Sunday, May 15, 1988

From Black Book to Blue Book

From Black Book to Blue Book

An addendum to the Faculty Statement on the "Liturgical Rites for Evaluation"

By Stephen F. Noll

HE ORIGINAL statement of the Trinity faculty on the Liturgical Texts for Evaluation was sent to the Committee on Supplemental Texts in October, 1987, along with 120 student and faculty evaluation sheets. In December, 1987, the position paper was sent to each member of the Standing Liturgical Commission as well. We infer that our plea that they consider our students’ comments (representing three hours of in-class analysis of the texts) was not granted from the following comment in the final report:

"An essential part of presenting worship texts for consideration is some prior, significant experience of worshipping with (as distinct from reading or studying or even writing) the services. . . . In addition to the parishes, all Episcopal seminaries (with the exception of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, which studied and read but did not pray the rites) were evaluation centers" (Blue Book, p. 194).

Although we have not received a specific reply to our position paper, the SLC’s report does note that our paper was received and appears to interact with our critique at several points. We welcome their response and would wish to be invited to participate in further discussion of the theology of the new rites.

In recent months the Trinity faculty paper has circulated in samizdat form among many clergy and people of the Church. We did not get access to the final version of the proposed rites until early May, and so this addendum is an eleventh-hour attempt to evaluate the final Blue Book texts and explanations prior to their consideration by the General Convention in July.

Our original and central objection to the rites was that "we believe they involve major linguistic, conceptual and theological innovations in the Biblical and historical tradition of the Church." Our fundamental objection remains with regard to the texts to be presented to the General Convention, although there are numerous improvements in the revision in matters of detail.

The SLC believes - and we do not doubt its sincerity - that the rites are in full conformity with the "deposit of faith" which it is the Church’s privilege to bear witness to. This, however, is the matter to be demonstrated, and it cannot be decided except in open forum where all views can be aired. We offer the following additional comments on the Blue Book rites in order to further that debate.

Anglican Theological Method

Classical Anglicanism has evaluated its theology by the authority of Scripture as the revealed Word of God; by the guidance of tradition in articulating the Biblical faith in creeds and liturgies; and by the use of reason as a tool for explicating and applying the deposit of faith in every age. The approach of the SLC seems to reinterpret Anglican method in a significantly different way:

1) Scripture is regarded as a resource, from which metaphors are drawn, but it is not literally authoritative. For instance, titles such as "Father" and "Lord" are admitted to be fundamental expressions of Biblical faith (BB, p. 6), but "in our own prayers we can call God whatever best describes that intimate relationship" described in Scripture with such problematic language (Blue Book Supplement, p. 101).

2) Tradition is formal, concerning itself, for example, with the "integrity of the Eucharistic prayer and the shape of the Eucharist and the Office." (BB, p. 191) Tradition may also provide blocks of confessional material which cannot be omitted, which are called "normative" in the sense of having "historical" status (see discussion below on page 3).

3) Reason is experience-based, not primarily discursive. It is instructive to compare the classical preface of the BCP (p. 9), which emphasizes the "substance of the Faith," with the preface to the new rites, which seeks to reflect the "religious experience of God as revealed in Christ" (BB Sup, p. 95). The SLC presents its own work as having a revelatory character (BB, p. 190) but provides no guidelines on how one might "test the spirits" as to whether they derive from the Spirit of God or the Zeitgeist of modernism.

In calling the Church to debate the issue of "inclusive language," we would likewise ask for a full discussion of this new version of Anglican theological method, a method which manifests itself in many of the other documents to be presented to the General Convention.

The Names and Titles of God

The Blue Book repeats the same key assertion made in the preliminary documents that "we know that God is not ‘he’ except in the incarnate Jesus" (BB Sup, p. 99). It adds a new explanation, however, which appears to balance its position with an affirmation of Biblical language for God (BB, p. 195-96). This statement, in fact, displays in nuce the new theological method at work.

1) "The language generally used by the Church to address God in liturgical prayer has employed traditional images which have shaped religious experience in the Judaeo-Christian tradition." That this is so is incontestable historically. What is lacking is an explanation that the "traditional images" which have shaped religious experience derive their authority from the self-revelation of God. Surely had Israel not heard Yahweh address her as one Lord and had Christians not heeded Jesus’ command to pray to "the Father," they would have found other "images" to pass on, such as those of the Canaanites and Gnostics. This is the point: Israel and the Church did not invent their language for God: it was revealed to them to pass on to all generations.

2) "Those images are predominantly masculine, although God is neither male nor female. The biblical heritage also includes other images of God which are feminine, but these have not influenced theological metaphors in any way comparable to the influence of masculine titles and images." We agree: God is neither male nor female and all language about him is necessarily symbolic. But this does not give us warrant to change Biblical usage at will.

"Metaphor," as used in recent discussion, is a catch-all term, failing to make important distinctions in Biblical speech for God. On occasion Yahweh (in the OT) or Jesus likens himself to a female figure by means of simile, metaphor, or personification. But the names and titles for God are exclusively masculine, and the masculine pronoun is used for God invariably.

The SLC warns against a "narrow defining" of Biblical metaphor. We would argue that the Church may be as broad and as narrow in its usage as Scripture is. Where Scripture uses feminine imagery by analogy, so may we - thus the use of Wisdom canticles is fine in principle, as is the statement that Jesus "yearned to draw all the world to himself, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, yet we would not" (BB Sup, P. 87).

What is not acceptable is either the use of feminine names and titles for God (which the present revision does not do) or the intentional avoidance of masculine titles (which it does).

3) "The patriarchal nature of the scriptural revelation has a normative place which must be honored if the Church is not to be perceived as abandoning that tradition." This sentence is puzzling. Throughout many of the explanatory documents, we are warned of the dangers of patriarchy. Now we are told that patriarchy has a normative status in the Church's tradition. What is meant by "normative?" That it should form our normal view of who God is? That those who use female names for God do so abnormally?

"Normative" seems here to have an antiquarian flavor: as you honor your aged parents, so the Church must honor the patriarchal heritage of the Bible and tradition. Or as the "historical documents" are kept in the Prayer Book without real authority or relevance, so Christians continue to say "Our Father" in the liturgy but not in its everyday usage. If this observation seems far-fetched, please note: In the entire corpus of Blue Book materials on liturgy, God is never once referred to as Father, Lord, or "he," outside specific liturgical formulas. In other words, the everyday speech of the SLC is not governed by the "norms" of the Church's tradition but by contemporary norms of "inclusivity."

4) "At the heart of this issue is the belief in God as a personal presence and power, not merely a neutral abstraction, and that God is continually revealed in new ways." We agree that God reveals himself to us as personal and sovereign. We cannot plumb fully the divine mystery as to why he identifies himself in masculine terms, but he has done so consistently in Scripture, which is affirmed in all ancient creeds and liturgies. We are not free to change that usage. We see no evidence that the Church has reached one mind that God has revealed himself in new ways. Indeed the secular, even anti-Christian, polemic of much feminist theology calls for caution, if not suspicion, in trying to incorporate the feminist agenda into the Church's life and worship.

The Doctrine of the Trinity

Acknowledging that the proposed revision of the Gloria Patri is "an extremely sensitive issue," the Blue Book offers the traditional formula as an alternative to its version, which now appears in this form: "Honor and glory to God, and to the eternal Word, and to the Holy Spirit: God the One in Three, for ever and ever." The new formula avoids the apparent modalism of the Black Book and, it is claimed, is in "full agreement with the Church's received doctrine of the Trinity" (BB Sup, p. 106).

We applaud the intention that the wording of the Gloria Patri be fully in accord with Nicene Christianity, but we continue to find the SLC's alternative version deficient. While the individual elements of the formula (God = Father, Word = Son, and Holy Spirit) all have a foundation in the Church's usage, their conjunction in a liturgical formula is totally unprecedented. By contrast, the present version has the full warrant of Scripture and tradition. So why change?

The stated reason for the change is "to avoid the traditional male images of Father and Son, yet to proclaim the equality of the three Persons of the Trinity." (BB, p. 195) This reason is simply unacceptable and stands at the heart of our objection to the whole project. There is a fundamental error in confessing "the Trinitarian relationship" of the Persons of God (BB Sup, p. 98) while seeking to avoid naming those Persons because they are masculine.

The Orthodox tradition has emphasized the equal interpenetration of the triune Persons, but by contrast it has simultaneously affirmed the priority of the triune names:

In the Eastern Church, the persons are prior to the relationship, the persons possess the characteristics of paternity, generation and procession. These are their personal ("hypostatic") characteristics, truths known about their persons. The persons are marked, but not determined by these relations. The divine terms, 'Father, Son and Holy Spirit,' primarily name the persons, and secondarily describe the relationships among them. (Deborah Belonick, Union Seminary Quarterly Review 40/3 [1985] 36)

In terms of Christology, we have no objection in principle to confessing Christ as the "eternal Word" (John 1:1). Taken, however, in conjunction with the statement that "we know that God is not ‘he’ except in the incarnate Jesus," we wonder if there would need to be a balancing confession of Christ as the "eternal Son" (Hebrews 1:2).

The Virgin Birth

The Blue Book rites continue to emphasize the importance of the incarnation but to remain silent, apart from the Creed, about the Virgin Birth. It has cleared up one misprint in the Black Book. "Alternative Two" now reads: ". . . your Spirit entered into Mary, the maiden of Nazareth, that she might conceive and bear a Son, the holy child of God" (BB Sup, p. 86). Thus the rites do not state that Joseph was Jesus' father, but we continue to wonder if the Virgin Birth, in the logic of the new rites, is seen to diminish the humanness of Jesus or our own divinity.

Our perplexity is heightened by the hesitancy of the revisers in identifying Jesus with the Word and Messiah (BB Sup, p. 98) and their description of God as one who has "exalted us by conceiving us in your image and by entering into our humanity" (BB Sup, p. 63). Similarly, the expression "you sent us your self in Jesus" (BB Sup, p. 71) is awkward. We would want to clarify whether these phrases conform to the Chalcedonian formula of the two natures of Christ.

The Sovereignty of God

A fundamental premise of the revision is that any author, Biblical, ecclesiastical, or other, will exhibit in his idiom an "unconscious bias" to perpetuate his (!) own status. Language is seen as a tool of oppression, even when not intended as such, with little possibility of a writer transcending his own cultural assumptions. Thus, according to this view, language about mankind inevitably oppresses women, language about darkness oppresses black people, and language about kingship oppresses those committed to egalitarianism.

Every writer, we would agree, is influenced by education, culture, and self-interest. However, the greatest thinkers and writers are able to transcend their presuppositions and speak to men and women of every age. In the case of the Biblical writers, while they too were children of their times, their words (not just their general ideas or metaphors) were so inspired by God that the "prophetic word is made sure" for all subsequent believers (2 Peter 3:19f.).

The Blue Book rationale argues that the classic Anglican Communion Service (Rite One) is unbalanced in its portrayal of God as Lord and King:

Royal imagery for God is, of course, Biblical, but the amount of it in this service is liturgically unprecedented. Behind it lies not just Scripture, but the whole issue of Royal Supremacy that so occupied "men's" minds in that period of England's history. (BB Sup, p. 96)

Let us assume for the sake of argument that the Royal Succession does form the backdrop for an overuse of royal imagery for God in the Tudor liturgy. Even so, the Biblical basis for it is hardly trifling. The OT is filled from start to finish with language about God as King and Lord, and almost all NT Christological categories have a royal element (Adam, messiah, savior, servant, priest-king like Melchizedek, etc.). By contrast, the sources for identifying God or Christ with feminine or organic images are few and far between. So if the 1549 rite is unbalanced, it follows a direction already clearly established in Scripture.

Therefore we agree with the Blue Book that "total disuse [of language for God as Lord] would deny a fundamental Christian tenet" (BB Sup, p. 102). We note that in several of the most common phrases (e.g., "the Lord be with you," "the Word of the Lord" and "the Gospel of the Lord"), the Blue Book has restored traditional usage; however, the same minimizing tendency noted in the Black Book remains. With the various options offered in the Eucharistic rites, worshipers need not utter the word "Lord" more than a half dozen times, all in "traditional" phrases. Surely this avoidance of Biblical language is far more unprecedented than its possible overuse in the Anglican liturgies of the Reformation.

One related issue: The Bible and universal Christian tradition (Romans 13:1; John 19:1 1; BCP, pp. 329, 820) have seen nations and government as divinely ordained, though their form of regime may vary greatly from time to time and place to place. The prayers for the nation in the new rites are unclear on this point, never speaking of the authority of government. "Alternative One" substitutes a prayer for "global relationships" for the prayer for the nation, while "Alternative Two" prays for those "whom we have chosen to lead us" (BB Sup, p. 81).

God and Creation

The SLC claims to have discussed "God as Creator and the Creation as ongoing and involving humanity" and "God's intimate involvement in the world ( immanence) and God's transcendence beyond this world" (BB Sup, p. 98). We are glad to see that some of the most overt pantheistic language noted in our critique (pp. 15-16) has been modified.

While it is commendable that "Alternative Two" drops the idea of God's spirit "brooding," we still find objectionable the idea of God bringing the creation to birth (BB Sup, p. 83, 86). The Biblical justification (BB Sup, pp. 120-23) for this idea is tenuous; in none of the passages cited is God, or the Spirit, said to be giving birth to creation. As noted above, we are concerned that the distinction between Christ's procession from the Father, and his Virgin Birth, be clearly distinguished from our creation in the image of God. Language of God "conceiving" us in his image is problematical theologically and without Biblical warrant.

One new element that has been added to this idiom in the Blue Book is the idea of confessing our sins "against God, our neighbor, and ourselves" (BB Sup, pp. 68, 71, 83 italics added). To confess that "we have not honored you in ourselves" reflects a popular but incorrect exegesis of Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself. It is, once again, without precedent in the liturgical tradition and seems to be expressing a tenet of modern psychology, that self-love is the prior condition of love of the other.

Holy Scripture

We have noted a fundamental question about a methodology that uses Scripture as a resource rather than as a literal authority. In this regard, we continue to urge that a distinction be made between the dogmatic and liturgical usage of Scripture, in which God is always referred to in masculine terms, and the occasional rhetorical figures of speech of the prophets and the Lord Jesus.

In the section entitled "Biblical Sources" (BB Sup, pp. 120-23), the texts cited do not in fact directly identify God as a feminine persona:

Isaiah 42:1 The Lord uses a simile of a woman in childbirth to describe his patient endurance of Israel's sin and his intention to "cry out" new words of comfort. The attempt to carry this imagery further either with regard to creation or the Suffering Servant is strained.

Isaiah 49:14ff. Again, God speaks analogically of his faithful remembrance of Israel in terms of a mother remembering her children.

Hosea 11:1-4,8-9. Once again, an analogy is expressed, though a more direct one than those in Isaiah. It is an understatement to say that this is "not specifically a feminine image of God"; it is, in fact, clearly a masculine image (elsewhere Hosea likens God to a husband, in contrast with the Baals mentioned in 11:2).

Wisdom. Wisdom provides a strong feminine personification of a central attribute of God, but it is not granted "hypostatic" identity with God.

Romans 8:22,26. It is precisely the creation, rather than the Creator, that groans in expectation. Whether best identified as masculine, feminine, or neuter, the Spirit does identify with the people of God in their (feminine) response to God's redemption of the world.

Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34-35. Jesus uses a simile likening himself to a hen. The background of this verse is the image of Jerusalem as Mother Zion. Jesus contrasts his zeal for the Father's kingdom with the failure of the leaders of Jerusalem.

The Process of Producing and Testing the Rites

We continue to feel that the charter for the production of "inclusive language" rites was not clear to many delegates of the 1985 Convention, that composition of the Committee on Supplemental Liturgical Texts was one-sided, and that the testing process overstepped the crucial aspect of submitting the texts for open and public discussion.

In the latter regard, we find it strange to find the committee's report entitled "The Work of the People" (BB, p. 189) and at the same time to find a warning on the inside cover of the Blue Book Supplement calling the material "confidential." The secrecy about the Black Book was defended on the basis that it was liable to revision and might cause much ado about nothing, but the same cannot be said of the Blue Book. On what conceivable grounds can the SLC wish to keep this report confidential from the clergy and people of the Church?

We would urge the delegates to General Convention to slow this process down and open the texts to full analysis and debate before authorizing them for use. We offer this critique as an example of the kind of reasoned debate that must precede responsible change. We feel we were excluded from one part of the evaluation process because we had strong reservations about the rites, and we would suggest that if the same experience-based criteria are used in the future, there will be no way for "conscientious objectors" in the Church to stand up and be counted.

We would also urge that the adoption of rites such as these, because they raise major doctrinal questions, be discussed ecumenically, especially with other branches of the Anglican Communion. It is by no means clear that other Anglicans would be willing to accept these liturgies and their presuppositions, and this might lead to even more disunity in the Body of Christ.

Finally, we ask the General Convention to clarify the relationship of these rites to the 1979 BCP. Bishop Petit of the SLC has stated that "these are supplemental texts, not a revision of The Book of Common Prayer." But at the same time the SLC proposes to perpetuate the Committee on Supplemental Texts and to authorize it to provide rewritings of the psalter, canticles, minor services, prayers, lectionary, creeds and music to conform to "inclusive" usage. Will this not lead to the birth of a "Rite IV," which will call for incorporation into a new Prayerbook, possibly at the expense of existing rites?

Conclusion

Despite the many improvements in the Blue Book over the Black Book, we continue to sense a fundamental difference in spiritual tone between these rites and previous liturgies. Symbolic of this tone was the typographic reduction of "Our Father" to "Our father. . ." in the penultimate draft of the rites sent to Convention delegates. While capitalization is, of course, a matter of convention, this small change, corrected in the final rites, seems to reveal the mindset of some of the revisers. The desire to amplify the images and titles for God is in principle unobjectionable, but the attempt to diminish or avoid calling God Father, Son, and Lord seems quite contrary to the glad spirit of confession and worship one finds in the Bible and Church tradition.

If certain individuals within the Church feel offended by the language of the faith, the Church's teachers need to explain clearly and forcefully that it is by the very exclusive claims of the Triune God that all men and women are included in his work of salvation. And if these individuals refuse this appeal to accept the Biblical witness, they should be called to repentance.

It may be significant that the Blue Book arrived on the Feast of St. Athanasius, a bishop who spent his entire ministry arguing that the exact meaning of words for God is essential to the Church's mission to pass on the Biblical and apostolic faith to future generations. We are not convinced at this point that the inclusive language rites, even in their revised form, do in fact articulate the Nicene faith accurately and helpfully.

"If God be simple, as He is, it follows that in saying 'God,' and naming 'Father,' we name nothing as if about Him, but signify his essence itself. For though to comprehend what the essence of God is be impossible, yet if we only understand that God is, and if Scripture indicates Him by means of these titles, we, with the intention of indicating Him and none else, call Him God and Father and Lord" (Athanasius, De Decretis 5.22).


This is the second of two position papers I wrote in 1987 and 1988 in conjunction with the Faculty of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in response to the proposals of trial liturgies with "inclusive language." The "Black Book" was the first set of proposed liturgies from the Standing Liturgical Commission of the Episcopal Church. The "Blue Book" was a revised set prepared for the General Convention 1988. My first paper (1987) is "Liturgical Texts for Evaluation: A Response by the Faculty of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry". Both papers were subsequently published in the Prayer Book Society's journal, Lex Orandi, vol. VII, no. 1 (Spring, 1990) pp. 39-89.

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