Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Reveries of libraries, the thirtieth : Eratosthenes beta version

If you have the time, consider how you would go about charting time, without much to go on but the sun, moon, and seasons. You could do this at a surf beach, a sports field during half-time, or in the library on a spare afternoon. You could be Eratosthenes of Cyrene, a hero just for one day. Determining the years since you were born would be child’s play compared with calculating the years since the last small ice age in your local area. When you write ‘Chronographies’, in between duties as the Alexandria librarian, you want to date everything since the Trojan War. This is a good genesis point, but Homer was not specific (none of the Homers, in fact), and was the Trojan horse just for one day? Or you can pre-empt encyclopedists by writing, in similar vein, a chronology of the winners of the Olympic Games. It was worth all the sweat they gave just to have their names dated in Eratosthenes’ ‘Olympic Victors’.

Your knowledge of Homer tells you that Greece and Anatolia are big chunks, but let’s not get into particulars. This annoyed Eratosthenes (circa 276 BC-circa 194 BC), who was interested in inventing Geography. None of the Homers were interested in geographic signposts. Ithaca, for example, is probably an island in the Aegean, or Adriatic maybe, when it isn’t 7 Eccles Street, Dublin 1. You know that, but then you don’t read literature for the literal landmarks much, even while Jerusalem in the Bible is generally meant to indicate the city called Jerusalem. You don’t have to devise maps for climate zones, place grids over land drawings to find the quickest way home, or draw lines in proverbial sand to  say where one country stops and another starts. Because Eratosthenes did it for you in his 3-volume ‘Geographika’, when he wasn’t working the circulation desk of the Alexandria Library. Your cartographic skills rarely extend beyond sketching directions to the party on a coaster, or swearing at the GPS as you drive into a lake. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just make it stop. Nor do you need to reinvent the globe of the world.

It is but a small step for a man of Geography then to calculate the circumference of the Earth. You will find though it is a giant leap from Alexandria to the Upper Nile. When you stare down a well there at noon on the solstice, as you may do, your head blocks the reflection of the sun on the water below. While at the same time in Alexandria, the sun casts a slight shadow. By measuring the giant leap and the angle of the sun’s rays, Eratosthenes calculated that the Earth’s circumference was fifty times that distance. His margin of error was only 10%, because of his assumptions about distance and about light rays being parallel. Another assumption that was not exactly right was that the Earth is a perfect sphere. We believe it’s roundy, but not flat. Flat Earthers have a psychological block that has nothing to do with Geography. You can be a Flat Earther, if you choose, but don’t blame someone else. A repeat of Eratosthenes’ calculation in 2012 using more accurate data came within 0.16% accuracy of the accepted circumference of the Earth.   

Then again, if you have the time, consider how you would go about measuring the distance from the Earth to the sun. You could do this by googling, asking someone with primary school education, or going to the local library and finding out. None of these options were available to Eratosthenes. Or the tilt of the Earth’s axis? He was quite accurate, nor had he ever met anyone who had navigated the said globe. Later critics nicknamed him Beta because he was a jack-of-all-trades, with the implication, master of none. Strabo (circa 64 BC-24 CE), who knew a thing or two, called Eratosthenes a mathematician among geographers and a geographer among mathematicians, which is a case of stating the obvious when Eratosthenes is the father of Geography. You and I look at the sun, not too long, in the context of the universe, and it is too close for comfort. We are bound to it by gravitational pull in ways Eratosthenes could not imagine, though he would have grasped the meaning once explained, probably faster than Strabo. You and I teach ourselves not to fear the heat of the sun, given we face a new small ice age in our local area.

Beta version is perhaps the ultimate compliment and badge of honour for someone with this list of trial achievements. Anyone can get an A for repeating what Eratosthenes proposed. It takes an Eratosthenes to say that this angle or that distance or that leap (miles or years) is as good as he can get, for now, and stand by the results. Meanwhile, in the A for Alexandria Library he was scrolling and texting every other bit of the day, which may have left him, as it leaves you and me, wondering just how many days he had, anyway. His answer, produced well advance of the naysayers and newspapers, was 365 days in a year. With an extra day every fourth year. This calculation is slightly better than beta. He figured this out because he was not superstitious about eclipses, and because he wanted to know. Time moves slowly in a library, or quickly, quicker than light, but that has nothing to do with the library.     

As you know, you see every kind of person visit a library. There are the highly read and the illiterate, specialists and polymaths, autodidacts and true believers. There are visitors from every nation and those who’ve never even been around the block. The Greek word for blockheads is idiota. Eratosthenes was a polymath, hence the description of him amongst his friends as pentathlos, though he was not a library visitor. He was the librarian, which means he observed the varieties of visitor. It could well be for this reason that he objected to Aristotle (384-322 BC). Aristotle argued that humanity was divided into Greeks and barbarians, the conclusion to be reached being that Aristotle was a Greek. He believed that Greeks should keep themselves racially pure. This either/or thinking, not remote from alpha/beta thinking, is impossible to sustain in a library that is open most days of the year. Eratosthenes believed there was good and bad in every nation and people, and rebuked Aristotle for being so black and white.

This seventh and ultimate paragraph is dedicated to the inventor of prime numbers. Opinion remains undivided on who this person is. Eratosthenes, a mere beta male by contrast with his alpha critics, proved that two is the same as one in regard to primes. He proposed a simple algorithm for finding prime numbers, which is known in mathematics as the Sieve of Eratosthenes. By iteratively marking the composites (the multiples of each prime, starting with 2) the Sieve shakes out all the wash of composites, leaving only the primes gleaming in the Sieve. This image though can serve also to describe what remains of his work. You are warned before you begin your own work in these fields of endeavour. For all the works of his that we have, that precious minority of prime material, the majority of Eratosthenes’ composite production was lost with the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. Troublingly, this occurs during the lifetime of the aforementioned Strabo.

Timothy Radcliffe – Telling the Truth (1) SUSAN SOUTHALL

On Tuesday the 16th of April Susan Southall conducted a Spiritual Reading Group in the Carmelite Library on the English Dominican Timothy Radcliffe. Here is Susan’s introductory paper to that session.

Timothy Radcliffe was born in London at the end of the Second World War (1945) but spent most of his youth on his family’s estate in Yorkshire, the upper-class English country life celebrated in literature, although he points out that from the ages of eight to eighteen, three quarters of his time was spent at boarding schools: these were the Benedictine schools Worth and Downside. All of his numerous cousins and in fact most English aristocratic children were the same, although he finds it incredible now. On his second night at school he was beaten for leaving his clothes on the floor. He says, ‘No one had ever hit me, no-one. I was utterly astonished that anyone might do such a thing!’ [1]

On one side he is descended from the great Catholic recusant families who had demonstrated the ability to put their faith above the loyalty demanded by the state. When he became involved in the anti-nuclear campaigns with other young Dominicans it was pointed out they were breaking the law. His reaction was, ‘We had been breaking the law for centuries.’ [2] His mother’s family came from Portugal at the beginning of the nineteenth century. They had a theological bent, and association with the East: they subscribed to Country Life for the Dalai Lama until he went into exile! His great-grandfather George Lane-Fox, had been disinherited by his father when he became a Catholic. He went to Rome to become a novice at Santa Sabina: although his father wasn’t speaking to him, many other relatives were and they visited, taking him to dinner at Rome’s finest restaurants. His novice-master suggested that with so little attention to the vow of poverty he lacked a religious vocation, and so he became the ancestor of a Master of the Order instead.[3]

It was only after leaving school that Timothy Radcliffe had any reason to question his faith. He began to meet people who asked, ‘but is it true?’ He came from this protected Catholic background and now had to reflect. If it is true, he thought, he ought to spend his life on it. All that he knew was that there was a religious order whose motto was Truth. He asked the Benedictines to put him in touch with the Dominican provincial. Within five minutes, he said he wished to join the Order. He was sent to talk to the novitiate, and was struck by the simplicity of the life there, and the richness of discussion. It was a complete intellectual environment, people discussing everything from communism to the sacraments. His family would later be disturbed that he decided to join an Order with such a left-wing reputation. At the end of this visit, he asked to join the Order. The novice-master suggested he should read Plato’s Dialogues as preparation.

He had never thought of religious life before this, and he came from a politically conservative family. He had a hard time to begin with, being the only person there who came from an upper-class background. He was teased all the time, and became familiar with terms like exploiters of the working-classes, and immoral capitalists. He thought this was unfair on his relatives, whom he knew to be good people. In time, his own political views began to change and he joined his brethren protesting against the Vietnam War and the nuclear sites in England. It was a time of disturbance in the world and in the church. Guidance from superiors was helpful. He remembers saying to the elderly Dominican Gervase Matthew, ‘It must be very hard for you, Gervase, to see all this going on.’ To which he replied, ‘Oh, it was worse in the fourteenth century.’[4]

Of his vows, in spite of his background, poverty didn’t trouble him. It was something different to experience! It bothered some of his relations, though. He had an argument with an uncle who wanted to pay his train fare: he explained that he was hitch-hiking. Eventually the compromise that was reached had the chauffeur driving him in the Rolls-Royce to a suitable stop at the highway and handing him his bag as he was given a lift in a lorry. Travelling light! Chastity provided more difficulty for young men, especially as they were at that time given no formation in how to deal with their sexuality. He makes the observation that ‘what is the hardest aspect of chastity is not the lack of sexual activity but, much more, the lack of intimacy — knowing that you have a unique importance for one person who has that same importance for you.’[5] At the age of thirty, he found this aspect painful. But obedience was never a problem. For Dominicans, obedience took place in an atmosphere of ‘dialogue and fraternity.’[6] He became a priest in spite of his resistance to clericalism. He wanted to be a brother of the Order, but when asked he accepted ordination as a form of obedience to brothers who requested it. Gervase Matthew told him the most important thing he did as a priest was hearing confessions. He found this to be true, especially as he recognised that ‘you are not a superior being handing out God’s absolution to someone else’ but yourself a sinner who can encourage others by giving the words he needs to hear himself.[7]

That process was repeated much later when after years of teaching scripture at Oxford at the request of Simon Tugwell, he was elected English Provincial. He had fallen in love with study, and the transition to leaving research, libraries and students for travel, administration and meetings was difficult. He was able ‘to create the conditions in which we can really talk to each other, and together arrive at decisions about the common good.’[8] One of the advances from his English years was related to the AIDS crisis. He arranged a conference of hospital chaplains, doctors and nurses, and patients and broke the taboo on talking around the disease. AIDS sufferers were free to stay at Blackfriars to come and rest. This was at a time when the illness was completely stigmatised.
He isn’t able to know exactly how he came to be Master of the Order. He thought he wouldn’t have to worry about it; he was such an unlikely candidate. He accepted the office as part of his obedience to his brothers. For two-thirds of the year he was travelling, supporting the friars, the sisters, the laity and the contemplatives, especially those working in places of violence, war and persecution, as Rwanda during the genocide, a situation that brought him to tears. It is a nine- year appointment, which he held from 1992-2001, virtually living in airports, and he feels no one could manage to do it for longer.

When asked if the Order should leave magnificent buildings such as Santa Maria Novella in Florence to open new mission territories, he replied: ‘You ask what we should close. I think the first question we need to ask is what we should open. Let’s first do something new and then see what, as a consequence, we must give up. You mention the example of Santa Maria Novella, that wonderful priory in Florence, filled with Renaissance frescoes. It is true that we cannot let ourselves become museum keepers for tourists. But surely we can find ways of preaching the gospel through the beauty of such places.’[9]

Timothy Radcliffe continues to preach from his community at Blackfriars in Oxford, and his homilies can be read on the internet: https://www.english.op.org/profiles/timothy-radcliffe.htm

[1] Timothy Radcliffe, I Call You Friends (London: Continuum, 2001), 11.
[2]  Radcliffe, I Call You Friends, 4.
[3]  Radcliffe, I Call You Friends, 15.
[4] Radcliffe, I Call You Friends, 19.
[5]  Radcliffe, I Call You Friends, 22.
[6]  Radcliffe, I Call You Friends, 20-21.
[7]  Radcliffe, I Call You Friends, 29.
[8]  Radcliffe, I Call You Friends, 34-35.
[9]  Radcliffe, I Call You Friends, 76.

Timothy Radcliffe – Telling the Truth (2) SUSAN SOUTHALL

On Tuesday the 16th of April Susan Southall conducted a Spiritual Reading Group in the Carmelite Library on the English Dominican Timothy Radcliffe. Here are the quotes from his writing that were used during the session.
Quotes from The Dominican Way Edited by Lucette Verboven London, Continuum, 2011 (DW) and I Call You Friends. London, Continuum, 2001.(CF)
1.      Thomas Aquinas stated – and this is at the very heart of his theology – ‘What God is, we cannot say.’ Words cannot enclose God; they can only let us approach the edge of the mystery. We can say true things about God. For example, I can say that God is good, that God is one, that Christ is risen from the dead… but we cannot know fully what that means. I cannot know what it means for God to be God. There is a paradox in our Dominican spirituality, a tension I find very inspiring: we claim friendship with God, but this friend is the One who is beyond words.
I repeat, to say that God is beyond our understanding does not mean that no statement of the truth is possible. If someone says that Jesus did not exist, that he did not rise from the dead, I believe that he is wrong: I can make statements that are true, but I cannot wrap it all up. Heresy begins precisely when someone claims to know the whole of the truth. Heresy consists of trying to shut God up in a box, to reduce him to my little grasp of the truth. Dogma, conversely, seeks to loosen our possessive little grip, so that truth may disclose itself ever more… Dogma propels me on a journey towards the truth. (CF 81-82)
2.      I fell in love with (Dominic’s birthplace in Spain). I fell in love with the light that pervades everything, its clarity, its luminosity. I believe that this light is typical of Dominic, his ability to see clearly, to recognize people’s humanity, their goodness, their suffering. Truth is perhaps in the first place a light that reveals the beauty and goodness of God’s world, and also its suffering and pain.
            For this reason there is a close link between truth and love. This is strange, since we usually think of love as a nice warm feeling and has nothing to do with the mind. But loving another person includes trying to understand who he or she really is. Growing in love implies coming to understand them, see through their eyes, penetrate their humanity; and growth in understanding overflows in love. Our contemporaries tend to think of knowledge as cold, an impersonal detachment, keeping a distance. The Bible suggests otherwise, the word ‘know’ means a most intimate, indeed a sexual relationship. Knowledge implies intimacy. Love helps me to know the truth, and the truth helps me to love. (CF 80)
3.      You can see that this century has been crucified by the worship of state power, the worship of blood, the whole Aryan mythology of Nazism. People were worshipping a false god. At the moment the ideology of the global market is reigning. But that is a false god. It seems to me that the role of the Church is not to invite people to belive; because everybody believes — but they believe crazy things; they believe in fate, in the stars, in horoscopes.  What we have to do is to discover belief in the God who will liberate us from slavery. Most false gods demand that we bow and worship. But our God tells us to stand up and be free. (DW 10-11)

4.      We often think of spirituality as nice and warm and doctrine as arrogant, abstract and incomprehensible. But doctrine is exciting and liberating. When you get involved with Christian doctrines — the resurrection, the Trinity, the divinity of Christ — you are invited on an adventure in the discovery of the truth. Doctrines don’t close our minds, they open them. I think it’s unfair to young people to give them just a nice vague spirituality. It’s boring. (DW 111)

5.      Is celibacy the problem that has led to sexual abuse? I don’t think so. All the statistics we have for Britain and the United States show that married clergy fail just as often. I think the problem is not celibacy but a form of clericalism where priests in many denominations and in many faiths think that ordination makes them powerful. Abuse is the misuse of power… We also have to rediscover that the most important sacrament is not ordination but baptism. (DW 202-203)

6.      I think the crucial question of the Church today is lay leadership, rooted in baptism. So we need lay Dominicans who will be lay leaders, and that requires a good theological formation to understand their specific role. It’s bad enough to have the clericalization of the Church, it would be even worse to have the clericalization of the laity!
We must bear in mind that the renewal of the Church has often come through the laity. Who are the three great patron saints of Europe? St. Benedict, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Catherine of Siena. And what do they have in common? None of them were ordained. S we must have confidence in the vitality of lay people. (DW 216)

7.      To see the goodness of another person often requires certain repose. We must be with them, unhurriedly, wasting time with them. If we are rushing then we are more likely to see them in functional terns, as useful or hindering our projects. The perfection of love implies leisure, in which we can be receptive to another, almost passively attentive.

8.      Preachers must discover their own voice and their own way of being, otherwise they will not speak authentically.  Some … Dominicans preach through art, others through writing or speaking, or by working for justice, or just by the silence of the monastic life. But all of them have authority because they speak as themselves, as the gifted, vulnerable, particular people they are. God’s joy and beauty must reverberate through their particular flesh and blood humanity. We believe that our God became human, and so we must become human too if we are to speak well of God.  (DW 1)

9.      When we say yes to God, we set out on a journey in the course of which our reason helps us to advance towards a glimpse of the mystery. So I truly believe that faith calls on reason. But likewise, reason needs faith; otherwise, it lacks foundations. You could put that another way: with the incarnation, God embraces all that is human, all that we are – our sense of beauty, our capacity for love, and, likewise, our ability to think. If Christ became human, then, in a certain way, our intelligence is blessed by God. We should make use of it. (CF 86)

10.  Then there are others who have difficulties with the Church not because they hate but because they are living in a relationship that conflicts with the Church’s teaching, such as unmarried couples, divorced and remarried couples, practicing homosexuals, and so on. We should first of all recognize that at the heart of their relationship is love. Any love, as love, is good, is God’s presence. We should recognize this and give it its value. The moral teaching of the Church should never consist of telling people that they should not love someone… We have to understand how they see the world, learn what they have to teach us, see through their eyes, grow in mutual trust… God’s friendship with the human race is the very heart of the gospel. So we cannot express our deepest moral convictions except in a context of friendship. (CF 97)

11.  It may appear strange to talk of a spirituality of truthfulness. Obviously the preacher must say only what is true. But I believe that one will only know when to speak and when to be silent – that balance of confidence and humility – if one has been trained in acute discipline of truthfulness. This is a slow and painful asceticism, becoming attentive to one’s use of words, in one’s attention to what others say, in an awareness of all the ways in which we use words to dominate, to subvert, to manipulate rather than to reveal and disclose. (CF 204)

12.  Friendship may seem a strange way to use to speak about God’s love. It can seem a bit cold compared to the usual vocabulary of passionate spousal love. But for the first Dominicans it revealed something crucial about love…. St. Thomas called friendship ‘the most perfect form of love’ because it is not possessive, because it values equality among persons, because one seeks only the good of the other. So it does illuminate some aspects of the divine love of the Trinity, the perfect equality of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is an equality that we are called upon to practice as brethren in the Order. (CF 50)

13.  The word ‘master’ sounds very grand, but Dominic chose the title because he did not want to be an abbot. Master originally means ‘teacher’ and doesn’t imply bossing people around. In the Dominican Order, we are called friars or brothers and not monks. The first thing you learn is that you are no more and no less than a brother. When people arrive at Blackfriars, Oxford, they sometimes ask is if we are a father or a brother, and, even though we are ordained, we are taught to reply, ‘I am a brother’. I remember a visitor who saw a young man at the door cleaning the floor. He asked, ‘Are you a father or a brother?’ The young man said, “I am a brother’. And the visitor said, ‘Well, brother, get me a cup of tea’. So he went and got a cup of tea. Then the visitor said, ‘Now, brother, take me to my room’. So he took the visitor to his room. And the visitor said, “Now, brother, I wish to meet father prior’. And he said, ‘I am the prior!’  (DW 8)

14.  We are tempted to make the truth something that we possess, our property. We wrap it up in a few formulas. We try to master it. And this is not surprising in a society which is dedicated to private property…But God’s word cannot be owned… It breaks open all our attempts to trap it in our words. It busts open our little ideologies. The word of God is truth that searches and probes us…the Bible is not a book that we read, it reads us. (CF 170)

Timothy Radcliffe – Telling the Truth (3) SUSAN SOUTHALL

On Tuesday the 16th of April Susan Southall conducted a Spiritual Reading Group in the Carmelite Library on the English Dominican Timothy Radcliffe. Here are some other quotes from his writing collected by Susan in preparation for the session.

Quotes from The Dominican Way Edited by Lucette Verboven London, Continuum, 2011 (DW) and I Call You Friends. London, Continuum, 2001 (CF)

In some orders, the young were warned against ‘particular friendships. One must try to love everyone equally and have no favourites. But as a young friar, I was taught that the greater danger was to have particular enemies! We become loving people, able to talk about the God who is love, because we have learned to love in particular. Friendship nourishes our mission because we preach the eternal, equal friendship that is the very life of God. (DW 2)

… the goal he has set himself. ‘To meet all my brothers and sisters worldwide and give them time to speak what is in their minds and hearts.’ (DW 6)

Teaching a moral vision doesn’t mean going around telling people what is allowed and what is forbidden. It is inviting people to discover the light of the Gospels, their fundamental hunger for the good. (DW 8)

The great enslavement of Africans beginning in the seventeenth century, turning them into commodities to be exported, like cattle, to America, was symptomatic of a deep crisis which touched every country in the West. Putting people on the labour market where they must sell themselves seems to be part of the cultural crisis of our times. If we see everything as for sale, how can we be aware of the God who is the giver of all good things? (DW 11)

When I arrived here, I walked down this corridor and saw all these paintings, and my heart dropped. All these important people, all these famous names! It was a very depressing first ten minutes, and then I discovered the wonderful liberty of realizing that I don’t know who most of these people are. Most of these earlier Masters did what they had to do and were forgotten. And that will be the same for me. Thanks to God. (DW 14-15)

(Timothy) put together a team of amazing diversity and communicated his enthusiasm and freedom. I remember the very early intuition he had about the internet as a place of preaching. Today it has become evident. Timothy has this grace of new ideas and he is very free…When you are elected to such an important position, people often think you have to adjust to the people in power. Timothy enjoyed good relationships with the Vatican, but he was not submissive. He was a friar, a preacher, a theologian, and in some ways his theology is quite traditional — he studied Thomas Aquinas — but he has the capacity to reach people on the margins. (Jean-Jaques Pérennès) (DW 20)

Henri Burin des Roziers defends the Amazonian peasants against large landowners in Brazil, at risk of his life. He had a price of 30,000 pounds on his head when he received a letter from Timothy Radcliffe, saying “these fazenderios won’t hesitate to use any lie to discredit someone! But don’t lose faith, your brothers all over the world are with you. We are very proud of everything you do for the rights of the peasants.” (DW 67)

Margaret Ormond was part of a movement to establish international connections among Dominican sisters. Without this, ‘we wouldn’t have easily known about the Dominican congregations in other countries who might have been in trouble, as the Iraqi sisters were during the first invasion in Iraq. thanks to the initiative of Timothy Radcliffe, we were invited to Santa Sabina, the worldwide headquarters of the Order, in Rome in 1995.’ Sisters came from all over the world to form a movement (Dominican Sisters International) so that no group would be left alone, especially during wars and struggles. (DW 81)

Although he is very shy about his aristocratic roots, I am allowed a glimpse of what that kind of upbringing meant 60 years ago. The whole family was dressed formally for dinner which took place in an atmosphere of ritual courtesy. I get the impression of his childhood as if plucked from an English period novel, inhabited by lords and ladies. But the story he tells me takes an unexpected turn. When his father’s firm closed down, he was so concerned about his former employees that he paid them their full wages until each one of them found a new job. It practically ruined the family, but it shows in what kind of environment young Timothy was raised. (DW 101-l02)

(What is your identity?)  Well, much of my life has been about losing identity. My family comes from Yorkshire. About 30 years ago, the old family home, Rudding Park, was sold and is now a luxury hotel and golf course. I was sad when it was sold because we had been there for almost 200 years, but we had to let it go. When I joined the Order I had to, in a sense, let go of that rather exclusive identity to discover a new broader one, as the brother of all sorts of people in the Order, and gain a new sense of being British. When I went to Rome and travelled all around the world, I had to discover a new identity again, with brothers and sisters in every country of the planet. In Christ, I am on the way to finding myself as a member of the whole human family, and identity that is not defined over anyone! A full sense of who we are always lies in the future. (DW 104)

I think that one gradually loses images of God. When I was a child, I thought God had a nice white beard and sat on a throne. I was wrong! As a young friar, I thought God was a very powerful person. Again, I had to lose that image. This is called the via negativa. It’s like kissing somebody: the closer you get, the less you see. When you do kiss somebody, you don’t see anything at all! In the spiritual life, you let go one image after another until you see nothing. (DW 106)

But you can’t understand sexuality by looking at rules. You have to understand the beauty of sexuality. The best starting point is the Last Supper, where Jesus says, “This is my body and I give it to you.” At the heart of sexual ethics, two people say to each other, “I give myself to you.”  This makes you very vulnerable. Jesus put Himself in the disciples’ hands, vulnerable to whatever they would so to Him. And one of them betrayed Him, another denied Him, and most of the rest ran away. So if you give your body to another, then that means vulnerability, as well as generosity and fidelity. Jesus gave Himself to us forever.” (DW 109)

Christianity has often tried to resist (dualism) but sometimes failed. One of the fascinating things about Thomas Aquinas, for example, is his insistence on the complete unity of body and soul. Aquinas had an extraordinary vision of the radical unity of the human person. (DW 110)

The belief in the Trinity is one of the most exciting down-to-earth beliefs there is. It principally looks at two things. In Jesus Christ, we don’t meet a theory about God or a messenger from God, but God in person. God is present to us with a human face. The second thing is that in the Trinity we find a love that is equal, without domination or manipulation. It’s a love that lifts us into equality. We don’t often love one another as equals. We may have a condescending, patronizing love or we may love somebody as a wonderful hero above us. What we see in the Trinity is that true love brings us towards equality. (DW 111)

Dominique Pire: To dialogue means to look beyond the boundaries of one’s conviction for the duration of the dialogue so as to share the heart and spirit of the other, without abandoning any part of one’s self in order to understand, judge and appreciate the real goodness and usefulness present in the thoughts, feelings and actions of the other. One must really feel oneself with the other. It therefore requires one to bracket off one’s self for a moment, who we are and what we think, so as to understand and appreciate the other positively without necessarily sharing the other’s point of view. In this there is a profound renunciation of self. (DW 119)

Katarina Pajchel, physicist:  It is the combination of being able to study, pray and preach that makes the Dominican Order unique. In dialogue with my community, we saw that there was indeed space and understanding for this combination so that my work could also include physics. I was touched by one of the Dominican mottos: Contemplare et contemplate aliis tradere, meaning ‘Contemplate and hand on the fruits of your contemplation.” The dynamics of passing on what you have learned caught me…I am inspired by Simon Tugwell… When I read his book The Way of the Preacher, I thought, ‘This is how I want to live!’ As a witness… As Dominicans, we pass on the things we have learned, not as teachers from above or by giving ready-made answers, but by accompanying people  and being honest. (DW 128)

It was important to me that the Order had a positive attitude towards art. I was confirmed in my vocation by Brother de Menasce, who told me it was possible to be both priest and painter. He said, ‘God respects what he endows on somebody. Keep going. Pray to Fra Angelico.’ (DW 159)

Silence is very important. We Dominicans even say that silence is the father of preachers. It is our maxim. Also when I paint there is a lot of space — space that is not empty, but full. (DW 161)

Monasteries are often criticized for being useless places. But Pope Benedict XVI has compared monasteries to the green lungs of a city — beneficial to all even if people don’t know they exist. And Timothy Radcliffe adds that your lives are completely useless and that’s exactly the purpose! (DW 183)

{Breda Carroll} The very fact that the monastery exists is a preaching in itself… The greatest preaching is to make people think about God. (DW 184)

(Dominic) entrusted the nuns to the care of the friars and for the past 800 years there has been this close bond between the nuns and the friars who provide them with spiritual and intellectual formation. All the recent masters of the Order — Brother Damien, Brother Timothy, Brother Carlos — have been wonderful to the nuns. (DW184)

Brother Carlos and Brother Timothy have worked very hard to bring back that contemplative dimension, as there is always a tendency to become overactive. The nuns’ way of life is a constant reminder of the contemplative dimension of the Order. (DW 185)

He tells me about his Great Uncle Dick, a Benedictine uncle known as Dom John Lane Fox, who had served as a military chaplain to the British forces during the First World War. At the end of each day in battle in Northern France, he risked his life to bring back the dead and wounded left in no man’s land. Perhaps that is what Timothy himself is doing; recovering the wounded of our world from their no man’s land of war, hunger and inequality and trying to pull them out of there. (DW202)

Baptism is the great sacrament through which you share in Christ’s death and resurrection. But its importance is often forgotten because we think that baptism is like getting vaccinated. I have just been to the Sudan and was vaccinated against all sorts of diseases like rabies and meningitis. But being baptized into the life of God is the most important sacrament you could ever have… Would it be arrogant for parents to teach their children English rather than leaving them to choose what language to learn? (DW 203)

We are more aware that baptism is not just a private thing for parents and their children. Through baptism you are brought into the community of the Church. I am very lucky to be one of six siblings, but I really have millions, billions of brothers and sisters by baptism. (DW 204)

It is no coincidence that St. Dominic founded the Order in a pub, because there is no preaching without listening! When I became a university chaplain, I was convinced that I would be a wonderful preacher. But I discovered that the students were bored stiff by my sermons. Here I was, a young preacher who didn’t know how to preach! So, I invited the students to go to a pub with me after evening Mass on Sunday and asked them to tell me what was wrong with my preaching, and they did! I discovered that I had to listen before I spoke…If you preach at people, and think you’ve got the truth all wrapped up, then you are arrogant and ineffective as well. (DW 209)

You have to find your own voice. Each of us is a word of God, but a different word of God. The word of God has passed through your own individual humanity, which means you must speak as the person you are, and say only what you believe to be true, not because you’re expected to say it. (DW 209)

Now, some people become ideologically conservative or ideologically progressive… When it becomes ideological, you’ll say, ‘I have truth wrapped up.’ But no one can own the truth. That is an arrogance. God is always beyond our concepts. (DW 210)

Many people in the Church are grieving a loss. Until you understand their pain, you won’t be able to talk to them. Many traditionalists mourn the death of the old Church they loved… liberals… are mourning the loss of the progressive Church they thought was coming.  So we have to resist these categories, we have to be countercultural. The split in the Church between  traditionalists and progressives is a sign that we are not being countercultural, but that we have accepted the values of society instead. (DW 211)

The important question is not, ‘Is it progressive or is it conservative?’ The important question is, ‘Is it true?’ How do you know? Because you study, you think, you pray, and you talk. You study the Gospels, you study the tradition, you pray for illumination, you argue with people and you hope you will learn. (DW 211)

Jesus was always a man of conversation… You constantly see Jesus engaging in conversation. Fundamental to the mission of the Church, to the pursuit of truth, is that we converse… the word in English for a sermon is “homily”, which is Greek for ‘conversation.’ (DW 212)

I think the role of the contemplative nuns in the preaching of the Order is very important. In the early days of the Order, the preachers stayed with them. When St. Dominic went to Rome, he lived with the nuns until the brethren started making too much noise coming back late at night. Then the nuns were relived, I think, when the brethren found their own place to live!... Besides, the very life of the nuns is preaching. We are always tempted to think that we are valuable because of what we achieve. These nuns preach to us because they show human life is valuable in itself. They witness to the absolute priority of God. (DW 215)

We must bear in mind that the renewal of the Church has often come through the laity. Who are the three great patron saints of Europe? St. Benedict, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Catherine of Siena. And what do they have in common? None of them were ordained. S we must have confidence in the vitality of lay people. (DW 216)

But preaching is not only done just through words. There is a long line of Dominicans, starting with Fra Angelico, who have preached through art… Another side of Dominic’s preaching was expressed through his compassion… Being close to those who suffer is something deeply inscribed in our tradition…. I believe that our mission should always encompass these two elements, the word and compassion. When we speak, our message should always be compassionate. And our acts of compassion should always be a preaching, the proclamation of a word. (CF 63-64)

Dominic preached the God who was made flesh, who becomes one of us, human.  The preacher must be human to preach this human God. We learn to be human in our families. We are taught humanity by our parents, siblings, aunts and uncles. And so an Order devoted to preaching a God who embraces our humanity needs to be a family that forms us as human preachers also; an Order which is exclusively male and celibate might not do that well. We need to be a community that includes women, married people, lay men and women, with their wisdom and experience… Today it’s a major priority for the Order to reflect on our common mission with the contemplative nuns, the Sisters and the lay people: how can we together be preachers of the Gospel? (CF 64-65)

The question I am most concerned with, talking about our Dominican Sisters, is how to respond to the desire of many sisters to be fully our partners in preaching. By preaching, I don’t mean only communicating information about God. It is sharing a word of life. It is hard to offer a word of life if we exclude women, who play such an important role in the transmission of life… The purpose of preaching is also to break down barriers, the barriers that keep us apart from one another. In a way, this includes the barriers that separate men from women. (CF67)

Should you leave magnificent convents such as Santa Maria Novella in Florence in order to devote greater efforts to Asia or to street children?
You ask what we should close. I think the first question we need to ask is what we should open. Let’s first do something new and then see what, as a consequence, we must give up. You mention the example of Santa Maria Novella, that wonderful priory in Florence, filled with Renaissance frescoes. It is true that we cannot let ourselves become museum keepers for tourists. But surely we can find ways of preaching the Gospel through the beauty of such places. Beauty too can be a revelation of God. So I do not believe that we should give up all the monuments of the past. To take a modern example, I love the convent of L’Arblresle, near Lyons, designed in the 1950’s by Le Corbusier. Every year thousands of architects come to visit it. It’s a place that preaches. (CF 76)

What does ‘making disciples’ mean? It can sound like an indoctrination. But the Greek word is mathetes, which means ‘student’. A disciple, in the sense in which Christ used the term, is not someone who stops thinking. It is someone who is hungry to learn. Making disciples, it seems to me, is inviting people to search for the truth of God together. (CF 92)

The very essence of medieval teaching was the quaestio disputata, literally the ‘question disputed.’ Subsequently, with the Enlightenment, there was a shift in the understanding of what it means to think, and it came to be seen as an essentially solitary act… This view is mistaken. We are not essentially solitary beings. We exist only in relationship to others, and this applies just as much to the activity of thinking. It is a social activity: we are initiated into discussion, learning to share ideas, to listen, to argue. Of course, from time to time we need to retire and reflect alone. But that’s only one aspect of thinking, not the essence of it. To teach people how to think for themselves, you really have to teach them how to think with others. (CF 101-2)

…one must not put fundamental doctrines, such as the resurrection and divinity of Christ, on the same level as questions that are not of the same order. Our basic convictions are expressed first of all in the Creed. Together with the sacraments they make up the core of our faith. All other aspects of teaching should be placed in relationship to them. Karl Rahner used to say that we should ask about every item of the Church’s teaching what it taught us about Christ. In that sense all these questions you mention are not crucial. (CF 112-113)

The dynamic of debate consists in looking for a truth large enough to include what is true in both points of view. (CF 114)

Let us imagine that one of my Dominican brethren seems to deny the resurrection of Christ. The Order’s reaction would be to open a dialogue with him. The first stage would consist in verifying whether he actually holds the position which is attributed to him. Very often, when a theologian finds a new way of expressing a truth, he is accused of denying it, while he is simply using terms to state it that we are not used to. To pursue the hypothesis: it appears, after this first stage, that this friar really is denying the resurrection. Is that the end? No, I need to understand why. Perhaps his position contains a right intuition that he has not succeeded in integrating into the Church’s doctrinal framework. Perhaps he is opposed to this teaching because he has a mistaken understanding of it. Together, we need to examine how to resolve these difficulties, taking all the time needed, with no use of threats. But … what if, at the end of the day, that friar’s position still cannot be reconciled with the Church’s teaching? If we get to that point, then we have to be clear and face the consequences with him. But I can tell you that, after so many years holding office in the Order, I have never yet reached that point. (CF 115)

Perhaps we have lost a certain conception of God, as a very affectionate invisible person, in order to rediscover God as the mystery that is at the heart of our existence and that gives us our existence at every moment. (CF 124)

Being a ‘friar preacher’ does not mean only that we are preachers, but that we live in communities of preachers, that we listen to one another preach the Word of God. People in love need to hear their beloved saying ‘I love you.” Those who are preachers also need to hear the simplest truths proclaimed to them, beginning with ‘God loves you.’ When I travel around the Order, Provincials often want me to preach non-stop. I have to insist that I need to listen to my brethren preaching and to receive the word of life from them. (CF 124)

…I have been helped to face death by being with many my brethren at the time of their deaths, and seem them face death calmly, with serenity. Our tradition is to sing the Salve Regina with the brethren as they face death, and that is beautiful. Sometimes the way a brother dies is his last gift to the community, which gives us all hope. (CF 125)

The glory of God is shown in a void, an empty space in your lives. I will suggest three aspects of the monastic life which open this void and make a space for God. First of all, your lives are for no particular purpose. Secondly, in that they lead nowhere, and finally because they are lives of humility. Each of these aspects of the monastic life opens us a space for God… The most obvious fact about monks is that you do not do anything in particular. You are monks, who follow the rule of Benedict… God is disclosed as the invisible centre of our lives when we do not try to give any other justification for who we are. (CF 148-149)

There was an English Dominican called Bede Jarrett, who was Provincial for many years: a famous preacher, a prolific writer of books. But he never appeared to do anything. If you went to see him, then I am told that he was usually doing nothing. If you asked him what he was doing, then I am told that he usually replied: ‘Waiting to see if anyone came.’ He perfected the art of doing much while appearing to do little. Most of us, including myself, do the opposite… (CF 151)

…Hans Ulrich von Balthasar, received his earliest education at Engelberg, a Benedictine school famous for its musical tradition. Balthasar talks of the ‘self-evidence’ of beauty, ‘its intrinsic authority.’ You cannot argue with beauty’s summons or dismiss it… And if beauty is truly the revelation of the good and the true, as St. Thomas Aquinas believed, then perhaps part of the vocation of the Church is to be a place of the revelation of true beauty…So once again it is the singing of the liturgy that discloses the meaning of our lives. St. Thomas said that beauty in music was essentially linked to temperantia. Nothing should ever be in excess… And Thomas thought that the temperate life kept us young and beautiful. (CF 152-153)

Once again we find God disclosed in a void, an emptiness, and this time at the centre of the community, the hollow space which is kept for God. We have to make a home for the Word to come and dwell among us, a space for God to be. As long as we are competing for the centre, then there is no space for God. So then humility is not me despising myself and thinking that I am awful; it is hollowing out the heart of the community, to make a space where the Word can pitch his tent. (CF 161)

And so it is utterly right that at the centre of your life should be singing. For it is in this singing that we show forth God’s bringing of everything to be. And you sing that Word of God, through which all is made. Here we can see a beauty which is more than just pleasing. It is the beauty which celebrates that we are made and remade. At the centre of our created selves God has made his home and his throne. (CF 164)

But also we need the humility of those who know that we know so little. As Thomas Aquinas said, of God we know nothing… We must learn humility in the face of the other person’s beliefs. They may be wrong in many ways, but they have something to teach us. Thomas remains a permanent inspiration for us Dominicans because he had a perfect balance of confidence and humility. He could write the Summa Theologica claim that all that he had written was as straw. The mystery dissolves all arrogance. (CF 170-171)

To live that tension well, between proclamation and dialogue, I believe that the missionary needs a spirituality of truthfulness and a life of contemplation. (CF 203)

In the first place we all have the authority to preach because we have all been baptized… Each of us also has a unique authority because of who we are and the gifts that we have been given. Each of us has a word to proclaim which is given to no-one else. God is in our lives, as married and as single people, as parents and as children. Out of these human experiences of love – its triumphs and failures – we have a word to speak of the God who is love. We also have authority because of our skills and knowledge… I went to a meeting… in Brazil, of members of the Dominican Family who are lawyers. They had their special authority as lawyers, to address issues of justice and peace in the continent. (CF 220)

We preach the Word which has become flesh, and the Word of God can become flesh in all that we are, and not just in what we say… the Word also becomes visible in poetry and painting, in music and dancing. Every skill gives us a way of propagating the Word. For example, Hilary Pepler, a famous lay Dominican and printer, wrote that “the work of the printer, as all work, should be done for the glory of God. The work of the printer is to multiply the written word; hence the printer serves the maker of words, and the maker of words serves – or should serve – the Word which becomes Flesh.” (CF 223)

For us preachers, all words matter. All our words can offer life to other people, or death. The vocation of all members of the Dominican Family is to offer words that give life… Becoming a preacher is more than learning to speak about God. It is discovering the art of praising and blessing all that is good. (CF 226-227)

People long to be told what is the meaning of their lives, as long as it is by anyone other than a Christian preacher. The shops are filled with books about the occult, witchcraft, astrology, visitors from outer space, eastern religion. But this hunger for knowledge is divorced from the process of thinking, arguing, speculating…I would say that a fundamental challenge, if we are to be preachers, is to heal the rift between thought and belief. (CF 239-241)

Our technological culture, the culture of the market that now dominates the whole world, is deeply marked by fatalism. It is a fatalism that challenges us when we would speak a liberating and transforming word. The so-called ‘free world’ is marked by a deep unfreedom. (CF 245)

To have convincing authority we must share the journeys of people, enter their fears, be touched by their disappointments, their questions, their failures and doubts. Often we speak about people: about women, about the poor and the immigrants, about the divorced, those who have abortions, about prisoners, people with AIDS, homosexuals, drug addicts. But our words for Christ will not have real authority unless we, in a sense, give authority to their experience, enter their homes, receive their hospitality, learn their language, eat their bread, accept from what they have to offer. People will misunderstand and accuse us of being mixed up with the wrong people. But there is a good precedent for that. (CF 255-256)

In particular I wish to suggest that a fundamentalist reading of scripture relies upon a modern understanding of time… It has been said that since the Enlightenment we have lived in ‘homogeneous, empty time’, to use the phrase of Walter Benjamin. It is the time of physics. It took the invention of the modern mechanical clock with its ‘verge and foliot escapement’ before we could perceive time in this way. There was an intimate link... between a technological development and the eventual formulation of Newton’s definition of time: ‘Absolute, true and mathematical time, of itself and from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external.’ (CF 300-302)

(In antiquity) it was of vital importance to possess the right and true calendar. There was no possibility of participating in the celestial liturgy if one was a day out. The Sabbath rest was a sharing in the rest of the heavenly court… If one’s perception of time is shaped by the recurrence of the festivals and the revolutions of the stars, then the time structure of one’s stories will be both repetitive and sequential. (CF 303-304)

The true eyewitness is the one who participates in the events of redemption rather than the mythical, impassive and uninvolved bystander… There could no more be homogeneous and empty space than homogeneous and empty time. A neutral geography was as unimaginable as a history told from no one’s point of view. A map of the world is a picture of God’s will and at its centre is Jerusalem, the world’s navel, and at the centre of Jerusalem the holy mountain, with the Temple, a microcosm of the Universe. Events which had the same meaning must have occurred in the same place. (CF 307-308)

When we ask whether we must believe that a scriptural text is true, literally true, often we mean…What would the unprejudiced eye have spotted?... our eyewitnesses could not have imagined that the stance of disengagement gives one any privileged access to what ‘really’ is happening. Such a belief depends upon the assumption that a particular scientific culture offers the proper paradigm of all true knowledge… It is, of course, an illusion to imagine that such a perspective upon the world is free of prejudice or preconception. It is deeply related to a particular economic and political system…So perceptions of time and space are never innocent. (CF 311-312)