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In memoriam Joseph Anthony Munitiz, S.J. (23.XII.1931 - 16.VII.2022)

It is with profound grief that we announce the passing of Father Joseph Anthony Munitiz, S.J. on Saturday 16 July 2022 at the Corpus Christi Jesuit Community in Boscombe. He was 91 years of age. Father Joseph, or Joe, as he was known to his Jesuit brothers and his many devoted students, colleagues, and friends, was a remarkable person, a great scholar, an affectionate teacher and a paternal figure for many who benefitted from his scholarship, his guidance, his wisdom, his sensitivity, his humility, and his immense and sweet kindness. His death leaves us with a sense of great and irreplaceable loss.

Father Joseph was born to Spanish Basque parents in Cardiff, Wales, in 1931. His father, a ship-chandler, died when Joseph was nine years old, and his mother, a professional singer at one time, died three years later, leaving him and his two siblings, Marie and Arthur, to be raised by their aunt. Even after they moved to Crosby in Liverpool Father Joseph maintained his links with Spain until 1947, when together with his brother he was sent to the Colegio Santa Maria, a boarding school in Vitoria for a year. Spain also introduced him to Greek, the language destined to become his passion and professional occupation. Meanwhile, he increasingly felt his calling. His family welcomed his desire to become a Jesuit. The Society of Jesus provided him with a long and thorough academic training, which included classics.

Though he felt that his Latin and especially his Greek were not up to Oxford standards, the extraordinary kindness and support he received from his tutors encouraged Father Joseph to persist. At his own request he was sent by the Provincial to Spain. He was ordained in 1965. At the time, Father Joseph Gill, then Rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, was looking for new staff, and Father Joseph was sent by his Provincial Superior to study there for a licentiate in oriental theology, with the intention to join their teaching staff. This proved instrumental for his future career.

In 1969 Father Joseph went to Paris, where he met the Jesuit scholar Joseph Paramelle, who was working at the Greek section of the « Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes », at the eminent « Centre national de la recherche scientifique » (CNRS), under abbé Marcel Richard. It was during a discussion among them that abbé Richard presented a volume with photographs of a Greek manuscript from Mount Athos. It was the Treasury (Thesauros) attributed to an otherwise unknown author by the name of Theognostos (“Known to God”). “Why not take that as the subject of your thesis?”, abbé Richard proposed, a suggestion supported by Father Paramelle. “That was the real start of my career”, Father Joseph would remark later.

Following the completion of his studies, at the suggestion of abbé Richard he joined the editorial team of the Greek series of the Corpus Christianorum (CCSG) in Leuven, which had recently been established. The director of CCSG, Maurice Geerard, asked Father Joseph to see through publication the Questions and Answers (Erotapokriseis) of Anastasios of Sinai, an important guide of sixth-century Byzantine spirituality he had begun editing. The two texts were published in CCSG, as volumes 5 (1979) and 59 (2006), respectively. The editor also produced English translations of both texts in the Corpus Christianorum in Translation series in 2011 (Questions and Answers) and 2014 (Treasury).

During his stay in the Flemish Jesuit theologate, Father Joseph came across the autobiography of the thirteenth-century distinguished teacher, scholar and theologian Nikephoros Blemmydes, written in a highly rhetorical style hard to penetrate. Armed with determination he launched himself to produce a new edition to replace the old one by Heisenberg, and a translation which would make the text accessible to students. The new edition would subsequently be published as volume 13 of CCSG in 1984.

His office work in Leuven consisted of copy-editing the work of other scholars. In this respect his model was Jacques Noret, “probably the most exacting scholar” he had ever met. For psychological support he turned to Albert Van Roey. Among other eminent colleagues he befriended were Pauline Allen in Australia and Luk van Rompay at Duke University in the States, Françoise Petit, and Werner Verbeke. In 1983 Father Joseph moved to London. In 1989, he was appointed Master of Campion Hall, Oxford, where his administrative and pastoral duties to the community of young Jesuits took priority. In 2017, he moved back to London where he spent his last years, first in the London Jesuit Centre in Mount Street, then to Copleston House, and finally to the Corpus Christi Jesuit Community in Boscombe.

In recognition and appreciation of his major contribution to Byzantine Studies and for bringing greater understanding between the Greek East and the Latin West, a Festschrift was published by Brepols in 2019, as part of the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of CCSG, under the title The Literary Legacy of Byzantium: Editions, Translations, and Studies in Honour of Joseph A. Munitiz S.J., edited by Bram Roosen and Peter Van Deun (SBHC 15).

In his Autobiographical tesserae, which adorns the volume and on which the present tribute is mainly based, Father Joseph reflected on his life and work:

“I feel that if my life has been of any use, it is due to the publications I have been able to give to the world … As the end comes in sight, I realize that books cannot be taken with me, though I am glad to have produced some to leave behind me”.

Aἰωνία του ἡ μνήμη!

(Abridged and adapted from an extensive obituary written by Charalambos Dendrinos, Director of The Hellenic Institute, Royal Holloway, University of London)

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