A Vindication of Tradition

Modern times don’t like the authority of tradition, any more than they like prejudice or deeply rooted social stereotypes. We know more today than people did in the past, so why should we view the unreflective habits and attitudes they happened to fall into as somehow binding?

People today believe in science, which relies on observations that can be repeated and checked; expert bureaucracies, which base their decisions on the latest objective studies; and free markets, which determine prices by reference to current supply and demand. Those methods have been enormously successful in many important settings, and they don’t care what people did or thought last year, 200 years ago, or in the days of Gregory the Great.

So if that’s what people want to rely on today, what should the Church do? The obvious answer is that she should adapt to her setting. If the Church wants to impress people, especially those at the top and the ever-growing and ever-more-influential ranks of the miseducated, she has to do things the way that makes sense to her audience. Modern methods work better in many connections, and people have come to expect them, so they won’t take anything seriously that doesn’t follow them even if the advantages don’t carry over.

Perhaps for that reason, there has been a tendency in recent decades to downplay tradition and traditional observances in the Church. Traditional devotions are less used today, liturgy has been brought in line with popular culture, and the angularities of Catholic doctrine are softened where possible. Such tendencies have been accompanied by demands for greater scope for theological innovation, more popular influence on Church governance, and other supposedly progressive reforms.

Unfortunately, the apparent effect of the changes has been growth of bureaucracy, loss of focus and influence, and loss of interest among ordinary believers. So it’s worth considering the function served by past attitudes in the Church. In Pascendi Dominici Gregis, his encyclical against modernism, Pope Saint Pius X summarized those attitudes as he saw them:

For Catholics nothing will remove the authority of the second Council of Nicea, where it condemns those “who dare, after the impious fashion of heretics, to deride the ecclesiastical traditions, to invent novelties of some kind … or endeavor by malice or craft to overthrow any one of the legitimate traditions of the Catholic Church” … Wherefore the Roman Pontiffs, Pius IV and Pius IX, ordered the insertion in the profession of faith of the following declaration: “I most firmly admit and embrace the apostolic and ecclesiastical traditions and other observances and constitutions of the Church.”

That kind of traditionalism is out of favor today, but there’s something to be said for it. Revelation and conversion aren’t a matter of neutral scientific analysis. Religion deals with the transcendent, with aspects of reality that observation may point to but doesn’t contain. The methods of modern science and scholarship, which restrict themselves to what is observable, can’t deal with such matters. For that reason religion evaporates where modern methods have supreme authority. If only naturalistic explanations are admissible, for example, it becomes impossible to understand the Bible and Church history as vehicles of revelation.

Nor is religion a simple matter of authority. Authority is necessary, but a movement of resistance to radical modernity that (for example) simply relies on papal leadership is not adequate to the situation. Such a movement fights an over-emphasis on what is explicit and demonstrable by emphasizing something explicit and demonstrable, and that’s not enough.

What’s needed is for the faithful to feel spiritual truths as concretely real. The sensus fidei fidelium—the sense of the Faith on the part of the faithful—can seem a bit mysterious, and indeed the Catechism refers to it as supernatural. Still, grace completes nature, so the sensus fidei has something in common with other forms of knowledge. It is a grasp of transcendent reality that goes beyond clear demonstration in somewhat the way recognition of beauty goes beyond objective measurement and analysis of proportions. As such, it has a great deal to do with the ability, an ability that can be cultivated, to recognize and respond to patterns and what they express.

That ability is extremely important. We can’t deal with many actual situations scientifically, by measuring all their aspects, reducing them to their elements, and applying principles of mechanical causation. There are too many uncertainties, subtleties, and complications. Instead, we must deal with them through recognition of patterns and their implications. “What sort of situation is this,” we must ask ourselves, “and what does it point to?”

Modern tendencies of thought degrade our ability to do so by reducing assertions either to will, which ignores realities because it looks only to itself, or modern scientific objectivity, which makes meaningful patterns disappear because it abolishes meaning and downplays patterns in favor of immediate mechanical causation. The result is that we become less able to deal with the world. Modern tendencies have made evaluation and belief seem a matter of individual choice, so that people are convinced that beauty is simply in the eye of the beholder, and orthodoxy and heterodoxy are just “my doxy” and “your doxy.” The result is that decisions become arbitrary. Those tendencies have also resulted in the disappearance of common sense in public life, for example with regard to abandonment of natural moral law, and with regard to adoption of “zero tolerance” policies that on principle reject common-sense exceptions.

Common sense, it seems, is just not demonstrable enough to accept today. To get beyond that situation we need to develop what Pascal called the intuitive mind (esprit de finesse) and Newman the illative sense, the ability to grasp complex matters through sensitivity to multiple indications, each of them ambiguous in itself, and the patterns of converging probabilities to which they give rise. That ability is partly a matter of natural talent—some people will always be better at picking stocks or horses than others—but it can be greatly developed through attention and experience.

The latter sources of knowledge are not merely individual: writ large and made social they become tradition. When a symbol, practice, or belief, a devotion or way of making music perhaps, grows up and fits the patterns of experience people become attached to it. As it gathers support and becomes widespread and habitual it becomes a tradition. When a network of such things forms a structure sufficient to order the life of a community it becomes not a collection of single traditions but the overall tradition of the community.

So tradition is not simply a matter of doing what’s been done before. It is a way of dealing with the world that allows fleeting insights, successful accidents, half-understood implications, and a huge variety of experiences to accumulate and take concrete form in symbols, practices, and beliefs that respond to the obscure patterns found in life, put them in usable form, and carry them forward so a community can live consistently with them. A tradition of cooking, to take a simple example, takes the patterns of human need, function, and response relating to the availability, preparation, and consumption of food, and brings them into a concrete but flexible system that enables people to make that side of life far more civilized and rewarding than it would be otherwise.

Tradition and traditionalism have their critics, and the criticisms are familiar: traditions differ by time and place, and they are sometimes wrong or misleading, so they are not altogether reliable. The problem today though is not over-reliance on tradition, but its neglect. Traditions sometimes conflict, and they may need to be tested and corrected by other sources of knowledge, but the same can be said about expert opinion, popular consensus, conscientious decision, and every other way of deciding an issue. Tradition is necessary to knowledge, to the arts, and to any remotely satisfactory way of life, because it is uniquely able to make insights and experiences available that would otherwise be lost because they relate to matters that are difficult to state explicitly. Without it, we will never succeed in acquiring a true sensus fidei. With that in mind, we can’t toss it out or treat it as a mere collection of suggestions.

James Kalb


James Kalb is a lawyer, independent scholar, and Catholic convert who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is the author of The Tyranny of Liberalism: Understanding and Overcoming Administered Freedom, Inquisitorial Tolerance, and Equality by Command (ISI Books, 2008), and, most recently, Against Inclusiveness: How the Diversity Regime is Flattening America and the West and What to Do About It (Angelico Press, 2013).

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    I’m all for Tradition – ‘with a big T’ – but, it seems to me, the narrative of so many of the ‘traditionalists’ in the commboxes, is actually a novum. For, it seems to me the lens, or hermeneutic, through which they view their ‘traditionalism’ is thoroughly modern. They are trapped as much in ‘The Unintended Reformation’ worldview as those they criticise.

    • Doceo

      For example?

      • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

        The language tends towards a ‘liturgical reductionism’ (whatever the subject, they bring it round to the Mass). And when they do this, it’s more an ’empirical’ rather than ‘ontological’ view of the Eucharist. More emphasis on ‘form’ than ‘substance’. An overriding language of ‘taste’. As a ‘gestalt’, the language is that of the centrality of the subject as primary judge of the reality.

        In short, the language, or turn of phrase, often embodies a sort of snobbishness which considers itself above the ‘little people’ or ignorami.

        • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

          I think you have it exactly backwards. Most today think “low-brow,” crude, and even ugly language is acceptable, even preferable, because it is more personal, more “sincere.” Our culture is decaying in the cult of individual “sincerity.”

          • fredx2

            When Benedict was elected, and the media was talking about his stance on the liturgy, there was a “Trained liturgist” who was interviewed. He refused to acknowledge that THE POPE knew anything at all about the liturgy, and he rejected everything Benedict had to say on the subject, saying “Well, Benedict is not a trained liturgist”.
            The arrogance was palpable, and downright funny.
            There’s your condescending attitude of a supposed intelligentsia

        • Guest

          You have it backward.

        • Is it really a matter of taste and aesthetics for most Mass traditionalists? It seems to me that for most people it’s more a matter of wanting the empirical aspects to point toward the ontology as much as possible. With that in mind the new emphasis on making all the actions and language easily legible, and encouraging as much physical participation by the congregation as possible, seems a mistake. It makes the Mass seem to be about something other than the most important aspects of what it’s about.

        • Doceo

          A straw man.
          No principled traditionalist would hold that form is more important than substance, though he would hold that so called “non essentials” – do matter.
          Snobbery may be found across the spectrum

  • Bruno

    Very good article mr Kalb. You have a great insight there.

  • Dick Prudlo

    Mr. Kalb, describes that which has all been ignored by the celebration of the “New Springtime.” Our sandal wearing clerics decided to take full advantage of the purposely laid ambiguities found in the documents of VAT II and ran into the arms of a waiting world. Armed with these schema’s they could and did propose a complete left turn in doctrines without even mentioning them. The deviousness of their approach never seems to dawn on today’s “modern Catholic.”

    A generation or generations disposing of that which comes before it is too headstrong to be followed. But, follow we have.

    • Jay

      Are you SSPX?

      • Dick Prudlo

        I don’t understand your meaning in asking? If your motive in asking is that SSPX is a bad thing you couldn’t be more mistaken. They practice, I am told, the same Faith as your Father and Grandfather and all your Grandfathers and Mothers did before the great disaster of 1962. I, personally, am lucky enough to have (only 85 miles away) a Fraternity of St. Peter parish. So, in order to serve God and worship him in a fashion He clearly prefers, I have to pass by my local “Catholic Church” and travel round trip 170 miles.

        In the event this parish (fraternity) is deemed by the local ordinary or by the Bishop of Rome needs to be closed due to its clear “Promethean semi-Pelagian” methods……I will run to the nearest SSPX Chapel.

        Answer your question?

        • Jay

          Your tone is that of anger. It’s only a question. I’m a new Catholic (a confused one) and I am considering SSPX. You don’t have to be so defensive.

          • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

            Jay, you have to understand. Those of us who are willing to attend a Mass at an SSPX chapel have had every abuse imaginable heaped on our heads for 30 plus years. You can be a pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, clown-mass attending heretic, and suffer no consequences. If you are a bishop, you can even celebrate liturgies with costumed Disney characters, and still be elected Pope! But insist on praying as your forefathers did… well, that cannot be tolerated! (So… we “traditionalists” do have a some issues with paranoia, I’m afraid. Please just try to tolerate us…)

            • Jay

              I didn’t know you were SSPX. What do you say to your colleague Scott Hahn? He’s had a great influence on my decision to become Catholic.

              • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

                We all agree and disagree on many things, and generally get along quite well. Dr. Hahn is a great colleague.

              • guest

                Some people seek to understand God by knowing theology; others understand theology by knowing God. Best of luck to you.

            • DE-173

              Just because you are paranoid, doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you.
              Paranoia is merly a heightened state of awareness.

              • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

                Ha ha! Very nice.

            • Dick Prudlo

              Thanks, Dr., I’m just running out of steam for this stuff.

          • ColdStanding

            Take and eat, Jay. Be nourished by tradition… and take up your cross.


          • Erika Allen

            Sorry, we get defensive sometimes. We are used to taking a lot of flak. It’s painful to be rejected from the church we love.

          • Robert

            I understand your confusion and their anger. It was not until the past year that I started to really understand the differences between the Traditional Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo Mass of today. I had been led to believe (by many growing up) that it was the same Mass only in the Vernacular. I read the “Latin Mass Explained” and then bought a 1962 Latin Mass Hand Missal to compare step by step so as to better understand the differences. I cannot tell you how many people of my age group that had the same understanding as I. There are many traditional practices (for lack of a better phrase) that we no longer enjoy; Exposition, Adoration, & Benediction; praying (not saying) the Blessed Rosary (which I have done for as long as I can remember); etc to name two, that I am told by Modernists were thrown out by Vatican II. It makes me crazy the things we have lost!!! The changes were to make Mass more accepting of others outside the Catholic Church (i.e. Protestants).

            The best thing you can do is to read the book I mentioned above, and attend a Latin Mass more than once. If you normally attend a Novus Ordo Mass it will be a little foreign at first, but you will get it and understand it. I think of the Latin Mass as a continuous prayer from start to finish. It is not about us; it is about the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross for us. Perform an Internet search for the Traditional Latin Mass in your area. I also do the same when I travel and sometimes I get lucky and find a Traditional Mass. You will be amazed; it is growing and is not a fad. You will also notice another untruth; it is not only the elderly longing for a nostalgic moment. The Churches I have attended have a large number of young families and higher attendance that I would have thought (or had been predicted by others).

            Pray for guidance.

            • Jay

              That’s very true. I’ll be going to my first Traditional Latin Mass this Sunday. I think what some of it boils down to is my generation (X) and others will have to regain some of the older traditions that the boomer generation decided to ignore. We want what our grandparents had. That being said, I hope to not judge those who find the new Mass fulfilling. My best friend who is a very orthodox Catholic and he’s tried the Latin Mass three or four times but prefers the new Mass. Am I better Catholic then he is? I doubt it. If the new Mass is done properly, I enjoy it.

              • Dick Prudlo

                Jay, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not for our particular enjoyment. It has been provided to us by Jesus at the Last Supper. It is the total and complete worship of the Father. I do not attend Holy Mass due to a subjective liking, but due to the object being worshiped. Your friend may “feel” fulfilled in participating at a NO Mass, but the object of worship (the Father) leads to the real question, is He satisfied?

                • Jay

                  I didn’t mean that he goes to Mass because he “likes” it. That’s my poor choice of words. I don’t go to Mass because I “like” it either. I should have used the words more satisfying. My point in the matter is that I hope I don’t consider myself more spiritual or even more Catholic than he does, if I enjoy the Latin Mass better.

              • John O’Neill

                Jay, a very good friend of mine who was studying in seminary in the 1960s and who eventually left the seminary wound up a SSPX priest after forty years of being disappointed by the Vatican II mass. Strangely he told me that when they brought the altar girls into his Los Angeles church he left and found a SSPX church nearby. He now has a parish in Idaho and I correspond with him regularly. I too was in seminary in the sixties and was turned off by the innovations and much of the idiocy of Vatican II American priests. I also prefer the Latin mass because I know the Latin like the back of my hand and even though I attend the Novus Ordo mass where we have a good solid priest but one who almost brags that he does not know one word of Latin. I still miss the Latin rite. I only hope I can be buried at a traditional Latin Requiem mass. The beauty of the Latin mass is tremendous and it is such a shame that so many Catholics are ignorant of this beauty. Nothing compares to Mozart’s AVE VERUM, Aquinas’ PANGE LINGUA, and Faure’s memorable IN PARADISUM. The music of the Novus Ordo liturgy is appallingly horrible and the English translation of the mass leaves a lot to be desired. Thank God that Pope Benedict XVI started to restore some of the beauty of the English liturgy but not enough. Somehow when the gospel which calls us to “Consider the lilies of the fields” is rendered “Look at the flowers” something is seriously amiss. I think that a good and faithful English would make a big difference just like it does among the Anglo Catholics. I encourage you to attend the ancient Latin Liturgy especially during the Easter Week ceremonies. The exquisite “Exsultet ” of Easter Vigil as sung in Latin it brings joy to the heart. I do so believe in the old adage: lex orandi, lex credendi. One last thought I now live among the Amish in Pennsylvania who have kept their original German in their church services and speak a dialect of German among their fellow Amish. I think that having a language which is particular to your religious and ethical way of life, much like the Jews still pray in Hebrew is a good thing; it keeps the corruption of the modern American language from infiltrating your prayer life.

          • MarkRutledge

            While considering SSPX, make sure you research their status with the Church. I may be wrong, but I believe their Masses are considered illicit. Christ’s Church is still the one in Rome, the one with the valid successor of St. Peter in Pope Francis.

            This may sound harsh, but some of the love for the SSPX comes about through the corrosive narcissism of our age. The SSPX Mass gives us what we want, what makes us “feel” Catholic, while the Novus Ordo Mass as practiced so often makes us want to hold our nose or simply run away. But in the end it isn’t about our feelings, our wants, or any of the other externals. It is about Christ. Christ is present in the Eucharist at the Novus Ordo, and receiving Our Lord is much more important than avoiding abuses and banalities.

            If you cannot find a local Latin Mass in communion with the Church, find the most reverent Novus Ordo parish you can, and endure what you must. Take up thy cross.

            • brian

              taking up a cross which destroys your faith or that your children is not following Christ but Satan

            • guest-catholic

              “…receiving Our Lord is much more important than avoiding abuses and banalities.”

              On what authority do you say that?

              To put that statement into context: Question: “If sacrileges and abuses against the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament are being continually committed, is it proper for Catholics to avoid such sacrilegious and scandalous abuses and as a consequence forgo the reception of the Blessed Sacrament, or is it proper for Catholics to be present for and/or take part in such sacrileges and scandals for the sake of receiving communion?”

              And I believe your answer is, once again: “…receiving Our Lord is much more important than avoiding abuses and banalities.”
              Now, again I ask on what authority do you tell people that?

              • Jay

                If this is a continual thing, shouldn’t you contact your bishop?

            • Amateur Brain Surgeon

              Good advice. Those who succor the sspx schism are blind to the truth that Satan has used the Holy Mass to cleave Catholics from the Church and cleave them to him and if you point that out to them they become apoplectic but, truth divides, doesn’t it?

        • Amateur Brain Surgeon

          The sspx is a schism whose praxis is criminal and sacrilegious for it actualises the Sacraments without jurisdiction within the Jurisdictions of legitimate Bishops approved by the Holy See.

          The SSPX Bishops and priests are no different than the vagus Bishops and Priests condemned by Trent and the sspsx is a petit ecclesia and it is never conning home.

          It has its own Congregations which supplant the universal jurisdiction of the Pope and it itself proclaimed its decisions about marriage, sacraments, etc are more authoritative than the Roman Rota.

          There is never an excuse for schism but since the rise of the online trad machine, schism has come to be accepted by many as salvific.

          It is madness that putative trade succor a schism

        • John Byde


      • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

        I am.

  • C.Caruana

    The Scholastics made the all important distinction between ratio and intellectus, the latter being a clarified refinement of ‘common sense’ as direct intuition of the real.

  • DE-173

    “People today believe in science, which relies on observations that can be repeated and checked; expert bureaucracies, which base their decisions on the latest objective studies; and free markets, which determine prices by reference to current supply and demand.”

    To the extent that there is such a thing an “expert bureaucracy”, those that believe in them to order society do not believe in science. They believe in a religion, the religion of statism. There’s nothing “scientific” about bureaucracies that prohibit 3.5 gallon toilets or 100W incandescent bulbs. In many cases the scientistic veneer that cloaks their edicts conceals government at the service of private interests. Example, for decades companies like Caterpillar and Cummins have wanted to enter the market for locomotive engines, but they could never seem to mount an assualt on GE or EMD. Now they are doing it courtesy of EPA regulations, where th
    Similarly, the belief in free markets is not grounded in science, but Epistemology -the recognition that economic knowledge is as Hayek put it:

    “But a little reflection will show that there is beyond question a body of very important but unorganized knowledge which cannot possibly be called scientific in the sense of knowledge of general rules: the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place.”

    • redfish

      Hayek was rightly arguing against central planning… but I’ve seen naive versions of free market theory which basically say “the market is always right” and denies subjective influences on business decisions. I think that is the type of thing the author is mentioning as a scientific, or more properly, scientistic, outlook.

      • DE-173

        “I’ve seen naive versions of free market theory which basically say “the market is always right””

        I’ve yet to see that, except in gross caricatures of the free market by the secular statist left, and then they go on to purport that an election or appointment makes somebody omniscient and incorrupt. Of course they don’t really like elections and political processes either, that’s why they love the unaccountable commissar (See Dodd-Frank & Obamacare).

        • redfish

          Dunno, I’ve seen it plenty in talking to people about politics over the years.

          • DE-173

            I’m assuming the internet should be full of examples of people making statements that have caught your attention. I await something of this nature.

            • redfish

              Possibly, but I’m talking about more personal conversations and not just in Disqus comboxes. In its most simple form its people saying things like ‘if it was really good it would be selling well’ and that companies always make decisions based on what people want. I’ve also had conversations with libertarians I’ve met who have taken this philosophically very seriously.

              • DE-173

                I have had far more personal conversations where state is presumed to always get it right, despite a long and sordid history (IRS, VA, Obamcare..) that includes mass error, corruption and perverse results.

                Quite frankly, I think you’ve made a leap. Most free market advocates believe, that in the long run, markets provide creative solutions to problems and if somebody is making an error, (too expensive, too little quantity or quality) a competitor will be happy to provide a BETTER, not PERFECT alternative.

                To say that something that tends to minimize the magnitude and duration of error over time isn’t to say “it’s always right”.

                • redfish

                  I’m only telling you what I’ve found to be common, not what most advocates believe.

                  I personally don’t believe the market alone inherently moves towards better and better solutions, either, though. In certain interests, this might be the case. But the market is oriented around a commercial culture that favors certain things over others, and one of those things is how well things can be ‘marketed’, rather than how much better they are or how economically viable they are. Ultimately, its cultural criticism that changes the course of this. And cultural criticism is ultimately what changes government policies, too. The market and the government are affected by the same forces.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Cardinal Manning dealt peremptorily with the appeal to the voices of the past, to “history, fact, antiquity and the like…”

    “In truth, and at the root, is not this inverted and perverse method a secret denial of the perpetual office of the Holy Ghost? The first and final question to be asked of these controversialists is : Do you or do you not believe that there is a Divine Person teaching now, as in the beginning, with a divine, and therefore infallible voice ; and that the Church of this hour is the organ through which He speaks to the world ? If so, the history, and antiquity, and facts, as they are called, of the past vanish before the presence of an order of facts which are divine namely, the unity, perpetuity, infallibility of the Church of God: the body and visible witness of the Incarnate Word, the dwelling and organ of the Holy Ghost now as in the beginning: the same yesterday, to-day, and forever: its own antiquity and its own history.”

    The belief that the teaching of the Church is something to be searched for in the records of the past, rather than something to be heard and accepted in the living present, is always an appeal to private judgment, to my interpretation of those records, whose authors are no longer alive to contradict me.

    • ColdStanding

      But have you not done the very thing you seem to condemn? Cardinal Manning is no longer found among the Church Militant. Yet you quote him. And we are to rely upon your judgement so as not to take him out of context? Who was the target of his utterance? Churchman of his day were very much on side with what everyone looks to as the visible expression of tradition. Even new-churchers measure themselves by the degree to which they do not accord with the expression of tradition.

      I bring this up because, given your posting history here and elsewhere, I take you to be suggesting that, pace Cardinal Manning, the Holy Spirit is always leading the Church, and the Gospel is ever preached anew, we should be docilely submitting to whatever is flowing forth from the pulpits. But it is precisely because much of what flows from the pulpit this day is so out of character with what has, heretofore, flowed that doubt arises. It isn’t as if we do not have clear records of what was said in the past. Indeed, there are great volumes of record sermons.

      Why should we be expected to accord the same degree diffidence as was afforded by our ancestors of to the proclaimers of tradition when those that hold the reigns these days are there by virtue (sic) of their very rebellion against tradition?

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        The question is, how do we avoid the vicious circle of “the true faith is the faith taught by the true church” and “the true church is the church that teaches the true faith.” This is, in effect, the claim of the Orthodox, not to mention the much older Assyrians, the Armenians and the Copts. How do we choose between those who reject Ephesus or Chalcedon as innovations and those who receive them as faithful to the tradition of the first four centuries?

        Now, there is a very simple solution to this dilemma. In Mgr Ronald Knox’s words, “The fideles, be they many or few, be their doctrine apparently traditional or apparently innovatory, be their champions honest or unscrupulous, are simply those who are in visible communion with the see of Rome.” This does give us “a test for defining the fideles without the question-begging preliminary of ascertaining who the fideles are, from an examination of their tenets. And in fact there can be little doubt that, in the West, our labelling of this party as orthodox and that as heterodox in early Church history comes down to us from authors who were applying this test of orthodoxy and no other.”

        It is a test remarkably easy of application, for the facts on which it rests are manifest; just what one would expect of the criterion of a divine message, intended for all, regardless of learning, capacity or circumstances.

        • ColdStanding

          Note: Sorry, this reply is overly long. Read the first few lines, at your pleasure, then skip to the last if you are disinclined to wade through the whole thing.

          You misapply. Mortals do not stand the test of time as do creeds. Our time, being short, affords not the passage of centuries to test and prove. Visible communion with Rome is both an act and an expectation. Expectation is founded upon constancy. Praying for the Holy Father is an act affirming the expectation of being led to feed in green fields; to rest beside a cool, living waters. If the life giving waters no longer flow (or perhaps only with sever restrictions as in a drought), one has a reasonable right to make pilgrimage to determine the cause of the blockage; to question the lack of constancy. Questioning why this or that has been re-arranged, abrogated, or wreckovated is not an act of disloyalty. Quite the contrary. Our faith is one of reasoned assent. Reasoned assent is attained, step by step. It is no good pleading that, well, only a few of the steps have been removed. It is all of a piece. Alteration of sign and symbol debases it’s quality as currency; as token of exchange.

          We have long been taught that our state is one of combat against an implacable enemy that will do anything at all to sow confusion; who constantly petitions Our Lord for permissions to test, to tempt. The Catholic mind recoils in horror at the thought of our precious symbols and institutions gone awry by some artful placement of a spanner in the works. However, it should never surprise the Catholic mind that it is always a close run thing, the outcome ever in doubt to the very last. Many times, the loses have been frightful.

          The blood spilled… Have Mercy Lord! Martyrs of the Vendee; of the Spanish Civil War; of the Pilgrimage of Grace; of the Cristeros pray for us.

          No, our time frame, these few generations, are but a beat or two in a very long rhythm. Tradition calls the tune. It is no shame to be out of step, save when you simply refuse to get back into step. Therefore, with all the angels and saints we pray: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth.

          At last I have it! The preacher in the Church Militant words must be in harmony with the words of the Holy now in the Church Triumphant! This is the truer test. The authority of the living is affirmed to the degree of concord it sounds with the past.

          • Michael Paterson-Seymour


            “The preacher in the Church Militant words must be in harmony with the words of the Holy now in the Church Triumphant! This is the truer test.”

            But it is a test that yields no certain results. The Assyrians maintain, and have maintained for 1,600 years, that the Theotokos was an innovation of the Council of Ephesus and no part of the Apostolic Tradition and, so far as the manuscript evidence goes, they are right. The Armenians and the Copts, for almost as long, have professed the one nature of God the Word Incarnate, in the very words of St Athanasius and St Cyril. The Orthodox accuse Nicholas I of tampering with the creed, as it was professed by the churches of East and West and by the first seven ecumenical councils, by inserting the Filioque. How does your test resolve these issues?

            For me, there is no need to examine these ancient controversies; their successors, at this day, are not in communion with Pope Francis, something clear and indisputable, and that is all that needs to be said.

            When, on 27 April 380, the August Emperors, Gratian, Valentinianus and Theodosius made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire, they felt no need to define it further than “the religion now professed by the Pontiff Damasus.” That it was the religion that “Blessed Peter delivered to the Romans,” was, for them, conclusively proved, by the fact that it was taught by his successor and that has been the faith of Catholics from that day to this.

            • ColdStanding

              How can you say “no certain results”? They are all over the place for you to see. The evidence is right in front of your face. The same cause produces the same results. Different results, which is what we have now, means at the level of causation, something has changed.

              • Michael Paterson-Seymour

                Because it does not enable us to adjudicate the rival claims of all those who appeal to Holy Tradition, Assyrians, Copts, Ethiopians, Armenians, Orthodox – All can produce doctrines and liturgies set in amber and dating back a millennium or a millennium and a half.

                Did the Second Vatican Council innovate? The Old Catholics will tell you that so did the First. So did Trent and the Fourth Lateran, according to the Orthodox. So did Chalcedon, according to all the other Eastern Churches.

                Your test provides no answer.

                • ColdStanding

                  That simply is not the case. It does provide an answer for it first asks the question: Is it Catholic? However it does not provide you an answer that you will accept because it will invariably set you at odds with what is happening now, because what is happening now bares little resemblance to what the record has demonstrated to be Catholic teaching, practice and custom.

                  It would be a wholesale denial of the clear record of historical and cultural life of the Church to suggest that the any utterance of a Church Militant ecclesiastic is rooted in an authority that affords the right to vitiate the very authority that conferred upon him the dignity in the first place. The authority placed upon the ecclesiastic is the apostolic authority to further the apostolic mission. The character and scope of this mission is well known. It is no part of the apostolic authority to harm or end the apostolic mission.

                  Therefore, I do not deny the existence of the office. I do not deny that the occupants of the ecclesiastical offices have obtained them legitimately. I do deny that these offices afford any authority other than what is in conformity with the apostolic mission: go forth and baptize all nations in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; preach the Gospel in season and out; govern the faithful. These guides are one mission. The mission is simple not complex. Each is one and the same thing without loosing it’s particular expression.

                  I do not need to put myself forward as an authority. You need not take my word as to what the character and scope of the apostolic mission is. The Church has long ago and unambiguously declared, confirmed and approved what the scope and character of that mission is, both in Her utterances and actions. Here, Her Charity is evident. We are safe-guarded, thanks to Her the unambiguous clarity of Her documents, from the inevitable accident of having Dogma: X=1 being contradicted by a, or even many, ecclesiastic saying Dogma: X=2. What She teaches can not be untaught.

                  The instances you reference as having standing in this case are not germane, because the characteristic disorder is different from today’s disorder. Each of them were situations where the doctrinal system was threatened, either by inclusion or exclusion, of perceived novelties. The passage of time has proven the validity of the doctrinal clarifications issued by the ecumenical councils.

                  What we face now is not a threat to a necessary doctrine, where everyone agrees that dogma is a necessity, just not which dogma or such and such definition of a dogma. What we face is the very dismissal of doctrine as a necessity at all. Perhaps illustrated by not which way the rudder is pointed, but not believing a rudder is even needed.

                  Therefore, the better test than “Are you with the Pope?”, guard I have not said Msg. Knox’s test was not good or useful only insufficient, is the question: Is it Catholic?

                  Now, the answer to the question, was the council in question Catholic is: mostly. Unfortunately, mostly is not enough. Therefore, the utterances of the council in question must be declared suppositions only, and not to be held to the same value as dogma.

                  Do this and the ambiguity that plagues the Faithful will be calmed like a storm by the Word of God.

                  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

                    “Is it Catholic” is not a test we can apply in practice. Why did those who anathematized Nestorius come to be regarded as “Catholics” rather than those who still accept his doctrines?

                    By my test, I know they are not “Catholics,” because they are not in communion with Rome. I do not need to examine their tenets.

                    “The passage of time has proven the validity of the doctrinal clarifications issued by the ecumenical councils.”

                    If we hold such and such doctrines to be of faith because the Church has come to believe them, then what right have we to assume that the Church has finally made up her mind on (say) the doctrine of the Trinity? Why should the process of doctrinal development have petrified? How are we to distinguish between kernel and husk, between what in traditional belief is part of the depositum fidei and what is merely accidental and suited to the needs of an age?

                    For me, again the test is simple; what does Rome teach?

    • jacobum

      Sounds like modernist double talk 101. Guess he didn’t agree with St Paul either.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        As Bl John Henry Newman says, “It is in vain to say that the man who judges from the Apostles’ writings, does submit to those writings in the first instance, and therefore has faith in them; else why should he refer to them at all? There is, I repeat, an essential difference between the act of submitting to a living oracle, and to his written words; in the former case there is no appeal from the speaker, in the latter the final decision remains with the reader… I can fancy a man magisterially expounding St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians or to the Ephesians, who would be better content with the writer’s absence than his sudden reappearance among us; lest the Apostle should take his own meaning out of his commentator’s hands and explain it for himself.”

        • jacobum

          see previous reply. There is a minor point about V2. Of 21 councils in the history of the Church, only V2 was a “pastoral” rather than a dogmatic council. Both PJ23 & PP6 said so. By accident it was not. Liberal/Progressives essentially hijacked V2. They were a minority in number but highly organized and managed to quickly take control of the agenda. One can justify anything under the umbrella of “pastoral” considerations a/k/a “spirit of V2”. It’s been an ongoing disaster for the Church. Still looking for that “anonymous christian” which Rahner created out of thin air in order to hang his heterodoxy. He, Conger et al were masters of the Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis. It was one of the favorite word game devices used to create deliberate confusion at V2.

    • I don’t know which controversialists the cardinal had in mind. It seems unlikely that he found an appeal to the voices of the past simply as such an “inverted and perverse method.”

      If you want to understand a Way and a Truth that (as the cardinal suggests) is unified, perpetual, and infallible, it seems sensible to look at how the Church has experienced and responded to it throughout her history and take that seriously. That’s why people think it’s a good idea, for the sake of developing their sensus fidei, to read Scripture, the Fathers, the lives of the saints, and whatnot. And also, I suppose, why Pius X says what he does. If something’s been a characteristic Catholic response or way of dealing with something, that should give it an authority that’s the very opposite of private.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        Bl John Henry Newman pictures a Tractarian: “And then I read the Fathers, and I have determined what works are genuine, and what are not; which of them apply to all times, which are occasional; which historical, and which doctrinal; what opinions are private, what authoritative; what they only seem to hold, what they ought to hold; what are fundamental, what ornamental… “

        Why should we trust his interpretation? Why should we trust our own? Fortunately, we do not need to, for we have the living voice of the Church of today to do it for us, who brings out of her treasure new and old things. (cf Matt 13:52)

        • It’s hard to know just what we’re discussing. Correct understandings are hard to attain, and the relation between thought and authority is obviously going to be complicated.

          If someone’s reading of the entire tradition of the Church tells him that a defined doctrine is wrong that’s obviously a problem, just as it would be a problem if he reached the same conclusion based on the Bible, Spinoza, or Dan Brown. On the other hand, orthodoxy can’t mean “follow the current trend of thought among people in the Church who have the office of teaching,” because then Athanasius would have been wrong until he won. And it can’t simply mean “follow the pope,” because then we would have been obliged to follow John XXII on the Beatific Vision until the view he held was formally declared heretical, and Formosus on everything until his corpse was dug up, mutilated, and tossed into the Tiber under a later pope.

          It’s impossible to think or act reasonably without having a personal interpretation of the situation. That interpretation develops through thought and experience, one’s own and that of others, a.k.a. tradition. The point of an authoritative Church (and for that matter practices like scientific experiment) is that the process needs some sort of external check or it’s going to wander away from reality. That doesn’t mean the process is dispensable.

          • Michael Paterson-Seymour

            Certainly it cannot mean “following the current trend of thought…” It means making a clear distinction between dogmatic teaching and theological opinion (theologoumena)

            It also means recognising that, as the Holy Father has pointed out, ” Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning.”

            As Bl John Henry Newman says, ““Theological dogmas are propositions expressive of the judgments, which the mind forms, or the impressions which it receives, of Revealed Truth. Revelation sets before it certain supernatural facts and actions, beings and principles; these make a certain impression or image upon it; and this impression spontaneously, or even necessarily, becomes the subject of reflection on the part of the mind itself, which proceeds to investigate it, and to draw it forth in successive and distinct sentences….Religious men, according to their measure, have an idea or vision of the Blessed Trinity in Unity, of the Son Incarnate and of His Presence, not as a number of qualities, attributes, and actions, not as the subject of a number of propositions, but as one, and individual, and independent of words, as an impression conveyed through the senses.”

            It is the distinction between words and things, facts and propositions about them.

            • Kevin Nowell

              Yes. Without submitting to the living authority of the Church hierarchy one runs the same risks as a Protestant practicing Sola Scriptura. The alternative to Sola Scriptura is not Sola Scriptura + texts from Church fathers & popes; but, a it must be a living tradition.
              Without a living authority all methods of truth seeking encounter problems of interpretation and discernment.

    • fredx2


  • jacobum

    Excellent article. Tradition and Truth are inseparable and unchanging. The novelties instituted by V2 can change neither despite the best efforts to do so. The heresy of Modernism is nothing more than the evolution principles of “Darwinism” applied to Dogma and the Liturgy. Vatican 2 embraced it, inhaled it, infused it, personalized it, and enforced it. The results were predictable and the empty Catholic Churches and wholesale apostasy confirm it. One is reminded of 2 quotes from St Athanasius’

    “Catholics who remain faithful to TRADITION even if they are reduced to but a
    handful, they are the True Church of Jesus Christ”

    “They have the buildings but we have the Faith”

    We must focus on changing ourselves first and then our families in order to turn the Barque of Peter. No mystery. Humility, prayer, fasting, penance and the courage to witness to Truth in all that we say and do. The Rosary is still the weapon of choice.

  • St. Vincent of Lerins: The “Vincentian Canon”, AD 434:

    (3) Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly ‘Catholic,’ as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality [i.e. oecumenicity], antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      But St. Vincent of Lerins also says in the Commonitórium Primum, ““Thus even the dogma of the Christian religion must proceed from these laws. It progresses, solidifying with years, growing over time, deepening with age.” [ta étiam christiánae religiónis dogma sequátur has decet proféctuum leges, ut annis scílect consolidétur, dilatétur témpore, sublimétur aetáte]

      How, then, do we distinguish a legitimate development from a corruption? The answer can only be in the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit, who is leading us into all truth.

      • Always to the beginning through the Church Fathers to the Apostles.

        • Michael Paterson-Seymour

          Who spoke of the homousion before Nicea, the Theotokos before Ephesus, where is the word “transubstantiation” to be found in the Fathers?

          • Like you very well said legitimate development vs. corruption
            Understanding/restating vs. novelty/innovation

  • There is this thing that started few years ago -2009 I think- called “Catholics Come Home.”

    With churches closing by the thousands up untill now, July 2014, you sure know the result of this campaign to “bring Catholics home.”

    It always starts at the top. The Catholic Church is not a democracy, it doesn’t start at the bottom. If the shepherds are corrupt or don’t teach the TRUTHS of the Catholic Church, then surely either the sheep will be corrupt as well, or there would be no sheep at all.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      How do we know what the “TRUTHS of the Catholic Church” are?

      It cannot be from books, for as Socrates says in the Phædrus, “writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet, if you ask them a question, they preserve a solemn silence.” So, in interpreting them, it is every man for himself, whether the book be the Bible or Denzinger.

      We can learn the truth only from living teachers.

      • ColdStanding

        This is just nonsense. Plato is having Socrates be dishonest. You can not ask a book what the weather is like today, but it can answer much pertaining to the subject purports to cover. It isn’t as if people read Elucid’s Elements and, citing him as an authority, proceed to talk about the wetness of water. Clearly the instrument string can be stretched and the note be off key, but the string still sounds when struck.

        The Catholic Tradition isn’t found in only one place. No, it is branches fruitfully produce from the supernatural life-giving Vine, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This comprises all of salvation history. The Old and New Testament, the Church and Desert Fathers, liturgical worship and ancient prayers, Popes, Bishops, Saints, Martyrs, Confessors, religious orders, art, literature, the faithful, traditions and customs, etc. The Living Tradition is more than just those that are alive. They are, of course, important, but not of paramount-all-else-nullifying importance. But to say that it is only the naturally living is to confuse the issue. Our new life is a supernatural life. Look through both the Summa Theologica and St. Alphonsus’s moral writings. They are both chock full of references to those no longer living in the flesh. These works have, well past the finish of the earthly span of their authors, continued to give supernatural life to the Faithful. Nobody in their right mind would suggest that because we can not question St. Thomas or St Alphonsus or the host of other authors that have contributed rich fruits from which our vintages are made, face to face that they should be disregarded.

        But this is exactly what has happened. All this has been discarded in favour of an all-trumping “but the council, the council!!” It is madness. It is revolution. It is death.

        • Michael Paterson-Seymour

          We accept the teachings of the past, as they are expounded and interpreted by the living voice of the present. We profess the creed, not because 318 bishops enunciated it at Nicea in 325, but because Pope Francis and the bishops in communion with him profess it today.

          • ColdStanding

            For shame, Michael. You’d have the our creeds be no more than a pinch of incense.

          • Guest

            Seriously? You place these two issues in opposition? Truth cannot contradict truth.

            • Michael Paterson-Seymour

              As Cardinal Manning put it, “Do you or do you not believe that there is a Divine Person teaching now, as in the beginning, with a divine, and therefore infallible voice; voice ; and that the Church of this hour is the organ through which He speaks to the world ? If so, the history, and antiquity, and facts, as they are called, of the past vanish before the presence of an order of facts which are divine namely, the unity, perpetuity, infallibility of the Church of God”

              It is because the Church, here and now, receives the teachings of the ancient councils that I know that teaching to be true. It is the living voice of the present Church that vouches for the teaching of the past and not the other way around

              • ColdStanding

                You are using either/or: Either the teaching of the past vouches for the teaching today or the teaching today vouches for the teaching of the past.

                But it is:

                Both/and: The teaching of the past both confirms the teachers of today and is confirmed by the teachers of today.

                This is the harmony of which I speak.

                • Guest

                  Exactly true.

  • Andrew

    My parents and I found a Latin Mass community ran by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter just at 4 hours away; plus or minus a few stops in Maple Hill Kansas; I hope we can begin to attend Mass there soon and stop going to a “created liturgy to entertain the people” in our parish; well all parishes mostly of our Diocese we belong to; the Salina Kansas Diocese.

  • AcceptingReality

    I agree that the overall neglect of tradition is detrimental to the faith of Catholics and to the Church’s influence in society. From the over-emphasis on the horizontal aspects of parish life to reality of priests who won’t even use the word “Mass” or “sacrifice” (constantly replacing those words with “liturgy” and “celebration”.) we have a very superficial worship experience. In the midst of the effort to popularize the Mass, parish priests have pushed belief in the Real Presence out and brought a “welcoming” lack of reverence in.

    It’s not hard to see what the world craves, however. Just look at the preponderance of and preoccupation with tattoos. Why do so many decorate themselves this way? I think it has to do with the need for something permanent in their lives. That same craving could be satisfied with Truth. Instead of the Truth we get silence on the main moral issues of the day and politically correct spirituality that challenges no one.