Sunday, December 20, 2009

What Isaac Watts says to "us"

Two years ago, I complained how Hymnal 1982 mangled the 2nd verse of everyone’s favorite Isaac Watts Christmas hymn to elide the dreaded “M” word:
Joy to the world! the Savior reigns;
let men their us our songs employ,
while fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.
A quick Google search suggests that this particular hymnodic vandalism has not only spread throughout mainstream Protestant denominations, but also the American Catholic Church via the modern liturgy of Today’s Missal.

It was the topic of a blog posting Saturday at evangel, the wonderful ecumenical blog (hosted by the Catholic First Things) for right-thinking Christians everywhere. Biola University prof Fred Sanders first notes what my wife, I and everyone else born before 1965 knows deep down: for centuries the word “men” was used to refer to “human beings.” (Don’t get me started on the abominable non-word “humankind.”)

Sanders notes that in teaching on the original text (Psalm 98), Watts wanted to distinguish between the animate human beings and the inanimate remainder of God’s creation. We sing to the Lord because that’s why we were created: to praise God. Watts wants to make sure we’re clear that it’s the people (and not fields, floods, rocks, hills or plains) that are employing songs — rather than “all the earth” of the psalm.

I wish Sanders’ arguments would be enough to win over the inclusive language crowd in the ACNA and other groups, but I’d bet he’s just preaching (or at least drawing) to the choir. Unfortunately, being right nowadays isn’t enough.

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