Category Archives: rant

Hatin’ on the NRSV

This weekend’s Gospel foregrounds one of my pet peeves about the NRSV; it’s translations can be down-right misleading in ways that obscure some fascinating stuff. In this Sunday’s reading they fooled around with Matt 22:20 in a way that covers up a great sacramental reading of the story.

NRSV: ‘Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?”’



KJV: ‘And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?’

NIV: ‘and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”‘

The Greek word variously translated as ‘head”, “image” and “portrait” is eikon–the same word from whence we get the word “icon”. I much prefer the translation “image”. In a similar way, the second is epigrammata. “Inscription” works fine in my book. The problem is that the NRSV attempts to give a precision that is not present in the original. As a result, it closes off the possibilities for readings that are available with the other (better) translations. Preeminently, it obscures the fact that the word really is image, something that I think factors theological in Jesus’ retort. The coin made with the image of Casar belongs to Caesar—however the human beings made in the image of God belong to God! Especially if those humans have been marked with an inscription—like, say, a cross upon the forehead—the sealing of baptism.

I think that’s a sacramentally rich reading of the passage—but one completely hidden by the NRSV.

What’s Relevant to the Church and Vice-Versa

There’s a post at the Cafe today about the growing irrelevance of the Church.

We’ve talked about this before and will no doubt talk about it again.

The church will always and everywhere be irrelevant if it is not successfully bring the gathered Body of Christ into an ever deeper contact with the Living God

It’s not about lobbying or being a better social service agency. It’s not about getting people through the doors and in the pews, either. 

It’s about changing lives. It’s about remaking our perceptions of the world, reorienting ourselves towards that which is really real–the God who loves us enough to die for us and who demonstrates that love is more powerful than death, hell, and sin–then behaving in a manner consonant with those insights.

If we are not doing this, then we are truly irrelevant.

Shrewd as Serpents

I have refrained for quite a while from commenting on Anglican affairs, but the time has come to speak my piece.

The presenting topic is, of course, the Jerusalem Declaration, but I think it worth the time to step back and take a bigger picture view of what is going on. I will, however, begin with that document.

The Jerusalem Declaration is the declaration that the emperor—or archbishop, rather—has no clothes. That is, regardless of whether the Archbishop of Canterbury has the power or authority to discipline, the declaration challenges whether he has the will to discipline. It makes sense from their perspective: after begging him for five years to discipline the American and Canadian Churches, they have decided that they, in like fashion, will go ahead and do what pleases them, emboldened by the complete lack of consequences to us.

Technically speaking, a schism has not occurred in that no-one has broken with Canterbury—they’ve simply declared him irrelevant. Pittsburgh will still be leaving; Fort Worth will still be leaving. No doubt Quincy and others will soon attempt to follow. Parish departures will increase. While schism has not happened I think we’ll find that the incursions of foreign prelates will increase in the coming months.

Which will call forth a response… Yes, the GAFCON crowd has been shrewd—but they are not alone in their shrewdness.

At a particular point—and I’m sure a careful review of news stories could tell you exactly when, one or more liberal Episcopalians discovered an interesting use of antitrust law. They determined that the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation could be used as leverage. In a nutshell (from a non-lawyer here), this legislation means that, in order to prevent Enron-type malfeasance, a much wider group of people are responsible for checking on what the organization as a whole is doing. In nonprofit circles, it means that the board is also liable if a president is up to something untoward. Within our little circle, the interested parties realized that these laws could be used to apply leverage to bishops; if they negotiated with dissidents and did something like—say—selling them their property at fair market value, they could be sued for breach of fiduciary responsibility.

Now, whether a threat of this sort was actually made or whether it was simply detected, I don’t know. What I do know is that dioceses in negotiations abruptly ended them at roughly the same time and embarked on a national policy of litigation.

So many people are being so shrewd these days—by my reckoning too shrewd by half.

Litigation won’t help me. It won’t help us. Rather, it reminds me what’s at the bottom of all this. I’m sorry, but I really don’t think this is about “inclusion” or about the “authority of Scripture”, or even about the “faith once delivered”. Some in the pews may see it that way, but at the end of the day the sense that I get is that this is about whose clique calls the shots. I see it as a power game, pure and simple. And that’s what makes me most angry. I see two groups at the highest levels in a pissing contest that has pulled in the entire Anglican world. We’re burning through literally millions of dollars in big international gatherings and conferences and lawsuits while we stand on the brink of something much bigger and much more dangerous.

America is heading into a recession. Of that I have no doubt. And, if the peak oil people are right—and I’m becoming more and more persuaded that they are—than it will be longer, harder, and deeper than anything we’ve seen in a very long time. There are going to be a lot of people who will need help: covering rent, covering bills, families who have lost jobs, houses, and hope. How much do our squabbles and litigations cost when measured out in bags of flour and gallons of milk?

Not only will we need money to face the challenges of social change, we’ll also need grounding. We’ll need a rooted, grounded faith to proclaim as everything else is shifting.

How are we doing there?

Today is the first day that Seabury-Western officially has no faculty. Bexley Hall is collapsing back into rented quarters at a Lutheran school and EDS is selling off buildings. Not exactly hopeful for the well-trained clergy of tomorrow… How much do our squabbles and litigations cost when measured out in faculty salaries or credit hours?

I’m not happy with our leadership—and I don’t see these trends reversing anytime soon. But I’m not going anywhere. I’ve already swum the Channel from the Lutherans and could plausibly head across some other body of water but I’ve burnt my ships. I’m staying put and the church will have to deal with it.

Caelius may say he’s wondering what to do
, but I think he already knows—at least the outlines—and I do too. There’s no point in waiting for the pointy-hats to come around. Lay people and local people need to:

  1. Rediscover the Book of Common Prayer. As a broadly catholic and evangelical document, the Prayer Book in its many forms holds together the essentials of our theology, our doctrine, and the necessarily disciplines of a robust spiritual life.
  2. Teach the Book of Common Prayer. We cannot rely too much on the clergy. Clergy are already swamped with what they do and, frankly, not all have been blessed with the gifts to teach and inspire others with regard to our basic documents and history. And no, you can’t teach the prayer book with out simultaneously teaching Scripture, history, and theology—they all flow together.
  3. Recover Practical Rhythms of Life. A deeply grounded spirituality does not happen apart from regular ol’ life as we know it. Spiritual rhythms are sustainable rhythms. And that goes back to knowing who and what you are and where your priorities lie.
  4. Recover Communities of Faith as Communities of Practice. Modern Americans are notorious for rejecting social opportunities (the Bowling Alone phenomenon). And yet, churches are places where people gather and form a community in spite of themselves. As things get worse—whether short term or long term—local communities will become more important. People and communities weather crises best when supported by effective habits and disciplines. The time to get these up and going is now, not later. Do things together. Do things that instill healthy, simple, practical practices together. Does your church have a garden? Does it landscape with herbs and/or edibles? Is there a compelling reason why not? Even if the fossil fuels last another three hundred years is there a good excuse for not doing some of this now?
  5. Collect and Craft the Necessary Resources. All of the above things are good (in my eyes), but none of them are simple. They’ll take work. To do them poorly may be as bad as not doing them at all. There’s simply no point in attempting them without adequate preparation. And this is where we find ourselves now. The internet provides the perfect place to collect resources, instructions, and histories of projects successful and unsuccessful gathered into a common place. It’s time to start collecting and it’s time to start creating.

Early Christianity and Anglican Rhetoric

I’ve seen quite a few links recently heading off to a particular post at Desert’s Child but I’ve been crazy busy over the weekend and haven’t been on-line enough to check it out.

I finally did.

I’m dismayed.

I left a comment…

It’s a post that attempts to counter the Diocese of Fort Worth’s claims concerning the “faith once delivered” with an historical expose, if you will, demonstrating that such a thing (the faith once delivered) never existed. While I am also opposed to the path that DioFW is committed to, this isn’t the way to handle it.

First, it’s incorrect. There are quite a number of factual errors and misrepresentations of scholarship that undercut the point of what they’re trying to do. I am used to people getting things incorrect. I fully acknowledge that I continue to get things incorrect. But these are big things, basic things. We (clergy, lay leaders, interested informed communicants) should know the basic framework of our history. And—by and large—we don’t. I’m trying to do my bit to remedy that with my current series on Church History for the Episcopal Cafe (I’m finishing up a past-deadline piece on the Council of Nicea right now, actually), but more needs to be done.

Second, I read the overall rhetoric of the piece (and of pieces like it) as trying to defeat those they see as traditionalists by overturning and devaluing what they see as tradition. This is a fundamentally wrong-headed approach. I also see it with Scripture. Those who seek to argue against fundamentalist readings seek to overturn and devalue Scripture. Again–huge mistake. A far more proper and more helpful response is to learn more about them! In truth, most fundamentalists don’t know Scripture half as well as they’d like you to think. And the very same is true with many traditionalists as well! Tradition is not the enemy. How some deploy some portions of the tradition for their own ends is the problem.

I truly fear this binary spectrum that we Anglicans seem to have created for ourselves. It makes us do things and say things that we shouldn’t. This politically-driven use of opposites does not help us. Where it seems to be heading is that the conservatives claim Scripture and Tradition and the liberals respond by repudiating both. What’s wrong with this picture!?!

Liturgy is Not Enough

As my readers know, I love the liturgy a great deal. I believe, in fact, that the liturgical cycle as it came to fruition by the end of the early medieval period is the greatest tool for Christian formation that the Western Church has ever produced. Much of the great writings of the medieval monks, mystics, and others could have only been produced in relationship to this cycle. It is a great and powerful engine for the formation of disciples.

But it is an engine that has largely gone untuned.

At the time of its creation, it was only accessible to a small number—namely those who lived within intentional liturgical communities, had the capacity to become fluent in a language other than their mother tongue, and had the temperament to turn their wonder, creativity, and intellect to its majesties rather than to other arenas.

At the time of the Reformation, the English Church was the only dissenting group that preserved the key elements of the cycle—the Mass and the Office—but even these were severely pared back, breaking, obscuring, and eliminating many of the connections that had bound the cycle into a harmonious whole.

For most of its history, the Episcopal Church has been an either/or body: either Office or Mass. With the coming of the ’79 BCP and Eucharist becoming the normative Sunday celebration, two hundred years of Office supremacy came to an end—but balance has yet to be achieved. Too, the ’79 book has recovered more of the classical links with its inclusion of seasonal material than any other BCP with the possible exception of the failed English ’28 text.

And yet the discipling inherent in, promised by, the liturgy has not appeared.

And it will not appear.

The experience of the liturgy is not enough.

Certainly there will be some who will start to see and make connections. Who will discover a hunger and turn to earlier and other sources to learn of the connections, to recover or recapture the mystery and the power they feel near its surface—but this is not “most”. Nor necessarily even “many”.

If the liturgy were enough, the discipling would be happening.
If it were enough, there would not be people in our churches who have stood, sat, and knelt through decades of liturgies and not been formed by them. If it were enough, there would not be clergy in our churches who have
stood, sat, and knelt through decades of liturgies and not been formed
by them.

The liturgy is not enough. And yet it is an engine of great power. It does not choose to sit idle; we allow it to do so.

What the liturgy needs from us are three things:

  1. We must be open to it. This is the first and greatest step. We must open our hearts to its leading in confidence that the Holy Spirit speaks through its ways and its means.
  2. We must recognize the treasure that we have before us. The liturgy is many things. It is a path, a discipline, a place where aesthetics, intellect, the affections and emotions are all engaged. We must recognize its value and allow it to have its own authority over us. That is, we must live in it before presuming to change it. And I don’t mean existing alongside of it—I mean living in it. Opening ourselves to it and following where it leads. Because this isn’t really about the liturgy. The liturgy is a path and discipline that leads us into the mind of Christ. And that’s what this is really about.
  3. We must share its riches. Specifically, this means we must testify to its power and capability to transform, and we must educate. The liturgy is not self-evident. You must be open to it—but it also must be opened to you. Preeminently, this means communicating that the liturgy is an embodiment of essential Christian theology. We don’t do a solemn high mass or evensong just because we like it (though we do, of course…) but because of what it communicates about who and what God is and who we are in light of that reality. Liturgy is theology made kinetic and aesthetic. Even when we succeed in our first two tasks, this is where we have failed in the past and are continuing to fail today. The Episcopal Church is moving towards a new prayer book; protesting at its arrival is too little, too late. If we hope to see a prayer book whose liturgies stand in continuity with our Anglican, our catholic, our Benedictine roots, then we need to start learning, talking, and teaching now while it is yet on the horizon and not yet here at our doorsteps.  

All of us who love the liturgy must be intentional about these things if we wish it to exercise even a quarter of its full power within us and within our communities. Through the centuries, I believe the Holy Spirit has crafted this great work as a faithful and true means of guiding humanity into the mysteries of God. But we have to be faithful and true to it as well.

Weekend Update (aka Big Rant on the RCL)

Here are two things not to be missed from the weekend…

First is the Lutheran Zephyr’s commentary on two postcards he received from local churches inviting him to Easter services. It seems Jesus is going 0 for 2… I understand not wanting to scare people off, but if we don’t seem to take our faith seriously, why would that inspire someone else to join us?

Second, bls points us to the fresh-out version of the RCL made suitable for your local copy of the BCP. This depresses me…

I’m not a huge fan of the RCL. In fact, I’m of the opinion that all of the “new” lectionaries since Vatican II have missed the mark because they’ve lost sight of—or chosen to ignore—the key issue of function in Mass lectionaries. Yes, it’s good that our congregants are getting more Scriptures on Sunday morning (but huge swaths are still missed—especially the more troubling, complicated, and thought-provoking sections). Yes, it’s good that denominations can share resources across traditions (but we don’t necessarily share theology across denominations and, sad to say, many clergy don’t have a strong enough sense of their own traditions to know when an otherwise good resource contradicts it).

The Mass lectionary is not supposed to be the only place where Christian people encounter Scripture. As I’ve ranted before, the Mass lectionary developed in conversation with the Office lectionary; the Office lectionary worked through the entire Bible every year while the Mass lectionary made selective engagement with the Scriptures to highlight the themes and theologies of the mysteries of redemption embodied in the Temporal cycle. We’ve lost that sense that the Mass lectionary is a pointed return to material that we already know and are re-examining from a different perspective…

The RCL is an attempt to meld the continuous reading strategy of the Office lectionaries with the selected reading strategy of the former Mass lectionaruies. It tries to be too many things and ends up—in my eyes at least—not accomplishing its goals.

One of my biggest frustrations with the scheme Church Publishing has put out is that it keeps both first lesson courses of ordinary time. I think this was a big mistake—they needed to choose one or the other. Either go with the typological set that reinforces the whole point of the Mass lectionary or go with the marginally continuous schema that tries to do what the Office does, but worse. (My prejudice isn’t showing through much, is it?)

Spirituality Rant

The place I attend has an interest in talking about “spirituality”. It’s got an outdoor labyrinth and time set aside for an indoor one and hosts a Taize service once a month (that is hosted in other local places in other weeks).

I like Taize stuff and it formed an important part of assuring that I remained engaged and interested in Christianity when I was in college because I found through it a contemplative side of Christian worship I hadn’t experienced before. (I’ve since found it in many other kinds of Christian worship, both personal and public.)

Even labyrinths aren’t bad things when properly understood. When we understand that it grows out of the pilgrimage concept and recognize it as an imageless form of the stations of the cross/journey to the cradle/etc., then it plays a useful if occasional role in cultivating Christian spirituality. Too often to my mind, however, it becomes overly focused on the “personal journey” and the place of God as both companion and telos is lost, robbing it of its potential for specifically Christian formation.

I’m no opposed to these kinds of things–but neither should we mistake them for the heart of Christian spirituality!! From where I sit, I often see churches promoting spiritual practices of this order (throw in “Celtic” spirituality et al.) it seems to me we’re majoring in the minors and leaving the center by the wayside.

What is the center of Christian Spirituality? I’d argue it’s exactly the same as a correct definition of liturgy: the ordered and bounded encounter with the entirety of Scripture and the God described therein.

As such, the central practice of Christian spirituality is grounded in the public liturgies of the Church: the Mass and Office. They serve as an inexhaustable sources of spiritual richness because of their interpretive methods and mechanisms. That is, the liturgy functions through the simple principle of juxtapostion; the liturgical cycles put different texts together, then the liturgical compositions for the day/season use a decidedly underdetermined approach to relate them. That is, the colleects, hymns, propers, never come right out and explain the connections, rather they simply hint at them or draw attention to one aspect of them. The power of the liturgy lies in this underdetermined interpretation–the liturgy never tries to fully explain itself or its ways, leaving us always capable of finding new and more connections between and throughout the texts brought together.

This is what we need to teach. This is what we need to promote.

Sure, the other stuff is good too—in its place. And its place is the recognition that even all the ancillary forms of Christian spirituality can not and should not be seen apart from the center. To tease this out a bit, embracing—say, medieval spiritualities like the Rhinelanders or the anchorites—is all well and good, but we misinterpret it if we don’t see it arising from the established public forms of spirituality.

The center is the key. The ordered and bounded encounter with Scripture and the God who animates, breathes, and speaks through it is what we fundamentally need to be about.


What Scholars Should Do

Scholar-type people and academics often frustrate me. There’s a picture I love that hangs in the law library where I used to work; I’d push book trucks by it most everyday. In the picture a wizened old African-American man is outfitted in well-used work gear and he’s got his hand out offering something to the viewer: a small white pillar shaped object. The caption is “Ivory Tower.” The way that I interpret the watercolor is that those who “make it” into academia never get there on their own. Yes, it takes tremendous sacrifice from family (that’s a whole series of posts by itself…) but there are hundreds of thousands of others who make it possible as well from the great philanthropists down to the share-croppers.

As a result, we have an obligation. We’re not sitting around thinking great thoughts for our own sake even though that’s how so many of us seem to act. We study and think in order to advance human understanding in all realms for and on behalf of all. Even if our work is arcane and abstract, I have a conviction that we have to share what of it we can for wider consumption, for the benefit of those who have enabled us to do what we do.

Many of us don’t take this seriously. Furthermore, many of us can barely string together a sentence about our work coherent to those outside of our discipline—and that’s just wrong… As I see it, that’s one of the reasons why academics should be blogging. People like Mark Goodacre and Richard Nokes (among others) have the right idea; blog about academic topics and subjects in ways that are accessible and meaningful to the rest of life on the planet that doesn’t care—or perhaps doesn’t know why they should care—about the minutia of our fields.

Here’s another thing scholars should be doing: Wikipedia edits. What sparked this post was the discovery of a well-done entry on Latin Psalters. As more and more people start relying on things like Wikipedia for information, scholars of various fields need to step up and make sure that the data is right. (And yes, you can debate about whether people should rely on these sources of information but that debate is secondary to the fact that they do.)

Of course, now that I’ve said all of this, I realize that I have my own civic duty to do… The page currently states that Jerome’s Roman Psalter was used in “Britain ” until the Conquest. While it is true that editions of the Roman Psalter were in use and were copied until the Conquest, the majority of Anglo-Saxon era psalters were Gallican…

Short Celtic Christianity Rant

The Episcopal Cafe has been running a number of things on Pelagius recently on Speaking to the Soul. I have thus far refrained from making any comments on the subject. But today’s passage made me comment.

I’m intrigued by Celtic Christianity; I think it’s a fascinating topic. But so much of the material published as “Celtic Christianity” is a shallow artifice that skims a bit from some sources and grafts it onto a model that owes more to 1970’s Earth spirituality and modern liberal protestant theology than it does anything truly and historically Celtic. Furthermore, it participates in a similar sort of project that Elaine Pagel’s did with the Gnostic Gospels—accuse Christian orthodoxy of being the repressive patriarchal bad guy, take a few isolated items from some texts and spin them off in your own direction that may or may not have any correlation to the historical movement.

One of the favorite ways to do this is to lionize those condemned by orthodoxy. But there’s a problem here easily identified as a lack of clear sources. More often than not, we don’t have the actual texts of those condemned by the Church. As a result, recovering these people and their thought can only happen by looking at what their opponents said. So, to learn about Pelagius, you read Augustine and Jerome where they criticize him. But, if you’re not being rigorous, this is where the potential for all kinds of abuse crops up. The parts that you like, you proclaim genuine; the parts you don’t, you call slander… Furthermore, you indulge in mirror reading—(If the orthodox source argues X, my guy must have taught the exact opposite [anti-X])—but that’s not always (or even often) accurate. What really comes out is little data that provides the opportunity for a great amount of personal pontification safely stuck under an historical label.

I’m saying these are trends I’ve seen–I’m not accusing Newell (the guy being excerpted at the Cafe) of this, because I don’t know him or his work. He may well not be doing this–but I’d want to see his sources and methodologies instead of blanket accusations like the first one raised at today’s post.

Saying that Pelagius was condemned for suggesting that women should read Scripture sounds fishy to me for two reasons: 1) it completely matches modern liberal expectations of the “mean patriarchal orthodox Fathers” and 2) it contradicts actual evidence that we have of those same “mean patriarchal orthodox Fathers”…

To counteract some of the stuff out there, I recommend reading some real Celtic Christianity—which tends to be quite ascetic and apocalyptic in ways that discomfits moderns—and here’s a short taster: The Confession of Patrick, Patrick’s Letter to Coroticus, The Life of St Columba, and The Fifteen Tokens of Doomsday

(A Few of) My Issues with the ’79 BCP

Inspired by Christopher’s musings, here are some of my thoughts on the American ’79 BCP. Yes, it is a product of the immediately post-Vatican II liturgical culture. Yes, many of the things that they did were good. Yes, it is time to re-examine their efforts. No, we have not had enough to to “live into” these liturgies and to think critically about them before doing another prayer book revision.

Certainly we can circulate trial liturgies like EOW and have discussions, but in my estimation, the time is not yet ripe for change.

I’ll lift up today three major issues to continue the conversation that Christopher started. I’ll confess up front, most of my thoughts here will revolve around the Office and its materials. There is more to be said about the Mass liturgies and the other occasional liturgies, but I’m not prepared to comment on them at this time. Too, I’m going to try and keep these more to bullet-points than fully-fleshed out arguments. (But some rambling will inevitably occur…)

1. The Psalter
. I don’t have any huge substantive issues with the translation or poetry of the psalter that currently appears in the BCP. (I do have some minor ones, like that Ps 51:7 must, must begin with an adversitive conjunction! “But” works; “for” does not!) The problem that I do have has to do with the fact that a) there is only one and b) that it is fundamentally a Hebrew psalter.

In regard to a), the lack of a traditional language psalter means that a Rite I service cannot be prayed consistently from this book. Thus, my Rite I Daily Office must necessarily include a Rite II psalter unless I want to book juggle—which I don’t.This lack of a psalter and therefore the lack of a full traditional language rite underscores the fact that Rite I is set up as a transitional rite—it’s a sop thrown to those who prefer traditional language (and structure–and therefore the theology encoded in that structure) and will be disappearing with the next revision.

In regard to b), I’ll need to jump into some history of Bible translation to justify my point. The Bible of the Early Church was the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Old Testament with some additions made in Alexandria in the closing centuries of the time before Christ. The writers of the NT worked with the LXX—sometimes referring to either Hebrew or Aramaic if it better communicated their point—but the grand majority of Scripture citations in the NT are from the LXX. The Greek-speaking Eastern churches continued to use it, as they do to this day.

In the West, various people made translations as they were able. And most weren’t very good. Augustine complained about this; Jerome did something about it. In doing his translation work, though, Jerome made a large and decisive break from Church tradition: he decided to translate according to the Hebraica veritas (what would become the Masoretic text [MT]) rather than the LXX. Augustine didn’t like this decision at all, and correspondence survives where they go around on this issue.

Basically, Augustine argues that the Holy Spirit had been at work in the writing of the LXX and that its differences from the MT were because of the Spirit’s unfolding revelation, not corruption or mistranslation. (Jerome disagreed.) I think Augustine may have been unduly influenced by the Letter of Aristeas (which we now believe to be a marketing ploy to increase use and circulation of the LXX above competing versions), but I think that his logic is important to consider from the standpoint of Christian ecclesiology and pneumatology. That is, if the Spirit works through the Church, if the Church is who the Church is because it has struggled with common texts (both of which I believe), then should we use those texts instead of making up an eclectic text or going back to an earlier “unsullied” version? And thus I support on-going study and use of the textus receptus, the KJV, the Vulgate, the Douay-Rheims, even if I disagree on important points with most of the other people who also support them…

So, wait—what does this have to do with the BCP’s psalter? This: Jerome translated the OT of the Vulgate from the Hebrew. But he did the Psalter three different times and the one that stuck was his translation of the LXX. That’s why the psalm numbering of the LXX and the Vulgate disagree with the MT/KJV/RSV/NRSV/etc. Now–enter the Anglicans. When David Myles Coverdale translated his Bible in 1535, he translated it from the Vulgate. Thus, the Psalter in the first BCP was Coverdale’s translation of the Latin which was Jerome’s translation of the Greek. And we’ve been using it ever since…until now. The Psalter of the ’79 prayer book is a break with an almost 2,000 year Christian tradition of using the LXX Psalter in Christian worship. Western (and Eastern!) liturgy and theology flow from the Psalter as much or more than any other book of Scripture. By changing what we use in worship we are alienating ourselves and our liturgical texts from a classic vocabulary which has been continuously shaping catholic Christians of the British Isles from the beginning.

(Ok, that went on longer than I expected…)

2. Variation in the Offices.
The major change between the Office in ’79 Book and its predecessors is the amount of tolerable variation. This occurs most notably in the canticles of Morning Prayer. Classically, we have used the Te Deum, the Benedicite, and the Benedictus. These texts are still present, but are occasional rather than constant. I have a real problem with this because of the formative power of these canticles, especially the Benedictus. The pattern and texture of this canticle has deeply formed Anglicans for centuries. Is there a suitable rationale for watering it down to become one option of several? I’ll give you two for-instances to back me here.

a) Take a look at the General Thanksgiving at the end of the Offices. do you see that phrase “holiness and righteousness” embedded in there? Guess where it’s from… And the more you look for that phrase, the more you’ll find it scattered throughout our prayer book. This is no accident—it’s formation.

b) I was reading a Harry Turtledove sci-fi book a while ago. It was an alternate history work–what if the South had won the Civil War? At the end was a speech from a politician. Turtledove, Jewish–not Anglican, had adapted an actual period speech to fit the circumstances of his novel. I caught my breath when reading it because as it unfolded its form followed, alluded to ,and even directly quoted portions of the Benedictus. It was clear even with Turtledove’s changes that the author had been an Anglican, formed by that text.

3. The Elephant in the Middle of the Liturgy. The greatest failure of the 79 BCP in my estimation is its failure to address the single biggest and most important change to liturgy for centuries. It’s a failure held in common between the Catholic and liturgical Protestant churches; how we address it–whether we address it–will speak volumes for the on-going tale of the liturgy as a vehicle for Christian formation. I speak, of course, of the three-year lectionary.

The heart of the Western one-year lectionary in place up until Vatican II can be traced as far back as our sources will go. One of the earliest surviving lectionaries, the Comes of Murbach, stands as a clear witness to the continuity from the late patristic/early medieval period up until the 1960’s. The Western understanding of the Church Year coalesced around that lectionary. Through centuries, the Church refined the year, its readings, its practices, its ethos, to make it a comprehensive tool for Christian formation. Now–it didn’t teach it well, or make it very accessible to the non-monastic/clerical crowd, but by the end of the early medieval period, this form existed to give incarnate expression to the doctrine of the creeds and the primary religious affections of the Christian life.

Key points of unity which often drew everything together—especially in the festal and fasting seasons–were the collects. That is, language and images from the appointed Gospel or Epistle often make an appearance, helping to bring everything together. I’ll argue that as Anglicanism developed, collects became even more important. If the BCP is the source of our unity and theology, the doctrine and ethos expressed by the collects have a central role in determining how we fill out the theology of the creeds.

But now we have a one-year cycle of collects and a three-year cycle of readings. We are faced with a choice. On one hand, we can let go of the old vision of the unifying power of the liturgical year and choose to move in new directions. On the other, we can adapt the theological and formational logic of the old year to the new system and study and work at introducing a three-year cycle of collects that will once again connect with the Mass lectionary. We have these choices—and I hope and pray that we actually think about them, pray about them, and consciously make a choice one way or the other instead of losing our classical understanding of Christian Time by default.

There’s more to say about these topics—and more topics to raise—but that’s it for now. Thoughts?