Monday, July 20, 2009
By the Rev’d Fr Samuel L. Edwards SSM
[What follows is a revised version of a talk given in northern Virginia in 2004.]
Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken. [Jeremiah 6:16-17]
The story is told that during the 1989 celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher minced no words about the achievements of that Revolution as compared with those of the Glorious Revolution of the 1680s and the American Revolution of the 1770s. The only enduring product of the French Revolution, she said, was not liberté, égalité, et fraternité, but “a mountain of headless corpses and a tyrant.” The French President was not amused and to avenge this truth-telling pointedly had the Iron Lady seated in the third rank of dignitaries for the military review. She, however, had the last word (without saying one), for her parting gift to M. le Président was a beautifully bound copy of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.
The President’s reaction is not recorded.
What is illustrated by this anecdote is a long-standing conflict within western culture – a conflict which has had many manifestations over the centuries. Now we have come to another major point of crisis in our own time and in our own country. This conflict is what I have elected to call “the war on tradition.” (Others have had different names for it: James Davidson Hunter and, most famously, Patrick Buchanan have spoken of it as the culture war.)
At this point, perhaps it will be helpful for me to elaborate on what I mean by tradition. In keeping with my status as an adherent of tradition, I claim no originality to my definitions. In contrast with mere traditionalism (“the dead faith of the living”), tradition is “the living faith of the dead.” In G. K. Chesterton’s words, it is “the democracy of the dead.” The fundamental definition, in theological terms, is that tradition is the life of the Spirit of Truth manifested in growth which is consistent with what has come before.
In the Church, the touchstone for all that claims to be traditional is the Bible as it has been understood by the people of God through the ages under the guidance of its divine Author. For the Church, the Bible is the tangible precipitation of tradition by which all that claims to be tradition is measured. In our civil society, the touchstone for all that claims to be traditional is the Constitution as it was intended and understood by its framers. For the American Republic, the Constitution is the tangible precipitation of natural constitutional order by which all that claims to be constitutional is measured.
The fact is that tradition is the prerequisite of the existence of all societies: civilian, military, intellectual, ecclesiastical, political. Tradition is fundamentally another name for the transmission of life – the handing on (paradosis, traditio) of the essential characteristics of the community concerned. If the tradition is not handed on, the community ceases to exist. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18) That for a generation and more the instruments by which a society has not handed on its tradition – schools, churches, the family, the courts – have massively (and often deliberately) failed to do so in the name of such chimeras as multiculturalism is the rot at the root of our present distress.
This was clearly understood in the community of ancient Israel, as this passage from the Torah makes clear:
[Moses said to the children of Israel,] “Now these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments which the LORD your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go to possess it, that thou mightest fear the LORD thy God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life, and that thy days may be prolonged. Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it, that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD. And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them as a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house and on thy gates. … And when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, ‘What mean the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments which the LORD our God hath commanded you?’ then thou shalt say unto thy son: ‘We were Pharaoh’s bondmen in Egypt; and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his household, before our eyes; and He brought us out from thence, that He might bring us in, to give us the land which He swore unto our fathers. And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is at this day. And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the LORD our God, as He hath commanded us.’” [Deuteronomy 6:1-9, 20-25]
It is also worth noting the curse that is pronounced against him “that removeth his neighbor’s landmark.” [Deuteronomy 27:17]
The war on tradition goes back ultimately to the question, “did God really say you can’t eat of any of the trees in this garden?” It involves the irreconcilable conflict between two views on reality in general and man’s place within it in particular. The one point of view says that reality is a “given” – that it is given by a Giver and that our business as human beings is to conform ourselves to that given reality so that we may become as like the Giver as it is possible for a created being to be. The other view is that reality is a “construct” – that it is what we say it is and that our business as human beings is to be makers of our own destiny, bravely expanding the horizons of our own humanity in a ceaseless quest for … well, for something. As Whittaker Chambers noted long ago, the “something” is the promise “that ye shall be as gods,” but (as the Prince of Liars knows), for man with neither anchor nor rudder, the substance of that promise is a moving target. The notion of tradition, which is an essential consequential component of the first view is poisonous to the second, and so must needs be expunged by its proponents.
Adherents of the first view can tolerate adherents of the second because they are assured that the truth will win over falsehood – and will win over those captives of falsehood who have the requisite amount of good will actually to care about something beyond themselves. The genuine adherents of the second view, on the other hand, cannot tolerate any notion of absolute standards of truth beyond the reach of human modification, which is why, when they achieve power, they immediately use it to silence the voice of tradition.
Now none of this pleases those who favor making everything up as seems right in their own eyes. It is not so much that it makes no sense to them as it is that it makes a kind of sense which is inimical to their own desire to seize the fruit of the tree rather than have it given to them. Hence, it is not sufficient for them to disagree with tradition: They must of necessity destroy it – which is typically and effectively done in modern times by the pretense of “expanding our understanding” of tradition. In other words, they prefer cancer to decapitation.
Modern history abounds with examples of the contrast and the conflict between traditional constitutionalists and revisionist revolutionaries: In England, we can contrast the Glorious Revolution with Cromwellian rebellion. Then there is the stark contrast between the American War for Independence, which sought to restore the liberties of Englishmen against the encroachment of government, and the French Revolution (and its successors in Russia, China, and elsewhere) which sought the perfection of man through the instrumentality of the state. Politically incorrect though it be in the present day, on could also contrast the American constitutional principles for which the Confederacy fought with the nascent centralizing statism of the Radical Republicans. The judicial battle between the heirs of Story and Blackstone and the heirs of Holmes and the legal positivists is on display almost every time the Supreme Court issues a major decision. Almost all the mainstream American churches (including the Roman Catholic Church) have been torn by it. And now what is left of western civilization has to confront an imperial Islamist resurgence from a basis whose erosion is largely its own doing.
How are we upholders of tradition to prevail in this struggle?
First, we prevail – or, rather, lay the foundation for prevailing – by recognizing that there is a struggle going on. This has proved surprisingly difficult over the years, though the current administrations in Washington and in numerous state capitals around the country (including, in spades, that in my home state capital of Raleigh) by their fecklessness, incompetence, and open hostility to the American constitutional tradition have forced recognition of the fact on many formerly unwilling to acknowledge it .
Second, we prevail by being realistic about our opponents: They are totalitarians, and finally there is no possible negotiation with them. We must be aware that they far prefer subversion to frontal attack and honest debate. Whatever they say, they are not looking for “a place at the table.” They want to own the table and the chairs and the credenza and the silver and everything in the pantry.
Third, we prevail by refusing to fight our opponents on their terms and with their methods. If they can control the definitions of the terms, they can win the fight. Their typical method is (1) propose fundamental change as if it were a reasonable thing. When opposition surfaces they (2) accuse their opponents of being irrational obstructionists and/ or reactionaries and/ or “haters.” (In this connection, it is helpful to remember a recent dictum of talk show giant Rush Limbaugh, who observed that “when you tell the truth and people don’t like it, they call it hate speech.” All too often (3) the opponents, implicitly accept the revisionist canard and, for the sake of peace, seek to negotiate a compromise with them, which always involves giving them a place at the table – which further involves ignoring or denying the true nature of the opposition, who (as we said above) want the whole table. (Can anyone say, “Munich 1938”? Can anyone say, “Senatorial Gang of 14 Judicial Deal”?) At this point (4), the revisionists accept the partial surrender and immediately start planning for their next acquisition of territory. Ultimately (5) the cycle is repeated until the traditional position is annihilated (after which the revisionists start eating each other.).
Fourth, we prevail by being realistic about our objectives: If the enemy cannot be converted, they must be utterly defeated. Talk about bipartisanship and diversity is arrant nonsense where these two worldviews are concerned, and our taking it seriously only gives advantage to the opposition. The defeat or conversion of our opponents is only a means to the final objective, which is the renewal of the American Republic, for if you are a republican in the end you must choose between the Anglo-American model of ordered liberty under God and the Franco-Soviet model of no liberty save what the state permits.
Finally, we prevail by resting in and acting from the recognition that inevitably God will vindicate the right: Deo vindice. That he will do it is beyond doubt. The question for us is, will we follow in his train?
June 14, 2009
Waynesville, North Carolina
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Lent 2009 - During the season of Lent, we are having weekday Lenten suppers. Come along to find out more. Also, please watch for more information about our plans for Easter services.
Spring 2009 - This spring has seen changes in our congregation, new faces, and new friends. Meanwhile, plans include continuing to improve the internal and external features of both the house and the chapel. We already have a beautiful, new sun room thanks to Corinne and John - thank you both. More changes to come. Hopefully we will have a new pathway once the weather dries up. We are also planning future projects for evangelism. Check back for more details - or better yet, come and visit us!
On January 20th 2008, the new chapel of Saint Athanasius was used to celebrate communion for the first time. The renovation process had taken many months and much hard work, particularly on the part of Mr J. Dixon, Mr J. Minor, Mr T. Williams, and Mr A. Newchok, amongst others. The beautiful, small chapel was finally ready and Father Charles Nalls celebrated. At the same service, we also celebrated the adult baptism of Kari Miller.
Women's Bible Study 2008: Our women's group will be doing a Beth Moore Bible study, "Living Beyond Yourself". This will be a 10 week study on Galatians, on Thursday nights at 6:30. There is a workbook that needs to be purchased. Please email the church for more information.
Easter News 2008: Easter blessings and greetings to all our readers. We have completed our first Easter in our new chapel, and our thanks go out to everyone who has helped make this such a beautiful season. Several big events have happened this week!
On Saturday March 29th, we were delighted to be present at Jason Duchenne's presentation to the Bishop and his Ordination as Deacon during an afternoon service presided over by Bishop Rocco Florenza. Then on Sunday March 30th, we celebrated Holy Communion in a packed church with over 65 people! Again, Bishop Florenza presided, and was assisted by Father Charles Nalls and Deacon Jason Duchenne. Furthermore, we also celebrated the Confirmation of Kari Miller and Laura Nalls. We were very happy to welcome all of our new visitors, not least the Christian Motorcycle Association, many of whose members were able to attend our service. After Holy Communion, Bishop Florenza blessed the riders and their bikes.
It is wonderful to see our small community growing and new faces amongst regular ones. If you have not yet visited us, please do - and if you have already been to our services, we would love to see you again! Go to our photo page to see the events from this weekend.
Baptism: On Sunday January 20th, we celebrated the baptism of Kari Miller, in our first communion in our chapel.
Moved in!: We are delighted to announce that we have moved into our new sanctuary. Our first communion was celebrated on Sunday 20th January. Please come and join us in our new church, and have a look at some of our photos of the interior on our photo page!
This was some of our news in 2007:
40th Anniversary of Ordination: On 23rd December 2007, we celebrated the 40th Anniversary of Fr BIacker's ordination, and gave thanks for a lifetime of service. Thank you to the congregation for a lovely celebration!
Maryland Military Department Digest Fall 2007: Has an article about our very own Father Nalls, and a discussion of the roles of military chaplains. (.pdf file, 5.6 kb)
Saint Seraphim church fire: Please keep Saint Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church in your prayers. Our neighbours in Hanover, their building was badly damaged in an accidental fire in late October 2007. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.
Advert: Our advert has been published! Find us on page 3 of "Faith and Values", the guide to Richmond's west end programs and ministries.
Building Work: This October, we've been working very hard on the house church. The floor is now beautifully finished, and painting and other work continues. Services are continuing as usual, and we are very excited at the progress that's being made. Many thanks to everyone for their hard work
Glen Allen Day: September 15th 2007, Glen Allen Day - We hosted an information booth with success and made more people aware of Saint Athanasius's presence on Staples Mill Road.
Beaverdam Heritage Days will be held at The Beaverdam Depot in downtown Beaverdam,Virginia on Saturday October 13, 2007. Vendor applications are now being accepted. They can be found at the web http://www.beaverdam-heritage.org/ or call 804-227-3442 Joe Exline. Beaverdam is 30 minutes north of Richmond and 30 minutes south of Fredericksburg. Come out and enjoy the family fun filled day of history and music.
Also find us in the Henrico County Leader.
Canon David F. T. Rodier served the Mission many times and is much beloved by us all. He served at the parish of Christ the King in Washington DC through 2006 until his retirement to Arizona. Canon Rodier was Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at American University in Washington DC for 30 years. He specialised in the areas of Classical and Medieval Philosophy and Eastern Religions. He is versed in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and Coptic.
The Reverend Charles H. Nalls
Fr. Charles Nalls was the full-time priest to St. Athanasius. Fr. Nalls holds a Masters of Divinity from Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC. and is completing studies for his Licentiate in Sacred Theologies.
Fr. Nalls is an honors graduate of DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana with a B.A. in history and a B.A. in political science. He holds a Masters of Theology degree (with honors) from the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. In addition, Fr. Nalls received his law degree from the Georgetown University School of Law and held positions in government and private practice, as well as serving as a Naval intelligence officer. A canon lawyer, Fr. Nalls is the Executive Director of the Canon Law Institute, and is a frequent lecturer on matters pertaining to religious law and history, church property and ecclesiastic discipline. The author of a number of articles and papers, Fr. Nalls recently completed his first short book Prayer: A Field Guide.