- Eric Doyle OFM:Blessed John Duns Scotus, Teilhard de Chardin and a Cosmos in Evolution
Born in Bolton on 13 July 1938, the son of a mill-worker, Martin William Doyle was educated at St Joseph's R.C. primary school and then, having obtained an academic scholarship, at Thornleigh Salesian College. He entered the Order of Friars Minor at the age of 16, made his solemn profession the day after his twenty-first birthday and was ordained to the priesthood on 16 July 1961, which required a dispensation in view of his young age. This was followed by studies in Rome at the Athenaeum Antonianum, 1962-64, where Doyle trained as an ecclesiastical historian and where he received his doctorate summa cum laude, obtaining maximum possible marks.
Inspired by Vatican Council II Doyle was at the forefront of the renewal process and was tireless in his efforts to put the teaching of the Council into practice. Recognised as an international scholar and lecturer, the focus of this theological multi-tasker's work was always on the present moment, ensuring that it had contemporary relevance. Much of his work was ahead of its time, prophetic even, and he brought astute and far-sighted observations to bear on many areas of theology, yet was able to harmonise everything into a single vision, for example that of St Francis with Teilhard de Chardin. He was a founding father of the Franciscan Study Centre in Canterbury. He lectured at home and abroad, gave numerous retreats, took part in ARCIC I debates, and made over 500 programmes for television and radio. He was a participant at the Second Scotistic Congress in Oxford/Edinburgh in 1966, the International Bonaventurian Congress in Rome in 1974, the first International 'Terra Mater' Seminar in Gubbio in 1982, as well as numerous conferences on Teilhard de Chardin, of which Association he was also vice-president until his death. In addition, his enormous capacity for work enabled him to publish over 100 articles and two books in his short life.
Doyle was a humble and self-effacing man who did not seek his own aggrandisement; his was always a life of service. Extremely likeable and memorable, his irrepressible character, gentle humour and great kindness [End Page 497] Doyle greeted 'Sister Death' peacefully on 25 August 1984 at the age of only 46. His funeral and burial took place at the Friary in Chilworth where more than 100 priests concelebrated his Requiem Mass. In his tribute to Doyle, Conrad Harkins OFM commented:
Friends of St Francis throughout the English-speaking world, to whom perhaps he was most familiar, know that in Eric's transitus has departed one of the most vibrant Franciscans of this century.1
A Treasure of Inestimable Riches The Doctrine of the Absolute Primacy of Christ
Three years before his death Doyle wrote:
A study of developments in Christology over the past thirty years has convinced me that the Franciscan Order ought to enter into a more sustained and extensive dialogue with its theological tradition, especially in the period from the conversion of St Francis to the death of Duns Scotus. I believe we possess a treasure of inestimable riches. The Franciscan theological tradition has a distinctive, indeed unique approach to reality which has a relevance now greater than ever before.
My plea is therefore that we initiate a fresh dialogue with our theological past. It will bring us speedily into fruitful dialogue with our own time.2
That plea arose due to more than a century of unpropitious circumstances during which the Franciscan theological tradition had, for a number of reasons, become marginalised. The Neo-Scholasticism of the nineteenth century, which was reinforced by the threat of Modernism in the early twentieth century, led to the dominance of Thomism in the teaching of theology, which in turn created unfavourable conditions for the Franciscan School. Such was the situation which Doyle encountered when he joined the Order himself in 1954, a time when the theological tradition appeared to have become buried, even regarded by some as no [End Page 498] longer relevant, and was struggling to make its voice heard and find adequate expression...