December 5, 2005

THE GREATEST BLESSING (via Robert Schwartz):

Downloaded 'choice' is no substitute for classic prayers (Christopher Howse, 30/11/2005, Daily Telegraph)

When the Prince of Wales married Camilla Parker Bowles last April he was said by one of the less charitable tabloid newspapers that blow about the shopping centres of our nation to have decided to "apologise for his adultery".

Bride and groom, in "an extraordinary act of public penitence", it was reported, were to be forced to declaim these words about their sinful shenanigans: "We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us."

In reality, it was no "extraordinary" act of public penitence at all, but the familiar words of the general confession from the Communion service of the Book of Common Prayer. Stirring stuff, certainly, but a prayer that once every schoolboy knew.

Something has gone wrong. Those words penned by Thomas Cranmer more than 400 years ago have grown unfamiliar. Worse, they have been replaced by "tired and trite" language designed to be accessible to modern worshippers. [...]

Christianity is a gift from its founder. It was not devised by a group of well-meaning human beings as a programme of appealing, popular ploys. In private prayer, where, on the advice of Jesus, you go into your room and shut the door, you speak in your own words, one-to-one with your Father. In public worship, it is quite otherwise.

Public worship is the inheritance of the Church, which is the Body of Christ. No one with a conscience dare disregard the command of Jesus: "Do this in memory of me." So, for the service of Holy Communion, or the sacrament of Baptism, for example, it is impossibly wrong to try a DIY approach.

Not even Archbishop Cranmer started from scratch. [...]

The greatest blessing for the language of worship is to be left alone. Strange phrases become familiar and beloved; the least obvious grows transparent through use. "Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings," might be misunderstood by a child. Once the meaning is learnt, the archaism is no obstacle. Archaism goes towards dignity, gravity and beauty. They realised that 400 years ago, and elevated their speech in formal prayers, never thinking the newest street slang would improve it.

To the common inheritance of the body of Christendom, held in trust, there is a public right of access. Irregular churchgoers least of all should be offered the latest fad of the local "liturgy" committee. True democracy includes the votes of generations who went before and decided to leave a heritage not for squandering. That argument is a conservative one. But this is a conservative newspaper.

It's impossible not to cringe when someone uses a version of the Bible other than the King James.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 5, 2005 4:31 PM

Of course OJ. You remind me of the Texas lady who declared, "If the King James Version was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me."

Posted by: jeff at December 5, 2005 6:09 PM

Amen, brother.

Posted by: oj at December 5, 2005 6:16 PM

I swore off all other versions many years ago after reading Buckley's rant against yet another modern rendition. "Blessed are the meek." had become: "Happy the humble".

Posted by: Peter B at December 5, 2005 6:33 PM

The King James version is great and is the mother of English, as Shakespeare is its father. If you don't know your King James and your Shakespeare, you don't really speak English.

Having said that, I find myself not hating some of the new versions as much as I expected. As I've said here before, I find the neutering of G-d and the move away from the Lord and King metaphor to be useful in worship. They can also be amusing in odd spots, which counts for something.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 5, 2005 6:36 PM

Vulgate. God only understands Latin.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at December 5, 2005 7:24 PM

Sorry, OJ, but I tend to cringe when I hear people trip over the thees, thous, and "thus spakeths" in the antiquated and out dated KJV. I primarily use the Revised Standard Verson myself. You know, if all us Christians were truely originalists, we'd be reading the Biblia Hebraica and the Greek N.T. only!

Posted by: Dave W. at December 5, 2005 7:52 PM

Dave W

You think that will give Orrin pause? You are talking to a man who is ambivalent about the invention of the wheel.

Posted by: Peter B at December 5, 2005 8:01 PM

Ambivalent? He's squarely agin' it.

Posted by: joe shropshire at December 5, 2005 8:03 PM

Indeed, the classical prayers of faith are a great blessing from the faithful of past generations to the faithful in ours. I find it unfortunate and sad that so much of our rich liturgical heritage has fallen into disuse and obscurity! The same goes for hymns and other sacred songs, but that's a post for another time.

Posted by: Dave W. at December 5, 2005 8:05 PM


No, but I can still be a voice crying in his wilderness!

Posted by: Dave W. at December 5, 2005 8:10 PM

And the article didn't even mention "bewailing our manifold sins and wickedness".

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 5, 2005 10:09 PM

This link asserts that these familiar names (well, some of them are familiar, at least) were indebted to the KJV:

Shakespeare, Milton, Bunyan, Dryden, Addison, Pope, Shelley, Byron, Coleridge, Scott, Wordsworth, Arnold, Browning, Carlyle, Dickens, Eliot, Kingsley, Macaulay, Ruskin, Stevenson, Swinburne, Tennyson, Thackeray, Edwards, Bushnell, Beecher, Jefferson, Webster, Franklin, Poe, Irving, Bryant, Curtis, Emerson, Hawthorne, Holmes, Lowell, Longfellow, Thoreau, Whittier, Harte, Clemens, Whitman.

Try to put together a list like that for "Dianetics."

Posted by: Guy T. at December 5, 2005 10:52 PM

One of religion's tools is ritual. Ritual draws us out of our mundane selves and guides us to the entry of the world of the sacred. Repetition is a key to ritual. Things like costume and language are important also.

To my way of thinking, the RCs made an enormous error when they abandoned Latin. OTOH, Reformed Jews have done the right thing by going back to more Hebrew. Understanding ritual is far less important than engaging in it. Besides, ritual can be explained in sermons and in notes in the manuals.

Clearly the CoE, lost the thread when they abandoned the Book of Common Prayer. Demotic, improvised prayer lacks the elements of good ritual. OJ's preference for the Authorized Version of the bible is also a plea for restoration of ritual language.

OTOH, the Authorized Version, for all its excellence as English, is not a very good translation of the underlying texts. For example Exodus 20:13, the 6th Commandment (by our count) is, in transliterated Hebrew: LO TR-a-Tz-e-Ch (Tav, Resh, Tzade, Chet). Translated literally, it is: "no murder." The Authorized Version translates it as: "Thou shalt not kill."

Now, I do not object to turning the telegraphic Hebrew into a complete English sentence, but the word kill, which was also used to translate the Hebrew word shochet or slaughter [an animal], is a lot broader than the word murder, and was in the 17th century. This single translation issue has given scriptural authority to the arguments of pacifists, vegetarians and other such riff-raff that is simply not warranted.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at December 6, 2005 3:14 AM


An Orthodox colleague once told me that the original Hebrew version of Genecis should be translated as: "And G-d created woman to oppose man." That would explain a lot. Can you confirm?

(Of course, I'm standing by for some Orthodox feminist scholar to announce that the most accurate translation would be improve)

Posted by: Peter B at December 6, 2005 6:52 AM

In their quest to be relevant, these churches abandoned timelessness. Now they must, in an ever increasing pace, abandon their latest and find something new, for nothing becomes irrelevant faster than something that was fashionable.

You would have thought they would have known about exchanging a birthright for a mess of pottage, but you'd be wrong.

Posted by: Mikey at December 6, 2005 8:00 AM

Of course Robert is right about the kill vs. murder issue. Thaink of all the trouble poor Alvin York would have avoided if he had had a Strong's Concordance.

That is why whenever someone cites a word of translated Scripture as "proof" of a point whinch is counter-intuitive or which is at varience from the things handed down. (Warning: big-time obscure allusion alert!), then we must put a hand on our wallet and check the safety catch on our Luger.

There is an unfortunate tendency for some contemporary writers to be almost boastful in their ignorance of Scripture, as when someone accused the President of using "secret code words" when we uses Bibical phrases. It seems they are implying that the core writings of our civilization are some kind of secret writings known only to a tiny band of initiates.

We recently saw an example of this in a book about the Spanish Inquisition, The Dogs of God, by James Reston, Jr.. Not only does the author mangle Latin*, he tells us that when an Inquistion characher said that "a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand, "this was a "first utterance of words later made more famous." This tells us that he thinks Abraham Lincoln used these words originally, and had not borrowed them from Matthew, Ch. 12.

*Dogs of God is supposed to be a pun on the word "Dominicans." Of course it is not. "Dominicans" can be related to Domini + canes--Dogs of the Lord: Dominus, not Deus, get it?

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 6, 2005 9:49 AM

Imagine my sadness when singing "Peace on Earth, Good will to....people"?

Posted by: sharon at December 6, 2005 10:54 AM

Don't get me going on inclusive language!

Peter B:
Which verse was he quoting? The RSV says in Genesis chapter 2 that after God created the man and placed him in the garden of Eden he concluded that "the man should not be alone" and so God created "every beast of the field and bird of the air" hoping that one would be a "helper fit for him". None were, so God created woman from Adam's rib. Adam found the woman to be a fit helper.

Posted by: Dave W at December 6, 2005 1:21 PM

Peter: I assume that you are refering to: Gen. 2:18: And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet* for him.

I think that this a fair enough translation.

However, the Hebrew text of the Torah (the 5 books of Moses) was written without vowels. Sometimes changing the vowels infered in a text, will change its meaning.

Commentators have suggested interpretations based on vowel changes, puns and various other textual methods. One is called gematria. Like Roman numerals, Hebrew letters have numeric values. some commentors extract meanings from the numeric values of words.

Bottom line, without a citation, I don't know what your friend was referring to.

*meet adj. Fitting; proper: "It seems not meet, nor wholesome to my place" (Shakespeare).

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at December 6, 2005 6:33 PM

Robert/Dave W

Thank-you. I'll have to work on this a bit and maybe get back to you, although it may all be beyond my ken.

Posted by: Peter B at December 6, 2005 7:07 PM