Dominican Spirituality: The Four Pillars

Campus Ministry

Dominican Spirituality: The Four Pillars

Also known as the Order of Preachers, the Dominican Order was founded by St. Dominic de Guzman in the 13th century in France. As with all religious communities, many things have changed over the span of its 800 years, but its core principles and goals remain true to Dominic's vision.

Dominicans seek to bring gospel-revealed Truth and their passion for God to others. They do this in a variety of ways that perhaps are best understood through the four pillars. The four pillars give us insight into Dominican spirituality and its flexibility in response to God and the challenges of the day:


---Stirred by the Wisdom of God and rooted in our contemplative prayer, communal study and life in community, we challenge heresies of local and global domination, exploitation, and greed, that privilege some, dehumanize others, and ravage Earth.

Adrian Dominican Vision Statement, General Chapter, 2004

In any of its forms, prayer is a regular and, possibly, ritualized practice that enables communities and individuals to better know and serve God. Prayer opens us more fully to the indwelling of the Spirit, enabling us to better follow God's designs.

An integral part of daily life, prayer for the Order of Preachers (the Dominican Order) includes the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours. It also includes personal prayer, which is a regularly scheduled time to pray, study the Gospel, read literature, write down thoughts, garden prayerfully, or meditate.


"Seeking truth within an unfolding and living tradition flourishes when minds and hearts are free to dialogue, willing to risk certainty and give questions a full explanation."
---Ruth Poochigian, ed., Meeting the Charism Again /For the First Time, Dominican Values, "Building Community"

For Dominicans the purpose of study is to assist one's neighbor. Dominicans readily incorporated what we now consider the new technique of "experiential learning" into their study. We can see this in the work of St. Albert the Great (1206-1280), who built the foundations of scholastic philosophy and systematic theology as well as writing more than 30 volumes on the natural sciences. In the 16th and 17th centuries, St. Martin de Porres used his apprenticeship as a barber-surgeon and his research with medicinal herbs to assist impoverished and sick people in Lima, Peru.

Study may impact one person, a local community, or the global community. Study is always undertaken with a sense of living the gospel through service to others. Dominicans today serve as lawyers, nurses, doctors, administrators, educators, biologists, and writers, as well as preachers and liturgists. They run ecological farms, paint, consult with U.N. representatives, invest, and design chapels. Work and the study that grounds it are undertaken with a desire to assist others.


--"The preached word does not merely communicate an abstract truth but can refashion lives and society."
The International Web Site of the Dominican Order

Members of the Dominican Order are committed to preaching the Word of God and to living that Word by encouraging all persons to incorporate gospel values into everyday life. Preaching involves examining and re-visioning the gospel message in particular situations, encouraging a response through proclamation and working in ministry to effect change.

Dominicans preach in a variety of ways in more than 92 countries around the world. The four branches, Friars, Sisters, Nuns, and Lay Dominicans, work in campus and parish ministry, teach in schools and universities, and serve as social workers and advocates for those who are poor. They are writers and artists. They work in health care and as spiritual directors. Some remain cloistered praying for "the success of the holy preaching of the Order." Whatever forms their preaching takes, Dominicans seek to further the work of God's love, establishing an ever greater level of justice in the world.


"Our human pilgrimage to wholeness is not a solitary adventure, but an invitation to communion. It awakens us to our solidarity with all human companions on the pilgrimage to wholeness." --Paul Philibert, OP, in Meeting the Charism Again /For the First Time, Dominican Values, "Building Community"

Early Dominicans preached by taking the gospel to the people, begging for their daily bread and lodging. They would return periodically to the monastery and their community for prayer and study or they might spend some years at a university, as students or teachers. Community for them was not static. It could not be a location, a building, or even a set group of people. It had to be a state-of-being (a matter-of-the-heart).

Another concept emphasized by the Order of Preachers is that God's love is poured out equally on all; each person is to be valued equally, even though they might have different gifts. This affected their way of organizing their communities. Rather than establishing a strictly top-down organization, the preachers and nuns held all things and made all major decisions in common. The prior or prioress were and still are elected for specific periods of time. This democratic structure was a radical innovation when the Order was founded in the 13th century!

Today, Dominicans embrace this same sense of community, which is not tied to place and which acknowledges the value of all persons and the interrelatedness of all creation. It forms the sense of ease a guest feels when attending a workshop or event hosted by Dominicans. It is the commitment to social justice and community service acted upon by Dominicans and their associates in more than 92 countries. Dominicans today continue to create community wherever they may be serving.

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