2011 Alemany Dinner Remarks
Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP
As president of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology it is my happy task to convey to you the appreciation of our faculty, administration and students for joining us to celebrate Monsignor Bitanga and Carol Atacador and for your support of our School.
At your place settings you will find our school pin. In the shield is depicted a black dog leaping with a torch in its mouth. I would like to explain the significance of this image for those of you who may not be familiar with the hagiography of St. Dominic. Before his birth, Blessed Joan of Asa, Dominic's mother, had a dream in which she saw a dog with a torch in its mouth which set fire to the world. From the beginning of the Order, Dominicans have seen in her dream a prophetic prefiguring of the vocation of St. Dominic who, by his preaching, brought the fire of the Holy Spirit to the world. We are reminded of the words of St. Catherine of Siena: "if you are what you should be, you will set the whole world on fire!" We invite you to wear the pin as a supporter of our school and a member of our extended community and as a reminder of your vocation to set the world on fire.
The significance of the dog also, possibly, involves a play on words: in Latin the word for Lord is "Dominus”, and the word for dog is”canus”, so that the “Domini Canes” or Dominicans are the "hounds of the Lord." You may be familiar with the nursery rhyme: “Hark, Hark the dogs do bark, the beggars are coming to town.” The nursery rhymes, we know, were late Medieval political and social commentary, and it is plausible that the “beggars” referred to were the mendicant friars, the hounds of the Lord (Domini Canes), so that we might render the message, loosely: “Hang onto your wallets, here come the Dominicans” (still sage advice).
But these hounds are sent by the Lord himself to announce the gospel and, by their preaching, to convert by means of the truth. This is, ultimately, the purpose of Dominican education: to illumine the truth about the human person and the world in which he or she is situated by means both of our intelligence and of the revelation that has been entrusted to us. Ours is the only educational system that has been based upon preaching.
Our tradition, symbolized by fire and light, has given the Church many Saints and scholars, including the greatest theologian in the Church's history, St. Thomas Aquinas. We are justifiably, I believe, proud of our tradition (humility has never been our strong suit) and we are convinced that this tradition of ours is all the more needed in our present secular age in which, as the philosopher Charles Taylor has said, it is easier not to believe than to believe.
This is why it is urgent that we educate, not only Dominican priests and sisters and brothers, but also lay men and women who can bring their zeal for the truth into our universities and colleges and into all the secular pursuits that make up the fabric of our society. From the beginning Dominicans taught at the then new universities of Europe. This year we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the University of Santo Tomas, the oldest university outside of Europe and the largest university in Asia, founded by members of our Order. It is a wonderful thing that, united by our mandate to preach, we at DSPT are able to recognize our own program of study in the curriculum of Santo Tomas, even as the faculty of Santo Tomas recognizes its own plan of study in the curriculum of DSPT. In celebrating the 400th anniversary of Santo Tomas we are, in a sense, equally celebrating our own program (recall that humility is not our strong suit!).
Last January Fr. Hilary Martin, emeritus professor of DSPT, represented our school at 400th anniversary celebration in Manila. He brought with him a letter to father dela Rosa, Rector of the University, proposing cooperation between DSPT and UST. In reply, I received a reply from Fr. Rodel Aligan, Dean of the Faculty of Sacred Theology in which he states "we are very happy for this initiative and we wish to inform you that we warmly welcome your proposal." Our academic Dean, Father Christopher Renz, will work with Father Aligan to investigate further ways in which we might organize formal cooperation between our schools including, possibly, an exchange of faculty and students.
We do, indeed, live in a secular society, in which it is easier not to believe than to believe. Because our view of the world is largely shaped by popular culture, the Catholic faith –and with it, the whole tradition from which we have come– has become inaccessible to many people. We urgently need to find within the riches of our own tradition the means of speaking to – not at – our contemporaries, to address their doubts and questions. This work will involve both philosophy and theology, because for those who do not or cannot believe, theology alone is not enough. In Manila and in Berkeley we are undertaking precisely that work. Catherine of Siena instructs us that Christ is the bridge between heaven and earth, between God and mankind. We require a different bridge: between past and present, between sacred tradition and the preoccupations of a secular age.
For this reason, the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology is the only seminary on the continent that offers a graduate degree in philosophy as well as theology. We have a program that is unique: in three years our students can fulfill the requirements for both the M.A. in philosophy and the M.A. in theology, concurrently. Many of our students are, in fact, enrolled in this program. We are convinced that to speak to our contemporaries requires the interface of philosophy and theology, and this has been from the first the hallmark of Dominican education.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with our School, we invite you to take home our view book and also a copy of Ad Gentes, a biannual publication that features an article by one of our professors. In this edition you will find an article of Fr. Bryan Kromholtz, present here this evening, on the study of theology. There are also the prayer that St. Thomas prayed before study and bookmarks.
At your place setting we have provided envelopes should you wish to make a further donation in support of our work. The donations may be made in honor of Monsignor or of Carol and are applied to the scholarships that we offer to our students, as are all of the proceeds from this dinner. Because our financial resources are extremely limited, each donation, no matter how small, makes an enormous difference to us. The donation envelopes can be given to any of the Dominicans present; just look for the men in white.
Our work, which is to convert by means of the truth, has been wonderfully manifested in the vocations of Monsignor Bitanga and Carol Atacador. Our Lord has commanded us that others must see our good works and therefore be moved to give thanks to God the Father; this being the case, our good works must be very good indeed! St. Teresa of Calcutta reflected his command when she proposed that we must live our lives in such a way that they would not make sense, if God did not exist. The work that Monsignor and Carol have undertaken would, indeed, not make sense if God did not exist, and therefore they are icons of the Truth that guides our study and our preaching. We give thanks to God for them and for you in the sure hope that our work will bear fruit in the lives and hearts of all those whom the Lord entrusts to us.
Thank you for celebrating with us!