Saturday, August 06, 2005

T 'n' t

One letter can make a great difference in any language, but sometimes the most extreme examples occur in English. Often these small but important distinctions come when speaking of issues with theological implications. Of course, the most important and infamous of these is the difference betweeen tradition and Tradition.

Now, I'm presuming that most people know the distinction between what I'll call t and T. If not, click here. I'm not going to take up this issue now. It seems that enough attention is given to it when it is the direct subject of any sort of discourse, i.e. in distinguishing in specific instances whether some particular observance or practice comes from t or T. However, when it is not the direct subject, and merely being taken in stride, in everday usage, the issue of difference between these terms does not seem to be paid enough attention, and as such important boundaries can be left smudged.

What am I talking about? Well, I was listening to an archived version of "Catholic Answers Live" on CD today, when a caller to the show justified a certain action of his against the advice of the apologist (Jimmy Akin, a.k.a. Da Man!) on the grounds that he and his wife were "(T or t)raditional Catholics." Of course, what the man said was "My wife and I are traditional Catholics." But what he seemed to insinuate is that this amounted to T being safeguarded in their every action. It's the weakness of language gone haywire. Because of the connotations that the word tradition naturally carries, its usage in such a way becomes a means to warm, fuzzy feelings for too many wrong-thinking people. For example, in certain ethnic groups, where contraception runs rampant demographically, you'll never fail to find in the houses of many contracepting people a plethora of statuary and iconography that screams of t despite the obvious ignorance of T. It just goes to show that being a "traditional Catholic" does not amount immediately to being a "Traditional Catholic."

The fact is that there are many T Catholics who go around bearing the stigma of liberal, whose opinion will be ignored by the t who assigned this title to them. These latter are the sort who are, as they say, "more Catholic than the Pope," who drive around with 3 Rosaries on their rearview mirrors but who refuse to pray the Luminous mysteries, because they are un-traditional. Cultural Catholicism might have bred into these people a certain sort of childlike faith that lacks development, for despite all of their Marian devotion, too few of them can say anything at all about the meaning of the term "Theotokos" or name the four major Marian doctrines of the Faith (while they may argue vehemently for a fifth). There is of course, the opposite extreme, of which I approve no more, where t is all but lost completely.

As one of my more quirky professors at the seminary says with annoying frequency: "Good Catholic theology is always both-and." This is especially true in this instance. What I love about Pope Benedict is that he is both. A truly balanced man, a "progressive" theologian, a staunch defender of T while appealing nevertheless to those of us who love lots of t. As Catholics, called to unity and universality, we can't build walls and seperate into extreme camps. Irked recently by an increased awareness of this developing dichotomy among otherwise unreproachable people, I will pray more intensely in the near future that the Papacy of Benedict XVI not only brings all Christians closer together, but unites polarized Catholics as well, blasting down the walls we've built with some good old T 'n' t.


Blogger JMT said...

Hey now! Let's be realistic, the problem isn't traditional Catholics, it's RadTrad Catholics! :-P

8/7/05, 9:45 PM  
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Blogger Der Tommissar said...

for despite all of their Marian devotion, too few of them can say anything at all about the meaning of the term "Theotokos" or name the four major Marian doctrines of the Faith

Contrary to popular belief, there is no written exam to get into heaven. This is a mistake that too many people on both sides make. With all of those folks devotions, they continually are saying, "Mother of God", they just might not be able to bust it out in Latin.

Among "Conservative" and "Traditionalist" Catholics there is this very sad tendency to equate a person's faith with knowledge of theology. At the same time, being receptive to growing in the knowledge of the faith is a sure mark of developing holiness. Like anything else, however, it is a Gift of the Holy Ghost. We're not all given the same talents.

8/11/05, 11:21 AM  
Blogger Joey G. said...




Point taken, and I hope that your inference was not made by too many other people, because I really wasn't insinuating that there's anything wrong with this sort of simplicity, per se. Taken in context, you'll see that the specific sort I was referring to are those who allow emotional attachment to certain devotions and attitudes to interfere with growth not only of knowledge of God, but also of spirituality. In fact, though you say that my observation is common among "traditional" Catholics, I was making the observation of many traditional Catholics (not all, mind you.) There are many Vatican II bashers who base their opinions on a sort of unfounded "traditionalism," having never learned what Vatican II really did say, but basing their evaluation instead upon symptoms that they observe which reflect how certain council decisions may have been implemented, interpreted. Anyway... long story short, I meant no offense.

8/11/05, 6:07 PM  

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