Faith and Reason: Beware the Devil and all her works: The Archdeacon of York, the Ven George Austin, continues our series on Catholicism and feminism. He warns against the use of 'creative' language which strays from orthodoxy.
Saturday 23 July 1994
Aesthetics are another matter, for words like personhood or humankind or a phrase like the ravages of dysfunction which once appeared in an American liturgy can hardly be said to grace the English language, let alone the worship of almighty God. So in this respect, while the Synod may be debasing the language of worship as well as allowing the fanatics to steer the ship, at least they are not dabbling in heresy.
The commission moreover promised that traditional forms of address to God 'should not be consciously avoided or deliberately softened in use', though there will certainly be instances where the word God will be repeated in order to avoid the use of personal male pronouns. Curiously, the commission claims that this 'does not necessarily involve acceptance of the ideology that may have motivated some of the proponents' and that 'there is no suggestion of departure from the classic terms of Christian orthodoxy'.
But that is exactly what must happen if traditional, scripturally based patterns are avoided or abandoned. If a passage such as 'Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit' becomes, say, 'Honour and Glory to God, and to God's eternal Word and to God's Spirit', the personal God of the New Testament revelation, who may be addressed as 'Abba, Father' has been replaced by an altogether depersonalised deity unknown to Christian theology.
If the familiar 'Blessed be the Lord God of Israel: for he has visited and redeemed his people' becomes 'Blessed are you, Lord, the God of Israel, you have come to your people to set them free', precisely to avoid the use of the male pronoun (and that is the stated reason), then whatever is left in traditional texts, the principle that God ought not properly to be addressed as 'He' has been established. It is a departure from orthodoxy which is unacceptable to the Catholic Anglican, and for more than one reason.
Anglican liturgical usage has always had at its heart the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi and therefore, if what I find in liturgy is something I do not believe, then I cannot pray it. To find - as I did at a recent service at a General Synod Standing Committee with both archbishops present - that I would be expected to pray to the 'Holy Spirit herself' left me with two choices: I could stay and thus endorse the phrase as orthodox belief, or I must leave the service, which is what I did.
We call God 'He' not because we believe He is male rather than female, but because we cannot diminish Him by calling Him 'It'. The Judaeo-Christian revelation is of a God who is not like the pagan gods and goddesses of their theologically inferior neighbours. He is a God who - in the words of the first of the Anglican 39 Articles - is 'without body, parts and passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness' in whose unity are three Persons, 'of one substance, power, and eternity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost'.
It is we who are made in His image, not He in ours, and if in calling Him Father some would make Him an old man in the sky, that mistake is not rectified by compounding it in naming God 'Mother'. One heresy is not corrected by creating another more serious one. And heresy it is, for it overturns the very scripture which is meant to be our foundation.
A leading liturgist, the Rev Michael Perham, made this clear six years ago when he wrote that biblical revelation is 'irredeemably masculine'. 'We are forced to the view,' he writes, 'that texts that affirm the feminine will have to be new ones, without much scripture or tradition even as source. Is the Church willing,' he asks, 'to sanction that sort of creativity?' Apparently so, for the report which the Synod received encourages 'creative and qualitatively excellent liturgical writing which makes use of a wider range of metaphors for God than has been evident in existing authorised texts'.
Perham adds: 'Nothing less than our doctrine of God is at stake.' Indeed it is, and one is left wondering if the Synod really knew what it was doing. It probably did, and the schism produced by the ordination of women will be as nothing to this, which follows it as surely as the night succeeds the day.
It is moreover merely the precursor of worse heresies, and these are already beginning to be evident here as they are prevalent in America. An image of 'Christa' was carried in Manchester Cathedral recently at a service 'in solidarity with women', a direct importation from our sister church in the US. Christa's purpose is graphically explained by the Rev Carter Heyward, in her book Touching Her Strength: 'She (Christa) can represent for Christian women precisely what the Church has crucified with a vengeance . . .: the erotic as power and the love of God as embodied by erotically empowered women.'
No one would suggest that this represents in any way the view of the Liturgical Commission. But both they and the Synod need to be aware where they are being led by the Devil and all her works.
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