St. Dominic as an influence on St Philip Neri

St. Dominic as an influence on St Philip Neri

For the Solemnity of St. Dominic (Aug 8) I turn to the thought of Cardinal Newman. He explains the mission of Philip Neri through the formation he received from the Dominicans, the Benedictines and the Jesuits. “Benedict, Dominic, Ignatius:—these are the three venerable Patriarchs, whose Orders divide between them the extent of Christian history. There are many Saints besides, who have been fruitful in followers and institutions, and have multiplied themselves in Christendom,  and lived on earth in their children, when they themselves were gone to heaven. But there are three who, in an especial way, have had committed to them the office of a public ministry in the affairs of the Church one after another, and who are, in some sense, her ‘nursing fathers,’ and are masters in the spiritual Israel, and ruling names in her schools and her libraries; and these are Benedict, Dominic, and Ignatius. Philip came under the teaching of all three successively.”

Newman succinctly said: “As then he learned from Benedict what to be, and from Dominic what to do, so let me consider that from Ignatius he learned how he was to do it.” Or finally, Newman says of his own spiritual father, Philip Neri, that he “had the breadth of view of St. Dominic, the poetry of St. Benedict, the wisdom of St. Ignatius, and all recommended by an unassuming grace and a winning tenderness which were his own.”

He says the following about the Dominican influence on Philip Neri:

It was the magnificent aim of the children of St. Dominic to form the whole matter of human knowledge into one harmonious system, to secure the alliance between religion and philosophy, and to train men to the use of the gifts of nature in the sunlight of divine grace and revealed truth. It required the dissolution and reconstruction of society to give an opportunity for so great a thought; and accordingly, the Order of Preachers flourished after the old Empire had passed away, and the chaos which followed on it had resulted in the creation of a new world. Now, in the age of St. Philip, a violent effort was in progress, on the part of the powers of evil, to break up this sublime unity, and to set human genius, the philosopher and the poet, the artist and the musician, in opposition to religion. Accordingly, the work of the glorious Order of St. Dominic was more than ever called for, whatever might be those new methods of prosecuting it, more suitable to the times; and, if Philip was destined, as he was, to play an important part in them in the cause of God, it was therefore necessary that he should be imbued with the great idea of that Order. It was necessary that he should have deeply fixed within him, as the object of his life, that single aim of subduing this various, multiform, many-colored world to the unity of divine service. I mean there are Saints, whose mission lies rather in separating off from each other the world and the Truth; that of other Saints lies in bringing them together. Philip’s was the latter. Suitably then, and reasonably, did he receive his elementary formation of mind from the Fathers of St. Mark. And when this had been secured, then he was sent off, “not knowing whither he went,” to other tutors, and towards the scene of his destined labors, to do a work like St. Dominic’s work, though he was not to be a Dominican. Sermons Preached on Various OccasionsSermon 12. The Mission of St. Philip—Part 2

 So what must we learn to do from St Dominic? As educators, “to train men to the use of the gifts of nature in the sunlight of divine grace and revealed truth.”Or as professionals in the world, to give example or witness how to “use the gifts of nature” in that sunlight of faith. And to accomplish that task we must acquire “the breadth of view of St. Dominic” and to learn this from his spiritual sons of course, St Albert and St Thomas Aquinas. Pope John Paul II said of Aquinas: “Saint Thomas is an authentic model for all who seek the truth. In his thinking, the demands of reason and the power of faith found the most elevated synthesis ever attained by human thought, for he could defend the radical newness introduced by Revelation without ever demeaning the venture proper to reason.” Fides et ratio 78; and  “The philosophy of St. Thomas deserves to be attentively studied and accepted with conviction by the youth of our day, by reason of its spirit of openness and of universalism, characteristics which are hard to find in many trends of contemporary thought.” “The Perennial Philosophy of St. Thomas for the Youth of Our Times,” Rome, 1979.

I have sometimes thought that the Newman account of the three saints who formed Philip Neri would serve as the basis for a curriculum for Catholic higher education.  We would commence with a study of the ancient world and find a culminating point in “the poetry of St. Benedict.” Then we would study the middle ages and seek to acquire “the breadth of view of St. Dominic,” through the work of Thomas Aquinas; and then look at the origins of the modern world and the development of the “the wisdom of St. Ignatius.” All of this taught in the mode of Philip Neri’s style of “an unassuming grace and a winning tenderness.”.

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