The Profound Simplicity of Brothers

In the Acts of the General Chapter of Florence in the year 1321 we read the following words: « Because it was said to the first preachers: “do not let yourselves be called rabbi, for one is your Master and you are all brothers,” we strictly forbid, that a brother of our Order who is a Master in Theology, when called by another brother by his proper name, be called “Master” without saying “brother,” so that one says “Master Peter” or “Master John,” and so for others; such a denomination is vain, it is the way used by seculars in their world. But one must call himself “brother” so that one says “Brother John” or “Brother Peter,” as other brothers are called. Moreover, all Masters in Theology, bachelors or lectors, whenever they are spoken of in an official document, let them never be named with the titles of dignity, but in the same way as one speaks of simple brothers. » (Monumenta Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum Historica, vol. 4, p. 132)

Again, this is in the year 1321 when the Order already had many Masters in Sacred Theology promoted at the University of Paris, even more bachelors, and hundreds of lectors in individual convents. Obviously, the Order had to face the problem that some members of the intellectual elite of the Order were too aware of what they were, so that they lacked humility. Perhaps the friars at the General Chapter realized that, 100 years after the death of St. Dominic, many friars were no longer following the ideal of a humble friar exemplified by the Founder.

In Matthew 23:1-12, the theme of humility is addressed. Jesus clearly disapproves when someone exalts himself above others and believes that others are there first and foremost to serve him and to satisfy his desires. But that’s not all. In the context of the entire passage, we see that a lack of humility undermines a person’s role and mission. The mandate of the Saducees and Pharisees was to teach, that is, to be teachers of the people. The problem, however, was that they used their particular position for their own profit. And then I would say that they were convinced that they were fulfilling their role by talking a lot, demanding a lot from others, and if others did something wrong, that they would simply pillory them for it. That was their idea of how to preserve order and fulfill God’s law.

However, this did not match Jesus’ concept: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.” He, the ultimate teacher of the law, fulfilled his role in a very different way. He taught with words. But not only that, he also did a lot for the people who came to him, things that I would say were the practical lessons. Nevertheless, his lectio magistralis was the one on Calvary. As St. Augustine said in his commentary on the Gospel of John (Homily 119): “The wood of the cross to which the limbs of the dying man were confined became the chair of the teacher who teaches.” St. Augustine’s expression was also later referred to by St. Thomas Aquinas in his own commentary on John (c. 19, 4), also in the Summa Theologica (STh III, q. 46, a. 4). Master Jesus who in the greatest humility teaches the way of charity.

Jesus’ words denouncing the scribes and the Pharisees in Mt 23:1-12 were spoken in Jerusalem, a few days before his death. It seems that he was preparing his disciples to understand well this lectio magistralis. It is likewise an invitation to entrust ourselves to the Master par excellence. On the cross he gave up the privileges of his office of teaching, but not the mission to teach.  This is why he is so credible. This is why it is worth paying attention to him, our Lord, our Master, who has become our brother.

By Brother fra Viliam Štefan Dóci, O.P.

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