Édouard Jeauneau: a brief obituary

December 19, 2019 by Communications

With sadness we report the passing of Professor Édouard Jeauneau on 10 December 2019.

Born 14 August 1924, Father Jeauneau died, aged 95, in Chartres after a short period of ill health. He had been ordained a priest in 1947. Trained at the Gregorian University in Rome, the Sorbonne, and École pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, Professor Jeauneau first taught at the Grand Séminaire of Chartres (1948-1958) before becoming a Directeur de Recherche at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris in 1958. He became a Senior Fellow of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in 1975 and from then until 1990 typically taught a seminar every fall term at PIMS. In his courses on the medieval thought of the period 800-1200, he introduced graduate students to how to read difficult texts such as the Timaeus of Plato as passed to the Middle Ages through Calcidius, the Periphyseon of Eriugenaand the Dragmaticon of William of Conches. In every case, he insisted upon students working from the Latin text, which together they would translate and explicate line by line, idea by idea. It was an exhilarating experience for most, an intimidating one for a few, but by the end all had entered into what twelfth-century thinkers knew as the lectio philosophorum, the deep reading of the philosophers. Professor Jeauneau thought of himself chiefly as a philologist, one whose command of the thought of the two Renaissances, the Carolingian and the Twelfth-Century, was acute. He had a way of penetrating the true meaning of texts that was a marvel to all and so he was frequently sought out by his Toronto colleagues for advice and help with their own difficult texts and passages. After his retirement, he would return to Toronto annually to superintend the various teams of Centre students who assisted in his SSHRC-sponsored editorial projects.

Among his more than 200 publications, there were three books of collected essays, ten critical editions, and the popular La philosophie médiévale (Collection “Que sais-je?” 1963), which went through four editions and has been translated into Japanese, Spanish, Arabic, and Turkish. His work on the medieval glosses on Plato’s Timaeus opened up a field of study that others had previously known only from a distance. His 1965 critical edition of William of Conches’s Glosae super Platonem was the crowning achievement of these Platonic studies. Conches may have interested him, but it was the Irishman, Johannes Scottus, also known as Eriugena, who utterly fascinated him. For Sources Chrétiennes (vols. 151, 1969; 180, 1972), he critically edited and translated Eriugena’s Homily and Commentary on the Gospel of John. While in Toronto, he commenced his critical edition of Eriugena’s Latin translation of the Ambigua ad Iohannem of Maximus the Confessor (Corpus Christianorum: Series Graeca, 18; 1988). These editions were preliminary and necessary, he said, before he took up the critical edition of Eriugena’s masterpiece, the Periphyseon. There he revealed not only his unrivalled command of the thinker and his thought, but his most daring editorial expertise. For in the five volumes published by Corpus Christianorum: Continuatio Mediaevalis (1996-2003), he supplied a critical edition to serve as the standard text of the work and a synoptic edition in facing columns to capture the full representation of the evolving text as known from its principal manuscripts. Eriugena himself and his disciples had left their handwritten changes and corrections on the various ninth-century manuscripts, all of which medievalists can examine in his monumental edition.

All of his considerable scholarly achievements should not obscure what a dynamic, kind, and caring human being Professor Jeauneau was, touching the lives of St. Michael’s, PIMS, and Centre students and colleagues. Who can forget the image of him wandering the PIMS library or, after some PIMS Common Room reception, slowly ascending the spiral staircase to his office, there to return to work on his current project. Some of his students and friends managed to visit him at his lovely corner house in Coudray-au-Perche. Immediately across from that house in which he was born stands the parish church of Saint Pierre and it was in its cemetery that he was laid to rest on 16 December 2019. After a life of vast travel, teaching, and scholarship he had finally come home to stay.

Paul Edward Dutton (CMS 1981)
Professor, Simon Fraser University