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St. Dominic and the transmission of truth

Our Lord did say, “By their fruits you will know them” (Mt 12:33), and the Dominican fruit has been very sweet and very bountiful.

Statue of St. Dominic. (Image: Alf van Beem/Wikipedia)

Editor’s note: The following homily was preached by the Reverend Peter M. J. Stravinskas on August 3, 2020 in honor of St. Dominic (liturgically commemorated on August 4 [EF] and August 8 [OF]) at the Church of the Holy Innocents, New York City.

The calendars of the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms are at loggerheads for two saints this week: John Vianney’s commemoration in the Ordinary calendar is August 8, while he is commemorated in the Extraordinary calendar on August 4; Dominic’s memorial is observed on August 8 on the Ordinary calendar and on August 4 in the Extraordinary Form. Actually, Dominic died on August 6, the feast of the Transfiguration, making that date impossible for his feast; thus, neither the old nor the new corresponds to his date of death. So, I’m going to head both dates off at the pass by preaching on him today!

Of course, Dominic’s claim to fame is his founding of the Order of Preachers (commonly called “Dominicans,” after him); the Order consists in three branches: the first are the friars; the second are the cloistered nuns (whom he established even before the friars because he wanted to have the prayer-support of the nuns for the task ahead); the third are comprised of Sisters in active apostolates and lay people. Dominic’s original goal was to confront the ever-spreading Albigensian heresy.

I have lived in the shadow of the Dominicans for a good portion of my life. My first elementary school was St. Rose of Lima in Newark; when we moved forty miles south to Freehold, it was once again St. Rose of Lima (which pleased my mother since I could use the same school tie!). In high school, I was taught by the Dominican Sisters of Newburgh, New York, who were superb teachers and Religious (before they went over the cliff in 1971). I earned my licentiate in sacred theology from the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.

The Dominicans boast of having seventy canonized saints and 200 beati, as well as four popes. Such luminaries as Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Fra Angelico and Catherine of Siena come to mind immediately. Our Lord did say, “By their fruits you will know them” (Mt 12:33), and the Dominican fruit has been very sweet and very bountiful.

A story is told of a neophyte, eager to learn everything possible about his new-found faith. He approached his pastor and said, “Father, I know the difference between secular or diocesan clergy and religious clergy, but what are the differences among the religious clergy?” The priest offered: “Well, take the Dominicans and the Jesuits, for example. The Dominicans were founded by a Spaniard in the thirteenth century to halt the advance of the Albigensians. They wear a white habit and are engaged in teaching, parish work and missionary endeavors. The Jesuits were founded by a Spaniard in the sixteenth century to halt the advance of the Protestants. They wear a black habit and are engaged in teaching, parish work and missionary endeavors.” “Hmm,” came the neophyte’s reply. “So the only difference seems to be the time of their founding and the color of their habit? Might there be something else, perhaps their effectiveness?” His pastor was quick to respond, “I think you’ve hit on it. When was the last time you met an Albigensian?”

Speaking of effectiveness, I would be remiss were I not to bring into high relief the wonderful Dominican Sisters of Nashville and the Dominican Sisters of Ann Arbor – both committed to the Catholic school apostolate and growing by leaps and bounds; both have a vocation problem: they don’t have enough room for all the young women applying. The friars of this province are equally successful, having numbers even exceeding those of the 1950s. They have a large footprint here in the City: St. Vincent Ferrer, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Joseph in the Village, as well as the chaplaincy at NYU. Even more remiss would I be were I not to mention the wonderful cloistered community at Corpus Christi Monastery in the Bronx; I am convinced that they are probably most responsible for staying Our Lord’s punishing hand against this City, sending it off like Sodom and Gomorrah.

What is the secret of such success? In reality, it’s no secret; it’s just that both those two communities of Sisters and the friars are faithful to their original charism, summarized in the Order’s motto, Veritas (Truth). They believe, live and transmit the Truth of Christ and His Church – and that has a powerful magnetism.

For a few minutes, let’s reflect on Truth. “Quid est veritas?” asked Pontius Pilate in what he thought was a rhetorical question (Jn 18:38). Truth Incarnate was staring him in the face and he couldn’t recognize Truth because his intellect had been darkened by a life of compromise, skepticism and relativism. Pilate has numerous descendants in the Church of today and in the secular world of our day.

St. Thomas Aquinas, undoubtedly the best-known son of St. Dominic, offers us this definition of truth: “Veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus” (Truth is the conformity of the mind to reality). See how clear, how objective, how sane that is. On the other hand, we are engulfed by the insanity of total subjectivity, which leads someone to proclaim, “My God would never consign anyone to Hell!” Or, “From now on, I expect to be accepted as a woman, despite my genetic makeup.” Such assertions would fit in well with Friedrich Nietzsche’s declaration: “There are no facts, only interpretations.”

We are awash in confusion, as much in the Church as in society-at-large, so that a papal confidant could inform us that 2 + 2 could, in some circumstances, equal 5! Ultimately, lies are born of insanity, and insanity spreads its virus with a vengeance. However, there is a vaccine, which can turn insanity to sanity. Folks like you and me, first, need to be convinced that objective truth exists; second, that it is attainable; third, that such declarations will be met with resistance; but, fourth, eventually truth will resonate with normal people. Listen to the insights of some dead white men who have weighed in on our concern down the ages; I have selected secular sources, precisely to make the point that you don’t have to be Catholic to have common sense and an appreciation for the truth.

So, first, truth does really exist:

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” – George Orwell

“Truth is its own reward.” – Plato

“While you live, tell the truth and shame the devil.” – William Shakespeare

“The truth is always the strongest argument.” – Sophocles

And think about this trilogy from Cicero:

“Truth is corrupted as much by lies as by silence.”

“Above all, the search after truth and its eager pursuit are peculiar to man.”

“For there is but one essential justice which cements society, and one law which establishes this justice. This law is right reason, which is the true rule of all commandments and prohibitions. Whoever neglects this law, whether written or unwritten, is necessarily unjust and wicked.”

As to the attainability of truth, hear what Sören Kierkegaard has to say: “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”

Now, lest you think this business of truth-telling is easy, heed the counsel of Plato, who warns: “They deem him their worst enemy who tells them the truth.” Or, Lewis Carroll’s realization that people come to believe what they hear repeatedly: “What I tell you three times is true.” That said, Robert Browning offers some consolation in reminding us: “Truth never hurts the teller.”

Finally, truth does win out. “Honest Abe” Lincoln was quite confident of that: “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” He also saw another societal benefit to the truth: “Let the people know the truth and the country is safe.” Epictetus, one of the ancient Greek philosophers, held that “the people have a right to the truth as they have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Now we know where the Founders got that stirring string of rights from. Last but not least, the astute political commentator Thomas Sowell encourages us: “When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.”

If secular thinkers can be so sure of the power of truth, we believers have even greater reason to hold fast to that conviction. Of the 93 times that we find the word “truth” in the New Testament, 21 of those occasions appear in the Gospel according to St. John. The Fourth Evangelist, you should remember from our course, has recourse to legal terminology to set up a trial against the world for its refusal to acknowledge the One who declared: “I am the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). To those, however, who do take Jesus as the Truth, we hear our Savior give us a blessed assurance: “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32).

Today, then, we thank Almighty God for giving us eight centuries ago the man who became the “Lumen Ecclesiae” (the Light of the Church) by founding an Order committed to preaching and holding up for all to see the Light of Truth, who is none other than Jesus Christ, “the Light of the World” (Jn 8:12) .

St. Dominic and all you holy Dominicans, pray for our Church and our world, that all may see and accept the truth that truly makes us free.


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About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 160 Articles
Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas is the editor of the The Catholic Response, and the author of over 500 articles for numerous Catholic publications, as well as several books, including The Catholic Church and the Bible and Understanding the Sacraments.

13 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this homily from Father Stravinskas. As one whose patron saint is Saint Dominic, I very much appreciated the “truth” presented in the homily. My only regret is that I wasn’t present to hear it in person.

  2. A supporting Comment and then a Question…

    FIRST, Fr. Stravinskas cites Lincoln, Epictetus and Sowell on society’s access and sure response to the truth. Likewise, St. Pope John Paul II also said this about polemics in the media (and elsewhere?): “the Church’s Pastors have the duty to act in conformity with their apostolic mission, insisting that THE RIGHT OF THE FAITHFUL to receive Catholic doctrine in its purity and integrity must always be respected” (Veritatis Splendor, n. 113).

    SECOND, a question about the earlier question posed in the homily (noting the effectiveness of the Dominicans): “When was the last time you met an Albigensian?” The last time…

    The taproot of Albigensianism was Manichaeism—-the false conflict between spiritual light and alleged material darkness. Today, in fact, are we not surrounded by Albigensian Manichaeism?

    As in the dichotomy between existing and preborn realities and their abortion? As between the oneness of the married as co-creators with the Creator, versus objectified/contraceptive sex? As between binary/complementary sexuality, versus the oxymoron gay “marriage” and graffiti gender theory? AND within the Body of Christ, as between reaffirmed dogmatic truth/intrinsic morality, now to be quarantined from the praxis of concrete decisions and actions? Especially and particularly in the cult—-now piggy-backed into the Church (so to speak)—-which holds that “chastity” does not apply to same-sex activity between consenting adults?

    The Manichaean and Albigensian false dichotomy between the divinely spiritual and the humanly physical and the quiet burial of Veritatis Splendor itself, where we read: “…[T]he commandment of love of God and neighbor does not have in its dynamic any higher limit, BUT it does have a lower limit, beneath which the commandment is broken” (Veritatis Splendor, n. 52).

    • Would like to point out that Thomas Sowell is an economist, not really a political commentatator. His writings, research and commentary are based on unbiased or more accurately an “honest economist” use use of data (not cherry picked) to identify the truth. So his commentatary is much more than opinion. His recent book Charter Schools and Their Enemies is an example of his approach.

  3. Fr Stravinskas juxtaposes truth in conformity with reality to Fr Antonio Spadaro SJ’s truth as an extension of theology. 2+2 may=5 depending on circumstances, mitigation, conscience. Mitigation, a long held dimension of ethical concern, was addressed by Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia, quoting the Catechism on sexual self abuse and habitual practice. The author of that Catechism passage professes that habit decreases culpability reaching a minimum [as said John Paul II warned of creating with mitigation a theological category that absolves mortal sin]. The Pontiff transfers that premise to D&R sans declaration of nullity resulting in 2+2 instead of equaling 4 and adultery, instead equals 5 and a morally tolerable union. Coherence of Spadaro’s equation is found in the concrete circumstances of the human condition. As I recently alluded on Amoris regarding conscience it’s said to be formed by reality not inflexible rules. As such Apostolic Tradition loses its permanence. What is left out of the equation is God. Christ Pantokrator insured what Spadaro SJ and Pope Francis propose could, indeed should be avoided, the All Powerful [Pantokrator] creating within the soul prescient knowledge of right and wrong. The natural law common to all men literally written upon our hearts. Saint Gregory Nazianzen calls this when realized in a human act Synderesis. Saint Thomas Aquinas ads of all the complex inclinations that compose conscience Synderesis is the primary. That prescient knowledge actualized in our deliberation prior to acting is the very ground of conscience and moral responsibility. Inherent rather than essentially learned knowledge. Otherwise conscience would be subject to personal interpretation exactly as formulated by Fr Spadaro and the Pontiff. Which is why the skeletons in the closet manage to poke out and cause guilt. And even when evil decisions are blanketed with layers of rationalization they remain, indelible like the blood spot on Macbeth’s hand. Likely why Adolf drowned his system with narcotics and Stalin shrieked in rage at some unknown ghost by his deathbed as reported by daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva.

    • In response to Fr. Morello’s: “The author of that Catechism passage professes that habit decreases culpability reaching a minimum [as said John Paul II warned of creating with mitigation a theological category that absolves mortal sin]”…

      Apart from a mutated and novel theological “category” (within mitigation), isn’t the Catechism itself simply reminding us (with Aquinas) that personal mortal sin requires a grave transgression combined with full knowledge and full consent? The absence of which is not yet a category, but mitigative?

      Then, commenting on the additional “category” of habituated forgetfulness or totally derailed will, Benedict supplies this:

      “But guilt may very well consist in arriving at such perverse convictions by trampling down the protest made by the anamnesis [the law written directly on the heart] of one’s true being. The guilt would then lie on a deeper level, not in the act itself, not in the specific judgment pronounced by conscience, but in that neglect of my own being that has dulled me to the voice of truth and made me deaf to what it says within me. And this is why criminals like Hitler and Stalin, who act out of deep personal conviction, remain guilty […] “Clear thou me from hidden faults (Ps. 19:12)” (Values in a Time of Upheaval, 2006).

      • As usual a well informed response. Benedict on, “guilt would then lie on a deeper level, not in the act itself, not in the specific judgment pronounced by conscience, but in that neglect of my own being that has dulled me to the voice of truth” is supported by Aquinas. “One who follows such a conscience and acts according to it acts against the law of God and sins mortally. For there was sin in the error itself, since it happened because of ignorance of what one should have known” (De Veritate 17, 4 Ad 3). He conditions this inviolability based on the law in Man’s heart. Some theologians disagree. Benedict, whether or not he was aware of Aquinas’ De Veritate position is also confirmed on limitations to inviolability by Pius IX who defined invincible ignorance in Singulari Quidem [A. 7] as ignorance beyond someone’s capacity, which implies that ignorance of natural law requires an act of the will. Con scientia means to act with knowledge and the better minds of the Church perceive a responsibility to that inherent knowledge. So in effect Catholics must be aware, and I’ve found many are nevertheless oblivious to the reality that regardless of ignorance [of a grave transgression combined with full knowledge and full consent] we are responsible for what we should have known. That is especially true in respect to intrinsic evil. For example it’s commonly held by heterosexual persons that others usually friends who seem joyous and well disposed in a same sex relationship are innocent of wrong doing and are simply following their freely chosen, natural inclinations. This is a major challenge to priests in our current culture, and particularly during the current reevaluation of sexuality within the Church.

      • A note for clarification on Peter Beaulieu’s “the Catechism itself simply reminding us (with Aquinas) that personal mortal sin requires a grave transgression combined with full knowledge and full consent”. The principle of mitigation addressed in 2352 is related to habit not knowledge. Habitual activity is claimed to dilute the sense of gravity of the sin, which is true. And it is actually moral dissolution, not exactly a loss of knowledge. That is why the person, whether habitual self abuser, pornography addict, or living in a state of adultery is responsible for the condition and possesses both responsibility and the capacity to withdraw from that condition. 2352 requires that addition. Penitents have indicated they believed they were free from sin after having read that passage, or having discussed this issue with other priests.

        • In full agreement, might we still consider that what’s happening is NOT a “current re-evaluation of sexuality within the Church”, but RATHER it’s well-placed termites in red and purple hats who have accessed needed letterhead to subvert the natural law as to what is, shall we say, “not inadmissible”…

          The termites have studied Thomas More’s “Utopia” (!!!), where he recommends that in guiding the affairs of kings (not in morality), in some cases this is to be done “by indirect approach and covert suggestion.” Enter stage Left(ist): the conflated theo-politics of Fr. James Martin (S.J.) and his sycophant choir.

          Here now is Thomas More, with substitute termite-language in brackets [ ] as inferred from the “new-paradigm” church-within-a-Church:

          “Whatever play is being performed, perform it as well as you can; and do not upset it all, because you bethink you of another which has more wit. So it is in commonwealths with the deliberations of kings. Suppose wrong opinions [right teachings?] cannot be plucked out by the root, and you cannot cure [displace or elide], as you would wish, vices [virtues] of long standing, yet you must not on that account abandon ship of state [the Barque of Peter] and desert it in a storm [as in open/honest apostasy], because you cannot control the winds [the indwelling Holy Spirit and the magisterium].

          “But neither must you impress upon them new and strange language, which you know will carry no weight with those of opposite convictions, but BY INDIRECT APPROACH AND COVERT SUGGESTION you must endeavor and strive to the best of your power to handle all well [reframing as the “third option”—by nuance, footnote, accusations of homophobia, unchallenged praxis, strategic omission, and a “binding synodal path”], and what you cannot turn to good [mainstreamed debauchery], you must make as little bad [as few waves] as you can. For it is impossible that all should be well [submerged under “inclusivity”], unless all men are good [silenced or preferably abrogated], which I do not expect for a great many years to come” (citation in E.E. Reynolds, “St. Thomas More,” Image, 1958).

  4. Think it is wortwhile to mention that many credit St Dominic as a founder of the rosary. While the actual historical evidence may be hidden, I think it is still worthwhile to also remember him for this. On the Catholic Relevant Radio today it was mentioned that along with today being remembered for St John Vianney that we should be offering a rosary for our parish priest.

  5. The Dominicans got rid of the Albigensians, but the Jesuits can’t get rid of the Protestants. Is it because God will bless those who worship Him only and obey His scriptures and not religions that think human traditions are more important? Remember, Jesus confronted the religious leaders of his day, and they hated and killed him. Is the Catholic church the modern day Pharisees and Sadducees? You all need to take a serious spiritual check of your hard hearts!

  6. “Speaking of effectiveness, I would be remiss were I not to bring into high relief the wonderful Dominican Sisters of Nashville and the Dominican Sisters of Ann Arbor – both committed to the Catholic school apostolate and growing by leaps and bounds; both have a vocation problem: they don’t have enough room for all the young women applying. The friars of this province are equally successful, having numbers even exceeding those of the 1950s.”

    This indicates that practical orthodoxy is what is needed to turn around the problem of declining vocations. If that is true, perhaps there was a certain corruption even in the 1950s? Not doctrinally, but practically speaking.

    It seems to me that in the past the Church hasn’t been nearly a strong enough witness to the faith. While the goal of the Church is the salvation of souls, a large part of that comes through her own freedom. The whole idea of concordats seems somewhat cowardly. The Church should have courageously stood against evil governments through her courageous members.

    It is even possible to engage in UNCIVIL DISOBEDIENCE. This is where an unjust “law” is broken, the person disobeying makes a statement that the “law” is unjust, and the person disobeying resists arrest, and ideally is assisted by like-minded bystanders. It would even be better if a large group of people disobeyed an unjust “law” at once and also resisted arrest.

    Although I am not a theologian, resisting arrest – if a person knows that he is not guilty – is morally permissible according to a moral theology book that I own. I deduce that the reason is that the state is God’s agent of punishment and that a person who is not guilty needn’t submit to punishment.

    “St. Thomas Aquinas, undoubtedly the best-known son of St. Dominic, offers us this definition of truth: “Veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus” (Truth is the conformity of the mind to reality). See how clear, how objective, how sane that is.”

    Every lawyer and philosopher needs to be taught this. Postmodern and modern philosophers should be all fired and prohibited from publishing anything regarding these false philosophies.

    “As to the attainability of truth, hear what Sören Kierkegaard has to say: ‘There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.'”

    This is a good quote. People have an inalienable natural right to truth. This is why errors have no rights.

    “Now, lest you think this business of truth-telling is easy, heed the counsel of Plato, who warns: “They deem him their worst enemy who tells them the truth.” Or, Lewis Carroll’s realization that people come to believe what they hear repeatedly: “What I tell you three times is true.””

    Perhaps Saint Paul got his idea from Plato when he said that those became his enemy because he told them the truth. The Pharisees certainly became Jesus’ enemy after he publicly reprimanded them. Darkness hates the light.

    The problem with lies or falsehoods is that people typically rely on others when trying to determine the truth. This is what teachers and other communicators of knowledge (living and not living) are for. Errors unopposed are susceptible to be taken as truth. This is why censorship is so important.

    People repeat what they believe to be information because someone else has said it before and they believe it (perhaps credulously) to be true. When a lie or error is promoted by the mass media it is very often presumed to be true. The influence is doubly evil because it is spread by whoever is a “repeater.”

    A good book on this topic is “Why Societies Need Dissent.” An especially relevant concept discussed in the book is an informational cascade. A discussion of this and its relationship to herd behavior can be found at: https://blogs.cornell.edu/info2040/2016/11/15/the-difference-between-information-cascades-and-herd-behavior/.

    “Finally, truth does win out. “Honest Abe” Lincoln was quite confident of that: “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” He also saw another societal benefit to the truth: “Let the people know the truth and the country is safe.” Epictetus, one of the ancient Greek philosophers, held that “the people have a right to the truth as they have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.””

    The problem is that elites no longer believe in people who have been told the truth. This what experts are partly for – to tell others what to think. A college degree or especially a license is often just an indicator of indoctrination. When I was in a state university in 2009-2014, I was required to take one of three “cultural Marxist” courses. I don’t remember all of them, but I think that one was women’s studies. I ended up taking “Race, Class, and Gender.” What Abraham Lincoln failed to recognize is that truth shouldn’t have to compete with error. There are factors which work strongly against the truth prevailing. It is not just that truth should be told, but that error should be suppressed.

    Notice how the right to the truth can create potential problems. Who determines what is true? With regards to faith and morals that is easy enough: the Catholic Church. If people have the right to truth, then the corresponding duty should be to suppress falsehood. This, of course, conflicts with freedom of speech and the press. There are probably no principles more evil than absolute freedom of speech and press.

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