Monday, January 19, 2015

Dominican Spirituality

"Mysticism and Prophecy" (1998) is part of the Traditions of Christian spirituality series. This volume is devoted to the spirituality of the Dominicans, the Order of Preachers. And for many, just the mention of the word "Dominican" congers up images of monks in black habit, whose lives are devoted to study and preaching. And that's just part of their story!

Richard Woods OP provides a fascinating introduction to the Dominican tradition. I've had the privilege to read and review several of the books in this series, and again the book does not disappoint. This is an extremely well written work, by a scholar in the field who knows his material and shares it in an interesting way. The result is a terrific overview of the Dominican order also known as the Black Friars.

The format follows others in the series with brief biographical overviews and quotations from the main figures in the order. Wood discusses how the Dominicans key elements to their "spirituality" included community prayer, study and mission (preaching). What a sharp contrast to the Benedictine dictum of prayer and work!

The book then introduces some of the Black Friar luminaries including Dominic, Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart, Catherine of Siena, and Jan van Ruysbroeck to name a few. Quite a theological line up which has a unique blend of theology/spirituality! Along the way you learn about Aquinas's positive way to God, Eckhart's negative way and Catherine of Seina's mystical-prophetic way and more! Best of all, in this Dominican overview you are given brief cameos of these great figures which often leave you clamoring for more. For instance, I found some of the eye witness accounts of Aquinas to be both human and inspiring-a welcome relief from the idealized figure most people have of the Angelic Doctor. And as in other volumes, I was pleasantly surprised at just how modern many of these medieval thinkers were. For example, check out the following passage:

"If the ancient theologians and mystics are correct, when we think we know what God is, we are furthest away from understanding. Thomas Aquinas was right, and is indeed only one voice in a vast chorus of mystical agnosticism. As Eckhart, Catherine, the Cloud author, and Ruysbroeck profess, it is when we open both our minds and hearts to the Incomprehensible that we grow closer to God". (pg. 134).

Great stuff. A fun way to learn more about spirituality and the rich diversity of the church and history of spirituality.

The book also has a useful and up to date bibliography.

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