A Closer Look at the ‘Earliest’ Constitutions of the Order of Preachers

The presentation of the book, A Cathedral of Constitutional Law: Essays on the Earliest Constitutions of the Order of Preachers

The presentation of the book, A Cathedral of Constitutional Law: Essays on the Earliest Constitutions of the Order of Preachers, with an English Translation of Fr Antoninus H. Thomas’s 1965 Study edited by Brother Anton Milh, OP, and Brother Mark Butaye, OP, was held in Rome at the National Institute of Roman Studies on 15 February 2024 in collaboration with the Belgian Dominican Province, the Historical Institute of the Order of Preachers, and the Brepols publishing house.

To celebrate the eighth centenary of the death of St. Dominic in 2021, the Belgian Dominican Province decided to publish an English translation of the important work of Antoninus H. Thomas, OP, supplementing it with a selection of studies edited by contemporary experts who –from their own particular perspectives– confronted the main insights of A. Thomas. The contributions of a study day on this topic held in Leuven in 2019 occupy the first part of the volume. The essays deal with: the historiographical tradition to which Thomas belonged; the Premonstratensian, Cistercian and secular sources on which the Constitutions are based, including their manuscript tradition and the drafting process; and their reception in the first century both by the Order and by the late medieval Observant Movement.

At the opening of the presentation, Professor Massimiliano Ghilardi, representing the President of the National Institute of Roman Studies, warmly welcomed the participants. The Master of the Order, Brother Gerard Francisco Timoner III, OP, then gave an address in which he emphasised, among other things, the openness to development and change already found in the first Constitutions and its relevance to Dominican life. After the introductory words of Brother Viliam Štefan Dóci, OP, who briefly outlined the status quo of historical research regarding the so-called First Constitutions, the co-editor, Brother Anton Milh, OP, presented the contents of the book. Fr. Bernard Ardura, OPraem, former President of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, provided an ‘outsider’s view’ of the Dominican Constitutions in the context of the constitutional history of the medieval religious orders.

Afterwards, the Provincial of the Dominicans of the Province of Belgium and the Netherlands, Brother Didier Croonenberghs, OP, presented copies of the book to the Master of the Order and several others present.

While this event presented the results of the valuable work carried out by the editors and the authors of the individual contributions, it also invited further historical research. According to historian Gert Melville, the Dominican Constitutions represent a valuable document on the systemic rationality of the Order of Preachers.

Br. Viliam Štefan Dóci, OP

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