‘Authority Under the Word’: or, a Brief Thought on Why a Critical Attitude Ought to be Maintained Toward Tradition

In and of itself, tradition has zero normative force. Take the term ‘tradition’ to encompass things such as the ecumenical councils, received dogmas, things of that nature. These things have normative force only to the extent that they are correct and not in virtue of their status as tradition. Because the normative force derives from the correctness of tradition, it has to be shown that the tradition is in fact correct, and there cannot be a presumption of this correct-ness. This doesn’t mean an attitude of skepticism or suspicion towards tradition; it is helpful to think of tradition as our theological older brother/sister . We listen to them and to their wisdom before we say they are wrong, but we nonetheless validate what they say. In the case of tradition, this validation comes through exegesis and submission to the Word. One should not thumb their nose at the collective wisdom of the tradition: if one takes it to be the case that the tradition is wrong then it must be proved. However, to reiterate a point above, this does not mean that the presumption of correctness is on the side of tradition. Tradition can and has been wrong; there is no a priori reason to think that tradition ought to be given the benefit of the doubt simply because its status as tradition. Continue reading