One of the disappointing features of our controversies about biblical translations, the readings in the lectionary, the composition of our hymnals, sacred art in our churches, and gestures and actions in our liturgies, is that people in charge of things seem to be poorly versed in the humanities. They show little expertise in poetry, music, art, anthropology, history, or linguistics. Otherwise, they would not make absurd claims about what is vaguely termed the vernacular, claims that cannot be borne out by a close look at human practice. As they harbor a special animus against old grammatical forms and old poetry, I should like to focus on them, though I bid the reader to consider that the lessons are of broad application, both for my own church (Roman Catholic) and for others.
Early modern English had a convenient second-person-singular pronoun, distinct from the plural: thou for the nominative, thee for dative and accusative, and thy and thine for possessive. These pronouns are not hard to understand. They are analogous to I, me, my, and mine. A Catholic child has to learn them to say the Our Father and the Hail Mary. They endure in the Mass in the Our Father and its additional verse: “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory.” Plenty of folk songs use them: “Drink to me only with thine eyes.” Beloved Christmas carols use them: “O little town of Bethlehem, / How still we see thee lie.” Patriotic anthems use them: “America, America, God shed his grace on thee!” Many a well-known hymn is unimaginable without them: “Nearer, My God, to Thee.”