John Meyendorff

Does Christian tradition have a future?

translated by: Protodeacon Radomir Rakić, professor

pages: 167-180

Abstract

The author emphasizes that the tradition and eschatology are inseparable, since Alpha and Omega coincide. Historically there are three types of understanding of eschatology:

a) eschatology turning apocalyptic;

b) the opposite of the apocalyptic eschatology is humanistic and optimistic understanding of history; the belief that the historical process is controled by man as a rational progress;

c) eschatology based on the biblical concept of prophecy. Man is free to choose between death and life. Such an eschatology is called conditional eschatology, and is the only theologically acceptable basis for the idea of tradition.

Protestantism has relativized the value of Tradition in a pluralism of »denominations«. In Roman-Catholicism — as, of course, in Orthodoxy — Tradition is a central reality of the Church, the understanding of which led to the mediaeval schism between Rome and Orthodoxy. Rome insisted on the centralness of the Pope, and Orthodoxy on the concensus of conciliarity of all the local Churches.

With the breakdown of the monolytic discipline the Roman Church of today is a place of conflicting understandings of the Holy Tradition. Post-Vatican II Roman-Catholic theology envisages the historical relativity of doctrinal relations. It became suspecicus against traditional consistency. In admits even contradictions in order to meet different historical situations, but that would mean that there is no such a thing as a single Christian Tradition. The problem of unity then is to be solved by direct return to the absolutism of the mediaeval papacy.

In the Orthodox view, the entire Church — and not only the patriarchs or even ecumenical councils — is responsible for the Tradition. There is no eccle- sial authority that would be able to impose changes or reforms. Changes, nevertheless, do take place, but they always require a slow process of universal »reception«.

The New Testament gave no rosy picture of the success of the Christian message in history. The mystery of Christ as new life liberated us from both conceptualism and the law. The Tradition preserves Church’s experience of the unchangeable and inexhaustible Logos Incarnate.

This article was published in St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Quarterly, New York 1982, pp. 139—154.

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