The Thomas Merton Archives at St. Bonaventure University
Biographies of St. Bonaventure People Who Were Especially Important to Merton
Philotheus Boehner, OFM (1901-1955)
"Boehner" from "A Biographical Register of the Franciscan Institute" in Franciscan Studies 51 (1991) p.153-154 (used by permission of Franciscan Studies)
Boehner, 0. F. M., 1901-1955 (b. February 17, d. May 22). Professed 1921;
ordained 1927. Educated at
"In Memoriam: Philotheus Boehner, O.F.M., 1901-1955" in Franciscan Studies 15 (1955) p.101-105 (used by permission of Franciscan Studies)
With a deep sorrow and a sense of irreplaceable loss, the members of the Franciscan Institute announce the passing of their co-founder and first Director, Rev. Fr. Philotheus Boehner, 0. F. M. Coronary thrombosis ended the earthly life of Fr. Philotheus shortly after midnight, Sunday, May 22, 1955, terminating a great scholarly career.
Heinrich Boehner was born February 17, 1901,
in Lichtenau, Westfalia. He
entered the Franciscan Order in 1920, becoming a member of what is now Holy Cross
(Saxonia) Province in
Against all expectations Fr. Philotheus completely recovered his health and was sent to
From 1933 to 1939 he was lector of
Philosophy for his province, and spent some time in such centers of scholarly
activity, as Quaracchi,
Early in 1939 Fr. Philotheus
was invited by Professor Gilson to lecture in palaeography
at the Pontifical Institute in
Fr. Philotheus was
an excellent lecturer in logic, in the philosophy of
Fr. Philotheus was
known primarily, however, through his writings. He contributed numerous
articles to various learned journals, such as Franziskanische
Studien, Der katholische Gedanke, Bonifatius-Korrespodenz, Wissenschaft
und Weisheit, Archiv für Philosophie, Recherches de Théologie ancienne et médiévale (Louvain), Traditio (New
York), Review of Metaphysics (Yale), Franciscan Studies, Rivista
di Filosofia neo-scolastica, etc. In 1941 he helped reorganize Franciscan
Studies on a more scholarly basis. It has continued in its revised form
through fourteen volumes, and during this time has steadily grown in reputation
and influence. And, although Fr. Philotheus resided
Of far greater importance, however, is the output of scholarly publications that has issued from the Franciscan Institute. Within the space of ten years, 1944-1955, Fr. Philotheus saw the appearance of more than thirty volumes. To facilitate publication, he divided the Franciscan Institute Publications into five series: Philosophy, Theology, Texts, History, and Missiology. Fr. Allan B. Wolter was placed in charge of the Philosophy Series (II volumes published), Fr. Eligius M. Buytaert in charge of the Theology Series (4 volumes published; one volume in press) and the Text Series (10 volumes published, 3 in press); but Fr. Philotheus remained in general control of all the series, including the more popular collection "Spirit and Life Series" now directed by Fr. Ignatius Brady (nine volumes published thus far).
Besides his publications for the Franciscan
Institute (Philosophy Series 1 and 2; Text Series 1, 2 vol. 1-11, 9;
Spirit and Life Series 3, of which the second edition is now in press), Fr. Philotheus also wrote Medieval Logic, An Outline of Its
Development from 1250 to c. 1400, Manchester and Chicago, 1952, in which he
showed indirectly that neo-scholastic logic is basically different from the
logic of the Middle Ages. Another book, The Life, Writings and Teachings of
William Ockham is now being published by
Thomas Nelson of
In 1939 Fr. Philotheus
published the first Quaestio of the
prologue of Ockham's Ordinatio
What effect Fr. Philotheus' untimely death will have on the progress of this work cannot be determined at the moment, but it is obvious that the scholarly world has suffered a great loss. In the difficult and little known field of fourteenth century philosophy and theology Fr. Philotheus was both pioneer and master in research.
Fr. Philotheus was an eminent scholar, and his reputation is so generally established in scholarly circles that little need be said of it here. But he was also and above all a great priest, and this fact is not so generally known. He was a true Franciscan. Eagerly and lovingly he drew spiritual nourishment from the richest sources, the writings of the great masters of Franciscan theology and philosophy and sharpened his spiritual acumen through the strict discipline of scientific study. Thus he moved through life with the serenity and freedom of action that marks the children of God. He was a genuine lover of nature. He looked upon the beauty of the natural world not only with the trained and appreciative eye of the scientist, but also, like Francis of Assisi, with the delight of one who sees in the loveliness of creation the hand of the Eternal Father.
For all his ambition to accomplish great things, Fr. Philotheus never lost sight of values. He clearly realized the ultimate futility of all purely human endeavor, yet he also clearly realized his duty to work with the talent given him by his Creator. It was the force of his personality that formed the members of the Franciscan Institute into a united whole, and it was his buoyant enthusiasm, his prudence and clarity of vision, that guided his younger fellow scholars and gave them confidence and a feeling of security in their often tortuous and torturing labor.
Fr. Philotheus was a genuinely Franciscan man, and therefore a man of charity. He offered his friendship to all who would accept it, and his friendship was indeed a gift to be prized. His human sympathy was something to marvel at. God alone knows how many weak and weary souls drew strength from his strength, how many aching hearts found solace in his loving kindness. The burden of spiritual guidance weighed heavily upon him and absorbed much of his time; his correspondence was voluminous; yet like a loving father he willingly sacrificed himself for even the least of his children.
It was primarily to make the wealth of
traditional Franciscan spirituality available to Franciscan sisterhoods in the
No words can describe the void that the passing of Fr. Philotheus has left in our midst. But we know that the reward of the just is surely his, for he was a man who lived what he taught, and what he taught was sincerity and truth.
Letter from Thomas Merton to Thomas Plassmann, OFM
May 31, 1955
Dear Father Thomas:
Thank you for letting me know of the death of Fr. Philotheus, my good friend. I happened to have a free Mass Pentecost Sunday and I was able to offer it up for the repose of his soul. Someone has also sent in a stipend for another Mass for him.
Fr. Philotheus was, I think, one of those for whom no death is “sudden”. His unassuming simplicity covered what was a real and deep holiness, I am sure. Like a true Franciscan, he was one who dared to be perfectly himself with our Lord. He helped me to make a crucial decision in my life, and I shall certainly not fail him, if he needs my prayers. I hope that in the meanwhile he will continue to help me now that he is close to God and in a position to gain many graces for us on earth who knew him.
The loss of “Philo” will make itself felt at St. Bonaventure and in scholarly circles everywhere. The Franciscan Institute rested on him as on a cornerstone. But no man is irreplaceable. I hope he will find a successor filled with his own ardent love for St. Bonaventure and Duns Scotus—a love which I am thankful he communicated to me. I cannot say that he made me love Occam because he never made me understand him.
One thing none of us will forget about “Philo” was his truly Franciscan ardor and insight into the creatures of God. He was a true scientist, for whom natural beings were only a step on the ladder by which a soul rises to the contemplation of God. And he certainly had an eye for the smallest of God’s creatures. I will never forget once when we were driving in a car through one of those narrow wooded valleys near Allegany, and were going too fast for the trees to be more than a blur, when “Philo” suddenly shouted: “Stop! Stop!” and blurted out some unintelligible name of a rare moss. He hopped out of the car and was half way up the side of a small mountain before anyone knew what was happening. He came back with something I wouldn’t have seen if I had been standing dead-still right in front of it.
Now that he has exchanged the “evening knowledge” of God in creatures for the “morning knowledge” of creatures in God, he no longer has to stop the car and climb a cliff to see his rare mosses. And I guess he need no longer fear getting lost and wandering all night in a cranberry-bog—which was, I believe, another mishap that attended his pursuit of science, during my days at St. Bona’s.
I take this occasion to send my best wishes to all at St. Bona’s, especially Fr. Irenaeus. I remember you all with deepest affection. I hope you will not forget to pray for me, especially now as I have some very urgent intentions to recommend to you. In turn, I will not forget my Franciscan friends when I am at the altar of God.
yours in Christ, our Lord
and Mary, our Holy Queen and Mother
Fr. Louis Merton
Also see: "Bibliography of Fr. Philotheus Boehner, O.F.M." by Eligius Buytaert in Franciscan Studies 15 (1955) p.321-331. "P. Philotheus Bohner OFM" by Pacificus Borgmann in Franziskanische Studien 37 (1955) p.292-295. "Verzeichnis der philosopisch-theologischen Veroffentlichungen Ph. Bohner" by Valens Heynck in Franziskanische Studien 37 (1955) p.295-298.