Thursday, September 21, 2017

Reshaping Away the Creed

Matthew S.C. Olver's assessment of Ruth A. Meyers's "revised edition" of Leonel Mitchell's seminal Praying Shapes Believing heads right into the issues which make me an opponent of the push to "revise" the prayer book. Now, Mitchell having been dead this past half-decade, and thus not in a position to take exception to this, there is a serious problem with this notion of a "revision" of his work in the first place. It's not too much to say that Meyers has, in reality, co-opted Mitchell's voice in pushing a program which, at least in the passages which Olver highlights, is quite at odds with what Mitchell said the first time around. I have to say that she needed to have published her own book and left his well enough alone.

But those passages: the changes that raise my hackles the most are those which address the place of the creeds, both in worship and in the doctrine of the church. Consider this:

In her other books, Meyers cites other issues that might be addressed Meyers in a future prayer-book revision. One of those is the Nicene Creed. Meyers replaces a sentence of Mitchell’s that acclaims the creed as sign of unity and renewal of the Baptismal Covenant with a clause noting that it “provides material for both an historical and a systematic theology.”

It is not an essential part of the liturgy,” she adds. “It was introduced into Eastern liturgies in the early sixth century and was only added to the liturgy at Rome in the eleventh century. The core beliefs of the church are expressed in the eucharistic prayers, which carries much of the theological weight of the liturgy on weekdays when the creed is not proclaimed” (pp. 158-59). The complicating issue, of course, is that in Enriching Our Worship, any gendered proper names of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and their subsisting relations disappear. This disappearance is only exacerbated if the Creed is not used, as Meyers seems to favor and as Enriching our Worship appears to allow.

One is moved to ask why the creed was added, but then it's easy enough to guess why there is such pressure to take it back out: not because it is unnecessary, but because it is offensive. In the rhythm of the first half of our eucharistic liturgy (the "Liturgy of the Word") it is the high point of a sequence in which we praise God, we hear his word, we have it interpreted and elaborated for us, and we respond with an act of anamnesis: the ancient statement of our church's faith, as we have it from the church fathers. In this wise the Eastern name for it, the Symbol of Faith, is entirely apropos. And it is entirely reasonable to come at Enriching Our Worship with the observation that it wishes to permit, and perhaps even to establish, deviation from that ancient faith. Beyond the in my opinion misbegotten gender issues, the direction taken is away from anything definite and towards a liturgy that eliminates acknowledgement of our subordination to the godhead and especially to what that the Lord has already said. This is particular evident in her attitude towards the general confession:

When Meyers discusses the frequency of the general confessions, she adds the clarification that “there is no ancient precedent for a general confession of sin at any point in the eucharistic liturgy” (p. 152). This is a bit misleading, since there is precedence for preparatory prayers of penitence by clergy of both Eastern and Western churches, the use of the Confiteor from at least the 11th century in the West, and most importantly the requirement that a Christian confess all serious sins sacramentally before receiving Communion. The rejection of the necessity of auricular confession at the reformations leads to the appearance of general confessions. Without this background, one is left with the impression that confessions are simply an incursion into the eucharistic liturgy. This perspective is furthered because Meyers deletes a sentence by Mitchell that notes, “The confession of sin is an integral part of our common prayers and an important preparation for worship.”

Well, yeah. Her bland remarks are utterly at variance with pre-reformation practice, about as far back as we are aware of. But simply erasing Mitchell's position on this: that is really beyond the pale.

It is increasingly apparent that the 1979 book, far from being the liberation from old Anglican tradition that the progressive party wants, somehow managed to re-embody that tradition in corpus of the newly written rites. Even Prayer C, that last minute and entirely novel construction, spends too much time on our sinful rebellion to go down easy in the new revision. And those patriarchs: what an embarrassing gaffe! So now we have to start over again, and make the liturgy safe for the unrepentant and the apostate. You can guess my assessment that: ANATHEMA!

3 comments:

underground pewster said...

Prayer Book revision in 1979 kept enough of the old to mask the innovations. I suspect the push for radical revision with the next Prayer Book for TEc will be met with a similar compromise. The innovations will be there all right. A compromise that makes the creeds optional would be one more step along the slippery slope that leads to theological vacuity among the pewsitters.

Jay Croft said...

The beauty of the Apostles' and Nicene creeds is that they are universal and be quoted to anyone who asks, "What do Christians believe?"

Our standing to say the Nicene Creed as a response to the sermon is a powerful way of supporting each other and also of witnessing to visitors.

Contrast either creed with the long, convoluted statements of faith developed by fundamentalist churches.

Fr. carlton kelley said...

Meyers' comments sound more than a bit like liturgical archeology. Simply because the Creed was introduced at what is deemed a "later" period does not make it any less worthy of inclusion now. Given the rampant heterodoxy in our church, the weekly recitation of the Nicene Creed is now, more than ever, vitally important. I can only imagine the chaos that would result if clergy were given the option of omitting it! Some would probably then feel compelled to ask congregational members to write their own "creeds" as an educational and self satisfying exercise in theological enlightenment. One wonders why Meyers and her devotees are so reluctant to put themselves under the gracious mercy of orthodox belief.