Therefore Tradition is always touched by human hands, never pure and unsullied, always subject to seasons and sin. Pure objective points exist, but they are beyond me. If, driven by fear and insecurity, I extract some element from my life in Christ and try to erect it into an objective norm to bypass the messy process, I am basically making an idol. The tradition I pass on wouldn’t need pickling if it were actually alive.
That is why we need faith; and that is why splinter movements, even Lefèvrist ones with traditionalist good intentions and bright beginnings, always end up petering out inconsequentially, unless they find a way to reintegrate. Separated from the vine they wither and die.
Good religious communities are laboratories within which we can see the dynamics of tradition properly working. The life to which Benedict calls Christians renews itself generation by generation, as it is lived. Here is Dom Antoine Levasseur writing about Saint Wandrille:
His biography is far more than an informative record about a character from the dark ages. It must live in us. That is difficult for our modern minds to grasp, given our habit of considering ancient writings as mere records, or souvenirs of a past age. This is that, but it seeds itself afresh in each successive present, in order to engage us and train us for the future, to live the life for real.Lived tradition challenges tendencies, understandable in times of fast change, to romanticize, confabulate, fantasize or panic. It is those tendencies which invite us to fix on some Big Thing, hang desperately onto it, then make it the Grand Shibboleth.
Here’s a recipe for “traditionalism.” Half digest some of key ingredients from a living tradition in a rather modernist way, pickle them up, then pack them up in the old kitbag as weapons. You half digest because the days are evil and you are in a hurry. If you really digested the tradition you would be aware of its subtleties, vulnerability and ultimate mystery.
The Religion may be laid on with a trowel, but there is little faith involved. There used to be a thing in England called the “society for the maintenance of the faith”; a rather extraordinary object for a society, the more you think about it. Or at least so it seems in a place where the week’s ferial collect contained a daily reminder it is God alone de cuius munere venit, ut tibi a fidelibus tuis digne et laudabiliter serviatur (“of whose resource alone it comes, that your faithful may do you appropriate and praiseworthy service”). This monastery wears its religion sincerely, but lightly and realistically. After 1359 years of the process Dom Antoine describes, there’s nothing left to prove. Amen!