Voce mea ad Dominum

Random thoughts from an amateur theologist.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Tradition and traditions

He responded, "Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.' You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition." -Mark 7:6-8

Jesus was rather harsh with the Pharisees. He would refer to them with titles like "hypocrites" or "blind guides" or "unseen graves", and he lamented their strict adherence to traditions because those traditions often imposed a heavy burden on people. This got me to thinking about my own faith.

For Catholics, traditions play a role in our everyday journey of faith. We abstain from meat on the Fridays of Lent, we have a celibate priesthood, we light candles and pray before icons, we bless ourselves when entering the Church with holy water, and we genuflect to the Blessed Sacrament prior to entering our pews. Does this mean that Jesus would frown on these traditions of ours as he did on those of the Pharisees?

I don't think so, and here is why. The traditions which I have just outlined are not imposed upon us as doctrines. They are disciplines which aid our growth in holiness. They are ways that we show piety toward God and thus give him glory. This is the big difference between our tradition and the Pharasaical traditions. When the Pharisees observed a tradition, they did not do it to give glory to God. They did it for personal gain even if it meant burdening others.

These traditions are not to be confused with Sacred Tradition which is something quite different. Sacred Tradition is that which was given to the Apostles by Jesus and is a deposit of the faith. The Scriptures are part of Sacred Tradition in that the correct way to read them is in light of the teaching of the Apostles. Sacred Tradition is not human tradition, rather it is divine revelation, and since it is revealed by God, it must be believed by all. For example, that God is triune yet one is Sacred Tradition.

So long as our traditions aid in our understanding of God and growth in holiness, they are appropriate. However, when these traditions become more important than the Lord himself, they will cease to be effective ways of growing in holiness. At this point, we will become "hypocrites", "fools", and "blind guides."


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