Another Issue with HWHM

I’m working on a longer piece on Holy Women, Holy Men (about which more later) but I think it finally hit me what one of the major problems of one of the central new categories is. I didn’t notice it until I’d fully digested the rhetorical structure of the collects.

One of the tendencies of the new additions is to group like people together and to produce a collect that speaks to all of them. Here are some examples:

Divine Physician, your Name is blessed for the work
and witness of the Mayos and the Menningers, and the
revolutionary developments that they brought to the practice
of medicine. As Jesus went about healing the sick as a sign
of the reign of God come near, bless and guide all those
inspired to the work of healing by thy Holy Spirit, that they
may follow his example for the sake of thy kingdom and the
health of thy people; through the same Jesus Christ, who
with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God,
now and for ever. Amen.

[btw—we’re going to ignore for the moment the presence of a “your” in a Rite I prayer and focus on the structure…]

Eternal God, who didst inspire Anna Julia Haywood
Cooper and Elizabeth Evelyn Wright with the love
of learning and the joy of teaching: Help us also to
gather and use the resources of our communities for the
education of all thy children; through Jesus Christ our
Savior, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy
Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

As the heavens declare thy glory, O God, and the
firmament showeth thy handiwork, we bless thy Name for
the gifts of knowledge and insight thou didst bestow upon
Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler; and we pray
that thou wouldst continue to advance our understanding
of thy cosmos, for our good and for thy glory; through
Jesus Christ, the firstborn of all creation, who with thee
and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.

Are you seeing a pattern here? This is what I see… At its most reductionistic, it goes like this:

O God, we thank you for A. and B. who were great Xs. Help us to be great Xs too. Thanks.

What’s the problem here? It’s that we’re not just trying to form Xs—we’re trying to form Christians. Whether they were good at their job or not (however holy that job might be), is not the point. The point should be that these specific people displayed the incarnate presence of Christ in their lives and thus were part of the sacramental conversion of all creation.

12 Replies to “Another Issue with HWHM”

  1. What is most odd is a loss of the collect structure in its move from God to that which God has done, und so weite. These things are metastatic in scope mirroring the Puritans revisions of Cranmer.

    I actually don’t have issue with honoring folks and new categories of holiness (alongside those discovered and explored in other times and places), after all, holiness and our understanding of it expands over time and in context, and if we’re going to do that, what of my favorite staretz, St. Seraphim of Sarov? I do have issue with not honoring the personality of the particular shape holiness took. Copernicus and Kepler are quite distinct persons, and Kepler’s nuttiness to the Modernist may have more to say to the Pre-/Post- Modernist. Yes, the stars sing of a kind!

    The pont is that we are called to be formed as persons–I remind folks often this is a theo-anthropological term emerging from the Christological debates, and each person is going to be distinctive and particular while containing the whole because being contained by the Whole, namely the Person into Whom they were ingrafted/died/reborn in Holy Baptism and pointing/participating in Him in their lives. Indeed, as you say displaying Christ and converting creation. What is the purpose of these Saints if they do not point us to and lead us to our own calling to participation in Christ Jesus, which will share in their shape while also being distinctive? It’s just a list of vocations at best, not a Christ-touched and -formed person. Ironically, like several of the Roman Collects that Cranmer reformed, and we have inherited in reformed pattern, the Christocentricity, as in, the only One of merit, in Whom we are in Communion with these ones, is lost.

    With “you” here is a loss of intimacy of Thou/Thee, an intimacy that is at the same time majestic in the Rite I idiom.

  2. I am going to make a comment of a sort which I do not normally like reading, and so I am going to give a bit of background about me to ameliorate the nastiness somewhat.

    I was born and raised in the Episcopal Church until the age of 20 or so (early 1980s). I became a Celtic Catholic because I felt at the time that God was calling me loudly to do so. This was a positive change, not a negative one. I did not leave the Episcopal Church for any reason. It had nothing to do with any real or perceived modernization, sins, shortcoming, or anything of the sort. I refuse to be categorized as theologically conservative or liberal, since I can out-conservative my theologically conservative friends and (socially and pastorally) out-liberal others. I am a member of a Church which is simultaneously very conservative theologically and quite liberal socially (with a lot of variety of opinion). I am outside the EC, but am very fond of it. My sister (the entirety of my family) is still a member of my old parish and I have good relations there.

    So having said all that, I ask: Is the Episcopal Church, _as a whole_, still interesting in forming Christians per se or in Christianity per se? It looks, for where I sit, like they are running as fast as possible to catch up with the Universalist-Unitarians. These collects you present look to me like one lap further along the racetrack.

  3. Fortunately, this is the age of the internet – and we ourselves now have the means to search out and demonstrate the value of “Christianity per se.” We do not have to simply accept what we’re given anymore; if we’re not satisfied with what’s currently on offer, we ourselves can offer alternatives that we think are truer, deeper, better, and more interesting – and that speak to the truth of the human condition (which is where the Church is going wrong, mostly, IMO).

    The Church has lost faith in its own message, but we can change that situation by talking about it, just as Derek is doing; we don’t have to be passive about it. In any case: this, too, shall pass. If the Episcopal Church kills itself off: well, God can redeem that, too.

  4. “more interesting” : Yes indeed. That is what struck me about the collects Derek gave above. Boring. It’s all fluffy ideals, no real flesh and blood.

    “and that speak to the truth of the human condition (which is where the Church is going wrong, mostly, IMO).” : That is what this article most says to me. It serves to remind me that our Christian anthropology is, at core, simply a realistic picture of the human condition. Our prayer and liturgy should reflect that reality.

    “but we can change that situation by talking about it” : I was raised with just enough of “this is the way it is, it’s just what we do,” that the idea of having to coax people into finding value in the …. traditional … is a bit of a shock to me. I know in my head that it’s how the world really works, though. I’m glad there are folk doing it.

    “If the Episcopal Church kills itself off: well, God can redeem that, too.” : God is infinitely merciful, and he has much experience with bringing good out of bad, but if the Episcopal Church kills itself off by racing into irrelevance I would probably have to start taking anti-depressants for a while. God would have to do an awful lot of redeeming to make it seem like a good thing.

  5. To me, a big problem with the church at the moment – and in some ways with these collects, too – is that they both locate the “problem” somewhere outside ourselves. I mean, it’s very good to wish to be of service to the world; what often come across is the idea of a kind of noblesse oblige sort of service, though.

    The church currently isn’t speaking to our common situation at all, but assumes, at the core (and not consciously, I’m sure!), that “I’m OK, You’re Not OK.” I mean, this is the implication of a theology composed almost entirely of “go and heal the world.” It robs us of the chance to heal ourselves – and even of the chance to admit we need healing.

    In that atmosphere, how can we feel free to address the things that afflict us? And, while we’re at it: How can we feel our common bond with the rest of humanity? And then: how can we attract people who feel less than “perfect” to the church?

    Well, we’re not doing that, actually, are we?

  6. (But, this isn’t the first time the church has taken what people believe or believed to be a wrong turn. The Oxford Movement was born in just such a moment, in fact. In fact, sometimes it seems that the church’s historical path consists mainly of reform movements!

    The conditions of the world are unique to the age – and we need to be able to speak that unique language. But a church that doesn’t speak to the facts of the human condition is, in my view, quite useless. We can do service through thousands of secular organizations – but they don’t offer anything to heal our souls…..)

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