17 August 2013

Dominicans: engines of ecclesial renewal!

[. . .]

Today the institutional effort at genuine renewal is palpable. There are notorious holdouts—especially among women religious, the Jesuits and the universities they influence (along with others like them), wide swaths of academic theologians, and some sectors of Catholic health and social services. But most dioceses have better leadership now than then, the seminaries have been largely reformed, the priesthood substantially revitalized, and the push for both the recovery of lost territory and a new evangelization is both very real and very strong. [What's striking to me about seminary reform is the role of lay professors in restoring orthodoxy to the seminary curriculum. Once again, the Church is saved by the laity!]
Happily, this is no longer your father’s Church.

The Order of Preachers Sends a Message

I bring this up today because I am about to describe a very telling case in point in the Dominicans of the St. Joseph Province in the United States. I have always been drawn to St. Dominic and his wonderful Order of Preachers (their initials, O. P., come from Ordinis Praedicatorum). My doctoral dissertation way back in the dark age of 1973 was devoted to the connections of the Dominican observant reform in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries—a long struggle to return the Order to the observance of its original rule after a period of laxity—with the overwhelmingly Dominican defense of Papal primacy against Conciliarism and, later, Protestantism. Then as now, the most deeply committed Catholics were also the most devoted to the Holy See. [Alternating periods of laxity and observance are par for the course in every religious order, diocese, seminary, and parish. The cause of laxity is almost always the same: an initial relaxation of observance for the sake of ministry resets the highest standard of observance and further relaxation leads to laxity. The question is: when have we crossed the line btw observance and laxity?].

In the twentieth century, the Dominicans suffered from the rising tide of secularization just as others did, but not quite so much as many. I am reliably informed by those inside that the Order today is fairly healthy worldwide, though of course it varies from place to place. For years the Western province in the United States was more prone to Modernism (including the famous Fr. Matthew Fox and his sidekick, Starhawk the witch) than the Eastern province (the Province of St. Joseph) whose men are trained at the incomparable Dominican House of Studies at Catholic University. [Clarification: Fox was a member of the Central Province and he lived in CA after he was dismissed from the Order]. There is, for example, the famous story of men from the East sitting in on a lecture given by a professor from the West, and rising en masse to shake the dust from their feet when the lecture became heretical. Happily, the dichotomy is not so great now. [I've never heard this story!]

Similarly, the Dominicans in the Netherlands have proven spotty at best; some of them made news five years ago by circulating a pamphlet advocating priestless Masses. And yet is was characteristic of the Dominican Order as a whole, as it would not have been characteristic of many other groups, that these wayward Dominican priests were officially reprimanded by their more universal superiors (see Dominican leaders rebuke Dutch theologians, 1/24/2008). [A very mild rebuke that many friars read as tacit approval of the pamphlet. Though I think it was a repudiation, the rebuke should have been much stronger.]

[. . .]

Dominican provinces are like individuals.  Each has a dominant personality that's easily stereotyped. The West is monastic. The East is institutional. The South is missionary. The Central is pastoral. Like all stereotypes, there's some truth in there somewhere. But like individuals, provinces have personality traits that balance or complement the dominant one. You will find institutional friars in the South. Monastics in the East. Pastoral types in the West. And missionaries in the Central. Sometimes individual priories will be known as embodiments of the province's dominant personality and another priory will embody the complementary traits. 

If you really want to compare and contrast Dominican provinces and find the roots of difference, look at differences in resources: institutional commitments (universities, parishes, etc.); available funds for ministry; Catholic population and culture; number of friars; and historical presence in the region. Therein lies the real difference!

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  1. Anonymous6:09 PM

    Thank you for this information. I am a member of the Rosary Confraternity since 2001 and support their work. It is a ministry of the Western Provence. I have been reading their newsletters and buying books and CDs from them and always thought they were traditional Catholics. When I read the article you refer too it concerned me. Thank you for clearing some things up. Like you, I agree with the basic point of the article. Peace

  2. ohio Annie6:22 PM

    I'm in the St Joseph province, what does "institutional" mean? the friars should be institutionalized? ha ha. not really. I don't know what that word means in this context.

    1. I think it's supposed to mean something like "focused on taking care of institutions like parishes, colleges, etc." Or, maybe something like "operated like a corporation."

    2. ohio Annie6:31 PM

      Both of those would seem to apply, yes. especially the second.

    3. I think the corporate stereotype is applied to the EDP b/c it's a large province. However, of the EDP friars I know, not many (if any) would fit a corporate stereotype!