Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Sacred Tradition is like a Compression Wave: ND Tradition Conference Day 1

In all seriousness.

So today was Day 1 of Notre Dame's Tradition Conference. My summary will be based around this little analogy. By Sacred Tradition I refer to the whole deposit of faith, both written (Scripture) and oral (which has since been found in writing as well as those after the Apostles attempt to grapple with what was handed on orally) tradition.

"Secret" Niccoline Chapel discussed by Bishop Anthony Fisher
in relation  to Catholic Moral Tradition

Compression Waves:

These are the types of waves involved in sound, or slinkies. They look like this:


  • The flow of energy is one-directional 
To see what I mean, look at this animation (the first one, longitudinal waves are another name for compression waves).
  • The particles oscillate in a direction parallel to the direction of the flow of energy (again, see animation above).  In other words, the particles interact on the same plane.

What does this have to do with Sacred Tradition?

I think many of the things said today can be tied into this model. I'll look at each characteristic separately. For the purposes of the analogy, each particle may be thought of as an individual person, who participates in the complex overall chain-web of "handing on" the deposit of faith.

  • "Traditioning" is the process of handing on the deposit of faith. As such, it necessarily moves in one direction chronologically, as each generation preserves the faith by handing it on to the next. Hence the parallel with the notion of a wave, which by definition is a transmission of energy in one direction, while here we have transmission of truths in one direction.
  • The oscillations of individual particles are representative of the ongoing dialectic that takes place in the process of traditioning. 
    • If we zoom out, taking a long view of history, we see only the overall movement in one direction. But if we zoom right into individual lives, we see that there is a back-and-forth going on. One doesn't simply receive the whole deposit in one go, and then proceed to hand it on. Indeed, one person never receives the whole, they simply absorb a limited amount over their lifetime, all the while constantly transmitting what they have already internalised to others. 
    • There is a perpetual vacillation between actively receiving the faith from someone you trust, and then passing on what you have received, to a new recipient. This active reception involves choosing to believe and accept tradition as a reliable source of truth, which is possible only because we have the Holy Spirit working as the guarantor that the Church will maintain fidelity to His original inspiration of the Apostles. It must involve the application of one's intellect to what is received, interpreting and understanding it, finally internalising it as one comes to grips with how best to express these truths to the next generation, which will always be slightly different from one's own. There is an engagement between the transmitter and the receiver as the transmitter strives to pass on what he is passionate about, in such a way that the receiver will not only receive the content but the same love for this content as well, and thus inherit the urge to pass it on again, while simultaneously, the receiver interrogates and evaluates what is being presented. This dynamic interaction is the essence of what keeps Tradition living, as it respects the past, confronts the immediate present, and has a concern for the future. Such interaction can only really occur in relationships of mutual concern and respect, namely in the family, "the domestic Church", and friendships. The fact that such relationships are where the action happens in terms of bringing humanity to Christ has been amply borne out in history.
    • The truths of Sacred Tradition are made concrete in actions, in the living out of that faith. Actions are the fruit of the authentic reception of the truth. These are manifested in the traditions of the Church (distinguishing here between Tradition and traditions), each of which express, or ought to express, truths of the unchanging Tradition, for particular times. Thus, many of these will undergo transformations over the centuries, as different generations seek to express the Tradition in action intelligibly for the Church and the world.
    • It is impossible to not have traditions as human beings, and so it is important to be aware of this so that we may be discerning about which traditions we choose to adhere to.
    • If people have a duty to try to seduce or persuade people to cherish what they cherish (for if they see it as worth cherishing then surely they would want to share that at least with the people they care about), then in particular each Christian, if they are passionate about Christ, then has a responsibility to strive to "hand on" this encounter with the Lord.
In short, the one directional movement of energy in a compression wave is like the one directional movement of the deposit of faith in Sacred Tradition, while the oscillations of the individual particles are like the ongoing reception-transmission that take place on the individual level.

If you think you're missing out by not attending this conference, you're right. Sorry. ;)