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In Memoriam: James V. Schall (1928–2019)
Professor of political philosophy, Jesuit priest, author, and inspiration to generations of ISI students, Fr. James V. Schall died Wednesday at the age of ninety-one. All of us at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute mourn his loss.
Fr. Schall taught at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome as well as at the University of San Francisco, but he is best known from his decades teaching at Georgetown University. He became an institution at Georgetown. Students admired and loved him, even though (or perhaps because) he proved a demanding teacher. Many undergraduates through the years were startled to receive phone calls from Fr. Schall. Why, he wanted to know, had he not seen them in class?
Fr. Schall won over generations of ISI students as well. He was both a teacher and a mentor to generations of young men and women looking for ballast in a turbulent world in which even the best universities derided the cultural patrimony of Western civilization.
In a lecture he gave in 2013, Fr. Schall stated, “We are living in a time where the logic of disorder is at work, rejecting systematically the logic of being a human being.” The culture is “rejecting heavenly answers and replacing them with human answers,” he said. “A will is leading you, and it says there is something wrong with being human. That goes back to the whole drama of the Fall” of Man, in the Garden of Eden. “C. S. Lewis says the ultimate sin, the ultimate disorder, is to say what is good is bad, what is bad is good.”
A popular lecturer and author, Fr. Schall taught on subjects ranging from Scripture to Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, G. K. Chesterton, and Pope Benedict XVI. Among the thirty or so books he published, three were with ISI: The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking; On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs; and A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning, one of the bestselling in the Student Guides series.
In an interview with NRO in 2013, Fr. Schall extolled the virtue of friendship: “A culture of self-sufficiency makes friendship almost impossible if it is combined with a theory of relativism and denial of virtue. The study of friendship is also the topic that takes us to the highest things more quickly than anything else. Aristotle wondered if God was lonely, as he did not seem to have any friends. When Christian revelation came to address this topic, we are astonished to read that Christ says to His apostles ‘I no longer call you servants but friends.’”
After a lifetime of scholarship, wise counsel, service, and the pursuit of excellence, Fr. Schall leaves behind many a friend, especially within the ISI community.
Requiescat in pace.