CNA—Father James Schall, S.J., a longtime professor of philosophy at Georgetown University and the author of numerous books and essays, died Holy Wednesday aged 91.
Schall was born Jan. 28, 1928 in Pocahontas, Iowa, and after high school spent time at the University of Santa Clara and in the U.S. Army.
He entered the California Province of the Society of Jesus in 1948, receiving a masters in philosophy from Gonzaga University in 1955 and a doctorate in political philosophy from Georgetown in 1960.
Schall was ordained a priest in 1963, and earned a masters in theology from Santa Clara the following year.
Prolific author, sharp and inquisitive mind
Before his appointment as a professor at Georgetown in 1978, he taught at the University of San Francisco and at the Pontifical Gregorian University. He taught in Georgetown’s Department of Government until his 2012 retirement.
Schall served on the National Endowment for the Humanities’ National Council on the Humanities from 1984-90, and was part of the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace from 1977-82.
He spent his last years at the Jesuit retirement home in Los Gatos, Calif., where he had lived as a novice more than 60 years earlier. He continued to write during his retirement. He died April 17 after a short hospitalization.
Perhaps his best-known book is Another Sort of Learning, published in 1988.
Schall spoke to CNA in 2013 about some of his recent books, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, and Reasonable Pleasures: The Strange Coherences of Catholicism, which were guided by the thought of Plato and Aristotle, respectively.
The priest told CNA that in “all the dialogues that Plato wrote, he asked the question, ‘was it necessary that Socrates be executed by the best city?’,” which question he called “the foundation of political philosophy.”
Reason and Revelation
Schall explained that a Christian reading Plato will be struck by the fact “that the death of Christ and the death of Socrates are paradigmatic to each other: … they are both in a trial, both are in the best cities of their time.”
“So the question” central to political philosophy is: “how is it possible that the two best men were killed by a trial?”
“That enigma of the similarity in their deaths has always been in my mind the link between reason and revelation, and why (the two deaths) must be considered both together, and uniquely in themselves.”
The deaths of these just men raise this problem, Fr. Schall explained: “the just man will be persecuted, and the unjust will have rewards in this life.”
“The question (of injustice in the world) is unanswerable without revelation, but revelation’s idea of the resurrection of the body brings to completion several strands of thought.”
Christianity “says the resurrection of the body, once it is revealed to you by the source of intelligence, is understandable to you, if you are asking the right questions.”