Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Duffy on Ratzinger on Williams on tradition

“An insistence on the subversive potential of tradition is valuable in a culture where self-styled ‘traditionalism’ is more often than not invoked in the service of reaction. But there are problems about privileging the notion of unsettlement as much as Williams does.
“Tradition on this account can seem a never ending argumentative seminar, constant upheaval without any point of rest or leverage. Yet if unsettlement is built into the vocabulary of Christian self-understanding, there is also a venerable Christian vocabulary of solidity, dependability, confidence in a faith once revealed to the saints, tradition as a rock. Argument has its limits. The believer is not always to be at the mercy of the scholars, and there must be ways of deciding when at last a particular problem has reached resolution, an argument has come to an end.

“In Rowan Williams the see of Canterbury has its best theologian since St Anselm. As it happens, the new Pope is probably the best theologian to hold the see of Peter since almost as long. Like Archbishop Williams, Benedict XVI is steeped in patristic thought and much given to reflection on the religious value of the past. In his new role, however, Joseph Ratzinger embodies a quite different set of emphases and affirmations, an understanding of tradition precisely as settlement, his office an embodiment of the Church’s confidence that the voice of Christ is, at least occasionally, heard in answers as well as questions. Ratzinger on Williams on the past: now what a seminar that would be.”

Eamon Duffy, reviewing Why study the past? The quest for the historical Church, by Rowan Williams, Times literary supplement no. 5340 (5 August 2005): 25.

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