Trinitarian language lost in Brisbane Scriptures

Trinitarian language lost in Brisbane Scriptures

Michael Apthorp

The following case study of liturgical abuse in the Brisbane Archdiocese, while more extreme than most, is indicative of a continuing paralysis of Church authority in regard to Liturgy that is not confined to Brisbane. 'Redemptionis Sacramentum', issued at the request of Pope John Paul II, made clear that local bishops must act promptly to eliminate any abuses - which lay people have the right to bring to their attention.

As Dr Michael Apthorp has already documented in a number of articles in 'AD2000', this has not been the case in Brisbane, despite repeated complaints.

Recently I came across a curious booklet. It is anonymously produced and has no formal publisher, but it has evidently been distributed quite widely by informal means in a number of editions over the years.

It has been designed primarily for liturgical use in a Catholic parish in inner-city Brisbane. It comprises pitifully mangled versions of the Scripture excerpts scheduled for reading at Mass this year. Its title is Inclusive Readings, but in reality it is anything but inclusive: rather, its use has been deeply divisive.

This is not in the least surprising. First, the Church has very strict laws governing the approval of texts for liturgical use. These laws have been flagrantly flouted by this long-running project specifically designed to produce and use contraband ultrafeminist versions.

Secondly, not only are these altered versions completely illicit, but they are of staggeringly poor quality: they distort the word of God, tamper with key doctrines, and plumb the depths of absurdity.

They go far beyond what one might expect in a run-of-the-mill 'inclusive language' Bible. However flawed such a Bible might be, it would baulk at transferring this approach to the Trinity itself. Not so this Brisbane booklet, which systematically eliminates almost all references to 'Father' and 'Son' on the spurious grounds that they are sexist.

But in fact these terms are non- negotiable: they are absolutely central to the revelation of this core Christian dogma as recorded in the New Testament and defined by Church councils. And yet our feminist bowdlerisers seem to find them indecently masculine: they are evidently too earthy, too physical, for their own more refined spirituality, even though they were the words chosen by Jesus himself.

But our feminist friends do not need to fear that these terms are crudely anthropomorphic. I am reminded of G.K. Chesterton's response to the atheist's jibe that God was merely a Big Daddy in the sky. Chesterton replied that, on the contrary, a human father was a small God. St Paul had the same idea: 'I fall on my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that Father from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth takes its name' (Eph 3:14-15).

Sometimes these feminist revisers simply delete the word 'Father' without any replacement. Thus St Paul's words 'in the sight of our God and Father' are reduced to 'in the sight of our God' (1 Thess 3:13), and in 1 Cor 15:24 his prayer 'May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father' becomes 'May Jesus Christ, and our God'. In Acts 1:4, 'what the Father had promised' becomes simply 'what had been promised' (we are not told by whom).

John's Gospel

In John 14:23-29 the word 'Father' occurs four times in the official Lectionary, and in each of these places it is removed by a different gimmick. At its first occurrence, 'Father' becomes 'God, who sent me'. At its second occurrence, 'whom the Father will send' becomes simply 'who will be sent' (again, by whom?). In the last two occurrences, instead of 'I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I', we get 'I am going to the One who sent me, who is greater than I'.

John's themes here are love, reassurance and the sending of the Holy Spirit: in the original, 'If anyone loves me ..., my Father will love him'. In the expurgated version, however, God's love is drained of its fatherly element, and it also becomes unclear that it is actually the Father who sends the Holy Spirit.

In Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 (Ash Wednesday) the word 'Father' occurs six times in the original. In five of these places our revisers replace it with 'God', and in one they change 'you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven' to 'you will lose all heavenly reward' (no 'Father'). And yet this is the very chapter in which Jesus teaches his disciples to pray the Our Father!

In the magnificent opening chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews our revisers face some daunting problems. Consider v 5, 'I will be a father to him and he a son to me', a quotation from an Old Testament prophecy to which the author of Hebrews assigns a Trinitarian meaning. In this context 'father', 'son', 'him' and 'he' are all dirty words for our feminists. But they rise to the occasion: 'I will beget you, and you will be my flesh and blood'.

In John 1:18 they face similar difficulties, which they surmount by whittling down the twelve words of the official Lectionary to an incomprehensible five: 'the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father' becomes 'the glory of God's own'. Other replacements for the 'sexist' Trinitarian 'Son' include 'the One born', 'the begotten One' and 'Christ'.

In their Introduction the revisers say that in 'God-language' they wish to 'avoid over-emphasis on 'Father' and 'Son' imagery'. But in fact there is no emphasis at all on Father and Son in their version, since they have removed such terms almost everywhere, and anyway there is no valid reason to justify such 'avoid [ance]': these authentic Trinitarian terms must be retained and indeed treasured and highlighted; otherwise how will our young people learn about the Trinity at Mass?

The revisers also state that their 'language for Jesus remains personal while avoiding, as far as is appropriate, the sole use of the masculine pronoun 'he''. But why should it ever be 'appropriate' to avoid masculine pronouns for Jesus? Was he not male? Further, 'avoiding the sole use' understates the revisers' usual practice, which is to avoid 'he' for Jesus like the plague.


For example, in Acts 1:1-4 the official Lectionary uses 'he/him/his' for Jesus nine times, but our revisers delete it in eight of these nine places by unidiomatically repeating the name 'Jesus', or changing 'his' to 'the', or rearranging the grammar. The result is stilted and artificial, and at one point the theology suffers: Luke's 'He had shown himself alive to them' (active) becomes 'Jesus had been shown alive to them' (passive). Both the original Greek and the Latin Vulgate use the active voice with the reflexive pronoun: literally, 'he showed himself'. To change this to the passive is to remove the autonomy of Jesus' action in rising from the dead.

Note the obsessive singlemindedness of the revisers' focus in all this: they can cheerfully jettison accuracy, intelligibility, idiom, style, Fatherly love, the doctrine of the Trinity and the nuances of Resurrection theology as long as they can get rid of the 'sexism' which they claim to find in the standard Lectionary.

They also claim that their altered version 'is informed by a high quality of English expression ..., as well as knowledge of the biblical text and its world'. I see little evidence of this.

The pastor of this inner-city parish also dislikes the word 'king'. He has renamed the Feast of Christ the King 'The Cosmic Christ' and 'The Universal Christ'. The words 'king' and 'kingdom' are usually changed in the readings; in the Beatitudes, 'theirs is the kingdom of heaven' becomes 'theirs is the unfolding of the divine dream'.

On Trinity Sunday, in John 16:12-15, the revisers use feminine pronouns for the Holy Spirit where St John uses masculine ones. Further, throughout the booklet, as far as I can see, all of the hundreds of masculine pronouns referring to 'God' have been removed, and 'Lord', when referring to God or Jesus, is everywhere changed.

Protestants would deeply regret this, and they would know why it was wrong. Among other considerations, in the translations of the Old Testament in their Bibles they constantly encounter the word LORD in capitals and know that it stands for the Tetragrammaton, the four Hebrew letters representing God's personal name, Yahweh, a name so ineffably sacred that, from the third century BC on, the Jews actually refrained from pronouncing it, substituting the word Adonai, 'Lord' - hence Kyrios in Greek and Dominus in Latin in such contexts.

So much for 3,000 years of religious history and tradition!

Many similar alterations are made to the Common of the Mass. Thus 'The Lord be with you' becomes 'May God be with you', and the Kyrie, in spite of its name, runs 'Jesus have mercy ..., Christ have mercy ..., Jesus have mercy'.

Changes are also made to the Creed, and often a completely different home-made 'Australian Creed' is substituted, with patriotic, ecological and social justice themes.

Finally, in the Scriptures there are some astonishingly elaborate and audacious feminist interpolations, e.g., when the Matriarchs gatecrash the reading on Moses and the burning bush: ''I am the God of your ancestors,' God said, 'the God of Sarah and Abraham, the God of Rebecca and Isaac and the God of Rachel, Leah and Jacob.' At this Moses covered his face, afraid to look at God' (allegedly Exodus 3:6).


If this whole story sounds vaguely familiar, it may be because in the August 2005 AD2000 I reported very similar changes made to the Scripture readings in a parish I dubbed St Bede's (see also the November 2006 issue). I reported that these readings had been 'concocted by a group of feminists working under the aegis of the priest in charge of another Brisbane parish'.

That other parish was the very same inner-city parish, with the same pastor, whose activities I have described above, with much fuller evidence than was available to me in 2005. I told Auxiliary Bishop Brian Finnigan about that parish in general terms in my initial letter of 28 August 2003 and encouraged him to investigate it. I named the parish explicitly in a later letter dated 6 October 2003.

In another letter to him, dated 16 September 2003, I wrote, 'If indeed there does turn out to be a systematic attempt here to excise all Trinitarian references to Father and Son, the question has to be asked whether the sum total of these readings is doctrinally orthodox.' Now, with the additional evidence, we can clearly see that such Trinitarian references have in fact been removed almost everywhere. We must therefore ask the question about orthodoxy more insistently, especially as there has been no improvement at all over the past four years in this inner-city parish.

Let us hope and pray that the official liturgy of the Church will soon be restored to our distressed inner-city brethren, who have now been subjected to this foolish, perverse and pernicious travesty for many long and painful years.

Dr Apthorp has lectured in Greek, Latin and Ancient History at a number of universities including the University of Queensland.

Australian 'Creed'

(Used in some parish and school Masses)

I believe in God the Father of all, who has given the earth to all people, and I believe in people as the image of God.

I believe in Jesus Christ, who came to encourage us and to heal us, to proclaim the peace of God to humankind.

I believe in the Spirit of God, who works in every man and woman.

I believe in the Church, moved by the Spirit to serve all people.

I believe in Australians,
in their courage and spirit of adventure
in their perseverence and hard work
in their ordinariness and at-home-ness
in their black Aboriginal beauty
in their migrant struggles
in their search for identity

I believe in our responsibilities for creation: the trust of every mountain range
of every forest
of every harbour
of every city
of every plan to build a future

I do not believe in the right of the strongest
nor the power of the oppressors ...

But I dare to believe, always and in spite of everything, in a new humanity, in God's own dream of a new heaven and a new earth where justice will flourish and peace will reign, in our land, in our world.

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