born on August 17 1924. He died on April 7 2009, aged 84.
Fr Stanley Jaki, who died in Madrid, was an intellectual and spiritual giant, a world leader in several of his subject areas, writes John Beaumont.
Born in Hungary on August 17 1924, he was educated by the Benedictines and joined the order in 1942. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1948 and lived much of the rest of his life in the United States, where he was Distinguished Professor of Physics at Seton Hall University, New Jersey.
He wrote more than 50 books and some 500 articles. In these he examined the history and philosophy of science and its relationship with religion, the life and thought of Cardinal Newman, the Catholic faith and its defence, together with many commentaries on traditional Catholic devotions and other spiritual matters. He wrote on bioethics, priestly celibacy, the Bible, the miracle of the sun at Fatima, the life of Sigrid Undset, and the thoughts of G K Chesterton. Any idea that this breadth of interest meant a lack of depth would be untrue, however.
Pre-eminent among Fr Jaki’s many honours were the Templeton Prize and his nomination to the Pontifical Academy for Sciences by Pope John Paul II. He gave the Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh over two years, the Fremantle Lectures at Oxford, and received many honorary doctorates.
Fr Jaki worked long hours and was demanding of others. He could be blunt and, as a result, was seen by some as awkward. If he sometimes was, the explanation is easily given. Everything he did was motivated by an unrelenting focus on the truth. Fr Vincent McNabb said: “Truth alone is worthy of our entire devotion.” Never was a phrase more apt than in the case of Fr Jaki.
When asked when he would rest, he would respond with a Hungarian proverb: “When I’m in my grave.” To Fr Jaki the present threats faced by the Church were so serious that “one has only one choice: to fight”. Yet to concentrate on the combative side of Fr Jaki’s character gives only a partial picture. There was also a gentler side to his nature. If one showed a desire to find the truth, whatever one’s ability, he gave his un qualified help and encouragement.
Then there were the many acts of charity. So often he was the good Samaritan. There were also the infectious sense of humour, his joy in the practice of the faith, his daily holy hour and his delight in witnessing a particular Catholic mother in prayer with her children. Fr Jaki never forgot the spiritual strength that comes from Catholic domestic life. In the public forum, his loyalty to Seton Hall caused him to turn down the prestigious chair in Roman Catholic studies at Harvard.
For Fr Jaki our present culture wars were serious. He worked ardently to give Catholics the weapons with which to counter secular materialism and promote the Catholic faith. On the former, he understood the limits of science – a subject of great importance, but one applying exclusively to quantitative matters, conceptually distinct from the humanities, and having no application to morality, free will, and the clearly purposive nature of man. He showed that the Christian revelation was essential to the development of science. He emphasised the crucial distinction between Darwin ism as a science and as an ideology.
Fr Jaki was saddened by theologians who wished to graft Kantian ideas on to the thought of Aquinas. He compared others who minimised the faith to the Arians of the fourth century. He was appalled by attempts to make Newman a defender of liberalism.
He supported Pope Benedict’s actions to restore the legitimacy of the old form of the Mass. The present Pope said Fr Jaki’s PhD thesis, criticising the new tendencies in Ecclesiology, has a place of honour in his personal library. Latterly Fr Jaki wrote much on apologetics and the need to carry the challenge to the atheists, saying: “Never let your opponents set the rules or the playing ground.” The funeral Mass for Fr Jaki was held on April 29 at the great Archabbey of Pannonhalma in Hungary. His two brothers, both monks there, were present.
Fr Jaki’s works are a magnificent witness. There is no better summary of Fr Jaki’s life than one of his favourite passages from the Old Testament, Sirach 4:28: “Strive even to death for the truth and the Lord God will fight for you.”