No question, Dominic was a genius; and a significant part of his genius had to do with his capacity for government-building and order. In consequence, Dominic continues to give his preaching friars a governing structure that efficiently promotes apostolic zeal, radical holiness, and legitimate reform.
Sure, it’s easy for me, an American friar, to say that there is something especially “American” at the heart of Dominic’s vision. Yet other American friars would understand what I mean. I don’t at all mean “egalitarian.” I don’t necessarily even mean “democratic,” either, although that is a word that begins to say what I mean. I mean “citizenly,” because citizenship implies both a well-ordered state and the responsible citizens who share in the maintenance of that state.
Dominic knew what made an ideal community; he also knew that there are many embodiments of such an “ideal” community. The Dominican Order is only one of these kinds of embodiments. The United States (We, the People, believe) is another such. What this means, is this: Every friar is actively responsible for the well-being of his community and its mission, both in his home and geographical community and in the worldwide Order.
Rather like the United States, the Dominican Order exists as a large community divided into designated territories, or what Dominicans call “provinces.” Friars across the world, therefore, must belong to a “province.” A province is made up of a number of religious houses, or “priories.” A priory consists of friars who together appoint a superior, and this superior, who is “first equal” among them, is called a “prior.” A priory, furthermore, contributes to a provincial “chapter,” which is the ruling council of the province, one or more representative friars who then together elect a “provincial,” who, as a “first equal” among them, governs the entire province. The provinces, likewise, contribute representatives to the international chapter, and this international chapter elects a “Master,” who, as successor of St. Dominic, governs the entire Order. The genius of Dominican government is in its sane and smart structure, and in its primary reliance on the council or “chapter.” The chapter is not only a platform for free and passionate discourse; it is a significant instrument for renewal and evangelization, both in the Order and in the worldwide Church.
This is also why a friar’s “vow of obedience” is essential, and of such importance, to him; because it means that when the superior appoints or directs, he is directing not merely as some individual who is privately looking out for the benefit of his own community, but rather, as a representative who stands in the place of all friars who are united in the most sacred mission of the Order.