Dominic’s Frontiers

One of today’s tasks was an extended contemplation generated by an article by Liam G. Walsh, OP, on the way Dominic Guzman (d. 1221) organized the religious order he founded (the Dominicans) so that the Preaching (Dominicans are the Order of Preachers or OP), matched his understanding of the world and the church.  One of the things that he understood was that organization are quite likely to become corrupt regardless of how good the original intentions of those who initially set them up.  To try to lessen the temptation, Dominic set three measures in place.  One of these three, the idea that the Preacher’s boundaries were to become frontiers, is particularly interesting to me.

Boundaries are, according to Walsh, the limits beyond which we do not normally go.  If we choose to cross these boundaries then they are no longer limits but frontiers.   Geographical boundaries as frontiers are easiest to visualize but social and demographic boundaries are likewise frontiers for those who cross them.  And so it was that in Dominic’s time the frontiers in which his followers worked were the boundaries between the growing medieval cities and the countryside, with all that that implies in terms of poverty, education, chances for social advancement, etc., etc.  The friars actually built their chapter houses on the walls or just outside the walls, where much of society came, went, and gathered!  (Think road, gates, medieval fairs, shows, festivals, etc.)

According to Walsh, Dominic did this on purpose because he “hoped that life on the frontiers would make [those who would follow him] see the world as it really is in the time of waiting.”   This connection with the created reality of the world in all its good and evil, as it now waits for final salvation, would help the friars avoid the temptation to avert their eyes from the world and pretend that the pursuit of wealth and power could be consistent with an authentic Christian life.

Dominic was, I think, quite right.  Frontiers are places where one must stay on one’s toes in order to remain standing, places where reality cannot be avoided.   As I teach this semester I am going to remain alert to the point(s) at which the Dominicans succumbed to the pursuit of wealth and power, to see if these can be aligned with points at which they left their frontiers and so were able to escape reality.

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Mormon Archipelago

January 2010
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