Fr Robert Murray SJ on his 90th birthday

Robert Murray SJ




Robert was born in Peking (now Beijing), China, on 8th June 1925, where his parents were working as Protestant lay missionaries. The grandson of Sir James Murray (the founder of the Oxford English Dictionary), his mother died when he was five years old, and his father re-married. After the family returned to England in 1934 he was educated at Eltham College and then at Taunton School after the College was evacuated there in 1939. Towards the end of the Second World War he studied Persian for a year at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) with a view to war service, but then went on to take a degree in Greats in Oxford, during which time he was received into the Roman Catholic Church. This conversion is said to also be partly due to his friendship with the Tolkien family. Robert had the responsibility of proofreading drafts and manuscripts given to him by J.R.R Tolkien of The Lord of the Rings.

He entered the Society in 1949 at Roehampton, and took his First Vows two year later.

Fr Robert Murray SJ 1925-2018Following the usual studies of philosophy and theology at Heythrop in Oxfordshire, and then teaching at St Ignatius College in Stamford Hill, Robert was ordained in 1959. After his fourth year of theology, and tertianship in Munster, Germany, he gained a doctorate in patristic and biblical theology at the Gregorian in Rome, specialising in Syriac. Then in 1963 he returned to teach at Heythrop, where he was to spend the rest of his working life. He was one of those who moved to London in 1970 to re-establish the College as part of the University of London. He was editor of the The Heythrop Journal from 1971-1983.

Robert was able to read 12 languages, including Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac and Persian. In 1971 he gave two lectures in Romania at the invitation of the Orthodox Patriarch, and in 1984, after a seminar in Hong Kong, he was able to re-visit mainland China for the first time in over 50 years. He was awarded a Senior Research Fellowship by Heythrop in 1993, and an honorary Doctorate of Letters in 2004.

In 1992 his book The Cosmic Covenant: Biblical Themes of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation was published, and In 1999 Robert retired from Heythrop, but continued as a writer and as a member of the Jesuit China Service. In 2004 his book Symbols of Church and Kingdom: a study in Early Syriac tradition was published. He moved to Boscombe in 2010, where he lived until his death.

May he rest in peace.

Gifts in memory of Fr Robert Murray SJ can be made on his In Memoriam page