Domini Canes or Dominicans

A short entry about the nickname of the Dominicans – “domini canes” (Eng. “hounds of the Lord”)

In the medieval Dominican church Santa Maria Novella in Florence visitors find impressive frescoes. One of them is called (in English) Allegory of the Active and Triumphant Church and of the Dominican order. It was created by the 14th-century  Italian painter Andrea di Bonaiuto da Firenze or Andrea da Firenze. You can see it in the Spanish Chapel  (or, actually, Cappellone degli Spagnoli).

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A part of the fresco Allegory of the Active and Triumphant Church and of the Dominican order (14th century)
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Dominicans (the hounds of the Lord)

A part of this fresco apparently illustrates, among other people, three Dominican saints –  St Peter of Verona, the founder of this Catholic order St Dominic and the famous Doctor of the Church St Thomas Aquinas – and black and white spotted hounds. St Thomas seems to debate and teach non-Christians as well as heretics, while St Dominic preaches to a group of people.

St Peter of Verona appears to order black and white spotted dogs or hounds to fight off wolves. The hounds represent the Dominicans, alluding to their nickname.

Dominicans wear white habits and black cloaks. Thus, they are / were referred to as Blackfriars in England. Because the Dominicans zealously preached, adhered to doctrinal law and acted against heretics, they received the nickname “domini canes” or, in English, “hounds of the Lord or God”. It was a Latin pun on Dominicans (domini means, in English, of the Lord and canes means dogs or hounds).

 

 

 

 

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Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Contribution to a Better Understanding of Faith, Reason and Logos

Several times Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has referred to Logos and the relationship between faith and reason. His – nowadays neglected – contributions enable us to get a better understanding of these issues.   

For quite some time a lot of people have been talking about Logos or logos. Certainly, this is an important issue because it significantly helps in shedding light on the relationship between faith and reason.

However, in my view, Pope Emeritus Benedict’s contributions in this regard have unfortunately been neglected. In general, the relationship between faith and reason as well as the discussion of Logos take centre stage in several of his published writings and speeches. His famous Regensburg lecture, for instance, revolved around these issues, although the media laid the focus on his citation of a statement by the Byzantine emperor Manuel II about Muhammad at the end of the 14th century.

We can infer the subject of his lecture from its title “Faith, Reason and the University – Memories and Reflections”. During his address Benedict XVI referred to the idea of Logos at the beginning of the Gospel of John:

“Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: “In the beginning was the λόγος”. This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts, σὺν λόγω, with logos. Logos means both reason and word – a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist.”

Later the meaning of John’s words (1:1,14) for the Christian faith is again pointed out by Benedict XVI in the third and final volume of his series about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ (Eng. Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (2012)).

According to the Pope Emeritus, Jesus’ human existence or his flesh is, roughly speaking, “the dwelling-place of the Word, the eternal di­vine [Logos], in this world” (German version, 22). Christ’s origin also lies within God. Correspondingly, his origin is, so to speak, the beginning itself: “He comes from God. He is God. This “beginning” that has come to us opens up – as a beginning – a new manner of human existence (ibid.).”

Source (Alongside the Regensburg Lecture)

Ratzinger, Joseph (Benedict XVI). Jesus von Nazareth: Prolog – Die Kindheitsgeschichten. German paperback ed. Freiburg (et al.): Herder, 2014.  

Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ – A Misunderstood Film

Many critics have unjustifiably criticized Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ which actually presents Jesus Christ’s supernatural love in the face of injustice and hatred.  

Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ has stirred up emotions, controversy and extreme reactions. It was released in 2004. Since then critics have accused the film of encouraging anti-semitism and containing excessive violence and sadism. But their accusations turn out to be completely wrong.

Basically, the biblical drama – as its title explicitly indicates – covers the last hours of Jesus Christ’s life. Although there is no denying the fact that The Passion of the Christ presents violent and bloody scenes, many critics have not really focused on the film’s artistic content and its theological meaning. Judging from their criticisms, we can regard it as a – perhaps willingly – misunderstood film.

Prof. Dr. Martin Rhonheimer, a Catholic priest, brilliantly refutes the main charges against Gibson’s film in an article, reminding us of its central message: “The film’s central message is not the brutality of scourging and crucifixion but the transformation of these horrible sufferings into an offering of love to Jesus’ heavenly Father.” Rhonheimer’s article serves as the main source for the following section about the theological meaning of blood and the filmic representation of Christ.    

For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins – The Significance of Blood and Christ’s Supernatural Love vs Satan’s Superhuman Hatred

Several scenes point to the significance of blood. As far as the Bible is concerned, blood is one of the symbols of life.

When The Passion of the Christ shows the crucifixion, flashback scenes of the Last Supper are presented in between to make the audience aware that Christ’s blood is poured out for salvation. This corresponds to the lines in Matthew 26:28, which Jesus says in one scene: “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (King James Version; note: Jesus does not use the words of this version in the film.).

Notably, towards the end of the film Jesus does not bleed to death, while hanging on the cross. Instead, he dies consciously and freely after stating the following words: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Accordingly, the God-man, Jesus, accepts his heavenly Father’s will. Moreover, he gives the impression of having the sovereignty    over what happens to him. 

Throughout The Passion of the Christ Jesus reacts to human injustice and hatred with supernatural love. In contrast to Christ, who endures this injustice without complaint, various humans mock and torture him without mercy. However, as can be inferred from some scenes, Satan, for instance, brings the bloodthirsty Roman torturers under his control. Thus, Jesus actually fights against Satan’s superhuman hatred of God.

That means, neither the Romans nor the Jews are demonized because the Devil is portrayed as the epitome of absolute evil. At the end of Gibson’s film, by accepting his Father’s will, Jesus defeats Satan and achieves victory.    

Sources

Rhonheimer, Martin. “Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”: A Plea for Fairness.” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 8.1 (2005): 13-27. 

The Passion of the Christ. Dir. Mel Gibson. Perf. Jim Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, and Monica Bellucci. 2004. DVD. Capelight pictures, 2014.  

A $5 Standing Bet regarding the Alleged Debate about How many Angels Can Dance on the Head of a Pin

Historians nowadays doubt that medieval Scholastic scholars debated about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. For years academics have found no evidence either for such a debate or a question that dealt with this issue.

In this connection, a funny fact should be added. According to the historian Robert Bartlett, “[t]here is a $5 standing bet for anyone finding any evidence of the question being asked in the Middle Ages” (73n4).

Source

Bartlett, Robert. The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 

Santa Croce in Florence – A Magnificent Basilica and Resting Place

This short post is about Santa Croce in Florence and the resting place inside the basilica. 

If you visit Florence as a tourist, you need to see the magnificent Basilica di Santa Croce (eng. Basilica of the Holy Cross), the largest Franciscan church in the world. It is located  in the eastern centre of this Renaissance city.

According to legend, Santa Croce was founded by the famous Saint Francis of Assisi  (1181/82-1226) himself. At any rate, the construction of the current building had begun in 1294 or 1295, before it was completed at the end of the 14th century. Eventually, Pope Eugene IV consecrated the church in the 15th century.

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Inside the basilica Santa Croce

You may want to take part in a service. Besides impressive frescoes by Giotto and great art, you will find remarkable tombs because the church is a resting place of notable Italians. There are funerary monuments to the men such as the diplomat, historian and political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), the artist Michelangelo (1475-1564) as well as the natural philosopher, astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).

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The tomb of Machiavelli
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The tomb of Michelangelo
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The tomb of Galileo

Note: All photos were taken by me (Nils Zumbansen) in 2018. 

A Brief Look at the Böckenförde Dilemma

The former German constitutional judge Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde posed a dilemma by asking the question of whether the liberal, secularized state lives by normative presuppositions which it cannot guarantee itself. Here the concept of social capital also comes to the fore. 

On 24 February 2019 the former German constitutional judge Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde died at the age of 88. During his lifetime he became famous for a dilemma he posed in the 1960s by stating that the free, liberal and secularized state exists because of prerequisites that it cannot guarantee itself. It is commonly known as the Böckenförde Dilemma. Basically, this dilemma refers to the difficulty of a secular state to create social capital.

A Definition of Social Capital

We can conceive of social capital as follows: there are interpersonal relationships, strong ties and / or networks of individuals that share values, norms and a sense of identity. From these tight-knit networks arise understanding, sympathy, goodwill, willingness for cooperation and norms of trustworthiness and reciprocity. Accordingly, social capital ensures the effective functioning of a group.

Undoubtedly, the extent of social capital depends on whether the members of a particular group have a similar cultural background. However, at this point, we should not neglect the ethnic dimension. That means, when focusing on social capital, we need to consider a group’s ethnic composition.

Broadly speaking, social capital constitutes a significant factor in society. If everything is equal, a community with a higher degree of social capital will surely outcompete an opposing group with less social capital because the latter lacks cohesion and internal trust. Let’s now return to the Böckenförde Dilemma and briefly look at the question of its relevance nowadays.

The Relevance of the Böckenförde Dilemma

So, does the liberal, secularized state live by normative presuppositions which it cannot guarantee itself? Many will probably agree that the obvious answer is: yes, it does. Today,  the free, secular state really exists on the basis of certain presuppositions or foundations. These are, in turn, laid by components we associate with the concept of social capital including shared values, customs, norms as well as a sense of cultural identity.

More precisely, the liberal, secularized state relies on indigenous, ideological, ethical, philosophical and / or religious traditions, which are collectively binding. Eventually, such traditions not only lead to cooperation, cohesion and trust but also to the working of society. Thus, the Böckenförde Dilemma is still relevant. In this connection, questions regarding the role of Christianity, churches, religions or other traditional institutions take centre stage.

Sources

Angenendt, Arnold. Toleranz und Gewalt: Das Christentum zwischen Bibel und Schwert. 2nd ed. Münster: Aschendorff Verlag, 2009.

Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. London, New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Murray, Douglas. The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam. London, New York: Bloomsbury, 2017.