Monsignor Edward Synan, a retired Professor of Philosophy at the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies and the University of Toronto, died suddenly August 3.

His death must be been sudden: at a lunch with colleagues at St. Michael’s only a few days before, he showed no sign of illness. Born in Fall River, Mass., he received an undergraduate degree from Seton Hall in New Jersey and did graduate work at Louvain, Catholic University of America, and the Pontifical Institute.

He was a scholar of considerable distinction, author of a number of books and many articles, recipient of several honorary degrees, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Still he was not above teaching an introductory course in philosophy; he must have taught such a course to hundreds of St. Michael’s students over the years.

Surprisingly, just as the late George Grant found our Supreme Court justices deficient in philosophy at the time of the 1988 Morgentaler judgment, Msgr. Synan found them deficient in history – legal history. In 1974, he and Elmar Kremer edited a collection of essays on abortion, entitled Death Before Birth. In his introduction to the volume, James M. Cameron described the first long essay, “Abortion in Canada, 1960 – 1966,” by former Interim editor Father Alphonse De Valk, as brilliant. The article by Father Synan, “Law and the Sins of the Mothers,” was much shorter but also brilliant.

Father Synan showed how ignorance of the right to life tradition has affected some of our legal decisions. In the B.C. midwives case, a lower court found the midwives guilty of criminal negligence causing the death of a child, but the appeal court reversed this, saying that a fetus did not become a human being until it had completely left its mother’s body and that before that it was simply a part of its mother’s body. Even the ancient Romans, with their much more limited knowledge of fetal life than we possess, know that this is completely untrue: the unborn has a separate existence.

If Msgr. Synan has passed on, may his love of justice and his incisive mind inspire us to do our best to win the war of ideas which has gone on for so many years, and to which he made a significant contribution.