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in luce tua
Tradition
 

“And with thy spirit.” I feel better when I hear those words. When I worship in an unfamiliar church and the congregation around me responds to the salutation, “The Lord be with you,” with the old familiar phrase, the language of the old prayer book puts me at ease and makes me feel at home. When instead I hear the newer formulation, “And also with you,” I become concerned. It is a small change, but enough to raise my guard. If they changed that, what else might they have messed with? It’s silly. I know that. I can’t even remember when this change happened, but I’m still not completely comfortable with it. I admit that my distaste for the new response is not legitimate, because it is not theologically informed. While I’m sure that gallons of ink have been spilled in theological journals over the respective merits of “And with thy spirit” and “And also with you,” I lack the virtue necessary to familiarize myself with this undoubtedly fascinating literature. My preference comes down to this: I am an incorrigible traditionalist, and I just don’t like the new response. Those who know me will confirm that I handle change poorly. (Did you know that they added a color other than green to the twenty dollar bill? What next?!) Of course, there is more to tradition than the irrational preferences of your obstreperous editor. Our traditions contain the wisdom of the ages and are not to be taken lightly. Although the modern mind is proud of its escape from superstitious tradition (and modern Christians are proud of their escape from inhibiting traditions), it is not possible to jettison all tradition and start afresh. Traditions sometimes represent only the values of ages gone by, but, as C. S. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man,“[M]any of those who ‘debunk’ traditional or (as they would say) ‘sentimental’ values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.” An attempt to reform or reject traditions is little more than an act of raw will, unless it is itself rooted in the same tradition it claims to amend. Is it “better” to respond, “And also with you”? Perhaps this formulation better expresses the communal nature of the church’s worship; however, the notion of communal worship itself comes to us through Christian tradition. If the change is done for the right reasons, then we have not rejected tradition but instead reaffirmed one aspect of it.

The Cresset is pleased to publish four addresses from the Lilly Fellows Program National Conference, held on 29 September—2 October, 2005 at College of the Holy Cross. The conference theme, “Keeping the Faith: Four Religious Perspectives on the Creation of Tradition,” is addressed by distinguished scholars representing four distinct religious traditions. We learn from these essays that tradition is central to a faith’s identity and sense of community, but also that it cannot be a static or rigid thing. Although traditions must have stability, in many ways the process through which they change is as important as the content of the tradition itself.

This issue on tradition presents an appropriate moment to inaugurate a new column, one in which we hope to promote discussion of a religious tradition well known to many readers of The Cresset. In the first issue of Being Lutheran, David Weber asks if Lutheranism has become “the church of the transition”—a stopping place on the road between evangelicalism and Catholicism. In this and future columns, we will consider what remains distinctive about Lutheranism. What in Lutheranism’s traditions remains both true and vibrant for present-day believers? And how can Lutheran traditions be rearticulated in a manner sensitive to the needs of the present without being sacrificed to the fads of present? We hope this column will be a welcome new tradition for The Cresset’s faithful readers.

–JPO

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