Vermeersch, Arthur

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Jesuit moral theologian, canonist, and spiritual writeer; b. Ertvelde, East Flander (Belgium), Aug. 26, 1858; d. Eegenhoven, near Louvain, July 12, 1936. Vermeersch spent four years as a young boy in the diocesan seminary of Termonde and seven years in the Jesuit schools of Liège and Namur, after which he began studies at the University of Louvain, leading to the doctorate of civil law in political and administrative sciences. Upon the completion of these studies at the age of 21, he entered the Jesuit novitiate in Tronchiennes. He did his philosophical studies at Louvain and his theology at the Gregorian University in Rome. In December of 1893, he returned to the Jesuit college for theology in Louvain, and taught moral theology and Canon Law there for 25 years, publishing during this time a series of meditations on the Sacred Heart, the Blessed Virgin, and the nature of a religious vocation, as well as his Miles Christi Jesu (1914), a commentary on the Jesuit rule of life.

At the same time, Vermeersch's interest in social justice prompted him to write several books and articles on social legislation in Belgium, particularly in reference to the Belgian Congo, which he visited to study its racial problems firsthand. His views anticipated the mid-20th-century unrest in Africa and expressed the need for racial justice based on Christian principles as expressed in the Gospels and in several papal encyclicals.

Vermeersch also traveled to Canada and the U.S., and between 1908 and 1914 he contributed to the Catholic Encyclopedia 19 articles on moral theology and Canon Law, as well as the articles "Congo Independent State and Congo Missions" and "Modernism." During this time he also published the book Tolerance (1912), an analysis of the problem of religious freedom in civil society and of the relationship between Church and State. Lecturing extensively throughout Europe and frequently consulting with ecclesiastical authorities in Rome, he began collaboration in 1904 on the codification of Canon Law ordered by Pius X, especially on the section dealing with religious orders, and was later appointed consultor to three Roman Congregations: of the Council, of the Sacraments, and of Religious.

In 1918 Vermeersch was named successor to G. Bucceroni in the chair of moral theology at the Gregorian University. During the next 16 years of teaching, he founded and edited the journal Periodica de re canonica et morali. Together with J. Creusen, he published the first full commentary on the new Code (1918), and later the more definitive three-volume commentary, Epitome juris canonici cum commentariis (192123). Between 1922 and 1924 he completed his summation of moral theology, Theologiae moralis principia, responsa, consilia (4 v. 192224). During the last decade of his life, he published articles on the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church, the notion of social justice in the encyclical Rerum novarum, Christian marriage in connection with the encyclical Casti connubii, and social legislation in connection with the encyclical Quadragesimo anno (May 15, 1931) of Pope Pius XI.

Bibliography: j. creusen, Le Père Arthur Vermeersch: L'Homme et l'oeuvre (Brussels 1947). j. de ghellinck and g. gilleman, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., (Paris 190350) 15.2:268793, contains an excellent bibliog. and a list of his bks. and articles. The Catholic Encyclopedia and Its Makers (New York 1917) 178.

[j. m. upton]