13 December 2006
Some Thoughts on the Relationship of Scripture and Tradition
This is a result of an excellent conversation at our pericopal study group this morning - no doubt fueled by Sister's cinnamon rolls! There is a two-fold relationship that is in tension between the two. First, at the time of the Reformation the accent was solidly upon Scripture as the touchstone for what is true in tradition, what can made to harmonize with the divine words. This is a critical use of Scripture in regards to tradition. But it is not the only relationship between the two, for Tradition when it is being true to itself is above all the proper understanding of the Sacred Scriptures - it provides "an interpretive lens," if you will, for the reading of Scripture. Lutheranism at its best fosters the tension implicit in this. Chemnitz, recall, speaks of Scripture under the category of Traditions in the Examine. Yet Lutherans know that not everything that parades around as Tradition is worthy of the title, for some fall under the condemnation our Lord spoke of: teaching as doctrines the precepts of men. I would suggest that Rome and the East have settled on the one side of the equation: Tradition is the correct interpretation of the Scriptures. This, as Fr. Heath noted, prevents them from ever critiquing the received tradition and it explains a lot about what has crept in over the centuries. It neglects to take seriously the words of Cyprian about how what is ancient may merely be "the antiquity of error." On the other hand, there is a definite tendency among Lutherans and others to accent the Scripture as critique of tradition to the point where it is forgotten that tradition is also how Scripture is read. The Churches of the Augsburg Confession clearly sought to lose neither side. And this is shown in what may justly be called "the catholic principle" - thanks to Fr. Fenton for coining the phrase, I believe, but its final origin goes back to Pelikan's work on the Reformation where he referred to "catholic substance." The position of the Churches of the Augsburg Confession differs from that of other Protestants in that they used an exclusive principle: what is not explicit in the Scriptures has to go! Our churches said instead, what is clearly contrary to the Scriptures has to go; what harmonizes with them we receive with joy. So the Augsburg Confession starts out with affirming, not the Scripture per se, but the decrees of the Council of Nicea regarding the Holy Trinity. Our Church is being most faithful to itself when it refuses to allow either side of the "circle" to predominate, but recognizes that the Church lives in the tension of them both. The reason during the Reformation that the accent was solidly on the critiquing function of Scripture was precisely to balance the unhealthy approach to Tradition which had captivated the Western Church. But even while accenting that side of the circle, the whoel was never forgotten! We may not teach that which is contrary to the Sacred Scriptures; they remain the touchstone for all that is to be believed, taught, and confessed in the Holy Church. We may not ignore the tradition, the teaching of the Scriptures, which comes down to us from antiquity, for it saves us from subjectivity, the "me and my Bible" mentality that destroys all churchly life. If this is all nutsy, I'll blame it on overdosing on the sugar in those tasty cinnamon rolls...
Posted by William Weedon at 3:37 PM