top of page
Il-Komunità: About Us
IMG_3463.jpeg

The Community

Written by Fr. Joseph Ellul OP

Translated by Fr. Dominic Scerri OP

I,the prisoner of the Lord, implore you therefore to lead a life worthy of your vocation.  Bear with one another charitably, in complete selfishness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of
the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. 
(Eph 4:1-3).

All that until now has been said cannot be realised unless, as a basis, there is a healthy community life . We find this warning in the Rule of St Augustine:

            The first thing , because  of  which  you have been  gathered together,

            is that, at the convent, you live happily, so that you will have one soul

            and one heart in the Lord.

Our Constitutions, together with the above, declare that “this unity is not only to exist in the convent, but also in connection with the province and the Order as a whole” (1).

 

In the Christian tradition, community life, whether a family or whether a religious community, is called to be a witness of the Church in its mission in life and also in its fullness in eternal life.  Above all, it is an unconditional answer to the call of Christ in the same way as the first Christian community lived: “The whole group of believers was one heart and one soul” (2).

 

In the light of what’s written in the Rule of St Augustine, our religious profession makes us members of a community whose ideal is the fulfilment of the mystery of the Church: “Just as a human body, though made up of many parts it is a single unit, because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ.  You are the body of Christ, and each one is his member”(3).  In this body there are “different gifts...different ministries...different tasks” (4).

 This concept was very strongly believed in the middle ages and it served as the framework on which the structure of the Order was formed.  Embracing and living common life always meant being, right  from the start, a citizen of the “Sacred city, the new Jerusalem...God’s amenities to mankind; and He lives with them, and they will be his nation, and God himself will be with them” (5). The heavens were all the image that man had to crave for and strive to grasp: union with God.   Common life was considered as the answer in this life for this wish to find its totality in life everlasting.

 

The nature of community life is recognized by its goal.  In the case of our Order, this goal is preaching.  Because of this, our convents are essentially Sacred Preaching – the Sacred Preaching of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  It’s worth looking at what’s written in the Acts of our Provincial Chapter of 2005:

 

Our sermons are first and foremost a comunity project.  The community, as a Sacred Preaching  is the basis which enlightens and strengthens every preacher’s initiative.  In no way does this choke the initiative of the individual.  On the contrary, it gives a meaning in the context of our mission as the Order of Preachers.  Precisely because of this, far back from the first years of the Order, the preacher giving a sermon knew that his apostolate was received by the community that was taking care of the environment  leading to the desired fruit  his sermons. Then, at community level, the individuals join together their work and resources for the service of the Word (6).

 

It’s not without a reason, that the sociologist Leo Moulin (1906 – 1996) described the founding of the Order of Preachers as a “cathedral of the constituional law”(7).  But this cathedral is one where work  is still going on.  On the other hand, the Order gets its stability by means of the Chapters on a conventual basis and also on the provincial and general ones.  These help to safeguard  the identity and mission of the Order.  

 

Blessed Jordan gives us an interesting clue about this “Dominican” characteristic.  Writing on the setting up of the Order the author states the following:

The bishop of the diocese of Rome took notice of your request (i.e of bishop Folko and of Saint Dominic) and encouraged brother Dominic to go back to his religious so that together  they decide fully,  and also  with  their  consent choose a rule already approved...When the Council (Lateran IV) was ended and they returned back, he told the priests what the Pope had warned him.  Immediately, the future preachers chose the rule of St Augustine, the renowned preacher, and added for themselves more strict observances regarding food, fasting, sleep and woollen clothing...(8).

 

There are many who, in the above extract, notice the roots of that which today we term democracy.  While one cannot deny this element of democracy in the Order, the Dominican author Jean-Rene Bouchet (1936-1987) thinks that one would be nearer the truth when using a more “ecclesial” term, that is conciliatory (or pacifying).  This term we find so much at heart in the tradition of the eastern Churches, but it’s also present among the medieval spiritual writers of the West. The term conciliatory gathers both the concept of democracy as also that of a “common view of hearts” (concordia) inspired by the Holy Spirit (conspiratio), as also full agreement in behaviour(conformitas).  The three show that God is present, and that he inspires the decisions of those gathered in his name (9).   These sme elements find their expressions in the vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty.

 

The Dominican life has its own particular mode of looking at its religious vows.  It treats them as a community project and addresses them to the implementation of the goal of the Order.

 

I promise obedience ...

The vow of obedience is essential to community life.  Where obedience is lacking there is no community life.  The Apostles left everything to follow Christ, and went with him accepting his leadership.  Within the community of the Apostles obedience to the Lord had one rule: “Set your hearts on his Kingdom first, and on his righteousness” (10).

In the Tradition of the West, and in our case, in the Rule of St Augustine, obedience is there for the unification  service of the community.  In Dominican life, it is subjected to the Word of God as delivered by the Rule (11) and the Constitutions in which the main points of the apostolic life are summed up.  Therefore, obedience as expressed in the mind of the Order, is essentially communitarian; it leads the community members to the same common good (12).  This means putting the community interests before those personal:

 

In fact, in our profession we only state one thing, that is obedience to the Master of the Order and his successors according to the laws of the Order of Preachers.  As a result, the unity of the Order and the Profession come into being because they depend on the whole union with the head to whom all are duty bound to obey. (13)

 

On the other hand, the obedience of the members is put in context of the authority as a service.  In relation  to this, the Constitutions are clear:

 

As the Holy Spirit takes care of the Church through graces and special gifts, superiors, while using their power, are to observe well any nice and special qualities religious have.  In that way, they will be able to judge and order things that in our Order, from time to time, are inspired by the Holy Spirit according to the needs of the Church.

 

When superiors are endeavouring to carry out the will of God and work for the good of the community, as St Augustine says in the rule, they are not to feel as if taking advantage because of their authority, but as servants that love dearly.  They should endeavour to get from their subjects heartfelt work and not servile

subjection (14).

 

As Bouchet remarks well, in the Dominican context and contrary to the monastic one, the model of community life is the Church while for the latter the school is the model.   It is only in the formation community (novitiate or studentate) that community life is meant  “the school of Jesus Christ”(15).

 

Chastity

Living this vow, we have to be  careful of two ultra dangerous extremes.  The first provides evidence against today’s mentality by which man is not considered complete and mature if he shuns the sexual act, and thus the vow of chastity will end up considered as condemned for life.  The other extreme is the case when the practice of chastity becomes an obsession in a way that it forces us to be cut off from life’s reality, and end up satisfying our sexual needs in Liturgy.

 

Chastity is a gift from God who was the first to love us. It is then an act of love and fidelity toward Christ who called us to follow him.  If we do not look to it this way, the vow will end up a punishment.

 

Whoever chooses a life completely consecrated to God is expected to live it eagerly and be an living example of sainthood.  He has to live his choice in a way of being a witness of the love Jesus has for us all.  In no way are we to treat the life of sacred chastity as a rejection of the natural call for  marriage.  Who disgusts marriage goes against Christian faith.  The Church has, many times, condemned this attitude which it treats as heresy (16),   St John Chrysostom says that “disgusting marriage is at the same time lack of honour to verginity; honouring marriage is enlarging respect that is proper to verginity” (17).   Above all, the vow of chastity also binds married persons who promise each other eternal fidelity.

 

Joining a religious community means a never-ending commitment as a disciple of Jesus and, in a very strong way, becoming a member of a family dedicated to Christ’s service according as intended by the founder or foundress.

 

To reach this aim, who chooses consecrated life is helped by the fact that he lives in a community where members help each other to gain that which a member on his own would not succeed to get.  Besides all this, consecrated life within a community means a life of service for the good of all Christians, and a strong sign of evidence of what Jesus taught and did.  The evidence which consecrated persons living in a community provide is an invitation to each Christian to realise more the call of Jesus to follow him.  All this means that chastity (like other vows) is not an aim in itself but an effective means so that, in the case of the Order of Preachers, it carries out its mission of preaching and the salvation of souls.

 

Chastity does not make us less human, on the other hand it it shows that fidelity to Christ means that one accepts one’s own weakness while recognizing the grace of God.  We cannot find a better example of humanity than that of Saint Dominic himself and his statement on his deathbed:

 

Meanwhile, it happened that in Bologna, master Dominic suffered a grave illness that took him to the end of his pilgrimage.  He lay in bed, called twelve of his most prudent monks and started to warn them, in earnestness, to move forward the Order and remain sound in holiness.  He also opened their eyes to evade any familiarity with women, more so if they were  young, so that there would be no one thinking incorrectly about them, because this gender attracts too much and has the ability to trap souls still unclean from dirt like in a furnace (Is 1:25).  “See”, he told them,”till now God’s mercy has saved me from decay in flesh; yet, in spite of all, I confess that I did not free myself from this imperfection, that is,  I used to feel more satisfied speaking to young women then to old ones”(18).

 

Poverty

Regarding this vow, it’s good to go on reading what Blessed Jordan wrote concerning that which Saint Dominic and his companions agreed to as the former returned from Toulouse after the Lateran Council IV:

They agreed and desired not to own any property, so that earthly matters would not hinder their mission of preaching, but they were pleased to keep rents (19).

 

This decision we have to look into while considering the warning that was given by bishop Diego at the Council of Montpellier.  The Albigenses were attracting a good number of people exactly because they were presenting their doctrine under the guise of poverty they lived in.  Property was not only an extra preoccupation as a stumbling block to the mission of preaching, but also a lack of effective testimony to the spreading of the Good News in the most fierce fight against the Albigenses.  This means that the ideal of poverty in Saint Dominic’s mind was not a result of the development of his doctrinal concept, but the fruit of past experience.  The fact is that the first brothers decided to “keep only the rents”.  Thus the Order’s legislation in this regard always chose moderation without compromising its apostolic mission.    

 

This we can see very clearly from the way St Thomas Aquinas used to treat the practice of the vow of poverty.  In the treatise Contra impugnantes Dei cultum et religionem, written in 1256, he wrote that begging from door to door was a secondary way of  income for the Dominican convent.  It had to earn its living (victue et vestitus) first and foremost from that provided for the spiritual needs by means of preaching and teaching.  The brothers are paid (merces) for this task as the christians are obliged (debitum) to give (20).  This remark by St Thomas throws light on the social change undergoing in  his time.

 

Later on, in one of the Quaestiones Quodlibetales, he goes on to speak on this point.  In Quodlibet I (q.7 art 2), he states that the essence of perfection is charity that joins man with God.  The three religious vows are a preparation (praeambulum et preparatorium) and also instruments of perfection (perfectionis instrumenta) (21).  He had already spoken about these two principles in Contra impugnantes as also in Summa contra gentiles.  He enlightens his argument on the strength of a text taken from St Jerome: Peter did not only say, “We left everything”, but with that he  added,”and we followed you” (st secuti sumus te) (22).  

 

For St Thomas then, the object of perfection is not poverty but to follow Christ who called you to go after him.   Following Christ means to imitate his life and passion, and this consists in preaching, in teaching, as also in pastoral healing (in sollicitudine praedicandi, docendi et curam habendi)(23). 

 

In the treatise Contra Doctrinam retrahentium a religione, written in 1271 or 1272, he meditates the poverty of Christ.  All of Christ’s life on earth was characterised by poverty, and this condition is joined in a way never to be unfastened by the person and his teaching.  This poverty reached its climax on the cross where he was disrobed and the soldiers shared his clothes.  All along the past, our Lord’s nudity and poverty were practised by those who voluntarily vowed poverty to walk after “the nudity of the cross” and more (praecipue)  by those who disowned the goods and property income (possessiones et redditus) (24).  To explain this ideal St Thomas quotes an idiom from St Jerome who was well known in the 12th century: nudum Christum nudus sequi, “walk nude after the naked Christ” (25).

 

It is here worthwhile to ask: Who are those that deny wealth and the  income from property?  St. Thomas here states that riches and income provide that financial security that goes against the character of the Orders (so called “mendicant”) that are asked to earn their living by the care of souls and studies (26).  Nowhere in Scripture do we find that Christ had immovable property (27). On the other hand, St Thomas does not say that Christ did not possess anything. There was the common chest.                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Later on, in Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas says that the Order, dedicated to contemplation and preaching, is to have the bare minimum to carry out this mission.  Here, he does not mention the convent buildings, churches and books because probably the need of having such thngs was no longer contested (28).  He continues to admit that Christ taught this kind of poverty with his own life’s example (hoc Dominus pauperitatis institutor, docuit suo exemplo).  This is proved by the fact that He together with the Apostles had a common chest cared for by Judas.

 

St Thomas gets to the core of his argument in Tertia Pars where he stresses that one does not go against the vow of poverty if he accepts (accipiendo)  from others his material needs.  Here he refers to the women who followed Christ and the disciples who served them out of their own means (29).  To give weight to his argument, he refers to the writings of St Jerome when he explained that “it was a common habit with the Jews, without arising any suspects, that women, according to the peoples’ custom to, out of their own means, look after

and provide necessities to their masters.  But, as this custom used to offend pagans, St Paul himself put it aside (30).  In other words, that which women used to give was not an offer to a beggar but, as the Jewish custom, payment to their master.  Naturally, St Thomas applies all this to the Order of Preachers whosw members, like Christ, do not have any wealth or income but, also like Christ have the right to earn their living from preaching and teaching.

 

This vision of poverty, as explained by St Thomas, is found engraved in our Constitutions:

 

Therefore, with our profession we promise God that we will not have anything as our personal property by right, but everything will belong to the community, and we use it by order of the superior for the common good of the Order and the Church. Thus, no one of the religious can keep as his property any wealth, or money, or any other income; he has to leave everything to the community (31).

 

As a result of all that has been said, it is clear, that although every religious professes personally these vows, the latter ones we have to see in the framework of community life and in the evidence it is called to give.  We live the vows as a community because our mission is a  communitarian one.

 

Community Life in today’s society

When I joined the Order I was exactly sixteen years and two months old.  The first two years were very hard.  It’s not easy to adapt oneself to a totally new style of life, more so when you are so young.  It’s true I knew something because of the retreats I attended during Christmas and Easter time, but to enter completely in religious life is not easy.  It requires a long process of adaptation.

 

When the Provincial of the time, Father Eugene, came to visit us, I used to be impressed as he always asked me the same two questions: “ Are you eating well?”  “ Are you sleeping well?”  That time I did not understand what he meant by those queries.  Today, I think, I do figure out what he had in mind.

 

If I want to live convinced of my religious life, I want, first and foremost, to be happy in my community.  Appetite and sleep, although they seem to be material objects, are the peace thermometer I have at heart.

 

The greatest mistake we ever could make is that we get used to each other so much that we become crude.  The reasons that, many times, lead to broken marriages are the same that can lead to a shattered religious community life.

 

If our Order can be compared to a cathedral, we can also say that the office of a superior will be sutiably compared to a mason’s skill.

 

In a society where life has started to lose its meaning, where promises of love between man and woman have become to mean only two signatures on a contract which can later be erased, where the rightt o a decent and dignified life is stopped as you are no longer productive, where the respect to authority at home and publicly is weakened, our religius life as a community of preachers is to be a witness and, at the same time, a challenge.   It is here worthwhile  to make our own that which Blessed Johnn of Vercelli (d.1283) stated in one of his letters to the Order:

 

Lips which spread the Gospel and consecrated hands are to be kept far away from earthly things that an old man looks for. Thus, who looks at you will clearly see that the Lord chose you from this world, and your words are to be on heavenly matters, not on earthly ones, so that you will explain them better and provide the best evidence.  For the evidence to be given truthfully and faithfully, the strength of your actions is to be a clear mirror of the purity of your hearts and the verity of your words, so that no one would be able to say that your actions disagree with your words; otherwise the evidence of your actions will bring to nothing the strength and power of preaching in that which has to do with the fruit of listening; and this would be very dangerous (32).

 

Our life in common is strengthened so long it is us who internally provide it.  Our communities are called to answer what St Peter challenged: “Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have.” (33).  Today’s society is undergoing a crisis of faith because, at the same time, it is passing through a crisis of hope.  If our communities are there only to exist and not to be alive communities, we would have lost hope of our mission and we would have let ourselves be carried away by the current of indifference that leads to desperation. 

 

In 1981, the philosopher Alaisdair McIntyre publised a book named After Virtue.  In it he imagined a scenery as an effect of a catastrophy, and a series of environmental disasters where people begin to blame scientists.  These lead to a movement destroying every clue of culture.  The teaching of sciences is stopped completely in educational institutes, all laboratories are destroyed and, with them, all scientific books.  Scientists are murdered or imprisoned.  A movement crops up after a long time intended to resuscitate science, but all it has at its disposition are pieces of paper of theories which have nothing to do with one another.  The aim of this allegory was to liken it to moral life that for the last three hundred years was cut off the revelation.  What we have today is nothing except remnants of that which once was moral speech that unites our societies.  At the end of the book he states that presently we are living in new times of darkness and that we need another St Benedict.

 

Without sounding what could be interpreted “partisan”, I think that in the present time we need examples of other saints.  McIntyre publised his works some thirty years ago.  Today, with new means of communication we should not only be persons who “safeguard” faith and morals, but those who spread them through this new areopagus which exists.  Saint Dominic challenged the society of his time which had as its areopagus the squares and yards at universities.  Our communities are to be means of communication in every sense of the word, more so today,with the appearance of a virtual world of communication parallel to the world of reality of our time.

 

Happy is that community that understands how to embrace its mission joyfully and lead it with persuasion to homes by means of electronic communications.

 

Happy is that community that conveys itself as a community of prayer.  If the saying: “The family that prays together remains together” is true, how much more it should be true for our communities, we who did not choose whom, but it was Christ who chose us with what is good and strange in us?

 

Happy too is that community whose members can learn from each other during the time spent at the refectory, at least as much as they learn during time spent at the library or in class.

 

Happy again is that community where each member realises the need of prudent and, at the same time, strong correction.  Humility urges us to remain down to earth and understand more the need of the grace of God.

 

Happy too is that community where each member recognizes that his work is not his monopoly but an integral part of a community project where the community is not the means to get to your aim, but is the environment that forms you, and that all the while you help it being built.

 

Finally, happy also is that community where each member can state “this is my home”, “my place is here”, where the timetable is not taken as tied up to the work routine but as a means where contemplative life and that apostolic are joined in an continuous act of glory to God.

__________________________________________________

1. Constitutions of the Order of Preachers, Part one: Following Christ, Ch 1; The Consecration of Religious, Article 1 – Common Life.

2. Acts 4:32; see also Acts 2:44.

3. 1Cor. 12:12.27.

4. 1 Cor 12:4.

5. Apoc 21:2.3.

6. Acts of the 45 Provincial Chapter of the Province of St.Pius V of the Order of Preachers (3-23 June 2005, p.17 n.24

7. Leo Moulin,Le monde vivant des religieu, Calman-Levy, Paris 1964, p.114

8. Blessed Jordan of Saxony, The Beginnings of the Order of Preachers, Dominican Publications, Malta 1991, nn.41-42, p.17

9. Jean-Rene’ Bouchet, San Domenico: la passione dell’annuncio, Città Nova Editrice, Roma 1999, p.52.

10. Mt 6:33.

11. See Rule V.

12. In this context, common good means religious and apostolic orientations of the community and therefore this has a central post.

13. Constitutions, Article II: Obedience, n.17 § II.

14. Ibid. No.20 § II and III.  Se also Rule,IV.

15. See Bouchet, op.cit., p.90.

16. Among sects that believed  marriage as a bad thing, we find the Montana, Manikey, and Albigenses; all condemned by the Church.

17 St John Chrysostom, De Virginitate 10, 1 taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1620; see John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, no. 16.

18. Blessed Jordan of Saxony, op. cit., no. 92, pp.33-34.

19. Blessed Jordan of Saxony, op. cit., no. 42, p.17.

20. Contra impugnantes Dei cultum et religionem, Ch. 7.

21. Quodlibet I q.1 art.2 ad 2.

22. See Contra impugnantes, Ch.1; Summa Contra Gentiles III, Ch. 133.

23.Comm. super Mattheum, 19:21

24. Contra Retrahentes, Ch. 15.

25. The idiom is found in writings of Blessed Jordan and in those of Blessed Humbert of Romans.

26. See: W.A. Hinnebusch, The History of the Dominican Order, vol 1, origins and Growth to 1500, Alba House, new York 1966, pp. 145-168.

27. Contra retrahentes, Ch 15: “Numquam autem Dominus legitur possessiones habuisse.”

28. See: Summa Theologiae  IIa IIae, q.188, art. 7.

29. See: Summa Theologiae III, q. 40, art 3 ad 2.  See also: Lk 8:2-3; Mk 15:40-41.

30. See: St Jerome, In Mattheum, 4: 27-55; CCSL, 77:277.

31. Constitutions, Article IV: Poverty, n. 32 § I and II

32. See: Proper of the Order of Preachers: Liturgy of the Hours, Maltese Dominican Province, Malta 1988, p. 434

33. 1 Pt 3:15.

bottom of page