Ad Theologiam Promovendam Tradition? What tradition? (2)

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Homeward-bound in the ark of tradition (2): Tradition? What tradition? How the recent motu proprio ‘Ad theologiam promovendam’ creates genuine feelings of unease @PaterElias #FilioQueInEnglish 

Homeward-bound in the ark of tradition

In ‘FilioQue in English, the catholic trademark’ Father Elias Leyds c.s.j. tries to distinguish in both written and spoken word the truth from the false, the Word that has become flesh, always in search for Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life. “As a priest, a foot soldier in the Lord’s trenches, I should not comment but explain, because Clarity is the only munition of the gospel of life”.   

December 2023, Oisterwijk – In my previous article, I shared my bewilderment at the confusing teachings of the current Magisterium and the lack of clear answers to valid questions that have risen amongst the faithful and their servants, the clergy. It must be reiterated, that for priests it is neither a right nor an option to interrogate the Magisterium in case of confusion. It is a mere duty, defined by the respect for the faithful and for their Lord. The lack of clear answers will first cause a crisis of confidence and filial trust. If then questioning is equated to criticism, we are no longer in the sphere of shared responsibility that constitutes the backbone of the Roman Catholic Church. We have entered a totalitarian paradigm. The hierarchy may keep its power, but it will lose its relevance. Eventually the faithful will have to look for alternative authorities, capable of mediating on their behalf at the frontiers of existence.

For many faithful people, who come to me for advice and support, this is actually their present situation. In this singular trial for their faith, for our faith I should say, we Catholics have a singular stronghold for our hope, namely our tradition, which unites us immediately and unquestionably to the Apostles. Tradition is not just something passed down by faithful generations, so we may believe the revealed truth. In tradition we also find examples of hope against all odds. So tradition not only helps us to see clear and find answers about matters of faith, where present authorities fail to give them. In our tradition we also find the testimonies of ancestors, some of whom were canonized, who surmounted tribulations that we would not even dare to think of. However, even when finding consolation in tradition, things don’t get easier. Not everything in traditional doings is of the same value. A priest might love celebrating the traditional Latin mass, but have reason in abhorring lace for being effeminate. Discernment is needed. Even here, two tempting but treacherous mindsets threaten the simplicity and felicity of our Catholic adherence: a dialectical mindset and a gnostic one.

In order to discern what to believe and what not to believe, what to do and what to abstain from, whom to trust and whom to respectfully and discreetly avoid, we must use reason. And, as saint Thomas Aquinas repeatedly points out, reason both unites and separates. Thus, according to our character, or simply our mood of the moment, we may be tempted to favour one of these two movements. Firstly, the inclination to separate rather than unite leads to a mindset which only pays attention to contradictions and asserts itself by opposing. In sportive events this leads to moments of joyful competitive communication. But when it monopolizes reason’s connection with reality, it turns into a violent dialectical spirit causing and perpetuating conflict and war.

With such a dialectical mindset, we may be tempted to oppose tradition and the current papacy. We may eventually come to question the validity of the conclave that elected the present pope. However, for the large majority of Catholics, like myself, this issue is lightyears beyond our competence. For simple souls, like me, the claim that Francis is not the pope equals the claim of the throne for oneself. In other words, if he is not the pope, it must be me. I can’t help but consider sedevacantism a bit of a farce. So how do we unite both tradition, including previous papacies, to the present papacy? By respectably and charitably formulating our questions with the same clarity as the popes of the past formulated their answers.

Jewish and Roman societies owed their coherence to public responsibility. That’s why the Old Testament, even without affirming its divine inspiration, is such a fascinating collection of ancient books. And that’s also why the Church of Christ incorporated so many features of Roman civilisation, which divine providence had also deemed a suiting decor for the Incarnation of the Word. Public responsibility is a key element – indeed, symbolized by the keys of saint Peter – of our Catholic tradition. Paradoxically it makes us vulnerable, yet invincibly strong. The more fervently we want to serve as mediators between the faithful and our Lord, the more arduously we must fulfil our duty of formulating clear questions to our authority, when needed.

And let’s not forget the trade mark of our Catholic faith, the dogma of the filioque, which states that Father and Son are one singular principle in ‘breathing’ eternally the Holy Spirit, third Person of the Holy Trinity. I see our accountability before God and men as the image of the filioque in us. By our answering to God for the gifts we have received from Him, the likeness to His filioque takes shape in us through the Holy Spirit. And so, when our dutiful questions to the vicar of Christ, whom we address as holy Father, share the limpidity of the answers his predecessors gave to their pastors and their faithful, then the Paraclete will come. The Spirit of God comes immediately when called by a clear voice, for He is attracted by His own likeness in the flesh. On the contrary, in the echo chambers of virtual social media souls, directed by dialectical minds, get lost in a quagmire of fake friends and vain enemies. In their solitude they might become the only real pope left. It is more empowering to spend time in a real desert waiting there for the Lord who is who He is, and shouting with a dry voice that no one hears. Because the Paraclete listens to such a voice, and shall whisper a crystal-clear answer.

The second treacherous mindset that might take hold of us differs from the dialectic one, and is rather gnostic and inclusive. Due to the beauty of cultural achievements and impressive monuments that remind us of the Christian past, we might consider tradition to procure a kind of complete knowledge, warranting our faith and a secure Christian life. However, this is not the case. Our knowledge will not save us, and even this traditionalist variety of gnosticism is delusional. Our trustful obedience to God will always have to be greater than the persuasiveness of what we know or even understand. More so, human knowledge, even about divine matters, is incomplete and must be completed in the flesh by human action. Our Lord has shown the example in consummating the Incarnation by giving His life – or ‘laying down His soul’, as the holy Scripture puts it literally.

Gnosticism (from the Greek: γνῶσις, gnosis or knowledge), which leads to fake mysticism and the idolatry of human knowledge, is but the caricature of the Christian faith in the incarnated eternal Word (in Greek: λόγος). Even while being a divine Person, Jesus Christ shares the incompleteness of the human nature. In His divine Person this incompleteness is a mysterious openness to Himself and in us can be restored as the openness towards God. He obeys to His Father and bears witness to Him, while abiding and acting in both the Holy Spirit and in the flesh. First of all, tradition as a whole bears witness to Him. This is no good news to the cowardly and the lukewarm. Tradition does not offer to us a complete set of truths and rituals, but rather a limited set of immutable and terribly risky truths, that are to be completed in our actions and in our death. Death was an inevitable punishment for sin, but in Christ death has become both tool and matter of glorification. If we want to defend our freedom, it should be so our souls take part in that astonishing completion, humanly breath-taking and divinely breath giving. All other kinds of freedom are fake and vain, and will fade away.

We must never forget that it was not the ecclesial institution that passed down tradition, even though in this it did play an important role, assigned to it by its Founder. Tradition is a heritage we received from our ancestors, believers who bore fruit in living and dying while bearing witness for our sake. Their example shows how to fight against one’s own sin on the freeway to supreme exclusivity, the victory that has already been won by Christ.

Gnosticism is the delusion of complete salutary knowledge. Inclusiveness, a key concept in the vain discourse of contemporary ideology, is but the unavoidable political projection of this. A collective delusion usually turns into a collective nightmare. When it becomes clear that not everyone wants to be included and welcomed, sweetness will turn into rage. No longer will everyone be welcome. Everyone must be held prisoner. Since the utopian French murderous revolution, perpetuated in Russia, China, Cambodia, Iran (just to name a few), we have seen it happen over and over again. This should neither surprise nor petrify us. The French collective stupidity of replacing the rightful king by a tyrannical fake emperor has a biblical precedent: “We have no king but Caesar!”[1] Tradition, which is not defined by some continuity in time, but by a timeless divine presence, connects our history immediately to that moment. And tradition also shows us the actual immortal presence of those martyrs, who were strong while passing through the deep human darkness of this world. They were strong, because they believed that they were already being seen in divine light by the Almighty, whom they were hoping to see in His glory, in the End.

+ Father Elias Leyds c.s.j.


[1] Jn. 19, 15


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