For better or worse, I am an amateur patrologist and theologian. I make no apologies because I read the Fathers because I love them, because they are my teachers. I write about them because I want to apply what I've learned from them to my life. If firmly believe that the reason why Christians need to read the Fathers is not to mine them for some nugget of theological data, but rather return ad fontes and rejoice in swimming in that capacious pool from which all Christian thought has sprung.
This, of course, not a mainstream approach to theology or the Christian life. I don't mind that. Yet, what a growing number of Christians are realizing is the extent to which our iconoclastic dismissal of tradition in the later part of last century has brought us is theological incoherence and confusion of tongues. I'm not saying that tradition is a cure-all for all ills facing the Church today. Of course, tradition is a double-edged sword. It can stifle and restrict as often as it guides and supports faith. We all know periods when tradition's weight crushed faith and faithful inquiry. I don't advocate a return to those bad ol' days. I also don't think we're remotely close to that extreme today.
Tradition, at its best, supports faith. It gives the necessary boundaries to allow the faithful to dig deeper into the wealth of experience embodied in the lives of the many millions of faithful departed in the history of the Church. It allows us to learn from the successes and the mistakes of others throughout time. It helps us to see that our answers and even our most time-honoured truths developed over time and, likely, will continue to do so, but within agreed upon boundaries. It also allows us to both disagree with others within our tradition, but, also, allows us the resources to work out those disagreements in a productive and constructive manner. A living tradition is one that intersects with the world around it and develop its own answers to the dilemmas of its time. A tradition which isn't flexible enough to do that is dead and good riddance to it. If a tradition doesn't speak to each successive generation anew, it is worse than useless. It is fit only for the dumpster.
We all live in more than one traditions, whether we chose to acknowledge it or not. Some traditions are religious; others are ethnic; some are simply familial. Still others are cultural including the current tradition embodied by the modern university and the modern journalist. Usually, these traditions coincide quite peacefully with a minimum of friction. Sometimes, traditions clash and create dilemmas for those bound up in both. We are, I suggest, living at a time when the Christian tradition and what can be only called the dominant intellectual traditions clash on a regular basis. While we can always appeal to the strong undercurrent of tolerance which runs in the dominant intellectual traditions today (thank God!), there is no mistaking that it is harder and much less intellectually respectable to be a Christian today than it was, say, fifty years ago. A commitment to the Christian tradition isn't mainstream anymore, but, I submit, our witness to Christ in this increasingly secular world needs to be grounded in this commitment or we will become as rudderless as the culture we find ourselves in.
All this brings me back to what I'm trying to do in this blog. I am not interested in excavating the artifacts of the Christian traditions like little potsherds on an archaeological site. Nor am I interested in creating a two-dimensional gallery of long-dead heroes and heroines of faith. Nor do I want to know my tradition so I can ace a Jeopardy category on dead Christian writers. I want to learn from my tradition, certainly; not only from the good, but also from the bad and the ugly. But, as I know very well from teaching, knowledge is pointless unless it is applied in some relevant way to today's concerns and problems. And that is what exactly what I want to do. I want to learn from the Christian tradition, but, more importantly, I want to use the resources this tradition gives me to explain and to cope with the problems facing Christians today.
All of this is, of course, ambitious and I don't claim any special expertise or wisdom in attempting it. What I do claim is a willingness to listen to the teachings of traditional Christianity and to see how it fits my life. God willing, my reflections on how to apply the insights of my tradition will be useful to more people than just me.