Pelikan on Tradition

Ordinary Time 24 – Sunday
Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

“Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide. Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition.”  – Jaroslav Pelikan in an interview with U.S. News & World Report (July 26, 1989)

Been thumbing through the first couple of volumes that I actually have in my possession of Jaroslav Pelikan’s magnus opus, “The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine” today. And I stumbled across these words of his from an interview he gave back in 1989 courtesy of my favorite website of all, Wikipedia.

I have to really dig into the first two volumes of Pelikan’s 5 vol. magisterial work on Christian tradition and its role in the development of Christian doctrine and dogma. That is, the volumes which I have already which comprise volume 1 ‘The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600)‘ and volume 2 ‘The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700)‘. Trying to find the other three volumes locally here is a nightmare (the same goes for Paul Tillich’s magnum opus, ‘Systematic Theology’).

The entire statement that Pelikan (may his soul rest in peace) makes there is entirely consistent with what Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Anglo-Catholicism essentially have in common from my point of view. That is that Tradition is not in any circumstance to be discarded because it is ‘dead’ (that’s traditionalism), but it is in actual fact ‘living’ (that is the passing down of the Apostolic Tradition [which includes Holy Scripture]). Implicit in this to me is a definition of what the depositum fidei (the deposit of faith) actually is. And that deposit of faith is the Apostolic Tradition. Which encompasses some things that have not been written down in Scripture (Sacred Tradition – such as the veneration of the saints and of Our Lady). As well as those that have been written down – of which Holy Scripture is both the foundation and the highest point with the works of the Church Fathers and other eminent minds of the Church throughout the past 2000 or so years being all a building on that very foundation of Scripture.

We are being handed down the Tradition of the Church to appropriate and pass on to those in our generation but also to those in the generations to come. How we do so in the here and now means that we may have to use different means to “tell the old, old story” (i.e. we have to decide how we pass on the Apostolic Tradition faithfully but also while using the most appropriate means we have at our disposal today).

Good gosh, I’m sounding more Catholic and Eastern Orthodox by the minute… someone get me an Evangelical defib… STAT!


+ Pax Christi,
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