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Richardson, Cyril C.


RICHARDSON, CYRIL C. (19091976) was an American church historian. Born in London, England, Cyril Charles Richardson emigrated to Canada in 1927 and was educated at the University of Saskatchewan (B.A., 1930) and Emmanuel College, Saskatoon (Lic. Theol., 1931). He pursued graduate study at Union Theological Seminary, New York City (Th.D., 1934) and, in Europe, at the universities of Göttingen, Dijon, and Basel. He was ordained to the priesthood of the Protestant Episcopal church in 1934 and became a naturalized American citizen in 1940. From 1934 until his death he taught at Union Theological Seminary, New York, becoming the seminary's fifth Washburn Professor of Church History in 1949 and its dean of graduate studies in 1954.

A brilliant lecturer and prolific writer, Richardson specialized in early Christian literature, patristic theology, and the history of Christian worship and spirituality. He also wrote extensively on the relationship of Christian faith to mental health, spiritual healing, and parapsychologyinterests engendered by his hospitalization and successful treatment for tuberculosis from 1943 to 1945. His churchmanship, at once practical and innovative, showed itself in his lifelong concern for Christian unity and in his advocacy, already in the early 1950s, of the ordination of women to the priesthood.

Richardson viewed church history as a specifically theological discipline, whose chief aim is not to study "Christianity," understood as a phenomenon in the general history of religions, but to recount the story of the "holy community" called into being by God's saving acts. Thus church history is "the tale of redemption" and "the medium of revelation," which requires not only a critical sifting of the historical evidence but, above all, the use of symbolic language, or what Richardson referred to as "myth," to convey the ultimate meanings of events.

He is the author of five monographs: The Christianity of Ignatius of Antioch (1935); The Church through the Centuries (1938); The Sacrament of Reunion (1940), a historical examination of the ministry, apostolic succession, and the Eucharist as bases for Christian unity; Zwingli and Cranmer on the Eucharist (1949), showing Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's indebtedness to the sacramental theology of the Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli; and The Doctrine of the Trinity (1958), wherein he argues that the church's classical trinitarian dogma is an "artifical construct" that fails to resolve the profound theological problems it addresses. This pathbreaking book, which generated intense controversy in academic and church circles, typifies Richardson's scholarship, combining mastery of historical detail with acute philosophical criticism and deep religious faith.

He also edited two highly regarded volumes in the Library of Christian Classics series: Early Christian Fathers (1953) and, with Edward R. Hardy, Christology of the Later Fathers (1954). He collaborated on eleven books, including the second, revised edition of Williston Walker's widely used textbook, A History of the Christian Church (1959). He contributed over one hundred articles and a like number of book reviews to theological and historical journals.

Richardson's eminent abilities as a director of doctoral students and his many publications, remarkable for their chronological scope and weight of learning, earned him international repute as one of the leading church historians of the mid-twentieth century.


To date there has been no biographical study of Richardson or full-scale appraisal of his scholarship. His understanding of the discipline of church history is summarized in his inaugural lecture, "Church History Past and Present," Union Seminary Quarterly Review 5 (November 1949): 111. He discussed the doctrine of the Trinity in numerous publications (besides his controversial book The Doctrine of the Trinity ), including "The Enigma of the Trinity," in A Companion to the Study of St. Augustine, edited by Roy W. Battenhouse (New York, 1955); "A Preface to Christology," Religion in Life 27 (Autumn 1958): 504514; and "The Trinity and the Enhypostasia," Canadian Journal of Theology 5 (April 1959): 7378. The journal Religion in Life 29 (Winter 19591960) featured assays on the Trinity by Richardson and Claude Welch, followed by a sharp exchange of views between these two scholars ("The Doctrine of the Trinity," pp. 731). Richardon's liturgical scholarship is best represented by his essays, "The Foundations of Christian Symbolism," in Religious Symbolism, edited by F. Ernest Johnson (New York, 1962); "Worship in New Testament Times, Christian," in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, edited by George A. Buttrick, vol. 4 (New York, 1962); and "Word and Sacrament in Protestant Worship," in Ecumenical Dialogue at Harvard: The Roman Catholic-Protestant Colloquium, edited by Samuel H. Miller and G. Ernest Wright (Cambridge, Mass., 1964).

David W. Lotz (1987)

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