web analytics

Addressing God “thee” out of respect?

The New Zealand church was the first part of Anglicanism to officially address God as “you” in the Eucharistic liturgy (1966). Some see the move from “thee” (thou, thine) to “you” (yours) as a loss of respect. That is actually not the case – It is more complex than that.

Indo-European languages regularly use the plural as a polite form. French vous, Spanish Usted, Portuguese você, Italian Lei, German Sie. In the same way English in the past used “you”, the plural, to express politeness.

Thee, thou, thy, thine were used for friends, equals, those we were intimate with. “… hallowed be thy name…” was not an expression of distance or of God’s superiority. “Thee”, like Jesus’ use of “Abba”, in fact expressed a sense of intimacy.

“Thou” used to address a superior would have been regarded as an insulkt. In the mid seventeenth century everyone began using “you” for all. Quakers continued to use “thee” as a sign of egalitarianism. The German missal of 1863 “Meßbuch für das katholische Pfarrkind” uses the familiar (singular) “du” throughout for God and the saints.

New Zealand was correct in leading the world in this shift. Many bemoaned the shift from thee/thou/thine to “you” as a loss of respect and reverence for God. Respect and reverence for God is right. But “you” correctly translates the intimacy God invites us into – just as “thee” did in centuries when that was the way people addressed their closest friends.

Similar Posts: