Friday, March 08, 2002

Into "Contemporary Language" from "Traditional Language"

"If a job is worth doing it is worth doing well"

Since the 1960s the Anglican Churches of the West/North have produced a vast supply of new liturgies and published them in booklets and books, and more recently on web-sites. Virtually all of them have been part of a search for relevance to the modern age and of being meaningful for young people. And the claim has often been made that they are based upon the very earliest liturgies used in the Church in ancient times. Therefore, we have thus heard a lot about the proper "shape" or structure of the Order for Holy Communion [the Eucharist] and of the Daily Offices.

Amazingly, in all this change, the classic Anglican services as printed in "The Book of Common Prayer" (1662/1928 et al) have been available and remain widely used in their original form. This is in part due to the efforts of the Prayer Book Societies around the world.

Since there is today an inbuilt (culturally based?) resistance to the use of so-called traditional language in the West, and since there are those who believe that the central services of the classic B.C.P. in terms of both their structure and their doctrine/piety are still relevant and viable in the modern Church, it is not surprising that attempts have been made, notably in England and Australia, to render the Daily Offices & Order for Holy Communion from the 1662 B.C.P. into "contemporary English." (for the very latest efforts of the new millennium see the Website of the Diocese of Sydney, Australia and see "Common Worship", 2001, from the C. of E.).

If one judges these texts/liturgies in terms of the principles guiding those who have produced the modern services in "contemporary English" for the vast supply of booklets and prayer books since the 1960s, then one can say that they have done a reasonable job! But to say this is hardly a compliment!

If one begins from the doctrine contained in the original text, then one has to conclude after careful reading of the modern renderings, that (in general and with variation) they have both weakened and changed that doctrine, so that what they present is often a kind of strong form of modern popular evangelical doctrine and not the reformed catholic (= authentically Protestant) doctrine of the B.C.P.

Then in terms of translation of ancient texts such as the Creed and Canticles they have tended to use the forms produced by international commissions (which have had a most obvious liberal bias). What is more distasteful than, "You are God and we praise you" (bully for us!)? How much better is, "We praise you, O God, .."

Further, in the modernization of prayers they have followed the way of the modern liturgists and gone for a method that, when carefully examined, dishonours God! For example in the Collect for Purity, they have begun well and then taken a bad turn. "Almighty God" (fine start) "to you all hearts are open" (bad turn). The all-knowing Deity does not need you and me to tell him what he knows. The proper way is to acknowledge what he knows as obedient creatures; thus we should pray " Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open.." (good turn).

In the light of all this (if true!), what is the proper and appropriate response of those who care for and use the classic texts of the B.C.P. as living liturgies?

One could throw up one's hands in holy horror and bemoan what is happening and try to persuade people to stop this form of liturgy. I doubt if any will take much notice.

Rather, it would seem that there is an obligation laid upon those who see the Anglican Way as particularly wedded to its classic B.C.P. ( and so especially members of the Prayer Book Societies of the world!) to produce a Study Document in which are renderings into standard modern English of the major texts of the B.C.P. 1662/1928. The purpose of such texts in a Study Booklet would be to allow liturgists to compare their texts with those in the Booklet and have the opportunity thereby to improve their own texts.

Whether we like it not modern services based upon the classic B.C.P, are going to be produced and used, if for no other reason than that people feel a need to be in touch with their roots.

Further, and from the traditionalist perspective, it is highly probable that, if people get to use a sound contemporary version of the texts from the classic B.C.P., they will both learn sound Anglican doctrine and also be curious to use the original texts in the so-called traditional English.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon March 8, 2002

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