He was, over his long life, the indefatigable teacher, enthusiastically discovering with each new generation of students at Fordham University the inexhaustible riches of the Angelic Doctor.
In season and out, he sought to demonstrate, in the face of every new philosophical fashion or school, that St. Thomas had been there first. He was the original inspiration for my definition of a Thomist of the Strict Observance: Someone who believes that Thomas is the hardware that will run any software. I was never entirely persuaded, but his many books — for instance, The Philosophical Approach to God, The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics, and interviews in The Universe as Journey — are warmly recommended to anyone seriously interested in exploring the riches of the Christian intellectual tradition.
Please join in the prayer that Father W. Norris Clarke will be welcomed with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
A native New Yorker, Father Clarke was born in 1915 and attended Loyola High School. He graduated, enrolled at Georgetown University in 1931 and entered the Society of Jesus two years later.
His deepening interest in Thomist philosophy was developed at College St. Louis in England in 1936. He continued his studies at Fordham, earning a master’s in philosophy in 1939. He earned his doctorate from Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, where he studied under Roman Catholic philosopher Louis De Raeymaeker.
Father Clarke was ordained into the priesthood in 1945 and joined the Fordham faculty 10 years later as an assistant professor of philosophy. He taught for three decades before becoming an emeritus professor in 1985.
In 1961, Father Clarke helped found the International Philosophy Quarterly (IPQ), a journal promoting philosophical dialogue between Europe and the Americas. He served as editor until his 1985 retirement.
Even though officially retired, Father Clarke continued to teach in Fordham’s philosophy department and to publish articles. In 2007, he was honored by his peers at a philosophy colloquium on campus, where he presented a talk, “Integration of Personalism and Thomistic Metaphysics in Twentieth-Century Thomism.”
Father Clarke considered his philosophical journey as one moving from strict Thomism to a perspective revitalizing Thomistic philosophy to include an “implicit dimension of personalism.” He felt that the latter was inspired by the writings of Pope John Paul II.
The colloquium coincided with publication of a revised edition of his 1979 book, The Philosophical Approach To God (Fordham University Press, 2007). Additionally, the Press will publish a book of his essays on Thomistic philosophy in the fall of 2008, The Creative Retrieval of Saint Thomas Aquinas.
The author of eight books and more than 70 articles, Father Clarke was the recipient of numerous awards, among them the “Aquinas Medal” from the American Catholic Philosophical Association and a Fordham “Outstanding Teacher Award.” He held honorary doctorates from Villanova University and Wheeling Jesuit College.
In June 2000, International Philosophy Quarterly published a Festschrift in honor of Father Clarke’s 85th birthday and his longstanding editorial service. Presenting articles were religious philosopher Louis Dupré, the T. Lawrason Riggs professor of the philosophy of religion at Yale University, and the late Gerald A. McCool, S.J., (FCRH ’40) professor emeritus of philosophy and former chair of the department.
Father Clarke resided at Loyola Hall, where he was house confessor.
His wake will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. on Sunday, June 15 in the Loyola Hall Chapel on Fordham's Rose Hill campus, and his funeral will be at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, June 16 in Fordham's University Church.
- Fr. Clarke's Fordham U. faculty webpage, in which he relays his "philosophical journey".
- A Taste of Existence: An Interview with W. Norris Clarke, S.J. on the Metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas [Transcript]
- A Creative Retrieval of Thomism: Another Visit with W. Norris Clarke, S.J. [Transcript]
- The Notion of Person in Theology - David Schindler and Steven Long in conversation with Norris Clarke in the pages of Communio
- Philosophy Colloquium Honors Father Clarke February 16, 2007:
Inspired by the writings of Pope John Paul II, Clarke stressed that “we cannot know a person just by metaphysics...which can describe [only] the general structures of being. The interior life of conscious reflection can only be described phenomenologically.”
There is an “implicit dimension of personalism” hidden in Thomism that Aquinas himself never developed, said Clarke, noting that the Saint died at age 49 and perhaps had not had time to explore the concept.
Father Clarke said that he tried to first explicate this idea in Person and Being (Marquette University Press, 1993), which encountered some resistance upon publication. “But it was not overthrowing the ideas of Thomism,” he said. He said the two concepts he wished to add to Thomistic thought are that receiving is equal to giving, and that the highest being in all of nature is the self-communicating person. “The interpersonal … was never developed by St. Thomas, but I think it’s waiting to be done. The highest level of being is not solitary, but persons in communion,” he said.