Originally published in Summer 2016
Most Asbury University students know Professor Randy Richardson simply as “Prof,” the congenial classicist who blames famine and pestilence on bad grammar, whose intro Latin courses are always full and whose door — plastered with mythological puns — is always open for coffee and a chat.
What students may not know, however, is the full scope of Richardson’s work at Asbury. Like so many Asbury faculty, in addition to being an outstanding educator and mentor, Richardson is also a first-rate scholar — a role that supports and informs his work in the classroom.
Recently, Richardson signed a book contract, along with Dr. Burnie Reynolds ‘70 (History), to provide a translation and commentary on an important work by St. Gregory of Tours, a sixth-century Christian bishop.
The project is significant for more than one reason — not least because it will be the first complete English translation of Gregory’s “Liber de Miraculis Beati Andreae Apostoli” (Book of the Miracles of the Blessed Apostle Andrew). To be published by Peeters Publishing of Belgium, the book is slated for publication in 2018.
“It’s just been a joy to do something that hasn’t been done before,” Richardson said. “The ‘Liber’ is one of only two works by Gregory of Tours that have been left fully untranslated, even though Gregory has been the subject of intense scholarship since the 1860s.”
Because he focuses most of his attention throughout the year on ancient authors, Richardson has enjoyed translating a Latin text from a more recent period. Though the work is from the medieval period, it addresses a more ancient subject, providing a unique challenge.
“As translator, I have the gratifying opportunity of bringing the writing of a sixth-century bishop on the miracles of a first-century saint to a 21st-century audience,” Richardson said. “It has been fascinating to explore how Gregory writes about St. Andrew in ways that would appeal to the early medieval mindset.”
The work is what’s called a hagiography — the biography of a saint recounting his or her deeds and miracles. Richardson says the genre played an important role in the early church and middle ages, both as a means of promoting devotion to saints and as a vehicle for encouraging and inspiring believers. In this case, the work promotes devotion to St. Andrew, a figure who held special significance for Gregory.
“Gregory’s account is most likely a redaction of the third-century A.D. apocryphal ‘Actae Andrae’ (The Acts of Andrew),” Richardson said. “It’s a lively narrative of conversions, healings and resurrections, as well as divine judgment in the form of earthquakes, fires, illness and death directed at those who tried to obstruct the apostle or harm him.”
To the modern mind, Gregory’s work can seem odd, overflowing as it is with accounts of miracles that sound dubious even to believers. One key, Richardson says, is understanding the context of the work and the values and assumptions of Gregory’s medieval audience.
“We moderns are too cynical,” Richardson said. “We tend to separate things — the material world on one side and God on the other. To the medieval mind, though, the supernatural and the natural commingle, as it were. I think of how the bells would toll the offices for prayer at certain times of the day. Medieval believers were on to something — a deeper sense of the presence of God in daily life.”
For Richardson, translating Gregory has also been a reminder of the centrality of ancient authors to the whole-person education Asbury provides. Translating the “Liber” isn’t just an intellectual exercise, he says — it’s more like interacting with Gregory as an individual. Whether you’re a professor or a student, engaging the minds of the ancient world can be a life-changing experience.
“The study of classics is at the heart of the liberal arts education,” Richardson said. “I believe so strongly in the benefits of studying the classics, which can’t be measured in terms of salary or job potential.”
For Asbury students, studying the liberal arts provides an opportunity not only to build a strong foundation for a vast array of careers after college, but also to grow personally and spiritually.
“It’s not so much, ‘What are you going to do when you graduate,’ but ‘Who do you want to become?’” Richardson said. “We worry too much about making a better living, and not enough about making a better life. Reading the ancients can vastly expand our outlook.”
When Richardson began the translation project, he knew it would reflect many of Asbury’s core values, including the interdisciplinary nature of the liberal arts and the integration of faith and learning. What he didn’t expect, though, was to be personally challenged and inspired.
“The medieval mind beheld with wonder God’s universe, which was alive and dynamic and where the natural was commingled with the supernatural,” Richardson said. “Today, we live in a 24/7 world filled with noise and information and clutter, and we make it hard to live in a world filled with God. Gregory and his “Liber” serve to remind us of this.”