Have you noticed lately that many “for sure” and “non-negotiable” things are suddenly – not so sure and very negotiable?
How many historic, stable, and vital institutions of our culture are being challenged? Torn down? And redefined to be socially acceptable – but are morally and ethically bankrupt?
How many sacred teachings and historic foundations of the Christian Faith are being casually, and in some cases vehemently discarded? For ideas and teachings that have no precedent but are accepted because they are “relevant“?
So where is the anchor in the midst of all this sea-change?
Where are the ‘roots’ to be found that will stabilize us, the Church, and culture, as do the roots of an Oak tree? How does one begin to know who, or what is right, and wrong? Where do we go to find the objective Truth, and to gain a perspective of certainty, and surety?
Where is the wisdom to know where the ‘non-negotiable limits of orthodoxy run?’ And finally where do we go to find that unchanging wisdom, and then to muster the strength to act courageously on it?
This morning, in the quiet hours of early dawn, I was reminded in my readings of “where” former generations went. And where we must return if we hope to remain Orthodox in these very ‘un-orthodox’ times. (An excerpt from the book “Early Christian Doctrines” by JND Kelly pages 48-49 Tradition and Scripture “The Appeal to the Fathers”)
In the Christological controversies, for example, Cyril of Alexandria’s ultimate appeal was always to its teaching – ‘the tradition of the apostles and evangelists…and the bearing of divinely inspired Scripture as a whole.’ In his eyes the authority of the Church Fathers consisted precisely in the fact that they (the Fathers) had so faithfully and fully expounded the real intention of the Bible writers.
What he, and others, found impressive was that so many famous and saintly teachers, venerated in the whole Church, were unanimous in their interpretation of the Scripture and in their statement of the doctrines set forth.
The results of this long evolution were codified in the middle of the 5th century by St. Vincent of Lerins…
‘Learned and godly men’, he states, ‘have often searched for a sure, universally applicable rule for distinguishing the truths of the catholic faith from heretical falsehoods’. ‘What is necessary’, he suggests, ‘is a twofold bulwark, the authority of the Divine Law (i.e. The Bible) and the tradition of the catholic church.’ (Not Roman Catholic – but catholic as meaning universal) ‘In itself’, he concedes, ‘Scripture is sufficient , and more than sufficient, but because it is susceptible of such a variety of interpretations we must have recourse to Tradition.’ This norm of ecclesiastical and catholic opinion, as he designates it, is to be identified with ‘what has been believed everywhere, always and by all’. Thus ‘we shall conform to the principle of universality if we confess as alone true the faith professed by the entire Church throughout the world; to that of antiquity if we deviate in no particular from the tenets manifestly shared by our godly predecessors and the fathers; and equally to that of content if, relying on former ages, we make our own definitions and opinions of all, or at any rate the majority of bishops and teachers.’
Thus in the end…
‘the Christian must, like Timothy, ‘guard the deposit’, the revelation enshrined in its completeness in Holy Scripture and correctly interpreted in the Church’s unerring tradition.’
What will sustain us, save us, and keep us steadfast in times of challenge and chaos is this…
‘The Great Tradition’ is the actual, original tradition (Greek NT – paradidomai/Latin – tradere) – the teaching and faith of the catholic church, which the Lord bestowed, the Apostles proclaimed, and the Fathers safeguarded…’
St. Athanasius – 4th Century AD
“What do you think will save, and sustain us in tumultuous times?”