Thursday, August 9, 2012

S. Dominici - while there's still a few hours left in the day.

Today was (is still in some parts) the Feast of St. Dominic. For a good two years I was surrounded by the Dominicans and came to appreciate many aspects of Dominican intellectual and spiritual life. It is only fair to mark the feast day of their founder.

It is impossible to not think of Dominic in conjunction with Francis of Assisi. Same epoch, responding to the same crisis, and both men are spiritual origin of a religious movement/order that some astute observers would argue has little if anything to do with the founder's original intent. The manner in which the Franciscans would seem to depart from Francis' ideal is well known, thanks, in part, to Francis' own literary output. Dominic, some suspect, suffered a similar fate as Francis, although such an affirmation requires a bit of moderation. Dominic, contra Francis, left the world next to nothing in terms of literary output. Of actual writings, we possess only (to the best of my knowledge) his personal breviary with notes or notations he made and, perhaps, letters to various Dominican convents (the authenticity of these, however, is subject to some debate). Whether the Dominican Order has followed the intention of its founder could be disputed; Jordan of Saxony may very well be the practical founder of the Dominican Order as he had a heavy hand in the Order's organization after Dominic's death. Dominic is also a source of some controversy due to questions over what if any involvement he had in the forceful Albigensian crusade. In both cases, the historian is plagued by a lack of direct evidence stemming from Dominic himself. Instead, we are left analyzing how Dominic functions as a symbol in the human imagination. In line with such investigation, analyzing Dominic's proper liturgical texts only makes sense; therein we encounter how Dominic functions in the cult of divine mediators before the throne of God.

The Tridentine Missale Romanum has the following collect:

Deus, qui Ecclesiam tuam beati Dominici
Confessoris tui illuminare dignatus es meritis et doctrinis:
concede; ut eius intercessione temporalibus non destituatur auxilius,
et spiritualibus semper proficiat incrementis. Per Dominum.

I would love to do further research into the compositional history of this collect. The unique medieval manner of blending at times variant spiritual/theological concepts is in full swing here. The concept of "Confessor" has been thoroughly stretched from its original Patristic sense of one who has suffered torture or martyrdom at the hands of an external authority. "Concede", meanwhile, evokes the picture of God as medieval king who in either good pleasure or fierce ire can and will deign or revoke favor. Dominic, meanwhile, appears as the noble personage who can argue our case before God, the juxtaposition of doctrinis to meritis intending to convey that this is not a mere intercessor, this one who possess the very knowledge of God and is thus capable "arguing" our case with the Deity on our behalf. The concept of intercession with the divine is ingenious; it recalls both Jewish and pre-Christian concepts of intercession/mediation with the Deity. Dominic is easily placed in the role of either the long line of Jewish figures capable of arguing with Yahweh or as any number of similar pre-Christian figures. The oration seeks terrestrial results of Dominic's intercession that will be brought to celestial completion, thus exploring the ancient theme of correspondence between the natural and the supernatural. This is, in short, one of the prayers from the Roman liturgy, that transmits very ancient and very universal religious themes and demonstrates the full elasticity of the medieval imagination.