Before St. Dominic’s time the ruling principle had been separation from the world, in order to join Christ. Dominic and later Francis, too, advocated saving the world not by renouncing it but by mingling and engaging with it. St. Dominic is the patron saint of astronomers, falsely accused people and scientists.
The greatest innovation introduced by the Dominican Order founded in 1215 by the Spanish Dominicus, was to strip the bishops of their sole privilege of preaching on the subject of Christian doctrine, and enforce the study of theology. In the administration of the Order, which favoured the rules of collective life-style, authorities were instituted by democratic policies and governors were elected to office. In the 40 years following the establishment of this Order, scholarly Dominicans met together in colleges in Paris, Bologna, Cologne and Oxford. Most of the principal university scholars who favoured Dominican traditions later took office on the governing boards of the monasteries. The Dominicans who originally had no distinctive philosophic ideology but were only theological theorists, later engaged in efforts to reconcile theology and philosophy by studying Aristotelian works newly introduced into Europe by Islamic scholars. They appropriated the teachings of the Italian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), the greatest thinker in the school of scholastic philosophy, as their formal doctrine. This doctrine constitutes the official philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church today. According to Thomas, religious truths and the intellect form two separate sources of knowledge, and teach us different things. The secrets of faith do not contradict the intellect, but are superior to it, since they exceed the intellect’s power of perception, such as the dogmas of the Holy Trinity, the incarnation of Christ, redemption, and creation of the world in six days. To believe is to acknowledge as true. “To know God” is the highest point the scholar can attain. Each soul is God’s special creation. Thomas conceived the universe as composed of different strata of existence: the lowest being inanimate objects, then plants, then animals, then humans, then angels until, at the highest point, God. Moral doctrine is rational. Reason directs the will. The will preserves the ability to choose freely. Only actions born of free, rational thoughts are good. Thomas endorsed the Greek philosophy’s four main virtues: fortitude, moderation, wisdom and justice, but to these he added three Christian virtues: faith, hope and love. The State is an institution approved by God and therefore obedience to those in charge of the State is a duty. The duty of the State is to foster virtuous people who are prepared in the end to become one with God. Because the Church is instrumental in this preparation, the Church is superior to the temporal State. Rejecting mysticism, Thomas maintains that there may be plural meanings within the plain wording found in sacred texts, but thinks the literal meaning is what the writer intended. The Son possesses three attributes of beauty: integrity, because He embodied the nature of His Father within Himself; ‘convenientia’ because He was made in the true image of His Father; and ‘claritas’, or clarity. Dominicans preached against Muslims and Jews. The administration of the Inquisition was placed in their hands. They accompanied explorers on their travels and became missionaries. At the present time, they have widened their field of discourse to include radio and TV broadcasts, the cinema and theatre. Dominican monasterial communities continue to work in education, nursing and various other social services.
Thomas Aquinas was the most learned of the saints, the greatest of the medieval schoolmen, famous for his intellect. He decided to become a Dominican friar. Studied under Albertus Magnus, who mistakenly thought him stupid, nicknaming him ‘the dumb Sicilian ox’. A great preacher, lecturer and writer. He had mastered Plato, Aristotle and Arabian philosophers as well as Christian theology. He was preoccupied with his intellectual life, and sometimes forgot where he was. His work, the Summa Theologica, which was to contain the entirety of Christian theology, including answers to all conceivable objections, was never finished. He died at the age of 48. He is the patron saint of academics, apologists, book sellers, Catholic schools, chastity, colleges, learning, lightning, pencil makers, philosophers, publishers, scholars, schools and students. Portrait by Sandro Botticelli.