Ralph M. McInerny 1929-2010

The Review of Metaphysics, March 2010 | Go to article overview

Ralph M. McInerny 1929-2010


Ralph McInerny passed away on January 29, the day after the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, to whose thought he devoted his long and productive career. His most recent book (the total number exceeds 100), Dante and the Blessed Virgin, appeared earlier in the month and it was as a scholar of medieval thought that McInerny was primarily known in the academic world. He was much more: teacher, editor, publisher, journalist, novelist, and poet: a man of letters in every respect. He retired last year as Michael P. Grace Professor of Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame, where he had taught since 1955. McInerny's wife, Connie, died in 2002. He leaves behind six children and a great many friends and students who consider having known him one of the great privileges of their lives.

His early years, elegantly recounted in his 2006 memoir, I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You, were lived in Minnesota, where he studied at St. Paul Seminary and the University of Minnesota. He took his doctorate at Laval University in Quebec under the legendary Charles De Koninck, the second volume of whose papers appeared just last year as edited by McInerny. After one year on the faculty of Creighton University, he arrived at Notre Dame as an instructor, rising to the rank of full professor in 1969 and was installed in the Grace chair in 1978. McInerny also served as director of Notre Dame's Medieval Institute from 1978-85 and as director of the Jacques Maritain Center from 1979-2005, and he held visiting appointments at the Catholic University of America, the Catholic University of Belgium, Cornell University, Fu Jen University in Taiwan, the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and Oxford University, among others. McInerny was also quite active in scholarly organizations, serving as president of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, the American Maritain Association, and the Metaphysical Society of America.

McInerny's first academic book, The Logic of Analogy: An Interpretation of St. Thomas, was published in 1961, and the topic remained a focus of his philosophical life, yielding Studies in Analogy (1968) and Aquinas and Analogy (1996). His work on Aquinas, however, went far beyond the question of analogy: he interpreted Aquinas's moral thought in Ethica Thomistica (1982), now a widely used textbook, and Aquinas on Human Action (1992). He studied Thomas's relationships with both philosophical influences and rivals in Boethius and Aquinas (1990) and Aquinas Against the Averroists (1993). Among McInerny's later philosophical works were his Gifford Lectures, Characters in Search of Their Author (2001), a robust defense of natural theology against various modern currents of thought, and Preambula Fidei: Thomism and the God of the Philosophers (2005), in which he defended a strongly Aristotelian interpretation of Aquinas's metaphysics as culminating in a natural theology that prepares the ground for the reception of the Christian faith. …

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