TRADITION AND TRADITIONS (III)

 

-Marin Mihalache-

 

In the Church’s own discernment on oral traditions claiming apostolic authority what can be taken into the consideration is not only the universality of their usage but also their meaning and in which measure those customs and institutions fit in the concept of Tradition. Many times even those who are in charge to judge within Tradition can be themselves seduced by some habitual forms which often are masked under the cover of devotion of piety.

 

But the Light of the Living Truth by the power of the Holy Spirit is the guide and the heart of the Holy Tradition. Any “foreign blood” sooner or later is going to die inside the pure Body of Christ under the pressure of Eternal Reality. At the same time, however, there is not such a thing as a dogmatic progress or an evolutionary conception of the history of Christian dogma. The Revelation in the Holy Spirit does not imply a theological development. The Church has given to us from the beginning the fullness of Truth but “to have the fullness of knowledge” this belong to the world to come. We can know “in part” (I Cor. 13:12) but also in the Light of fullness. It is in this fullness in which the Church judges if a partial knowledge belongs to Tradition or to the traditions.

 

Even a revealed doctrine (like Gnostics) of static fullness cannot substitute the dynamic fullness of Tradition. But it is not the same case with the dogma of faith which belongs to Tradition which is precisely a witness of it. For this reason the dogmas become indeed “rules of faith”, proclaiming the knowledge within the Tradition and protecting the Church against the knowledge determined by natural or historical factors. Thus it is easily to understand why in the second century the Christians were looking to find a criterion of true doctrine in order to oppose to the gnostic traditions. Even by this period it was proved the necessity of Tradition and its effective reality in Christian Church.

 

At the same time the Church must defend her dogmas in order to overcome and confront the new difficulties until all will arrive at the “unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God”. (Eph. 4:13) However, “the rule of faith” is not a process or a development of enriching the Tradition. For this reason the Seventh Ecumenical Council made a clear distinction between “Tradition of the Holy Spirit” and the divinely inspired teaching of the Holy Fathers. For there is an interdependence between the faculty of knowing the Truth in the Holy Spirit (Tradition of the Church) and “the rule of faith kept by the Church (the teaching of the Fathers), although they do not contradict one another.

 

The Church does not add something apart to the Truth but confirms the Truth under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus Christ Himself. The Church and Tradition are the same expression and continuity of the permanent presence of God in the Church. “All who wish to see the truth” – wrote Irenaeus – “can contemplate the Tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the world in every Church.” (Adversus haereses III, 31). Thus, it is well understood why the Holy Tradition which forms the identity of the Church and is the most visible presence of the Spirit there is not to be confused in any case with the variety of relative accumulation during history of the so called human traditions. This distinction must be made with responsibility for the sake of the integrity of the Church faith. For integrity does not mean here “everything” but rather a judicious delimitation between what is essential and what is formal and ritualistic.

 

Thus there are to be found as outside of the Church both these “revolutionary innovations” and false prophets who sin against the expressed truth and the “conservative formalists” or Pharisees who exaggerating “the habitual expression of Truth” sin against the Spirit of Truth. The idea that “it has always been done” might be opposed sometimes in the name of Tradition to any attempt of innovation. Thus, it is something deeper involved here and not a merely conservatism. It may be a presence of the spirit or a moral attitude towards ethos. No doubt that the traditions are external forms or customs. But watching over and inside all this process we may realize that in a certain measure, sometimes, they imply in the very deep level an amount of spontaneous assimilation of the past, a presence of historical road of human identity. Therefore dealing with those traditions in the Church from the practical point of view it is not a simple task but rather a very delicate operation. The man in general is susceptible to changes and his liberation from what is old and many times false in his faith involves an adequate strategy and takes time.

 

Paul Claudel, a French Catholic poet dealing with the same problem compared tradition in genre with a man walking. So, in order to move that man must always have a foot on the ground and another in the air. Otherwise the progress and advancing would not be possible. The theological distance which separate Tradition from traditions might be that between unchangeable and changeable, between that which is the expectation of the world to come and what it belongs to this world. Up to the time when it will be “all in all” the Tradition is the presence of that reality which is here, but not fully yet. The traditions are those things which eschatologically may pass away.

 

This process of continual delineation between Tradition and traditions is to be seen throughout all history of Orthodox Church and does not stop in our days impinged upon among other things by the general stage of contemporary theology facing the new ecumenical movement. But there is another category of people (see O. Cullmann) who having recognized the value of Tradition with the distinction of traditions considers both of them a matter too exclusively intellectual and not at all a reality in the church as such.

 

Today’s pluralistic and secular societies in crisis of roots bring to us the necessity of a new evaluation of this subject inasmuch as the challenge between the unification, unity, and a certain need for identity seems to be without issue. Now, nevertheless, this struggle is aggravated by a mist of confusions in the Christian identity itself. Therefore, in the absence of a right understanding of Tradition it is hard to expect any evolution in the understanding of such matters. In fact the debate between Occidental and Oriental religions, cultures and societies has been centered on “criteriology” rather than on Christology. The Occidental has always sought criteria, however, the Orientals have not necessary sought the criteria most of the time. Concerning this matter also one side of the Orthodox Church rejects the Roman Catholic Church distinction of Tradition as “autonomous” value apart from the Scripture, as another gift of God to unite man in the holy fellowship. Vatican II rejected itself the expression that the Bible and Tradition are “two sources of Revelation” apart, in separation. At the same time the total equality of Tradition with traditions concerning their role as educative and conservative with regard to the “catholic” spirit is not acceptable also to the Orthodox Church.

 

It is also true that since the time when the Roman states accepted Christianity the Christian tradition and culture has become inseparable. Many elements constituting Tradition and traditions went together and thereby the confusion of values seems to be immanent to a certain point. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the present must not act critically in order to prepare a right path for the future. To act critically means also to be prudent by selecting under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the only way and guarantee of the way towards the Truth. Rejecting the Roman Catholic points of view concerning the issues of Tradition as shown before, the Orthodox Church sustains also that the Christian Tradition is incompatible also with the rational theory of progress according to which the man is in charge of the historical progress. Facing the future and looking for an answer in the matter of Tradition and man’s hope we must take in consideration among other things the so called eschatology according to which the man having the fundamental data he can freely choose but together with his choice he must be informed on the consequences also. Thus, in this case “the holy tradition is the history of the right choices made by human beings confronted by the prophetic word of God, responding correctly in the concrete historical circumstances of their time.” (Fr. John Meyendorff, SVQ page 143, Summer 1982).

 

According to this free choice towards Christian doctrine and life it is to be realized the communion of saints or catholicity in time and thus the catholicity in space becoming only an exterior element. Confessionals and denominations are in fact Protestant traditions and traditions are those which divide Protestantism today, although the Protestants identify traditions as a relative human element in Christianity. Sometimes in this kind of traditions the pluralism finds a good ground of expression. If there are any certain legitimate distinction between a Pauline and Johannine or Lukan Christianity than it is accepted the idea of Christian traditions as well as coming from separate groups of Churches. But when the Tradition was identified only with authority, Traditions had not a place because they are considered as things imposed from outside. Nevertheless, in the today’s world the traditions and cultures cannot live anymore in separation and therefore it is very important for the Christian tradition to be presented as such. It cannot be reduced to external juridical structures or concepts which have only a relative role in history.

 

The eminent professor Jaroslav Pelikan who at the end of his life converted to Orthodoxy as "returned to it, peeling back the layers of my own belief to reveal the Orthodoxy that was always there" said that  Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.” Pelikan, Jaroslav (1984), “The Vindication of Tradition”: 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 65. His 1983 Jefferson Lecture, “The Vindication of Tradition”. Later on in an interview in U.S. News & World Report he elaborated on the subject matter: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide. Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition.” Carey, Joseph (June 26, 1989), "Christianity as an enfolding circle [conversation with Jaroslav Pelikan", U.S. News & World Report, 106 (25), p. 57.

 

Grounded in the Tradition, a nation, a people, a culture, a civilization can stand in spite of all historical and political vicissitudes. A people without Tradition, without "axis mundi" is easily scattered like a flock of sheep without a shepherd, loses its identity, disappears without traces from the ancestral spectrum, from the Book of Life. The geo-political space that it may occupy for a while until the ash on the hearth is cooling down is spiritually and culturally dwellers dying, becomes the land of the living dead. Tradition is the salt of the earth. “De-Traditionalization” leaves empty the clean house for a host of other traditions, ideologies, new age and religious fundamentalisms which will come and occupy the place.

The identity enters the fog and the cloud and becomes blurred, disintegrates, becomes fluid and thus easier to be channeled into the ocean of anonymity and de-personalization. The freedom of a drop of water into the immensity of the ocean is an oceanic illusion.

 

 

 

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