“Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of change” (James 1: 17)
Tradition: Empowering men to find solutions to the problems of the present
“Now let us take into consideration Church history from the theological viewpoint, highlighting another important aspect. Its essential duty, in fact, turns out to be the complex mission to investigate and clarify that process of reception and transmission, of paralépsis and of paràdosis, through which was substantiated, in the course of the ages, the Church’s raison d’être. Indeed, it is beyond a doubt that the Church can draw inspiration for her choices by drawing on her centuries-old treasury of experience and memory”. (Benedict XVI)
By a study of Tradition through theology and history one can see clearly the architecture of Catholicism. The study is not an exercise in nostalgia for people yearning to live in some mythical “good old days” but rather a ladder for climbing onto the walls of our present age in order to see what exists outside it.
The ruling intellectuals of the “Dictatorship of Relativism” would have us forget about “Old Narnia” (C. S. Lewis); they would have us believe that the Church and the Christian civilization it gave birth to in Christendom is something to be largely despised; that the Church’s helmsmanship brought us shipwreck on the reefs of religion. But a dispassionate analysis by Jewish and other historians of the sources of present-day Western achievements points resolutely towards the Catholic Church and asserts: “Voilà! The source of your greatness!”
And, of course, with knowledge of the architecture, you discover the types of bricks, building stones, and other materials used to build up the Church in the past – and you also identify where the weaknesses lay.
For instance, through knowledge of the traditional liturgy and the traditional manuals of mystical-ascetical, moral, and dogmatic theology you will come to better understand the saints who are the glory of the Church.
Through the traditional liturgy and through so many traditional doctrines that you will find in these old books the saints come alive for you! Now you understand why they spoke the way they spoke, why they acted the way they acted!
Suddenly, you see the liturgy and these books illustrated in the lives of men of flesh and blood who became Athanasius, Peter Damian, Bruno, Anskar, Alexis, and Stanislaus. With history as guide one knows one can model himself on the priest-saints by applying their eternally-valid qualities leaving to one side any mere psychological quirks or limitations of epoch.
The man who has discovered the role of Tradition will handle dusty old manuals of dogma and asceticism with respect because in them he is touching the flesh of dedicated men and women who wrote with the ink of their own blood. The study of dogma and the principles of ascetic and mystical theology based on dogma in a book like Tanquerey’s The Spiritual Life is recognized as a great tool to incorporate wisely the lessons of the saints because it offers a synthesis of doctrine and method that is clear on principles and rich in knowledge of practical applications.
Tradition: the Great Source of Hope from the Secrets of Yesteryear
Knowledge of Tradition as lived out by generations of Catholics prevents us from being naïve when the road is wide and smooth yet it also lifts us from the troughs of despair when depressed by the evils of the day for it consoles us with the bitter-sweet awareness that although history often witnesses victories by the “Axis of Evil” yet it is also true that goodness has had her share of triumphs over her nemesis.
Yes, the history of the Church will help the priest to see “proofs” that -paraphrasing Romans 8:28 – “all things conspire for the good of those who love God”; that over time the blood, sweat and tears of so many ardent priests has not been shed in vain: their sacrifices have brought about changes that have endured for generations. Thus we acquire spiritual antennae for the conspiracy of divine providence!
Knowledge of the Tradition through the study of history will also throw floodlights on the causes of past decadence in the Church and how renewals have occurred thus giving us the “historical imagination” so valuable for rebuilding and renewing the Church of the present, flinging far from us cynical criticisms and sterile pseudo-reforms not based on personal holiness.
We come to have a greater appreciation for the saints: for so many heroes among our Jewish forefathers – the prophets, the Machabees and others – and for the Christian saints who show that grace is real and can bring forth radiant “new men” in the midst of the senile world of sin; that it can radically transform our fallen nature and be the cause of true progress in society.
From history will come intensified awareness of the grandeur and beauty of the priesthood as the institution of those called to guard the channels of holiness and the waters that irrigate the soils of civilization.
Tradition especially shows the perennial relevance of the ancient liturgy of the Roman Rite. It can act as the lantern to take in hand and guide you as you descend ancient stairways, opening antique doors that creak and squeak as he enters the vast vaults of Catholicism with its treasures of heroic lives, traditions, theology, liturgy, literature and sacramentals. These treasures were once the treasures of saints and great minds; they built up the Church on all continents – they are ours and if we use them, they can do the same all over again! Then we will have the power to save a decaying world as we did over a thousand years ago when the barbarians invading Europe threatened the utter destruction of Roman civilization. As the historian, Christopher Dawson, remarked about the barbarian destruction of monasteries in the Dark Ages:
“Ninety-nine out of a hundred monasteries could be burnt and the monks killed or driven out, and yet the whole tradition could be reconstituted from the one survivor, and the desolate sites could be repeopled by fresh supplies of monks who would take up again the broken tradition […] after more than a century of utter destruction.” (C. Dawson, Religion and the Rise of Western Culture)
Tradition Invigorates and Dynamizes unto Progress
As a builder of the Catholic Church’s future priests and laymen who aspire to be creative minorities must know Tradition because in Tradition lie the construction materials for our future.
If they want to fix their line of action they must be four thousand years old in memory for theirvery identity – if it is to mean anything at all – is bound up with the conservation of the two-millennia old apostolic tradition and countless traditions which in turn are inseverably joined to the history of the Jewish people.
This knowledge is something we priests are called to restore to our Catholic people: too often they resemble people unaware that they are heirs to a large fortune. For there has been in the past few decades – just as in the age of the barbarian invasions – a rupture in the handing on to the new generations of the treasure chest of Catholicism containing all the family heirlooms from our 2,000 year old history.
This must change for we are heirs to the Ancient Faith; it is ancient memories we must have in order to live in the truth of our Catholic identity now; it is with the ancient stones we will be able to build the future of the Church and the new civilization based on the truth and love of Jesus Christ.
For such knowledge of the ancient and ever vital heritage of the Church will inflame youth to want to follow in the footsteps of their spiritual ancestors, the great priests, thinkers, statesmen, artists, philosophers, and other professionals ‒ and when this happens, then there will be the hue and cry of a vigorous building site