Project Canterbury

The Reverend Cyril Hamilton Powles, B.A., L.Th., S.T.B., M.A., Ph.D.

The Corporation of Trinity College mourns the death of the Reverend Professor Emeritus Cyril Powles, who died in Vancouver on July 26, 2013.

Cyril Hamilton Powles, the eldest son of Percival and Beatrice Mount Powles, Canadian Anglican missionaries to Japan, was born in the mountain resort of Karuizawa, Japan, at the home of the Canadian Bishop of Chubu (Mid-Japan), Heber Hamilton, on September 1, 1918. He grew up in a bilingual and bicultural setting, home-schooled by his mother, a former Latin teacher. In 1933 he was sent home to Canada to attend Westmount High School in Montreal, where he was a member of the Classics Club with Eugene Fairweather. Upon graduation from high school, he moved to Montreal Diocesan Theological College while attending McGill University, from which he graduated with a B.A. in Classics in 1940. He immediately entered Montreal Diocesan Theological College, graduating with a L.Th. in 1943. He was ordained Deacon in the Diocese of Montreal in 1943, appointed Curate of St. Matthew’s, Hampstead, Montreal, and ordained a priest a year later. In 1945, he was appointed Dean of Residence at Montreal Diocesan Theological College. In 1946 he and Marjorie Watson, a fellow Student Christian Movement member, were married.

They soon began to prepare to return to Japan as missionaries. After a year’s study at Harvard University, they moved to the Diocese of Chubu in 1949 as missionaries of the Canadian Anglican Church; in Chubu Cyril was parish priest of three successive parishes, latterly the cathedral in Nagoya. They lived in much privation in a Japan still recovering from the war. In the mid-fifties, they spent a furlough year at Trinity College, where in 1954 Cyril received a S.T.B., writing a thesis on “The Relation of Penitence to Oblation in the Eucharistic Offertory”, under the direction of Eugene Fairweather. By this time, Cyril and Marjorie had come under the influence of the American Anglo-Catholic Marxist theologian, F. Hastings Smyth, and had joined his Society of the Catholic Commonwealth; the thesis explored Smyth’s theology of the Eucharistic Offertory. In 1958 Cyril was appointed Professor of Church History at Central Theological College, Tokyo, the principal theological college for the Nippon Seikokai (the Anglican Church in Japan). In 1959-60, he and Marjorie returned to Harvard University where in Cyril completed his M.A. in East Asian Studies in 1960. In Japan, Cyril also taught theology and modern Japanese history at Rikkyo (St. Paul’s) University, the Anglican university in Tokyo. Cyril eventually became Canadian Senior Missionary in Japan, with responsibility for all the Canadian Anglican missionaries there.

In the sixties, Cyril and Marjorie explored the future of expatriate missionaries in Japan in a series of articles in the Japan Christian Quarterly. In opposition to pressure for Cyril to become a bishop in Japan, they argued that it was time for expatriate missionaries to leave to enable the local church to exercise its autonomy. During this period they spent two years at the University of British Columbia where in 1968 Cyril was awarded a Ph.D. in Japanese history. His dissertation, “Victorian Missionaries in Japan: The Shiba Sect”, on the Canadian Anglican missionary to Japan, Archdeacon A.C. Shaw, directed by John Howes, was published by the University of Toronto Press in 1987. After two more years in Tokyo, Cyril and Marjorie returned to Canada where Cyril was appointed Visiting Professor in 1970 and Professor of Church History in 1972 at Trinity College. He served in that position until his retirement in 1984. During this time, he was also cross-appointed to the Departments of History, Religious Studies and East Asian Studies in the University of Toronto. As Professor Emeritus, Cyril returned to the Faculty of Divinity as its Acting Dean in 1990; in 1994 Trinity College conferred upon him an honorary D.D. Upon return to Canada in 1970, Cyril and Marjorie became active members of Holy Trinity Church, Eaton Square, Toronto. After their post-retirement move to Vancouver, they became active members of St. Mark’s, Kitsilano.

Throughout his ministry and teaching, Cyril, in a close relation of partnership with Marjorie, was deeply involved in justice and peace issues and activities in both Canada and Japan. He was a member of the Student Christian Movement, a founding member of the Anglican Fellowship for Social Action, the Society of the Catholic Commonwealth (founding a SCC cell in Japan), the Executive of Gen-sui Kyo (the umbrella Japanese peace organization), the Canada-China Program, Hiroshima-Nagasaki Relived, the Ecumenical Forum, the Board of the Centre for Christian Studies, Canadian Urban Training and Downtown Church Workers Association. His post-doctoral research on the Japanese Tenno (Emperor) System in Japan focused on its contribution to militarism and violence. In 1945 the Canadian national church office hired Cyril to visit Japanese-Canadians across the country who had been interned in relations camps during the war; his report championed their cause and he supported reparations for Japanese-Canadians, who had been deprived by both state and church, until his death. Cyril and Marjorie were active proponents for the ordination of women; they also supported gay and lesbian clergy and candidates for ordination, in opposition to the church hierarchy. Cyril counted himself not a “liberal” but a Catholic radical, in the tradition of the nineteenth and twentieth century Anglo-Catholic socialist slum priests upon whom he lectured. Cyril was also a liturgist as co-author of the Nippon Seikokai’s 1957 Prayer Book.

As a son of missionaries and as a missionary, Cyril was deeply committed to the mission of the church and wrote extensively on it. He accompanied Japanese bishops to Anglican Congresses and Lambeth Conferences as advisor. He was a member of numerous national mission committees of the Anglican Church of Canada. In his missiology, Cyril rejected an expatriate missionary-centred “history of mission” in favour of an indigenous-centred “third world Christianity” in which newly evangelized Christians are seen as active subjects rather than passive objects. Cyril’s publications in this area include Mission Impossible—Unless (Friendship Press, 1973), Towards a Theology of Mission for Today (Anglican Book Centre) and Interpreting the Present Time: History, the Bible and the Church’s Mission Today (Anglican Book Centre, 1994). In 1986, Cyril and Marjorie were the subject of a festschrift in their honour by former students and friends, Justice as Mission. Cyril is deeply mourned by countless friends, colleagues and former students around the world.

Cyril is survived by his wife of 67 years, Marjorie (awarded Trinity honorary D.S.Litt. in 1992), son Peter, daughter-in-law Michelle, brothers and sisters, and many nieces and nephews. BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Corporation of Trinity College expresses its gratitude for the life and service of Professor Emeritus Cyril Powles to the College and the global community and that this Resolution be inscribed on the Minutes and copies sent with the sympathy of the Corporation to his family.

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