Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Catholic Exchange's Mark Shea on "The Shadow Tradition"

Get it here!

The highlight:
Now, what interested me about this fellow was that he voiced an idea that many people share: the notion that anything old in the Church must, ipso facto, be part of the Tradition. But is this really so?

After all, one of the oldest things in the Church is sin. We all do it and we all go to confession for it. Does it therefore follow that sin is "part of the Tradition" and something to be treasured and preserved? Obviously not. So there are old things in the Church which are not necessarily a part of the Church. In short, we can speak of a sort of "shadow tradition" which is always present alongside authentic tradition.

Does this sound mysterious? It should. But it is a mystery already spoken of in the New Testament. St. Paul, for instance, tells us that the mystery of evil was already present and at work even in his day (2 Thes 2:7). It remains a constant fact throughout the history of the Church and, because it is constant and very old, guys like my reactionary acquaintance can often think that it is the same thing as the Tradition.

Magisterium vs. Murk

The difficulty with the shadow tradition, like all evil, is that it is, as Lady Macbeth says of hell, murky. Evil doesn't show itself clearly. It prefers darkness, obscurity, ambiguity, fuzz, blur. Now and then, we can catch a glimpse of it, briefly. Now and then, as in a lightning flash, we see evil in almost chemical purity: in an airliner smashing into the World Trade Center, in a heap of bodies stacked like cordwood at Dachau, in a child dismembered on an abortionist's table. But typically, evil knows how to duck behind the legitimate moral ambiguities of life. And so the abortionist appeals to the Tradition's respect for choice, the Jihadist to the need for "tolerance" of his viewpoint, and the Jew-hater to a need to honor "Tradition." Attempts to oppose the evil can then quickly be cast as attempts to oppose the good thing the evil hides behind. Things can get muddled very quickly.
The clincher:
Orthodoxy is co-terminous with neither conservatism or liberalism. These ideologies are the work of fallen man and share in his fallenness. Only the revelation of Christ through the teaching office of Holy Church is a sure guide.
There's a reason Christ referred to himself as the Good Shepherd and us as sheep. We would graze in a field of sinai and believe we needed every lethal bite. We would plunge headlong off the highest precipice utterly convinced the path led to safety. We'd stand in the rain of every soul-slaying experience, expecting the refreshment of something new. Without him, we're lost.

He pastures us through the Magisterium of his Church. We ignore it at our peril. Whatever our politics happen to be.

Some will be Fools, some will be Foolable, some will even be Reasonable. All need the Shepherd. Which one of us will admit this and live accordingly?