The GLRP Notes: Week #5, Chapter Four, pgs 73-95

With this chapter, “Tradition and the Tacit”, we arrive at the very heart of Father Andrew’s book, and so the problem is not going to be figuring out how this applies to our life in the Church—the problem is going to be addressing the many, many wonderful insights that he includes in this chapter. So, what we will do is save most of those insights for our discussion during the Pascha Book Study (though we will touch on a few at the conclusion of this week’s edition of the Notes), and we will, instead, provide an outline of the chapter.

Father Andrew begins by contrasting what the Church has always taught about tradition with how Roman Catholics and Protestants have understood that reality: in the Church, tradition is not a body of knowledge that either supports or distorts Holy Scripture. In the Church, tradition is the communion in which we come to understand the Bible. In fact, this early section of the chapter contains an observation that Father Andrew will make repeatedly throughout the rest of the book: “The heart of the Christian mystery is the fact of God made man, God with us, in Christ; words, even his words, are secondary to the reality of what he accomplished. To be a Christian is not simply to believe something, to learn something, but to be something, to experience something.

Father Andrew then talks at length about how we come to be Christians. He begins with Holy Scripture and with the Fathers, but he also goes to great lengths to point out that the dynamic which is at work in this process—a dynamic that he describes with a Greek word paideia and a German word bildung—is common to all healthy human cultures. Father Andrew then illustrates the specifically Christian expression of this paideia or bildung or traditioning with an extended discussion of a small book by St Augustine. (Note: Some Orthodox Christians trace just about everything that is wrong-headed in Western Christianity to St Augustine. In fact, some even refuse to use the title ‘saint’ and refer to him as ‘Blessed Augustine’. St Augustine did have some bad ideas, and some of those ideas have had a big influence on the West; however, within his lifetime, St Augustine was a holy man who was well respected, though not especially well-known within the Church.) Father Andrew makes the point that, in his book, St Augustine adapts a classically Greek way of approaching tradition to a specifically Christian goal—union in love with the Most Holy Trinity.

Father Andrew then goes into more detail about how the Fathers understood the process of traditioning. He quotes St Ireneaus and St Basil the Great and a Roman Catholic theologian, Ives Congar, to demonstrate that what happens in Holy Tradition is not only an expression of the inner life of the Most Holy Trinity, but it is also an expression of how life, in it’s very essence is communicated and passed on.

In the final sections of the chapter, Father Andrew considers some other characteristics of Holy Tradition. He speaks about the unspoken character of much of tradition, quoting St Basil again at length. Father Andrew also identifies the work of Holy Tradition with the work of the Holy Spirit, noting how both are given and how both are the ‘atmosphere’, the ‘breath’ in which we live. There is a great section on the connection between the tacit dynamics of tradition and the work that we do in the liturgy. And, finally, Father Andrew quotes, at length, a modern Orthodox thinker, Vladimir Lossky, on the subject of Holy Tradition as silence or hesychia. This leads to a consideration of the importance, in the Church, of ‘the living voice’ as opposed to book knowledge and also of the importance of the kind of tacit knowledge that children often embody as opposed to knowledge as fact and skill.

Obviously, there’s just a ton of stuff to consider in this chapter, so we’ll just point out a couple of things to think about between now and the Pascha Book Study: How should this tacit approach to knowledge influence what we do in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Church School program? Given Father Andrew’s discussion, what is the role of, say, Scripture memorization in the Orthodox Christian life? Again, in light of this chapter, how should we approach things like prosphora baking and prostrations and head coverings and icon reverencing—are these ‘small t’ traditions among which we can pick and choose, or can we even speak of choosing or not choosing to participate in the process of traditioning?