Wednesday, September 26, 2018

On Tradition

"Among the variety of meanings that can be noted in the Fathers of the first centuries, Tradition sometimes receives that of a teaching kept secret, not divulged, lest the mystery be profaned by the uninitiate.  This is clearly expressed by St. Basil in the distinction which he makes between dogma [and] kêrygma. “Dogma” here has a sense contrary to that given to this term today: far from being a doctrinal definition loudly proclaimed by the Church, it is a “teaching (didaskalia), unpublished and secret, that our fathers kept in silence, free from disquiet and curiosity, well knowing that in being silent one safeguards the sacred character of the mysteries. 

On the other hand the kêrygma (which means “preaching” in the language of the New Testament) is always an open proclamation, whether it be a doctrinal definition, the official prescription of an observance, a canonical act, or public prayers of the Church. Although they call to mind the doctrina arcana of the Gnostics, who also laid claim to a hidden apostolic tradition, the unwritten and secret traditions of which St. Basil speaks differ from it notably. First, the examples that he gives in the passage that we have mentioned show that St. Basil’s expressions relating to the “mysteries” do not concern an esoteric circle of a few perfect men in the interior of the Christian community, but rather the ensemble of the faithful participating in the sacramental life of the Church, who are here opposed to the “uninitiate”— those whom a progressive catechism must prepare for the sacraments of initiation."

-Vladimir Lossky

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