When the 18-year-old Stanley Jaki entered the archabbey of Pannonhalma in western Hungary to become a monk, he would have seen over the great entrance to the conventual complex an image that still may be seen there today, a summary of the “enlightened” Viennese policy for regular clergy: On one side, King St. Stephen of the House of Arpad is handing a charter to a medievally clad abbot on which is written Praedicate a.d. 1001, that is, “preach ye”; and on the other, the Doppelkaiser Francis I of the House of Habsburg is handing a charter to an abbot in baroque choir dress, on which is written Docete a.d. 1802, that is, “teach ye.” The philo-masonic policies of the Austrian court in the late 18th and early 19th centuries determined the value of monastic life to be learning and teaching the arts and sciences for the advantage of the state. Preaching the Gospel to the Hun, Magyar, and Croat was out, and schoolmastering was in. The unique and monumental work of Fr. Stanley Jaki (born in Gyor, August 17, 1924; died in Madrid, April 7, 2009) was the perfect Aufhebung of the antithesis implied in the imperial command. To be sure, in the 20th century there were the likes of the Anglican E.L. Mascall and the American Dominicans of the River Forest School, or currently the brilliant Mariano Artigas of Opus Dei, but no Christian writer has confronted the false dichotomy of religion and science with more persistence and success than the lately dead Fr. Stanley Jaki. One of our great ally Stalin’s many gifts to America, he taught the philosophy of science from his doctorate in physics from Fordham in 1957 to the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences at the Casino of Pius IV in the Vatican just days before his death. In the meantime, he had lectured at Oxford, the Sorbonne, the Gregorian, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and had given the Gifford Lectures in Edinburgh and received the Templeton Prize in 1987. His greatest work from the perspective of the philosophy of science was The Relevance of Physics (1966), but his many works and essays vindicating a specifically Christian and late-medieval matrix as the only historically sound explanation for the advent of modern science are his unique and great contribution.
This broad intellectual effort led him to refute the claims of a secularist, post-Cartesian rationalism and to individuate those points of the Christian worldview that were the sources of an epistemological optimism which would be the catalyst for scientific discovery. Creation in time and the Incarnation of the Co-eternal Logos of the Father are revealed dogmas that ensure a linear understanding of time and nature and also a conviction of the ultimate intelligibility of the universe. These oppose the cyclical time and blind necessity of the pagans. Although there are those—the present correspondent included—who, along with Saint Thomas, are not entirely convinced that the merely (for us Christians) hypothetical notion of a world created ex nihilo but from all eternity is not the more rationally evident starting point for the discovery of God in creation than that of a world revealed to have been created in time, nonetheless the priest and monk Stanley Jaki has done for the philosophy of science what no one else has done: a thorough historical refutation of the anti-Christian account of the origins of scientific modernity. For this we may pray that he will receive the reward of his labors undertaken by the grace of Christ, “the Firstborn of all creation.”