To the editors:
Apparently the Reader feels no responsibility to check the truth and accuracy of the articles it publishes; else it would not have published "Is Nothing Sacred?" in the June 9, 1989 edition. If the article had demonstrated nothing more than the usual verbal idolatry, effete aestheticism, and cranial density of the self-styled Prayer Book Society, I would merely have yawned and let it go without comment. There are, however, overt lies--snide lies--presented in the article.
One such is the assertion that the doctrine of regeneration has been removed from the liturgy of Holy Baptism in the (1979) Book of Common Prayer. While the Latin-rooted word "regeneration" is indeed absent from the rite, the equivalent terms "rebirth" and "new birth" occur three times in the rite, in addition to a reference to the "new life" bestowed in Baptism. Another lie has to do with the supposed "disappearance of the laying on of hands from the text of the ordination service." The rubrics of all three ordination rites in the Book of Common Prayer (pages 521, 533, and 545) clearly direct the Bishop to lay hands on the ordinand.
Another lie has to do with the Nicene Creed. One critic is quoted: "When the Council of Nicea wrote the thing, they said credemus (sic) because they were the ones making the statement of faith. But when they sent it out to the church as a whole, it became credo, because it's a personal thing. It's an individual thing." Simply not true! "I believe" first appeared in the Latin translation of the original Greek creed; from that Latin version it was carried into the older English version. The Greek form (still used in the Orthodox Churches of the East) begins, "We believe." It begins with the word "we" precisely because it is not a personal thing: it is the corporate statement of the minimum content of Christian faith--the faith of the Church, not of an individual believer. By reciting it, each Christian person identifies himself or herself with the body of Christians whose faith the Creed represents.
These three examples are all that I have time to enumerate in one letter; let them stand as representative. If you would like a full list, I shall be happy to pick the article apart, quote by quote--but only if the Reader promises to publish it and give equal time to the truth.
The Reverend Donald A. Melvin Curate Saint Margaret's Church E. 73rd St.
Bryan Miller replies:
If Reverend Melvin chooses to abandon his heritage for a mess of pottage, that is his business. But his epithets for traditionalists are uncalled for, if all too typical from those of his camp.
Only one of his three assertions is a fair cop: I thought I was safe in relying upon the testimony of two separate sources regarding ordination services. My apologies. In the other two cases, he's wrong.
The word "regeneration" is the accepted doctrinal word (or was, in the days before do-it-yourself theology became so common in the Episcopal church), and has a long history in theological controversy. "Rebirth" and "new birth" do not. And, as I stated before, the rubrics "Concerning the Service" (page 298) don't say a thing about any of the above--just the dubious concept of "initiation."
As for the Nicene Creed, Mr. Melvin has (one must assume deliberately) missed the point. First, the Latin and other Western churches have always used credo, never credemus. It is our tradition. (Incidentally, my expert backup witness for that one was none other than the Right Reverend James Winchester Montgomery, the now retired bishop of Chicago and certainly no chum of the "effete aesthetes" who are the objects of Mr. Melvin's contempt.) Second, if we return to the absolute original version of the creed, we should also have to return to its complete version, which includes a number of interesting anathemas directed against anyone who disagrees with any aspect of the creed. I'm quite certain that he doesn't want to go back to that, because the "we believe" concept so beloved of modern-day collectivists is actually a way to evade individual responsibility. If you say "we," and pretend that you're just speaking for the "body of Christians," it doesn't matter that one is far too sophisticated to believe in such antiquated ideas as virgin births and physical resurrections oneself. You're just going along with the gang, so you can enjoy your nice ritual and pretty costumes without feeling silly or even the teensiest bit guilty. But that's fudging. The faith of the church is supposed to be that of the individual believer. They are supposed to mesh.
Furthermore, according to the Reverend William Deutsch, the Orthodox churches may say "we," but they view it differently. The individual is still supposed to believe what he or she is saying. It doesn't mean that anyone can commit perjury in the name of the church; your average Greek patriarch "would cheerfully excommunicate anyone" espousing Mr. Melvin's twists on their theology. You can't pick and choose, Mr. Melvin--it's all or nothing.
Mr. Melvin says he's a curate, which implies relative youth. If the membership of the Episcopal church continues to decline as precipitously in the next quarter century as it has in the past, Mr. Melvin may find it harder to get work, as the old folks who still think they have to put up with uncharitable priests like him die off, and the young ones--and our children--stay away.