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Dominican contemplation: prayer and study in order to preach ← Previous Next →
However, the grace of preaching presupposes the grace of actual prayer or contemplation. Thus, St Thomas Aquinas notes that the Dominican is called to hand on the fruits of his contemplation. The Dominican, then, does not pray for the sake of contemplation alone but in order to preach. As Humbert of Romans says, “The most important thing of all for a preacher is that he should have recourse to prayer.” In our Dominican life, this means firstly praying the Liturgy in common, but attention is also paid to private prayer.
How to pray
Dominicans do not have any special method of prayer but follow Dominic, whose prayer is “always simple, always ecclesial”. fr Bede Jarrett OP once said that if prayer is regimented and “reduced to hard and fast rules”, then “all adventure is gone, all the personal touches, and all the contemplation. We are too worried and harassed to think of God.” Consequently, Dominican prayer is simple and has as its goal “the contemplation of divine truth, and personal conversation and friendship with God” (LCO 66 § I). Hence, fr Francisco de Vitoria OP said: “Genuine contemplation is reading the Bible and the study of true wisdom”.
Contemplation and study
Contemplation is thus closely related to study, for the material of Dominican study is “divine revelation” (LCO 79). Therefore, fr Isidore Clarke OP says that Dominican contemplation “embraces both prayerful meditation and systematic study - two complementary approaches, nourishing both our hearts and minds in our love for the truth, which is Christ himself.” Study is thus an act of love, a way of seeking Christ and pondering the beauty and wisdom of the Word of God. As we have said, contemplation serves our preaching mission and so, Humbert of Romans says that “Study is not the end of the Order, but it is an utmost necessity to that end, which is preaching and labouring for the salvation of souls, for without study we can do neither.”
Faith and reason
It is important to note, though, that although all Dominicans are expected to study and indeed, to grow in love of Truth through study, not every Dominican is expected to be a scholar. We are called to sanctify our God-given intellect through study and the right use of faith and reason, for both find their source in God and leads to God, who is the giver of all Truth. In this regard, we hold St Thomas Aquinas as “the best teacher and model” (LCO 82). In following his example, Dominicans display a thirst for Truth and an openness to seek it wherever and from whomever it may be found; we are beggars of Truth.
As St Thomas’ teacher, the Dominican saint, Albert the Great, said: “The whole world is theology for us, because the heavens proclaim the glory of God.” Hence, study causes us to marvel at God’s creation, to wonder at his greatness and to humble ourselves before him. As fr Timothy Radcliffe OP notes, “It is through study, by seeking to understand things and each other, that we recover a sense of astonishment at the miracle of creation”.
Study as religious observance
This devotion to assiduous study “nourishes contemplation and fosters with a lucid fidelity the living of the evangelical counsels [because] the very perseverance it demands and its difficulty make it a form of asceticism. Being an essential part of our life, it is an excellent religious observance” (LCO 83). Therefore, from the beginning of the Order, St Dominic introduced study “as an indispensable means to every apostolic activity” in place of the customary manual labour undertaken by monks.