Rorate Caeli

"Tradition is not traditionalism"

As it is seen, Irenaeus does not limit himself to the definition of the concept of Tradition. His tradition, the uninterrupted Tradition, is not traditionalism, because this Tradition is always internally vivified by the Holy Spirit, who makes it live again, who makes it interpreted and included in the vitality of the Church.
Benedict XVI
General Audience, March 28, 2007


  1. Anonymous1:57 PM

    New Catholic, would you mind translating the entire text of the Holy Father at the General Audience? He appears to go into a whole exposition of tradition. In Christ,

  2. Nathan, I lack the time for it, now. But check Asianews in a couple of days and they will certainly provide a full translation.

  3. In his general audience Benedict XVI illustrates the figure of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, who fought Gnostic heresies, as an example of how the faith was transmitted by the apostles and their successors: it is “public, unique and inspired by the Holy Spirit”.

    Vatican City (AsiaNews) – True Christian faith is taught by the bishops of the Church, in particular the bishop of Rome, in other words the Pope: it is public and unique, not intellectual in it’s nature in so far as it is inspired by the Holy Spirit and destined for all people. The principles of the Apostolic tradition and the transmission of faith were addressed by Benedict XVI today in his catechesis to over 30 thousand pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s square for the weekly general audience, under a sun dappled sky.

    Continuing in the catechesis on the Church Fathers from the first centuries, today the Pope spoke of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, probably born in Izmir Turkey between 135 and 140, a follower of bishop Policarp, disciple of John, who went on to become the bishop of the French city where he died between 202 and 203, perhaps by martyrdom.

    “As a writer –said Benedict XVI – he had the twin aim of defending true doctrine from heretical attacks and of exposing with great clarity the truth of faith”. His works “can be defined as a most ancient Catechism”. At a time when the Church was threatened by Gnostic doctrine according to which “ the Church’s teachings of faith were merely symbolic for the simple incapable of true comprehension”, while the initiated were the only ones capable of understanding the meaning behind those symbols. But “in this way a Christianity for the elite, the intelligencia was being formed”, which risked diversifying itself into many different schools of thought with “strange curios yet attractive elements”.

    A common element among the diverse Gnostic sects was their Dualism: The oneness of God was denied while the theory of evil caused by material wealth was counter posed to the idea of a kind God. Irenaeus contrasted the Gnostic pessimism which depreciated material reality. But his work “goes well beyond his confutation of heresy”. In the Popes description he is “ the first great Theologian who created systematic theology”, at the centre of which emerges the question of the “rule of faith ”, as well as it’s transmission. “The rule coincides with the apostles’ creed and gives us the key to interpreting the Gospel” “how it must be read”.

    The Gospel Irenaeus preached was the Gospel preached by his teacher Polycarp, who in turn received it from the Apostle John in an unbroken line of succession going back to Christ himself” and that this faith was taught “simply” but at the same time with great “depth”. “There is no secret doctrine, a superior Christianity for intellectuals, does not exist”, the faith which is taught is faith for everybody, publicly transmitted by the apostles to their successors the bishops. Among these the teachings of the Church in Rome must be considered above all, as it traces its roots to the apostles Peter and Paul. All other Churches must agree themselves to it.

    “In this teaching –underlined Benedict XVI – the theory that intellectuals posses a superior faith to the one taught by the Church is contested”; faith “is not a privilege of the few”, but anyone can pertain to reaching it through the teachings of the bishops, in particular the bishop of Rome.

    The Pope affirmed, this is where the genuine concept of tradition, which is not traditionalization, comes from, and which has three essential characteristics. First “it is “public”, because it is available to all through the teaching of the Bishops; to know the true doctrine it is enough to know the faith as taught by the bishops successors.

    Secondly , the apostolic tradition “is “one”, because its content remains the same despite the variety of languages and cultures;”. Benedict XVI here recalled some of the excerpts from Irenaeus book on heresies when he says “even though the Church is disseminated throughout the world, it holds the faith of the apostles as if it were one single home, spoken with one single tongue”.

    And finally the apostolic tradition is, in the Greek word “pneumatic”, because, through it, the Holy Spirit continues to enliven and renew the Church even today”. “It is not a case of the transmission of faith being entrusted to men who are more or less capable, but it is the Spirit of God who guarantees the truth of faith”. At the same time this also guarantees a “freshness” of the Church. In short “a precious deposit, held within a valuable vase, which renews itself continuously also renewing the vase which contains it”.

  4. "The Pope affirmed, this is where the genuine concept of tradition, which is not traditionalization, comes from, and which has three essential characteristics"

    Why is there a discrepancy between the quotation in the blog page and Asianews transcription ?
    - "traditionalism" is a direct attack, something weird at the so-frequently announced "eve" of a motu proprio (!) which could (maybe ?) free TLM
    - "traditionalization" is a careful way to avoid the attack.

    So I'd like to know the true word used by the pope. It's especially relevant when the usual rumor-mill is turning more quickly than ever, spreading new "release" dates every hour, new "imminent" letter on the papal desk, new ... old boring rumors.
    We have been amused with all the colours of the rainbow in the past 2 years.
    I guess the next "imminent document" on the papal desk to be signed on March/April the xyz anno Domini XYZ [probably XXIst century according to close sources but some say the century isn't yet decided and could be XYZ] will be a ... dogmatic constitution to be proclaimed from St-Peter balcony.
    That would be - at last - a REAL surprise !

    nb. subsidiary question : how many ultra-progressive or arch-neo-modernist bishops - those who are supposed to keep up the living Tradition I suppose - have been effectively appointed by His Holiness in the past months ? or have I to write weeks ? 100% of the new bishops or "only" 80% ?
    When trads are obsessed by the "new" rumor online, the real facts pass unnoticed : week after week, masses of overt liberals and neo-modernists are appointed bishops in the world.

  5. As long as the renewal is coherent and consistent with Tradition. The Holy Spirit does not contradict itself, since God is pure perfection. The criticism towards II Vatican Council, its afteward, and application, is that it did not mantain this necessary characteristic. Lived tradition, yes, but a tradition that stays in coherence with itself. And the bishop, nor the Pope are above or Tradition but are to serve it. I think that if Pope Benedict XVI really frees the Tridentine Mass it will, at the same time, please modernist Rome in the form of reaffirming the current modernist "tradition" in the Church. I bet money on this.

  6. Dear Alsaticus, the word used in the exact text (last paragraph of the Italian text) is "traditionalism".

    "Come si vede, Ireneo non si limita a definire il concetto di Tradizione. La sua tradizione, la Tradizione ininterrotta, non è tradizionalismo, perché questa Tradizione è sempre internamente vivificata dallo Spirito Santo, che la fa di nuovo vivere, la fa essere interpretata e compresa nella vitalità della Chiesa.

  7. " "traditionalism" is a direct attack, something weird at the so-frequently announced "eve" of a motu proprio (!)"

    I think you read this correctly!

    Might this not be a subtle and wholly appropriate pre-Motu Proprio [b]rebuke[/b] of those with schismatic tendencies within the SSPX?

  8. I think it is incorrect to view this as an attack on "traditionalists," who merely see themselves as upholders of Tradition in an age that has largely forgotten how to do this.

    The pope is making the point that adherence to tradition is not nostalgism, but a living transmission of the word of God from one generation to the next under the guidance of the Paraclete.

    When traditionalism becomes an absolute "ism" it loses its Catholic identity. The saints did not call themselves "traditionalists," they called themselves Catholics.

    I don't think we should read this as an attack on traditionalists.

  9. "I don't think we should read this as an attack on traditionalists."

    Definitely not.

    But it does seem to be a rebuke to those with schismatic tendencies within the traditionalist camp.

  10. "Definitely not."

    To clarify: I see this as a fatherly rebuke to some wayward children, NOT an "attack" on traditionalists/ism.

    By the way, Catholic World News is reporting: "Motu Proprio Ready with Accompanying Letter, German Paper Reports" at

  11. dear with Peter,

    what would you say if say Mr. G.W.Bush was making a long speech to the American Nation pointing at "socialism" as an absolute evil, then the White House is making public a President's visit to Communist China ?
    You would, logically, say these Americans are not very diplomatic at least.

    We could say the pope was urged to criticize "traditionalism" now ... in order to provide a "balm" to some episcopal French "bad mood".
    But this is just speculation, another maybe to add to the loooong list.

    Basically the distinction between Tradition and a false comprehension of what "traditionalism" really is, has nothing to surprise : it's a common song in Rome.
    The timing is here problematic and raised some questions, more than the formulation in itself.

  12. Nathan, Zenit will have a full translation later today.