gospel message of love preached
by the brothers and sisters.
(1) Dorenkemper, M.J., "Person (in Theology)", New Catholic
Encyclopedia . Vol. 11, 1967, p. 168.
(2) Ibid. , p. 169.
Blessed are you among women
Your womb became the cloistered
resting place of the Word Incarnate
There He spoke with you in silence.
You broke this silence when Elizabeth
In sublimest praise and thanks,
You magnified His Holy Name,
Leaving us a treasure:
your soul's eloquence.
At Nazareth, you taught the Word
the first word to utter.
What it was remains hidden,
for nothing is recorded.
The maid-servant and the King
served each other - in silence.
Still, full of Grace, at the foot
of the Cross,
No word, no voice is heard
But you consoled Him;
Your very presence quenched His thirst.
Silent at the foot of the Cross,
Silent still, when they laid Him
in your arms .
Full of Grace ... gazing at the Word;
The heart of a Mother speaking
to the heart of her Son
- in silence.
Sister Myriam of the Holy Spirit
A Model Leader gr. Mary Emily, O.P.
Scripture abounds with examples of authority figures and lessons
in authority and communio. One of the finest examples of leadership-
authority is Nehemiah. The Old Testament book bearing his name is
short, only thirteen chapters. In this account the mercies of God shine
forth upon his people through one man inspired with love for his
brothers, his fatherland and his God.
The year was 445 B.C. when the Jews were still exiled in Babylon,
though some had already been allowed to return to Jerusalem to resettle
with the remnant. Nehemiah was still in the "land of exile", in
Babylon, serving as cupbearer to Emperor Artaxerxes I. This position
was a most honorable one and took considerable courage since the
cupbearer was to taste the king's wine before the king in the event the
wine was poisoned. Already Nehemiah, a servant and a man under
authority, was learning to be continually disposed toward laying down
his life for another. Within a very short time he, as leader in the
capacity of governor in Jerusalem, would repeatedly die to himself for
the sake of the community in their joint service and enthusiasm for the
work of rebuilding the city wall.
Why become so intensely zealous over the rebuilding of the wall?
Ezra, scribe and priest, had just previously encouraged the rebuilding
of the temple in Jerusalem. But the city had been left in ruins for
decades, seventy years, and now with the wall in ruins the city was
defenseless. The precious temple lay as a jewel box for any avaricious
enemy to plunder.
Furthermore, the city's wall was a pride and joy. It displayed to
all around the concern the people had for their own domain, and the Jews
were rightly concerned for the protection of the Temple. And so it was
that Nehemiah rose to the occasion offering his services to God,
Israel's "wall and defense", for the rebuilding of the physical wall.
The wall of the city was a symbol of unity to the chosen people
(cf. NJB, Ps 23b). God called forth Nehemiah to lead the people toward
the realization of their hope for peace in their city and in their homes
as together they rebuilt their wall. "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,
prosperity for your homes! Peace within your walls, prosperity in your
palaces!" (Ps. 122:6,7)
A good leader draws strength from God .
God is the supreme authority. The Hebrews knew this. He was the Divine
Presence in the fire, on the rriountain, in the ark, in the cloud. St.
Thomas expresses it this way: "God is not only his own godhead; he is
also his own existence " (1, q.3,a.4). Nehemiah depended entirely on God
as is clear in the nine prayers he offers in the thirteen chapters of
A good leader bears the burdens of his people.
The psalmist says, "he bears our burdens, God our savior", and Isaiah
says, "he bore our iniquities". The four evangelists and the letter
writers of the New Testament certainly testify to the cross Jesus
carried and endured for us. Nehemiah also took on the burden of his
people. When his kinsmen tell him how the survivors living in Jerusalem
were in a demoralized condition, with the walls in ruins and the gates
burnt down, Nehemiah writes, "On hearing this I sat down and wept; for
some days I mourned, fasting and praying before the God of heaven "
A good leader assumes responsibility.
Nehemiah takes on complete responsibility for the task of rebuilding the
wall around the holy city Jerusalem. He approaches King Artaxerxes, and
he is given permission to leave and act as governor for the duration of
A good leader is well informed.
Nehemiah had arrived in Jerusalem and had been there only three days,
just enough time to unpack, so to speak, when he decides to begin at
once. His first move is not to roll up his sleeves and get to work, but
rather to study the ruined wall and the entire layout of the situation.
He writes, "Under cover of dark I went out through the Valley Gate
towards the Dragon's Fountain as far as the Dung Gate, and examined the
wall of Jerusalem where it was broken down and its gates burnt out. I
then crossed to the Fountain Gate and the King's Pool, but it was
impassable to my mount " (Ne 2:13,14).
A good leader motivates those under his charge.
Nehemiah felt strongly urged by God for the reconstruction of the wall.
At the outset of this task he inflames his fellow countrymen with his
own enthusiasm and zeal for the holy task ahead. "I then said to them,
'You see what a sorry state we are in: Jerusalem is in ruins and its
gates have been burnt down. Come on, we must rebuild the walls of
Jerusalem and put an end to our humiliating position!' And I told them
how the kindly hand of my God had been over me, and the words which the
king had said to me. At this they said, 'Let us start building at
once!' and they set their hands to the good work " (Ne 2:17,18).
A good leader is realistic and works at his task.
The task of building is more than a dream; it is sweat and blood.
Nehemiah and the Israelite community rolled up their sleeves and labored
hard, quickly completing the wall encircling Jerusalem in little over a
month. This task that never seemed possible became a reality when
authority and community worked hand in hand. There is truth in the
saying, "Pray as though everything depends on God, and work as though
everything depends on you". But neither Nehemiah nor the Jews
considered the project was theirs, for the text clearly states, "When
all our enemies heard about it (the completion of the wall) and all the
surrounding nations saw it, they thought it a wonderful thing, because
they realized that this work had been accomplished by the power of our
God " (Ne 6: 15,16).
A good leader delegates work.
Much of Nehemiah's success as a leader is due to his wisdom in involving
the entire community in the noble project of building the wall. Whole
families and clans had specific jobs and functions. Organization on the
part of leader and community meshed so Chapter 3 relates, although the
work is compartmentalized, it is as though one person, the "person" of
Israel, was doing the work . This is the healthy outcome of delegating
work and tasks.
A good leader remains confident and courageous in the face of
Opposition came in the form of insult and ridicule by the governor of
Samaria whose name was Sanballat. Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdodites also
took up the taunts. It went like this: "Can they put new life into
stones taken from rubbish heaps and even charred?", and, "If a jackal
were to jump on what they are building, it would knock their stone wall
down!" (Ne 3:35,36). Nehemiah's response? "We, however, prayed to our
God and organized a guard day and night to protect the city from them "
A good leader sees to the social needs and proplems that exist.
A cry went up from the people: "We are having to pledge our sons and
daughters to get enough grain to eat and keep alive... we are having to
mortgage our fields, our vineyards and our houses to get grain because
of the shortage .. .we have had to borrow money on our fields and our
vineyards to pay the royal tax..." (Ne 5:1-5). Nehemiah took immediate
action in favor of the people: "When I heard their complaints and these
words I was very angry. Having turned the matter over in my mind, I
reprimanded the nobles and the officials ..." (Ne 5:6,7).
A good leader is honest and does not exploit.
Jerusalem and its inhabitants lay in impoverishment. It took faith
beyond measure for the Jewish community and its leader-governor to
restore the temple and rebuild the wall in the face of terrible
material needs of the families in the area. It would have been so easy
for Nehemiah to fill his purse at the expense of the populace. Chapter
5 is a testimony to his honest administration. He never exacted monies
from the people. He even went so far as to never levy the governor's
subsistence allowance. "But I, fearing God, never did this. Also, not
acquiring any land, I concentrated on the work of this wall and all my
attendants joined in the work together, too " (Ne 5:15,16).
A good leader will express largess.
In Matthew 5:42 we read, "Give to anyone who asks you, and if anyone
wants to borrow, do not turn away." This injunction is not just for the
Christian community. Generosity and largeness of heart are in season in
every age. Nehemiah was exemplary. "Furthermore, magistrates and
officials to the number of a hundred and fifty ate at my table, not to
mention those who came to us from the surrounding nations. Every day,
one ox, six fine sheep, as well as poultry, were prepared for me; every
ten days, skins of wine were brought in bulk " (Ne 5:17,18). All of
this, of- course, came out of Nehemiah's "bank account."
A good leader is steadfast in personal attack.
In the sixth chapter Nehemiah's long-standing enemies try intimidation.
"There is a rumour among the nations- and Gashmu confirms it- that you
and the Jews are thinking of rebelling, which is why you are rebuilding
the wall, and you intend to become their king; and that you have even
briefed prophets to acclaim you in Jerusalem with the cry, 'there is a
king in Juda!' Now, these rumours are going to reach the king; so you
had better come and discuss them with us.'" (Ne 6:6-8). The intent of
Sanballat and Tobiah was to terrorize Nehemiah, to try to talk him into
taking sanctuary in the temple, and thus to demoralize the Jews still
working on the wall and stall the operation. Nehemiah was steadfast in
his resistance to their ploy: "Should a man like me run away? Would a
man like me go into the Temple to save his life? I shall not go in!":
A good leader will be diligent to enact laws.
Chapters 7 through 13 are condensed in a nutshell in the last sentence
of this book, " And so I purged them of everything foreign; I drew up
regulations for the priests and Levites, defining each man's duty, as
well as for the deliveries of wood at the proper times, and for the
first-fruits " (Ne 13:30-31). In other words, Nehemiah was diligent in
laying down the law. What exactly is a law? A law is the same in
Nehemiah 's day as it is in ours. St. Thomas offers four elements of a
law: 1) law is an ordinance of reason (it should make sense); 2) it
should be for the general good; 3) it should be made by whoever has care
of the community; and 4) it should be promulgated (1-11-90-4). Nehemiah
saw to this with leadership gusto.
Nehemiah was responsible for the reconstruction of the wall. Yet
we have also seen him in the capacity of a model leader. Does the water
run deeper than that? Yes it does. This layman, simply intent on
listening to the promptings of his God, the God of Israel, was before
all else intent on the faith of his fathers. He was consumed with zeal
for the honor of God. Thus he could write after all the construction
was completed: "The wall was finished within fifty-two days, on the
twenty-fifth of Elul . When all our enemies heard about it and all the
surrounding nations saw it, they thought it a wonderful thing, because
they realised that this work had been accomplished by the power of our
God " (Ne 6:15,16).
- The New Jerusalem Bible
- The Summa o f St. Thomas Aquinas
- The Anchor Bible - Ezra - Nehemiah
- The magazine Israel My Glory (not Catholic), the article "Nehemiah",
Vol. hi, No. 5, page 24. (note: I did not use any text of this article,
but I did adopt and adapt the delightful format, though mine differs
AUTHORITY AND COMMUNIO IN PHILEMON
- Sr. Mary Thomas, Buffalo
The story is simple, and probably quite familiar. Paul is writing to
Philemon. That may sound like an obvious, rather trite remark. But naturally,
it has been challenged by the exegetes. Could it be that he was not writing to
Philemon, as devout readers have thought these many centuries? Well yes, truth
to tell, some claim that he was writing to Archippus, whose name appears short-
ly after that of Philemon in the greeting: "To Philemon, our beloved fellow
worker, and Apphia our sister, and Archippus, our fellow soldier, and the
church in your house..." However the majority of commentators on this very
brief letter consider it to be a letter to Philemon, and so I have accepted it
as such for our present purposes.
Brief as the letter is, it contains an interesting cast of characters, a
plot and a problem which is not resolved but which leaves us pondering on the
possibilities, the outcome of this Christian/pagan dialectic.
Even though the Letter is well known, it will do no harm to run through
the characters, giving the interpretation which seems most traditional, or
which at least still seems to be held by the mainstream commentators.
First, of course, there is Paul, writing from prison. The traditional
view was that it was a Roman prison, but more recently commentators have fa-
vored Paul's Ephesian imprisonment, for reasons which we shall see further on.
In any case, the picture is of Paul as an 'old' man — not all that old by our
standards but by the standards of his own times — probably in his sixties and
nearing the end of his life.
Philemon is a young, well-to-do and respected Christian living in some
town in the Lycus Valley in Asia Minor, probably Colossae. Apphia, whom Paul
refers to as "our sister", is generally thought to be Philemon's wife, and
Archippus their son. Continuing with the traditional conjecture, Philemon is
believed to be a convert of Paul's, who possibly met him for the first time at
Ephesus. The mention of "the church that meets in your house" completes the
picture of a prosperous, friendly young convert who is able and happy to place
his home at the disposal of the local Christians for their meetings.
The final character in this domestic drama is Onesimus, a slave belonging
to Philemon, who has run away, and in the process may have caused his owner
considerable damage. Onesimus is thought to be a Colossian like Philemon. He
has fled to Paul in prison for refuge. Paul has taken him in and has converted
him to Christianity, and a close bond has developed between them, Paul refer-
ring to him in the letter as "my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become in
my imprisonment". Onesimus has revealed to Paul that he belongs to Paul's dear
friend and co-partner Philemon. He does not want to go back to his master.
Severe penalties were permitted by law to be dealt out to runaway slaves. He
prefers to stay with Paul and render him every service possible in the prison.
So Paul faces a real dilemma, caught between two people whom he dearly
loves, and trying to do justice to both. At this point he takes in hand his
moving "Letter to Philemon".
Before looking at the contents of Paul's letter we might do well to note
the interplay of authority and communio in the situation which is confronting
First, authority. Paul addresses Philemon as his "beloved fellow worker"
(1) but has no hesitation about asserting a little further on, "I am bold
enough in Christ to command you to do what is required" (8). Then a few
verses later we read: "I preferred to do nothing without your consent" (14).
Towards the end of the letter Paul says: " Confident of your obedience , I write
to you, knowing you will do even more than I say." (21) In these phrases there
is a clear expression of authority — "command" and "obedience" leave no room
for doubt. Paul and Philemon are partners but Paul's authority is beyond
question, in spite of the aside, "I preferred to do nothing without your
This last phrase poses a question. Is Paul being adroit, strengthening
his authority by a show of deference which will make Philemon's obedience all
the more willing? Or is it rather that Paul is constrained, by the very nobi-
lity of his nature, to mingle authority and communio in a single blend until
authority is wholly penetrated with love?
Philemon himself — like the centurion of Capharnaum — is a man of
authority. He presides over his own household presumably, and possesses at
least one slave. In the Letter Paul is showing him by a very concrete demons-
tration the Christian way of exercising authority. Even as Paul himself re-
frains from commanding Philemon, and prefers to appeal to him "for love's sake"
in the matter of receiving Onesimus back, so Philemon is expected to follow
this same principle and receive Onesimus "no longer as a slave, but as a be-
loved brother... as you would receive me" (16, 17). Authority is there not for
its own sake, but to lead into, grow into love.
It is out of repect for Philemon's authority over Onesimus that Paul has
decided to send the slave back in the first place — "I would have been glad to
keep him with me", he points out (13). But Paul's hope is that Philemon will
exercise his rightful authority over the runaway slave, "and have him back, no
longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother" (16).
Authority, then, in Paul's view, is clearly a thing to be accepted, reve-
renced and defended; but it must be transformed, in the Christian way of life,
into an expression of authentic love. This concept of transformation, of an
authority suffused, so to say, with love, leads us directly into the idea of
communio. The two are closely linked both in the Letter to Philemon and in
life itself as Christ in His coming has transformed it.
How many forms of communio are depicted in this very short letter. There
is the obvious union existing between Philemon, his wife and his son, the harmo-
ny that allows of their drawing together a group of fellow Christians who form
a church in their home. These people, whom we imagine between the lines, assem-
ble in Philemon's home to celebrate the sacred mysteries together. They share
the same ideals, values and goals — the same longing to gather more followers
of 'the way' , and Paul prays "that the sharing of your faith may promote the
knowledge of all the good that is ours in Christ" (6). He thanks God because
"I hear of your love and of the faith which you have towards the Lord Jesus and
all the saints" (4). Paul is bonded personally with this community about a
hundred miles distant (if his prison is in Ephesus, not Rome, as seems likely),
"for I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because
the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you" ( 5 ) .
The flow of communio, harmony, Christian love, circulates freely through
the group at Philemon's home, runs in a strong current to delight Paul's soul
in his prison and returns enriched with the torrential love of Paul's great
heart, to pour new power and vitality into the group, where "the hearts of the
saints have been refreshed" ( 7 ) .
.Again, there is a stirring communio depicted between Paul and Onesimus.
"I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become in my
imprisonment." (10). Onesimus is to Paul "more than a slave ... a beloved
brother" (16). The strength of this new bond between Paul and Onesimus becomes
the source of a deepening bond between Paul and Philemon, and Paul believes and
hopes that it is going to result in a profound communio between Philemon and
Onesimus, a transformation from the relationship of master and slave to that of
brotherhood in Christ.
Here we have an intricate interlocking of relationships, a pattern not
infrequently observed in our own lives. Friendship between two expands to
include a third; the resulting communio is threefold and images the Trinity.
In fact, it seems valid to ask w T hether there can be authentic communio between
less than three. Where it looks like just two, there is always, for the Chris-
tian, the invisible Third who created the bond originally, restores it to
wholeness should it be shattered in the way of human frailty, and fills it with
life and fruitfulness.
The relationship of authority and communio in the Letter to Philemon is
seen to be reciprocal. It is difficult to put one's finger on the place where
one ends, the other begins — or it would be difficult if we did not know that
the name of God is Love. Authority can be seen as the work of love, "ordering
all things sweetly" in the lives of these early Christians.
The close of Paul's letter gives a hint of what was to follow. "Prepare a
guest room for me..." (22). It is difficult to think that Philemon did not
take back Onesimus, now as a brother and fellow worker in spreading the good
news. There is reason to believe, further, that Onesimus eventually became the
bishop of Ephesus. We may also be allowed to fancy Philemon and Apphia joyful-
ly hastening to prepare a room for Paul, and gathering the members of the local
church to greet him. Indeed this conjecture is the reason put forward by some
commentators for the suggestion that Paul's prison was in Ephesus, not Rome.
This would have been much closer to Philemon's home, and would explain Paul's
assurance that he could plan a visit in the near future.
We can put down this "perfect example of the letter-writer's art" feeling
that the human dilemma was faced and the problems solved by the sheer grace of
a Christian blending of authority and communio.
Based on Fitzmeyer's article on Philemon in the New Jerome Biblical Commentarv,
WOOD NOTES *
The red bud trees entwined among the willows,
Cast rosy mists upon the brightly colored earth;
The silver stream with dew-stained violet collar,
Interspersed with dainty sprigs of sweet anemone
Trims the stunning jacket of jaunty, sportive Spring
Blue ridges in the sky at dawn,
While the pale stars fade one by one,
And glimmer in the misty pool
Now flushed with crimson from the sun.
How charming are crisp satin buds
Primly set on cherry twigs
Soon disclosing blossoms,
To fill the air with fragrant perfume
Of newly ushered Spring,
And in the center of the golden pistils
Sparkles a tear drop of the stars.
A lombard poplar stands beneath my window,
Lifting her fair form heavenward;
The soft sheen of the moon splashes on the leaves,
Fluttering like shimmering silk about her,
And adds soft mystery
To her little gracefulness.
Beautiful thoughts surge through my mind,
As the dusk of the evening approaches,
And night floats softly down to earth
Like a mystic blue scarf growing darker and darker;
The tints of the sunset glow from the stream,
Winding and wending its way through the forest.
In the distance I hear the hoot of the owl,
A reminder of life around me,
And feel the veiled charm of soft-toned twilight.
The stars, like bright pebbles, appear one by one
To challenge my limited knowledge.
The trees, tall and slender, in lacy green dresses
Receive the Night's benediction,
And the gloaming steals sweetly and softly upon me
Bringing peace to my heart and soul.
Mother Marie Rosaria, 0..P
* This poem is a reprint from OAKWOOD ANNUAL, 1924.
It was published under the name Elizabeth G. Hiett,
MMR's baptismal name.
TOWARDS A GREATER DEMOCRACY:
A LOOK AT THE SHIFT IN THE ROLE OF AUTHORITY
BETWEEN PACHOMIUS AND AUGUSTINE
Sr. Mary Lucy of the Divine Word
The community of believers were of one heart and one mind. None of them
ever claimed anything as his own, rather, everything was held in common.
How often we hear these words from the Acts of the Apostles, without per-
haps giving ourselves over to the power that lies within them. But yet they are
powerful words, so powerful in fact that they generated the cenobitic form of
monasticism, and also a very unique vision of that life. This text deeply in-
spired both St. Pachomius and St. Augustine in establishing monastic communi-
ties and in formulating a rule, and was a driving force throughout their lives.
On considering the contrast between the lives of Pachomius and Augustine,
one may be tempted to say that apart from this common inspiration for community
life there was little similarity between the two men. And perhaps in a sense
this is true. But still there remains some common ground. In looking at the
similar ideals they held and at the different circumstances of the monasteries
they founded, I would like to trace a shift in the role each saint gives to
authority in their rules and consequently in the quality of community life.
Pachomius, born in 292, converted to Christianity as a result of kind
treatment he had received at the hands of Christians when he had been drafted
for military service. He vowed that if he ever got out of the army he would
become a Christian and serve others. Such was to be the case, and he was bap-
tized in 313. He became a disciple of Palamon, but after seven years remem-
bered his vow to serve others. So he left Abba Palamon and started his own
After a first unsuccessful attempt, Pachomius gathered many monks to his
way of life, founding twelve monasteries (one for women) that totalled thou-
sands of members. Because of the large number of monks in each monastery he
imposed a detailed rule and set up a structure of authority. The monks were
divided into houses according to the type of labor they performed, and each
house had a house master and his assistant. The days were given to manual
labor, the nights to vigil. Each house had morning and evening prayer, and a
few evenings a week Pachomius would instruct all the brethren in the Scrip-
tures. He travelled to his other monasteries to give them instruction also.
His own personality and charism were truly the driving force behind his com-
munities, and he was deeply loved and greatly revered by all his brethren. His
monasteries were famous for their spirit of unity.
Augustine was born at Tagaste in 345, and was also a convert to the faith.
While accounts of the monasticism of St. Anthony and St. Pachomius had a pro-
found effect on Augustine, especially in drawing him towards conversion, he
clearly had a different idea of monasticism in mind. The communities he gath-
ered to himself, especially in the beginning, consisted in groups of close
friends who 'devoted themselves to contemplation and intellectual discussions.
Even as his ideas progressed and developed, the monasteries he founded were
small and labor was intellectual rather than manual. Most of his monasteries
were for clerics, although a few were for lay brothers. Pachomian communities
on the other hand consisted mostly of lay brothers; priests would only be accep-
ted if they were willing to follow the Rule exactly as the other brethren did.
Augustine was very drawn by the ideas of community and of the personal relation-
ships existing between the members.
Community for him was a goal to be pursued for its own sake, not merely to
serve some other end. . . . There are other forms of monastic living which
lay stress on living in common . . . yet one can find no legislation in which
the notion of community has so consciously and forcefully been made the
central point of monastic living, in which it has been declared the prime
object for which men come together. 1
While each saint took a different approach to establishing authority, due
in large part to the contrasting size of their communities and the type of work
in which they were engaged, it is important to remember one aspect of authority
which both espoused as essential. Both Pachomius and Augustine viewed the role
of superior as one of service to the brethren. Their great desire to serve the
brethren and their compassion in meeting the needs of those under their charge
gave rise to many similar directives in their Rules.
An issue that troubled both saints as superiors was that of fraternal cor-
rection. Both call for a discreet handling of the situation requiring correc-
tion. Augustine saw it as one of the most difficult tasks of the superior, but
felt that it must be done, and with love. "He saw it as necessary for the
well-being and growth of the community." 2 Pachomius too saw correction as a
difficult task, and indeed this may have been the reason for the failure of his
first community. For it appears from accounts that he did not correct the bro-
thers directly at all, but hoped instead to convert them by his humble and pa-
tient example. "They will see", he said, "my patience and my sorrow, and they
will come back to God; they will do penance and they will fear God." 3 His
monks in consequence had no respect for him as a superior, and after suffering
at their hands for five years he had to expel them forcibly from the monastery,
using the bar of the gate as a cudgel to push them outside. 4 There is
another story from the desert about Pachomius asking a fellow abbot if it is
right to correct the brothers. The answer he receives is affirmative, but only
in regard to the brothers in his own monasteries. 5
That Augustine was aware of this type of situation can be seen clearly in
Chapter Six of his Rule. Here, dealing with the subject of asking pardon and
forgiving offenses, he adds: "But whenever the good of discipline compels you
to speak harshly in correcting your subjects, then, even if you think you have
been unduly harsh in your language, you are not required to ask forgiveness
lest, by practicing too great humility towards those who should be your sub-
jects, the authority to rule is undermined. " While the desire to correct
one's subjects should spring from love and the act be carried out in all
humility, it is necessary at the same time to maintain one's role as superior.
For if a superior loses his or her authority, as in the case of Pachomius, it
will be impossible to preserve order in the community and consequently the goal
of becoming one in mind and heart will be unattainable.
It would seem, then, that fraternal correction is necessary not only for
the sake of the individual being corrected, not even merely for the sake of the
community as a whole, but also in order to preserve the office of the superi-
or. For is it not the vision of the superior, and the authority to act on that
vision, that is the driving force behind achieving oneness of heart and mind
within the community?
This is where we come to the most important difference in the roles given
to authority by Pachomius and Augustine. Pachomius, in what is already a
break from St. Anthony, gives to the superior (in his next and highly suc-
cessful monastery) absolute authority. The superior has charge of both the spi-
ritual and material needs and well-being of the brethren. He is a father to
the brothers in the areas of preaching, teaching and the giving of spiritual
direction, and sees that regular life in common is observed and that the mate-
rial needs of the monastery are met. Of Pachomius it was said: "As for our
father Pachomius, he would very often go round to the monasteries, comforting
the brothers by the word of God as a nurse comforts her children (I Thess
2:7) with her heart's affection." 6
The basis of Pachomius* authority was his rule, which is quite detailed.
Throughout it he places a strong emphasis on obedience. It is this obedience,
not only to Pachomius as a spiritual father but more importantly to his rule,
that most clearly reveals a shift from the tradition of St. Anthony and the
other desert fathers. For now, "obedience dominated the whole of life ... not
simply obedience towards a spiritual master, towards the Elder the monk had
freely selected, but it now became obedience to a superior officially recog-
nized as the head of the community and, at the same time, obedience to a whole
collection of codified regulations". 7 From the writings of his disciples we
see that all the brothers loved Pachomius deeply and seeing his teachings , and
the rule itself, as God's will, they responded with great faith. 8
Augustine takes a new and radical tack. Although he in no way discounts
the value of faith and obedience to the superior and the rule, he places his
emphasis on love. Love is the driving force behind all the directives of his
rule. The superior is to serve in love and the brethren are to obey out of
charity. It must not be forgotten, however, that the service of the brethren
in love was the driving force of Pachomius' life and of his communities as
well. But the actual structure of authority has shifted in Augustine's vision
of monastic life. No longer is the superior the spiritual father or mother of
individuals, set above the rest of the community. Now, the brother or sister
holding the office of superior still remains one of the brethren, one of the
sisters, although certainly having true authority. "The superior should be
obeyed as a father or mother", Augustine says in Chapter Seven of his
Rule. "This may appear as the most important motive in the formation of his
conception of obedience, and it shows how far he had progressed beyond the
ideals of older monastic rules. Undoubtedly, from the beginning superiors had
been called 'Father' , but to advance from that to the idea of obedience 'as to
a father' was to have come a long way". 9 The emphasis in the role of the su-
perior has shifted from one having absolute power over many, to many
sharing in the power of the one in order for all to become one in love.
This shift is made even clearer by Dominic's unique vision in his placing
the weight of authority in the body of the community. This is most particular-
ly evident when the community is gathered in chapter. The system of Dominican
government is very democratic in allowing the professed members of the commu-
nity to discuss important issues and vote, and so have a true share in the
authority of the superior. In a sense the community forms itself, but under
the guiding hand of the superior, rather than giving itself over to the vision
of just one person. As our Constitutions indicate: "At the regular chapter
the nuns gather as sisters in charity and humility under the leadership of the
prioress to give one another mutual assistance in the renewal and development
of the regular life." 10 For it is here, by learning to legislate out of
charity, or "by placing the common good before one's own", ll that the nuns
"pursue communion through their manner of government" 1Z . It is now the
vision of the whole community that is the driving force behind oneness of mind
and heart. And if it is the community that now that forms itself, love will
have to be the operative element, rather than that faith in one person which
was required in the Pachomian community.
This shift from the absolute authority of one to the sharing of authority
within and throughout the community seems to be a great leap, and a daring
one. But yet, all is not simply left in the hands of a group of people, for
the rule and the authority of the superior are still essential. I think the
key to Augustine's view of community and authority lies in the last Chapter of
his Rule, where he takes his inspiration from St. Paul's concept in the Letter
to the Romans and says: "You are not slaves living under the law but women and
men living in freedom under grace." It is not through obedience alone that we
are formed into a community, but more importantly, we are to live as free and
responsible Christians cooperating in the formation of the whole community and
obeying and serving out of love for God and love for one another. This,
Augustine says at the very beginning of his Rule, is the end you have
come here for.
1. Zumkeller, Adolar, OSA: Augustine's Ideal of the Religious Life. New
York: Fordhara University Press, 1986, p. 126.
2. Ibid., p. 156.
3. Bouyer, Louis: A History of Christian Spirituality, Vol. I, The
Spirituality of the New Testament and the Fathers. New York: The Sea-
bury Press, 1982, p. 322.
4. Ibid., p. 323.
5. Ward, Benedicta: The Desert Christian. New York: Macmillan Publishing
Company, Inc., 1975, p. 152.
6. Pachomian Koinonia, Vol. I, The Life of St. Pachomius - the Bohairic
Life, p. 78, N. 58.
7. Bouyer, loc. cit. , p. 325.
8. Life of St. Pachomius, loc. cit., Forward by Adalbert de Vogue, p. xii,
9. Zumkeller, loc. cit., p. 162.
10. LCM N. 68.
11. Rule of St. Augustine, Chapter 5.
12. LCM, Fundamental Constitution V.
Bouyer, Louis. A History of Christian Spirituality, Vol.1, The
Spirituality of the New Testament and the Fathers. New York: The Seabury
Chitty, Derwas J. The Desert a City. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's
Seminary Press, 1966.
Early Monastic Rules. trans. Carmela Vircillo Franklin, Ivan Havener, OSB,
J. Alcuin Francis, OSB. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1982.
Pachomian Koinonia , Vol.1, The Life of St. Pachomius - Bohairic Life.
trans. Armand Veilleux. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, Inc., 1980.
Quasten, Joannes. Patrology, Vol. Ill, The Golden Age of Greek Patristic
Literature. Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, Inc., 1984.
Van Bavel, Tarcisius, OSA. The Rule of St. Augustine with Introduction and
Commentary. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1984.
Ward, Benedicta. The Desert Christian. New York: Macmillan Publishing
Company, Inc., 1975.
Zumkeller, Adolar, OSA. Augustine's Ideal of the Religious Life. New
York: Fordham University Press, 1986.
rjTie, cart ft fias uicCcUcC
its fruits J
QpcC ^our CjocC
Sister Mary Joseph, O.P.
Los Angeles, California
We tick them off with ease.
Matthew's scattered list is ours to tease;
The lame, the maimed, the poor, the sick, deformed,
The lonely, weak, the sore-afflicted, scorned.
From out the world they cry,
With these we can identify.
Christ in His Passion hidden deep we see.
Ours to hear, to love and keep the mystery.
About our own? We rubbed elbows today.
Don't we know the life?- We turn away.
Pretend we do not hear unuttered cries,
Smile at their wordless sighs.
We say in truth, "God help the stupified. "
They only leave us mystified.
Our brother's keeper - Where was it heard before?
And then we think of them no more.
They seem to us so shrouded - -
In mystery - - so clouded.
We meet them in the psalms but lost in cares,
Where are we? - lost in ours, not theirs.
We, with all our gifts, nature and grace beside.
We fail to understand this Crucified.
Even He must smile in playful mirth,
Bulging at the seams, our own untimely worth.
Why must we so divorce ourselves from truth?
Our law? - "An eye for eye, a tooth for tooth "?
We have the choice to throw up hands, desparing,
When we should rather for our own be caring.
At least we have been shown:
The Lord's ways are not our own.
Ah! here we have it all re found - -
Christ in deeper mystery - more profound.
THE REGULAR CHAPTER AS A WORKSHOP FOR UNITY AND CHARITY
Sister Maria Agnes, O.P
The mystique of chapter is articulated in the Fundamental Constitution
of the Nuns in whose lives the search for God is being realized by pursuing,
among other things:
communion through their manner of government in purity of conscience
and the joy of sisterly concord, "in freedom of spirit." (1)
Dominic handed down to his followers both a sense of community and a love
for the common life. This particular aspect of his charism found its expression
in the application of this insightful saying derived from Roman law: Quod omnes
tangit ab omnibus tractari et approbari debet , which means, "What is of concern
to all must be dealt with and agreed upon by all." (2) That is why LCM 7
stresses the participation of all in the ordering of the life of the monastery
for a more fruitful contemplative life and sisterly communion. "A good which
meets with general approval," argues Humbert of the Romans, "is quickly and
easily achieved." (3)
Without regular chapter there can be legal entity but no sisterly communion
in the true sense of the word because:
like the Church of the Apostles, our communion is founded, built up and
made firm in the one Spirit. It is in the Spirit that we receive the Word of God
the Father with one faith, contemplate him with one heart, and praise him with
one voice. In him we are made one body, share one bread, and finally hold all
things in common (LCM 3 I).
Dominic was, both by his temperament and by his Christian education, a
relational person and a community man. For him the essential milieu of a
religious is the community. He manifested his fidelity to the regular life from
the time he was a canon at Osma to the early years of the Prouille foundation
where he himself had established the monastic observance. It is also recorded
that he loved to join in the community of his fellow canons when he passed
through the Chapters of St. Paul of Narbonne and of St. Nazaire of Carcassonne
during his travels. (4)
In principle as well as on the basis of experience, we know that the value
of person and of community may come into conflict. It need not be. To be a
real person means to be in-relation-to . A balanced concern for both common and
individual needs is a strong feature of our Rule and Constitutions. Individual-
ism needs to be balanced by common life. Augustine insisted that the mores of
the monastery derive from the amores of its members to the extent that they
renounce self-interest for the sake of the common good. Augustine's Rule
established unity in charity as the hallmark of Christian monastic life. This
unity is based upon the sacred dimension of the human person as image and
likeness of God. The love of charity is the source of this oneness (Cf. Rule
I. 3 & 9; Cf. LCM 2 II). Dominican monastic life provides for a rich and
diverse unanimity where persons are not lost in the anonymity of a crowd.
Within a truly united community, a good kind of diversity is possible and
even healthful. Such diversity manifests the power and vitality of authentic
Christian love. (5)
A CALL TO RENEWAL
At the regular chapter the nuns gather in charity and humility under the
leadership of the prioress to give one another mutual assistance in the renewal
and development of the regular life (LCM 68).
It is by the community as a whole that standards and norms are discussed,
synthesized and formulated to effect this renewal. The depth of monastic
commitment that binds all the sisters is to be drawn up on the basis of what all
the sisters are able to perform. John Cassian may have anticipated this when
he suggested that "if we retain a measured sense of what is possible, the
perfect observance will be found, even when people's abilities vary." (6)
We all know from study and experience that our monastic observances are
shot through with powerful currents of life. We daily experience God's living
Word which calls for sustained effort and fidelity , Like the sap that keeps the
tree alive and supple, it is the function of the chapter to revitalize those
areas in our life that have grown torpid and stale. It can be an occasion for
decisive soul-searching in common. Through chapter discussions we also keep in
touch with contemporary questions and answers that affect the Church as well as
the various models of culture in the world.
In chapter the Prioress, too, listens to what God is saying through those
whom she is called to lead. It is a real ascesis to seek and discover God's
will. The Word of God is the deepest value of obedience obedience, in the
etymological sense of "listening to" (ob+audire)^ that is, listening to God and
to one another in humility and charity.
Let us keep in mind that the regular chapter is more that just a guardian of
the observances. It is a workshop in which prudential balance is established
between the letter of the law as the precise will of God in every concrete
situation and the essential content of God's plan to which the community is
committed. This includes referring to past experiences of the community whether
negative or positive. One can authenticate a past experience in the present
situation by re-choosing or rejecting it in freedom. Fidelity means taking our
past history into account. This posits a new vision which describes something we
intend to do in the future. Keeping a community alive calls for fidelity to
the present moment, gratitude towards the past and hope for the future. This
is necessary not only for the growth of individual members but as a condition of
inner renewal in community life which is its second nature. Renewal is a
part of permanent Christian formation. (7)
The real purpose of chapter is to constantly clarify the spirit of regular
observance and to live the contemplative life in a more authentic way by
reaffirming the values inherent to our Dominican identity.
SILENCE AND CHAPTER
The Dominican mystique of silence is closely associated with collatio ,
with sharing and listening at the service of our charism: truth and charity. (8)
Dialogue enriches our perception of truth. Truth, in all its dimensions
and when accepted with openness and docility, frees us from the narrowness of
our vision about God, about ourselves and others. Only one who has listened
to God in prayer can speak the truth in communal and inter-personal dialogue.
Communication gaps are bridged by words. But is is also important to keep in
touch with ourselves first in order to understand what we really mean and feel
and think before expressing ourselves to others.
Silence and solitude go hand in hand with chapter. Unless we have
discovered and experienced our personal worth as individuals in the depth of
silence and solitude, we will not be able to communicate life"giving truth to
others. "Silence," says Ambrose Wathan, OSB, "creates and forms the ground
and root of every word." (9) Communication is the articulation of silence
and silence is the milieu for listening to God's Word and to the words that
form in our mind and heart. The rhythm of silence and chapter builds up
character, sharpens the intellect and strengthens the will. We can also gain
a wealth of wisdom and self"control in the give and take of dialogue. The link
that joins silence, solitude and chapter cannot be underestimated. This is a
human, Christian and religious phenomenon. Dialogue as harmonized by the silence
enjoined by our Rule and Constitutions is a guarantee that Christ is present in
our midst and is at the center of our community life. A short and meaningful
text from Jean Leclercq may serve to sum up the preceding points:
In every case the words spoken to men must come from those heard from
God: they ought to spring up from that intimate contact with him which actually
was silence. But just as silence is part of our communion with the universe,
the word which arises from it responds to the urgent need for communion which
is expressed in communication. (10)
THE DYNAMICS OF DISCUSSION
In our present practice, the time for holding regular chapter is determined
in the directory of each monastery. It is to be held at least once a month
(LCM 69). During chapter we seek to participate in the creative and life-
giving power of God's Word which is being addressed to the community in a
relational atmosphere of truth and charity. Communication, especially verbal
communication, is not always easy. We have to work at it until it becomes God's
work in us. Without Christ at the center, we will not be able to share our-
selves, our ideas, feelings and experiences with one another. Only the Spirit
of Jesus can break down our mental and emotional blocks and open the way to
fruitful dialogue. Our dialogical stance has to be honest, open, trustful and
free from prejudice. When we enter into discussion, it means we are ready to
renew and readjust our viewpoints.
Whether or not genuine exchange takes place at chapter depends on the
participants. Creative and growth-producing dialogue is possible when each
sister is prepared to speak honestly out of her feelings and convictions with
reason and objectivity. She must have learned to discipline her subjective
feelings and be aware of the others in the group. Being open to the value and
meaning of what is happening in chapter is vitally important in discernment
and in achieving harmony and unity. Listening with a perceptive mind and an
understanding heart is a necessary concomitant for a person's growth in
We mentioned earlier the joint role of solitude and silence in inter-
personal and communal dialogue. True solitude and healthy silence are
discernible through its fruits. "Solitude gives birth to the original in us,"
according to Thomas Mann, "to beauty unfamiliar and perilous to poetry.
But also, it gives birth to the opposite, to the perverse, the illicit, the
When we speak at chapter and anywhere else, do we resonate in conformity
with the Spirit of Jesus? The point is not whether we say little or much,
but whether or not our words call forth the compassion and love of Christ in
us and through us. Sometimes, our language needs redirection. It needs to be
purified of its destructiveness and its pollution. Jean Leclercq offers us
another insight into this:
Speech is ambivalent because of our fallen nature, our limitations;
it can either be for mediation or an obstacle to communication. Speak-
ing can be a source of illusions and this is true in both our communica—
tion with others as well as with God. (12)
During chapter discussions, therefore, we do not take hold of each other
by our words or coerce people to think and live up to our inspirations and
norms. As soon as we impose our viewpoints upon others, then we deny growth
to those others. Any form of coercion, domination, moral pressure or psycho-
logical manipulation will shrivel up communication and, consequently, hurt
There are creative ways skill and tact by which we -can express
our differences without destroying unity. We relax and lay down our defenses
while we listen to the different viewpoint with genuine acceptance and
without condescending tolerance. We do not look at those who differ with us
as aggressors or as people who block our way and underline our limitations.
We always say YES to the person. Love cannot be reduced to a mere sharing
of ideas or of knowledge or of truth. "Solitude and silence," Thomas Merton
realized, "teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they
say." (13) This is in consonance with LCM 4 I which states that "in order
for each monastery to be a center of communion, let all accept and cherish
one another as members of the same body, differing in native qualities and
functions but equal in the common bond of charity and profession."
Judgment is not growth-producing and instead of building up community,
judgment creates a chasm and alienates the other person because it is an
attitude of "not-being-with" the other. A self-righteous and judgmental
attitude expresses itself in an inundation of words that have no creative
and life-giving value for community. Sisterly communion is consummated
beyond verbal exchange by accepting the other, not as she appears to our
perceptions, but as she is striving to become her true self before God.
The uniqueness of each person and the multiple possibilities and options
that emerged during the discussion can make consensus difficult to reach.
We all know that dialogues do not necessarily lead to consensus. Concrete
choices expressed in comments and suggestions must have to find their way
into a more basic choice. The common value of diversity has to be synthesized
at the closure and the synthesis shall be expressive of the main pattern of
thought that emerged during the discussion. The closure should strongly
point to a specific and unidirectional goal which was stated in the agenda
at the beginning of the chapter.
There is no absolute moral certitude that we can make or are always making
the right decision. If we have truly entered into a prudential sharing of
knowledge, experience, hindsight, insight and foresight, we can be confident
that we are making a good decision, the choice that is being asked for at a
particular moment and situation.
Guidelines are to be set by the regular chapter on certain limits to
diversity in order to insure fidelity to the community's basic orientation
and charism. The guidelines must resonate the values of the chapter participants
A kind of osmosis is established and sustained between the right of the
individual and the common good.
CHAPTER AND ON-GOING CONVERSION
Dominican monastic life, like all forms of Christian life, is unswervingly
committed to conversion as an on-going process. This is, fundamentally, an
invitation and a challenge to steadfast love for the God who is faithful to us.
The Constitutions provide for some form of self-examination and self-accusation
on faults that militate against the common good and the regular life. This
takes place during the regular chapter where the prioress may also give some
spiritual exhortations, administer corrections and recommend suitable penances
for faults committed against observance (Cf. LCM 70, 71 & 72 I).
In practice and in the concrete, this provision exacts fidelity to the
essential things that make up the regular life after the example of St. Dominic
"who followed the Rule of the Friars Preachers and the conventual order with
great exactitude and without dispensing himself." (14) "The Prioress, as the
faithful servant of the monastery," states LCM 195, "should at all times foster
the unity of charity, constantly promote the contemplative life of the nuns and
diligently care for regular observance" (Cf. Rule VII. 46; Cf. Thess. 5.14).
This fidelity to the observances is a means of purifying the traces of sin in
us and it also rectifies whatever falsity or ambiguity hinders our growth in
faith, hope and charity. Self-accusation of faults, correction, forgiveness
and reparation correspond to the spirit of Christian conversion. Participation
in chapter is, in itself, a response to the call to continuing renewal of life.
Chapter is a salvation event brought to us by the Gospel, the Rule and the
Constitutions. It often happens that chapter discussions can uncover our
hidden faults. Our defects shall be pointed out to us in "some other way
according to the custom of the community" (LCM 70).
The monastic community is also a forgiving and a healing community.
Forgiveness is not an approval of sin and neither is it a condescending
tolerance of faults. Forgiveness frees the erring person from shame-based
feelings and makes her deepest self radiant with possibilities for truth and
love. The loveworthiness of a person is brought out when encouraged and
affirmed by love.
INTERIORIZATION OF REGULAR OBSERVANCE
Beyond the chapter rubrics is the eschatological aspect of renewal, namely,
the interiorization of the observances. The transcendent value of internalizing
external discipline is a basic concept of Augustine's Rule. The regular chapter
serves as a workshop for this interiorization and examples of this can be
drawn out from the Rule. (15)
*And what good is it to scatter one's wealth abroad by giving to the
poor^ even to become poor oneself, when the unhappy soul is thereby
more given to pride in despising riches than it had in been in
possessing them (1.8)?
'"When you pray to God in psalms and hymns, think over in your hearts
the words that come from your lips" (11.12).
*Let not your mouths alone take nourishment but let your hearts, too,
hunger for the Word of God" (III. 15).
*Do not say that your hearts are pure if there is immodesty of the eyes
because the unchaste eye carries the message of an impure heart" (IV. 22),
*But suppose all this escapes human notice, what will she do about God
who sees from on high and from whom nothing is hidden (IV. 23)?
*If your sister, for example, were suffering a bodily wound that she
wanted to hide for fear of undergoing treatment, would it not be cruel
of you to remain silent and a mercy on your part to make this known?
How much greater then is your obligation to make her condition known
lest she continue to suffer a more deadly wound of the soul (IV. 26).
*You may judge from this how lacking you are in that holy and interior
garment of the heart when you quarrel over the garments of the body
*A sister who is never willing to ask pardon, or does not do so from her
heart, has no reason to be in the monastery even if she is not expelled
*You (to the Superior) should still ask forgiveness from the Lord of all
who knows with what deep affection you love even those whom you might
happen to correct with undue severity (VI.43).
*In your eyes she (the Superior) shall hold first place among you
by the dignity of her office, but in fear before God she shall be
as the least among you (VII.46).
*The Lord grant that you may observe all these precepts in a spirit
of charity as lovers of spiritual beauty giving forth the good
odor of Christ in the holiness of your lives, not as slaves living
under the law but as women living in freedom under grace (VIII.48)
God, of course, is the centrifugal force for mutual attraction in the
building up of community. The Trinity is the perfection of inter-personal
relations, involving the fullness of indwelling love and communion. The
interiorization of unity in charity which we are to maintain in our hearts
will be fostered and expressed in inter-personal relations and in the
unanimity of our life. Daily experience of the Eucharist constantly tests
and proves this unity whose source is Christ. In the final analysis, the
unity and charity in the community are in proportion to each sister's
personal love of Christ and as that love is permeated by her Dominican
charism: truth and love.
1 See I.V; Quote is from Innocent IV, 11 May, 1272
2 Marie-Humbert Vicaire, OP, The Genius of St. Dominic: A Collection of
Study Essays . Edited by Peter B. Lobo, OP (Nagpur, India: Dominican
Publications, 1989) p. 41
3 Expositio Regulae , XVI; Opera de Vita Regulari , 1.72
4 Vicaire, op. cit., p. 88; Cf. nn. 134 & 135, pp. 241-242
5 See Thomas Martin, "Oneness of Heart Intent Upon God" in Review for
Religious (Sept. -Oct., 1982) p. 108 f.
6 Institutes, Preface 9, Quoted from Philip Rosseau, Ascetics, Authority
and the Church in the Age of Jerome and Cassian (Oxford University
Press, 1978) n.35 p. 195
7 Cf. Vincent de Couesnongle, OP, Confidence for the Future (Dublin,
Ireland: Dominican Publications, 1982) p. Ill
8 The genesis of this idea came from the talk given by Father Thomas
McGonigle, OP at the National Assembly of the Dominican Nuns in West
Springfield, Massachussetts , 1982
9 "The Word as Silence: On Silence and Speech in RB" in Cisterc ian
Studies Vol. XVIII 1982.3, p. 195
10 "Silence and Word in the Life of Prayer" in Word and Spirit 6
(Massachussetts: St. Bede's Publications, 1984) p. 118
11 "Death in Venice" in Stories of Three Decades (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
Inc., 1976) p. 395 ~
12 Op. cit., p. 107
13 The Sign of Jonas (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1953) p. 261
14 Processus Boniensis in the Acta Canonizationis S. Dominici , ed. A. Walz
MOPH XVI (Rome 1935) n. 12
15 Cf, Thomas Martin, op. cit., pp. 713-714
FLAME OUT OF HEAVEN
Maiden wrapped in silence.
Wrapped in need so great:
Her time is fast approaching,
The midnight hour is late.
Fire glows inside the hostel,
Fire glows on courtyard path;
There glows in maiden waiting
Fire cast from Heaven's Hearth
To set the world
Sr. Maria of the Eucharist, O.P,
COMMUNITY DISCERNMENT IN CHOOSING THOSE IN AUTHORITY
Sr . Mary Jeremiah, OP
Our Constitutions places responsibility for selecting persons in
positions of authority within the community or chapter itself. The
chapter elects the prioress and councillors. Those offices which are
appointed by the prioress must be approved by the council. Thus, in one
way or another those with authority are given such by the community.
How can the community know if it has made the right choice? We
pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and especially as manifested
What Is the Gift of Discernment?
St. Catherine of Siena tells us that discernment is rooted in
humility and charity. (1)
Father Ladislas Orsy, SJ, describes it as perceiving the
inspiration of grace as well as a "contemplative insight into God's
ways... for those issues that cannot be solved in any other way, that is,
by ordinary investigation and reasoning. "(2)
Discernment is spiritual seeking to know God's will for a given
group, circumstance or course of action, as well as determining whether
an inspiration originates or is motivated by the Holy Spirit, the human
spirit, or a demonic spirit.
All Christians are called to exercise personal discernment for
their own lives using such tools as Scripture, the teaching of the
Church, duties of one's state in life, quality of life, etc. These
tools are also important for communal discernment. In a community where
all are striving to do God's will there must be a basic trust that God
is indeed guiding the community. Without this fundamental confidence
the bonds of peace, harmony, and charity are undermined. "Authentic
discernment is never off the top of one's head or rooted in personal
feeling alone. It is factually, doctrinally, ethically, and
psychologically informed . "(3)
Christian communal discernment is a very complex, mysterious
activity, because not only are the natural means of intellect and
psychology involved, but the infused gifts of the Holy Spirit become
operative. All the gifts are needed, but especially that of counsel ■ (4)
Abbot Vonier says that "through the gift of counsel the Christian
enters into the secret ways of God; unknowingly yet unerringly" choosing
the correct course of action. (5)
The gift of counsel touches and enlightens the limited human
intellect in such a way that it shares in an inexplicable manner the
very knowing of God. St. Thomas Aquinas says it is as though the
person was counselled or directed by God Himself. The gift of counsel
dispels all doubts and gives the person or community an intellectual
conviction, an interior assurance, of what God wants. (6)
In a life of Faith the agility of a mind
proficient in supernatural prudence is a
halting, clumsy stumbling compared to an
act of Counsel. By prudence a man brings
himself to obey God after deliberation; but
in Counsel the Holy Spirit suddenly and
without discussion brings the soul into the
presence of the Divine Will. In a moment,
without a series of serious thoughts, the
soul knows exactly what, how, why, when,
where, and by what helps the will of God
may be fulfilled. The premises for its
conclusion are hidden in Divine Wisdom;
only the conclusion is revealed to it by
Counsel, but its practical action is no
less certain. (7)
Being guided by the gift of counsel does not mean becoming lazy or
indulging in quietism. One must exercise all the human faculties of
investigation, observation, and judgment, but ultimately one must pray
for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The human mind gathers all its
information, but at the moment of discernment the gift of counsel
by-passes all "data-processing". "In counsel the entire picture of the
present is framed in the past, and the soul sees the whole at a single
glance .... Its instantaneous and intense certitude seem almost
How then Does the Community Discern and Identify Persons for Positions
A Christian community, a monastery, is the Body of Christ in
microcosm. Each member is unique and important. Each has a special
gift to offer and a role to play for the building up of the Body, the
community. All do not have the same gifts. There are many gifts
distributed among various members.
In discerning which persons to choose from the community for
positions of authority, the individual gifts of each person must be
evaluated. The evaluation of persons* gifts is a spontaneous process
which occurs constantly in family, workplace, religious community. It
begins the day we are born, join a company, or enter a monastery. It is
normal and positive and necessary for the growth of the community.
The evaluation of gifts enables us to develop new ones we
possessed only in potential, strengthen those we already use, or
sacrifice others which are not as essential at a particular time in our
lives or not called upon to be used for the common good.
Each person has received particular gifts for service, for the
good of others. Some gifts are of a temporary nature, while others are
permanent, in the sense of being part of our personality or innate
qualities bestowed by God. For example, a person may have an
extraordinary, natural gift for music, this would be "permanent". But
this person is not appointed to the liturgical or musical aspects of the
community, thus "temporarily" she does not exercise this gift.
Father James Hayes, MS, says that good leadership in religious
communities is a matter of a "real vocational" call and not something
arbitrary. In other words, the person has some natural gift or can be
trained in this. Work assignments in the business world are not given as
rewards, they are quite predictable, as "cause and effect". There need
not be great surprises at election time, because the process of
discernment and evolution of the person and community has been going on
Father Jude 0. Mbukanma, OP, in his book, Charism and Holiness ,
points out that the qualities of leadership must already be inherent in
the person. One cannot expect to vote for a person who has not already
shown the qualities needed. It is unrealistic to think they will
develop after if they have not first been manifested before in some
degree. This is why it is important from the first day of entrance to
comply as well as possible to training in the various duties and grow in
assuming responsibilities. Leaders are not chosen at random, just "to
give someone a chance". They have already demonstrated they are
leaders, even if it is in the way they take care of the garbage and
other "inconsequential" duties.
Father Jude offers certain qualities to look for in choosing
persons for positions of authority:
-the quality of one's life: what one says and does; one's
-not everyone is a leader. Some can start projects and have
good ideas to be initiated, but cannot keep them going.
-the leader is usually NOT the initiator, but the one who knows
how to get the idea acted upon.
-a person who can make decisions . (9)
In monastic life, however, we are not looking for corporate or
managerial leaders. Our focus is upon living our contemplative vocation
surrendered to God's will. Our Constitutions gives us very different,
yet essential, qualities to look for in choosing persons for roles of
service in authority.
#195. The prioress, as the faithful servant of the monastery,
should at all times foster the unity of charity, constantly
promote the contemplative life of the nuns and diligently
care for regular observance.
#253.1 The nun to be elected prioress should:
1) be charitable, prudent and conscientious regarding
2) have sufficient knowledge of the laws and traditions
of the Order;
3) be able to participate in the community exercises.
Those chosen to be councillors manifest the very gift the name
suggests: counsel, advice, prudence, etc. The one appointed as Novice
Directress is to be "outstanding in her life and doctrine, experienced
in spiritual matters, and skilled in the discernment of spirits'* . (LCM,
Is an Election a Political Event?
Although we live a cloistered life we are not immune from the
influences of the world: those we brought with us when we entered and
those which continue to impinge upon our life. Does "politics" enter
into a religious community? No and yes. Unfortunately, we have a very
pejorative understanding of politics due to the current status of
government. Politics is often associated with dishonesty, corruption
manipulation, strategies to control and put certain persons in power.
This should not be the case in a religious community where all are
disciples of Christ the "Servant" par excellence . If this is the case,
then the community is not living fully its charism of mutual charity,
humility, trust and unity, seeking God's will in prayer and
In actuality, "politics" is a very positive word which needs to be
redeemed. It comes from the Greek, polis (city) and politikos
(citizen). Aristotle says that the human person is by nature a social
being. It is natural to seek and live in community: family, various
groups, villages, state. Therefore, the activity of striving for the
common good of the group is political. Thus, in this sense one could
say "yes" an election is "political" if it seeks the common good of the
Can We Know Infallibly We Are Following the Holy Spirit?
No and yes. No one on earth is "infallible", except the Pope, or
an Ecumenical Council, when teaching ex cathedra on faith and morals.
However, this does not mean a religious community cannot be reasonably
certain that it has made the right decision.
If all are sincere and seeking God's will, there is a certain
faith and trust in the community as a whole to know and follow God's
will. Bruce Yocum offers some criteria for discerning the Spirit's
guidance. First, there is a simple physical principle known as
"resonance". Today's slang expresses it as "good vibes (vibrations)".
There is an interior, peaceful assurance and response in our hearts and
minds of listening to the Spirit. Second, consider the spiritual tone
and effect. Is it critical and resentful or positive and edifying?
Third, does the decision glorify the Lord? Give it the test of time and
use the criteria Jesus Himself gave us, "by their fruits you will know".
Finally, some people have a special gift of discernment and can "tell
with greater clarity and swiftness" if something is from God. (11)
Even if there seem to be tragic results from a decision this does
not mean the Spirit has not been guiding the community. The fruits one
looks for are not simply exterior peace and prosperity, but more
importantly the virtues and fruits of the Holy Spirit St. Paul mentions
in his letter to the Galatians.
What if Someone Thinks She Has an Inspiration from the Holy Spirit but
the Community Does not Accept It?
This person may be broken-hearted and truly have a good idea which
is ahead of its time. However, not every good idea can always be
accepted immediately. Sometimes personal projects, ideas, and desires
have to be sacrificed for the greater good of the whole. Sometimes ideas
need to be allowed time to "ripen" and deepen, both for the individual
and the community.
This calls for great humility and obedience. It is good to have
differing opinions in order to influence and balance one another. The
ultimate test of the Spirit is the fruit which follows: peace, love,
cooperation, unity, self-sacrifice.
If a community is seeking to live as well as possible in loving
fidelity to God's will, it can have a certain trust and confidence that
the Holy Spirit will lead and inspire it to choose the proper persons to
exercise authority. The primary tools for discernment might be reduced
to two: docility to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and consideration of
the fruits of decisions and actions.
The fundamental means of discerning the presence and inspiration
of the Holy Spirit is "by their fruits you shall know" -look for peace,
charity and cooperation at every element and stage of the election or
decision-making process. These are the "infallible" signs of the
Spirit. Anger and bitterness are indications to examine to see if there
are bad-will and self-seeking motives.
Emphasis on the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit have been a
characteristic of Dominican spirituality and theology. In fidelity to
this great tradition, a monastic community can know peace and confidence
when choosing those who will exercise authority.
1) St. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue , chapter 9.
2) Ladislas Orsy, SJ, Probing the Spirit - A Theological
Evaluation of Communal Discernment (Denville, NJ: Dimension Books, Inc.,
1976) pp v . 15 & 32.
3) Donald L. Gelpi, SJ, Charism and Sacrament - A Theology of
Christian Conversion (New York: Paulist Press, 1976) p. 92.
4) Walter Farrell. OP & Dominic Hughes, OP, Swift Victory - Essays
on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1955), pp. 115
& 119f. Cf., Yves Congar, OP p Believe in the Holy Spirit in 3 Vols.
(New York: The Seabury Press, 1983) p. 183.
5) Don Anscar Vonier, OSB, The Spirit and the Bride (London: Burns
Oates & Wasbourne, Ltd., 1935) p. 192.
6) St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II-II, q. 52, a. 1, ad. 2.
"Quasi consilio a Deo accepto."
7) Farrell, op. cit . , p. 115.
8) Ibid. , pp. 117 & 119.
9) Jude 0. Mbukanama, OP, Charism and Holiness (Yaba, Nigeria:
Dominican Publications, 1986), p. 145.
10) Paul Hinnebusch, OP, Community in the Lord (Notre Dame, Ind.:
Ave Maria, 1975) p. 174.
11) Bruce Yocum, Prophecy (Ann Arbor, MI: Word of Life, 1976)
COMMUNITY AND SOLITUDE
Sister Susan Heinemann, O.P.
To love is good, too: love being difficult.
For one human being to love another: that is
perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks,
the ultimate, the last test and proof, the
work for which all other work is but
But learning-time is always a long, secluded
time, and so loving, for a long while ahead
and far on into life, is--solitude ,
intensified and deepened loneness for him who
--Rainer Maria Rilke
As Dominican monastic women we follow the way of the
apostolic Church and seek to emulate the early christians' fervor
and fidelity to the Gospel: to the good news of God who became
flesh, who suffered, died and rose, and who now pours out his
Spirit of love upon us to make us his friends. On the last day
of his earthly life, our Lord prayed that all might be one, that
all might share the unity that exists between himself and the
Father. This unity, accomplished in us through the gift of the
Spirit, is the ultimate goal of all christians. John Cassian
assures us that it will be accomplished, because it will be
brought about as a result of this prayer of the Son which is
efficacious and "can in no way be rendered void." 1 As the Spirit
is breathed forth into our hearts, we are drawn into the unity
that exists between the Father and the Son and at the same time
enter into fellowship with one another (1 Jn. 1:3). Community
life is a celebration of this fellowship, of this unity that
already exists among us as a result of a mutual sharing in the
life of the Trinity. We pray together, study together, eat
together, work and recreate together because we are one organism
that lives and breathes God, that is continually drawing life
from one source and responding in love to one end.
However, we are not yet perfectly one, and community life
also serves as a means toward our goal. The irritations and
frictions of day-to-day life together make it obvious that we are
not fully united; at the same time they offer us infinite
opportunities for exercising our desire for unity. This tension
can finally lead us to the realization that we are not yet
perfectly one as a group because we are not yet perfectly one as
individuals, that we lack the internal unification necessary for
true communion with others. We harbor within our hearts demons
of darkness, disorder and division which prevent us from being
fully given over to the Spirit who alone can unite us. How can
we expel these demons, these forces of disunity, and learn to
surrender more fully to the love, light and unity of the Spirit?
Louis Bouyer deals with this question while discussing
Antony and the origins of monasticism in his Spirituality of the
New Testament and the Fathers . He explains that it was Antony's
withdrawal into solitude that occasioned the spiritual combat
which led to the expulsion of the demons and surrender to the
Spirit. He suggests that it was this discipline that brought
about the holy man's internal unity and allowed the Spirit to
displace completely the disintegrating powers of darkness so that
Antony could live fully dominated by the breath of God. And
Bouyer speaks of Antony's solitude as "simply the means of
effectively gaining integral charity." 2
It has been stated above that community life is both a
celebration of and a means toward our goal, and that solitude too
helps us to grow towards union with God and with one another in
God. What is it about solitude that makes it such an effective
means? What is it about this discipline that enables us to live
together in the way that Augustine and Dominic envisaged--as
friends on the way to God? The following pages will seek to
answer these questions by suggesting that solitude provides a way
of surmounting certain obstacles to community lif e--namely,
loneliness, the false self, and the fear of suf f er ing--and that
it makes possible true friendship by the transformation it brings
The first of these obstacles, loneliness, is perhaps a
greater problem today than it ever has been. The cause of this
widespread ailment which so characterizes our time could be
traced back to certain philosophical notions that underlie the
attitudes and values of our culture. There has been a major
shift in the way that people view the human person. Far
different from the God-centered and community-oriented world view
prevalent in New Testament times, or the time of Antony or even
Dominic, our contemporary understanding of the world places great
stress on the individual as independent and autonomous. God is
no longer seen as intimately involved with his creation,
sustaining it at every instant, but is viewed as having set
everything in motion and then having faded into the background.
The human person is thus left at the center of reality, with no
direct appeal to a higher being and no sense of a superior
destiny. Each man and woman must search for meaning within
themselves. The more God's place has yielded to the human
person, the more isolated and helpless the individual has become.
Though most people are unaware of the philosophical presuppo-
sitions which have led to this isolation and helplessness, they
are the roots of a deep loneliness.
Tension and anxiety arise as the individual is forced to
assume an exaggerated independence and to function as a god.
People somehow know that they are not isolated centers of being.
Something in them rebels against this predicament. We are by
nature social creatures and it is this pulse within us that cries
out for fulfillment. Too often, however, people are pressured
into playing the role of the "autonomous self" in order to meet
s standards .
a persona, and grow
d good : social .
r om th
lopment of this
oneliness and ob
even know themselves
the game and develop a facade,
ienated from their true
draw them forward and regulate
hat reaches out to the only
Over time people develop
t insure peer approval, at the
e reality of who they are.
nal self creates an even
ommunity. Nobody can really
heir inner reality, they don't
Persons drawn to community lif
here a solution to the problem of 1
will be one that is quite different
expected. It may be thought that s
will soothe the discomfort of lonel
using other people only creates fur
is only possible among people who h
the aloneness that is part of the h
on to discover the self who lies do
beneath the masks and clamor of the
truly coming to know ourselves in t
strength we need to take responsibi
and living out of the ideals of the
find and utilize our own inner stre
clinging to others and identifying
appropriation of the ideals. This
solitude and the acceptance of a pa
which goes completely against the c
e may think that they can find
oneliness. They can, but it
from what they initially
urrounding oneself with others
iness. However, this way of
ther barriers. True community
ave acknowledged and accepted
uman condition and have gone
rmant in the still center
social personality. Only by
his way do we find the
lity for our own appropriation
monastic life. If we do not
ngth, we spend our lives
with them and their
process of discovery requires
inful struggle, an acceptance
It goes against the grain because of the current emphasis on
feeling good and the plethora of available antidotes for every
imaginable malady. In the face of this "well-being" attitude, it
is a very difficult task to come to the realization of the
inevitability of suffering and to appreciate its transforming
power. And yet, in the words of Henri DeLubac:
There is one way only of being happy: not to
be ignorant of suffering, and not to run away
from it. but to accept the transfiguration it
br ings .
This is not in any way to advocate the search for or cultivation
of suffering for its own sake, but rather a willingness to accept
it for the sake of a higher good. DeLubac clarifies this point:
To welcome suffering is not to take pleasure
in it. It is not love of suffering for its
own sake. It is consent to one's humiliation
by it. It is the opening of oneself to the
blessings of what is inevitable, like earth
which allows the water of heaven to soak
right through it.
Loneliness, the false self, and the fear of suffering can
all be barriers to the authentic common life to which we are
called. Solitude turns us around and brings us face to face with
all this and more. It can be--if we allow it to be--the arena of
our re-creation in Christ, and therefore the "means of
effectively gaining integral charity."
The primary characteristic of this solitude, which can be
the field of our remaking, is that it is a place of confrontation
with the truth: the truth of who we are now before God, and who
we are called to be; and the truth of who God is both in himself
and for us. This confrontation takes place through the medium of
the Word that we ponder in the silence which pervades our day and
especially when we are alone in our cells. This confrontation
brings us right into the heart of our faith: the dying and
rising of the Word made flesh. We die as we surrender the
protective walls that we have constructed so carefully in order
to shield ourselves from pain. We suffer as we wade through
layers of unfreedom and come to the realization of our own
sinfulness and poverty. But it is precisely this dying, this
"consent to humiliation," that makes possible the new life.
"Opening oneself to suf fering. .. enables one to discover a love
that is deeper than suffering."
The ground of this love is discovered beneath the brokenness
and pain which come to view as the light of the Word flashes
within us. It is the hidden self, the core of who we are--what
the Zen masters refer to as the shape of our original face. This
original face is the spark of being that came into existence by a
free act of God's love. It is here on this deepest level of
ourselves that we are reborn, refashioned, recreated in the image
of the Son. Here God once again touches us with his creative
love and makes the spark of being burst forth into the flame of
true charity. This is what solitude is meant to do: to bring us
into a deeper union with the Son and create new space in us for
the Spirit. When understood in this way, it could never
degenerate into mere withdrawal and isolation but only lead to
the highest form of communion, a communion that reaches out to
the whole human family as well as to those with whom we are more
It reaches out as we enter more deeply into the rhythm of
dying and rising and learn that the experience of our own pain
offers an entry place in us for the suffering of an agonized
world. As this anguish cuts more deeply into us, we come with
increasing ardor before the Father who can and will make all
things new. One in Spirit with our suffering sisters and
brothers throughout the world, we cry out for the fullness of the
Kingdom. As we are then lifted up, in union with the Risen One,
so too the world is mysteriously charged with new life. There
is, as a result, a marvelous movement towards the realization of
God's plan to "bring everything together under Christ as head"
(Ephes . 1:10).
On a more immediate level, s
that can enhance our communion wi
place when ve discover the inner
the noisy endeavors of the ego, a
Word of truth. Penetrated more a
ve come to a clearer perception o
know and choose the good. Our ac
are guided by reason rather than
We can become masters of our own
longer buried beneath layers of a
behavior patterns. We no longer
wounded, nebulous self from pain,
consider our goal and to choose i
move us in the direction that ve
omething happens in
th those around us .
self, a place of sil
nd there hear and re
nd more by God's sil
f reality and can mo
tions become freer i
by the impulses of o
actions because we a
rtificiality and unc
need to vork so hard
There is a nev fre
really vant to go.
n that they
ur pass ions .
re alert, no
to shield a
As we grow in goodness by these choices that we make, our
relationships with others change. They are no longer simply
based on usef ulness--what others can do for us--or on pleasure--
the emotional satisfaction that others provide--but are based on
a common goodness or virtue. And this alone provides the
possibility of true and lasting friendship. As Cassian says:
There is one kind of love which is
indissoluble, where the union is
owing ... simply to similarity of virtue....
True harmony and undivided union can only
exist among those whose life is pure, and who
are men of the same goodness and purpose.
Realistically we know the truth of Evagrius' statement that "it
is not possible to love all the brethren to the same degree,"'
and that the friendship between Cassian and Germanus referred to
here is a special gift. But ve also knov that, if ve are
faithful to the means, it is possible to dvell together in unity
--the main purpose for vhich ve have come together.
One of the primary
means that requires
our fidelity is
litude, a solitude in
which we place ourse
Ives before a God who
searches us and knows us
with a knowledge th
at is love . This
searching, knowing love
penetrates and trans
forms us and
berates that within us
which alone is capa
ble of true unity.
is restoration of the
image of the Son in
us enables us to live
gether with one mind and heart. Having pu
t on the mi nd of
rist and allowing the
Spirit to penetrate
the deepest recesses
our being, we are pro
gressively freed for
f e . We no longer hang
on to others out of
loneliness and can,
joy and freedom, show
' our true face to th
e world. We accept
e inevitability of suffering and the trans
formation it brings.
become more and more
guided by reason and
toward our goal--toward
God, a relationship
of persons, and to a
aring in the fellowshi
p of this triune lif
e, a fellowship that
we already celebrate by our common life. As we do so, the whole
Church is increased with a hidden fruitfulness and our communion
becomes a service leading all to know the love of the Father who
has sent the Son and through the Spirit makes us his friends.
1. The Works of John Cassian , trans, by Rev. Edgar C.S. Gibson,
The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers , Second Series, Vol. XI (Grand
Rapids, MI: Wm . B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), Conf. 10:7,
2. Louis Bouyer, The Spirituality of the New Testament and the
Fathers , Vol. I of A History of Christian Spirituality (New York:
Seabury Press, 1963), p. 315.
3. Henri DeLubac, Paradoxes of Faith (San Francisco: Ignatius
Press, 1987), p. 172.
4. Ibid ., p. 171.
5. Laurie E. Brands, "The Spiritual Journey of Simone Weil and
the Vision that emerged from it" (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation,
University of Notre Dame, 1983), p. ii.
6. The Works of John Cassian , op . cit . , Conf. 16:3, p. 450;
16:28, p. 460.
7. Evagrius Ponticus, The Praktikos and Chapters on Prayer ,
trans, by John Eudes Bamberger; Cistercian Studies Series, Number
Four (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1981), p. 41,
Sister Mary Joseph, O. P.
Los Angeles, California
One day at morn, (and then the search began)
I found the One who balanced a bird's wings
And cadenced its song in the April brook,
And later flushed its full-throated glory
In an Autumn sky.
I found Him who held the reigns
Of the wild horses of the wind,
The same One who first whispered
So tenderly in a quiet breeze.
I met Him in a friend
And the discovery filled my life with joy.
I had found the One
In the bird and its song,
In the wind, and the friend.
I had found the One in them.
Then another day at noon
The bird was seen no more in the sky,
Not the trail of a cloud
To tell of its passing.
The wild wind whispered down
To a still noon breeze,
And the sound of the friendly voice
Was stilled as a pause
In the music of life.
Today in the quiet of evening
In a great mystery of discovery,
I have found them all in God,
The bird and its song,
The wind, and the friend,
Now - not only Him in them
But them in Him.
I press on in the search,
Weave Him like strands
In the warp and woof of my life,
Wear Him as a mantle.
He is my name.
Living and breathing,
We are the same.
WHEN WE CRY ABBA, FATHER!
- Mother Mary Margaret , . P . , Buffalo
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image
of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And
those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also
justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified (Rom. 8:29-30).
Paul, WHEN did you first conceive of the fatherhood of God?
Was it when the heavens opened and witnessed your wrath
against your brother Stephen?
Was his cry of forgiveness,
like that of his crucified Master's,
the stinging spear that pierced the rhythmic beat of
s in-dea th , s in-death , s in-death
rampantly raging in your heart?
Was it then that, unsought,
unknown to you
the hand of a merciful all-knowing Father
tossed into the soil of your soul
the seed of faith
steeped in the blood of the Lamb?
WHERE, Paul, did you first perceive the fatherhood of God?
Was it on the way to the street called Straight?
(Blinded by the dazzling light of God's Son
you had reached for helping hands to lead you
as a child reaches for the strong hands of its father.)
Fear not, favored one,
chosen as the Father's vessel of election!
Fear not to meet the herald of good news.
Ananias is coming. Heed him!
Let Ananias ' hands
bring you the Father's healing light,
leading you further along the road to sight.
For does not he who sees the Son see the Father also?
HOW did you know, Paul,
that you were fashioned
by the fatherhood of God
to be an apostle of his only-begotten Son,
first-born of many brethren?
In baptism you were buried with the eternal Word of the Father
so that newness of life in the Spirit would be your inheritance.
Child of God, adopted by the Father
whose beckoning finger
fired by the flame of love
press ever forward to the fullness of Life.
Confirmed by the handclasp of apostolic brotherhood
you live, no longer you, but Christ lives in you!
Run to the very ends of the earth, beautiful feet,
and preach the good news.
WHAT did you see of the fatherhood of God, Paul,
whether in or out of the body
you were caught up to the third heaven?
In the likeness of his Son
you captured the all-seeing eye of the God who formed you
and called you.
Clothing you with the royal blood of his Son,
HE SEES IN YOU no longer the Saul of former days
but an alter Christus.
Rightly do you call him ABBA, FATHER!
We gaze in awe as he lifts you high into his embrace
only to cast you down to earth — blind, deaf, dumb —
unable to utter what you saw or heard.
Yes, believe with your heart and rejoice in your hope,
for powerless you are strong,
and is not his grace sufficient for you?
Tell us, Paul,
WHO CAN HAVE KNOWLEDGE
of the fatherhood of God?
For truly do you say
that we do not know how to pray as we ought.
HOW then can mortals span the height and the depth
of the Father's Love?
For no rod can measure the saving cross of Love's holocaust.
WHO CAN SEE OR HEAR
as he intercedes for us
with inexpressible groanings,
the Spirit who scrutinizes
even the deep things of God?
Yes, Paul, I quote your very words.
Blessed indeed are the eyes of your pure heart
for you now see the FATHER face to face!
the depths of the riches and wisdom and KNOWLEDGE OF GOD! How unsearchable
are his Judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Rom. 11:33).
COMMUNIO IN THE MONASTIC LIFE OF PAULINUS OF NOLA
Sr. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, O.P.
West Springfield, Massachusetts
Monasticism is surely better known for its silence, solitude, withdrawal
from the world and interiority than for its witness to communio, fraternity
and outreach in hospitality. Nevertheless, through the holiness of a monk
named Paulinus of Nola, we discover that lifegiving exchanges between friends
and acquaintances were not only available but were regarded as an indispens-
able part of his monastic life, for they represented a continual meditation
on the relevance of scriptural exhortation and exemplars to his own life. (1)
One of these exemplars was certainly Augustine, whose companionship in
the spirit Paulinus enthusiastically sought. Having first become familiar
with him through the reading of his works, he hastens to address him by let-
ter with words of friendship and brotherhood.
Paulinus 1 love for Augustine was experienced as so deep and firmly rooted
that it was more like "taking up a long standing intimacy than embarking on
a new friendship." (2)
This does not come as a surprise to him. For Paulinus, this is "the gift
of being members of the one body, possessing the one Head, being steeped in
the one grace, living on the one Bread, treading the same path, dwelling in
the same house." All they have in common "through faith and hope" he acknow-
ledges as "one in the spirit and body of the Lord and should they break away
from this unity, they are nothing." (3)
Paulinus pursued Augustine for his wisdom as bishop and teacher, as friend
and brother, and especially as monk and disciple of the Lord Christ. In his
reply to Augustine's request for his view on a theological matter, the quality
and discipline of Paulinus' communio is made apparent.
This earnest monk seeks to redirect Augustine from his speculative flight
concerning the activity and state of the blessed after the resurrection of
the body, to the practical matter of the condition of his spiritual and moral
life here and now.
"...Teach me, instead, to do what God wills, to walk in your
steps after Christ, and first to die the death which the Gospel
As loving and sincere as his relationship with Augustine was, he shares
an even deeper and more intimate fellowship with Sulpicius Severus. Through
him, above all others, he "joyfully found that nothing can be compared to a
faithful friend." (5)
Christ had joined them not only as close friends in their earlier life
in the world, but also as inseparable companions and partners in the call to
monasticism. The affinity Paulinus enjoyed with Severus was so complete that
his letters noted even physical similarities that pointed to their oneness
"...When I received your letter telling me of your illnesses,
I, too, was ill, but felt refreshed in learning also of your restor-
ation to health. To me, this was a most welcome proof of our harmony
in all things and I experience in myself what Paul said and felt, that
the limbs of the one body share each other's pain and joy." (6)
Paulinus and Severus, although distanced from one another by a journey
of eight days, continued to carry on an annual correspondence. Far more than
for any personal benefit he might derive from this fraternal sharing, Paulinus
valued communio as a Christian duty not to be taken lightly.
"...There is laid up in heaven a crown of piety for all who with
perfect charity love their neighbor in Christ or Christ in their neigh-
The personal qualities Severus manifested to him gave Paulinus insight
into those of his spirit. The open affection he showed him revealed the love
he possessed for the invisible God. "This love," he firmly believed, "must
be proven by the obedience of our faith; that is, we must prove by loving each
other that we are disciples of the Master who loved his own unto the end and
laid down his life for his friends with the same power by which he assumed
As dear and beneficial as the communications he received from Severus are,
Paulinus is not content with letter writing. Over and over again he beckons
his cherished friend, Sulpicius Severus, to come to him. Several letters mani-
fest his coaxing, appealing to their mutual friendship, anticipating the joys
of their meeting.
Paulinus pays tribute to Severus' spiritual excellence and expresses his
desire to be nurtured by him, "as by a husbandman who tends his garden." (9)
Despite his continual ardent entreaties, Severus does not come. This lack
of response initiates a strain in their relationship. Severus responds to
his invitation by extolling the growth and virtue of Paulinus, but intimates
that he would not be equal to his friend's austere, ascetical accommodations.
Paulinus responds with a rebuke.
He charges Severus with inconsistency in his words and questions if it
may not be a lack of faith in the blessings that come to the disciple who fol-
lows in the steps of the poor Christ. He chides him by saying that he does
not hesitate to frequent the monastery of Martin and he would certainly never
had longed to see him had he feared physical hunger.
If Severus is sincere in his zeal to imitate holy monks whose lives in
God are genuine, how is it that he did not seek out Paulinus "if he had heard
that he had grown more perfect?" (10)
"...I, for my part, will certainly never cease to long for your
presence and to invite you here, for the growth of love, which is the
fulfillment of the law, is the greatest necessity in the growth of spi-
ritual works." (11)
Again, Severus fails to make this journey. The estrangement between them
has now reached its height. Paulinus takes offense at a monk courier sent
by Severus and censors Marracinus as misrepresenting him. Even the bearer
of a letter, who should image the person who writes it, is a form of communio
"That unspiritual monk of ours did not have to feign fellow-
ship with us, as you ordered, nor look a monk in the face, as he
would have had to in me. So let him keep his soldier's cloak and
boots and cheeks to himself.
"I beg you to send only poor brothers, pale of face like our-
selves, in bristly clothes of goat's hair, spurning their natural
physical attraction for inner adornment, who are not blown up with
yesterday's wine but are abstemious with today's, men who stagger
not because of overindulgence, but rather, because of a meagre
In an effort to resolve the crisis affecting their relationship, Severus
sent two couriers with letters in a single year. Reconciliation now takes
place between the two friends.
We do not know what words Severus employed to heal the breach between
them, but we now find Paulinus at peace with the fact that Severus is unable
to satisfy his longing to resume their accustomed visits. Severus multiplies
his attentions to Paulinus by sending letters through an exemplary monk named
Victor, in whom Paulinus takes delight.
In a further attempt toward reconciliation, Severus confirms his esteem
of Paulinus by requesting a portrait of him that it might be placed next to
that of Martin's in the baptistry between his newly built basilicas. Paulinus
resists out of humility, saying:
"Severus, dear Severus, your great affection for me is driving
you mad .
"...The only representation of me which can be necessary for
you is that in which you yourself are fashioned, by which you love
your neighbor as yourself.
"...There, in the unity of faith and grace, I am impressed and
molded after your soul; and you will keep me and behold me there with
inseparable and ever-present regard, not only in this life but also in
Through a relentless communio that embodied friendship and mutual encour-
agememt , disagreement and quarrels, estrangement and reconciliation with his
closest friend, the Christian life of Paulinus is made clear to us.
These communications were the vehicle that brought to full development
his personal expression of love of God and neighbor within his monastic set-
Sharing the realization of the primacy of love in the Christian life with
Severus, he writes:
"What shall I render to the Lord for all the things he has
rendered to me? For the Good God has repaid me with blessings for
the evils of my life. Let us, then, make a return of love to Him.
Let our gift be charity and our currency grace.
"No one should cite as pretext the difficulty of payment, for
no one can say that he has no heart. Holy David gives us example,
when freed from the power of his enemies he repaid the Lord with
the wealth not of his kingdom but of his heart.
"But the Lord is loved in our persons as well, for He has said
that the mark of his disciples would be that they love each other
as He loved us. This means that we should have one heart and one
soul in Christ, and that each should do for his neighbor what he
wishes to be done to himself. For this reason I boast of my love
for you in the Lord, for this alone allows me to pay in some degree
to God at least one of the great and countless debts I owe Him. For
I confess that to all other blessings I have not been outstandingly
or especially admitted, and that only in my love for you am I per-
Would that the Lord might enable each one of us to claim this one boast
of Paulinus of Nola.
(1) Walsh, P. G., Ed., Ancient Christian Writers , No. 35, Vol. 1, p. 2.
(2) ibid . , Letter 6 To Augustine, pp. 70-71.
(3) ibid '.
(4) op. cit., No. 36, Vol. 2, Letter 45 To Augustine, P. 248.
(5) op. cit., No. 35, Vol. 1, Letter 11 To Severus, p. 90.
(6) ibid . , Letter 5 To Severus, p. 60.
(7) ibid ., p. 53.
(8) ibid .
(9) ibid ., p. 64-65.
(10) ibid . , Letter 11 To Severus, p. 103.
(11) ibid .
(12) ibid . , Letter 22 To Severus, p. 197-199.
(13) op. cit., No. 36, Vol. 2, Letter 30 To Severus, p. 119, 120, 124.
(14) ibid., Letter 23 To Severus, pp. 47-49.
DMS/OPEM FORUM ON FRIENDSHIP/FALL/WINTER1990
The place of friendship in our monastery chapters
I believe that friendship has an important role to play when we assemble
in our monastery chapters to discuss matters pertaining to our community life.
I would like to develop this thought by bringing together three favorite quota-
tions of mine. One is from Scripture, one from our Book of Constitutions, and
one from the dictionary.
The Scriptural text is from St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians: BE
CAREFUL TO PRESERVE THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT IN THE BOND OF PEACE. (4,3. )
The text from our Constitutions is Number 7: IN ORDER THAT THEIR CON-
TEMPLATIVE LIFE AND SISTERLY COMMUNION MAY BE MORE ABUNDANTLY FRUITFUL, PARTI-
CIPATION OF ALL IN THE ORDERING OF THE LIFE OF THE MONASTERY IS OF GREAT IMPOR-
TANCE: .4 good which meets with the general approval is quickly and easily
One of my favorite words is 'empathy' . The Thorndike-Barnhart dictionary
defines it as "the understanding of another's feelings, motives etc.". The
skill of being empathetic can be developed by being good listeners and respect-
ing the views of others, and by accepting others from where they are at a given
time - not expecting more from them than what they are and have.
It seems to me that by linking these three things together we have a splen-
did starting point for sisterly communion. They are qualities which make for
true friendship: unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, the fruitful parti-
cipation of all in the ordering of the life of the monastery and understanding
of the views and feelings of our sisters. These three notes of a natural and
supernatural friendship lead directly to sisterly communion.
Constitution Number 7 encourages the participation of all the nuns in the
ordering of the life of the monastery. Participation involves expressing our
opinions. Empathy helps us to see matters from another's point of view. By
respectfully listening to others, we attain the goal St. Paul sets us when he
exhorts us in his Letter to the Ephesians "to preserve the unity of the Spirit
in the bond of peace" .
In regard to friendship's role in the monastery chapter I should like to
propose the following questions:
1. Do you agree that by bringing a spirit of sisterly empathy to our mon-
astery chapters we can more quickly achieve greater communion and understanding
of the matters to be discussed?
2. In addition to Bl . Humbert's reason, given in LCM Number 7, why would
"the participation of all in the ordering of the life of the monastery" promote
3. Do you agree that bringing a spirit of empathy to our monastery chap-
ters can help us to achieve what St. Paul calls "the unity of the Spirit in the
bond of peace"?
Sr. Mary Agnes of the Infant Jesus, O.P. , Buffalo
OPEN FORUM, DMS FALL/WINTER 1990
What has friendship to do with authority? Or authority with friendship?
Listed in Number 5 of our Fundamental Constitution are eight ways by which
the nuns seek God. One of these ways relates directly to the theme of authori-
ty and communio and, without the shadow of a doubt, communio relates directly
to friendship. Perhaps, then, we are being led to see how authority and friend-
ship can be related.
LCM tells us: "The nuns seek God by pursuing communion through their
manner of government." After reading this and thinking about it musingly, the
question came to my mind as to why these two ideas of communion and government
were related in precisely this way. I noted that the text does not say "pur-
suing communion and following their manner of government" but "pursuing commu-
nion through their manner of government."
I find two key words here: through and manner . Through their manner of
government indicates that authority and communio are not being presented as
parallel elements in the context of the search for God. Rather, authority is
the means by which communio is to be attained. The second key word, manner of
government, emphasizes, to my understanding, the uniqueness of Dominican govern-
ment — that is, the exercise of authority in the respective roles of both the
community and those elected to hold authority, as well as the responsible part
played by each nun in the government itself.
We know that from the very beginnings of the Order St. Dominic and the
early friars chose a democratic form of government — something quite revolu-
tionary for the times. Every friar had a responsible part to play in it. It
was not only a right but a duty. Certainly in the nuns' present Constitutions
greater responsibility has been given to the conventual chapter and hence to
each nun individually.
We were given a boost in this direction from the Fathers of the most recent
General Chapter of the Order. In the fourth recommendation concerning the nuns
we read: "Because the system and structures of government in the Dominican Fa-
mily are a cherished part of our heritage, combining a deep respect for the in-
dividual person with a corresponding vision of shared responsibility for the
building up of community and the exercise of authority, we encourage our sis-
ters to continue their efforts to implement their Constitutions which faithful-
ly reflect this vision of an organic and ordered participation of all in stri-
ving to achieve the aims of the Order."
In order to achieve a personal and shared responsibility that is enlight-
ened, a certain dynamism is needed. The nuns first have to recognize both in-
dividually and as a body that such a responsibility is ours. Then we need to
take steps to fulfill that responsibility. What would some of these steps be?
I see prayer, reflection, study, research and good will as a few. For some, per-
haps all of us, the process is a huge challenge. Yet if we really want "commu-
nio" then that principle of unity which is our particular form of government
will be embraced with a courage informed by love.
In all of this the operative word is love. This brings me back to where I
started, looking for the connection between authority and friendship in communi-
ty life. What has authority to do with friendship, friendship with authority?
A great deal, I should think. The love of friendship, uniting sister with sis-
ter and including always "the first among sisters", makes our shared responsibi-
lity fruitful in bringing about an ever deeper and richer communio. I think it
is this kind of friendship that LCM N. 7 is pointing us to.
Sr. Mary Emmanuel, Buffalo
Come break time with me,
take your moments
and waste them in my house.
Place the stone I've sought
all day to right,
I am a tumbling wall.
The day robbed and sold me
buy me back with welcome.
I am joyful
in the sight of my sister
hastening to me .
Her belief is my rebirth,
for she has chosen
to be with me.
Sr. Mary John, O.P
Tears long held back flow,
sudden, flooding at a word;
spring torrent unleashed.
Tree - cave shade of leaves
sundered by summer sun-wind
leaks light in ribbons.
Walk a long, dark path,
circled, dwarfed by clouds and pines.
Can hope survive fear?
Sr. Maria of the Cross, O.P
Christ - Wheat,
Wind - Spirit-sown
in virgin earth-of-f lesh,
On Rood is made
our honey-running Rock
within Whose rubied rift
the living Rivers rise.
Sr. Maria of the Cross, O.P
LECTIO AND ERUDITIO IN THE RULE OF SAN SISTO
Sr. Mary Martin, O.P.
Much has been written in the past fifteen years or so about the mention
of study ( eruditio litterarum ) in the Rule of San Sisto (RS) and its meaning
for the nuns of the Order throughout the centuries. In order to shed
further light on the subject, I would like to deal with another ancient
monastic observance mentioned in the RS and in no other edition of the nuns'
Constitutions until 1971: lectio divina . Chapter IV of RS states: "Let [the
sick] read and work as the Prioress enjoins them." The now famous Chapter
XX prescribes: "So with the exception of the hours which the Sisters ought
to consecrate to prayer, to reading, to the preparation of the Office and
chant, or to study, they should devote themselves to some manual labor as
shall be judged good by the Prioress." And Chapter XXI adds: "On feast
days all must devote themselves to reading, to the Divine Office, and to
prayer, and leave aside all mechanical work." (1)
Can we assume that "reading," lectio in the Latin text, refers to the
classical observance of lectio divina ? I think we will find our answer in
the monastic context from which St. Dominic drew the lifestyle of the first
nuns. Let us begin with the Rule of St. Benedict. Chapter 48 of the RB is
entitled "The Daily Manual Labor" and begins with this paragraph: "Idleness
is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the brothers should have specified
periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading ( lectione
divina ) . " There follows a series of detailed prescriptions for the monks'
daily life of Opus Dei , work and reading. Toward the end of the chapter we
find the sentence: "On Sunday all are to be engaged in reading except those
who have been assigned various duties." (2) This chapter, which is
foundational for the observance of lectio in Western monasticism, bears a
striking resemblance to Chapters XX and XXI of the Rule of San Sisto, which
begin: "Since idleness is the enemy of the soul..." and go on to prescribe,
as quoted above, a balanced life of prayer, reading, Office, study and work
for the nuns. Such a resemblance between RS and RB is not at all
surprising. Both Vicaire (3) and Berthier (4) point out other passages
from RS that are obviously based on either RB or the Customs of Citeaux.
Vicaire makes a convincing case for the probable Cistercian orientation of
Prouille at the beginning, (5) and we need only remember that San Sisto
was originally composed of the remnants of two or more Benedictine
monasteries of Rome.
The second major source for the regular life of the first nuns, as well
as for that of the brethren, was the Customs of Premontre. Again, Vicaire
points out important literary borrowings in the RS. (6) But in the case of
lectio it is not a guestion of literary borrowing, but rather of inhaling
the very spirit of a life that relied heavily on the practice of this
ancient monastic observance. We know that the Premonstratensian canons of
the 12th and 13th centuries spent about six hours a day in the winter and
three hours a day in the summer engaging in lectio divina . Important
authors in their tradition speak of it as part of the essential balance of
their life. (7) The fact that the Premonstratentian nuns very likely did
not follow this regimen, just as they did not participate actively in the
Divine Office, has no bearing on our present discussion. There is little or
no evidence that these nuns served as a model for any aspect of the life of
Dominican nuns. (8) It was the life and customs of the canons that St.
Dominic admired and wished to imitate, insofar as these fitted in with the
charism of the Order he was founding.
This brings us to St. Dominic himself. The Nine Ways of Prayer gives
us a charming picture of our Holy Father's practice of lectio :
The holy father Dominic also had another beautiful way of
praying, full of devotion and grace... The father would go
off quickly on his own to a cell or somewhere, sober and alert
and anointed with a spirit of devotion which he had drawn from
the divine words which had been sung in choir or during the
meal; there he would sit down to read or pray, recollecting
himself in himself and fixing himself in the presence of
God. Sitting there quietly he would open some book before
him, arming himself first with the sign of the cross, and
then he would read. And he would be moved, in his mind as
delightfully as if he heard the Lord speaking to him. . .
The man of God had a prophetic way of passing quickly from
reading to prayer and from meditation to contemplation. (9)
When he prescribed reading for his nuns, can we imagine that he had anything
other in mind than this beautiful monastic observance from which he himself
derived so much pleasure and grace? Perhaps in his evening instructions to
the nuns at San Sisto, he taught them how to read in just this way. In any
case, we could well meditate on this description as a model for our own
practice of lectio .
The early nuns were expected to do lectio divina . How does this
conclusion shed light on the meaning of the phrase eruditio litterarum in
number XX of the Rule of San Sisto? This time we need to plunge ourselves
into current controversy as well as into ancient tradition. J.J. Berthier,
O.P., in his 1918 edition and French translation of RS, interprets eruditio
litterarum ( 1' etude des lettres ) as doctrinal study. (10) After Vatican
II, this was eagerly seized upon by the nuns as evidence of St. Dominic's
intent to give study a major place in their life, as he had in the life of
the brethren, albeit for a different end. This interpretation was not, to
my knowledge, seriously challenged until Simon Tugwell, O.P. remarked in a
rather offhand manner, that "it really only means 'learning to read'." (11)
He cites two authorities for this, unfortunately unavailable to me. The
challenge was serious, but not serious enough to prevent the Constitutions
of 1987 from stating that St. Dominic recommended study "in some form" to
the first nuns of the Order. (12)
I contend, with reservations, that Tugwell is correct. Eruditio
litterarum means "learning to read," that is, learning to read Latin in
order to be able to do lectio , as well as the Office. The support for this
contention extends back to the beginning of the monastic tradition.
Pachomius in the 3rd Century insisted that his monks learn to read: "There
shall be no one whatever in the monastery who does not learn to read and
does not memorize something of the Scriptures. [One should learn by heart]
at least the New Testament and the Psalter." (13) Virtually all early
monastic rules of the West, including the rules of Augustine and Benedict,
assume that those living in the monastery were literate. (14) In
Benedictine monasteries, this literacy was assured by taking in young boys
(and girls) and teaching them what came to be called gramma tica . This term,
of Greek derivation, meant more than just "grammar;" it meant what we would
call "Latin," that is, the study of the classical authors, as well as
composition in prose and verse. The Latin equivalent of the word was
litteratura . As Jean Leclercq remarks:
"From now on can be seen the importance of letters... Not that
literature is an end, even a secondary end, of monastic life; but
it is a conditioning factor. In order to undertake one of the
principle occupations of the monk, it is necessary to know, to
learn and, for some, to teach grammatica . " (15)
In other words, in order to read Scripture intelligently and derive
full benefit from it, the monk or nun must not only be able to pronounce the
words correctly, but also to know, to the extent of each one's capacity, the
nuances of the language which he or she is reading. Eruditio litterarum ,
then, is far more than merely learning to read (although literacy in itself
is a great liberating force); it is one of the gateways to the fullness of
the christian and monastic life. It is also the gateway to doctrinal study,
in the sense that for the ancient monks, lectio also embraced doctrinal
study, that is, the reading of the Fathers of the Western Church. This
prayerful, meditative reading of the Fathers in conjunction with Scripture
had led, by the 12th Century, to a rich monastic theology of which St.
Bernard is the most representative author. I think that the text of the
Rule of San Sisto, brief as it is in itself, indicates positively St.
Dominic's intention that the nuns participate in the whole of the monastic
life as it had developed through the centuries. I don't think that it
indicates a program of systematic doctrinal study according to the
scholastic method, such as the brethren were to undertake. This was a
daring innovation, even for the brethren. As for the nuns, the whole weight
of the tradition leans in a different, though equally valid, direction.
Today the situation is entirely different. Women who enter the
monastery are already literate and even well-educated, judging the education
by modern standards. The Office, the Scriptures, the whole corpus of
theology are rendered in up-to-date translations into all major languages.
What possible meaning could eruditio litterarum have for Dominican nuns
heading toward the 21st Century? In many ways I think it has the same
meaning as it had for the nuns of the 13th Century. The nuns of today wish
to understand, to the extent of their capacity, the "language" of Scripture
and doctrine. Daring the last eight centuries, this "language" has greatly
expanded, until it now includes vast fields of history, archeology,
anthropology, philosophy, and so on. Doctrine, too, has developed and been
adorned with keen theological insights, beginning with those of St. Thomas.
All these forms of "language" can be fit subjects for monastic study,
insofar as they lead to a deeper penetration of the mysteries of salvation.
If this goal is firmly kept in mind, I do not think we need to fear an
exaggerated emphasis on study for its own sake. Rather, we can justly hope
that eruditio will ripen into a fruitful lectio , which will pass quickly to
prayer and contemplation.
1. Rule of San Sisto , IV, XX, XXI. Enumeration is according to the
text in the Vatican Library. Translation is by the Dominican Nuns of
Summit, 1969, from the French edition of J.J. Berthier, O.P. , 1918.
2. RB 1980 - The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English , ed.
Timothy Fry, O.S.B. (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1981), p. 249
3. M.-H. Vicaire, O.P., Saint Dominic and His Times , tr. Kathleen Pond
(London: McGraw-Hill Book Co. ,1964) , p. 431
4. Rule of San Sisto , tr. Dominican Nuns, p. 8-9
5. Vicaire, op. cit., p. 128
6. Ibid., p. 432-34
7. Francois Petit, La Spiritualite des Premontres (Paris: Librairie
Philosophique, J. Vrin, 1947), p. 237, 239
8. Vicaire, op. cit., p. 431
9. Early Dominicans - Selected Writings , ed. Simon Tugwell, O.P. (New
York: Paulist Press, 1982), p. 101
10. Rule of San Sisto , p. 20
11. Early Dominicans , p. 430
12. LCM 100:11
13. Pachomian Koinonia , Vol.11; tr. Armand Veilleux (Kalamazoo, MI:
Cistercian Publications, Inc., 1981), p. 167
14. Early Monastic Rules , tr.C.V. Franklin et al. (Collegeville, MN:
The Liturgical Press, 1982)
15. Jean Leclercq, O.S.B. , The Love of Learning and the Desire for
God , tr. Catharine Misrahi (New York: Fordham University Press, 1961), p. 26
BLESSED JORDAN OF SAXONY ON LECTIO DIVINA
Sister Mary Catherine, O.P. (Elmira)
The letters of Blessed Jordan are a gold mine of monastic spirituality with a
Dominican nuance. In order fully to appreciate them we need to see them against the
background of monastic history and spirituality. It is in this way that we will
discover the deep and authentic meaning iri the text of his letters and so be able
to apply it to our own Dominican monastic life today.
One topic coming to the fore of our attention today, one somewhat lost in the
recent past, is that of lectio divina and its formative value in Dominican life.
The basic notion and its connotations will be traced here in the study of one letter
of Jordan to Blessed Diana. For our purpose here I will use two recent translations
of the Latin text into English: that of Father Gerald Vann in his collection en-
titled TO HEAVEN WITH DIANA in which it is letter 4 5, Pan d that of Simon Tugwell in
EARLY DOMINICANS, a collection of texts which he edited and translated and in which
the text in question is letter 15. 2 ^ Both texts are printed in full at the end of
this article for easy reference. Using two different translations will help to
bring out the full meaning of various words and phrases in the original. The first
part of this paper will provide a general background of monastic and thirteenth cen-
tury spirituality; and the second part will be a sentence by sentence analysis of
the letter itself.
We are well aware by now that lectio divina played an important role in monastic
spirituality from the beginning of the monastic life. Basically, Christianity took
over in its own manner and spirit the Hebrew study of Torah, a study with immediate
implication and application to life. We need only recall the words from the Book
of Deuteronomy (6:4-7) used every Saturday in Night Prayer to give us the spirit of
Israel's devotion to Scripture as God's Word to her collectively and individually
day by day. The Acts of the Apostles describe the Twelve as needing to give them-
selves over to prayer and the ministry of the Word (6:4), out of which grew the
New Testament writings from their Old Testament roots. The early monks in their
desert dwellings spoke and reflected on the Word of God collectively in primitive
liturgical form and in their solitary monastic cells they ruminated on various
sentences or phrases, or even on a single word until it entered deeply within their
heart. John Cassian collected and interpreted this early tradition and St. Benedict
gave it an important place in his Rule.
The twelfth and thirteenth centuries gave to monastic spirituality some addi-
tional nuances which are evident in Jordan's letters, the most pertinent of which
are an emphasis on the humanity of Jesus Christ and on love, both human and divine.
The reaction against the heresies of early Christianity, especially against Arianism
and Pelagianism, though necessary, sometimes created an imbalance in the opposite
direction. The reaction to Arianism, in the course of time, so emphasized the
divinity of Christ that he was made remote and almost inaccessible, a stern judge
and a monarch of majesty and power forcing human concentration on the infinite gap
between him and us, between his holiness and our human depravity, sinfulness and
By the twelfth century a change was gradually coming about. We see its effects
in a trend of -spirituality in the new Order of Citeaux and the Cistercian Fathers
of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the most prominent of whom is, of course
St. Bernard. With him, the humanity of Christ came to the fore once again and
there came an emphasis on affectivity and on the primacy of grace which was in-
herited from St. Augustine and was later explored by St. Thomas using scholastic
categories. Nevertheless, the spirituality of St. Bernard was Scriptural in the
experiential, monastic sense, with no trace of the developing scholastic termin-
As we know well, St. Dominic, following the long preceding tradition especially
as it is presented in the Conferences of Cassian, along with the newer spirit of
Citeaux and Premontre, took the lectio divina into his own life and adapted it
somewhat for usage in his Order, as he adapted the whole monastic way. The Nine
Ways of Prayer describe many -forms of prayer which, under the influence of grace,
were the spontaneous expression of Dominic's own personality. Everywhere and
always he was a man of prayer: in choir, in a solitary place, or walking along the
road. We might also recall sayings attributed to him by his contemporaries, such
as: "I have made my chief study in the book of charity; it teaches everything"
( Monumenta Ordinis Praedicatio Historica ) , and the so-called 'Last Testament' in
which he bequeathed to the brethren charity, humility and voluntary poverty above
all. ' The affective and experiential mode predominates in these examples.
More to the point concerning our study of lectio divina is the graphic
description in the eighth of the Nine Ways of Prayer . This depicts our holy Father as
going apart after the Canonical Hours to"sit down to read or pray, recollecting
himself in himself .... Sitting there quietly he would open some book before him...
listening quietly ... laughing and weeping. .. fixing his gaze. . .passing quickly from
reading to prayer and from meditation to contemplation." *^In this description,
besides Dominic's intense personal fervor and unique personal expression, we im-
mediately recognize the traditional monastic mode of prayer based on the early
tradition in Cassian and later classified into four elements or ascending steps by
Guigo II in Ladder of Monks t 5 ' It is also described by Hugh of St. Victor in On
Meditation and adopted by St. Thomas in Sentences IV . We recognize, besides, the
monastic custom of choral liturgy followed by 'meditation' or 'secret prayer 1 ,
especially after Matins and Compline, all of which Dominic took over for his Order
from monastic tradition.
Blessed Jordan of Saxony, his successor, was a devoted admirer and imitator
of the blessed Father. Indeed, we can often read the primitive documents of the
Order describing the attitudes and actions of the one which apply as well to the
other. For example, we are told in the ninth way of prayer that on his journeys
Dominic would often go on ahead or fall behind in order to pray and meditate, and
also that he would sometimes joyfully sing hymns along the way. From the Lives of
the Brethren we find similar descriptions of Jordan: "It was his custom, when he was
traveling, to give the whole time to prayers and meditations. .. .Because of this he
often walked apart from the brethren. ' And sometimes he used to sing Jesu Nostra
Redemptio or Salve Regina at the top of his voice" (XXVI, iii, 7). 'Another revealing
anecdote tells of a brother who came to him and asked him whether it was more useful
for him to devote himself to prayer or to the study of the Bible. Jordan answered
him: "Which is better, to spend your whole time drinking, or to spend your whole
time eating? Surely, it is best for them to take their turn, and so it is too in
the other case" (XXVI, iii, 42) . 7 ^ In this latter example we can see that prayer,
reading and study of the Bible were the underpinning of a personal spiritual life
which overflowed into preaching, just as they were for Dominic.
Jordan's letters maintain the atmosphere and expressions of monastic Scriptural
spirituality and, in fact, read much like the sermons of St. Bernard On the Song of
Songs , with their emphasis on love and their bridal imagery. But it is well to
remember that Jordan was also very faithful to the spirit of St. Dominic whose
personal spiritual life developed from the monastic tradition in Cassian and for
whom knowledge of the Bible as the source of prayer and spiritual growth preceded
scientific study for purposes of preaching.
The letters of Jordan to Blessed Diana reflect all the principal themes of the
monastic life found in Cassian and the early monastic rules: seeking God, purity of
heart, humility, poverty, spiritual combat with the passions and the practice of
virtue, fasting, vigils, the use of discretion, unceasing prayer. To these themes
are added those which developed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries: emphasis
on the humanity of Christ, the love of God and fraternal love, the primacy of
grace , poverty, and others. These were not absent from the earlier tradition
but they were not emphasized and they only regained the foreground at this time,
and in a new way. -We do not find in Jordan's letters much explicit mention of
prayer and its forms, nor the term lectio divina . Prayer was understood as under-
lying the whole of life; it was an attentiveness to God which fostered the spiritual
combat and the practice of virtue, a progressive deepening in knowledge of God's
love and a response to it. All of this developed from a constant listening to and
assimilation of the Word of God in Scripture. No one reading these letters could
ever doubt that Jordan had tasted deeply and constantly of the Word of God and that
he expected the same attitude and practice from Diana and all of the nuns with her.
When we come to the letter in question (Vann: 45, Tugwell:15) and study it
carefully we realize how expressive it is of the lectio divina in a profound and
living way. Father Vann situates the letter in passiontide, a fact which brings
out the relationship of lectio with the liturgical season and how the liturgy over-
flows into lectio . The theme dominating the letter is the love of God made visible
in Christ crucified. There is an emphasis on the person of Christ, especially his
humanity, but in the context of liturgical spirituality with the paschal mystery
as basis. Five texts of Scriptu.re are easily disceraible within the letter which
he uses to develop his theme: Psalm 18(19) :8, Psalm 62(63) :12, Song of Songs 2:14,
Ezekiel 2 i 9 (and context), Romans 16:27. Father Vann adds a reference to a sermon
of St. Bernard on the Nativity as a source alluded to. 9 ^ These texts are all woven
gracefully into the outpouring of words, thoughts and sentiments of the writer.
Medieval spiritual writers knew many of the biblical texts from memory and quoted
them very freely, without feeling the need, as we do today, to quote exactly from
an authorized version and to indicate the specific reference. They simply made
it their own and incorporated it into their own thought and word patterns. The
majority of the texts quoted are from the Old Testament. From this it may be
implied that if Christ in his humanity is the center of focus for Jordan, Christ is
to be seen and grasped against the broad background of the whole of salvation
history. Also, at this time an allegorical interpretation of the Bible was still
taken for granted in monastic spirituality.
In order to penetrate as far as possible into the various aspects and impli-
cations of the spiritual message Jordan proposes in this letter, within the con-
text of all his letters, we will study it one section at a time, occasionally
bringing out the nuances of meaning by comparing the two translations used. Jordan
opens his letter in the ordinary medieval style and wishes Diana the blessings of
the Spirit of knowledge, possibly a reference to the gift as described in Isaiah 11:2
In the first sentence of the body of the letter he makes a rather playful com-
parison between the word or spiritual message contained in his letters and that in
Holy Scripture itself. In one sense there is no comparison: the Bible is the in-
spired Word of God and Jordan's letters are sentiments expressed by one human person
limited by time, place and manner of expression, to another. Yet, in another sense,
there is a direct relationship between the inspired Word of God and the human word.
It is an aspect of the sacramental economy that God uses human words to speak to
humankind and that these words, inspired though they are, are handed on and inter-
preted in each succeeding age by other human persons, both those officially desig-
nated by the Church as her preachers and teachers, and , in a more general way by
the informal communication of one Christian to another. The Word of God can never
be exhausted. Each era, each person interprets it anew according to need and under-
standing. Jordan does this very thing by interpreting the Word of God according
to thirteenth century standards and Diana's present need, using for the purpose a
random collection of texts which spring spontaneously to his mind. The Word of God
has so penetrated his mind and heart by study and prayer over a long period of time
that he thinks and speaks with ease in Scriptural terminology.
In the remainder of the sentence Jordan describes Diana as "taking and reading".
One might recall here the well known words in the Confessions of St. Augustine
(8:12) which he heard at the moment of his conversion: "Take and read; take and
read.' 1 10 ^ There is also a close association of words in the liturgical formula of
the Eucharist: "Take and eat." The Word of God comes to us in both Scripture and
the Eucharist according to our active receptivity. We shall see how rich this
connection of words is in a passage further on in the letter.
It is assumed that Diana could read, and she was probably well read . The
women of Bologna in general had an advanced intellectual culture at that time,
since Bologna was one of the two principal university cities of Europe, with Paris
as the other. In the present case, what was Diana to read? -"that book of life,
that scroll of the perfect law which converts our souls, which you have daily
before your mind's eye". No doubt Jordan was referring here to Scripture itself,
but the implications are much broader. The expression "the book of life" is used
frequently in Scripture (cf. Dan. 12:1; Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 21:27, etc.). The
phrase initially designated the record of the twelve tribes of Israel and of their
deeds, good and bad, before God. Other meanings developed so that it came to be
understood more broadly as the record of God's deeds and messages to mankind
through the prophets, that is, the Word of God. This Word at times took on per-
sonal characteristics, especially in the Psalms and the Book of Wisdom; and finally
it was known in the Person of Jesus, the Word made flesh. We see from all of this
that both Scripture and Jesus Christ are understood to be Word of God and/or Book
of Life (cf. John 5:37-40). This Word is meant to be assimilated into the heart or
being of the reader or the person encountered.
The "scroll of the perfect law" expresses the same idea in another way. The
perfect law for the Hebrew is the Torah. Jesus came as fulfillment of the law in
himself, and he proclaimed the new law of love which sums up and perfects all the
others. In a very perceptive article in Monastic Studies : 15, entitled "Mary's
Reading of Chris t'^^Dom Jean Leclercq describes a tradition which developed from
the early Church's iconography. In early Church art both Jesus and Mary are often
presented together or separately with a book, open or closed. For example, the
Annunciation was sometimes depicted with Mary holding an open book and reading
while the angel Gabriel conveyed God's message, as if she was finding the message
she now received as the same one she often reflected upon in the Law and the
Prophets. Sometimes she was depicted holding a book with the Child Jesus standing
beside her. This is interpreted to mean that both Scripture and Jesus are the
Word of God which Christians read, ruminate over, are committed to and carry out
in their lives.
All of this is implied in Jordan's counsel to Diana to "take and read that
book... which you have daily before your mind's eye." He is saying that the con-
templative Dominican's chief occupation is to keep constantly in mind and heart by
reading, prayer and recollection, the Word of God, Jesus Christ, who is himself
"the scroll of the perfect law which converts our souls." Such a law is not a
dead letter but an active, living force purifying us to the extent we are attentive
and docile towards it/him. It is Christ, the incarnate love of the Father, calling
forth our love in response. This thought is elaborated on in the passage which
"That law which is perfect, because it takes away all imperfections, is charity.
There is a direct reference here to Psalm 18(19) :8. This Psalm, composed of two
sections, speaks first of the revelation of God in the created universe and then in
the law. The Hebrew would have understood it as a dynamic whole. The law of the
Lord is perfect because it is the expression of himself as love calling forth like-
ness by means of responding love. The New Testament gives us the Christian
interpretation. In Matthew's Gospel the scribe who queries Jesus concerning the
greatest commandment in the law is given both the traditional answer contained in
the Hebrew 'Shema' (Deut. 6:4-7) and a slightly new interpretation. The greatest
commandment is the love of God with one's whole heart, soul, mind and strength and,
an addition from Leviticus 19:18, love of neighbor as oneself to be understood as an
extension of that same law. Jesus concluded by saying: "On these two commandments
the whole law is based, and the prophets as well" (Matt. 22:40). Therefore, this
two dimensional commandment is a summary of the Christian's whole theological and
moral life. St. Paul gives his explanation of it in the well known Chapter 13 of
the First Letter to the Corinthains, as well as in other places (cf. Rom. 13:8-10;
Gal. 5:14 and Col. 3:14). The context of all of these passages indicates that
charity implies the elimination of vice and the practice of all th.e virtues which
it binds together and brings to perfection. Cassian (Conf. 3:7) outlines the three-
fold renunciation demanded of monks as that which is perfected only by charity as
described in I Corinthians 13:4-7. If we study all these texts carefully it becomes
evident that charity is a far deeper and more extensive and all embracing quality
than our contemporary thought patterns express.
Jordan understands the sublimity of charity for he goes on to say: "You find
it written with strange beauty when you gaze at Jesus your Savior." Perfect charity
is a quality of God alone. We come to know it in his Son because in him we find
'the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord' (cf. Rom. 8:39; John 3:16).
Jesus is the Word made flesh. To gaze on that mystery (sacrament) as it unfolds
throughout his earthly life, passion, death and resurrection is to contemplate, to
absorb gradually into one's being, the love of God and the God who is love until
all imperfection is burned away and we reflect him clearly. Cassian describes this
in his Conference on prayer: "...when that perfect love of God, wherewith 'he first
loved us' has passed into the feelings of our heart .. .until the whole life and all
the thoughts of the heart become one continuous prayer" (Conf. 10 : 7) , 13 /Love -
primarily the love of God for us, but also the human response of love - was, as we
noted earlier, a dominant theme in 12th and 13th century spirituality, along with
devotion to the humanity of Christ, expressed profoundly in the works of St.
Bernard especially. Jordan obviously read Bernard's works and drew inspiration
from them. For Jordan, as for Bernard, devotion to the humanity of Christ was
always kept in a Scriptural and liturgical context which kept the whole mystery
of the Word made flesh in focus. It was only in the centuries which followed that
this spiritual ardor degenerated into a sentimental and superficial devotionalism.
The gaze which Jordan speaks of is the gaze of mind and heart, probably like
the meditatio , the rumination which had become one of the principal aspects of
monastic prayer. This becomes clearer as we read on further: "...gaze at Jesus
your Saviour stretched out like a sheet of parchment on the Cross, inscribed with
wounds, illustrated in his own loving Blood." Parchment was the material used
for books in the middle ages; and, of course, these books were hand written. In
the case of the Bible, the Book, this was done with special care day after day in
many a monastic Scriptorium as a prime occupation; and the text was lovingly and
artistically illuminated. So, gazing on Christ crucified would have meant not
only fixing one's eyes on a cross with a representation of Christ on it (as was
just at that time gaining acceptance over the plain cross of antiquity) , but also
fixing one's^mind on the Word of God manifesting the mystery of Christ crucified.
St. Dominic exemplified both attitudes as attested in the Nine Ways of Prayer :
"St. Dominic, standing before the altar or in the Chapter Room, would fix his gaze
on the Crucifix, looking intently at Christ on the Cross and kneeling down over
and over again..." (4th Way); "...he would stand with great reverence and devotion,
as if he were reading in the presence of God" (5th Way); "Sitting there quietly
he would open some book before him, v arming himself first with the sign of the cross
and then he would read" (8th Way ) M* Jordan was probably sharing with Diana, perhaps
unconsciously, the modes of prayer inherited from their common Father to whom both
In the next few sentences Jordan simply elaborates on this theme and urges
that the "book of love to read from" (Tugwell) or "the lesson oflove to be learnt"
(Vann) , should be the constant occupation of those who have entered the 'monastic
school 1 . He intensifies his counsel by insisting: "Fix your mind's attention there"
(Tugwell), or, "On this then fix the keen gaze of your soul" (Vann). These two
different translations of Jordan's words are illuminating. In the first instance,
whether the word is more exactly mind or soul , something more than mere intellectual
activity is implied. But the expression to fix the attention or fix the gaze is
more important to consider. It is an expression which has biblical roots and which
was a familiar pattern of the Johannine author's religious and cultural background.
The most appropriate Greek word from which the expression might be translated is
menein. This word can be translated in a variety of ways, such as: remain, abide,
dwell in, gaze on, keep. The Gospel of John uses it with reference to the Paraclete/
Spirit (14:17), the Father or Jesus (14:20; 15:4-6), joy (15:11), Word (15:7),
love (15:9), commandment. Raymond Brown, in his commentary on John's Gospel in the
Anchor Bible series, states:
Jesus spoke of his own remaining in the disciples (14:20); here it is
his words that remain in the disciples. Jesus and his revelation are virtually
interchangeable, for he is incarnate revelation (the Word). 15 ^
It is something of this attitude which the monastic Fathers, and Jordan, under-
stood as prayer or meditation. The remaining, dwelling, abiding of the Word, Spirit,
Father, Jesus, is basically the same attitude or action as gazing on, fixing one's
attention on, or committing oneself totally to. St. Bernard might speak of tasting
or experiencing. An inner disposition is involved, an engagement of one's whole
being on the goal. Cassian spoke of it frequently:
...fixing our gaze then steadily on this goal, as if on a definite mark, .
let us direct our course as straight towards it as possible (Conf. 1:4). '
Here, he speaks of the monk in terms of an archer aiming at his target without
deviation, and so directing all of his "actions and thoughts straight towards
the attainment of it" (Conf. l:5). 17 ^In a later Conference he speaks of the desire
and the purity of the heart which
...enable it with the inner eyes of the soul to see Jesus either still in
his humility and in the flesh, or glorified and coming in the glory of his
majesty. . .Only those can look with purest eyes on his Godhead who rise with
him from low and earthly works and thoughts and go apart in the lofty moun-
tain of solitude (Conf. 10:6). 18)
St. Bernard, too, speaks of this fixing of the attention, or the remembrance
of God, in tupical monastic fashion:
You must fix your attention on the ways of God... You are told in the Book
of Wisdom (1:1), "Think of the Lord with goodness, seek him in simplicity
of heart. ' You will all the more easily achieve this if you let your minds ,
dwell frequently even continually, on the memory of God's bountifulness. 19 ?
Elsewhere, his devotion to the divine humanity comes to the fore, thus adding the
characteristic of his own proper spirituality to the traditional monastic mode of
Your affection for your Lord Jesus should be both tender and intimate, to
oppose the sweet enticements of sensual life. Sweetness conquers sweetness
as one nail drives out another. 20 \
Jordan, like Dominic, combined these two strands of spirituality in his own
way, which was much like that of Bernard. Jordan's next sentence, "Hide in the
clefts of this rock", is taken directly from the much pondered Song of Songs
about which medieval commentaries abound, those of Bernard in particular. So we
should not be surprised to find Jordan using it to express further his own senti-
ments. The Rock, referring to God or Christ, is a familiar scriptural metaphor
which bespeaks permanence, durability, strength. We find it so used in some of
the Psalms in which God is called the 'Rock of strength' or 'the Rock of salvation'.
In the New Testament the Rock is Christ or the Church of which Peter is called
the foundation rock. An interesting comment on this verse from the Song of Songs
as interpreted by the Fathers is found in the Anchor Bible commentary:
The identification of Christ as the Rock (I Cor. 10:4) made the dove's
refuge the sure doctrines of the Faith and the mysteries of the Gospel.
The Vulgate reading 'in the caverns of the wall' was applied to the doctrines
of the Apostles, the examples of the Saints, the wounds of Christ, the
hidden mysteries of God's glory. The suggestion of secret retirement and
meditation was applied to the Blessed Virgin. .. Several Greek Fathers understood
:■ the latter part of the verse as the words of the Bride longing tQ see and
hear Christ in the flesh, and no longer in prophetic mystery. 21 ^
In this extract we may note that one of the interpretations of the clefts of the
rock is that they refer to the wounds of Christ. This is very close to Jordan's
description and would surely find affinity in the medieval heart.
Jordan continues: "Hide yourself away from the clamour of those who speak
wickedness." The notion of hiding becomes more insistent. Diana, or the bride
of the Song , is called to hide in Christ, or in the Church. The verse also has
a negative but very monastic connotation of hiding or fleeing from the wickedness
at work in the world. For the cloistered contemplative there is the suggestion
of enclosure, which should be far more a hiding in Christ than from the world ,
though in a sense they complement one another, since life in Christ implies death
to sin: "You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3).
Diana is to hide not only from wickedness but from the clamor of those who speak
wickedness, or wicked words. There is the overtone of silence here, not only
external silence but the inner stillness of the heart, the mind, the passions. All
of this is probably implied.
"Turn the book over" (Tugwell), or, "Take up the book, open it and read" (Vann) .
The remainder of the sentence indicates that this is a reference to Ezekiel (2:9f).
A few sentences earlier Jordan spoke of taking up and reading the book. He repeats
the admonition here, and in the context of the passage from Ezekiel it is an in-
tense insistence on fully assimilating it, absorbing and interiorizing it. The
imagery in Ezek 2:8-3:3 contains a vivid description of how the prophet is to eat
the Word of God and the effect this has on him. Within these few verses Ezekiel
is told twice to eat the scroll offered to him by the hand of God, to "fill your
belly with it". The actions of the prophets were often symbolic and, in this
case, the spiritual meaning is evident. The Jerome Bible Commentary offers the
following explanation of these verses:
The eating of the scroll is a graphic representation of an inner
religious experience. ... By the eating is signified Ezekiel's total
assimilation of God's message, so that his whole being is permeated
by it and it torments him until it is expressed. 22 ^
The Word of God was the spiritual life principle of the prophet and of all Israel.
It was so for Jesus (cf. Matt. 4:4; John 8:28-29), and it is so for his followers,
in a special way for those who have committed themselves to the monastic life. The
description in Ezekiel is expressive of the monastic meditatio , understood as a
constant rumination on the Word of God. This rumination has a formative effect in
the life of the monk or nun leading to purity of heart, as Cassian counsels:
Give yourself over assiduously or rather continuously, to sacred reading,
until continual meditation fills your heart... The whole series of the Holy ,.,•>
Scriptures should be diligently committed to memory and ceaselessly repeated.
A modern monastic author explains the process in detail:
The meditatio consists in applying oneself with attention to this exercise
in total memorization; it is, therefore, inseparable from the lectio . It
is what inscribes, so to speak, the sacred text in the body and in the soul.
"This repeated mastication of the divine words is sometimes described
by use of the theme of spiritual nutrition. In this case the vocabulary
is borrowed from eating, from digestion, and from the particular form of
digestion belonging to ruminants. For this reason, reading and meditation
are sometimes described by the very expressive word ruminatio . . . It means
assimilating the content of a text by means of a kind of mastication which
releases its full flavor. It means, as St. Augustine, St. Gregory, John
of Fecamp and others say in an untranslatable expression, to taste it
with the palatum cordis or in ore cordis . All this activity is, necessarily,
a prayer; the lectio divina is a prayerful reading." ^'
The connection between physical and spiritual eating or interiorizing was far more
clearly seen in the early Church than it is today since we have tended in the recent
past to isolate the Eucharist as a devotion and apart from its relationship
with the Word of God. Chapter six of the Gospel of John, taken as a whole, mani-
fests Christ as living Bread in both Word and Eucharist. The Constitution on the
Liturgy of Vatican Council II has tried to remedy the imbalance. Therefore, a
descriptive passage like that in Ezekiel on eating the scroll of God's Word
would have been far more suggestive for the early and medieval monks and nuns,
when the link between Word and Eucharist was more vital than it has been for us
Continuing in the context of the same reference to Ezekiel, Jordan says of
this Word: "You will find in it what the prophet found: lamentations, song and
woe." Historically, Ezekiel was to prophesy the days of punishment and suffering
for Israel in captivity, and so Ezek 2:10 has "lamentations and wailing and woe"
(NAB) not yet including the promise of deliverance. In the light of the mystery
of Christ, however, Jordan reinterprests this and substitutes the word song
(Tugwell) or canticles (Vann) for wailing , and he goes on to explain:
Lamentations, because of the pains which he endured; (Vann has "the
sorrows which he bore" which is closer to Isa. 53:4 and the context of
that whole chapter.) a song of gladness, which he won for you by his pains;
and the woe of unending death, from which he redeemed you by his death.
Diana is to ruminate on, gaze on, absorb into herself the whole mystery of Christ's
love made effective in his death and resurrection which is the source of our redemp-
tion. The emphasis is now on the joy of Christ's victory, not the sorrow caused
by sin and its penalty. This is the truly Christian and Dominican emphasis which
Jordan would want to impress upon Diana and the community of nuns in Bologna,
who were sometimes too inclined toward the penitential side of the monastic life.
Nevertheless, Diana's gaze upon Christ and rumination of the Word of God
must lead to a positive and practical sharing in the mystery. What she absorbs in
mind and heart she must necessarily strive to live out, to experience, by the
practice of virtue. Jordan singles out explicitly as elements of this virtuous
life patience, humility, love, joy, thanksgiving and praise.
He speaks first of patience: "In his lamentations, learn to have patience
in yourself." Patience is a prominent monastic virtue closely connected with
humility. Cassian tells us, in one of many references to it:
True patience and tranquillity is neither gained nor retained without
profound humility of heart... It will seek no external support from anything,
if it has the internal support of the virtue of humility, its mother and its
Patience is the practical expression of that foundational humility which is promi-
nent in all early monastic rules. It was a way of life adapted from Cassian by
St. Benedict in his Rule and retained from that tradition in Dominican observance
and in our own Constitutions as an important element of formation. Jordan, as a
follower of Dominic, would have been familiar with that tradition and would have
passed it on, as we previously noted.
Following on this exhortation concerning patience in imitation of Christ is
the even more characteristic one of love:
"...learn love in his song of joy, because surely he has the first claim on
your love, seeing that he wanted you to be a sharer in such great joys.
Vann has: "You must love above all else him..." This is perhaps more directly
reminiscent of the proclamation of the great commandment in Deut 6:5 and Matt
22:36-40, a summary of the law, the prophets and the Gospel. It is interesting
to note here, also, that love and joy are placed together twice, to indicate that
one is the result of the other. In his Last Discourse (John 15:11; 16:20,22)
Jesus invited the disciples to share in and express both his love and his joy,
that spiritual joy known even in suffering borne out of love and often the fruit
of a deep experience of purifying suffering (Rom 5:3-5). Our Father Dominic was
a joyful man as his contemporaries testify; and he was also one who had made his
'chief study in the book of charity', that same 'book' of Christ on the cross which
Jordan now proposed for Diana's study and imitation.
Our Constitutions tell us, in the section on formation (//111, III) that
"The monastic community forms a school of charity whose master is Christ
our Lord." 26 ^ 7 This statement is apparently an adaptation of the words from
the Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict^ where he states: "We intend to establish
a school for the Lord's service" (//45). 27 }We note that the Dominican interpretation
substitutes charity for the Lord' s service . It is indicative of the spirit of the
age in which love, both divine and human, was the great ideal. Our Constitutions
immediately add that the teacher is Christ; his teaching is given by word and
example. This is the Christocentric focus of Jordan. He concludes his exhortation
to live in Christ by saying:
When you realize that you have been rescued from that woe, what else should
result but thanksgiving and the sound of praise?
Thanksgiving and the sound of praise may well refer to the Liturgy of the
Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours as these had become essential observances
of monastic life and were surely a daily part of the life of the nuns of St. Agnes.
This was a development beyond the early days of the desert fathers and Cassian
when the Liturgy of the Eucharist was celebrated only once or twice weekly. In
any case, thanksgiving and praise for the gift of God in Christ and the victory
of grace are prominent emphases in Dominican spirituality where our focus is far
more on what God does for us than on our own unworthiness. Dominic must have learned
this from his deep meditation on the Letters of St. Paul whose whole exposition of
spirituality vibrates with thanksgiving and praise. Jordan's words, too, are im-
pregnated with these ideas and with phrases from St. Paul. One passage from Paul's
Letter to the Colossians is particularly expressive of a life based on thanksgiving:
Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Let the word of Christ, rich as it
is, dwell in you. In wisdom made perfect, instruct and admonish one another.
Sing gratefully to God from your hearts in psalms, hymns, and inspired songs.
Whatever you do, whether in speech or in action, do it in the name of the
Lord Jesus. Give thanks to God the Father through himl(Col. 3:15b-17).
Scripture scholars find liturgical sources and overtones in this passage referring
both to the Eucharist and the Hours. But the whole context of Col 3:1-17 is a
primitive expression of the basic elan and elements of monastic life. It describes
the unity of the entire life, whether that of the community or of the individual. It is
a life dedicated to thanksgiving through liturgical prayer, private prayer and the
active life of virtue, each dimension blending harmoniously with the others. Jordan
seems to have assimilated the spirit of this passage and brought it into his
Jordan now brings his letter to a close: "These are short words, but to a loving
heart they are long and deep enough" (Tugwell) . Vann has: "See how I send you only
this word writ very small", which is, once again, more directly reminiscent of a
sermon of St. Bernard for whom Word was expressive of many aspects of religious
reality. Jordan's message to Diana, out of the abundance of the heart, is brief:
as to word length but filled with inexhaustible spiritual riches which should
satisfy her needs and desires. As we grow in the spiritual life we develop this
interior simplicity to the point where a single word or phrase can engage us deeply
and constantly for weeks and even years.
Jordan concludes with a final admonition:
I want you, my daughter, to accustom yourself to dwelling in these words,
and to learn the wisdom of the saints, as you are taught and stirred and
guided by the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to whom be honour and glory forever.
Diana is to accustom herself to dwelling in the word: here is the .key to unceasing
prayer as understood in the monastic tradition and developed through lectio ,
meditatio , oratio, contemplatio . A real asceticism of the mind and the passions
is implied as well as a surrender in loving obedience to the demands of the Word.
"And to learn the wisdom of the saints": this statement probably refers to the
spiritual wisdom or teaching of the fathers and monastic authors of antiquity.
It is not wisdom in a purely intellecual sense; it rather describes a way of life
and has ascetical and mystical overtones. This monastic wisdom is a development
of the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament primarily. Cassian summarizes it
in a few words:
Hear then in few words how you can mount up to the heights of perfection
without any effort or difficulty. 'The beginning' of our salvation and 'of
wisdom' is, according to Scripture, 'the fear of the Lord.' From the fear
of the Lord arises salutary compunction. From compunction of heart springs
renunciation, i.e., nakedness and contempt of all possessions. From naked-
ness is begotten humility; from humility the mortification of desires.
Through mortification of desires all faults are extirpated and decay. By
driving out faults virtues shoot up and increase. By the budding of virtues
purity of heart is gained. By purity of heart the perfection of apostolic
love is acquired. 28)
Cassian recognizes that to achieve this perfection more than mere human moral effort
We must trample underfoot gluttonous desires, and to this end the mind must
be reduced not only by fasting, but also by vigils, by reading, and by
frequent compunction of heart... And so a man will despise all things
present as transitory, when he has securely fixed his mental gaze on those
things which are immovable and eternal, and already contemplates in his
heart - though still in the flesh - the blessedness of his future life.
This is basically what Jordan has been urging on Diana, but from the point of view
of contemplating Christ on the cross and entering into his dispositions. This
Christo-centric approach, while characteristic of thirteenth century piety, is
not as far removed from the monks of antiquity as we might think. In the same
exhortation to ascend the heights of perfection quoted above, Cassian had written
Consider therefore the demands of the cross under the sign of which you
ought henceforward to live in this life; because you no long live but
He lives in you who was crucified for you. We must therefore pass our
time in this life in that fashion and form in which he was crucified for
us on the cross. 3 °)
The way of life the earliest renunciants in the desert were exhorted to
follow is the same 'wisdom of the saints' which Jordan exhorted Diana to take
upon herself, and it is the same basic observance which we, as twentieth century
Dominican nuns are called to embrace. The daily lectio divina , the contemplation
of the mystery of Christ opened to us in Word and Sacrament, is the steady gaze
of mind, heart and human experience which slowly transforms us, through a life
of virtue unified in charity, into the image of Christ because "you no longer
live, but He lives in you who was crucified for you."
Brother Jordan, useless servant, of the Order of Preachers, health to his
dearest daughter in Jesus Christ, sister Diana, of St. Agnes' in Bologna, wishing
her the blessings of the enjoyment of the Spirit of knowledge.
What do I think I am doing, my dear daughter, writing you these little letters
of mine to give comfort to your heart, when you can derive much better and more
enjoyable comfort from taking and reading that book of life, that scroll of the
perfect law which converts our souls, .which you have daily before your mind's
eye? That law which is perfect, because it takes away all imperfections, is charity,
and you find it written with strange beauty when you gaze at Jesus your Saviour
stretched out like a sheet of parchment on the Cross, inscribed with wounds,
illustrated in his own loving Blood. Where else, I ask you, my dearest, is there
a comparable book of love to read from? You know better than I do, that no letter
could inspire love more passionately. So fix your mind's attention there. Hide
in the clefts of this rock, hide yourself away from the clamour of those who
speak wickedness. Turn this book over, open it, read it; you will find in it
what the prophet found: lamentations, song and woe. Lamentations, because of the
pains which he endured; a song of gladness, which he won for you by his pains; and
the woe of unending death, from which he 'redeemed you by his death. In his lamen-
tations, learn to have patience in yourself, learn love in his song of joy, because
surely he has the first claim on your love, seeing that he wanted you to be a
sharer in such great joys. And when you realise that you have been rescued from
that woe, what else should result but thanksgiving and the sound of praise? These
are short words, but to a loving heart they are long and deep enough. I want you,
my daughter, to accustom yourself to dwelling in these words, and to learn the
wisdom of the saints, as you are taught and stirred and guided by the Son of God,
Jesus Christ, to whom be honour and glory forever. Amen.
Farewell in Christ Jesus. Greet everybody for me whom you know I should want
Your son, brother Gerard, greets you. Pray for us now, until we come.
Vann' s Translation
To his beloved daughter in Jesus Christ, sister Diana of St. Agnes' in Bologna,
brother Jordan, useless servant of the Order of Preachers: health, and the sweet
blessings of the Spirit of knowledge.
Why, beloved daughter, do I write these poor little letters to you to comfort
your heart when you can find a far sweeter and more precious consolation simply by
taking up and reading that book which you have daily before the eyes of your mind,
the book of life, the book of the Lord's perfect law which brings life back to
souls? This law, which is called immaculate because it takes away all
stains, is charity: you see it writ with wonderful beauty when you gaze on your
Saviour Jesus stretched out on the cross, as though a parchment, his wounds the
writing, his blood the illuminations. Where, I ask you, my beloved, could the
lesson of love be learnt as it is learnt here? You know very well that no letter
can move the reader so vehemently to love as this.
On this then fix the keen gaze of your soul; hide yourself in the clefts of
this rock; hide yourself away from the clamour of those who speak wicked
things. Take up this book, open it and read, and you shall see how the prophet
finds in it lamentations and canticles and woe: lamentations for the sorrows
which he bore; canticles for the joys which he won for you by his sorrows; woe
to eternal death from which by his death he redeemed you.
From his lamentations learn to have patience within yourself; in his canticles
learn charity, for certainly you must love above all else him who willed that you
should be a partaker in joys so great; finally, when you think that it is he who
has snatched you from eternal woe, what can you do but offer him thanksgiving
and a song of praise?
See how I send you only this word writ very small; yet to a loving heart it
will be long and deep enough. Do you then, my daughter, dwell on it constantly and
learn from it the wisdom of the saints, under the tutorship and guidance and govern-
ance of God's Son Jesus Christ, to whom is honour and glory for ever and ever, Amen.
Fare well in Christ Jesus. Salute for me those men and women whom you know I
would like to greet. Brother Gerard, your son, salutes you. Pray for us until we
1) Gerald Vann, O.P., To Heaven With Diana (New York: Pantheon Books, Inc. 1960).
2) Simon Tugwell, O.P., ed., The Early Dominicans (New York: Paulist Press 1982).
3) Jean deMailly, "Life of St. Dominic" as cited in Tugwell, op_. cit . , p. 59.
4) "The Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic", ibid . , pp. 94 ff.
5) Edmund Colledge, O.S.A. and James Walsh, S.J., tr. , The Ladder of Monks :
Twelve Meditations by Guigo II (Garden City: Image Books, 1978), ch. II.
6) "Lives of the Brethren", as cited in Tugwell, op . cit . , p. 127.
7) Ibid . , p. 131.
8) All quotations from the letter in question are from Tugwell' s translation
unless otherwise indicated.
9) Cf. Vann, op_. cit , , p. 112, note.
10) St. Augustine, Confessions , Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series I, Vol. I
(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1956).
11) Jean Leclercq, "Mary's Reading of Christ", Monastic Studies : 15 (Mount
Saviour Monastery and The Benedictine Priory of Montreal, Advent , 1984),
pp. 105 - 116.
12) John Cassian, Conferences , Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II,
Vol XI, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdnans Pu. Co., 1978), p. 323.
13) Ibid , p. 404:
14) Tugwell, op_. cit . , pp. 94 - 103.
15) Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John , Anchor Bible Series,
Vol. 29A (Garden City: Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1966), p. 662, note 7.
16) Cassian, op_. cit . , p. 296.
17) Ibid . , p. 296.
18) Ibid . , p. 403.
19) Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs , I, tr. Kilian Walsh, O.C.S.O.,
Cistercian Fathers Series, 4, (Spencer, MA: Cistercian Publications, 1971),
Sermon 11, I, p. 71.
20) Ibid . , Sermon 20, II, p. 150.
21) Marvin H. Pope, tr., intro. and com., Song of Songs , Anchor Bible Series,
Vol 7C, (Garden City: Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1977), p. 402.
22) Arnold J. Tkacik, O.S.B., "Ezekiel', 1 #21 , The Jerome Bible Commentary ,
Raymond E. Brown, S.S., Joseph Fitzmyer, S.J. and Roland Murphy, 0. Carm. , ed.
(Englewood Cliffs, N J : Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968), pp. 349 - 350. j
23) Cassian, op_. cit . , p. 440.
24) Jean Leclercq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God (New York:Fordham |
University Press, 1961), p. 90.
25) Cassian, op_. cit . , p. 484. j
26) Book of Constitutions of the Nuns of the Order of Preachers , 1987, No. Ill, III
p. 67. Cistercian legislation speaks of monastic life as a school of charity, also. \
27) RB 1980 , Timothy Fry, O.S.B., (Collegeville : The Liturgical Press, 1981),
Prologue, p. 165. j
28) Cassian, " Institutes ", op . cit . , Bk. IV, ch. 43, p. 233.
29) Ibid . , Bk. V, ch. 14, p. 238. |
30) Ibid. , Bk. IV, ch. 34, p. 230.
THE DOMINICAN NUNS: HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHTS
Guy Bedouelle, O.P,
PART ONE: THE BEGINNINGS
What is called the Second Order in the family of Preachers, the nuns,
is, at least chronologically, the first. Observing a precedence and a
courtesy not without other examples in the history of religious life - we
are thinking of St. Vincent de Paul or St. Alphonsus Liguori - St. Dominic
actually, as we know, founded his sisters before he could or would gather
In St. Dominic's time three foundations of monasteries are
characteristic for us (there were others, as we shall see): Prouille and
St. Sixtus. It was Jordan of Saxony who brought to fruition that of
Bologna, inaugurated in a sense by his predecessor. It is interesting to
note that these three offspring came about through different circumstances
and means, yet supported each other and formed an integral whole. If
Vatican Council II, addressing religious life, asks us to return to our
sources, it is indeed necessary that we understand precisely what this
The primitive foundations
The very first of these foundations of nuns allows us to set the date
for the beginning of the Dominican Order at 1206: this is Prouille. The
foundation was conceived as a place of refuge and penance.
While St. Dominic was preaching, refuting, disputing and reconciling
within the framework of the "Preaching of Jesus Christ," established under
the initiative of Diego of Osma to combat the Cathars, one day at Fanjeaux
"some noble women" instructed by the Cathars came to him to tell him of
their distress and their desire to adhere to the true faith. According to
a deposition at the canonization process of St. Dominic made at Toulouse
and embellished at the end of the century by Constantine of Orvieto,
Dominic showed them Satan, the master whom they had served up to then, in
the form of an enormous cat which disappeared up the bell tower of the
church leaving behind a dreadful stench. It was at this point that these
young girls - there would have been nine of them - abjured Catharism.
Dominic could not abandon them. They were now without any source of
sustenance, since Jordan of Saxony tells us that it was "because of
poverty" that their parents had entrusted them to the heretics to be
educated (Libellus, 27). Moreover, it would be necessary to provide for
them a kind of life which should be at least as demanding as the Community
of the Perfect which Philippa, Countess of Foix, organized or financed at
the same period.
With that genius for apostolic organization which he was to exert so
vigorously from now on, Dominic saw at once the importance of a life of
conversion which would be an exemplar; perhaps too in the back of his mind
was the thought of a place where the brethren might have some role to play
or might find a foothold.
Heaven's intervention pointed out to him the exact location of the
foundation. The famed luminous globe designated Prouille, at the foot of
the little hill of Fanjeaux, on the evening of the feast of St. Mary
Magdalen, July 22, 1206, and on the two following evenings. We note that
this was also a Marian sign: the signadou ("sign" in the language of Oc)
indicated St. Mary of Prouille, the Virgin of many lilies , the gathering
of lilies, a name which was to be considered prophetic.
In honor of the feast of St. John the Evangelist - therefore during
the last days of 1206 - the first daughters of St. Dominic received the
habit and strict enclosure was established. Two young Catholic girls also
joined the new converts and it was one of these, Guilelmine of Fanjeaux,
who would govern the community until her death. It is moving to be able
to pronounce with a certain probability their names, so redolent of the
poesy of thirteenth century Languedoc: Raymonde, Alazaice, Richarde,
Guilelmine, Berengere, Jourdaine, Curtolane, Gentiane etc.... the first of
thousands of Dominican nuns.
But they must live and build. The monastery had been established by
Diego of Osma who was soon to depart, among other reasons to find money
destined to raise the walls of the new monastery (Libellus 28), seemingly
in vain. Fulks, bishop of Toulouse, had few financial means but encour-
aged the foundation as much as possible. Various gifts and privileges
were granted by the people of the neighborhood, Na de Cavaers, the lady of
the manor, intervening only a good while later, a little like Berenger,
bishop of Narbonne. But Dominic was in very truth the founder and father
of Prouille: he it was who, with William Claret, whose sister Raymonde
was one of the nuns, was charged with its government in the broad sense of
the word, and who had a real monastery built in 1212.
For some time there was a sort of double convent: a monastery of
sisters, doubled and served by a little convent of brethren - who constitu-
ted the Holy Preaching - together with some people of varying status who
engaged to serve them in the name of Christ. Here, therefore, was in em-
bryo the very complex Order with different branches which we know in the
twentieth century, in a non-structured form of course. As for the sis-
ters, we can say that their observances did not seem to differ from those
of other monasteries of women of the time: stability, enclosure, poverty,
a life of conversion, prayer and penance. In the beginning the orienta-
tion was rather Cistercian. We have to remember that at this time the
Order of Citeaux was the chief frame of reference; it was to her that the
mission in Albigeois was confided. But the Cistercians were beginning to
curtail a too numerous incorporation of female monasteries which created
an excess of responsibilities. It was perhaps out of this reluctance that
the Dominican identity of Prouille would be born.
After the dispersion of the first brethren, decided upon on August 15,
1217, St. Dominic himself began his apostolic journeying and made founda-
tions. At the end of 1218 he organized a community of brethren in Madrid.
To it he joined a group of sisters; this was to become a monastery in May,
1220 at the chapter of Bologna. We shall not linger over this foundation
whose development was entrusted by Dominic to his own brother Mannes, but
we should at least pause in reverence before the only real testament writ-
ten by our Father - his letter to the nuns of Madrid dated at the end of
1220 - because in it he expresses, soberly but realistically, the salient
emphases he intended to give to the life of his daughters the nuns. He
speaks of fasting, enclosure, vigils, obedience, and insists twice upon
silence with this phrase (misogynist or realist?): "Do not chatter among
yourselves, and do not waste your time in gossip!" But within this aus-
tere life devoted to conversion are the characteristic notes of his under-
standing of religious life: the possibility of dispensation on one point
or another if necessary; the sisters' absolute independence in the matter
of admitting novices, but also in extreme cases methods of action open to
the brother responsible for the good of the monastery and its religious
authenticity. One senses the maturity of Dominic's thought in establish-
ing a Rule and setting up communities with a physiognomy proper to the
Dominican charism. It is the forerunner of the second stage of the primi-
These initiatives corresponded to a need felt throughout Christendom
for a solid reform of female religious life, led by the papacy during the
thirteenth century. The Popes wanted to achieve it first of all in Rome,
according to a reflex found currently in Church history. In Rome, it was
the families of the nuns of the seven monasteries of the eternal city (as
many monasteries as hills...) who prevented them from living more strict-
ly. This is why Honorius III, taking up an initiative of his predecessor
Innocent III, confided to Dominic the special mission of establishing a
reformed monastery, giving him for the purpose the restored and enlarged
buildings of St. Sixtus, opposite the hot springs of Caracalla, where a
small group of brothers began to live in the meantime. We are at the end
Only two small communities reacted rather favorably to this idea of
uniting in a monastery to begin again on a sound and solid basis. First,
St. Bibiana with a few sisters, then almost the whole group at St. Mary's
on the Tiber, also called St. Mary of the Temple, (but this amounted to
only five or six), where the abbess Eugenie decided to abandon her rights
and those of the monastery and to transfer the patrimony, impaired and en-
debted as it was besides, to the new community.
None of this happened without difficulties, disappointments, obstacles
of all kinds. We recall only two of the best known incidents. First was
the accident of the young Napoleon, nephew of Cardinal Stephen of Fossano-
va, thrown from his horse on the very day chosen for the transferral of
the sisters, Ash Wednesday, February 24, 1221, a most symbolic day for
their return to conversion. St. Dominic raised the man to life.
Then there was the expression of the divine will furnished by an icon
of the Virgin, reputed to have been painted by no human hand, venerated at
St. Mary's of the Tiber since the seventh century and which had never
wished to leave this place since it had been returned - winging its way
back, it is said, like a bird when it had been transferred to the Later-
an. Thanks be to God it seemed to be content, thus giving, as at Prou-
ille, a Marian touch to the Dominican foundation: it was to follow the
sisters docilely through the course of history, and is now with them at
Monte Mario, always in Rome.
This foundation of St. Sixtus is Dominican, certainly because of Domi-
nic's action, but also due to his idea of having eight sisters come from
Prouille. They arrived at the beginning of April, 1221, in order, as Sr.
Cecilia says, "to teach the Order," that is, to teach the usages and
rules of Prouille. This Sr. Cecilia Cesar i ni , to whom we owe so many
personal details about our Father, had entered at St. Mary of the Tiber.
She tells us, but the figure is probably exaggerated, that the sisters of
the new community numbered forty- four. Sr. Blanche of Toulouse was named
The Rule they followed, elsewhere called "of St. Sixtus," is that of
St. Augustine, like that of the brethren, expanded and made precise by
usages: in it we find the broad features of religious life dealing with
prayer, work, conventual offices, enclosure, penance and silence. As in
the primitive Constitutions of the brethren being worked out at the same
time, there was a list of faults for accusation at chapter, which were not
to be regarded as sins, according to the expression ad poenam tantum , (sub-
ject to penalty only), allowing for the regulation of the common life. Al-
lusions to the Rule of St. Benedict and to Citeaux confirm the impression
that Dominic was drawing upon the treasure of the Church's religious expe-
rience. It is in this sense that he was to address the sisters in the spi-
ritual conferences he gave them, the most celebrated of which took place
in the evening or perhaps during the night, during which he invited them
to drink from the cup of wine which never grew empty, and which was passed
around by Sr. Nubia, the youngest in the community.
The third foundation of which we shall speak received, once again, Do-
minic's own impulse, but was also created around a radiant and impetuous
personality, Diana d'Andalo. This young girl, born of a patrician Bolo-
gnese family, heard the preaching of the new friars with intense joy, and
fell under the influence of Reginald of Orleans, to whom Dominic had en-
trusted his foundation in the leading university of law.
On his return to Bologna he met the young and attractive Diana, grand-
daughter of the wealthy landowner, neighbor to the friars, with whom Regi-
nald had negotiated in order to obtain property on which to build the con-
vent near St. Nicholas of the Vines. As the first brethren at Fanjeaux
had done before the foundation of the Order, Diana made a personal vow of
obedience to Dominic himself while awaiting the foundation of a monastery
which still lacked everything: building, authorization, and above all can-
Soon however Dominic, after having heard the brethren of Bologna in
their conventual chapter, was to make an astounding decision. He asked
that a monastery be constructed "which shall be called and shall be expli-
citly a house of the Order," and he added, "even if we have to stop build-
ing our own." The only realizable asset was Diana, and his idea was very
paradoxical if we consider her family's determined opposition. But Domi-
nic's great confidence in the need for this work convinced him that, once
the foundations were laid, the spiritual edifice would inevitably rise.
The initial decision rested squarely with him.
The bishop of Bologna, doubtless influenced by the rich and powerful
d'Andalo family, refused the necessary authorization. It was now that
Diana's forthright and resounding dispatch showed her determination and
amazing audacity. On the feast of St. Mary Magdalen, 1221, (which was
also the day of the Signadou in Prouille fifteen years earlier, ) Diana,
organizing an excursion with some friends, received the habit of the Augus-
tinian nuns of Ronzano, a few miles outside the city. Her family, being
alerted, came to remove her from the monastery by force and Diana resisted
to the point of being returned to her home with a broken rib. Scarcely
had she recovered, by the feast of All Saints, when she repeated her
offence. But in the meantime, two weeks after the first escapade, and
only a very short distance away, Dominic died.
Jordan of Saxony was the one to bring the project to completion. He
came to persuade Diana's parents, and on May 19, 1223 concluded a contract
with Peter d'Andalo. This gave him a plot of land near St. Nicholas where
there was an oratory dedicated to St. Agnes, the saint whose youth and
determination in the face of martyrdom had been celebrated by the Fathers
of the Church. On the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul Diana and four compan-
ions received the Dominican habit. In October of 1223 Jordan of Saxony an-
nounced that some sisters would come from Prouille to help the young commu-
nity, as they had done for St. Sixtus. This proved impossible and in
their place came four sisters from St. Sixtus, one of whom, Sr. Cecilia,
was named Prioress. The continuity between these three great foundations
is quite remarkable. Without speaking of a mother abbey or a daughter
house in the Benedictine manner, we have here rather a sisterly service,
the kind which we know always exists between Dominican monasteries.
The celebrated spiritual correspondence between the two Dominican
Blesseds, Jordan of Saxony and Diana d'Andalo, reveals many features which
may help us to understand the concepts underlying the foundation of the
nuns at the beginning of the thirteenth century. In this sheaf of fifty
or so letters we see a vibrant spiritual friendship, something of normal
occurrence in religious life within the Church but here taking on remark-
able color and vividness. This friendship, based on simplicity and a mutu-
al striving for God, is one of the most beautiful characteristics of the
Order of Preachers. There is a second dimension, that of intercession.
Jordan never ceases to beg the sisters' prayers for the Church, the Order,
and in particular for the vocations needed for the young planting.
Thus within this triple foundation of nuns who mutually supported and
strengthened each other through the network of very human events, finan-
cial, familial and ecclesial, we can discern the three main elements of
the nuns' vocation: a life of penance in the service of truth and of the
faith: this is Prouille; a life of conversion of manners and evangelical
authenticity within the Church: this is St. Sixtus; a life of prayer and
intercession in the spirit of the Order's apostolate: this is St. Agnes'
Monastery in Bologna. Moreover, each community should live the totality
of the vocation, and this was the grace of their beginnings.
The brethren, the sisters: growth crisis
The fervor of the monasteries did not abate, nor did the friendship be-
tween brethren and sisters and their mutual support, and yet from 1224 on,
about a year after the foundation of St. Agnes, some signs of tension be-
gan to appear within the monasteries which could well be called a "growth
crisis," similar to that of adolescence, and sometimes paralleled at a cer-
tain point in the development of institutions. The growing number of monas-
teries entrusted to the care of the Order seemed to present a task too bur-
densome for the brethren, taking them away from their apostolate or from
study. Paradoxically, the Dominicans very soon met the same problem as the
Cistercians, although it was this very obstacle which had earlier on
caused Prouille to be taken under the protection of St. Dominic's friars.
The first warning signal sounded at the general chapter of Paris in
1224. There was an enormous number of sisters in Germany, due to the fact
that the Order had incorporated a number of already existing groups. It
was accordingly decided that the brethren would in future no longer have
charge of these monasteries. Badly informed, the Provincial of Lombardy
decided to discontinue the brethrens' assistance to the monastery of St.
Agnes. We can imagine the protests of Diana and the efficacious inter-
vention of Jordan to reaffirm this spiritual aid at Bologna. But the inci-
dent is symptomatic of a certain malaise.
What was the actual situation? The monasteries of the four primitive
foundations belonged fully to the Order and enjoyed its privileges, inclu-
ding exemption, since they were under Dominican jurisdiction. A custom
had also been established whereby the acts of general chapters, insofar as
they concerned the sisters, obliged them. But there were many other situa-
tions where episcopal jurisdiction seemed in some sort delegated to the
brethren. And there were times when it was not all that clear how com-
plete the sister's affiliation to the Order really was.
From the point of view of legislation, confusion soon set in. The
nuns first followed the so-called rule of St. Sixtus, embellished by Sta-
tutes which in the end predominated. But other texts were not slow to ap-
pear here and there; we note only the rule of Montargis, which was without
doubt drawn up by Humbert of Romans for the monastery founded in 1245 by
Amicie of Joigny, the daughter of Simon de Montfort, St. Dominic's former
friend and supporter in Languedoc.
Concretely, then, there would be a monastery, governed normally by a
prioress elected by the sisters. Nearby would be a house reserved for six
brothers, four of them usually priests, whose prior took care of the nuns'
business affairs and matters negotiated outside the enclosure. The Provin-
cial had to make an annual visitation of the monastery. Obviously the bre-
thren's integration and interpenetration in the life of the nuns was consi-
Is it possible to assess the situation quantitatively? It is, because
of various statistics on the monasteries recorded at different periods.
In 1244 there were fifty monasteries (there would be fifty-eight in 1277):
of this number, forty were in Germanic regions, with seven in the city of
Strasbourg alone; seven within the limits of Italy, five in France and a
few others elsewhere. A rapid calculation is possible and easy: if we take
the count in 1244 and allow for six brothers to a monastery , it can be
seen that the service of the sisters alone mobilized close to three
hundred friars, most of whom had to possess eminent qualities in order to
be able to handle the delicate problems which can arise in monasteries...
It was an impossible situation. It is true that this figure is small com-
pared to the total number of brethren at this period, such as is recorded
in 1255 - nearly nine thousand. But for the same year Humbert of Romans
states that three hundred brethren of the Order had died, and in the fol-
lowing year three hundred and twenty. Nor should these statistics blind
us to the problems arising in some provinces, especially Germany and
Italy, and the fact that the demand for the brethren was not distributed
over the entire Order.
We can see therefore the increasing acuteness of the difficulty. The
sisters wanted to remain under the jurisdiction of the Order and to bene-
fit from the help of the brethren; these, in order to better respond to
apostolic needs, wanted to disengage themselves. The brethren were realiz-
ing that care for the nuns' interests, particularly secular and financial
ones, took them too far afield from their own common observance.
To make a long story short - for the solving of the problem took sever-
al decades with many reversals - we can say that the Master General, John
of Wildehausen, tried to implement the decision of Pope Innocent IV who in
1243 had withdrawn the monasteries from the jurisdiction of the Order and
had thereby dispensed the brethren from continuing the services they had
rendered up till then. But in the following year the nuns, beginning with
St. Sixtus and demonstrating a patience and tenacity which were wholly fem-
inine, recovered their lost ground. By 1246 thirty monasteries had suc-
ceeded in obtaining a contrary statute and remained incorporated in the
At the general chapter of 1252 the original position was reaffirmed,
then reconfirmed by the Holy See. But by 1257 some monasteries had once
more retrieved their incorporation, for example Madrid, St. Agnes and
Montargis. Other requests soon streamed in . . . For about fifteen years
the fraternal struggle between brethren and sisters continued. The sis-
ters found a weighty advocate in the person of the pontifical legate in
Germany, the Dominican Hugh of St. Cher.
At this point, moreover, the Master of the Order, Humbert of Romans,
showed himself less radical than his predecessors in the matter. He drew
up, then imposed, a new text of the Constitutions for the nuns, inspired
by that of Montargis, which was promulgated by the general chapter of
Valenciennes in 1259. This measure provided unification of legislation
which had become too diverse.
After taking a census of all the monasteries, carefully distinguishing
between those which had been approved and incorporated by a Master Gene-
ral, a general chapter or a Pope, and all the others, came the decision
which brought an end to the growth crisis. On February 6, 1267 Pope Cle-
ment IV asked the brethren of the Order to retain the government of the
nuns, but with a compromise. The brethren were to set up reforms and
could if necessary appoint prioresses or remove from office those elected
by the sisters. These would be periodic and for the most part exceptional
measures. The important thing was the duty of vigilance in regard to the
Constitutions. A change was that the brethren need no longer live close
to the monasteries, except at Prouille, St. Sixtus and Madrid, the three
monasteries founded during St. Dominic's lifetime. For the others, the
Order would supply a chaplain if possible. As for the material services
formerly rendered by the brethren, the sisters could appeal to oblates or
even to laybrothers.
This long-sought compromise went into effect. The sequence of events
was to prove that the authentic, spiritual service which the friars could
and should render to the nuns did not require their residence nearby - a
thing which had often posed problems. Their influence upon mystics and
holy nuns had been strong over the ages, as we shall see in PART TWO, but
we must admit today that the first beneficiaries were the brethren them-
selves, and with them the entire Order of Preachers.
The history of the beginnings of the monasteries has already shown us
the mysterious interaction between the two Dominican branches. A celebra-
ted, moving and magnificent passage from Jordan of Saxony to Diana is
there to prove it: "Am I not always yours, always with you? Yours in
rest as in labor; yours afar as well as near; yours in prayer, yours in
merit, and yours, I hope, in the reward?"
PART TWO: ERA OF SAINTS AND MYSTICS
If we are going to consider the high points in the history of the
Dominican nuns, we should take a good look at that lengthy period, rich as
it was troubled, stretching from the end of the thirteenth century (after
the great successes of the foundations we have already described) to the
middle of the fifteenth. We might call this a deepening of Dominican mys-
ticism and sanctity. These two centuries, the fourteenth and fifteenth,
evidence the vitality of the Dominican Second Order. In order to realize
its magnitude we have to situate it in the heart of the particularly diffi-
cult events the Church was then going through, even though we can only
touch on them here.
Two pivotal geographic centers stand out in our Dominican history at
the end of the Middle Ages. Firstly Germany, or more broadly, the German-
ic regions, and secondly Italy, troubled by the confused aspirations and
rivalries of the first European Renaissance, which was born in the not yet
unified Italian peninsula.
We have to remember first of all that the Papacy had finally resolved
the conflict created by the impossibility of the brethren devoting most of
their time to the defense and administration of the nuns' interests, espe-
cially temporal ones, and the nuns' determination to avail themselves of
the help of the brethren of their Order. It had been decided that the bre-
thren would provide spiritual help and relinquish the material tasks they
had been doing for the nuns. It must be admitted that this decision was
very much in line with St. Dominic's desires in regard to the apostolate
of his sons. The compromise addressed both apostolic realism and the need
for communion between brothers and sisters. And the first results of this
decision, which developed as collaboration and mutual upbuilding, were of
an exceptional quality. The vitality thus controlled and channeled was to
issue in one of the most important mystical movements in Christian histo-
ry. Master theologians, and great thinkers and mystics as well, did not
hesitate to preach and teach in the monasteries. Often enough, it is only
through these Dominican nuns that their thought has come down to us.
The Rhineland school
We should first mention the upsurge of life which swept over the re-
gions of the Rhine, and a bit more broadly, the Germanic countries, asso-
ciating with it three great, complementary personalities who, combining
very different temperaments, formed a school.
Eckhart of Hochheim (d. 1327) came from Thuringia and belonged to the
Dominican Germany which had just given us Jordan of Saxony and Albert the
Great. Entering the Order at Erfert he went to study at Cologne, famous
center of theological thought where St. Albert had spent the last years of
his life. Eckhart, who for his disciples and for us as well becomes "Mas-
ter" Eckhart, was involved in very intense activity in government and
teaching at the beginning of the fourteenth century. His thought was to
meet with remarkable success after his death in spite of the suspicion
which was aroused because of certain formulas he used a few years before
his death. His defense and his eminence were assured however by two
exceptional disciples who knew how to bring into relief the riches of his
spiritual thought without overstressing the audacious paradoxes of the
The first of these was John Tauler (d.1361), a student of Eckhart at
Cologne. In Strasbourg, his native city, he was preacher to the Dominican
nuns of the monastery of St. Nicholas, where his sister had entered. He
left no major work, but we know certain of his writings, and above all his
preaching, through the notes taken by his listeners. He left Strasbourg
for Bale because of the conflict between Louis of Bavaria and the Papacy
which was rending Christendom. It was one of many medieval episodes of con-
frontation between empire and papacy, but one of the most violent, presag-
ing tensions within the Church itself. In Bale Tauler created or joined
another circle of mystics centering around Henry of Nordlingen, and
through them came to know the Dominican nun Margaret Ebner. The group was
called the "Friends of God", and included male religious, nuns, beguines
and lay people.
Then there was Blessed Henry Suso (d.1366) who was also influenced by
Eckhart, his teacher in Cologne after he had entered the convent in
Constance in early youth. We know his life well through the account he
left to Elizabeth Stagel , a Dominican nun of Toss.
For our access to the Rhineland mystics, therefore, we are indebted to
these Dominican nuns who were the immediate beneficiaries of the preaching
and teaching of Master Eckhart 's disciples. Eckhart was the thinker of
the movement, while Tauler x^as its preacher and Suso its poet.
But this movement was complex and included many personalities and
settings which were not Dominican. We ought at least to mention this
network of relationships, ramifications and reciprocal influences which
could, from the point of view of the Dominican nuns, be set up after the
very consequential decision of Herman of Minden, provincial of Germany and
Saxony from 1286 to 1290. He wanted the sisters' instruction to corres-
pond to the high level of theological culture which obtained in the Order
a few years after the death of St. Thomas Aquinas. He decided, therefore,
that the sisters should receive more frequent instruction (he used the
word 'preaching,' which shows the unity and breadth of his concept) from
'learned,' knowledgeable brethren. It is interesting to notice that in
the phenomenon of the Rhineland mysticism there is not a purely chronolo-
gical coincidence of eminent personalities and eager audiences: the two
elements existed, but were put in contact with each other by a considered
determination on the part of authority.
We should also note that the Dominican nuns at the end of the thir-
teenth century encountered exceptional persons even outside their own
monasteries. We are thinking primarily of Peter of Dacia who, for the
last fifteen years of his life, was the spiritual director of Christine of
Staommeln, called Christine the Admirable, a beguine of the region of Co-
logne, who lived from 1243 to 1312. It is he who has left us the corres-
ponce exchanged between himself and the great stigmatized mystic, along
with his personal notations.
Above all there is Mechtilde of Magdebourg (c. 1207-1280) whose brother
Baudoin was a Dominican in the convent of Halle in Saxony. She herself
was not a Dominican nun, although she calls St. Dominic her "beloved Fa-
ther". First a beguine for thirty years at Magdebourg, she then spent the
last years of her life at the famous Cistercian monastery of Helfta, which
was an exceptional centre of mysticism, with Gertrude and Mechtilde of
Hackenborn and the "great" Gertrude of Helfta. It was at the request of
her Dominican confessor, Henry of Halle, that she wrote an astonishing
book about her mystical experiences, called "The Flowing Light of the Divi-
nity". The original German, which according to her contemporaries was a
literary marvel, has not survived, but we possess the later transcription
into medieval German made by Henry of Nordlingen and the Friends of God.
We see therefore that there was a literary and spiritual link there,
since Tauler encountered this movement at Bale and in Constance. This
exchange within the boundaries of Germany between different circles influ-
enced the intense life of the Dominican monasteries which possessed preach-
ers impregnated with identical aspirations.
In order to penetrate more clearly the rather intense and somewhat
confused network, we may distinguish here three principle places about
which we possess some information, and mystics often grouped around a
strong personality. We are now in the first half of the fourteenth cen-
The first of these places is the monastery of Maria Medingen in Swa-
bia. It became famous through Margaret Ebner (1291-1351.) Having fallen
gravely ill in 1312, she learned to abandon herself completely to the will
of God. He in response gave her great mystical graces. From 1332 on, her
friendship with Henry of Nordlingen, who was not a Dominican, led her to
make definite progress. It was he who prevailed upon her to recount her
experiences and who organized around her a circle of Friends of God. Thus
through correspondence Margaret had spiritual contact with the great minds
of her time and in particular with the brother, John Tauler. But it would
be incorrect to think that they exchanged nothing but sublime mystical
thoughts: one of the rare uncontested writings of Tauler addressed to the
monastery of Medingen for New Year's, 1346, is there to witness to the fra-
ternal spontaneity of the relationship between this great theologian and
"For my faithful friends in God," he writes, "Lady Elizabeth the Prior-
ess and Margaret Ebner, I, brother Tauler, offer my prayer. What you
wished for me on the occasion of the beginning of this New Year I ask a
hundred times more for you from the fatherly goodness of Jesus Christ....
May God reward you for your message and the faithful affection you have
for me. In my turn I am sending you, Lady Elizabeth, dearly loved in
Christ, two cheeses; and to Margaret and her children [doubtless the
novices] two little cheeses, and I hope you will eat them before Lent."
These simple little gifts show what confidence existed between them,
and the healthy realism of the true mystic.
Margaret Ebner anticipates numerous themes to be developed subse-
quently in the history of spirituality: veneration for the K-~ie of Jesus,
meditation on the humanity of Chri:-t, (so important from this time on and
resulting in Carmelite mysticism), intercession for the souls in Purgatory
and finally a great importance attached to frequent reception of Holy
Let us go now to Nuremberg in Bavaria, close also to Swabia. In the
monastery of Engeltal, "the valley of the angels", founded in 1240, we
find the Dominican setting for the new German mysticism. One of its great
figures is Christine Ebner (1277-1356), who does not seem to be related to
Margaret. Favored with visions from 1314 on, Christine was possessed of a
very strong personality, and was sometimes prone to impatience, for which
the Lord rebuked her several times according to her own account. Her
writing draws heavily upon nuptial symbols, which seems to be rare in the
tradition of Dominican nuns of the time. Christine makes numerous allu-
sions to the conflict between the Pope and the Emperor's son, Louis, over
the territory in which Engeltal was situated.
We do not find these references to the evils of the times in Adelaide
Langmann (1312-1375), a contemporary of Christine also living at Engel-
tal . Married at thirteen and widowed almost immediately, Adelaide too was
given visions. She does not fail to tell us that they were only spiri-
tual, not corporeal or articulate. They were closely connected with the
teaching on Purgatory which was being broadly developed then. Adelaide
was convinced of her vocation to work for the deliverance of the souls in
Purgatory who "suffered no other pain than that of not being able to con-
template God." We note too in her book of "Revelations" the vision of an
exchange of hearts between Christ and the believer, which took the form of
the inscription of the name of Jesus on his own heart and his name on the
heart of Christ. Here we find once again the themes of the Rhineland
mysticism which were to have a prolific posterity.
Now we come to the third constellation of nuns in German lands: the
monastery of Toss, founded in 1233 near Wintherthur in German Switzerland,
well known to us through one of its nuns who was the confidante of Henry
Suso — Elsbeth or Elisabeth Stagel (d.1360). He became her spiritual
director after she asked him to initiate her into the thought of Master
Eckhart. Clever and intelligent, she knew how to ask her confessor good
questions, and also how to write down all the answers she received. Their
talks form part of the "Life" of Suso, an account which has different
sources, arranged doubtless by other Dominican nuns after Elsbeth* s
death. It is also to this last that we owe the collection of correspon-
dence which makes up the "Short and Long Book of Letters" of the Blessed.
But above all else, Elsbeth is for us the author of a document of in-
comparable help in knowing the mystical and also the ordinary life of Do-
minican nuns of this period. She wrote a monastery "Chronicle" in German
dialect which includes thirty-seven brief spiritual biographies of the sis-
ters of the monastery. A similar document written at the monastery of Col-
mar in Unterlinden by the Prioress, Catherine of Guebuiller (d.1330) des-
cribes the lives of the sisters of that monastery in Latin, ( Vitae
Sororum ) , and gives us a firsthand picture.
The text of the Chronicle of Toss is obviously meant to edify, but is
still pleasing because of the limpidity, simplicity and liveliness of the
style. There is no dearth of anecdotes, some very delightful like that of
the sister who, fearing to be chosen as prioress, sought out the communi-
ty's new confessor, who did not know her yet, to tell him that the sister
they were talking about as a possible prioress was completely unfit for
the charge - which seems to indicate that confessors enjoyed a certain
amount of influence in elections.
At Toss the sisters appear to have rivaled each other in the pursuit
of perfection. Their devotion was centered upon Jesus crucified but it
should be said that in matters of asceticism and privations they were not
lacking in generosity. We also see them readily forgiving injuries, doing
mostly manual labor but also intellectual work, like Elsbeth herself. The
intense mystical life which is described did not prevent ordinary everyday
life from taking its normal course, but with another light shed upon it in
truth. One of the sisters whom Elsbeth portrays with surpassing beauty
was a certain Jutzi Schulthasin. She, in very Dominican fashion, enjoyed
visions which were exceptional in imparting knowledge of divine mysteries.
In expressions redolent of St. Teresa of Avila Elsbeth shows us how this
sister understood, in the light of divine intimacy, the profound reasons
for the Incarnation, the Passion, the mystery of the communion of saints.
But she thought that this divine science could reach the point where the
virtue of faith was no longer needed. She added that the interior voice
which had guided her towards sublime regions also accompanied her upon
earth: having seen all this, she now came to believe: "You ought to
regulate your whole life according to faith; know that this is the surest
and best way." And that is the way in which Sister Jutzi lived the last
twenty-seven years of her life.
Elsbeth mentions Elisabeth of Hungary (d.1336), an aunt of St. Marga-
ret (1242-1270) who entered at Veszprim, the first Dominican monastery in
Hungary, and made a foundation at Buda, the gift of her father King Bela
IV. Elisabeth, fearing her niece, entered at Toss. She served at table
and "occupied herself with whatever tasks the Lord sent her."
In a monastery what counts is humble fidelity, and in this sense we
must realize that the daily teaching of the Dominican masters of Rhineland
mysticism to their sisters the nuns did not consist primarily of sublime
and controversial doctrines but rather of counsels of good spiritual com-
mon sense. For Tauler, for example, a religious life which was quite or-
dinary but was lived with love and faithfulness sufficed amply for God's
purposes. "My dear sisters," he said to them, "I ask neither great perfec-
tion nor holiness of you, but only that you love your holy Order and conse-
quently try to keep its venerable rules as far as you can, and that you be
exact about the silence wherever it is enjoined." This is a striking re-
minder of the little letter St. Dominic wrote to the nuns in Madrid.
Many other people and places could be mentioned, such as the monastery
of Marienthal in Luxembourg with its Yolande of Vianden (d.1283), or those
cloisters frequented by Suso — Diessenhoven , Katharinental where Anna of
Ramswag lived, or again Adelhausen, the monastery of Anna of Munzingen.
Perhaps the most prestigious is that of Unterlinden at Colmar, whose Chron-
icle was mentioned above, founded by the two Agneses in 1232. We shall
let this final quotation give a clear picture of that holy house:
"Unterlinden could be compared to a marvelous garden.... All the sis-
ters strove for perfection, but the particular dispositions each brought
to the practise of some special virtue gave a fresh attractiveness to the
overall beauty of this mystical school . . , their common bond was love for
God. All shared too, in the highest degree, in love for holy poverty,
obedience and chastity, for they knew tha practise of these three virtues,
the foundation of the Dominican Order, would lead surely to perfection."
The sanctity of the Italian nuns
Coming slightly later than the Rhineland school of mysticism, and not
without links with it, forged especially by the extraordinary preacher of
the crusades, Ventura of Bergamo (d. 1346), there was a second center of
influence of the nuns. It was in fourteenth and fifteenth century Italy,
troubled times and places for the Church. The Order had once ore taken
up there the challenge of giving a clear evangelical respt ^e to the spi-
rits of the times, but this same work was be ng accomplished in the si-
lence of the nuns' enclosure.
The first Dominican fii are of this period, to whom all the others were
to be linkt- , and for whom Catherine of Siena had a wholly special
veneration, was St. Agnes of Montepulciano (c. 1268-1317 ) . Entering while
still very young into a community of religious called "of the Sack" in her
native small city in Tuscany, she was elected abbess in a monastery of the
same Order at Procena near Orvieto. After seventeen years of government,
at the request of the people of her original locale, and to the accompani-
ment of a great number of "signs" recounted in the legends, she estab-
lished a monastery at Montepulciano and had it affiliated to the Order of
Preachers. She then gave up her abbacy to become its prioress. Her holi-
ness found expression in the medieval manner in all kinds of miracles,
(raising the dead to life, cures, multiplication of bread and oil), during
her life as well as after death.
We have to remember that St. Agnes represents the first link in a
chain of sanctity which a half century later connects with St. Catherine
of Siena, who made at least two visits to Montepulciano. We know the ac-
companying prodigies: the first time (before 1374) the outstretched
corpse raised its foot to the lips of the Tertiary of Siena who was bend-
ing down to it in humility - a gentle attention on the part of St. Agnes,
a courtesy from beyond the tomb.... The second time, a white manna
covered both the living one and the dead, as if to establish a parallel
between their two sanctities. St. Catherine's affection for the Dominican
nuns and her zeal in nurturing their holiness bears witness to this.
In a celebrated letter written to the nuns of Montepulciano, Catherine
begs them to follow the example of their holy foundress: "that is to say,
the humility, born from the uncreated charity which ever burned in her
heart and consumed her". St. Raymond of Capua was himself the confessor
of the nuns of Montepulciano just before taking on the spiritual direction
of Catherine of Siena while simultaneously being directed by her.... The
sojourn at St. Agnes' monastery was for him a kind of novitiate for his
Stemming from these two basic influences, Agnes of Montepulciano and
Catherine of Siena, the nuns of central Italy diffused the great Dominican
ideals during this difficult period. What we know of these beatified nuns
illustrates the life of the Church at this decisive moment.
The general background of the period was formed by the interior strug-
gles between cities, little principalities, small sovereignties which not
only disputed with each other but developed within themselves rival par-
ties grappling for power. After the struggle between the partisans of the
Emperor and those of the Pope (Ghibellines and Guelfs reverberating in
Dante's life and works and beginning to become blurred) civil wars were
declared between Pisa, Florence, Siena and in the interior of each small
city with a complex play of precarious alliances. The entire life of
Blessed Clare of Gambacorta (d.1417) was shadowed by the political rival-
ries in Pisa.
The general atmosphere was thus one of extreme violence: assassina-
tions, duels, ambushes, crimes, or at best imprisonment were the everyday
resources used for gaining power. The evangelical response of peace and
forgiveness was needed. This is the significance of the mercy shown by
Clare Gambacorta: faced with the dramatic events of 1389 in the course of
which her father was assassinated and her brother Laurence lost his life
at the gate of the Dominican monastery where he was seeking refuge, Clare
forgave the usurper Appiano, not only in his moment of triumph but later
at the time of his fall, which is still more meritorious.
The -fourteenth century was not only marked by political violence but
by disease as well, particularly by those terrible mid-century epidemics,
best known of which was the Black Plague. At Ripoli, near Florence, the
Dominican monastery of St. James was almost entirely wiped out, with a
hundred victims. At Florence twenty- four of the brethren died. The cri-
sis, and likewise the fall-off of brothers and sisters during the second
half of the century, was due in part to the element of terror which emp-
tied the convents and led the survivors to seek an easier life. Other
religious on the contrary found in calamity a spur to a new start. In
these terrible times, the best and the worst existed together. By hind-
sight we can recognize Raymond of Capua's reception of the habit in that
same year 1348 as a providential sign that there was hope for a new
We also notice in the lives of the nuns of this period that in many
cases the young girls destined for the monastic life were prevented from
entering by their families, that is, obviously, by their fathers or bro-
thers, especially if they belonged to the ruling classes. The tyrannical
authority of the father of the family, accustomed to being obeyed, exerted
itself to the full. We recall Diana d'Andalo, and also Thora Gambacorta
who, on the day when she received the habit of the Poor Ladies of St.
Clare, whose name she took, was carried off by her family and imprisoned
for five months in the paternal palace, without a bed and often without
food. This shows us the context of the times, and woman's role in the
Middle Ages. In an era of mortality due to the plague and of endemic in-
fant mortality, marriage for the purpose of establishing an advantageous
alliance for the clan and above all providing it with heirs was an imperi-
ous duty. Clare Gambacorta became a widow at fifteen, doubtless in the
horrendous year 1348; as for her friend and faithful companion Catherine
(later called Mary) Mancini (d.1431), she was married twice and had six
children. It was in order to escape a third marriage that she wanted to
join the Dominican Third Order and later the monastery in Pisa.
But these women, once they had chosen the religious life, showed amaz-
ing strength of purpose. What the woman wants, God wants, they say in
France: they always ended by consecrating themselves more completely to
God. Here again, Catherine of Siena was the example they followed, hers
the voice that encouraged them. Catherine came to Pisa in 1375 and it was
there, in the church of St. Christine, next door to the Gambacorta palace,
that she received the stigmata. She wrote to fifteen year old Thora Gamba-
corta: "Only God can bring the soul peace and rest... He alone knows how,
wills and is able to draw all holy desires to Himself. He it is who teach-
es us to cast off the things of this world so as to be clothed in Him."
Catherine also encouraged the little group of Tertiaries with whom Mary
Mancini was sheltering, and enjoined them "to seek themselves for God,
their neighbor for God, and God for God".
Political conflicts, the drama of disease, family obstacles, yes - but
the nuns encountered a still greater struggle, division within the Church
herself. We cannot forget that in the closing years of the fourteenth
century and the first of the fifteenth, for almost forty years minds had
reason to be deeply troubled by the great Western Schism with its two and
three popes and, in the Order, its two Masters General.
Catherine of Siena never hesitated to proclaim the Pope of Rome as the
only legitimate one, but St. Vincent Ferrer (d.1431) claimed the obedience
of Avignon even though he saw in the schism a sign of the end-time. If
saints were divided and found themselves in two camps, how could the rest
of the people not have been divided also, excommunicated as they were by
the camp to which they did not belong? From 1380 on Master Elias Raymond
of Toulouse, legitimately elected but rallying to the French pope, solemn-
ly declared : "We strictly command all the brethren and all the sisters
of whatsoever condition, under pain of excommunication and all the penal-
ties dealt out to schismatics and rebels in the Church of God, that they
say and do nothing contrary to the Lord Pope (of Avignon), whether in pub-
lic or in private, in speech or in writing."
It was necessary to react against relaxation and also against problems
which were making inroads in the monasteries during the fourteenth centu-
ry. In 1303 there were one hundred and forty-one monasteries, if we are to
believe the historian Bernard Gui, seventy-four of them in Germany. Signs
of relaxation had been perceptible from the beginning of the century. We
do not attach too much importance to Hermann of Minden's rebuke to the sis-
ters of St. Lambert near Spire at the end of the thirteenth century, for
having picnics in their garden. But the Master General's letter, written
to the nuns of Prouillan near Montpellier around 1312, mentions more seri-
ous grievances: relaxation of regular observance, neglected liturgy and
too many debts, which burdened the nuns with temporal cares incompatible
with their vocation. As the century moved forward examples became more
numerous. Neither mysticism nor sanctity succeeded in checking the move-
ment. St. Catherine of Siena's influence was needed to back a reaction.
And she was the very one who knew how to rely upon places where the great-
est vitality was evident: Germany and Italy.
The reform of religious observance was instituted by Raymond of Capua
who had been elected as Master General of the Order in the place of Master
Elias, supporter of the other obedience. He began by restoring discipline
in the Germanic regions, entrusting the work to an energetic man, Brother
Conrad of Prussia. He first selected Colmar, with its convent of brethren
and also the two monasteries which the city possessed: Unterlinden and
that of the Catherinettes. He then extended the reform to the three monas-
teries of Nuremberg (St. Catherine, Aurach and Engeltal.) The case of
Strasbourg was more delicate, for the five monasteries in that city showed
no enthusiasm for the proposed austerities. In January of 1398, Raymond
decided to choose one of these monasteries for the privilege of following
the observance according to the spirit of his reform of the Order, and
left the sisters free to go there. The year before Raymond had sent round
an encyclical letter acquainting the nuns with his intentions (letter from
Francfort, June 23, 1397). He insisted on the rigor of enclosure, particu-
larly at visits on the occasion of the sisters' clothings or funerals. He
thought it indispensable to entrust the reformed monasteries to a reli-
gious who would be his vicar and the confessor of the sisters. Finally,
he recommended that a greater equality should be established between the
sisters of noble lineage and those of ordinary circumstances, to ensure
the ideal of fraternity in religious life.
In Italy, Raymond could rely on the fervent monasteries of which we
have spoken. At Venice he favored the passage of a monastery of Benedic-
tine nuns known as Corpus Christi who were poorly off materially to a mon-
astery of Dominican sisters, for the assistance of postulants under the
spiritual direction of John Dominic. It was this last move which led to
the reform of these sisters, who were starting out on a new basis. We
note a succession in Italy finding its impetus in Catherine of Siena:
Raymond of Capua (d.1399), John Dominic (d.1419), Antoninus of Florence
(d. 1459) and finally Savonarola (d.1498).
But we are already on the threshold of another still more dramatic
period, that of the Protestant Reformation followed by the Catholic Refor-
mation and a new emphasis placed on enclosure. We have seen how the
monasteries reacted to the widespread crisis of the fourteenth century
with collaboration, mutual aid and that similarity of reactions between
brethren and sisters which is one of the greatnesses of Dominican
spirituality. We see too how movements of reform and holiness rose up
around strong personalities among the brethren as well as the sisters.
There is still another name of a Dominican nun whom I have not yet men-
tioned: Sister Imelda Lambertini, paradoxically one of the best known,
who died in 1333 at the age of twelve or thirteen in the monastery of Val-
dipietra near Bologna after a miraculous communion. In spite of her youth-
fulness the Lord wished to give her the Eucharist. Historic witnesses are
few, but the tradition of her childlike sanctity is well attested. We
might indeed deny the authenticity of this episode which finds its natural
place within the movement of devotion to the Eucharist inaugurated by St.
Julianne of Liege (d.1258) under Dominican direction. But on the other
hand, we may see in it a reflection of the simple presence and silent
fidelity of the many anonymous Dominican nuns who made these first centu-
ries a golden age of Dominican fervor.
Laus Deo et Beatse Mariae et Beato Dominico
CONFERENCE OF NUNS OF THE ORDER
OF PREACHERS - UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
CORPUS CHRIST! MONASTERY
1230 Lafayette Ave.
Hunts Point, Bronx, N.Y. lOW
Tel. (212) 328-6996
MONASTERY OF OUR LADY OF THE ROSARY
335 Doat St.
Buffalo, N.Y. 11*211
MONASTERY OF MARY THE QUEEN
1310 W. Church St.
Elmlra, N.Y. 11*905
MONASTERY OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
29575 Middlebelt Rd.
Farmlngton Hills, Ml 1*8018
MONASTERY OF THE IMMACULATE HEART
183^ Lititz Pike
Lancaster, PA 17601
MONASTERY OF THE ANGELS
1977 Carmen Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90068
MONASTERY OF THE INFANT JESUS
1501 Lotus Lane
Lufkin, TX 75901
CORPUS CHRIST I MONASTERY
215 Oak Grove Ave.
Menlo Park, CA 9^025
ST. DOMINIC'S MONASTERY
375 13th Ave.
Newark, N.J. 07103
MONASTERY OF OUR LADY OF GRACE
11 Race Hill Rd.
North Guilford, CT 061*37
MONASTERY OF OUR LADY OF THE ROSARY
5^3 Springfield Ave.
Summit, N.J. 07901
DOMINICAN NUNS OF THE PERPETUAL ROSARY
802 Court St.
Syracuse, N.Y. 13208
DOMINICAN NUNS OF THE PERPETUAL ROSARY
ll*th and West Sts.
Union City, N.J. 07087
ST. DOMINIC'S MONASTERY
1*901 16th St. , N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20011
MONASTERY OF THE MOTHER OF GOD
11*30 Riverdale St.
West Springfield, MA OIO89
AFFILIATE MEMBER MONASTERIES
No. 2 St. Ann's Rd.
Port of Spain, Trinidad, W.I.
MONASTERY OF OUR LADY OF THE ROSARY
Rizal, 1900 Philippines
CONFERENCE COUNCIL (1988-1992)
Sr. Mary of Cod, O.P. (North Guilford) President
Sr. Mary Martin, O.P. (Summit) Vice-President Sr. Miriam, O.P. (Elmira) Secretary
Sr.i-Jury Joseph, O.P. (Newark) Treasurer Sr.Mary Thomas, O.P. (Farmington)