The Dominican Tradition

The Dominican Tradition: Spirituality in History

by Thomas C. McGonigle, O.P. and Phyllis Zagano, Ph.D.
Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2006


Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

The motto of the Dominicans, also known as the Order of Preachers, is "to praise, to bless, and to preach." In "The Dominican Tradition," Thomas C. McGonigle, O.P. and Phyllis Zagano, Ph.D. explore the ways that charism has been expressed throughout the centuries by highlighting sixteen persons who exemplify Dominican thought and action.

The introductory essay focuses on providing a general background on the Order of Preachers. McGonigle roots Dominic's vision of a new order dedicated to living an apostolic life of preaching, poverty, and service firmly in the historical events of his day. The thirteenth century was ripe for Christian renewal. There was a need for "preachers to be the living reflection of the Gospel they proclaimed." He used the Rule of St. Augustine as a guideline for his order. A copy of this Rule is included as the last chapter in "The Dominican Tradition."

McGonigle and Zagano then proceed to provide short biographical sketches of the Dominicans they have chosen to highlight. Each biography is followed by excerpts from one or two primary sources either written by or about the person in question. Included in these profiles are persons who anyone with a nodding acquaintance with Dominican history would expect to encounter: St. Dominic, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Catherine of Siena, and in more recent history, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop. There are some surprises in the mix, however, such as Mechtild of Magdeburg, Henri Dominique Lacordaire, and the current Master of the Order of Preachers, Timothy Radcliffe.

The biographies are succinct and well-written, providing worthy introductions to these persons of note. The primary sources are also well chosen, with the possible exception of that which is included for John of Fiesole, better known as the famous painter Fra Angelico. This man spoke through his art. While the address of Pope Pius XII at an opening of an exhibition of his paintings at the Vatican in 1955 does provide insight into the man and his work, it might have been more helpful to have included a plate or two of his artwork instead.*

Perhaps the best primary source as it relates to the topic at hand is an essay by Edward Schillebeeckx composed in 1983 on Dominican spirituality. Schillebeeckx writes "A definitive all-round definition of Dominican spirituality cannot be given. You cannot make a final judgment on a story which is still going strong. We can only trace some of the main lines in the plot of the story." This is what McGonigle and Zagano attempted to do with this volume and they have succeeded in their quest. While certainly not a comprehensive study of the topic, it provides a wonderful introduction into how Dominican spirituality has manifested itself over the course of the past 800 years. "The Dominican Tradition" would make a great college text for a class exploring various strains of spirituality. It would also be useful as a starting point for anyone seeking to know more about the Dominicans and their impact on the world.

* Upon reading this review, Dr. Zagano pointed out to me that the cover illustration of the book is, in fact, by Fra Angelico!

Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur is editor of www.spiritualwoman.net. Visit her blog at spiritualwomanthoughts.blogspot.com
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