The Wisdom of Saint Anselm was the third lecture in the Wimmer Memorial Lecture Series (1947-1970) at Saint Vincent and was given in 1949 by Msgr. Gerald B. Phelan (1892-1965), a leading neo-Thomist scholar of his time.
As a professor of philosophy at Saint Michael’s College in Toronto, Canada, he helped found the Toronto Institute for Medieval Studies in 1929. Serving as co-director from 1931 to 1936 and as director from 1936 to 1946, he played a vital part in having the Toronto Institute chartered as Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, the only such institute in North America.
In 1946, he accepted an invitation to become chairman of the philosophy department at the University of Notre Dame, where he subsequently was involved in founding the Notre Dame Institute of Medieval Studies. When he visited Saint Vincent in 1949, Msgr. Phelan was a recognized leader of the Catholic Neo-Scholastic movement in North America, famous in Catholic philosophic circles as a teacher, administrative leader and philosopher.
In 1949 Gerald Phelan was a leading neo-Thomist figure in North America, justly famous in Catholic philosophic circles as a teacher, administrative leader and philosopher. A priest of the diocese of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Phelan came in 1926 to Saint Michael’s College in Toronto as a professor of philosophy. At Saint Michael’s Phelan fell in with a group of talented Canadian Thomists who were enthusiastic for promoting neo-Thomistic movement in philosophy and was drawn into their plans for founding an institute of medieval history and philosophy.
In 1929 this energetic group founded the Toronto Institute of Medieval Studies with Phelan in charge of organizing and directing its library. Phelan’s administrative skill quickly became apparent, and from 1931 to 1936 he was co-director of the institute with Etienne Gilson. Then for ten years, from 1936 to 1946, Phelan was sole director of the young Institute during a formative period when its courses of study were being established. The young medievalist quickly attracted attention. In 1938 Phelan was awarded an honorary LL.D. doctorate from Duquesne University, and in 1939 succeeded in having the Toronto Institute chartered as the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, the only such institute in North America.
In 1946, at age 54, he elected to continue his work as a founder and administrator by accepting an invitation to go to the University of Notre Dame where he became chairman of the Philosophy Department and was involved in founding the Notre Dame Institute of Medieval Studies. By the time of his departure in 1952 he had succeeded in placing the new Notre Dame Medieval Institute on a solid footing which carried it into the future.
In 1949, when Phelan gave the third Wimmer Lecture at Saint Vincent College, he was a recognized leader of the Catholic Neo-Scholastic movement in North America. At Saint Vincent Phelan was addressing a student body and a faculty that had been influenced and even formed by the intellectual movement and the institutions in which Phelan had played such a significant role. This makes Phelan’s talk a fascinating example of an American Neo-Scholastic philosopher introducing a Catholic audience in the mid-twentieth century to a highly significant medieval figure: Anselm of Canterbury.
A new introduction to this lecture reprint was authored by Nathan Munsch, O.S.B.