Thursday, April 28, 2011

1979 and All That

Between the approach of Easter and the general slouch of the national church towards diminution and "inclusion" (which is to say latitudinarianism) there has not been the juxtaposition of motivation and time which leads to new posts. Moreover we are in mid-rector-search, and no man's parish is safe while that is underway.

At this point the various Anglican divisions in the USA seem set, modulo the tiny trickle in the Ordinariate (and all evidence is that it will indeed be tiny, and certainly not the revitalizing force which various RC traditionalists wish for). And for the most part, the liturgical dividing line will be between 1928 and 1979, with the various missals around the fringes.

Those of us who have been around long enough and have paid attention long enough will remember Peter Toon's various denunciads on behalf of the Prayer Book Society, and while in some respects he moderated his views, he nevertheless represents the party rejecting the books many innovations.

And innovations, if that is the word one wants to use for changes, are there in abundance. It is ironic, however, that the chief of all the changes, the restructuring of the Eucharist liturgy, has proven to be the most enduring feature, and that subsequent revisions, when they do not simply dismiss the book entirely, hew to the 1979 structure with almost no deviation. What happens instead is that people pick at the words. And here I see a parallel between Toon's program and the revisionists: there's an awful lot of claiming about what the 1979 words say that simply isn't there in the text.

Toon was certainly right to call attention to the various heretics wandering around in the ECUSA hierarchy. But he consistently missed the most obvious sign: that there were and are increasingly many clerics who will not say the words of their own prayer book. Five years ago the Office of Women's Heres-- er, Ministry put out a liturgy for discussion, and as I noted then, there was a lot of theological change hidden in the very many changes, little of which had to do with gender neutrality. It's hard to say that it has gotten better, or worse, or even different, but the inability to say "it is right to give him thanks and praise" persists.

Toon's argument was always that the differences between 1928 and 1979 wording lent themselves to various heretical interpretations. In my opinion, he was wrong about that. Certainly someone like Pike had no trouble interpreting 1928 in an unorthodox manner, and following him, Spong held to beliefs that could not be reconciled to the texts he mouthed on Sunday. Conversely, as I said above, the pressure to rewrite the words indicates that, if heresy is the intent, the current texts do not express it sufficiently.

But beyond that, there was another paradigm operating. Toon, it always seemed to me, operated from the assumption that the 1928 book represented a standard of orthodoxy. And therefore, it also always seemed to me that he assumed that the intent of pretty much any difference between the two books represented an intent to deviate from orthodoxy on the part of the 1979. Now I never used the 1928; I went directly from the services of the Green Book to the 1976 Proposed rites (which differed only in small ways). For me, therefore, taking the catholic stance of accepting the church's book, the standard of orthodoxy is 1979, not 1928. And since I do not participate in all these various heresies (and indeed see many beyond-1979 changes that explicitly encode some of these heresies), it is "obvious" to me that the texts do not imply what Toon would have them saying. And I think it is my view that is most prevalent, and that at least a few decades back that is how most people looked at 1979: they gave it an orthodox reading.

And furthermore, some of what he objects to could, I think, be defended. The most conspicuous case, also mentioned by Fr. Jonathan, is the "baptismal covenant".Here is where, in fact, I think we see the 1979 text in its most conservative and Anglican. It is inaccurate to say that its text turns away from a catholic and orthodox doctrine of the atonement: as Fr. Jonathan says, Prayer C, the most modern of the Eucharistic texts, hammers on it the hardest. What is novel is not this at all, but rather the acknowledgment that there is more to the Christian life than personal rectitude. And that realization is nothing more than say 150 years of hard-learned lessons about what the second great commandment entails. Respecting the dignity of every human being, striving for peace and justice: these are no more or less than what "loving your neighbor" demands. there is no reason for this to be controversial; nor am I constrained to interpret them to mean specifically the socialist program beloved of many church liberals.

and again, the tell-tale issue is that the pressure for change is on 1979's quite orthodox understanding of the need for atonement, redemption, and repentance. In that respect Toon was to some degree right in seeing 1979 as a step on the way towards corruption; but actual corruption has in practice brought forth an increasing mutilation of the 1979 text, so that now 1979 stands as the monument of orthodoxy against which the revisionists rail. Likewise, using the 1928 now doesn't mean for us what it did in 1928. It's a specifically reactionary and rebellious act.

Finally, Toon's line of argument reflects what I see as the most common error of liturgists: the notion that they can somehow control the faith of the church through these words. Fr. Jonathan assesses Toon's readings as "strained", which I would agree with; but insofar as such readings can be adopted, most laymen don't adopt them, and if it has gotten worse, I think it was not so long ago that the vast majority of ECUSA clerics also adopted straightforward, orthodox readings. The problem is not in the text, but in the readers. the best that one can hope for in a liturgy is that it encourages an orthodox and catholic reading; but one cannot write a liturgy that forces such a reading.

4 comments:

Fr. J said...

Very astute comments. I agree that writing an orthodox liturgy does not guarantee that the people or the clergy will read it in an orthodox fashion. Nevertheless, if the liturgy has a certain magisterial authority, something which Toon argues for at least in regards to 1928 and before, then it is possible for the liturgy to become a restraining fence against the creep of heresy. There's a reason why revisionists spend so much time on changing the liturgy.

J. Blaisdell said...

My memory of the 1979 transition is there was really an effort to please everybody. There are a lot of things the Anglo-catholics could like, a lot of things liberals could like, and a lot of changes made for ecumenical reasons (ICET texts). While one can nitpick words, in my opinion the gravest error (in hindsight) was the de-emphasis on Confirmation. I think this was done to be more like other denominations, but it has robbed Episcopalians of the definitive entry point into full church membership, and has contributed in no small way to the lack of new members (who either join without commitment, or never join at all because there's no obvious benefit.)

There are also some big changes in rubrics which had ripple effects. Required elements became optional and optional elements became required; but new items appeared as requirements (the Peace) and old requirements were no longer permitted (Comfortable Words in Rite II) which really pushed congregations to change their ways for no obvious reason and planted the seeds of lawlessness so widely expanded later as you lament.

C. Wingate said...

Fr. J, one of the reasons the revisionists spend all that time is because they are, after all, clerics (and typically clericalists) who like to think that they can control things just as much as Toon thought that things were being controlled. In other words, they participate in the same delusion from the other side. That said, one can easily look at the changes proposed and see problems. What it comes down to in the end is that Toon started from the assumption that changes were probably bad and thus tended to explain every change from that direction. Someone like me, coming from a far different background, simply doesn't read the liturgy the same way. I think there's more clearly a problem now because I think that people looking at proposals coming down the pipes now do tend to read them in the same way, regardless of background; where the difference is coming now is not over what the changes intend, but what is thought of that intent.

Also, Toon argued against the magisterial authority of the book. If you are taking a magisterial view, you use the book as it is presented to you, with no more than the token creeching that is required in all liturgical churches. His argument was not that 1928 had more authority, but that it was objectively the better book and that 1979 was objectively faulty. That's an acceptably Protestant view but it implicitly authorizes the radicals to adopt the same sort of stance. If anyone is standing up for the magisterial view right now, it's me, with my insistence on "do what the book says."

John, it's unclear to me how much the currently changed viewpoint on confirmation is realized in the 1979 rites. Hatchett is absolutely no help on this as he does not cover confirmation at all in his commentary. It's clear that there is one shift in thinking which shows up in the reception sub-rite, but there was definitely a later shift in thinking under which I now would not have been confirmed coming from the Presbyterians, but at the time I would have been and was. And I as I understand it the shift against confirmation was not done so much to be like other churches as it was more or less in defiance of them-- except the Orthodox. There's an obvious shift across baptism to looking more like the EO notion of the thing.

I think what is more troubling is a grammatical shift that becomes more and more pronounced the more recent a text you look at. Old BCP prayers tended to take the form "O {name} who {did thus and so}, grant our prayer {in this wise}, etc."; but more recent ones follow the bad RC convention of saying "O {name}, you {do thus and so}...." The construction tends to put one in the position of telling God what he does, as though you can given Him orders. If you look at something like BOoS, the construct is everywhere. It needs to be suppressed.

There was a time when the middle of the road ECUSA parish tended to take all the "may"s in the rubrics as "will"s, and at this point it would be a big step forward simply to make that substitution explicit.

The young fogey said...

I agree the American ordinariate will probably be tiny with very few Episcopalians joining.