Thursday, July 18, 2002

On Style in Language addressed to Deity.

(a short tract to create godly thinking)

The move from addressing God as "Thee/Thou" to addressing Him as "You" may be simply a change in the word for the second person singular. And this is how modern liturgical experts want us to understand it. So they tell us that in the English-speaking world we have straight choice between "traditional language" and "contemporary language" and they say that the latter is much preferable.

But are they right? Yes and No. In part not in whole.

They are right only in that they recognize the difference between the second person singular and the second person plural and then the use in modern English of what used to be solely the second person plural as both second person singular and plural!

What they omit to recognize and tell is that with the use of the old form of the second person singular, "Thee/Thou," there comes a style, a context and an ethos. There is both the sense of intimacy with God as truly "our Father" because through Jesus Christ we know Him as "Father" (the Father of Jesus Christ, no less). And there is also, because of centuries of usage in public worship, a sense of reverence, awe and holiness so that He is "the holy Father." The archaic functions in a particularly religious way and for our benefit as believers.

So if I were to pray in sincerity "I love Thee, O Lord" the meaning would have its context in the style of English generated by the King James Version, the Book of Common Prayer and the Hymns of Wesley and Watts - that is, in the traditional English idiom of prayer. Thus it could not mean "love" as any merely emotional feeling or the modern being-in -love or homosexual attraction or liking someone. Rather it means a deep and profound sense of attachment to and wholesome trust in God as the Infinite and Eternal Deity, the Creator, Redeemer and Lord of all, who is made known in the person we know as Jesus of Nazareth. It is an enduring act of the will to do and to be unto God what He as God rightly deserves and commands.

However, if I were to pray "I love You, O Lord" the meaning would have as its context the use of love in modern English. This is because there has not yet developed a settled or coherent idiom of prayer using "You" to God. There have been many experiments since the 1960s and there are many going on at the beginning of the new millennium. Thus there is potentially a whole set of possible meanings and these depend upon the context from and in which we place this evocation of love. Is it love as we know it through the massive psychotherapeutical industry, or through Hollywood films, or as we seek to understand it through modern translations of the Bible?

The point is that "I love You, O Lord" does not easily and readily provide the meaning that is attached by context and long usage - by style - to "I love Thee, O Lord."

And if this general point is conceded then the possibility emerges that before the so-called contemporary language, that is being pressed upon the Church, can truly function as a godly means and instrument to leads us to the Holy One, the Blessed Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, it needs to have gained a context, a style that is worshipful and godly. Right now, it possesses potentially many contexts and styles and virtually of them are generated from the mindset, culture and ethos of what is termed post-modernity.

Therefore, it may not be so stupid after all for people - ordinary folks as well as academics -- to insist that they want to continue to worship the Lord our God using the classic idiom of prayer, as found in the King James Version and the Book of Common Prayer.

July 17,2002

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

No comments: