Philosophy professor dies at 80

Charles J. Ermatinger, professor emeritus in the department of philosophy and retired librarian of the Knights of Columbus Vatican Film Library, died Jan. 19, 2002, in St. Louis. He was 80 years old.

Ermatinger was born Oct. 3, 1921 and raised in Oshkosh, Wis. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in philosophy at Saint Louis University in 1952 and went on to graduate school at SLU to earn his master’s in medieval philosophy in 1955 as well as his doctorate in 1963.

He became an assistant reference librarian at Pius XII Memorial Library while studying as a graduate student in 1952, and one year later he was appointed librarian of the Vatican Film Library.

From 1955 to 1961, Ermatinger taught as an assistant in the Department of Modern Languages and in the Department of Philosophy from 1961 to 1964. After earning his doctorate, he became an assistant professor of philosophy in 1964 and went on to associate professor in 1965 and full professor in 1970.

Ermatinger retired from his teaching career in 1992 as professor emeritus.

However, he continued his job as librarian of the Vatican Film Library until 2000, and remained editor of its journal, Manuscripta.

John P. Doyle, Ph.D., of the Philosophy Department, knew Ermatinger for 35 years and described him as a “walking encyclopedia.”

“He was the heart and soul of the Vatican Library. Without him it would have fallen down,” Doyle said.

The collection of Vatican Library manuscripts on microfilm that he helped put together in the 1950s and `60s is known as one of the great scholarly enterprises on the 20th century.

For nearly 50 years Ermatinger organized the collection of manuscripts, creating a research library in St. Louis that many visitors find more informative and accessible than visiting Rome itself.

Doyle also spoke of Ermatinger’s wide knowledge of languages.

“His language ability was the first thing you realized about him,” Doyle said. According to Doyle, Ermatinger was fluent in German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Latin and somewhat fluent in Greek.

“He was always working, but he could always stop to help you,” Doyle said. “He was so self-effacing, he never looked for the limelight. I will have memories of him helping me, helping everyone, never looking for credit. He was an unsung hero.”

Ermatinger also taught himself computer languages and was competent in higher logic as it relates to the arguments you would encounter in Latin Medieval philosophy, Doyle said.

Ermatinger was highly published in the study of late medieval philosophy, focusing on Thomism, symbolic logic, textual criticism and manuscript studies.

He was popular among the students and was known for his animated and spirited readings of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica in Latin, at the annual “Summa-thon,” sponsored by the SLU Philosophy Club.

“He was such a warm, giving person,” Doyle said. “He represented a level beyond what others represent. He was a scholar’s scholar.”