The Dominicana Spirit
Over the past year, through a number of friends and acquaintances connected with the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, I have become increasingly fond of what I think of as the “Dominican spirit.”
Dominican thinking—I say based on no expertise but my limited observations—is characterized by a sort of patient drawing out of truth from truth. It is serene and not overly concerned with seeking grand epiphanies (or perhaps its epiphanies are those of depth rather than novelty). While it respects and makes room for genius, it gains its results primarily from “slow and steady” study, prayer and contemplation, and from a certain gentle rigor. Perhaps it is the very spirit of St. Thomas Aquinas.
If I have reason to believe these characteristics are not just shared by a few individuals I happen to know, it is because I have been reading Dominicana, a biannual journal produced by the student brothers at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. No matter what I read in this journal, it seems to share in the Dominican spirit I have described.
An issue of Dominicana runs a little over a hundred pages. In addition to the standard essays, book reviews, interviews, spiritual and theological meditations, and smattering of original poetry and short fiction that you would expect in a journal such as this, it includes some distinctly Dominican features.
One such is the Disputed Questions, inspired by the medieval practice in which university masters and students would hold a public debate attempting to reconcile the contradictory positions of a number of authoritative writers on a given question. In Dominicana’s version, two student brothers present varying viewpoints on a contentious issue, though these are meant to be “complementary, not contradictory.” The topic might be anything from capitalism and distributism to the trend of female action heroes in Hollywood movies.
There is also the section Gesta Doctrinamque (teachings and achievements), which makes known the important contributions of past Dominicans. This might be a translation of part of a work by St. Albert the Great (1200-1280) or of a work on tolerance and intolerance by the late Czech Dominican Fr. Tomáš Týn (1950-1990).
Making Dominicana a special pleasure to read is the surprising range of subjects to which the Dominican spirit is applied, with the goal of discerning all things and restoring them in Christ. The Dominican spirit is also an adventurous one, especially with so many young brothers writing the journal. In the first issue I picked up, for example, I found one essay on the fiction of David Foster Wallace and another which used game theory to explain the frequent failure of the “virginity pledges” encouraged in abstinence-only sex-ed programs.
Now, I could read any number of journals featuring smart Catholics examining the nuances of interesting subjects, and they would all likely enough turn to ashes in my mouth sooner or later. But Dominicana is not just another merely “intellectual” enterprise, or perhaps it simply integrates the intellectual life properly into the spiritual life. This is, after all, a publication of the Order of Preachers, and I have found it consistently edifying reading. It speaks well of the training these brothers are receiving at the House of Studies that much of the work in their journal seems on some level to have the spirit of preaching (in a good sense!).
The subscriber to Dominicana gains a minimum of two issues, plus online access to the archives from 2011 to the present. Even non-subscribers can peruse the entire archives from 1916 to 1968 (the journal’s first run), as well as video and audio content and the Dominicana blog (I suggest starting with Br. Bonaventure Chapman on John Coltrane).
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