As. G. K. Chesterton stated:
“It is obvious that tradition is only democracy extended through time. It is trusting to a consensus of common human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record….Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. (Orthodoxy, ch. 4)
Tradition: the Worldview with the Widest Horizons
Tradition in its widest sense is a way of looking on reality, a style of thinking that has characterized many of history’s greatest minds from Plato, Aristotle and Cicero to Confucius.
Piercing through the fleeting fashions of the centuries the greatest minds of East and West have understood that the Natural Law, authority, freedom and responsibility are inseparably bonded to each other and to the common good of society and thus are vital to mankind’s well-being. These philosophical principles they have applied not only to morality, religion and ethics but to politics, economics, literature, and the fine arts. A modern agnostic convert to Christianity, C. S. Lewis, developed this argument in a short but incisive book, The Abolition of Man.
Tradition: Educator of Sensitivity of Heart and the Power of Gratitude
There is something brutal and barbarian about the man who has no respect for tradition for to respect tradition is to respect our ancestors: their spirit, intelligence, love, achievements ‒ and often heroism. Indeed respect for tradition is implicit to the commandment “Honor thy father and thy mother”.
In respecting tradition we have the decency to recognize that our generation holds no monopoly on the true, the good and the beautiful; that any new discoveries we make are beholden to our ancestors for it is standing on their shoulders that we have been able to see; it is by their experience that we can be realistic about the present and confident towards the future.
To recognize the value of Tradition is to unleash the “power of gratitude” (Gabriel Marcel) in one’s soul towards one’s spiritual forefathers ‒ of incisive importance to a healthy psychology, worldview, and decision-making.
To venerate Tradition is an act of modesty in the presence of history (to paraphrase Chateaubriand). It is the attitude of being willing to learn from one’s spiritual forefathers, from all the truly great men and women of the past. Indeed, not only in Catholicism but in the fields of literature and science it is easy to show that the great creators among mankind have always been people who immersed themselves in the achievements of the past.
Thus to be traditional is to have a certain style of thought, a way of looking on reality in all of its dimensions whether in personal or social life, religion or ethics, economics or politics. It is to imbue one’s existence and action with the principles of the greatest thinkers of Greco-Roman, Chinese and other oriental civilizations, and of the sublime Christian civilization of medieval Christendom.
To love Tradition is therefore neither “conservatism” nor “archeologism” nor interest in museum pieces but to love the truths and customs that are the portal into the deepest dimension of reality. It is to stand respectfully in the presence of all those values, customs, events, and persons that have embodied eternal truths to some degree and thus have helped us to know them more insightfully, to appreciate them more deeply, and to live them more easily.