Monday, 8 July 2013

Tradition and Authority [Revised: 7-17]

As a traditionalist, I maintain that the rule or standard of Catholic orthodoxy is tradition. Thus, if a particular custom or belief in the Church is found to be a part of the great tradition of the Church, I hold that, as a rule, it must be embraced and accepted by the faithful as an essential part of their Catholic identity, and as conducive to their orthodoxy as Catholics. On the other hand, if something in Church is a novelty or an innovation, i.e. a departure from the tradition, then it is rather to be rejected or shunned as something detrimental to Catholic identity and orthodoxy.

Hence, traditionalists tend to avoid the many novelties which have been introduced into the Church since the time of the Second Vatican Council. For example, the Novus Ordo mass is a novelty, a break from the venerable tradition of the mass that had developed over the centuries (this is admitted by Pope Paul VI himself). Traditionalists therefore hold it to be detrimental to Catholic orthodoxy, for the rule of orthodoxy lies in tradition. The same may be said of modern ecumenism, which is the attempt at Christian unity with non-Catholics; or inter-religious dialogue, which is the attempt at religious unity between different religions. Likewise, religious liberty and the separation of Church and state; and so many other novelties which have been introduced into the Church since Vatican II.

But it may be objected: in their attitude towards the New Mass, do not traditionalists place tradition over the authority of the Magisterium, which has given us this New Mass? Ought it not rather to be the case that the authority of the Church is the rule of faith, such that Catholic orthodoxy is determined solely by what the Church has ruled authoritatively? This is a common argument against traditionalists, namely that they rebel against the authority of the Church. 

But this is not true of all traditionalists. Traditionalism does not necessarily reject the authority of the Church; on the contrary, it affirms its true nature and purpose, which cannot in fact be separated from tradition itself. Tradition is made up of authority. The tradition of the Church consists of the great continuity which has existed between the authoritative ecclesiastical sources down through the generations of the Church's history. It is only reasonable to affirm also that the very purpose of the Church's authority is to pass on and guard the tradition, and not to introduce anything new. 

On the other hand, those who try to make authority the sole rule of faith are often the ones who separate tradition from authority. An authority which is independent of or of greater weight than tradition may make void the force of previous authorities. Accordingly, if a Pope introduced a novelty into the Church, a break in tradition, then simply by the fact that he did so with authority, it would follow that the previous practice of the Church would have to be rejected. This means that only the current Magisterium constitutes the rule of faith, regardless of whether it contradicts the tradition. But this makes for an incomplete rule of faith, for it reduces this rule to a single authority alone - namely the current Magisterium - which practically renders null and void the voice of previous authority. 

Thus, it seems to me that tradition is a much more complete and more perfect rule of faith than authority without tradition. For while tradition is by nature inclusive of a multitude of authorities, authority without tradition is by nature exclusive of every other authority.

Furthermore, by holding the current Magisterium to be the rule of faith and orthodoxy, one implicitly submits to the Modernist doctrine of religious evolution (in both matters of doctrine and discipline). If religious evolution is true, it follows that the rule for determining what is "orthodox" is whatever happens to be current, i.e. the latest product of the religious evolution. This kind of a rule necessarily allows for all sorts of novelties, to the delight of the Modernists. Thus, to pinpoint the current Magisterium alone as the standard of orthodoxy is implicitly to subscribe to certain aspects of Modernism.

There are a couple other arguments I can give here, using St. Thomas Aquinas as a guide. The first argument, which I discovered in Fr. Chad Ripperger’s new book, The Binding Force of Tradition, has to do with the relation between God and the Church as the primary and secondary rules of faith, and tradition and the current Magisterium as the remote and proximate rules of faith. Now, ultimately, one can say that it is God who is the primary rule of faith, whereas the tradition as passed on by the Magisterium constitutes the secondary rule of faith. The secondary rule of faith is a means by which we have access to the primary rule of faith, namely God. Christ founded the Church specifically for this purpose, to pass on the religion which he handed to the apostles. But the Church is not always an infallible guide to deciphering the will of God. Hence, this secondary rule is itself divided into the remote and proximate rules of faith. The remote rule of faith consists in the continuity of all the past teachings and pronouncements of the Magisterium (i.e. tradition), whereas the proximate rule of faith consists in the current Magisterium. The remote rule of faith takes precedence over the proximate rule, for God would not allow the Church to err in any of its acts which were stretched out continuously and harmoniously over many centuries; whereas the proximate rule can err, since it is conceptually distinct from tradition itself. The credibility of the proximate rule is determined according to the degree of its conformity to the remote rule; when it is not in conformity, it loses its credibility as a rule of faith; but when it is in conformity, one might say it is incorporated into the remote rule of faith, it becomes a part of the tradition. Now, St. Thomas says, in his commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, that “man ought to conform himself to the secondary rule in those things which are not discordant from the primary rule. That in which it is discordant is no longer a rule and because of this he ought not assent to a prelate preaching contrary to the faith since it is discordant with the primary rule.” In other words, man ought only to conform to the magisterium, the secondary rule of faith, in those things which are in accordance with the mind and will of God, who is the primary rule of faith. But that which is in accordance with the mind and will of God is determined by its being a constant and continuous precept of the remote rule of faith, i.e. tradition. Therefore, Catholics must of necessity adhere to tradition; and thus, when the proximate rule, or the current Magisterium, deviates from tradition, Catholics can be safe by falling back upon the tradition.

Again, this is not at all to discredit the Magisterium. In fact, if one were to adhere only to the novelties of the current Magisterium and to discard the ancient continuity of the past, that would be a denial of the true Magisterium. If we take one look at the Magisterium throughout history, the continuous Magisterium of the past (i.e. tradition) far outweighs the novelties of the present. It is only reasonable to stick to the past. 

A second argument that can be derived from St. Thomas Aquinas has to do with the nature of law. St. Thomas explains (here) that a law which is easily subject to change loses its force, its binding quality. This is because laws which change little have the nature of customs, and thus a changing law caused much disturbance in the breaking of a custom. For a law to retain its binding quality, it is therefore best that it remain consistent, changing but little. When it does change, it must bring with it an evident benefit, and it must compensate for the disturbance brought about in the breaking of custom. The same can be said of Church authority: if it remains consistent throughout the ages, i.e. if it remains within the tradition, it can best retain the quality of its true binding force. If it does change its laws, it must do so only very rarely, and even then in such a way that makes up for the disturbance which might be caused by such a change. Thus, in yet another way, the traditionalist position is shown to affirm, rather than to reject, the authority of the Church; for authority is greater and stronger when it is consistent, when there is a harmony between the past and the present. Tradition is the norm.

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