Tradition: The Democracy of the Dead

How much and how it can change is up for debate, but what is not up for debate is the fact that it can change.

The trick, therefore, in valuing tradition most effectively is to discern how to not only keep alive the traditions of the church, but to re-enliven them and keep them fresh for a new generation. The ways to do this can also be debated, but that it must be done cannot be debated.

If there is a temptation among some to ossify the tradition and even turn the tradition into a kind of anti-religion of unchanging rules and regulations, the other temptation, that goes along with the desire to enliven the tradition and make it relevant to a changing world, is to throw the tradition out altogether and fall into the trap of iconoclasm. One of the disastrous results of the Second Vatican Council is that liturgists, clergy and religion who were so zealous to make the faith contemporary and relevant, felt that they could best do this not by valuing and re-invigorating the traditions of the Church, but by demolishing them in revolutionary zeal.

I sometimes think that being a Catholic is like living in a grand old house like the one in Brideshead Re-Visited. It is an ornate, ancient and venerable structure, full of corridors of memories and alleyways of tradition. The walls are lined with the banners from ancient battles and the ancestors of grand reputation. The attic is full of curious and precious antiques and the kitchens and cellars are full of fine wine, casks of provisions and bundles of equipment for battle and for housework. The gardens are lush and expansive–some formal and fruitful, some still wild and untamed.

The modernist would demolish such a house and send the contents to auction.

But a Catholic should decide to live there, dust and shine the antiques, clean the carpets, polish the silver, restore the paintings, sharpen the halberds and shine the armor…

…and then he should draw back the drapes to open the windows and let in the fresh air and the morning light.

Return to the First Page