The importance of liturgy, then, for tradition is that by the very fact of its being performed, of its being the doing of something that others have done before us, of its being a matter of significant actions that suggest meaning rather than define it, it introduces us into a context, a realm of values, in which the significance of tradition can be seen. By the fact that it goes beyond speech, it impresses on us the importance of the inarticulate: and it is not without significance that inarticulateness about what is deeply important is characteristic of the child, whom we have to be like if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven.
This stress on inarticulateness can be developed in another way. In an essay called ‘Tradition and Traditions’, Vladimir Lossky suggested that one fruitful way of considering tradition is to think of it as silence. If Scripture is the word, the voice, the utterance, then tradition is, in contrast, silence. Lossky quotes from St. Ignatius of Antioch: ‘He who possesses in truth the word of Jesus can hear even its silence’, and remarks that the significance of this passage for the Patristic understanding of tradition has not apparently been previously noted. Lossky develops this idea by speaking of a ‘margin of silence’ which belongs to the words of Scripture and which cannot be picked up by the ears of those who are outside.
Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery. An Essay on the Nature of Theology, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1983). 91
Louth proceeds to probe the meaning of silence, or hesychia, which also suggests a stillness that includes receptiveness and presence. Jesus did not simply communicate a message. The apostles were those who had been with Jesus, and He gave them something deeper than words, namely what Hort calls “the power of Life”. (92) Louth continues to argue that it is precisely this sense of Jesus’ presence that tradition conveys, but that to receive it, to hear Jesus and not just His words, we need to stand within the tradition of the Church.
We become Christians by becoming members of the Church, by trusting our forefathers in the faith. If we cannot trust the Church to have understood Jesus, then we have lost Jesus: and the resources of modern scholarship will not help us to find him. (93)
We also need to learn to be receptive to this silence. Here the liturgy is once more a good teacher, enabling the oft-repeated words to “penetrate beneath our surface minds to our very heart.” (93) This links to what Congar calls “The Gospel in the heart,” the most profound example of which we find in Mary’s “pondering in her heart,” which also means putting the word into practice.
The idea of tradition as silence is also witnessed to by the power of what Louth calls the living voice within the Church. He speaks of the spiritual director, or father, as an “organ of the tradition” who would be asked for a word, as it was said of the Desert Fathers. While the representatives of this tradition were for the most part not concerned with “dogmatic” matters, they nevertheless played an important role in the defence of the Church’s dogmatic tradition. In the witness of such people we see the boldness that comes from the Spirit and “enables us to stand in the divine presence and speak with simplicity of what is there made known.”(94) However, such openness to the Spirit was not won without effort and prayer. Louth concludes:
We make contact again with an inarticulate living of the mystery, the tacit dimension, which is the heart of tradition, and from which theology must spring if it is to be faithful to the truth it is seeking to express. For the truth that lies at the heart of theology is not something there to be discovered, but something, or rather someone, to whom we must surrender. The mystery of faith is not ultimately something that invites our questioning, but something that questions us. (95)