Patriarch in Paradox

St Dominic

“Critics were almost entirely complimentary to what they were pleased to call my brilliant paradoxes; until they discovered that I really meant what I said”

Thus writes G.K. Chesterton, whose pen brought popular apologetics to perfection in paradox.

Now paradox is more than mere witticism, and Chesterton’s exemplary specimens soar far higher than the lowly heights of rhetorical climax. But why was it Chesterton, the porcine apologist, and not, say, Bernard Shaw, the satirical socialist, who was crowned the “prince of paradox”? Historical accident is not the answer. Christian doctrine is the apotheosis of paradox, and the perfection of the latter must be the preaching of the former.

There are no paradoxes more profound—or more true—than the deepest mysteries of our faith: God is one and three, Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, and, as we sing in the Victimae, “the Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.” Like all paradoxes, these apparent contradictions need not be false. But unlike any other paradoxes, the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Resurrection are saving truths.

Today, as the Church celebrates Saint Dominic, the father of the friars preachers, it is fitting to reflect upon paradox and its relationship to Christianity, for Dominic himself, like the Christian doctrine he preached, was a paradox.

Compared to many other saints (indeed, compared to many other founders of religious orders), we know relatively little about the person, and personality, of Dominic de Guzman. This only serves to accentuate the apparent contradictions latent in what we do know: though the patriarch of preachers, he was rigorous in silence; a man of austerity, he was renown for his warmth; devoted to study, he sold his books; ever firm in his purpose, he let himself be overruled.

For the sons and daughters of Saint Dominic, far from rendering him incomprehensible and inaccessible, these paradoxes provide a point of entry into his person, for they reveal the true nature of the Order he founded, and “the tree shall be known by its fruits.” If we find in him both contemplative canon and itinerant preacher, this is because his Order must also balance the tensions of the contemplative and active lives. If we find in him lowly poverty and high liturgy, this is because his Order must be energized by both ecclesial prayer and personal sanctity. If we find in him uncompromising austerity and generous dispensation, this is because he desired the members of his Order to be motivated by charity and virtue, not legalism or moralism.

Saint Dominic was undeniably a man of great charisma. But he subordinated that charisma to the charism of the Order he founded. Though great in sanctity, he did not focus the attention of others on the example of his holiness, but on the work of the Holy Preaching. And yet in so doing, he has become an example to all his sons and daughters. This is truly a paradox, and this is the man we celebrate today.

Let me end as we began, with Chesterton:

“There are two kinds of paradoxes. They are not so much the good and the bad, nor even the true and the false. Rather they are the fruitful and the barren; the paradoxes which produce life and the paradoxes that merely announce death.”

Perhaps the prince of paradox was not thinking of the patriarch of preachers when he penned these words, but there is no question of their applicability. St. Dominic was a fruitful paradox, and his fruit is Dominican life. In this, he points us toward that far deeper paradox, the truth to whom he was consecrated, whose fruit is eternal life.

Bro. Philip Neri Beese, OP


St Dominic and The Cross

Why does Bl. Fra Angelico so frequently depict Our Holy Father Dominic (1170-1221, feast – Aug. 8, patron of all priests of religious orders) at the foot of the Cross? After all, Angelico frequently paints St. Peter Martyr in the scenes surrounding Christ’s infancy. Thus, it would appear that Angelico had something particular in mind by depicting St. Peter Martyr in certain mysteries in the life of Christ and St. Dominic in others. But, what is it that binds Dominic to the Cross? His compassion.

St. Dominic had a great zeal for the conversion of sinners. He spent his life trying to bring heretical Albigensians back to the flock of the True Shepherd. After having traveled out of Osma where he was a Canon of St. Augustine, he saw how much people were starving for the truth. And, thus with his bishop’s permission, he remained in southern France seeking to lead them back to the sheepfold. One famous story during his travels with Bishop Diego involves St. Dominic staying up through the night conversing with a heretical inn keeper. By the end, the man was won back to the true faith.

St. Dominic was likewise known to weep for sinners. He would spend his nights in prayer weeping and crying out to the Lord to have mercy on sinners. He was so often heard beseeching the Lord, “What will become of sinners?”

Throughout his life of traveling around Europe by foot, St. Dominic lived a life of mercy. He experienced the Lord’s own mercy in his life and sought to share that with those to whom he preached. By the time of his death, he was known to be a man of great compassion, seeking to draw sinners away from the wolves of heresy and back to the flock of Christ.

On this great feast day and through the intercession of Holy Father Dominic, may we too be given the grace to spend ourselves for the conversion of sinners and lead them back to the true fold of the Church.

O God, you were pleased to enlighten your church with the merits and teaching of the blessed Dominic, your confessor and our father; grant, at his intercession, that she may not be wanting in temporal help, and may always increase in spiritual growth. Through Christ our Lord.

Bro. Peter Martyr Yungwirth, OP