THE REV. STANLEY L. JAKI, PHYSICIST AND THEOLOGIAN, DIES AT 84 *
The Rev. Stanley L. Jaki, a physicist and theologian whose prolific writings parsed the histories of science and religion and the intertwining of faith and reason, died on Tuesday in Madrid, where he had traveled from Rome after delivering a lecture. He was 84 and lived in Princeton, N.J.
The cause was complications after a heart attack, said Holly Wojcik, a spokeswoman for Seton Hall University, where Father Jaki, a Benedictine priest, was a professor of physics.
Father Jaki (pronounced YAH-kee) held doctoral degrees in physics and theology. A relentless scholar, he wrote more than 40 books, including studies of the religious thinking of G. K. Chesterton, the works of the French physicist and historian of science Pierre Duhem and the life of Cardinal John Henry Newman, the 19th-century theologian who famously converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism.
He is probably best known, however, for works like “The Relevance of Physics” (1966) and “Science and Creation” (1974), in which he argued that the scientific enterprise did not become viable and self-sustaining until its incarnation in Christian medieval Europe, and that the advancement of science was indebted to the Christian understanding of creation.
In later works Father Jaki explored the boundary between science and religion; he believed the two were compatible and mutually reinforcing, and in 1987 he received the Templeton Prize, the annual award given for advancing the quest to understand God.
“I believe there is a basic misunderstanding which has existed for hundreds of years and will continue to persist about the ‘creationist problem,’ ” he said in an interview with The New York Times after receiving the prize, “because in intellectual life we do not solve such dilemmas to the satisfaction of everybody.”
Stanley Ladislas Jaki was born in Gyor, Hungary, on Aug. 17, 1924. He attended local schools run by the Benedictines and joined the order in 1942, living in the Archabbey of Pannonhalma, which had been established in the 10th century, during World War II. He was ordained in 1948.
In 1950, he received a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Institute of San Anselmo, Rome, and came to the United States, where he taught at a seminary in Pennsylvania. When complications after a tonsillectomy deprived him of his voice — he would not regain it for a number of years — he gave up teaching and enrolled in Fordham University’s graduate program in physics, where he studied with the Nobel laureate Victor F. Hess, the discoverer of cosmic rays. He received a doctorate in 1957.
He joined the faculty of Seton Hall in 1965 and was made distinguished university professor in 1975. Father Jaki was a visiting professor at universities all over the world and delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh.
He is survived by two brothers, both Benedictine priests, the Rev. Zeno Jaki and the Rev. Theodose Jaki, who live at the Archabbey of Pannonhalma.
* The New York Times, 13 abril 2009.