Assiduous study ranks as one of the most salient features of the Order of Preachers. When one thinks of the Dominican friar, thoughts of great luminaries such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Albert the Great are surely not far behind. Those learned in the history of philosophy and theology might know lesser known figures such as Tommaso de Vio Cajetan, O.P. (1469-1534), Francisco de Vitoria, O.P. (1483-156), Domingo Báñez, O.P. (1528-1604), John of St. Thomas, O.P. (1589-1644), and many others. In the last century the Order of Preachers boasted such great names as Édouard Hugon, O.P. (1867-1929), Marie-Joseph Lagrange, O.P. (1855-1938), Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. (1877-1964), and Yves Congar, O.P. (1904-1995).
For the Dominican friar, study is not an optional activity. Study constitutes one of the “four pillars” that compose the structure of Dominican life, along with common life, prayer, and preaching. Our regular observance demands that we commit ourselves to assiduous study. However, given the widespread association of religion with ignorance and superstition in our society, the idea of a religious order so committed to study may seem strange or sui generis.
Our contemporaries forget that for medieval and ancient Roman peoples, religion was a moral virtue which concerned giving God His due. The obligation to render God service involves a reasonable submission, because by reason we recognize ourselves as creatures subordinate to God. Therefore, we need to interiorly devote ourselves to God (Summa Theologica II-II, Q. 81, A.1-2). Grace perfects the religious inclinations of our nature, allowing us to give worship to God out of charity according to our faith in God (ST II-II Q. 82, A. 2, ad. 1). Nonetheless, we cannot devote ourselves to God if we do not know God, because devoting ourselves to anything is willing it for ourselves, and we cannot will what we do not know.
The intellect provides the will with its object. The more we know God, the more we can love God, because through knowing God the will receives more to love about God. Through study we become more aware of God’s goodness and our own shortcomings, and thus more aware of our dependence on God (ST II-II, Q. 82, A.3). Thus, we see the need to study the Word of God supernaturally revealed in Sacred Scripture and naturally revealed in the created universe. Furthermore, study frees us from errors about God and puts us on guard against the various heresies that, through either malice or ignorance, distort our understanding of God (ST II-II, Q. 188, A. 5).
The Dominican friar does not stop there. His vocation is not simply to contemplate God, but then to share the fruits of his contemplation with others. Thus, study leads us not only to greater love of God, but also to love of neighbor, insofar as study has an integral role in our preaching mission. Both the book of Scripture and the book of nature provide material for study and contemplation, which allow us to share God’s Word to meet the needs of God’s people.
Finally, study helps the Dominican friar to avoid sin, because it turns the mind away from evil thoughts and tames the flesh on account of the toil involved in study. We friars speak of the “cross of the desk,” to which the faithful friar will be nailed. Study forms part of our ascetical discipline due to the toil and difficulty involved, and it provides much needed mortification and an opportunity for penance.
Study in Dominican life is not simply an isolated academic affair. It is part of the integrated life of a simultaneously contemplative and active life. It is indispensable for the charism of preaching for the salvation of souls, and so is a necessary part of the lifelong formation of a friar of the Order of Preachers.
Let us pray that, following the example of our Dominican brothers and sisters in heaven, we may devote ourselves to Him whom we study. May we come to know Him ever more closely, and in knowing Him both love Him ourselves, and draw all around us to love Him.
-Br. Joseph Selinger, O.P.
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