Edward Oakes Fr. Ed Oakes died this morning.  Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last spring, his friends knew that they’d have to face this day. Still, it’s hard. Death always is.

Ed is best known for his work on Hans Urs von Balthasar. He wrote one of the first comprehensive studies published in English, The Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar . He edited The Cambridge Companion to Hans Urs von Balthasar and published many articles about the great Swiss theologian, including some in our pages.

But Ed was much more than a theological scholar—-or more accurately, I suppose, he was what a theological scholar should be, which is broadly learned and capable of weighing in on lots of different topics. After all, theology is the queen of the sciences.

And weigh in he did. Ed could write with verve about pretty much anything. Homer, Shakespeare, George Eliot, T.S. Eliot—-he had a broad knowledge of literature, as well as music, art, and drama. He read widely in science, history, and politics. And he had strong reactions and articulate opinions, which made him an excellent conversationalist. No doubt that’s one reason he became friends with Richard John Neuhaus, who liked people who actually knew things (Ed has a great memory) and had strong opinions forcefully expressed.

I saw him last month at the Jesuit infirmary at St. Louis University. He was a member of the Missouri province of the Society of Jesus. The cancer was overtaking him. He had to give up his teaching position at Mundelein Seminary and move back into his community to die.

He said leaving Mundelein was a painful ascesis. It meant giving up teaching, writing, students, colleagues, his personal library of books, which meant letting go of his long, productive life. He was dwindling down to a gray, end-of-life infancy: diminishment and dependency brought on by debilitation and decay.

I said nothing. What could I say? Death dissolves pieties. Then, after a few moments had passed, he asked me how things were going at First Things . We bantered as we often had in the past before he tired and I took my leave.

I’ll miss you, Ed. Rest in peace.

Articles by R. R. Reno

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