Ignatians: To the Future through Tradition
“The great originators of Western philosophy, on whose thought it largely lives, Plato and Aristotle, not only found and recognized a ‘traditional’ interpretation of the world alive and vigorous ‒ they accepted it as their starting point when they began to philosophize.” (Josef Pieper, Leisure)
“Tradition is the Youth of God” (Dom Gérard Calvet)
“A counter-revolution must be not a revolution in the contrary direction, but the contrary of a revolution” – Joseph de Maistre
Tradition creates the Future from the Eternally Valid Truths
“Tradition and Innovation are two related terms.
“In its etymology, the term ‘tradition’ derives from the Latin tradere, and therefore means to take charge of the past, to pass down what the past leaves as a legacy; tradition is the narrative that constitutes a subject.
“But tradition also means transmission, and therefore includes an operational force that arises from the subject. For this reason, ‘tradition’ is a term that cannot be easily grasped because it belongs to the past, but at the same time resolves the present and guides the future.
“From here, one begins to notice the connection that tradition has with innovation, which, in fact, affects that which is new and renews the present culture, highlighting tradition.” (Elisa Grimi, Tradition and Innovation, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, p. 1)
The condition for maximum progress is adherence to the truths about the nature of man, his relationship to his ultimate purpose, God, the nature of society, and the Natural Law, all of which are found integrally in Catholic Tradition.
It is from these truths that a sound anthropology and criteria for authentic human progress are derived in which man is called to progress by fully unfolding the powers of his mind, heart, and will. From these principles the body is cared for as integral to the psychosomatic unity of man through esteem for health and medicine but also for asceticism. On these foundations society is built to be the City of God but with the awareness that its role is that of a resting place for pilgrims on the way to their Eternal Homeland.
Lovers of Tradition are the Real Progressives
The man who seeks to decisively influence the future is careful to hold in his hand the lamp of Tradition in order to see not only the present section of his journey but also his past.
He knows that what has contributed to success and wellbeing in the travels of his forefathers can continue to empower him to distinguish what is of ongoing value from what is circumstantial and valueless in the epoch in which he lives.
Although tradition does not play the same role in modern hi-tech science as in philosophy and theology, nevertheless “All reasoning takes place within the context of some traditional mode of thought, transcending through criticism and invention the limitations of what had hitherto been reasoned in that tradition: this is as true of modern physics as of medieval logic” (Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, p. 206, 1981)
Contemporary Catholics with the genuinely Catholic mindset are therefore “ultra” modernity. They are not above and beyond it in the sense of estrangement from the ebb and flow of social life, nor in the sense that they do not care for the future of society, but in the sense that their mental outlook, enriched by a heritage of millennia, is empowered to put it in historical context.
As Pope Pius XII stated:
“Tradition is something very different from a mere attachment to a bygone past; it is the very opposite of a reaction that is distrustful of all healthy progress. Etymologically, the word is synonymous with advancing and marching forward, synonymous but not identical.
“Indeed, while progress indicates only a forward march, step by step, in search of an uncertain future, tradition also signifies a forward march but one that is continuous, a movement both brisk and tranquil, in accordance with the laws of life, avoiding the distressing alternative “Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait!” ‘Oh, if youth only knew… Oh, if old age only were able…’
“By the power of tradition, youth, enlightened and guided by the experience of his elders, moves forward with a surer step, and the elders can confidently pass on the plow to stronger hands, in order to continue the furrow already begun.
“As the word itself indicates, tradition is a gift handed down from one generation to another; it is the torch passed on from one runner to another at each relay, without the race slowing down or coming to a halt.
“Tradition and progress complement each other so harmoniously in such a way that just as tradition without progress would be a contradiction in terms so also progress without tradition would be a reckless enterprise, a leap into the darkness.” (Pius XII, Speech of January 19, 1944, in Discorsi e Radioessaggi, vol. 5, pp. 179-180.
Tradition: Anchored in the True, the Good, The Beautiful – the Eternally Relevant
In conclusion, Tradition is therefore liberating because it is not the prisoner of any century. It is neither “conservative” nor “liberal” nor “modern”. Rather it it is ultra-modern in the etymological sense of “ultra” as “beyond”. It is already in its inner dynamism thrust into the future, open to whatever truth or goodness or beauty may appear through human genius and creativity in future centuries.
Ignatians because they are men of Tradition – which has nothing to do with “conservatism” ‒ are passionately attached neither to a nostalgic past nor to a mythic future golden age. Instead they sail on the ocean of this world, with little luggage, following only the North Star, the Truth of Jesus Christ contained in the Tradition of the Catholic Faith. Thus they can ever act in history – as the records of the first millennium of Christianity testify ‒ as “revolutionaries of the Cross” (Daniel-Rops).
Thus they can be builders of the future because the future always needs foundations – and the Church’s only foundations are Tradition and all those traditions that encase, conserve, protect it. You make progress only if you stay on track. And when climbing steep and rocky mountain trails, it is Tradition that steadies and guides you.
Love for Tradition therefore liberates, ennobles, protects the True, the Good and the Beautiful. It is a a standard that is an incentive for action. As Field Marshal Viscount Slim of Burma remarked:
“Some people scoff at tradition.They are right if tradition is taken to mean that you must never do something for the first time; but how wrong they are if you regard tradition as a standard of conduct, handed down to you, below which you must never fall. Then tradition, instead of being a pair of handcuffs to fetter you, will be a handrail to steady and guide you in steep places.”
A sense of tradition is ever relevant but particularly so at the beginning of the Third Millennium. Our age is one in which the most revolutionary of men feel the need of identity, of a history, of tradition, of walking along a track that others have walked along before. We will be men of identity in the measure in which we are men of memory.
“Tradition”! A shout for men who want to build the future! For the strength of the building will be the Strength of Tradition!