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Life of the Mind Seminar: Fr. Joachim Ostermann on Franciscan View of Nature (Registration Required)
Life of the Mind Seminar: Fr. Joachim Ostermann on Franciscan View of Nature (Registration Required)

Fri, Apr 12


Location is TBD

Life of the Mind Seminar: Fr. Joachim Ostermann on Franciscan View of Nature (Registration Required)

Time & Location

Apr 12, 2024, 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM

Location is TBD


Registration Deadline is Friday, April 5, at 5 PM. Apply Here

About Registration:

  • Seminar participation is limited to facilitate discussion in a spirit of intellectual freedom and mutual respect. 
  • Undergraduate and graduate students are especially encouraged to apply. 
  • Dinner is served at all seminars, and light readings will be assigned.
  • You must complete a questionnaire to be considered for acceptance. Registrations close one week before each seminar.

About the Seminar

The Franciscan View of Nature in a Scientifically Understood World

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind, and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather, through whom You give sustenance to Your creatures. Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water, who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste. Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom You light the night, and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong. Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.

St. Francis of Assisi, Canticle of Brother Sun (1225)

The unique method of reflection indulged in by the Pythagoreans and followers of Plato (and pursued in modern times by Descartes, Fichte, Krause, Hegel, and more recently at least partly by Bergson) involves exploring one’s own mind or soul to discover universal laws and solutions to the great secrets of life. Today this approach can only generate feelings of sorrow and compassion—the latter because of talent wasted in the pursuit of chimeras, and the former because of all the time and work so pitifully squandered.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Advice for a Young Investigator (1897)

Can we reconcile scientific and intuitive ways of looking at nature without abandoning reason? The scientific triumphalism of early modernity did not survive the 20th century and seeing nature like St. Francis of Assisi speaks of it in his Canticle is again attractive. But the turn to personal and intuitive ways of looking at nature comes with the risk of reading science selectively by picking and choosing results based on individual preferences and without respect for authoritative voices from the scientific community. This would abandon the liberating success of scientific thinking over prejudice.

To reconcile the Franciscan view of nature with science and scholarship in general, we need to restore the legitimacy of the starting point that the second quote above distrusts: One’s own mind. However, the human mind in scholarship is not merely subjective but personal and communal and transcending mere objectivity. Human interiority is never self-enclosed but always dependent on others and open to others for forming communities of persons. Modern science of nature and the vision of St. Francis find their proper place in understanding of scholarly communities that seek shared true knowledge.

In this seminar, I will bring together insights from two sources. One is the medieval Franciscan intellectual tradition and its way of looking at life and fraternal community. The other is the modern philosophy of Edith Stein, or St. Teresia Benedicta a Cruce. On this basis, modern science and modern scholarship in general can be integrated in an understanding of nature that is both scientific and humane.

Fr. Joachim Ostermann, OFM, holds a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Munich. After a career in universities and biotechnology companies in the US and Canada, he changed course and became a Franciscan Friar. His scientific research interests were the mechanism of intracellular protein transport and the use of proteomics to understand disease mechanisms. Now they are the relationships between modern science, the Franciscan view of nature, and Christian faith. He lives in Montreal as a member of the Canadian Province of the Order of Friars Minor.

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