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Tradition and Traditionalism

Updated: 5 days ago



“A tradition is an act of forgiveness.”

—Charles Mathewes


"An authentic tradition can be distinguished from an ideology by its capacity for self-criticism. In other words, an ideology resists self-criticism; authentic tradition invites it."

—David Burrell


"Frequently even the words of a great tradition sound lifeless and dead, evoking nothing, except the memory. A tradition finds justification, as a living, a creative energy. But as a mere remembrance, now already powerless to create life, it cannot make pretense to being a guide for life."

—Nikolai Berdyaev


"Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide. Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time..." —Jaroslav Pelikan


"Every time we decide unilaterally to “change up” a received tradition, we are likely to risk missing out on how that very tradition might have helped us along the way. That is to say, if we are too quick to reshape traditions to suit our immediate and individual tastes, we may never know how those traditions might have reshaped us, how they might have efficaciously availed for us a more likely understanding of what we might become."

—Scott Cairns


"In spite of what too many Orthodox people think today, this is the hour of theology. Only a deep, fearless, and constructive evaluation of this situation in the light of the genuine Tradition of the Church, only a creative return to the very springs of our dogma, canons and worship, only a total commitment to the Truth of the Church can help us overcome the crisis and transform it into a revival of Orthodoxy. I know that this task is difficult and that a long tradition has taught theologians to avoid hot issues and not to "get involved." I know also that a certain traditionalism which has nothing to do with Tradition has made self-criticism and spiritual freedom a crime against the Church in the eyes of many. I know that too many 'power-structures' have a vested interest in not allowing any question, any search, any encounter with Truth. The forces of inertia, pseudo-conservatism, and plain cynicism are formidable. But the same was true of the time of St. Athanasius the Great, St. John Chrysostom and St. Maximus the Confessor. As for the issues we face today, they are not lesser than those they had to deal with. And it depends on us to choose between the pleasant prestige attached to mere academic scholarship and the responses to the Will of God." —Alexander Schmemann