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This article is taken from PN Review 13, Volume 6 Number 5, May - June 1980.

Iris Murdoch
We live continually in and through words. Memories of words, poetic and sacred, travel with us through life. The loss of lively and natural access to the Authorised Version of the Bible and Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer is a literary loss comparable to losing touch with Shakespeare. It is also, whether or not one believes in God, a spiritual loss. Good works of art convey wisdom and understanding, and make places and spaces for pure unselfish contemplation and recollection. The great traditional words of the Bible and the Prayer Book are high instances of sacred art, of beauty as sacrament. These words have been treasured and understood for centuries by people whose use made of them timeless language, perfectly comprehensible and illuminating, a part of ordinary life for educated and uneducated alike. Now an ephemeral parochial 'modernism' threatens to cut us off from these sources of spiritual and literary nourishment. Such a loss could be irrevocable. I cannot imagine that believers and unbelievers will be able to 'live by' the new texts as they did by the old. The Bible and the Prayer Book were great pieces of literary good fortune, when language and spirit conjoined to produce a high unique religious eloquence. These books have been loved because of their inspired linguistic perfection. Treasured words encourage, console and save.

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