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Obituary: Dom Eligius Dekkers

FATHER ELIGIUS Dekkers, a Benedictine monk, dedicated his life to providing a critical edition of the original texts of the Church Fathers and later Christian theologians which serves as the basic reference source for scholars. Based in the Benedictine abbey of St Peter in Steenbrugge on the outskirts of Bruges, he founded in 1949 the Corpus Christianorum, which would grow into a series of some 500 volumes, most of them now also available on CD Rom.

The collection, published by Brepols in Turnhout, Belgium, was a reworking of the first such edition, the Bibliotheque universelle du clerge edited by Father Jacques-Paul Migne in the 19th century, but adhering to modern, scholarly norms. As the work expanded and new series were created to cover not only the Latin but, in 1976, the Greek fathers and, in 1981, the New Testament Apocrypha, Dekkers brought in specialists from relevant institutions to edit the individual series.

Dekkers's aim was to publish in the Series Latina all the works listed in the Clavis Patrum Latinorum, from Tertullian to Bede, and to publish in the Continuatio Mediaevalis the complete works of all important medieval authors, including Paschasius Radbertus, Peter Abelard, Hildegard of Bingen, William of St Thierry, Hugh of St Victor and the "Hermes Latinus".

The series also expanded to include lexicographical works and individual studies of different authors.

Born Jan Dekkers into a Flemish-speaking family in Antwerp, he entered the abbey of St Peter in Steenbrugge, assuming the name Eligius when he took his monastic vows in October 1934 at the age of 19. He was to remain in the same community for the rest of his life. He was elected Abbot in April 1967, a post he held until 1981. He taught for many years in the fields of patristics, theology and liturgy at the University of Leuven.

Although he would become widely known in the academic world for his Corpus Christianorum, Dekkers never went to university and was largely self-taught. During his novitiate he had studied philosophy and theology, but most of his academic education came through wide reading.

Dekkers received numerous accolades for his work, including several honorary doctorates. He was a corresponding Fellow of the British Academy and sat on editorial boards of various scholarly publications.

His death will not bring to a halt the mammoth publishing project he launched. His abbey and the publishers have pledged their continued support and the project will be overseen by an academic board chaired by Professor Fernand Bossier.

Dekkers was a gentle and modest man whose life of quiet scholarship was devoted to the academic project he himself launched nearly 50 years ago.

Jan Dekkers, monk: born Antwerp, Belgium 20 June 1915; professed a monk 1934 taking the name Eligius; founder of Corpus Christianorum 1949; Abbot of St Peter's, Steenbrugge 1967-81; died Bruges, Belgium 15 December 1998.