The Marble Chapel here at Emmaus Bible College is an impressive room to be in: architecturally our eyes are drawn up to the cross and further up to Heaven, reminiscent of a medieval cathedral in Europe. Lighting the experience is the series of stained glass windows flanking both sides of the room. Whenever we are walking through the room or sitting in the chapel during a service or concert, it’s difficult to refrain from looking around at the diverse colorful portraits. For most of us, then, no matter how often we are in the marble chapel, as our eyes scan the room our next thought is always the same: “who are those guys?”
Spread throughout the Marble Chapel, built by the Dominicans of the St. Rose of Lima Priory in 1955, 12 Dominican men and 4 women look down upon us, and 4 Dominican fathers have little plaques without their pictures. As you progress through the Marble Chapel from the rear to the front, the represented Dominicans get more “famous,” for lack of a better word, but even so, you may not be as familiar with these historical persons as you may want to be. I know I’m not as knowledgeable as I’d like to be, so you get to come along with me as we learn more about these people we’ve all spent a fair amount of time looking up to (at least physically).
The purpose of this exploration is mainly an intellectual and historical examination of the people featured in the Marble Chapel. By doing so, we acknowledge that a number of these people may have operated and believed as a Catholic priest or nun significantly differently from how we at Emmaus operate and believe, as doctrinally aligns with Protestantism rather than Catholicism. Thus, we will approach this series from an attitude of respect and brotherly love, while acknowledging the important distinctions between us. We will begin with a few words about the Dominicans and the St. Rose of Lima Priory.
Origin of the Order
The “short” of it is Pope Innocent III called the Fourth Lateran Council in April 1213, which eventually gathered in November 1215. It was one of the most attended councils of the medieval period, with over a thousand bishops, abbots, and priors as well as representatives of several European monarchs. Much of this may be due to the combination of Innocent’s strong personality and leadership as pope and the general awareness within the Catholic church of the growing malaise and declining spirituality within the church and society collectives.
Dominic attends the council with Bishop Fulke, bishop of Dominic’s diocese in Toulouse, with the intent of getting official church recognition for Dominic and his compatriots as preachers of the gospel (from a Roman Catholic perspective, of course) – and an odd combination of church declarations occur. On one hand, the tenth canon of the Council calls for a renewed effort for the creation of preachers qualified to spread the gospel (an office declining within the church before Dominic’s day), which is precisely what Dominic and Fulke were hoping for. On the other hand, the thirteenth canon of the Council prohibits the creation of any new Orders within the church, requiring all priests taking orders to join an already-existing Order. Thus, Dominic joins the Rule of St. Augustine – a decision which seems to suit him just fine.
However, Innocent III dies in July 1216 and is replaced by Honorius III. On December 23, 1216, Honorius publishes a papal bull addressed to “his dear son Dominic” and his companions, stating, “Considering that the brethren of your Order are to be the champions of the faith and true lights of the world, we confirm your Order and take it under Our government.” And just like that, in effect, the Order of Preachers, the Ordo Praedicatorum (O.P.), known as the Dominicans, is born.
Characteristics of the Dominicans
Much of the nature of the Dominicans as an entity came because of who Dominic was and what he wanted the Catholic church to do, so we will explore more of that later as we work our way up to Dominic’s picture in the Marble Chapel. Suffice it to say here, the Dominicans existed mainly as a counterbalance to St. Francis’s Franciscans. To put it simply for us, whereas St. Francis is driven by a religion of the heart, St. Dominic is driven by a religion of the head. That is not to say the Dominicans had no heart or love or passion, but their view of man’s needs is more intellectual and factual, which may account for Thomas Aquinas joining the Dominicans, as we shall see later. Here are some quotations summarizing the basic characteristics of the Dominicans over the centuries.
“The first principle which has ruled the Order throughout its history is its dedication by the Church to the apostolic work of preaching and the salvation of souls. Immediately following on that is the law that it members must be men of prayer and ascetic life, graduating by intense and uninterrupted study to be authoritative teachers” (Reeves 76).
“All the emphasis of the Constitutions is thrown into one sentence. ‘Preach, by word and example’; which is equivalent to saying: ‘Preach, anyhow, but preach!’ That emphasis explains the note of liberty throughout all Dominican law and life. The Friar is exempt from all laws except those which preaching requires: he may preach any way he chooses, like St. Thomas, St. Antoninus, James of Voragine, Fra Angelico, Volmar of Colmar, Lacordaire. There is only one restraint on his liberty; he can do or be what he likes, but he must preach, by word and example. He must make his whole life a sermon, and the best sermon for which God has given him talent and grace. The liberty of Christianity leaves a man free to do good, and only forbids him what is evil. That it forbids under sin. The liberty of the Order of Preachers leaves a Friar free to do his best, and only forbids him to do less than his best. That is forbids under penalty, not under sin” (Reeves 89-90).
Benedict Ashley sums up Dominican life in four ideas: “(1) Dominican spirituality is a share in Jesus Christ the Word in his mission of announcing the Good News of salvation which he himself is: (2) This calling is fulfilled by a community out of its experience of living for God and for neighbors: (3) The source of its light is prayer, especially liturgical prayer, for which one is freed by ascetic discipline and simplicity of life: (4) This prayer is fed by assiduous study of the Scriptures and of all sources of truth that help us to understand the Word of God” (24).
St. Rose of Lima Priory
The St. Rose Priory began in a different building close by, but shortly after its establishment the Dominicans knew they needed newer, larger facilities. This campus broke ground June, 1954, completed in 1955 (as you can see in the plaque by the front doors), and the dedication occurred June 4, 1956. Where the large Bible statue is out front today, St. Rose of Lima had a full-sized statue.
The priory was not the first stop for young, would-be Dominicans back in the ’50s. Most students who studied here started with a one-year novitiate at St. Peter Martyr Priory in Winona, Minnesota, then some time studying philosophy at St. Thomas Aquinas Priory in River Forest, Illinois before completing studies here. The St. Rose Priory offered a four-year course in theology to complete the men’s journey to the priesthood. “Major courses included dogmatic and moral theology, scripture church history, canon law and the art of preaching. Students were also taught aesthetic, pastoral, and fundamental theology, history of the dogmas, and Greek and Hebrew” (Lyon). The young (male) students did not talk in the hallways or dining room, so keep that in mind when you think life’s tough at Emmaus.
The priory also held publication offices of the Priory Press, a publishing house for theological works – though the Telegraph Herald actually printed the books edited here.
Twenty To Go
We hope you come back in the weeks ahead to learn along with us about the twenty men and women whose lives and work were significant enough for the Dominicans to remember them in such a variegated way.
Ashley, Benedict. The Dominicans. Religious Orders Series vol. 3. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1990.
Lyon, Randolph W. “St. Rose of Lima House of Studies.” Encyclopedia Dubuque. 26 April 2018. Carnegie-Stout Library Foundation. Accessed on 25 Feb. 2020 at <http://www.encyclopediadubuque.org/index.php?title=ST._ROSE_OF_LIMA_HOUSE_OF_STUDIES&oldid=145111>.
Reeves, O.P., John-Baptist. The Dominicans. 1929. Dubuque: Priory Press, 1959.
Christopher Rush graduated from Emmaus in 2003. After 15 years teaching high school in Virginia, he has returned to Emmaus and Dubuque to take over the English Department. His wife, Amy, is also an Emmaus graduate (2000). Amy is the principal of Tri-State Christian School here in Dubuque. They have two children, Julia and Ethan.