Tuesday, 20 May 2008

What is a traditionalist? part 4

In my earlier entries I suggested two principles on what defines a traditionalist – the adoption of a hermeneutic of continuity, looking at the present through the eyes of the past; and an attitude to the Magisterium that is loyal but not unquestioning. I mentioned the tendency of neo-conservatives to argue as if the current Magisterium was the same thing as Tradition.

Today, I want to look at another aspect of the problem, which relates to the content of Tradition. And here is the crunch-point: neo-conservatives often suggest that Tradition is about how things are passed down the generations rather than having any distinct content of its own. The traditionalist position, by contrast, as Fr Ripperger explains in his article Operative Traditions , is that Tradition has two primary dimensions. The first is the process of handing things, such as Scripture, down the generations. The second is actual content - the truths that form part of the deposit of faith.

'Prima Scriptura', material sufficiency and other interesting ideas

Neo-cons, following the work of Rahner, will argue that all of the truths of the faith can be found implicitly in Scripture ('material sufficiency'). Let me quote this summary from a contemporary theology course:
"Whatever doctrines are located in Sacred Scripture, they are handed down by Sacred Tradition, and faithfully interpreted in every age by the Magisterium.."

Now it has to be said that their view of material sufficiency is not one that would convince any Protestant: it depends on an allegorical reading of Scripture that goes well beyond the readings of the Fathers, so as to assert, for example, that even all of the Marian dogmas can be justified using Scripture alone.

It should also be noted that although he is often cited in support of this position, it is not a view that can be found in Cardinal Newman. His essay on the Development of Doctrine is quite explicit in arguing that there are a large number practices (such as infant baptism) which cannot be justified purely on the basis of Scripture, but which are stated by the Church Fathers to have been Apostolic in origin. It is Tradition that is normative in Newman's account of the development of doctrine, not Scripture.

Similarly, the traditionalist takes the view that there are and that many of these things were subsequently written down or captured, for example in the writings of the Church Fathers. But also in institutions, the liturgy, monuments (icons, statues, churches, etc) and so forth.

I'll come back down the track to the debate about the ‘material sufficiency of Scripture’ vs the 'partim partim' view of tradition and the debate on the development of doctrine, because they are big issues in their own right.

For now though, let me simply assert Proposition 3: Tradition has content that is distinct from Scripture and to the Magisterium.

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