I’ve just finished listening to a series of fascinating lectures about the American Revolution by Joanne Freeman of Yale University. Freeman did a particularly good job of reading excerpts from personal correspondence and journals from a variety of political leaders in the late 18th century. As one steeped in the language of the Book of Common Prayer, I was heartened to hear so many paraphrases or references to our liturgy in these letters: “world without end,” “meet, right, and bounden duty,” etc.
Unfortunately, Freeman never gave a shout out. Bummer. So I did a little more research.
Gordon S. Wood, respected Revolutionary War era scholar, has this to say about Thomas Paine and Common Sense: “Unlike more genteel writers, Paine did not decorate his pamphlet with Latin quotations and learned references to the literature of Western culture, but instead relied on his readers knowing only the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer” (The American Revolution: A History).
I have two immediate reactions to this statement. First, wow! That’s just great! Our Prayer Book and the language of the people were similar. My second reaction, though, is “darn it.” Look how much ground we have lost. Common people do not know our language anymore. How could this have happened?
Here’s my hypothesis: Christians became a bunch of wimps. We settled for sentimentality rather than orthodoxy. We preached happiness instead of discipline. Our clergy became pseudo-psychotherapists instead of priests.
But all is not lost. The Prayer Book gave its vocabulary and language to start one revolution. It’s time we take back that language, and start another revolution right here in the Church of God.