Thursday, May 30, 2002


I have made the point elsewhere that the shift in the 1960s & 1970s from the traditional English dialect of prayer to so-called "contemporary English" involved - wittingly and/or unwittingly - doctrinal change.

Here are three examples of what I have in mind - in response to requests.


These words are addressed to the Minister of the Sacrament (in modern jargon "the President of the Eucharistic Assembly) by the congregation after he has said to the gathered people, "The Lord be with you."

Translators & liturgists could have given us "and with your spirit" which would have been perfectly good English and also meaningful (if we believe that the human being is composed of body, soul and spirit).

In fact there is a long tradition of understanding with regard to the "and with thy spirit" [Latin = et cum spiritu tuo] that focuses on this response as a short prayer asking God to quicken within the Minister that spiritual gift given to him in ordination so that he will rightly celebrate and administrate the Sacrament. The gift of the Holy Spirit is linked to his spirit and thus the et cum spiritu tuo.

If "and also with you" is used then he is merely being recognized as one of the circle and as distinct simply because of his function, not because of his gift.

This is not heresy as such but a change in doctrine.

2. "WE BELIEVE" instead of "I BELIEVE"

In the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Churches and in the Latin Mass of the Roman Catholic Church, the Creed is in the first person singular. The reason for this is that it entered the Liturgy as a Baptismal Creed not as a Confession of Faith by Bishops at an Ecumenical Council, which is where it was composed and where it was in the "We" form. (The Nicene Creed was always "I believe" as a Baptismal Creed before it entered the liturgy in the late 5th century.)

The use of the "I" has been taken to have two meanings - first, it is the voice of the Bride responding to her Bridegroom with her confession of faith; it is the one Person, as it were, of the Church (the one Body & One
Household) speaking to the Lord Jesus in love and gratitude. Secondly, within the one "I" of the Church of God there are many individual persons, united in the Holy Spirit in the One Body of Christ. So it is the word also of each member, but each member in unison.

Thus "I believe" was in use everywhere and always until the 1970s when in a few European languages (a minority) the "we believe" was used to translate "credo." Why? To counteract supposed individualism and so have the eucharistic assembly united together and saying "we believe."

What is clear is that the original Greek and Latin in the official Liturgies have the first person singular and all musical settings until the 1970s were for the first person singular. Credo does not mean "we believe" and Pisteuo does not mean "we believe".

"We believe." changes the meaning of the Creed for it loses the Unity of the Body as one "I" and it loses the Baptismal reference and in place of this it imposes a modern form of confession in order to combat modern aggressive individualism.

This is not heresy as such but a change of doctrine.

3. PRAYER: The Adjectival Mode or the Declarative Mode.

Are modern language versions of the traditional Collects acceptable forms of godly Prayer? Specifically, by way of example, that for the Sunday after Ascension Day?

For the first Book of the Common Prayer (1549) Archbishop Cranmer composed a new Collect for the Sunday after the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord. The Collect begins: "O God, the King of glory, who has exalted thine only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph unto thy kingdom in heaven: we beseech thee, leave us not comfortless.."

The modern rendering in the 1979 prayer book of ECUSA begins: "O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ to your kingdom in heaven, do not leave us comfortless.

Here we have one example of a common tendency amongst modern liturgists to set aside the adjectival relative clause and to move to the declarative statement. That is from the "who hast exalted" to the "you have exalted."

[Note that the question being raised here has nothing to do with the use of thee and thine instead of you and your.]

To those who are not skilled in grammar [and let us be honest it is little taught in modern schools] and see no relation between grammatical form and doctrine/piety then the change may seem harmless.

However, it may be argued that the relation of man to God, and of man to God 's revealed Truth, is altered by the change in grammatical structure. The adjectival mode necessarily expresses a sort of humility and dependence on revelation; whereas the declarative mode necessarily asserts a sort of parity with God and a power over the details of revelation.

To reflect upon this in more detail we need to be aware of the importance of the rhetorical device of Apostrophe in liturgical prayer.

"Apostrophe is a rhetorical figure used to signify vocative address.It is characteristic of dramatic and exclamatory styles of discourse and is supremely vocal and emotive. And whilst it constitutes a calling to be heard by that which is absent, it is also in the context of liturgical enactment, a communal figure: it is both heard and overhead."

Good liturgy uses this device to pray about God in the context of addressing God. See the Cantate Domine in the traditional translation:

"O Sing unto the LORD a new song; for he hath done marvellous things With his own right hand and with his holy arm, hath he gotten himself the victory.."

God's people sing of God and do so in his presence and within his hearing.

When it comes to prayers and collects the use of the device enables worshippers to speak about God, without reminding God of who he is and what he has promised, and without engaging in a kind of flattery of the Almighty.

Take the Absolution. "Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised the forgiveness of sins." This style enables worshippers to be in a right relation of humility before God and not claiming anything by right.

The same point can be made by comparing the Collect for Purity at the beginning of the Order for Holy Communion. The traditional addresses "Almighty God [the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ]" and then proceeds, "unto whom all hearts are open and from whom no secrets are hid." In contrast the modern has: "Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known."

Here the traditional form recognizes that God knows all about us and serves as a reminder of the same in his presence. In contrast the modern seems to be reminding God of the fact that he is all-knowing!

One of the worst examples of modern translation is that of the Te Deum, where the worshippers tell God who he is: "You are God; we praise you; You are the Lord; we acclaim you." God does not need to know who he is and we need to be humble before him. The traditional has: "We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord." which is much better.

This tendency to abandon the device of APOSTROPHE can be seen on many pages in the 1979 prayer book and other Anglican texts and is even more clearly exhibited in the further publication of the Liturgical Commission , as the study of the various texts will show.

Here, while we may not have heresy,we have a major change in attitude towards God, the Holy One. He is reduced to the level of a friend with whom we speak in familiar terms! Perhaps worse then some heresies!!!!

Trinity Sunday Week, 2002

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon
Minister of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor,
England & Vice-President and Emissary-at-Large
of The Prayer Book Society of America

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