Thursday, June 13, 2002


a discussion starter

The difference between "Thee/thou" and "you/your" is not only the difference between singular and plural in number. As a consequence of that difference, it is also the difference between intimacy and familiarity, and corresponds to the difference between relation (a permanent ordering) and relationship (a temporal even ephemeral ordering) in modern usage. In both instances modern culture obscures and dilutes the distinction between the respective terms, and seeks to displace the former with the latter. In both cases the former term points to a deeper reality, while the latter term stays on the surface. Mere familiarity is much more superficial than genuine intimacy, and thus in fact the more truly distant.

Also, in terms of right relation in the divine order, intimacy is possible between intrinsic different levels of being, but familiarity generally is not. God is our Father; one has an intimate relation to and with Him, just as one has an intimate relation to and with one's earthly father; but in neither case does one have a familiar relation, which is intrinsically casual. It may be said that intimacy entails reverence, whereas mere familiarity cannot. A proper man reveres (honors) his parents; a husband and wife revere (honor and cherish) one another. Mere familiarity fundamentally lacks this dimension; for precisely that reason, mere familiarity can never even remotely approach the much more profound and enduring bond of intimacy, any more than a casual friendship can approach the relation that binds a child to his parents, or a husband and wife to one another.

The seeming distance that some people today claim to feel in using "Thee/thou" rather than "you/your" in addressing God is in fact that profound dimension of due reverence, and honor, that intimacy possesses but familiarity lacks. If sincere, believing people embrace the "Thee/thou" form in their public prayer and personal devotions, they will most probably come to learn and experience over time that this practice will deepen the character of their relation (note, not relationship!) to God in a way that the merely familiar "you/your" form never can.

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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