Newsflash Archives > In Memoriam: Father Stanley Jaki
In Memoriam: Father Stanley Jaki
One of the most influential scientific minds in the Church died on April 7. He gave respectability to the view that, far from being essentially at odds, Christianity and science are natural allies. His burial will be at Pannonhalma Abbey, Hungary, on April 29
By Robert Mauro
SUNDAY, APRIL 26, 2009 — Father Stanley Ladislas Jaki, OSB (1924-2009), Distinguished Professor of Physics at Seton Hall University, New Jersey, since 1975 and one of the world's leading historians of science and its relationship with religion, died in Madrid on April 7, 2009, reportedly of a heart attack, at the age of 84 (the photo shows him just a few days before his death, in Rome in March of this year). He will be buried on Wednesday in his native Hungary.
Jaki was a prolific writer, authoring dozens of books, articles and essays covering everything from the metaphysics of the Eucharist, to the primacy of the Apostle Peter, to exactly where and how Charles Darwin went woefully wrong. In short, Father Jaki was one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century and his contributions to Catholic thought and culture will be difficult to quantify.
One of the central questions he dealt with was this: How is it that science became a self-sustaining enterprise only in the Christian West? Jaki believed the answer lay in the Christian faith, in belief in the Incarnation, and his life work was to show why this was so.
The American writer Walker Percy, a convert to Catholicism, formulated the position Jaki came to espouse this way in his novel Lost in the Cosmos: "As Whitehead pointed out, it is no coincidence that science sprang, not from Ionian metaphysics, not from the Brahmin-Buddhist-Taoist East, not from the Egyptian-Mayan astrological South, but from the heart of the Christian West, that although Galileo fell out with the Church, he would hardly have taken so much trouble studying Jupiter and dropping objects from towers if the reality and value and order of things had not first been conferred by belief in the Incarnation."
Jaki affirmed that Christianity prevented a slide into pantheism because the doctrine of the creation was bolstered by faith in the Incarnation. Pantheism is invariably present when the eternal and cyclic view of the cosmos prevails. The uniqueness of the Incarnation and Redemption, Jaki held, dashed to pieces any possibility of the eternal and cyclic view; for if the world were cyclic, the once-and-for-all coming of Christ would be undermined. The uniqueness of Christ secures a linear view of history and makes Christianity more than just one among many historical factors influencing the world, Jaki argued. The dogmas of the Creation and Incarnation mean "an absolute and most revolutionary break with a past steeped in paganism,'' and the enunciation of these dogmas and their historical impact is "an uphill fight never to be completed," he said.
A relentless scholar, Jaki studied the religious thinking of G. K. Chesterton, the works of the French physicist and historian of science Pierre Duhem, and the life of Cardinal John Henry Newman, the 19th-century theologian who famously converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. Jaki is probably best known, however, for works like The Relevance of Physics (1966) and Science and Creation (1974), in which he argued that the scientific enterprise did not become viable and self-sustaining until its incarnation in Christian medieval Europe, and that the advancement of science was indebted to the Christian understanding of creation.
Father Jaki was a beloved and much-sought after "Chestertonian," and a true follower of the Rule of St. Benedict in every way imaginable — he was always teaching. He only had to be invited to speak once to the annual American Chesterton Society Conference....after that he would simply call Dale Ahlquist in advance and announce his topic! Such graceful moxie is very rare these days and those of us who have known him, learned from him, and loved him, have all been blessed and bettered by his initiative; it will be a palpable loss not to have this spiritual and intellectual giant in our midst any longer.
Born in Gyor, Hungary, Father Jaki attended the school run by Benedictines in his native town from 1934-42. There, he fed his deep desire to read and learn with an extensive amount of mathematics as well as multiple languages. He says that his drive for education was "for a higher purpose: to understand, propagate, and defend my Roman Catholic religion."
His tutelage with the Benedictines greatly influenced his call to the priesthood, which he felt from an early age. He joined the Benedictine order in 1942 and was ordained in 1948.
During the war years, Father Jaki stayed in the Archabbey of Pannonhalma. (Photo below: an aerial view of the abbey, one of the oldest historical monuments in Hungary. Saint Martin of Tours is believed to have been born at the foot of this hill, hence its former name, Mount of Saint Martin (Márton-hegy in Hungarian), from which the monastery occasionally took the alternative name of Márton-hegyi Apátság. This is the second largest territorial abbey in the world, after the one in Monte Cassino.)
This proved to be a trying time, having several close calls with Soviet soldiers. In his typical scholarly fashion, he spent his free time memorizing the letters of Saint Paul, and much of Isaiah and Jeremiah.
He came to the U.S. in 1950 and began teaching systematic theology at the seminary attached to the St. Vincent Archabbey in Pennsylvania.
In 1953, following several health complications associated with a tonsillectomy, Jaki was deprived of the full use of his voice for the next ten years. No longer able to continue his lifestyle of teaching and monastic life that demanded a constant use of his voice, he enrolled in Fordham University's graduate program in physics. He studied under Nobel laureate Victor F. Hess, the discoverer of cosmic rays. He received a doctorate in 1957. Of Jaki's doctrinal dissertation on theology, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger once stated that he kept a copy in a "place of honor" in his library. (Years later, in 1990, Father Jaki was made an honorary member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.)
From 1960-1965, he stayed at Aquinas Institute, the Catholic chaplaincy of Princeton. The idea for his book The Relevance of Physics came to him while on the steps at Princeton's post office. At the age of 42, the University of Chicago Press bought his book The Relevance of Physics. Walter Heitler in the March 1967 issue of "American Scientist" suggested that it become compulsory reading for all physicists.
After this time, he was invited to lecture at Seton Hall — a seminar a week — which worked well with his vocal injury and afforded him the opportunity to continue writing many major publications. During this time he received the Lecomte du Nouy Prize for Brain, Mind and Computers from Rockefeller University. In 1973, the University of Edinburgh invited him to deliver the Gifford lectures. He was the Gifford Lecturer at Edinburgh University in 1974-75 and 1975-76.
The Gifford Lectures were established under the will of Lord Gifford and provided for lectureships in natural theology at four Scottish universities. A few of the many eminent thinkers who have given the Gifford Lectures include: Alfred Ayers, Karl Barth, Henri Bergson, Neils Bohr, Herbert Butterfield, Frederick Copleston, John Dewey, Etienne Gilson, Werner Heisenberg, William James, Gabriel Marcel, Reinhold Niebuhr and many others. Father Jaki, on this subject, wrote the book Lord Gifford and His Lectures (1995, Scottish Academic Press).
In 1987, he received the Templeton Prize, and rejected a possible position with Harvard, so he could continue his writing.
The Templeton Prize brought him world recognition. Established by the late Sir John Templeton, the prize is given annually to a person chosen for his or her affirmation of the spiritual dimensions of life either through discoveries or in other ways. The Templeton Prize award is traditionally larger than that given for the Nobel Prize. In 1987, the award to Father Jaki was $330,000; now the Templeton Prize winner is awarded more than $1 million. Father Jaki gave the monies awarded him to the Vatican for the benefit of Hungarian Benedictines who left Hungary after Stalinist suppression of religious activities in that nation in the late 1940s. He said, "I hope it will be used as a trust fund in times of need."
Father Jaki was a world traveler. In 1971, during a routine trip to Hungary to visit his mother, he picked up some of his old books. One such book contained a note with cross-word type scribbling. This caught the attention of the Communist border-guard as possible coded messages, which was compounded by the fact that he carried a half dozen undeveloped film rolls from his library research. While searching through Jaki's personal belongings the guards found an article of Jaki featured in a prominent publication. Fearing bad press, they released him.
Father Jaki lived through many interesting world events and never failed to give commentary — the rise and fall of Communism as well as the changes in the Catholic Church following Vatican II.
He recognized the philosophical underpinnings in every activity from a game of cricket to the social interaction of a luncheon. In his book, A Mind's Matter: An Intellectual Autobiography, Father Jaki gives an insight into himself, "Whether I uttered some truths moderately well, or whether I fought wisely, should seem less important than the fact that I did not shy away from fighting."
Father Jaki died on April 7, 2009, at about 1:15 PM (MET) in Madrid (Spain) following a heart attack. He was in Spain to visit friends on his way back to the USA, after delivering some lectures in Rome, for the Master in Faith and Science of the Pontificio Ateneo Regina Apostolorum.
He will be buried at the Archabbey of Pannonhalma, which was established in the 10th century, after a funeral Mass on Wednesday, April 29, at 2:30 pm local time. (The Benedictines seemed at first intent on cremating Fr. Jaki prior to transporting him back to Hungary until Father Jaki's brothers and friends made clear that they believed it would have been Father Jaki's wish to be buried bodily at the monastery, and that any expenses involved would not have to be paid by the order.)
Jaki is survived by two brothers, both priests, Rev. Zeno Janki and Rev Theodore Jaki, both of whom live at the Archabbey of Pannonhalma.
I became acquainted with Father Stanley Jaki because my nephew, a Columbia University graduate, did graduate work at Princeton University, and while there became a part-time assistant to Father Jaki, who was based in Princeton. Father Jaki was clearing out some of his vast library, and gave some books to my nephew, who in turn set up a library for some of these books in my office about 45 miles from Princeton. I thus — by coincidence — have some books by Father Jaki which may not be on all of the lists of books by Father Jaki that one might find on internet websites.
I also had a chance to hear Father Jaki at some of his lectures in the New York area. At one lecture — to the usual overflow crowd — he discussed Lourdes. He had slides to show on a screen at some of these presentations. He was not only very informative; he was highly entertaining at these lectures, particularly in question and answer sessions.
I invited Father Jaki and my nephew to dinner in Princeton once and had a chance to talk at length with him. He was very polite. He had strong opinions. He was very informative. He was very entertaining. He gave me an autographed book which was very gracious on his part.
One of his books, which may not be on most lists on the web sites, is The Only Chaos and Other Essays, (1990, University Press of America). In Chapter 10, entitled "Evicting the Creator," he critically discusses the very well known Professor Stephen W. Hawking, and his book A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (1988, Bantam Books). Professor Hawking is or has been a member of The Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
One of my friends, William Doino, also a contributor to Inside the Vatican, knew Jaki, and sent me this note: "Father Jaki had a profound sense of the supernatural, and never hesitated to take on its opponents, backed with profound scholarship. He was fearless, and didn't suffer fools gladly. I once asked him a couple of innocent questions about modern science, and the challenge it presented to Christianity, and he said to me, sternly, 'You have things backward. The challenge is to the atheists. Never let your opponents set the rules or the playing ground.' He sent me a list of 10 or 12 books to read. 'Looks good, but I don't know if I have time to read them all, Father,' I replied, with typical youthful insouciance. 'No!!' he exploded. 'You must read them — you cannot be uninformed! We have too many uninformed Christians. Ignorance of the faith is forbidden, young man — it is forbidden — it is a sin, a sin!'"
An internet blogger wrote recently: "I have no idea what arrangements will be made for his funeral Mass, but I know what the 'responsorial Psalm' verse ought to be: God 'disposed everything according to measure and number and weight' (Wis 11:20). Nearly every one of his books quotes this line. It may sound unbelievable to hear, but there was a certain line of Chesterton's which I first read in one of Jaki's books (the one on Chesterton, of course!) because at that time I did not own the Chesterton book. It ought to be carved in his tombstone: 'The rebuilding of this bridge between science and human nature is one of the greatest needs of mankind.' (G.K. Chesterton, The Defendant, 75). I believe Father Jaki was the pre-eminent builder of that bridge..."
May Father Jaki's soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Father Jaki helped establish Real View Books as his publishing arm. The Real View titles include publications such as: The Bible and Science; Shakespeare and the Old Faith; The True Story of the Vatican Council (this is Vatican Council I, by H. E. Manning).
Here is an abridged list of his books:
1966. The Relevance of Physics. University of Chicago Press.
1969. Brain, Mind and Computers. Herder & Herder.
1969. The Paradox of Olbers' Paradox. Herder & Herder.
1973. The Milky Way: an Elusive Road for Science. New York: Science History Publications.
1974. Science and Creation: From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press.
1978. Planets and Planetarians. A History of Theories of the Origin of Planetary Systems. John Wiley & Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press.
1978. The Road of Science and the Ways to God. Univ. of Chicago Press, and Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press. ISBN 0-226-39145-0
1978. The Origin of Science and the Science of its Origins. Scottish Academic Press.
1980. Cosmos and Creator. Scottish Academic Press. ISBN 0-7073-0285-4
1983. Angels, Apes and Men. La Salle IL: Sherwood, Sugden & Co. ISBN 0-89385-017-9
1984. Uneasy Genius. The Life and Work of Pierre Duhem. The Hague: Nyhoff.
1986. Chesterton, a Seer of Science. University of Illinois Press.
1986. Lord Gifford and His Lectures. A Centenary Retrospective. Edinburgh: Scottish Academis Press, and Macon, GA.: Mercer University Press.
1986. Chance or Reality and Other Essays. Lanham, MD: University Press of America & Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
1988. The Absolute Beneath the Relative and Other Essays. Lanham, MD: University Press of America & Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
2000 (1988). The Savior of Science. W. B. Eerdmans. ISBN 0-8028-4772-2
1989. Miracles and Physics. Front Royal. VA.: Christendom Press. ISBN 0-931888-70-0
1989. God and the Cosmologists. Regnery Gateway Inc.; Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press.
The Purpose of it All (alternate title for God and the Cosmologists)
1990. The Only Chaos and Other Essays. Lanham MD: University Press of America & Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
1991. Scientist and Catholic, An Essay on Pierre Duhem. Front Royal VA: Christendom Press.
1998 (1992) Genesis 1 Through the Ages. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press.
1996. Bible And Science. Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press. ISBN 0-931888-63-8
2000. The Limits of a Limitless Science and Other Essays. Intercollegiate Studies Institute. ISBN 1-882926-46-3
2008. Hail Mary, full of grace: A Commentary. New Hope, KY: Real View Books. ISBN 978-1-892539-06-9
To order any of Jaki's books, visit www.realviewbooks.com or call, in the US, the toll-free number: (888) 808-2882. The mail address for orders is: P.O. Box 10, New Hope, KY 40052.
Here's a link to the home page:
Jaki's intellectual autobiography, A Mind's Matter, is available.
What follows are excerpts from a final, additional chapter to A Mind's Matter, Father Stanley L. Jaki's intellectual autobiography, which he was still updating just a few days before his death. I have chosen to reprint here the fascinating account Jaki gives of his study of the Catholicism of the great Norwegian author and convert, Sigrid Undset. Father Jaki's writing also shows that, at the very end of his life, he was immersing himself in the Beatitudes, in the question of the Incarnation and the Precious Blood of Jesus, in the problem of the Garden of Eden, and in the mystery of the apparition of Our Lady at Guadalupe in Mexico. —The Editor
Three More Years (excerpts)
By Father Stanley Jaki, OSB
Time is God's most precious gift to man, a thoroughly time-conditioned creature.
Humans feel this the more keenly the older they get. One then ever more eagerly looks back to the past, without becoming one of those whom Horace called "laudator temporis acti" or a dreamer about the good old days.
No one whose life consisted to a large extent in writing books necessarily enjoys re-reading them. Such a great master of thought and style as Augustine of Hippo said this in reference to his writing, as I found to my no small surprise as I read his homilies on the Sermon on the Mount, while writing my commentaries on the Eight Beatitudes.
Every piece of writing is the product of the moment, so to speak, while man lives through single moments to ever new ones. This is not to endorse Empedocles' words that one cannot step twice into the same river. The flow of time as man experiences it goes together with an awareness of one's identity as transient moments follow one another.
So much for a philosophical reflection on what I must have felt in October 2006, when I finished an additional chapter, "Five years later," to my intellectual autobiography. By then I had completed three months of my eighty-second year. At that stage one does best to take each additional month, every new week, indeed every other day, for a special favor from on high. The favor has for its purpose to make one serve a cause that far transcends one's own self which is possibly the most miserable of all causes.
The best cause is to promote the Kingdom of God which cannot be of this world, though it should be implemented here and now.
In serving that cause, one experiences sadness as well as joy. The sadness derives from one's realization that for all the efforts of such giants of our times as John Paul II (Photo: Jaki with Pope John Paul II) and a few others, the human situation not only failed to improve noticeably, but has become more dispiriting. In some undeniable sense this is true even of the Kingdom of God which is the Church. This is the point of one of my recently published small books, Archipelago Church. During the twentieth century the Church ceased to set the tone of two continents, Europe and Latin America. Even in traditionally Catholic lands, Catholics form islands connected with one another in a way that resembles an archipelago. They are the peaks of grounds now submerged in a sea which represents the past. Instead of dominating in such parts, Catholics are reduced there to the evangelical role of being the salt of an earth bent on becoming more and more earthly, as it busily sheds hallowed vestiges of Christianity.
So much in broad strokes about a sadness one cannot help feel as that sea change has become one's life experience. As for the joy, I certainly derived great intellectual and spiritual satisfaction from writing half a dozen smaller and two larger books during the little more than the three years under consideration here.
One of the larger books was already in the works in October 2006 and brought to completion a year later. This would not have happened without the unsparing help I received from Mrs Marianne Aga, of Drammen, Norway, a convert, like her husband Samuel. Had it not been for her interest in that fully Catholic light in which Sigrid Undset wanted her work and herself to be remembered, I would have felt deeply frustrated at almost every step. Unless one is a linguistic genius, one tries in vain to master another language in old age. Norwegian is a difficult idiom, except for the Danes, the Swedes, the Icelandic, and problematic at times even for the Norse themselves.
The fact that almost all novels and many essays of Sigrid Undset are available in English translation does not change the fact that about ten percent of the material needed to shed full light on her visceral Catholicism remains in Norwegian and in some cases unpublished. Without Marianne's help that material, which, as it turned out, is indispensable to gain a correct idea of what really happened as Sigrid Undset slowly inched toward her conversion, then made that momentous step, and lived up to it at times with total disregard to her personal interests, I would have been left to do guesswork where only factual data can really speak.
In writing Sigrid Undset's Quest for Truth, I hit upon a theological topic wrapped in a literary garb, which non-Catholic authors of books and major articles on Sigrid Undset tried to keep under cover as much as possible. Catholics, who wrote on her during the last two decades of her life, spotted on occasion the ideological gold mine in the subject, but failed to exploit it. A book worthy of Sigrid Undset, the staunch and enormously articulated Catholic, was not produced while this could have been done with her collaboration prior to her death in 1949. This was very painful to register, but even more so was the fact that ten or so years after her death a new atmosphere began to develop within which her literary and religious achievement could appear ominous to the big and small promoters of that atmosphere.
Outside the Church, secularism began to gain ground in a West increasingly unaware of what World War II was really about. This trend was greatly fueled by previously undreamed of scientific and technological breakthroughs. These in turn made possible an enormous rise of living standards, which fueled preoccupation with the good things of life that came as it were from a magic cornucopia. The Church in turn became enveloped in the so-called spirit of Vatican II, of which an early and signal victim was the Latin Mass codified by Pope Saint Pius V, a Mass at the center of a liturgy and sacramental practice most dear to Sigrid Undset as well as to countless other Catholics all over the globe.
Had she lived another twenty years (she died at the "young" age of sixty-seven), she would have risen in fury against a "spirit" which inspired so many "shepherds" to ignore brazenly the ruling of the Documents of Vatican II. There it is explicitly stated that if in a parish three masses are celebrated on Sunday, one of them should be in Latin. If Sigrid Undset had lived to a hundred and twenty, she would have rejoiced on seeing Pope Benedict XVI restore the legitimacy of the Latin Mass, which his illustrious predecessor often recommended but never imposed on his fellow bishops.
This vacillation of a pope, very great in many respects, would have filled Sigrid Undset with no small perplexity. She entered a Church which taught and ruled with authority and not a Church that operated with endless committees that felt themselves entitled to re-examine on the "grassroots level" even the very roots. She would have found comfort in thinking that a "Church of committees" ought to be divine insofar as it fails to be destroyed by a multitude of episcopal, diocesan, and parochial conferences. Their deliberations give the impression that nothing has been firmly established in the Church in two thousand years.
Sigrid Undset would find, therefore, a great comfort in the ruling, of June 29, 2007, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, that only the Roman Catholic Church is entitled to call itself a Church.
This ruling pulled by one stroke the ground from under the so-called ecumenical ecclesiology which came up with models of the Church without first specifying the Church as being antecedent to all its real and imaginary models. This "scholarly" fantasizing found early spokesmen everywhere. In Africa some young priests even reconsidered the dogma of Trinity in terms of their cultural "heritage" in which patriarchal families set the pattern. In Norway some Dominicans began to dream about a corporate union of the small minority of Catholics there with a Protestant but no longer Christian Norway. Two of them, both native Norwegians but educated in Congar's Le Saulchoir, where even French Protestantism was known more by imagination than by first-hand experience, found a stumbling block in Sigrid Undset's monumental intellectual and artistic heritage as they exposed the twenty thousand Norwegian Catholics to the aggiornamento. Actually they undermined in some of them the very foundations of their Catholic faith and in some cases of their morals. Some of the Dominicans became so "progressive" as to find some saving grace in homosexuality. Happily, they were quietly removed from a land which had, in Sigrid Undset's words, Saint Olaf for its eternal king.
Such and similar facts drifted to within my ken already during my first visit in Oslo in the Fall of 2006. It was then that I journeyed for the first time to Lillehammer and visited Bjerkebaek, the old Norwegian farm house bought and rebuilt by Sigrid Undset. The house and the ten or so thousand books she collected there form today a national monument. The prints displayed on the walls and even the furniture, which includes several prie-dieux and some large rosaries, testify to her profound faith. Of this an even more touching evidence is the inscription, "behold the handmaid of the Lord," she chose for the cross over her grave in the nearby cemetery in Mesnalien. The immortal creator of Kristin Lavransdatter did not pursue feminist ideals, whatever her total commitment to the best in women, whether spiritually or intellectually.
The extent to which tourists flocking to the newly re-opened Bjerkebaek as national monument, would be touched by the Catholic atmosphere there, is a matter with ties to the supernatural, where God's grace works often unnoticed. An exception to this was to some extent Sigrid Undset's conversion which should have appeared a foregone conclusion five years before it happened on the Feast of all Saints, 1924. For already in 1919 it should have been clear to anyone that the author of a long Efterskrift (Postscript), appended to a collection of her essays dealing with womanhood, thought and felt as a Catholic even on points that cut most deeply in the flesh.
The flesh was that of a woman with three children, who had to force her man to marry her in a civil ceremony when their first child was already well on his way. Some men, talented as they could be in many other ways, as was Svarstad, a painter of some merit, can be signally blind to what really drives women in their interest in them. Women have a more visceral interest in the child which they feel grow inside them than in the man who gave it to them, even if he is willing to turn from a lover into a true soul-mate. Svarstad failed to realize that he played an indirect but powerful role in turning his wife's gaze toward the Catholic Church which gave medieval Norway its nationhood and Christian faith.
Nothing of this is on display either in Bjerkebaek or in the new spurt of publications which began in ****, the centenary of the appearance of Sigrid Undset's first major novel Jenny. It is a safe bet that Norway will be no more ready to see the Catholic Sigrid Undset when in ten more years will come the centenary of Efterskrift, the first of her literary manifestos on behalf of a morality which has to be Catholic in order to be called moral. Most visitors to Bjerkebaek will keep carrying an armor which shields them from the influence of Catholicism. The shield is modern comfort which makes man especially satisfied with natural life on earth. It is energized in Norway not only by a State-run Lutheran Church, void of dogmas, but also by Norway's vast revenues that accrue from drilling oil from the North Sea.
Within that naturalist atmosphere only a few chosen souls awaken to deeper perspectives of human existence. This happens usually under the impact of the harsh realities of life, which was surely the case with Sigrid Undset who well into her thirties approved cohabitation, trial marriage, and divorce, and also abortion. Then her maternal instincts came into play, especially after the birth of her second child, Charlotte, who turned out to be mentally retarded. By 1919 she had realized for some years that the Lutheran Church of Norway was at best "a broken omelet," a phrase of hers that still sticks in the throat of Lutherans who fail to grasp what they have really inherited from Martin Luther.
That Sigrid Undset tracked down medical monographs written by non-Catholic psychiatrists who found in Luther a depressive maniac and a schizophrenic to boot, would not sit well with latter-day "Catholic" admirers of a Luther who surely excelled as a deformer. I was at that time also engaged, on the side so to speak, in writing a book-length study of the still Anglican Newman's Lectures on Justification, when I spotted two of those monographs on the shelves in Bjerkebaek. They came as a "God-send" for the concluding chapter of my Justification as Argued by Newman, to expose the bad faith, or the ignorance, or both, of some Catholic "scholars" who wanted to reshape the Catholic doctrine on justification, riveted in the notion of sanctifying grace, along "reformed" lines.
They could have also learned a great deal of ecclesiology from Sigrid Undset who took up the cudgels against some leading Norwegian clerics and Nathan Soderblom, the Lutheran archbishop of Uppsala. She did so after they questioned the sincerity and soundness of the conversion of the author of Kristin Lavransdatter, easily the greatest novel published in the twentieth century, although she held her The Master of Hestviken an even better novel.
In that debate with Soderblom and the others, which could have jeopardized her chances of receiving the Nobel Prize for literature on 1928, she made it crystal clear that there was only one Church. Tellingly, in an age which saw prominent Catholic theologians use modern literature as a "locus theologicus," those two novels of Sigrid Undset were not used for gaining theological inspiration. They surely fly in the face of the claim that instead of one Church there are only models of the Church, although the latter idea could eventually earn to one of them the title of "model theologian." Equally ignored by them were Kristin Undset's two great conversion novels, The Wild Orchid and The Burning Bush, set in the early twentieth century. Those theologians would not have touched with a ten-foot pole Sigrid Undset's last book, a biography of Saint Catherine of Siena. Its author, a Third Order Dominican, who took the name Olava (after Saint Olaf), held saints to be the only real beings and felt revitalized when near their tombs.
Undsetists, or "standard" experts on her, who traced a number of insignificant details about her in her correspondence with the American medievalist, Hope Emily Allen, a New England agnostic, did not focus on the last letter Sigrid Undset wrote to her before returning to Norway in July 1945.
In that letter she recounted her visit from Brooklyn to the Cloisters, and to the adjacent shrine of the soon to be beatified Frances Xavier Cabrini. Her account of her feelings in the presence of that heroic woman's body, could have come from the pen of an Italian woman specializing in devotional writings. What electrified Sigrid Undset on that occasion was not the social worker, let alone the activist, in Mother Cabrini, but the one in whom the supernatural has become a daily, almost natural reality. The same perception sets the tone of her biography on Catherine of Siena, a fact which could not make that book a favorite with the leaders of the "new" theology, whose principal aim was to distill some droplets of the supernatural from the natural. Thirty years earlier it was the same openness to the reality of the supernatural which governed Sigrid Undset's inching toward the Catholic Church.
It has become another cliché about her the claim that her growing familiarity with medieval Catholic Norway steered her toward Rome. The factor that propelled her most powerfully was not the history of long gone times, but her own history as she lived it. It began to dawn on her that only the supernatural as represented and delivered by the Catholic Church gives answer to the great puzzles of life of which personal tragedies and sufferings are most palpable parts.
There is much more in her separation from her husband than meets the eye, a point swept under the rug in standard accounts of Sigrid Undset's life, where the cliché is repeated that "amicable" was that separation. Amicable it may have been for the sake of children but a steely resolve on Sigrid Undset's part to live alone with her children.
To find this and many other cases of willful oversight of Sigrid Undset' trajectory toward Catholicism was a bittersweet experience. It was bitter to see the evidence of Catholicism once more underplayed, though this could not come as a surprise. The sweet part of the experience consisted in noting a great opportunity to rise in defense of the Church insofar as it can also generate an outstanding literary achievement.
But the opportunity had to be seized and exploited. This meant the resolve to leave no stone unturned. It meant three flights to Norway, and friendly insistence with germane souls there to help track down sources about which one could only suspect that they contained something most valuable that deserved to be brought to light....
(section not published here)
.... The writing of short books on a topic fixed in its verbal form is satisfying also because it can be carried out relatively quickly. This is a very important facet when one's span of attention is shortening, and at times to an alarming degree, which makes one feel increasingly impatient.
To see the result of one's writing quickly in print is especially rewarding when one's allotted life-span looms ever smaller. This sense of reward turned my attention to three other topics, each dealt with within less then a hundred smallish pages.
One of them, The Perennial Novelty of Jesus, has just come out, another, The Apostles' Creed: A Commentary, is being typeset, and the manuscript of still another, The Eight Beatitudes: A Commentary, has just been sent to the printer, Mr Dennis Musk, a Third-Order Lay Dominican in charge of the New Hope Publications in Kentucky, who deserves a special word of gratitude. He never showed resentment as I sent him ever new typescripts for speedy printing. But he revealed enough of the burden I have imposed on him by gently remarking to a friend of mine that Fr Jaki can ask much when he asks something apparently little. A year ago he even assumed the burden of managing Real View Books, a strictly non-profit venture, whose continued existene owes a great deal to his zeal.
Among his rewards was the experience he had on reading the typescript of my booklet "Rebuild or not to Try" about various old and recent plans to rebuild the Second Temple. Mr Musk said that he would not have given credit to the testimony of prominent pagan contemporaries, had it not been presented by Fr Jaki. The testimony was about the failure of Julian the Apostate to rebuild the Temple in 363 A.D., in order to discredit the Galilean and his disciples once and for all. The testimony includes references to strange volcanic activities (not evidenced as a rule around Jerusalem) that made shambles of the work of laying the foundations of the reconstruction to which, incidentally, Jews all over the Empire eagerly contributed.
My writing of those smaller books certainly proved the truth of Augustine's remark about his own work, namely that he progressed by writing and wrote in order to progress. This was especially true of the Perennial Novelty of Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth was surely a novelty from the viewpoint of the Old Testament, though it was full of Messianic prophecies. Yet on a close look at those prophecies one has to admit that none of them contains a clear reference to the divinity of the Messiah, although some of them forecast him as a superhuman being, necessary to bring about the defeat of all those who opposed the establishment of the Messianic kingdom, and under a strictly Jewish leadership at that. But in the context of a Testament, one of whose principal precepts was to forbid graphic representations of God, it was inconceivable that God should appear in a human body. This is what brought about the ultimate confrontation between Jesus and the Jews, against whom Jesus had to use his miracles as his final card. He urged those who did not believe what he said about himself, to believe miracles performed in their sight.
This appeal of Jesus to deeds, obvious to the eyes as the ultimate forum of appeal, appeals to me also as an encouragement to work out a topic, which would tentatively be entitled as "the epistemology of Jesus" or perhaps "Jesus' realism." I have, of course no wish to turn Jesus into a philosopher, though he excelled infinitely all those who tried to make men love wisdom. But those who have any respect for him, let alone the respect called worship, would do well to take most seriously the fact that he wanted to be worshipped in body.
An Incarnate God, that is a God who chose to become flesh, cannot be approached by a priori notions about the manner in which He should have gone about the work of redemption. Efforts to reshape Catholic theology, which is an eminently philosophical venture, along the lines of idealism, should seem prima facie mistaken. Indeed, if the last fifty years teach anything, those efforts did not fail to be breeding places of mistakes, indeed of dangerous vagaries.
Catholic faith and its credal systematizations have always carried the stamp of a realism, which, in addition, was authoritative, a point firmly made in my The Apostles' Creed: A Commentary. Contrary to the claim made in trendy commentaries on that Creed, so fundamental in the life of the Church now for two thousand years, that Creed was not the fruit of communal deliberations, but of authoritative teaching as it came from the apostles who were sent by the Incarnate God to teach with authority. He did not instruct them in the crafty art of poll taking, which muddies nowadays the waters of everything under the sun and soils much even within the Church.
Now a few words about my latest book, The Eight Beatitudes, also a commentary, and possibly the last of such books to be written by me. As I noted above, it was in writing that book that I came across Augustine's remark about learning while writing. This is not to suggest that I have not known beforehand the otherworldly nature of those beatitudes. But in writing about them it was not possible not to feel in a sharp way that Jesus' list of the Eight Beatitudes nowhere breathes the wisdom of this world. It is not even the wisdom of the Old Testament, let alone a Talmudic wisdom as advanced "scholarship" would have it, or the wisdom of Catholic theologians who in recent decades tried to reduce the Gospel message to mere humanism.
The "Weltethik," as the ever restless Hans Kung presents it in another massive volume, is not the ethos of the Eight Beatitudes, which will stand out when all the latest infatuation with the "sin" of leaving behind carbon footprints has run its sad course as do all epidemics. Meanwhile Jesus' emphatic call for joy on account of his forms of blessedness will be echoed in countless hearts who want more joy than what blares forth from Schiller's "Ode to Joy" even though embellished by Beethoven's orchestration of it in the final movement of the Ninth Symphony.
One should go with no trace of glorification of the self in that and similar pieces of humanism to the Sanctuary of the Beatitudes that overlooks Lake Gennesaret at the spot where Jesus declared blessed the poor, the mourners, the meek, the pure of heart, and those who are persecuted for his name. He never softened those statements of his. They are ours for the taking, but we are not free to modify them, however slightly. They are perennial mirrors in which to see our true selves, so that we may always wish to improve on our miserable features.
Vast archives would not contain all the reflections of pilgrims to that hallowed place had they formulated them also in writing. And hardly any of them would be trivial. Far from trivial is the one painted on the wall of the Sanctuary, which became engraved in my mind during my visit there in 1973. Not that I could remember word for word the plain two strophes which a German pilgrim left behind there in 1959. Vague memories are not, however, to be put in books. So it seemed a sort of approval from above when a friendly surfer on the Internet found for me the exact words also in English:
"Who makes us happy, JESUS, as You? Therefore my heart rejoices in You,
JESUS, O Joy Eternal!
Kingdom of heaven shall truly begin
When we love poverty, grieve for our sin,
JESUS, O Joy Eternal!"
To savor that joy one at least has to comply with his precept that one must go forth and bear fruit. Not being able to do something better, such as nursing the sick, than writing books and essays, which a long deceased teacher of mine, who taught me philosophy sixty-five years ago, called book writing a "criminal consumption of paper," I have to continue to bear fruit along these lines. Not that I would not get grateful words from readers totally unknown, and hardly known as my readers. One of these, Pope Benedict XVI, greatly surprised me when in receiving the members of the Pontifical Academy of Science in November 2006, said to me: "Fr Jaki, I thank you for the books you write on science and religion." These words at least prove that the greater is an individual, the greater his kindness can be. Only a day before, I surprised my confrères there with a paper in which I argued that while prediction is a hallmark of exact science, the course of even that science is not predictable.
Books have a way of spreading that cannot be foreseen. But it is wise to keep in mind what John Henry Newman wrote on a piece of paper, a copy of which has for years been kept between the monitor of my computer and its keyboard to serve as a salutary admonishment. While he hoped that his writings might do much good, he did not wish that any praise on that account should come to him while still alive. So much for the resolve to continue to work as one keeps in mind the words, "Ambulate dum lucem habetis," of the One who called himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
With slight modifications, the foregoing pages were dated as October 2008. Only three months later my statement that my Commentary on the Beatitudes might be the last of similar books of mine proved to be wrong. In early January 2009, the manager of Real View Books forwarded to me an e-mail from a priest in Canada. He wanted to know whether the author of The Litany of Saint Joseph: A Commentary would consider writing a similar book on the Litany of the Precious Blood. This was the first time I heard that there was such a Litany, although I knew full well of the Feast, indeed a Solemnity, of the Most Precious Blood celebrated on the first day of each July. First I thought that this was one of the dozens of litanies which popped up during post-Tridentine times. Actually its origins go back to the thirteenth century and has since taken on many forms, of which one, thoroughly revised in 1960, became the latest addition to litanies approved by the Holy See for public use in the Church. The priest in Canada received within a day or two my assurance that I would give a serious thought to his suggestion.
The writing of a commentary on each of the Litany's twenty-four invocations presented little problem and indeed offered most welcome opportunities as it immersed my mind in topics most spiritual. More problematic was to find sufficient material about the history of the Litany to be dealt with in the introduction.
Fortunately I had to be in Rome in March 2009 for delivering a series of lectures (more on them later), I could plan on getting proper information from the central offices of the Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood. In that expectation of mine I was not disappointed. They provided me with the best published material on the history of the Litany and also on the life and work of their founder, Saint Caspar del Bufalo, a most zealous promoter of the devotion to the Most Precious Blood. He was also a chief missionary in the Pontifical States during the 1820s and 1830s, a mission land in those years.
In short, the typescript of the commentary on the Litany was essentially ready by the end of March 2009 and joined the list of minor works of mine that had been completed and in part pubished by then.
First to mention is What is the Mass? I wrote it to allay the bewilderment of a dear old friend of mine, a radiologist. Like many others he too felt that the celebration of the Mass in the vernacular could readily deprive it of its sacred character. Since I have already written a booklet Why the Mass? it took some effort not to repeat what I have already offered there. I was greatly helped by a material which was available on line and also in a booklet. The author of the second was Cecil Humphery Smith, an English convert, who in the early 1950s was miraculously cured by Padre Pio and eventually became one of his close confidants. In fact Padre Pio alloed him to share in the agonizing pains he felt each time as he came to the words of consecration when celebrating the Mass.
The prompting to write a booklet on the tilma that made Guadalupe the most famous Marian srine in the Church came when I could join two friends of mine from Madrid in the last days of January 2009 at Anahuac University in Mexico City for a conference. I offered the organizers various topics but when I mentioned Darwin, it was immediately resolved that I should speak on what I had already presented in early November 2008 at the Plenary Meeting of the Pontifical University. My topic was "Evolution as Science and Ideology." As a science, I argued, Darwin's theory is the only scientific approach to the vast sequence of living beings because its two pillars, the difference between parents and offspring can be measured as well as the impact of the environment on that difference. But since neither of those pillars have been quantitatively established with sufficient precision, Darwinaism as science remains an incomplete, a point which drives Darwinists mad. As for Darinism as an ideology it is materialism at its worst. Evolutionary theists still should see these points in their true weight.
At that meeting of the Pontifical Academy, Prof. Ceuppens, director of the Musée de l'Homme in Paris, gave a talk on man's hominid ancestors. His presentation made clear that homo sapiens sapiens may be of very recent origin, possibly not older than 20,000 years. If this is the case, it is possible, so that idea came to me, to refocus on the biblical account on the origin of mankind from Adam and Eve as placed, after having been created in full maturity, in the Garden of Eden.
The working out of this perspective appeared in The Garden of Eden: Why, Where, When, How Long? In that booklet I elaborated on the biblical story as a creditable position against polygenism. The story, as I insist throughout, is steepd in man's moral destiny, which, and this cannot be emphasized enough, cannot be an object of evolutionary science. Further, I also insist that humanness does not have its first evidence in the paintings of Lascaux and other prehistoric caves. Art is surely a signature of man, as put concisely by Chesteron, but it it is another matter, pace Chesterton, whether those paintings are truly a form of art which man alone is capable of producing. The indisputable signature of man is language, the very tool abused in the effort to make man appear to be just an animal. The chief practitioners of those efforts should remind themselves that present-day theories about the origin of language beg the question as much as they did when a century and a half ago the Academie des Sciences in Paris decided not to consider any further paper on the subject.
As I reflected on man's creation as given in the Bible, I was struck by a little detail there, which, I believe, has not so far been noticed. As he walks in the Garden of Eden, Adam observes that the trees forming it are surrounded by a steppe. This indicates that the Garden of Eden was small in extension. And if we consider the story's deeply moral persepective, the drama described there did not have to take up more than the hours that stretch from mid-morning till mid-afternoon. However that may be, writing on that story made me learn a great deal just as in order to learn one does well to write. Augustine of Hippo said this in his Homilies on the Eight Beatitudes.
But back to my going to Anahuac, which gave me the opportunity spend some time in the Archives and Library of the Sanctuary of Guadalupe. For no sooner than I had heard of the conference in Anahuac, I knew that I can gather the material for a booklet I have planned to write for some time since I gave a conference in Monterey, Mexico. My hosts, as I said earlier, gladly acceded to my request that in return they fly me down for a day to Mexico City. I did not suspect than that I would eventually be there again. In a feverish haste I put together a booklet of 32 pp in defense of the miracle of the tilma. But by the time my second visit there was over I hit upon an aspect of the story which would save my presentation of it from being a rehearsal of other works. The new aspect is the contrast between the frame of mind of the Apparitionists and the anti-Apparitionists. This difference determines their respective appreciation of facts and documents. The average educated Apparitionist still has to make much of some indisputable facts, such as the stunning survival value of the tilma's textile, made of agaye cactus, and the unexpected emergence of Codex 1548. The scholars among the anti-Apparitionist systematically underplay all such evidence and at times shove it under the rug. So much about The Drama of Guadalupe. It provides a new chapter to the old story that in reference to miracles there is an ongoing drama on the purely intellectual level as well.
Readers of my books may now think that in these last years my attention has considerably shifted toward the religious or theological side. They should not rush to such a conclusion. I gladly seized on the opportunity to give a series of lectures on markedly scientific subjects. A case in point is the series of eight lectures under the general title, "The Mirage of Conflict between Science and Religion," I am giving at the Pontifical Ateneo Regina Apostolorum as these lines are written, the second half of March 2009. After its publication I plan to put together a set of eight lectures on "Apologetics in an Age of Science." Faxit Deus.
—Father Stanley Jaki, OSB, Budapest
Talks by Dr. Robert Moynihan on CD!
Special Offer for New Subscribers Only! Subscribe to Inside the Vatican Magazine for Only $34.95! Buy Now and Save $15.00! Click here!
Inside The Vatican (ISSN 1068-8579) is a Catholic news magazine, published monthly except July
and September, with occasional special supplements.