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Father James V. Schall at his last lecture before retiring from teaching at Georgetown University in 2012. Berkley Center / Youtube screen grab
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Philosopher priest and Pope Francis critic James Schall dies at 91

Martin M. Barillas Martin M. Barillas Follow Martin

LOS GATOS, California, April 18, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Rev. James V. Schall SJ, who had long served as a professor of political philosophy at Georgetown University, has died at the age of 91.

Father Schall was the author of over 30 books, and also wrote essays for the National Catholic Register, Crisis, University Bookman, and Saint Austin Review. At the time of his passing, Fr. Schall was living at a Jesuit residence in California. Despite retiring in 2012 after 58 years of teaching, he continued to write and speak out.

In October 2018, Schall reflected on journalistic reports that criticized Pope Francis and his pontificate. Writing in Crisis magazine, Schall stated that the crisis in the Catholic Church is whether it will uphold its own teachings. And, at the center of the crisis is Pope Francis, he added. 

“The Church is being watched to see if it upholds the natural law in its own teachings and practices,” Schall said,  “or whether it joins the world and thereby undermines its claim to consistency and truth of doctrine since its beginning.” Regarding criticisms of Francis’ reactions, Schall said, “People are also puzzled by the pope’s refusal to answer what seem to be quite legitimate and straightforward questions about what he teaches.”

“Pope Bergoglio himself seems willing to talk about almost every subject but his own beliefs and record,” he said. “They seem most at issue. The crisis at this stage, whether we like it or not, is precisely about the present pope, what he believes and which decisions he made.” 

Prof. Stephen Schneck, who teaches political philosophy at the Catholic University of America, reflected on Schall’s life in an email response to LifeSiteNews:

“Father Schall was a brilliant teacher of political philosophy, whose students trembled in preparation for his classes, yet came to revere him in retrospect as the best teacher they had known. A luminous combination of brusque confidence and deep compassion, the force of his personality left a mark on all who met him. He was the epitome of a scholar’s scholar. We disagreed often and sometimes loudly about current political issues. But, we agreed profoundly about the big things — our beloved faith, classical political philosophy, and the virtues so desperately needed for today’s world. And, we treasured our mutual heritage in small town Iowa. In paradisum deducant te angeli."

Father James Vincent Schall was born January 20, 1928, in Pocahontas, Iowa. During his military service in the mid-1940s, he discovered a library on his Army base where he acquainted himself with literature that occupied his off-duty time. After his service, he attended Santa Clara University and received a graduate degree in theology, having entered the California Province of the Jesuits in 1948. He then earned a doctorate in political philosophy at Georgetown University, as well as a graduate degree at Gonzaga University.  

Schall then taught social sciences at the Gregorian University in Rome and then at the University of San Francisco. Then, from 1977 to 2012, he was a professor in the Department of Government at Georgetown University in Washington. He also served on the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace at the Vatican, 1977-82; and of the National Council on the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities, 1984-90.

Shortly after his retirement in 2012, Schall underscored in a lecture his support of Pope Benedict XVI who has criticized the "dictatorship of relativism" that the Pope saw in Western culture. Schall told his listeners: "We are living in a time where the logic of disorder is at work, rejecting systematically the logic of being a human being." Saying that the redefinition of the human family "is not just an accident," Schall said that modern culture is "rejecting heavenly answers and replacing them with human answers.” He said that 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. C.S. Lewis says the ultimate sin, the ultimate disorder, is to say what is good is bad, what is bad is good."

Schall was the author of 30 books and numerous essays. His book, bearing the hefty title, “Another Sort of Learning: Selected Contrary Essays on How Finally to Acquire an Education While Still in College or Anywhere Else: Containing Some Belated Advice about How to Employ Your Leisure Time When Ultimate Questions Remain Perplexing in Spite of Your Highest Earned Academic Degree, Together with Sundry Book Lists Nowhere Else in Captivity To Be Found,” sought to advocate lifelong education and pursuit of the truth. 

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