Tag Archives: Tradition

A return to our Catholic inheritance through the Liturgy

We can’t escape the fact that the paradigms of modern society are suffocating the intellect, the heart and the souls of  men and women. What has efficacy for salvation? What conveys grace most authentically? It would be, I have come to believe, is the traditional form of the sacred Liturgy, either the older form of the Roman Rite or the Liturgies of the Eastern Churches (that of the liturgical families of Greece, Armenia, Syria and Egypt). There is Someone and Something that is transmitted the traditional forms of the Liturgy absent, minimized and moralized in the reformed rites of the 1960’s. While there are some good things that came about in some of the liturgical reforms, but there is a mystagogical diminishment therein. In fact, you could argue there has been a significant loss of shared transcendence available to the most humble of people. The Christian mystery, therefore, is highly reduced sense of the sign and symbol of Catholic worship of the Triune God.

In a First Things article, German philosopher Martin Mosebach publishes his thinking on this subject in “Return to Form: A Call for the Restoration of the Roman Rite” (April 2017). Pay close attention to Mosebach’s argument; it is a needed call to renew the Covenant and mark a path of redemption.

Holy Tradition

A question on the bible and the nature of Tradition always surfaces. Many of those who follow the Protestant line dismiss the intimate connection Tradition that the Catholics and Orthodox make viz. the bible. The magisterial reformers of the 16th century (Luther, Zwingli) led Christians astray by teaching that sola scriptura was a true doctrine taught by the bible. No such thing. What we now come to understand as sacred Scripture found in the publication called The Bible was developed by the Church… the Church did NOT come out of the Bible. History teaches us this fact. History that Evangelicals refuse to admit. The Church, therefore, predates the New Testament, and the Bible. Tradition trumps Scripture. After all, who decided what the Bible would be? The Church, in Council.

In defense of biblical tradition here is but one support: “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

Holy Tradition assists us in interpreting the words of sacred Scripture. One fact, Divine Revelation, which we accept with that faith which we owe to God alone, was completed with the death of the last Apostle, St. John. At the Council of Trent the Council Fathers taught:  Hence, too, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by Holy mother Church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding. May understanding, knowledge and wisdom increase as ages and centuries roll along, and greatly and vigorously flourish, in each and all, in the individual and the whole Church: but this only in its own proper kind, that is to say, in the same doctrine, the same sense, and the same understanding. AND yet, it is also true to say that Tradition gives us a renewed sense of what we believe and hold to be True about our divinely revealed faith. Doctrine, according to the Magisterium develops but does not reject the Truth nor take up modernist teachings to explain what is revealed by the Lord. Offering an interpretation of John 16:12-13: “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth,” Joseph Ratzinger speaks of  “livingness” of tradition through all the ages, and not merely at the time of the Apostles and that’s it.

In his Commentary on Vatican II’s document Dei Verbum, Joseph Ratzinger wrote:

The dynamic concept of tradition, with which the Council here develops its positive conception of traditio, was strongly attacked from two quite opposite directions. On the one hand, Cardinal Ruffini rejected it from his position of traditionally neoscholastic theology, but on the other, Cardinal Leger attacked it from an ecumenical standpoint. In spite of the sharp division in their general theological orientations, the arguments of these two Council fathers were astonishingly similar Ruffini firmly emphasized the idea of revelation being concluded with the death of the last Apostle, rejected the idea of including disciples of the Apostles among the origins of revelation, and opposed the idea of a living and growing revelation, for, in accordance with the text of Trent and Vatican I, he considered that this should be mentioned only in connection with a strong emphasis on the strict unchangeability of a revelation that had been concluded once and for all, with which he referred to an appropriate text by Vincent de Lerins, quoted at both Councils. In the concept of the schema, and especially in its emphasis on spiritual experience as a principle of the growing knowledge of revelation, he detected theological evolutionism, condemned as modernism by Pius XII. In another tone and with other reasons Cardinal Leger insisted on the same point, He found that the Schema, especially in its idea of progress, which seemed to refer not only to the knowledge of tradition, but tradition itself (Haec … Traditio … proficit), blurred the strict distinction between apostolic and post-apostolic tradition and endangered the strict transcendence of divine revelation when it was confronted with the statements and actions of the teaching office of the Church. The Cardinal was concerned that the Church should bind itself firmly to the final and unchangeable word of God, that does not grow, but can only be constantly assimilated afresh and cannot be manipulated by the Church. The Theological Commission considered the question carefully, but decided not to make any major alterations in the text. It pointed out that the clause ” … Traditio proficit” is explained by a second clause “crescit … tam rerum quam verborum perceptio“, i.e. the growth of tradition is a growth in understanding of the reality that was given at the beginning. (Commentary pp.186-187)

In another place Tradition is expounded upon in this manner by Pope John Paul II, in the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei when he about the error:

The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition, which, as the Second Vatican Council clearly taught, “comes from the apostles and progresses in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts. It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth”.

Let me suggest reading a good and essential book: Joseph Ratzinger, God’s Word: Scripture, Tradition, Office (Ignatius Press).

Orthodox Abbot Tryphon offers this reflection on Holy Tradition which supports the proper interpretation of the Bible:

Many evangelical protestants see Holy Tradition as standing in direct contrast to Scripture, as though Tradition is always relegated to “the traditions of men”. However, there are numerous references in Holy Scripture to Holy Tradition. For example:

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1-4).”

It must be noted that in this instance, the oral word preceded the written word. hence becoming Holy Tradition.

In John 20:30-3, it is revealed, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book”, and in John 21:25, we read, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written”. One of my personal favorite passages regarding Holy Tradition is found in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

Holy Tradition is not apart from the Bible, but supports the proper interpretation of the Bible. Holy Tradition emanates from Christ Himself, and is expressed by the Apostles, the Holy Fathers, and the Church. The Fathers, in fact, are the very guardians of the Apostolic Tradition, for they, like the Apostles before them, are witnesses of a single Truth, which is the Truth of the God-man, Jesus Christ. Since Christ is one, unique, and indivisible, so also is the Church unique and indivisible. The Church is the incarnation of the incarnated God-man, Jesus Christ, and will continue through the ages, and even throughout all eternity.

Traditional Catholicism has virtue

In an April 2012 Wall Street Journal article by Anne Hendershott and Christopher White, “Traditional Catholicism is Winning” the authors calmly present the data of what is happening in the various sectors of the Church that are prospering, that is, thriving, in an authentic way. Clear teaching and beautiful liturgical practice leads to human flourishing. As I am fond of saying, communion with the Divine Majesty leads to one’s greater freedom in Christ Jesus.

Pairing the word “traditional” with Catholicism gives some people the hives. Knee jerk reactions to all sorts of things happen and the reasonable and the holy are marginalized. The trouble is that as Catholics we’ve been sloppy in living the gift of Catholic faith and we’ve been too easy with regard to the manner in which we live it. In short, we’ve experienced  these past years a lack of coherence in the areas of what we believe, how we pray and how we live. It all has to hang together in an authentic way. Otherwise the faith becomes moralism –lifeless.

It is true that we have to be very clear on what we mean, how we live the faith, and why we do what propose to do. Remember that Catholicism bridges the gap between faith and reason; it does not abandon the mind, nor does it rely merely on liturgical practice. Catholic faith is totality of reality, revealed and natural.

The authors of the article say,

They are attracted to the philosophy, the art, the literature and the theology that make Catholicism countercultural. They are drawn to the beauty of the liturgy and the church’s commitment to the dignity of the individual. They want to be contributors to that commitment—alongside faithful and courageous bishops who ask them to make sacrifices.

and 

Cardinal Francis George, the longtime leader of the Chicago archdiocese, once gave a homily that startled the faithful by pronouncing liberal Catholicism “an exhausted project . . . parasitical on a substance that no longer exists.” Declaring that Catholics are at a “turning point” in the life of the church in this country, the cardinal concluded that the bishops must stand as a “reality check for the apostolic faith.”

Read the whole article. You will want to read it, and reflect –and then do your part.

Tradition implies uncompromising and total faithfulness to apostolic preaching

Sometimes others can reflect back to us our own perduring mission and charism given by the Spirit. Here Orthodox theologian Father John Meyendorff gives a trajectory for us to comprehend, and to recover.

“. . . all true civilizations have discovered that the energy of youth should not be immediately directed to action, but should first given the opportunity to learn at the school of experience of others, in order to benefit future responsible service from the wisdom of the past. In the Orthodox Church this rather obvious truth is not simply matter of common sense. It has absolute, theological dimension, because we believe that there is no church without Tradition. The Orthodox faith is not a sect improvised by an enthusiastic preacher in the American Bible-belt; it is the catholic faith of the Apostles, the Fathers, the councils, the saints of all ages, and there is no way in which one can live it, or preach it, before learning first and becoming rooted in Holy Tradition. This requires responsible effort and patience. To bypass this responsible process, by simplified “super-Orthodox” heresy-hunting, by growing of beard and hair, or the formal preservation of the nineteenth-century liturgical minutiae would be caricature of traditionalism. Indeed – as anyone cognizant of the early Church, or of St Basil the Great, or of Photius of Constantinople, or of Orthodox historical and theological literature of the last two centuries knows – one cannot preserve Holy Tradition by freezing it in forms and formulae of one particular historical moment. If one does that, one cuts oneself from the past, as well as from the living responsibility of the present: the Russian Old Believers are a tragic example of this. Holy Tradition implies uncompromising and total faithfulness to the apostolic preaching, unchanging, but also living and saving. It alone teaches how to avoid the pitfalls – so typical of Protestantism – of fundamentalism and liberalism. It alone allows us to separate not only Truth from falsehood, but also the essential from secondary. Maintained by the succession of bishops, it also requires knowledge and discernment by all. In our youthful enthusiasm to build the Church in this country, let us build the Church catholic – which is two thousand years old – and fight the dangers of ignorant amnesia.”

John Meyendorff. Witness to the World (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1987),192-193.

What is a theologian? What purpose does the work of a theologian have? To be “In the Communion of the Church”

The public has been bombarded with the media’s assessment of nuns, church, the sexual abuse crisis, fidelity to the Lord, and the like. In some ways the media looks at the life of the Church and picks out the obvious problems of coherence. No doubt we have matters of concern that we have to work to correct; the adage: “the Church always needs renewal” is very true today. We rely on the Holy Spirit and the good work of Pope Benedict. The other day I found this review of a document written by members of the International Theological Commission (ITC), a group of theologians organized by the Pope to advise him on certain questions of theological questions of importance. Even the Pope needs advice! The ITC group is made up of a diversity of peoples from around the world. The ones I know personally are fine men and women, credible witnesses of the Lord. The review of Theology Today that follows is written by Father Paul McPartlan in which he synthesizes the document giving us the broad view of the work of Catholic theologian. What he highlights sits in contradistinction to what we’ve heard about the recent work of Sr Margaret Farley and other theologians who see themselves in a different light. I prefer to put my money the ITC and not on “envelop pushing, agenda driven” theologians. You?


Following its examination, in Chapter One, of the fundamental nature of theology, as the rational exploration of that faith which is a response to the proclamation of the Word of God, and prior to its extended reflection, in Chapter Three, on significant aspects of the rationality of theology, the new International Theological Commission (ITC) text, Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria, carefully considers the ecclesial context of theology in Chapter Two. “The ecclesiality of theology is a constitutive aspect of the theological task, because theology is based on faith, and faith itself is both personal and ecclesial”, it says, emphasising that “it is through the Church that theologians receive the object of their enquiry” (n.20). Theological enquiry is therefore properly conducted within the living and life-giving milieu of the leiturgia, martyria and diakonia of the Church (cf. n.7). In short, as the chapter’s title indicates, it is necessary for theologians to abide in the communion of the Church.

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About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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