Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Character of Eternity

Well, my heartiest congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the occasion of their marriage. May they have many, many long and happy years together.

As it happened, I was singing Evensong at Westminster Abbey with the College Chamber Choir at the beginning of April. I think the Dean and Chapter were just beginning to plant the conkers that bloomed into those trees which many of us saw in the Nave during yesterday's ceremony.

Of course I saw the Royal Wedding as an outsider. Being outside the Church of England has several consequences, one of which is that I am now removed from the Established Church. It does afford me the opportunity to ask two questions (two questions that I got moaned at for asking - rather unfairly in my opinion).

1) If Common Worship is supposed to be Normative, Approved, and Appropriate in the Church of England, why were the Duke and Duchess still married using (mostly) the 1662 BCP? Why not use the modern vernacular?

2) If this is the Anniversary year of the Authorised Version, why wasn't that used for the Scripture reading yesterday?

These little observations (and, I suppose, in the grand scheme of things they are little) seem to suggest that the Established Church is now very subtly contradicting itself.

If we use BCP language for the wedding of two highly important members of the Royal family on the grounds that it is the English Language at its most regal, then why are we not using the same language for our Mass when the King of Kings is present? Again we have the old argument of "Jesus meets us where we are. He doesn't mind how we approach him." However, if Jesus really is our King (i.e. we submit to His Rule) then shouldn't we be treating Him like a King and scrubbing ourselves up appropriately? We may stand boldly before the throne of Grace, but surely we don't stand shabbily or nonchalantly or still reading the Beano before Him.

If we are using BCP language because it is our National Heritage, then what does it say about the language of the Modern Vernacular. Of course, we don't use expletives or slang during our worship (unless the Priest is having a very bad day in the pulpit) but it seems that our desire to use BCP language in important occasions is because it possesses something that our Modern Language does not.

It seems that the Old Language has the Character of Eternity - it possesses a deeper sense and meaning that stretches across the centuries to reach even people of today. All Christian worship has to have that character because we have to be looking backwards to the Revelation of Christ just as those who lived before Him had to look forward to His coming.

From what I understand, the language chosen to translate the old Latin prayers and the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures was deliberately arranged so that it was as close as possible in meaning in translation. The word "prevent" is a case in point. We understand that word differently now, meaning "to stop" or "prohibit", but it takes just a moment's thought to see that "pre-" means before. If this is the case, one is naturally drawn to ask what the "-vent" means, with the words "convent" or "Advent" in mind perhaps. If you know what Advent means (i.e. arrival) then you realise that "-vent" has something to do with coming or going, and thus "prevent" originally meant "to go before". Of course "prevent" translates praevenire and you can see how scholars worked.

Of course, they didn't always get it right There are one or two glorious typos, but the idea of preserving the language was not always about preserving heritage, but rather preserving the meaning, keeping the Character of Eternity alive for those in later centuries to understand.

Of course it takes work to understand a language that is 500 years old. The wonderful thing is that one can still understand most of it. If we take the trouble to address the bits we don't understand, then we not only find the answer but the whole thing opens up into a greater understanding and appreciation of what's being said.

Can we honestly say this of the language of the Modern Vernacular which isn't really conducive to careful study?

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