Symphorien Ntibagirirwa OP
Etymologically, theology is the “discourse on God”. However, theology is the product of a context, the way God relates to people in their context. So, “Dominican theology” is the discourse on God developed by Dominicans in theory and praxis. But to understand Dominican theology, one must go “back to the sources”. Browsing the “sources” I came across three themes which, traditionally, structure Dominican theology: faith and reason, creator and creatures, life and action. In these themes, I recognized figures in theology: Thomas Aquinas, Albert the Great and Raymond of Peñyafort who applied theology to both life and action. I will track the source of Dominican theology by considering the primeval intuition of Saint Dominic himself, his spirit and action. The concern of Saint Dominic was truth and life as seen through his passion for study and spirit of compassion. Thus, I will deal with Dominican theology as lived and practiced by the Dominicans of Burundi and Rwanda via two points: Firstly, through the social and ecclesial context of Burundi and Rwanda and, secondly, through the concern and mission of Dominicans in this region.
Burundi and Rwanda are two countries with almost the same (Bantu) culture and social configuration. Their traditional religion centers on Imana, God, who is Creator (Rurema). Yet, like other Bantu people in Africa, Burundians and Rwandese are not theocentric. They are mainly anthropocentric as God does not feature in the categories that structure their worldview. It is here that the Gospel of Christ introduced by missionaries has an added value in our culture.
The Dominicans of Burundi and Rwanda are the products of evangelization by missionaries and encounter with the West through colonization. Both the Church of Burundi and Rwanda celebrated 100 years of evangelization recently. So, compared to other parts of the world, knowledge of Christ as the Messiah is relatively recent to this region. The positive effects of both colonization and evangelization were a result not without challenges. In the post-independent era, Burundi and Rwanda have known difficult moments. The building of a modern society has been marked by conflicts, sociopolitical hiccups and economic struggles, of which the Church has been involved either as a partner or a rival that the State considers with suspicion. This can be seen in the crises that led to genocides, massacres and ethnic hatred, which have undermined economic progress, social harmony and the political culture of truth and life. It is in this context that Dominicans have concretely defined their theology. Hence the two questions! (1) How do Dominicans express what God is, says and does in the context of Burundi and Rwanda? (2) How is God’s presence understood and lived in this context?
The concern underlining the Dominican mission in Burundi and Rwanda continues to be how to uphold truth and life in the context described above. When truth and life are compromised, God as Truth and giver of life is compromised. This is the framework that I consider the context of the Dominican mission.
Teaching and researching are aspects of Dominican study, and they are the apostolate of the intellect. In Burundi and Rwanda, Dominican brothers teach in universities, seminaries, institutions of higher learning, and work in research facilities such as Centre Ubuntu, Institute of Development and Economic Ethics (IDEE), Dominican Centre of Pastoral Research (CEDOREP), and are involved in the publication of books, the Revue Ethique et Société, Cahiers Lumière et Société, and other local and international periodicals. This is intellectual life in its fullest expression. The Dominican Albert Nolan argues that the intellectual life is not a job or a profession, but a way of life that provides a service to one’s community or society. The intellectual is someone who serves others by dedicating his life to the pursuit of truth. In teaching and researching, the Dominicans of Burundi and Rwanda are in the search of truth. The ultimate truth is in God and is God by whom other truths are affirmed.
Burundi and Rwanda are wounded societies given recurrent conflicts, wars, genocides, massacres, and socio-political instability. They, in turn, cause poverty, economic decay and undermine life. Such a context requires renewed engagement in the fighting for and protection of the lives of the people. The Dominicans of Burundi and Rwanda have made this their apostolic mission. They try to be present wherever life is being undermined and they do so in a variety of ways: be they conflicts, wars, poverty, ignorance or whatever serves to undermine human dignity. This is seen in their various projects as diverse as: Agakura, human rights advocacy, justice and peace, reflections on the family, care for the vulnerable, and by their preaching via homilies and public lectures on these issues. The promotion and defense of life is also seen in their use of and reflection on local values, such as Ubuntu (humanity) and ubushingantahe (integrity, equity, truthfulness).
I conclude by summarizing that Dominican (African) theology is the discourse on God as developed, lived and practiced by Dominicans. Its nexus, as the basic intuition of Saint Dominic, has as its focus: truth as our motto, and life as our concern. I have considered and defined this theology within the context of the Dominicans of Rwanda and Burundi. As such, I have ascertained that Dominican theology is both speculative and contextual.