Friday, July 17, 2015

What is Tradition?


Tradition!

....OK, I'm done. Really.

Tradition is a very loaded word in the Christian world. The Protestants hate it because they think it was the garbage that magically showed up after Constantine legalized Christianity, the Catholics mention it but think they seem to think the Pope has authority over it somehow, and the Orthodox think they follow it but pick and choose what they like and don't really enforce it. There's nothing more important to Christianity and nothing more misunderstood (which is sad, cause there's a lot of things on the top of the list).

Protestants have always had this idea that the Bible is the only legitimate authority and that there's no need of tradition, which I've always wondered at, because no where in the Bible does it say that scripture's the ultimate authority. Oh sure, the scriptures are edifying and good for salvation, but what constitutes scripture? It's no wonder there's 8,000+ Protestant traditions running around: it's unavoidable. You can't not have tradition, a fact that most Protestants are in deep denial about. 8,000+ times.  And furthermore, the idea that Constantine somehow wrecked the Church makes a liar of Christ, who promised that Hell would not win against the Church. The idea that somehow the Protestants revived the Church after a 1200 year stint in error is nothing short of madness. Besides, name one culture that has survived exclusively off one book (or a singular collection of 72 books). Can't? There's a reason why.

Catholics know that Tradition exists, that it's necessary for salvation, and that a Church is necessary for it, but most Catholics I've talked to seem to have a hard time figuring out what Tradition is or why they should or shouldn't listen to the Pope. Most of them would say that Tradition is the collection of doctrine that Jesus and the Apostles passed down through the bishops, which seems to insinuate that bishops somehow have the ability to teach it. Given how categorically untrue that last part of the statement is I'm inclined to disagree. Tradition is not doctrine, although it encompasses doctrine. And yes, bishops have something to do with it but, for everyone's (especially the bishop's) sake I hope they try and mess with it as little as possible.

OK, that last paragraph was a bit unfair, it makes me sound like I don't like my Roman Catholic brethren. Nothing could be further from the truth! But sometimes I get really frustrated as I watch them pronounce how important Tradition is to a Protestant and then do... nothing... for feast days. Tradition is a lot more than doctrine, I've always felt that. If doctrine doesn't make it's way into the practical aspects of your life then what's the point? I mean, it used to be there. One good visit to the Fish Eaters website and it's obvious that Roman Catholicism used to have a very beautiful Tradition, one that's been forgotten about in the wake of Vatican II.

And then there's the Orthodox. To them the Tradition is the lived experience of God in the lives of Christ, the Apostles, and the Saints, passed down and guarded through the bishops, whenever the bishops bother to guard it. In this viewpoint the bishops are simply guardians of what's true. They don't define it individually so much as to make sure no one crosses outside the magical lines that's been defined in the Ecumenical Councils (those rare times when bishops DO lay down what's Tradition). The problem here is that the Orthodox are notoriously hard to get together because of political reasons that are about as important as who the next Disney channel star is. Blinded by their own stupid politics they're unable to lay down edification for their churches, so the lay people try their best. It doesn't really work, since it's not the lay people's role to protect the Tradition, not as the frontline defense anyway.

I'm really most partial to the Orthodox interpretation of Tradition, flaws and all, as it seems to create the best lived experience of the Gospel. Tradition is for living, and if it's not livable I have a hard time seeing it as Tradition. That may be because it's hard to see it if it isn't being lived. If your religion isn't changing you then it's worthless.

But then how do we ensure that people are actually living it? By making it as attractive as possible. If you're living a wonderful life that's filled with love and able to show the superiority of our way through that life then it goes a long when you say "Hey, my way's best", because you really don't have a whole lot left to prove. Someone can make the claim that abortion is necessary because a person's worth is only in what he can contribute to society and we've deemed him unworthy all day long, but if his life doesn't add up to anything that begs imitation then it really doesn't matter how reasonable it sounds. The same is true of Christians. If you're a person filled with more anger with hardly a hint of love in sight how can you claim that your way is the truth? By your fruits shall you be known, and Tradition is the blueprint for making good fruit.