Obituaries (from SPBS Newsletter 2011)
George T. Dennis SJ (1923-2010)
Born in Somerville, Massachusetts, on November 7, 1923, he entered the Society of Jesus at Sacred Heart Novitiate in Los Gatos, Calif., in 1941, and was ordained a priest in 1954. After his ordination, Fr. Dennis studied in Rome where he received his doctorate in Byzantine Church History in 1960. Most of his teaching and scholarly work took place at Catholic University in Washington D.C. He was on the faculty there from 1966 until he retired in 2000, and gained the respect and affection of many students, both in the University and abroad. He was also a regular visitor at the Dumbarton Oaks Library where he made many friends. His academic interests concentrated on the later Palaeologan period (Manuel II) and treatises on warfare. But his editorial work on Psellos was also of great importance. In 1986-87, he was a visiting professor at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. He officially retired in 1994, but continued teaching several more years. Upon returning to California in 2001, Fr. Dennis joined the faculty at Loyola Marymount University as an adjunct professor of History. In 2005 health issues made it necessary for him to retire to Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos where he continued his scholarly work in Byzantine history until his death on Sunday, March 7, 2010 at Good Samaritan Hospital, San Jose. He had been a Jesuit for 68 years and a priest for 55.
A Festschrift in his honour was published in 1995: Peace and War in Byzantium. Essays in Honor of George T. Dennis, S.J., edited by Timothy S. Miller and John Nesbitt (The Catholic University of America Press, Washington); it consists of fourteen essays discussing a range of topics dealing with warfare and peace in the Byzantine Empire. And Alice-Mary Talbot kindly informs me that the 2010 DO Symposium on Byzantine warfare is dedicated to his memory.
Fr. Dennis' list of publications encompasses several books and many articles in scholarly journals.
J Munitiz (April 2010)
Gennadii Grigorievich Litavrin (1925-2009): in memoriam
Byzantine studies in Russia and the wider world have sustained a heavy loss: on 6 September 2009 the academician Gennadii Litavrin died of a sudden heart attack. A brilliant chapter in the history of Byzantine, as well as Slavic, studies in Russia ended with him.
Litavrin was active until his last hour. His monograph concerning cadasters and the economy of Byzantium in the tenth and eleventh centuries was almost finished; the translations in Russian of the articles of his friend Professor Ihor Shevchenko had been sent to the press; and the table of contents of the next issue of ‘Vizantiiskii Vremennik’ lay on the desk in Litavrin’s office in the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Few scholars have managed to live so fully, and to achieve so much. Litavrin belonged to the generation that established the subject of Byzantine studies as it is today; in fact Litavrin’s own works were ahead of his time. This was largely due to his interdisciplinary approach. An eminent Byzantinist, he was also an excellent scholar whose contribution to Slavic studies was crucial. Indeed, his first book ‘Bulgaria and Byzantium in the eleventh to the twelfth centuries’ described Bulgaria under Byzantine rule. From then onwards, he continued his studies on the ‘triangle’ of Byzantium, Bulgaria and Old Rus’ until his last days.
An excellent historian by education and training, Litavrin edited and commented on a number of sources as if he were a philologist; thus his rich commentary to Kekaumenos is still an unsurpassed masterpiece. Litavrin’s zeal for archbishop Theophylaktos of Bulgaria, notorious for his difficult and flowery style, did not keep him from engaging with ‘dry’ juridical texts. A scholar of the humanities, he used scientific methods, and the series of his articles concerning the norms of Byzantine taxation will long remain a source of inspiration for anyone interested in this subject.
Litavrin’s life was long and difficult. Indeed, how could it have been otherwise? Born on 6 September 1925 in the village of Abai, the Uimon aimak of the Oirot autonomous region in the depths of the Altai Mountains in Western Siberia and almost on the borders with Mongolia, young Gennadii finished graduate school in 1942 during the Second World War. Despite the war, he successfully passed the examinations and became a student in the History and Philology Faculty of the University of Tomsk in Siberia. However, as his father and elder brother were both serving on the Soviet-German front, it remained to Gennadii to support his mother and younger sister. He left the University and, as he later recalled, he crossed 20 km on foot under the most severe frost to reach the village of Zaiganovo, where he was appointed a schoolteacher of Russian language and mathematics.
His dream was, however, to continue his education at the Moscow State University, the chief university of Russia of the time. The dream came true in 1946, just after the war ended. He had to choose which faculty to join – either mathematics or history. History won: and it was in the Faculty of History that he successfully defended his diploma paper ‘Russian and Byzantine relations in the ninth and tenth centuries’ in 1951, and then passed the viva voce of his PhD thesis ‘The struggle of the people of Bulgaria against Byzantium from the eleventh to the twelfth century’ in 1954.
His cursus honorum included the post of tutor in Latin in the Department of Ancient Languages of the History Faculty, and senior editor in the Education Press of the Ministry of Education in 1954-1955. He became a member of the Centre for Byzantine Studies of the Institute of General History, Russian Academy of Sciences, in June 1955. The Centre became his second home; and he was its head from 1987 until his last day. Besides, from 1968 he was a Research Fellow in the Institute of Slavic Studies and in 1987-2002 he was the head of the Department of the Middle Ages of the same Institute. There he was promoted to the position of the Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences on 23 December 1987. He was then elected to the rank of Academician on 31 March 1994; he had already been made an Academician of the Bulgarian Academy.
It is difficult to list all the most important works of Litavrin. Almost everything that he wrote marked a watershed in Byzantine Studies. Firstly, there was his magnum opus ‘Byzantine State and Society in the tenth and eleventh centuries: the problems of a century, from 976 to 1081’ (Moscow 1977). This book was the fruit of his long-term studies into one of the most turbulent periods in Byzantine history, the eleventh century. Secondly, the list includes his editions and publications of the sources: a Byzantine medical treatise of the eleventh to fourteenth century (MS Laurent. Plut. VII, Cod. XIX, fols 226v-268r) and the so-called ‘Strategikon’ of Kekaumenos. And thirdly, the series of his articles concerning relations between Byzantium, Rus’ and Bulgaria from the ninth to the twelfth centuries were published as collected studies in two seminal books: ‘Byzantium and the Slavs’ (St Petersburg 1999), and ‘Byzantium, Bulgaria and Old Rus’ from the ninth to eleventh century’ (St Petersburg 2000).
He was no less successful as an administrator and editor-in-chief. From the 1980s Gennadii Litavrin started the series of the collected studies and monographs whose primary subject was the state and ethnic formation of the early Slavs. He managed to gather an excellent team of scholars, including Byzantinists, Slavists and historians of the Early Middle Ages, who published and commented on all aspects of evidence concerning Eastern Europe from the fifth to the tenth centuries. His enthusiasm for profound and comprehensive-to-the-last studies of the sources led him to edit a new commentary of the ‘De administrando imperio’ of Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, ‘the purple-born’, which is on a par with the famous commentary by Moravcsik, Jenkins, Runciman, Dvornik and Obolenskii. He demonstrated the same painstaking care when he edited ‘Vizantiiskii Vremennik’, the principal and oldest Russian scholarly periodical in the humanities. Finally, his great achievement, which brought him the honorable status of Academician, was the successful running of the XVIIIth International Congress of Byzantine Studies in Moscow in August 1991, in a paralyzed country which ceased to exist several days after the Congress ended.
Whom God loves dies young. Litavrin’s death was, despite his age, quite unexpected. I shall never forget how I discussed with him the historical narratives and Michael Psellos just ten days before his passing. How he wanted to understand the methods of one of the most brilliant of Byzantine writers! His comments were so fresh and original that he gave the impression of being a young scholar, working freely, without any preconceptions.
What remains? Memories about him. His works. His ‘Vizantiiskii Vremennik’. The image of an excellent scholar possessing high moral qualities.
Gennadii Litavrin is survived by his second wife, a daughter and a son.
Tomáš Špidlik (1919-2010)
Born (17/12/1919) in Boskovice, Moravia (now Czech Republic), he entered the Society of Jesus in 1939, and began his studies in Velehrad before moving to Italy, where he was ordained a priest (1949). He worked for Vatican Radio from 1951, and established contacts with many leading Czech political leaders.
However his scholarly work was connected mainly with the Pontifical Oriental Institute, where he completed his doctorate and was fortunate enough to become the disciple and successor of the great scholar, Irenée Hausherr. His own predilection seemed to be more for the Russian and Slav mystics, but he wrote the standard handbooks on Eastern Spirituality: Spirituality of the Christian East: A Systematic Handbook, English version published in Cistercian Studies; and Prayer: The Spirituality Of The Christian East, Vol.2, English Publisher: Liturgical Press (originally published in French in the Orientalia Christiana Analecta series). During the many years that he was a professor at the Orientale he published many works, several being on the spirituality of the Church Fathers (Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzus).
Apart from his scholarly publications, Fr Spidlik wrote works intended for a wider pastoral audience and also fairy tales for children. He was always interested in sculpture and mosaics. He became a close friend of Pope John Paul II, giving the annual retreat in the Vatican one year, and in his old age (when 83) was created a cardinal (2003). As a person, his good humour won him many friends from all walks of life and from all shades of belief and unbelief. His motto ex toto corde gives an insight into a great personality; he was convinced that Eastern and Western spirituality have more in common than in contrast. His publications will continue to be of great service to Byzantinists.
Publications with OCA [Orientalia Christiana Analecta]
J Munitiz (April 2010)
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