Tuesday, June 06, 2006

More from MacIntyre

"The concept of tradition is so little at home in modern culture--and when it does seem to appear, it is usually in the bastardized form given to it by modern political conservatism."
A. MacIntyre: Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, p. 165

I must confess, before commenting on this quip, that I can't be certain that I know entirely what he means, since I don't know how he defines modern political conservatism. That disclaimer voiced, let me say that the sentiment here accords with my sense of the problems of 'tradition' as understood within the Church today.

In other words, the word Tradition usually sounds monolithic and unchanging in the mouths of many contemporaries, used as a bulwark against the progressives. How unfortunate and unfair this is, given the penetrating insights of Cardinal Newman, Yves Congar and others. Newman was suspect before his vindication precisely because he suggested that it is of the nature of Tradition to change in its forms (while preserving the essentials). This is exactly why the efforts of reformers to return to the Early Church discipline are misconceived. On the other hand, what passes for 'conservative' and 'traditional' among many in the Church today is a strangely petrified version of the period 1560-1960 or so.

MacIntyre's point, and this is one he is at pains to stress throughout much of his later work, is that tradition is always a work in progress. He even points out in the chapter from which the above citations derives, that Aquinas himself understood the Summa to be a work in progress, whereas it was subsequently treated as the definitive work of Catholic theology. Aquinas himself was something of a radical, working as he did to reconcile two rather different traditions, the thought of early medieval theology, so entrenched in the thought of Augustine, and the philosophy of Aristotle, often as mediated by Arabs and Jews.

For me to write any of this is not meant to endorse liberalism or progressivism, especially to the extent that these movements fail to respect the givens of Tradition. And I fear that there are fewer and fewer among us that really grasp the full richness of the Tradition, and this lack of grounding tempts us with a desire for 'developments' that are, in fact, innovations to suit our modern moods.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice work! I read somewhere that Aquinas' work was "verboten" for some 50 years after his death.

Russell Kirk's "The Conservative Mind" gives some great examples of how conservative principles have been applied during times of great change. Newman is one of his examplars, in fact.

IMHO, those of us who grew up in the wake of Vatican II have the benefit of seeing the extremes of liberalism and traditionalism, if only because we have a better opportunity of looking at each more critically than those who were directly involved in some of the experiments that followed the council.

Thanks for your contribution!


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