Differences between Dominicans and Jesuits?

First of all, I already know the joke about Albigensians. :wink:

So, now that that’s out of the way, hello, I am yet another twentysomething who is considering the possibility that he might be called to some form of religious life.

I am currently about halfway through my PhD, and it is becoming increasingly clear to me that, even though I genuinely enjoy my chosen career, I need to be more. I love being a seeker of truths and I look forward to be a teacher, but that’s not enough: it seems as if I am - well, I do not know if “made” is the correct term, but that’s the one that comes to my mind - made to be of Truth, to be a fountain of Truth for the world, and ultimately, up to the degree to which a human being can be Truth, to be Truth Itself.

I am expressing myself very badly, but that is a most peculiar feeling: the closest analogy I can think of is the sensation when you discover and write down the proof of a theorem for the first time, but in this case it’s as if you were the theorem and Someone was writing you down.

Yeah, I am absolutely terrible at similes. :slight_smile:

In any case, I plan to finish my PhD first, and to use this couple of years to make my mind clear and to start preparing myself for whatever I might be supposed to do - my prayer life, in particular, could definitely use some improvement. But no time like the present for starting to consider possibilities, right?

I am positive that study is going to be a central part to my vocation, no matter if it is going to be to married life or to some form of religious life: I am at my happiest when I have a bunch of strange books on my table and some intriguing open problems to solve, and I have long noticed a strong correlation between my spiritual health and the productivity of my studies (devil’s advocate time: this might well be caused by some form of self-suggestion rather than by anything truly spiritual. But still, it seems that, as far as I am concerned, study and prayer are linked together very tightly). Hence, assuming that I am truly called to religious life, it seems that some “scholarly” order might be the most appropriate to me.

In the past I have attended some public lectures organized by Dominicans, and I remember their cultural preparation being astonishingly good. Moreover, I like what I have read so far about Dominican spirituality, and even my current research interests are quite connected with the Dominican Order: I work with some recent developments of formal logic which can be seen as an attempt to recover within the modern mathematical framework some of the key insights of Scholasticism, and of course the Dominicans are the undisputed masters of Scholastic Logic!

Further, this is going to be a bit silly, but my parents met each other in a Dominican prayer group: it feels like there would be something, well, proper in me joining the order to which I owe my very existence… :wink:

However, I do not want to get too ahead of myself. The other academia-focused order I know of is the Society of Jesus, and even though I have had no personal contact with it so far I know that it is highly prized for the theological and scientific contributions of its members. Also, the autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola was a most fascinating read, the little I have read so far of the Spiritual Exercises is definitely impressive, and I know for a fact that Jesuits used to wear some very cool hats. :slight_smile:

So, what I am wondering about is, what are the main differences between Jesuit and Dominican life and spirituality? I know that the Jesuits are clerks regular whereas the Dominicans are friars: what does imply precisely, in particular with respect to their common life and to their duties towards the Church and the World?

Also, is there any other group I should give a thought about?


I’ve studied with both Dominicans and Jesuits and I’m not sure anyone but you will be able to identify and quantify the differences between the charisms, although those differences definitely exist.

In my opinion and in broad generalization (and I despise generalizations), I’d say the Dominicans are a bit more rigid and conformist (conservative and traditional) in their teaching and preaching, but their own spirituality as practiced doesn’t necessarily follow that limited description.

The Jesuits may value stretching the freedom of intellectual exploration more, but I found their spirituality constrictive. (Neither group stresses the mystical, as far as I’m aware, which is more my cup of tea.)

Both orders stress intellectual development and have had legions of respected alumni (for centuries), and you wouldn’t be short-changed by further studies with either.

I’m sure you’d be able to discern the differences and find the right match for your educational goals and personal development by simply inquiring and/or visiting each group. It doesn’t seem difficult to me to spot the differences between congregations once you spend time talking with members and delving into their bodies of work.

Good luck…

Thanks! I am not particularly mystical myself, to tell the truth: I am a bit the kind of person who, if granted a heavenly vision, would probably assume it to be an hallucination and carry on. Actually, if by some bizarre twist of fate I manage to make it to Heaven, I guess that it will take a while to convince myself that I am not simply having some sort of psychedelic experience while on my deathbed :wink: .

So, at least from that point of view, it seems that both orders might be a reasonable fit…

The biggest difference is that the Dominican are mendicant friars living the Rule of St Augustine and have a communial life and community prayer.

Jesuits are a Society and have no rule of life. They do not have as much of a communial life.

Thanks for the information. I will have to think about it: I am attracted to the concept of communal life, but I do not know to which degree of it I would be most suited - I am quite obviously no monk material, but apart from that I do not have much of a clue.

Now I have a bit of a dilemma.

Since my aunt is a nun (ok, a sister, but “my aunt is a sister” would sound a little strange :wink: ) and my uncle is a diocesan priest, the sensible thing would probably be to ask them for advice - after all, they have known me since I was a little kid, and chances are that they could give me some valuable suggestions and insights.

But on the other hand, I worry about giving them a disappointment if I later found out that religious life is not meant for me. While they never pressured anyone, it is no secret that both of them would be overjoyed if someone of my generation of the family would be called to religious life; I would feel a bit bad if I gave them this hope and then pushed it down…

If your idea of mysticism is visions and locutions, I believe you are mistaken. Check out St. Bernard. He’s a wonderful mystic.

Oh, I know that there is more to mysticism than visions - I was just making an example :slight_smile:

Thanks for the reading suggestion!

This is something you shouldn’t let be a motive for you. Many people have ended up trying to pursue a calling that they knew they did not have because they did not wish to disappoint somebody. It does not make for much happiness. So don’t be afraid of that. Understand that it may be necessary. In in the end, God decides where you are called to, not the emotions of your relatives.

Besides, I bet that both your aunt and uncle probably knew some people who withdrew during the process of becoming a priest/sister. Hopefully, they should understand that this sort of thing happens, and that it is necessary or even good in some cases. So be not afraid, and go ahead asking for advice.

I’ve attended a Jesuit university, and gone through RCIA and spiritual direction with the Jesuits. They tend to see social justice as a key component of their mission, and every single Jesuit with whom I’ve discussed politics has expressed very liberal political views. Not sure whether this is also true of the Dominicans.

“Every single Jesuit with whom I’ve discussed…” and how many woud that be?

As of Jan 1, 2010 there are 18,226 Jesuits in the world.

Don’t forget the Benedictines. They are very intellectual and teach in their numerous colleges, universities and prep schools. Benedictine monks have been scholars for centuries. This is part of their stability, one of their vows, and their tendency to form in large groups in large institutions which form centers of scholarship. The great medieval abbeys were Benedictine.

Benedictines and Dominicans say the office, which Jesuits don’t, so there is far more communal prayer with the former. All three are heavily involved in teaching, tho’ the Dominicans preach more, part of their charism.

You didn’t say what your PhD is in. All three groups would want you to finish your degree. Those that teach, which is all of them, would be interested in the possibility of your teaching.

You should visit members of these three and any other groups which interest you to get a better feel for their life and work.

“Every single Jesuit with whom I’ve discussed…” and how many woud that be?

As of Jan 1, 2010 there are 18,226 Jesuits in the world.

Yes, I’m aware that there are many Jesuits in the world, and I’ve obviously interacted with only a small percentage. That’s why I stipulated that I was drawing on my personal experience when I said the ones I’ve met are liberal.

It is true, however, that the United States Jesuit Conference lists social justice and issue advocacy as aspects of the Jesuits’ work. You can read more about it at this link:


Impertinens, you mentioned that you want to take time off after your PhD. You might want to spend a year or two of that time with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps . . . a lot of my friends in RCIA or at my university had first become interested in Ignatian spirituality through that program. It will also help you to experience a life of poverty . . . if you haven’t already lived it as a graduate student.

Thanks for the advice!

I have been thinking a little about the Benedictines recently, in fact. On one hand, I am not sure if I could adapt to the life - I am a bit of a loner by temperament, and although this would make certain aspects of monastic life easier (I pretty much already respect the rule of Silence for most of my working days, and I like that :)) I can see how this could cause difficulties with respect to others. Also, St. Benedict’s Rule is a bit scary :wink:

But on the other hand, the idea is not without possible value. From a purely emotional point of view, the concept of monastic life attracts me very much, and as far as I can see priesthood is not the central element of my calling: I do not really see myself much as a spiritual guide/community organizer, and I would rather spend my life studying and serving, possibly as some kind of scholar, the “capital ‘T’ Truth” incarnated in the person of Jesus.

And, well, it is obvious that no form of religious life is going to fit precisely my innate tastes and inclinations - rather, if I were to take such a path, I would have to fit myself to my new state of life.

Mathematics, and mathematical logic in particular. And yes, I fully intend to finish my degree - actually, I was thinking of first getting my degree (I have about two years to go) and then contacting religious groups, but now I am wondering if I couldn’t perhaps accelerate a little and talk a little with them earlier…

Thanks, that sounds interesting. However, I live in Europe, and from a look in the website it seems that the JVC is not active here, and only accepts US residents.

Still, the idea of spending some time doing some work of that kind could make sense - thanks for the tip!

It’s not that bad, really. Sure, the wage is not incredibly high, but it is more than enough for a single person with not too many extravagant tastes. Plus, I get to travel the world for conferences and so, which is nice - I would definitely miss that a little if I went for the “Benedictine” route :wink:

For europe there’s: Jesuit European Volunteers

Benedictines are not cloistered in the usual meaning of the word. The women observe constitutional enclosure, not papal, and can go out to doctors’ visits, to vote and for important OSB and religious formation conferences, to see the pope. The men can do more and certainly in the service of their teaching and areas of expertise. They don’t go out to movies and restaurants, as far as I know. Those who take of parishes can probably visit their parishioners’ houses, for example. I am quite certain that they could to go international conferences; the main constraint is money, I think.

If you’re interested in spending some time volunteering, there’s also Dominican volunteers international!

Drop me a message or let me know if you’re based in the UK, I may be able to direct you towards some Dominican links who could help you to explore your vocation with them further, with absolutely no pressure to join!