Friday, 23 May 2008

What is a traditionalist? Intrinsic vs extrinsic tradition

In my earlier entries I suggested a few principles on what defines a traditionalist
  • the adoption of a hermeneutic of continuity looking at the present through the eyes of the past;
  • an attitude to the Magisterium that is loyal but not unquestioning;
  • and seeing Tradition not just as a process of handing down, but also as containing some distinctive content.

In the 'interlude' we discovered some of the principle divisions within those attached to the TLM - between the 'roundheads' (overtly political, ultramontanist in temperament but disdainful of recent occupants of the chair of Peter) and the 'Cavaliers' (more focused on liturgical piety).

Today I want to move onto another dimension of our understanding of tradition, namely the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic tradition.

This distinction is important not just to how traditionalists differ to neo-conservatives and others, but also to understanding the difference between the Roundheads (who I’m renaming the plumbers for reasons set out below) compared to those who emphasize liturgical piety.

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Tradition

Intrinsic Tradition relates to the truths of Revelation according to Fr Ripperger:

"Divine tradition is that tradition which constitutes one of the sources of revelation, i.e. a source of our knowledge about those things which were revealed to man by God. This means that divine tradition is intrinsic to the Deposit of Faith, which constitutes all of the divinely revealed truths necessary for salvation and passed on by the Church in an uninterrupted tradition. Since it is intrinsic to the Deposit of Faith, this form of tradition is sometimes called intrinsic tradition, a prime example of which is the magisterium of the Church and the sacraments since they were established by Jesus Christ and passed on and will be passed on until the end of time."

By contrast:

"Ecclesiastical tradition is all of those things which are not intrinsic to the Deposit of Faith, but which form the heritage and patrimony of the work of previous generations graciously passed on by the Church to subsequent generations for their benefit. Because it is extrinsic to the Deposit of Faith, ecclesiastical tradition is also called extrinsic tradition, examples of which include the Church's disciplinary code as set out in canon law and non-infallible teachings of the ordinary magisterium."

Big T vs small t traditions

And here is where the big T Traditions vs small t traditions of the Catechism of the Catholic Church come in. Big T essentially means intrinsic Tradition (though there is a blurry line around magisterial pronouncements). Little t traditions are ecclesial.

The Catechism dismisses small t traditions as:

"...the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical, or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church's magisterium." (CCC 83)

It is this rather curt dismissal of ecclesial traditions that leads to the neo-con tendency to dismiss things like the rosary as old-fashioned. The Neo-con view is not one that sits well with the reverence for tradition articulated in the early ecumencial councils.

The traditionalist by contrast sees these very traditions as inherent to the dignity of the Church, part of its 'magnificent heritage and patrimony'. The traditionalist also tends to see traditions as already having been subject to the preeminent test of time:

"Because God Himself entrusted the Deposit of Faith to the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church is inherently traditional. Since all men by nature desire to know, the Church cannot help but develop an ecclesiastical tradition...The members of the Church used the teachings within the Deposit to develop schools of spirituality, Church discipline and legislation, as well as all of the other things which pertain to ecclesiastical tradition. Since the teaching of Christ must govern the life of the Church, it was necessary for any authentic extrinsic tradition (e.g. Canon Law) to be consistent with those teachings. Anything that was contrary to the teachings contained in the Deposit caused the Church great affliction but over time it was cut off from the life of the Church...

Moreover, Fr Ripperger continues:

"...the extrinsic tradition was designed to aid man in his condition. For example, many schools of spirituality and rules of the religious orders were designed in order to help man overcome his proclivity to self-will and concupiscence in order to conform himself to the ideals taught within the Deposit. Those who fashioned the extrinsic tradition were often saints who were guided and helped by divine aid in establishing some custom or aspect of the extrinsic tradition which was passed on to subsequent generations."

A rethink in the Compendium of the Catechism?

Interestingly, however, the Compendium of the Catechism doesn't mention the small t/big T distinction, and gives a much broader definition of the Apostolic Tradition (its umbrella term for the deposit of faith and Revelation) than one might have anticipated. It says:"Apostolic Tradition is the transmission of the message of Christ, brought about from the very beginnings of Christianity by means of preaching, bearing witness, institutions, worship, and inspired writings." (No 12)

Either way, we can probably all agree on:

Proposition 4: Traditionalists believe that due reverence should be given to (extrinsic or small t) traditions


Samuel said...

I make no bones about being traditionalist. However, even though I grew up with the EF when it WAS the NF (I am almost 75 years old now). I have no problems with the Novus Ordo which is valid, I enjoy both forms as long as they celebrated properly IAW the rubrics and the focus is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in re-presenting the one and ONLY redeeming sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary. We need to analyze/consider any proposed "extrinsic" tradition in light of the constant official teaching(s) of the magisterium as to whether it God's will or simply man-made.

Terra said...

I should be clear that I regard both masses as valid - they have the same 'intrinsic' merit as the same sacrifice of Christ.

The things that can give one form greater extrinsic merit include the language of the mass (use of Latin), music, level of ceremonial (so a solemn mass provides more grace than a said low mass), the participants, etc.

I'll come to the criteria for evaluating extrinsic tradition in my next piece, but I'd point out that for the last forty odd yers, the EF has been said or implied to be inferior to the new for our times by the magisterium and ruthlessly suppressed.

In Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict articulated a principle that traditions have a life of their own beyond the dictates of the Magisterium. He said: "What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church's faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place."