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The coyness of St Dominic

Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Today, the feast of our holy father, St Dominic, we give thanks to God for him and reflect with Fr Simon Tugwell OP on Dominic's vitality and gift to the Church:

St Dominic

"The Church, in the words of Psalm 44, has always been 'clothed in variety', not the least splendid aspect of which is the variety of her saints. Some become a kind of living image of holiness, attracting veneration during their life-time and becoming objects of cult as soon as they are dead. They leave behind them, in the imagination of succeeding ages, a vivid remembrance of what they were. The figure of St Francis, for instance, has haunted and inspired the Church ever since he died in 1226.

Other saints are, as it were, more coy, and hide behind the works which live after them and the ideals which they prompted others to follow. Their individual personalities make less impression on the Church's memory; like signposts, they point away from themselves. People may come to forget them as individuals, but they cannot escape for long from the ideals for which they stood.

St Dominic is one of the coy saints. When he died in 1221, the Order which he had established buried him, sadly and affectionately, and then got on with the job he had given them. Unlike the Franciscans, they made no attempt to turn their founder into an object of cult; nor did they immediately start writing up his life to publicise his personal holiness. The earliest life that we have of Dominic is not called 'A Life of St Dominic', but 'A Little Book about the Beginnings of the Order of Preachers'.

In his life-time, Dominic had wished to be treated simply as one of the brethren, and his dying wish was that he should be buried beneath the feet of his brethren. It is quite in accordance with his own temperament that he should live on in the Church, not as a striking individual, but in the work of preaching the gospel, for which his Order came into being...

In one sense, the life of Dominic in this world ended in August 1221, though his memory lives on in the hearts of his family of friars and nuns, sisters and laity. But in another sense, the world still hears his voice, even if it does not recognise it as his. As St Catherine of Siena says, 'The voice of Dominic's preaching is still heard today and will continue to be heard' in the preaching of his followers."

- from 'Saint Dominic & the Order of Preachers', (Dominican Publications, 2001).


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