Thursday, September 15, 2016

Dominic - Advocate of Orthodoxy

Dominic and Francis of Assisi are similar and different. They both founded societies of wandering preachers marked by the monastic characteristics of poverty and celibacy. They both got permission from the pope for their movements, and both groups became important structures upholding the Roman Catholic hierarchy. While we have writings that have come down to us from both of them, they are not so much known for their theoretical concepts or writings as their actions and the organizations they created. But the two men were also different.

Francis, who was by far the more distinctive personality, was pursuing deeper personal devotion to God, and his organization was hijacked by the system. Dominic is a more shadowy figure and was more interested in convincing those in rebellion against the established church organization to change their opinions. Dominic, as a result of circumstances, became part of those trying to convince the Albigensians to return to the established church. The Albigensians were largely of the Manichean opinion that there were two Gods, a good God and an evil God. The evil God was responsible for bringing about the material world, which is evil. Therefore, all contact with physical things should be avoided or minimized. While I cannot support the Manichean idea of two God and their vilification of the physical world, I also cannot endorse the beliefs of the established church. My real sympathy is with the more biblically based rebellions, such as the Waldensians, some of whom were probably lumped in with the Manichaeans. But I do think the teaching of the established church was closer to genuine Christianity than Manichaeism is. Therefore, I consider it worthwhile to examine Dominic's approach.

Dominic noticed that the leadership of the Albigensians had a reputation for  holiness and humility, while the representatives of the established church came across as supercilious and ostentatious. Dominic therefore founded an order of preachers who were to be examples of holy living (according to monastic standards) and who would work to instruct the people in correct teaching. While I cannot fully endorse his views of upright behavior and correct teaching, the basic idea appears to be sound. But over time the Dominicans went from instructing to enforcing, by being some of the chief supporters of the Inquisition. Where Dominic himself stood on this is more difficult to determine. He was not directly involved with this type of enforcement, but neither did he openly repudiate it.

I am personally strongly in favor of instructing people in the truth of God and attempting to lovingly persuade them of the correct understanding. But I am strongly opposed to imposing beliefs on others by force. Now whether Dominic's approach was a good idea gone bad or an idea that was bad from the beginning is hard to determine. But whatever way he started, he ended up being preempted by those who saw force as the answer. And his organization was incorporated into this new approach. Whether this was a violation of his original principles is hard to tell.

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