A Eulogy for Fr Maurer

Fr Armand Maurer's funeral mass was yesterday, Wednesday, March 26, 2008, in Toronto, with the eulogy delivered by Fr James McConica, CSB, praeses of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies. The eulogy for his wake service was delivered by his confrère, Fr James Farge, CSB, the previous day. Thanks to Fr Roland Teske, SJ, for passing along Fr Farge's text:

Armand A. Maurer, C.S.B (1915-2008)
This evening, we – members of the family of Father Armand Maurer, his religious community of Basilians, colleagues and friends – have gathered in prayer for him. We have prayed for his etern al rest and peace with God, and we have prayed in thanksgiving to God for the gift of Armand's presence among us for so many years. We gather also to offer our condolences to Armand's sister Dorothy, to his nieces, nephews, and cousins and to the many others who will grieve his loss. Just as the lives of so many of us have been changed by our knowing Armand Maurer, so will our lives now be changed by his being with us no longer.

As we grieve and pray this evening, we should also take a few moments to remember him, to honour him for the man he was and for what he was able to do for so many. Each of us, of course, will remember Armand in our own way, and that is as it must be. But the two readings from Scripture that we have just heard may help us in our prayer and remembrance. The first reading describes a man who is wise; the second a man who was good but also a man who questioned, who sought the truth. In the reading from the Book of Wisdom, we heard that the wise man is one who knows from where he came and to where he must go; a man who knows that, in his passage on earth, it is important to fathom "the structure of the world and its elements; the beginning, the end, and the middle of times; the powers of spirits and the reasonings of men." The passage goes on to tell us that in the wise man there is a spirit that is "intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, clear, loving the good, keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, ... and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent and pure and most subtle." Is there any one of those facets of wisdom that we would not apply readily to Armand Maurer?

For the Gospel reading I had at first chosen the passage from Matthew that we know as the Beatitudes. Anyone who dealt with Armand Maurer in any way – certainly those of us who lived and sat at table with him day after day – would recognize in Armand Maurer the humble and meek man, a man who hungered and thirsted for righteousness, who showed mercy, who was pure in heart, who was a peacemaker. Instead of reading that passage I chose to read from the first chapter of St. John's Gospel, where Jesus, in gathering his disciples, comes upon Nathanael whom he describes as "a man in whom there is no guile." There is no record of Jesus saying that about anybody else; but I have no hesitation in believing that he would say the same today about Armand Maurer – and not just because of his innate goodness. Remember, Jesus said that about Nathanael who had just asked, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Nathanael was not taking cheap shots at Nazareth. If he were, Jesus would not say he was without guile. Nathanael simply knew that the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem, not Nazareth. He was therefore a man who questioned, who know that truth mattered. Armand Maurer's very profession as a philosopher and historian of philosophers made him constantly question and challenge ways of thinking that fell short of his criteria for truth. Like Nathanael, in the midst of his questioning and questing profession, Armand remained "a man in whom there was no guile."

Armand Maurer was born in January 1915 in Rochester, New York. When he was still young, the family acquired a horse and turned its care over to Armand, who, the rest of his life, never lost his enthusiasm for horses. He was an ardent viewer of the major stakes and derbies on television. It was well known that, in his younger years, Armand liked to place a bet or two. In his high school days, he began to buy and read books in science and, surprisingly for a high school student, in philosophy. When he came to Saint Michael's College in the 1930s he chose to pursue philosophy – but he never lost interest in science. He was convinced that philosophy and science could be used together to get at the whole truth that neither could find alone.

After entering the Basilian Fathers, Armand did his graduate studies at the Institute of Mediaeval Studies, where he became a close disciple of the eminent French historian of philosophy, Etienne Gilson, whom he continued to revere all his life. Through Gilson, Armand came to know the whole gamut of medieval and modern philosophers. He did his thesis on William of Ockham; but Father Maurer's name soon became associated with his real love, the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. In the mid-1950s Armand's teaching at St. Michael's and in the Institute was interrupted, first, by post-doctoral studies in Paris and in Italy. Not long after, his classroom career – and, indeed, much of his public ministry as a priest – was cut short by physical problems with both his larynx and his hearing. But he continued to be an integral, important part of the Institute's fellowship of scholars. He advised or directed the graduate work of numerous students. Just a year ago, they published in his honour a Festschrift containing chapters written by 14 of those former students and colleagues.

Hindered physically from lecturing and preaching, Father Maurer took up writing in earnest. And could he write: one of his former colleagues said that Armand writes like an angel. He published dozens of scholarly articles on many aspects of medieval philosophy, some of which he brought together in a book titled Being and Knowing. The college textbook in medieval philosophy that he wrote in 1962 and revised in 1982 continues, 26 years later, to be used in many undergraduate colleges throughout North America. It has been translated into several languages – just this year into Korean. The four selections from Thomas Aquinas that he translated into English have been among the best-sellers of the Institute's Department of Publications. Among his other books were a monograph on William of Ockham, an edition of Siger of Brabant, and a study of Thomas Aquinas' philosophy of beauty. He translated two of Etienne Gilson's books into English, and – just last year – began to edit six unpublished lectures that Gilson gave at the Institute in the early 1970s. When he learned of a previously unknown lecture that Gilson had given in Montreal, he carefully pondered, even agonized, over whether or not to include it with the others, because he feared that in it Gilson – like Homer – may have been caught nodding. But, in one of my visits to him in hospital last week, even though he had great difficulty in talking, he explained that he wanted that essay to be placed first in the book, explaining that it would make an ideal introduction to the other six lectures. He went on to emphasize that each lecture had an important point to teach. Armand Maurer was philosophizing to the very end.

In a theology course, many years ago, the professor told us that Thomas Aquinas taught that – apart from the certitude of the loving embrace of God – we should not try to speculate too much about what heaven is like. He allowed, if I remember correctly, that it was logical to expect to know and love in heaven persons we have known and loved on earth. In our Gospel reading, Jesus said something about heaven to the man without guile, "Truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." I like to think that Armand has seen the heavens open and, walking among those angels, he saw his parents, his brothers and predeceased sister, his favourite Thomas Aquinas, and his revered Etienne Gilson, and that Armand moved in to walk and to talk with them and with his beloved Lady Philosophy – all under the loving gaze of the risen Son of man.

– James K. Farge, C.S.B.


Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson is an associate professor of Theology at Marquette University, and founded thomistica.net on Squarespace in November of 2004. He studied with James Weisheipl, Leonard Boyle, Walter Principe, and Lawrence Dewan, at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies (Toronto, Canada).