Dominican Materialism

Two weeks before Christmas a Dominican and a Marxist find themselves sharing a table at a small cafe in the mall.  Some innocuous popular holiday song is playing in the background for the fifth time this hour.

Marxist: Doesn’t all this commercialism and consumerism make you sick?  I mean, it’s still two weeks until Christmas and we’re assaulted with mass-produced holiday music by no-talent hacks!  And look at all this cheesy merchandise; who buys this stuff?  Not to mention the four bucks I’ll have to pay for this “Christmas Blend” coffee.  Just look at all these people running around; slaves to the system!  I know this might sound offensive to you, but surely Marx was correct in his denouncement of capitalism and its ills.

Dominican: You know what has always bothered me about you Marxists?  You never go far enough in your materialism.  I mean, you have some interesting ideas, but I always feel like you are too idealistic.

Marxist: What’s this?  That’s a religious habit you’re wearing, right?  And those beads with the cross look like a rosary.  Am I wrong in saying that you’re a Catholic?

Dominican:  No, you’re right.  I am a Catholic.

Marxist: Well then, how can you charge me with being insufficiently materialist?  You’re the one with all the stuff about heaven and the afterlife and hating the body and all those rules about morality…

Dominican: All right, I guess you’ve never met a Dominican friar before.  You probably don’t know about our founder, St. Dominic, do you?

Marxist: Dominican, did you say?  Who’s Dominic?

Dominican: Well, interestingly enough, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries there were people going around hating the body and talking plenty about the afterlife, as you say, but they were called “Albigensians,” a heretical sect.  St. Dominic founded his Order to combat this group in part by proclaiming that the body and matter were from God.  God is the Creator of all the world, and so it must be good; it was the heretics who hated and despised the body.

Marxist: Okay, that’s all very well, but that’s just one man and a few followers.  Philosophically you know as well as I do that Catholics don’t really like this world and material reality.  I mean, you have to agree with Nietzsche when he said, “Christianity is Platonism for the people,” right?

Dominican: I suppose you haven’t heard of St. Thomas Aquinas either, have you?

Marxist: The guy with the proofs for God?  I think I remember something about him.

Dominican: Well, St. Thomas is the “Common Doctor” of the Catholic Church and the Dominican Order’s greatest theologian.  He is known for bringing the philosophy of Aristotle into the Church, supplementing the Platonism that had been better developed in Catholicism.  While Plato thought the material world was a shadow of the real world, Aristotle insisted that it was in the material world that reality was to be found.  The “real world” is not somewhere else: it is here, all around us.  St. Thomas developed this notion in accord with Christian doctrine to emphasize the importance of the material world; eternal and immaterial realities are present among us.

Marxist: Okay, so some philosopher-theologian got it right in the Middle Ages, but what does this have to do with Christianity’s founding?  I mean, God coming down and leaving later?  Sounds pretty glib about material things, doesn’t it?

Dominican: Well, actually, the story of Jesus is about the material realm as well as the immaterial; what else do you think the Incarnation means?  Literally, God took on flesh, became a man, was just like us with a full human nature.  When Jesus was resurrected it was not as a ghost or disembodied spirit – he was raised as a man; the material realm is what is important to God, and it is what will be resurrected, not left behind in the end.

Marxist: Alright, but that was a long time ago; I don’t see Jesus hanging around here.  You no doubt will tell me he’s coming back, but what about all this time before he returns?  God may have cared about matter then and will care again, but what about now?

Dominican: A good point, although I wonder if you know much about the Eucharist.

Marxist: That’s the memorial meal that Christians celebrate, right?

Dominican: Yes, although in Catholicism it is more than a memorial.  Catholics believe that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist – so much so that we worship and adore him in the sacred host.  I am sure you have seen people genuflecting in churches (or at least in movies about churches); they do this because the immaterial God is really present at the altar, waiting to be received by us at each Mass.  If God wasn’t very excited about the material world, I doubt he would join it all around the world everyday in the Mass.

Marxist: Okay, you have some claims to materialism, but I still have some more questions, especially this Eucharist thing.

Dominican: I’m glad to talk more about it, but what say we move to some more pleasant surroundings?  First, though, there is the matter, no pun intended, of the…eh…

Marxist: Wait, let me guess.  You don’t have money for the coffee?

Dominican: Ha ha!  Well, I didn’t say we were entirely materialists…

Image: Library of Congress, Not a modern witches’ council – but members of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Castle Rising, Norfolk, England

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Br. Bonaventure Chapman, O.P.

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Br. Bonaventure Chapman, OP, hails from Buffalo, New York, where he was born and raised. He studied at Grove City College, Pennsylvania, where he completed a B.S. in Applied Physics and a B.A. in Christian Thought. At Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, he trained for the Episcopal priesthood, completing the M.Th in Applied Theology there. In his third year at Oxford he converted to Roman Catholicism. Before joining the Dominicans, Br. Bonaventure taught math and science in Catholic schools in the DC area. On DominicanFriars.org