Gerry Hughes obituary

Other lives: Jesuit priest and academic who fearlessly defended individual conscience and the rationality of faith

My teacher and friend Gerry Hughes, the Jesuit philosopher, who has died aged 87, taught and administered at Heythrop College, University of London, from 1970 to 1998 and was then master of Campion Hall, Oxford, until 2006. He was a scintillating lecturer and exigent tutor, fearlessly and ingeniously defending individual conscience and the rationality of faith. To his pastoral work he brought remarkably clear thinking, a warm heart and a delightful unworldliness.

Born in Surrey, one of three children of Margaret (nee Barry), a primary head, and Henry Hughes, a marine engineer, Gerry was educated at St Aloysius’ College, Glasgow, from which he entered the Society of Jesus in 1951. In addition to the usual Jesuit studies in philosophy and theology, he took firsts in mods and greats at Oxford and wrote a fine thesis on Aristotelian moral responsibility under Charles Stevenson at Michigan. Notable among his books are The Nature of God (1995) and Aristotle on Ethics (2001).

Moral objectivity was a subject to which he returned in articles written throughout his career. He argued that the right thing to do, once discovered, possesses an authority that cannot be seriously dented by collisions with either personal moral weakness or the resistances of the culture.

Gerry personified the practical wisdom of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. His arguments were careful and his conclusions full of good sense, and he was passionate in manner and prudent in judgment. Faithful friendship came naturally to him. What he said and did was thought through, his teaching and example enhancing his students’ vision of goodness.

In addition to his religion, music enchanted him. Gerry sang well and enjoyed, above all, Bach. The musical architecture of the Leipzig Passions fascinated him, as a person whose own apprehension of the central truths of Christianity was rational, exuberant and intricately harmonious with traditional faith.

He played a full part in Jesuit life and was often a superior, and always a kind and conscientious trainer of younger members. He was an influential member of the 1974 General Congregation, which made significant changes to the life of the Society of Jesus.

The title of his book Fidelity Without Fundamentalism (2010) sums up his attitude to church affairs. Progressive and a little impatient with the slow pace of reform, Gerry was nonetheless devotedly protective of the spiritual inheritance he had received; he understood it thoroughly and lived it with complete integrity.

Gerry’s sister, Clare, and brother, Brian, predeceased him. He is survived by his sister-in-law, Cora, and three nieces and one nephew.

Peter Gallagher

The GuardianTramp

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