NEXT Friday about 100 Dominicans from all over the world will gather at the Dominican Priory. River Forest, Chicago, for a General Chapter of the Order. They will represent the 30,000 Dominicans of the world who are grouped in 40 Provinces. each Province sending its Provincial and one "peritus" or expert.
The Provinces range from the earliest foundations of the General Chapter of 1221, which include Spain. France and England, to the latest such as Switzerland. Southern Belgium and the Province of Vietnam which was restored a little more than 12 months ago.
As a young man St. Dominic expressed a desire to work among the Cuman Tartars in eastern and northern Europe. so it is not surprising to find the Provinces of Poland, Hungary, Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) and Croatia (Yugoslavia) among the earliest foundations of the 1220s.
The Polish Province grew out of the work of Ss. Hyacinth and Ceslas at Cracow in 1222 and within 100 years was sufficiently numerous to establish in 1301 a second Province of Bohemia. the modern Czechoslovakia based on Prague.
Despite a history of war the Polish Province still flourishes with 12 houses and 219 Dominicans. Czechoslovakia is less fortunate: in April 1950 all the houses were suppressed and the brethren, numbering about 100, sent to labour camps.
Very little news of them filters through to Western Europe. The Province of Hungary, which in the early years of this century produced eminent men like Cardinal Friihwirth and scholars like Denifle and Horvath, has suffered a similar fate and most of the Dominicans are working in factories or on the land.
Yugoslavia, which from the earliest days was associated with Hungary, has also had a turbulent arid almost nomadic life, founding and abandoning houses throughout the length and breadth of the eastern Adriatic seaboard. Since 1962 it has grown steadily to number 127. We shall see the Provincial from Warsaw and Zagreb at Chicago but no one front Hungary or Ceechosloyakia.
At the other end of the spectrum are two vicariates in Africa which may well point to the future shape of the Dominican Order, and indeed of the whole Church. The vicariates in the Congo and in South Africa are both young, South Africa only a few months old, but they represent a very important step forward to independence and realised identity of what were until recently missionary territories evangelised by Belgian, English and Dutch Dominicans.
The vicissitudes of older Provinces which have suffered severely from political changes
deter one from making forecasts for younger Provinces.
Anything might happen: who would have thought that a Vietnam Province would be born while the vicious war continues? Again, look at Australia: until 1950 it was a mission territory evangelised by the Irish Province. Already after only 18 years of independence it has its own mission territory in the Solomon Islands.
But statistics are not all and institutions play only a limited part in the spread of the Gospel. For many years the French Canadian Province has evangelised Japan. The work is slow. lonely and unrewarding; but one priest. Fr. Vincent Pouliot, has for 30 years lectured in the University of Kyoto where he has established a Thomistic Institute and is still engaged in translating the works of Saint Thomas into Japanese.
Statistics and human relationships are elusive: the his torical, geographical and linguistic sometimes blend and sometimes conflict, or even just fail to "gee" The northern European group, for instance, is taken to comprise France (three Provinces). Germany and Belgium (two each). 'Holland and Switzerland.
Though England and Ireland share some of the aspirations of this group they are. for mainly historical reasons, now largely associated in practice with the three U.S. Provinces — New York. Chicago and California. Until ihe 16th century Ireland was operated as a vicariate from England; the north American Provinces came into being from England Over the last 100 years.
Independence strengthened rather than severed communications and all five Provinces are at present co-operating in the English translation of the works of St. Thomas. At the same time the English and Irish Provinces are engaged in exchange of views and thought with the mainland of northern Europe. French Dominicans work at Spode House and some of the most distinguished French spiritual writing of the last 20 years was published in English by the Blackfriars press.
Language may be both a barrier and a bond: for some purposes Malta considers here& English-speaking. Relationships are multi dimensional and cut across the barriers of language, politics and culture. In these matters it is only possible to "constater" as the French say. And so one states a few facts about national representation at the Chapter.
Italy boasts five Provinces, six if you include Sicily. There are three Spanish Provinces and the Philippines, one of the most numerous, is closely associated with Spain. it is difficult to judge whether the seven South American Provinces, most of them foundations from 16th century missionary work, will express any common intent.
Canadian Province must exert strong influence because of the outstanding qualities of its delegates. The three U.S. Provinces have already made their mark. Supported by other English speakers and by northern Europeans they were instrumental in setting up a commission under the chairmanship of the ex-Provincial of New York. Fr. Louis Every, to lay down fairly rigorous rules of procedure ler the Chapter. This is essential if 100 strongminded and strongwilled men are to reach any conclusions in their business.
Besides the province representatives and the MasterGeneral with his assistants there will be a small number of specially-invited experts and heads of permanent commissions such as Fr. Brachthauser the Dompreclik.ant of Cologne Cathedral, who is head of the permanent cornmission on preaching and communications. and Pere de Contenson, a distinguished member of the Paris Province who is Prior of Le Saislchoir and head of the Leonine Commission.
.With other Frenchmen such as Fr. Vicaire, the most distinguished and erudite Dominican historian. he has fathered some of the most forwardlooking plans for the apostolate.
Some of the famous names will be absent, Pere Congas, and Pere Chenu, who is a sick man. But in such gatherings it is not always such men who have the greatest influence by their presence; their written testimony is to hand and is powerful.
The age groupings, in so far as they can be assessed from the membership of last year's Roman Congress which prepared this year's agenda, reflects fairly the age groupings of the whole Order. Three men will be just over 70 and five under 40. The 50s are in the majority. about 42 delegates. and the 60s and 40s will number about 25 each. The significance of the figures. if they have any, is anyone's guess.
At first glance the business on the agenda looks mainly domestic. but many measures are hidden persuaders which besides restoring to view St. Dominic's original purpose for the Order will render its work more effective. Obviously it would be improper and futile to forecast the answers to questions still under debate. But some straws have appeared in the wind.
Following the directions of Vatican II last year's Congress gave much thought to community life and its power in shaping pastoral and apostolic work. There must be tension between a Dominican's life and work. He belongs to a corn
rnunity where he shares board, lodging, worship, recreation; he works outwards from that community, quite frequently as an individual using his Godgiven (and Dominican trained) talents in preaching, lecturing, 'teaching, writing.
The community could easily become no more than a refuelling station or even a lodging-house. More planning of work, pooling of resources and mutual exchange of interests would make the tension a creative one so that Dominican communities would be of their nature centres of preaching and teaching without depending too exclusively on the highly specialised talents of individual members; the fuel station would become a power house.
Legislation by itself can only provide the skeleton for such a life; goodwill and continuing discussion are needed to put flesh on the bones, and a General Chapter usually stimulates discussion.
The quality of community "output." both in aclministralion and pastoral effectiveness, will be improved and substantially altered by the enfranchisement of the lay brothers and their assumption of more responsible posts. This must come and its results will be enormous. Their admission to the diaconate, especially in the missions, is also a practical consideration.
One sixth of the world's Dominicans are engaged in missionary work and this department, at present directed by an Englishman, Fr. Hilary Carpenter, Secretary General for the missions, is receiving special consideration. The need for specialist training and a statute giving full recognition of status to miSsionary work is paramount.
Incidentally, the English Dominicans owe a great debt financially as well as spiritually to Cardinal Heenan for his recognition and practical support of their missionary work over many years now. Tt is also appreciated that every department of the apostolate, including "straight" pastoral work on the parishes demands specialist training. Both here and in the general training for the priesthood superiors are encouraged to make use of existing non Dominican resources.
None of these ideas is original or proper to Dominicans; they are all at least outlined in Perfectae Caritanv. De renewatione and other Vatican decrees. One can, somewhat arbitrarily perhaps. pinpoint three sources of new life: more realistic bonds between community life and apostolic work with great emphasis on finks between prayer and study. (Here the vernacular liturgy has done much); wider sharing of responsibility for administration and work. and here the impact of the lay brothers will be great; and greater sharing
of resources between Order and Order, between Orders and secular priests, between clergy and laity, and even between Catholics and non-Catholics.
In small ways this has already started: at Heythrop, for instance, and at the nuns' training centre at Portobello Road. These are two of the places where priests, secular and regular, nuns and layfolk work on common projects. To redeem this from maverick status and recognise it as established practice in the Church is essential.
The greatest power at Chicago will be hidden and could easily be overlooked. For a month before the-Chapter begins every Do.minican and every community prays daily for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Chapter itself begins with a solemn Mass of the Holy Spirit. And this is no conventional devotion.
Chapters are arduous work; long hours of detailed discussion in commissions and plenary session, up to eight hours a day six days a week for perhaps eight weeks, not to mention homework, the stress of strange languages and the pressure of divergent views strongly held.
All these things, human and fallible. will crowd the consciousness of the men on the spot and they could well be the first to lose sight of the wood for the trees. But in the end they are only the instruments, usually pretty blunt, of the Holy Spirit. So perhaps it would not he out of place for others hesides Dominicans to ask the Holy Spirit at least to prevent the blunt scalpels marring His Divine surgery. Flecte quad est rigidum; rege quod est devium.