Apostolic poverty

Daily Reading for August 8 • The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (and Dominic, Priest and Friar, 1221)

It is not surprising that the friars, both Dominican and Franciscan, were greeted with incredulity and alarm, because of their habit of wandering around and frequenting public places. Even someone as sympathetic as Jacques de Vitry regarded Franciscan life as dangerous, because of its lack of enclosure and stability. However, as Jacques de Vitry himself realized, the friars were not really as much of an innovation as they appeared to be. As Pope Paul VI remarked on one occasion, there is a certain affinity between the church and the gypsies. Our Lord himself was a wandering teacher, in the best (or worst, as some thought) tradition of Galilee, and he sent his disciples out to be itinerant preachers. In the early centuries of Christian history we find evidence of this tradition continuing, and even hardening into a rule of itinerancy, obliging some people never to settle down anywhere. It is probable that this is the true beginning of Christian monasticism, long before the more settled monasticism of Egypt.

Even in the period of Benedictine supremacy there had always been an undercurrent of something more primitive and less structured, and in the twelfth century this broke out afresh with renewed vigour. . . . People began looking for something more simply evangelical, more penitential, more expressive of the notion that we are pilgrims on the earth. In particular the model of the “apostolic life,” as found in Luke 10, began to exercise a new fascination. . . . St. Dominic, following in the footsteps of his bishop, Diego, adopted the apostolic life, modeled on Luke 10, as the most promising way of combating of the heretical “evangelical” preachers. . . .

The Dominicans wanted a kind of ministry that was quite different from that exercised by clergy who had an official claim on their flocks. And, granted the close link between the spiritual claims of the clergy and their financial claims on their people, the repudiation of one kind of claim would naturally lead to the repudiation of the other kind too. . . . The development of Dominican poverty can be understood simply . . . as an extension to their communities of the principle of total trust in Providence, which was expected of individual preachers in accordance with Luke 10, and a way of making more thorough their renunciation of rights over other people.

From the Introduction by Simon Tugwell to Early Dominicans: Selected Writings, a volume in the Classics of Western Spirituality series (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1982).

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