The New Wine of Dominican Spirituality: A Drink Called Happiness. By Paul Murray, OP


Pp. x, 198 , London , Burns & Oates , 2006 , $21.95 .

Paul Murray, O.P. attempts to put into words the chief characteristics of Dominican spirituality. Naturally, Dominican spirituality begins with the founder of the order, St. Dominic. Since the thirteenth century the motto of the Dominican order has been encapsulated in the Latin phrase, ‘Contemplatio aliis tradere,’ or ‘to pass on to others what we ourselves have contemplated.’ For Dominic the ‘others’ were the poor, the downtrodden, and the afflicted. When Dominic prayed and contemplated, he interceded with God for those in need, particularly sinners. Like Christ himself, Dominic was a man for others.

Murray points out that the Dominican emphasis on grace, that is, of God's saving initiative and of God's ‘mad’ love of the world makes for a joyful, spontaneous type of spirituality. Of course preaching is a hallmark of Dominican spirituality but one should remember that preaching or speaking of God emanates from one's life of prayer. In a sense the life of contemplation consists in a spirit of freedom. Why so? Contemplation produces a certain freedom of mind because it considers eternal rather than temporal things.

The most dramatic change Dominic introduced into the framework of religious life was the law of dispensation whereby the traditional monastic observances were adapted to the demands of preaching. Friars who needed time to study, for instance, were dispensed from important community functions. In this connection I would note that the Dominican Constitutions do not bind the friars under pain of sin so that the brethren may wisely and freely embrace them. Other important aspects of Dominican spirituality are the desire to defend the truth and the love of learning. These two aspects are part and parcel of Dominican identity. However, one cannot fix in stone the essentials of Dominican spirituality because the Dominican identity is changed and shaped by the vicissitudes of history and the demands of the hour.

The early friars liked Dominic and Jordan of Saxony had cheerful hearts and were men of joy and happiness. This joy was an expansion of the heart or in the phrase of Aquinas latitudinem cordis. This joy breaks forth externally from within. Meister Eckhart, in particular, notes how the gift of expansive joy in humans participates in the joy of God. Only Eckhart could say that ‘the Father laughs at the Son and the Son at the Father, and the laughing brings forth pleasure, and the pleasure brings forth joy, and the joy brings forth love.’

Various images have been employed down through the centuries to characterize the spiritual life: the dark night of the soul, the ascent of the mountain, and the ladder of perfection. The early Dominican friars were drawn to the image of drinking. The image of a group of friends or confreres drinking wine together would have appealed to them. The image of wine comes directly from the Gospel, (think of the miracle at Cana), and has a profound link to the Eucharist. Dominicans should become drunk on the word of God, enjoy the ecstasy of self-forgetfulness, and then share that joy with others in preaching, thus giving others a renewed hope and faith.

In sum, I recommend this book to all those concerned with Dominican spirituality. It will appeal to religious and laity alike. Enjoy.