Sunday, July 6, 2008

Traditionalists singing PC hymns

During a recent vacation visiting friends, we attended an Anglo-Catholic former ECUSA parish that has broken away and aligned itself under a South American bishop. The rector is as godly and devout an Anglican as I have met. He led the parish in aligning with all the various (failed) attempts to organize traditionalists within ECUSA: Episcopal Synod of America, then Forward in Faith North America (where he was an officer), then Anglican Communion Network. The Sunday we were there, worship was led by the (equally devout) assistant because the rector was at GAFCON.

And yet, like most of the Schism II Anglicans (post V.G. Robinson) they use the flawed instruments of the ECUSA 70s and 80s modernized theology: the 1979 alternative service book (to use Peter Toon’s phrase) and Hymnal 1982. It’s only because I’ve been attending a Schism I Anglican parish (post-Congress of St. Louis) with the 1928 BCP and Hymnal 1940 that I’m now cognizant that there’s another path for Continuing Anglicans.

The blog has been drifting off the past few months too much into questions of denominational boundaries and the hope that Schism I and Schism II Anglicans will someday make common cause to proclaim the gospel in North America within the Anglican tradition of worship. So rather than rehash the old arguments, let me illustrate them with a specific hymn.

The closing hymn at this ACN, Global South parish was hymn #530 in the revisionist hymnal (#253 in my favorite hymnal), an English translation of the Jonathan Frederic Bahnmaier lyric “Walte, für der, nah und fern” by A.F. Farlander and W. Douglas. The hymn is a widely reprinted example of a missionary hymn.

As is almost always the case, the changes were for gender inclusive language, banishing the M-word:
Spread, O spread, thou mighty word,
Spread the kingdom of the Lord,
That to earth’s remotest bound
Men All may heed the joyful sound.

Word of how the Father’s will
Made the world, and keeps it, still;
How his only Son he gave,
Man earth from sin and death to save.
Of course, they could have achieve the same gender-inclusive results by just using the words from The English Hymnal, an 1858 translation attributed to the great Catherine Winkworth:
Spread, O spread, thou mighty Word,
spread the kingdom of the Lord,
whersoe'er his breath has given,
life to beings meant for heaven.

Tell them how the Father's will
made the world, and keeps it still,
how he sent his Son to save
all who help and comfort crave.
Since this is a German hymn, it makes sense to look at the American church of German immigrants, the LCMS. Their 1941 hymnal (The Lutheran Hymnal) attributes their translation to Winkworth but combines the two
Spread, O spread, thou mighty Word,
spread the kingdom of the Lord,
whersoe'er his breath has given,
life to beings meant for heaven.

Tell them how the Father's will
Made the world, and keeps it still,
How His only Son he gave
Man from sin and death to save.
A google book Sacred Hymns from the German (available in PDF) says that the original German lyrics are:
Walte, walte nah und fern,
Allgewaltig Wort des Herrn,
Wo nur seiner Allmacht Ruf
Menschen für den Himmel schuf.

Word vom Vater, der die Welt
Schuf und in den Armen hält,
Und der Sünder Trost und Rath
Zu uns hergesendet hat!
Neither Yahoo nor Google translation sites did a readable job, but here’s a literal translation of these verses (my best German with a little help from a native speaker:
Rule, rule near and far the all-encompassing word of the Lord
Who only through his almighty call created people for heaven.

Word from the Father that created the world and holds it in his arms,
and has sent us sinners comfort and guidance.
An alternate text for verse 2 is found in an online German hymnal; below is the text and my translation:
Wort vom Vater, der die Welt
Schuf und in den Armen hält
Und aus seinem Schoß herab
Seinen Sohn zum Heil ihr gab;

Word from the Father that created the world and holds it in his arms,
And from his being sent down his Son to bring us to heaven.
So in the end, none of the three (or four) English texts is the Bahnmaier hymn: instead, we have a Winkworth hymn or a Farlander-Douglas hymn (in original or bowdlerized form) loosely based on the 1827 German text. The compulsion to make rhyming couplets is greater than the imperative to stay faithful to the text.

Bahnmaier (1774-1841) was a theologian, not just a lyricist. Still, it’s not like they're meddling with a statement of doctrine passed 1700 years ago. In other words, a new translation of an old text should be be evaluated as a new act of authorship, rather than as merely the representation of the original author's intent in a new language.

Which brings me back to my original point: all the ACN/Common Cause/neo-“Anglican” parishes in North America need to re-examine every liturgical innovation of the past 50 years with a skeptical eye, and throw out anything that cannot be supported by scriptural texts and their long-understood interpretation. (Last time I checked, neither JC nor St. Paul said anything about pipe organs or electric guitars, so these decisions remain in the hands of mere mortals).

2 comments:

Warren said...

"Which brings me back to my original point: all the ACN/Common Cause/neo-“Anglican” parishes in North America need to re-examine every liturgical innovation of the past 50 years with a skeptical eye, and throw out anything that cannot be supported by scriptural texts and their long-understood interpretation."

This sounds a lot like Calvin's regulative principle. Is this what you are suggesting?

9.West said...

Not quite. What you suggest is only one leg of the three-legged stool (scripture, tradition and reason) falsely attributed to Hooker; I'm only suggesting sawing off one of the legs (or actually, hiding it away) and not killing two of the three.

All of the ECUSA excesses of the past 50 years have been promulgated by sole reliance on reason to the exclusion of the other two: my point is that if a recent innovation cannot be supported by the other two legs, then it doesn’t conform to Anglican polity.

As Peter Toon points out, anchoring one's interpretation of Scripture to the traditional one is a position closer to Aquinas than Calvin.