Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Meditation For Our First Anniversary

My dear fellow members, readers of this blogg, students and scholars and all who seek the Truth:

Today marks one year since the passing into eternity of Father Stanley L. Jaki, O.S.B. It also marks the founding of this "Duhem Society" - at least in the sense of one simple yet visible activity, the posting of periodic thoughts and excerpts and other articles about or by our Great Teachers, Pierre Duhem and S. L. Jaki. Our Society may not be very formal as yet - there are no dues and no scholarly works, no articles of incorporation or membership badges or ballots for officers. But there are interested people who come here and read - and hopefully think and pray as well - from all over the terrestrial globe, and this is a very gratifying thing. At the very least, we have begun some simple rapport of interested minds, of curious persons, of hopeful scholars - and perhaps this is better (I mean healthier) for scholarship in general, especially at this time of tension and concern which worries so many all over the earth.

It is no easy task to find a unifying passage to underscore our Society's purpose, or the solemnity of this day - but perhaps the excerpt quoted below, of Father Jaki speaking about Duhem, will be sufficient. We who claim to follow such great teachers must strive, in our work in laboratory or field, in classroom or library or office, to be "a witness to a faith whose hallmark is trust in the ultimate victory of virtue and truth."

Let us keep today in solemn memory, recalling our Great Teachers, pondering their writing if we can find some time to do this, praying for the repose of their souls and for the well-being of our fellow members. Let us especially pray for wisdom for teachers and students, for scholars of every type, for scientists and engineers, for theologians and philosophers, for priests and for laity. And let us work to do more in our second year, to the extent we can.

I join with my assistants across the Atlantic, Jakian Thomist and Angelo, in wishing you a grand Paschaltide, and best wishes on our solemn anniversary.

May the souls of Pierre Duhem and Stanley Jaki, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

Paradoxically yours,
Dr. Thursday.

For all his acquaintance with many Thomists, Duhem never grew fond of Thomistic terms. Had he done so, he might have perceived the misconception of the term "faith" as a label put by Rey on his ideas about what a good physical theory ought to be. Instead, Duhem took Rey's use of "faith" in a theological sense and replied in kind. As one walks in an argumentative mood, one can easily miss the immediate countryside and even walk well beyond one's chosen target. Duhem certainly missed the point Rey wanted to make. It is to that misunderstanding on Duhem's part that we owe his magnificent profession of Catholic faith in a scientific context. He lived that faith from childhood to sudden death in his mid-fifties with heroic fidelity and with a profoundly reasoned conviction.

Yet that misunderstanding of his contains in a nutshell a most instructive aspect of his being a believer as well as a scientist. The misunderstanding was that of a philosopher of physics, but it was his overriding interest in a perfect form of physics, a heavily philosophical objective, that prompted him to unfold with great originality previously unsuspected harmonies between faith and science. The science was physics, which even more than in his time stands, because of its exactness, for the ideal to be emulated by all other sciences. Though a theoretical physicist, he deeply appreciated the role which industrial applications played in the progress of his field. The depth of his views about the abuses of physics for destructive purposes can be gauged from his remark that the ravages of World War I constituted that gravest of all sins which is the sin against the Holy Spirit.

Here too he was led by a faith that had for its object the teachings of the Catholic Church which Duhem followed and practiced with no mental reservations. Even in most difficult situations, which State as well as Church created on more than one occasion around the turn of the century, he did not let his personal preferences override his sense of loyalty to Church authorities. Nor did he grow resentful when in vain he tried to call the attention of those in charge at the Institut Catholique in Paris to the decisive role which studies in the philosophy and history of physics were to play in the shaping of twentieth-century cultural consciousness.

Catholic institutions of learning still have to do justice to that role. They might put themselves into a commanding position if they recognized Duhem as one of the greatest and most reliable geniuses of this century of science. Those teaching in Catholic universities can always derive inspiration from his fearless courage whereby he kept disregarding the interests of his own academic career. The one who trusted so much in Divine Providence offered no hollow rhetoric when he portrayed, in his Les Origines de la statique, unquestionably the most revolutionary work in the historiography of science, even the evolution of science as something directed from above. Apart from his devotion to science, his life too was, from start to end, a witness to a faith whose hallmark is trust in the ultimate victory of virtue and truth.
[SLJ Pierre Duhem: Scientist and Catholic 24-5]

1 comment:

Angelo said...

L'eterno riposo dona a padre Jaki, oh Signore. Splenda a lui la luce perpetua, fallo riposare nella tua pace.