Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Father Stanley L. Jaki, who died 7 April in Madrid, en route home to Seton Hall University in New Jersey, after having lectured in Rome, was undoubtedly one of the greatest theologians of our time.

The word "genius" is surely an accurate descriptive for this Hungarian-born Benedictine, who was awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize in 1987, an honor on a par in theology with the Nobel Prize. (The prize includes one of the world’s largest monetary awards, which was donated for the most part to his monastery in Pannonhalma.) The citation for the Templeton Prize referred to Father Jaki’s having contributed critically to progress between religion and physical science, a challenge he accepted in many books, lectures throughout the world, and academic positions in some of the most respected universities, ranging from Princeton to Oxford, from Munich and Prague to Moscow, Hong Kong and Australia.

Relatively early in his scholarly career as a theologian, Father Jaki lost his ability to speak, owing to a surgical mishap. It was then that he turned to physics, earning a doctorate, under the tutelage of Nobel Laureate Professor Victor F. Hess, at Fordham. As a result, he was qualified to address emerging questions pertaining to religion and science viewed together, and, consequently was long heralded as among the most expert in this field. Unexpectedly, his voice returned.

Some of Father Jaki’s better known books are The Relevance of Physics (1966); Brain, Mind and Computers (1969), for which he won the Leconte de Novy Prize; The Paradox of Obler’s Paradox (1969); The Milky Way: An Exclusive Road for Science (1972); Science and Creation: From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe (1974); Cosmos and Creator (1979); Angels, Apes and Men (1982); Miracles and Physics (1989); God and the Cosmologists (1989); Is There a Universe? (1992); and God and the Sun at Fatima (1999).

Nor did Father Jaki ever forget his love for theological questions per se. He wrote significant books on clerical celibacy, e.g., Theology of Priestly Celibacy (1998); on prayer, e.g., Praying the Psalms (2000); on Papal primacy, e.g., The Keys of the Kingdom (1986), also And On This Rock (1987).

Too, Father Jaki became a recognized authority on the great English Cardinal John Henry Newman, e.g., Newman’s Challenge (2000). In this book, incidentally, Father Jaki recalls Newman’s sage observation for mankind today:

"The Hindoo notion is said to be that the earth stands upon a tortoise, but the physicist, as such, will never ask himself by what influence, external to the universe, the universe is sustained, simply because he is a physicist." Father Jaki adds "that today more and more physicists find it more interesting to take on the role of a guru." The reality, he says, is that physics began "with matter" and "with matter it will end; it will never trespass into the province of mind."

The last time I wrote a column on Father Jaki was for this newspaper in 2005. Then I spoke with him on the telephone; I had called him several years earlier about delivering a lecture at Holy Apostles Seminary – an invitation which he gladly welcomed and fulfilled. When he died in April, I was beginning to read one of his latest books, entitled Sigrid Undset’s Quest for the Truth (2007), and hoped to write him about my impressions of it.

The very subject of this book struck me the moment I saw it advertised. The encyclopedic interest of Father Jaki was astonishing; and I intended to thank him for it.

Sigrid Undset, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928 and died in 1949, became one of the greatest converts of the 20 century. A scholar of awesome profundity, she was also one of the finest literary artists the world has ever seen; her classic trilogy, Kristin Lavransdatter (which we had to read in our seminary college literature classes), is widely viewed as the supreme Catholic novel, unsurpassed in the history of the novel, precisely because it fulfills the definition of a Catholic novel, the lesson of which is that grace overpowers sin.

In his book on Sigrid Undset, Father Jaki includes, in a "postscript," two previously untranslated essays by Sigrid. The first is a remarkable assessment of feminism – she was both a wife and mother. Among other things, she stresses that feminism "is not only a matter of married women and mothers; another concern is the unmarried women, left to their own resources only, without any natural protector." And "no woman in our time has had such an influence on the intellectual life as in former times St. Brigid, St. Catherine of Siena, or St. Teresa had in theirs."

The second postscript is entitled "My reasons to convert" (1936). It is equally unforgettable.

Sigrid Undset died in Lillehammer, Norway. Yet she remains "a living force after her death," in Father Jaki’s words. Indeed, that in one of his final books, Father Stanley Jaki, also a genius, could have written about Sigrid Undset, is a lasting memorial to her genius.

Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor of

The Catholic Transcript, and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.