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Weisheipl, James Athanasius


American dominican philosopher, author, editor; b. Oshkosh, Wis., July 3, 1923; d. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Dec. 3, 1985. Receiving his early education in his native city of Oshkosh, Father Weisheipl pursued higher studies in the Dominican Order, in which, after a novitiate year, he was first professed in 1943. In 1946 he received his licentiate in philosophy, and a year after his ordination in 1949, his lectorate in theology. After lecturing in England on natural philosophy, for which he always had a strong love, he pursued further studies in Rome, earning a doctorate in philosophy in 1953 from the Angelicum, the international university of the order.

Teaching and research dominated the remainder of Father Weisheipl's life. From 1957 to 1965 he taught the history of medieval philosophy at the Dominican House of Studies in River Forest, Ill., where he himself had been a student. In 1964, he began his long association with the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, specializing in the history of medieval science. At the same time, he was a member of the graduate Centre for Medieval Studies, the Department of Philosophy, and the Institute for the History and the Philosophy of Science and Technology of the University of Toronto. Among numerous achievements should be mentioned his founding in 1965 and early direction of the American section of the Leonine Commission, which is producing the definitive critical edition of the works of St. thomas aquinas; his work as contributing editor of the New Catholic Encyclopedia ; a year as visiting fellow of Corpus Christi College at Oxford; and his term as president of the American Catholic Philosophical Association from 1963 to 1964. But the recognition which he most cherished was the degree of Master of Sacred Theology which the Dominican Order awarded him in 1978.

Father Weisheipl was always very much a traditional Thomist, though certain convictions distinguished his own thought. One was his view of the new mathematical natural science of the modern age as largely constituted by theoretical constructs for the purpose of "saving appearances," and standing sharply against the philosophical penetration of nature by aristotle and Thomas. Another was the belief that philosophers must be seen in their historical contexts; his own work was largely an effort to marry systematic with historical expertise.

Especially noteworthy among his worksillustrating this penchant for joining the systematic and the historicalare his doctoral dissertation, Nature and Gravitation, his historical study, The Development of Physical Theory in the Middle Ages, and his biography of St. Thomas, Friar Thomas d'Aquino. The lastnamed work sums up and goes beyond previous lives of Thomas, and should help to keep the spirit of Thomas vigorously alive for the next generation of students.

Father Weisheipl was a very hard worker and his zeal and enthusiasm were extraordinary, as those who were fortunate to have him as a teacher can attest. He burned the candle at both ends in order to serve his generous response to his vocation. Though his health suffered, he continued until his death to exert himself to the fullest in the furthering of science and learning. His dedication to the intellectual life should not obscure his great pastoral concern for students and others. He was, in all that he did, not merely an intellectual but a Dominican priest with a very warm heart.

Bibliography: a. maurer, "James A. Weisheipl. O.P.," Medieval Studies 47 (1985) xiixix.

[n. e. fenton]

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