Monday, November 10, 2014

My Journey, Part 11.3: Holy Tradition

This is part 11.3 of my rebooted series on my journey from Evangelicalism to Eastern Orthodoxy. The full series can be found here:

1Back to the beginning
2Cracks appear
3Questions multiply
4Questioning the "gospel"
5The big question
6A better hermeneutic
7Explorations in epistemology
7.5Excursus on oversystematization
8Back to the gospel
9The new direction
10Ecclesiological foundations
11.1Sola scriptura
11.2The insufficiency of Scripture
11.25Addenda on sola scriptura
11.3Holy Tradition
12Bridging the cracks
13.1Orthodoxy and Genesis 1–3
13.2A Better Atonement (Against Penal Substitution)
13.3Faith Alone?
13.4The Colour and the Shape of the Gospel
14Worshipping with the Church
15Mary, Saints, Baptism, and Other Odds/Ends
16Looking Back, Coming Home

In the last twothree posts, I've told how I came to stop believing sola scriptura, and with it much of my old Protestant take on the Bible. In this post, I'll try to explain the contrasting Orthodox concept of Holy Tradition.

What is Tradition?

The Greek word that translates to "tradition" is παραδοσις, paradosis, which means something that is handed over or passed down. The corresponding Latin word traditio has a similar meaning and is the basis for the English word. The thrust of these definitions is not that tradition is somehow artificial or fabricated, but just the opposite: tradition is delivered. preserved, passed down. Timothy Ware, again in his helpful book The Orthodox Church, says this about what Tradition is:
A tradition is commonly understood to signify an opinion, belief, or custom handed down from ancestors to posterity. Christian Tradition, in that case, is the faith and practice which Jesus Christ imparted to the Apostles, and which since the Apostles' time has been handed down from generation to generation in the Church. ... It means the books of the Bible; it means the [Nicene] Creed; it means the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils and the writings of the Fathers; it means the Canons, the Service Books, the Holy Icons—in fact, the whole system of doctrine, Church government, worship, spirituality and art which Orthodoxy has articulated over the ages. Orthodox Christians of today see themselves as heirs and guardians to a rich inheritance received from the past, and they believe that it is their duty to transmit this inheritance unimpaired to the future.
A few other definitions:
  • The Orthodox Church in America: Tradition is "the total life and experience of the entire Church transferred from place to place and from generation to generation. Tradition is the very life of the Church itself as it is inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit."
  • Elder Cleopa, in this interview: "Holy Tradition is the teaching of the Church, given by God with a living voice, a portion of which was later written down. ... Holy Tradition is the life of the Church in the Holy Spirit; and, in concord with the enduring life of the Church, it is a wellspring of holy revelation, and thus it possesses the same authority as Holy Scripture."
  • Fr. Sergius Bulgakov: tradition is "the living memory of the church".
  • Peter Bouteneff: "Tradition is an activity or dynamism; it is the 'handing down' or 'handing over' of faith and practice from one person to another, one generation to another. It is an ongoing activity, which is why we continue to speak of 'the living Tradition.'"
  • Georges Florovsky: Tradition is Scripture rightly understood.
  • Vladimir Lossky: Tradition is the unique mode of receiving the truth that is found in Scripture. "Tradition is not the content of revelation, but the light that reveals it; it is not the word, but the living breath which makes the word heard at the same time as the silence from which it came; it is not the truth, but a communication of the Spirit of truth, outside which the truth cannot be received. 'No one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit' (1 Cor 12.3)."
I should clarify that Lossky probably isn't opposing Tradition with Scripture in that last quote: he is opposing it with Christ himself, who is himself the Truth to which Scripture and Tradition both lead the believer.

The above definitions give a basic, but complete understanding of what Tradition is. I will emphasize a few salient points:
  • As I will explain shortly, the content of Tradition is more than just doctrines. It is also liturgies, prayers, the writings of the fathers, the councils, the lives of the saints, religious artwork, etc. The Bible is the most fundamental part of Tradition, but not the only part.
  • Orthodox speak of one Tradition as well as lesser traditions. Tradition is the rich, multi-aspect body of teaching and truth passed down through the Orthodox Church, which also passes down numerous small-t traditions. These may be beneficial or not, and are not infallible. You could say that Tradition is the life, experience, and memory of the whole Church, whereas traditions are held by parts of the Church. Ware writes, "many traditions which the past has handed down are human and accidental—pious opinions (or worse), but not a true part of the one Tradition, the fundamental Christian message. You may notice some similarities between the Orthodox definition of "traditions" and the Protestant view on all tradition.
  • What the apostles left, most basically, was Tradition. Until the New Testament was written down and widely circulated, the Church was led by Tradition, and it was by no means made irrelevant when the New Testament was completed. (The Church's authoritative decision on which books belong in the New Testament canon is also a part of Tradition) Again, Tradition is not simply a static body of words; it is living, dynamic, active. No body of writing, however divinely inspired, can fully replace it.

The role of the Bible

How does the Bible fit together with Tradition? In the first place, it is the product of Tradition. Tradition preceded both testaments of the Bible, which record it in writing. Consequently, the Scriptures are part of tradition. Let me say that again, because it is the most misunderstood thing about Tradition by Protestants:

The Scriptures exist within Tradition, not alongside or over it. Tradition is not a separate source for the Christian faith. The Bible is part of Tradition. Ware says of this, "there is only one source, since Scripture exists within Tradition. To separate and contrast the two is to impoverish the idea of both alike."

With that said, Orthodox also teach that the Bible is the center of Tradition. This is because the Scriptures, especially New Testament, and especially the four gospels, testify to Jesus Christ, the Truth and the content of the faith, the divine revelation to which all Tradition points. Every part of the Orthodox faith traces back to the central reality of Christ, and since it is to the mystery of Christ that the Scriptures witness (Luk 24:27, 44-45), they are the most important part of Holy Tradition. This is how Protestant critics of Holy Tradition are able to see sola scriptura in the writings of the early church fathers: everything goes back to the Scriptures for them not because the Bible is somehow set over the Church and Tradition, but because it witnesses to the transcendent reality of the gospel of Christ, the true content of the faith. Scripture, then, is an expression of the faith delivered from Christ to the apostles, not a constitution for the church or a collection of texts and statements to be assembled into a faith. I glimpsed something like this when I journaled:
The early church didn't believe in Jesus because of the Bible; they believed in the Bible because of Jesus. (2013-6-6) 
The Bible, in the Orthodox understanding, is not authoritative in and of itself. This is because the Bible does not "speak" on its own, independently of the Church. It must be interpreted to "say" anything; this is evident given how multiple interpretations, many of them wrong, can be (and, more often than not, have been) gleaned from virtually any part of it. It was inspired in its writing; likewise, it must also be inspired in its reading. So the Bible is only "authoritative" when it is interpreted authoritatively, namely by and within the Church. Interpretation of the Bible is not democratic; not everyone is equally qualified to do so. Christians can't be expected to automatically get the right meaning from the Scriptures when left to their own hermeneutical devices. As the Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip, "How can I [understand what I am reading], unless some one guides me?" (Acts 8:31)

Orthodox do not deny biblical perspicuity because they think God somehow spoke unclearly or inadequately through Scripture, but because they have a much deeper view of how the Bible "speaks" and operates within the faith than Protestants. Understanding the Scripture is much more involved than simply discerning the original intended meaning of the human author (which, even then, is not always evident) and then applying it. The point of Scripture is not just to reveal information, but to reveal Christ to the Church. The inspiration of Scripture doesn't simply mean, to Orthodox, that everything it says is true and that you have to believe it. It also means that Scripture is deep. As the Church has consistently confessed since its earliest days, the Scriptures have multiple levels of meaning, only the most basic of which can be uncovered by mere historical-grammatical exegesis.

Going deeper takes wisdom, discernment, and godliness. Not everyone is able to glimpse Christ as he truly is by reading the Scriptures, even the gospel accounts of him. (After all, the disciples were there and they still didn't understand what was happening) Further, being fallible and sinful we are prone to misreading Scripture and glimpsing a fabricated version of Christ, more often than not one who looks suspiciously like us and our preconceptions. (2 Pet 3:16 makes a similar point) Fortunately, we aren't merely left to our own devices when interpreting Scripture. Tradition in all its aspects and forms, is the Church's reading and application of Scripture, and its encounters of Christ therein. It guides those in the Church to interpret and live the Scriptures rightly, to experience Christ as he truly is (and not as we simply make him out to be in our pious opinions) through them. As St. Jerome said, "You cannot advance in the Holy Scriptures unless you have an experienced guide to show you the way."

Tradition includes many teachings, like the Trinity, that Protestants simply consider to be "biblical" and not part of "tradition". But even when something resembling our biblical canon became commonplace in the Church, it took centuries for the Orthodox understanding of the Trinity to be firmly established. The Trinity is "biblical" in that it is based on the Bible, but it also goes beyond the Bible, being based on careful interpretation. (And keep in mind that it is not even "biblical" to all Protestants, e.g. Unitarians and Modalists) Thus it is a product of Tradition, the Church's interpretation of Scripture, as well as Scripture itself, demonstrating their unity.

Perhaps the crucial difference in relation to the Bible between sola scriptura and Holy Tradition is ecclesiological: Tradition views the Church itself, rather than individuals within the Church, as the authoritative interpreter of Scripture. Being the body of Christ, the Church is personified to a degree. It was to the Church, the pillar of the Truth (1 Tim 3:15), that the promise of the Spirit to guide us into all truth (Jhn 16:13) was given. Sola scriptura is true, in a sense, but for the Church as a whole, not for individual, fallible exegetes. Protestantism arguably sees no distinction between the Church and the sum of its members; Orthodoxy does (1 Cor 12:27). Tradition is the right reading of Scripture, while Scripture determines what is of Tradition. This process is not merely a circle but a spiral, and again it is the Church as a whole that partakes in it, not simply individual interpreters.

Other parts of Tradition

As I mentioned above, Tradition includes many things besides the Scriptures, which are interpretations and applications of them. Peter Bouteneff, in his helpful book Sweeter than Honey, summarizes them.
  • Councils: At numerous times leaders in the Orthodox Church have met to seek a decision on some part of the faith—often to answer a pressing question that no one has answered before, or to seek a ruling on the orthodoxy of a questionable teaching that may turn out to be heresy. In particular, from the fourth to the eight centuries the Church convened seven ecumenical (involving the whole known world) councils, in which bishops representing the entire Church met. The creeds, definitions, and other decisions of these councils are considered dogmatic, infallibly true and binding on all Christians; these definitions include things like Orthodox Christology, the doctrine of the Trinity, the virgin birth, and the proper veneration of icons. Also, the decisions of local councils can be considered ecumenical if they are later accepted by the whole church (such as the New Testament canon).
  • Liturgy: The Orthodox Church is much less prone to making formal doctrinal statements and definitions than the Catholic Church. Rather, much of its theology is contained and beautifully expressed in its liturgies. The liturgy includes more than truths about God: it also includes, right prayer, right worship, and the Eucharistic partaking in the body of Christ. The liturgy is theology brought to life. The liturgy is also an expression of the unity of the Church; explains Bouteneff, "The fact that Orthodox Christians gathered almost anywhere in the world are singing and doing more or less the same thing (calendar differences notwithstanding) has a profound unifying effect on the Church. ... We are not singing anyone's opinion of new idea. We're singing words that have been tried and tested as true." As anyone who has been to an Orthodox divine liturgy (including me) will attest, it is profoundly scriptural; besides the readings themselves, many of the words are biblical quotations or allusions. I will write more about this a few posts from now.
  • Fathers: The fathers of the Church are understood to be those who faithfully convey the gospel, preserving what was entrusted to them, which is none other than the apostolic faith." The Church fathers (and mothers) were godly individuals steeped in the Scriptures and the sacramental life of the church, whose writings are acknowledged as invaluable expressions of the faith that has been held by all people at all times. Of course, since they are individual exegetes, they are not infallible, and their writings are decidedly less central to Tradition than the Bible. Nonetheless, their writings are precious for teaching from the Scriptures, defending the faith against challenges, and pointing the way to a greater understanding of the gospel.
  • Art: To the Protestant eye, the most striking thing about entering an Orthodox Church (once you get used to the incense) is the imagery. There are icons, paintings, stained-glass images, and other depictions of people from the Bible and the life of the Church. I will talk more about this in a few posts, but these images are not just for inspiration. They themselves depict the truth of Holy Tradition, albeit in pictorial format, for those who understand their significance. For example, this icon of the resurrection depicts important teachings of the Church about Christ's victory over death. He stands triumphant over the grave, with the gates of Hades (which he has broken out of) under his feet. He is pulling Adam and Eve out with him by the hand, and around him stand other saints of the Old Testament. At first I thought it looked bizarre, but now I've come to appreciate icons like these as different ways of conveying Tradition that go beyond words.

The preservation of Tradition

You may be asking (as I did): how do we know that the Church has reliably preserved Holy Tradition? How do we know it hasn't been corrupted somehow? Isn't it safer to stick with the Bible, whose original contents we can reconstruct to a high degree of accuracy? This is an understandable question for Protestants to ask, since most of their experience with Tradition tends to be with that of the Catholic Church, which Orthodox agree has corrupted the Apostolic teaching. I ask that you at least judge Orthodox Tradition on its own merits, not by association with the Catholic Church.

Orthodox believe the Church has reliably preserved Tradition because God has promised as much. The Church is "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15), guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit (Jhn 16:13); Orthodox take these promises seriously. Christ is the head of the Church (Eph 1:22-23), which is his body (Rom 12:5, 1 Cor 12:27, Eph 4:16), "the fullness of him who fills all in all". The fullness of the apostolic faith, the true presence of Christ, the knowledge of the truth—for Orthodox, these things are not conditional; they are spiritual realities. Losing the apostolic Tradition would mean that the Church has ceased to exist, which Jesus promised cannot happen (Mat 16:18). Thus Orthodox see no period of corruption in the Church which was only rectified by the Reformation.

The essence of Tradition is that which has been believed throughout the whole Church throughout its history. In other words, Orthodox believe the Church preserves Tradition across both time and space. Councils, as previously described, serve to ensure that Tradition is consistent across the whole Church. Likewise, apostolic succession is a major way that Christ preserves the Church's teaching through time. Originally developed as a rebuke to heretics who claimed to have preserved "secret teachings" of Christ, apostolic succession bases the preservation of the faith on the unbroken chain of succession linking all Orthodox bishops to the apostles and, therefore, to the teaching of Christ. I will expand on this more from the Bible and the church fathers below.

This may not satisfy Protestants who prefer scientific assurance that the textform of the Bible we have reconstructed today substantially matches that of the original autographs; what more needs to be preserved? Orthodox teaching would respond, again, that merely preserving the text of the Scriptures in no way ensures the preservation of the whole Apostolic Tradition. By reading the Scriptures apart from Tradition, apart from the universal Church, it is easy (inevitable, even) to construct a faith (or many faiths) quite different from that of the early Church.

Clearing the air

I will take a moment to correct a few other misunderstandings I have seen regarding Tradition:
  • Holy Tradition is not the "traditions of men" against which Christ and the apostles warn (Mat 15:6; 1 Cor 2:4-5,10,13; Col 2:8; 1 Ths 2:13). Tradition is not "merely human" any more than Christ (the body of Christ) is. Elder Cleopa explains, "Holy Tradition is neither a tradition of men, nor a philosophy, nor some kind of trickery; it is the word of God which He personally delivered to us." Again, the Orthodox Church does not maintain a dualistic view of the Scriptures vs. every other source. In keeping with its incarnational theology of theosis (humanity taken up into the divine), the Tradition of the Church can be divine as well as human.
  • But even if the teaching of the Church is not merely human, neither it is entirely divine and infallible. As I mentioned above, Orthodox draw a distinction between Tradition and traditions, and between helpful traditions and false ones. Just as Christ was corruptible in his humanity but imperishable in his divinity, so the earthly Church is not totally immune to false traditions. In his handy book The Orthodox Faith, Fr. Thomas Hopko writes about this:
It is also important to recognize that there are also things in the Church which not only do not belong to Holy Tradition, but which are not even to be counted among its positive human traditions. These things which are just sinful and wrong are brought into the life of the Church from the evil world. The Church in its human form, as an earthly institution, is not immune to the sins of its unholy members. These deviations and errors which creep into the life of the Church stand under the judgment and condemnation of the authentic and genuine Holy Tradition which comes from God.
  • One major way I misunderstood Tradition was thinking it means that everyone in the Orthodox Church is supposed to believe exactly the same thing—submitting to the Church's one infallible interpretation of the Bible, regardless of conflicting voices from conscience or doubts. This is based partly on the Protestant view that each verse in the Bible has one correct interpretation and our job as interpreters is to find them. But again, Orthodox view the Bible as much deeper than this. Consequently, Tradition is much more than simply the one right way to read the Bible. John Breck describes patristic hermeneutics as being shaped by theoria, "an 'inspired vision' of divine Truth as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and in the biblical witness to him." This mindset is not simply a set of right answers or interpretations to which Orthodox are constrained; rather, it frees us to read the Scriptures in a life-giving, Christocentric way that transcends the literal sense.

    Another analogy I came up with and hope is accurate is that Tradition is not like a single road or railroad tracks, but more like a set of guardrails to keep you from falling off the edges of Orthodoxy, and a compass to point you in the right general direction. (The guardrails and compass correspond, roughly, to dogma and theoria) So within Tradition, there is much freedom and room for questioning (just not for false teaching). Ware wisely writes, "It is absolutely essential to question the past. ... True Orthodox fidelity to the past must always be a creative fidelity; for true Orthodoxy can never rest satisfied with a barren 'theology of repetition', which, parrot-like, repeats accepted formulae without striving to understand what lies behind them."
  • Tradition also does not mean that anyone, layman or patriarch, gets to champion his or her personal interpretation of Scripture as the truly "Orthodox" or traditional one. We are all fallible; only the Church as a whole is infallible.

Biblical evidence for going beyond the Bible

Besides the aforementioned verses about the nonperspicuity of Scripture and supporting the preservation of tradition, the traditioning process itself is commanded by Jesus and Paul:
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Mat 28:18-20 RSV)
and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2Ti 2:2 RSV)
The faithful reception and preservation of Tradition is also commanded:
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. (Gal 1:8-9 RSV)
So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter. (2Th 2:15 RSV)
O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith. Grace be with you. (1Ti 6:20-21 RSV) 
Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. (2Ti 1:13-14 RSV)
Any one who goes ahead and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God; he who abides in the doctrine has both the Father and the Son. If any one comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting; (2Jo 1:9-10 RSV)
And other passages describe Tradition:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, (Luk 1:1-2 RSV) 
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Act 2:42 RSV) 
I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you. (1Co 11:2 RSV) 
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." (1Co 11:23-24 RSV) 
Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. (1Co 15:1-6 RSV) 
For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man's gospel. (Gal 1:11 RSV) 
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (1Th 2:13 RSV) 
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. (2Th 3:6 RSV) 
For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. (2Pe 2:21 RSV) 
Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jde 1:3 RSV)

Historical evidences

Orthodox theologians can produce an abundance of patristic citations to show that the Church has held the centrality of Holy Tradition (and not something like sola scriptura) since its inception. The second-century church father Irenaeus of Lyons, writing in his book Against Heresies, spoke about the Valentinians (a heretical Gnostic sect of Christianity) and outlined the Orthodox understanding of Tradition, apostolic succession, and the necessity of reading Scripture with the Church:
But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. ... It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition. (III.2.2)
It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to the perfect apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves. (III.3.1)
Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere. (III.3.2)
Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. (Revelation 22:17) For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches? (III.4.1)
Granted, the heretics Irenaeus was sparring against were anything but sola scriptura Protestants. They held that the apostles had secretly entrusted them with a strictly oral, Gnostic tradition, a "living voice" that supplanted even the Scriptures as their true witness. Yet I think his words also apply to anyone who would rely on the Scriptures but reads them in a way that contradicts the faith of the Church. Irenaeus does not simply equate the "tradition of the apostles", the rule of faith against which heresies are tried, with Scripture.

Irenaeus' contemporary Tertullian, in his Prescription Against Heretics, gave a similar description of Tradition, apostolic succession, and the continuity of Orthodox doctrine:
after first bearing witness to the faith in Jesus Christ throughout Judæa, and founding churches (there), they next went forth into the world and preached the same doctrine of the same faith to the nations. They then in like manner founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches. Every sort of thing must necessarily revert to its original for its classification. Therefore the churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive church, (founded) by the apostles, from which they all (spring). In this way all are primitive, and all are apostolic, while they are all proved to be one, in (unbroken) unity, by their peaceful communion, and title of brotherhood, and bond of hospitality—privileges which no other rule directs than the one tradition of the selfsame mystery. (20)
From this, therefore, do we draw up our rule. Since the Lord Jesus Christ sent the apostles to preach, (our rule is) that no others ought to be received as preachers than those whom Christ appointed; for no man knows the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him. (Matthew 11:27) Nor does the Son seem to have revealed Him to any other than the apostles, whom He sent forth to preach— that, of course, which He revealed to them. Now, what that was which they preached— in other words, what it was which Christ revealed to them— can, as I must here likewise prescribe, properly be proved in no other way than by those very churches which the apostles founded in person, by declaring the gospel to them directly themselves, both vivâ voce, as the phrase is, and subsequently by their epistles. If, then, these things are so, it is in the same degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches— those moulds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the (said) churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savours of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God. It remains, then, that we demonstrate whether this doctrine of ours, of which we have now given the rule, has its origin in the tradition of the apostles, and whether all other doctrines do not ipso facto proceed from falsehood. We hold communion with the apostolic churches because our doctrine is in no respect different from theirs. This is our witness of truth. (21)
But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs ] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men,— a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. (32)
I should note that Irenaeus and Tertullian probably didn't advocate for the apostolic succession of churches, per se. Rather, they believed in the apostolic succession of the faith. A church was not labeled "heretical" if it could not produce, as Tertullian said, "the roll of their bishops".  Rather, it was heretical if it held to a faith or a teaching at odds with the churches that could, especially the oldest churches that were directly founded by the apostles.

Finally, the fifth-century theologian Vincent of Lérins, in chapter 2 of his Commonitory, wrote the most direct early Christian rebuke I know of to sola scriptura, with which I think my main argument lines up exactly (emphasis added):
If I or anyone else wish to detect the deceits of the heretics or avoid their traps, and to remain healthy and intact in a sound faith, we ought, with the help of the Lord, to strengthen our faith in two ways: first, by the authority of the divine law, and then by the tradition of the catholic church. Here someone may ask: since the canon of the scriptures is complete, and is in itself adequate, why is there any need to join to its authority the understanding of the church? Because Holy Scripture, on account of its depth, is not accepted in a universal sense. The same statements are interpreted in one way by one person, in another by someone else, with the result that there seem to be as many opinions as there are people. ... Therefore, on account of the number and variety of errors, there is a need for someone to lay down a rule for the interpretation of the prophets and the apostles in such a way that is directed by the rule of the catholic church. Now in the catholic church itself the greatest care is taken that we hold that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all people. This is what is truly and properly catholic.
I couldn't have said it any better.

The personal angle

So those are the reasons why I feel confident that the Orthodox teaching of Holy Tradition is true. But as with sola scriptura, I should also ask the slightly different, more subjective question: how did I come to my current view on it? Why is it convincing to me? (Note that unlike the preceding sections, what follows are not so much arguments as reflections)

First, Orthodoxy tears down a lot of false dichotomies and modern biases I was tired of from Protestantism. Whereas sola scriptura imposes a dualistic separation between a divine Bible and the traditions of men, Orthodoxy is incarnational in its understanding of Tradition. Because the Church is the body of Christ, it can be more than a human institution. This also translates to a better balance between the human and divine natures of Scripture in methodology (ironic, given how much more spiritually Orthodox tend to interpret the Bible) that strongly affirms them both at once instead of affirming only the literal sense of Scripture backed by divine authority.

The Orthodox perspective on "authority" is also less dualistic; rather than a single, uniformly authoritative body of truth surrounded by human opinions, there are levels of significance both inside and outside the Bible. There is a lot more respect even for merely human traditions, rather than innate skepticism of them and a constant drive to get "back to the Bible". Rather than a quasi-foundationalist attempt to derive a complete Christian faith from the Bible (which never seems to work), Orthodoxy recognizes that the faith is living and present already, as it has been since the Great Commission. Finally, Orthodox theology is pleasantly center-oriented rather than boundary-oriented, concerned with seeing and living Christ rather than trying to figure out what everyone must believe to be considered "biblical" (because universal consensus on this already exists).

Orthodox theology is relatively untouched by Enlightenment rationalism (I will get into the epistemology of this next time). Tradition is readily acknowledged to be far more than doctrinal truth; ultimately, Truth is a person. It was tremendously refreshing when Bouteneff, in his book, started with this point and expounded on it at length rather than bringing it up at the end as a tantalizing possibility. Similarly, the Church is led by people (both Christ as head and the bishops), not simply a body of "truth" that no one can seem to agree on. Though Orthodoxy does still have seminaries, there is far less of a gap between church and academy than in Protestantism. Theology is done within the Church, for the Church, not alongside it.

I also find Holy Tradition historically convincing. (Remember that I first became interested in it by studying its history) Previous to learning about Orthodoxy I was pessimistic about being able to really know what the early Church believed. Did they have bishops or were they Presbyterian, or congregationalists? Did they hold a symbolic view of baptism? Did they believe in sola scriptura? In hindsight, trying to convince myself that the early Church was basically Protestant was intellectually dishonest of me. But I had to do so, because the alternative seemed to be that "true" Christianity was lost. No, it has not been lost—and there is no need to recover or rebuild it from perspicuous source texts, as if we were studying a past civilization as archaeologists. It lives in the life of the Church as it always has. There is a posture of humbly receiving from the past instead of skeptically passing judgment on it that I find much more amenable to the faith.

Finally, as I have said before, I was convinced of Holy Tradition because it works. By and large, it really delivers the unity on essentials of the faith and charitable disagreement on non-essentials that sola scriptura promises. Because the boundary between Orthodoxy and heresy is well-defined, there are virtually no continuing arguments on where it lies on such-and-such theological issue. (The current question of whether the Monophysite churches are really heretical might qualify) Orthodox are able to have deep discussions, even disputes on doctrine without sowing division. Tradition lets them have faithful confidence in their reading of Scripture, within the Church, without risk of becoming epistemologically arrogant.

(Yet another) name change

Once again, the name of this blog has become inadequate. I no longer consider myself a "faithful skeptic" because, by the grace of God, I now have an alternative to questioning things I'm taught out of a vague sense of uneasiness about them. I've realized that every journey of doubt has not just a starting point, but a destination—and that destination may be a place of greater, more wholehearted faith than before, just as I hoped. In my main post on doubt, I said, prophetically, "doubt is only temporary; one day it will become obsolete, and we will be all the more blessed for it!" Now I see this prediction (partially) fulfilled. God has richly answered my prayer to help me believe in Him, though I still have a lot of room to grow.

At its worst, doubt is a denial of faith, a refusal to trust and love our Father God as He wants us to. But at its best, doubt is a scalpel in God's hands, cutting away our beliefs and habits that are unworthy of Him. By suppressing doubt, we may prevent God from performing life-saving work on our hearts. But doubt is only temporary by design; it cannot (or at least should not) be allowed to keep cutting away until there is nothing left. I think I have entered a period of rebuilding and reevaluating my faith in the bright light of the Orthodox tradition, and simultaneously connecting it back to my old tradition.

While thinking about what to rename my blog for the third time, I was tempted to go with a totally nondescriptive name that could never again change, like David's Blog. But then something about Irenaeus' analogy of the mosaic hit me. Here is his telling of it again:
Such, then, is [the Valentinians'] system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked are in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions. 
Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skilful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skilful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king's form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king. 
In like manner do these persons patch together old wives' fables, and then endeavour, by violently drawing away from their proper connection, words, expressions, and parables whenever found, to adapt the oracles of God to their baseless fictions. We have already stated how far they proceed in this way with respect to the interior of the Pleroma.
I realized that this analogy is quite descriptive of my journey through doubt. I experienced crashing waves of doubt caused by reading the Bible, yet not by the Bible itself but by how I was reading it. My presuppositions, the "big picture" I expected to put together from the Scriptures, were wrong. I was trying to assemble the Scriptures into the image of a fox, because that was what I'd been taught they were supposed to point to. I was further taught that this image was truly that of the king, even if it can be hard sometimes to see the resemblence. But in Orthodox Tradition I see the true image of a king, the way to read the Scriptures and put the mosaic together rightly as I'd wanted to do all along. In light of this, I decided that my blog's new name will be εἰκών βασιλέως (or in English, "Image of a King"). May it record my progress as I learn to read the Scriptures so as to assemble them into this image.

The name has added significance because of a souvenir I brought home from my trip to Europe. The trip came right as I was beginning to take an interest in Orthodoxy. Interestingly, each week of the trip took us through a historically different part of Christianity: Lutheran Germany, Catholic Italy, and Orthodox Greece. In Greece, I was of course interested in learning more about Orthodoxy "in its native environment". So on my first day in Athens, when I had some free time, I found a shop where I purchased a museum copy of a beautiful Christ Pantokrator (Christ Almighty) icon. I've used it in my morning prayers ever since, and I'm happy to be able to name my blog after it.

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