quod pro nobis traditum est

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

More thoughts on Tradition

Growing up as a Lutheran and not knowing much about the word I often heard complaints against "tradition." Traditions were apparently un-Scriptural and even anti-Scriptural. Years later, as a pastor with some time involved in attempting to transmit the faith to people, I come to a different understanding of the word.

In one sense, even those who claim to be anti-traditional in Christianity follow repeated beliefs and practices in line with their understanding of the faith. These simply may be different traditional beliefs and practices than those held and practiced by historic Christianity. Some "traditions" may be "newer" or "different" but they are no less "traditions." And they are almost never any more or less "Scriptural" than other traditions held by Christianity throughout the ages.

In a religious free society the tradition of anti-traditionalism has been so successful (anything "new" is equated with anything "good" whatever its source or end) that even those things that are firmly based in Scripture and the greater Tradition of the Church, even those traditions arising out of and passing on the very words of the Lord Himself, are revised or rejected. This means the simple act of teaching the Christian faith from one generation to the next within the Church often comes under attack. We are seeing other factors at work. Anti-traditionalism within Christianity is closely related to secularism. Christianity (Scripture, ministry, liturgy, etc.) gets "re-defined" in view of cultural expectations.

In view of Tradition in the Church being easily misunderstood two other questions arise. For example, today we hear of a re-awakening to Tradition but this re-awakening may only go as far back as the 1960s or 1970s. In other words, this period is seen as the moment to define all others. Although I am of Lutheran background I do not hold to the Reformation as the moment to define all others. This is because the Reformation did not come out of a vacuum. Nor does Church history begin then. There is a triumphalist tendency to relativize our understanding of all history in light of the Reformation. Even the Reformation has fallen victim to the Enlightenment and even whatever the 1960s and 1970s mean. Many of today's protestants are oblivious of the Reformation, much less the Early Church and the Middle Ages. We have come across a truly existential faith(?). An over-reaction the other way puts the whole faith in a Reformation box.

Although I am an heir of the Reformation I hold to a catholic view of the Tradition, that is, in view of the whole. Tradition is a good thing. There is an Early Church. There are the Middle Ages. Hebrew, Greek, Latin are good languages even if they are not my own. Because of its antiquity, Tradition is more than the ethnic backgrounds of my church body. Tradition is more than any historical period. Rather than being an obstacle to the faith the Scriptural Tradition is the connection to the faith, the continuity of the Church and her future. Looking back through Tradition the testimony of a multitude of witnesses is opened up to all who follow in the train of the crucified and risen Lord, who makes all things new through His own work of salvation, He, the Beginning and the End.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Resurrexi, et adhuc tecum sum, alleluia: posuisti super me manum tuam, alleluia: mirabilis facta est scientia tua, alleluia, alleluia.

I arose, and am still with Thee, alleluia; Thou hast laid Thy hand upon me, alleluia; Thy knowledge is become wonderful, alleluia, alleluia.

It usually takes a day or two to recover, but Holy Week this year was, as always, a blessing. Growing in faith and knowledge of the Risen Lord and the solemn mysteries of salvation feed into the daily life we have received. He is risen!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Speaking of ontology . . .

Speaking of ontology, we remember St. Anselm who died on this date in Canterbury in 1109. Anselm was a monk, philosopher and archbishop. Considered one of the greatest philosophers of the 11th century, he is called the founder of scholasticism and is known for his formulation of an ontological argument for the existence of God.

He wrote, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." In other words, faith comes before reason but reason may be used to expand on faith. He wrote on a variety of philosophical and theological topics including creation, the Trinity, original sin and free will. His thinking is considered Neoplatonic.

Anselm's book Cur Deus Homo, literally, "Why the God Man," discusses his theory of the atonement. Briefly stated, satfisfaction for sin before a just God is only possible through the voluntary death of the God-Man, Jesus. This theory stresses Jesus' obedience to the Law. Although later scholastics and reformers differed somewhat from his view of the atonement, for example, stressing instead God's reconciliation in the atonement, Anselm's emphasis has had a lasting influence on Church teaching and helps to show how reason may be used in relation to faith.

Realities from above

As the year goes around Christians can usually point to one or more words or passages from Scripture or the liturgy that sticks with them long beyond the Sunday hearing. These memorable moments change from year to year and any year can hold many or few of them.

This year I have been thinking on the words from heaven, "This is my beloved Son" heard at Transfiguration, traditionally, the Second Sunday in Lent. These words are rich in meaning much beyond what I write here. Two ways of applying these words may be addressing the identity of Jesus and then, as I have been thinking lately, addressing the significance of these few words.

There have always been popular claims to Jesus' identity. In recent years two claims particularly are fresh in mind. First, there is the Jesus as "CEO" emphasis. Then there is the "revolutionary" Jesus emphasis that we hear so much these days. Both of these claims are influential but fail because they reveal more about those making the claims than about what is divinely revealed to us. The reader understands.

What caught my ear this year has more to do with the words themselves. Here especially the word "is" sticks out. Scripturally, we can think right away of Scripture's rendering of the words "I AM." We can also draw a similarity to words Jesus spoke on the night he was betrayed: "This is my Body . . . This is my Blood." This latter similarity beckons the thought that when the Father speaks from heaven at Transfiguration He is not speaking symbolically, ie, Jesus is not a symbol of what it means to be the Son of God. The Father says from heaven that Jesus "is" His Son. These words of God also put to question our own claims to Jesus' identity and our own tendency to see sacraments, which Jesus Himself instituted, as mere symbols of our faith.

This Holy Week we draw near to the realities of the cross of Christ and His resurrection from the dead. The cross and the empty tomb are today in some ways symbols but they are symbols of greater realities, closely related to Jesus' identity, and closely related to who we are and will be in Him.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Being productive

For a few years now I have gone "underground," or private, in my study of theology, philosophy and history. With the right people discussion of these topics can be quite productive. On the other hand, some may use such discussions for various un-intended purposes. I find that one may sometimes learn more by not discussing one's questions online. Neutral online sources and books are helpful for learning here. Also, it is a good thing to maintain some level of privacy. This way one may get his/her questions answered without being mistakenly labeled.

The moral is: when there's a choice between being labeled for connecting the dots or thinking disconnectedly go private for the sake of ongoing learning. When there is a choice between being functional and being ontological be practical and keep the ontological focus.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Why do I not post every day? Because there is too much to comment on each day that would take until the evening hours to write about. Then the next day would come and I would not be ready for it.

(This is in answer to a question I posed myself.)

Thursday, April 07, 2011


"I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: we shall go into the house of the Lord."  (Introit, Laetare)

Whenever these words of the psalmist come up in the liturgy they are always a boost of encouragement.  Not as an encouragement to self-righteousness but to the faith of those who come into the Lord's house.  The forces keeping us from the house of the Lord are seemingly greater than the Lord's effort to draw all men to Himself.  On Sunday we sang a hymn that says that the love of the cross demands "my soul, my life, my all."  This portion of the liturgy and the hymn are not speaking to the un-churched or the un-believer but to those who rejoice in the divine things that are spoken to us.

Recently, I posted that I would address "new gospels" that I have been hearing in recent years.  One idea addresses the presence of God as everywhere but limits Him to everywhere outside the church.  In other words, He is omnipresent in the world but somehow is not present in the church nor among His people when they receive His gifts.  This idea I had not heard before. It is not close to atheism, but it certainly puts limits on the power of God and His Word.  The idea may have been something someone appropriated from the secular milieu.

In chapter 6 of the Gospel according to John, Jesus feeds the 5,000 in a sacramental way, even bidding the disciples, "Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost."  The hungry who came to the Lord were fed with the blessed food, distributed by the disciples.  During Lent it seems easier to forgo the blessed food between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  Outside of the strong forces of secularism, Easter tries to outdo Lent as Christmas outdoes Advent.  But Lent draws us to the cross and to Christ, so Lent is the journey to Easter.  "O Thou Bread of Life from heaven, Bless the food Thou here hast given!"

Laetáre Jerúsalem: et convéntum fácite, omnes qui dilígitis eam.