Fr. James Athanasius Weisheipl, O.P.


Fr. James A. Weisheipl, O.P., (1923-1984), remembered especially for his work on natural philosophy and his biography of Aquinas, died December 30th, 1984. His reflections on the place of study in the Dominican Order, posted on the site of the Central Province, are worth rereading (PDF version).

An excerpt:
How much, we may ask, should a Dominican study in order to fulfill his constitutional obligations? From what has already been said, no other answer can be given but: Always, according to the dictates of supernatural prudence. Just as we are told by Christ to “pray always and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1), so a Dominican is told by his constitutions to study always without interruption. The primitive constitutions use the expression “by day and night, at home or on a journey”.

The modern constitutions express this by the word “assiduous”. The Latin word assiduus means continual, unremitting, incessant, perpetual. For a Dominican there is no time limit to the assiduous study of sacred truth.

The profundity, breadth, care and zeal of St. Albert’s study are apparent on every page of his writings. The prodigious industry of St. Thomas has never ceased to astound later generations; the clarity and precision of his style, the aptness of his quotations, the extent of his sources and the genius of his synthesis all testify to ceaseless study. Describing Cardinal Cajetan, the careful historians, Quétif and Echard, remark:

What is more amazing about Cajetan, however, is his pertinacity in the study of letters, so that no day ever passed without his having written a line whether he was alone or engaged in official duties, whether at home or on a journey, whether as cardinal or legate, free or captive, healthy or sick. This is evident if one examines the lower margin of each of his writings where the place, day, year and current activities are diligently noted. Hence, it is related, he was wont to say that he could hardly excuse from grievous sin a fellow Dominican who failed to devote at least four hours a day to study.(45)

This strong statement attributed to Cajetan indicates the seriousness of study in the Dominican Order. It is an obligation arising not from Holy Orders, but from the solemn vow to live according to the rule and constitutions of the Order. Contempt for study amounts to contempt of the constitutions. Neglect of study in the Order is neglect of sanctity. Every Dominican, therefore, has an obligation not binding on secular priests, monks or other religious. This is the obligation to study without ceasing.

In discussing the frequency of prayer St. Thomas distinguishes between prayer itself and the root of prayer.(46) Prayer arises from the desire of charity, which desire must be within us continually either actually or habitually. Actual prayer, however cannot be continual (assiduus) because of other necessities. Similarly it can be said that for a Dominican study must be assiduous in its root, which is desire for the ideal of St. Dominic. Actual study cannot be assiduous or unremitting because of other necessities. The amount of actual study every day must be determined by the ideal of St. Dominic and daily necessities.

A learned Dominican of the last century, Fr. Alberto Guglielmotti, used to say to his novices, “A true Dominican ought to die at his desk or in the pulpit.”(47) Fr. Guglielmotti himself died fittingly at his desk on September 29, 1893.

45 “. . . Unde fertur dicere solitum, sodalem Praedicatorum vix se a peccato mortali excusare, qui quoto die quatuor horas studio non impenderit.” Quétif- Echard, Scriptores Ord. Praed. (Paris 1722), II, p. 16a.
46 St. Thomas, Sum. Theol., II-II, q. 88, a. 14.
47 Il Rosario — Memorie Domenicane, 1912 p. 466; 1918 p. 481 ff.