Do You Want a Thy With That?

March 3, 2011

As I have been working on more “theological translations” of some older prayers a brief conversation with a friend has kept popping up in my mind:

“I find as I try to encourage people to read and learn ancient prayers that the thees, thous and thys are enough to discourage people from ever considering it.”

“Yes, but on the other hand, there are those who relish the ancient character of prayers so much that to remove the thees, thous and thys is sacrilegious.”

I still think most Protestants and Evangelicals are more willing to read, study and learn about church history and liturgy if the language has been modernized to a degree. As I modernize language, I always try to keep the height or commonplace aspects of the language as my reading understands it. Yet, are there people who enjoy the archaic language? Are you one of them? Do you know one? I’d enjoy hearing from you if you do, and why you do.



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Thomas Turner has been blogging on Everyday Liturgy for the past six years. He enjoys reading, writing, cooking and gardening.

8 responses to Do You Want a Thy With That?

  1. Will you be publishing your translations of these prayers somewhere? I’d love to read them. I appreciate many of the ancient prayers, but the thees, thous and thys are indeed enough to discourage me from using them regularly.

    • Thomas

      I will be soon. I am about half way through them. I have been enjoying the process, as I plan to use them for my own prayers as well.

  2. Thanks for this interesting post. One of the problems with contemporary English is the loss of the difference between “thou” and “you”. In French one can still say of a loved one “Tu” and to a stranger “Vous”. It is interesting to note that when the Bible was first being translated into the vernacular during the Reformation that the French protestants chose to speak to God as “vous” while the English translation has the people speak to God as “Thee, thou, thy”. The latter is more faithful to the original Hebrew and Greek in speaking of the relationship with God as intimate, personal, familial. Over time the intimacy that was intended with the use of “thou” has given way to a feeling that this is, ironically, a kind of holy language which places God farther away rather than close at hand. I don’t know how a modern translation can capture this, given the impoverishment of contemporary English when it comes to differentiating between a quite personal and a more formal address of the other. Certainly martin Buber’s book “I – Thou” sounds a lot different if titled “I – You”. In that case the “thou” seems to still carry something of the covenanted relationship that is at the heart of the faith.

    • Thomas

      That’s an interesting thought Ed. I haven’t even paid attention to Spanish Bibles to see if the translation uses the “tu” or “usted” form for God. If I remember I think it’s usted. I think we always have to be conscious of how our language affect our outlook on God. I would think a pragmatic English translation would use context to discern between a noble “you” and a familiar “you.”

  3. I spent much of my life as a Pentecostal. Now I’m very progressive mainline. I begrudgingly switched to the NRSV from King James because I needed a 21st century study Bible. I still miss the thees and thous but I understand many people today don’t understand it and that our language needs to speak especially to them.


    • Thomas

      That’s a good attitude to have. Our preferences for language may need to change as our language changes.

  4. I picked up this post from the CC Blogs. For the record, I’m not a big fan of the archaic language. But what I’m really curious about is your project of “theological translations” of older prayers. Can you point me somewhere to read more about what you are doing?

    • Thomas

      John, a good example of “theological translation” is my work on the O Antiphons ( Basically, to me a “theological translation” is a paraphrase that keeps the symbolic, metaphorical and spiritual significance of the work in tact. What I don’t want to lose in modernizing is the imagery, intertextuality or multiple meanings evident in the original work by just “dumbing it down” into contemporary language.

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