Jesus is the One sent from God the Father; the apostles are those whom he has sent into the world. Whereas tradition understood in a human sense is perhaps the continuity of man’s search for truth, and whatever progress there is in such a search, tradition in the sense of the tradition of the Church is the continuity of the divine sending, the divine mission, which the Church has received from her Lord and which she pursues in the world. … The Church’s sending is in the power of the Spirit: the heart of the Church’s tradition, Holy Tradition, is the life of the Holy Trinity, in which the Church participates through the Holy Spirit, the fellowship which is ‘with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ’. 

Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery. An Essay on the Nature of Theology, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1983) 83.

Louth considers how for the early Fathers, such as Saint Clement of Rome and Saint Irenaeus, the Christian faith is something which is handed on: from the Father, through Jesus, through the apostles and their followers the bishops, in the Church. It is a life, a rule of faith or a rule of truth, that is handed on in baptism. In the words of Irenaeus: 

The true knowledge is the teaching of the apostles; and the ancient order of the Church found throughout the world; and the character of the Body of Christ according to the succession of bishops, to whom the Apostles committed (tradiderunt) that Church which is in each place, and which has come even to us, preserved without any writings by the fullest exposition [i.e. the rule of truth] which admits of neither increase nor diminution; and reading of the Scriptures without any falsification and their legitimate and careful exposition, avoiding danger and blasphemy; and the special gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, and more glorious than prophecy, surpassing all other charisms. (83-84 – AH IV, xxxiii, 8)

Louth comments:

Irenaeus speaks of the character of the Church which is preserved through the succession of bishops: by this he means not just the articles of faith handed down by the apostolic succession of bishops, but the whole character of the Christian community, its rites, its ceremonies, its practices, and its life. The final point he makes about the ‘special gift of love’ underlines the fact that for Irenaeus the tradition of the Church is not, like the tradition to which the Gnostics appealed, simply some message, truth, or ideology, but a life, something lived. (84)

The fact that the rule of faith, the fundamentals of Christian belief that will later develop into the creed, is received is almost as important as what is received. Tradition is not something that we make up but points instead to our dependence on others. Louth quotes Congar:

This structure of human interdependence or brotherly mediation is a very is a very important feature, of the human condition in the first place, and so also of the Christian condition. We belong to, and are part of, a world. Fecundation by another, recourse to another in order fulfil oneself – this is a general law of life, at least in corporeal beings. We can bring about our own death, but we cannot give ourselves life. (85)

The next post will consider Saint Basil’s understanding of tradition as the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church.

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