Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tradition vs Traditionalism

The WhiteHorse Inn last week discussed the above topic and a commentary is found here.

The broadcast is found here.

Here is an excerpt...
The larger point that this episode raises in my mind is the relationship between
tradition and traditionalism. Jaroslav Pelikan once said that there is a big
difference between the living tradition of the dead and the dead tradition of
the living. You see, in the living tradition of the dead, "the faith once and
for all delivered to the saints" gets passed down from generation to generation.
We are enriched and our faith is deepened by our brothers and sisters who lived
long before we arrived on the scene. We sing their songs, pray their prayers,
join our hearts and minds in the same confession, and read their works. If we
cut ourselves off from tradition, we are consigning ourselves to a life of
narrow-mindedness, imprisoned within the narrow confines of our own experience
and our own time and place. At the same time, traditionalism-the dead tradition
of the living-is a different kind of narrowness, but narrowness just the same.
"That's the way we've always done it" is a cop-out. It means that we don't
actually have to know why we believe what we believe or do what we do; we don't
have to reflect, we don't have to think. Don't ask questions that folks might
not know the answers to around here. Both the rejection of tradition and the
passive acceptance of traditionalism reflect a certain kind of laziness.
Tradition itself is neither a blessing nor a curse. Like all interpretations of
Scripture, there are good traditions and bad traditions. We have to exercise
discernment-and not just by ourselves, but with the cloud of witnesses, both
dead and alive.

I once asked my daughter who used to attend a Pentecostal church if she thought her contemporaries knew or have heard the Apostles Creed. She said "I don't think they know about that Dad, I know it, because we discussed it at home but I doubt if they even heard of it".

At the same time I have noticed folk who can recite the Small Catechism but when asked how people go to heaven, they still replied ... "you have to be a good person".

Good night!


Doorman-Priest said...

"That's the way we've always done it" is a particular favourite on mine. It's been thrown at me so often.

"Well, time for a well earned change then!"

Carrie said...

I have been thinking alot lately about balance. Finding the proper balance in Christianity (incorporating tradition, theology, our living witness, etc.) is the toughest part b/c people seem to drift towards the extremes. Then the extremes critique each other.

This post reminded me of that. :)

L P Cruz said...


When people do things because that has always been the way their ancestors have done it and they do not know even why nor know if they have some precedence from Scripture, this is traditionalism. We should excise these because Jesus spoke of traditions of men.

I see it like when I was working for computer companies. "It is not invented" here mentality. Have you heard of that?

What is more dangerous is when one idolizes tradition. It becomes another god and then also becomes another Law.


L P Cruz said...


You and I were RCs so we know we got tradition.

Tradition that enhances the proclamation of the Gospel should not be idolized but neither should it be chucked away as they may be good teaching tools.

I am afraid the young people are getting today a version of Christianity that has no connection with the Christians that went before them.

The main thing is we should know why we are doing what we are doing in church and in worship services.

It is more the 'why'. If young people are told to shut up or put up or get out. this is horrible. These are the Pharisees that Jesus rightly did not like.

God said - he desires mercy than sacrifice. No?


Augustinian Successor said...

"Tradition that enhances the proclamation of the Gospel should not be idolized but neither should it be chucked away as they may be good teaching tools".

Yes, Tradition is the Church forging, fostering and harnessing its liturgical life and witness towards the proclamation of the Gospel in its oral and sacramental forms, as guided by the Spirit of the risen and crucified Christ.

In the Roman scheme, Tradition has been used to add to the Gospel. Hence, Tradition becomes Law. This is contrary to the apostolic and catholic Faith.

Tradition as Gospel is not so much substantive as it is formative. Tradition is the concrete embodiment of the Gospel in the life and witness of the Church throughout the ages. Hence, Tradition rightly and properly belongs to the public cult or ministry of the Church. Tradition therefore is the Catholic Church - universal or local expression - bearing witness to the Gospel in their liturgical acts.

Hence, since Tradition belongs to the public ministry of the Church, and the public ministry of the Church is entrusted to ordained ministers chosen from amongst the priesthood of the baptised, Tradition and the ministerial priesthood stands or falls together. That is when the ministerial priesthood arrogates to itself an ontological status which breaches the eschatological limits, Tradition by default goes the same way.

Thus, we can see this is what exactly happened to the Roman Church when papal infallibility for example is used to *bolster* dogmatic claims in the realm of mariology.

As in the case of Fundamentalism in relation to Inerrancy, when Tradition is "isolated" from the Gospel, it loses its balance and becomes Law - in the case of the Roman Church, the New Law.

The only way to shatter such distortions and pretensions is to proclaim the Gospel. For the Christ of the Gospel establishes the end of the Law.

Augustinian Successor said...

I'm afraid that modern Reformed churches would be hard-pressed to demonstrate a credible claim to *catholicity* (not in the *abstract* Platonic sense, but in the *concrete* sense or organic continuity along the lines of succession and inheritance).

This notwithstanding or despite the restorationist tendences of some within. Ironic that the most Reformed are clinging to a tradition which is perhaps an outgrowth of Protestant Scholasticism and therefore barely goes back beyond the Reformation.

The danger in this is the dead tradition of the living which loses its vital nexus with the guidance and work of the Spirit before the Reformation. This is not catholicity but sectarianism.

Why dead tradition of the living? Because it is a tradition which consciously rejects continuity and yet *by necessity* retains certain semblances in a different guise. It is a mindset which seeks to by-pass or short-circuit the EXTRA-biblical history of the Church by returning to the "pristine purity"(?) of the NT Church, or at least the NT model(?), and transpose that onto the 21st century.

But the question of MEDIATION never occurs or never emerges ... how is the time gap between the third century church and third millennium church bridged? Different conception of sola Scriptura emerges at this point. Is the time gap bridged by an appeal to the text of Scripture as *regulative*? Or is it bridged by an appeal to the text of Scripture as *constitutive*?

If it is the former (i.e. regulative), then continuity would be difficult to maintain since different churches in different locations at different times have different practices and expressions.

But if it is constitutive, then the church in the living present inherits substantially intact the doctrinal confession and liturgical life of the church in previous time despite corruption and accretion. This is so since the Scripture contains the Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation shich is proclaimed at every generation orally and sacramentally.

Hence, this means that it is not enough to be in doctrinal continuity as the Reformed claim to be, but liturgical continuity is also important since continuity with the past is maintained not by ABSTRACT theological contemplation but CONCRETE liturgical action. The recitation of the Apostles' Creed is a case in point. That is to say, continuity is not maintained by

Theological abstraction - individual interpreter standing as subject over Scripture as an object


Liturgical expression - the Word of God proclaimed to the people of God in its oral and sacramental form

Hence, catholicity is not maintained by a section of the priesthood of all believers, i.e. the theologians and churchmen but by the entire Church!

The problem with the Reformed is that like Rome whilst the Reformed churches could appeal to catholicity, they could never break free of its theological abstraction precisely because THAT alone is used to guarantee Apostolic Succession! Likewise for Rome, papal infallibility is used to guarantee that the continuity if the deposit of faith.

But catholicity is precisely the Church at confession. Orally confessing the faith through the creeds, and sacramentally confessing that Baptism regenerates, there is a Communion of the Body and Blood of Jesus, etc.

So, whilst doctrine as substance guarantee biblical *fidelity*, only the liturgical life and witness of the Church guarantees catholic *continuity*, i.e. BRIDGE THE TIME GAP between the Church in the ancient past and the Church in the living present.

But no we do not pit biblical fidelity with catholic continuity. We avoid that dichotomy when we posit the Bible as constitutive and not regulative and hence biblical fidelity as the substance and catholic continuity as the form.

The thing is this: If it is not catholic continuity, then it is continuity which stops at the Reformation or some local Protestant tradition like Methodism or worst, no continuity at all! If no, continuity, then it becomes the dead tradition of the living as it is a tradition which de-sacralise and de-sacramentalise the sacred space and time of the Church, blurring the distinction between the public cult of the Church with the public culture of the world!

If it's continuity only until the Reformation, then either it is an unreformed practice derived from MEDIEVAL practices such as irregular practice of the Lord's Supper or it is a complete cutting off of the pre-Reformation Church!

I believe some of the best balance between biblical fidelity and catholic continuity is found in the Lutheran tradition, where theological abstraction comes to life in the proclamation of the Gospel in its oral and sacramental forms.

Augustinian Successor said...

"If it is the former (i.e. regulative), then continuity would be difficult to maintain since different churches in different locations at different times have different practices and expressions."

And this EQUALLY applies to the NT churches too!

L P Cruz said...


I must say that I grant that liturgy is the Word of God proclaimed to the people of God in its oral and sacramental form

In that case it helps us and guides us towards understanding the Gospel. In fact I have used the aspect of it such as confession and absolution practice to keep me anchored in my understanding on the nature of the forgiveness of sins.

When I am confused as to how the forgiveness of sins is provided to us, I do go that aspect of the liturgy that speaks to me about it... confession/absolution and the Supper - broken/poured out FOR YOUR sins.

What is given to me each Sunday if there is no forgiveness of sins, literally? We are not doing it for the sake of doing it right? Because if we are then that is dead traditionalism.

So in that respect it is helpful that the tradition anchors us to the Gospel, but the other aspects of liturgy if no longer oral and sacramental proclamation of the Gospel becomes something else of course.