12 THE AUTHENTIC TRADITION
CATALYST SUGGESTION SHEET #12
THE AUTHENTIC TRADITION
The authentic Tradition is nothing less than the Good News alive in generation after generation. Believers in each generation are captured by the mystery (cf Phil 3:13) and live out that liberating encounter more or less well, more or less badly. Each generation stands on the shoulders of the previous generation. Even as a generation of believers does that, the people of that generation must engage in a conversation with both the Good News and the circumstances of life in which they find themselves.
THE ROOTS OF THE WORD "TRADITION"
The English word tradition comes from the Latin word tradere meaning to hand over or to give up or to surrender. It shares its roots with English words carrying a generally positive connotation (such as trade) and words carrying a generally negative connotation (such as betray). In its most authentic use, our English word tradition has a positive and dynamic sense to it. It suggests a twofold paradox:
Firstly, we keep a spiritual reality alive by passing it on, handing it over in trust;
Secondly, we keep the authentic Tradition alive by adaptation and change.
We must never confuse tradition with repetition. The latter wants to hang on to something (in anxiety & fear generally) rather than hand over something (in trust). Reduced to mere repetition, authentic Tradition will die. Similarly it will surely die if its participants cannot or will not continue the handing over process - for whatever reason.
THE SOURCE OF THE TRADITION
The authentic Christian Tradition, like all the great religious traditions, begins with event. The English word event comes from the Latin words e meaning out and venire meaning to come. In the strict sense of the word event means a coming out or revealing. The Real comes forth, is revealed in some particular way. The Christian Event in which our Tradition is grounded is the Passover of Jesus Christ (the Paschal Mystery), the Great New Exodus Event for the entire cosmos, foreshadowed by the Old Exodus Event in which the liberating Covenant of love was first forged with the people. Jesus Christ passed through death to life. Baptised in Christ, we too pass through death to life. In essence this is the Christian story, the Good News, the source and heart of the Tradition.
THE BEARERS OF THE TRADITION
The Christian Tradition is a living tradition because people live it. In their beings they remember, in their bones they bear the Tradition, they know the Christ of the Passover. This is something quite distinct from knowing theology. It is a lived and living reality for them. They see themselves, other people and the world, through the eyes of Christ. It imbues all that they do, more or less, implicitly or explicitly, unconsciously or consciously. Through custom, symbol, ritual, worship, iconography, pilgrimage, reading, thinking, working, conversing, etc. they both express and foster their appreciation for and involvement in the Tradition, and thus the Paschal Mystery. Where this does not happen - or to the extent that this does not happen - the Tradition quite simply dies.
TWO FACETS OF THE TRADITION
In any tradition we can speak of Faith Tradition and Form Tradition. Each of these facets of a tradition is relative to and servant of the primary event that is the source of that tradition. In the Christian Tradition, for example, the Paschal Mystery is the primary event, the source, and every aspect of both the Faith Tradition and the Form Tradition relate us to that Mystery. Both the Faith Tradition and the Form Tradition facilitate the handing on and the keeping alive of the reality of that source event. The Faith Tradition, for example, will endeavour to do this by trying to articulate an understanding of what happened in the Paschal Mystery, and it will try to explain it in terms of the particular circumstances in which we find ourselves and give us the words by which we can then express our belief. The Form Tradition, for example, will endeavour to do this by developing concrete forms that express, maintain and foster the Faith - rituals, symbols, customs, institutions, lifestyles etc. The forms will be empty if they are not imbued with a genuine faith. The articulation of the faith will tend to die if it cannot find social and cultural forms that embody it, for it is by immersion in that social and cultural reality that the Faith is in fact essentially caught rather than taught. The Tradition is passed on, as it were, by osmosis.
THE NECESSARY SUBTLETIES OF TRADITION
That we express our faith in some way, that we give form to it concretely, is absolutely necessary. Whether it be this or that theological formula or expression or this or that concrete form is generally negotiable. For example, Eucharist is central to the Christian tradition, it is the source and summit of the Christian life (cf Lumen Gentium, n.11). Keeping alive the tradition includes, as an absolute necessity, keeping alive our faith in and celebration of the Eucharist. Just how we do that is subject to negotiation and debate.
Tradition, like culture, runs deep. Communities become disoriented without it and will die or transmute into something else. And you cannot just re-invent a tradition by simply deciding to do that. It takes time, it is subtle and complex and will not submit to any quick fix. Realising this might help us to understand some of the pain and anxiety in our culture today and the essential challenge of renewal.
THE PROPER FOCUS OF TRADITION
The proper focus of the tradition is relationships - God’s relationship with us and in particular God’s infinite desire to love us and draw us into the Eternal Mystery of love through the Paschal Mystery; our individual and communal relationships with God in response to this Self-giving; our relationships with ourselves and other people; our relationships with the environment and this world that is God’s creation. When the primary focus becomes dogmatic formulae, moral rules and organisational structures - essential as these are - then the tradition is moving towards death. The lifegiving response is to re-focus on the relationships.
The Second Vatican Council - and the times in which we find ourselves - demand that we ask some crucial questions of focus, both individually and corporately. Questions like: What matters in the end? What is negotiable and what is not negotiable? Do the forms by which we endeavour to express the faith today do justice to either that faith or our situation as human being living in this culture at this time? The response to questions such as these - a response begun in the Second Vatican Council - must be engaged by us all. Perhaps our contribution to the next generations will be found quite simply in our willingness to ask the questions and, for the time being at least, to live within the tension of those questions.
SUGGESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
What questions would you ask to discern whether a person was a Catholic?
Put in your own words what you understand by the Faith Tradition.
Put in your own words what you understand by the Form Tradition.
Reflect on the relationship between the Faith and Form Traditions and the way they affect each other.
Is it possible that the Form Tradition might become an end in itself?
Name some of the effective and not so effective aspects of the Form Tradition today.
On what basis do you say an aspect of the Form Tradition is or is not effective?
Use your own words to describe the Paschal Mystery as the source of the Christian Tradition.
Can you name any part of the Form Tradition that is absolutely essential to the Tradition as such?
What are you doing in your life to keep the authentic Tradition alive?