Tag Archives: Jaroslav Pelikan

Flip the Ritual switch

Rod Dreher recently published some thoughts on ritual that reminded me of a passage from Jaroslav Pelikan, a passage I’ve used on this blog before: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

With Pelikan’s words in mind, here’s what Dreher said about ritual:

Rituals can be deadening, but the absence of rituals can also be deadening. A ritual only works to order the soul and instruct the conscience if you do it even when you don’t feel like doing it. It teaches you that there is something more important than your individual desire at that given moment.

That’s from “5 old-timey rituals that should make a comeback,” which appeared in the December 2014 print edition of Real Simple magazine. Dreher’s ritual? “Dinner at six.” With the entire family.

Consider for a sec that these passages from Pelikan and Dreher could be applicable in a number of areas of life, including habit formation and learning.

With this topic at hand, I should include, like the Pelikan quotation, another repeat from a previous post, this one by C.S. Lewis:

A parallel, from a different sphere, would be turkey and plum pudding on Christmas day; no one is surprised at the menu, but every one realizes it is not ordinary fare. Another parallel would be the language of a liturgy. Regular church-goers are not surprised by the service — indeed, they know a good deal of it by rote; but it is a language apart. Epic diction, Christmas fare, and the liturgy, are all examples of ritual — that is, of something set deliberately apart from daily usage, but wholly familiar within its own sphere…. Those who dislike ritual in general — ritual in any and every department of life — may be asked most earnestly to reconsider the question. It is a pattern imposed on the mere flux of our feelings by reason and will, which renders pleasures less fugitive and griefs more endurable, which hands over to the power of wise custom the task (to which the individual and his moods are so inadequate) of being festive or sober, gay or reverent, when we choose to be, and not at the bidding of chance.

How Tradition defended Scripture & defeated Gnosticism in early Christianity

Continuing a critique of the phrase “Biblical Anglicans” and some possible assumptions behind it:

Throughout his five-volume series The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Jaroslav Pelikan, the late Yale historian of Christianity, returned to the formative role of church tradition.

(Granted, as I said before, histories, like texts, are matters of interpretation. But some interpretations are better informed and more authoritative than others.)

In the fifth volume, Christian Doctrine and Modern Culture (since 1700), Pelikan writes (with direct quotations referring to sources listed in the margins of the book; the sources are omitted here for clarity):

Because it was the period in which historical theology came into its own, especially among Protestants but also among Roman Catholics and (particularly toward the end of the period) among Eastern Orthodox scholars, the nineteenth century confronted the idea of consensus of Christian tradition, and specifically patristic tradition, in a new way. It did seem remarkable that the apologists of the first three centuries in their defenses of the Christian message against pagans and Jews had “totally ignored the living tradition in their theory and criticism of revelation,” which they sometimes seemed to reduce to rational notions of God, creation, and immortality. A growing interest in the historical significance of Gnosticism for the emergence of orthodox Catholic doctrine led to the judgment that since Catholics and Gnostics alike had appealed to the authority of Scripture, the authority of tradition as “a principle standing above Scripture” became a way for Catholic orthodoxy to defeat Gnostic heresy. Irenaeus deserved recognition for being the first who “penetrated to the full value of the Catholic principle of tradition and developed its probative force.” Having supported the authenticity of the books of the New Testament from the tradition of the universal church, he had, moreover, helped to preserve the very Scripture that Protestants now sought to dissociate from tradition; and he had proved his thesis concerning the unity of apostolicity of the Catholic Church and its tradition by reference to the church of Rome, whose authority Protestants denied; Eastern theologians had to make a special point of explaining his statements about Roman primacy.

The boldfaced segments above were added by me.

Please also see:

Richard Hooker versus the Puritan position—more about the Anglican view of Scripture, Reason & Tradition

“Biblical Anglicans” as “one-third Anglicans”

Anglicanism and “Biblical Anglicans” as “one-third Anglicans”

Anglicanism, Thomas Cranmer and Richard Hooker in the context of Scripture, Reason, and Tradition

 

Richard Hooker versus the Puritan position — more about the Anglican view of Scripture, Reason & Tradition

I think Anglicanism looks most distinctive, at least to Americans, when it is contrasted with Puritanism, in part because America was influenced much more by the Puritans than by the Roman Catholics.

The Puritans and the Roman Catholics are relevant because Anglicanism was designed to be neither Puritan nor Roman Catholic.

Here’s a good witness for my case: Jaroslav Pelikan, the late Yale University historian of Christianity, who was acknowledged in many corners of Christendom as a scholar with a good grasp of the faith’s doctrinal and theological developments and changes.

In his book Reformation of Church and Dogma, which is Volume 4 in his five-book set The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Pelikan gives the following interpretation of Richard Hooker (1554-1600) and his book Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.

Hooker acknowledged that there were many doctrines, including the Trinity, that were “in Scripture nowhere to be found by express literal mention, only deduced they are out of Scripture by collection.” Yet that did not detract from “the sufficiency of Scripture unto the end for which it was instituted,” so long as one recognized what that end was — and what it was not. It was the knowledge of salvation, but it was not a detailed “ordinance of Jesus Christ” about the specific arrangements of ecclesiastical polity. These were to be known from the laws of reason and nature; for “when supernatural duties are necessarily exacted, natural are not rejected as needless,” and the law of God included both. Therefore it was a mistake, in the name of “a desire to enlarge the necessary use of the word of God,” to hold that “only one law, the Scripture, must be the rule to direct in all things,” when in fact “God hath left sundry kinds of laws unto men, and by all those laws the actions of men are in some sort directed.” (boldface added)

This should reveal Hooker’s belief in a reasonable exercise of reason, as well as an appreciation for traditional Christian beliefs that were handed down through practice and belief — yet not found spelled-out in Scripture.

When Hooker, within Pelikan’s paraphrase, said Scripture “was not a detailed ‘ordinance of Jesus Christ’,” he took exception to a point of view represented by the Puritans.

As quoted before on this blog, Professor David L. Holmes suggests that in the time of Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), the Prayer Book author who died two years after Hooker was born, the Puritans were uncomfortable with any exercise of reason or acknowledgement of tradition in church beliefs, practices, and offices:

The Puritan party, which desired biblical warrant for all beliefs, practices, and offices of a Christian church, viewed the Prayer Book as a half-way house to true reform and objected that it retained practices that were unscriptural.

In contrast, Anglicanism and the Church of England were distinct largely because of the English liturgy as found in the Book of Common Prayer. The Puritans, according to Holmes, disliked the Book of the Common Prayer!

Furthermore, Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, as described above by Pelikan, opposes the Puritan premise as described by Holmes. Hooker’s book, according to Pelikan, was “an apologia for the unique features of the Anglican settlement.”

We ought to register a significant difference between Anglicanism and the Puritan point of view.

This significant difference was not unique to Hooker. Professor William C. Placher, as I quoted elsewhere, said of Thomas Cranmer, author of the Book of Common Prayer:

His interests lay less in systematic theology than in church history, especially the history of liturgy, and in writing the Book of Common Prayer he produced the foundation of much English religion and one of the glories of English prose.

Keep in mind that evangelical Christianity in the United States has largely shared the Puritan suspicion of reason and tradition. As Philip J. Lee writes,

The Puritan changes often brought the New England theology perilously close to gnostic Christianity. Of particular concern is the Puritans’ concentration on the self and their tendency to regard humanity from an elitist perspective.

That’s from Lee’s book, Against the Protestant Gnostics.

Please also see: 

How Tradition defended Scripture & defeated Gnosticism in early Christianity

 

The historical use of the Apocrypha and Protestant dissent

“As part of the Septuagint ‘canon,’ the Apocrypha became and still are part of the Christian Bible in both the Eastern Orthodox and the Western Roman Catholic churches. They continued to hold this position, though without definitive and formal church legislation according it to them, until the Reformation churches assigned them (at best) second-class status, on the grounds that they were books which ‘the church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners, but yet both is not apply them to establish any doctrine.’ For most of Christendom during most of Christian history, however, they were and still are simply part of the Bible. Although all the books of the Apocrypha are Jewish in origin, they have in fact played a far more important role in Christian history than in Jewish history.” — Jaroslav Pelikan, the late Yale historian of Christianity, in his book Whose Bible Is It? A Short History of the Scriptures

Scripture and tradition?

From Jaroslav Pelikan’s book, Whose Bible is It? A Short History of the Scriptures (2005):

Writing in the fourth century, the Christian theologian Basil of Caesarea insisted that such pious actions as making the sign of the cross or facing the East when praying, neither of them commanded in the Bible, were not simply popular customs which it was possible for believers to obey or to ignore at will but unwritten traditions that had come down from the apostolic beginnings of Christianity and that were therefore of no lesser authority than the written apostolic traditions which were enshrined in the Bible. It was all normative and binding Christian tradition, regardless of the medium, written and unwritten, through which it was conveyed.