+ Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, OFM Conv.

+Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, OFM Conv.

July 20, 1931 – May 8, 2018

Simple Vow Profession: 08-17-1952
Original Solemn Vow Profession: 11-01-1955
Transfiliation to Franciscans of the Immaculate: 1996-2015
Solemn Vow Re-Profession: 09-17-2016
Ordination to the Priesthood: 07-14-1957

+Friar Peter Damian Fehlner, OFM Conv. was welcomed into eternal rest by Sister Death, on the morning of May 8, 2018. His body will lie in state, in St. Stanislaus Basilica (566 Front St., Chicopee, MA 01013), from 3:00 -8:00 p.m., Thursday, May 10, 2018.  Following the 9:00 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. Viewing, the 11:00 a.m. Mass of Christian Burial, on Friday, May 11, 2018, will be celebrated at the St. Stanislaus Basilica. His body will be laid to rest in the St. Stanislaus Cemetery.

September 17, 2016: Friar Peter Damian re-professed Solemn Vows in the St. Joseph Cupertino Friary

As a 60th Ordination Jubilarian, Friar Peter Damian Fehlner concelebrated the July 24, 2017 Jubilarian Celebratory Mass, alongside his fellow Jubilarians, which included Friar James (40th Ordination) and Friar John (50th Ordination), among 41 confreres celebrating that year.

In late 2015, Friar Peter Damian returned to the Franciscan Friars Conventual, re-professing his Solemn Vows with Our Lady of the Angels Province. He died as a Conventual Friar – his greatest wish.
On Saturday, September 17, 2016, a little over a year after the following homage was presented at the June 8, 2015 Symposium at Notre Dame University, he professed Solemn Vows in the St. Joseph Cupertino Friary Chapel (Ellicott City, MD), in the company of many of his confreres, as well as some visiting seminarians from the Diocese of Savannah. Friar Peter Damian began his life as a Franciscan as a member of our community. In 1996, twenty year prior to this 2016 Solemn Profession, he became a member of Franciscans of the Immaculate, but on Saturday returned “home” to us and was assigned to the St. Joseph Cupertino Friary which serves the needs of the pilgrims to the Shrine of St. Anthony ministry. We welcomed him home and he was a strong and beloved presence in ministry, at the Shrine Masses.

The Franciscan theological, philosophical, and anthropological thought of Friar Peter Damian were the grounds for the Doctoral Dissertation of Our Lady of the Angels Province friar, Fr. Ed Ondrako, OFM Conv.



Obituary of +Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, OFM Conv.

+Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, OFM Conv., was born in Dolgeville, NY on July 20, 1931 and passed away on May 8, 2018.   He was the son of the late Herman and Mary Elizabeth (née Considine) Fehlner.  In addition to his Franciscan family he leaves his brothers Francis Fehlner, Thomas Fehlner, and William Fehlner.  His brother James Fehlner predeceased him in 2009.
Father Peter entered the Franciscan Friars Conventual Novitiate in Middleburg, NY on August 12, 1951. He professed his Simple Vows on August 17, 1952 and professed his Solemn Vows on November 1, 1955.  He was ordained to the priesthood on July 14, 1957 at the Basilica of St. Alessio in Rome, Italy.  An avid scholar he received a Doctoral Degree (S.T.D.) from the Seraphicum (Rome) in 1959.  His exceptional dissertation was entitled “The Role of Charity in the Ecclesiology of St. Bonaventure.”  He became regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on the writings and theology of St. Bonaventure.
Fr. Peter Damian was assigned to St. Boniface Parish in Montreal as Assistant Pastor in 1959 for one year.  Over the next 25 years, he taught dogmatic theology at St. Anthony-on-Hudson Theological Seminary, in Rensselaer, NY. While there he served as the Rector and Guardian from 1970-1976.  He also served as the Librarian for the Seminary and during his tenure, the theological library became a world-class collection.  Through the years he also held a position on the Pontifical Faculty of St. Bonaventure in the Seraphicum, Rome, Italy.  In 1984 he moved to Rome’s Casa Kolbe, where he became the Assistant International Director of the Militia Immaculata, and editor of Miles Immaculatae.  In this post he became renowned as a speaker at conferences, retreats, symposia, and media events – activities which would continue for the remainder of his life.
In the mid-1990s, Fr. Peter Damian transfiliated to the Franciscans of the Immaculate, a religious congregation with its origins in the Conventual Franciscans.  As a friar, he continued his ministry of teaching & writing.  In 2015, Fr. Peter Damian returned to his original religious Order of Friars Minor Conventual, re-professing his Solemn Vows as a humble follower of St. Francis of Assisi.
Fr. Peter Damian’s scholarly genius was recognized by academics at Notre Dame University, South Bend, IN, at a June 8-9, 2015 Symposium dedicated to his theological writings.  A Festschrift is being published in his honor this year, at the same time as the 6-volume critical edition of the Collected Writings of Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, OFM Conv. is being carefully redacted.  In 2016, the Mariological Society of America bestowed upon Fr. Peter Damian its highest accolade The Cardinal Wright Award.

Fr. Peter Damian will lie in state at St. Stanislaus Basilica Thursday afternoon, May 10, 2018, from 3 – 8:00 PM.  At 8:00 PM there will be a Franciscan Wake Service.  On May 11, 2018, a Mass of Christian Burial will be held at St. Stanislaus Basilica, 566 Front St., Chicopee, MA 01013, at 11 A.M. Visitation will take place from 9 – 10:45 a.m.  He will be buried at St. Stanislaus Cemetery, Chicopee, MA. Memorial Donations may be made to the Franciscan Education Burse, 12300 Folly Quarter Rd., Ellicott City, MD 21042. Funeral arrangements are by Kozikowski Funeral Home, Chicopee, MA.


Funeral Homily for +Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, OFM Conv.
Delivered by Fr. James McCurry, OFM Conv.
St. Stanislaus Basilica, Chicopee, Massachusetts
11th May 2018

[Readings: Job 19:1,23-27  1 John. 3:1-2   John 15:1-8]
As someone who has stood in gobsmacked awe of Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner for the past 45 years, I find it daunting and humbling to be presiding and preaching at his funeral today.  Fr. Peter was my seminary rector, professor, mentor, confessor, and beloved friend for five decades.  Indeed, the challenge of his funeral homily compounds exponentially by my having to follow the brilliant and erudite encomium which his protégé Fr. Edward Ondrako delivered last night at our Franciscan Vespers.  Moreover, here now in the Basilica we have the presence of his longtime theological colleague Fr. John Burkhard.   We also have the presence of Fr. Peter Damian’s oldest friar-friend from their Rome days together, Fr. Patrick Gallagher, without whose devoted attention Fr. Peter would not have retained his Franciscan vocation.  So, I ask your prayers that Mother Mary may guide my words to be what the Holy Spirit wants said.
Baptized Herman, and later given the religious name Friar Peter Damian, our dearly beloved joined the Franciscan Order 73 years ago in 1945, when he was merely 14 years of age.  From the small down of Dolgeville in upstate New York, he journeyed to the metropolis of New York City, where he enrolled in St. Francis Minor Seminary on Staten Island.  His parents, Mary Elizabeth Considine and Herman Joseph Fehlner, had 5 sons, whom they imbued with the staunch Catholicism of their Irish and German ancestors.  The faith of their ethnic forebears had been chiseled on the anvil of political and religious persecution during the upheavals of 19th-century secularism and liberal evangelism which wracked the European continent.  I can recall visiting with old Mrs. Fehlner many years ago.  In her own indomitable Irish way, the family matriarch lived, prayed, and breathed the truth of her Catholic tradition.  Even in the nursing home where she spent her final years, Mary Elizabeth evangelized her fellow patients, and convinced her 110-year-old roommate to make the act of total consecration to Our Lady the Immaculata.  She was indefatigable!  Indeed, with her son Fr. Peter Damian, the acorn did not fall far from the tree.
Soft-spoken with a bit of a stammer, and having the somewhat odd appearance of an Ichabod Crane (in his pre-beard days), Fr. Peter Damian seemed an unlikely candidate to become one of the best-known Franciscan friars and theologians of our time.  Sent by our Order for advanced studies in Rome, he earned three pontifical decrees, including a doctorate in 1959.  His dissertation entitled “The Role of Charity in the Ecclesiology of St. Bonaventure,” written during the Second Vatican Council, established new benchmarks for understanding the relevance of the Seraphic Franciscan Doctor to the theological, metaphysical, historical, and cultural issues of the Church in the modern world.  Indeed, Fr. Peter Damian, a Franciscan to the core, forged such a kinship with St. Bonaventure that the rest of his life until death would be coloured by an overriding Bonaventurean optic.  I have often maintained that, if the Opera Omnia of Bonaventure were to be obliterated from the face of this earth, his writings could have been reconstructed from the memory of Fr. Peter Damian.  I doubt that there was any scholar in this world whose brilliant mind had memorized and stored the Bonaventurean opus as profoundly as Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner.  Indeed his brain might well have been considered a PDF file of Bonaventure.
PDF does not just stand for “Peter Damian Fehlner.”  In computer parlance, PDF means “portable document format” – an ordering system developed in the 1990s to encapsulate, store and present documents in an intelligible manner independent of various applications and operating schemes.  Building upon that metaphor, I think we can say with confidence that God transformed little Herman Joseph Fehlner into a walking PDF – and for that we give God thanks and praise!
St. Bonaventure loved the number 3 — in honour of the Most Holy Trinity, of course.  His triplets and triads are the stuff of legend.  I can recall sitting in several of Fr. Peter Damian’s classes forty years ago, marveling and puzzling over the fact that he too talked in 3s.  He taught us friars the A,B,Cs of God’s Divine Plan of Salvation.  Said Fr. Peter Damian: “It’s as simple as A,B,C – from birth (A) through Justification at Baptism (B) through works of charity to Salvation (C). Putting theology at the service of spirituality, Fr. Peter Damian lived and taught Bonaventure’s “triple way” to holiness – purgative, illuminative, and unitive.  He lived a triad of vows – poverty, chastity, and obedience – and thereby offered himself in dedicated service to the Church and its mission.
I think it is fair to say without hyperbole that everyone recognized Fr. Peter Damian as a true genius – genuinely one of the greatest scholars in the 800-year history of the Franciscan Order.  Today we are honoured to have present at his funeral Professor Dr. Jared Goff, General Editor of the projected 8-volume Collected Writings of Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner.  Dr. Goff has recently edited, as well, a hefty Festschrift being published this year in which are collected scholarly theological and philosophical papers presented at Notre Dame University in 2015 about the thought of Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner.  Like the two great Franciscan  theologians, the Seraphic Doctor St. Bonaventure and the Subtle Doctor Duns Scotus, Fr. Peter Damian belonged to a unique breed “Of Realty the Rarest-veined Unraveller” (Hopkins).
Fr. Peter Damian never let genius inflate his head.  He actually kept himself grounded in a humble and subtle sense of humour. Let me give you an example.  Even though he was a thorough-going product of the Second Vatican Council, Fr. Peter Damian was once characterized by an ornery wag as a throwback to the Council of Trent, which took place 450 years ago.  With a cheeky twinkle in his eye, Fr. Peter quipped in retort: “I go back much further than Trent; 2000 years to be exact – Calvary!”
Eventually, Fr. Peter Damian’s intellectual journey found sharpening focus on the link between Saints Francis, Bonaventure, Scotus, and the Marian-Franciscan synthesis of the St. Maximilian Kolbe.  He even grew a beard, in imitation of the Martyr of Auschwitz.  I recall visiting him in Rensselaer, NY, back in the 1980s with my parents.  My Irish mother, never at a loss for words, remarked: “Father Peter, you look very distinguished with the beard.”  He chuckled, with that characteristic glint in his eye and subtle upturn of the lips, saying to Mother in his deep baritone: “I bet you thought I look like Saint Joseph.”  “No,” said she, “You look like Saint Maximilian Kolbe!”
St. Maximilian Kolbe would help to transform Fr. Peter Damian the scholar-genius into PDF the prophet-evangelist.  Indeed, his genius of mind was matched by his holiness of soul.  The combination of genius and holiness in the man – in the friar – left an indelible mark on nearly everyone who knew him.  Everyone present in this Basilica today was indelibly marked by Fr. Peter Damian’s influence – especially the two Franciscan communities so well represented, the Franciscan Friars Conventual and the Franciscans of the Immaculate.
One day about 30 years ago, Fr. Peter Damian and I were walking together through the streets of Rome, and we kept stopping to look at some of the ancient Roman inscriptions.  Three letters kept predominating and punctuating our walk:  D.O.M.  – an acronym originally paying homage to the Emperor and to the pagan Jove, but transformed by early Christians as homage to the One True God:  D.O.M. – “To God, the Best, the Greatest”!  That acronym could well be the motto of Fr. Peter Damian’s life.  His one and only goal as a friar has ever been the honour and glory of God – the Best, the Greatest.
I find it a supreme irony that I, little Friar James, who was merely one of his thousands of Peter Damian’s students and awestruck admirers, would be the Minister Provincial before whom this good friar would humbly kneel to re-profess his Solemn Vows after he returned to the Order of Friars Minor Conventual in 2016.  On that day of his Solemn Profession, Fr. Peter Damian joyfully confided to me that his only desire was to live and die as a friar of the Order founded by St. Francis.  He consciously made his own St. Francis of Assisi’s prophetic stance in the world.  Like St. Francis, and indeed like Christ himself, Fr. Peter Damian picked a “lover’s quarrel with the world.”
When Fr. Peter Damian took up residence at our friary of St. Joseph of Cupertino in Ellicott City, Maryland, he easily blended into the simple mix of friars there, who today are represented by his Fr. Dennis Mason.  They lovingly cared for him as old age and infirmity encroached.  You would have been amazed, however, at something which happened every day in the friary.  This great scholar, theologian and genius made it his special project to wipe the dishes after supper night after night.  No one loved washing and wiping dishes with more gusto than Fr. Peter Damian.  I often reflected that Fr. Peter’s inspiration for wiping dishes came from none other than St. Bonaventure himself.  According to legend, Bonaventure was doing the dishes when the papal delegation from Rome showed up at his friary to announce that the Pope had appointed him a Cardinal.  Like Bonaventure, Fr. Peter Damian new that the path to sainthood does not lie in showy ostentation, nor external honours, but in the humble, mundane tasks of daily life.  Fr. Peter Damian’s humility was grounded in a raw and honest faith.
Today’s readings at this funeral Mass were all chosen to help us reflect about this timeless faith with its perspective of eternity. They include Fr. Peter Damian’s favourite two passages from the New Testament.
When Fr. Peter Damian taught in a classroom or lectured from a podium, there was one particular verse from the Gospel of St. John which he most frequently quoted.  In fact, I can never remember a single class of his without where he did not repeat this phrase at least once:  John 15:5 – “Apart from me you can do nothing.”  Imbedded in Jesus’s last supper discourse about the Vine and the Branches, the words of our Saviour give summary to the vocations of Mary Immaculate, Francis of Assisi, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, Maximilian Kolbe, of Peter Damian Fehlner, and indeed of every one of us.  The works of charity bear fruit only to the extent of their relationship to Christ in His primacy.  Fr. Peter Damian lived and taught that lesson: Apart from Christ, we can do nothing!
As inevitable as it was that we would hear John 15:5 quoted in Fr. Peter Damian’s theological disquisitions, there was another quote that you would always hear at the end of his homilies.  In fact, I have never heard a single sermon of his without this other quote insinuating its way:  1 John 3:2 – “We know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”  In the seminary, we would take bets about when he would say it, and how many times.  The finality, teleology, and goal of all our theological probings, spiritual yearnings, and apostolic endeavors ultimately leads to the beatific vision of God Himself, who is Good, All Good, Supreme Good.  Fr. Peter Damian, not just a PDF file, but a living messenger of the Gospel, made it the preoccupation of his life to point our way towards the eternal vision of Christ, His Father, and Their Holy Spirit, gloriously overflowing with Divine goodness – the supreme Good – Bonum diffusivum Sui!
As St. Leo the Great wrote: “Such is the power of great minds, such the light of truly believing souls, that they put unhesitating faith in what is not seen with the bodily eye; they fix their desires on what is beyond sight… A more mature faith enabled their minds to stretch upward to the Son in his equality with the Father [and the Holy Spirit].”  To help his faith contemplate this mystery of the Trinity, it needs to be said that Fr. Peter Damian relied on the heavenly help of Our Lady, whom he, with St. Maximilian Kolbe, called the human “complement” of the Holy Trinity – the Immaculate human person who understood God better and deeper than anyone in human history ever could.
His spiritual and mystical relationship with the Blessed Mother became such a natural aspect of his daily life that he likened her, with the poet Hopkins to the “air we breath”: “Be thou then, O thou dear Mother, my atmosphere.”
A few hours before his death, from the trauma of a bleed sustained in his great brain after an accidental fall, Fr. Peter Damian lay nearly unconscious surrounded by his brother Bill and sister-in-law Jacqueline, along with Fr. Angelo Geiger.  I telephoned from Maryland, and asked Fr. Angelo to place his mobile phone next to Fr. Peter Damian’s ear, so that I could pray with him from the distance.  Slowly and deliberately I prayed in Latin with him the oldest of Marian prayers: Sub Tuum Praesidium confugimus tibi – “We fly to thy patronage, O Holy Mother of God…”  The witnesses saw him gently stir and move his lips.  He was readying himself to go and see her, and to let her present him to our Most High God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Fortified by the last sacraments of the Church, and the apostolic indulgence, the humble friar, like St. Francis, was experiencing the moment of “Transitus.”
At today’s requiem, one of the hymns that is to be played is the French anthem to Our Lady, which was St. Maximilian Kolbe’s favourite Marian hymn: “J’irai la voir un Jour” – “I am going to see Her one day – in heaven, the fatherland – in heaven, in heaven, in heaven – for the eternal stay” [au ciel, au ciel, au ciel… dans l’eternel sejour].
Let that be our prayer today for Fr. Peter Damian:  Au ciel, au ciel, au ciel – May the Angels lead him into Paradise.


Encomium by Rev. Dr. Edward J. Ondrako, OFM Conv. 

Itinerarium Petri Damiani ad Deum![1]
July 20, 1931 – May 8, 2018

Bishop Rozanski, Fr. Provincial, Frank and Brenda, Bill and Jackie Fehlner, faithful friends, and beloved Friar – Brothers of Fr. Peter.
Theme: “I pray that all may be one as you Father are in me, and I am in you. …. that the world may believe that you sent me, that the world may know that you sent me and that you loved them as you love me” (Jn 17: 20-23).
Sub theme: ”Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart” (Lk 2: 19).

Paul Ricoeur,[2] continental philosopher and literary critic, identified “prophets of suspicion.” He meant those thinkers whose questioning is radical, who questioned the presuppositions of the Enlightenment, namely particular truths of the received Western tradition with respect to knowledge of the world, our sense of who we are, our values, religious belief, and practice. They took up the problem of Descartes’ doubt as to having certain knowledge of self and the world. They are radical because they question the very basis of the debates that are assumed by the criticized and criticizers. Ricoeur knew the critique of the basis of truth, reason, and value, effects the deeper critique of religion.
The “prophets of suspicion” for Ricoeur were Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, because they brought critique to a new level of radicality. However, it is too easy to assume that all radical critique comes from outside religion. Consequently, I will include Fr. Peter as a “prophet of suspicion” from inside religion because he exemplifies that religion exercises a radical critique upon itself to isolate counterfeits and idols. Fr. Peter is a “prophet of suspicion” from within religion, both within the Catholic Church, and within the Franciscan Order.
Last year, the University of Notre Dame Theology Department honored Fr. Peter as a metaphysician-theologian, a constructive and critical theologian in his own right.[3] We friars who studied with him and lived with him heard his criticisms and questions for the criticizers which brought critique for us to an entirely new level of radicality and sophistication as he gradually brought us to understand that renewing Christianity is the issue. Being a critic from inside the Church and inside the Franciscan Order was not about negating or celebrating its demise, but always understood by him in the context of Vatican II as irreplaceable.
How often Fr. Peter gave credit to Kant for his helpful questions and valid insights while taking out Kantian autonomy for its radically autonomous will as exactly contrary to the radically humble will of the Immaculate Virgin. Fr. Peter recognized Kant’s valid truths as already authentically present in Duns Scotus, but at totally opposite extremes. Kant’s insistence on the absolute autonomy of the transcendental “ego” and on the radically arbitrary, irrational indifference of his brutally cold duty ethic was an unacknowledged catastrophe. In other words, it is the scotistic concept of perfect will, radically ordered and unitive, rather than a fearful willfulness given seductive form by Kant, that Fr. Peter preached and taught.
How often he took out Hegelian thought that inundates us, as Kierkegaard did in a Lutheran context in Denmark. Kierkegaard was searing in his critique of the Church. To Kierkegaard, the world is never a neutral place, but the world is in opposition to the truth, and rewards a simulacrum, rather than the only safe pattern that is to pattern ourselves on Christ.[4] Fr. Peter was as unapologetic a critic of what had to be criticized as inauthentic Christianity, or a simulacrum, as he was charitable and just.
Hegel was a genius and one would hesitate to argue with him while living and even more with his extensive works that remain. Hegel took all Christian doctrines on board but with the proviso that they be decoded and not accepted in the form as delivered, which means with the benefit of Revelation and Christian faith. For example, the world does not depend on God, but God is the recipient who depends on the world. Philosophy for Hegel is to understand Christian faith and to overcome it by providing true intellectual protocols to its understanding. All doctrines — creation, redemption, sanctification, the Trinity, and the entire architecture of Christianity — is to be ditched, thrown overboard, because Christianity is sinking.
Hegel was a genius, a genius at “misremembering”.[5] Fr. Peter was a genius, a genius at remembering. Hegel saved the trinitarian doctrine, but he took it to the point of deliberately misremembering what the Trinity means and that we have to re-read the doctrine. For Fr. Peter, the Trinity was the central doctrine of our faith, the mystery at the heart of the Godhead, the one God, infinite in being, Triune in Persons, the mystery on which depends the entire understanding of theology and our sharing in the life of the Divine Persons. Fr. Peter understood St. Bonaventure on the Trinity[6] as one of the greatest studies on the mystery of the Trinity, on the same level as St. Augustine’s, De Trinitate.  He guided the dissertation of Dr. Jared Goff[7], who is present, a magnificent study of fides quaerens intellectum.
For Marx, God is an illusion, and the idea of God functions as entrapment. Nietzsche dismissed faith in God as something that functions as a palliative and is inauthentic. God is elbowed aside by science. [This is not the case for Fr. Peter or his brothers Frank, Tom, and Bill, who are scientists]. Nietzsche even wrote the obituary for metaphysics. Fr. Peter would reply: “I think the destruction of metaphysics has proven premature.” Fr. Peter does not separate but links metaphysics with our experiences. Our experiences are perfected as they merge with charity. Fr. Peter joins the philosopher Pope St. John Paul II in calling for the rebooting of metaphysics and cautioning us in Fides et Ratio to see the seductive power of personalist phenomenology as a substitute for metaphysics.
Entirely in accord, Fr. Peter maps a consistent development in the thought of St. Bonaventure with Bl. John Henry Newman’s epistemology in the Grammar of Assent.  Moreover, he identifies a metaphysics of Newman that is sui generis.[8] Fr. Peter is totally original in discovering that Newman’s phenomenological style is not the phenomenological style that St. John Paul II worried about, but Newman’s phenomenological style helps in grasping the spirituality and realism and what is behind the superficially dry and abstract presentation of Bl. Duns Scotus. Fr. Peter agreed that Duns Scotus can be somewhat tortuous to understand but that it is worth every effort. For Duns Scotus and Fr. Peter, Christian metaphysics and dogmatic guidance do not cease to play a role in our experience. No experience is exempt.
There is a great divide between Fr. Peter’s works, his preaching and spiritual guidance from the “school of suspicion” outside of religion. Instead, Fr. Peter is a “prophet of suspicion” from inside of religion, in the business of renewing Christianity, especially Vatican II as irreplaceable. Fr. Peter’s innovative conviction is: What is often called the phenomenology of Newman rests on the metaphysics of Duns Scotus, and the metaphysics of Duns Scotus easily finds expression in the English of Newman. In other words, Duns Scotus may be torturous to study, but Newman puts him into modern English.
Fr. Peter understood how important the historical-critical method of the study of Sacred Scripture was, and how it was incorporated into the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, at Vatican II. He knew the origin of the historical-critical method with Spinoza[9] and why he was the most serious challenge to forms of Christianity. Spinoza’s philosophy came out of a mechanistic view of reality which meant there was no personal God of Christianity or meaning to the Bible. Divinity to him is exemplified in the events, in the entire universe which is a form of thought that is pantheistic.
Moreover, Fr. Peter was never taken by the new emergence and powerful ideology that appeared to edify by holding to morality, science, and philosophy. He judged the approach to be a veil for an ideology that looked more pantheistic than theistic, the kind of pantheism often associated with Spinoza. In addition, an audience of cultured despisers bought their interpretation that the ship called ‘Christianity matters’ has long gone down. To cultured despisers, religion is stuffy, outdated, and religion appears under moral, theoretical, and dogmatic masks, but has no purchase any more.
From his earliest days of priesthood, Fr. Peter was on the watch for seductive powerful ideology and any hint of the virus of different forms of pantheism. Pope Benedict XVI and he shared a love for Bonaventure and the same sense of being guardians for the theistic incorporation of the historical-critical method.[10]  They worried about the conditioning by the interpreter’s theory that a work, as the Bible, or writer of the past, is conditioned by cultural circumstances no longer existent and has to be reread in terms of a current and diverse cultural ambient.[11]
Fr. Peter spoke often of the critical question – to enter into the heart or the self. He explains why Newman would agree with Duns Scotus that it is not the intellect but the will as the rational faculty par excellence, the root of reasonableness, ordinatissime volens.[12] The core of rationality is not logic but discretion. Duns Scotus, following Bonaventure, holds that the perfect will acts freely.[13] For Duns Scotus, the will is a simply simple perfection and will always act rationally, in an ordered manner, when it acts as an infinitely perfect power. In this way, the finite creature shares something in common with the Infinite. Entrance within the heart or self is the critical question and the principle of will conceived not as appetite but the power to self-determine is voluntary and essentially free.
Fr. Peter carefully explained the meaning of the scotistic will as the power to self-determine. The answer to the question Pope Benedict XVI raised in his papal audience on Bl. John Duns Scotus,[14] is that the will is voluntary and essentially free. The Holy Father identified the question of freedom of the will as a burning question in modernity and left it open ended. Fr. Peter’s works reply in a thoroughly scotistic manner that the will has primacy because it is oriented towards love as the intellect is oriented to truth.[15] In other words, for these particular reasons, there are formal similarities with the stupendous encyclical of Pope Benedict: Deus Caritas Est.
Fr. Peter teaches: St. Maximilian Kolbe is a Scotist. I do not know how many Franciscan Friars really understand what it means to say: Kolbe is a Scotist. Moreover, Kolbe wanted the Franciscan Order to be one – mirroring the unicity of divine being. We know very well how Fr. Peter struggled massively with this. He resolved the question in a most prayerful and contemplative manner and turned to complete his last labors, a manuscript that Kolbe had been working on from 1919. Fr. Peter gave the manuscript the title: “The Theologian of Auschwitz:  On the Immaculate Conception in the Life of the Church.”[16] Last fall, Fr. Peter completed a virtual last will and testament proving his thesis that Kolbe is a Scotist and a theologian and deserving of the title.[17]
I believe Fr. Peter was one of a very small group of scholars who could get Kolbe right. What signifies his approach for me is his ability to protect Kolbe from any interpretation based on a theory of inculturation or system of practical apologetics and evangelization that would take precedence over the absolute character of metaphysical truth. Fr. Peter gave a critical and substantive analysis of the “real” Kolbe as systematic and belonging to the genre of metaphysical theology of Duns Scotus.[18] He separated himself from any movements that suggested a Kolbean personality recycled by a hermeneutic of inculturation. These stakes were very high for Fr. Peter. He worried that unless the term hermeneutics is carefully distinguished, it will bring overtones of ideology incompatible with Catholic faith and dogma.[19]
If we map what happened with Kant and Hegel and the rising tide of rationalism, we can better understand Fr. Peter’s worry. Reason had been elevated and freedom went by the board. For Kant and Hegel, reason had risen to the top and both suggest there is not really a loss of freedom because reason is freedom.[20] Fr. Peter analyzed the consequences of an unbelievable mutation in Kant when Kant suggests a primal will is a Willkur and not Wille.[21] The Willkur is not bound by reason but totally arbitrary. Kant was trying to save philosophy, but he did not get it right because now freedom and will became a free radical relative to reason.
Like Our Lady, Kolbe the theologian, treasured these things and reflected on them in his heart. He prayed the Order would be one. Fr. Peter, the constructive theologian, longed for the Order to be one. As a “prophet of suspicion,” he guided reform of the Church and Order as intended by the ecclesiology of Vatican Council II, and in absolute fidelity to its Mariology.[22] He read the ‘signs of the times’ that culture is not necessarily neutral. Faith may get left behind as Scripture and doctrine are interpreted in a manner that reduces, evacuates, and eviscerates their power.
Fr. Peter wanted us to be guided by the genius of Francis, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, and Kolbe and their knowledge of the Blessed Trinity as the goal and joy of life, sharing the love of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Mary’s unique relation to each of the divine Persons gives us a mother to teach and to intercede for us with her divine Son. She teaches us theology because she is the perfect contemplative. Therefore, to give more attention to the Marian mode of our theology and our metaphysics is not optional. The Marian Pope St. John Paul II summarizes from antiquity: “Mary is the table at which faith sits in thought.”[23] Fr. Peter draws this out.  For him, a Marian mode of theology means: “Mary begot Christ who is the Wisdom of God. She is the Mother who teaches us how to direct our love and endeavors to Christ. Her teaching may be rightly called Marian metaphysics, viz., the most perfect form of philosophical wisdom in human persons.”[24]
Fr. Peter’s “Marian metaphysics” is forward-looking for the Church and the Order in renewing itself and in identifying any counterfeit or ideology or Hegelian platform that history will get better, and that our culture and institutions will evolve. His “Marian metaphysics” fits his life as a priest ministering here below to sinners, mindful of the church of saints. In his doctoral dissertation[25]  Fr. Peter wrote of the unity in the incarnational church of sinners here below and consummated in heaven as an eschatological church of saints. He thought his approach complements others that show the Church to be an outpouring of divine grace and divine charity that lies at the heart of the Trinity itself. The return of all to the Father from whom they came is ecclesiological, through the Church and in the Church. That is why to understand charity, it is necessary to look up to that incomprehensible Good, to that unity of the citizens in heaven. The key is the mystery of charity begun here below, consummated in heaven.
Fr. Peter treasured all these things and reflected upon them throughout his holy, and incredibly beautiful life.


Paul Ricoeur coined the description “prophets of suspicion” and suggested Marx, Nietzsche and Freud constitute a “school of suspicion” because it gets at the heart of the Cartesian stronghold, i.e. doubt and certainty. Ricoeur maintains this does not mean they were masters of ultra-skepticism, but three great destroyers, in the sense of Heidegger[26] who deals with moments of new transformation. All three have recourse to an art of interpretation (hermeneutics). Each of the three opened up this problem in a distinctive way with the aim of extending it.[27]
I have included Fr. Peter as one who opened up this problem in a distinctive Franciscan way that has built within it the tools needed to extend it. I have included Fr. Peter as “prophet of suspicion” for personal reasons and the conceptual reason that radical critique is almost always assumed as coming from outside religion. However, radical critique can be operative when religion exercises its prerogatives upon itself to identify counterfeits and idols. In that sense, Fr. Peter belongs with Kierkegaard as a radical thinker and “prophet of suspicion.” Both are engaged in renewing Christianity, one from a Lutheran and the other from a Catholic perspective.
One significant difference is that Kierkegaard does not appear to have a metaphysics as Fr. Peter does. It is a substantive difference and not to be overlooked without misreading Fr. Peter. He would agree with Kierkegaard who suggests that we disambiguate a Kantian morality from an obligation in a biblical religion because they are absolutely different. He would agree that Hegel has a different structure from Kant and would recognize that Kierkegaard stays out of Hegel’s “web” because the gifted Dane knew that Hegel occupies an ideological intellectual empire.
Fr. Peter would have more than a little difficulty with Ricoeur’s explanation that Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud are great destroyers in a Heideggerian sense.[28]  There are several reasons which are not easy to summarize. Three reasons stand out as hinge reasons. First, Fr. Peter is always a rebuilder of the Church with Francis and his theologian disciples, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, and Kolbe. Second, the heart of his radical critique is from inside religion that engages the new transformation intended by Vatican II vis-a- vis the Heideggerian sense. Third, following on this, as “prophet of suspicion” from within religion, within the Catholic Church, and within the Franciscan Order, Fr. Peter joins Newman[29] in a mode of knowing that is integrated and provides the basis of avoiding the skepticism of Locke, Hume and Kant. Clearing the way for a new reign of “truth” for Fr. Peter as it is for Newman is ever ancient and ever new. We are dealing with two luminous beings which Newman places at the center of all knowing.  That is why, Fr. Peter would be elective in his agreement with the four points of Ricoeur in the paragraph above describing Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud in his “school of suspicion” who are destroyers in Heidegger’s sense of destruction and clearing the way for a new reign of truth. With Newman, Fr. Peter would ask: what truth?
Fr. Peter and Kierkegaard differ in specifics but both appropriate Ricoeur’s description of “prophets of suspicion” by bringing critique to an entirely new level of radicality and sophistication. They both agree: if faith is an event and a recalibration of life, no element will make it stand out against anything. Faith will merely overlap with normal ways of life, which is a negative impoverishment of faith. The Wesley’s had seen the opportune moment for a second Reformation. Kierkegaard may have inspired a third Reformation.
Fr. Peter’s radical critique has inspired new and disciplined study from within the Franciscan intellectual tradition. Several presuppositions involve understanding Bonaventure and Duns Scotus in a contemporary idiom, but not one that needs to be reread in terms of a current and diverse cultural ambient. All of his works are mindful of the absolute character of metaphysical truth.[30] Fr. Peter’s lasting contributions are many but one that cannot be compromised is a reminder why hermeneutics has to be carefully distinguished from overtones of ideology incompatible with Catholic faith and dogma.
In sum, Fr. Peter’s Franciscan approach is a “game changer.” For his 87 years, he read the signs from the modern world and its offering of a menu of options of how we go beyond faith. The modern world’s claim is that it is okay to leave faith in the rear-view mirror, while for Fr. Peter, it is not okay to leave faith in the rear-view mirror. The “why” and “how” is presented in a precise manner within his works.[31] The task of assimilating their positive meaning remains to be carried out. He anticipated the future of theology and of the Church, the meaning of developments contrasted with corruptions.[32] The key was the Virgin Mother as Immaculate as the supreme sign of the absolute goodness of the divine being and of perfect love for that being. That is the new transformation that Fr. Peter sought to extend.

[1] Itinerarium Petri Damiani ad Deum! “The Journey of (Fr.) Peter Damian Fehlner to God” is the title that our Minister Provincial, Fr. James McCurry, OFMConv., gave to this encomium at his wake on May 10, 2018, at the Basilica of St. Stanislaus, B. M., Chicopee, Mass. by Fr. Edward Ondrako, OFMConv.

[2] Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005), twentieth century French continental philosopher, is often associated with Martin Heidegger, Hans Georg Gadamer, and Emmanuel Levinas.

[3] “Rebuild My Church”: Peter Damian Fehlner’s Appropriation and Development of the Ecclesiology and Mariology of Vatican II, is the doctoral dissertation by E. Ondrako that sealed the judgment of constructive theologian by Notre Dame theologians, Cyril O’Regan, John Cavadini, and Lawrence Cunningham.

[4] Fear and Trembling, Sickness unto Death, Attack on Christendom.

[5] Cyril O’Regan, The Heterodox Hegel (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Albany, 1994). The Anatomy of Misremembering (Crossroad Publishing Company, 2014).

[6] St. Bonaventure, Disputed Questions on the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.

[7] Jared I. Goff, Caritas in Primo: A Study of Bonaventure’s Disputed Questions on the Mystery of the Trinity (New Bedford: Academy of the Immaculate, 2015). He defended this dissertation in 2013 at St. Louis University. Fides quaerens intellectum – faith seeking understanding is a far cry from philosophical agnosticism that relegates theology to an irrational fideism, or a guide to religious experience rather than a knowledge of the truth.

[8] Fehlner, “Scotus and Newman in Dialogue”, in The Newman-Scotus Reader: Contexts and Commonalities, ed. E. Ondrako (New Bedford: Academy of the Immaculate, 2015), 239-389. Fehlner’s original contribution is to recognize Newman did not study scholasticism as a young man but he shows himself a great metaphysician who clearly does have an appreciation of scholastic theology and metaphysics. There is an asymmetry arising from the presence of God and need for holiness to reach full contemplation in love. For Bonaventure, Duns Scotus and Newman “the beginning of philosophy is already in some way the conclusion at which we aim to arrive, and the process of demonstration required to know God naturally is suspended, as it were, between starting and concluding points radically the same. This process ends exactly where revealed theology begins.” Asymmetry explains why intellectual certainty is anchored with the source of fontal illumination and exemplarity without which knowledge is impossible (Bonaventure). Moreover, the incomparable concept of being as univocal in Duns Scotus continues the asymmetry with the simplicity and absolute character of assent as distinct from inference in Newman. The key is that science in its complexity is subject to change while wisdom is eternal or is not wisdom, the origin and goal of all science. See NSR, 282, and Bonaventure, Breviloquium, part 1, ch.1, 4. For a handy table of parallel thought patterns in Bonaventure, Duns Scotus and Newman, although they differ in terminology, see NSR 244.

[9] Baruch Spinoza, (1632-1677), in the Tractatus de intellectus emendatione, invented the historical-critical method by turning the question on the basis for the accuracy of the facts within the Bible. If the Bible is unreliable about the facts it gives us, the same holds for the claim to truth. Therefore, the Bible is good for morality and piety because it makes us better persons and we want civilized persons. Spinoza is skeptical theoretically because only science gives us answers about the facts. Spinoza’s ethics were quintessentially atheistic at a time when there were few atheists. His was a devastating attack on Christianity on a meta level. The theme that God becomes redundant was not taken up until the end of the 18th century. Kant is one who got rid of the proof for God’s existence and took down Christianity while suggesting the new basis to justify Christianity is morality. In the end, Christianity is free standing and we do not need Christianity to be history’s vehicle for morality. Neither Thomas Aquinas nor Duns Scotus would ever have said that, nor the original Protestant Reformation. It is on that stage that John and Charles Wesley, who were trained in Germany, entered along with the emergence of pietism. The Wesley stressed the importance of living a holy life and validated striving for holiness. Luther had an embargo on holiness because it is a work, a most unchristian thing to do because a person contributes to one’s own salvation. One begins to see with the Wesley’s the need for a second reformation on the grounds above. This historical background prepared the way for Schleiermacher who makes religion respectable in broad culture. Experience is now what religion is. In the last instance, religion is a special experience immune from public investigation and cannot be challenged. The downside is that religion has no purchase any more.

[10] In 1906, Alfred Loisy was the first prominent Catholic scholar to incorporate the historical-critical method into his writings but did so suggesting exegesis of the Bible is solely of a historical-critical nature. That lead to the charge of modernism in his writings. In contrast, at Vatican II, Dei Verbum affirms and incorporates the historical-critical method that the Bible is a human text that can be analyzed as a human text, but it is not the end goal for it is above all the Word of God.  This is a vitally important benchmark for Pope Benedict and Fr. Peter who use the historical-critical method but are critics of its hegemony.

[11] Fehlner, St. Maximilian M. Kolbe: Pneumatologist (New Bedford: Academy of the Immaculate, 2004), 23-23. Rereading applies to the writer to be understood even by herself or himself.

[12] Duns Scotus, Ordinatio, III, suppl. d. 32.

[13] That is why Duns Scotus insists that God always loves in a most orderly way. See NSR, 247-277. Bonaventure calls discretion arbitrium, and discretion calls for a personal judgment or dijudicatio as well as an abstraction. Discretion is not simply a scientific analysis of something considered abstractly but involves a critical assessment of particulars and a complex process by which they come to be known by a finite mind in comparison to the absolute First. Duns Scotus calls this critical assessment of judgment of Bonaventure (dijudicatio), a perfectio simpliciter simplex, simply simple perfection in the person. Intuitive cognition and abstractive cognition complement each other. If you separate them they lead either to a pantheistic ontologism or skeptical fideism. Separation, according to Fr. Peter, is another name for proud autonomy and self-sufficiency. Abstractive cognition is comparable to Newman’s notional apprehension and intuitive cognition is comparable to Newman’s real apprehension. See Newman’s Grammar of Assent, chapters 3 to 5. Fr. Peter’s originality is in recognizing that intuitive and abstractive cognition and real and notional apprehension are to be considered as working together as they lead to simple assent.

[14] Papal Audience on Bl. John Duns Scotus, July 7, 2010.

[15] Fehlner, “Neo-Patripassionism from a Scotistic Viewpoint,” in Quaderni di Studi Scotisti, 3, (2006), 38-41.

[16] The Theologian of Auschwitz: St. Maximilian M. Kolbe: On the Immaculate Conception in the Life of the Church. The manuscript is forthcoming in 2019. Fr. Peter’s comprehensive commentary is replete with Franciscan primary sources to support his claim that Kolbe is a theologian. The manuscript was found on Kolbe’s desk when he was arrested for the second time, February 11, 1941. Fr. Peter has 857 footnotes and a very extensive bibliography.

[17] He did this by demonstrating the theological foundations of the Kolbean vision, Kolbean theology and the critical question, as well as the cause of the Immaculate at the heart of the Franciscan charism.

[18] Fehlner, St. Maximilian M. Kolbe: Pneumatologist, 2004, 12.

[19] I cannot emphasize enough how important this crucial question of metaphysical truth was for Fr. Peter in the fifty years that God’s grace brought me to learn from him and with him. At first, intimidated by his incredible range of intellect, in time, Fr. Peter helped me to understand the principles to be followed in seeking truth that is not binary, relative, or rationalist. He taught the principles to be followed in identifying the premises and sources of Kolbe’s pneumatological insights and why the Immaculate Virgin is in an ineffable manner united to the Holy Spirit as His Spouse. For Kolbe, the manner of that union is incomparably more perfect than human words can express. The Holy Spirit dwells in her and is alive in her from the very first moment of her existence and forever.

[20] I am indebted to Cyril O’Regan at the University of Notre Dame for his classes that analyze the far-reaching significance of changes in Kant’s three major works, the Critique of Pure Reason, the Critique of Practical Reason, and Religion Within the Boundaries of mere Reason, and what he called an incredible mutation in Kant from Wille to Willkur. O’Regan and Fehlner share conclusions that are astonishingly similar.

[21] Kant, Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, ed. A. Wood and G. di Giovanni, intro. R. M. Adams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), vii – xxxii, and 31-193.

[22] See Lumen Gentium in its entirety for the basic grid and architecture of the meaning of Church and Gaudium et Spes as pivotal to the Church’s mission in the World.  Fr. Peter identified Chapter 8, The Role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Mystery of Christ and of the Church, as bearing a distinctive Franciscan trope.

[23] Fides et Ratio, 108. Pseudo-Epiphanius, Homily in Praise of Holy Mary Mother of God: PG 43, 493.

[24] Fehlner, “Afterword” in Goff, Caritas in Primo, 319-320.

[25] Fehlner, The Role of Charity in the Ecclesiology of St. Bonaventure (Rome: Seraphicum, 1965), 178-179.

[26] Heidegger, Being and Time. He is arguably one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century.

[27] The Nietzsche Reader, ed K.A. Pearson and D. Large ((Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), xvii, fn. 1.

[28] See Paul Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation, trans, Denis Savage (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1970), 32-36.

[29] Newman, Apologia, 239. 10,000 difficulties do not make one doubt.

[30] Duns Scotus, Ordinatio, p. III, qq. 1-3 (n. 174). The adequate object (integral subject or ‘center’) of theology is not Christ, but something common (univocal) to the Word, about whom articles (of the Creed) primarily pertain, and to the Father and Holy Spirit, with whom the remaining theological truths deal. This is a significant text showing the ability of Duns Scotus to show where Bonaventure is imprecise. Three significant “tools” have to be mastered. They are Duns Scotus on univocity of the concept of being, the will as a pure perfection, and the concept of personal acts as incommunicable existence.

[31] Dr. Jared I Goff, Fr. Peter’s Curator, anticipates eight volumes which are forthcoming.

[32] Newman, Development of Doctrine, 1845. Preservation of its type, continuity of principles, logical sequence, anticipation of the future are historically verifiable tests.

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