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VOLUME 19, 2000 



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Volume 19 



2000 



DOMINICAN MONASTIC SEARCH 

Volume 19 

2000 

ISSN 1527-263X 

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. 

PRESIDENT 
Sr. Miriam, O.P. (Elmira) 

EDITORIAL BOARD 

Sr. Mary Dominic, O.P. (Elmira), Coordinator 

Sr. Susan Early, O.P. (North Guilford) Sr. Mary of the Savior, O.P. (Farmington Hills) 

BUSINESS MANAGEMENT 
Sr. Mary Catharine, O.P. (Summit) 

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 of the Conference. 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, from non-Conference members. 

Dominican Monastic Search welcomes all its readers to contribute articles for publication. 
We ask that manuscripts be prepared with concern for literary and intellectual quality. Appropriate 
subjects include scripture, theology, philosophy, spirituality, Dominican life, and the liberal arts 
insofar as they contribute to our Dominican vocation. Serious poetry reflective of these categories 
may also be submitted, though only a small amount can be used. A theme for each issue of DMS 
is usually announced in advance, but is not intended to limit the scope of articles. Before submitting 
a manuscript, please refer to the page of guidelines at the end of the most recent issue of 
Dominican Monastic Search. 

Articles for publication and general correspondence should be sent to Sr. Judith Miryam, 
O.P., Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary, 543 Springfield Ave, Summit, NJ 07901-4498. 
E-mail: iudithmirvam(S>att.net 

Donations and additions/changes for the mailing list should be sent to Sr. Mary Catharine, 
O.P., Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary, 543 Springfield Ave, Summit, NJ 07901-4498. Make 
checks payable to Conference of Dominican Nuns . 



CONFERENCE OF NUNS OF THE ORDER OF PREACHERS OF THE 
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 

All Rights Reserved 




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TABLE OF CONTENTS 



Editorial 1 

I 

Papers Presented at the Fourth General Assembly of the 

Conference of Nuns of the Order of Preachers in the U.S.A. 

Mary Immaculate Center, Northampton, PA, September 15-22, 2000 

The Mystery of Divine Communion and the Dominican Monastic Life 

Fr. Augustine DiNoia, O.P 3 

Religious Observances and Transformation 

Fr. John Corbett, O.P 17 

Dominican Monastic Observance as Christological and Sacramental in Character 

Fr. Gabriel O'Donnell, O.P 24 

Dominican Monastic Observance in the Contemporary Context 

Fr. Gabriel O'Donnell, O.P .30 

The Observances of Silence and Enclosure 

Sr. Claire, O.P. (North Guilford) 36 

Verbi Sponsa and Dominican Monastic Life 

Fr. Reginald Whitt, O.P 47 

Common Life in the Dominican Tradition: 

An Enduring Observance in the Unity of the Triune God 

Sr. Denise Marie, O.P. (Summit) 62 

Study Is a Prayer to Truth: Jesus, pure Truth, teach us the Truth 

Sr. Mary of Jesus, O.P. (Bronx) 72 

• • •• END OF ASSEMBLY PAPERS ••• • 
II 

Praying with a Picture [Coronation of the Virgin, Fra Angelico] 

Sr. Mary of the Trinity, O.P. (Farmington Hills) 89 

Beauty, Contemplation and the Virgin Mary 

Sr. Thomas Mary, O.P. (North Guilford) 92 

At the Wellspring of Trinitarian Communion: Footnote to Verbi Sponsa 

Sr. Maria Agnes, O.P. (Summit) 96 



A Reflection on Memory and Contemplation 

Sr. Mary of the Trinity, O.P. (Farmington Hills) 101 

The Father in Paul's Letter to the Romans 

Sr. Mary Vincent, O.P. (Farmington Hills) 104 

Homily on Magdalen by Origen 

Tr. by Sr. Mary Regina, O.P. (West Springfield) 111 

Commentary on the Constitutions of the Nuns of the Order of Preachers: Part Three 

Sr. Marie Ancilla, O.P. (Lourdes, France), Tr. by Sr. Mary Thomas, O.P. (Buffalo) ..118 



BOOK REVIEWS 

Sisters in Crisis by Ann Carey 

Sr. Mary Thomas, O.P. (Buffalo) 144 

Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns Through Two Millennia by Jo Ann Kay McNamara 

Sr. Mary Thomas, O.P. (Buffalo) 145 

Witness to Hope: the Biography of John Paul II by George Weigel 

Sr. Mary of Christ, O.P. (Los Angeles) 147 



POETRY 

The Seed was the Word of God — Sr. Mary of Christ, O.P. (Los Angeles) 103 

Advent Compline — Sr. Mary Catharine, O.P. (Summit) 117 

List of Member Monasteries 149 

Contact Persons 1 50 

Guidelines for Contributors 151 

ART CREDITS 

Cover Design and pages 61, 86: Sr. Corde Maria, O.P. (North Guilford) 
Frontispiece and page 14: Sr. Catherine Mary, O.P. (Farmington Hills) 
Page 88: Coronation of the Virgin, Fresco by Fra Angelico 



EDITORIAL 

This volume of Dominican Monastic Search features the talks from Assembly 2000, a 
gathering doubly historic for having taken place in both the great Jubilee year, and the 
25 th Anniversary Year of the inauguration of the Conference of Nuns of the Order of 
Friars Preachers of the USA. 

This Assembly most appropriately drew its theme: "Dwelling in the Inmost Life of God," 
from Pope John Paul's Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente. Our vocation as 
Dominican Nuns calls us to direct the whole of our lives to realizing the mystery of divine 
communion opened to us by the event of the Incarnation of the Son of God which this 
Jubilee celebrates. 

Each presentation from the Assembly reflects theologically on some aspect of traditional 
Dominican Observance, seeking clearer perspectives and expressions for how to strive 
toward this goal of communion with the Trinity as we move forward into the Third 
Millennium. 

I found it curiously graced how the other papers submitted proved so complementary to 
the reflections from the Assembly. In Part II of this issue we see Mary as ever with us 
on this journey, both as beauty attracting our contemplation, and as a gracious guide 
familiar with the way, because she has walked it before us unto its end in glory. Our 
eager longing for this goal keeps it in view and like a wellspring from which we drink, 
invigorates our daily efforts. By our very creation God has placed a "primal memory" 
within us, to sustain our desire. For the Father loved us so much as to empower us with 
hope that we shall dwell in him, just by calling us into being. If we experience a sense 
of loss for a time, as Magdalen did after the crucifixion of her beloved Jesus, it is only 
that we may see him again, and even more clearly. 

With this issue we also bring to completion our three-part series of the Commentary on 
the Constitutions. 

DMS itself is passing milestone, as Sr. Judith Miryam (Summit, NJ) has accepted the 
editorship for the coming term. We have confidence that, well supported by your 
interest and cooperation, she will continue to make our journal one of quality, interest 
and value for our Dominican contemplative and monastic life, and that her "tour of duty" 
will be as rewarding as mine has been. 

Sr. Mary Dominic, O.P. 

Elmira, NY 

Editor 



THE MYSTERY OF DIVINE COMMUNION 
AND THE DOMINICAN MONASTIC LIFE 1 



Fr. Augustine DiNoia, O.P. 
Province of St. Joseph 



INTRODUCTION: "Free for God alone" (LCM 1:1) 

a. adopting the "divine perspective 

The topic is the one which was assigned to me: "The Mystery of Divine Communion and the 
Monastic Life." I take as mine these words of John Paul II: "Everything is reduced to the 
essential because the only thing that matters is communion with God." Let me speak a moment 
about the perspective I am adopting here, so that you will see how the parts of the presentation 
connect with each other. 

I recently gave a lecture in Steubenville, Ohio, on a topic which I had addressed before but 
never so extensively: "The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist." In the course of preparing 
for it, I read something by Msgr. Robert Sokolowski. He has a remarkable book on the 
Eucharist; but this was just a short essay in Communio. It encouraged me to say to them what 
I am going to say now to you, because I think that it captures the way we approach things: by 
"adopting a divine perspective." 

When having a disagreement with somebody, we sometimes say:" Would you look at this from 
my point of view?" Suppose that we imagine God saying to us in our various quandaries ( e.g., 
in that other talk I was thinking of the Real Presence): "Would you look at this from My point of 
view?" 

Now this is a rather daring thing to do. It seems to some to characterize our theology as being 
a little bit too grand. But of course Aquinas taught us, and St. Dominic taught us, that this is the 
only way to work things out. Robert Jenson, a Lutheran theologian whom I respect very much, 
says in his Systematic Theology: "The doctrine of the Trinity is not a puzzle to be solved; it is 
itself the solution to all the other puzzles." Now this is a very powerful remark, and in part is 
another way of saying: "Look at this from My point of view." And if we "look at this from My point 
of view," taking, for example, the Real Presence, we are preoccupied with the issue: How can 
this be? How can Christ be present, bodily, in those elements; and so much so that Aquinas 
has taught us they no longer exist, and the Church teaches this as transubstantiation. "How can 
this be?" we say. But if you take the divine perspective, the question becomes: "Why not? Why 
not?" 

So let us now think to ourselves that we are standing looking at what God has done from God's 
perspective, from the perspective of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are going to try to see 
how the things that God has done make sense - to God! This is daring. It is not a demon- 
stration; Aquinas taught us this. We have no demonstratio propter quid in the things of God. 



1 Ed. note: This talk was transcribed from the tape, and reviewed by Father DiNoia. 

3 



We are not God. But nonetheless God invites us. We believe that faith is a participation in the 
divine knowledge. We can't say: things had to be this way; there had to be Creation, Incar- 
nation, Eucharist. But we can see, if we adopt God's perspective, why it makes sense that 
there is Creation, Incarnation and Eucharist. To be honest with you, we have no alternative way 
of viewing these things. Although some have been proposed, they are unstable, for one reason 
or another, and tend to erode, whereas this one remains. That is part of the reason why the 
place of Aquinas is so extraordinary in the Church: this one remains and keeps reviving. Even 
when everybody has declared it to be dead and gone, it comes back, as it is now. 

Because of the nature of the topic, we are chiefly looking at spirituality. This is not simply the 
study of the Trinity as a theological doctrine of considerable complexity and interest; that would 
be an entirely other lecture. This is a lecture about what the doctrine of the Trinity means for us, 
and particularly for Dominican contemplatives - which includes all of us, not just the nuns but 
also the friars. 

b. The centrality of "Veritas" in the Dominican life: spirituality rooted in theology 

The centrality of Veritas is a very strong element; seen everywhere in writings on our spirituality. 
That Veritas is the motto of the Order is very clear throughout our history. In my preparation for 
this talk, something providentially came into my hands: the article on Dominican spirituality in 
the Dictionnaire de Spiritualite, which Benedict Ashley translated, with permission of the pub- 
lishers, and put on a website. I found it extremely helpful. Written by several authors, it is 
uneven; but it is very useful because it contains a lot of bibliography, and the names of many 
very interesting nuns who had written their autobiographies. Not all are published, some of 
them are in archives. To see all this is fascinating. Many of the things I have to say came to 
me from reading this article. 

One of the things that struck me is how much throughout our history, in a spirituality rooted in 
theology, the friars and the nuns were concerned to avoid the fantastical in spirituality and to 
keep coming back to the central matters of our faith. Partly this is because it is both funda- 
mental to us and fundamental to the medieval and patristic conception of life that human beings 
are not the judges of reality, nor the constructors of it; they are the receivers of something: 
Truth. There is an objective order to which we must conform. We do not make that order 
conform to us. This will help us to understand later why [medieval] conventual and monastic 
forms of life are different from the ones that emerged in the last four hundred years. 

c. Jubilee call to communion with the Blessed Trinity 

Finally, the reason for the theme of this Assembly 2000 is, as you know, that our Holy Father 
in a most remarkable way has made the Trinity the center of reflection, both of the preparation 
for the Jubilee and of its celebration. So the topic is very appropriate. 

1. Trinitarian communion and the universal call to holiness 

Cardinal Hickey said to me one day at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate 
Conception: "They have just put up a new bas-relief." As you go out of the Basilica, above the 
doors there is an immense marble work: the Blessed Virgin, and people moving towards the 
center. It is titled: "The Universal Call to Holiness." It was his idea. As we were standing 
looking up at it, I said: "That was a great idea, your Eminence." And he said: "Gus, I got this 



idea from the Dominicans. The Dominicans have always taught that holiness is not something 
for just a small number of people." One of the great themes of John Paul II is not to have made 
awful divisions between moral theology, ascetical theology, spiritual theology, mystical theology. 
Those distinctions have a use, but in practice they have divided the Church more or less into 
two groups: the people seeking the perfection of union with God - and everybody else. This 
is a terrible mistake because everybody is called to share the communion of life of the Trinity. 
So what we are describing here, although we are talking about it in a particular way relating to 
the Order, is not just for us. And we have never taught that it was just for us. 

a. The harmonious life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit 

This phrase "the harmonious life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," is another expression I 
borrowed from Robert Jenson. But he borrowed it from Jonathan Edwards, so this is very 
American! Jonathan Edwards wrote about the Trinity using musical analogies, interestingly, and 
Jenson does also. 

But "the harmonious life" of Father, Son and Holy Spirit was in no need of complementing by 
anything else. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not need the company of anyone else. They 
are their own company, and their own company is sufficient for them. It is terribly important to 
start here. Not even to start with Creation or- God forbid! - to start with ourselves. The Father, 
Son and Holy Spirit did not need company. As St. Irenaeus says: "God who was in need of no 
one, gave communion with Himself to those who need him." This is a deep mystery: that there 
is anything besides God ! Even here, as Aquinas teaches us: that there is anything besides God 
doesn't mean there is more. Because God by creating did not "increase the volume" of 
existence. He shared his existence. It is an odd thing to think of. In a way, you cannot say 
"before God created anything else" because everything else is, comes into existence, out of 
God's perfect act. As Aquinas says: ipsum esse per se subsistens causes the existence of 
everything else, and yet without adding. 

b. Creation as the basis for divine communion with non-divine persons 

We don't cry "mystery" too soon, but we have to cry it here. We say "love" - but that God 
should have this intention, that the Trinity, would share life and therefore communion with what 
is not God, is a mystery. When I say: "You have to adopt the divine perspective," this is where 
you have to start, with this intention of God to share the communion of Trinitarian life with 
persons who are not God: the angels, and us, and any other persons there are in the universe. 
We may be the only persons in the universe. But if there are others, they are included in this. 

Creation - that the world exists, that there is a universe, that there are stars and planets, moon, 
and earth and people on it - none of this would exist apart from the divine intention to share the 
communion of Trinitarian life with what is not God. Nothing would exist. When you say, or when 
you hear people say: "What is the meaning of life?" this is the answer. I have not heard another 
one that is very persuasive. Buddhism has an appealing explanation of a continuous sort of 
recycling of everything in the universe; but in the end, it's impersonal. 

So creation is the basis for divine communion with non-divine persons. We came into existence 
for this, and nothing less. We can't settle for less. How does this occur in God's plan? (We are 
thinking the way God thinks, dare we?) If God intends to share the communion of Trinitarian 
life with what is not God, he has to make some of those, and he has to make a place for them. 



So creation flows from this intention. God is not like us. We sit around saying: I wish I knew 
French, or I wish I knew this or I wish I knew that, and do nothing. When God wants something, 
it happens. God doesn't have unfulfilled wishes. So, given the intention to have company that 
is not God, it follows that God has to make company for himself that is not God. And here, I 
dare say, it follows that if God is going to have personal relationship with bodily persons, it 
makes sense for him to have come in the flesh in the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, 
because we find it hard to deal with God as just a pure spirit. It is hard to have a personal 
relationship with a pure spirit. 

I don't know how you are doing with your guardian angels. Almost everybody imagines them 
as bodily beings. Angels are spirits who inhabit bodies, but we know from Aquinas that their 
bodies are not essential to their identity in the way that our bodies are. They can occupy any 
body any time, presumably. We cannot. (That is why the doctrine of reincarnation is, from a 
Christian point of view, absurd.) But it's hard to have a relationship with a pure spirit, so you 
have to imagine pure spirits having bodies. The angel Gabriel came to Mary in bodily form. For 
a time, he, she, or it, occupied a body in order to appear before the Blessed Virgin. We are 
bodily persons, we like to touch, we like to kiss, we like to hear, talk, shake hands. That is the 
way bodily persons operate. We like to be able to see a person. When I adopt the divine 
perspective - do I say that God had to send his Son in the flesh? No! Of course not. But that 
he did, Aquinas would say, makes sense. Ex convenientia - it is appropriate that God should 
act in this way. 

So our communion with the Blessed Trinity is made possible through the Incarnation, first of all, 
and then, because of sin, through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. We have two 
obstacles to being in God's company: we aren't God; and we are not holy. And God over- 
comes both of them in Christ. Pay attention in Advent. The beautiful readings, the antiphons, 
are all about this: how Christ became one of us so that we might become like God. 



c. Communion with the Blessed Trinity through adoptive participation in Christ 

The mystery of the Incarnation is the mystery of the elevation of human nature. John Paul II 
has talked rather radically about this idea that the Incarnation has changed every human being. 
He has really emphasized this. What Aquinas and the tradition call gratia elevans, that we are 
enabled to be in the company of God and not feel out of place or ill at ease: that is what Christ 
has done for us. Our relationship with Christ is a relationship which is with God; not an 
intermediary. And my language here of "adoptive participation" is Paul's: by adoption we 
become brothers and sisters of Christ and therefore sons and daughters of the Father. The one 
who is Son by nature makes us children of God by adoption: one by one, as it were. No more 
just being the children of Adam; that doesn't work. The difference between the state we are in 
now and the state Adam and Eve were in before sin is this: that being in a relationship with God 
was part of just being human. That is no longer true. Original sin is the disruption of that 
possibility of transmitting, with human nature, a relationship with God. So Christ is the new 
Adam, who claims the descendants of Adam as his. His! One by one. If you have been to a 
baptism in the new rite, the Sign of the Cross is made on the forehead of the child by the priest, 
by the parents, and by the godfather and godmother. " We claim you for Christ," they say. 
That's what I mean by "one by one." It's not just being human any more; it's being claimed one 
by one in Christ. 



The new document which has caused such a furor, Dominus Jesus, is merely stating the most 
lapidary point about the faith. This is the point: no one has ever claimed to be able to make 
human beings intimately related to God. No one, not Mohammed and not even Moses. 
Judaism and Islam disagree with us at this central point - about human beings being intimately 
related with God. Christians claim, (and this, hopefully, is still shared by all of the churches that 
subscribe to the Nicene Creed), that no deeper intimacy with God is possible than the intimacy 
with God which we are promised, and indeed now share, through Christ, with Father, Son and 
Holy Spirit. Short of making other gods, which God can't do, God could not bring us into any 
deeper intimacy than the one in which we are sharing now. This is not something that is just 
going to be in the future. We already are in this state. Baptism is the introduction of us into the 
state of being in communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is what Christ claims us 
for - one by one - and each of us then has to be transformed into his image. This is why we 
pray that the Father "will see and love in us what he sees and loves in Christ." 

Recall the parable of the wedding banquet to which no one comes, and the king sends his 
servants to get people from the highways and by-ways. He looks out at the result and finds one 
without the wedding garment. We say: "The poor guy didn't know he was going to a wedding; 
how could he get in trouble for not having a wedding garment? He didn't have time to go to 
Bloomingdale's!" But of course we have to understand here that the practice of the ancient 
Near East was often that wedding garments were supplied (as when we go to a parish and 
there are albs in the closet). And in any case, to appear without one was a profound breach of 
etiquette. So he gets thrown out into the street. But what is that? I think you have to interpret 
the parable in the Pauline sense: the Father looks out and wants to see us clothed in Christ. 
The ones who are not clothed in Christ will not feel at home nor be at home. And this 
transformation is one which does not suppress our personalities or our humanness but con- 
summates them. 

The deep point of all Christian anthropology, which has been emphasized very much by John 
Paul II in his encyclicals, is that Christ makes it possible for us to be most fully ourselves. And 
short of transformation in him, we will never realize the full humanity that each one of us is. The 
image of God in us, by being transformed in the image of Christ, becomes more and more 
refined and sharpened. We become more and more ourselves, not less and less ourselves, 
by bring transformed in Christ. This is an essential point of the themes of this week. I know Fr. 
Corbett will pick up on this, because what we call "the moral life," and the observances, are 
meant to assist in this transformation; that is where they belong. Neither observances nor the 
moral life are for their own sake. They are for the sake of a transformation directed towards 
personal union. And that is what Christ does. That is the whole beginning, really, of moral 
theology, and in fact its summary. The New Catechism, Part III: "The Life in Christ," is all about 
this. 

2. The Trinitarian communion 

a. The Trinitarian pattern of redemption 

The doctrine of the Trinity that we now know was worked out over several hundred years of 
struggle, and if you read the Fathers, you have to know a lot of metaphysics to figure out what 
they are talking about. It's complicated. That is why the doctrine of the Trinity has gotten the 
reputation of being a puzzle - which is most unfortunate because what the Fathers were trying 
to do was to secure the doctrine against alternatives which undermined the possibility of 



communion. But it was hard to do that, and not everybody has to become a specialist in that. 
But everybody knows this: the Father does not take origin. The order in the Trinity is Father, 
Son, and Holy Spirit, and you cannot go any other way. You cannot start with the Spirit, or the 
Son - you can't move those pieces around. One of the problems with Trinitarian theology and 
the Enlightenment, especially following Hegel, was that Trinitarian theology sometimes made 
the Spirit primary, and this undermines the processions. 

As the Fathers of the Church say, the Father is without origin. The Son proceeds from the 
Father. And yet without being caused in being. It's a deep mystery. This is the deepest 
mystery. You cannot use any words like "The Father causes the Son." The Son proceeds. 
We learn this from John: "I came from the Father." The word "proceeds," for Aquinas, is a 
biblical word, not a technical word. (Processio is from the Latin in the Vulgate.) So the Son 
proceeds from the Father. And we say - in theology, not doctrine - that it is the Father's 
knowing of himself, or his divinity, that generates the Son. And then we say, doctrinally, that the 
Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. And the theology of the Church has favored the 
view that this is, as Aquinas says, from the impulsus amoris: the dynamic of love in God gives 
forth the Holy Spirit. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Order. Order without differentiation in being. 
Taking of origin without inequality in being. But how can this be? 

Missions of the Son and the Spirit: temporal prolongation of the processions 

Now, the economy of salvation is, to use Aquinas's language somewhat, the temporal pro- 
longation of the processions. The Father sends the Son. The Father cannot be sent. Aquinas 
says that the mission of the Son is the prolongation of the procession of generation. This is very 
hard both to conceive and to explain. Time is changed, not God. Time is changed, we are 
changed, because the Son is sent. The sending of the Son is not, as Aquinas says, the 
occupation of a new location by the Son because God cannot come to be in a place where he 
already is - except in a different way. But if it's in a different way, it has to be because the 
difference is in the creature, not in God. So we are present to the Son, the human race is 
present to the Son, in a new way in the mission of the Son. The Father and the Son send the 
Spirit. In the whole season between Ascension and Pentecost there are hundreds of passages 
in the Scriptures that make this point. Now, Aquinas teaches us that the work of Redemption 
- this is a wonderful thought! - is the reverse. 

The Spirit transforms us in the image of the Son who is loved by the Father 

The Spirit now does the work of transforming us in the image of the Son who then is loved by 
the Father. Whereas in the Trinity the order is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in us the order is: 
Spirit, Son, Father. Remarkable! So the whole economy of salvation is shaped according to 
a trinitarian pattern: the sending and the return. I am going to talk a little about this sending and 
return in the section on the Eucharist. The movement is a trinitarian movement. This is in 
Aquinas, but you don't find too many Western theologians talking this way, unfortunately. The 
Eastern theologians do habitually talk this way. They always understood this. But in the West 
the doctrine of the Trinity practically became unimportant in some Christian circles. 
Schliermacher put the doctrine of the Trinity in the appendix to his The Christian Faithl 

There's a big debate about whether or not in the twentieth century the doctrine of the Trinity can 
truly be said to have been recovered; for, as some people say, how could it ever have been 
forgotten? In any case, one thing is true about twentieth-century theology: twentieth-century 

8 



theologians, Catholic and non-Catholic - famously, Karl Rahner and Karl Barth - made the 
Trinity central to their theology. Whether it was a recovery or not, let the historians argue. But 
it certainly has become a new emphasis, and comes really to its apogee in the extraordinary 
preparation for the Jubilee that we have in Tertio Millennio Adveniente. 

b. The trinitarian structure of ecclesial communion 

We often think of "pattern" and "structure" as similar, but they are different. "Pattern" is how 
something works out. "Structure" is something underlying, as in "the trinitarian structure of 
ecclesial communion." 

The recovery of the notion of communio in recent ecclesiology 

The recovery of the notion of communio in recent ecclesiology is a very important thing. Vatican 
II left ecclesiology somewhat in the danger of incoherence. Not that Vatican II made a mistake; 
it was rich in its discussion of what the Church is, in Lumen Gentium. So we have "People of 
God," we have "Body of Christ," we have "Sacrament" - all those conceptions of what the 
Church is. But lately it has been recognized that the concept of communio, or communion, 
works very well at integrating all the rest of those concepts, and increasingly one sees 
ecclesiology being written with the idea of communio. (Many people feel we have to use the 
Latin word because "communion" is confusing to a lot of people - they think: "Holy 
Communion." Actually the uses are very close). 

Avery Dulles repents that he ever wrote Models of the Church in the way that he did. Great 
harm was done by that book in its popular form, because people began to say: "You have an 
institutional model of the Church; my model is - blank, blank." Avery rewrote the book, and I 
haven't read the revision, but I think it's one of those things - the cat is out of the bag and you 
will never get it back in again. It is a tremendous struggle to try and get people to understand 
that you cannot think of the Church in that sort of incoherent way. It's not a question of what you 
think the Church is. The question is: "What is it?" 

Ecclesial communion rooted in trinitarian communion 

Communio seems to be, so far, the most successful concept for organizing ecclesiology and 
all these other so-called "models," or metaphors, or concepts, or notions, of the Church. What 
it means is simply this: at its root, ecclesial communion is the external, the visible, manifestation 
of the communion we have with the Blessed Trinity, in the Holy Spirit. To the Holy Spirit is 
attributed, ascribed, this special work. The mission of the Holy Spirit is to do this. 

What the concept of communio does not mean is that the Church is a federation of particular 
churches. It does not mean that, because communion in the Holy Spirit pre-dates any 
churches. The communion is already constituted by the first Church, sitting in the Upper Room 
in Pentecost. We say that is the birth of the Church. And that Church did not have dioceses 
yet! There were no particular churches; there was only the Church gathered in Jerusalem. 
There were eventually going to be churches everywhere else; but not yet. So you might say: 
the ecclesial communio is both temporally and logically prior to the Church spread out. 

The same theme relates to the issue of the theology of the papacy. As you know, towards the 
end of Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul II invited people to reflect on how the primacy might be 



exercised in this new period. Weil, everybody has a proposal! But what has happened is that 
the discussion has concentrated on the theology of the papal primacy. As you see, most of the 
titles of the articles and books are on papal primacy. But primacy is an ecclesiastical concept. 
That is, Sees have primacy. Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome. And 
then there were others. There is the Primate of Spain. And the Primate of Ireland. (And in 
Ireland they have two, because there is the "Primate of all Ireland," and the "Primate of 
Ireland"!) So you see how the word "Primate" loses significance when you recognize the 
number of ways it is used. The point is: Peter ended up in Rome. And it made sense: Rome 
was the center of the world. Peter was Bishop of Rome and Rome became important because 
Peter was there. The theology has to concentrate, not on the primacy of the person sitting in 
the See of Rome, but on the munus petrinum, what it means to be Head of the Church. 

Similarly with the college of bishops. The collegium episcoporum, the successors of the 
Apostles, were successors of the twelve men who were Apostles before they were bishops or 
heads of Sees. This is a remarkable point which must be remembered. A priest-friend often 
said to me for similar reasons, "We need a theology of the Apostles," - because being an 
Apostle is not just being the head of a church. That happened eventually. But there is 
something prior. These analogies help to understand what it means to say that the Church, the 
ecclesial communion, is a universal communion that is grounded in the communion we have 
with the Blessed Trinity now, in Baptism, and which will be consummated in the life to come. 

3. The trinitarian pattern of redemption 

and the traditional foci of Dominican devotion 

According to the article I referred to, there has been a dispute whether there is such a thing as 
Dominican spirituality. Because our spirituality is so universal to the Church, it is hard to distin- 
guish our themes. You look at this point and say: "Well, everybody has these foci." It's a topic 
that is hard to know what to do with, but the point is that in our tradition, these elements of 
devotion that I name have always been central. Not only these, but these chiefly. I suggest to 
you that they relate very much to the trinitarian pattern. In their depths they can be seen as a 
trinitarian pattern. The doctrine of the Trinity is explicit in some of our mystics and writers, but 
it is implicit in all of them. And in so far as Aquinas is the teacher of all of the spiritual writers, 
it is always in there somehow. 

a. The Infancy of Christ: Annunciation and Incarnation 

Devotion to the infancy of Christ was significant for a lot of our saints and mystics. Here are the 
two mysteries of the Annunciation and the Incarnation. We absorb from the Dominican atmos- 
phere our way of looking at things from the divine point of view. And from the divine point of 
view, it makes sense for our devotion to light on the big moments. It is not that anybody ever 
set out to do it; we had an instinct for it. 

The Annunciation has always been regarded as one of the great feasts of the Order. Why? 
Why not the Immaculate Conception? This is not easy to figure out. The Immaculate Con- 
ception certainly had its champions in the Order, and that's a complicated story. Only when 
Dominican theologians were convinced that you had to attribute the sinlessness of Mary to the 
foreseen merits of Christ's Passion, were they willing to go with it. You see, there was a 
problem with some of the Franciscan ways of putting it: sinlessness was seen as one of the 
possibilities out there; and it was Mary who got it. But we insisted that there is no sinlessness 

10 



any more; sin is removed from us and she was preserved from it, by Christ. It is not that there 
was this open possibility that somebody might be born sinless. 

But the Annunciation and the Incarnation are, in many ways, our spirituality. Though we see 
a lot of the Passion, there is also a lot of Advent. Our spirituality is very much oriented toward 
the mystery of the Incarnation and the grace that it is - the complete unreadiness of the human 
race for this: that Christ would come in the form of a baby, that God would be an infant. It is a 
remarkable thing! The point I am trying to make in this whole discussion is both to understand 
that the Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - is the object of our love, and also to understand 
the movement of the way in which we Dominicans think, that is, how everything relates to the 
Trinity. 

b. The Passion of Christ 

Devotion to the Passion of Christ - this is big for us! It goes back to St. Dominic himself clearly, 
and it is to be found in almost every one of the great saints of the Order. We see again this 
sense of attaching devotion to things absolutely central to the faith, rather than marginal to it. 
So devotion here is attached to the mystery of the coming of Christ and then naturally to the 
mystery of his Passion. This is not gloominess. There is a certain realism about sin here but 
there is a celebration of the paschal mystery as transformative. You know this, if you've read 
St. Catherine de Ricci's The Valiant Combat. Catherine de Ricci, St. Catherine of Siena: they 
are not gloomy people. Their devotion to the Passion was a devotion to the central mystery of 
the faith: that Christ saves us. And that is not something different from the Trinity. 

These moments in the history of salvation are not apart from the Trinity. Some theologians say 
they are the working out - the enactment of - trinitarian identity. But that is too extreme. (This 
is a very important point to remember, especially for your reading.) Robert Jenson is one of the 
theologians who seem to talk as if the pattern of redemption - that is, the Incarnation, 
Redemption, and giving of the Holy Spirit - is almost necessary for God to be God. That is what 
I mean by "the enactment of the triune identity." In fact, Jensen's book is called The Triune 
Identity. What he means is that for God to be the God he is, he had to be Incarnate and the 
Spirit who gathers the Church. But that seems to make it necessary for God to have shared 
the communion of Trinitarian life - which goes against a whole lot in the tradition. There is an 
interesting debate going on right now for people who are interested in trinitarian theology. But 
certainly if people are going that far, you can see why one would have to say that to speak 
about the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery and the gift of the Holy Spirit is not something 
apart from the trinitarian life. We must think in the context of this trinitarian pattern, and I believe 
the Order has always done so, by instinct - centering on these mysteries. Perhaps that is why 
people have said ours is a universal spirituality: these are mysteries of the Christian faith. They 
are not our property, but it is typical of our tradition, our spiritual tradition, to have fixed on these 
mysteries as central. 

c. The Eucharist 

I learned from Benedict Ashley's article I referred to earlier, that some German Dominicans in 
the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries were leaders of a movement for frequent Communion. And 
because of that, because of their preaching, their bishops within a very short time adopted the 
practice of more frequent Communion. Here again you see the divine perspective: for Aquinas 
the mystery of the Eucharist is not a "how can this be?" but a "why not?" When you adopt the 

11 



trinitarian perspective as we have been doing here, Creation, Incarnation (always including, in 
the Incarnation, the Passion), Eucharist - they make sense. 

Aquinas said in the Tertia Pars (III, 75, a.1): "It is a law of friendship that friends should live 
together. Christ has not left us without his bodily presence on our pilgrimage, but he joins us 
to himself in this sacrament, in the reality of his body and blood." That's a good example of what 
I mean by "taking the divine perspective." The Incarnate One doesn't go away, and say "So 
long, guys, good luck!" He sticks around. Bodily. That is what Aquinas means: he sticks 
around. And truly Aquinas is the greatest theologian of this mystery ever. Nobody thought 
about this from more perspectives. He thought it through, better than anybody. (So it makes 
sense that he should be the author of the great Offices for Corpus Christi). 

If you say: "How can this be?" you are adopting the perspective of: "Well, this is matter, and it's 
wine, and it's bread. And now it is not wine and it is not bread, but it looks like wine and bread. 
Is it possible?" It is a puzzle. But Aquinas is saying: Well, if you think that God is the Creator 
of all that is, then, as one of the Fathers said: "God, who created the world, can change the 
elements." (I think it was Ambrose.) Remarkable! What is this, a problem? For God? We think 
of these elements as ours, but they are not. God made them. From the divine perspective, 
given that God is the Creator and that the Son came in the flesh, and that he wants to stick 
around, we don't say: "How can this be?" "We say: Why not?" It is very important to understand 
the difference. 

Trinity and Eucharist 

I am sure you all own Vaggagini's Theology of the Liturgy. It is a great book which I think has 
been reprinted. This book is still the best, the most complete, treatment of the topic, and you 
can be led from there to other treatments of it. He has a long section on this topic. He shows 
how all of the Eucharist is oriented in the trinitarian way, how we pray everything to the Father, 
through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. This order, this pattern, that I told you about - Father, Son 
and Holy Spirit - Holy Spirit, Son, Father - recurs constantly in the liturgy. 

In the Eucharist, the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Christ is continually celebrated in the pres- 
ence of the Father. This is a very important point. This is a celestial liturgy. Here again the 
East has it over on us. You go into some churches now and you say: "The celestial liturgy? 
Really, my soul! The last thing to think about is heaven." Whereas in the East, you are thinking 
about heaven all the time when you go into those smoke-filled churches. I don't mean that we 
have to adopt their style, but there has to be a recognition here: "Why is this?" This is another 
one of those situations of "How can this be?"/"Why not?" 

From a human perspective, we say: "Well, Christ died once and for all, right? How can "once 
and for all" be now? How can we participate in something that happened before? And if it 
happened before, what is it we are doing now? Is it a memorial?" Remember, this is a big 
debate: What is this? How is the Eucharist a sacrifice? Well, Sokolowski points out that in God, 
there is no before and after: there is no past. This is important. God isn't sitting up there saying: 
"Hmm. I remember, back there in Jerusalem, Jesus died on the cross. Oh, and they're 
reminding me now." No. Before the Father, the death of Christ on the cross is eternally 
present. It is not a problem that the Mass is the celebration of the sacrifice of Christ. We are 
being invited into something that is going on independently of us. That is what celestial liturgy 
means. We are made participants, not in some past event but in something that is present to 

12 



God, to the Father. That is a very important way of dealing with this conundrum that has 
emerged especially since the Reformation, for reasons which are complex. So again: the Trinity 
and the Eucharist. The way our devotion has focused on the Eucharist makes a lot of sense, 
and it is something indispensable. It is inconceivable for Dominicans not to be this way! 

Adoration: contemplative extension of the eucharistic sacrifice 

I have to stress the importance of Adoration because, as much as it is being revived, it's also 
under what I think is diabolical attack. Aquinas says that the reason we expose Christ in the 
Blessed Sacrament is not so that he can become more present to us but so that we can 
become more present to him. A very interesting point, because Christ is not more present on 
the altar than he was behind the door of the tabernacle. It is absurd to think otherwise. So the 
question is not one of making Christ more present, but making us more present to him. Fr. 
Giles's uses the expression "the contemplative extension of the Eucharistic sacrifice." 

This has to do with a very interesting feature of the Eucharistic tradition of the Church: the 
Elevation. Early on, people began to take the act of gazing at the Elevation of the Host and the 
Cup, as a very special thing. One had to see it. But it doesn't go on forever. The desire to 
extend the Elevation is a natural one. It cannot be resisted. The whole movement of 
Eucharistic adoration which has gone on in the Church is a kind of a grass roots thing. No 
particular priest started it. And whenever people try to stop it, it just starts up again on its own. 

There is a story relative to this in a wonderful book called Corpus Christi written by a Jewish 
woman, Miri Reuben, who is an anthropologist. It is full of interesting details like this one. There 
was an interdict - in Florence or Venice. Some nobleman lived next door to a church where 
Mass was still being celebrated. So during the middle of the night he had a hole made in the 
wall between his house and the wall of the church so that he could look, even though there was 
an interdict for everybody else. 

I was on Cape Cod after Christmas last winter. Holy Trinity Church there (where Rose Kennedy 
used to go), has Perpetual Adoration. There would be thirty cars in the parking lot at 3:30. The 
place was jammed with people sitting there for an hour. And they had it all signed up twenty- 
four hours a day, with a security guard during the night! It's an unbelievable thing. And this is 
not the only place. There is Perpetual Adoration in St. Peter's, in one of the side chapels - a 
huge chapel, full of people all the time. Adoration cannot be suppressed. The reasons for 
which people want to suppress it are interesting. But people want to look. When you walk into 
a church where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, something happens which is hard to 
describe. You need Mannion - or the people Mannion reads - to explain this. 2 It is an amazing 
thing and, naturally speaking, very hard to explain. 

So we have this devotion to the Eucharist. I am not making a point here about whether mon- 
asteries should have Perpetual Adoration or not. I am just saying that the way we understand 
what this is about is central to us, as is the desire to have it and to promote it. 

I love this quotation from St. Augustine about adoration: "No one receives the flesh who, 
beholding Him, has not first adored." St. Augustine is not just thinking of adoring the Blessed 



2 Reference to three articles by M. Francis Mannion which the Assembly participants were requested 
to read beforehand. Cf. American Benedictine Review AA (1993): 3-21, 125-142, and 291-307. 

13 



Sacrament independently of the Mass, but of adoration as the preparation for the reception. 
And so, all other adoration is for worthy reception. 

Albert the Great said (to finish this point with a Dominican): "By gazing on what is good, we 
become good." That idea of looking - and sitting and looking - is big, in the Dominican tradition, 
and directly related to the Trinity because it is contemplative. Christ is leading us to the Father; 
Christ is drawing us into the trinitarian life, through the Holy Spirit. 

The Eucharist ends with the "Ite, missa est" which means "you are sent." The pope talks about 
this in Dies Domini, the encyclical on Sunday. This is in a sense the continuation of the divine 
missions ("missa"). Son and Spirit are sent, so we are sent, and this is the whole basis of our 
concern for the well-being of everybody else in the world. So it is evangelical and also social. 
All the social activity we do and all the evangelical activity we do is rooted in the sending, 
according to the Pope. Missa est. "The Mass," we say, "is over." But that really is a poor 
translation. Missa is the sending forth of the congregation - and that is why the Mass is called 
"Mass." 

d. The Rosary: Bethlehem to Golgotha. ..and beyond 

The Rosary hardly needs a word, but I want to make one comment about it. What is the 
Rosary? The Rosary is just the repetition of the pattern of the sending of the Son and the 
sending of the Holy Spirit, and the consummation. As I say here: it is "Bethlehem to Golgotha 
...and beyond." We have to keep traversing it. We cannot say: "I did that last year; I'm going 
to do something else this year." The whole liturgical year is Bethlehem to Golgotha. ..and 
beyond. It ends with Pentecost, but really you could say it ends with the feast of the Trinity. The 
reason why the Rosary was so important to us is because it was an excellent tool for inculcating 
this pattern in the faithful, many of whom couldn't read. They depended on the church windows, 
the paintings, and the sermons. 

One of the big literary productions in the Order is a huge number of volumes of sermons and 
aids for sermons exempla) - a great literary record up to the end of the eighteenth century. We 
have got to get busy putting ours down. We think of ourselves as being literary theologians, 
writers of theology. The concern to make the Gospel in its depth available to everyone, I think, 
is one of the reasons why the [preaching of the] Rosary was so important in our evangelizing 
efforts. But it was also important for our own spirituality. 

Thousands of people started Rosary Confraternities. Our houses were like magnets for people. 
It's amazing! In Italy, France, Germany: hundreds of houses of Dominicans. People used to 
move to be able to live next to them. Some became Third Order members, but a lot of them 
just joined the Confraternities We hear little now about the Confraternities. At the House of 
Studies about twenty young people from Catholic University come to Mass every day. Some- 
body should put them in a Confraternity! 

e. The Mother of God 

Devotion to Our Lady is simply devotion to the one who enjoys the first fruits of the whole thing. 
Mary is the "beyond." She is the first human being that isn't God (because Christ is human) 
who is in glory. And so you might say that the queenship of Mary, the glory of Mary as we see 
it, is the promise that the rest of us will share it. She is the first of the saints. 

14 



4. The trinitarian structure of Dominican monastic communion 

a. Personal Identity shaped in relation to others 

The trinitarian structure of Dominican monastic communion is well expressed by this point: 
"personal identity is shaped in relation to others." It is not something you cultivate by yourself. 
This is the fundamental insight of monastic, conventual, religious traditions like ours. It is 
Mannion's point - the importance of being shaped. Religious traditions are not the expression 
of inner states; they are the shapers of inner states. That is a point for which Mannion draws 
upon Lindbeck, but it's a fundamental insight. You don't wear the Habit for the sake of other 
people. You wear the Habit for the sake of yourself. Putting on the Habit, you might say: "Well, 
I feel like a hypocrite. I'm not a holy person; I don't deserve to put on the Habit." But the Habit 
is going to help make you holy. 

This is a fundamental point for observances: Everything in our tradition (and when I say "our 
tradition" I mean the whole great tradition of monastic, conventual Orders; everything before 
Ignatius), is based on the idea that you are transformed by the life itself. The model for us is 
not: me and God, but: us and God. God works through the communal life to transform us. 
Although it is true, in the history of Christianity, that relatively few people have lived the kinds 
of consecrated lives we are living or trying to live, still, the communion that is embodied in 
religious communities, and especially in contemplative ones, is something that is for everybody. 
It is heaven. That is what it means to say that the religious traditions are an eschatological sign. 

5. Conclusion: the Dominican Moment 

You know that I gave a talk to the Province on "the Dominican Moment." This is available from 
the Vocation Office of St. Joseph's Province. (I was tempted to do something similar here but 
changed my mind.) 

I had just finished reading a remarkable book called From Dawn to Decadence, by Jacques 
Barzun, a 90-year-old professor of history at Columbia. It is a big book; a cultural history of the 
West over the last five hundred years, which has given me some rather interesting thoughts. 
Barzun is not very good on religion at all, but it is clear that the Order existed for two to three 
hundred years before what he calls "modernity" got rolling. And generally it has not been all that 
favorable a period for us. We certainly flourished. But when the Enlightenment spirit got up 
enough gumption to turn against religion, as it did under Napoleon, the French Revolution, and 
the Emperor Joseph II of Austria, they actively suppressed convents. There were convents all 
over Germany; they were all closed. Austria: closed. The nuns: closed. So when the 
Enlightenment focused its attention on our form of life, it was to the death. We nearly went out 
of existence, as did almost everybody else, including the Jesuits. Although they were married 
to the spirit of the enlightenment they were turned against for other reasons. By1 800 it wasn't 
clear that the Jesuits were going to continue, or the Dominicans, or the Carmelites. The 
Franciscans were never in danger, there were just too many thousands of them; but everybody 
else was. Some Orders did not recover. And all of the Orders that now exist are restored, 
recovered or reconstructed. You have to date us to about 1850 when the Province of France 
was re-founded. This cultural period, which Barzun chronicles, nearly did us in. 

Now Barzun's point is that the Enlightenment is running out of steam. That is why he calls it 
From Dawn to Decadence although it is not a depressing or gloomy book. When the Enlighten- 
ment is going to run out of steam, and what is going to follow it, nobody knows. And he doesn't 
make any predictions. 

15 



It is very important for us that we protect the consciousness, both of our own history and of our 
place within the wider history of the West. We could make a lot of false moves. You see, we 
never received from God a promise that the Dominican Order would last until the end of time. 
We could lose it. And in some places it looks like we may have done so - even places like the 
Netherlands and Belgium, where thirty or forty years ago it would have been inconceivable that 
the Order would be what it is now. People would have laughed and said, "Impossible!" But it 
happened, and it happens fast. 

The first Assembly that I attended was thirty years ago, at Caldwell. I think maybe only one or 
two of you were there then. We were deeply impressed when we met you. We immediately 
recognized the power of you nuns, and we made up our minds that we would never tell you 
what to do, because we thought that our elders had done that, and shouldn't have. And I am 
not telling you what to do - because our whole attitude has been to empower you to do. As the 
Pope says: "The Church proposes; it does not impose." So you have to decide what you are 
going to do. 

But it is a time to look at things in the broadest possible perspective. And it is a time, it seems 
to me, when many of the insights of the Middle Ages about the necessity of community, of 
symbolism - all the things that Mannion is talking about - are not passe; they are fresh. Part 
of the exhaustion that Barzun sees, comes from individualism, relativism, the lack of symbolic 
forms. So we Dominicans have something, and that is why, when I say "the Dominican 
Moment" it seems to me [to be] a moment to strive to recover the heart of this tradition, and not 
tinker with it too much. 

X 




16 



RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCES AND TRANSFORMATION 



Fr. John Corbett, O.P. 
Province of St. Joseph 



In this presentation I have been asked to address the question of the relationship 
between the observances of Dominican monastic life and personal transformation in Christ. We 
may as well be clear about our terms. What are the observances? The Book of Constitutions 
of the Nuns of the Order of Preachers informs us that: 

To regular observance belong all the elements that constitute our Dominican life and 
order it through a common discipline. Outstanding among all these elements are 
common life, the celebration of the liturgy and private prayer, the observance of the 
vows and the study of sacred truth. To fulfill these faithfully, we are helped by 
enclosure, silence, the habit, work and penitential practices. 1 

Now the relationship between observance and transformation has always been 
assumed. The goal of monastic life has always been about transformation in Christ and the 
observances have always been central because it was believed their faithful practice reliably 
led to this goal. Beyond the taken for granted effect of personal transformation for the 
Dominican Nun herself, the observances are said to be a powerful aid to the fruitfulness of the 
Friars's public ministry of the Word, and indeed a powerful means of grace for the redemption 
of the whole world. And so there is an assumed causal relationship between a faithful living of 
the observances and transformation. I understand my own task here today to be that of 
shedding light on this relationship and not to be raising doubts about it. 

But the scholastics always approached a question by raising objections. Suppose we 
did the same? After all what might be called the tightness of this relationship has come in for 
reexamination ever since the publication of The Nuns Story. One could argue that the monastic 
elements of the life actually interfere with the contemplative life of the Nuns. Could the 
contemplative life flourish more abundantly if the observances were approached not less 
seriously but perhaps less literally? 

I can think of two main reasons why the relationship might be doubted. The first has to 
do with experience and the second has to do with ideology. 

Let's start with experience. We know that conversion is a long slow process. Most of 
us still look more or less unfinished as saints. Many have lived long lives under regimes of strict 
observance and seem to have retained some vestiges of human imperfection, woundedness, 
and even sin. If the observances are transformative why are some of us still untransformed? 

We will get a partial answer to that question when we consider that the observances are 
virtuous practices and hence cannot work mechanically, free of the mystery that surrounds 
human freedom. In the meantime, our difficulty is only somewhat lessened when we recall that 
these practices are directly ordered to the mystery of the Lord's cross and therefore share in the 
mysterious character of that cross. Just as the cross reveals its saving efficacy only to faith so 
the efficacy of, for example, voluntarily joining penitential practices to the Lord's cross can only 
reveal itself to faith. Outside of that context these practices lose their point and thus seem to 
share in the senseless quality of evil. Within that context even the apparent failure of trans- 
formation is an occasion for sharing in the cross and therefore for renewed faith. 

17 



The second reason why this linkage between a more or less strict interpretation and 
following of the observances and transformation could be doubted is less existential and more 
cultural. It has to do with the sharp distinction that our culture draws between formation and 
enrichment. 

Formation involves being formed or conformed to an already established pattern. It 
takes natural impulses and talents and prunes them, disciplines them. It is what happens to a 
therapist when she is told for the 1 000'th time not to allow her past history to block out what a 
client is trying to communicate. (If the lesson does not take she will not be permitted to practice). 
It is what happens to a theologian when he is told that the sources of revelation and the creeds 
of the church have priority over his most cherished and inspired systematic construction. It is 
what happens to the beginning poet who is told to avoid free verse like the plague and to stick 
to prescribed rhythms and meters. Formation is goal driven, specifically disciplining, attentive 
to but not substantively dictated to by the needs and temperament of the student. Freedom for 
the student is the goal of formation not the starting point. 

Enrichment is distinct from formation by virtue of its end not necessarily by the precision 
of its method or the severity of its discipline. Its goal is the flowering of the person, the expan- 
sion of the person, not the shaping of the person. For that reason someone in therapy is 
undergoing (possibly painful) enrichment because the therapist will not see it as her task to form 
the personality but to liberate it. However, the therapist in training is undergoing formation rather 
than enrichment because there is a norm to which her professional life is being shaped. 

So our culture distinguishes sharply between the two. Formation is seen as a necessary 
evil. It is necessary in order to be able to function at a highly remunerated professional level. 
Enrichment, on the other hand, is the mark of the person with opportunities afforded by leisure 
and freedom. Enrichment as a classical form of leisure is its own justification. 

This has consequences for our view of monastic life. For it is the monastic who is, 
above all, free for God. Demanding occupations and the never ending demands of family life 
have all been set aside in order to gain the liberty to follow the Lamb wherever he goes. This 
project sounds to modern ears like enrichment, not like formation. Enrichment is ordered to the 
flowering of the individual personality. If religious life is unconsciously thought of as a form of 
enrichment then it, too, is seen as ordered to the flowering of the individual. In this context 
disciplines which were in any case difficult enough can well begin to seem capricious, unrea- 
sonable, and formally opposed to the freedom that belongs to the Children of God. And so I 
think the culture's sharp distinction between formation and enrichment plus its sense that 
religious life is a form of enrichment has contributed to the sense that the observances need 
lighter, looser interpretation. It would be better to see that for the monastic person an authentic 
formation is profoundly enriching and every real enrichment also forms the disciple after the 
form of the master. 

How can we resolve this question? I think we can exclude some solutions right away. 
For example, the question will not be resolved by appeals to obedience and law. For this is a 
matter for the mind before it is a matter for the will. Even if legislation came down from the 
highest authority demanding very strict interpretations of the Constitutions, and if everyone 
obeyed this legislation, the question would still remain. The human mind with its questions 
declines to be silenced by decree. 



18 



Nor will it be possible to resolve this question with anything like the rigor of a demon- 
stration in formal logic. Constitutions and Rules of Life are essentially exercises in practical 
reason. Practical reason deals with contingencies not necessities. Except in the case of some 
specifiable universal negative moral norms practical reason is prudential reason and prudential 
reason cannot demonstrate that a given form of life will always be transformative. While this 
remark is of some limited speculative interest its primary importance is practical insofar as we 
recognize the contingency at the heart of our way of life and the fact that it will always be a 
venture in faith and trust. 

Nevertheless, even with these limitations, there is a good bit that can be said to 
illuminate the linkages between observance and transformation. 

I will begin with some general remarks about theological anthropology and the neces- 
sarily embodied character of our spiritual life. 

I will next consider the structure of human action, and argue that the most elevating and 
transforming intentions of the converted heart require more proximate embodiment in some 
concrete disciplined observance if the elevating intentions are to be realized. 

I will continue with some reflections on the relationship between virtue and religious 
observance and symbolic action. It is precisely the virtuous character of religious observance 
which explains why material observance is insufficient to effect transformation. I will suggest 
that religious observance is the virtue of apt and fitting symbolic language in which the nature 
of the future Kingdom is signaled. 

Finally, I will suggest that Dominican monastic life is indeed an apostolate having a good 
bit of its meaning discernible in its relations with the outside world. Effective ministry, as will 
become evident, requires effective boundaries; and the observances as literal and metaphorical 
boundaries therefore enhance rather than dim the nuns' special contribution and effectiveness 
as agents of the coming Kingdom 

Anthropology and Embodiment 

Here I will simply make a point that has been made often before. Much modern thought 
has been until quite recently strongly influenced by Descartes. Descartes, in an attempt to 
resolve some questions raised by a revival of academic skepticism in France, believed that he 
had resolved them with his cogito ergo sum. This location of certitude not in the knowledge 
delivered by the senses but in the minds own presence to itself led, as is well known, to 
considerable difficulty in establishing linkages between the mind and the external world. The 
mind or true self is defined as not part of the exterior world, and the human body as a 
consequence is seen as something that one has rather than as something that one is. 

With Thomas it was otherwise. For him the soul was essentially the form of the body. 
Granted, it was a special kind of form, a rational principle which would survive the destruction 
of the matter it ensouled. Nevertheless, the soul was not attached to the body in an accidental 
manner. Indeed the soul as substantial form of the body could not be separated from the body 
and remain properly speaking human. 

This has implications for our spiritual life. For example, we are saved by contact with the 
glorified body of Christ which is mediated to us in the sacraments of the Church about which 
Thomas writes "Divine Wisdom provides for each thing according to its mode.. .Now it is part of 

19 



man's nature to acquire knowledge of the intelligible from the sensible.. .Hence it is that sensible 
things are required for the sacraments (S73a Q.60 a.4). 

In the context of a discussion of the virtue of charity Thomas indeed claims that the life 
of union with God occurs in the inward life of the mind rather than in the outward life of the 
senses. Nevertheless, because we are composites the way to the inner life is through the outer 
life of the senses. They can't be bypassed. In fact there is a reciprocal relationship between 
them. What happens to the body effects the mind and feelings and will. And what takes place 
in the depths of the spirit has also an effect on the body. Therefore, what we do with our bodies 
has a great impact on our spiritual life. It is sometimes noticed that the more integrated our 
spiritual life becomes the more not the less important our bodily behavior becomes. So the 
whole question of observance which has a great deal to do with where we place our bodies, 
what we cloth them with, how we feed and rest them and so on can't be dismissed as belonging 
to the lower ranges of beginning spiritual life. As long as we remain in the body these matters 
retain a great importance. 

The Structure of Human Action, Intention, and Observance 

Thomas distinguishes in his treatment of the human act between stages which 
apprehend, desire and choose the end, stages which apprehend and choose the means to the 
end, and the stages of actual performance and enjoyment. In some ways it is the first stages 
which are most important. The recognition of and desire for an end is not a mere wish or an 
inefficacious desire. The end is desired for itself and, if realized, is strong enough to summon 
into being all of the means which lead to it. The end as the beginning point of practical reflection 
has a sort of absolute ontological priority and is therefore transcendent with relation to the 
means to the end. Ends, absolute ends, outstrip in richness and meaning any of the chosen 
means. 

Nevertheless, an end does remain inefficacious unless it is tied to a real means of 
achieving it. Daniel Westberg explains that intention: 

is most characteristic of the will, because pursuing an end by definition belongs to 
appetite. But the relation to the end is not simply a desire for some end in general, 
as in a person desiring health. In the case of intention, the purpose or end of an 
action can be seen as the termination of the process to which the action is ordered, 
and it is in this way that intention regards the end. We really intend to achieve health 
when we mean to reach it by means of something else. 

If a person claimed a desire for physical fitness, but made no moves to alter her diet 
or include exercise in her daily schedule, the reality of her intention would be called 
into question. Intention is not just a desire for a general end, but for an end through 
some means. Thomistic intention is not just 'planning' to do something sometime, 
but actually tending towards the goal by means of the actions leading to it. 

...This implies a difference between intention and desire. You might desire, for 
example, to be a world champion skier, but cannot actually intend that without the 
means to it being possible, any more than you can intend to believe six impossible 
things before breakfast. Intention is a tending towards some actual thing, and 
therefore cannot be directed to happiness in general. "I just want to be happy" does 
not describe an intention or purpose. It only paraphrases the description of the 
nature of the rational appetite itself, the orientation of the will in general. 2 

20 



I apologize for the length of the above quotation but it was necessary to make this point. 
The observances have a peculiar mixed quality of means and ends about them. Some of the 
observances such as liturgy and private prayer, common life, the vows and the study of sacred 
truth are called outstanding. Other observances such as silence, the habit, enclosure, work and 
penitential practices are adopted instrumentally to further the outstanding observances. While 
there is a clear primacy afforded to the first group of observances none of them can be 
described as ends in themselves, but all are directed to union with God. Notice that all of the 
observances are assigned this rather pedestrian status as means. This means that they all 
admit of and indeed are concrete action descriptions. You do not have in your constitution such 
observances as "directing all your heart to love," "cooperating with the grace of God," or 
"indwelling the Trinity." Why not? Because these ways of describing normative Christian life 
can't be intended without some further specifying mediating concrete action description. If we 
say the nuns are to be actualized in the service of love, we are offering a description of the 
effects of grace but we are not offering an example of a religious observance. To actually 
intend as a human act to, let us say, become more human in the face of God's great love, you 
have to have an act which ties this general intention to something specific such as obedience 
to the prioress, or to silence in listening to the word, or in attending the liturgy when you have 
just realized that what you most need in the world is to get away from everyone. 

Sometimes there is a distinction drawn between monastic life and contemplative life. 
Often this distinction is made to the detriment of monastic life. There is some reason for this 
view. We are, after all, called to taste the joys of the world to come and it is for the sake of this 
transformation that the properly monastic practices exist. Yet without the concrete observances 
there would be no human way to make this intention for transformation humanly real. The 
observances guarantee the seriousness of the quest for contemplative life. 

Observances and Virtue 

Fr. Pinckaers has made a major contribution to moral theology in the 20'th century in his 
seminal article "Virtue is not a Habit." He argues that the modern word habit is woefully 
inadequate as a translation of habitus. The word habit connotes something like a behavior 
induced by repetition. The sheer repetition of a behavior functions serves as a form of self 
conditioning so that in time the behavior becomes so much a part of the actor that it is not even 
adverted to. Of course, this is precisely the problem. Action which is repeated automatically 
and therefore thoughtlessly cannot qualify as a normative quality of action precisely because 
human acts are human by virtue of the thought and volition which are their form and source. 
So if a sister were to become habituated to a form of prayer which then would so to speak 
happen automatically, then that form of prayer would indeed have become a habit but not a 
habitus. A habitus requires not just the repetition of an exterior act but the repetition of the 
interior act of apprehension, creative thought and renewed volition which can make even 
familiar action fresh. With this in mind see can see why close external adherence to the 
observances may or may not foster transformation. If the observances are lived as habitus - 
that is from the resource of graced interior action - then even materially identical performances 
would bring fresh apprehension of the value of fasting, of common life, of study; and each 
external performance would in turn bring about new and deepened apprehension of the inner 
values. On the other hand, close attention to the external observances without an experience 
of their authentic inner dynamism would produce not habitus or virtue but would instead foster 
a mere habit, which would in turn produce either an agitated restlessness or the sleep of the 
dead. 



21 



The question of the inner flexibility and reasonableness of an authentic virtue invites us 
to look still more deeply at the observances. Since the observances as practices are the fruit 
of virtues they partake of an inspired freedom and reasonableness. What is more, since reason 
and freedom are spiritual powers which open the human person to completion from outside 
realities, the observances which are practiced virtuously have the capacity to complete and 
transform the nun by uniting her to the very realities which are destined to complete her. This 
is preeminently true of the Eucharist wherein the nun is literally conformed to the passion, death, 
and resurrection of Christ. It is true in Liturgy of the Hours where the Nun's voice is united to 
the voice of the praying Church and of the ever interceding Christ. In the vows (especially the 
vow of obedience) one encounters and is conformed to the concrete will of Christ. The 
observance of study places the mind of the Nun in contact with and in conformity to the res 
encountered in faith, God's own truthfulness. The multifaceted observance of common life 
places the nun before that sometimes most challenging, baffling, humbling, and sanctifying 
exterior reality she will ever face-her sisters in Christ. In a word, the virtuous quality of the lived 
expression of the observances guarantees that those same observances open the Nun to living 
contact with those saving exterior realities which elevate and complete and sanctify her. 

Sacramental Symbolism, Boundaries and Monastic Observances 

In preparing this talk I was initially puzzled by the distinction that the Constitutions draws 
between the "outstanding observances" and those observances which serve them. Withdrawal 
seemed as constitutive of Dominican monastic life as study, the habit as much a bonum 
honestum as common life. The observances which serve the outstanding observances seemed 
really to have their own value so that to lose them would be to lose essential elements of the 
vocation. 

In exploring this difficulty, I came upon a perhaps clumsy and misleading analogy. If the 
observances are like virtues in that they open the Nun to new spiritual realities perhaps they are 
also a little like sacraments in that they effectively mediate those realities in the language of 
symbol. May we think of the observances as sacramentals, not as we usually think of sacra- 
mentals as blessed physical objects but as, more precisely, blessed ongoing symbolic actions 
of a community? 

For example, the habit represents baptismal robes and would symbolize new life in 
Christ. Physical withdrawal symbolizes election and belonging exclusively to God. The observ- 
ances are symbols of what they point to. 

However, the observances are not mere symbols of what is to come. On a certain level 
they can (if virtuously lived) effect what they signify. And these effects are abiding. I am think- 
ing again of the example of withdrawal from the world by enclosure. On one level enclosure is 
a symbol of belonging to God and of not belonging to the world. Now this symbol is, after all a 
symbol. It obviously can't be taken to mean that all relationships with the outside world are 
abrogated by entrance into monastic life. Nevertheless, the reality of enclosure is more than 
a mere symbol, more than a sacramentum tantum of Divine election, if you will. It is also res 
et sacramentum both a sign and an abiding reality. It symbolizes Divine election out of the world 
precisely because it also effects a real separation from the world. If it did not achieve this real 
separation it could not point to the sacramentum tantum of Divine election and of belonging 
exclusively to the Lord. Just as the voluntas simplex requires instantiation in intention before 
a human act is possible, so the life of religious observances must operate concretely as abiding 

22 



practices precisely so that their broader and deeper symbolic sweep can be made available as 
witness. 

Now it seems to me that the observances play one of two symbolic roles for the 
community. Some observances directly symbolize and realize communion or unity. Other 
observances seem to symbolize and effect distinction or boundaries. The Liturgy for example 
effects the unity of the monastic community while also effecting the unity of the whole Church. 
On the other hand, the observance of the enclosure effects a boundary as does the practice 
of retiring to ones cell. The observance of silence in its own way creates boundaries or spaces. 
Now my hunch is that when the Constitution speaks of outstanding observances they are mostly 
referring to the unifying observances or those that directly effect communion. When the 
constitutions speak of the observances which are for the sake of the outstanding observances 
they are speaking of those observances which establish boundaries. 

Now boundaries are not negative realities. To see this clearly remember that God has 
established creaturehood as the necessary boundary between us and Him. "Thus far shall you 
come and no farther." This boundary between us and God is not negative because as Father 
DiNoia points out it is the condition for personal union with Him. Any closer union would in fact 
be absorption and the end of personal identity. And so a boundary makes a genuine com- 
munion possible. 

Let me make this a little more explicit. Boundaries yield identity. And identity makes 
communion possible. So boundaries make genuine communion possible. 

We can see this principle starkly at work when it is flouted. People who cannot tell where 
they begin and where they end are referred to as borderline personalities, and psychiatrists say 
they are among the hardest to treat-and the hardest for others to live with. Priests who cannot 
tell where their role as priests begins and ends are dangerous because they will use their 
parishioners for their private gratification and, without realizing it, raise havoc wherever they are 
assigned. By not recognizing boundaries in their ministry and in their relationships they destroy 
communion. 

Now I am suggesting that the observances which serve the outstanding observances 
serve by helping the community find its boundaries and thus its identity. And in enacting its 
identity its communion is established-most profoundly in the Eucharist. As we say "The Church 
makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the Church." It seems to me, (and I will close 
with this thought), that however the question of observances is handled on the level of practical 
detail in our monasteries, it could be fruitfully borne in mind both that the boundary observances 
are there for the sake of the communion-symbolizing observances (and are therefore in a sense 
secondary to them), and that without the boundary observances the sought after and longed 
for communion cannot be realized. x 



NOTES 

1. Book of the Constitutions of the Nuns of the Order of Preachers: chap. I, art. V, no. 35: 1 1, p. 44. 
Published by Direction of Brother Damien Byrne Master of the Order, U.S.A., 1987. 

2. Daniel Westberg Right Practical Reason (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994). 

23 



DOMINICAN MONASTIC OBSERVANCE AS 
CHRISTOLOGICAL AND SACRAMENTAL IN CHARACTER 



Fr. Gabriel O'Donnell, O.P. 
Province of St. Joseph 



For some years now the theological foundations for Dominican monastic life have been 
the focus of conversation and study among our nuns. Indeed, I recall that in the last General 
Assembly of the Conference the theology of enclosure was explored as well as its historical and 
canonical aspects. Sister Marie Ancilla's article Domincan Nuns and Mystery: Theology of 
Dominican Monastic Life According to LCM enjoyed a wide distribution among our American 
Monasteries. There have been as well several collections of articles addressing various 
aspects of the Contemplative life of Dominican Nuns by both friars and nuns that have been 
read in our monasteries. Today we continue is that vein as we address the theological import 
of one such aspect of Dominican life, the life of Observance. 

The mystery of the Incarnation must be our point of departure. It is a departure from the 
mundane into the sphere of the mysterious, i.e., into the sphere of what has been hidden for 
ages past and is now being made manifest: who God is and what he desires for us. It is the 
mystery of Jesus Christ, the ultimate expression of God's self-disclosure and the definitive 
revelation of God's plan for our life, our redemption and our happiness. It is in taking a human 
nature to himself, to his divinity, that God inaugurates a new relationship between the human 
and the divine. All things human are now charged with new significance and purpose. We look 
upon nothing of nature, nothing human, in light of the Incarnation, without seeing there a trace 
of the divine nature which touched and transformed it in the God-Man, Jesus Christ. The whole 
of the New Testament is a witness to the delight that God has taken in rescuing us from sin and 
death through the transformation of all things created and all things human. Thus our point of 
departure is at once to begin and to come to a conclusion. We are still here, we are still 
ourselves, but with minds and hearts expanded with this new knowledge of God that will serve 
as the operative principle for life in this world leading us to the life of beatitude, God's own life. 

It is this life, ordinary human existence, transformed by the mystery of the Incarnation, 
that monastic communities have always sought to acknowledge and abide in — the life of the 
Incarnate Son who from his place in heaven continues to teach us to see the divine in the 
human, and urges us to see each human reality and experience as an unfolding of that long 
held secret that ever offers new depths of knowledge, understanding and communion, unto the 
ages of eternity. The "following of Christ" so fundamental to Dominican life and legislation is not 
only about following the poor, chaste and obedient Christ, but is a call to live by the principle of 
the Incarnation in which all things are made new. We are transformed and made new in Jesus 
Christ and now our lives are the long process of progressively discovering this truth in the 
particularity of our own selves, our communities, our world, even the cosmos itself. 

This very notion of the manifestation of the divine in the human led the Fathers 
of the Church to use the language of sacrament and mystery. What is of God is made known 
through what is of man in Jesus Christ. As God reveals the secret of his own life and purpose 
we are compelled to speak of creation, the covenant, the Incarnation itself as sacraments: 
secrets being told, being revealed to those who are willing to receive the good news, a pledge 
of what is to come. These are outward signs of the reality of God's own inner life, his ideas and 
plans for man, his purpose and destiny. In a world view charged with the awareness of the 

24 



potency of all things human to reveal God's presence and purpose there are moments of 
encounter with the divine that are more perfectly, more fully "sacramental." For the Fathers and 
Doctors of the Church, the act of worship wherein the human and the divine meet and the 
human gives way uniquely to the divine became the paradigm for all things of mystery and 
sacrament. In the act of divine cult, the created world is taken into the embrace of the divine. 
Even the greatest throng of participants in the earthly liturgy is outnumbered by the myriad of 
angels and saints who worship and adore and are present wherever the Lamb, once slain, is 
adored and glorified. 

This primary meaning of mystery and sacrament did not stop the Fathers from seeing 
about them a number of other "sacraments," those kairotic moments of encounter between the 
human and the divine. Holy water, monastic profession, the blessing of food before a meal: 
these, as well, were sacraments of God's self revelation and self giving. And in giving himself 
to us God gives us the truth about our own selves and our future. We cannot know who we are 
nor where we are going apart from God. These "sacraments" and sacramental moments reveal 
the presence of Christ and open us to his plan for us today, tomorrow, and for all eternity. The 
have to power to stimulate and communicate the proper inner response to the mystery of 
Christ's life. 

From this theological point of view the monastic life is always charged with meaning. It 
is a life of intensity for it is always aimed at discovering the truest meaning of all things, of 
attending to the divine as revealed in the human. Silence, withdrawal from the world, lectio, 
study, manual labor and, above all, the life of liturgical prayer are geared to tutor the monastic 
man or woman into a sensitivity to the sacramental character of human life in all of its aspects. 
Being available to God does not mean withdrawal from the human, but rather the focused living 
of the human in such wise that one will not be distracted or deceived regarding its true meaning 
and purpose. The world is not evil and the theme of fuga mundi would be heterodox were it to 
signify this. Rather, it is the world in its one dimensional aspect, recognizing only the human, 
refusing to acknowledge the transformation wrought by the Incarnation, being deaf and blind 
to the sacramental character of human existence that is so dangerous. In this sense the "world" 
is a place to flee. Monastic life is flight from the world to the monastic enclosure where life is 
allowed to be what it truly is: a sacrament of God's presence and action, his power and grace. 
Life in the monastery should be the most authentically human way of life imaginable. 

All discussion of the monastic or regular observance must be guided by this fundamental 
theological understanding. Such is the meaning of LCM 37:1: "Regular observance, adopted 
by St. Dominic from tradition or newly created by him, fosters the way of life of the nuns by 
helping them in their determination to follow Christ more closely and enabling them to live more 
effectively their contemplative life in the Order of Preachers." 

Monastic observance is simply the organization of the ordinary human aspects of life, 
food, clothing, shelter, work and rest, in such wise as to lead the monastic community to the 
greater awareness of God, to live in continual remembrance of him and to live each of these 
human realities in a more Godly way. They are sacramental in their nature and purpose and 
our Constitutions tell us that the observances constitute the chief instrument, after the seven 
Sacraments themselves, by which we are transformed into Christ. Indeed, we are so bold as 
to name the liturgy of the Church as one of our principle observances. 

Observance leads one to God through a closer adherence to Christ. How? In the first 
instance the observances are the fulfillment of our profession, our promise of obedience. They 

25 



keep us true to our word. We promise obedience to the person of the Master of the Order, and 
in continuity with the ancient tradition add the promise of obedience to a way of life. 
Significantly, only the language of obedience appears in our profession formula. As Thomas 
so clearly tells us, this promise includes the vows of poverty and chastity, and, we might add, 
the other observances that constitute Dominica life. The observances are the incarnation, the 
sacramentalizing of our vocation. It is in fidelity to every aspect of Dominican life that we imitate 
Christ, not only in his consecration to the Father, but in his self-emptying oblation, his sacrifice, 
for we are always called to transcend personal preferences and plans in order to serve the 
common good and present ourselves in support of our sisters and brothers in the community. 
It is the life of virtue lived according to the norm of the beatitudes that is the immediate aim of 
the life of observance. A lifetime of such observance has an efficacy to transform our inner 
selves to become more like Christ in his perfect charity. 

Fidelity to the life of observance requires a constant renunciation of will and preference. 
It is the way of spiritual martyrdom. The Dominican friar or nun is called to union with God 
through conformity to our crucified Lord; or as Cassian puts it in the Institutes, we are called to 
be conformed to the perfect nakedness of Christ. 

In its most fundamental meaning, then, an observance is simply the external expression 
of a way of life. The observances are the concrete physical way in which we incarnate the way 
of life established by our founder, St. Dominic de Guzman. As such, they encompass the 
particular way in which Dominicans carry out our basic human needs. These are the aspects 
of life particular to our Order: the manner of prayer, of relating to one another and to the world 
in which we live, our way of study, of preaching and all manner of smaller things that are 
perhaps no less important, but express our family spirit expressed in devotions and customs 
that produce a certain disposition towards God and neighbor, e.g., our devotion to the dead 
expressed in certain prayers and acts of piety. 

We can then say that the observances constitute a way of life. In the monastic tradition 
of both East and West this way of life is established by the rule and the founders of the 
community, it is not reinvented over and over. It has an objective, stable nature that can only 
be altered in extraordinary circumstances after careful consideration and consultation. The life 
of observance expresses the TRUTH of our life and the altering or eliminating of observances 
will have definite consequences for the way of life they express. They do not exist for 
themselves but for the transformation of the community into a fervent Christian community that 
bears the marks of the crucified One and lives in hope of the glory that is to come. These 
observances are our chief tool for formation, the attempt to hand on the tradition of our way of 
life to future generations. In the end it is not conformity to rituals and actions, but the trans- 
formation of the human heart that is the goal of observance. 

Because they are the very "sacraments" that lead us to Christ the observances are holy. 
In light of our consecration, Thomas teaches, they become acts of the virtue of religion, ways 
in which the worship we pay to God in the sacred liturgy is continued, extended through the day. 
These are the means through which we fulfill that priesthood shared by all the baptized. They 
must always be treated with reverence and respect. 

I should note that when discussions of "observances" are raised, some sisters hear the 
phrase as hearkening back to the 1 940s or 50s, some time in the past. This was brought home 
to me more than a year ago when I was invited by a cloistered community to facilitate their 
chapter discussion on the reassessment of their changes in observance. The first topic on the 

26 



list was monastic clothing. In this community there was a wide range of options. One sister 
wore the traditional habit of the order, some wore no habit and there were several versions of 
modification. When one nun expressed the opinion that they had made a mistake to abandon 
the traditional monastic habit and gave her understanding of the habit as a central observance, 
another sister responded by saying that she would not want to resume that form of clothing 
because of the lack of hygiene, i.e., when they wore it they were not permitted to bathe regularly 
and they were not provided with clean underclothing. The very purpose of the decree Perfectae 
cartiatis was to lay out a set of incentives and directives that would avoid this sort of confusion. 
One must return to the sources to understand the meaning and purpose of the observances 
so that they can be adapted, modified or reappropriated in a manner at once authentic and 
viable in today's world. 

In speaking about observance we must not think of the immediate past, but we must 
return to the sources of our life, the beginnings of the Order and the mind and intention of St. 
Dominic and the early brethren and nuns who established our way of life and designed the 
various forms of our observances. There is no going back to the past. We are struggling to find 
the pathway into the future. I suggest that the rediscovery of the meaning and living of the 
observances is an important part of this process. The moment has come for a reassessment 
of the last 35 years in order to go forward with greater authenticity and vigor into the future, and 
most especially to hand to those coming to our monasteries seeking the contemplative life an 
integral formation and a realistic expression of our vocation. 

Discussions about observance can easily be dismissed as retrograde or simply fussi- 
ness. We must keep our thinking clear in this matter. We are dealing with the discipline and 
order that make a community life possible. It is not possible to breathe inner life into the 
observances if they are not there; their continued existence sustains the Order through times 
of fervor and laxity. 

In the Dominican context the role of observance is critical because unlike other tradi- 
tions, it was in our adoption of standard observances, uniquely chosen and blended by St. 
Dominic and joined to particular theological vision that we find our specific particular identity. 
Recall Father Augustine's reference to those who state that there is no proper Dominican 
"spirituality." 

Other forms of cloistered life tend to have a specific theme or focus to their lives. For 
the Carmelite nun, the life of observance is background for the life of prayer, especially mental 
prayer. A Carmelite is a prayer and everything is ordered to the hours of mental prayer and a 
consideration of one's progress in prayer. Poor Clares are concerned with the life of poverty 
and joyful simplicity. Their observances become the backdrop for this more central theme 
established by their founders and give their life a certain "definition" that is often a preoccupation 
in both their literature and their conversation. They have a "mystique" about their particular form 
of life. 

Dominicans, on the other hand, tend to be less self-conscious. We simply live the life 
given to us. Our tradition of observance becomes all the more crucial because it is, in some 
ways, our very definition. As paragraph IV of the Fundamental Constitution of the Order tells 
us, it is in the very blending and balancing of these elements that we find that way of life which 
is properly called "Dominican," always under the rubric of having been founded before all else 
for preaching and the salvation of souls. 



27 



The Second Vatican Council was a call for the renewal of consecrated life in all its forms: 

If the fruits of the Council are to come to maturity, religious institutes must, first of all, 
promote a renewal of spirit. Then they should endeavor to effect the renewal and 
adaptation of their way of life and of their disciple, acting prudently but, at the same time, 
with energy. (Norms for Renewal and Adaptation) 

Dominican Nuns have seen a great change in their way of life in the last 35 years 
perhaps best symbolized by the Book of the Constitutions definitively published in 1987 that 
represents a renewed vision of Dominican cloistered life. These have been, by and large, good 
years. The renewal of the place of reading and study especially in the areas of scripture, liturgy, 
the Fathers and systematic theology have enriched both individuals and communities; a 
renewed awareness of the role of the chapter, the importance of participation in the government 
of the monastery, a flexibility in horarium, the provision for personal conversation, a greater 
concern for individual talents and needs, an elevated level of human culture; in sum, a certain 
humanness has been introduced our monasteries in which we can rejoice that so much has 
been achieved in these three decades. 

There remains the question however, as we face our present crisis of reduced numbers 
and aging membership, of the specific identity of our life of observance. When one considers 
that many of the traditional observances of Dominican contemplative life have been abrogated 
or seriously mitigated, there remains the question of the future. Consider the profile of 
Dominican monastic observance for some seven centuries: the night office, perpetual absti- 
nence, the long fast, strict enclosure, penitential practices both public and private. 

These observance entailed a life of asceticism and a spirit of penance that created a 
certain atmosphere or climate in the life of the community, not unlike that which is generated by 
the practice of Eucharistic adoration. 

What sacramental and Christological meaning was contained in each of these 
observances? Were changes made simply on the basis of practical accommodation to 
changing times and a concern for aggiomamento? Was there sufficient recourse to the sources 
of the monastic and Dominican tradition and sufficient theological reflection on the conse- 
quences of such changes? 

I am not suggesting the restoration of these practices. Rather, it seems that as we stand 
on the brink of a new chapter in our existence, we must reconsider the changes of the past 35 
years from their theological perspective: their sacramental and Christological meaning. Has the 
ascendancy of the principle of efficiency and practicality threatened our ability to think theo- 
logically, to grasp a high ideal, whether we are new or old in Dominican life? 

If I may use a simple example: the difficulties of kitchen and refectory are axiomatic in 
modern monastic life, in both its masculine and feminine forms. The change in the usages of 
the refectory effect a change in values and attitudes. Self service, or the buffet line bypasses 
the ancient notion, contained in the earliest monastic sources, that one is called to exercise 
great renunciation in the area of communal meals by eating what is set before one. Once we 
can choose just and only what we want it is a short step to feeling that we have a right to what 
we want. If we do not see what we want we go and get it or demand that someone get it for us. 
The cult of the rights of the person, so strong in our culture, can easily intrude into the system 
of monastic values. It is no wonder that sometimes there are as many special dishes as there 



28 



are monks or nuns in the modern monastic kitchen. The observance of the common table can 
give way to the arena of individual desires and preferences. 

Surely the usages of such a regime in the refectory will have reverberations in the 
discussions of the chapter or the spirit of manual labor. 

All things in the monastery are oriented towards charity. It is an interconnecting whole. 
The selfless love of the crucified can only be learned through a life of asceticism and renun- 
ciation. The habitus of genuine charity requires the destruction of egoism and self absorption. 
The life of observance is intended to facilitate this process. 

The observances are forms of separation from the world. They keep the monk or the 
nun from the false values and indulgences of the world. The physical boundaries of enclosure 
are a kind of final note in the whole round of observances that separate the nuns from the world. 
We live life in a different fashion: we eat and sleep, we dress, work and pray in ways "other" 
than the world around us. As we carry out the observances we are "apart from the world." The 
enclosure is the formalization of a whole movement within the observances themselves. 

For this reason, a serious reassessment of the last 35 years seems very much in order. 
One senses a general consensus that in the future we may have smaller numbers in our 
monasteries. But small "observant" communities are not a new reality in the Order. The ques- 
tion is not one of change and adaptation, but of vision, an integral vision of Dominican 
contemplative life that while faithful to the past, is prepared to go courageously into the future. 
Without such a vision we will not be able to respond the hunger of those who come to our doors 
seeking admittance and those who come seeking the witness of authentic Dominican monastic 
life. 

Not infrequently Pope John Paul II expresses the conviction that the Christian people 
have a right to hear the faith preached and taught in all its fullness. It is for the future that I 
suggest a serious reconsideration of our immediate past. Those who come to us seeing to be 
formed in our way of life have a right to receive it in its fullness. Indeed, I suspect that you will 
discover that they will only come to you if they are convinced that they will find it in its full vigor. 

When viewed from a later period in history it is likely that the topic for our discussion will 
seem puzzling in the extreme. We are born of and live in an age in which conversations are 
had about the fundamental realities that have been taken for granted in other ages. Only the 
late 20 th and early 21 st century could produce schemes for classes in how to parent children or 
courses in how to become a successful spouse and good husband or wife. And we, con- 
secrated members of the Order of Preachers must follow suit. What has been taken for granted 
in the past and will likely be again in the future, must be discussed, explored, considered anew. 
The life of observance, simply understood to be the concrete expression of our way of life, the 
sacrament and mystery of the Dominican vocation, must be addressed anew. x 



29 



DOMINICAN MONASTIC OBSERVANCE 
IN THE CONTEMPORARY CONTEXT 

Fr. Gabriel O'Donnell, O.P. 
Province of St. Joseph 

Any study of religious movements suggests that some historical moments or periods are 
of greater influence and significance than others. For the historian, sociologist, anthropologist 
or theologian, this is not so much a value judgment as it is an observation. In terms of western 
spirituality one such critical moment can be fixed in Europe in the late 12 th and early 13 th 
centuries, the very height of what we have come to call the Middle Ages. This was a period of 
intense activity and progress in human culture and religious understanding. 

The renewal of biblical studies and a biblical piety, the founding of the mendicant orders, 
the rise of the universities, the appearance of the Schools and Scholasticism were part of a 
broader movement in the culture at large, but profited the Christian Church in ways still being 
discovered. It is not without significance for our topic that ours was a religious order founded 
in this world of progress, enthusiasm and creativity. The spiritual vigor and apostolic fervor of 
the early friars and nuns, while generated from within by the gift of a vocation through the Holy 
Spirit, was supported and looked upon benignly by a large segment of the world about them. 
Those first of our friars and nuns were very much men and women of their time: a world turned 
on its ear with long established institutions and mores being challenged in such a way as to 
cause the weak of heart to think that the end was near. The optimism of the age was 
moderated by the gloomy predictions of nay sayers and the dire prophecies that we would today 
likely classify as religious fanaticism. In was into this world of change, challenge and chaos that 
the Order of Preachers was born. 

Clearly the 20 th century is destined to go into the memory of history as another such 
moment. The information explosion, the advancement of science, the triumph of technology 
and all the consequent benefits flowing from these have changed human life and its possibilities 
with unprecedented speed and, it seems, in the twinkling of an eye. At least thirty years ago 
Father Chenu drew a dramatic parallel between the 2 nd half of the 20 th century and the early 13 th 
century. He did so, speaking to Dominicans, in order to give insight and encouragement for the 
situation in which the Order finds itself today. We must be men and women of our time. 

At the same instant we recognize what is monitored by social scientists of our time, that 
while there is great progress in science and technology, our age is witnessing as well the 
unraveling of the cultural and moral values associated with the Judeo-Christian tradition. The 
dignity of the human person and the value of life is, paradoxically often in conflict with the 
insistence on the rights of the individual and the definitive turn towards the subjective, so 
decided a turn that some call it the culture of narcissism. 

This has profound significance for all forms of the consecrated life, but most especially 
for the monastic life, always discerning how to live in this world and yet be apart from it, indeed 
to be counter cultural in the best sense of that term. 

The consideration of some of the theological notes about observance may well serve 
as a stepping stone to an analysis of the task ahead for in the history of monastic life, it is 
precisely the observances that have served as the benchmark for measuring the state of a 
community, its fidelity to the contemplative life and its possibilities for the future. Observance, 

30 



recall, is a way of life, with a profound theological, inner meaning. The quality of life in a 
monastery may be measured by the care and fervor of the observance; but it must exist, it must 
be in place in a community, before its quality can be assessed. 

In the tradition of the autonomous monastery, even when grouped under membership 
in an order such as our own, canonical visitations, regular chapter and ongoing legislation have 
always been centered on the life of the observance. The more gross violations of the monastic 
vocation such as financial malfeasance, sexual impropriety or public scandal aside, visitation 
reports, statutes, norms, customaries, constitutions, are unanimous in this focus. In a time that 
has witnessed such wholesale revision of the observances this is important to keep in mind. 

A simple perusal of the primitive constitutions of the Nuns reveals this focus, particularly 
in the penal code that it contains. The faults and the corresponding penalties or penances are 
primarily those against the observances and thus against the common good, the disruption of 
the good order of the community and consequently a threat to that unity which, in the 
Augustinian view of monastic life, is the great sign of charity. 

Father Augustine's presentation referred to those who hold that there is no proper 
"Dominican" spirituality. The reason for this assertion is that the elements of our way of life 
preexisted us and were borrowed by St. Dominic and the early brethren and nuns form the 
broad monastic tradition: from the Cistercians, the Premonstratensians and the Monks of the 
Order of Grande Monte. Any element of our life or our observances can be found elsewhere. 
Little is original with Dominic. Rather it was the unique manner in which he blended these 
together for the purpose of preaching and the salvation of souls and stabilized the whole Order 
with a governmental system that has stood the test of nearly eight centuries and saved the 
Order from being rendered asunder despite the many conflicts and difficulties through the 
centuries. The solemn celebration of the liturgy is typical of the Benedictines and Canons 
Regular. The emphasis on common life was the hallmark of the Order of Premontre with their 
Augustinian orientation. Study was part of Benedictine and Cistercian life and certainly was a 
central part of the Norbertine customs. It is the bringing together of certain traditional elements 
of the tradition with the theological vision that perhaps best expresses the Dominican tradition 
of spirituality. Our life of observance is linked to a particular understanding of the whole mystery 
of creation and redemption. Finding its source in the mind and heart of St. Dominic is has found 
expression in the teaching of the great theologians of the Order, most especially of St. Thomas 
Aquinas. The Dominican understanding of the dynamic relationship between grace and nature, 
our anthropology and our particular orientation to mystery of the Incarnation as the way to the 
Father's heart was well expressed by Father Augustine. It is this that is the heart of what we 
might call "Dominican spirituality." 

For the Dominican, formal study about God leads one to celebrate this mystery in the 
choir and to share that mystery with one's brothers and sisters in community. There is a certain 
unity or integrity to the daily regime of the Dominican friar or nun. Recall that in the primitive 
constitutions of the nuns the mistress of novices is urged to teach the novices not only to 
memorize the psalms and the whole of the New Testament, but to "ruminate on the sacred 
mysteries" as she goes about her daily tasks in the monastery. It is the engagement of the 
whole person, body and spirit that is the aim of Dominican observance. It is this self emptying 
discipline by which one becomes more like unto Christ and more disposed to the life of charity, 
ready for that mutual acceptance and love that must characterize every authentic Christian 
community. 

31 



In the early centuries of the Order, Dominican monastic life showed itself rather suc- 
cessful at navigating the choppy waters of cultural change and transition, usually by clinging to 
the life of observance. When chased from their monasteries or fleeing from invading armies, 
sometimes for years at a time, the returning nuns knew what to do. Begin again to live like a 
Dominican nun. The life of observance became the fertile ground in which to replant the tender 
shoot of a community reconstituting itself. Margaret Ebner as well at the nuns of Engenthal are 
witnesses to the primacy of observance in just such circumstances. 

In the fifteenth century the Black Death left in its wake a terrible devastation of the 
population in general and religious orders in particular. More detailed legislation began to 
appear in the Constitutions of the friars and nuns to regulate aspects of the observance formerly 
taken for granted, most especially the life of prayer, religious exercises and common life. 

The reforms of the Order, whether on a small scale or more grand in scope were always 
centered on the norms of observance with the understanding that as they were neglected or 
disappeared so did the virtues and values they expressed or enshrined. 

It is in the 19 th century, however, that the radical break with the tradition was effected at 
the time of the French Revolution. Re-establishing the Order in France Lacordaire strove to 
discover the true genius of the Order to reorganize it among the people of "the Church's eldest 
daughter." From the struggles and misunderstandings between Lacordaire and Jandel we know 
how complex a process it turned out to be. Most of the struggles were centered on the 
observances: Lacordaire insisting on what we could only call today a life of strict observance 
and Jandel espousing a primitive observance. 

This re-creation and refounding of the Order in France, both friars and nuns, had 
important implications for monasteries here in the United States. It was overshadowed by 
several important factors: 

- Influence of 17 th century French spirituality 

- Dominance of the Carmelite reform 

- Rise of exposition of the Blessed Sacrament 

- Devotion to the Rosary 

- Notion of perpetual prayer 

Just as aspects of Ignatian spirituality found their way into the constitutions and 
customaries of most orders, even autonomous monasteries of monks and nuns, the 
ascendancy of the Carmelite reform brought to France by Cardinal Berulle left its mark on 
Dominican cloistered life. While clinging to many of their own observances, Dominican 
monasteries added many customs and pious practices from other traditions such as instruction 
in discursive prayer, the reading of "points" for meditation, the use of the general and particular 
examen. The lack of study and the almost complete disappearance of the practice of lectio 
divina as it was understood in earlier ages produced a lacuna that was filled with a piety and 
devotionalism that would have to be described, in today's terms, as sentimental. More 
significantly, the notion of the prioress as spiritual mother and her right to appoint the members 
of her council could only relegate the role of the chapter to a legal fiction. More and more 
monasteries came under the direct jurisdiction of the bishop, following the Carmelite pattern, 
rather than remain or return under the jurisdiction of the prior provincial, or the master of the 
Order. 

32 



The 19 th century cult of the rule, the exaggerated deference for the superior and the 
tendency to centralization produced a rather generic form of religious life. The proliferation of 
modern congregations, often inspired by the Jesuit model, began to make the autonomous 
monastery, once the staple of religious life, less and less familiar and appealing. There were 
even considerations of bringing these canonical units together into an "order." This was only 
accomplished in the 20 th century when the Holy See began to insist on federations and 
associations. As modern Benedictines delight to repeat, there is no such thing as the 
Benedictine "Order." There is only this linking together of autonomous monasteries under the 
loose authority of the Abbot Primate. 

The form of Dominican cloistered life brought to the United States was in this sense an 
amalgam of several influences. There seems to have been no consideration of founding a 
monastery near a convent of the brethren. Sometimes there were friars to serve as chaplains, 
but by and large, this does not seem to have been a concern for the early French Mothers and 
their American successors. 

The first American prioresses and their successors, with typical American industry and 
determination, strove to develop a level of observance that was at once authentic and exacting. 
They are reported to have been quite strict, but loving. They began to be concerned about the 
quality of the Gregorian chant, the nuns' lack of knowledge of Latin. Lectures from the friars 
began, often irregularly and amiable relationships developed, though always distant and highly 
formalized. Life within the enclosure was strenuous because the mixture of traditions produced 
a horarium in which there was never a moment free, no time was spent in the cell, and 
interpersonal encounters, even during the recreation period, were frowned upon. The singing 
of the divine office, together with the large number of vocal prayers and devotional practices left 
little time for reading. Serious study, while not unknown, was not commonplace and was not 
available to most of the nuns. 

These are some of the circumstances in which the call to renewal was heard by our 
monasteries. The prudence and courage of those prioress who launched out into the waters 
of change is to be admired. It quickly became obvious that ressourcement was as important 
as adaptation. Organized lecture series or short courses and the whole process of producing 
a new book of the constitutions helped the nuns of our monasteries to understand the need to 
rediscover the Dominican tradition of observance and to filter out those elements foreign or 
unnecessary for traditional Dominican monastic life. 

Among some cloistered groups these same decades have had the unfortunate result 
of division and discord. Extreme forms of life have emerged: on the one end the apparent 
abandonment of most external observances; on the other a rigid clinging to the form of 
observance "as it always was." This is not the case with the Dominican nuns in the United 
States. While there are clearly differing theological and philosophical outlooks, there remains 
a certain unity, charity and cordiality that is due in part, I believe, to the creation of the 
Conference as an organization that is not intrusive into the life of the autonomous monastery, 
but is intended to foster the deepening of monastic life through cooperation in certain projects 
and sisterly sharing. 

Dominican nuns, armed with the new book of the Constitutions have gone forward 
attempting to understand the implication of the new vision of Dominican contemplative life 



33 



embodied in LCM. Not all the nuns are yet convinced of this new vision. The stress of our 
current crisis does not help. 

It is perhaps a more critical time than we realize, since, as I indicated in part one of my 
presentation, we have just passed through the most serious revision of the observances in our 
entire history. All of the major observances of the tradition have been affected either by way 
of abrogation or mitigation. It is for this purpose that I suggest that we are at a moment of 
reappraisal. 

Our goal is charity, of course, but charity precisely as Dominicans and in the Dominican 
way of grace and charity. One cannot will the end, one cannot achieve the end without the 
proper means. The observances are chief among them. But the ultimate question is the vision 
of your own vocation that you share with your sisters and that you must articulate not only for 
yourselves but for those who will join you in the future as well as those to whom you are 
accountable as your religious superiors. 

The Church's own concern is evidenced in the recent publication of Verbi sponsa which 
has touched off some puzzling reactions among our nuns and even some of the friars. It is 
another reminder of the specific character of the moment in which we are living. 

Certainly one of the issues that our monasteries must face is that of how to interface with 
the culture. While I would not want to continue the spirit of "manifest destiny" nor the nineteenth 
century movement labeled "Americanist," nonetheless one must realize that we have a unique 
political, cultural and religious experience here in the United States. Extremists criticize the 
Roman Catholic Church and international orders such as our own as being dominated by Euro- 
centered spiritualities and theologies. That exaggeration aside, one must realize that the 
situation of autonomous monasteries in a culture such as our own may not be easily understood 
by people from other cultures. Geographical, religious and cultural diversity are paramount. If 
this is a moment of reassessment, it is also a moment when, as Verbi sponsa rightly points out, 
it will be up to you to articulate to the Master of the Order and his assistant for nuns your 
experience and insights that will contribute to building the future of the Order. Father Merten's 
presence here is the signal of the desire on the part of the general administration of the Order 
to listen and collaborate. 

Social scientists, sociologists and anthropologists of religion, even the articles by Msgr. 
Mannion, are clear in their suggestion that among the young of our culture there is a religions 
reawakening. Among those who are under 30 it is the concern for orthodoxy that typifies the 
religious seeker. For them orthodoxy is the sign of stability and continuity in a tradition or 
institution. This they expect to be expressed in very traditional symbols. Younger Catholics 
tend to be decidedly Eucharistic in their spirituality, Marian and strongly devoted to the 
magisterium. We who helped to engineer the changes of the period immediately following the 
Council may read this as conservative. In fact, if social scientists are correct, we are witnessing 
a cultural shift. What may indeed be judged by some as a swing to the conservative right may 
well be simply a cultural paradigm shift with which we will find ourselves out of step if we do not 
heed the signs of the times. 

The starting point of any considerations must be the realization that as autonomous 
monasteries belonging to an apostolic order you play a unique role in the order and have a 
unique theological and canonical identity. The autonomous monastery has a canonical identity 

34 



with attendant rights and obligations. The articulation of the vision and spirit of your under- 
standing of contemplative life must precede any mature considerations about merging 
communities or making new foundations. So often the talk about making foundations, closings 
and merging is primarily a geographical consideration, not one of vision or the spirit of a 
particular expression of Dominican monastic life. 

Only you can instruct the brethren as to the true nature of your vocation. We are here 
to help, but we must listen first and foremost. You must insist that your law be observed in each 
monastery, and that it be respected by diocesan officials, federal assistants, priest consultants 
and regular superiors alike. The particular law of the nuns protects the rights of the community 
and the individual. It should be carefully attended to. The agenda of monasteries in other parts 
of the world or other language groups may not be yours. You must discern your own agenda. 

One danger of the moment is the temptation to become distracted by issues and 
projects that are not essential to living Dominican monastic life today. If you have not read 
Sisters in Arms and Sisters in Crisis I would urge you to do so. 1 In our time religious 
communities in decline have tended to multiply structures and increase bureaucracy. More 
projects with fewer people to carry them out. And fewer people to carry on the day to day 
project of actually living community life. 

If the past 30 years have indeed been good years it is because of the grace of the Holy 
Spirit. That same Spirit will lead and guide you through the next 30 years so that you may 
successfully complete the course God has marked out for you. What he has so wonderfully 
begun, may he bring to completion. x 



NOTE 

1. Reviews of these two books can be found in this issue of DMS. 




35 



THE OBSERVANCES OF SILENCE AND ENCLOSURE 



Sr. Claire, O.P. 
North Guilford, CT 



The climate in which monastic prayer flowers is that of the desert, 
where the comfort of man is absent, where the secure routines of man's 
city offer no support, and where prayer must be sustained by God in the 
purity of faith. Even though he may live in a community, the monk is 
bound to explore the inner waste of his own being as a solitary. The Word 
of God which is his comfort is also his distress. — Thomas Merton 1 



Introduction 

These words, written by a Cistercian monk in the late sixties, still ring true. And if they 
ring true , they resonate in the heart of every Dominican nun. Our own Constitutions tell us that 
we should prepare the way of the Lord in the desert by our prayer and penance (LCM 96:ll). 

There are many different ways to approach God in prayer. He fascinates us by his 
presence, power and essence manifested in creation; he speaks to us in the law and the 
prophets, and in the Word made flesh; he draws us through the liturgy of the Church and moves 
us interiorly by his Spirit. For those who have responded to his call to Dominican monastic life, 
he provides us with a well-trodden path and a clearly articulated agenda. 

The last thirty-five years since Vatican II have been characterized by rapid change, a 
questioning of traditional values, an openness to the world and to new ways of expressing and 
proclaiming the Catholic faith. We have all been caught up in this wave, to a greater or lesser 
extent. In obedience to the Church's mandate we have taken a critical look at the way our 
religious life is structured. We have studied the Dominican and monastic sources of our 
particular charism and tried to acquire a better understanding of our relationship to con- 
temporary culture. 

The stated intention of this Assembly is to pause for a moment and take stock of what 
has been going on in the last three decades of the twentieth century. I have been asked to look 
specifically at the observances of silence and enclosure, where many dramatic alterations have 
occurred. The time span is framed by two documents that address this issue and communicate 
to us the mind of the Church with regard to cloistered nuns: Venite Seorsurn in 1 969, and Verbi 
Sponsa in 1 999. 

When I began to think about writing this talk last fall, my first impulse was to put the word 
"enclosure" in brackets and concentrate on the primitive monastic concept of withdrawal from 
the world. This word seemed to be free of legislative trappings, and it has a more active 
connotation - something freely chosen. We turn away from the empty preoccupations and 
illusions of the secular world in order to turn our eyes and our thoughts and our whole being 
toward the Lord. This is a clear step at the beginning of any religious vocation. We are 
"forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead" (Phil 3:13; LCM 1:111). 

36 



But the longer I struggled with my assigned task, the more convinced I became that this 
would not work. Withdrawal is part of the picture, but monastic enclosure is not just an act of 
free choice. It is a physical reality, a container. The observances are a package deal, held 
together in a sacred space and guarded by silence. Dominicans should be able to understand 
this. Our whole way of doing theology is permeated with this kind of realism: the goodness of 
the physical world spoken out of nothingness by the Creator, the mystery of the Word Incarnate 
who suffered and died and rose again in the flesh, the economy of Church and sacraments 
which serve as concrete channels for the gifts of the Spirit. We are naturally suspicious of any 
symbol-talk that diminishes or disregards the Real. 

Monastic enclosure is about real separation: real walls and real doors. There is a real 
difference between the life lived within this environment and the life lived outside. Simon 
Tugwell has said that nuns are simply a scoop of humanity in need of redemption, and this is 
true. But he also says that we take redemption as a full-time job, and that makes all the 
difference. 2 

What is the point of this physically delineated sacred space? Why do we choose to live 
with such limitations? Let me first state what this paper is not going to be about: 

I will not be venturing into the history of enclosure. History, like the Bible, can be used 
to support opposing perspectives. A 1 998 issue of Cistercian Studies contains an article entitled 
"The Undivided Heart: Another Look at Enclosure." It was written by Mary David Todah OSB, 
a Solesmes Benedictine and part of a group which produced a book on this topic (in French - 
the English translation is in process). The history presented in the article is a distillation of the 
group's broader research. Her basic thesis is that women had freely chosen strict enclosure 
long before the canonical regulations were set down by the Church. 3 

If you look back thirty years, in the same Cistercian series, you will find two articles by 
Peter Anson on "Papal Enclosure." He covers essentially the same history as Todah. His main 
argument is that religious men were responsible for locking up religious women in order to 
protect their chastity. This negative interpretation seems to be the one that is most prevalent 
today. 4 

And that leads me into the second area that I am not planning to cover: legislation. The 
typical history of enclosure is in fact virtually synonymous with a history of development in 
canonical regulations. There are competent friars present who will lead us through this thicket 
later on, and I gratefully yield to their expertise. A study of enclosure is not best served by 
concentrating on the permitted and the forbidden: how far can I go, and by whose authority? 
This is like the analogous mistake that has been made in moral theology. 

The particular task at hand this morning is to look at the practice of silence and 
enclosure as it has developed or changed since Vatican II. In order to do that fruitfully we have 
to reflect on the basic theological principles that underlie these observances, because they can 
only be understood and lived in the light of faith. Both Cassian and St. Thomas would advocate 
beginning at the end. Cassian's first Conference asks about the goal of the monastic observ- 
ances. Thomas speaks in terms of final causality: to know the nature of anything is to know why 
it exists, the purpose it is intended to serve. 

In another sense of the word we will begin at the end of the legislation history by using 
the book of our present Constitutions. We have hardly begun to scratch the surface of this 

37 



document which was presented to us thirteen years ago. The ordering of the observances and 
the clarity with regard to our dual monastic and Dominican heritage are really astounding when 
compared with earlier versions of the nuns' legislation. It is a magnificent example of the Spirit's 
grace at work in the first years following the Council. Friars and nuns did their labor of 
ressourcement and produced a text that is rich in sound doctrine and offers real food for 
ongoing lectio and meditation. 

To summarize these introductory remarks, my conviction is that an evaluation of 
changes in the practice of our observance of silence and enclosure should be based on three 
criteria: theological principles derived from the Dominican and monastic tradition, our own 
legislation as it is reflected in the latest edition of our Constitutions, and the most recent Church 
document on enclosure, Verbi Sponsa. St. Augustine spoke of his Rule as a mirror. If there 
is a disjunction between what we know and believe and the way we behave, then this is matter 
for discussion, further reflection, and working toward a resolution of the disparity. 



Fuga Mundi 

There are many different paths to holiness, and many different words used to express 
the goal. A life of regular observance does not create holiness - or purity of heart or charity or 
contemplation. Its purpose is to mediate the goal to us and set the stage for uncovering the 
obstacles to the goal. Ascetical discipline is revelatory. Of itself it can do nothing without the 
grace of God. But in the demands that it makes on body and soul, it shows us to ourselves. 
It summons us from our hiding place behind the tree so that we can stand naked before the 
living God who calls us by name. The story no longer ends with fig leaves and exile, but with 
a wedding garment and welcome to the Lord's own table. 

The very first requirement for facing this truth - which is the beginning of our trans- 
formation - is that we stay put and let it happen. The earliest monastic advice on the subject, 
given to the desert monk Arsenius, still holds good at the beginning of the twenty-first century: 
fuge, face, quiesce. Remove yourself from the secular world, stop the incessant flow of chatter, 
curb the wandering mind, and hold your heart in stillness for the Lord's visitation. This was a 
constant refrain in Jordan of Saxony's letters to Diana: "My eyes are ever towards the Lord" (Ps. 
25: 1 5). 5 It is the eschatological expectation of the Catholic Church, which monks and nuns live 
with particular intensity and single-hearted devotion. Silence and enclosure are the observ- 
ances that carry this traditional admonition down to us through our own Dominican constitutions. 
We are freed for God alone by our withdrawal from the world in fact and spirit, and silence is the 
guardian of all observance (LCM 36; 46:ll). 

"The purpose of all regular observance, especially enclosure and silence, is that the 
word of God may dwell abundantly in the monastery." The word dwells in us and we in it. 
Dwelling, abiding, remaining in the Word, we begin to see the truth and the truth makes us free. 
As with John the Baptist, this word comes to us in the desert, and it is in the desert that we 
prepare the way of the Lord by our prayer and penance. St. Dominic associated the nuns with 
his "holy preaching" precisely by their prayer and penance. (LCM 96:l,ll; 1:1) 

Fuga mundi is a way of following Christ as he withdraws into the desert solitude to renew 
his consecration to the Father's will and to confront the powers of darkness who would prevent 
its accomplishment. This type of withdrawal is no more a depreciation of the goodness of God's 

38 



creation than are the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Monastic observances fall under 
the rubric of asceticism and not mysticism per se. That is why Dominicans, by and large, might 
feel more at home with the language of Venite Seorsum than that of Verbi Sponsa. These 
practices, this way of being consecrated to God, are a corrective for the original defiance and 
refusal that turned the world away from God in the beginning. Celibacy, enclosure and the other 
renunciations that we freely embrace for the sake of the goal facilitate the restoration of the 
imago that has been disfigured by sin. 

The language of past enclosure legislation is admittedly off-putting to the modern 
woman: the notion of chastity protection for the weaker sex is less than inspiring for most of us. 
We need a fresh perspective in order to appropriate a tradition that is still formative for monastic 
women and men of the 21st century. What does fuga mundi mean for us today? It is the 
wisdom that recognizes the greatest obstacle to dwelling in the inmost heart of God's truth: 
distraction, diversion. Fr. Sertillanges, O.P. called attention to this critical problem eighty years 
ago in his book The Intellectual Life: 

Diversion, divertissement: literally, the word means turning aside from 
ourselves and our destiny to find distraction in occupations, amusements, 
etc. "The whole calamity of man" (wrote Pascal) "comes from one single 
thing, that he cannot keep quiet in a room." 6 

Fuga mundi is the sign of a paradox: it is the world that is in flight from God and itself, 
and we are the ones who seek to dwell in the world as God knows it to be. By the observance 
of enclosure we deny ourselves not only the many good things associated with space and 
mobility, but also the diversions which serve as narcotics and escapes for modern culture. The 
world is becoming incapable of silence, stability, fidelity - the recognition that absolute truth 
exists and the human person is capable of attaining it. "Freedom from" has become divorced 
from "freedom for." Our General Assembly in 1988 looked closely at this phenomenon. The 
world has lost its reference point, it is a world without end. 



Regular Observance 

Vita Consecrata encourages religious to show concern for what the world neglects. 7 We 
possess and exemplify a truth of which contemporary society is sorely in need. But we have 
to flesh this out a bit. Nuns are accustomed to being asked by visitors: "What do you do all 
day?" This is a great mystery to those outside the walls who cannot conceive of existence 
without noise, travel, entertainment. What we do all day is. ..the observances. They map out 
our daily, weekly, yearly routine. St. Dominic makes this clear in his letter to the nuns of Madrid: 

Up to this time you have had no house suitable for following your religious 
life, but now you will have no such excuse for negligence, seeing that you 
are provided with a convent where regular observance can exactly be 
carried out. 8 

When we refer to regular observance as a package deal, we are not talking about a set 
of minute practices that fill up the time - the bell rings and we move on to the next exercise. "To 
regular observance belong all the elements that constitute our Dominican life and order it 
through a common discipline" (LCM 35:ll). St. Dominic adopted and adapted these elements 

39 



because they represent the wisdom of a solid tradition. The monastic observances that he 
embraced for the whole Order are grounded in a Christian philosophy, psychology and theology 
that does not become outdated or obsolete with the passing of the centuries. 

In the next part of my talk I want to look at the first item listed in LCM under the principal 
elements for the formation of novices, namely common life united with silence and solitude 
(LCM 118:11). Enclosure serves both of these elements, facilitates them, and makes them 
fruitful for growth in charity. 

One Mind and Heart in God 

In the article on enclosure that I mentioned earlier, Mary David Todah says that one who 
is drawn to the desert or the monastery is motivated by "the desire for a unified life, separated 
from all multiplicity, in order to give oneself entirely to God." 9 This phrase struck a chord in me, 
for obvious reasons: the one mind and one heart that are at the core of the Rule of Augustine 
and recur in his other writings as a dominant theme of Augustinian theology. If, as Dominicans, 
we are in search of truth, as daughters of St. Augustine we long for unity: an integration of the 
self through ever greater conformity to Christ, a oneness of will and purpose with our sisters in 
community, and ultimately union with the Triune God. 

For Augustine, the word monos did not refer to the solitary monk, alone with the Alone, 
but to the monastic community called to be one in its total focus on God and the things of God. 
The final end that is set before us, the goal of our life, is what makes possible the charity and 
pursuit of the common good that we all desire. St. Thomas' theology of the virtues operates on 
this principle. We cannot have one mind and one heart except in God - the eyes of each and 
all ever towards the Lord. 

Living under one roof does not create community, just as the sum of the observances 
do not create holiness. Community is there, given to us by God in Christ. We are invited to 
participate and this will entail removing the obstacles to participation. The monastic practices 
that constitute our life were developed over a long period of time. They had been tested in the 
desert experience of the early fathers and proven to be the best training ground for growth in 
virtue, especially the fundamental virtues needed to live in common with other people: patience, 
humility, discretion. 

Enclosure sets the stage for this. We remain, we are committed to one another, usque 
ad mortem. This kind of fidelity is becoming unknown in the world. Marriage and family life, the 
very cornerstone of any civilized society, are eroding. Spouses pledge undying love and then 
walk away when the going gets rough. We face the same temptation, and in monastic life this 
seductive demon is as old as the vice of acedia: the restlessness that drove a monk outside of 
his cell, away from the desert, in search of a more congenial setting for his own life project. 

Enclosure is a determining factor in the way our common life is structured. Current 
theories of psychology and social dynamics may be helpful, but they are inadequate for dealing 
with this specific type of reality. Often they are based on principles that are incompatible with 
a Dominican theology of the human person. 

The friars also recognize the value of a sacred space for ensuring the quality of their 
common life. LCO says that the cloister must be observed so that "the intimacy of their religious 

40 



family may be increased, and that the authenticity and character of our religious life may be 
revealed" (LCO 41). We recently listened to some tapes in our refectory, novitiate classes on 
Dominican history given by Fr. Fred Hinnebusch, OP. He reminded the brothers that entrance 
into religious life has always been understood as a break not only with the world but with one's 
own family. This used to be symbolized by the taking on of a new name - like Abraham and 
Sarah when they left their country and their kindred and their father's house. Religious 
profession means that our first responsibility is no longer to the natural family but to the 
monastic community, the Dominican Order, the Church. 

Maintaining the self-identity that developed and was nurtured in the family circle can 
even become a stumbling block to the maturity required for living an authentic common life. 
Timothy Radcliffe has written a number of times in his letters to the Order about the renunciation 
that gives the friars freedom for mission: "a radical break with our family ties..., a disinheri- 
tance...." These are strong words, but he also acknowledges that modern sensitivities create 
a problem in this area. Consecration to God should free the brothers to serve the purpose of 
the Order. "It is paradoxical that it is often the members of the family who are in religious vows 
who are considered 'free' to help look after aged or ill parents." 10 

As women dedicated to the purely contemplative life, we are united in our insistence that 
we are not available for the needs of the active apostolate, or for extensive collaboration with 
the other branches of the Order. The Church has always given its unqualified blessing to this 
vocation and continues to do so in Verbi Sponsa. Are we inconsistent if we consider ourselves 
free for the needs of our immediate families? This turning back draws attention and energies 
away from our common life task: having one mind and heart in God. 

In Conference 24 on Mortification, Cassian tells a story about Abba Apollos. 11 His own 
blood brother once came to him in the dead of night begging for help to rescue an ox which had 
become stuck in a swamp a little way off from the monastery. Apollos replied: "Why did you not 
ask our younger brother, whom you passed over even though he was nearer than I?" The 
brother assumed that Apollos must be getting weak in the head from his long life of renunciation 
and protested: "Can I call from the grave someone who died fifteen years ago?" Apollos 
answered: "Do you not know, then, that I also died to this world twenty years ago and that from 
the grave of this cell I can no longer offer you any help as far as the present life is concerned?" 
He went on to say that he had not even turned aside from his purpose to attend his father's 
funeral. 

Early in the year 1229 Andreolo d'Andalo died. Jordan of Saxony wrote from Milan to 
comfort his daughter Diana: 

Those who are left to live on in this world weep and are sad for the death 
of their friends who go before them; but those who have died first do not 
mourn in the other world over the death of those who come after them. 
And you, beloved, you are long since dead with Christ if your life is hid with 
him in glory.... Think with wonder of the gentleness of God, how he takes 
from you. ..what you could not hope to cling to for ever, only to give you 
what is eternal and shall never be taken from you for ever. 12 

Early in the year 1997 my own father died. Someone told me at the time that this loss 
would draw me to see more clearly the whole point of monastic life: death, in order to be born 

41 



into eternity. I had spent some days at home when my father was hospitalized, and I went again 
at the time of the funeral. There were many phone calls back and forth during the last year of 
his life as my mother and sister kept me abreast of developments. I did not visit him during his 
mercifully brief stay in a nursing home. 

It was very difficult for me to make responsible decisions about all of this because of the 
current climate of ambiguity with regard to enclosure. The door has been opened wider and 
wider during the past thirty years, and such interaction with family is considered to be the only 
reasonable and charitable way to go. The assumption has been that the next piece of Church 
legislation would recognize this reasonableness. With the promulgation of Verbi Sponsa we see 
that this is not the case. Neither that document nor the 1 987 edition of LCM gives clear support 
for what has become common practice in our monasteries. It is not for us to judge particular 
instances of dispensation in this regard. What we do need to examine is the prevailing attitude 
that everyone has a right to this dispensation as a matter of course. 

Silence and Solitude 

Common life is only half the story. Aspirants frequently come to us from fragmented, 
dysfunctional families and they exhibit a great longing for community. But if they have not 
acquired the fundamental maturity needed to deal with silence and solitude, they will not be able 
to persevere in the monastery. The vocation is both/and. By temperament each of us leans 
a little more toward one side than the other, especially in the early years of religious life. But the 
two cannot be separated. As enclosure is the container, the sacred space that holds the 
monastic package together, so silence is the atmosphere in which all the rest flourishes, the 
guardian of all regular observance (46:ll). 

We are silent in the first place in order to hear the Word of God: to participate fruitfully 
in the liturgy with our sisters; to be present to the text of the Scriptures when we sit alone for 
lectio, and to continue to ruminate on the Word throughout the day; to concentrate and to 
absorb doctrinal truths during our times of study; to be alert and awake to the promptings of the 
Holy Spirit deep within. This makes a lot of sense, even to a new aspirant fresh from the noisy 
world. But, as she will learn that community life is very demanding and calls forth radical 
changes in her attitudes and behavior, so she must encounter the great risk of silence. 

We leave all things behind, we stop the wagging of the tongue. And then we discover 
the rowdy, inescapable portion of the world that has stowed away in our own hearts. This is the 
field of the true monastic labor, this is the world that the Dominican nun is called to evangelize. 
Ongoing conversion is like ongoing formation: it is a lifetime job. We know what happens when 
a gardener walks away from her plot of land and lets nature run its course. 

Earlier I quoted St. Dominic's letter to the nuns of Madrid, about the suitable place for 
carrying out the life of observance. The preceding sentence tells us what he expected to 
happen within the confines of the monastic enclosure: "Wage war, my daughters, against the 
ancient enemy with prayer and fasting, for only those who strive lawfully shall receive the 
crown." 

The observances are like the armor of God that St. Paul describes in several of his 
letters, "For we are not contending against flesh and blood but against the principalities, against 
the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness...." (cf. Eph. 6:1 1-17; 1 Thess. 5:8). 

42 



The several parts are held together by silence and enclosure to form a seamless garment that 
resists penetration - by the enemy, or by anything else that seeks to divert us from our purpose. 

If we follow the naked Christ into the desert, we should know that we follow him to the 
cross and death. Yes, the victory has been won for us, and the Lord is risen from the tomb. 
But St. Paul indicates in his Letter to the Colossians that there is something lacking in the 
afflictions of Christ (Col. 1:24). Only one thing could be lacking to the Passion of the only- 
begotten Son of God: that each of his members become utterly conformed to him through 
acceptance of suffering in obedience and love. 13 Why do we have to look further for ways in 
which we can meet the world? This is how we perpetuate that singular gift which our Father 
Dominic had of bearing sinners, the down-trodden and the afflicted in the inmost sanctuary of 
his compassion (LCM 35:l). 

It is not simply a matter of intercessory prayer. Monastic life has an intrinsic value in 
itself. Our existence is not justified by "praying for the world," nor do we need to look for 
extrinsic forms of outreach. "As the Lord Jesus, the Savior of all, offered himself completely for 
our salvation, they consider themselves to be truly his members primarily when they are 
spending themselves totally for souls" (LCM 1:1,11). Monastic observance is above all an 
extension of the liturgy, the self-offering of Christ commemorated and made present for us in 
the Eucharist each day. 14 This is our life. Can the Christian world of the 21st century believe 
that God still has a right to his own portion of humanity, set aside solely as a sacrifice of praise? 

For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, 
so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death 
is at work in us, but life in you (2 Cor. 4:11-12). 

Truth and Freedom 

Let me return one last time to the article by Mary David Todah. In her comments on the 
first papal decree of universal enclosure promulgated by Boniface VIM in 1298, she makes the 
following observation: 

It has been said that Boniface's extension of strict enclosure to nuns of 
every Order - as well as the present legislation [here she refers to Venite 
Seorsum] - does not respect particular traditions and charisms. But it 
could be said that with this legislation, enclosure is placed at the service 
of each Order's particular charism. 15 

Todah goes on to give examples of the different accent on enclosure that appears in several 
traditions. For Pachomius - who held to quite a strict enclosure for both men and women in the 
fourth century - it was a way of realizing the koinonia. Those who entered the community 
passed from the world into a "holy fellowship." For Benedict, the enclosure creates the 
monastic school of the Lord's service. Carmelites embrace enclosure for the sake of their 
eremitical ideal. Poor Clares associate enclosure with Franciscan poverty. 

I have tried to demonstrate in this paper how enclosure and silence are at the service 
of our Dominican monastic observance as a whole: they keep us in place and focused on the 
one thing necessary; they undergird our common life as we seek "to live in harmony, having one 

43 



mind and one heart in God" (LCM 2:1); they draw us ever more deeply into the Paschal Mystery, 
where we learn the greater love that lays down its own individual life for the life of the world. 

But Dominican enclosure is more than this. It can be characterized by one sentence 
from John's Gospel: "If you continue [abide-dwell-remain] in my word, you are truly my disciples, 
and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (Jn. 8:31-32). The first thing that 
the Church declares to us in the new Catechism is that God desires all people to be saved and 
to come to the knowledge of the truth. This is exactly the purpose for which the Order of 
Preachers was founded, and this is why we can talk about a "Dominican Moment." This 
Moment does not concern only the friars. The first women converts who formed the nucleus 
of the foundation at Prouille approached St. Dominic after they heard his preaching. His words 
had shaken their confidence in the heretics and they were no longer sure what to believe. They 
begged him to enlighten them on the true doctrine; they wanted to be saved, to live and die in 
the true faith. 16 

Before all else, Dominican enclosure exists in the service of truth. Just as the preaching 
friar cannot be effective in his ministry without the separation, detachment and solitude required 
to devote himself to study, so the Dominican nun embraces enclosure and silence as 
indispensable means to the goal that Catherine of Siena lovingly refers to as gentle first Truth. 

Our approach to truth is by way of stillness, the discipline of remaining rooted in one 
spot, digging ever deeper into the rich veins of the deposit of faith, ready to "take every thought 
captive to obey Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5). It is an approach that in many ways runs counter to the 
subjective, humanist bent in contemporary spirituality. There the accent is on the journey, 
movement, an uncritical openness and preference for whatever is new in the surrounding 
culture. The medieval mentality was able to draw all the arts and sciences into the service of 
faith and revelation. Today it is often the secular viewpoint that takes precedence and the 
Gospel ends up being reinterpreted accordingly. 

These liberal trends were on the rise in the sixties and seventies, coinciding with the 
changes that were taking place in the Church after Vatican II. I recall reading a book around 
that time entitled Never Trust a God over Thirty. Religious communities have been deeply 
influenced by such popular ways of thinking, to the detriment of their own traditional values. 
Under the guise of fidelity to the spirit of the Council, this outlook actually represents a form of 
aggiornamento that has become divorced from ressourcement. u 

If we look back at the changes that have occurred in our monasteries during the last 
thirty-five years, many of the most notable are related to silence and enclosure. Was this 
evolution influenced by cultural factors of which we are not sufficiently conscious? In our efforts 
at renewal and adaptation have we compromised some of the basic elements of Dominican 
monastic life? We could briefly reflect here on a few examples in specific areas. 

- Verbi Sponsa states that leaving the enclosure requires a just and grave cause, 
that this is a requirement of consistency with the vocation we have chosen, and that 
every exit must constitute an exception. 18 The changes in our actual practice during the 
last thirty years and the underlying attitudes concerning enclosure do not seem to be in 
accord with this document. Are we willing to accept the responsibilities of papal 
enclosure? Do we understand the value that this observance still has for our 
contemplative life? 

44 



- Crossing the threshold is not the only way to be engaged with the outside world. 
We have become more and more available to family and friends through use of the 
telephone. A habit of regular and prolonged conversations is detrimental to the spirit of 
enclosure. It intrudes on that silence which is the guardian of all observance and is 
intended to free our minds for the things of God. 

- And have we lost sight of the fact that silence is not only a personal discipline but 
also a support for our common life? The contemporary culture tells us that talking is 
therapeutic and that community relations are built up by dialogue and sharing. For 
women dedicated to a life of prayer speech does not have the priority. How can we 
hope to have one mind and heart in God unless each individual mind and heart is silent 
and free to turn in that direction? 

- There are many ways to move out of the enclosure, but there is a converse 
problem with regard to those whom we receive into the enclosure. The presence of lay 
persons within the sacred space can call for social adaptations that undermine silence 
and the life of observance as a whole. Msgr. Mannion deals with this topic very percep- 
tively in the articles we received as preparatory reading for the Assembly. If we let down 
ail the barriers - not only the physical but the more subtle, ritual distancing as well -we 
are doing damage to our specific vocation in the Church. 

My point here is not that we should turn back the clock and reinstall the double grilles. 
That would be neither feasible nor desirable. But we do have to take collective stock of the 
situation and evaluate with clear minds just where we have come from and where we are going. 
There are real tensions in evidence with regard to what Dominican monastic life is all about and 
how it should be lived. And yet our Ratio Formationis states that: 

The Dominican tradition provides a coherent vision of truth and a distinc- 
tive body of practical Christian wisdom.... It is necessary to maintain a 
clear grasp of this tradition in its entirety so that it may not be obscured by 
currents of thought and spirituality alien to the spirit of the Order (RFG 9). 

For Dominicans, doctrinal truth is personal truth, something to live by from day to day, 
something that forms the entire body-soul composite. The observances engrave the Word of 
God in our flesh, so that we can bear forth the truth in and to the world. God has intended us 
for himself, we have a capacity for God. Everything that we do is aimed at removing the 
obstacles that hide us from our true selves, made in the image and likeness of God. Both the 
Dominican and monastic traditions are very optimistic about achieving this transformation 
because it all depends on the grace of Christ. But we have to believe in it, be present to it, 
renounce our subjective agenda and allow ourselves to be stretched and formed by something 
larger than ourselves. If we wander away from the foundational principles of our life in order to 
meet the world, when we do make contact we will no longer have anything to give. 

The encyclical Fides et Ratio proclaims that "the human being... can find fulfillment only 
in choosing to enter the truth, to make a home under the shade of wisdom and dwell there." 19 
What all Dominicans have in common is a radical thirst for and commitment to the truth, both 
in life and in doctrine. The truth that is rooted in the Word of God and bears fruit in true 
freedom, the truth that is the way to eternal life. x 



45 



NOTES 

1. Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer {New York: Herder and Herder, 1969) 29. 

2. Simon Tugwell, Lectures on Dominican Sources and Dominican Life, Monastery of Our Lady of 
Grace, North Guilford, CT, July 1985. 

3. Mary David Todah, O.S.B., "The Undivided Heart: Another Look at Enclosure," Cistercian Studies 
Quarterly 33.3 (1998). 

4. Peter F. Anson, "Papal Enclosure," Cistercian Studies III.2 & 3 (1968). 

5. Gerald Vann, O.P., "Jordan and Diana," To Heaven with Diana! A Study of Jordan of Saxony and 
Diana d'Andalo with a Translation of the Letters of Jordan (New York: Pantheon Books, 1960) 21. 

6. See translator's note in A.D. Sertillanges, O.P., The Intellectual Life, trans. Mary Ryan (Westminster, 
MD: The Newman Press, 1962) 216. 

7. Vita Consecrata, #63. 

8. "Letter of St. Dominic to the Sisters of Madrid," Early Documents of the Dominican Sisters, vol. I 
(Summit, NJ: Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary, 1969) 1. 

9. Todah, 347. 

10. Timothy Radcliffe, OP., Sing a New Song: The Christian Vocation (Springfield, IL: Templegate 
Publishers, 1999)43. 

11. John Cassian: The Conferences, trans. Boniface Ramsey, O.P., no. 57 Ancient Christian Writers 
(New York: Paulist Press, 1997) 831-32. 

12. Vann, Jordan's Letter 26, 105. 

13. See Colman E. O'Neill, O.P., Sacramental Realism, Theology and Life Series 2 (Wilmington, DE: 
Michael Glazier, Inc., 1983) 42ff. 

14. See William Hood's treatment of Dominican observances in Fra Angelico at San Marco (London: 
BCA, 1993). 

15. Todah, 358. 

16. See R.P. Ranquet, O.P., Prouilhe: aux sources de la vie contemplative dominicaine (Carcassonne: 
Editions de L'Enclume, 1953) 21-22. 

17. M. Francis Mannion, "Monasticism and Modern Culture: I. Hostility and Hospitality - Religious 
Community and 'the World'," American Benedictine Review 44:1 (March, 1993) 12. This is the first 
of three essays, all of which are pertinent to our topic. See also "II. The Cultural Conversion of 
Monks - Liberalism and Monastic Life" ABR 44:2 (June 1993); and "III. The Labor of Tradition 
-Monasticism as a Cultural System" ABR 44:3 (Sept. 1993). 

18. Venb/Sponsa, #15. 

19. Fides et Ratio, #107. 



46 



VERBI SPONSA AND DOMINICAN MONASTIC LIFE 

Fr. Reginald Whitt, O.P. 
Province of St. Joseph 



On May 13, 1999, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies 
of Apostolic Life issued Verbi sponsa, an instruction specifically concerning the contemplative 
life and enclosure of nuns. Verbi sponsa is the second instruction the congregation has issued 
on this subject since the close of Vatican Council II, 1 and the first since the promulgation of the 
1983 Code of Canon Law 2 and the 1986 Code-inspired revision of the Constitutions of the Nuns 
of the Order of Preachers. 3 The first section of article 180 in the LCM provides that Dominican 
monasteries are governed "by all laws and decrees of the Church: common laws to which nuns 
are subject, laws issued for nuns, and those made for the nuns of the Order of Preachers." 4 
That provision suggests that the religious life of Dominican nuns is governed at least by the 
1983 Code, by Verbi sponsa and by the LCM. But it does not indicate how those three legal 
instruments relate to each other (e.g., does one take priority over the others?), nor does it begin 
to describe how Dominican nuns are to put these laws into practice, as LCM 180 requires, "in 
the light of the Gospel and according to the mind of the Rule of St Augustine and the 
Fundamental Constitution of the Order." 

Now I have been invited to speak with you about Verbi sponsa and Dominican monastic 
life - and I was asked to do this specifically as a Dominican who is also a canonist. And I am 
happy to do so because - unbeknown to too many Catholics, including nuns! - canon law is a 
school of theology deserving lively examination. Canon law seeks to put into practice what we 
believe about our Church - the Body of Christ, the Sacrament of the Kingdom, the People of 
God - it seeks to realize what we confess in faith, to help every believer live out what we 
profess, to further our pilgrimage to God: because the Church's supreme law is the same as 
our Order's principal purpose, that is, the salvation of souls. 5 

So all of these legal norms - the Code, the LCM and Verbi sponsa - they are all 
designed to help us make the most of God's grace. But of course, for the law to achieve its 
purpose, we have to understand it: from where does it come, to whom is it addressed, to whom 
does it apply and to what extent? Hence, for the next several minutes, I will do three things: (1) 
I will explain the nature of Verbi sponsa in the context of the Code of Canon Law and the LCM; 
(2) then I will look at the law of papal enclosure and show why it exists and its relation to the 
Dominican monastic tradition; and (3) I will reflect upon the ways in which Verbi sponsa 
encourages Dominican nuns to make the most of the unique monastic patrimony of the Order 
of Preachers. 

(1) The Nature of Verbi sponsa in the Context of the 1983 Code and the LCM 

To properly appreciate the nature of Verbi sponsa requires that we engage ourselves 
in the legal life of the Church. As in political communities, law in the Church is directed to 
ordering the duties and rights of the members and providing the necessary and proper ways 
in which various community functions are to be performed. Also as in political societies, 
authority in the Church is exercised in the executive, legislative and judicial arenas. 6 Some 
groups in the Church (our Order, for example) confer executive and legislative power on 
different persons or bodies (priors/prioresses and chapters), comparable to the separation of 
powers in American government. However, those two powers along with the judicial are 

47 



conjoined in the office of a bishop, 7 since he is a successor of the Apostles on whom Christ 
conferred the sacred power to bind and loose. 8 

The Catholic Church is governed by her bishops, the successors of the Apostles to 
whom the Lord commended the evangelization and sanctification of all the nations. Our bishops 
are our pastors: they teach us sacred doctrine, they are priests of divine worship and they are 
ministers of governance; their three-fold pastoral authority (teaching, sanctifying and governing) 
is called their "episcopal power." A diocesan bishop is one to whom the pastoral care of a 
diocese has been entrusted; those bishops not so entrusted are called titular bishops. 
Together, all the bishops comprise the College of Bishops, whose Head is the Roman Pontiff. 
A Catholic is any baptized person who is joined with Christ by the same profession of faith, the 
same sacraments and the ecclesiastical governance of such a bishop. 9 

The Bishop of Rome, who succeeds St Peter the Apostle in that office, is the patriarch 
of the Latin Catholic Church - that is, he is the spiritual father of the Catholic people whose 
basic liturgical language (still) is Latin and whose ecclesial heritage is derived from the apostolic 
church of Rome - in other words, us. The Order of Preachers is a religious institute of the Latin 
Catholic Church. The Bishop of Rome also holds the special ministry that Jesus Christ gave 
to St Peter (the "petrine office"): he is head of the College of Bishops, the Vicar of Christ and the 
Supreme Pastor of the universal Church on earth. He is the Pope. In virtue of the special 
petrine office, the pope has full, immediate and universal episcopal power in the Church. 10 

Selected groups (synods) of bishops assist the pope in exercising his petrine office, as 
do individual bishops in various ways. 11 Of particular importance in this regard are the bishops 
who belong to the Roman Cuha - a complex of administrative, judicial and other dicastehes, 
which are similar to civil government cabinet departments, courts and agencies. The pope 
normally conducts the ministries and affairs of the universal Church through those dicasteries, 
and they act in his name and by his authority as provided by special law (which I will mention 
later). Customarily, the pope and the dicasteries of the Roman Curia as well - like the 
Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life - , are spoken of generically or collectively as 
either the Apostolic or the Holy See. 12 

The entire College of Bishops, headed by and in hierarchical communion with the pope, 
also holds supreme and full pastoral power over the universal Church. This plenary collegial 
power is solemnly manifested and exercised by a council of bishops "from the whole world," an 
ecumenical council. Once the pope confirms and promulgates the acts of such councils (i.e., 
announces them to the public and puts them into effect), those conciliar acts have obligatory 
legal force for every person, institute or practice to which they are addressed. 13 

The Church's laws appear in a variety of forms and documents. Apostolic constitutions 
are the most solemn form of legislation issued by the pope in his own name. Dealing with 
doctrinal or disciplinary subjects, they are issued only with respect to very weighty matters 
affecting the Church at large or, e.g., by erecting a new diocese. 14 The 1 983 Code was promul- 
gated by such a constitution, 15 as was the 1991 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. 16 
The most common source of papal legislation are the popes' apostolic letters written motu 
proprio (literally "on his own initiative"). These legal texts deal with matters affecting the Church 
at large that do not, however, merit an apostolic constitution. 17 

The current apostolic constitutions, motu proprios and canon law codes reflect the 
doctrine and legislative policies of Vatican Council II, which were expressed in two types of 

48 



council documents: constitutions and decrees. The constitutions of the council 18 are funda- 
mental documents addressed to the universal Church. The conciliar decrees build upon the 
principles established in the constitutions, and are specifically directed to a given apostolate 19 
or to some distinct grouping of the faithful. 20 For our purposes today, the most important 
conciliar decree was that concerning the adaptation and renewal of religious life, Perfectae 
caritatis. 2 ^ These constitutions and decrees have legal content, 22 manifesting the legislative 
authority of the College of Bishops. In some instances (for example, in the constitution on the 
liturgy), the council explicitly declared new law. In most situations it formulated principles, criteria 
and desires that entailed more concrete expression in "new laws and instructions, in new 
organisms and offices, in spiritual, cultural and moral movements, and in organizations" 23 
developed after the council and over a number of years. The chief and crowning product of that 
post-conciliar effort is the 1 983 Latin code and its companion legislation, the 1 991 Eastern code. 
But even these codes do not constitute the complete body of canon law in the Catholic Church. 
As we have already seen, continuing papal constitutions and motu proprios add to that body. 
So do the legal documents produced by the other organs of the Holy See, by other lawmaking 
communities like religious institutes, and by bishops in their particular churches. 

As instruments of papal governance, the dicasteries of the Roman Curia have been 
delegated executive authority within their diverse spheres of competence, which are governed 
by the 1988 apostolic constitution Pastor bonus 24 The curial texts in which we most frequently 
find the dicasteries exercising their authority are decrees, instructions, declarations and circular 
letters. 25 The dicastery whose competence entails everything that the law commits to the Holy 
See regarding the life and work of religious institutes - approving their constitutions; their 
manner of government and apostolate; recruitment, formation, dispensation from vows and 
dismissal of their members - that is the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life. And 
it is that congregation which has given us Verbi sponsa which, I must first of all advise you, is 
not a law. 

Verbi sponsa is an instruction which contains norms for the papal enclosure of nuns. 
Canon 34 tells us that an instruction is a document that clarifies the provisions of laws, and 
elaborates on and determines the methods to be observed in fulfilling those laws. An instruction 
is provided for the use of those persons who have the duty to see that the law is executed, and 
it obliges them in the execution of the laws. Regulations in instructions do not derogate from 
laws (they do not amend a law or lessen its force); and if an instruction's ordinations cannot be 
reconciled with the provisions of the law, then those ordinations have no force. 26 Although the 
instruction Verbi sponsa, strictly speaking, is not a legislative text, it nonetheless provides 
papally-approved norms for executing canon 667 § 3 (the law of papal enclosure) 27 and which 
oblige the nuns, their superiors and their diocesan bishops. 28 

The kinds of canonical texts I have described - apostolic constitutions and motu proprios 
from the pope, conciliar constitutions and decrees, and the normative instructions and other 
documents issued by dicasteries of the Holy See - constitute universal laws and norms. They 
bind everybody for whom they were passed, everywhere those people may be. For example, 
the 1983 Code applies to every Latin Catholic in the world. Its canons concerning individuals 
generally apply to all the Latin faithful; its provisions concerning consecrated life and the nature, 
governance, life and apostolates of religious institutes normally govern every religious 
community in the Latin Catholic Church. But there are exceptions: as canon 20 puts it, "a 
universal law in no way derogates" (annuls or subtracts) "from a particular law or a special law" 
unless the universal law itself expressly so provides. 29 

49 



Particular laws address a specific territory or place, and the people in it: (1) the entire 
territory of an episcopal conference (the United States), or (2) an ecclesiastical province (the 
Province of Philadelphia, i.e., all the dioceses in Pennsylvania), or (3) an individual diocese. For 
example, the Latin Catholic people of the diocese of Allentown may be governed by particular 
laws promulgated by competent authorities, which apply to them in addition to (and sometimes 
in place of) the universal laws addressed to Latin Catholics throughout the world. 

In contrast to universal canon law, which affects all the baptized or touches every kind 
of matter or activity in the Church, special law affects only a certain class or group of persons 
or touches only certain matters or activities. Special law differs from particular law because it 
refers to a community or activity without regard to any specific territory. For example, the 
structure and competency of the Roman Curia is defined by special law (c. 360): the apostolic 
constitution Pastor Bonus (1988). 30 Although the 1983 Code does not directly say so, it would 
seem that the proper law of an institute of consecrated life (e.g., the LCM and monastery 
directories), which applies to persons and not to territory, also falls within the category of special 
law. 31 

In fact, the 1983 Code expects religious institutes to have special law. Canon 578 
provides that "the mind of the founders and their designs regarding the nature, purpose, spirit 
and character of the institute which have been sanctioned by competent ecclesiastical authority, 
as well as its sound traditions, all of which constitute the patrimony of the institute itself, are to 
be observed faithfully by all." 32 Canon 587 requires that the fundamental norms for the 
government of a religious institute, for the discipline of its members and their incorporation and 
formation, and for the proper object of their vows, these must be contained along with the minds 
of the founders and its sound traditions in the institute's constitutions - special law for each 
religious institute, which of course is what we have in the LCM. 

So we have three pertinent and normative documents addressing papal enclosure, 
which is an aid to monastic observance to which all Dominican monasteries adhere: canon 667 
is a universal law from our supreme legislator, the Roman Pontiff; LCM 37-40 provides the 
universal proper law for the nuns of the Order of Preachers, generated from the monastery 
chapters, compiled by the Master of the Order, and approved by the competent Holy See 
dicastery; and Verbi sponsa is an instruction from that discastery, universally addressed to all 
contemplative nuns, their superiors and their bishops, supplying norms for the appropriate 
execution of canon 667. And, of course, all three texts apply to Dominican nuns: the only 
question to examine is "to what extent?" I believe the answer is, that canon 667 applies to the 
extent its provisions are not contrary to the LCM, and that the norms of Verbi sponsa apply to 
the extent they do not contradict any law. 

Now only §§ 3 and 4 of canon 667 directly apply to contemplative women's monasteries. 
Section 3 of the canon first of all repeats the age-old law that cloister in monasteries of nuns 
entirely ordered to the contemplative life is observed according to norms given by the Holy See, 
namely, the monasteries must observe papal enclosure. Second, § 3 states that other nuns' 
monasteries are to observe cloister adapted to their character and defined in their proper law. 
The first clause of LCM 37 repeats the law of papal enclosure, and specifies that this enclosure 
is in accord with the norms provided by the 1969 instruction Venite seorsum. The second 
clause of LCM 37 provides that monasteries unable to observe papal enclosure because they 
engage in external apostolates observe cloister according to "their particular statutes" (inelegant 
language when speaking about the law of religious) which the Holy See must approve. 



50 



Section 4 of canon 667 provides diocesan bishops the "faculty" - a term that means 
executive power of governance - the canon gives him authority for any good reason to enter 
the cloisters of nuns in his diocese. And furthermore, for a serious reason and with the 
superior's consent, the diocesan bishop has power to permit others to enter the cloister and 
nuns to leave it "for a truly necessary time." 33 LCM 227 also authorizes diocesan bishops to 
give the permissions provided by canon 667; moreover, since LCM 227 deals with monasteries 
in which the Master of the Order, the local Prior Provincial or a friar delegated by one of them 
is the regular superior with the power of governance over the monastery, 34 § IV of LCM 227 
gives that regular superior the same faculty to permit leaving and entering the enclosure - i.e., 
for a serious reason, with the superior's consent and only for a truly necessary time. 35 

This is a case in which the proper law of the Order grants a faculty not given by universal 
church law (so-called "common law"); and since canon 667 does not expressly prohibit any 
special law extending its permissive faculty to authorities within the Order, canon 20 supports 
the validity of LCM 227 § IV. Stated another way, even if the language of canon 667 § 4 
appears to limit this faculty to the diocesan bishop alone, that limitation does not apply to the 
Dominican nuns in virtue of their proper law. 36 

Whereas the legal provisions of canon 667 are fairly simple to compare to those of the 
LCM, the norms we find in Verbi sponsa are far more detailed and expansive. Canon 667 § 3 
and LCM 37 each describe wholly contemplative and mixed monasteries in one article; Verbi 
sponsa uses three different provisions to do so: articles 10 and 1 1 for the wholly contemplative 
convents with papal enclosures, and article 12 for the others with "constitutional cloister." It is 
noteworthy, however, that article 14 § 1 of Verbi sponsa acknowledges the variety of 
contemplative traditions among the institutes of nuns with papal enclosure, and that "some 
aspects of their separation from the world are left to particular [i.e., proper] law," subject to the 
Holy See's approval. 

There is a substantial similarity between the provisions of LCM 38 and Verbi sponsa 14 
§ 2, concerning the precincts under papal enclosure: the choir, the church, the parlors and other 
places reserved to the nuns. Whereas LCM 38 uses the language of Pope Paul VI and speaks 
of effective "material separation," 37 Verbi sponsa speaks of separation that is "physical and 
effective" to emphasize that it cannot be merely symbolic. Apparently, some monasteries broke 
cloister at liturgical celebrations: Verbi sponsa 14 § 2 expressly excludes such a practice. LCM 
83 and 38 § 1 already provide that enclosure must be observed even during the liturgy. Verbi 
sponsa 14 § 3(a) is nearly a word-for-word match to LCM 39, and they mean the same thing: 
both active enclosure (whereby the members of the monastic community are not to go beyond 
the limits circumscribed by the enclosure) and passive enclosure (whereby no one else may 
enter the precincts of the enclosure) must be maintained, except in cases provided by law. 

Verbi sponsa 15 and 16 recite policies reflected throughout the LCM, e.g., in articles 35, 
40, 1 88 and 1 89: the entire monastic community is responsible for nurturing and protecting their 
enclosure for the sake of the common life, of prayer, of their vows and sacred study; entries and 
exits must be for good and serious reasons, weighed by the superior with prudence and 
discretion, and only permitted by her when needed for the sake of the wholly contemplative 
vocation, 38 that the purpose of the Order might be better attained. 39 

All this being said, Verbi sponsa 17 § 1 provides a list of ordinary cases in which a 
superior can give permission for a nun to leave the enclosure: any case involving the health of 
the nuns or the care of an infirm nun, to exercise civil rights and situations in which the needs 

51 



of the monastery cannot otherwise be provided for. Section 2 of this article authorizes the 
superior with the consent of either her council or the chapter, following the discipline of the 
constitutions, to permit a nun's departure for up to a week, "for other just and serious reasons." 
Should the time outside the monastery need an extension beyond the week for as much as 
three months, the superior must obtain the permission of either the diocesan bishop (pursuant 
to canon 667 § 4) or the regular superior; in the case of an absence for more than three months, 
unless it involves a case of health care, she must seek the permission of the Holy See. This 
procedure is also to be used in cases involving nuns taking part in religious-formation courses 
organized among monasteries, because canon 665 § 1 (whereby major superiors can permit 
a member to live outside a house of the institute for up to a year for purposes of studies) does 
not apply to cloistered nuns. Moreover, Verbi sponsa 17 § 3 provides that, just as in cases 40 
of temporary or definitive transfers to other monasteries of the order, when it is necessary to 
send novices or professed nuns to another monastery of the order for purposes of formation, 
the superior gives her consent after the intervention of either the council or the chapter, 
following the constitutions. 

I have three observations about Verbi sponsa 17 in the context of the Code and the 
LCM. First of all, this part of the instruction provides specific norms for papal enclosure found 
nowhere else, complementing canon 667 § 3 and giving further substance to LCM 37. In 
particular, the procedure in article 1 7 § 2, for a superior to permit extended departures from the 
enclosure, requires shared governance, in the spirit of the Rule of St Augustine and according 
to the LCM. Verbi sponsa requires either the council or the chapter to advise the superior 
before she can act. LCM 21 6 § 1. 8 would appear to apply to this procedure: it provides that the 
council must give its consent whenever a serious matter must be referred to a local ordinary, 
the regular superior or the Holy See. 41 A nun's extended departure from the enclosure for 
reasons other than health is certainly a serious matter, as must be the reasons for permitting 
such a leave, and the norms provide that, if this departure may foreseeably extend beyond a 
week, the permissive faculty of the diocesan bishop or regular superior must be invoked; and 
if beyond three months, the permission of the Holy See. Obviously, no authority outside the 
monastery community is required for a superior to permit a departure for up to a week, but Verbi 
sponsa binds her to consult with and get the consent of either the chapter or the council. The 
LCM already puts the question of longer departures within the scope of the council's deliberative 
vote: they might as well advise the superior about the shorter departures. 

Another matter for consultation arises under Verbi sponsa 17 § 3: sending novices or 
nuns in temporary vows to another monastery for formation. The instruction requires some 
intervention (either consultative or deliberative) by either the council or the chapter, depending 
on what the constitutions provide in cases of temporary or definitive transfiliation. Well, it's not 
an either-or question in the LCM: articles 176 § II. 2 and 178 § 1. 2 both require a consenting 
(deliberative) majority of both bodies. 42 

My third observation concerns the relationship between the involvement of diocesan 
bishops and regular superiors in the departures envisioned in Verbi sponsa 17 § 2 and their 
permissive faculties in canon 667 § 4 and LCM 227 § IV. Verbi sponsa 21 purports to limit the 
authority of a diocesan bishop and a regular superior to permit a nun's departure from enclosure 
only to the particular cases provided in the instruction itself. 43 This it cannot do. As we have 
already seen, canon 667 § 4 gives a diocesan bishop the unrestricted power to permit nuns to 
leave the cloister for a truly necessary time for a serious reason. LCM 227 § IV provides that 
either the diocesan bishop or the regular superior may give the habitual or special permissions 
for leaving the enclosure in accord with canon 667 § 4; hence, under the special and proper law 

52 



of the Dominican nuns, the regular superior enjoys the same unrestricted right as a diocesan 
bishop. Verbi sponsa 17 § 2 limits the authority of a prioress to authorize a nun's departure 
from the enclosure beyond one week, by requiring that she obtain permissions from the bishop 
or regular superior, or from the Holy See, depending on the foreseeable duration of the 
departure. But Verbi sponsa 17 § 2 cannot restrict the rights of the bishop or the regular 
superior to the terms of the prioress's authority. The article's footnote reference to canon 667 
§ 4 merely indicates the source of a diocesan bishop's power to give the prioress authority to 
allow a nun to leave the enclosure for up to three months. Such a reading of the footnote is 
necessary since, by restricting the bishop's right freely to delegate his plenary power to a 
prioress to permit a nun's leaving the enclosure, the instruction must be strictly construed. 44 

Furthermore, Verbi sponsa is merely an instruction, which cannot derogate from 
universal or proper law. 45 Hence, although it makes limited provisions for a prioress to permit 
a nun to leave the enclosure, Verbi sponsa 17 § 2 does not address the canonical authority of 
a Dominican monastery's diocesan bishop or of its constitutional regular superior; its attempt 
to do so in article 21 lacks any legal force. 



(2) Papal Enclosure and the Dominican Monastic Tradition 

Although the 6th-century Rule for Nuns of St. Ceasarius of Aries was the first explicit rule 
for women to impose cloister as such, the law of enclosure in the Latin church dates from St. 
Augustine's 4th-century instructions to consecrated virgins, that they remain in their homes 
separated from the world. That being said, the Rule of St. Caesarius contains all the elements 
adopted by Pope Boniface VIII when he first established papal enclosure in the 1298 con- 
stitution, Periculoso 46 

By the 9th century, the standard expression of women's consecrated life was the pursuit 
of perfection according to the evangelical counsels within the monastic enclosure. In the 
religiously-explosive culture of the 13th century, the impulse to establish enclosed monasteries 
of women - Cistercian, Franciscan, as well as Dominican - also expressed an impulse to 
identify orthodox Catholics from marginal sectarians, because the women founders themselves 
(e.g., Clare of Assisi, Cecilia Cesarini & Diana d'Andolo) sought to identify their communities 
with the men seeking to live the evangelical apostolic life. Among the men, active enclosure 
was more lenient, because the monks and friars had pastoral duties (including spiritual care of 
nuns) that required frequent departures from the cloister. Within the women's communities, 
strict enclosure was the rule, not the exception. 

In giving universal directions for the monastic enclosure of nuns, Pope Boniface did 
nothing more than extend to all nuns what the Poor Clares, for example, had already been 
observing since 1219 (under the "Ugolino Rule" of Pope Gregory IX). In his 1220 letter to the 
nuns in Madrid, St Dominic himself prescribed that they "[l]et none of the sisters go outside the 
gate, and let nobody come in, except for the bishop" or some other prelate, to visitate or preach 
to them. 47 In fact, Periculoso appears to have been modeled largely on the considerable body 
of existing recent monastic legislation for women, 48 which had deep historical roots in the 
Western Church. The 1264 rule of the Poor Clares began by describing their life as "living in 
obedience, without property, and in chastity, under enclosure" 49 Unauthorized egress was only 
permitted when "inevitable and dangerous necessity" - such as fire or hostile attack made it 
impossible to gain the permission required from the Poor Clares' cardinal protector, whose very 



53 



appointment indicates that the Franciscan nuns were bound by cloister regulations issued and 
monitored by the Holy See. 50 

In 1298 Periculoso provided that all nuns, no matter what rule they observed and no 
matter where their monasteries were located, were to be perpetually cloistered. Except for the 
contagiously sick who would endanger the lives of the other nuns, sisters were under no 
circumstances to break the law of papal enclosure - either by leaving it themselves, or by 
inviting unauthorized others in. To avoid draining their limited assets, convents with resources 
inadequate to support their members - except for mendicant communities - were to accept no 
further postulants. 51 The new law authorized local bishops and other prelates to enforce these 
provisions, even in monasteries immediately subject to the protection of the Holy See. Any who 
disregarded this law would incur not only ecclesiastical sanctions, but secular penalties as well. 52 

The creation of papal enclosure manifested the pope's pastoral concern that nuns be 
able to live a cloistered, well-regulated life, appropriate to their vocation. It displayed both a 
willingness to mitigate the harshness of the cloister rules when warranted, and the intent to 
denounce behavior that failed to meet their standards. There were many reasons for creating 
and maintaining a universal law of papal enclosure for nuns of different communities: 

♦ to protect nuns from random attacks and rape; 

♦ to diminish, if not completely remove, worldly temptations so that "nuns [might] be 
able to serve God freely, wholly separated from the public and worldly gaze"; 53 

♦ to protect their autonomy and economic self-sufficiency to "sustain [their] members 
with goods and revenues, and without penury"; 54 

♦ to keep nuns from roving about, and pushy benefactors and others from intruding 
on their solitude; 

♦ and to provide the nuns with the pastoral protection and guidance that all too 
frequently the men's communities connected with them either avoided or refused 
to give. 

Bl Jordan of Saxony maintained an extensive correspondence with Bl Diana d'Andolo, 
from 1223 until she died in 1236: but he and the general chapters refused to affiliate her 
convent to the Order until 1227 - when Pope Honorius II ordered it be done. Successive 
general chapters of Cistercians, Franciscans and Dominicans forbade their Orders' further 
accepting new monasteries of nuns: they raised continuing objections, that developing the 
apostolate for nuns would absorb and distract their energies; Dominicans especially complained 
that the spiritual care of nuns diverted them from university studies. 55 By 1242, the nuns at 
Prouille and Madrid complained that the Friars Preachers had abandoned them to secular 
priests - and the Dominican general chapter of that very same year forbade all friars from giving 
the last sacraments to nuns, or from acting as their spiritual directors. The friars were forbidden 
to translate scriptures, or sermons, or conferences into the vernacular for the nuns. After the 
pope compelled the friars to take on a string of German monasteries, in 1252 they appealed to 
restrict their services to Prouille and San Sisto. 56 

Papal enclosure is the pontifical guarantee that the enclosure observance entrusted to 
you by St Dominic himself remains yours to keep. Papal enclosure is designed to protect and 
give you space to nurture your contemplative vocation, and to defend your monastic autonomy. 

54 



I hate to admit this, but time and again, the friars have been inclined to complain about the first 
and to disregard the second. 

Now this should not be all that surprising, because you're not like us. We have the same 
father - we are Dominic's children - but like most families with more than one offspring, the 
children may resemble each other, but they are not the same. We have a common patrimony 
from Our Holy Father Dominic: the service of the Word in liturgical prayer, sacred study, silence 
and contemplation; the Rule of St Augustine, the common life, evangelical poverty, fraternal 
charity, the Preacher's habit, the rosary and our saints - they belong to us all. But the enclosure 
and the monastic life it entails, that is the nuns' unique Dominican inheritance. And for nearly 
700 years, the episcopal power of the universal church has guaranteed your right to keep it. 

In fact, Verbi sponsa 26 goes to some effort to emphasize that, even when nuns' 
monasteries are associated with a corresponding institute of men, the juridical autonomy of the 
monasteries must be respected and the discipline of enclosure maintained, so that our common 
spirituality might flourish as the nuns express it uniquely in a manner entirely consistent with 
their contemplative charism. Reciprocal rights and duties between our two branches of the 
Order must be defined to safeguard the effective autonomy of each monastery. In fact, in a rare 
gasp of "women's consciousness," Verbi sponsa expressly directs that the juridical supervision 
of nuns by male superiors must be conducted in such a way that, without improper submission 
to the men, the nuns make decisions about all that concerns their religious life with freedom of 
spirit and a sense of responsibility. 

(3) Verbi sponsa and the Unique Dominican Monastic Patrimony 

So then, what are we to make of Verbi sponsa? It manifestly reaffirms - it celebrates 
- the unique calling and transcendent value of the cloistered contemplative vocation. The 
norms of enclosure are really not about walls and doors, or about going in or going out: the 
norms are about sacred space: the visibly marked and invisibly enriching environment that 
nourishes the personal and communal ambience to which monasteries have a right, so they can 
live their truly counter-cultural and eschatological vocation - free for God alone, in autonomous 
monasteries - historically the most authentic locus for the contemplative charism, even with 
respect to men, viz., Carthusians and Trappists. Verbi sponsa provides specific norms for the 
practical regulation of enclosure "so that it may better suit the range of contemplative institutes 
and the various monastic traditions." 57 

Now many of you have observed that the theological introduction to Verbi sponsa is 
redolent of the Carmelite sensibility - which to my mind indicates not only that the Carmelite 
nuns were the image in the mind of the congregation's scribes, but also that the Dominican 
monastic tradition must undertake clearly to express its own diversity, to educate your diocesan 
bishops, the friars and, yes, even the Holy See. 

Despite its prejudice toward Carmel, Verbi sponsa must be read in the context of the 
Church's teaching documents and the universal law. Perfects caritatis is deliberately generic, 
because the ecumenical council knew that each religious institute has its own special character- 
istics; more recently, the pope acknowledges the same rich diversity in Vita consecrata. 5B The 
Code of Canon Law also is deliberately generic - and, repeating the mandate of Perfectae 
caritatis, the code insists that each religious institute must identify their founders' spirit and 
special goals, and the sound traditions that give them their unique internal cultures - because 
that patrimony must animate your law, your observance and your life. 

55 



So transcend the "Carmelite stench" in Verbi sponsa, remembering that it too is a 
generic universally-addressed instruction. The Holy See expects each monastic institute of 
women to bring their own patrimony, tradition and culture to give life to these universal norms, 
in their own constitutions, directories and customary books. Glean from Verbi sponsa all that 
speaks to your Dominican patrimony, and imbue those principles with your Dominican monastic 
genius. 

The patrimony is yours to keep. Amen. Alleluia! x 



NOTES 

1. Under the name Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes, it issued the 
instruction on the contemplative life and on the enclosure of nuns Venite seorsum, on August 15, 
1969. 

2. See Codex luris Canonici. Fontium annotatione et indice Analytico-Alphabetico Auctus [hereafter, 
the "Latin code" or "1983 Code" and merely cited by canon, "c."], auctoritate loannis Pauli PP. n 
promulgatus (Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1989). 

3. See Book of the Constitutions of the Nuns of the Order of Preachers (English trans, of Liber 
Constitutionum Monialium Ordinis Praedicatorum) [hereafter, "LCM"] (1987). 

4. LCM 180 §1. 

5. See c. 1752: "... pras oculis habita salute animarum, quae in Ecclesia suprema semper lex esse 
debet." 

6. See c. 135. 

7. See, for example, c. 391 (concerning diocesan bishops). 

8. See Mt 16:19, 18:18; John 20:23. 

9. See cc. 375; 204-205. 

10. Seecc. 330-333. 

11. Seecc. 334 and 349. 

12. Seec. 360. 

13. See cc. 336-339 and 341. 

14. See generally Francis G. Morrisey, o.m.i., Papal and Curial Pronouncements: Their Canonical 
Significance in Light of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, 2d ed. rev. by M. Theriault (Ottawa: St. Paul 
Univ. 1995). 

15. John Paul n, Ap. const. Sacrae disciplinas leges, Jan. 25, 1983, Acta Apostolicaa Sedis (hereafter, 
U AAS")75(1983-II)VII-XIV. 

16. John Paul n, Ap. const. Sacri canones, Oct. 18, 1990, AAS 82 (1990) 1033-1044. And since the 
promulgation of the 1983 Code, the pope has issued several significant constitutions to complement 
general provisions of its canons. E.g., John Paul II, Ap. const. Divinus perfectionis Magister, Jan. 25, 
1983, AAS 75 (1983) 349-55, complements c. 1403 § 1 on causes of beatification and canonization; 
Ap. const. Pastor bonus, June 28, 1988, AAS 80 (1988) 841-923, complements c. 360 and reorgani- 
zes the Roman Curia; Ap. const. Spirituali militum curas, April 21 , 1 986, AAS 78 (1 986) 481-86, com- 
plements c. 569 on military chaplains and provides for military ordinariates; Ap. const. Ex corde 
Ecclesiae, August 15, 1990, AAS 82 (1990) 1475-1509, complements cc. 807-814 on Catholic 
institutions of higher education. 

56 



17. Following the promulgation of the 1 983 code, for example, the motu proprio Recognitio iuris canonici, 
Jan. 24, 1984, AAS 76 (1984) 433-434, established the commission for its authentic interpretation; 
more recently, Pope John Paul n amended both the Latin and Eastern codes by the motu proprio Ad 
tuendam fidem, May 1 8, 1 998, AAS 90 (1 998) 457-61 . 

18. There are four: two dogmatic constitutions, on the Church Lumen gentium, Nov. 21, 1964, AAS 57 
(1965) 5-67, and on divine revelation Dei Verbum, Nov. 18, 1965, AAS 58 (1966) 817-35; the con- 
stitution on the sacred liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, Dec. 4, 1963, AAS 56 (1964) 97-134; and 
the pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world Gaudium et spes, Dec. 7, 1965, AAS 
58(1966)1025-1115. 

19. For example, the decrees on the apostolate of the laity Apostolicam actuositatem, Nov. 18, 1965, 
AAS 58 (1966) 837-864, on the Church's missionary activity Ad gentes, Dec. 7, 1965, AAS 58 (1966) 
947-990, and on ecumenism Unitatis redintegratio, Nov. 21, 1964, AAS 57 (1965) 90-112. 

20. See, for example, the decrees on the Eastern churches Orientalium Ecclesiarum, Nov. 21, 1964, 
AAS 57 (1965) 76-85, and on the pastoral office of bishops in the Church Christus Dominus, Oct. 
28, 1965, AAS 58 (1966) 673-696. 

21. Vatican Council II, Decree on the adaptation and renewal of religious life Perfectae caritatis, October 
28, 1965, AAS 58 (1966) 702-712. Particularly salient provisions of the decree with respect to nuns 
are as follows: 

2. The adaptation and renewal of the religious life includes both the constant return to the 
sources of all Christian life and to the original spirit of the institutes and their adaptation to the 
changed conditions of our time. This renewal, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the 
guidance of the Church, must be advanced according to the following principles: 

a) Since the ultimate norm of the religious life is the following of Christ set forth in the Gospels, 
let this be held by all institutes as the highest rule. 

b) It redounds to the good of the Church that institutes have their own particular characteristics 
and work. Therefore let their founders' spirit and special aims they set before them as well as 
their sound traditions-all of which make up the patrimony of each institute-be faithfully held in 
honor. ... 

4. An effective renewal and adaptation demands the cooperation of all the members of the 
institute. ... For the adaptation and renewal of convents of nuns, suggestions and advice may be 
obtained also from the meetings of federations or from other assemblies lawfully convoked. ... 

7. Communities which are entirely dedicated to contemplation, so that their members in solitude 
and silence, with constant prayer and penance willingly undertaken, occupy themselves with God 
alone, retain at all times, no matter how pressing the needs of the active apostolate may be, an 
honorable place in the Mystical Body of Christ, whose "members do not all have the same function" 
(Rm 12:4). For these offer to God a sacrifice of praise which is outstanding. Moreover, the manifold 
results of their holiness lend luster to the People of God which is inspired by their example and 
which gains new members by their apostolate which is as effective as it is hidden. Thus they are 
revealed to be a glory of the Church and a wellspring of heavenly graces. Nevertheless, their 
manner of living should be revised according to the principles and criteria of adaptation and renewal 
mentioned above. However, their withdrawal from the world and the exercises proper to the 
contemplative life should be preserved with the utmost care.... 

16. Papal cloister should be maintained in the case of nuns engaged exclusively in the contem- 
plative life. However, it must be adjusted to conditions of time and place and obsolete practices 
suppressed. This should be done after due consultation with the monasteries in question. But other 
nuns applied by rule to apostolic work outside the convent should be exempted from papal cloister 
in order to enable them better to fulfill the apostolic duties entrusted to them. Nevertheless, cloister 
is to be maintained according to the prescriptions of their constitutions. AAS 58 (1966) 703-710, 
emphasis added). 

22. This is made plain by the vacationes legum - delays in implementation - ordered, e.g., for some of 
the prescriptions of Perfectae caritatis. See Paul vi, m.p. Munus apostolicum, June 10, 1966, AAS 
58 (1966) 465-466. The motu proprio Ecclesiae sanctas, II, arts. 30-32, August 6, 1966, AAS 58 

57 



(1 966) 780-781 , implemented many of the provisions of Perfects caritatis and specifically addressed 
the enclosure of nuns, reinforcing papal enclosure and abolishing minor enclosure. 

23. Paul vi, Alloc, Aug. 17, 1966, AAS 58 (1966) 800. For example, Perfectae caritatis, art.1, explicitly 
states that "the sacred synod lays down the following prescriptions ... meant to state only the general 
principles of the adaptation and renewal of the life and discipline of religious orders ... . Particular 
norms for the proper explanation and application of these principles are to be determined after the 
council by the authority in question." AAS 58 (1966) 703. 

24. See Pastor bonus, art. 14, AAS 80 (1988) 863. 

25. The 1983 only defines decrees and instructions. See cc. 29-34. General decrees contain common 
prescriptions and "are issued by a competent legislator for a community capable of receiving a law"; 
they are laws properly speaking and are governed by the prescriptions of the canons on laws. C. 29. 
Under c. 30, those who possess only executive power are not able to issue the general decree men- 
tioned in can. 29, "unless in particular cases such power has expressly been granted to them by a 
competent legislator in accord with the norm of law and the conditions stated in the act of the grant 
have been observed." E.g., Pastor bonus, art. 108, provides that the Congregation for Institutes of 
Consecrated Life "deals with everything that, in accordance with the law, belongs to the Holy See" 
concerning the life and work of religious institutes, "especially the approval of their constitutions." 
Because an institute's constitutions are laws, this provision expressly grants the congregation power 
to issue a general decree which constitutes a legislative act. See Morrisey, Papal and Curial 
Pronouncements, 26. 

General executory decrees are promulgated by publication in the AAS. C. 31 § 2. They are not 
laws, as such, but more precisely determine the methods to be observed in applying a law or urge 
the observance of laws. General executory decrees oblige those who are bound by the laws whose 
methods of application such decrees determine or whose observance they urge. Those who 
possess executive power are able to issue such decrees within the limits of their competency, e.g., 
the pertinent Holy See dicastery. Even if they are published in directories or in documents having 
some other title, general executory decrees do not derogate from laws - i.e., they neither amend nor 
supercede any law - and the prescriptions of such decrees that are contrary to laws have no force. 
Cc. 31-33. Concerning declarations, circular letters and directories, see Morrisey, Papal and Curial 
Pronouncements, 29-36. 

26. C. 34: "§ 1. Instructiones, quae nempe legum praescripta declarant atque rationes in iisdem ex- 
sequendis servandas evolunt et determinant, ad usum eorum dantur quorum est curare ut leges 
exsecutioni mandentur, eosque in legum exsecutione obligant; eas legitime edunt, intra fines suae 
competentiae, qui potestate exsecutiva gaudent. § 2. Instructionum ordinationes legibus non 
derogant, et si quae cum legum praescriptis componi nequeant, omni vi carent." Instructions also 
cease to have force through their explicit or implicit revocation by the competent authority who 
issued them or by the same authority's superior, and also through the cessation of the law for whose 
clarification or execution they were given. Ibid., § 3. 

27. See c. 667 § 3: "Monasteries of nuns which are ordered entirely to the contemplative life must 
observe papal cloister, that is, according to norms given by the Apostolic See. Other monasteries 
of nuns are to observe cloister adapted to their proper character and defined in the constitutions" 
(emphasis in original: "clausuram papalem"). 

28. See Verbi sponsa, §§ 16 & 21; c. 615. 

29. See c. 20: "A later law abrogates or derogates from an earlier law it if it states so expressly, is 
directly contrary to it, or if it completely reorders the entire matter of the earlier law; but a universal 
law in no way derogates from a particular or special law unless the law expressly provides 
otherwise." 

30. C. 569 provides that military chaplains are to be governed by special laws: i.e., the 1986 apostolic 
constitution Spirituali militum curaa, establishing the military prdinariates. That constitution further 
provides that each military ordinariate is to be governed according to additional special law: its own 
pontifically issued statutes. See Spirituali militum curse, art. I § 1, AAS 78 (1986) 482. Several 

sa 



canons of the 1983 code explicitly refer to special law. Special laws must provide for the govern- 
ance of the universal Church and the attendant powers of the College of Cardinals when the Roman 
See is vacant or entirely impeded (cc. 335; 359): e.g., the apostolic constitution Universi Dominici 
gregis, Feb. 22, 1996, AAS 88 (1996) 305-43. The Synod of Bishops is governed by special law (c. 
348 § 1): the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum celebrandde recognitus et auctus, June 24, 1969, AAS 61 
(1969) 525-39, amended August 20, 1971, AAS 63 (1971) 702-04; likewise, each episcopal 
conference (c. 448 § 2). 

31. See cc. 586-587: "C. 586 - §1. A due autonomy of life, especially of governance, is recognized for 
each institute, by which they enjoy their proper discipline in the Church and are able to preserve their 
own patrimony intact as mentioned in can. 578. §2. It belongs to local ordinaries to safeguard and 
protect this autonomy"; "C. 587 - §1. To protect more faithfully the proper vocation and identity of 
each institute, the fundamental code or constitutions of every institute must contain, besides what 
must be observed according to can. 578, fundamental norms regarding governance of the institute, 
the discipline of members, incorporation and formation of members, and the proper object of sacred 
bonds. §2. A code of this kind is approved by the competent authority of the Church and can be 
changed only with its consent. §3. In this code spiritual and juridic elements are to be joined toge- 
ther suitably; nevertheless, norms are not to be multiplied unless it is necessary. §4. Other norms 
established by the competent authority of an institute are to be collected suitably in other codes and, 
moreover can be reviewed appropriately and adapted according to the needs of places and times." 
See Morrisey, Papal and Curial Pronouncements, 42-43. 

32. C. 578. 

33. See c. 667 § 4: "Episcopus dicecesanus facultatem habet ingrediendi, iusta de causa, intra clau- 
suram monasteriorum monialium, quae sita sunt in sua dicecesi, atque permittendi, gravi de causa 
et assistente Antistita, ut alii in clausuram admittantur, ac moniales ex ipsa egrediantur ad tempus 
vere necessarium" (emphasis added). 

34. See c. 614 provides that "Monasteries of nuns which are associated with an institute of men maintain 
their own order of life and governance according to the constitutions. Mutual rights and obligations 
are to be so defined that the association is spiritually enriching." These "614 monasteries" are 
distinguished from those described in c. 615: "An autonomous monastery which has no other major 
superior beyond its own moderator and is not associated with any other institute of religious in such 
a way that the superior of the latter enjoys true power over such a monastery determined by the 
constitutions is committed to the special vigilance of the diocesan bishop according to the norm of 
law." See, e.g., LCM 228. 

35. See LCM 227: "In monasteries referred to in n. 174 § II ['In some monasteries the Master of the 
Order or the Prior Provincial enjoys power determined in these Constitutions']: § I. The regular 
superior is either the Master of the Order, the Prior Provincial, or a friar delegated by them. § II. 
The regular superior has power according to the norms of common and particular law over all the 
nuns of the monasteries under his jurisdiction. He can command them by virtue of the vow of 
obedience. ... § IV. It pertains to the diocesan bishop or to the regular superior to give either 
habitual or special permissions according to the norms of the law (cf. c. 667 §§ 3-4) for leaving and 
entering the enclosure." 

36. Likewise, the provision of LCM 228 § II. 2, extending the faculty to local ordinaries other than 
diocesan bishops may be an application of c. 20. LCM 228 deals with c. 615 monasteries (i.e., those 
not in any jurisdictional relationship with the friars and committed to the special vigilance of the 
diocesan bishop). See also Venite seorsum, § 7(c), which expressly refers to local ordinaries giving 
such permissions, and from which the constitutional provision probably arises. The express 
reference in c. 667 § 4 to a "diocesan bishop" excludes other local ordinaries. See c. 134 § 3 
("Whatever things in the canons in the realm of executive power which are attributed by name to a 
diocesan bishop are understood to pertain only to a diocesan bishop and to others equivalent to him 
in c. 381 § 2, excluding the vicar general and the episcopal vicar unless they have received a special 
mandate"). Vicars general and episcopal vicars are local ordinaries. See c. 134 §§ 1-2. As it is 
contrary to c. 667, the instruction Venite seorsum, § 7(c) could not amend the law nor itself be 

59^ 



enforceable. See c.34 § 2, supra, note 26. However, as special law, the proper law of the Order can 
make provisions that differ from the common law that are not expressly forbidden. See c. 20. 

37. See Ecclesias sanctaa, II, art. 31, AAS 58 (1966) 780. 

38. See Verbi sponsa 16 § 1; LCM 35 § III. 

39. See LCM 188. 

40. The official English translation of the phrase "sicut et ad translationes temporales aut perpetuas" errs 
in saying"a/7d to effect temporary or definitive transfers"; the official Italian translation more accu- 
rately says "as it is to effect temporary or definitive transfers" {"cosi come per effettuare trasferimenti 
temporanei o definitivi"). The important matter is that either the council or chapter vote on the nun's 
departure, not that the superior consent; in the case of transfiliations, the superior's consent is not 
required, but that of the nun who is to be transferred. See, e.g., LCM 176 § 11.1. 

41 . The pertinent part of LCM 216 § I provides as follows: "In addition to cases determined by common 
law or particular statutes, the vote of the council is deliberative ... ( 8) whenever a serious matter 
must be referred to the local ordinary or the regular superior or the Holy See." 

42. See LCM 176 § II: "For a nun to pass to another monastery of the Order by way of definitive trans- 
filiation after the time indicated in the directories, the following are required: 1) the consent of the 
nun herself; 2) the consent of the majority of the council and chapter of both monasteries ..."; and 
178 § I: "The temporary transfer of any nun to another monastery of the Order requires: 1) the 
consent of the nun herself; [and] 2) the consent of the majority of the council and chapter of both 
monasteries." 

43. See Verbi sponsa, art. 21 , clause 2: "The Diocesan Bishop or the regular Superior do not ordinarily 
intervene in the granting of dispensations from enclosure, but only in particular cases, as provided 
for in the present Instruction (sed dumtaxat peculiaribus in casibus secundum hanc ipsam 
instructionem)" (emphasis added). 

44. See cc. 137 § 1 ("Ordinary executive power can be delegated both for a single act and for all cases, 
unless the law expressly provides otherwise"); 138 ("Ordinary executive power as well as power 
delegated for all cases is to be broadly interpreted; any other is to be strictly interpreted; however, 
a person who has received delegated power is understood to have also been granted whatever is 
necessary to exercise that power"); see also c. 18 ("Laws which ... restrict the free exercise of rights 
or which contain an exception to the law are subject to a strict interpretation"). 

45. See c. 34 §2: "Regulations found in instructions do not derogate from laws, and if any of them cannot 
be reconciled with the prescriptions of laws, they lack all force." Verbi sponsa does not recite any 
language indicating that the issuing congregation received explicit delegation either to derogate from 
universal or proper law, or to render an authentic interpretation of any law; indeed, the instruction 
contains no derogating language. See Sr. Elizabeth McDonough, o.p., "Cloister for Nuns: From the 
1917 Code to the 1994 Synod," Review for Religious 54 (1995) 772-778, addressing the question 
of whether Venite seorsum restricted a diocesan bishop's power to permit a departure from 
enclosure, and reaching a similar negative conclusion. 

46. Boniface VIII, Constitution Periculoso (1298), in VI 3.16 De statu regularium c. 1. 

47. St. Dominic de Guzman, Letter (May, 1220), trans, in Early Dominicans: Selected Writings, Simon 
Tugwell, o.p., ed. (New York: The Paulist Press, 1982) 394. 

48. E.g., the general chapter legislation of the Cisterians and the 1264 papal rule of the Poor Clares. 
See generally Elizabeth Makowski, Canon Law and Cloistered Women: Periculoso and Its 
Commentators, Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Canon Law, vol. 5 (Washington: The Catholic 
University of America Press, 1997) 31-37. 

49. "... vivendo in obedientia, sine proprio, et in castitate, sub clausura." Urban IV, Bull Beata Clara, cap. 

I, BULL^RIUM ROMANUM VOl. 3, 710. 

50. See ibid., cap. II, op. cit, 710. 



60 



51 . Cf. Early Dominicans, 394: St. Dominic wrote the Madrid monastery that, "Because we can offer you 
no help in temporal ffairs, we do not want to burden you by allowing any of the brethren any authority 
to receive women or make them members of your community; only the prioress shall have such 
authority, on the advice of the community." 

52. See VI 3.16.1 and .4. 

53. Periculoso, VI 3.16, trans. Makowski, Canon Law and Cloistered Women, 135. 

54. Ibid, VI 3.16.1, op. cit., 136. 

55. See generally Jo Ann Kay McNamara, Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns through Two Millennia 
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996) 314-315. 

56. See ibid., 316. 

57. Verbi sponsa, art. 2 (emphasis added). 

58. See John Paul II, Post-synodal apostolic exhortation Vita consecrata, March 25, 1996, arts. 5-11. 




61 



COMMON LIFE IN THE DOMINICAN TRADITION: 

AN ENDURING OBSERVANCE IN THE UNITY OF THE TRIUNE GOD. 

Sr. Denise Marie, O.P. 
Summit, NJ 



I. Introduction 

Thank you for inviting me to be part this General Assembly 2000 and for the opportunity 
to explore with you the historical and theological principles which underlie our observance of 
Common Life - the first of the observances listed in our Constitutions. My personal appreciation 
for Dominican Common Life has grown tremendously through study of the sources in 
preparation for this talk and most especially by missing its blessings over the past four months 
since the death of my Father. If I speak to you then with a certain urgency and intensity about 
Common Life it is precisely because of having had to live for a time apart from the Dominican 
Communio. Isn't it true that we often understand and truly appreciate a gift only through the 
experience of its loss? The scripture that came to mind most often during this time apart is 
Jesus' parable of the sower. The seed sown among thorns are those who listen to the Word but 
the cares and anxieties over life's demands choke it off and it bears no fruit. For most of the 
world much of life's energies are absorbed by the cares and anxieties and myriads of problems 
that befall them. Yet, we, in helping to carry one another's burdens in Common Life are thereby 
freed from much of this. Taking our brothers and sisters in the Order for granted is unfor- 
tunately easy enough to do. Yet living a life wholly intent upon God, free for God alone would 
be nearly impossible without each one of them. Every individual's contribution toward the 
common good makes the goal possible and attainable for all. The main purpose for your having 
come together is to live harmoniously in our house, intent upon God in oneness of mind and 
heart. 1 

Let us begin then with a beautiful prayer of St. Augustine: 

"Make me know, O God, those wise men and women who are Yours; 

souls of fire, sparkling with light. 

May it be to them that I bind myself in your Body in the fraternal Common Life, 

with them that I associate, with them that I rejoice in You, 

Who take pleasure in taking rest in them." Amen. 2 

The theme of this Assembly: "Dwelling in the Inmost Life of God" pertains especially to 
this observance for we know that the inmost life of God is one of Trinitarian communion in love. 
The Lord Jesus revealed to us that the One God is not isolated nor self-absorbed but a personal 
communion: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To be created in the image of God is, among other 
things, to be created for personal communion, a communion which is intended to reach it's 
fullest expression in the Dominican Common Life. Gaudium et Spes hinted at this profound 
truth when it affirmed that the human person is precisely that being who can realize himself only 
by giving himself away. The Council Fathers wrote: "Man who is the only creature on earth 
which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through the sincere gift of himself." 3 
Likewise Dei Verbum reminded us that the whole point of Divine Revelation was to admit 
mankind once again into communion with the Triune God, to make us share in His intimate life 
and thus to allow us to enter into the society of love which is the Trinity (cf. n.2). Although this 

62 



sublime plan has been hampered by sin which broke every kind of relationship, yet it remains 
the great desire of the Father to reconcile us all in the unity of his own divine communion. For 
this purpose He sent His Son to restore all creation to full unity and so to reconcile everything 
in Himself by His cross (cf. Eph 1:10). And for what does Jesus pray in the Upper Room the 
night before his Passion and Death? "That all may be one as you, Father, are in me, and I in 
you; I pray that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me" (Jn 17:21). 
Ultimately, our encounter with the incarnate Christ restores the image of God in us to its full 
beauty and leads us to a life of Trinitarian communion. Although not fully attainable in this life, 
this most perfect Trinitarian unity is the exalted archetype and future perfection of all Common 
Life. St. Fulgentius of Ruspe tells us: 

We are right to pray that this unity may be brought about in us through the gift 
of the one Spirit of the Father and the Son. The Holy Trinity, the one true God, 
is of its nature unity, equality and love, and by one divine activity sanctifies its 
adopted sons. That is why Scripture says that God's love has been poured into 
our hearts by the Holy Spirit he has given us. 4 

When we live well the common life we are witnessing to our belief in the Holy Trinity! 

Some years ago a book was written by Thor Heyerdahl entitled The Ra Expeditions. In 
the book Thor recounts a dangerous sailing expedition he made from Africa to South America 
in a papyrus boat. Interestingly, it was not the ocean waves or the primitive vessel that worried 
him most, but the question of how the seven men aboard would get on with one another. They 
came from seven different countries and were of different ages, different professional skills, 
different native languages; they would be living shoulder to shoulder on a small boat for four 
months. There were many difficult moments, but all the men on board were genuinely 
committed to the expedition's goals, and so their voyage ended successfully. 

We have much in common with that expedition! In our monasteries we are very much 
in the same boat, fellow travelers in an enclosed structure that we may not easily leave. The 
voyage can be a joyful one or it can become a hell of loneliness and hurt, negativity, bickering 
and suspicion that ends in shipwreck for all. Yes, the quality of our Common Life in the mon- 
astery is of critical importance and so it remains for us to look again, as if for the first time, at the 
principles and goals of our life together. 

II. The Sources of Dominican Common Life 

In surveying the sources of Common Life we find three layers of influence. The first and 
foremost is our own book of Constitutions, coupled with the Rule of St. Augustine. These two 
were preceded in time by the early monastic tradition, particularly those considered to be 
founders of the coenobitic life, Sts. Pachomius and Basil. 

The primary source for our understanding Common Life, the Book of Constitutions is 
replete with references to this observance. Besides the texts directly related to Common Life 
it is significant to note how often the theme of communion emerges in connection with all the 
other elements of our life in a way that the earlier editions of our Constitutions did not make so 
explicit. In fact, before the 1 932 Constitutions there had been virtually no legislative tradition on 
Common Life. One had to rely solely on the Rule of St. Augustine for guidance in this area. 
Yet, our present Constitutions have no less than 33 references to Common Life from beginning 

63 



to end! The regulations that Dominic drew up for both the Friars and the Nuns flowed out of 
their living together in community with a specific common mission to be accomplished for the 
building up of the Church. The vocation of both the Friars and the Nuns is the perfection of 
charity and the salvation of souls. Thus, our Constitutions are and will continue to be not simply 
a sterile codification of law but a dynamic expression of our life together in response to God's 
call to Dominican communio and missio. 

The Constitutions of the Nuns, perhaps even more than those of the Friars, are 
impregnated with the spirituality of the Rule of St. Augustine. One cannot fully discuss these 
Constitutions then without first appreciating the richness of the Rule, read in the light of the life 
and works of the great Bishop of Hippo, who is frequently referred to as the Doctor of fraternal 
charity. "On what point must we bring our efforts to bear?" asks Augustine. "On fraternal love!" 5 
Even from his early days Augustine saw that the fundamental law of monastic life should be that 
of Christian love founded especially on the example of the first Christians found in Acts 4:32-35, 
"The community of believers were of one heart and one mind. None of them ever claimed any- 
thing as his own; rather, everything was held in common." Augustine writes of his monastery: 

Love is observed by everyone. Love is their guide as they eat, as they talk, in 
their conduct, in their demeanor. They are united in one love, and that love is 
the air they breath. What injures love is seen as an offense against God. What 
is hostile to love will be fought, will be rejected; what does harm to love must be 
suppressed that very day. For they will know that Christ and His Apostles teach 
that everything is vain if love alone is lacking, but that all is made perfect if love 
is present. 6 

Augustine was not entirely unique in establishing a monastic Common Life based on 
these sentences from Acts. Saint Pachomius and Saint Basil (4th century) also saw in the 
primitive Christian community a model for monastic living and one finds these sentences from 
Acts 4:32 in both the Coptic version of the Life of St. Pachomius and the Longer and Shorter 
Rules of St. Basil. Although Augustine clearly inherited much from his predecessors we can say 
that he applied it in a way distinctively his own. No other monastic Rule lays such stress on 
community life, to the degree that it has been consciously and forcefully made the central point 
of all monastic living. Ante Omnia... "Before all else, dear Sisters, love God and then your 
neighbor, because these are the chief commandments given to us." 7 In order to better under- 
stand the Augustinian ideal, let us look for a moment at the tradition that was handed on to him. 

III. Common Life in Pachomian and Basilian Monasticism 

Common life existed in the period of the disciples of St. Antony the Great in embryonic 
form. It was entirely at the service of the personal search for God in solitude. We are best 
informed about the coenobia that developed in upper Egypt around St. Pachomius, because 
of the substantial body of Pachomian literature that has been preserved. The system of 
Pachomius represents the earliest systematic effort toward a common life and a stable 
monasticism. Two features of Pachomius's youth should be remembered: he had been a 
soldier and the charitable life led by a Christian community had converted him. As a result of 
these two factors, we find in his monasticism, both a taste for the common life and a desire for 
discipline, order and an almost military form of government. You will recall that Pachomius was 
in reaction to the eremitical life, which he considered dangerous and potentially illusory. He 
greatly emphasized the value of brotherhood, fraternal charity and mutual assistance, and 

64 



always referred to his institute as the koinonia. He warns: "Do not be at enmity with anyone, 
because he who is at enmity with his brother is an enemy of God, and he who is at peace with 
his brother is at peace with God. Have you not learned by now that nothing is preferable to 
peace, which makes each person at peace with his brother? Even if you are free of all sin, yet 
being your brother's enemy, you are a stranger to God." 8 All that the ancient hermits had been 
doing according to their individual inclinations, became Rule in a Pachomian monastery and 
was done as a matter of observance. 

Pachomius became the model of the monastic system propagated by St. Basil who also 
broke with the eremitic ideal. Basil extensively quotes the Gospel in support of his objections 
to the solitary life. His pages on this subject in the seventh Long Rule are famous and might 
profitably be cited at some length. 

Community life offers more blessings than can be fully and easily enumerated. 
It is more advantageous than the solitary life both for preserving the goods 
bestowed on us by God and for warding off the external attacks of the Enemy. 
Consider, further, that the Lord by reason of His excessive love for man was not 
content with merely teaching the Word, but, so as to transmit to us clearly and 
exactly the example of humility in the perfection of charity, girded Himself and 
washed the feet of the disciples. Whom, therefore, will you wash? To whom will 
you minister? In comparison with whom will you be the lowest, if you live alone? 
How, moreover, in solitude, will that good and pleasant thing be accomplished, 
the dwelling of brethren together in one habitation (Ps. 132.1) which the Holy 
Spirit likens to ointment emitting its fragrance from the head of the high priest? 
(Ps. 132.2) So, it is an arena for combat, a good path of progress, continual 
discipline, and a practicing of the Lord's commandments, when brethren dwell 
together in community. This kind of life has as its aim the glory of God according 
to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said: "So let your light shine 
before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is 
in heaven." (Matt5:16) 9 

This enthusiasm for the principle of Common Life rests upon Basil's conviction that a life 
of seclusion from one's fellow men offers no scope for the practice of humility and obedience 
and is opposed to the law of charity. Such features as the common house, the common table, 
prayer in common, all of which has become constant and permanent in Western monasticism 
were original with him in the sense that he regulated and systematized these elements. 
Perhaps it can be safely said that the establishment of true coenobitical monasticism, receptive 
of both sexes and all classes, was substantially the work of St. Basil. 

IV. The Augustinian Ideal of Common Life 

The author of our own Rule followed closely upon the heels of these two legislators but 
in his own unique way. Augustine's legislation is likely the earliest Western rule we possess and 
tends to present a new strain of the earlier tradition coming from the East. For Augustine, the 
Common Life is essentially a life of spiritual friendship based on the common search for God. 
It is a Common Life of a fraternal kind where there are friends and equals who agree on the goal 
to be pursued, on the means to be employed, on the lifestyle to be practiced, and one of them 
must give the others the fraternal service of assuming the direction of the community. The 
community itself is seen as the primary instrument of formation rather than the spiritual amma 

65 



and abba of the Eastern tradition. The superior is no longer called abbot, but prior or prioress 
who is "first among equals." This, of course, was the typical kind of life our Father St. Dominic 
proposed to his first brethren in establishing the Order. 

Once again, it is Christian love which gives Augustine's theology of the monastic life its 
true flavor and we see his own personality reflected in it. Although a contemplative, he was 
clearly a gregarious person who needed other people. He always wanted to have his friends 
around him to help him toward spiritual growth. Yet, the monastery was never meant to be a 
place for casual relationships but for real commitment, a commitment in the last analysis, to be 
for others in the whole of their life's journey, in their search for wisdom, for values, for meaning. 
He was not suggesting a merely natural getting along with one another but a communion 
directly rooted in God. That is why Augustine insisted so often that the life of monks and nuns 
must be "toward God"; God is the central point; Christ the "soul" of the community whose 
relations are transformed by faith, hope, and sacrificial love. And he would have us cultivate 
not only the fulness of faith in community but also an abundance of mutual and religious 
respect. "In one another honor God", he says, " whose temples you have become." 10 

We all know well and through painful experience that this high and some would say 
almost impossible ideal cannot even begin to become a reality accept through the grace of 
Christ. This love which we know to be "gift-love" is above all a gift! It is given first in baptism 
and then only through prayer, for Augustine tells us, "To the degree that charity is present in 
you, it is exercised by a holy life; to the degree that it is imperfect, it must be obtained in 
prayer." 11 Yet, Augustine also lays great emphasis on the necessity of personal dispossession, 
detachment, and voluntary poverty. In the Rule voluntary poverty constitutes the fundamental 
requirement of the Common Life. Whoever desires to possess God in this life, insofar as it is 
possible, must radically renounce everything which can be the object of personal appropriation 
after the example of Christ who though rich became poor for our sake. Augustine tells of his 
own beginnings in Sermon 355: 

I began to assemble brothers to by my companions in the holy undertaking, men 
possessing nothing just as I possessed nothing and imitating me. Just as I sold 
my tiny bit of property and gave the proceeds to the poor, so they too who 
wished to be with me did the same, that we might live from our shared 
resources; but what we shared would be a great and very rich estate: God 
Himself. 12 

St. Augustine went further, insisting that this material poverty is only a beginning and must be 
practiced interiorly as well. In his view everything had not yet been achieved by a merely 
external renunciation. He once asked in a sermon, "What use is it to you if you stand there with 
empty hands, and yet with a heart full of greed." 13 In fact, we now need to ask why Pachomius, 
Basil and Augustine placed so much emphasis on community life? Is the reason not that they 
saw in the orientation to own's own ego , in cupidity and in individualism the principal obstacles 
to the realization of Gospel charity? The coenobitic monastic life is a program to blot out, to 
extinguish cupidity and selfishness in all its forms. This notion of dying to self is central to the 
Augustinian notion of achieving true charity in community. The point of departure then, is not 
concern for self, but a genuine concern for the interests of others. "For charity, as it is written, 
is not self-seeking, meaning that it places the common good before its own, not its own before 
the common good. So whenever you show greater concern for the common good than for your 



66 



own, you may know that you are growing in charity." 14 Therefore, all decision-making in 
Augustinian monasticism is measured by the abiding value of the common good. He says: 

In the heavenly city God will be all in all (1 Cor 15:28); there will be no individual 
enjoyment of one's own private possessions. Therefore, those who wish to 
share in that community (societas) are to accustom themselves now to prefer- 
ring the common good to their own. 15 

Isn't this one of the most difficult concepts for our fallen human nature to grasp? 
Enclosed life can become almost a breeding ground for little turfdoms. Dr. Alec Whyte once 
explained that turf is "property." It can be physical property or more importantly for us Domin- 
icans it can be intellectual property. There is a very common thing today - the multiplication of 
lawsuits about "rights" to certain ideas. We may cling, with no sign of detachment, to our 
intellectual property which is often our sometimes poorly informed opinions on things. We 
vigorously protect these ideas because they have become a part of our own personality and to 
let go of them may even cause a little death. But real emptying of oneself has much more to 
do with what we hold on to most strongly and it's usually our opinions or perhaps a particular 
work we have been given to do for the monastery. Even opinions that seem to be noble - if 
we're squeezing them too tight - then their nobility is compromised. Dr. Whyte suggests the 
value of a personal inventory on our own "turf," our own collections of things, to see which one 
could possibly be getting in the way of others living a better Common Life in our community. 16 
In the end, I suppose we have only two choices. Will it be - heroic love or colossal 
compromise? 

V. The Dominican Specificity of Common Life 

No founder, it seems, so whole-heartedly took on the Rule of Augustine and shaped a 
way of life and a system of government so thoroughly in the spirit and genius of Augustine's 
thought as did our Holy Father St. Dominic. His preference for this tradition of religious life is 
not difficult to understand. He was trained in it at Osma. He, like other medievals, would have 
spent much of his time studying the works of Augustine, which formed the basis of most libraries 
at that time. 17 If concord and unanimity had been essential in the Augustinian ideal it is no less 
so in the Dominican ideal. Father Vicaire presents the "fascination for unanimity" as a funda- 
mental trait of St. Dominic. Perhaps this is why St. Dominic, at the very beginning of the Order, 
had placed in our profession a promise of common life. We read in LCM 17:1 , "In the first days 
of the Order St. Dominic asked the brethren to promise him common life (fellowship) and 
obedience." Father Vicaire concludes, "Among all the elements which promote unity, Dominic 
from the outset, made his choice and he chose the truth of faith. His concern and his strivings 
were for the unanimity of his Order. He was aware that the source of such unanimity was to be 
found primarily in the Holy Spirit, in charity certainly, but first of all in divine truth. For Dominic, 
this truth was first and foremost a person, the principle object of his contemplation, Christ the 
Redeemer." 18 

Although no one was more community minded than Dominic, we might also call to mind 
that he would sometimes, when he walked, invite the brethren to go ahead so that he could be 
alone to pray. It is important to balance the place of community in our Dominican life by adding 
just a few words on solitude. In fact, one of the challenges that we must constantly face is the 
successful integration of Common Life with solitude. Heading the list of the elements in the 
formation of our novices, our Constitutions ask that they be instructed in "Common Life united 

67 



with silence and solitude." (LCM 1 18:11) In our Dominican vision of monastic life, solitude is a 
value which accompanies community. Why? Because without solitude there can be no 
authentic community life and vice versa. There can be risk of superficial living if the virtues are 
not also deepened and ripened in the climate of solitary prayer. Augustine serves as con- 
firmation: "It is difficult to see Christ in the crowd; a certain solitude is necessary for our mind, 
it is in a certain isolation of the attention that we see God. The crowd is unruly; vision requires 
isolation." 19 

Turning now to the Constitutions of the Nuns it is important to note the context of the 
numbers dealing with Common Life. They are located in article one of the first chapter. This 
chapter forms part of the first section, The Imitation of Christ, which in turn is part of the first 
Distinction: The Life of the Sisters. So, in the context of the life and the consecration of the 
Nuns (ch. I), the Common Life is seen to occupy a principal position. And, even before 
speaking of the vows, which are typical of all religious life, our Dominican Constitutions speak 
of the Common Life and how we must be imbued with the community dimension. Fr. Damian 
Byrne, when Master of the Order, put it this way: 

What we share in a special way is the fact of having an orientation to the 
community, and that our tradition is collegial. We must experience and realize 
this correctly, if we intend to be authentic Dominicans. This collegial and com- 
munitarian orientation and consensus must be the basis not only of our 
government, but also of our approach to practical problems such as formation, 
isolation, autonomy and enclosure.... [Also], the special role of the nuns in the 
preaching mission of the Order consists precisely in the community, which is the 
initial testimony to what is preached. Our testimony is the consequence primarily 
of our common life. The community is the place where the Word is born and 
lives. 20 

LCM 3 presents to us the principle elements that we are to live in unanimity. They are 
faith, contemplation, the liturgy (of praise and the Eucharist) and poverty. In paragraph two of 
this number we are shown how the manner of "living the vows" is strongly characterized by our 
life of fraternal communion. We are of one mind through obedience. Hence Fr. Vicaire notes, 
"Our obedience is not the obedience of an isolated woman who has made a private vow of 
obedience; it is primarily a necessity for community life. The same is true of our chastity 
practiced in a state of common life; our vow of chastity is the vow of women sustained by a 
loving community. In reflecting on the early Dominicans Vicaire says: Both as a safeguard and 
as a flowering, the common life gave to their chastity that lovable and radiating aspect which 
was so striking in St. Dominic. As for poverty, with all the more reason, it is the poverty of those 
living in community" 21 

If we were to ask the question of how the Common Life leads us to the goal of 
Dominican life, we could sum it up as follows: Dominican Common Life promotes the formation 
of virtue by the very regularity of our life, by the influence and good example of those around 
us, from the possibility of receiving necessary fraternal correction. It supports us in our desire 
for radical detachment from the world and through the common celebration of the liturgy and 
the sacraments nourishes us in the love of our Savior and the brethren. Our common sharing 
in the Holy Eucharist is the sign par excellence of our unity and the bond of our charity. 
Augustine proclaims: 



68 



Take, then, and eat the body of Christ, for by the body of Christ you are made 
members of Christ. Take also and drink the blood of Christ. Lest there be 
division among you, eat of that which binds you together. Lest you appear of 
little worth in your own eyes, drink of the great price that was paid for you. 22 

Common Life is also a supportive environment for prayer and study. Saint Albert the 
Great wrote of the pleasure of seeking the truth together: "In dulcedine societas quaerens 
veritatem." 23 For us, study is essentially the entry into a community of people who seek the 
truth. Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP comments that: 

Central to learning how to think is discovering how to live with other people, how 
to listen to them, how to learn from them. This is perhaps the hardest task of 
all... learning how to live with those who are different, who think differently... 
Central to any true study is that deep humility which exposes one to people who 
are not like one. How can I ever have a hope of understanding St. Augustine for 
instance, if I am locked in silence with a brother or sister because he or she has 
different views from me... 24 

St. Thomas Aquinas, writes that solitude befits the contemplative who has already 
attained to perfection but that man is assisted in attaining this perfection by the fellowship of 
others in two ways. 

First, as regards his intellect, to the effect of his being instructed in that which he 
has to contemplate; wherefore Jerome says: "It pleases me that you have the 
fellowship of holy men, and teach not yourself." Secondly, as regards the 
affections, seeing that our noisome affections are restrained by the example and 
reproof which we receive from others.... Hence a social life is necessary for the 
practice of perfection. 25 

Thus, the orientation to communion and community has always been a basic principle 
in the Order. In the past few decades, however, it has been given increasing attention - urging 
us to a heightened awareness of how much more community means for us Dominicans than 
living in the same house and following a common schedule. Today probably more young people 
are drawn to religious life by the search for authentic community than for any other reason. But 
if community is what draws the young to religious life, it is most likely the difficulty of community 
living that makes so many give up. Father Timothy again sheds light on this situation: 

We aspire to communion and yet it is so painful to live. When I meet young 
Dominicans in formation, I often ask what they find best and worst about 
religious life, and they usually give the same answer to both questions: living in 
community. That is because we are all the children of this age, moulded by its 
perception of the modern self... We enter religious life aspiring for community, 
longing to be truly brothers and sisters of each other, and yet we are products 
of modernity, marked by its individualism, its fear of commitment, its hunger for 
independence. Most of us are born into families with 1 .5 children and it is hard 
to live with the crowd. And so the modern self and the religious life are alter- 
native aspects of the same tension. The modern self dreams of an impossible 
autonomy, and we religious aspire to a community which is hard to sustain... 
There is the slow education in becoming human, in learning to speak and to 

69 



hear, to break the hold of self-absorption and egoism, which makes oneself the 
centre of the world. 26 

Perhaps the beginning of the 21 st century will prove to be a certain "fulness of time" for 
a renewed understanding and commitment to Dominican Common Life. We in the post-modern 
age, despite the immense potential of science, technology and the communications explosion 
have arrived at a time of disenchantment about the possibility of any real fulfillment coming from 
these things. The euphoria over unlimited individual fulfillment has finally eroded and there 
seems to be, especially among the young, a profound disillusionment with the relentless press 
toward individualism. Hence, the time is ripe to hand on to those who come to us this beautiful 
legacy of Augustine and Dominic by the concrete example of our lives and not merely by the 
testimony of our documentation. Western society tells us of progress but seems to be leading 
toward poverty. It offers us freedom, and yet this often breeds nothing but powerlessness. It 
invites us to be the modern self, autonomous and alone, and yet we know that we cannot be 
fully human without going beyond ourselves in community. We, by the grace of God, can 
respond to the young in their hunger for true meaning by embodying the Augustinian-Dominican 
ideal in our lives. And when we do this out of love with that respect and that trust which comes 
from acknowledging the presence of God in one another, than difficulties not withstanding, unity 
and harmony in our communities will flourish. And we will know that interior peace which God 
alone can grant to his children. 

I can think of no more fitting way to conclude, than with another prayer of St. Augustine 
from the end of his treatise on The Trinity: 

You will be alone, O Triune God, to be all in all 

and eternally we shall all sing together but one praise, Yours, 

having become but one ourselves in your unity. 

It is then through fraternal charity, a charity that will continue eternally 

and in the measure of that fraternal charity, 

that we shall see God, and in a perfect manner. Amen. 

X 



NOTES 

1 . St. Augustine, Rule, chap. 1 ,#3, from The Book of Constitutions of the Nuns of the Order of Preach- 
ers (1987), p.11. 

2. Sermon 139, 7.7 

3. Gaudium et Spes, The Documents of Vatican II, Abbot-Gallagher ed. (New York: Guild Press 1 966) 
#24.2 

4. St. Fulgentius of Ruspe, in The Liturgy of the Hours^ vol. II, (New York: Catholic Book Publ. Co, 
1976), p. 652. 

5. Homilies on the First Letter of John, 5,7. 

6. The Ways of the Catholic Church, 1 .33.73, PL 32. 

7. Rule of St. Augustine, chap. 1 ,#1 , ibid. , p. 1 1 . 

8. Pachomian Koinonia, trans. Armand Veilleux (Kalamazoo, Ml: Cistercian Publ., 1981), vol. I. 

9. Saint Basil the Great, The Ascetical Works,, in The Fathers of the Church, vol. 9, p.250f. 

70 



10. Rule, chap. 1, #9, ibid., p. 12. 

11. Sermon 209.1. 

12. Sermon 355.2 

13. Exposition on the Psalms, Ps. 51.14. 

14. St. Augustine, Rule, chap. 5,#31, ibid, p. 16. 

15. Exposition on the Psalms, Ps. 105.34, alluding to Phil 2:21. 

16. Alec J. Whyte, M.D., Conference given at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary, Summit, N.J., 
August 2000. 

17. Cf. Fr. Gabriel O'Donnell, OP, Freedom Through The Community, at the 1989 General Assembly, 
publ. In Dominican Monastic Search 7-A (1989), p. 54ff. 

18. Marie-H-Vicaire, OP, The Genius of St. Dominic (Nagpur, India: Dominican Publications, Seminary 
Hill, s.d.), p.23. 

1 9. Homilies on the Gospel of John 17.11. 

20. Letter to the Nuns (Rome, May 28, 1992), pp. 4-7. 

21. Ibid., p. 101. 

22. Philip T. Weller, STD, Selected Easter Sermons of St. Augustine ± (St. Louis, Ml: B. Herder Book 
Co., 1959), p.26. 

23. In Libr. viii Politicorum C.G. 

24. Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP, "Integral Formation," in Sing a New Song (Springfield, IL: Templegate 
Publishers, 1999), pp. 269. 

25. ST, ll-llae, q. 188, art. 8. 

26. "The Bear and the Nun," ibid., pp. 224-227. 



71 



STUDY IS A PRAYER TO TRUTH 
Jesus, pure Truth, teach us the Truth. 



Sr. Mary of Jesus, O.P. 
Bronx, NY 



I. Role of the observance in promoting the goal of our life. 

At the beginning and the end of my talk, I will use a picture and a defining quotation from 
Scripture to ground my topic. Wisdom has built herself a house [Prov 9:1]. 

We tend to think of Gothic cathedrals in terms of vertical lines, harmony and windows. 
In Old Toulouse the Eglise des Jacobins dates to the mid-thirteenth century. It is Southern 
French in style rather than classically Gothic, but from the same time frame and it retains the 
basics along with its own eccentric adaptations: two naves with a single row of lofty pillars 
running down the center of its great length, and supporting a high vaulted roof (crown of vaulting 
is about 1 80 feet, the windows 50 feet high). The colors of this Dominican Church are described 
as creamy white columns against walls of mulberry brick-work. 1 

It is characteristic of the Gothic form that the ceiling, the vault and the roof appear to be 
leaping or springing to the sky supported by the piers and columns. The windows take the place 
of large portions of the walls. They let in light and shine out, they depict the mirabilia Dei. There 
is a dependent relationship among all the parts. This harmony is essential, since removing any 
component destroys the whole structure. 

Can we make a comparison of our Dominican life to the Gothic cathedral? 2 

To regular observance belong all the elements that constitute our Dominican life 
and order it through a common discipline. Outstanding among these elements 
are common life, the celebration of the liturgy and private prayer, the 
observance of the vows and the study of sacred truth [LCM10:II]. 

Proverbs says, Wisdom has built herself a house. Dominic also built himself an edifice. 
The vertical lines draw us upward to God from whom we come. The level or horizontal lines 
reach out symbolically to each member in a community united with one mind and heart, with 
one common goal. Each of the basic elements builds up the edifice, like each member builds 
the community, into a unified whole. 

The purpose of all regular observance is that the word of God may dwell 
abundantly in the monastery [96: 1 1], that all may dwell in charity with one 
mind and heart [Rule of St. Augustine]. 

We are to be Women of the Word. We are called to listen, celebrate and keep that 
Word in our hearts; to clarify, illuminate and share. 

We can think of the Gothic columns in terms of the four basic elements that make up 
our Dominican monastic life - all of these are important, but for this discussion, we will focus on 
the one column that represents STUDY. 

72 



In the cathedral, the vertical lines remind us of God who is the primary thrust of our study 
[LCM 101:1] and the horizontal speaks of our Augustinian community of equals. 

Study is the defining feature of our charism; it distinguishes us as Dominicans. We study 
to shape us more deeply into friends of God. "Study is not learning how to be clever but how 
to listen." 3 Learning is never an end in itself, but the means to deepening one's understanding 
of and love of God. We seek always to grow more deeply into the Truth which is God, through 
the Scriptures which reveal God. As Dominicans, we believe that we can be intimately changed 
by study. We believe that we can find credibility and certitude through an informed faith. 

Study is an opening to TRUTH, the beginning of the wisdom foreseen in the Old 
Testament; it is not so much an information-path, as the way to the Other. Through our study, 
we, as Dominicans, are called to plunge ourselves into the Mystery that is the life of the Trinity. 

In architecture, as in study, harmony is essential. Study does not exist in a vacuum but 
in the community. Excluding any of the elements of our life changes our study. Dominican 
study is a life-long endeavor. The Primitive Constitutions of the Friars tell us that "the first thing 
we should aim at in all our study is to fit ourselves to be of service to the souls of others" since 
"the special purpose for which the Order was founded is preaching and the salvation of souls" 
[Prologue]. Service for us as nuns, is firmly grounded in our contemplation and charity to all. 
Our study, I believe, should lead us deeper into prayer and contemplation, and into the reality 
of the communal life that is a preliminary step and foretaste of the Trinitarian union with the 
blessed. 

From our very beginnings, Dominicans have reverenced learning and scholarship. 
Dominic himself led his small company of preaching friars to the school of Alexander Stavensby 
for the furtherance of their education. It was not just the six friars that studied, but Dominic as 
well. 4 Study is for all. 

"The brethren should persevere in study and in doing so should recognize that they are 
constantly in one another's debt" [LCO 84]. This is a service of study and a communal 
exchange of ideas and ideals. Not merely for a word spoken is one in debt, but in owing the 
word of encouragement and hope that is needed. Our prayer and study will encourage us to 
speak the prophetic word: the word of challenge, of comfort, the word that is needed. Albert 
spoke of the pleasure of seeking the truth together in community ("in dulcedine societatis 
quaerere veritatem") 5 

In the medieval world few people were able to read so the windows of the cathedral 
became their Bible, their way to the wonders of salvation history. The windows told the story 
of God and also provided light for the worshiping community. We can see the fruits of our study 
of sacred truth, the result of our study in our knowledge and love of God, and our communion 
with our brothers and sisters in God through sharing that faith: contemplata et aliis tradere. At 
a meeting at Santa Sabina in March [2000], Sr. Mary Thomas of Oslo used the image of a tent 
or tipi to exemplify our presence - and that our preaching, our living, was the light shining forth 
when the flaps were pulled back. The tent was not dismantled, it was opened and the result 
was illuminating. Going back to my Cathedral image, as with a window, the Light of Christ 
shines out. I couldn't help thinking of the Gospel so often used for StDominic's feast, the lamp 
set on a stand where it gives light to all [Mt 5]. More of our study needs to be shared, it must 
"shine forth like shook foil" to use Hopkins's expression, for it to be truly an effective preaching 

73 



tool. Can we not say that our study must be prayerful, God-oriented and prophetic, that it reflect 
in a faithful way our age, and that it be not merely for personal edification but actually be a form 
of our preaching: for example, in conversation or disputatio? 

In looking at the observance, we find that study is formative, a life-time enterprise, a form 
of ascesis, an aid to prayer, an aid to psychological growth, and a help in logical thinking which 
is important in our community and interpersonal relations. Our Constitutions clearly spell these 
out. One studies to achieve intellectual understanding, which in turn aids human maturity and 
balance. We are told it is a fruitful preparation for lectio divina [100:1]. It nourishes faith and 
helps us to contemplate the mystery of salvation [101]. "Christ, the fullness of revelation, has, 
by the gift of His Spirit made known the mystery of the will of the Father, through His Church and 
by His light enables human beings to scrutinize it [Heb 1:1-2 and Eph 1:9]. Study is simply 
that." 6 

Study does have an ascetical role; it is a discipline to persevere at one's study when 
a million things distract. A Dominican's "cross" has been seen both as one's desk or communal 
life. Study, the acquiring and sharing of truth, can also cause conflict or disputatio which should 
lead to a resolution [the God-like task of bringing order into chaos]. 

...the sisters must never forget that monastic theology is a theology of charity, 
constructed on the revelation of the God of Love and on the expression of the 
love of God that is the community. It is God - Charity that fashions us together 
in the image of God; from this it follows that a deepening of the heart must 
gradually take place. Study is then at the service of our common goal: to live in 
love at the service of the God of Love. It becomes a form of praise, of thanks- 
giving, a 'home-place' for our experience of God. 7 

On a practical note the Constitutions [102] turn to the actual provision for study. There 
must be scheduled lectures on appropriate material. The work schedule of the nuns must 
always give priority to the Divine Office and prayer, as well as to the necessity for lectio divina 
and doctrinal study [106:1]. Adequate time is to be allotted to the sisters during the week (no 
long stretches of inactivity in the area of study). Discussion periods allow for sharing of 
information and clarification of understanding and enhance the up-building of the community 
[LCM 102:1; ref to LCM 6:11]. Our libraries must be adequate. Even in the early days of the 
Order despite great poverty, our friars were supplied with funds for the necessary books. 

The directories should provide for a suitable course of study to cover the whole period 
of formation [1 19:11]. Study helps to shape and mold us; our formative years in the Order are 
critical. They are like an apprenticeship, a formation to the Word of God. Richard Lischer, 8 in 
speaking of Martin Luther King, described him as being "apprenticed to the Word." That would 
not be a bad definition of formation in our tradition: attuned. ..waiting. ..studying. ..anxious to hear 
....listening to Jesus who is the gentle but persistent Truth. 

Briefly I should mention the Ratio Formationis developed in 1993 by our novice 
mistresses to aid each other in the forming of new sisters to our Dominican life. This has 
provided guidelines and a tool for the formation program that is of assistance to the individual 
sisters, to the novice directress herself, and to the community in formulating the section on 
formation in the directories. 



74 



I believe that our tradition is a "broad and joyous" one in its view of the richness and 
diversity and individuality of each person and their capacity to make use of their intellectual gifts 
as a means of attaining to God. 

WWW 



II. Consideration of the observance in the light of our theological tradition. 

There seems to be in every Dominican a deep-seated desire, a passionate longing to 
know God and about God in a deeper way. From Thomas's earliest days, he asked people 
"What is God?" It's an old story passed down in the family. Isn't this our question, too? What 
is God, my relationship to him, my end? How is a Dominican's answer different from any other 
group's in the Church? 

We are a rational, thinking Order, holistic, joyous, faith and hope-filled; people seeking 
a common ground in charity. We like to have things clarified and in their proper place. In our 
early history, one has only to look at the number of guides, penitentials, sermon outlines and 
commentaries. We like precision, exactitude, sometimes definitions and always, answers. 

Can we not also look at our observance of study in terms of the great mysteries of our 
faith: the Trinity, Incarnation and Eucharist? Can we consider its centrality in the virtuous life 
as Thomas envisioned it in the Summa, in the preaching of the Order? 

Trinitarian 

Our study, as is our life, is Trinitarian. This is our beginning and end; this is our life lived 
now through grace and later in glory. What is our goal, our telos, and how will we lay hold of it? 
Is it not our union with the Triune God? "God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan 
of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life" [CCC#1]. We 
are called to be conformed to the risen Christ and transformed through the grace of Resur- 
rection: this means being caught up into very life of God, 

...imitating Christ more perfectly and sharing his life more abundantly, to con- 
versing with the Blessed Trinity dwelling in the sanctuary of the soul, cleaving to 
the Divine Persons by faith, hope and charity, and finally, to the embracing of 
everyone in the heart of Christ. 9 

The life of virtue, participation in the liturgy, the penetration of the Word through study, 
lectio and prayer; all these inform our lives. This leads to the gradual assimilation of and trans- 
formation into the imago Dei. All work together in the formation of the fully alive Christian and 
Dominican. We live out of, in and towards the great Trinitarian relationship; all our actions and 
desires need to be subordinated to this goal. Not only will our faith guide us, but also our ability 
to reason. 

Incarnaiional 

Our Order grew out of a tradition where reason and faith went hand in hand. Dominic's 
own struggle against the Albigensian heresy, that dualistic approach which denied the goodness 
of God's own creation, was a demonstration of this unity. Because of the Incarnation, "the Word 



75 



became flesh" [Jn 1 :14], sinful humanity was once again able to attain to beatitude by conformity 
to his image through grace: we could not earn our salvation, but we could cooperate in it. 

Our study is an affirmation of this ability to find the good in created matter. We believe 
that we are capable of understanding, coming to some certainty through our God-given intellect. 
Study is a disciplined and rational approach to a question or problem with the possibility of 
coming to and living out the result. This is of course always premised by the Incarnate Son of 
God who is the Father's revelation and our paradigm. 10 Dominicans have a confidence in the 
possibility and value of study because they have a confidence in the gift and gifting of God. 
Having open ears to hear the question and eyes to see the living situation, our reason, coupled 
with faith, can aid us in attaining to a solution. 

In our desire to be fast-knit to Christ Jesus, our study can be a struggle. "The attraction 
to God is a straining movement [Ph 3:13]. The nun's vocation is to savor the Word, to be wholly 
drawn towards the Lord, towards the Word of the Father" 11 (this through study, lectio and 
prayer). 

Eucharistic 

The Berakah prayers of the Jewish tradition are blessing prayers that praise God for all 
his works; in addition to thanksgiving, there are often prayers of supplication and contrition. Our 
Eucharistic prayers came out of this tradition. They basically combine elements of praise or 
blessing with thanksgiving. One of the mottos of the Order is "to praise, to bless, and to 
preach." This sense of 'blessing' for Dominicans has always included praise, thankfulness and 
joy: because everything about God and from him is good. 

Fr. Timothy has described study as a eucharistic act; it is a recognition of mind and 
rationality as the gift of God, the use of which 'rejoices' God. "We open our hands to receive 
the gifts of tradition rich with knowledge." 12 Study implicitly acknowledges the capacity to 
grapple with and grasp a text, a question or a situation. It confronts the wave of fundamentalism 
sweeping the globe that says we must accept without understanding. Finally, study proclaims 
the accessability of Truth over and against the mainstream mistrust of any basic certitude. 

Thomas's treatment of Study as virtue 

For Thomas, study is the keen application of the mind to something; studiousness is 
properly about knowledge and truth. It should be transformative, bringing one into caritas, a 
deeper relationship with God, our brothers and sisters. Basil Cole, in an excellent article on the 
spirituality of study, emphasizes the need to integrate study with prayer in the virtuous life. 13 
Study becomes faith seeking understanding. Faith builds upon and perfects reason [ST, I, 1, 
8ad2]. 14 

There can be a misuse of study, called by Thomas curiositas [ST, ll-ll, 167, 1 & 2] which 
manifests itself as an inordinate absorption in unnecessary pursuits or a pride in one's accom- 
plishments, which could in our case lead to an avoidance of prayer or community life. He cites 
Augustine, "in the study of creatures we must not exercise an empty and futile curiosity, but 
should make them the stepping-stone to things unperishable and everlasting" [ST, ll-ll, 1 80, 4]. 

Thomas's account of studiositas or studiousness is placed under the cardinal virtue of 
temperance since it is to be regulated by reason. Studiousness [ST, ll-ll, 166, 1 & 2] must be 
subjugated to our goal, fueled by holy desire, to grasp more deeply the truths of the faith that 

76 



this understanding may in turn be nourishment for ourselves as well as others. John Courtney 
Murray gave the following description of a theologian that, I believe, especially fits a Dominican: 

The way of man to the knowledge of God is to follow all of the scattered scintillae 
that the Logos has strewn throughout history and across the face of the heavens 
and the earth until they all fuse in the darkness that is the unapproachable Light. 
Along this way of affirmation and negation all the resources of language, as of 
thought, must be exploited until they are exhausted. Only then may man 
confess his ignorance and have recourse to silence. But this ignorance is 
knowledge, as this silence is itself a language - the language of adoration. 15 

Preaching 

Briefly I would like to mention a word about Preaching in terms of study. The Funda- 
mental Constitution of the Order refer to all the members as sharers of the apostolic mission, 
the life of the Apostles in the form conceived by St. Dominic [IV]. 

The nuns of the Order had their beginnings at the monastery of Blessed Mary of Prouille. 
We are told that Father Dominic associated women with his "holy preaching" by their prayer and 
penance, [FCM 1:1] and indeed they formed the Holy Preaching of Prouille. Women of the 
Word, our preaching consists in seeking, pondering and calling upon him in solitude so that the 
word proceeding from the mouth of God may not return to him empty, but may accomplish 
those things for which it was sent [FCM 1:11]. 

Both the friars and the nuns share a common spirituality in the basic elements of 
Dominican life, and they are continually transformed through these very foundations: common 
life, vows, celebration of the liturgy and study. In his letter on study, Fr. Timothy recounts how 
Simone Weil wrote to Fr. Perrin that desire must be the basis of study: "the intelligence can only 
be led by desire." 16 Study carries a person out of himself toward the object of his dreams. 

"First the bow is bent in study, then the arrow is released in preaching" [Arcus 
tediturin studio, postea sagittatur in praedicatione]. The "bow bent in study [the 
mind inclined to God in study and contemplation]... gives power to and deter- 
mines the trajectory of the arrow of preaching. ..be it sounded from the pulpit, or 
as it appears on the frescoed walls of a mendicant church," 17 or... as prayed in 
a cloistered garden. 

^ * * 



III. An historical account of some of the ways that the living of the observance of STUDY 
has developed or changed . 

Our holy Father drew up a rule to be followed and constantly showed a 
father's love and care for these nuns and for others established later in the same 
way of life. In fact, "they had no other master to instruct them about the Order." 
Finally, he entrusted them as part of the same Order to the fraternal concern of 
his sons. [FCM 1:1]. 

Our Constitutions and tradition presuppose Dominic gave a way of life with a rule [c. 
1206]. There is a lack of information regarding the earliest Prouille constitutions -whether there 

77 



were indeed anything resembling Constitutions this early. First came the living and experi- 
mentation, then the codifying followed. After the friars were established in 1216, Dominic 
probably planned to harmonize the Prouille rule making them both more compatible. When he 
was establishing the nuns at San Sisto in Rome, he brought sisters from Prouille who would 
train the newly formed group, some of whom would also take back to Prouille the new 
legislation. The earliest extant constitutions are those of San Sisto. As we look at the early 
expansion of the nuns (the proliferation of monasteries and groups seeking to be affiliated to 
the Order), we find that they were trying to adapt the Friars' Constitutions as meaningful and 
providing identity and stability. Hinnebusch speaks of this as indicative of the early period. 18 

In the 1226 San Sisto Constitutions (Vatican Archives) we find: 

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.' 19 

Sr. Marie-Ancilla makes the note that eruditio litterarum referred to the "Scriptures" in 
Augustine's writings, suggesting that the study of Scripture had its place in San Sisto. 20 

By Humbert's edition of the Nuns' Constitutions [1259], mention of study is lost. We can 
presume its continuance, but must look to the evidence of schools, scriptoria, libraries, lectures, 
talks, mention of writings, safeguarded in archives or in annals (certainly there are Elsbeth 
Stagel's notes for Henry Suso's biography and spiritual biographies of many of the nuns). 21 
Attempts to harmonize the constitutions of the nuns (this would include the section on Study) 
with that of Friars' up until1259 and again in 1971 were based on a desire for uniformity within 
the Order, and later the Vatican II mandate of Perfectae Caritatis to return to the sources. 

St. Raymond's and Humbert of Romans' adaptations of the nun's rule/constitutions was 
to conform it to the canon law of the day, as well as bring them into some conformity with the 
Constitutions of the Friars. Unfortunately, the section on study in the Constitutions was lost from 
1259 until the 1971 Interim Constitutions. Perhaps it is time to once again look to the Con- 
stitutions of our brothers for LCM, as in the beginning. 

Benedict Ashley, 22 in his book The Dominicans, has a fascinating chapter on what he 
calls the "Age of Compromise (1800's)" a century in which the Order very nearly died out. A 
strong anti-intellectua! trend prevailed throughout the Order, so much so that John Henry 
Newman upon becoming a Catholic was told that the Dominicans were a "a noble ideal, now 
dead." This anti-intellectual tendency was inadvertently absorbed by the nuns. 

Religious life in France was severely compromised by the French Revolution. Nuns and 
priests were murdered or exiled; schools, hospitals and monasteries were destroyed or com- 
mandeered by the government. Religious went into hiding, expecting to return when the worst 
of the terror was ended. Eventually small groups of nuns and priests did come back; some tried 
to return to their former residences. Often, these had been ruined. It was a time of great 
discouragement and grief, but also one of new beginnings. 

To Pere Henri Lacordaire we owe the restoration of the Order in France. For him, the 
re-evangelization of France was the ideal field of enterprise for the restored Order of Preachers. 
But his view of restoration differed at times with other members of the Order. Lacordaire saw 

78 



the restoration as a renewal and re-creation, not simply a return to the past, to the pre-French 
Revolution life-style or an idealized view of the Middle Ages with all its laws and practices. 
Almost immediately, an intense reformist reaction was undertaken by his recruit, Pere Vincent 
Jandel, Vicar General from 1850, Master General from 1855-1872, who strongly favored 
Romantic Catholicism, a prevalent view of the day which looked back to the Middle Ages as the 
Age of Faith. He endorsed a very literal view of law and observances. 23 Jandel's inclination to 
strict monastic observance was taken up by the French monasteries. Because of the problems 
of poverty in the monasteries (intensified by the Franco-Prussian War, the increase of 
foundations, sheer existence, and later World War I), there was a great emphasis on work 
rather than on study - more in keeping with monasticism in the Benedictine mode than with our 
Dominican tradition. 

Within the reformed and reestablished Dominican women religious, there seems to have 
been an added ideological split. The first group emphasized our Augustinian roots with its 
strong view of community; many of these evolved into active, teaching and nursing groups, 
some of which became missionaries. The second approach stressed the observances of the 
life through asceticism (even to the detriment of its Augustinian sense of community) while 
attempting to return to what was seen as its "pure" monastic ideal. 24 

All the American monasteries are founded directly or indirectly from these French 
houses where the nuns had struggled to keep the Dominican charism alive despite exile, 
suffering and severe poverty. Their heritage is indeed a noble one, but as is clear from this brief 
presentation, the relentless demands of survival left little time for anything but prayer and hard 
manual labor. Study passed out of the picture as a basic element of the life. 

By the 20 th century, a certain homogenization of religious or monastic life took place, an 
overall monastic leveling which was further solidified in the 1917 Code of Canon Law and sub- 
sequent documents which tended to overlook traditional differences. Much of the uniqueness 
of the individual Orders was down-played or lost, including the importance of study for the nuns 
in our tradition. 

Although the 1930 Constitutions still make no mention of study for the nuns, Master 
General Gillet, in his letter of introduction, speaks of the young women entering who "bring 
certain dispositions of mind unknown to their elders," who have "a desire to know and under- 
stand religious questions." As a basis for prayer and as an efficacious means of sanctification, 
he speaks to the need for doctrinal teaching. The Acta Apostolicae Sedis guidelines [27-1-30], 
recommending instruction in Christian doctrine for all novices prior to profession, are appended 
to the Book of Constitutions: it was not sufficient only to memorize, the sisters must be able to 
explain their faith. 

In the pre-Vatican II days, study could entail memorization of portions of the Gospels and 
explanations of what they meant with recourse to the Fathers; and also the doctrine or cate- 
chism which was required to pass the Council evaluation for Profession. Spiritual reading was 
of varied quality as libraries were poor with limited access; Dominican or diocesan fathers did 
give talks, based very much on the seminary courses they would be teaching. Theological 
instruction could and did include lectures on prayer, the indwelling Trinity, the virtuous life, but 
the theologians were not everywhere and at all times available. Input was dependent on 
availability. 



79 



Some examples of changes since Vatican II 

The Dominican nun is a student of the heart of God; she is involved with, and in 
converse with God. Study should be clearly adapted to the end of the contemplative life; to 
what is conducive for spiritual growth. While the Scripture and the sacraments are formative, 
the Dominican also draws nourishment from the Fathers along with the great teachers and 
doctors of the faith, especially our brother Thomas who takes the pre-eminent position [LCM 
101:11 & III]. 

In the formation of each sister, the intellectual capacity is critical and must be taken into 
account. Study demands grounding in the life along with instruction that will aid and not hinder 
the one seeking God. The Sister must be formed "to bring the intellect down into the heart," 25 
to make it real for the individual. 

In the formation section of the interim Constitutions, the directress was exhorted to 
"explain the Constitutions so that they may know and conform to the design of St. Dominic and 
the traditions of the Order" [125. S II, 1971 Constitutions]. There is now no mention of the privi- 
leged place of either the Rule or the Constitutions. This is unfortunate. 

In addition to the private study always advocated for the sisters, there is today a greater 
variety of educational models available than in the past in the line of home-study courses; 
university/seminary courses via Internet; correspondence courses; private tutoring. This is 
certainly helpful as not all communities have individuals prepared to teach or resident chaplains. 
Sisters entering are more familiar with the use of self-study materials, Internet chat rooms and 
audio/visual tools; some indeed come from a background of home schooling rather than the 
traditional classroom setting. 

Collaboration in terms of greater community growth/interactions; joint efforts. 

Our Theological Formation Program for our young sisters offers not only a solid base of 
philosophy and theology but provides a model for the integration of study with our lifestyle that 
continues to benefit both the individual and the community after its completion. This has now 
been in place through three sessions and has certainly been an aid to all participants. These 
study efforts have resulted in specific communication skills: critical analysis and examining 
material for clarity of thought, leading to improved community discussion and interpersonal 
relationships. 

Common study ventures, either within the house or among communities, are a fruitful 
way of improving the quality of our Dominican life. One has only to think of the joint undertaking 
of the Conference members writing the book One Mind and Heart in God, or on an individual 
community level, the booklet on prayer "Three Dominican Saints at Prayer" compiled and 
printed by the Monastery of Our Lady of Grace as a recent community study project. 

Another venture that has proven very effective has been the work done over the past 
ten years by the novice mistresses of the various houses. By coming together during the 
summers they have developed a common initial formation program complete with course 
outlines, readings and suggestions, that can be utilized by the experienced or newly appointed 
directress. The formation efforts went further in the formulation of the 1 993 Ratio Formationis 
and its dissemination to all the houses of the Conference. 

These are important changes! 

80 



www 



IV. What are some challenges or questions to the Assembly regarding the present 
practice of Study and possible trends in the future? 

Now we come to the fourth section of this paper. We need to look with Baalam's eyes, 
those far-seeing eyes of a man who could see what God sees [Nb. 23]. 

1] Interaction with the text 

The whole monastic tradition has espoused lectio and study as a fruitful preparation for 
prayer. What about our cultural conditioning as Americans, as citizens of the 21 st century? 
What about our culture where busy-ness and productivity are so highly valued (given our driven 
and consumerist society)? How do these cultural shifts/changes influence incoming candi- 
dates? Do they see the value of study without tangible results, grades, degrees, increased 
pay? Without instant gratification as can supposedly be obtained from a global information 
system worldwide network or any tangible "reward," will candidates be able to grasp the concept 
of sitting with the text; mulling over it? 

For many Americans, the continuous viewing of television and videos is shifting the 
outlook from a reading society into a visually-oriented society. At one time, literature students 
avoided reading classics by substitution of Cliff notes or comic-book versions (exchanging one 
piece of the written word for another). Now the medium has changed: the movie, video or even 
audio version is sought. It has become a contest between reading and visualization. Birkerts 
refers to this as the "loss of the active reader with a printed text meeting the 'other.'" 26 
Herein is a great loss. Isn't this what we seek in our study; to come in contact with "The 
OTHER"? 

2] Attack on Truth 

A theme repeatedly underscored by Fr. Timothy in his letters to the Order is the cultural 
attack on Truth 27 or the crisis of Truth: 

- This can be seen as an inability to accept, recognize or acknowledge the possibility 
of objective Truth. There is a lack of credibility: one does not assume answers are possible. 

- This crisis is also present in the fundamentalism where there is pure acceptance 
without utilizing/engaging the mind. This poses a denial of the rational powers or the possibility 
that one can come to any kind of understanding that is not imposed. 

Given our Dominican motto, "Veritas," both of these attitudes are vastly un-Dominican, 
even anti-Dominican; a denial of the Incarnation - the taking of flesh by the God-man and its 
divinization through his redemption. God created man, body and soul, with a rational intellect 
to be used, not to shrink away like some vestigial organ. The Incarnation demands the active 
engagement of all the God-given faculties. What are the attitudes of people coming to the 
Order? Does their culture or tradition help or hinder? Will study prove to be an aid or a 
hindrance given their background? Will this not be one of the challenges of our age? How do 
they grasp Truth? 



81 



3] Communities of Hope/Triviaiization of words 

I have found myself reading a lot about computers over the past months. It may be 
consoling to you that the displacement of the page by the screen is not yet total, although there 
are many problems apparent as we pass "from the Codex page to the Homepage" 28 : language 
erosion and impoverishment, use of hypertext, flattening of history and computer jargon or 
plainspeak to mention a few. Words and information are very available on the Internet: no 
copyrights, no censors, plagiarized materials and programs, no need to acknowledge sources. 
I saw one book advertized: if purchased you received the address of a web-site where you 
could download the footnotes: they weren't even printed for the publication price. 

Words are no longer sacred; meaning is lost. If/as we become proficient with new tools, 
computers, laptops, do we gain or lose? With the computer, we write faster; it is easier to 
correct errors; we benefit from spelling and grammar checks; we can put down a word, change 
it according to a thesaurus at an appalling speed - the blinking cursor moves us along some- 
times to the rhythm of the William Tell Overture. 

Our experience is that we study through our reading, writing, thinking, living with the text. 
This has been the tradition since the written word replaced the oral transmission. Fr. Timothy 
suggests that we build up community as we struggle together to open up the mysteries of the 
Word of God. Many of us have experienced the joy of seeking the truth together that StAlbert 
praised. 

Augustine's communities were places of silence and reflection with a great love for the 
printed word, but they were also places of lively discussion and disputatio. We impact upon 
each other; we go to God together as a community. "To study is to enter into a conversation, 
with one's brothers and sisters and with other human beings in our search for the truth that will 
set us free" 29 The communal reading and struggle with the text, the disputatio, the chapter are 
means of intensifying the bonds of community. Traditionally the monastic spirituality we inher- 
ited from Augustine has been such that the input of one builds on the other. We must become 
more expert at listening to and hearing the other. 

Study is then at the service of our common goal: to live in love at the service of 
the God of Love. It becomes a form of praise, of thanksgiving, a 'home-place' 
for our experience of God. 30 

A few years ago Dr. Haille Moore spoke at the prioresses' meeting about monasteries 
in the Middle Ages as centers of culture and learning. Clearly they responded to the needs of 
the people of their day. Are today's communities responding in a similar vein? We have all 
encountered people hungering for God, longing to find a place of quiet to experience prayer. 
Does our study and reflection sensitize us to the spiritual crises of our world? If we say that our 
study is incarnational, does it not mean that our lives must also be incarnational? We have said 
that to study is to enter into a conversation, to dialogue; our study must aid us to share the 
tension of our brothers and sisters in our common search for the truth that will set us free. We 
are inserted into the lives of those who inhabit our time and place, and our study should 
therefore call us to witness God's loving mercy for them. 

4] Words of Hope/Prophetic Words 

Hasn't our Master General challenged us to preach more - certainly by our prayer, but 
why not by writing, sharing ideas within the community and maybe beyond? A recent book by 

8Z 



Kallistos Ware bemoans the fact that there are many words, but few words of power uttered in 
the world today: 

In an age when language has been shamefully trivialized, it is vital to rediscover 
the power of the word, and this means rediscovering the nature of silence, not 
just as a pause in the midst of our talk, but as one of the primary realities of 
existence. ...Yet, for a word to possess power, it is necessary that there should 
be not only one who speaks with the genuine authority of personal experience, 
but also one who listens with attention and eagerness. 31 (Do you hear the echo 
of the Fundamental Constitution, V: "...with ardent faith and deep hunger"?) 

Is this true - is there a readiness to listen WITH ATTENTION and to hear? An ability to 
distinguish and determine? We need to become women fine-tuned to God's message. Can 
we be Baalams in a world that is inundated with words, but needs the Word? If we are women 
of the Word, if we are open to hear it and let it speak through us, the Word's in-breaking should 
be evident to us and to our hearers. 

We learn to study to belong to each other and so to hope. To study is an act of hope. 
"When we gather together to study, our community is a 'holy preaching.'" 32 Does our study give 
us words that bring hope and encouragement; are our words prophetic and pregnant with the 
Spirit's promise? 

Pictures: 

I began this presentation with the Cathedral; I will end it with a waterfall. This is Elk Falls 
on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. 33 

It may seem strange that I should choose this picture, but when I saw it, I had just been 
reading StThomas's inaugural lecture as a Master of Theology. To refresh your memories, he 
commented on the text from Psalm 103:3. 

Watering the earth from his things above, 
the earth will be filled from the fruit of your works. 

Rain pours down from the clouds, and watered by the rain, the mountains produce rivers, and 
by having its fill of these, the earth becomes fertile. Thomas comments on the communication 
of spiritual wisdom (another term for theological study) from this text, from the point of view of 
the teaching, the teachers, the students and the means of communication. 

In humility, "like good soil receiving the grain" [Lk 8:15], students must listen to 
teaching: "If you bend your ear, you will receive teaching"[Ecc 6:34]. Right 
judgement is needed to assess what they hear: "Does not the ear assess 
words?" [Jb 12:1 1] and they need fertility, in the sense of capacity to discover 
things. "Give a wise man the opportunity and he will obtain more wisdom" [Prov 
9:9]. 34 

The Gothic Church in Toulouse is the past and present of the Order, and Elk Falls, B.C., 
represents the present and future; we speak of one of the earliest sites of Dominican endeavor 
and one of the newest. Toulouse is beautiful, medieval, solidly built by men to honor God, close 
to the Order's foundation, to Dominic himself. My waterfall is also beautiful, more raw, the 
product of centuries of glacial activity, close to our most recent foundation of Surrey; a piece of 

83 



nature that glorifies God and rejoices the viewer. Toulouse is a sign of fidelity and forbearance; 
the waterfall is a sign of vitality and hope. 

Study is something like this. In his lecture, Thomas tells us that to study well, we need 
docility, good judgment and fertility; the Master General, in his letter on study, says we need 
attentiveness, fruitfulness or fertility, hope and joy. 35 The waterfall is a wonderful image. 

There is one other thing in the picture of Elk Falls: the mist and fog rising above the river. 
Earlier I suggested that we need to see with Baalam's vision. He has some wonderful lines in 
the Book of Numbers. He announces himself as "the man whose eye is true.. .who hears what 
God says, and knows what God knows... who sees what the Almighty sees, enraptured, and 
with eyes unveiled." Wouldn't he have been a marvelous Dominican? 

Our study needs a prophetic element: it must enable us to dream dreams and 
experience visions all the while living in the present moment, alert to its possibilities. The raw 
power is present; like the waterfalls, it needs harnessing. Our future may not be clear; it 
requires our study and effort; it reminds us that the Spirit works as he chooses. 

At the First General Assembly in 1984, in speaking of study and lectio, Sister Mary 
Magdalen said, 

"...we should see in them our contribution to opening up the supply-source from 
which the Holy Spirit, the Living Fountain" can water the whole of our life; even 
as he, the 'Breath of God', becomes with the Word of God the atmosphere we 
breathe, in which we dwell." 36 

Concluding prayer 

As I conclude it is most appropriate to make reference to Mary, Mother of our Savior, 
who listened and pondered, who could be said to have studied the wonders of God. Some of 
the early monks called her the "table at which faith sits in thought." 

May Mary, Seat of Wisdom, be a sure haven 

for all of us who devote our lives to the search for wisdom. 

May our journey into wisdom, sure and final goal of all true knowing, 

be freed of every hindrance by the intercession of the one who, 

in giving birth to the Truth and treasuring it in her heart, 

has shared it forever with all the world. [Fides et Ratio, #108] x 



NOTES 

1 . Ed. note: Here Sister displayed a photo of the interior of this Church, which space prevents us from 
reproducing. 

2. This comparison of Dominican life and the Gothic cathedral was suggested by the comparison of 
Thomas' teaching and the Cathedral which appeared in the video, "St. Thomas Aquinas: Entering 
the Cathedral of Wisdom," Series on Dominican Perspectives by Sr. Ruth Caspar, OP (St. Mary of 
the Springs Dominican, Barry University). 

84 



3. Timothy Radcliffe, OP, "Wellspring of Hope: Study and the Annunciation of the Good News," Sing 
a New Song: the Christian Vocation (Springfield, IL: Tempiegate Publishers, 1999), 56. 

4. M-H Vicaire, OP, St. Dominic and His Times (Green Bay, Wl: Alt Publishing Company, 1964), p. 178. 

5. Radcliffe, cited p. 70. 

6. Sr. Marie-Ancilla, OP, Commentaire du Livre des Constitutions des Moniales de I'Ordre des 
Precheurs, (1992), 131. This excellent commentary is currently available in French and Italian. Sr. 
Mary Thomas, OP, of our Buffalo monastery has been translating it for publication in DMS; she 
provided me with the pertinent section in French, and I was very graciously aided with the translation 
by Sr. Margaret Phelan, RSCJ. 

7. Fr. Jean Rene Bouchet, OP, cited in Sr. Marie-Ancilla, OP, Commentaire, 130. 

8. Richard Lischer, The Preacher King: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Word that Moved America 
(Oxford, 1995). 

9. Letter of Br. Anicetus Fernandez, O.P. (22/7/71), Book of Constitutions of the Nuns of the Order of 
Preachers, 4. 

10. Liam Walsh, OP, Dominican Study and the Experience of God," Dominican Monastic Search 
(November, 1984): 53-54. 

11. Sr. Marie-Ancilla, OP, "Dominican Nuns and Mystery - Theology of Dominican Monastic Life 
According to LCM" (Proceedings of Colloquium at Heme 6-9 May, 1997), 29. 

12. Radcliffe, 60. 

13. Basil Cole, OP, "Is there a spirituality of study?" Homiletic & Pastoral Review (March, 2000): 23-30. 

14. Other helpful references to Study include: 

Quodlibetal Question I, a. 14, pp. 613-17; Contra Impugnantes Dei Cultum et Religionem, 
chap.11, pp. 606-612; translated with notes in Simon Tugwell OP, ed., Albert and Thomas (New 
York-Mahwah: Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press, 1988). 

Letter to Brother John attributed to Aquinas (De Modo Studendi). It is translated by Victor White, 
OP, in Life of the Spirit (Oxford: Blackfriars, December 1944), Suppl. 161-80. 

A.D. Sertillanges, OP, The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods (Westminster, MD: 
Newman Press, 1959). 

15. This is a quotation about Martin Buber, and was used by application to Thomas Aquinas in a homily 
at Corpus Christi by Fr. Donald Moore, SJ, Head of Fordham Theology Department, 1/28/98. 

16. Radcliffe, 59. 

17. M. Michele Mulchahey, "First the Bow is Bent in Study..." Dominican Education before 1350 
(Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1998), ix. 

18. William A. Hinnebusch, OP, The History of the Dominican Order, Vol. 1 (New York: Alba House, 
1973), 380-82. 

19. This reference is cited in LCM 103:111. 

20. Sr. Marie-Ancilla, OP, Commentaire, (1992), 130. 

21. Hinnebusch, History, 382-7. 

22. Benedict Ashley OP, The Dominicans (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1990), 190-21 1 . 

23. Lacordaire's reestablishment of the Order is well-documented by Peter M. Batts, OP, Lacordaire's 
Understanding of "Restoration" in Relation to His Refounding of the Dominican Order in 19 th Century 
France (Dissertation, Ottawa, Canada: St. Paul University, 1999). 



85 



24. Sr. Barbara Estelle, "Values and Symbols: The Restoration of Dominican Monasteries in the Reli- 
gious Climate in France in the 19 th Century" (Proceedings of Colloquium at Heme 6-9 May 1997), 
15-23. 

25. Sr. M-Ancilla, Commentaire, 151. 

26. Sven Birkerts, Gutenberg Elegies: Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (Boston: Faber & Faber, 
1994), 3. 

27. A recent modern author suggests that even with the greatest doubts, "the hermeneutics of suspi- 
cion," deconstruction and a critique of organized religion are all "unwittingly based on the absolute 
transcendent principle of the desire for truth." David Walsh, Guarded by Mystery: Meaning in a Post 
Modern Age (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1999), pp 33-36. 

28. James J. O'Donnell, Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace (Cambridge, MA: Harvard 
University Press, 1998), 50. 

29. Radcliffe, 70. 

30. Sr. Marie-Ancilla, Commentaire, 130. 

31. Kallistos Ware, The Inner Kingdom, Volume I - Collected Works (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's 
Seminary Press, 2000), 135-6. 

32. Radcliffe, 61. 

33. Ed. note: Space prevents us from including this picture. 

34. Thomas Aquinas, "Inaugural Lecture" (1256), pp. 355-360; Simon Tugwell OP, ed., Albert and 
Thomas (New York-Mahwah: Paulist Press Classics of Western Spirituality, 1988). 

35. Radcliffe, 55-6. 

36. Sr. Mary Magdalen, OP (Newark), "The Value and Practice of Lectio," Dominican Monastic Search, 
(November, 1984): 61. 




86 




Coronation of the Virgin 
Fra Angelico 



Praying With A Picture: Coronation of the Virgin 



Sr. Mary of the Trinity, O.P. 
Farmington Hills, Ml 



In the last issue of Monastic Search the editor invited nuns who may have been 
sparked by earlier articles on "Praying with a Picture" to share their reflections. A print of 
The Coronation of the Virgin by Fra Angelico hangs in our refectory and for several years 
I have sat in a place where my gaze rested easily upon it. However the real reason I chose 
this fresco to pray with was because this is the mystery of the Rosary that I have always 
found hard to understand. What does it really mean that Mary is crowned queen of 
heaven? My hope was that staying with the image might open the mystery to me in a new 
way. I was not disappointed. And so I share with you my reflections in ten days of living, 
with this fresco, in the mystery of the Coronation of the Virgin. 

Reflections on Fra Angelico's San Marco fresco of 
the Coronation of the Virgin 

Day One 

As I began to gaze at the fresco, I noticed first the marked difference in style 
between the figures of Christ and Mary and those of the saints below. Christ and the Virgin 
Mary seem bathed in an unearthly light. Their garments seem to be woven of the clouds 
on which they are seated. The figures at the top of the fresco draw one into the mystery of 
the Crowning of Mary. 

The figures below, identified as (from left) Thomas, Benedict, Dominic, Francis, 
Peter Martyr, and Mark, are painted in more earthly colors. Yet the very position of their 
bodies, kneeling with hands held in the Orant gesture, draws them into the mystery. What 
strikes me as unique about this fresco is that Fra Angelico painted these six saints not as 
facing the mystery above but as turned toward the viewers. Their eyes are the unearthly 
part of their appearance as they look intently inward into the mystery - perhaps to tell us 
that we too are called to look inward and contemplate the mystery not with earthly eyes but 
with our spiritual eye. 



Day Two 

The apex of this fresco is perhaps the crown held by Christ's hands, suspended just 
above the Virgin's head. It is as if we have been invited to step into the mystery of the 
eternal honoring of Mary. If the crown were actually placed on Mary's head, the act of 
honoring would in a way be finished, but Angelico's portrayal catches us up into the eternal 
Now - the hodie of the liturgy. Today - Now: Mary is being crowned. The figures below 
also seem caught up into the "Now" of the mystery of the Crowning of the Virgin by the 
contemplative gaze of their eyes. 

89 



Day Three 

Today I noticed that the mystery of the Coronation of the Virgin forms a heavenly 
mandala within the fresco, that is, a sacred circle which invites contemplation and at the 
same time expresses the contemplative insight of the artist. The outer portion of the 
mandala is painted in an ethereal green, the color of hope. This mystery honors the one 
we call upon each evening at the hour of Compline as "our life, our sweetness and our 
hope." "Our hope" - because just as in Mary's Assumption we preview our own ascension, 
the Coronation is a preview, an invitation to contemplate, the glory we hope to share one 
day. 



Day four 

Today I find myself drawn into the circle of white light between Mary and Christ. One 
commentator asks: Is it the Father? It seems to me that the whole mandala encircled in the 
ethereal green light is the Father, the source from which this mystery and all mystery 
springs. What then of the white light? One might think of it as the Holy Spirit emanating 
from Christ and entering the Virgin Mary in the Eternal Now, the Ancient Day of heaven. 
If the white light is the Spirit this draws the whole Trinity into the mystery of the Coronation. 
Christ crowns Mary his Mother eternally in the Father, to the joy of the Holy Spirit. 



Day Jive 

What strikes me today in this beautiful fresco is the posture and gestures of Mary 
and Christ. Christ is seated, straight, tall, regal in appearance. His hands reach out in a 
gesture of loving bestowal or giving. Mary's whole body leans into a humble acceptance 
of the crown, the honor of her Son and God. She is seated on the clouds with her Son, 
seated in the presence of the Trinity. In the mysterious co-mingling of God's gracious gift 
and her total "yes" she has become "God for God" - yet aware of the participation of her 
humanity in the Divine Son to receive the crown of glory. 



Day Six 

What seems so expressive in today's viewing is the hands of each figure. Christ's 
hands reach out decisively yet tenderly to place the crown on his mother. Mary's hands, 
crossed over her breast in a gesture of awe and adoration, draw her into acceptance of the 
honor her Son wishes to bestow on her. The hands of the figures below seem raised point- 
ing towards heaven in prayerful adoration. 



Day Seven 

As I imagine what it must have been like to be the friar who lived in the cell with this 
wonderful window into heaven, I wonder if these heavenly figures became companions and 

90 



friends as day after day, year after year, the brother lived in their presence? Did this fresco 
give him entrance into the heavenly liturgy captured so graciously in Angelico's rendering 
of the Coronation? Today as I gaze at the painting I feel transported, caught up into this 
heavenly moment of glory that flows out continuously from the throne of God and the Lamb. 
Caught up in the tender majestic eternal moment of the honoring of the fairest flower of our 
race, I feel awed to be allowed to glimpse such an intimate moment. 



T>ay Tight 

Today the fresco reveals to me a celebration of the Communion of Saints. All the 
saints of heaven share the glory and honor Mary is receiving from her Son and Mary's joy 
is magnified in all her beloved children who share in the glory and honor she is given by the 
Blessed Trinity. 

Today as I gaze at the mandala; it seems to show the figures of Thomas, Benedict, 
Dominic, Francis, Peter Martyr and Mark as rays of the mandala; rays being drawn up into 
the sacred circle and yet at the same time rays emanating from the mandala as the fruits 
of Mary's queenship. Queen of Apostles, Queen of Martyrs, Queen of Doctors, Queen of 
Mendicants, Queen of Evangelists, Queen of All Saints. 



Day Nine 

"We sing your praises, holy Mother of God. You gave birth to our Savior, Jesus 
Christ; watch over all who honor you." As we sang this Magnificat antiphon at Vespers 
today, I had before my mind's eye Angelico's fresco of the Coronation. Christ placing the 
crown on his mother's head seems to me a heavenly solemnization by the Blessed Trinity 
of the Son's giving us into the care of his mother as he did on the cross when he entrusted 
John to her maternal care. Perhaps to be honored also carries the meaning of the antiphon 
"watch over those who honor you." Maybe we might think of the Crowning of Mary as her 
divine commissioning to be spiritual mother of all human beings. The Mother of God is also 
Mother of the Human Race. 



Day Jen 

I continue to be struck by the notion that in this fresco the gesture of Christ offering 
the Crown to his mother Mary, and her bowing in a beautiful gesture of acceptance, images 
for us her acceptance of her role as "spiritual mother" to all those for whom her Son died 
on the cross. The crowning signifies her desire and acceptance of a role that calls her to 
birth souls into eternal life through the grace of her beloved Son, Jesus Christ. x 



91 



BEAUTY, CONTEMPLATION, AND THE VIRGIN MARY 1 



Sr. Thomas Mary, O.P. 
North Guilford, CT 



St. Thomas, in his exposition of Dionysius, holds that both God and creatures are 
beautiful. Since God, the supreme Beauty, is his own existence, ipsum esse subsistens, and 
all things have being by participating in his existence, beauty can be found in all existing beings. 2 

He [Dionysius] shows how God is the Cause of brilliance, when he adds that 
God with a flash sends down to all creatures a share of His luminous ray, and 
it is the source of all light. These glittering communications of the divine ray 
should be understood according to the participation of likeness. And these 
communications are "pulchrifying," that is, producing beauty in things. 3 

St. Thomas continues his exposition: 

"Brilliance pertains to the consideration of beauty.... Every form, by which a thing has being 
[esse], is a participation in the divine brilliance. This is why he [Dionysius] adds that 'individual 
things' are 'beautiful according to a character of their own,' that is, in accord with a proper form. 
Hence it is clear that the being [esse] of all things is derived from the divine Beauty." 4 

In his Summa Theologiae St. Thomas gives three distinguishing characteristics of 
beauty: wholeness or integrity, proportion or harmony, and claritas which can be translated 
splendor, radiance, light, brilliance. The chief characteristic is claritas, 'radiance' ... beautiful 
things shine. 5 

The beautiful illuminates our intellectuswWh the intuition of understanding. The eyes and 
ears of our soul enable our vision to see the transcendent beauty present ontologically in all be- 
ing. 



6 



Hans Urs von Balthasar expresses it succinctly: 

The beautiful is above all a Form, and the light does not fall on this Form from 
above and from outside, rather it breaks forth from the Form's interior. 7 

This paper will attempt to highlight beauty of spirit, the inner splendor which radiates from 
the form and bears witness to what beauty really is. 8 

St. Thomas, in his commentary on the metaphysics of Aristotle, gives a lengthy 
distinction between the true and the good, and offers us the insight that "a spiritual substance 
relates to reality in two different ways. A human being directs himself at things by knowing them 
and desiring them. The object of knowledge is truth, while the object of desire is the good." 9 
This writer would suggest a third way of relating to reality in which knowledge and desire are 
united in breathtaking vision. The splendor of truth and goodness radiating from the form 
captivates the one who sees with /ov/e, 10 drawing him or her into a third way of ecstatic con- 
templation and intuitive wisdom. Beauty, therefore, is essentially a gift, a radiant vision 

92 



presented to the eyes or ears of the beholder, a seeing or hearing of being clearly , that is, in the 
radiance of its inner splendor, claritas. 

This third way of ecstatic contemplation partakes of cognition as a gift of wondrous 
seeing with the eyes of the spirit. It is more than a knowing by which the known is in the knower, 
although it is that, but rather a being taken out of oneself by which the knower is in the known. 
Beauty is therefore not so much an assimilation as a being assimilated. 11 St. Thomas in 
speaking of contemplation says: "To suffer ecstacy means to be placed outside oneself." 12 This 
happens not by a movement toward the beautiful but rather by a dispositive attitude of 
receptivity in which one is inundated with love, peace and joy in the splendor of truth and 
goodness being revealed. Commenting on Dionysius, (In Dion, de div. nom. 4. 10), St.Thomas 
says that it belongs to the notion of the beautiful that apprehension finds its rest in its sight, or 
cognition. 13 Beauty is the gifted perfection of seeing. It unites the intellect and will in the 
innermost sanctuary of the soul. 

In the light of the above this writer would suggest that the proper place of beauty is in the 
spirit. The vision of beauty radiates and bears witness to the spiritual reality of esse shining in 
the res, awakening the most intimate depths of the human person. It captivates the mind and 
will in contemplative wonder and ecstatic contemplation. Beauty integrates the splendor of light 
with ecstatic joy. Ultimately, the vision of beauty bears witness to the divine beauty "which 
shines with dazzling light.... While remaining completely intangible and invisible, it fills minds 
that know how to close their eyes with the most beautiful splendours." 14 Beauty is "intimior 
intimo meo" (St. Augustine, Conf., 1 ,3,6,1 1); it is a sign of the presence of God in all creation. 

The divine beauty, shining through creaturely being, can perhaps be more easily 
contemplated in the figure of the Virgin Mary. Mary, by reason of her fullness of grace and 
immaculate conception, is the most perfect example of beauty in created being. Johann Roten, 
S.M., in a philosophically based article, "Mary, the Way of Beauty," 15 reiterates Thomistic 
teaching by saying that what makes Mary truly beautiful is the splendor of form. For St. Albert 
the Great as well as for St. Thomas Aquinas, the identifying concept of beauty is splendor of 
form (3 Sent., d.23, q.3.al, sol. 1, ad 2; ST la 5,4, ad1). Although there may be a certain beauty 
in sensible appearance, the greater beauty comes from the inward metaphysical form, since it 
is the essence that enlightens the mind and constitutes the esse of the res. According to St. 
Albert, where the shining light of essence is able to overcome the opacity of its material density 
and manifest itself in outward appearance, there is beauty (St. Albert, De pulchro et bono, ql, 
a.2.): 6 

Therefore what makes Mary truly beautiful is the splendor of form. Only the splendor 
of the metaphysical form outshines the actual form in Mary. 

Mary's "form" is graced with the surplus of the divine. Mary's form is the work 
of the Holy Spirit, modeling cause of all that is. 

What our eyes and ears perceive in Mary is the humble servant of the Lord. This is the outward 
form of her personality. 

[But] her outward form is bathed in and literally drowning in the splendor of the 
inward form - her immaculate conception and fullness of grace. In Mary there 



93 



is far more than what meets the eye. The overwhelming splendor of her figure 
reveals the trinitarian groundedness of her being. 17 

Paul IV, in an address to the 1 975 Mariological Congress held in Rome, linked Mary, "the 
woman clothed with the Sun" (Rev 12:1) with the divine beauty of the Holy Spirit, the one "in 
whom the pure radiance of human beauty meets the tremendous but accessible beauty of 
divinity." 18 The human beauty of her being shines like the sun because of the divine beauty in 
which she participates unimpeded. 

The Virgin Mary stands as an icon at the pinnacle of creation revealing the beauty 
hidden in created being. In all being there is more than meets the eye. 19 The beauty of Mary 
reveals the beauty hidden in each being, as Cause present in effect, according to its place in 
the hierarchy of being. 

The reality of beauty as a transcendental quality of being invites one to enter the world 
of contemplation wherein beauty gives herself freely and without personal regard. 

Beauty introduces one to the inexhaustible riches of being and makes one 
realize the gratuitous character of all being. True beauty is the privilege of love, 
because love alone is able to detect beauty as gift freely given. Beauty contains 
meaning, amazement, joyful and grateful understanding. 20 

Mary, the bearer of Him who is Beauty, invites the contemplative to participate in her own 
wondrous gaze, a gifted perfection of seeing that is sustained and directed by the Holy Spirit of 
divine love. 

COME TO ME, ALL YOU WHO YEARN FOR ME, 

AND BE FILLED WITH MY FRUITS. 21 x 



NOTES 

1. This article, originally entitled "Evidence For Beauty As a Transcendental," is an abridgment of a 
paper from the Theological Formation Program. It has been slightly modified for Dominican Monastic 
Search. 

2. In Dion. De div. Norn. 4.5 as quoted in The Pocket Aquinas, trans. Vernon J. Bourke (New York: 
Washington Square Press, 4 th ed., 1965), p. 269. 

3. Ibid., pp. 269-270. 

4. Ibid., p. 272. 

5. ST, 1a, 39, 8. 

6. See John Saward, The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 
1997), pp. 40-47. 

7. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone, trans, and ed. by Alexander Dm (New York: Herder and Herder, 
1969), p. 157. 

94 



8. St. Thomas, in explaining Dionysius' statement that God "gives beauty to all created being in accord 
with the limitations of each," says: "For there is one kind of beauty of the spirit and another of the 
body, and another of this and that body," The Pocket Aquinas, p. 269. 

9. In VI Metaph., led, 4, 1234 as quoted in Jan A. Aersten, Medieval Philosophy and the Transcenden- 
tal: The Case of Thomas Aquinas (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996), Aersten, p. 247. (In ft. nt. no. 8, 
Aertsen refers to and quotes from De verit. 21.3: "Cognitio et voluntas radicantur in substantia 
spirituali super diversas habitudines eius ad res. " The reference should read: De verit. 23. 1. 

10. Love is still primary in some way. One person sees God more perfectly than another because of the 
degree of charity. See St. Thomas Aquinas, ST, la. 12, 6, co. 

11. "The light ... stems from the object which, while revealing itself to the subject, it draws the subject 
into the sphere of the object." Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone, p. 157. 

12. ST, 1a2ae, 28.3. 

13. Ibid., 1a2ae, 27.1, ad. 3: "The beautiful adds, over and above the good, a certain relation to the 
power of knowing; so that we call good that which simply pleases the appetite, but, we call beautiful 
that whose very apprehension pleases," as quoted in Etienne Gilson, Elements of a Christian 
Philosophy (NewYork: Doubleday, 1963), p. 176. 

14. Dionysius the Areopagite, Theologia mystica, from an address by John Paul II and quoted here 
according to "L'osservatore Romano," 26 January 2000, p. 11. 

15. Johann G. Roten, S.M., "Mary and the Way of Beauty," Marian Studies (Annual Publication of the 
Mariological Society of America, Marian Library, Dayton University), XLIX (1998), 109-127. 

16. Ibid., p. 116. 

17. Ibid., pp. 116-117. There is no intention here to suggest a plurality of forms. Rather "form" is being 
used here according to the Theological Aesthetics of Hans Urs von Balthasar and is not in 
opposition to the metaphysics of St. Thomas. See Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, 
vol. 1: Seeing the Form, trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikskis; ed. Joseph Fessio and John Riches (San 
Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1983). For a consideration of form in relation to beauty see pp. 117-121. 

18. Paul VI, Allocutio: "In auditorio Pontificii Athenaei a Sancto Antonio in Urbe ob coactos Conventus, 
VII Mahologicum atque XIV Marianum, 16 maii 1975," in AAS 67 (1975): 334-449, quoted here 
according to "Mary and the Way of Beauty," Marian Studies, p. 109. 

19. "In pre-modern times ... beauty was still synonymous with being. With the Enlightenment, the 
concept of beauty changed. The world was no longer considered the many-splendored form of 
God's creative genius but human artifact, that is, the sum total of human experimentation and 
productivity," ibid., p. 125. 

20. Ibid., p. 119. 

21. Sirach 24:18 (NAB). 



95 



AT THE WELLSPRING OF TRINITARIAN COMMUNION: 
FOOTNOTE TO VERBI SPONSA 



Sr. Maria Agnes Karasig, O.P. 
Summit, NJ 



THE HEART AS ENCLOSURE 



The bridal imagery of the Song of Songs provides a rich allegorical meaning of the heart 
as enclosure. Likewise, the Book of Revelation (14:4) uses the figure of the apocalyptic lamb 
being followed by the faithful virgins to depict bridal union in an eschatological context. The 
heart in which the contemplative nun encounters Christ is the seat of her soul, the place where 
she takes her divine bridegroom into the core of her being. For example, after receiving the 
Body of Christ in holy communion, the Dominican nun Adelheid Langmann of Engelthal saw the 
Christ Child playing in her heart which, like a monstrance, became as radiant as the sun. 1 

The heart is the place of mystical encounter described in sacramental terms by Clare von 
Ostren, a founding nun of the monastery of Schonnensteinbach in Alsace. She compares her- 
self to a series of sealed chambers: 

I enclose myself everyday in three locks: the first lock is the pure, clear and virginal 
heart of the Virgin Mary... the second lock is the good heart of our beloved Jesus 
Christ.. .the third lock is the Holy Sepulcher in which I hide myself with our Lord from the 
world. 2 

Material enclosure is also a state of mind and heart. A fourteenth century treatise from 
the Dominican monastery of Unterlinden in Colmar allegorizes the nuns' dormitory as the 
vigilant heart of the contemplative. 3 The monastery as the enclosed garden in the Song of 
Songs is also the place where the nuns, by receiving the daily Eucharist, can have a feast with 
the Trinity at the altar table. The union of the spouse with the Word passes into this trans- 
cendent realm. Holy Communion as the anticipation of union with the Trinity in heaven echoes 
passages from the Song of Songs (cf. 2:4, 5:1 ). The heart becomes all these enclosed spaces: 
wine cellar, banquet hall, enclosed garden and mystical chamber. 4 In the enclosure of the 
heart, the nun dwells in the inmost life of God and the Holy Spirit prays in this inner temple 
without ceasing. 



SPOUSAL LOVE WITH THE WORD 

The focus of the rule of enclosure is God and his revealed Word, begotten in love. The 
Word of God is the heartbeat of Dominican monastic contemplative life. In an atmosphere 
charged with the Word, the whole being of the contemplative is attuned to the Gospel message 
in the ordinariness of her daily life. The Word is the fountainhead of her being; and the world, 
through the contemplative, needs to be rooted in the Word because it is from the Word that all 
things were made (cf. Jn. 1:3). A modern author expresses it this way: 

The monastic life is an imploded life, its energy hidden as we disappear into the mystery 
of the hidden God, passing through silence into the life of the Word Incarnate who is the 



96 



center of all things. The hiddenness and silence of this life are pregnant with God; they 
are a straight path prepared for the final Advent of the risen Lord. 5 

The Word, enscriptured and incarnate, is the one and real Person in Christ; he is the 
Person par excellence who relates himself to humanity in his self-emptying love. In silence, 
solitude and community, the contemplative listens with singleness of mind and heart and heeds 
the call of God to love him with a spousal love. What does spousal love mean to a Dominican 
nun? It means to be united with and transformed in Christ - incarnate, crucified and glorified. 
It means to be fully human like Christ and be willing to drink from his chalice and witness to the 
joy of his resurrection. Spousal love urges the lover and beloved "to preach in word and silence 
the hiddenness of God in the burning bush, and the self-emptying of God on the Cross." 6 A 
spouse is always aflame with the awareness of the one thing necessary. She is totally 
possessed by the reality and mystery of God and thus receives of his fullness, grace by grace 
(cf. Jn. 1:16). 



A HIDDEN SANCTUARY OF COMPASSION 

Contemplative prayer, which moves silently and invisibly like sunburst, is signified in 
concrete by the edifice of a monastery. The monastery is a visual expression of God's indwell- 
ing in the lives of Christian men and women called to the monastic contemplative life. 
Metaphorically, the cloister is a figure of the human person as God's temple. The monastic 
community is meant to be the seedbed of authentic contemplation. It is the outward expression 
of the inward union between the contemplative and the Word of God in relation to the world. 
The nun's deep quest for the Godhead within the enclosure broadens her perspective in the 
predicament of modern men and women by proclaiming in her vocation the transcendent 
dimension of the human person as image of God. 

The Christian in a secularized society can easily turn away from the innermost center 
of being and become immersed in the fleeting awareness of the fast-changing external world. 
Withdrawal from being enclosed in self and walled in by secular humanism is what monastic 
writers call flight from unreality to a higher reality because 

withdrawal from the world is a necessary condition for openness to the world. The nun 
sees the world as it truly is and loves it as God does. She opens her arms wide to the 
world, to that creation which rejoices the heart of God as he holds it in being each day. 
This is the deepest meaning of enclosure which is, fundamentally, an imagery, not of 
exclusion, but of cherishing, nurturing and protecting. The nun should never fear the 
world, never demean it or refuse to learn from it, but her openness to the world should 
never degenerate into worldliness. She should not choose creation and forget the 
Creator. 7 

With roots plunged underground, the nun learns to love the world rightly and have 
compassion on the multitude. She disappears from secular society in order to be everywhere 
in it in the inmost sanctuary of her compassionate love. John, a monk of St. Sabbas monastery, 
bears witness to this when he says: 

Inside the monastery walls, the monk is not outside the world but at the heart of the 
world, beyond time. Free to leave, he chooses to remain; free to sleep, he wakes out 
of love; he sees without eyes, listens in silence. Free to take, he prefers to give. 8 

97 



COMMUNITY AS DWELLING IN THE INMOST LIFE OF GOD 

The love of the Father and the Son coalesces into one love, the Spirit, who binds them 
in the profoundest of unions, a community of love that opens toward a created universe. 
Aquinas succinctly expresses it by saying that "the Father and the Son, by the Holy Spirit or 
Love proceeding, are said to love both each other and us." 9 Another Dominican theologian 
refines this point: 

The mutual love of Father and Son, far from being an absorption of each into the other, 
is the primordial ground of a mysterious creative productivity at the heart of love.... This 
is what is meant in saying that the Holy Spirit is the mutual love of Father and Son, 
namely, that he is the personal issue of that love in its purely altruistic character. 10 

The three Divine Persons subsist in one existence; this triunity is the prototype of reli- 
gious community. The creative power of the Trinity summons a monastic community into being 
"a communion founded, built up and made firm in the one Spirit. It is in the Spirit that the nuns 
receive the Word from God the Father with one faith, contemplate him with one heart, and 
praise him with one voice" (LCM 3:l). 

There is also a correlated passage from Hill which states that "the effect of the Spirit's 
presence among us is the binding into community. As the oneness in love of the Father and 
the Son, the Spirit is the unitive source of the oneness of believers with God and so with one 
another. He is a Presence, but an active, living, efficacious presence, creative of a fellowship 
of love." 11 

This convivial fellowship and caring relationships provide a supportive milieu where 
communication and collaboration will flourish and bear abundant fruit. Because community 
mirrors forth the Trinity in the sphere of non-divine reality, its intimacy with the mystery of Christ 
is lived in the human level and demands redemptive suffering of its members. The fruits of 
solitude and enclosure are tested in the crucible of community life as the theological reflections 
of a Trappist monk aptly express this truth: 

The astonishing fact of monastic community is that in spite of our evident human 
brokenness and in spite of our evident personal diversity, we can live together for a 
lifetime with a oneness and harmony that transcend all possible expectations. Ulti- 
mately, it is the power of the Holy Spirit of God that makes us one, makes us a 
community. We remain a community because the bonding power of the Spirit of Love 
is stronger that any divisive forces at work in our midst. 12 

Community life is harmoniously ordered to preserve the continual remembrance of God 
through the monastic rhythm of pairs: private and liturgical prayer, solitude and community, 
enclosure and hospitality, silence and chapter, work and recreation, study and lectio divina, 
authority and obedience, celibacy and friendship, poverty and common life, sickness and health, 
death and dying. 

The Dominican nuns are united by and aspire to a common vision. They are guided by 
the same ideals and goals and formed through the Christ-experience of Saint Dominic. Praying 
in the Church, for the Church and with the Church, the nuns bear witness to the power that 
dwells within the inmost life of God. By their personal and communal listening to the Word and 



98 



giving voice to it in the liturgy, the nuns join their sacrifices and active works of love in the 
cloister with the preaching mission of the Order. 



ENCLOSURE AND ECCLESIAL MISSION 

The Incarnate Word is the primordial sacrament and the Church continues the sacra- 
mental life of Christ on earth. The flowering of the baptismal promise through the contemplative 
life is the nuns' response to the call of the Father, realizing and completing the redemptive work 
of the Son in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. Consecrated life is deeply rooted in the mystery 
of Christ (Word), the Church (mission) and eschatology (beatific vision). By giving themselves 
totally to the Word, the nuns anticipate the eschatological fulfillment and become the prototype 
of the life to come. Aidan Nichols brings this out with more precision: 

Contemplative women in the Church are traditionally ranked above the ministerial 
priesthood; their consummate activity anticipates the simultaneous completeness of 
activity yet rest in heaven, whereas the task of priests belongs with the struggle to 
sanctify the people of God on earth. That particularly 'hierarchical ordering' is sealed 
in the Blessed Virgin Mary.... 13 

The sacramental presence of a monastery in a town or city kindles the faith, hope and 
love in the human spirit. A monastic community "free for God alone," is a sacrament of agape 
where the wounds of the entire world are meant to find the infinite mercy of God. In "Choruses 
from The Rock,'" T.S. Eliot's juxtapositions penetrate the cultural fogs of secular society: 

Endless invention, endless experiment, 

Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness; 

Knowledge of speech, but not of silence; 

Knowledge of words, but ignorance of the Word. 

All of our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance, 

All our ignorance brings us nearer to death. 

But nearness to death no nearer to God. 

Where is the Life we have lost in living? 

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? 

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? 

The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries 

Bring us further from God and nearer to the Dust. 14 



CONCLUSION 

What will become of sinners? What will become of men and women who stray from the 
truth; of those who hunger for the Word of God and grope for inner meaning in their lives; of our 
brothers and sisters who experience the dark side of prayer and the seeming absence of God; 
of people who suffer the gnawing sense of self-alienation and identity loss; and of skeptics and 
pragmatists who demand that divine truths be seen and touched? 

The preaching of the Word must continue for "the brethren of the Order, 'commissioned 
entirely for spreading abroad the Word of God,' fulfill their vocation primarily by preaching. The 
nuns, while commissioned by God primarily for prayer, are not for that reason excluded from 



99 



the ministry of the Word for they listen to the Word, celebrate it and keep it in their hearts, and 
in this way proclaim the Gospel of God by the example of their life (LCM 96:l) 15 

The nuns' life of prayer is a privileged means for the re-evangelization of culture in the 
sense that they can uncover the Christian roots of secular society by fulfilling their vocation, by 
being in mission together with their brothers and sisters in the Order. The Dominican monastic 
experience is never exclusive and isolated but always related to the Church. There is immense 
freedom within the boundaries of cloister. Monastic enclosure is a means of entry into a wider 
and higher world that is all-inclusive, uniting the contemplative with the whole creation in 
solidarity with the Church and the Order in their relation to God and humankind. 

X 



NOTES 

1. Jeffrey F. Hamburger, Nuns as Artists: The Visual Culture of a Medieval Convent (Berkeley: 
University of California Press, 1997), 144. 

2. Ibid., 159; quoted from the Buch der Reformatio Predigerordens, a chronicle of Dominican Observ- 
ance compiled by Johannes Meyer(d. 1485). 

3. Ibid., 160. 

4. Ibid., 146. 

5. Christine Fox, "Seeking God: Monastic fidelity in an Age of Unbelief in Monastic Studies 18 
(Montreal: Benedictine Priory, 1988), 106. 

6. Cf. ibid., 104. 

7. Cf. Fox, 95, 107 nn. 27, 28. 

8. Quoted by Jean Leclercq, "Christian Monasticism and its Present Encounter with Other Religious 
Traditions" in Monastic Studies 18, 74. 

9. Summa Theologiae, I q.37,a.2. 

10. William J. Hill, O.P., The Three-Personed God: The Trinity as a Mystery of Salvation (Washington, 
DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1982), 75. 

11. Ibid., 303. 

12. Charles Cummings, OCSO, Monastic Practices (Kalamazoo, Ml: Cistercian Publications, 1986), 152. 

1 3. Christendom Awake: On Re-energizing the Church in Culture (Grand Rapids, Ml: Eerdmanns, 1 999), 
127. 

14. Excerpted by Thomas J. McDonnell, Listening to the Lord in Literature (Canfield, Ohio: Alba House, 
1977), 33. 

15. Cf. Venite Seorsum, V; cf. Verbi Sponsa 7. 



100 



A REFLECTION ON MEMORY AND CONTEMPLATION 



Sr. Mary of the Trinity, O.P. 
Farmington Hills, Ml 



To be a creature is to made by the Creator and to be held in existence by that same 
Creator/Preserver of all life. If from the first moment of my existence when the sperm of my 
father united with the ovum of my mother, I came into being through the power of God's crea- 
tive act, where is the memory of that contact, that touching between God and me in the act of 
my creation? Could it be that the desire, the longing, the yearning, the aching I experience for 
God is the memory? The memory of my creation and a memory of God? Of the God whose 
goodness overflows in the loving act of creating and sustaining human beings made in his 
image? 

Augustine writes of God's image within us as a trinity of powers: memory, intellect and 
will. In our journey back to the Source we are guided by these powers. Our Christian tradition 
also teaches that these powers need to be purified, transformed, freed from sin and the effects 
of sin. Works on the spiritual life often speak about active and passive purifications. If I picture 
the spiritual life as a dance then it is in the ascetical or active part of the journey that I take the 
lead in the dance, and work to bring memory, intellect and will under the control of right reason. 
In the passive or mystical part God takes the lead in the dance and invites me to allow the Spirit 
to purify my powers at such a deep level that I find I can one day say with Paul: "I live, now not 
I but Christ lives in me." This purification begins, I think, with a strong pull on our spirit to enter 
into contemplative prayer. God calls me to enter into myself and to travel back beyond remem- 
bered remembrances to the place where God creates and sustains me; the place where God 
and I touch. This calls for a tremendous emptying and letting go. It can feel like being drawn 
into a great abyss. I stand on the brink and feel dizzy at the thought of falling into the infinite. 
I wonder: won't a finite creature be swallowed up in the infinite and disappear? What is it that 
can give me the courage to jump into the arms of the infinite when it feels like annihilation? Ah! 
But isn't there a spark of the infinite in me? And don't I name it "desire"? Aren't my desires for 
God infinite - don't I experience them as such? 

What is the origin of these desires? Where do they come from? I would like to suggest 
that they arise out of what I want to call our "primal memory." Primal memory is the memory 
at the very core or beginning of myself. It takes me back to the time when I was not and then 
I was , to the moment of my creation. I remember my creation when I touch my "primal 
memory." It is of course beyond images, words, and forms. How do I contact or get in touch 
with this "first memory"? One way is in contemplative prayer, that prayer beyond images, 
words, or forms where I just come to rest in God. I think this resting in God is a resting in our 
"primal memory." 

The experience of resting in our "primal memory" lifts me out of my ordinary experience 
of time and space. It is an exploration of my deep inner space and yet paradoxically it is often 
triggered by an outward place such as a sunrise or sunset in the garden, observing the pattern 
on a butterfly wing, or a line of poetry or a passage from a book. These very ordinary concrete 
things/places/spaces can transport me beyond my usual experience. I lose all awareness of 
time; it is as if I step into the "timeless," that place the Church keeps bringing us back to in her 
liturgy: Hodie, Today, Now. The place of "God's time" where it is always Now. Often these are 

101 



brief encounters with the "timeless" and once I become aware that I have been taken out of 
myself, the moment is over and my reflective consciousness returns. 

Another aspect of resting in my "primal memory" is that although this kind of experience 
happens to me "alone" yet it is also a moment when I experience most profoundly a oneness 
with all other human beings, indeed with all that has being. 

Experience of the "primal memory" is simultaneously an experience of "primal knowing" 
and "primal loving." To travel back to the now of this memory, this knowing, this loving, is to 
reach back to the moment when I was not and then to realize that I am ! This puts me in touch 
with an infinitely loving Power/ Person/ God/ Trinity. I wonder if Catherine writing, in the 
Dialogue, of the Father saying to her: "I am he who is and you are she who is not," is commu- 
nicating out of an experience of touching her own "primal memory"? 

To remember myself created out of nothing is to remember myself loved unconditionally. 
It is an overwhelmingly wonderful unitive experience. This place of the primal memory is an 
infinitely safe place, a peace-filled place, a loving place. I think we all desire to live continuously 
in this "primal memory." It is our hearts' deepest desire. And it is possible. But we must be 
willing to be purified, for without first letting Love burn away all the traces of sin in us we could 
not sustain consciously living in the light of this "primal memory." I think our self-definition would 
feel too threatened, for to live in this memory the false-self (the projected-self, whatever we want 
to call that outer or surface-self) must be replaced by the true inner self which is the self 
perfectly conformed to the image of Christ. "I live, now no longer I but Christ lives in me." 

Perhaps some of the most difficult sayings of the mystics arise out of the experience of 
"primal memory"? 

To reach satisfaction in all 

desire its possession in nothing. 

To come to possess all 

desire the possession of nothing. 

To arrive at being all 

desire to be nothing 

To come to the knowledge of all 

desire the knowledge of nothing. 

To come to the pleasure you have not 

you must go by a way you enjoy not.... 

John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel 

Chapter 13 Number 11 

Wnen one stands on the brink of what seems an abyss of nothingness desiring to jump 
into the arms of the Infinite, is there anything one can do to muster the courage to jump? 
Perhaps efforts at silence, solitude, contemplative living, are all practice at being ready for the 
moment when God leads inward to that "primal memory." In the Letter to the Hebrews we read: 
"Therefore a Sabbath rest still remains for the people of God. And he who enters into God's 
rest, rests from all his own works as God did from his (4:9-1 0)." Perhaps to enter into a Sabbath 
rest is to travel inward to the abode of one's "primal memory." There - safe, loved, and at 
peace - 1 can rest from my work. Perhaps contemplative prayer is a resting in God, a resting 
in our "primal memory," and a practicing for heaven's Sabbath rest. 

102 



In Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, one of the characters, an old professor, 
says in response to some students who ask how he has survived the terrible suffering in his life: 
"Sometimes one good memory can carry you through a lifetime." I wonder if the notion of 
"primal memory," of the one good memory which is infinitely benign, loving, and good, could be 
useful in healing people who from the womb have been unwanted, unloved, abused. Could 
they be helped to be open to move toward this safe place of unconditional love? What if at the 
end of all of one's life it is the full realization of this "primal memory" which finally and profoundly 
heals and saves me? x 



NOTE 

After preparing these reflections, I was interested to see that in "Conscience and Truth" (an 
address to a Workshop for Bishops [Braintree, MA, Pope John XXIII Medico-Moral Research and 
Education Center, 1991]), Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger answered some of his own deepest questions 
about conscience by distinguishing a first, ontological, level of conscience much like Plato's anamnesis: 
"something like an original memory of the good and true. ..has been implanted in us," an "anamnesis of 
the creator" (see esp. p. 14). 



TK&!&&d/w<wth&Word/<yfCjod/... 

Domesticate T.S. Eiiot? 

An easy task. 

Sleazy shreds of human life 

Tainted beauty, a vast emptiness... 

It bothered him. 
He had not felt the cool enveloping fog 
Droop slowly down upon grey city 
Calming soot blackened fears. 
It came, though, that Word. 
Rain softened hard earth 

and quietly it grew: 
night gently opening through the mist, — 
light seeping chinkwise through the mire, — 
finding emeralds and gems everywhere 

it touched, 
healing, reaching deeply, opening up. 
A gentle breeze arose and now becomes 
A deep upsurging swell of love 
Whose pulse sweeps racing through the stars. 

— Sr. Mary of Christ, O.P. 
Los Angeles 



103 



THE FATHER IN PAUL'S LETTER TO THE ROMANS 



Sr. Mary Vincent, O.P. 
Farmington Hills, Ml 



I like to look at Paul's letter to the Romans as two huge murals facing each other on 
either side of a long passageway. A passageway through which every human person must 
walk. The one mural portrays the stark picture of the history of humanity without God, worse, 
a humanity that has rejected and rebelled against God. The other mural portrays the Father in 
the midst of the chaos - his Son, lifted up on the Cross - lifting up with himself the prostrate 
form of humanity by the love of Their Spirit. This Spirit of love from the Cross is pouring over 
us, into us. Cleansing, vivifying the dead bones. Humankind rises - free from bondage. 

The One Mural: Romans tells a bleak, black story: Corruption is universal; coming from Adam 
whose fault has been transmitted to his descendants. It has deeply infected human nature: 

Through one man sin entered into the world... by the offense of one, the many died. By 
the disobedience of one man the many were constituted sinners (Rom 5:12-19 1 ). 

The flesh in its tendency is at enmity with God; it is not subject to God's law. Indeed, 
it cannot be; those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom 8:7). Isn't this reason 
for despair? 

Not only does Paul portray universal corruption, but individual alienation as he tells of his own 
struggle: 

We know that the law is spiritual, whereas I am weak flesh sold into the slavery of sin. 
I cannot even understand my own actions. I do not do what I want to do but what I 
hate... What a wretched man I am! Who can free me from this body doomed to death? 
(Rom 7:14, 15,24). 

The Second Mural: Here is portrayed in deft, bold, clear lines that God is our Father and that 
this Father has a plan for Jews and Gentiles. This is God's and Paul's good news, the gospel 
of salvation, the gift of Jesus Christ, the Son, to us. Paul, with the strongest colors, paints in this 
letter the complete need, the complete gift of it. By the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit, 
all humanity is called - out of despair and isolation - to holiness. Paul preaches the favor, the 
grace of the Father, the favor extended to us in His Son, the grace offered to all who believe - 
Jews and Gentiles alike. ALL. Mercy and love freely bestowed. The Romans had their law, 
their government, their armies, but: 

It is not a question of man's willing or doing but of God's mercy (Rom 9:16). The 
Father's Mercy. 

All have sinned and fall short of God's glory. They are now justified by his grace as a 
gift through the redemption wrought in Christ Jesus (Rom 3: 23). But if it is by grace, 
it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace (Rom 
11:6). 

God's gifts and his call are irrevocable (Rom 1 1 :29). 

With powerful persuasion Paul says that we have been made righteous through faith; 
baptized into Christ's death, buried with him; raised from the dead with him to live a new life 

104 



(Rom 6:3). Our inheritance is through faith. Abraham, our father in faith, who teaches us faith, 
has received the promises of God for us. Paul definitely had fatherhood in mind when he wrote, 
in chapter 4, of Abraham justified through faith and becoming father of us all by believing in the 
promises God the Father made to him: 

He is the father of us all, which is why Scripture says: "I have made you father of many 
nations." Yes, he is our father in the sight of God in whom he believed, the God who 
restores the dead to life and calls into being those things which had not been (Rom 
4:16). 

In a sense, the Father begot another father, Abraham, passing on His fatherhood, making him 
fruitful; making Sarah a mother; making us children of the promises. 

Paul points us toward the Father. Again and again in this letter Paul shows us the 
Father as involved, as raising his Son from the dead and we are given hope and peace through 
believing. "Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live 
a new life" (Rom 6:4). Notice that Paul does not say "have a new life" but "live a new life." 
Paul's concept of life and love is very dynamic. The Father does not make us cream puffs. 

Now that we have been justified by faith, we are at peace with God [the Father] through 
our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have gained access by faith to the grace in 
which we now stand, and we boast of our hope for the glory of God (Rom 5:1-2). 

"We have gained access" - no separation. Paul boasts, he speaks with extravagance because 
the Father gives with extravagance. 



The Father's Action through the Son, through the Holy Spirit 

Recall the picture of stark failure and despair and again the picture on the other side. 
Faith comes bringing hope. Misery is lifted from us by the gift of the Father. Paul squarely 
faces the sufferings we bear but he proclaims what strength we now have: 

We even boast of our afflictions! We know that affliction makes for endurance, and 
endurance for tested virtue, and tested virtue for hope. And this hope will not leave us 
disappointed, because the love of God [the Father] has been poured out in our hearts 
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom 5:3-5). 

Paul's enthusiasm mounts and pours out as does the Father's love: 

At the appointed time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for us godless men. It is rare 
that anyone would lay down his life for a just man, though it is barely possible that for a good 
man someone may have the courage to die. It is precisely in this that God [our Father] proves 
his love for us: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:6-8). 

Our world seeks proof. The Father's gift of his Son, even unto death - is this proof enough for 
us? The Father is anxious that we shall see it. He created us only that we would see it! 

The action portrayed in the letter to the Romans is twofold: the Father pouring out his 
love into our hearts 2 and the Father proving his love by giving his very own Son, even to the 
folly of the Cross. This letter shows the Blessed Trinity in our wounded world, bearing our 

105 



anguish, giving us a vibrant, daring hope. We are reconciled. Cleansed, vivified from the inside 
out. Visualize again the Father lifting us from our misery, standing us up on our two feet. An 
image of the Father might be two hands extended towards us. In one hand is the burning Heart 
of his Son; in the other the pulsing love of his Spirit. Or the One God who has two hands 
extended to us - one hand is the Son, the other is the Spirit. (Ireneaus). 

...we were reconciled to him by the death of his Son, it is all the more certain that we 
who have been reconciled will be saved by his life (Rom 5:10). 

The secret of the Father's plan is, in a word, grace. By the word grace, biblical language 
designates both the prevenient and generous love of God and his completely free gift. When 
we say that God gives his grace, we understand that the Father takes the initiative in granting 
favors. God freely gives us his Son, his Son gives his life, the Spirit is given to us for all our 
living and dying. For St. Paul grace is not a thing; it is God himself, living and giving himself; 
or we could say, it is his relationship of charity and generosity with us all. 3 

"Superabundance" is the invariable quality of grace - of charity infused by God and of 
life lived in Christ: 

The law came in order to increase offenses; but despite the increase of sin, grace has 
far surpassed it, so that, as sin reigned through death, grace may reign by way of justice 
leading to eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 5:20). 

Paul creates a new word in Greek to express his thought: "uperprepisseusen." One 
compound Greek word needing three English words to express his thought. "Has far sur- 
passed." We have heard of "hyper-active" or "super-generous" or "hyper-sensitive." Here is 
Paul saying that grace has super-, hyper-abounded over sin. Superabundance should be the 
quality of my life now. Do I live the daily happenings in a spirit of superabundance of God's 
presence and victory? Or do tension, frustration, anger, petulance, envy, criticism abound 
instead? God's gifts are not only for the taking, but for the using. 



The Mighty Chapter Eight 

Chapter 8 of Romans reaches a high point, if not the highest in all Paul's letters. It is 
unique in its ardor of affirming the love of God - "God" is used 1 8 times in this one chapter. God 
is present as our Now, in our now. Not always named as "Father" but understood as such. If 
God is present he is eternally present -that is, always present, never changing or changing his 
mind or his plan to draw us to himself- to life. God is not retro-active, but the Originator, the 
Activator - only for our good. Grace - God is "leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our 
Lord" (Rom 5:21). 

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then he who raised 
Christ from the dead will bring your mortal bodies to life also, through his Spirit dwelling 
in you (Rom 8:11). 

All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. You did not receive a spirit of 
slavery leading you back into fear, but a spirit of adoption through which we cry out, 
"Abba!" (that is, "Father"). The Spirit himself gives witness with our spirit that we are 
children of God. But if we are children, we are heirs as well, heirs of God, joint-heirs 
with Christ, if only we suffer with him so as to be glorified with him (Rom 8:14-17). 

106 



Notice the verbs: raised, bring to life, dwelling, led, receive, cry out, gives witness, suffer, 
glorified. Note especially the present tense of "are" in "are children," "are heirs." A powerful 
paragraph. The Spirit is graphically described as leading out of fear, out of slavery, into a new 
family bond as children, as destined for glory. Paul names God "Abba" and takes pains to 
translate the intimate Aramaic into Greek. Paul wants no mistaking the fact. God is my tender 
Father, Daddy, Papa, close, loving us as his children. And then - astounding fact - an heir. 
Everything is ours, "Heirs of God." Paul repeats with a significant nuance: "co-heirs of Christ" 
related and rich! If only we stick close to him in whatever we have to suffer. 

The Spirit is personified as giving witness with our spirit, helping us, groaning in the midst 
of humanity's pain, "interceding as God himself wills" (Rom 8:26, 27). Never alone. Never. 
This gives birth to Paul's exclaiming in utter confidence and assurance: 

All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God (Rom 8:14). We know - [we 
know!] - that God [the Father] makes all things - everything - work together for the 
good of those who love him (Rom 8:28). 

Everything working for our good. No exception. Not one. 

There follow five verbs: two describe the Father in contemplation - gazing at a vista of 
glory children - freed from the bondage of sin and decay - shining in his Son; the other three 
verbs show the Father in action - in getting things done - manifesting - his Son accomplishing 
a mystery of glory for Themselves and for us. All this is a present tense in God. All this is a 
present, a gift from God. 

...He (the Father) foreknew- he predestined us to share the image of his Son - another 
dynamic purpose of the Father: that the Son might be the first-born of many brothers - 
he called - he justified - he in turn, glorified (Rom 8:29-30). 

Our God is not a cream puff, either, sitting in a comfortable lounge up there somewhere far off. 

These thoughts of God are deeds accomplished in us and for us. Paul reveals the 
Father as planning to give us his Son, who is born first and then gives birth to us, freed from sin, 
walking now in the Spirit as children of God - destined for glory. Glory is the other panel - Glory 
could be another name for the Father. 



The Apogee 

Paul's ardor in chapter eight grows ever more in momentum: he immediately shouts out 
nine burning questions, one after the other: 

What shall we say after that? 

If God is for us, who can be against us? 

Is it possible that he who did not spare his own Son but handed 

him over for the sake of us all will not grant all things besides? 

[Notice the tiny word all repeated twice.] 

Who shall bring a charge against God's chosen ones? 

God who justifies? 

Who shall condemn them? 

Christ Jesus, who died or rather was raised up, 

107 



who is at the right hand of God [the Father] 
and who intercedes for us? (Rom 8: 31-34). 

Then the final climactic question confronting the deepest needs and fears suffered by the 
human person: 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Trial or distress, or persecution, or 
hunger, or nakedness, or danger, or the sword? (Rom 8: 35). 

The answer is voiced through the question: No separation is possible! Even though slain every 
day - looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered! It is the apogee of Paul's proclamation. 

Yet in all this [again notice the word all ] we are more than conquerors because of him 
who has loved us (Rom 8:37). 

"More than conquerors" is once again in Greek one compound word Paul creates to express 
the breadth of the truth he sees in all its splendor. "Because of him who has loved us." In 
Greek it reads "the One loving us" - Paul's name for God. Present tense again. And he rushes 
on: 

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither 
the present nor the future, nor powers, neither height nor depth nor any other creature, 
will be able to separate us from the love of God [the Father] that comes to us in Christ 
Jesus, our Lord (Rom 8:38-39). 



The Heart of Romans 

Paul's certainty is as a mountain ablaze in a dark night. At this stage of his life, Paul has 
been through just about everything. "I am convinced" - nothing can daunt, nothing can deter, 
nothing can separate us - Is not the fear of separation the hardest part in the lives of those who 
love one another? This, for me, is the heart of Paul's letter. While John in his Gospel will 
address directly our yearning for oneness "I pray that they may be one in us" (Jn 17:21), Paul 
confronts our deepest fear which is: "I am weak and insignificant, a sinner doomed to die. I will 
be forgotten, excluded, fall away, torn away - separated from love, union and security." It is an 
approach from the dark panel - through the dark panel. Here is a bold, flaming assertion that 
no one or nothing can separate us from the love that comes and is coming at every moment 
of our lives from the Father through his Son, handed over for us. Handed over to us. Paul sees 
the love that will never fail us. Never. "Who shall condemn them? Christ Jesus, who died or 
rather was raised up, who is at the right hand of God [the Father] and who intercedes for us?" 
(Rom 8:34). Rather, this love glorifies all who believe. Nothing can separate us from the love 
of God - our Father- absolutely nothing. We are more than conquerors.. .in the groaning travail 
of all creation. 

"If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31). This is Paul's picture of the 
Father. There, eternally, for us. Planning a present destiny, a way of life provided for by God's 
provident riches. The riches of his mercy. 

Mercy to All 

Chapters 10 and 1 1 spell out the triumph of Mercy: 

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No one who believes in him will be put to shame. Here there is no difference between 
Jew and Greek; all have the same Lord, rich in mercy toward all who call upon him (Rom 
10: 11-12). 

Just as you were once disobedient to God and now have received mercy through their 
[the Jews'] disobedience, so they have become disobedient - since God wished to show 
you mercy - that they too may receive mercy. God has imprisoned all in disobedience 
that he might have mercy on all. 

How deep are the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God. How inscru- 
table his judgements, how unsearchable his ways! For who has known the mind of the 
Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Or who has given him anything so as to 
deserve return? For from him and through him and for him all things are. To him be 
glory forever. Amen (Rom 11:30-36). 

Mercy is extended to all. Paul gazes on the Mystery of this God who has no counselor 
or comprehender. All humanity faces the story of the dark mural and says to the Father: To you 
be glory, the glory you so mercifully share with us. With Paul we bow down in worship. 



Our Response to Mercy 

Chapters 12 to 15 give us the ethical moral response the Father asks of us through Christ. 

And now, brothers and sisters, I beg you through the mercy of God to offer your bodies 
as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform 
yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may 
judge what is God's will, what is good, pleasing and perfect (Rom 12:1-2). 

...we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually members one of another 
(Rom 12:5). 

If I am one body in Christ then this determines how I live for the Father. As a child of the same 
Father as Jesus. 

Love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom 13:10). Use the faith you have as your rule of life 
in the sight of God (your Father) (Rom 14:22). 

May God (your Father) the source of all patience and encouragement, enable you to live 
in perfect harmony with one another according to the spirit of Christ Jesus, so that with 
one heart and voice you may glorify God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 
14:5-6). 

Another name for the Father: source of all patience and encouragement - enabling me to live 
with others - never separated from them either - to glorify and thank our Father. Praise issues 
from a grateful heart: 

The Gentiles glorify God because of his mercy.... I will praise you among the Gentiles 
and I will sing to your Name.... Rejoice, O Gentiles with his people.... in him the 
Gentiles will find hope (Rom 15:9-12). 

For Paul gratitude is not an interior sentiment, or even an eminent form of prayer, it is 
the permanent attitude of a sinful creature who knows she is loved with an infinite love. Her 

109 



gratitude must pour itself out in deeds for others (as her Father's does) and in a life that is full 
of praise and thanksgiving. 

Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Contribute to the needs of the 
saints; extend hospitality to strangers (Rom 12:11, 13). 



Conclusion: Hope - No Separation 

Paul concludes his letter with one more name of God the Father: 

So may God, the source of hope, fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that 
through the power of the Holy Spirit you may have hope in abundance (Rom 15:13). 

Father - source of hope - here the dark panel is faced for the last time in this letter. In the face 
of despair we have hope; we can possess all joy and peace (again that little word all). Paul 
harks back to that throbbing need of every human heart - no separation! Empowered with the 
Holy Spirit of God we can be full of hope - hope for what? No separation - from God. From 
those I love. From myself. 

One body in Christ and individually we are members of one another (Rom 12:5). 

Both in life and in death we are the Lord's. ..let us then, make it our aim to work for 
peace and to strengthen one another (Rom 14: 8, 19). 

"Beloved of God, called to be saints" (Rom 1:7). 

Holiness is no separation, except from sin. 

The Son takes us, Gentiles and Jews, to the Father, the great Originator and Source of 
all. Our hope, our living in Christ through the obedience of faith, gives glory - joy to the Father. 
No separation. The dark mural is not the last word. 

If God is for us, who can be against us? Who can separate us from the love of Christ? 
I am certain that neither death nor life, neither the present nor the future, nor powers, 
neither height nor depth nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love 
of God - our Father - that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord (Rom 8:31 , 38, 39). 

This is the mystery Paul proclaims in his letter to the Romans. x 



NOTES 

1 . The Scripture references were taken mainly from the New American Bible, with a few from the 
Revised Standard Version. 

2. Think of a mighty waterfall as an image of this "pouring." I like to picture Niagra Falls, close up. 

3. See The Trinity and Our Moral Life, Chapter Two, "From the Father," by Ceslaus Spicq, O.P. (New 
York: Newman Press, 1963). 

110 



ORIGEN'S HOMILY ON MAGDALEN 

JOHN 20:11-19 



Translated 1 by Sr. Mary Regina, O.P. 
West Springfield, MA 



The extreme love for the Savior proved by Magdalen will furnish the subject of my 
discourse today. You know she loved him more than all else, and followed him to the death at 
the same time as the disciples abandoned him. When he was buried she refused to leave him 
and remained at the tomb shedding tears. Mary, says the Evangelist, stayed near the tomb, 
weeping. 

If we can, let us find out why she remained there and the cause of her tears so that we 
might gather some fruit from both the one and the other. 

Love made her stay there and sorrow drew forth her tears. She remained to see if she 
could see him whom she sought with so much passion, but she wept because she was 
persuaded that someone had taken him away; her sorrow increased because, after having 
accompanied him to death with so much affliction, she now must weep for him as lost again. 
In her immense grief the presence of his cherished remains would be a consolation, and now 
she can do nothing to alleviate it. She fears lest her love for her Master grow cold when his 
body, itself frozen in death, would be capable of warming it. 

She went to the tomb with perfumes to anoint in death the members of him on whose 
feet she had poured out perfume during his life, and as she had shed her tears on his sacred 
feet she wished also to weep at his tomb. But not finding his body as she had hoped, her 
affliction increased. Now she now longer thinks of embalming him, she is anxious only not to 
lose him forever. 

She is so distressed that she no longer knows what she is doing. What else could she 
do but weep since her sorrow was great and she had no one to console her? Peter and John 
had come with her to the tomb; but not finding the body they sought, they returned. She, on 
the contrary, remained to regret its loss and to solace her pain by awaiting some consolation 
which she would have despaired of had she not had the power to hope. Peter and John feared 
and they fled. But she did not follow them. She feared nothing because after such great 
unhappiness, it seemed to her that she had nothing more to fear. She had lost her good 
Master, and without him she could neither love nor hope. 

She had lost the life of her soul, and she knew that death would be better forher than life. 
In death she would meet him whom she could not find in life, since she could not live without 
him. Her love was like death, because what could death do to her that love had not already 
done? She appeared as one without a soul, and she looked as if she were oblivious of 
everything. Feeling she did not feel, seeing she did not see, hearing she did not hear, she is 
not present to herself, because she is entirely where her Savior is. She seeks for him and she 



1 From the French translation by Bishop M. Coeffeteau, O.P. (Paris, 1625) included in Louis 
Chardon, O.P., La Croix de Jesus (ET: Josefa Thornton; St. Louis, Mo: Herder, 1959, v.ll). 

111 



does not find him, that is why she remains at the tomb where she appears both disconsolate 
and unhappy. 

But, O Magdalen, how is it that when the Apostles left the tomb you remained there after 
they left? Were you wiser, did you love more or did you fear less than these great men? You 
certainly did not wish to dispute their wisdom or their courage, you were only preoccupied with 
loving, and you could only complain of the loss of the one you loved. Shall I say that this 
woman had forgotten both joy and all fear? She forgot herself and all that was not him whom 
alone she loved. We could even say that she had forgotten him, since seeing him she did not 
know him, so much was she troubled by love and pain. She did not know him since she sought 
him in the tomb, because if she had remembered his words she would not be afflicted by his 
death. She would rejoice in his new life, she would not have believed a stranger took him, but 
that he had been raised by the power of the Father. He had said that he would be crucified and 
that he would rise on the third day; but sorrow had mastered her heart and obliterated the 
words. She had neither feeling, counsel, hope, or anything else except only the power to weep. 

II 

As her tears were within her own power, she shed them abundantly, and in her 
desolation she stooped down, looked in the tomb, and saw two angels clothed in white robes 
who said to her: "Woman, why are you weeping?" Behold, assuredly this was a great con- 
solation, O Magdalen, because you have met two among the living who seem to desire to 
lighten your sorrow. But how is it that he whom you seek seems to neglect your pain and scorn 
your tears? You pray to him and he does not hear you; you seek him without finding him; you 
knock and he does not wish to open, and the more you pursue him the more he seems to 
escape from you. What a strange change is taking place here! Before, he defended you from 
the murmuring of the Pharisee and the complaints of your sister. He praised you when you 
poured your perfume on his feet, when you washed them with your tears, and when you dried 
them with your hair; he consoled you and forgave your sins. In the past he sought you when 
you were absent, and had your sister tell you that he solicited your presence. "The Master is 
here," she said, "and he is asking for you." 

Oh! Then, Magdalen rose promptly on hearing these words! And with what diligence 
she ran to cast herself at your feet, as she was accustomed to do, O good Jesus! When you 
saw her melt in tears, you could not restrain your own and you wept with her. How sweet was 
her consolation when she heard you ask the Jews where they had put Lazarus! And then, to 
recompense the love of her who loved you so passionately, it pleased you to raise him to life 
and to procure for Magdalen a joy truly ineffable. 

Why do you show such coldness to her today? And how can you so treat her who seeks 
you with so much ardor? 

We do not read that she had done anything up to this hour except to hasten to the tomb 
where you had been placed, to bring perfumes to embalm your body, since when she did not 
find you she returned to the apostles who saw the empty tomb and then left the place, while she 
remained to weep bitterly. If this is sinful it must be recognized that she is guilty. But if this is 
not a crime, but moreover the testimony of the love which she bore you and of the desire she 
had to see you, why do you hide yourself from her, you who love all those who love you, and 
who let yourself be found by those who seek you? You have said: "I love those who love me, 

112 



and those who seek me in the morning will find me." Why then does this woman who seeks 
you in the morning not find you? Why do you not dry the tears she sheds over you, as you did 
those that she shed for Lazarus her brother? And if you love her now, why do you wait so long 
to console her? 

O Master, faithful and true! Remember how you testified of her when you spoke to her 
sister Martha: that she had chosen the better part by remaining at your feet to listen to your 
words. In truth, her choice could not have been better since you were the object. But how can 
it be true that she had not lost that which she had chosen if you distance yourself from her? 
And if she has not lost you, why is she seen shedding so many tears, or could it be that she has 
not looked for you enough? Certainly, she seeks what she has chosen and her tears come only 
from the displeasure at having lost that which was so precious to her. Because of this, O Savior 
of the world, preserve her in what she had chosen lest we have difficulty in putting faith in your 
word. If not before her eyes, at least be in her heart. 

Why do you weep, O Magdalen? What are you waiting for? Let the sight of these 
angels who are with you console you and suffice for you. Maybe there is in you something that 
does not please him whom you seek, and that is the reason why he does not wish to see you. 
Put an end to your sadness, moderate or cease your weeping. Remember what he told you 
and the other women: "Do not weep over me." What is it that you are doing? He does not wish 
you to shed tears and that is what you do. I am afraid that your sighs offend him, because if he 
loved your tears, he would weep with you, as he did in another circumstance. Believe me, 
content yourself with the angels' consolation; remain with them. Ask them and they will be able 
to tell you where he is whom you seek and for whom you weep. As for me, I am persuaded that 
they did not come from heaven except to bear witness to him and that he whose absence you 
regret, sent them to announce his resurrection and console you in your pain. 

And, in fact, the angels say to Magdalen: "Woman, why do you weep and why are you 
so sad? Open your heart to us and it may be that we can fill it with joy by telling you what you 
desire." But she, exhausted by her pain and as if out of herself, does not wish to receive any 
consolation. She does not even look at those who speak to her. She finds all consolation 
importune. She seeks her Creator. How, she says to herself, can creatures satisfy me! I do 
not wish to see angels; I feel that they trouble my soul in place of giving it peace. They have 
taken away my Creator; I seek only him; he alone can satisfy me. But I do not know where they 
have placed him whom they have taken away. I would find the place of his rest, but I have 
looked around everywhere and cannot find him. 

Ill 

Where will I go and what will become of me? Where has my well-beloved gone? I have 
sought for him in vain at the tomb. I have called him and he has not answered. Where then 
shall I turn to find him? I have interrupted my sleep; I will rise and go to meet him whom my soul 
desires. O my eyes, shed tears, and you, my feet, run without rest and seek him whom I long 
to see. Alas! Where has the object of my joy gone, where has my love hidden, where are my 
dear delights? But you, my Savior, why have you left me? O sorrow! O insupportable pain! 
Anguish has enveloped me on all sides and I know not what I must do. It is a torture for me to 
remain in this place; and it would be the greatest sorrow for me to leave. I would much rather 
guard the tomb of my Lord, for fear that in my absence someone might take away his body and 
destroy his tomb. If I must, I will remain here and die here, so that my tomb might be near his. 

113 



Oh! How happy my body would be if that could happen and how joyful would my soul be if, 
leaving its prison, it might enter into this glorious tomb! Whether I die or live, never can I be 
separated from him. Why have I not foreseen all these events when they buried my Master? 
Why did I not remain with him? If I had acted thus, I would not now be weeping at his loss. I 
would have prevented his being taken away or at least I would have followed those who took 
him. But I desired to obey the law and I have not guarded him before whom these laws give 
way. To guard the body of my Savior would not be to violate them but to fulfill them. This death 
did not destroy the Passover, it renewed it; it did not defile it, on the contrary it purified those 
who are defiled; it healed those whom it touched and illumined those who drew near to 
participate in its splendor. 

However, why make everything worse? I have abandoned him, I left, then returning to 
the tomb I found it open and empty. I stayed here and waited to see if I could find him anywhere 
around. But why stay here alone? Yet the disciples left. There was not one who wept with me, 
and no one made any effort to search for the Savior of the world with me. The angels appeared 
to me. I know not why. If it was to console me, they paid no attention to the reason for my 
sorrow. But they did not know since they asked me why I was weeping. Perhaps it was to 
prevent me from weeping. They would not have taken such trouble unless they did not want 
to see me die. Now I will not cease to weep and I will do so until the end of my life if I do not 
meet him whom I seek with so much sorrow. 

What shall I do to find him? From whom shall I take counsel? Whom shall I call? Who 
will have compassion on me and wish to console me? Who will tell me where my well-beloved 
rests during the excessive heat of the day? I conjure those who listen to me to tell him that I 
languish with love and there is no sorrow like mine. Return, O holy object of my desires, give 
me the joy of your sweet presence. Show me your face and let your voice resound in my ears, 
because your voice is sweet and your face is comely. O my hope! Do not deprive me of the 
fruit of my expectation; cast but one glance of your eyes on me and I will be satisfied. 



IV 

As Magdalen was weeping in this way, she found herself face to face with the Savior, 
but without recognizing him. He said to her: "Woman, why do you weep and whom are you 
looking for?" O only desire of her soul! How can you ask her the reason for her tears? It was 
not long ago when she saw before her eyes, in cruelest agony, her hope attached to the tree 
of the cross, and you ask her why she weeps? She saw your hands which have so often 
blessed, your feet that she kissed and moistened with her tears, pierced with nails which 
fastened your body to the cross. She saw you give up your last breath; and you, the one object 
of her sorrow, ask her why she is afflicted. Desirous of having the consolation of embalming 
your body, she finds that someone has removed it and you say to her: "Why are you weeping? 
Whom are you looking for?" You know, however, that she seeks only you, that she loves you 
so ardently that she scorns all things for your sake. O Master! How is it that you so test the 
courage of this woman? She had no other thought than that of your love; and if she despairs 
t is because she does not see you, you who are the only object of her hope. She seeks you, 
n such a way that she wishes to see only you. She does not think that she has found you. It 
s without doubt for this reason that she does not recognize you. She is outside of herself; your 
love has ravished her. Why ask her the cause of her tears and the object of her search! Do 
you think that she says to you: It is for you that I am weeping, it is you that I seek, if first you do 

114 



not speak to her heart, if you thus hide yourself, and if you refuse to make yourself known to 
her? 

Believing that she is talking to a gardener, Magdalen says to him: "Sir, if you have taken 
him away, tell me where you have put him and I will take him away." O sorrow, O passion 
unsurpassed! This woman was as if enveloped in a thick cloud of affliction; she could not see 
the sun which rose in the morning and now shines in her eyes. But because she languished 
with love, the eyes of her soul were so obscured by her grief that she does not see him who was 
before her eyes; that is to say she did not know the Savior to whom she spoke. O Magdalen! 
If you seek the spouse of your soul why do you not know him? And if you know him, why do 
you still seek him? Behold him before you, because it is he who asks you why you shed so 
many tears. By taking him for a gardener you were not altogether deceived, because in his 
goodness Jesus, as a careful gardener, casts all kinds of good seeds in your heart and in those 
of the faithful, and makes virtues spring up which he cultivates and waters with his graces. If 
you do not know him, it is not because he speaks to you, but because you seek him as dead, 
and a word is a sign of life. What hinders the Savior from manifesting his presence is that you 
do not seek him as you ought. You seek him in a state where he is not. There is nothing 
astonishing in that seeing him you do not recognize him. 

O good Lord! I cannot completely excuse nor freely defend Magdalen's error. Still, I 
would say that what deceived her was that she sought you in the form where she had seen you 
when you were taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb. Sorrow made her lose all 
hope of seeing you alive, even though you had assured her of your resurrection. We could say 
that when Joseph of Arimathea had placed your body in the tomb, she buried with it her spirit, 
united so inseparably with it that it had been easier for her to die than to detach it. Yes, the soul 
of Magdalen was more in your body than in her own, and in seeking your body she had lost her 
soul. Can it be astonishing that she no longer had feeling or recognition? Give her back her 
spirit and she will recover both. But how can she be so deceived who wept for you so bitterly 
and sought you with such ardor? Let us say that her mistake was excusable, or better that her 
ignorance did not proceed from error, but from sadness and the love which completely 
possessed her. 



O just and clement Judge, such ardent love, like the sorrow which filled her in your 
absence, served as an excuse for her in your eyes and made her obtain the pardon of her fault. 
Take no notice of her forgetfulness but look for its cause, and remember that it is love which 
deceived her and which obliged her to speak to you weeping: "Sir, if you have taken him away, 
tell me where you have put him and I will take him away!" Oh, how enlightened is her ignorance 
and how full of knowledge her error! She said to the angels: "They have taken away my Lord." 
But she did not say: "It is you who have taken him." And in fact the angels did not draw you 
from the tomb and bring you to another place. She asked you only if you had taken him and 
placed him somewhere because you went forth by your own power from the tomb and placed 
yourself there where you are standing. She did not say to the angels: "Make known to me what 
happened in the tomb," because they could not tell completely what had gone on there. But 
speaking to you, she says: "Tell me" because it is not impossible for you to say what it is 
possible for you to do. But Lord, what do these words signify: ".. .where you have put him"? She 
says this to the apostles and to the angels, and she repeats them to you. Her heart must find 
sweet these words that she pronounces so often. In fact they recall to her the love that you 

115 



testified to her when you asked the Jews in speaking of her brother: "Where have you put 
him?" From that day they were kept in her heart as a cherished remembrance. 

O how she loved your person who made so much of your words! O how she desired 
to see your face who repeated with so much joy what she had heard you say! O how happy 
she would be to kiss your feet! But what more does she add? "And I will take him away!" 
Joseph was afraid; he did not dare take your body from the cross except during the night and 
after having obtained permission from Pilate; but Magdalen did not seek the darkness, she did 
not fear Pilate's anger, she spoke courageously: "I will take him away." But, O Magdalen, if by 
chance the body of the Lord had been placed in the high priest's court, there where the prince 
of the apostles warmed himself for his consolation, what would you do? I would take it away! 
O marvelous courage of a woman! O woman whose strength is superior to that of the most 
valiant! And if the importune servant who kept the keys of the door of the high priest came to 
interrogate you, what would you answer? I will take him away! O ardent love, O incomparable 
strength! O woman not a woman! She respected no place, she excepted no one, but she 
protested absolutely without any fear: "Tell me where you have put him and I will take him 
away." O Woman, your faith is great and your constancy admirable. 

Why then, Lord, did you not say: "Have confidence, your faith has saved you"? Have 
you then forgotten your mercies? Manifest your presence to her so that filled entirely with you 
she might go to announce your resurrection to your disciples! O Master, wait no longer to 
satisfy her desires. She has waited for you three days, she has had nothing to eat, nothing to 
quench the thirst of her soul. Is it not time that you make yourself known to her, that you give 
her the bread of your body, and that you nourish her spirit from your table? If then you do not 
wish herto remain languishing, give her the living bread which contains all kinds of delights. Life 
will not delay to leave her body if you do not manifest yourself to her soon, you who are the life 
of her soul. 

Jesus said to her: "Mary!" She turned and replied: "Rabboni." And Jesus said: "Do not 
touch me." O change of the right hand of power! A great sorrow gives place to an extreme joy, 
and these tears of affliction are changed into tears of love. As soon as Magdalen had heard this 
name by which the Savior was accustomed to call her, she felt I know not what sweetness 
which made her recognize her Master. The Lord wished to continue to speak, but she had no 
patience to listen; she interrupted with joy and spoke to him: "Rabboni," and thinking that she 
had nothing else to say, since she had found him who is the eternal Word of the Father, she 
cast herself at his feet. O impatient and powerful love! It was not enough for her to see the 
Savior and to speak to him. She wished to touch him once more, knowing well that there went 
forth from him a virtue which would heal the whole world. O gentle and dear Master! How good 
you are to those who love you ardently and with humility of spirit! Blessed are those who seek 
you with a simple heart and place their confidence in you. We see this in the faithful Magdalen. 
She seeks for you with simplicity and finally she happily finds you. Her hope was in you alone, 
and you did not deceive her. But she had obtained more from your goodness than by her love, 
even though it was extreme. 

VI 

Imitate then, O Christian souls, the affection of this woman in order to arrive at the 
graces which made her so blessed. Let each one of us weep for the death of the Savior, and 
look for him in the sincerity of our hearts; we will not be wanting in finding him, since he mani- 

116 



fested himself to a sinner. Sinful man, learn from her who had many sins pardoned, what you 
ought to do. Learn to regret the loss of God and to desire his presence. Learn from Magdalen 
to place in him your hope, and fear nothing in seeking him, but love him above all things, or 
rather scorn all things for love of him. Learn from Magdalen to seek Jesus in the tomb of your 
heart. Remove all hardness from your soul, symbolized by the rock which covered the tomb. 
Break to pieces all that is an obstacle to faith. Take from your heart all worldly concupiscence 
and carefully see if the Savior is in your soul. If you do not find him, stay there, desire and 
weep. Be constant in faith and look all around to see if you see him some place. Pray with 
tears that he may wish to enter and dwell with you. And for fear that your pride may chase him 
away, abase yourself in humility and bow down to look into the tomb which is your soul. 

But if it happens that there you perceive angels, that is to say if you sense in you some 
good desires belonging to the contemplative or active life, which nevertheless are not yet 
capable of making you see and possess the Lord, do not be content with that, but seek him 
again. Weep and continue your search until you have found him. And if he responds to your 
desire and presents himself do not presume that you know him yet. Question him and beg him 
to manifest himself all the more to your soul. I dare to promise you that if you persevere in this 
way, if you weep and continue to look for him, if you humble yourself before him, and if like 
Magdalen, you are not content except with his presence, you will find him and he will reveal 
himself to you. It will not be enough for you to hear from him, but you will make him known to 
others while saying to them: "I have seen the Lord to whom be immortal glory." x 



T^e brapes were bown, 
"Gone to t{;e cleaners/' t^e$ said. 
T^e monstrance, glistening, 
its golben filigree piercing 
tfe bark, stretching out 
its rays: tl?e Sun of Justice. 
Aloft, \)ia\) in tlje wall 
between t(?e A)oir — 
anb the nicjot. 




Looking up, I lookeb 
out, seeina the stark 
barkyiess belyinb Christ, 
beyinb — or was it 
outside of His licfrt. 
I boweb beeply anb 
looking up again I saw 
Christ, His figpt, rabiant, 
encompassing, \illing up 
tl)e emptiness of tl)e black 
barkness of tfc night — 
T^e is-wot became 
HE IS/ 

Sr. Mary Catharine of Jesus, OP 
Summit, NJ 
December i6, 1999 



117 



COMMENTARY ON THE CONSTITUTIONS 

OF THE NUNS OF THE ORDER OF PREACHERS 

(Part III: Prayer; Hearing, Studying and Keeping the Word of God; Work) 

Let us follow in the footsteps of Our Father Dominic 

Sister Marie-Ancilla, O.P. 
Lourdes, France 

(This is the third installment of the Commentary by Sister Marie-Ancilla. Part I: Com- 
mentary on the Fundamental Constitution, appeared in Dominican Monastic 
Search, 1998; and Part II in 1999. Translation by Sr. Mary Thomas, O.P., Buffalo, 
NY.) 

PART THREE 
CONTINUATION OF THE FIRST SECTION OF THE FIRST DISTINCTION: 

THE FOLLOWING OF CHRIST 



CHAPTER II: PRAYER (LCM 74-95) 

A: TEXT 

(The text of Constitutions 74-95, with its endnotes, has been omitted here.) 

B: COMMENTARY 

INTRODUCTION: The Sources of Our Prayer (LCM 74) 

The introduction of Chapter II places the emblem of Christ at the heart of our prayer, with 
the help of some quotations: Heb 5:7 (I), 1 Cor 4:16 (III), Augustine, De sancta virg., 56 (IV). 
Christ who intercedes, Christ crucified, is before the eyes of the nuns, in their hearts, in their 
memories; here we are indeed at the heart of Dominican liturgy. 

The remembrance of Christ, his imitation, will be translated into continual prayer (II). We 
are invited to the prayer of the heart. Three patristic themes are interwoven in this introduction: 
continual prayer (cf. LCM 89), the remembrance of God, and the imitation of Christ. 

1. The example of the prayer of Christ (I) 

To pray is to enter into the great prayer of Christ preoccupied with the salvation of all 
people, interceding for them. 

2. St. Paul's exhortations to prayer (II) 

Three texts of the Apostle present us with different aspects of our prayer: 1 Thes 5:17, 
Eph 5:19, and 1 Tim 2:1. These scriptural verses are not chosen at random; they have been 
used throughout Christian tradition. (1) We shall simply comment on each one. 

118 



1 Thes 5:17: Augustine comments on this in his Letter to Proba: "The word of the Apostle, 
'pray without ceasing' (1 Thes 5: 1 7), what does this mean if not: desire unceasingly the blessed 
life, which is nothing other than eternal life, from Him who alone can give it?" (16). 

Eph 5:19: This is the verse Augustine uses when speaking of the prayer of monks in his 
De opere monachorum: "We devote ourselves to reading with the brothers who come to us, 
fatigued with worldly labors, to repose near us in the word of God and in prayers, 'psalms, 
hymns, and spiritual canticles.'" (17) 

1 Tim 2: 1 : Cassian "sees in the listing in the Letter to Timothy (1 Tim 2: 1 ) the four degrees 
of prayer. If the exegesis is perhaps arguable, if the systematization risks artifice (IX, 9), 
Cassian himself recognizes that different forms of prayer may coexist and mingle in beginners 
as in the perfect, from compunction to the prayer of fire (IX, 15-16). 

"This being said, prayer is first of all a plea for forgiveness and purity of heart. It is the cry 
of the sinner (IX, 11) and of the poor man, as the psalms tell us (X, 11). This corresponds to 
the fundamental purification which frees the soul and renders it light. Cassian compares it 
poetically to a light pen (IX, 4). 

"The prayer-vow reveals the existential dimension of prayer. It goes hand in hand with 
renunciation of false values and the practice of chastity and patience (IX, 12). 

"Intercession focuses the Christian and his work upon others (IX, 13). It progressively 
manifests the missionary dimension of prayer, which is also recalled in the commentary on the 
Our Father. The quotation from St. Paul shows that prayer opens out 'to all humanity' (IX, 17, 
18, 20). Charity brings peace and purity. 

"Thanksgiving, finally, is the contemplation of God's great gifts and a stretching toward 
fresh gifts which have been promised to us (IX, 14). Cassian breathes in the atmosphere of the 
dimension of the history of salvation, and causes the monk to do the same." (18) 

3. The example of St. Dominic (III) 

St. Dominic was persevering in prayer, he celebrated the divine office with devotion, and 
his compassion impelled him to intercede for all men. Here we have the different aspects of 
prayer to which St. Paul exhorts us in the preceding paragraph. We should also note nocturnal 
prayer, so dear to St. Dominic. (19) 

4. Our prayer (IV) 

To preserve "the perpetual remembrance of God" (20): this is indeed the ideal sought by 
monks from the beginning of the monastic life. (21) To remember God is a path to perpetual 
prayer. Is memory not "the faculty which makes durable and permanent what would otherwise 
escape us"? (22) 

Everything in our life should be ordered to the growth of this perpetual remembrance of 
God, this union of mind and heart with Him: St. Basil had already said that everything is and 
ought to be a means of preserving the remembrance of God. This is particularly true of the 
Eucharist and the divine office, of reading and meditation on holy books, of private prayer, vigils, 
and intercessions. 

But silence and "repose" (quies) should also contribute to this, that is, a life in which 
nothing is a hindrance to prayer, in which the heart is freed from all the "cares and anxieties" of 
the world.(23) 



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An Augustinian note is introduced in our Constitutions: this remembrance of God should 
be preserved concorditer. This echoes what Augustine says in the Rule when he speaks of one 
heart and soul intent upon God. 

This remembrance of God is none other than the memory of Christ, the presence of Christ 
in the heart. We find again the theme of prayer of the heart and that of the imitation of Christ 
evoked in paragraph III. Our sentiments tend to become those of Christ himself (Phil 2:5). 
Now, St. Paul tells us, it is in the Incarnation and the Cross that Christ's deepest sentiments are 
best expressed. (24) This brings us to the conclusion of the paragraph which takes up again the 
counsel given by Augustine to consecrated virgins: "Let Him be wholly fixed in your heart, He 
who, for you, was fixed to the cross: let Him wholly occupy the place in your soul which you have 
not willed to give to a husband." (25) 

Our hidden life, then, should be wholly oriented to seeking the face of God. Augustine too 
spent his entire life in this search: "Directing all my powers according to this rule of faith, as far 
as I could, as far as you have given me the ability, I have sought You, I have desired to see with 
my intellect the One whom I have believed, I have pondered this at length and I have prayed, 
Lord my God, my only hope. Grant that I may not give up seeking You through fear or lassi- 
tude, grant that I may ever 'SEEK YOUR FACE WITH ALL MY HEART' (Ps 104:4)." (26) 



I. ARTICLE I: THE LITURGY 



A. THEOLOGICAL ASPECT (LCM 75) 

"The Liturgy of the Hours extends to the different hours of the day the praise and 
thanksgiving, the commemoration of the mysteries of salvation, the petitions and the foretaste 
of heavenly glory, that are present in the eucharistic mystery, 'the center and apex of the whole 
life of the Christian community.'" This n. 12 of the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the 
Hours (27), which presents the relation of the Liturgy of the Hours to the Eucharist, sums up 
nos. 75 and 76 of LCM: 1) the mystery of salvation present in the liturgy, 2) praise, thanksgiving 
and supplication, 3) the foretaste of heavenly glory, and 4) the Eucharist, center of the liturgy. 

1. The mystery of salvation present in the liturgy 

"In the liturgy, above all in the Eucharist, the mystery of salvation is made present" 

Here we have the teaching of the Council on the liturgy (28), which was admirably 
summarized in the General Constitution on the Liturgy of the Hours n. 13: "In the Holy Spirit 
Christ carries out through the Church 'the work of man's redemption and God's perfect 
glorification,' not only when the Eucharist is celebrated and the sacraments administered but 
also in other ways, and especially when the Liturgy of the Hours is celebrated. In it Christ 
himself is present, in the assembled community, in the proclamation of God's word, 'in the 
prayer and song of the Church.'" (29) 

LCM stresses the eminent place held by the Eucharist by introducing in the text the 
antiphon composed by St. Thomas Aquinas for the Office of Corpus Christi (antiphon at the 
Magnificat of 2 nd Vespers). In the parallel text of LCO (n. 57), the emphasis is placed on the 
mystery of salvation rendered present in the liturgy, which is the subject of the preaching of the 

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brethren. As this could not be used for the nuns, it was replaced with St. Thomas's antiphon. 
But this would have been better placed at the end of no. 76, for this Number treats particularly 
of the Eucharist, while n. 75 speaks of the liturgy in general. 

2. Praise, thanksgiving, and intercession 

"Deputed to divine praise" 

This is an addition of LCM to LCO, in direct connection with what the Church expects of 
monastic communities: PC n. 7 says of members of institutes wholly ordered to contemplation 
that they "offer God an eminent sacrifice of praise." These communities "represent in a special 
way the Church at prayer. They are a fuller sign of the Church as it continuously praises God 
with one voice, and they fulfill the duty of 'working,' above all by prayer, 'to build up and increase 
the whole mystical Body of Christ.' This is especially true of those who follow the contemplative 
life." (30) 

We may wonder however if this deputing of the nuns to praise may not be understood as 
their being deputed to the divine office, a reflection of a conception of monastic life dating from 
the nineteenth century. The role of contemplatives in regard to God is, in fact, praise, but this 
sacrifice of praise is not uniquely nor even principally the divine office; it is the whole life of the 
nun. Only in the nineteenth century was the monastic life characterized by the divine office. 
(31). 

"In union with Christ" 

Praise and intercession are above all the work of Christ the priest (32) and through the 
liturgy the nuns participate in this priestly function of Christ. 

"The nuns ... glorify God for the eternal purpose of his will 
and the marvelous dispensation of grace. " 

Two quotations from Ephesians are used here to speak of praise: Eph 1 :5: "according to the 
purpose of his will"; and Eph 3:2: "the marvelous dispensation of the grace of God." The first 
motive for thanksgiving is the purpose of the Father's will, his gratuitous love for man; this is the 
source of all the gifts he has given us through his Son. 

"They intercede (interpellant) with the Father of mercies for the universal Church 
as well as for the needs and salvation of the whole world. " 

Here we recall the interpellandum of Heb 7:25 and the Pater misericordiarum of 2 Cor 1 :3. 
It is indeed a question of union with the great High priest, Christ, who intercedes without ceasing 
with his Father for all men. Here there is a refinement: the universal Church, the needs and 
salvation of the whole world. This was indeed the preoccupation of Dominic. 

3. The foretaste of heavenly glory 

"This joyful celebration joins the pilgrim Church to the Church in glory." 

This is a reference to Humbert of Romans (which is not found in LCO). Here is the text: 
"Joyful celebration, which melts hardness of heart, raises our earthbound spirits, chases away 
the sadness of this world, prepares us to receive the blessing of the Lord, drives the devil away 
in flight, makes the Church Militant like the Church Triumphant, and confounds her 
enemies!"(33) 

The Church "militant" of Humbert's text has become in the Constitutions "the pilgrim 
Church" which recalls rather SC, n. 8. 

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Since it is praise, the liturgy is already an anticipation of the heavenly Jerusalem, where 
there will be nothing but praise: life in the Kingdom will be the singing of an eternal Alleluia. 

4. Liturgy, center of our life and root of its unity 

This affirmation has perhaps more force in LCO where the profound unity between liturgy 
and preaching has been shown. But for the nuns the celebration of the liturgy is also at the 
heart of their life and gives it its unity, for our contemplation is above all the contemplation of 
God's plan of salvation, and the apostolic dimension of our prayer and our whole life is only a 
prolongation of the great prayer of intercession of Christ, which is at the heart of the liturgy. 
Thus the liturgy gives its unity to our vocation as nuns in the Order of Preachers. 

5. The Eucharist, center of the liturgy (LCM 76) 

It is said in the Decree on the Bishops' Pastoral Office in the Church: "Pastors should 
make sure that the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice is the center and summit of the whole 
life of the Christian community." (34) What is true of the entire Christian community is with all 
the more reason true of a monastic community. 

The Eucharist is truly union with Christ and an entering into the very prayer of the risen 
Christ, in his offering to the Father in love, to unite all men to the Father through the gift of the 
Spirit. Here especially our fraternal charity and our apostolic spirit are rooted. What was said 
in the preceding Number regarding the liturgy in general is simply the unfolding of what takes 
place in the Eucharist. 

The Eucharist is called "the bond of charity," which recalls St. Augustine's exclamation, 
"O bond of charity" (35) which was quoted in the conciliar Constitution on the Liturgy to 
designate the memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord. (36) It is followed in this text 
by St. Thomas's antiphon which we have seen in n. 75. 

The Eucharist is the first source of apostolic zeal. Is it not celebrated for the glory of God 
and the salvation of men? "The renewal in the Eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and 
man draws the faithful into the compelling love of Christ and sets them afire. From the liturgy, 
therefore, and especially from the Eucharist, as from a fountain, grace is channeled into us; and 
the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God, to which all other activities of the 
Church are directed as toward their goal, are most powerfully achieved." (37) 



B: PRACTICAL ASPECTS (LCM 79-88) 

1. The obligation of the office (LCM 79) 

According to present canon law (38), religious are bound to the Liturgy of the Hours 
according to the determinations of the Constitutions and no longer according to the prescriptions 
of canon law. Our Constitutions maintain a double obligation: to the celebration of the entire 
office, and in choir. 

Father Soullard sees in the fact that the obligation to the Office is no longer connected with 
canon law, a possibility of freedom of consciences. But there is perhaps an important practical 
consequence: dispensations from the Office regarding points which transcend the power of the 
prioress henceforth revert to the Master of the Order and not to the Congregation for Religious 
Life and Institutes of the Apostolic Life. 

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2. Dispensations from the Office 

The paragraph concerning the private recitation of the Office has been suppressed. The 
Latin text of the present n. 80 does not speak of private recitation but of the above recitation, 
that is, that which was discussed in n. 79: "The nuns are bound to the daily celebration of the 
entire Liturgy of the Hours in choir." Father Soullard explains n. 80 in this way: "There is a 
double obligation; that of the entire Office and that of celebrating this Office in choir; hence the 
twofold possible dispensation, from choir or from the Office." 

But the directories can give clarifications concerning private recitation, says Father Duval. 

3The Hours of the Office (LCM 81) 

a. The division of the Hours (I) 

This paragraph gives the Council's teaching: "Because the purpose of the Office is to 
sanctify the day, the traditional sequence of the Hours is to be restored so that as far as 
possible they may once again be genuinely related to the time of the day at which they are 
prayed." (39) 

b. Characteristics of the different Hours (ll-IV) 

The plan is that of the Constitution on the Liturgy, but while paragraph II repeats SC n. 
89 almost literally, in paragraphs III and IV emphasis is placed on the particularities of our 
Dominican tradition. 

Lauds and Vespers (II) 

Cf. SC 89, a: "By the venerable tradition of the universal Church, Lauds as morning prayer 
and Vespers as evening prayer are the two hinges on which the daily Office turns; hence they 
are to be considered as the chief Hours and are to be celebrated as such." 

Compline (III) 

We are reminded of the privileged place of Compline in the Order: "In the early days of the 
Order... the brethren attended Compline like a festival, recommending themselves to each other 
very affectionately. At the first sound of the bell, wherever they might be, they hastened to the 
choir." (40) This is how the Lives of the Brethren recorded the zeal of the first brethren. A very 
special mention is made of the Salve Regina. Humbert of Romans, commenting on the 
Dominican Constitutions, had already insisted on this custom, although it did not go back to the 
first Constitutions: 

At the beginning of the Order, when our Constitutions were drawn up, this 
procession (in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary) was not made after Compline. But since 
a certain brother of Bologna had been attacked by the devil, the brethren decided, in order 
to obtain his deliverance, to sing the Salve Regina after Compline, and so it was done.... 
As to the procession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to which the brethren have great 
devotion, it was never interrupted. Master Jordan has recounted that a brother worthy of 
belief told him that he often saw the Blessed Virgin prostrating herself before her Son and 
beseeching Him to preserve the Order, at the moment when the brethren were singing, 
Eia ergo advocata nostra. (41) 

The Lives of the Brethren report the institution of the singing of the Salve after Compline 
as follows: 



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The enemy of all good, the devil, who does not fear to attack the Master of the 
Universe, attacked the brethren from the beginning of the Order.... especially at Bologna 
and Paris, where the Preachers were combating him most vigorously.... Most of them had 
to undergo many vexations and blows, many illusions and phantasms. Things came to 
such a pass that at night the Brethren were obliged to take turns watching through the 
night over those who were resting.... They then had recourse to their only hope, the very 
powerful and merciful Mary, and decided that after Compline they would make a solemn 
procession in her honor while singing the anthem Salve Regina with its prayer. Soon the 
phantasms disappeared. (42) 

The Office of Readings (IV) 

The Office of Readings is no longer said during the night by obligation, but mention is 
made of nocturnal prayer which is traditional in the Order. The example of St. Dominic who, 
following the example of the Savior (Lk 6:12), spent the night in prayer, cannot be forgotten. 
The first brethren have left many witnesses of this practice: "The blessed Father often spent the 
whole night in prayer to God; this was something affirmed frequently by the brethren." (43) 
"Father Dominic was often accustomed to spend the night in the church; he prayed there, and 
during his prayer shed abundant tears and often groaned." (44) The first brethren did the same: 
"In the early days... you would have seen all the brethren animated by a wonderful fervor... 
prolonging their prayers during the night until dawn, they would make a hundred or two hundred 
genuflections." (45) "After Matins, a few went to study; those who went back to bed were still 
fewer." (46) 

4. The chant (LCM 82) 

The Office is habitually sung, but it is counseled that account be taken of the degrees of 
the feasts, regarding the solemnity of the Offices. What should by its nature be sung should 
also be taken into account: the hymns, etc. 

a. Sobriety 

According to the earliest tradition of the Order, the Offices should be simple and brief. The 
primitive Constitutions had already prescribed: "All the Hours should be recited in the church 
in a brief and succinct way, lest the brethren lose devotion." (47) 

Humbert of Romans sought the reason for this, and drew up a lengthy list of obstacles 
found in Offices which were too long: 

We ought to consider carefully the hindrances resulting from the length of the Divine 
Office. 

First of all the fact of leaving the choir. For many seek an occasion to withdraw, and 
ask permission to do this under the pretext of the length, in such a way that the choir is 
deserted. 

Secondly, there is the fatigue of the brethren. Few there are who have sufficient 
courage and good health not to become exhausted from time to time by the length of the 
Office. As a result, those who ought to be in choir are obliged to stay in the infirmary. 

Thirdly, there is spiritual repugnance. This afflicts almost everyone because of the 
long duration of the Office. This should absolutely be avoided during the time of praise 
and of the divine office. On the contrary, one should stand erect, with much joy. Jerome 
says: "I would rather sing one psalm with spiritual joy than the whole psalter in a state of 
torpor, disheartedly, and with distaste." 

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Fourthly, there is the disfigurement of the Office. For a long ceremony cannot be 
carried out with the same dignity and beauty as a short office. It is more praiseworthy to 
say a little and say it well than to say a great deal, badly, for we praise someone not for 
the quantity, but for the quality of his deeds. That is, more merit is gained by a good work 
than by a large work; we appreciate the craftsman who does what little he does, well, 
more than the one who produces a great deal of inferior things. 

Fifthly, it is a hindrance to good works. Among these, two are eminently useful, and 
both of them are impeded by the length of the Office, namely, devotion and study, 
especially affected here. 

On the subject of devotion, let us note that there is a devotion which is attached to 
the Office itself, and consists in saying it with devotion; another devotion is practiced by 
the brethren after the Office, when they spend some time in meditation or private prayer. 
These meditations and private prayers are called 'devotions' because on the one hand 
they proceed from devotion, that is from the free will and not from an obligation of the 
Order, and on the other hand because from them we often draw very holy sentiments.(48) 

b. Ordination 8 

This Ordination on Gregorian Chant requires ample reflection, especially the last sentence: 
"They should esteem Gregorian Chant which the Church recognizes as proper to the Roman 
liturgy." (49) We may wonder how the renewed Roman liturgy has been received, especially 
the Liturgy of the Hours which however presents us with a renewed liturgy, enriched by a return 
to the sources, particularly in regard to the hymns which are fittingly connected with Gregorian 
Chant. 

The Roman liturgy ought perhaps to be viewed as a patrimony which enriches us 
spiritually, and for the transmission of which to following generations we are responsible. (50) 

5. Participation of the faithful in our celebrations (LCM 83) 

This is a new Number which repeats LCO 58. It is in the spirit of the Document Mutuo 
relationes. (51) 

6. The Sacrament of Reconciliation (LCM 84-85) 

The frequency which was fixed at twice a month is left free. The text only says "frequently" 
(LCM 84:l). 

Furthermore, entire freedom should be allowed regarding confession (LCM 85; cf. Code 
of Canon Law, 630, 1). According to Canon 630, III, a nun may ask for another confessor if the 
priests approved are not helpful to her. (52) 

A communal celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is asked for (LCM 84.ll) at 
least twice a year: this emphasizes its "fraternal, ecclesial dimension. "(53) It is asked that these 
celebrations take place during Advent and Lent. This emphasizes the importance attached to 
the spirit of the liturgy. These two liturgical seasons are times of preparation, conversion. It is 
therefore normal that they be chosen for the communal sacramental celebration of penance. 

7. The Sacrament of the Sick (LCM 86) (54) 

As for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the communal dimension of the Sacrament of the 
sick is strongly emphasized. The whole community is involved. We should note the theme of 
Christ the Physician with its evangelical inspiration, so often developed by the Fathers. (55) 

125 



II. ARTICLE II: PRIVATE PRAYER (LCM 89-95) (56) 

1. The place of private prayer in our life (LCM 89) 

Once more an insistence on continual prayer with, this time, the quotation from Lk 18:1, 
a text traditionally quoted in regard to continual prayer.(57) How to pray without ceasing was 
one of the great questions of primitive Christianity. And different answers have been proposed 
in the course of the centuries. One of the most original was that of St. Augustine: it is rooted 
in the depths of the human heart, in man's deepest desire: 

Your desire is your prayer, and if your desire is continual, your prayer is continual. 
Not without reason did the Apostle say, "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thes 5:17).... There is 
an interior prayer which we cannot interrupt; it is desire. Regardless of what you may be 
doing, if you long for the eternal sabbath you are praying without ceasing. Your continual 
desire is also, for you, a continual word. You would be silent if you ceased to love. (58) 

Desire is at the source of continual prayer because it is the expression of the heart's continual 
thrust toward God (LCM 89). 

Concretely, Augustine counsels us, if we would pray continually, to pray several times a 
day and to do good works the rest of the time (59); the two spring from the same desire. 

Our "private prayer," already mentioned by Humbert of Romans in his commentary on the 
Constitutions, recalls the Gospel text, "When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and 
pray to your Father who is in secret" (Mt 6:6). This phrase shows the very personal dimension 
our private prayer ought to have. (Let us note that it is not "meditation" [oraison] in LCM. This 
term evokes the context of the sixteenth century, which is something else.) 

Here is Humbert of Romans's text: 

This is the most important devotion to be engaged in, and if the brethren are 
beginning to fall away from private prayer, let them return to it with fervor and application. 
It is an obvious sign of holiness, and it would be difficult to find a person who is faithful to 
it lost, or even not making progress in the Order. The Savior has given us an example, 
for He prayed often, though He had no need of anything, so as to spur us on by his 
example. The Apostles left us an example when they abandoned serving at tables, as we 
read in Acts 6: 'Pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and 
of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer....' 
Again, almost all the saints in the early days of the Church gave us an example of this, as 
their actions show clearly. Thus Paul the Hermit was found dead, leaning against a tree, 
his face and hands lifted to heaven as though in prayer. The blessed Dominic our Father 
left us a special example, very frequently spending whole nights in prayer, and having no 
bed of his own. Our first brethren left us an example, according to what the earliest 
witnesses in the Order tell us. Thus one of the brethren, rapt out of himself, so to say, 
through intense devotion, betook himself to Paris. One day he entered into our present 
church and found no brethren at prayer there. Remembering that the first church, a small 
one, was almost always full of brethren at prayer, in the place where he had stayed in the 
beginning, he asked what this present church was. When they told him that it belonged 
to the Friars Preachers, he said, "That is impossible! This is not the church of the Friars 
Preachers. For theirs is a small church, filled with praying brethren, prostrate before the 
altars on all sides. This is not like that." From this you can see that the brethren, in those 
days, gave themselves up to assiduous prayer.(60) 

126 



Father Bouchet comments: "The first brethren and the first Sisters were passionately 
devoted to prayer. When, under the influence of the monks of Cluny, stress was put above all 
on the liturgy, the brethren for their part followed another tradition which insisted strongly on 
personal dialog with the Lord as the foundation of their life. This means that the liturgy will only 
have its full import if we truly have moments of rootedness in the Lord, personal and profound." 

A little further on, Humbert of Romans says that we are deputed to private prayer by 
divine obligation and to the Divine Office by ecclesiastical obligation. (61) This means that by 
our vocation the Lord calls us to a life of prayer, and the Church then determines the modalities 
of our prayer. 

2. Devotions dear to the Order (LCM 90-93) 

a. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (LCM 90) 

The adoration of Christ in the Eucharist is described as an admirable exchange: a patristic 
expression found in the liturgy of January 1, which is applied to the Incarnation. "O wonderful 
exchange! The Creator of human nature took on a human body and was born of the Virgin. He 
became man without having a human father and has bestowed on us his divine nature" (1 st 
Antiphon of 1 st Vespers). 

It is indeed a similar exchange which is wrought in the adoration of the Body of Christ. Our 
eyes of flesh look on the Eucharistic Body of Christ. In exchange, the Word purifies the eyes 
of our hearts, so that we may see him more clearly through loving faith, and that thus our desire 
to see him one day face to face may grow. Hence the progress in the theological virtues 
favored by Eucharistic adoration. 

This is a dimension of the Eucharist familiar to the Fathers of the Church. "Sanctify your 
eyes by contact with the sacred Body," said St. Cyril of Jerusalem. (62) 

b. Marian prayer (LCM 91) 

Marian devotion in the Order (I) 

Veneration for the Virgin Mary has held a very important place in the Order from its 
beginnings. It suffices to read the Lives of the Brethren to see this. 

Our Constitutions present the Blessed Virgin Mary to us as the Mother of Mercy (Mater 
misericordiae of the Salve Regina), the manifestation of God's mercy. She is also Queen of 
Apostles and of Virgins, two expressions found in her litany. Again, she is our model for medi- 
tation on the words of Christ (Lk 2:19-51), which ought to stimulate us to meditate unceasingly 
on the Word. A model of docility to her own mission (Lk 1 :38), she is for us an example of 
fidelity to our vocation. 

Recitation of the Rosary (II) 

The Constitutions only prescribe the common recitation. It is intentional that this number 
does not speak of private recitation (Father Duval). This is different from LCO. 

c. Devotion to the saints of our Order (LCM 92) 

Regarding devotion to St Dominic, the circular letter of Father Vayssiere remains one of 
the richest texts ever written (April 21 , 1935). 



127 



As to the Dominican saints, there is perhaps much still to be discovered: St. Thomas, the 
Rhineland mystics, St. Catherine of Siena, as well as all the saints and blesseds whose names 
are not known. (63) 

We might wonder whether interest in the mystics of Carmel has not taken away from a 
knowledge of those of our Order? 

As for St. Dominic, perhaps the historic approach is too much stressed, to the detriment 
of a spiritual reading of sources? 

d. Length of time for private prayer (LCM 93) 

In light of the attachment of our tradition to private prayer, a sufficient amount of time is 
to be understood: two hours a day should be devoted to it. The liturgy is not the whole of our 
prayer life. It is necessary therefore to take care to preserve a balance between liturgy and 
private prayer. 

e. Annual retreats (LCM 94) 

The expression "retreat" goes back no further than the sixteenth century. An annual 
retreat is designated. "Traditionally," notes J. Leclercq, "a retreat was only one of the exercises 
included in the overall spiritual life,.... And was designated by recessus and secessus 
(withdrawal and by oneself)." (64) Cf. Code, c. 719: recessus). 



ABBREVIATIONS 

CIC = Code of Canon Law 

DV = Dei Verbum 

LCM = Constitutions of the Dominican Nuns 

LCO = Constitutions of the Dominican Friars 

PC = Perfectae Caritatis 

SC = Sacrosanctum Concilium (The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) 

VS = Venite Seorsum 



NOTES FOR CHAPTER II 

1 . (Ed. note: There was a reference at this point to three footnotes the author adds to the text of LCM. 
74:ll. I include them here). 1 Thes 5:17 is quoted in Origen, De oratione, 12; Augustine, Epist, 130, 
18; Cassian, Coll., IX, 3,6,7; St. Thomas, ST., Ma, Mae, q. 83, a. 14, sed contra. Implied quotation 
from Eph 5:19 in Rule of St. Augustine, II, 3. 1Tim 2:1 is quoted in Origen, De oratione, 14; Cassian, 
Coll., IX, 11 (Cassian depends on Origen); cited in St. Thomas, op. cit.,\\a, llae, q. 83, a. 17, corpus 
and sed contra. 

(Remaining note numbers through 15 pertained to the omitted texts of LCM.) 

16. Augustine, Epist, 130, 18. 

17. Augustine, De op. Monach. , 2. 

18. A.-G. Hamman, "Jean Cassien, Conferences, Livres IX et X," Connaissance des Peres de I'Eglise, 
n. 12 (Dec. 1983), p. 15. 

19. Cf. M.-H. Vicaire, "La recherche incessante de Dieu," in Dominique et ses Precheurs, ed. 
Universitaires Fribourg Suisse (Paris: Ed. du Cerf, 1977), pp. 158-160. 

20. Cassian, Coll.,X, 10. 

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21. Cf. "Souvenir de Dieu" in I. Hausherr, Noms du Christ et voies d'oraison, "Ad perpetuam Dei 
memoriam," Orientalia Christiana Analecta, 157 ( Rome, 1960), pp. 156-162. 

22. Ibid., p. 157. 

23. Cassian, Coll., X, 10; cf. LCM 1:111. 

24. Cf. I. Hausherr, "The Imitation of Christ in Byzantine Spirituality," in Etudes de la spihtualite orientate, 
Orientalia Christiana Analecta, 183 (Rome, 1969), p. 242. 

25. Augustine, De sancta virg., 56. 

26. Ibid., De7rfn.,XV, 28, 51. 

27. The Liturgy of the Hours, vol 1 (New York: Catholic Book Publ. Co., 1975), p. 29. 

28. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 5, 6, 83. The Documents of Vatican II, Abbot-Gallagher ed. (New York: 
Guild Press, 1966), p. 139ff. 

29. The Liturgy of the Hours, ibid. 

30. Ibid. p. 35. 

31. Cf. J. Leclercq, "La vie contemplative et le monachisme d'apres Vatican II," Greqorianum , 47 (1966), 
p. 506, note 19. 

32. Cf. SC 83. 

33. Bl. Humbert of Romans, Expositio super constitutiones Fratrum Praedicatorum, XXVI, in Opera de 
vita regular!, v. II, pp. 84-85. 

34. Christus Dominus, 30. 

35. Augustine, Tract. In lo. Ev. 26, 13; for the meaning of this expression, cf. B.A. 72, pp. 814-815. 

36. SC 47. 

37. Ibid, 10. 

38. CIC, c. 1174, 1. 

39. SC 88. 

40. Vitae fratrum, IV, 1 . 

41. Bl. Humbert, op. cit, note 31, p. 131. 

42. Vitae fratrum, VII, 1, op. cit, pp. 81-82. 

43. Process of canonization, Bologna, 20. 

44. Ibid., 31. 

45. Vitae fratrum, IV, 1. 

46. Ibid., two pages further on. 

47. For a commentary on "breviter et succincte" cf. A. Duval, "La liturgie dans la fonction de I'Ordre des 
Precheurs", Provinciala 7, pp. 40-41. 

48. Primitive constitutions, dist. I, ch. 4. Bl. Humbert, op. cit, note 31, ch. XXVII, pp. 85-86. 

49. SL 116. 

50. The sources of the Liturgy of the Hours make us aware of the rootedness of the Roman liturgy in 
tradition, especially of the influence of the Fathers of the Church. For the sources of the hymns, cf. 
Te decet hymnus. L'innario delta "Liturgia Horarum" a cura de Anselmo Lentini (Rome: Typis 
Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1984). Abridged indications are given in: Les hymnes de liturgia Horarum 
(Paris: Desclee-Mame, 1990). 

51. In connection with the liturgy as "the action of the People of God," J. Corbon explains: 
"Etymologically [liturgy signifies] 'public service', according to the interpretation generally understood 
by Greek scholars. Once passed into Christian language the word goes beyond the original 
meaning. Yet we always find in it the aspect of service or of a function performed by a group; from 
this we get the widely used interpretation today of 'the action of the people of God' but this action 

129 



is to be understood of the great work of Christ's Passover, which becomes that of the Church in her 
mission. If, in the liturgy, the people of God become rather the Body of Christ, their action, their 
divine work will be to do that which Christ does all the more, being all in all." (J. Corbon, Liturgie de 
source (Paris: Cerf, 1980), p. 57, note 1; p. 199). (ET: Available in English translation as: The 
Wellspring of Worship (New York: Paulist Press, 1988). 

52. Directoire canonique, vie consacree et societes de vie apostolique (Paris: Cerf, 1986), p. 115. 

53. "Dimension contemplative de la vie religieuse," II, B, Document of CIVCSVA (1980). 

54. Op. cit, note 449, p. 119. 

55. Cf. G. Dumeige, Article "Medecin (Le Christ)", DS, v. LXVI-LXVII, col.891-901. 

56. R.P. Lemonyer, "Les prieres secretes dans la vie dominicaine," Annee dominicaine, n. 6 (1927), pp. 
269-276. 

57. Lk 18, 1 is quoted in Origen, De oratione, 10; Augustine, Epist. 130, 15; St. Thomas, ST INI, q. 83, 
a. 2, sed contra. 

58. Augustine, En. In Ps. 373, 14; cf. I. Hausherr, op. cit, note 21, pp. 129-141. 

59. I. Hausherr, op. cit.,, note 24, p. 140. 

60. Bl. Humbert, op. cit, note 11, XXXI, pp. 91-92; cf. op. cit, note 15, Llll, p. 172. 

61. Bl. Humbert, op. cit, note 15, Llll, p. 173. 

62. Cyril of Jerusalem, Myst, V, 21. 

63. H.-C. Chery OP. , Saints et bienheureux de la famille dominicaine; Fraternite dominicaine Lacordaire, 
104, rue Bugeaud, 69451 Lyon cedex 06, 1991. 

64. J. Leclercq, "La retraite", Chances de la spirituality occidentale, (Paris: Cerf, 1966), pp. 329-337. 



CHAPTER III: HEARING, STUDYING AND 

KEEPING THE WORD OF GOD (LCM 96-102) (cf. Lk. 11:28) 

A. TEXT 

(The text of Constitutions 96-102, with its endnotes, has been omitted here.) 

B. COMMENTARY 

Like the chapter on prayer, the chapter on study begins with several numbers proper to 
LCM which serve to situate the nuns in their own vocation within the Order.* But the title itself 
deserves a comment: it recalls the beatitude of those who hear the Word of God and keep it. 
Now this verse of St. Luke (1 1 :28) is at the heart of the paragraph of the Libellus where Jordan 
of Saxony explains the way in which Dominic approached Scripture. Here is the text: 

Afterwards he was sent to Palencia to be formed in the liberal arts, because there 
was a thriving arts faculty there at this time. When he thought he had learned enough of 
the arts, he abandoned them and fled to the study of theology, as if he was afraid to waste 



* Ed. Note: The author places an extensive note on the first sentence of LCM 96:l regarding the 
vocation and commission of the brethren to preaching. Rather than omit it along with the text of the 
Constitutions, I have retained it at the end of this Chapter as Note 1, where it was in the unabridged text. 

130 



his limited time on less fruitful study. He began to develop a passionate appetite for God's 
words, finding them "sweeter than honey to his mouth." 

He spent four years in these sacred studies, and throughout the whole period his 
eagerness to imbibe the streams of holy scripture was so intense and so unremitting that 
he spent whole nights almost without sleep, so untiring was his desire to study; and the 
truth which his ears received he stored away in the deepest recesses of his mind and 
guarded in his retentive memory. His natural abilities made it easy for him to take things 
in, and his love and piety fertilized whatever he learned, so that it brought forth fruit in the 
form of saving works. The verdict of Truth himself pronounces him blessed: as he said 
in the gospel, "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it." There are two 
ways of keeping the word of God: one is to retain the word in our memories, once we have 
heard it, the other is to put it into practice and display it in action. There is no doubt that 
the second way is better, just as it is better to keep seed by planting it in the earth than by 
hoarding it in a box. Now this fortunate servant of God, Dominic, was adept at keeping 
God's word in both ways: his memory was a kind of "barn" for God "filled to overflowing 
with crops of every kind," and his external behavior and actions broadcast publicly the 
treasure that lay hidden in his holy breast. 

Because he accepted the Lord's commandments so warmly, and because his will 
welcomed the voice of his Lover with such loyalty and pleasure, the God of all knowledge 
gave him an increase of grace, so that he became capable of receiving more than the 
milk of beginners, and was able to penetrate the mysteries of difficult theological questions 
with the humble understanding of his heart, and to swallow easily enough the testing 
promotion to more solid food. (7) 

Dominic had reached the beatitude proclaimed by the Lord: "Blessed are those who hear 
the Word of God and keep it" (Lk 11:28; cf. LCM 96:l). (Let us note that Truth Himself pro- 
claimed this beatitude). 

To attain to this happiness, Dominic had integrated in his life the parable of the seed cast 
into good earth, which bore fruit a hundredfold (cf. Mt 1 3:1 8-23 referred to in LCM 99). How did 
he do this? 

Truth is first heard: it is received by the ear. Then it is retained deeper in the soul through 
the memory. This is to place the seed in the granary (evoking Psalm 143 remotely). But that 
is not all: "to keep the word" implies also casting the grain of wheat into the earth and watering 
it so that it may come up. The rain which causes it to germinate is piety, that is, humble 
submission to the Word of God. "Filial piety urges us to conform ourselves to the will of God 
revealed in His Word." This is the point of departure for the pilgrimage toward the wisdom that 
is truth and charity. This piety is a gift of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11) which, according to St. 
Augustine, is associated with the beatitude of the meek, those who are docile to the Word. 

Thus, watering the seed with piety led Dominic naturally to bear visible fruits in his external 
actions. The famine which struck Palencia was a striking sign of this. Jordan of Saxony 
emphasizes the fact that his action was a form of obedience to the Word of God: 

While he was a student at Palencia, there was a severe famine throughout almost 
the whole of Spain. He was deeply moved by the plight of the poor, and resolved, in the 
warmth of his compassion, to do something which would both accord with the Lord's 
counsels and do as much as possible to remedy the needs of the poor who were dying. 
So he sold the books which he possessed, although he needed them very much, and 
established an almonry where the poor could be fed. In this way "open-handed he gave 

131 



to the poor." His exemplary kindness so moved some of the other theologians and 
masters that they too began to give more lavish alms, seeing their own sluggish 
parsimony shown up by the young man's generosity. (8) 

The Word of God which had been sown "in the sanctuary of Dominic's heart" now radiated 
outwardly. He had put it into practice. 

The context is mystical. Dominic "embraced" the laws of the Lord; "he opened to the 
voice of the Spouse": Scripture is shown to be his lifelong companion. It was not simply a text, 
but the very Word of God. Christ Himself spoke to his heart to lead him to a high degree of 
union with Him - as is suggested by the term Spouse - a union which transformed his whole 
life. 

This loving welcome to the Word led to God's giving him a still higher grace. Dominic 
passed from milk to solid food. God granted him to understand the secrets of Scripture. 

Dominic's reading of Scripture seems to have been in the tradition of the Fathers of the 
Church. The title of the chapter, in evoking Dominic at Palencia, is in perfect harmony with the 
numbers to follow. 

We may wonder, all the same, at the close of this commentary, why, in the title, "study" 
was added to hearing and keeping the Word; since for Dominic, hearing and keeping the Word 
included study. It is in order to speak of the study of theology which Dominic did at Palencia - 
which was nothing else than the study of the Word of God - that Jordan uses the beatitude of 
Luke. But perhaps we have lost the sense of this "real" reading of the Word of God, as Father 
Pinckaers calls it. Real, because it passes into our living, and real because it attains to the core 
of the mysteries contained in Scripture. 

1. The service of the Word proper to the nuns (LCM 96) 

a. The proclamation of the Word (96:l) 

This is a kind of adaptation to the nuns of Chapter IV of Section I of LCO on "The Ministry 
of the Word." The brethren serve the Word primarily by preaching (and by giving an example 
of it: cf. LCO, Fundamental Constitution 5); the Sisters solely by hearing it, celebrating it, 
keeping it, and also by their example. In both cases, under different modalities, it is a matter 
of proclaiming the Gospel. The nuns thus exercise "a ministry of the Word" (Acts 6:2-4). (Cf. 
VS, V.) 

To give an example was a characteristic attitude of Dominic, even at Palencia (9), but also 
when his entire life was devoted to preaching the Word: 

"He showed himself to be everywhere a man of the Gospel, in word and action." (10) 

"The first head of the Preachers had it much at heart to show himself as an irreproachable 
worker, and to speak the word of truth fittingly. And as all beautiful words lose their value if the 
one who utters them has faults, he was careful to practice first what he was trying to teach 
others." (11) 

b. The Word at the heart of our life (96:ll) 

This paragraph recalls 35:ll on observance and gives us its purpose: that the Word of God 
may dwell in our communities. The more care we take to abide in the Word as our own dwelling 
(Jn 8:31), the more the Word will abide with us and dwell in us (Col 3:16). 



132 



The role of the nuns thus has something in common with the ministry of John the Baptist: 
by their life of prayer and penance wholly directed to welcoming the Word, they prepare the way 
of the Word. (12) Father Bouchet wanted to introduce a mention of John the Baptist, the 
Precursor of Christ, here. He is, actually, the great patron of the monastic desert, one of the 
great models for the desert Fathers. Moreover, he still remains a great figure for all later 
monastic tradition. 



I. ARTICLE I: LECTIO DIVINA (LCM 97-99) 

1. Lectio divina and prayer (LCM 97) 

a. A reading done with the heart (I) 

Lectio divina is not just any kind of reading of the Word: "it is a loving knowledge of the 
Word" which, read in a climate of truth and humility, is accompanied by prayer and leads to 
prayer. (13) 

The quotation from St. Ambrose (cited already in DV 25 and taken up in VS II) which is 
given, sums up well the way in which the Fathers conceived of the approach to the Word. (14) 

b. Lectio divina or an encounter with Christ (II) 

For the Fathers of the Church the Word of God was not a text; it was a Person, Christ. 
He is the one we hear in the Scriptures: 

"Read all the books of the Prophets," says St. Augustine, "and if you do not find Christ 
there, what could be more tasteless and senseless? Find Christ there, and your reading will not 
only be filled with savor, but it will inebriate you, lifting your spirit above the body in such a way 
that, forgetting the past, you will stretch forward to what lies ahead." (This was the advance 
made by the disciples of Emmaus): "They recognized Christ in those books where they had 
never seen Him before.... The Scriptures have no savor if we do not discover Christ in 
them."(15) 

Augustine tells us again that every passage of Scripture "rings out the sound of Christ." 
(16) This quotation is taken up in our Constitutions. 

But if Scripture is the privileged place of encounter with Christ, it is not the only one. The 
Church is the sacrament of Christ: all the riches it transmits to us give us Christ, whether it be 
through the sacraments, preaching, or the example of the saints. In the same way, all thirst for 
charity in the world is a call of Christ. 

But to discover Christ in all this, to hear His word in it, the ears of our hearts (17) must be 
attuned to the interior Master who speaks within us through his Spirit.(18) 

2. St. Dominic and Scripture (LCM 98:1) 

As in many other chapters, the example of St. Dominic is proposed to us. Here we are 
reminded of his love of the Word which led him to carry with him at all times the Gospel of 
Matthew and the Letters of St. Paul. The Church expects of us this same love of the Word. 
Perfectae Caritatis expresses this desire for all religious: "Let the Sacred Scriptures be in their 
hands daily." (19) 

This reading of the Word is the first step on the road to contemplation (20), as St. 
Dominic's eighth way of prayer shows us. 

133 



The first stage is lectio: "You... opened my ear," says Psalm 40:6. This is indeed the first 
and indispensable attitude for all true hearing of the Word. It is a matter of listening in 
obedience and humility. 

Then comes oratio: this means to pray, to knock at the door, to beg the Lord that we may 
be given understanding of the word. 

In meditatio, then, Scripture is pondered, explored, devoured. The rock that is Christ 
appears; charity is discovered in every word of the sacred Books. 

Contemplatio, finally, is communion with Christ, with the Word Himself; it enters into the 
mystery of God, a foretaste of the blessedness which God causes us to attain through Scripture. 

3. Liturgy and the Word of God (LCM 98:11) 

In lectio divina the word of God is heard. In the liturgy it is also celebrated. There is a 
liturgy, the celebration of the Word, because in the Spirit the words of Jesus are more than a 
teaching, they become an event: what is said is fulfilled. The Word given by the Father in Christ 
returns to the Father in the liturgy, becoming fruitful in all His adopted children: it leads to 
communion. (21) 

In the celebration of the Word we encounter the Word of life in the silence of faith, and he 
causes us to be born to his life. With him, then, we give thanks to the Father in the Spirit. This 
praise is expressed in the liturgy in the same words in which God revealed to us his plan of love. 
God has given us his words with which to praise him: "In order that He might be fittingly praised 
by men, God praises Himself." (22) 

Particularly in the Psalms, the entire economy of salvation becomes prayer; this is why 
they are at the heart of the liturgy. Through the Psalms, which were the prayer of Christ on 
earth, the praise of the Son is reflected in the children of adoption. (23) 

4. Welcoming the Word (LCM 99) 

We are invited to meditate on the parable of the seed thrown into the ground of our hearts 
(Mt 13:18-23). In order that it may find a place, and dwell there, we must take care to turn our 
hearts away from all that could impede it. The Holy Spirit can then cause the Word which 
converts to grow: 

"Change your hearts, for you can do it," says St. Augustine. "Plough up the soil 
which has been trodden down by passers-by; throw the stones out of the field, pull up the 
thistles; do not have a hard heart where the Word of God cannot penetrate. Let not your 
soul be shallow earth where charity cannot take root; do not let cares and pleasures 
smother the good seed." (24) 

To explain this conversion effected by the Word, another parable is proposed to us: that 
of the man who is invited to settle his accounts with his adversary while he is still on the way with 
him (Mt 5:25). Our life should "accord with Sacred Scripture" (consentit Scripturae divinae), St. 
Augustine tells us. But why identify Scripture with our adversary on the way? 

What adversary could be more inimical to those who want to sin than the com- 
mandment of God, that is, His law and the sacred Scripture which has been given to us 
to accompany us, to direct us on the way of life, which we should never contradict if we 
do not want it to deliver us into the hands of the judge, and with which we should hasten 
to come to an agreement? (sed ei opportet consentire cito?) For no one knows when he 
will depart this life. Now who is it that comes to agreement with sacred Scripture, if not the 

134 



one who reads or hears it with devotion, who recognizes its sovereign authority, who does 
not hold what he understands of it in contempt, because he finds there the condemnation 
of his sins, but who receives lovingly that which calls him to his duty, and rejoices that his 
maladies are not spared, so that they may be healed. If he thinks that at times he comes 
upon parts that are obscure or untrue, he does not make it a matter of contradictory 
argument, but prays for understanding, and never forgets the loving reverence he owes 
to so great an authority. Now who is able to act in this way, if not the one who approaches 
without bitterness or threat, but with a sweetness full of devotion, to open the testament 
of his father and learn of it? "Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth" (Mt 
5:4).(25) 

To be in accord with the Word is to live the beatitude of the meek, and to inherit the 
kingdom of heaven. 

Our life, in accord with the Word, will be totally transformed, configured to Christ. It will 
breathe forth, as the Rule says, the good odor of Christ. 

The whole ideal proposed in the Fundamental Constitution - conversion, transfiguration, 
etc. - appears here to be the result of the Holy Spirit's work in us, particularly thanks to the 
Word. 

The work of the Holy Spirit in us is described with the help of the word reformare. (26) This 
word has a very precise meaning for Augustine. It designates the reformatio of the image which 
had become deformis by sin. This reformatio is the effect of a reciprocal relationship between 
God and man. This is why when we are in accord with the Word of God, when we are listening 
to it, when it dwells in our hearts through charity, when it causes the love of our hearts to be 
directed toward things above, then reformatio progresses. This reformatio is also a renovatio, 
since it changes the old person into the new person who lives by the new commandment. The 
reformatio to which assimilation of the Word contributes, leads therefore to a configuration to 
Christ. (27) 



II. ARTICLE II: STUDY (LCM 100-102) 

This article is new, even though most of its elements are taken from previous 
Constitutions. It should be studied as parallel to Chapter III of LCO. 

I should like to emphasize once more that all the modifications made in the 1971 text 
correspond to the desiderata of the mixed commission charged with the revision of the 
Constitutions. 

1. Importance of study (LCM 100) (28) 

a. Purpose of study (I) 

This paragraph differs from its LCO parallel, 76 and 77. For the brethren study is primarily 
"ordered to the ministry of salvation"; for us, it is a preparation for lectio divina and to a deeper 
entrance into the liturgy. This is the source of the divergences we will encounter between LCO 
and LCM in regard to study. This is very important, for in a monastery one does not study just 
anything at all. Father Bouchet said in a retreat: 

135 



You should not study just anything, and take ideas for reality. Study should be 
realistic, it comes from faith and leads to faith. Your intellectual work should always be in 
the tradition of the delectable experience of God. This is important because the Sisters 
do not have the same guidelines regarding study as the brethren, who often study in view 
of their apostolic life and the service of the Church which is asked of them. To study 
anything at all is a way of breaking enclosure. The Sisters should never forget that 
monastic theology is a theology of love, built on the revelation of God-Love and on that 
expression of the love of God which is the community. It is God-Love who configures us 
together in His image, and through this a deepening of heart should be attained little by 
little. In monastic theology, the theology of the Holy Spirit, Trinitarian theology, the 
theology of the Church, all harmonize around the perception that God is Love. Study, 
therefore, is at the service of our common goal: to live by love, in the service of God- 
Love. It becomes a form of praise, of thanksgiving, a hearth of our experience of God. 

The theology of St. Augustine is a model of this theology of love. 

Thus study concerns all the Sisters, but should be adapted to the aptitudes of each one; 
it is not possible to have a standard level of study in a monastery (even if this fact does pose 
some practical problems). 

b. The role of study in our life (II) 

This paragraph develops LCO 83. 

As for the brethren, study is for the Sisters an important element of Dominican 
observance. The text then emphasizes that St. Dominic had already recommended it "in some 
way" to the first Sisters. They, in fact, devoted themselves to the eruditio litterarum [the study 
of letters]. The study of Scripture (29) therefore had its place in the life of the Sisters of St. 
Sixtus (cf. the text cited in 103:111 of LCM). 

In addition to the benefits conferred by study on contemplation and the practice of the 
evangelical counsels (cf. LCO 83), it is said for the nuns that study "removes the impediments 
which arise from ignorance." 

Who has not heard of the grave errors into which the monks of the desert fell because of 
their ignorance? "Obsession and terror of demons, belief in a girl changed into a mare, the 
belief that God the Father had a human body and sentiments, crassness or ignorance in which 
so many Eastern monasteries stagnated, incurable laziness in which so many 'religious' 
vegetated" (30): this is the picture of the evil effects of ignorance in monasteries drawn by 
Father Festugiere. We could perhaps think of the many forms this could take on today.... As 
far as laziness goes, the transposition is quickly made! 

Mutual understanding and community reflection would certainly gain if there were a found- 
ation of deeper study, for many tensions come from ignorance. 

As our paragraph rightly emphasizes, study contributes to unanimity of spirit. How can 
we reach a consensus, without first having learned how to think clearly? - which is one of the 
benefits of study; without learning how to enter into the thought of another? - again, a benefit 
of study. Study is a good apprenticeship in listening, for it requires an attitude of poverty to be 
able to hear what is being said in the text under study, without wanting to hold forth ourselves 
instead. 

But LCO and LCM stress that all this is not done without difficulty. Thus, study develops 
perseverance and demands a great asceticism (this is new, as compared with the 1971 text). 
LCM also mentions the advantage of study at the level of balance. 

136 



2. The content of study (LCM 101) 

a. The source of study (I) 

Two biblical citations, Heb 1:1-2 and Eph 1:9, structure this paragraph, which is 
reminiscent of Dei Verbum 4 and 2. 

Christ, the fullness of revelation, has revealed in his Church through the gift of his Spirit 
the mystery of the will of the Father; and through his light he grants men and women to ponder 
it. Study is nothing else than that. 

b. What are we formed to? (II) (31) 

The mystery of the will of the Father is revealed to us above all in Scripture and the 
sacraments. Hence the logical conclusion: the formation of the Sisters focuses primarily on 
these two points. 

c. How are we formed (III) (32) 

Study, as we have just seen, having for its goal the nourishment of our faith, should find 
its support in the great witnesses to the faith who have deepened it in the Church: the Fathers 
of the Church and the theologians, among whom St. Thomas is outstanding. Moreover, St. 
Thomas would gain by being read in light of the Fathers, since he is a doctor who had a 
particular understanding of their teaching and deepened and enriched it. In all this, too, only 
one thing is to be sought: to grow in understanding of Scripture. Let us note that the Sisters 
should study especially their mystical teaching. 

3. The development of study (LCM 102, Ordinations 9, 10) (33) 

Two points have been added to the 1971 Constitutions: 

- 102:1: "the prioress should see to it.. .that discussions among the nuns are provided for" 
(an approach to LCM 6:11). 

- 102:111: "a sufficient sum of money [should be] allocated for library development each 
year." 

Ordination 1 adapts for the monasteries the function of conventual lector of studies which 
is in place for the brethren. Perhaps this possibility should be exploited, to give study the place 
it deserves in our communities, at both personal and communal levels? The prioress could 
have assistance for the needed arrangements. Why should study be marginalized? 



NOTES TO CHAPTER III 

1. Honorius III, bull of Feb. 4, 1221, addressed to all the prelates of the Church. This text is cited in 
LCO, Fundamental Constitution 3. Here is Father Vicaire's commentary on it: 

"This sentence, which expresses so strongly the specificity of the Order, is borrowed from the 
chief bull of recommendation, granted by Honorius III on February 4, 1221. The totaliter deputati 
carries great weight. 

"For Dominic it was indubitable that the Order was committed to an adequate deputation of 
brothers to preaching, administered by superiors under the control of their prudence alone. Thus, 
he did not hesitate to send a brother out to preach who had just finished his theology course, even 

137 



a novice. He did not recognize a bishop's right to forbid this preaching, nor to give him [Dominic] 
a power he already possessed. It was only later, in the course of the thirteenth century, in the face 
of the reaction of the secular clergy, that a system of jurisdiction was elaborated which was often 
modified in the event, and is still in vigor today. Not that Dominic had any doubt about the need of 
jurisdiction: he believed he had already obtained this for each of the brethren through the 
confirmation he had gone to petition from the Holy See in 1215, and had obtained 'fully and in regard 
to all matters' from Pope Honorius III: 'the confirmation of an Order which was called, and actually 
was, the Order of Preachers.' 

"At this time, Popes Innocent III and Honorius III ruled that the right to preach in the name of 
Christ depended essentially on the formal 'mission' of the Church, according to the words 'how shall 
they preach unless they are sent?' However, in the preceding century monks and canons had fought 
to base the right to preach primarily on their manner of life, the 'apostolic life' or the regular common 
life. While the Waldensians whom Dominic met in Languedoc wanted to base their right to preach 
on their interior mission given them by the Spirit, the issue of their charism or 'grace of preaching' 
exercised in mendicant poverty, Dominic, in full accord with the papacy, based his brethren's right 
to preach on the mission or 'total deputation' conferred upon the Preachers through the confirmation 
of the Church. But he made regular life and mendicant poverty (and many other things besides 'the 
grace of preaching') the specific conditions of his brethren's preaching." Cf. M.-H. Vicaire, "La 
constitution fondamentale des Freres Precheurs," La vie dominicaine de Fribourg, No. 4, July-August 
(1973), pp. 297-298. 

(Remaining note numbers through 6 pertained to the omitted texts ofLCM.) 

7. Jordan of Saxony, Libellus, 6-7. 

8. Ibid., 10. 

9. Cf. Note 8. 

10. Jordan of Saxony, Libellus, 104. 

1 1 . Theodoric of Apolda, n. 1 93, in the Book on the life and death of St. Dominic, translated by the Abbe 
A. Cure (Paris: International Catholic Library of the Works of St. Paul, 1887). 

12. Cf. Augustine, S., 289, 3; 293, 3. 

13. Cf. J.-R. Bouchet and "Women nourished by the Word," Diskette 80002. 

14. Cf. Augustine: "When you read, God speaks to you; when you pray, you speak with God" (En. In Ps. 
85, 7). 

15 Ibid., Tract. In lo. Ev., 9, 3-5. 

16. Ibid., Tract. In lo. Epist, 2, 1. 

17. Ibid., S., 17, 1. 

18. "Here is a great mystery to ponder: the sound of our words strikes upon your ears, the Master is 
within. Do not think that anything is learned from another man. We can catch your attention with 
the sound of our voice; but if the One who instructs is not within, the clamor of our words is in vain. 
Do you want proof of this, brothers? Haven't you all heard this homily? How many will go away 
having learned nothing? As far as it depends on me, I have spoken to all of you; but those to whom 
my words do not speak interiorly, those whom the Holy Spirit has not instructed from within, will go 
away without having learned anything. External teaching is an aid, an invitation to pay attention. 
But the chair of the one who teaches hearts is in heaven. That is why He himself says in the Gospel: 
'Call no one on earth your teacher; Christ alone is your Teacher.' Let Him speak, then, within, there 
where no man can penetrate; for even if someone is beside you, no one is in your heart. But no! 
Let it not happen that there is no one in your heart; let Christ be in your heart; let His unction be in 
your heart, so that your heart may not dry up in the desert, without springs to water it. It is the 
interior Master, therefore, who instructs you, it is Christ who teaches you, it is His inspiration that 
teaches you. Where His inspiration and unction are lacking, it is in vain that you listen to external 
words." (Ibid, Tract. In lo. Epist, 3, 13) 

19. PC, 6. 

138 



20. Cf. Guido II the Carthusian, Letter on the contemplative life (The Ladder of Monks), Twelve medi- 
tations, S.C., 163, pp. 83-101. 

21. J. Corbon, Liturgie de source (Paris: Cerf, 1980), p. 119. For English transl., cf. note 51 of ch. II. 

22. Augustine, En. In Ps. 144, 1. 

23. J. Corbon, op. cit, p. 146. 

24. Augustine, S., 73, 3. 

25. Ibid., De sermone Domini in monte, I, II, 32. Cf. B.A., 73 B, note 10. 

26. Cf. Rom 12:2: "...but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." 

27. Augustine, De Trin., XIV, 16, 22. 

28. The titles are inspired by those of Chap. Ill in the first section of LCO. 

29. St. Augustine calls the Scriptures "the Letters" (cf. S. 350, 2; Epist, 137, 3; 93;31). Cf. also note 1 
of Chapter IV. 

30. A.-J. Festugiere. Les Moines d'Orient, v. 1, Culture ou Sainted (Paris: Cerf, 1961), p. 78. 

31. Adaptation of LCO 79. 

32. Adaptation of LCO 81 and 82. 

33. Adaptation of LCO 87 and 88. 



CHAPTER IV: WORK (LCM 103-110) 

A. TEXT 

(The text of Constitutions 103-1 10, with its endnotes, has been omitted here.) 

B: COMMENTARY (5) 

1. Work in the monastic tradition (LCM 103) 

This is what is evoked by the opening lines of Chapter IV. Work is as ancient as 
monasticism. When St. Augustine, shortly after his conversion, wrote his book of apologetics, 
The Customs of the Catholic Church, he mentioned this reality and, speaking of the monks of 
Rome, remarked that they were people who earned their living by their work in the manner of 
Orientals (6); which means that it was commonly known that the monks of the East lived by 
their work. 

It was first among the Desert Fathers that we find, not a teaching but a well-known practice 
of work. Work was one of the elements of the life. In St. Benedict there is a chapter on work 
which is materially important because it organizes the horarium, but without any doctrinal or 
spiritual consideration of work. It is at the level of practice, not theory: "The brothers are truly 
monks when they live by the work of their hands, after the example of our Fathers and the 
Apostles." (7) 

In the West, the one who was most concerned with the theory of monastic work was St. 
Augustine, with his treatise, The Work of Monks, written in answer to the consultation of his 
colleague, the Bishop of Carthage, who had monks in his diocese who did not wish to work and 
were justifying their way of life. (8) 

139 



Following this we do not find any systematic treatise; and in certain forms of monastic life 
there was even a practical collapse of this value. At Cluny, in the ninth and tenth centuries, the 
monks did not work, and returned to the classic division in antiquity: the lords who fought and 
hunted, the people who worked, and the monks who prayed. With Citeaux, in the twelfth cen- 
tury, the significance of work was restored. 

For women, there are no documents [about work]. There is in fact very little feminine 
monastic literature. Hence the interest of the text from the Constitutions of St. Sixtus. It is a 
precious piece of our tradition." 

The introduction of n. 103 is prudent and does not attribute this text to St. Dominic, for it 
is not known whether the Sisters may have had this text before St. Dominic's reform. 

a. Points of insistence on this monastic tradition regarding work 

Work is an apostolic value 

It is taught by the Apostles. (9) Cf. 2 Thes 3:10: "If anyone will not work, let him not eat," 
quoted in n. 2 of the text of St. Sixtus. 

The role of this text was determining for the Desert Fathers: this shows the very strong 
link from the beginning between the monastic life in the desert and the Word of God. 

This is important if we would not reduce Christian monasticism from the beginning to a 
common religious need: monks of other religions worked; but for the Desert Fathers, there was 
a reference to Scripture. There was also the example of St. Paul. (10) 

Work is considered as a remedy for idleness (11) 

This is a reflection which we find strongly confirmed among the Fathers, and which is 
taken up in the text of St. Sixtus. We find it also in the Rule of St. Benedict which treats in the 
same chapter of manual work and of reading (to show that the monk who, on Sundays, is 
caught napping over his book, would do better to go and work!). 

The words "leisure" and "idleness" have a sense at once positive and pejorative. The fact 
that work is prescribed for those who make profession of perpetual prayer, and that its obligation 
is insisted upon, throws light on the concept of prayer. Since work was prescribed, with all that 
was involved in equipment and attention, this means that it was considered normal that prayer 
should not be a continual activity, even though one's attention was fixed on God. Cf. Cassian: 

There was a brother by the name of Simeon, for whom we had a lively affection. He 
came from Italy and did not know a word of Greek. One of the ancients wanted to do him 
an act of charity, as they did for strangers. But he wanted it to seem as if he were paying 
a debt. He inquired why Simeon remained idle in his cell, thinking he would not be able 



** Ed. Note: The author included a helpful footnote for LCM 103:3, elaborating on its footnote 37. 
I include it here: 

"Constitutions de saint Sixte, ch. XX. It is a pity not to have brought out, in the text of our 
Constitutions, the link between work and unanimity which is shown in the Rule of St. Augustine. It is said 
that the rich become workers (labgrigsi) {Rule, III, 4); that is, that they work with their hands (cf. 
Augustine, De op. Monach., 25, 33). In the monastery, since no one possesses anything, manual work 
is done by all, taking into account each one's capacity. The wealthy as well as the poor share in the 
benefits of the works of their hands and ask for what they need from the common store. (Ibid., 25, 32) 
Thanks to work, former social differences are abolished and the community can live a life of true 
unanimity, applied even to their material lifestyle." 

140 



to remain long, as much because of the daydreams engendered by idleness as because 
of the want of indispensable things. Was it not true enough that no one could bear the 
temptations of solitude unless he consented to earn his living by the work of his hands? 
Simeon replied that he would like very much to work but for all that he felt incapable of it. 
"My only skill is the copying of books. But do you, in Egypt, have need of a book written 
in Latin?" The old man made this the pretext for carrying out his work of charity. "See 
what an opportunity God has placed in my way! I have been looking for a long time for 
someone who could copy out the works of the Apostle in Latin, for I have a brother in the 
army who knows Latin very well, and to whom I should like to send these Scriptures." 
Simeon joyfully accepted this offer as if it had been made him by God Himself. Yet the 
happier of the two was the old man, to be able to profit by this pretext to carry out the act 
of charity he had been thinking about. He received the manuscript and buried it; but even 
so, he was helping the monk to make a living. (12) 

In this tale the old man, because of his own work, had the means to help another not to remain 
idle. It is an example of work for work's sake, since the result was of no use. 

One of the reasons for working manually is not to be a burden to anyone 

This is important for the situation of monks in relation to the Christian community. Cf. St. 
Augustine: "They are not a burden to anyone, for in the manner of the Orientals and according 
to the authority of the apostles, they work with their hands." (13) This was an original injunction 
at a time when many Christians did not do manual work. 

"Outside of the category of monks who, according to the precept of the Apostle, work with 
their hands, almost all the members of the human race look to the charity of another, not only 
those who glory in living upon the wealth of their parents, the work of servants, or the fruit of 
their domains, but kings themselves owe their upkeep to alms - taxes!" (14) Monks gave a 
lesson to Christians! 

This reveals an interesting relationship between life consecrated to prayer and the 
Christian community. If a history of monastic economy were made, we would see that the 
economic balance of monasteries through the centuries found an explanation within the 
Christian community; and this was part of a concept of Christians, that they ought to help 
support those who assumed, in their place, the office of prayer. 

Jacques Leclercq shows how all of medieval society converged upon the leisure of 
monks: prayer was the summit of an entire economic activity which, in its very functioning, 
recognized this fact about prayer and integrated it. Currently, the transformation of society is 
such that this understanding of prayer no longer exists and therefore contemplative leisure is 
not integrated in it. 

It was part of the primitive monastic ideal not to be a burden to anyone. 

Labor- work. This word evokes the difficulty one may experience 

All that is said of labor , in the language of monks, includes not only manual labor but the 
overall aspect of effort and of the harshness of life, in order that prayer and fraternal life may be 
based on something strong. 

It refers to the entire effort of asceticism, combat, struggle, in overcoming difficulties, 
mastering one's body, energy and strength. 



141 



For us too, all the constraints and difficulties implied by work should be accepted in this 
spirit, which presupposes in a broader way that the ascetical aspect, the austere aspect of our 
life, has not disappeared. 

Cassian connects work in its painful aspect with humility of heart: whoever enters a 
monastery "should submit to work and difficulties. He will earn his daily bread, according to the 
precept of the Apostle, by the work of his hands, in such a way as to suffice for his own needs 
and those of guests. This is the way to forget the feasts and delicacies of his former life and to 
acquire, through penitential work, humility of heart." (15) 

The imitation of Christ 

This point is less traditional, but is found in certain sources. In Theodore the Studite 
(beginning of the eleventh century), for whom the model of the monk is Jesus the Servant, the 
whole ideal is obedience (washing of feet, etc.). In this perspective, since work is a service, it 
is magnified. This idea converts easily into: work is what makes our life angelic, for the function 
of angels is to serve.(16) 

We do not find anything about imitating Christ at Nazareth: this is a modern concept. We 
are looking at the parallel development of dogma and of the living out of Gospel values. In the 
measure in which religious life is the fruit of the lived Gospel, we suddenly come to realize that 
over the course of centuries some Gospel values that were never articulated have become a 
way of life. 

In the text of St. Sixtus two other biblical texts are quoted which are not found in monastic 
literature: Gen 3:19 - a text which outlines a teaching on work and the human condition, a link 
between work and subsistence; and in Ps 1 27:2 - the beginnings of the theme of work and joy. 

2. A contemporary view of work (LCM 104-105) 

The evolution of society since the industrial revolution has modified man's view of his 
condition and of work. Of set purpose, the Constitutions have not developed a mystique of work 
too far. 

a. The religious view of work (LCM 104) 

We do not say that the sisters, through their work, achieve creation - this is dispropor- 
tionate to monastic work - but simply that they fulfill the Creator's plan: that men and women 
should work. 

"Associated with the work of the Redeemer": this is the other aspect, all that work implies 
in the way of hardship, its painful character. To work as a Christian is to take on work as a 
share in the Passion of the Lord. 

b. Work fosters the development of personality (LCM 105:1) 

Human beings need to do something in order to be. Work gives this balance. A certain 
number of problems arise whenever there is not enough "doing" in life, so that the overall 
balance risks being thrown off. It is the search for the Kingdom of God which brings unity into 
life. 

It is good for work to be absorbing; but it is less advantageous when preoccupation with 
it continues afterwards. 

c. Connection between work and the common good - charity (LCM 105:11) 

(Ed. Note: Sister offers no commentary on this section.) 

142 



d. Work a sharing in the human condition (LCM 105:111) 

Work is a value, but we should not pursue it exclusively. It can be counterproductive to 
the kind of work proper to monasteries, which is the living of the life. It is important to note that 
the second sentence in this paragraph balances the first. 

There is a reference here to Gaudium et spes (67,2). The work being discussed in 
Gaudium et spes is the work of our century in its most sophisticated forms, which is the reason 
for its exaltation. For this reason, these texts have not been used in the Constitutions, because 
the work of the nuns is on a far more modest scale. 

Gaudium et spes says that the Christian mission is to give human work its true signi- 
ficance. Now it is the Beatitudes that give it its true meaning. The condition of the monasteries, 
within the mission of the Church, in regard to work, is to manifest by way of a certain 'scandal' 
that there are other values besides work. We do not need to live as parasites, but we should 
not fear scandalizing others by maintaining a mediocre organization from the point of view of 
intense productivity. 

3. Work and the future of monastic life (LCM 106-110) 

Each monastery has its own problems in the organization of its work: division of tasks, 
taking care that work does not become the most important element, commanding all else, etc. 

The question is: will the present realities of the contemporary economy, and its evolution, 
one day drive the monasteries to a new kind of work? 

Note well LCM 106:11: Intellectual work is henceforth opened to the nuns equally with 
manual work. 

LCM 109 stresses confidence in divine providence (cf. Mt 6:25, cited in PC 13). 



NOTES TO CHAPTER IV 

(Note numbers 1 through 4 pertained to the omitted texts of LCM.) 

5. A. Duval, conference given at Lourdes, 1972. The notes have been added. 

6. Augustine, De mor. Eccl., I, 33, 70. 

7. Rule of St. Benedict, XLVI 1 1 . 

8. Augustine, De op. Monach., I, 1-2. 

9. Augustine, De op. Monach., I, 1-2; Cassian, Inst, 5; X, 8-16; Rule of St. Benedict. 

10. Augustine, De op. Monach., Ill, 4. 

11. "Idleness is the enemy of the soul. The brothers should therefore devote certain hours to manual 
work and others to holy reading" (Rule of St. Benedict, XLVIII); cf. Cassian, Inst, X, 5-22. 

12. Cassian, Inst, V, 39. 

13. Augustine, De mor. eccl., I, 33, 70. 

14. Cassian, Coll., XXIV, 12. 

15. Cassian, Inst, II, 3. 

16. J. Leroy, "Saint Theodore Studite," in ThGologie de la vie monastique, Etudes sur la tradition 
patristique (Aubier, 1961), pp. 434-436. 

X 

143 



BOOK REVIEWS 

SISTERS IN CRISIS 1 

by Ann Carey, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 1997, 367 pages, paperback. 

The subtitle of this documentary, The Tragic Unraveling of Women's Religious Communities, whets 
the appetite. We have all seen a bit, heard more, and may have suspected the worst about the 
current situation of "Sisters in crisis" across the country. Now, we think, we will get at the truth. 

And get at the truth we do, in this fine-tuned, careful assessment of the present state of active 
religious Congregations of Sisters in the United States. Carey, wife, mother and journalist who 
reveres the Sisters who taught her in school, gives a brief glance at "nuns the way we used to know 
them," that is, in the first half of this century, and then moves swiftly forward to focus on what 
happened in the sixties and on to tomorrow and the day after. 

History has much to tell us about the development of religious life in this country. Where did the 
Sisters come from? What were their roots, their goals, their raison d'etre? These matters are 
competently covered in the early chapters of the book, and prepare us for the main section dealing 
with the dramatic sweep of renewal ushered in by Vatican Council II. 

There are two kinds of Sisters today, Carey says. Eschewing unattractive and overused formulas, 
she calls them "change-oriented" and "traditional." They have emerged out of Sisters' contrasting 
reactions to the urgings of Vatican II for an updating of religious life, and their contrasting efforts to 
implement suggestions for this renewal. 

Why two camps? Carey describes how information filtered through leadership groups to the ranks 
of the sisterhood in America. Facts were not always clearly identified, and conclusions proliferated 
faster than the Sisters, totally absorbed in living their apostolic life to the hilt, could manage to catch 
them. Hence there was a great deal of confusion, and this worked its way into the media and out 
again to the general public. So we had confusion on all sides about Catholic Sisters in America. 

Why did some Sisters suddenly appear in lay clothes, live alone or in small groups in apartments, 
and take jobs in the secular marketplace, while others remained in their convents valiantly attempting 
to carry on a lifelong mission of teaching, or struggled against enormous odds to continue staffing 
hospitals and nursing homes, in the face of their dwindling personnel? Carey explains how within 
various Sisters' Congregations leadership groups were formed to implement Vatican II, and how 
these groups amalgamated into a national spearhead linked directly with the Roman Curia and 
purporting to represent all the individual Sisters in the country. Through the central leadership, 
changes in lifestyle, common life, community prayer, and common goals of mission were rapidly 
effected, despite the reluctance and bewilderment of many sisters at the grass roots level. 

The obvious question occurs: how is it that Rome backed the action of the leadership groups if their 
understanding of the Church's ideal of renewal was less than accurate? But did Rome do this? 
What part did American bishops play in the denouement of religious life as once known in this 
country? Carey records facts, correspondence, reports, counter-reports, and minutes of meetings 
with scientific skill and competence. She shows how the picture changed almost from day to day, 



1 Sisters in Crisis and Sisters in Arms are reprinted with permission of the National Catholic Register. 

144 



as thousands of Sisters attempted to come to grips with renewal in the midst of an unraveling 
concept. With the formation of other national leadership groups of Sisters, confusion reached its 
climax. 

We are truly indebted to the author for her objective, professional, and yet sensitive approach to the 
phenomenon of the shifting religious scene. Basically, she is looking at people - religious sisters 
-with their conflicting ideals, hopes, and undertakings. Their vocation/mission is a priceless ele- 
ment of our Catholic life, and in this book it is treated with respect, empathy, and keen insight. The 
author's penetrating perceptions, sparked with a gentle humor at times, broaden into understanding 
rather than sharpen into criticism 

We sometimes tend to chalk up crises to the human condition, and let it go at that. But crisis is not 
the human condition. When he created us, God "saw that it was good". We need to see religious 
life from his perspective and look to the restoration of its original splendor - the splendor of truth. 
What is the truth of religious life? What is it meant to be today? 

The facts about Sisters in crisis are not the whole truth, only a part. If we want the whole truth, we 
need to check the sources, and move from Church-mystery to the mystery dimension of religious 
community. These words of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of 
Apostolic Life seem to encapsulate it: "[A] religious community is not simply a collection of Christians 
in search of personal perfection. Much more deeply, it is a participation in and qualified witness to 
the Church-mystery.... Religious community, in its structure, motivations, and distinguishing values, 
makes publicly visible and continually perceptible the gift of fraternity given by Christ to the whole 
Church." 

This is the tenor of the closing section of Carey's book, in which she expresses hope for the future 
of religious life in the United States. Quoting Pope John Paul II in Vita consecrata, she writes: "Sad 
situations of crisis invite consecrated persons courageously to proclaim their faith in Christ's death 
and resurrection, that they may become a visible sign of the passage of death to life." From death 
to life: this is the path marked out for Sisters in crisis, for all religious, who are and always will be at 
the heart of the Church. Carey has provided a valuable analysis, which could well be used in the 
gathering together and reworking of unraveled threads, until they are all once more "fast knit to 
Christ." 

Sr. Mary Thomas, O.P. 
Buffalo, NY 



c4 

SISTERS IN ARMS: CATHOLIC NUNS THROUGH TWO MILLENNIA 

by Jo Ann Kay McNamara, Harvard University Press, 1998, 751 pages, $18.95, paperback. 

Nuns seem to be an 'in' topic these days, judging from the number of books being served up 
currently for the inquiring public. As the number of religious women decreases, talk about them 
proliferates. 

In the front ranks, if for no other reason than its impressive size, Professor McNamara's contribution 
to the pile takes a prominent position. Her seven hundred and fifty-page panorama of nuns through 
the millennia is like a medieval tale portrayed in a series of hanging tapestries, intricate, colorful, rich 
in detail, and pleasingly accented with bright wit in the telling. Or to update the assessment, perhaps 

145 



we should speak of the technological precision of an accountwhich includes a nearto infinite number 
of incidents and personalities crisscrossing the centuries at jet speed to leave us breathless on the 
doorstep of A. D. 2000. 

This is a well crafted treatment of the historical, psychological, and sociological elements which go 
to make up the fascinating mix of motivation and praxis to be found in a history of this kind. There 
is much to be said for the evident scholarship behind such an extended effort, the persevering 
research that obviously went into such a challenging project, and the bonus of a lively style which 
keeps the reader turning the pages. Admittedly, the book is proposed as a historical overview, 
driven by an authentic feminist agenda. A few quotes at random will illustrate this. 

The leaders [of the Jerusalem community, in Acts] could have been resisting the recruitment 
of additional women, hoping to restrict the group to the original followers of Jesus ... already 
the outlines of a male priesthood were appearing with the inevitable result of limiting the 
usefulness of women, (p. 17). 

Women [of the 3 rd century], however admirable or even masculine, were condemned by virtue 
of their gender to a secondary state from which no degree of sanctity would lift them. (p. 86). 

The reformation and regulation of female communities [in the 9th century] was carried out by 
men who made no discernible effort to consult the women concerned, (p. 150-151). 

The substitution of the mass [sic] for the gender inclusive chant [at the time of the Cluniac 
reform] was but a single step in the redefinition of the church as a body of professional male 
clergy encompassing monks but not nuns. (p. 209). 

The clergy [of the high Middle Ages] accepted the burden of the cura mulierum grudgingly, 
with the proviso that the women be self-sufficient and not drain resources needed for the 
church's more important responsibilities. Men agreed that women needed less material wealth 
than men and that self-mortification was especially becoming to the vainer sex. (p. 263). 

Immoral priests [in the Middle Ages] could still deliver good sacraments, but nuns had to be 
personally holy to keep their patrons [benefactors], (p. 283). 

Neither do they [Sisters in professional careers] wish to be confined by that separate, 
complementary feminine nature to which Pope John Paul II clings in his recent efforts to put 
the female genie back into her bottle, (p. 630). 

The church's own monolithic face cracked as various factions debated its role in the late 
twentieth-century world, (p. 631). 

We have, therefore, in Sisters in Arms, a detailed history of nuns as seen through a feminist prism. 
While such a slant mars the objectivity and credibility of the story, a more serious flaw is the absence 
of a complete picture. The "truth" thus becomes the enemy of the whole truth. 

Professor. McNamara tells us in her Preface that she has become, like Voltaire, a secular humanist. 
May we pose the possibility that this is not enough? So much has been given: could we not have 
hoped for more? So many pages on the nuns, but basically there is not a clue as to who they really 
are. Secular humanism lowers the ceiling to the point where we are left gasping for air. 

In recent decades popes and theologians have made serious and responsible efforts to define the 
evolving concept of consecrated life in contemporary terms. Catholics would do well to open read 
these documents and explore them in depth, even as they retain the valued lessons of the past. In 

146 



their study, they can indeed profit by the historical background which Professor. McNamara offers, 
with the caveat that it is only a part, and a small part, of the whole picture. 

Religious life is not, in fact, a purely natural phenomenon. Neither are nuns. Their venture cannot 
be pursued on purely natural terms. Nor can it be understood or evaluated by purely natural criteria. 
To be specific, no man or woman can choose the religious life as a vocation. God does the 
choosing. The man or woman is chosen. The Lord made this point quite simply to his apostles: 
"You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." Truth's word remains true through the millennia, 
and beyond. A vocation is a wonderful work of God. It is best understood from His point of view. 
A study that overlooks this is like a body without a soul. 

Sr. Mary Thomas, O.P. 
Buffalo, NY 



&* 



WITNESS TO HOPE: THE BIOGRAPHY OF JOHN PAUL II 

by George Weigel, Cliff Street Books, 1999, 991 pages, sewn hardcover, $35.00. 

A number of biographies of John Paul II have been written. We would have been poorer without 
some, one by Mieczslaw Malinski, another by John Szostak, a third by Jerzy Kluger, for example. 
Many of the biographies now cover familiar territory. Some seem to be designed as souvenirs, for 
it is clear that Our Holy Father cannot live much longer. 

It will be hard to evaluate the effects of this papacy on the Church and the world. Finding a suitable 
biographer to capture the depth and scope of this pontificate is very difficult. Pope Paul VI was 
captured in the words of Jean Guitton. Weigel has accomplished this in the case of John Paul II. 
A theologian himself, he grasps and relates the theological impact of the teaching of John Paul II in 
its historical setting. In a vivid and ever interesting style, he tries to pierce the meaning of the 
pontificate of John Paul II. Weigel, in his inimitable style, speaks best for himself: 

He survives an assassination attempt, redefines the Catholic Church's relationship with 
Judaism, invites Orthodox and Protestant Christians to help imagine a papacy that could 
serve the needs of all Christians, preaches to Muslim teenagers in a packed stadium in 
Casablanca, and describes marital intimacy as an icon of the interior life of the triune God. 
After he faces a series of medical difficulties, the world media pronounce him a dying, if 
heroic, has been. Within the next six months he publishes an international bestseller 
translated into forty languages, gathers the largest crowd in human history on the least 
Christian continent in the world, urges the Church to cleanse its conscience on the edge of 
the next millennium, and almost single-handedly changes the course of a major international 
meeting on population issues. Addressing the United Nations in 1995, he defends the 
universality of human rights and describes himself as a "witness to hope" at the end of a 
century of unprecedented wickedness. Two days later, the irrepressible pontiff does a 
credible imitation of Jack Benny during Mass in Central Park, and the cynical New York Press 
loves it. (pp. 3-4) 

True, but it is hard to find anyone who can record this remarkable state of things with such literary 
style and clarity. Weigel does it, and his "understanding from the inside" continues throughout the 
book, all of which is worth reading. So much has happened during this pontificate that it will be 



147 



useful to have this summary of some of the masterworks of John Paul II and the theological impact 
in the historical setting. 

Among the insights I particularly treasure is the description of Mulieris Dignitatem. Some think it to 
be among the conservative statements of Our Holy Father, but Weigel points out some striking 
innovations. There is a "Petrine profile" of the Church, but more fundamental is the "Marian profile," 
the Church of the disciples. The Marian profile is the preeminent one and richer in meaning. In this 
Our Holy Father is following the lead of Fr. Von Balthasar who proposed several profiles of the 
Church. Discipleship comes before authority and sanctity before power. "This was not Mariology in 
the service of traditionalism. This was Mariology demolishing the last vestiges of the idea of the 
Church-as-absolute-monarchy." (p. 577) That needed doing: the Pope did it. 

One can trace strong influences of Von Balthasar in the thinking of John Paul II. There may be a 
number of doctoral dissertations yet to come on that subject. 

We hear reports of papal travels to various continents. Plainly there is an impact on the political 
climate during these visits. Weigel's account shows that some very good, but fundamentally 
disrupting (from the point of view of dictators) effects were consciously planned during the papal 
visits. Fear and isolation of various groupings in society keep sectors of society apart from each 
other. This was true in Poland, in Chile, and elsewhere. One goal of the Chilean pilgrimage was to 
"reconquer the streets." Streets had been places of riots and beatings. They were given a new 
meaning as places where Chileans prayed together. The papal Mass venues were deliberately 
chosen to mix various groupings of people as they had not been mixed for years. This was true in 
Poland, too. Communism deliberately fosters mistrust between groupings in society, but the papal 
visit was intended to, and had the effect of, creating a climate of trust in society. 

Veritatis Splendor is one of the gems of this papacy. Weigel discusses the theological contents of 
this encyclical but has, in addition, some interesting information about its drafting. It is said that 
popes have other people write their encyclicals. I am not sure how true this is, but there were papal 
commissions involved in preparing this text. In addition, the Pope consulted with bishops and 
theologians around the world. Weigel traced the influence of Servais Pinckaers, O.P., Cardinal 
Joseph Ratzinger, Tadeusz Styczeh, SDS, Andrezej Szostek, MIC, and Georges Cottier.O.P. It 
is, however, truly and profoundly the work of Our Holy Father. There are not many persons who are 
well enough informed about theology and write accessible books in which one can discover 
information like this. This is one of the joys of this book. In this encyclical, John Paul II "tried to 
reconnect freedom to the good of human flourishing" (p. 694). 

Weigel is thoroughly aware of the criticisms leveled against John Paul II by different sectors in the 
Church and society. A good discussion of these can be found in the final chapter of the book. 
Probably most of the critical observations of Weigel lie in this section: for example, "The fact 
remains, though, that John Paul II has not invested significant, sustained energy in ensuring that his 
vision of an evangelically assertive, culture-forming Church of disciples is understood and shared 
throughout the various levels of the Roman bureaucracy" (p. 855). This is probably true, but the 
papal curia is legendarily impervious to papal influence. It seems to be a tradition. 

The book concludes observing that John Paul II helped to demonstrate that faith can transform the 
world and restore a "spiritual dimension to a history that had become flat, stale, and, as a 
consequence, brutal" (p.804). 

Sr. Mary of Christ, O.P. 
Los Angeles, CA 



148 



CONFERENCE OF NUNS OF THE ORDER OF PREACHERS - UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 

Member Monasteries 2000 



CORPUS CHRISTI MONASTERY 

1230 Lafayette Ave 

Bronx, NY 10474-5399 (71 8)-328-6996 

MONASTERY OF OUR LADY OF THE ROSARY 

335 Doat St 

Buffalo, NY 14211-2199 (71 6)-892-0066 

MONASTERY OF THE PERPETUAL. ROSARY 

1500 Haddon Avenue 

Camden , N J 081 03-3 1 1 2 (609)-342-8340 

MONASTERY OF MARY THE QUEEN 

1310 W. Church St 

Elmira, NY 14905-1998 (607)-734-9506 

MONASTERY OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT 

29575 Middlebelt Rd 

Farmington Hills, Ml 48334-2311 (248)-626-8321 

MONASTERY OF THE IMMACULATE HEART 

1834 Lititz Pike 

Lancaster, PA 17601-6585 (717)-569-2104 

MONASTERY OF THE ANGELS 

1 977 Carmen Ave 

Los Angeles, CA 90068-4098 (323)-466-2186 

MONASTERY OF THE INFANT JESUS 

1501 Lotus Lane 

Lufkin, TX 75904-2699 (936)-634-4233 

MONASTERY OF ST. JUDE 

P.O. Box 170 

Marbury, AL 36051-0170 (205)-755-1322 

CORPUS CHRISTI MONASTERY 

215 Oak Grove Ave 

MenloPark, CA 94025-3249 (650)-322-1801 

MONASTERY OF ST. DOMINIC 

375 13th Ave 

Newark, NJ 07103-2124 (973)-624-2769 

MONASTERY OF OUR LADY OF GRACE 

1 1 Race Hill Rd 

North Guilford, CT 06437-1167 (203)-457-0599 



MONASTERY OF OUR LADY OF THE ROSARY 

543 Springfield Ave 

Summit, NJ 07901-4498 (908)-273-1228 

DOMINICAN NUNS OF THE PERP. ROSARY 

802 Court St 

Syracuse, NJ 13208-1796 (315)-471-6762 

DOMINICAN NUNS OF THE PERP. ROSARY 

605 14th St 

Union City, NJ 07087-3199 (201)-866-7004 

ST. DOMINIC'S MONASTERY 

4901 16th St N.W. 

Washington, DC 20011-3839 (202)-726-2107 

MONASTERY OF THE MOTHER OF GOD 

1430 Riverdale St 

West Springfield, MA 01089-4698 

(413)-736-3639 



Affiliate Member Monasteries 

LES MONIALES DOMINICAINES 

1140 Rue Frontenac, C.P. 479 

Berthierville, Quebec JOK 1AO 

Canada (514)-836-3724 

ROSARY MONASTERY 

No. 2 St. Ann's Rd 

Port of Spain, Trinidad, 

West Indies (809)-624-7648 

QUEEN OF THE ANGELS MONASTERY 
327 MacArthur Hwy 
Bocaue, Bulacan 3018 
Philippines 

MONASTERY OF OUR LADY OF THE ROSARY 

Rosaryhill, Bulao 

Cainta, Rizal 1900 

Philippines 665-8621 

QUEEN OF PEACE MONASTERY 

RoseMary Heights Retreat Center 

3692 152 nd St. 

Surrey, BC V4P 2J9 

Canada (604)-312-2176 



149 



CONTACT PERSONS - DOMINICAN MONASTIC SEARCH 

November 2000 



Bronx 

Buffalo 

Camden 

Elmira 

Farmington Hills 

Lancaster 

Los Angeles 

Lufkin 

Marbury 

Menlo Park 

Newark 

North Guilford 

Summit 

Syracuse 

Union City 

Washington 

West Springfield 



Sr. Mary of Jesus 

Sr. Mary Thomas 

Mother Mary of the Immaculate Heart (Prioress) 

Sr. Joan 

Sr. Mary Clare 

Sr. Mary Veronica (Prioress) 

Sr. Mary St. Pius 

Sr. Mary John 

Mother Mary Magdalen 

Sr. Maria Christine 

Sr. Mary Margaret 

Sr. Susan Early 

Sr. Maria of the Cross 

Sr. Mary Augustine 

Mother Mary Jordan (Prioress) 

Sr. Marie Therese 

Sr. Mary of the Pure Heart 



Berthierville 
Bocaue 

Rosaryhill, Bulao 
Surrey 
Trinidad 



FOREIGN MONASTERIES 

Sr. Francoise 

Prioress 

Prioress 

Prioress 

Prioress 



150 



GUIDELINES FOR CONTRIBUTORS 
TO DOMINICAN MONASTIC SEARCH (2000) 

We encourage all who can do so to write for Dominican Monastic Search. The 
deadline for manuscripts is August 1 st of each year. Appropriate subjects for DMS include 
scripture, theology, philosophy, spirituality, Dominican life, and the liberal arts insofar as 
they contribute to our Dominican vocation. 

Before submission to the editors, all articles must be reviewed by your local contact 
person . She is asked to see that articles are proofread for spelling, grammar, punctuation, 
etc., and if the author cannot do so, to type them according to the guidelines if possible. 
Nevertheless, an article may be sent in clear handwriting if necessary! The editors will 
gladly format it for you. 

Manuscripts submitted in typewriting or computer printout should be clear, single 
spaced, and on one side of the paper only. Please follow as many as possible of the 
computer guidelines given below, even if you are using a typewriter. Minor editing may be 
done at the discretion of the editors. If major changes are desired, these will be effected 
in dialogue with the author. The editors, in consultation with the Conference Council, 
reserve the right to reject inappropriate manuscripts, giving the reasons for this to the 
author with courtesy and encouragement. 

FORMAT FOR SUBMISSIONS ON DISK 

Since DMS employs a uniform style, for those of you having computer skills we welcome 
the submission of your manuscript on a disk, always accompanied by a printout , which greatly aids 
the editorial work. Please follow this format: 

PROGRAM: WordPerfect 6, 8 or 9 is preferred. But Word Perfect 5.1 for DOS or WINDOWS may 
still be used. You may also use Microsoft Word, up to level 97. 

MARGINS, etc: 1" top and bottom. 1.12" on left and right sides . Full justification. Set Widow/ 
Orphan protect ON. Use no page numbers; pencil the number on back of page. 

TYPESTYLE: In WordPerfect, use the ARIAL font. If you do not have this, choose another plain 
font, to match what you see in DMS. Use either an 1 1 or 12 pt. size for body copy. 9 or 10 pt. size 
is suitable for notes. 

TITLE: Position the title against the left margin, 13 PT, BOLD. Put author's name below, in print 
size of body-copy, using the FLUSH RIGHT format to secure it to that margin. Add your 
monastery's location beneath author's name. 

SPACING: For TITLE, make pleasing to the eye. Triple space between author's monastery and 
beginning of article. Single space the body copy. Double-space between paragraphs. Triple-space 
before major headings. 

NOTES: Use endnotes . Follow current academic form. L & R margins of 1 . 1 2" as above. These 
margins and the ARIAL font must be entered into the program's "Document Style," in order to affect 
the endnotes (Click: "Format/ Styles/ Document Style/ Edit"). Any font size smaller than in the 
article, must be entered into an endnote style. (Click "Insert/ Endnote/ Endnote Number/ Options/ 
Advanced/ In Note") 

151 



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