Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Athanasius on Enriching Our Worship

Given the suspicion that the program of BCP revision is intended by many to establish Enriching Our Worship as the pattern for future common prayer, it behooves the prudent liturgist to examine its rites with an eye towards the orthodoxy of its language. Fortunately Matthew S.C. Olver has done the heavy lifting for us in a series of three articles on the Covenant website. Part 1 provides an introduction and lays groundwork for the study; Part 2 examines the differences between the EOW and BCP rites in the large, and Part 3 focuses on the eucharistic prayers.

But you can readily get a picture of where this is heading by opening up a PDF of EOW 1 (daily office, litany, and the eucharist) and searching for the word "father". The word appears as follows:

  • Once in the preface (a reference to the church fathers)
  • Nine times in the canticles, of which three are in the Te Deum alone
  • Twice in the Apostles Creed
  • Six times in the Nicene Creed
  • Three times in a section explaining the omission of the filioque
  • None whatsoever in any of the eucharistic prayers
The tallies for "Lord" would appear to be better until one realizes that maybe a third of them are in the Benedicite, and that most of the rest are either in other canticles or in the exchanges which open the eucharistic prayers (plus one in the Sanctus). But it's the composite of this, the way it comes together in a theology, which makes the difference. Fr. Olver is not sanguine about this:
The reason that the Episcopal Church must find a different way to address the feminist concerns I outlined in my first post is that, despite the claim of SCLM’s principle that “the truth of the Gospel which proclaims Jesus as the Son of God the Father and as Lord is essential,” the EOW1 rite as a whole, speaks a fundamentally contrary word. EOW1 speaks a de facto different Trinitarian theology. Let me be clear: I do not wish to imply in any way that the SCLM is trying to introduce a new Trinitarian theology. Rather, I want to suggest that the Trinitarian implications of their revisions take a back seat to the stated goal of removing gendered language for God. My reading is that they have not considered carefully enough the wide-reaching implications of these revisions in Trinitarian theology, Christology, soteriology, and beyond.
Personally, I do not think the situation is that innocent, and I think that allowing Arian interpretations and other heterodoxies is part of the intent, albeit perhaps indirectly. Recall that the driving word behind all of this, and really behind nearly any ECUSA controversy, is "inclusion". Inclusion has been construed extremely broadly, so that it has been seem to encompass not only avoidance of racism, not only resolution of disputes over sexuality, not only conflict over the role of women, but has moved into the whole issue of whether the church even has any boundaries. And throughout church history, the two markers which drew such boundaries were sacrament and doctrine, and they were always coupled.

But now we are seeing numerous attempts to blur the line between being a Christian and not really being a Christian: communing the unbaptized, claiming saints who aren't Christians, priests who claim to be both Christian and Muslim, a bishop-elect with an infatuation with Buddhism, and numerous experimental rites which incorporate neo-pagan elements, tamper with scripture, and excise the creed. Thus the door is opened to Arian (or even Unitarian) tenets because the people in particular to be included encompass those who cannot deal with the doctrines of the virgin birth and the resurrection, or who for that matter don't want to be Christians at all.

In order to make this church safe for that sort of indifferentism, it must, in the end, be made inhospitable to any insistence of orthodoxy. The Council of Nicaea must not only be made optional, but in the end must be proscribed, for the canons of Nicaea are the very realization of the judgement that it does matter what we say about Jesus, and that when we worship his resurrected humanity, we recognize also his divinity, and with Thomas say, "my Lord and my God." Thus, the intent will surely be, in the end, not to place the rites of EOW alongside those of the true prayer book, but to displace them. And, in orthodox faith, I cannot have that. Rite I and Rite II are the starting point of revision, not these error-ridden substitutes.