What was St. Dominic’s favorite book? As a scholar and preacher, it would have to be one that reflects the wisdom and goodness of God, one that he could return to again and again without exhausting it. Maybe one of the Gospels? Or the Conferences of St. John Cassian?
One priest who had heard Dominic preaching asked where he had learned all his wisdom. Dominic said that he had learned more from the book of charity than in any other, because it is an “all-instructive book” (Lives of the Brethren, Part II, chapter XXV). His favorite “book” had neither cover nor text, but it was authored by God.
St. Dominic did cherish this book more than all his others combined. He was even willing to sell off his whole collection of texts in order to keep possession of this one. When a famine struck in the city where he was studying, he traded in his manuscripts saying, “I will not study on dead skins when living skins are dying of hunger.”
With great fervor and focus, he would read from its pages daily:
Sometimes he would hold his hands out, open, before his breast, like an open book, and then he would stand with great reverence and devotion, as if he were reading in the presence of God. At such times he seemed to be meditating, savoring the words of God in his mouth and, as it were, enjoying reciting them to himself. (Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic, The Fifth Way)
Following St. Dominic, sacred study has always been an integral part of Dominican life. The friars study theology as a religious practice, for growth in prayer, and for the ministry of the salvation of souls (LCO 76). In reality, truth and charity are inextricably linked. This is why St. Dominic could claim that he had learned his wisdom in the book of charity, because his study, prayer, and ministry were united in his love for God and neighbor. St. Dominic’s ardent love for Jesus, Wisdom incarnate, found its expression in a life of contemplation and evangelization centered on the Word of God.
As a new school year begins, may we learn from the example of St. Dominic to direct all our studies and work to the growth of our minds and hearts in charity. A good practice might be to use this Prayer Before Study attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas.
Image: Pietro della Vecchia, St. Dominic and the Devil