The following presentation was given as a part of the 800 years jubilee celebrations in Lund on May 20-22, 2016 by the Master of the Order, Bruno Cadoré OP.
This title Word and Truth – chosen for this dialogue at the time of the celebration of the Jubilee about the Preachers – clarifies the horizon even of the mission of the Order. We indeed like to say that the Order – nuns, sisters, laity, brothers – are joined together in a common seeking the truth, of which they wish being the “servants” in the middle of their contemporaries.
In a context of deep changes of the knowledge, societies, Church, Domingo de Guzman wanted this Order entirely devoted to the Word. But, we well know that Christianity is not the religion of a “book”: it is the religion of a “word” addressed to humanity by The One which is Alpha and the Omega. To be a preacher, it is to put oneself at the service of this addressed Word, to engage all his or her life to be servant of the conversation which God – as revealed by Jesus-Christ – wishes to maintain with humanity that It created, with which God establishes an Alliance, and with which He promises the grace to be one day in full communion with Him.
To seek the truth, for the Dominicans, it is to look for and discern, in all possible ways and in all the fields of the human activity, the trace of this conversation. It is to join our contemporaries, to share with them in friendship, their own research of what makes sense in this world, of what sounds just, good and true in their lives. It is us to hold with them, a little as Eliya was held in front of the cave and to get a sense of the “fine murmurs it of a light breeze”, “passage de la Vérité”. More than “to allow the truth to be born”, it rather acts to scan and accommodate its coming…
An initially spiritual challenge
As at the time of Domingo de Guzman, our world is marked by major changes. They are changes of the social, economic reports and policies which come from the organization of a more and more globalized world. They are changes of the report to the reality, increasingly controlled starting from the knowledge technoscientific of the human one. They are changes of the knowledge themselves, increasingly specialized, becoming even sometimes like interlocutors of the human reason itself. They are changes of the ways to communicate between the individuals, the new social networks inducing in their turn the transformations of the reports of each one with others, the truth, the reality of the world. The report with the “religion issues” is itself in deep transformation: at the same time, the religions have a very large importance in the life of the people and the organization of the groups of convictions, but also the relation to the religious “institutions”, as to the institutions in the world is in transformation.
In this context, the Order of Preachers would like thus to be put at the service of a Word addressed to the world. And it is the specific feature of its spirituality of the evangelization: “And the word was made flesh, and lived among us, a word full with grace and truth” (Jn 1.14). “The grace and the truth came by Jesus-Christ” (Jn 1.17). The evangelization of the Word, “the evangelization of the Name of our Lord Jesus-Christ”, as wrote Pope Honorius III in one of the Bulla of confirmation of the Order, is the announcement of this mystery of the arrival of the Word among humanity, which Thomas Aquinas named as “the advent of mercy” in this time. This service of the conversation of God with his people is the way which the Order of Preachers proposes to its sisters and brothers like a way of sanctification: “Sanctify them by your truth: your word is truth” (Jn 17,17-19). But what do we want to say while speaking about “sanctification”? That indicates the way on which to gradually let itself “adjust” with God. And such is the choice of Dominic : to place his life of preacher in the trace of the commitment of Jesus himself, he who isbthe first of all the preachers if one can say: “I came in the world to give witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (Jn 18.37). “What is truth?” (Jn 18.38), will ask Pilate in answer to this assertion of Jesus. The Dominican’s purpose is to put himself at the service of the Word in order to let come this question to their mind.
“The truth will make you free”, Jesus (Jn 8.32) promises. Confident in this promise, Dominic developed his Order, at the same time as a proclamation of this promise and as a spiritual experiment. His proposal is to become preacher in order to remain in the Word which came to proclaim the Kingdom of God in this world. While following the trace of this word in the Gospel of John, where Jesus so often introduces his words by locating them into the horizon of the truth (“truly, I tell you…”), one can perceive the dynamics of this experiment. Its horizon is eschatological : “Most truly, you will see from now on the open sky and the angels God to get and go down on the Son of man” (Jn 1.51). The meeting of the Son led to the Father, the life of eternal communion with the Father. The source of this experiment is acceptance “to be born again” (Jn 3.3), to be born of the Spirit (Jn 3.5) and to be thus educated to receive the Son (Jn 13.20), to believe in him, to live on its life (“to eat the flesh of the Son” Jn 6.53) and to be thus released (Jn 8.31) in order to make works even greater than him (Jn 14.13). The “form” of this experiment is conformation with the Shepherd who is the Son (Jn 10,7-11), which at the same time invites to follow him while knowing that the servant is never above Master (Jn 13.16), and thus also by taking the measurement of the requirement suggested: “unless the wheat grain falls into the ground and dies…” (Jn 12.24).
Servants of the “conversation of God with his people”
I like this expression. It put us, initially, in the middle of the mystery of the biblical revelation which, in a certain manner, is the account of this conversation where God addresses to his people and proposes to him, promises to him, to establish with him a covenant of “life with ones God”. This expression echoes images of the time of the foundation of the Order, where Dominic and his brothers were animated by this determination to enter in conversation with their contemporaries, starting with those which appeared most foreigners : it is the meeting of the members of movements of evangelical radicalism, they are also the foreigners met on the roads of the preaching (like these German, in connection with which Dominique would have said: let us knee and ask God to help us to understand them, so that we can announce the Word to them). This same expression evokes, more close to us, the way in which Pope Paul VI, in his Encyclical on the Church published during the Concil Vatican II, wants to define the Church which must be made conversation in this world. Conversation, i.e. at the same time meeting (encounter) and dialogue. Dialogue, which makes it possible to listen to the other and to seek to understand what he thinks and what he believes. Encounter, Meeting, which indicates that a dialogue is never only one exchange of theoretical ideas, but that it urges the interlocutors to root their sharing and thinking together in a common humanity, never reducible only to the confronted ideas. Conversation, a word which also indicates to what point such “a dialogue meeting” transforms its interlocutors. Wouldn’t it be advisable to say that it is precisely that which opens in front of these interlocutors a way towards which everyone is invited to look at ? The Church must be made conversation, become conversation, so that it becomes what it is, a fraternal communion with the service of conversion towards the truth. Open new ways “ad veritatem”, as it is said in our LCO.
To illustrate the way in which, today, the Order of Preachers tries to be involved into this service of the conversation of God with his people, I would like to focus on three main characteristics of such a service, which correspond to three essential issues of humankind : its capacity of compassion, its capacity of humility of the reason, its capacity of communion.
One of the fundamental questions of the apostolic life in the Gospel is asked by those to whom Jean-Baptiste indicates Jesus. To Him, they ask: “where are you staying ?” and, the following, become its disciples. This question of the place where the Lord is held, is very important in the Bible. It is the question of Moses fascinated in front of the bush which burns without being consumed. It is the question of the presence of God who passes in front of the prophet and is not in the storm but in the fine murmur of a light breeze. It is the throbbing question of the people which wonder about the presence in the midst of them of The Lord who promises a covenant with him. And it is the asked question with Jesus: come with me, and you will see.
During my “pilgrimage” in the Order throughout the world, visiting the sisters and the brothers, lay or religious, I am impressed to see at which point the place where one lives is essential for preaching. The seeking of the truth, we said, is in the middle of the encounter and it seems to me that these sisters and these brothers must be for all of us “Masters” as regards “seeking the truth”. Where one human being seeks to be most authentic possible, there too where – in spite of what seeks to degrade it, to scorn it, use it or marginalize it – the human one resists by the force of its own impact strength or while being able to be based on the reliable solidarity of similar, this assertion of human makes shine in the world the light of the truth. These places of fulgurating humanity are places where the truth occurs. It is of course the certificate of the intangible dignity of human, certificate in the middle which the Christian confesses the mystery of the Incarnation which achieves in plenitude this dignity. But it is also the certificate of the human capacity of compassion where the human manifesto that it is essential for him not to be not indifferent to its similar. Capacity of compassion by which human can let its life be wounded by what wounds the humanity of its similar.
In Iraq or Palestine, in the refugee camps of Central Africa, in Chiapas or Selva Amazonica, the community of the nuns in the Bronx or in the middle of the community of lay Dominican prisoners in Norfolk, in so many and so many of other places the Dominican communities root at the same time their fraternal own life and their proclamation of the Gospel in these bonds of friendship woven with the reverse of the world.
A second feature characteristic of the service of the conversation of God with his people is illustrated by the question “What do you know?”. It is perhaps the first field of which one thinks when one mentions the question of seeking the truth. This concern was clearly essential in the first intuition of Dominic when, dispersing his brothers like itinerant preachers, it sent them “to study, preach and found communities”. To study, and not initially to teach, as to mean that the base of the intellectual life is the meeting of the other cultures, the listening of the other thoughts, the discovery of the other systems of knowledge, the dialogue with other wisdoms and rationalities. It is as a young teenager that Jesus enters in conversation with the Masters of the Temple. It does not come with the authority of an old man recognized for his wisdom, nor as a scientist, but he presented himself in the form of a child, one of the “small”. Thus, they are struck by his own wisdom and his capacity to listen and to be listened, ta ask questions and to discuss.
We like, in the Order, this invitation of Albert the Great ” in dulcetudine societatis quaerere veritatem”, “to seek the truth in the softness of fraternity”. It is a really question of seeking, before claiming to be able to affirm that the truth of the things is definitively known. In this research, each one must be recognized, respected, and promoted in its own capacity to express and argue what he or she thinks. And the Dominican tradition likes to emphasize the fecondity of such confrontations, disputations. But these disputations find really all their meaning when and if each one can, with complete freedom, take part into the debate with all. It is this kind of attitude during this discussion which will contribute to establish this “dulcitudine societatis” which makes so much fruitful the best research teams and transform them into true communities of research. In such communities, the essential value is not to know who, finally, will develop the most relevant argumentation but well rather how, through the argued discussion, all the interlocutors will be able to assume the difficult task together to identify rationaly, by assuming the pluralism of the ideas, at the same time the consensuses and the dissensus which can appear along this common seeking of an intelligibility of the reality that all of them will support.
We often stresse the importance of this pluralism in contemporary time, fearing the risk sometimes that, for lack of sufficient rigour of the exercise of the reason, or because of an easy temptation of relativism, the truth itself is depreciated. These fears are reinforced today by the extension of the knowledge (and their impact on the relation of human being with reality and the world, from now often in position to be objects of control by the human rationality. In this context in which the knowledge is more and more specialized, and the requirement of an irrecusable interdisciplinary approach, ca come the temptation of a double withdrawal : to adopt an indifferent relativism, or to make the choice of an identitarism of idea. In a context, in the world and in the Church, of polarization between postures of opinions or thought, a rigorous reflection on the interdisciplinary dialogue is all the more important. And, within this reflection, an effort to specify how theology as such (i.e. as a scientific discipline) will take its own part in this dialogue.
However, such a reflection will gain not to be only “theoretical”: it must be based on the concrete experiment of the dialogue of theology with other disciplines. Writing a few years ago concerning the world of the digital communication and of the development of the new social networks like new means of communication and access to information and knowledge by Internet, Pape Benoît XVI insisted on the fact that we were facing the challenge of a “new continent”. A new continent that we had to join, to learn, to know and try to understand, to discern, and in which the evangelization had to find its appropriate way. Saying that, the Pope added that such an encounter – digital world and theological worlds – would probably constitute a chance for a mutual transformation, underlining moreover that could lead to a certain change of the theological language itself. More largely, it seems to me that we can affirm that the encounter of the theological knowledge and each one of the other new knowledge is likely to induce such transformations. And, from this point of view, to stimulate the “seeking of the truth”.
Here again, I would like to evoke the reality of the Dominican life in the world. Brothers and sisters – still, undoubtedly, too very few, and perhaps not always very supported by others in their commitment – carry out this kind of adventure. It is the case of those who are engaged in conversation with the world of the research dedicated to the artificial intelligence and, more largely, so that one indicates today like “post humanism”. It is the case of those who take part in the reflection starting from the new scientific and technical knowledge in the field of human life, or of ecology. We could also evoke the brothers and the sisters who seek to dialogue with political sciences and economy, so important sciences today. No doubt, all these new knowledge are determining the way in which the human being “domesticate” and live the world today. The participation of the theologians in the conversation among these knowledge, rooting their theological reflection in the tradition of the Church and supporting it on a solid requirement for philosophical intelligibility of reality, is an open way to serve the conversation as God with his people. By doing this, it attests confidence of the Christian tradition with regard to the capacity of the human reason. A capacity which makes possible to apprehend in a benevolent and critical way the so diverse worlds of thinking. A capacity which is also, and perhaps especially, the occasion for the human being to enjoy this power of the experiment of the human reason and to rejoice because of its contribution to the dwelling of the world. At the same time as it gives to make the experiment of the humility of the reason. I.e. to test the major joy of the reason when it discovers that the “truth which comes to our mind” unceasingly exceeds our capacity to apprehend truth.
Which is the challenge of this common, joint, research of the truth by studying and thinking together ? In echo with this question, a third characteristic of seeking the truth takes place. It is a research animated by the recognition and confidence in the human capacity to the communion. When Dominic began his life as an itinerant preacher, he insisted on the fact that, from that moment, he would be called “brother Dominic”. Thus, he wanted to establish at the core of the proclamation of the Word of grace and truth, the sign of fraternity. Sign that the human being is called to discover, and deploy, in him this capacity to recognise any orher human being like a brother or a sister, and to undertake with them the adventure of a “universal fraternity” which would enlight the world and would carry in its centre the testimony of a life received in abundance. It is important to note here that the fraternity of the mendicants is not reducible to a virtuous practice, but rather constitutes the door by which the human one is invited to go through and let himself convert by the mysterious grace by which God created the world and recapitulates it in Him. Fraternity is, for the mendicants, the way which they want to take in order to live the experience of this mystery.
It is probably one of he strongest experience this pilgrimage in the Order gives me to make. In so many places, under so many different latitudes, in so various cultures, I meet sisters and brothers who have in their heart this desire to promote, where they live, the confidence of the greatest number into their capacity of living together in community, of living like brothers and sisters. At the service of the Church, the Dominican bring so many contributions (pastoral, theological, educational, social…). But, beyond all that, they are above all, I believe, invited to bring this “fire of fraternity”, like a double sign. Sign of the friendship of God with the humanity, Him who declares that He does not call us any more servants but friends. Sign which the force of this friendship is to trust in the capacity of fraternal friendship of the human being, which gives to perceive the horizon of hope towards which each one is invited to be directed.
It is from this point of view that I would evoke the members of the Order who give their life for the restoration of social conditions of a decent existence for all, those who have the passion of the dialogue among the cultures, between the religions, those who fight so that the world learn how to give to each one his or her place, equal with that of each other, in the human conversation, without consideration of race, culture, human or social condition. Testimony that to give one’s life for the word invites to pass this life so that the world is built like a world sustenable by all, in which everyone can live at ease, a world offered to everybody a his or her own home.
Word and truth, here again, are joint, in echo with the prayer the Son prayed to the Father: that they all may be one, as you and me are one. It is in the core of this passion for the communion that the preachers wish to learn how to recognize, and to make recognize, the mystery of the truth which comes in the world, not to judge the world but to give him life. Here, the truth appears under one unexpected figure : it is a humble truth, it carries the light with an intensity which is that of its vulnerability. This light which many works of Art give us to perceive. A truth which is begging the hospitality by the same humanity that is inceasingly created anew from the depth of its kenosis.
To serve the word of God, in order to open new ways “ad veritatem”.