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Edmund Hill OP (23 July 1923 - 11 November 2010)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010
The following obituary is by fr Emil Blaser OP, of the Order's general vicariate in South Africa

Fr Edmund Hill OP, a member of the English Dominican Province, died on 11 November 2010 in Cambridge, England, at the age of 87 after suffering a severe stroke some months ago.

Edmund Hill joined the Dominican Order in 1948 and was professed on 24 September 1949. He was amongst a crop of exceptionally brilliant friars. After his ordination in 19 September1954, Edmund did a stint of lecturing in England until 1966 when he was sent to Stellenbosch, South Africa, travelling by boat. It was during this boat trip that he learnt that he had been elected prior of St Nicholas’ Priory in Stellenbosch. He was warmly welcomed and distinguished himself as a caring and compassionate priest. He taught mainly scripture. While being a rigorous student, his humanity shone through in his relations with people. He never bore grudges and was always someone with a cheerful heart. He had the gift of making people feel relaxed.

Edmund was a renowned scripture scholar and distinguished English gentleman. He would lecture in Scripture, translating the New Testament from the original Greek into impeccable English. Earlier in his life he was a pipe smoker and even this he did with refinement.

He was an outspoken critic of the apartheid government and in 1973, while on sabbatical in England, he received news that he had been declared a prohibited immigrant in South Africa. This did not deter him. He loved Africa and would return. And so in 1974 he was sent to Lesotho where he taught dogmatic theology and scripture at St Augustine’s Seminary in Roma. He was loved by his students. When his contract came to an end he took up residence in the Dominican House in Maseru where he was superior for many years and continued to contribute to the academic world of Lesotho.

His most outstanding contribution in the academic world was his interest in St Augustine. He translated many his works from the original Latin and wrote about him. He had an incredible knowledge of classical languages. His outstanding translations were of St Augustine’s “De Trinitate” and many of his sermons.

Edmund was somewhat of a Luddite! For many years he did all his writing on a small typewriter. It was only later when his publishers wanted his material on computer that he was given a computer and entered this new world. Be that as it may, he never got round to using email – only fax. He often joked about this.

In 1991 he took another sabbatical and asked to go to Papua New Guinea where he spent a year teaching in the seminary and came back with loads of stories. He returned to Lesotho and continued teaching there until 1991 when he made the big decision to return to England by boat. He retired to Cambridge where he was loved by his community and the townspeople.

An example of the sharpness of his intellect is seen from an article he wrote about women in the life of Augustine. He wrote: “Augustine, as a man of his age, exhibits uncriticized assumptions about the social inferiority and subordination of women that are not acceptable today, and can indeed be seen to be at variance with the basic insights of the gospel. They were not, however, so seen either by him or by his contemporaries, including (as far as we can tell) the women. But as a humane man and a Christian, Augustine treated women with honour and respect, had many women friends and admirers—a whole long treatise on prayer is addressed to a Roman lady called Proba—and publicly confessed and repented of his failures in this regard as a young man. It is, to be sure, an anachronism to say so; but I will say it all the same: Augustine's attitude towards women was that of a courteous gentleman, of a "parfit, gentle knight".

May he rest in peace after a very fulfilling life. It was a privilege to have known him and even more so to have been taught by him.


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