The Dominican Heart of the Founding Father
The Dominican heart draws its life blood from the heart of its founding father, St. Dominic de Guzman (1170-1221). Blessed Jordan of Saxony (1190-1237), St. Dominic’s successor as Master General of the Order of Preachers, told of Dominic’s grace of weeping for sinners and all those in need, the sympathy in his heart spilling over into the tears that flowed freely from his eyes. A Dominican motto is “to share with others the fruits of one’s contemplation.” An early anonymous Dominican author wrote that among things one should see in contemplation are the needs of one’s neighbor and their weakness – “what you see in Christ and in the world and in your neighbor, write that in your heart.” Psychotherapist Alfred Adler used to say in reference to therapy clients that an empathetic therapist “sees with their eyes and hears with their ears.” Well, Dominic was the most empathetic friend and comforter, seeing with his friends’ eyes, hearing with their ears — and feeling with their hearts.
In a true story both amazing and amusing, Brother Stephen of Spain reported that one evening after he had confessed his sins to Dominic, he was eating dinner with some friends when two men came to tell him that Dominic said he was to come and see him. He told them to go away, and that he’d come after dinner. They told him that Dominic said he’s supposed to come “Now!” He got up from the table and went with the two men, only to find the church of St. Nicholas full of many Dominicans. Dominic told them to show Stephen how to do a venia (a ritual prostration) because Dominic had decided to admit him that night to the Order. Dominic clothed him in the habit saying: “I am giving you arms with which you will be able to fight the devil all the days of your life.” Oddly enough, Stephen did not recall that he had ever spoken with Dominic about joining the Order! It was not that Stephen was complaining though, since he said he thought Dominic must have received some kind of divine revelation or inspiration about the matter. Stephen’s testimony was made 15 years after the event as the seventh witness in Dominic’s canonization process, and Stephen had become, by the time of his testimony, the Dominican Provincial in charge of Lombardy.
Blessed Humbert of Romans and the Heart of the Preacher
Blessed Humbert of Romans (1193-1277), 5th Master General of the Order wrote a book on the heart of the Dominican mission, his Treatise On the Formation of Preachers. His love of Scripture and of secular learning burst forth in a full 563 paragraphs, each based upon at least one Scriptural passage. When I summarized his teaching and preaching in the Hounds of the Lord, I could not keep myself from perhaps testing the typesetter’s patience by requesting inclusion of a chart that took up six full pages, summarizing Blessed Humber’s 27 symbols of the preacher from Scripture, (mountains, dogs, snow, eagles, strong men of David, and so many more, complete with fascinating glosses explaining their symbolic meanings). If one could choose but one Bible verse to sum up Blessed Humbert’s Dominican heart, I aver it would be 1st Corinthians 9:16 “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”
Fra Angelico and the Heart of Beauty
The Dominican heart pumps strongly in all of the saintly and blessed Dominicans. The Dominican heart of Fra Angelico (1395-1455) was fed most by beauty, which he so happily shared with us all, preaching the light of Gospel through timeless paintings known for their mastery of color and light, and known as well for the way they portray the heart of Blessed Mother Mary, who clothed Jesus in flesh and gave him his own Sacred Heart.
Sts. Albert and Thomas Reach the Heart through the Mind
St. Albert the Great (1200 – 1280) had heart of a scientist, knowing so well that all of creation reflects the Creator (Wisdom 13:5: Romans 1:20). Albert also poured out his heart and his mind to the greatest of his students, and perhaps the greatest of all.
St. Thomas Aquinas (1125-1274) had the heart of the philosopher who seeks above all wisdom and order. It was as if St. Albert had gathered from throughout the world and throughout the centuries all the sturdy building materials of philosophical and theological truths and set them before St. Thomas, who serenely contemplated them all and then acted to build them into the world’s greatest cathedral of truth in his awesome Summa Theologica, a gift of God’s wisdom we can holds in our hand, (though due to the great mass and girth of its volumes, we’d better make that two hands.)
St. Martin Porres and the Humble of Heart
St. Martin de Porres (1579-1639) had the heart of a healer. This man of mixed Spanish and
African ancestry was often called a “mulatto dog” in his day, but Martin knew in his heart that Christ had called us to love even our enemies. When St. Martin was insulted and called a “mulatto dog” he did not seek revenge, or even let the insults slide right off his back, rather, he would say “These people truly know me” and seek them out to do acts of kindness toward them, thus using his humble Dominican heart to soften the hard hearts of others. Martin knew as a trained healer that beneath our skins all our hearts of the same color. Indeed, so loving was Martin’s Dominican heart that he cherished not only the human, but even animal heart. So many stories have been told of St. Martin’s loving care for animals of all sorts, with perhaps a special fondness for dogs, that St. Martin has been called “the St. Francis of the Americas,” (as one author notes – “perhaps no small feat for a Dominican!”)
St. Catherine of Siena and the Heart of Christ
Last but not least in this brief essay summarizing my brief speech, I don’t want to forget the grand insights from one most important Dominican saint. To date three Dominicans saints have been named Doctors of the Church, so fitting since both philosophy and Scripture note three intellectual virtues that perfect the speculative intellect (the abstract reasoning mind): science, understanding, and wisdom. (See St. Thomas’s Commentary on Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics & Prov. 24:3-4 in the RSV). Well, who more embodies science that St. Albert the Great, the patron saint of scientists? Who more embodies wisdom than St. Thomas Aquinas, pre-eminent philosopher, theologian and patron saint of scholars?
Albert and Thomas were super-geniuses to be sure, immersed in the world of learning throughout their entire lives, and yet the third great Dominican Doctor did not even learn to read until the age of 21. So pure though was St. Catherine of Siena’s (1347-1380) heart and so deep was her understanding, that she saw Jesus Christ Himself and was mystically espoused to Him. In another most powerful vision she later revealed to her confessor, Catherine asked Christ to take her own heart and will from her. Christ came to her and removed her heart. Some days later, he appeared to her again and placed his own heart within her breast.
Saint Thomas said that “understanding is an excellence of knowledge that penetrates into the heart of things.” Christ Himself said “blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). Through the Holy Spirit’s gift of understanding, Catherine saw God through her visions of Christ, and in a mystical sense, was given His very own Sacred Heart.
This Then is the Dominican Heart
Finally, and foremost then, I settled upon my last best guess to answer the question, “What is the Dominican heart? “The Dominican heart is the heart of Jesus Christ, hopefully pumping so loudly within us that the whole world can hear it beating, and praising, and blessing, and preaching.
I pray then that Dominicans who have shared their hearts of Christ with us for the last 800 years will inspire us today to share our hearts of Christ with others.
Editor’s note: This article is the third part in Dr. Vost’s series exploring the Dominican heart. Read part one and part two, as well as listen to the podcast here on Catholic Exchange. Also, be sure to check out Dr. Vost’s latest book The Hounds of the Lord.