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January 31, 2006

Notes for Puzzled Dominicans

Our resident highly intelligent, but overly-complicated resident Dominican, Brother Thomas of Disputations says that Pope Benedict XVI gave us an encyclical without clear instruction in what to do next. I begged to differ, and Brother Thomas restated the case that there was nothing explicit--no steps. Well, of course there are no steps, I reply in the spirit of collegiality and Carmelite Simplicity. Steps imply complexity and to be in God is to be in simplicity, hence no need for steps. Ironic, is it not, that simplicity comes to those who haven't really got a clue what it's about, but for those who can define it, articulate it, and spell it out for the rest of us it's a major challenge. Anyway, the unadulterated text of a potential reply follows.

Dear Tom,

Sheesh! You Dominicans seem to need a roadmap for everything. Three steps to prayer, seven steps to the perfect sermon, nineteen steps to Christian service.

Goodness, the Pope said follow the ascending line of purified eros to the point where the intertwining of eros and agape lead you to intimacy with the Lord. There you learn your particular and peculiar mission and are sent forth on it. Said mission is to be prosecuted with the maximum of Christian Charity and a minimum of personal agenda. Seems to me that without a visit to your house, the Pope couldn't get much more explicit about how to go about what you were supposed to be doing!

In short as with some sports shoe or another--"Just do it!"

Evidently, one man's marching orders are another man's pleasant and moving reflection. The Lord speaks to us through the same vehicles, but ultimately says what each one needs to hear through who we are. So maybe I shouldn't be so hard on the Dominicans.

(Nah! What fun would that be?)

Posted by Steven Riddle at January 31, 2006 8:46 PM

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You know, between this and the observation (was that also at Tom's place?) that JPII's writings were possibly more Carmelite while Benedict's are more Dominican ... I may be much more Carmelite than I ever suspected (which is to say that I NEVER suspected any Carmelite leanings...).

Keep up the good work, Steven ... I'm enjoying the fun! :-D

Posted by: Julie D. at January 31, 2006 10:02 PM

Dominicans are probably more hierarchical than Carmelites. Surely the Angelic Doctor was into hierarchies, creating a pecking order of angels. Perhaps that sort of military mindset creates a longing for direction in us subordinates.

I recall a Dominican retreat master, who Brother Thomas of Disputations knows (cue 'It's a Small World' music), saying, "you want a mission, you ask God for a mission. He'll give you all the mission you want."

Posted by: TSO at February 1, 2006 11:20 AM

The observation was that Benedict is more Benedictine. He's not particularly Dominican... but then his papacy is still young.

We can distinguish between order and hierarchy, and between an ordered and a military mindset, but that would just lead to teasing.

Posted by: Tom at February 1, 2006 11:39 AM

Ha, I thought you wouldn't take that lying down! A fool messes with Brother Tom of Disputations.

Posted by: TSO at February 1, 2006 11:57 AM

And the nice thing about establishing oneself a fool, is there's no reputation to protect! *grin*

Posted by: TSO at February 1, 2006 11:58 AM

(Uh, I was speaking for myself, not you Steven!)

Posted by: TSO at February 1, 2006 12:03 PM

Dear Tom,

Now, who in the world would tease? A distinction between order and hierarchy--who'd a thunk it? Why St. Thomas of course!

Of course, it doesn't hurt that he redefined the meaning of hierarchy to compose a multitude of orders and thus founded the science of taxonomy. I would say that the definition of hierarchy passed on to St. Thomas from earlier sages was just a mite too narrow because as St. Thomas points out a hierarchy without orders is not longer a hierarchy but a chaos.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at February 1, 2006 12:07 PM

Yeah, what Steven says! Chain of command was important to Aquinas, who wrote, for example, that "the last should be led to God by those that are midway between."

Posted by: TSO at February 1, 2006 1:07 PM

Dear Tom,

Oops! I guess credit really belong to Aristotle for taxonomy, but Aquinas actually gave us the modern basis for it by his redefinition.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at February 1, 2006 1:07 PM

In short as with some sports shoe or another--"Just do it!"

Or "shut up and row", as the motto went at one place of employment.

Posted by: Zippy at February 1, 2006 10:48 PM


You must acknowledge, however, that the encyclical in question is not algorithmic in nature. Certainly, some people deal better with non-algorithmical instruction, and some deal with explicit instructions, but I would have to characterise Deus Caritas Est as instructional without the explicit instruction that Fundamentalist thinkers (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) like to have.

As a post-script, I must say that you and Tom are my favourite of the St. Blogs webring, exactly because of the Carmelite/Dominican tension. My wife shares your Carmelite outlook, and comes from a family history of Carmelites (her Grandmother was a third-order and her Great-Aunt was cloistered), and my own spiritual slant is Dominican. So this tension that you allude to in your post is quite familiar to me, and I think it can only strengthen the Church.

On a personal note, since I recall your love for JPtG, how has the simplicity reflected in this encyclical affected your opinion of the current Holy Father?


Posted by: Brandon Field at February 2, 2006 11:54 AM


I had a great-aunt who was cloistered, too. Not for religious reasons, though.

Posted by: Tom at February 2, 2006 12:24 PM


At the risk of giving vocabulary advice to someone much better versed in wordsmithing than I: Are you sure cloistered is the word you want?



Posted by: Brandon Field at February 2, 2006 3:17 PM

Oh boy! A Dominican catfight--much more interesting than Carmelite infighting where while others are contemplating (usually what it is they would like to say to you if they had the nerve.)

Okay so Brandon isn't really a Dominican, but he did say he had Dominican sympathies, so I count it.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at February 2, 2006 5:26 PM

I'm not a Dominican, but I'm considering joining the Third Order some day. Not until after I graduate, however. My attraction falls under what Tom has called the "I'll have one of what they're having" realm, but I include the likes of St. Thomas, St. Louis deMontefort, and St. Dominic as well as Tom, and the two Dominican priests that I've met in who "they" are.

I'm also not trying to pick a fight... unlike the author of this original post :)

Posted by: Brandon Field at February 2, 2006 7:48 PM

Dear Mr. Field,

Me, pick a fight? Well, I honestly don't know what to say. I simply go to great lengths to correct some misconceptions which were not even present, but cleverly by careful misreading could be attributed to their author and you think I pick a fight. Really!

I've much better things to get Tom's goat over--including whether or not Gaudy Night should even be allowed to continue to exist. (Of course as I can't do much about that myself, the only purpose in discussing would be to antagonize--so I'll simply drop the subject except to say--probably not.) :-D



Posted by: Steven Riddle at February 2, 2006 8:48 PM

"the Pope said follow the ascending line of purified eros to the point where the intertwining of eros and agape lead you to intimacy with the Lord."

I much prefer what St. Bonaventure said of St. Francis: When Francis the man of God saw that many were being inspired by his example to carry the cross of Christ with fervent spirit, he himself like a good leader of Christ's army was encouraged to reach the palm of victory through the height of heroic virtue. He directed his attention to this text of the Apostle: Those who belong to Christ have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. He went on to say that encompassed by the weakness of the flesh, man cannot follow the spotless crucified Lamb so perfectly as to avoid contacting any filth. Therefore Francis taught that those who strive after the perfect life should cleanse themsleves daily with streams of tears. Now, isn't that better? Francis reached such purity that his body was in remarkable harmony with his spirit and his spirit with God. While you Dominicans and Carmelites are having a good, healthy exchange of barbs, I bet those Franciscans are crucifying their flesh of passions and desires!

Posted by: Psalm 41 at February 2, 2006 10:12 PM

Dear Mr. Riddle,

Okay, as a childhood fan of Lord Peter (resulting from my parents' collection of paperback mystery novals as well as PBS' Mystery incarnation of him), I have to respectfully say that I will pray for your conversion. (If you said anything against Albert Campion, I would have asked for an order of excommunication against you*).



* To put this comment in context, see the hijacked thread for the parallel post to this one on Disputations; I just wrote a lenghty response to Chris.

Posted by: Brandon Field at February 3, 2006 9:33 AM

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