"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Church's Supreme Law—Save Souls

ontemplata aliis tradere—is a Latin phrase which translates into English as "to hand down to others the fruits of contemplation." Derived from the Summa Theologiae of St Thomas Aquinas OP, the phrase is often used to express the universal Christian vocation of saving souls through witnessing, and for that reason it became a motto of the Order.

There are three points that I would like to focus on here. First is the historical change from a strictly contemplative and monastic life into an apostolic life. St Thomas Aquinas said that "the contemplative life is, absolutely speaking, more perfect than the active life, because the latter is taken up with bodily actions." To understand this we need to go back to the time of St Dominic. They were among the first religious orders to start serving in active apostolic ministry, through preaching, which for them is the fruit of their contemplative life of prayer. This is the reason why they are called Order of Preachers. They go out from the confines of the convent which at that time was still very new. People only knew of one form of being consecrated which was to enter the monastery and in a radical way stay secluded inside the walls to live a common life of poverty until death. The Dominican Order emerged when towns and cities developed. They came to be known through the centuries as mendicant orders which are different from the contemplative or monastic orders. The four major mendicant religious orders are Carmelites (founded in 1150), Franciscans, (1209), Dominicans (1214), and Augustinians (1256). But let us not forget that the change from a strictly contemplative and monastic life into an apostolic life does not mean an abandonement of contemplative prayer life. No. In fact, they will not be able to preach to the people if they will not first pray and contemplate. "Contemplata aliis tradere," that is, "to hand down to others the fruits of contemplation" became the guiding principle.

Second point: We usually hear being said that "we become what we contemplate." This is a new way of looking at the contemplative life which is lived out not only in words but more in witnessing. Witnessing to the gospel through corporal works of mercy is primary and only secondarily through words. St Francis of Assisi had this famous line, "Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words." Well that is not only according to St Francis, it was our Lord originally who first exemplified what active-contemplative life looks like. When John and Andrew wanted to see the life of our Lord and where he lived, he told them to "Come and see." If we want to see where Jesus is He is for the most part often “either going to a meal, at a meal or coming from a meal” (Robert J Karris, Eating Your Way Through Luke’s Gospel, p. 14). Jesus encountered people and shared not only Jesus's life but their lives with him. Jesus contemplated, looking them in the eye, and ate with them. It was this style of Jesus that the mendicant religious orders followed—as a necessary fruit of their contemplation. Jesus did not preach lengthily but he practiced what he preached. What Jesus does is a risky endeavor because accusations of being a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners, among many others, are hurled against Him. This makes him a notorious transgressor of the Halakha (Jewish law) aka dietary laws. Let us ask ourselves how we are becoming more and more what we contemplate? Are we becoming more merciful and kind in our actions towards others? If yes then our contemplation of Jesus's words and actions are taking root in us. In a manner of speaking we are becoming like Christ whom we contemplate and necessarily so.

Third and final point. The Jesuits and the Dominicans share the same goal of their active contemplative living—that is to save souls. But this is not the monopoly of Dominicans or Jesuits only. In fact, it is the basic calling of every Christian. No wonder, this is the Church's supreme law (suprema lex)—“the salvation of souls... must be the supreme law in the Church” "Salus animarum suprema lex esto" (1983 Code of Canon Law 1752). What is better than being just a lighted candle glowing and shining in one corner? St Thomas Aquinas has an answer to this when he said that, it is better not only to shine but also to enlighten. He makes the same analogy by saying that "just as it is better to enlighten than merely to shine, so is it better to give to others the fruits of one's contemplation (contemplata aliis tradere) than merely to contemplate (contemplari)" (Summa Theologiae, II-II Q. 188, A. 6). We save souls when we share to others the fruits of our contemplation. But let us not hurry too hastily because the candle must first be lit; meaning, before we can even save a single soul, for our own individual selves we all need saving first and foremost. God saved St Ignatius's soul while still a lay man. In his autobiography he narrates that “At Manresa too, where he stayed almost a year, after he began to be consoled by God, and saw the fruit which he bore in dealing with souls, he gave up those extremes he had formerly practiced, and he now cut his nails and his hair.” In a word, God saved Ignatius from going to extreme of almost killing himself through extreme ascetisim. While this may be an oversimplification, it does help drive the point. We are judged by the fruits of our actions, by how we have used our talents and made a difference starting in our own lives, in our families, communities, and world. Indeed, this makes the contempative life more perfect than a life that stops at contemplation, because such a life is built on an abundance of contemplation, and consequently such was the life chosen by Christ. Amen Fr JM Manzano SJ