Contemplation and Beauty, Annual Meeting of Young Dominican Sisters Europe (YSOP) in Oslo, 4-6 January 2019
It has become tradition that representatives of the young(er) Dominican Sisters from all over Europe meet during the first weekend of January to establish and refresh relationships, share news, and reflect on a topic together. This year, thirteen Sisters from nine different countries set out for the far north. Ice and snow were guaranteed in wintery Norway but equally, as we knew from the previous meeting, the warm welcome of the community in Katarinahjemmet, Oslo, whose hospitality was phenomenal. The theme of this year’s gathering was “Contemplation and Beauty.”
In truly Dominican style, we started off with Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and were privileged to have Dr Gregory Reichberg with us, Research Professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Oslo. Even though beauty does not get much mention in Aquinas’ works it is nonetheless at the centre of his theological vision, as Dr Reichberg emphasised. As one of God’s attributes, beauty – and our desire for an ever-deeper knowledge of it – draws us towards him and sets us on a journey in faith which holds the promise of the beatific vision as our final destiny.
Beauty’s capacity to transcend sensual reality creates the link to art. In two sessions, Fr Alain Arnauld OP, Socius of the Master of the Order for Northwestern Europe and Canada, explored the long and valued tradition in the Dominican Order of using of art for contemplation and preaching. Certainly, the best-known example of this is Fra Angelico OP (1395-1455) who inspired a whole school of Dominican painters (male and female!), located in San Marco, Florence. Their paintings convey theological ideas and reform agendas but, above all, aim to draw the beholder into prayer. But what about art in Christian life today? Whereas earlier Christian works seem to instil a certain nostalgia, actual art is regularly met with apprehension. It is decried as intellectual and all too often as failing the alleged artistic criteria of beauty and craftsmanship. Fr Alain showed that all three objections can and have to be contested. If we want to engage with today’s culture, we must not deprive ourselves of its art as a medium to help people on their journey of faith.
Finally, Sr Dana Benedicta Pawlowicz OP, artist in the Katarinahjemmet community, reflected on truth as the highest form of beauty. She described how both artist and preacher are called to listen, love and use their creativity to communicate the truth. We explored how, in today’s world, we can fulfil the task with which Adam was entrusted: to name everything in the right way and give it the right significance.
The Dominican artist Kim En Joong once said that all who enter a church “must be invited to elevation.” His words surely translate to the community which is the Church. The three days in Oslo were a truly elevating experience of this community in Christ (and St Dominic): studying, praying and simply enjoying each other’s company. Tusen takk!
Sr. Sabine Schratz OP