Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The Words We Pray

Neil Alexander has an interesting reflection on the pending revision of the Book of Common Prayer, particularly in terms of where we stand with the language of the 1979 version. What is interesting is how much ground he ends up giving to a conservative and possibly even a little reactionary revision. He admits, for instance, that "even after 40 years of Rite Two, a substantial group in our church still prefers traditional language as embodied in Rite One," and continues, "the pastor in me would be loath to take away the possibility of traditional language from those eucharistic communities of our church who desire it."

He goes a bit astray, though, in discussing the assembly of the 1979 book, and the way in which he strays is instructive. One can read in Hatchett (between the lines a bit, I must admit), that Rite II Prayer A is far and away the most hammered-on new material, and that the collects and many of the prayers represent the oldest material. And it shows: material which came later in the process is invariably weaker and less felicitous. The modernized versions of old prayers and collects tend to be the most pleasing to the ear; the older new material tends to be the most direct and taut. So when he says that "{t}he 1979 Book of Common Prayer embodies the liturgical and sacramental thinking of the mid-1970s": that is surely incorrect. One need only look at The New Liturgy, published in 1966, to see the complete outline and even some of the language of the new rite in place; in particular nearly every proper preface listed would be familiar to a Rite II congregation, albeit in post-Jacobean language. Prayer A itself is basically the rite first published in Services for Trial Use (the "green book") back in 1970, tweaked but without substantial changes for the 1976 proposed book. The BCP we ended up with represented the tail end of postwar liturgical thought, not the radicalization of the 1970s.

What was current in 1979 was the kind of radfem thinking which drove Enriching Our Worship and which leads to Bishop Alexander's remark about "pronouns". It was then still largely an idea within academia, but theologians are within academia, and liberal theologians, even before the book became final, were repeating Mary Daly's ideas approvingly. And it's these impulses which are sprinkled throughout his essay, in coded language. In particular, there's this passage: "That said, for many, the language of Rite Two is quite dated and needs to be revised, particularly with respect to gender-inclusive language. Many of us, myself included, would hope that a revision would mine the depths of Holy Scripture for even more expansive language for God." OK, well, that's where the problem lies. There have strong objections to nearly every rite promulgated thus far in interests of supplement or revision, and they are rooted in the fact that "inclusive language" has consistently meant God-language which every prior generation would have held plainly heretical. While the language of Rite II in places has no precedent within the tradition, what that new language says is entirely within the catholic tradition. What EOW says is not within that tradition: that is, after all, why it says what it says, because a certain line of modernist thinking rejects what traditionally has been said. That is the very heart of the revision problem: it appears to be impossible to come up with a rite which satisfies the "inclusive" faction but which can still be counted orthodox by those for whom "inclusion" is not their issue, and the only way that conflict is going away, it seems, is by driving traditionalists off or waiting for them to die, rather stepping up to catholic criticism of the novel god-language.

And back to those pronouns. My issue here is that, for the sake of a conspicuously neoPlatonist theory about the sex/genderlessness of God, we increasingly cannot say the words of scripture, because they do not conform themselves to that theory. I already have a huge philosophical problem with current talk of gender and sex, because the tendency is to absolutely demand and then utterly deny the equality of the sexes in adjacent sentences; on that level I simply cannot enter into the way these things are being talked about, because I immediately find myself unable to talk at all and make any sense.. Gender/sex as it relates to God is unknowable. But that is something of a side issue, whereas for a Protestant the supreme objection is that this doesn't come from scripture. Yes, I know: there are instances where feminine similes are used for the action of God, but that is not the same thing as the core God language. Jesus calls Him "Father", and who are we to gainsay Jesus? We need to learn to live with this, and not count ourselves more enlightened than the second person of the God Himself.

Looking at how I've seen Rite II used over the years, it seems to me that the structure has stood the test of time. Nobody except maybe a few Anglo-Catholics wants to make any changes to that, and I think that the "mays" and "shoulds" could be whittled down to reflect usual practice. There is a lot of polishing that could be done, particularly in getting rid of the "well tell God what he does" construct and in (yes, you knew I'd get to this) Prayer C. I think Bishop Alexander is right in the need for more discussion of the ordinal, but not in a good way. But already we have six options for Sunday Eucharist, and I'm not seeing how we need more-- except to allow theological deviance.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Tolerating Traditionalists

From the Covenant site comes the following:
We all are thinking about the future, and the place of “traditionalists” in the Episcopal Church. While we are tolerated, it is not yet clear what is being tolerated: we as individuals or the view we represent. I am assuming that the church has made its decision for the foreseeable future. Why would the church allow a bishop or a diocese to hold a contrary view? Can it accept reasons for such a minority stance as valid and if so, why?

I submit that, in these terms, the conflict is lost. I map out, in any diocese north and east of Virginia (including my own), as a "traditionalist" simply for insisting that the words of the 1979 BCP be used without alteration. And I am fine with that, but if doing what the canons say to do is something that has to be tolerated, lawlessness is the order of the day. It is not traditionalists who should be in need of toleration, but those who wish to deviate from tradition.