God -- Ты or Вы?
I believe I have seen this in two Russian translations of the Bible so far. I always expect to see the more formal Вы when the speaker is addressing God, but I always see the informal, though often capitalized, Ты. Does anyone know why this is?
Surprisingly, in English one also often addresses God informally. Or at least used to:
O Lord, thou art our God: we will exalt thee; we will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things: thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth.
(Pulled from a random book found on Google.)
Indeed; in Middle English, one would have addressed one's social superiors as ye, yet one's close friends and inferiors (and God) as thou. I think the rationale is that the Christian conception of a personal God must surely make Him closer to one than even one's closest friends, whereas using the formal 'ye' would only put distance between the speaker and God.
Thank you both very much for your answers. I had forgotten that English used to make this distinction. Knowing that helped me to research the question further. On the note of вы keeping distance between people--I had not thought of it that way. As an English speaker, I thought it was always a safe bet to refer to practically anyone in the formal. So thank you also for helping me come to a better understanding of the вы form. Please, take some Lingots for your trouble!
"Вы" is plural, "ты" is singular. Until the 18th century, any single person in Russia was addressed as "ты". Wikipedia says that under the French language and culture influence "вы" gradually become used to address a respected person. The translations of Bible are old or based on the old tradition. Moreover, God is a very personal thing to call Him "вы".
"Вы" is used to keep distance between people. Usually, you call your friend or your close relative "ты". Even children call their parents or grandparents "ты", even while they are obliged to say "вы" to any other adults.
I was thinking about this the other day. Not just for Russian, but for any language that has formal and informal forms.
On one hand, God should be respected...
On the other hand, God loves us and doesn't want to keep His distance. He wants to be like our dad. Which would merit an informal form.
I guess maybe it depends on what aspect you wanted to emphasize about him at the time.
God is addressed as "ты" because that is the way he is addressed in the Bible. He is addressed that way in the Bible because back then absolutely everyone was "ты". To start calling him "вы" now would sound weird just as it would sound weird to begin a prayer "Dear Sir" and conclude it "Sincerely Yours".
God was addressed as "thou" (ты) in English well into the 20th century. Once God was the only person addressed in this way people came to see "thou" as an especially respectful form of address. This is a modern misconception.
If you are interested in the use of ты and вы, here is an article which I wrote on the subject: