Veritas and Vocation

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dominican order crest

Veritas: this is the latin word for “truth.” It is also among the mottoes of my order, the seemingly simplest motto of the Order of Preachers. On the surface, it is the easiest, in that it is the only of the mottoes without an explicit action behind it: yet it is ultimately the most important, and indeed the most demanding thing.

Indeed, the other two mottoes taken by the Dominicans would seem to exist as subordinate clauses of “veritas.” The second motto, “To praise, to bless, and to preach” implies the existence of some content of one’s preaching—and if that content is to be be a blessing to anyone, or to be worthy praise, then it must be grounded first in truth. And what would we contemplate [1], and which fruits would there be which ought to be passed on, if it is not truth that we reflect upon nor is reflected by us?

Dominicans 800Years
Established 1215. Source.

All three of the mottoes of the Order of Preachers are tied in some way to the order’s charism, which in turn is tied to the order’s reason for being. Among various religious orders (and congregations, etc) within the Church, each has some special charism or gift which the order’s members are especially called to develop, and which is tied to the Church’s mission or to some aspect of her character. Thus, there are the contemplative orders which have built the great monasteries of the world; or the Franciscans (or Sisters of Divine Mercy, for that matter) who focus upon being or serving the poor; or the Salesians who teach and otherwise serve children, or the Jesuits who arose to become missionaries for the Church with special obedience to the pope [2]. For the Dominicans, the special charism is to preach.

Saint Francis meeting Saint Dominic. Source.

The order was actually founded at about the same time as the Franciscans, which was during the height of one of the “great” heresies to plague the Church. Saints Dominic de Guzman and Francis of Assisi established their respective orders in part to combat the laxity (and yes, even corruption) which was rampant in the Church at the time—but also to fight the Cathar heresy which was gaining traction in response to this. This particular heresy had a few forms (a common occurrence among heresies) and factions (the most notable being the Albigenses), and indeed appeared as a re-packaging of an older heresy (another common occurrence) known as Manichaenism.

The old Manichaens taught against the flesh in general, and forbid any number of earthly pleasures to their followers. According to these, man possesses a good spirit which is corrupted by being imprisoned in sinful flesh: a distortion of the traditional Christian view, and (as again is common for heresies) one which could even find some support in the Bible, if only certain passages are read out of context [3]. Certain foods were considered especially to be bad (in particular meat), as was sexual intercourse (which could lead to reproduction and thus the imprisonment of yet another soul in a material body). The new Manichaens resuscitated this old heresy and took it further, perhaps indeed to its logical conclusions, forbidding marriage and especially procreation, and indeed encouraging many of its members to “purify” themselves to the point of starvation. Although the new Manichaenism was extreme in its deprivations, it attracted many new followers because of the apparent holiness-in-poverty of its adherents [4], and because of the apparent Biblical support of its message, and the skill at oratory of those who proclaimed it.

Cathars rejected the material world. This also meant rejecting the sacraments established by Christ and continued by His Church for the salvation of souls. Source.

Saint Dominic recognized it as a threat not only to the Church but to civilization and indeed to mankind [5]. He also recognized that the Church of his day was ill-equipped to combat this latest threat, both because of the apparent wealth of her prelates and because of the poor training of many of her priests. They were often poor preachers, not only because they were poorly educated and poorly formed for their vocations, but because they were often weighted down by the worldly concerns of their offices. Their preaching often overlooked the Gospels, and because they  became too focused on their worldly trappings, they often overlooked the importance of preaching Christ, and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

Therefore, Saint Dominic found that he had to combat two different problems. The first was that of the actual heresy which had sprung up; and the second was the worldly and even sinful tendencies of many in the Church (including clergy) which made this heresy seem so attractive [6]. This he did by using the vehicle of a new order dedicated especially to preaching, one whose members took as vows the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience [7]. The order was dedicated to preaching truth, but also to spending time in contemplation to reflect upon the truth, to understand it, to internalize it, and indeed to discern truth from falsehood (or half-truth). It takes especially seriously two important passages about the truth, namely John 14:6 and John 8:32. The former has Jesus saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the light,” and the latter has Him telling his disciples, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

Jesus is God’s definitive revelation of Himself to us (CCC 73), and apart from Him there is no revelation which is “the truth” [8]. This was indeed the answer to the Manichees (both old and new). They condemned meat, but Christ multiplied fish on a few occasions (Mark 6:31-44 and Mark 8:1-9), to say nothing of eating lamb [9]. The Cathars condemned marriage, but He praised it—and even (through St. Paul) spoke against condemning it (1 Timothy 4:3). The Albigensians rejected the flesh, the body—but He resurrected it, and indeed went so far as to offer proof that His body was risen (John 2:24-27, Luke 24:36-43), to say nothing of teaching (through His apostles) that we are His body (1 Corinthians 12:27), the Church.

Seal of the Order of Preachers. Image source.

We are constantly teaching others about ourselves (and by extension, our beliefs). We are all in a sense “preaching” something as long as we are observed by others, as any parent whose loose lips let slip the wrong word might assure. We all give our testimonies, if not in words then in actions or even attitudes.

If we are to preach Truth, then we must first come to know it (Him). To some extent, we do this through studying: there is some “head knowledge” involved, after all. Truth is the intelligibility of reality, of existence, and so we therefore must employ and form and strengthen our intellects to know the truth. There are some obvious points of departure for this endeavor, foremost written and Oral Tradition (e.g. Scriptures, the creeds, the Liturgy, etc.) and the Church’s magisterial teachings in her Catechisms and councils. We can be further helped in understanding these through the interpretations of the Fathers and the commentaries of the Doctors and the teachings other saints and pontiffs.

To perhaps a greater extent, we come to know the truth through prayer, because beyond the “head knowledge” there is also some “heart knowledge,” which we gain through relationship with Christ and with His Church. In particular, meditative and contemplative prayer is important to the order of preachers: time spent contemplating the crucifix, from which St. Thomas Aquinas could justly claim to have learned more than all the books ever written; time spent contemplating the Eucharist; and time spent reflecting on the words of Scripture, the teachings of the Church, and even the lives of the saints.

Thus, preaching may be thought of as a sort of contraction of “prayer” and “teaching.” Hence, to contemplate and to pass on the fruits of contemplation. Indeed, this joining of prayer to teaching in preaching has been with the Order of Preachers since its founding: before he established the Friars to go out and preach, St. Dominic established the sisters to pray for them.

A Dominican cross. Image source.

What is especially present in the prayer behind the preaching is that in preaching we will be serving truth, and indeed the Truth. Therefore, while we may in our contemplation reflect upon the truths revealed and entrusted to us, and while we may ask God for the wisdom, the understanding, and the knowledge to preach truly—it is equally important, above all, for us to ask for humility.

We must remember above all that all truth is God’s truth, and not our own. “Your truth” and “my truth” are not nearly so interesting as the Truth, and while we ought to internalize truth, it is not ours in the sense that we cannot own it as a private possession. When we contemplate on some revealed or reasoned knowledge, and then that contemplation bears fruit, we must share that fruit with others. Moreover, these fruits of contemplation ought to be shared freely, and they ought, indeed, to be shared

[1] The third motto of the Order of Preachers—commonly called Dominicans—is “To contemplate and then pass on the fruits of contemplation.”

[2] At least in theory

[3] “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41), for example.

[4] It also gave encouragement to seize and despoil the land of those who would not embrace it

[5] But I repeat myself.

[6] Sadly, this is also an all-too-common occurrence.

[7] The Dominicans are not unique in doing this. Also, the lay members are not required to take these vows—but of course, we generally obey them in the form of trying to live within our means, living generally chastely within the bound of our state in life, and being obedient to the Magisterial authority of the Church.

[8] Even the revelations of the Old testament which predated Him point forward to Him. And the various other revelations about (for example) Mary and the Saints and the Church, or Man and the World and Sin, are still “about” Christ and hence God in some way.

[9] This much is implicit by reading about what the Jews were to eat for passover (Exodus 12:1-28), that Christ participated in passover (Luke 22 7-23). To say nothing of His own references to our need to eat of His flesh and Drink of His blood (John 6:53-59).

Nicene Guy

Nicene Guy

JC is a cradle Catholic, and somewhat of a traditionalist conservative. He earned his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Texas at Austin in the summer of 2014. He is currently a tenure-track assistant professor of physics at a university in the deep south. He is a lay member of the Order of Preachers. JC has been happily married since June of 2010. He and his lovely wife have had two children born into their family, one daughter and one son; they hope to have a few more. He has at times questioned – and more often still been questioned about – his Faith, but he has never wandered far from the Church, nor from our Lord. “To whom else would I go?”

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1 thought on “Veritas and Vocation”

  1. Avatar

    Like the pea buried deep under many mattresses that only a princess could feel,
    it is important to understand that the continual, relentless and irritating emergence
    of heresies (in general) are those parts of truth that refuses to be be buried along
    with the false. They are the perennial needles waiting to be found..

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