Vol II No. 5
Liturgy & Ecclesiology

Dr Samuel Bray on one example of the perils of Liturgical Revision

by sinetortus

The following is but a summary of a most commendable and thorough article exploring the dangers of revising a classic text (in this case the General Confession of the BCP dating back to 1552) by Professor Samuel L. Bray of UCLA and Notre Dame schools of Law.

For the full text of the article go to






SAMUEL L. BRAY,   JUNE 18, 2018


One of the crown jewels of the Book of Common Prayeris the General Confession in Morning and Evening Prayer. composed for the Second version of 1552. It draws upon at least sixteen biblical passages and offers a clear theological depiction of what Christians believe of the human condition: namely, that we are prone to turn away from God and need his forgiveness. As literature it is superbly balanced and full of memorable phrases, such as “erred and strayed like lost sheep” and “the devices and desires of our own hearts.” These have etched it into the memory of Anglicans over generations

However, the central clause, “And there is no health in us.” has been seen as a stumbling block to some modern revisers. In the current 1979 Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church, the General Confession remains largely intact in the traditional language service (Rite I) save that this one phrase is omitted. In Rite II  an entirely different confession is used. Both revisions suggest a desire to tone down the understanding of sin and an unease at the seeming implication that there is no goodness left in us at all as a result of our sins.

The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), is currently developing its own Prayer Book, which seems largely derived from services from TEC Prayer book of 1979 but here the revisers did something different and revealing.

But first,  some etymology: “health” is one of the words of English with a Germanic root. In older usage the dominant sense for health is soundness, while in religious usage, health could be a synonym for salvation.

Thus William Tyndale, when translating the story of Zacchaeus in the Gospel of Luke, has Jesus say to the penitent tax collector, “this daye is healthe come vnto this housse” (Luke 19:9).10 and it is only decades later that the more familiar version emerges: “This day is salvation come to this house,”

The older usage of health thus suggests two different senses. First that of physical health, where sin ravages the soul as a pervasive illness does the body, such that every part is infected and unhealthy. The second sense equates health with salvation or deliverance, as in the words of St. Paul, “who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).    But there is in fact no need to choose between these two senses   And it is of interest to note that the General Confession corresponds at almost every point to phrases in Romans 7, and this is even true of both senses of the word “health.”.

Thus, in the General Confession, we are saying, with St. Paul, that there is no soundness in us as well as asking “who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (i.e that of ourselves there is no salvation).

Yet some modern worshippers seems to think that while there must be somesickness in us  that does not  entail “there is nohealth in us”?

And so the ACNA revisers added the short phrase “and apart from your grace, there is no health in us.”  So that now the meaning is that such health as there may be in us is a work of divine grace.

But while it is hard to argue that the added phrase is wrong it can still be asked if these words are conformable to the pattern of the Scriptures as the Articles (VI and XIX) require?    Here the answer is clear. “And there is no health in us” is deeply coherent with biblical language.

In one of the verses already mentioned, God says to his people through the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 1:5-6): “…. whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.  From the sole of the foot even unto the head: there is no soundness in it;”. In  Psalm 38, a Psalm of David, we find these words in Coverdale’s translation:

“ There is no health in my flesh, because of thy displeasure : neither is there any rest in my bones, by reason of my sin.”

And when Daniel confesses his sins and the sins of Israel, (Daniel 9:4-19) there is no hint of qualification.

In the New Testament in the prayer of confession of the tax collector,  in contrast to the self-righteousness of the Pharisee, the tax collector prays: “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). He does not say “God be merciful to me, who apart from your grace is a sinner.”

It is doubtful if there is any biblical confession that has this kind of qualification about God’s grace. Thus to say “And there is no health in us” resonates fully with the biblical pattern.  And when we say “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags,” we do not add “except for those good works that you ordained for us to walk in.”

Thus the Cranmerian phrase is not a stylistic exaggeration, but rather part of a biblical pattern of abandoning our own defenses, prerogatives, possessions. And no part of us is well, no part is healthy. There is no health in us.

Then there is too the balance of its sentence. This clause is the last in a sentence of three clauses: “ in which the third sharply departs from the parallelism of the previous ones in both syntax and length, yielding an abrupt discontinuity that gives added force to what is said. This powerful rhetorical effect  is lost when the phrase is lengthened with the words “and apart from your grace, there is no health in us.” Cranmer’s words losse their special intensity.

Finally, “apart from your grace” undermines the perfectly balanced shape of the prayer as a whole,  for the words, “And there is no health in us” come at the lowest rhetorical point after which the language turns upwards.  St Paul after saying to the Ephesians they were once “dead in trespasses and sins,” after a string of depressive clauses (Ephesians 2:1-3) pivots abruptly with the words “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us” (Ephesians 2:4)

So, for both, St Paul and Cranmer there is no facile separation of form and content. Just as Divine grace is disjunctive; so too is their language. The vivid clarity of all this is muddled by the qualification “apart from your grace.”

Adding even just one word, as in,  “no savinghealth in us” ends up implying the Pelagianism of being good but just not quite good enough to attain salvation on our own. Substituting a word might achieve clarity but it does so at a cost to the original riches of meaning

So the best possibility is simply to leave the Cranmerian clause alone.



(The foregoing is summary of the original article so please go to the full text at http://northamanglican.com/and-apart-from-your-grace-there-is-no-health-in-us/

This is particularly important if it is wished to use a quotation)


Samuel Bray is a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and clerked for then-Judge Michael W. McConnell on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

Before joining the faculty at UCLA, he practiced law at Mayer Brown LLP, was an associate-in-law at Columbia Law School, and was Executive Director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School.

In 2016-2017 he was a Harrington Faculty Fellow at the University of Texas-Austin.

He is a Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law, and  visiting professor at the Notre Dame Law School during the 2017-2018 academic year.

He will join the Notre Dame faculty as a Professor of Law at the start of the 2018-2019 academic year.

He teaches Remedies, Civil Procedure, Property, and Constitutional Law. His recently published works includes

Multiple Chancellors: Reforming the National Injunction, and

Remedies, Meet Economics; Economics, Meet Remedies.

He is an author of three books:

The Constitution of the United States (with Michael Stokes Paulsen, Steven Gow Calabresi, Michael W. McConnell, and William Baude);

Ames, Chafee, and Re on Remedies (with Emily Sherwin);


Genesis 1–11: A New Old Translation for Readers, Scholars, and Translators(with John F. Hobbins).