Little, Arthur, 1897-1949, Jesuit priest and writer

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Little, Arthur, 1897-1949, Jesuit priest and writer

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31 March 1897-05 December 1949


Born: 31 March 1897, Dublin
Entered: 31 August 1914, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 31 July 1929, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 02 February 1934, t Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Died: 05 December 1949, Milltown Park, Dublin

Early education at Clongowes Wood College SJ

Studied for BA Classics, 1st Class Honours at UCD

by 1924 in Australia - Regency at Riverview, Sydney
by 1932 at St Beuno’s Wales (ANG) making Tertianship

◆ David Strong SJ “The Australian Dictionary of Jesuit Biography 1848-2015”, 2nd Edition, Halstead Press, Ultimo NSW, Australia, 2017 - ISBN : 9781925043280
As a regent, Arthur Little taught at Riverview, 1923-26, where the bright and brash Riverview boys turned his classes into chaos. After tertianship at St Beuno's, Little spent the major part of his life as a philosophy professor at Tullabeg. He was a very skilled thinker as well as being an excellent musician and wrote on aesthetics and poetry.

◆ Irish Province News

Irish Province News 25th Year No 1 1950


Fr. Arthur Little (1897-1914-1949)

Fr. Arthur Little was born in Dublin on 31st March, 1897. He was educated at Belvedere and Clongowes. His early life in the Society followed the usual course : Noviceship (Tullabeg) 1914-16; then Juniorate (Tullabeg 1 year, Rathfarnham 3 years) where he obtained a first class Honours M.A. in Classics ; Philosophy (Milltown) 1920-23 ; Colleges (Riverview) 23-26; Theology (Milltown) 26-30, where he was ordained Most Rev. Dr. Goodier, S.J; Tertianship (St. Beuno's), his Instructor being Fr. Joseph Bolland, the present English Assistant.
Prior to Tertianship he taught for one year in Clongowes; after it he professed Philosophy - Psychology and Theodicy - for 14 years in Tullabeg (1932-46). From 1946 to his death he was in Leeson St, as “Scriptor”. The mortal disease which brought about his premature death at the height of his powers, prevented him from taking up a professorship of Theology at Milltown Park, to which the 1949 Status bad assigned him. He died on 5th December.

Works :
An Epic Poem on the Passion : “Christ Unconquered”.
Broadcast talks on Catholic Philosophy : “Philosophy without Tears”
“The Nature of Art or The Shield of Pallas”.

Shortly before his death he had completed a detailed study of Plato's influence on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas : “The Platonic Heritage of Thomism”. This book will be published shortly. An advanced copy of it reached Fr. Little a few days before his death. He was a regular contributor to “Studies”, “Irish Monthly” and other periodicals.

An Appreciation :
In the premature death of Fr. Arthur Little, after months of severe suffering, the Province has lost its most brilliant member. He possessed a remarkably wide range of gifts and some of them in a high degree. He was a classical scholar, a philosopher, a poet, a musician, a critic of art, a writer, a wit. So remarkable an endowment yould easily have made him a rather formidable person one to be admired from a distance, were these gifts not completed and balanced by an irrespressible sense of humour and an oddity and whimsicality of manner and demeanour which made him. emphatically a “character”, and a most loveable one at that. For twelve years he was professor of philosophy at Tullabeg, and he did more than any other one man to build up in that infant scholasticate a tradition of sound, solid doctrine. His first subject was psychology, but he soon came to theodicy which was his favourite treatise. He had arrived in Tullabeg without any very definite system but with a certain leaning to Scotism. But, after a short contact with the senior member of the staff he was suddenly converted to Thomism. The conversion was complete and final. He entered into the thought of St. Thomas not merely without any difficulty but with enthusiasm. He was an “anima naturaliter Thomistica”. But he was singularly free from the acrimony of a convert to his abandoned oracle.
He gave himself entirely and untiringly to his work as a professor, and he was perfectly happy as a lecturer. It might be thought that a man of such imagination, a man with the sensibility of a poet, might have given play to these gifts in his treatment of philosophy. But the truth was that when he lectured on psychology or theodicy he was always the metaphysician. He gave his class pure undiluted Thomistic thought. He spared them nothing of the most rigid, the stiffest scholastic method. His lectures were close reasoned, exacting, with no appeal to the imagination. His codex was as forbidding to the unintiated as the Metaphysics of Aristotle, and it needed the comment of the master to draw out its riches. He paid his pupils the formidable compliment of considering them to be on the level of his own austere height of thought and method. And his pupils appreciated the compliment and had for him an admiration that was often an enthusiasm.
In his lectures on the history of philosophy his literary powers could find scope, and what an entertaining subject he could make of it can be judged from his broadcast talks, published as “Philosophy Without Tears”, and from his articles in Studies. He did not read widely and that was a weakness in his position, but he thought out every point in his system and had made a coherent synthesis. He was an indefatigable worker and always sat at his desk. One wondered where he got the energy for this unremitting thought on so difficult a subject. It did not seem to come from the usual sources, because he ate about as much as a robust sparrow and for weeks at a time did not stir out of the house. That devotion to his work was not the lest debt which Tullabeg owes to Fr. Arthur.
But this metaphysician was also a poet. His “Christ Unconquered” is an ambitious epic poem on the Passion. He deliberately followed the tradition of the epic, especially as handled by Virgil and Milton, with its speeches, councils, episodes. He professed to have made Virgil his model, but actually the resemblance to Milton in diction, metre and general style was evident in every page and caused the professional critics to see in it an amazingly clever imitation and thus succeeded in closing their eyes to the great merits and the true individuality of this remarkable poem. The main defect is that he has put too much theology into it and theology is a recalcitrant medium for the poet, and certainly parts of it are heavy going. But on the whole it has a great distinction of style ; and there are many passages of great beauty which will not easily die. In fact such passages suggest that his truest vein was the lyric.
But some will think that be was still greater as a prose writer. Certainly his prose, so much of which appeared in Studies and the Irish Monthly, was of a high order, strong, distinctive, brilliant, witty.
If he had been put at writing as his professional work, he would undoubtedly have become a man of wide reputation, of the eminence of Fr. D'Arcy or Mgr. Knox. But even as things fell out it looked as if his day as a writer had come when he was taken away from philosophy. He seemed to be about to reap the harvest of the long years thought and study in that little room on the top storey in Tullabeg. Books and articles began to come from his pen in the short time he spent at Leeson St. He was a regular contributor to Studies. He finished a profound philosophical study on aesthetics, “The Shield of Pallas”, and up to the last he was engaged on a study of the Platonic element in St. Thomas, an advanced copy of which was put into his hands on his death bed. The book is a genuine contribution to the subject and is the fruit of a long study of his two favourite masters. All things then pointed to a rich yield of the labours of years, when God called him.
And what can one say of those personal gifts which made him so pleasant a companion - the originality of mind, the power to see sudden and often absurd resemblances, the brilliance and wit of his conversation? His wit bubbled up spontaneously and played about all subjects and his sense of humour was irrepressible. How inadequate are a few remembered examples to convey these things to those who did not know him! He is lecturing on the nature of a spirit and has shown that they have not even the principle of extension a punctum, and then he says solemnly “We must admit reluctantly that the Angels are most unpunctual beings”. He meets a Tullabeg colleague away from home and says “Dr. Livingstone I presume”. He used to say that in a detective story and he was a regular reader of them - he hated to be fobbed off at the last page with an accident or a suicide but wanted a decent clean murder. And to the end his good humour and wit did not neglect him,
“A fellow of infinite jest, Horatio”.
We may safely conjecture that in Heaven he will spend much of his time - he would correct me and say his aevum - in the company of two St. Thomases - the Angelical Doctor and St. Thomas More.
His joyous temperament lifted him above all bitterness and there was not a grain of malice in his make-up. He was an exemplary religious. He was highly esteemed as a giver of retreats. He was a man of the highest spiritual principles, and the sufferings of the last months of his life, borne with a patience and a joyous resignation which produced a deep effect on all who came near him were a manifestation of what his religion and vocation meant to him.
“Anima eius in refrigerio”. R.I.P.

◆ James B Stephenson SJ Menologies 1973

Father Arthur Little 1897-1949
In the premature death of Fr Arthur Little on November 5th 1949, the Irish Province lost its most brilliant member. He was Professor for fourteen years in Tullabeg, where he built up by his zeal and talents, a tradition of solid doctrine after the mind of St Thomas.

Born in Dublin on March 31st 1897, he entered the Society in 1914, having received his education at Belvedere and Clongowes. He taught as a scholastic at St Ignatius College Sydney from 1923-1926. Having returned to Ireland for Theology, he was ordained to the priesthood at Milltown Park in 31st July 1929. He did his tertianship at St Beuno’s and was professed of four vows in 1934.

Besides lecturing in Philosophy, he wrote many works, three ofn which are well known :
“The Nature of Art” or “The Shield of Pallas”, “Philosophy without Tears” and “The Platonic Heritage in Thomism. He also published an ep[ic poem on the Passion entitled “Christ Unconquered”.

Besides being a man of remarkable literary gifts, he had a keen sense of humour and a ready wit. A man of simple piety, a model of religious life. He was lively and joyous even in his suffering, which ended in his death died on December 5th 1949.


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Irish Vice-Province of the Society of Jesus, 1830- (1830-)

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Little, Arthur, 1897-1949, Jesuit priest and writer

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