Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Traditionalists: A Thought Experiment

Suppose I began a crusade to bring back the "Traditional" celebration of Thanksgiving in America. I believed that America had lost its rich and storied tradition and we have gone much too far afield of how Thanksgiving Day really ought to be celebrated. So I decide to start a web page dedicated to the Traditional Celebration of Thanksgiving. Suppose that this page grows in popularity. In time, Southern Living, Good Housekeeping, and Redbook begin attacking my views in an effort to discredit me. But in spite of the powers-that-be in the homemaking and family life publications, people still listen to me as an authoritative voice for the traditional way of celebrating Thanksgiving.

Now suppose what I advocated quite passionately was this: "Get rid of the Turkeys! Get rid of the pumpkin! Our traditional Thanksgiving dinner should be roasted Grizzly bear and vine-ripened tomatoes, summer squash and spring peas!"

Do you really think that people would listen to me and respect me? Quite clearly I would be wrong. Grizzlies never lived in coastal New England, and, if Thanksgiving really was a harvest festival, peas and tomatoes would already have been consumed. If tomatoes even grew in New England at that time. No, in order for a Traditionalist to have any kind of respect, he had better be advocating something clearly traditional and not his own idiosyncratic ideas.

In a post below, Past Elder and I have been discussing just how accurate Hippolytus' description of the Apostolic Tradition truly is. My view is that if enough people supported him to elect him Bishop of Rome in opposition to the legitimate bishop, then there had to be truth to what he was saying was tradition and what wasn't. Otherwise, he would have been recognized as a fool and an idiot.

The reason that he was seen as a heretic in his day was not because his teaching was wrong, but because he refused to acknowledge the legitimate bishop and had himself elected as an alternate. It was not an issue of doctrine so much as rebellion. To be accurate, his strict views on tradition were indeed too strict, but it's not as if he was accused of inventing new doctrines. An analogy: a pastor claims that a neighboring congregation is lax and wrong to not kneel at communion, and some members of that parish issue a "call" to be their pastor--in opposition to their legitimate pastor. He would be wrong to insist on kneeling, wrong to agree to usurping the office of another congregation, but actually correct in saying that kneeling at communion is the older, more traditional practice.

The second issue is, could Hippolytus really know the Apostolic Tradition in 236 AD...200 years after Jesus ascended into Heaven? We'll explore this in the following post.


  1. orrologion said...

    Studies of Hippolytus led to the realization that the monarchical episcopate of one bishop, one city was not in place in Rome in the same way as it was in Ignatius, and that became common throughout the Christian world very soon thereafter. So, "Bishop of Rome" does not mean the same thing in the early 200s as it did in the 300s.

  2. Christopher D. Hall said...

    So...does this undermine my argument? Perhaps I need to get ahold of the critical edition (it's been on my Amazon wish list for a while).

  3. orrologion said...

    There might be more available online as many Protestants see the situation in Rome as being 'favorable' to a non-episcopal or 'differently' episcopal ecclesiology.

    Regardless, there was a sizeable group that supported Hippolytus. While other groups, e.g., Marcion, were deemed heretical, it seems that the Hippolytisians were reconciled or 'accepted' as Catholic and Orthodox, at least following his martyrdom.

    For issues such as you are addressing, I tend to look more at the breadth and depth of consensus over time and geography, crossing cultural, linguistic and political borders - especially at the leading lights, e.g., Cappadocians, Athanasius, Ephrem Syrus, Maximus Confessor, John Damascene, Gregory the Great, etc.

    I try to look at the 'ousia' of the matter, rather than the 'hypostasis'. (I.e., I don't look at Jerome's understanding alone as the catholic, orthodox, ecclesial understanding of the difference between episkopos and presbyteros.)

  4. William Weedon said...

    More's the pity, Christopher O! ;)

  5. Christopher D. Hall said...

    Christopher Orr wrote, "For issues such as you are addressing, I tend to look more at the breadth and depth of consensus over time and geography, crossing cultural, linguistic and political borders..."

    Absolutely. And this can be a problem with Lutheran cherry-picking Chrysostom quotes regarding justification.

    The reason I harp on Hippolytus is because he is an early witness of something Lutherans often believe originated much later in medieval Roman Catholicism, and even if not that, then an early witness of something Lutherans are liturgically opposed to.

    To be sure there are differences between his anaphora and the anaphora on St. John Chrysostom's Divine Liturgy (and the liturgy of St. Gregory)--but my point isn't the differences as much as what they have in common, and the "unlutheran" elements in it.

  6. Past Elder said...

    Well, "alternate" popes don't happen for no reason. H was elected "pope", even though there was one, by a sizable faction over precisely dogmatic concerns.

    H thought Zephyrinus was a modalist -- someone who holds that God is one, period, and the things we speak of as persons are modes of human perception of the one God rather than objective entities within a single God. And when Callistus came after him, another factor was added, namely, he thought Callistus wrong for absolving adulterers and especially those who had denied the faith under persecution now seeking to return -- called Novatianism after another such "antipope".

    On both factors, he was a heretic to some, orthodox to others -- who was right? If H was right that modalism was wrong, then was he right to reconcile with the Roman church that was wrong, or was it modalist really and perhaps H was wrong about that? Do we have here an example that corrupt teaching by bishops of Rome began even in the immediate post-apostolic age?

    Well, who knows. We have a murky knowledge of these times at best, and indications are that if scholoarship were to clear up some of the murkiness, we would find a considerably more fluid situation than would be flattering to either a Roman Catholic or a Lutheran view of church history.

    So his liturgics are not a witness of pure ancient tradition. H serves well those on our times who have introduced more, shall we say, fluidity into contemporary Christianity. For the rest of us, page 15 does quite well for Lutherans, and the Roman Canon, not at all to be confused with novus ordo Eucharistic Prayer I, does quite well for Roman Catholics.

    Anything else is just "contemporary worship", different from what is usually referred to by that term in looking to ancient sources rather than Willow Creek etc for material.