Fascination with wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.
Wisdom of Solomon 4:12

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What Is Tradition?

It was usual in the Ancient Church to introduce doctrinal statements by phrases like this: "Following THE HOLY FATHERS". The Decree of Chalcedon opens precisely with these very words.

The Seventh Ecumenical Council introduces its decision concerning the Holy Icons in a more elaborate way: "Following the Divinely inspired teaching of the Holy Fathers and the Tradition of the Catholic Church." The didaskalia of the Fathers is the formal and normative term of reference.

Now, this was much more than just an "appeal to antiquity." Indeed, the Church always stresses the permanence of her faith through the ages, from the very beginning. This identity, since the Apostolic times, is the most conspicuous sign and token of right faith-always the same. Yet, "antiquity" by itself is not an adequate proof of the true faith.

The true tradition is only the tradition of truth, traditio veritatis. This tradition, according of St. Irenaeus, is grounded in, and secured by, that charisma veritatis certum [secure charisma of truth], which has been "deposited" in the Church from the very beginning and has been preserved by the uninterrupted succession of episcopal ministry. "Tradition" in the Church is not a continuity of human memory, or a permanence of rites and habits. It is a living tradition—depositum juvenescens, in the phrase of St. Irenaeus. Accordingly, it cannot be counted inter mortuas regulas [among dead rules]. Ultimately, tradition is a continuity of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church, a continuity of Divine guidance and illumination.

"Following the Holy Fathers"… This is not a reference to some abstract tradition, in formulas and propositions. It is primarily an appeal to holy witnesses. Indeed, we appeal to the Apostles, and not just to an abstract "Apostolicity." In the similar manner do we refer to the Fathers.

The witness of the Fathers belongs, intrinsically and integrally, to the very structure of Orthodox belief. The Church is equally committed to the kerygma of the Apostles and to the dogma of the Fathers. We may quote at this point an admirable ancient hymn (probably, from the pen of St. Romanus the Melode). "Preserving the kerygma of the Apostles and the dogmas of the Fathers, the Church has sealed the one faith and wearing the tunic of truth she shapes rightly the brocade of heavenly theology and praises the great mystery of piety."

St. Gregory Palamas


  1. Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God's word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    By quoting Luther at the Diet of Worms, it seems that you agree with him that the Roman Catholic Church did not possess the faith which was handed down to then by the Lord and his apostles. In other words, Luther looked at the truth found in scripture, looked at his church and found it wanting. He had no other place to turn other than scripture. Nevertheless, it is indisputable that Luther retained parts of holy tradtion.

    The challenge for Luther was to determine what holy tradition is and what it is not. For this task he had to turn to himself, namely his own intellect and his own overall understanding of Christianity. In doing this he became the judge regarding what was and what was not biblical. I commend the book "This Is My Body" by Sasse. In the book the author chronicles how Luther stood alone defending the historical tradition of the presence of the corporal body and blood of the Lord in the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper. This view was not the general interpretation of the respective bibilcal passages. So much for Sola Scriptura!

    My point is simply this, of course we must be convinced by scripture, but the interpretative process was never intended to be left in the hands of any one individual, this responsibilty belongs to the church - the undivided church. that is what we get from true apostolic tradition. Failure to retain the apostolic tradition most often results in heresy. So, scripture? Certainy, according to the apostles and the Fathers. That is Holy Tradition.