February 17, 2013

Persons of the Trinity

Trefoil
I suggested in my recent post “God and Gender/Sex,” that conservatives do not like referring to the persons of the Trinity as “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier,” presumably because they see it as a non-traditional, gender-neutral rendering of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or Ghost).”

In church today, we sang the Great Litany, which begins
O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon us.

 
O God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

 
O God the Holy Ghost, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon us.

 
O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God,
Have mercy upon us.
On the printed copies of the Great Litany from which the choir was singing, an introduction stated that the Litany can be traced back to Cranmer’s first prayer book. In fact, it can be traced back to 1544, five years before the first English Book of Common Prayer. It began (with archaic spelling cleaned up a bit)
O god, the father of heaven, have mercie upon us miserable synners.

O God the sonne, redemer of the worlde: have mercie upon us myserable synners.
 
O God the sonne, redemer of the worlde: have mercie upon us miserable synners.

O god the holy ghoste, procedyng from the father and the sonne: have mercy upon us myserable synners.
 
O god the holy ghoste, procedyng from the father and the sonne: have mercie upon us miserable synners.
 
O holy, blessed, and glorious trinitie, iii. persons and one God: have mercye upon us myserable synners.

O holy, blessed, and glorious trinitie, thre persons and one god: have mercie upon us miserable synners.
Clearly the “Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier” formula does not go back that far. In fact, it appears in no English prayer book at all! It does, however, show up in the proposed Book of Common Prayer of 1689, which was never ratified. The Litany in that book begins
O GOD the Father, Creator of heaven and earth : have mercy upon us miserable sinners.
O God the Father Creator of heaven and earth : have mercy upon us miserable sinners.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world : have mercy upon us miserable sinners.
O God the Son, Redeemer of the world : have mercy upon us miserable sinners.

O God the Holy Ghost, our Sanctifier and Comforter : have mercy upon us miserable sinners.
O God the Holy Ghost, our Sanctifier and Comforter : have mercy upon us miserable sinners.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three Persons and one God : have mercy upon us miserable sinners.
O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three Persons and one God : have mercy upon us miserable sinners.
The first American prayer book does not use “Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier” language, but the 1928 book does. It is identical to the 1979 version, except for punctuation:
O GOD the Father, Creator of heaven and earth;
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world;
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Holy Ghost, Sanctifier of the faithful;
Have mercy upon us.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God;
Have mercy upon us.
The bottom line is that the “Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier” formulation, while not used as a standalone locution for the persons of the Trinity, is more than 300 years old and was certainly not devised out of any concern for “inclusive language.”

4 comments:

  1. The fill-in priest here who uses this formulation flat out admits it's because using "Father" and "Son" is discriminating towards women and a sign of misogyny, so yes, you are correct about how conservatives interpret it, since it was the liberal who told us so. Just because that wasn't what they meant 300 years ago doesn't mean that isn't why it's used today. TEC is all about change after all. Nothing means the same thing it did back then because we're more enlightened now;the Bible is not meant literally--something else the priest simply stated out loud in order to get it through our simpleminded conservative skulls. I hope your priest that uses this really is just trying for variety, but I'm afraid many conservatives are reading the tea leaves right on this one.

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  2. Indeed, some use “Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier” to avoid being “sexist,” and others object to the formulation because they think it modern and silly (and perhaps even heretical). Knowing that the wording is an Anglican formula of long standing should provide comfort to both groups.

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  3. Lionel, I think you do clearly demonstrate that "Creator," "Redeemer," and "Sanctifier" have all been used to describe the Holy Trinity. They are all in fact Biblical terms associated with God's actions. It should be noted though that orthodox Trinitarian perspective would insist that these are all descriptive of all three of the Divine Persons. It would be incorrect, and I suppose a kind of modalism, to say that any one of these "titles" characterized or could be attributed to, say, the Father more than the Son, or the Son more than the Spirit. All three refer to the Father, all three to the Son, and all three to the Spirit. In any event, the Trinitarian formula, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, when used in services of this Church, Baptism, Marriage, Blessings at the conclusion of the Eucharist, etc., is an authorized liturgical text. The General Convention has a procedure in place to revise the texts of the Book of Common Prayer, but that procedure doesn't include an option for individual clergy to make it up as they go along or to exercise their "preferences." There are all kinds of dangers when you begin to walk down that road.

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  4. The point about authorized texts is well-taken. Recall that I object to substituting “God’s” for “his.” I would certainly object to substituting “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier” for “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” within an authorized liturgy.

    For what it’s worth, the Introduction of Enriching Our Worship 1 includes this: “Both
    positive and negative reactions to early experiments emphasized that a substantial number of Episcopalians are most wary of
    language which strikes them as abstract or depersonalizing (hence the widespread distaste for “Creator/Redeemer/Sanctifier” even among those who do not find the formulation modalist).”

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