Bedouelle limits himself to nine such expressions. Nine is a special number for Dominicans. The nine expressions echo the nine ways of prayer St. Dominic de Guzman created to move the body closer to Christ. So each portrait moves us closer to Christ in the image of St. Dominic.
Whose portraits make up the nine? Seven are men and two women. Five are canonized and four are not. Seven are first order Dominicans while two are tertiaries. They span from the founding of the order in the early 13th century to mid-19th century, from the rapid blossoming of the order to the decline and then resurgence. They span from contemplatives to writers to artists to preachers to social activists. They span the breadth and rich complexity of this venerable order.
What are the charisms that compose St. Dominic’s character? Given the Order of Preachers there is preaching, of course, as exemplified in Blessed Jordan of Saxony; there is the defense of the faith in St. Peter of Verona, the talent for study in St. Thomas Aquinas, the capacity for prayer in St. Catherine of Siena, the transmission of beauty in Blessed Fra Angelico, the struggle for social justice in Bartolomé de las Casas, the grace of mysticism in St. Catherine di Ricci, the love of humility in St. Martin de Porres, and the charm of friendship in Henri-Dominique Lacordaire.
Each portrait provides a brief biographical note, a brief historical context to the subject, and converges on the subject’s charism. The operating word for what does not add to the charism is “brief,” because everything is focused on the subject and his charism. Bedouelle ends each portrait with a passage from the Office of Readings and a short responsory pertaining to the subject. It truly is a spiritual portrait and not a biographical passage.
The portraits that work best (Thomas Aquinas, de las Casas) crystalize the charism and capture the subject and his nature succinctly and elegantly. Here on Aquinas:
"The 'dumb Ox' as his brethren nicknamed him, was notably taciturn and silent, 'eager at study and given to prayer' (in studio assiduous et in oratione devotus). All were struck by the humility of this extraordinary mind. [Biographer William of] Tocco had this to say: 'He was aware that all his knowledge was God's gift; this is why no movement of vainglory could ever darken his soul, knowing as he did that each day he received the light of divine truth.’”
Portraits that don’t work as well don’t seem to find the succinct image and language that crystallizes both subject and charism. The portrait of St. Peter of Verona seemed vague. Another critique could be that holding to nine portraits left out some important charisms. Noticeably absent is the charism on teaching per someone like St. Albert the Great and reflected in all the wonderful Dominican Sisters who taught and continue to teach in schools of all grade levels.
Still this is a wonderful book that provides insight to Dominican spirituality. Bedouelle brings it all back to the founder. “The calm but unmistakable authority of St. Dominic, his decisiveness, his way of leading by example rather than words, and above all the remarkable balance of the institutions he founded all witness to the discrete audacity that characterized his sanctity.” From the root spring the branches, and from these nine branches the fruit of Dominican spirituality.