Last week we received an e-mail containing a link to an article in Crisis magazine by Dr. James Kalb, “A Vindication of Tradition.” We thought the article was good, but also that the question of tradition is somewhat more complex than Dr. Kalb suggests in his article. The debate over tradition is part of a much larger problem that has wreaked havoc in both civil society (the State) under the name of positivism, and religious society (organized religion, i.e., “the Church”) under the name of modernism, at least in the Catholic Church.
Confining ourselves to religious society, in this instance the Catholic Church, Catholic liberals — to over-generalize — tend to lower what Catholics call “Sacred Tradition” to the level of human tradition. That is, they assume that the Deposit of Faith, the body of absolute principles that make up the beliefs and teachings of the Catholic Church, is as changeable and adaptable as applications of principles suited to a specific set of wants, needs, and conditions in human society.
Catholic conservatives (again to over-generalize) for their part tend to raise human tradition to the level of Sacred Tradition. That is, they assume that applications of principles must be as unchangeable as the absolute principles on which the applications are based.
The orthodox position, that Sacred Tradition is and must be absolute and unchanging, while human tradition is and must be changeable and adaptable to meet specific wants, needs, and conditions of human society, gets lost in the shuffle.