Tradition is Always Changing, says Synod Theologian

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CV NEWS FEED // Fr. Ormond Rush, an Australian theologian and professor invited to provide theological structure for the last week of discussions at the Synod on Synodality, said during Monday’s opening conference at the Paul VI audience hall that synodal members should not be overly concerned with conserving tradition because tradition is “dynamic.”

“Having listened to you over these past three weeks, I have had the impression that some of you are struggling with the notion of tradition, in the light of your love of truth. You are not the first to struggle with this,” said Rush, who is an expert on the Second Vatican Council.  

He made the case, relying on the early writings of the young Joseph Ratzinger, that there are “basically two approaches to tradition,” a “static” understanding of tradition and a “dynamic” understanding. 

“The former is legalistic, propositional, and ahistorical (i.e., relevant for all times and places); the latter is personalist, sacramental, and rooted in history, and therefore to be interpreted with an historical consciousness.” 

Moreover, Rush said that ”the former tends to focus on the past, the latter on seeing the past being realized in the present, and yet [is] open to a future yet to be revealed. The council used the phrase ‘living tradition’ to describe the latter.”

The Australian theologian also said that the Second Vatican Council’s document Dei Verbum paragraph 8 “speaks of three interrelated ways through which the Holy Spirit guides the development of the apostolic tradition: the work of theologians; the lived experience of the faithful; and the oversight of the magisterium.” 

“Sounds like a synodal church, doesn’t it?,” added Fr. Rush.

Arguing in favor of a more flexible interpretation of “tradition,” the Australian theologian said that “In Dei Verbum —and this is important for understanding synodality and the very purpose of this Synod— this divine revelation is presented as an ongoing encounter in the present, and not just something that happened in the past.” 

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The same God, he said, “is forever engaging with, and dialoguing with, human beings in the ever-new here and now of history that relentlessly moves humanity into new perceptions, new questions and new insights, in diverse cultures and places, as the world-church courses through time into an unknown future until the eschaton.”

He concluded by proposing that “at the end of this week of synthesis, you might well want to begin that synthesis by saying, as did that first Council of Jerusalem, described in Acts 15: ‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…’ In their time, their letter to the churches then went on to address an issue on which Jesus himself had left no specific directions. They and the Holy Spirit together had to come to a new adaptation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ regarding that new question, which had not been envisaged before.”

This is the last week of Synod on Synodality at the Vatican. This week, delegates are discussing and voting on the “Letter to the People of God,” and the final “synthesis report” that will be the raw material for a new working document for the conclusion of the synod next October.

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