Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Scruton on tradition

Roger Scruton’s essay “Rousseau and the Origins of Liberalism” first appeared in The New Criterion in 1998, and was reprinted in The Betrayal of Liberalism, edited by Hilton Kramer and Roger Kimball.  Among the many good things in it, there is an important expression and defense of the conservative understanding of tradition.  Scruton writes:

Modern liberals tend to scoff at the idea of tradition.  All traditions, they tell us, are “invented,” implying that they can therefore be replaced with impunity.  This idea is plausible only if you take the trivial examples – Scottish country dancing, Highland dress, the Coronation ceremony, Christmas cards, and whatever else comes with a “heritage” label.  A real tradition is not an invention; it is the unintended byproduct of invention, which also makes invention possible… [A] tradition, precisely because it is not invented, has authority.  “Unintended byproducts” of invention contain more knowledge than any person can discover unaided.

The specific example Scruton focuses on in the essay is the Western system of musical notation (which was criticized by Rousseau).  He also mentions common law, parliamentary procedures, manners and social conventions, dress, and morality.  (In order to see his point vis-à-vis this last example, one need not regard all moral principles to be the products of tradition in the relevant sense.  One can recognize a natural law that is deeper than tradition and unalterable, while allowing that there is also a layer of moral principles that are of greater binding force than mere etiquette, even if not having the absolute or unalterable status of natural law – a layer sometimes called the ius gentium or law of peoples.)

Part of what Scruton is saying here is that traditional practices and principles of these kinds, though not infallible or absolutely unalterable, nevertheless have a presumption in their favor, precisely because they have so far stood the test of time.  That is, of course, a familiar enough conservative theme. 

But there is more to it than that.  The most important kinds of tradition, Scruton notes, are not practices or principles that were deliberately invented by some particular individual and then went on to last.  Rather, they are practices or principles that were not the product of any one person’s ingenuity, but rather evolved gradually as a byproduct of the actions of multiple individuals operating over a span of time, none of whom was deliberately trying to produce them.  No one person invented the system of musical notation, for example, or came up with the principles implicit in common law, or decided what the prevailing rules of etiquette would be.  These are rather what the Scottish Enlightenment thinker Adam Ferguson famously characterized as “the products of human action but not human design.”

A further point is that, precisely because such practices and principles evolve in this way, they often reflect more information about the world than any one individual is likely to have available to him.  Consider, for example, a system of rules of etiquette that includes principles like the following: When you first meet someone, offer your name and acknowledge him with a handshake or nod; do not bring up controversial matters of religion or politics in conversation with people you do not know well; when dining with others, wait until they have been served their meal before beginning to eat your own; when dining with others, do not smack your lips, slurp your beverage, lick your fingers, belch, or otherwise behave in a manner likely to be off-putting to those around you; when in an elevator, on a bus, using a public walkway, or the like, allow a few feet of space if possible between you and those around you; do not speak loudly or in any manner that might disturb others when in a library, movie theater, or the like; etc.

Any system of etiquette is going to include innumerably many such rules.  It will also typically acknowledge qualifications or exceptions to the rules.  And it will reflect broader cultural circumstances (which may not prevail in other societies, which is one reason not all cultures have the same rules of etiquette).  No one person could come up with such a system, because no one person could foresee all the contexts in which such rules might be needed, all the cultural circumstances relevant to determining exactly what the rules should be, all the considerations that might justify exceptions to the rules or call for qualifications, and so on.  Such rules instead develop over generations by trial and error, and gradually harden into a set of customs that people simply take for granted. 

In no way does this make them arbitrary, though.  On the contrary, they serve a crucial function of letting people know how to act in a manner conducive to amiable and efficient social interaction, and they are able to do so because they answer real human needs that follow upon both human nature and concrete cultural circumstances.  The impersonal process by which such traditional practices form reflects all the relevant considerations, which no single human mind could have information about in advance. 

There is in this sense a kind of wisdom embodied in tradition that gives it an authority no individual could have, because no individual could have the wisdom in question.  This is what Scruton means when he says that “a tradition, precisely because it is not invented, has authority.” 

Scruton observes that tradition, which is an “unintended byproduct of invention,” also “makes invention possible.”  Naturally, he doesn’t mean that it makes all invention possible, which would entail a paradox (insofar as invention would presuppose tradition but tradition also presuppose invention).  What he means is that it makes certain further kinds of invention possible.  Individuals can, of course, deliberately bring about novelties in common law, parliamentary procedure, etiquette and other social conventions, and for that matter morality.  No one denies that.  Scruton’s point, and that of other conservative thinkers, is that individuals can do this, and do it with beneficial results, only insofar as the novelties are piecemeal additions to or alterations of a larger preexisting body of practices and principles that they did not invent, and could not themselves have invented wholesale. 

As Scruton notes, this conception of tradition, or ideas in the general ballpark, have been put forward by thinkers like Burke, Mises, Oakeshott, and Hayek.  While there is a broad sense in which these thinkers can be called “conservative,” they are also all in the broad “classical liberal” tradition associated with the likes of John Locke and Adam Smith.  Should that in some way cast doubt on the conservative credentials of what they have to say about tradition, at least from the point of view a postliberal conservative?

No.  For one thing, it would be foolish and indeed fallacious (specifically, an instance of the genetic fallacy) to assume that an idea must be suspect merely because it is associated with thinkers with whom one otherwise disagrees.  Moreover, there is an obvious respect in which the conception of tradition described by Scruton echoes themes to be found in the more traditional sort of conservatism that looks to Aristotle and Aquinas for its primary inspiration.  As Aristotle emphasizes, moral virtue is acquired first and foremost by habituation, and theoretical understanding comes only later if at all.  He was talking about the individual human being, but something analogous can be said of the social organism.  The habits embodied in its morals, conventions, and culture more generally can exhibit a kind of virtue even if those who make up society do not have a theoretical understanding of the value of the practices and principles they are following.  Just as Aristotle would say that it is an error to suppose that theoretical understanding of morality should or could precede the practice of morality, so too do thinkers like Burke, Oakeshott, Hayek and Scruton argue that it is a mistake to suppose that theoretical understanding of the value of various specific traditional principles and practices can or should precede our adherence to those principles and practices.  The point is decidedly Aristotelian, even if the thinkers in question have other commitments with which an Aristotelian would not agree.

There is also, I would suggest, at least a very general parallel between the conception of tradition described by Scruton and the conception of tradition operative in Catholic theology (albeit I am by no means claiming they are exactly the same).  Newman famously theorized about the development of dogma, and part of his point is that the system of Christian doctrine is not and could not have been explicitly and entirely formulated all at once.  Rather, precise and explicit formulations came about gradually in response to specific historical circumstances, such as the rise of certain heresies that needed to be rebutted, applications to concrete cases that hadn’t previously been foreseen or addressed, and so on.  For example, no one person hammered out the entirety of what become the Church’s settled doctrine on the main points of Christology.  Rather, it was the result of centuries of reflection by Fathers of the Church, the teaching of various councils, and so on, each stage being a response to specific aspects of the issue that arose under specific circumstances. 

As understood by Newman, “development” is something that happens with doctrine as a consequence of the contribution of many individuals.  It is not some action that a particular individual performs (even if the actions of particular individuals, such as popes, and bishops gathered in councils, contribute to the overall development).  In recent years, however, churchmen and theologians often do speak of “development” as something active, something that a pope, for example, might decide to do. 

The results are not always salutary.  An example would be the statements many contemporary churchmen have made on the topic of capital punishment.  There have in Catholic tradition always been theologians and churchmen who tended to oppose the death penalty, just as there have been those who tended to support it.  But in recent decades, the rhetoric against it has often been far more extreme than what can be found in the earlier Catholic tradition, and indeed sometimes directly contradicts that tradition.  This rhetoric is grounded less in considerations about mercy or the facilitation of repentance (as earlier Catholic reservations about capital punishment were) than in an exaggerated conception of human dignity that owes more to Kant and modern philosophical liberalism than it does to scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, or the consistent papal teaching of two millennia.  While scriptural texts and earlier magisterial statements are sometimes appealed to in its defense, they are given novel interpretations, and scriptural and magisterial texts that point the other way are ignored.

Scruton points out that the liberal in politics who tosses aside traditional practices and principles naively and arrogantly supposes that he can do better, when in fact his novelties are grounded in a far more short-sighted view of things than is embodied in tradition.  He often ends up generating chaos, and the tradition he has undermined cannot easily be revived.  (To borrow a famous analogy of Wittgenstein’s, restoring the common sense embodied in tradition after it has been lost is like trying to repair a torn spider’s web with one’s fingers.)

Something similar is true in theology – indeed, it is more true in theology, since the credibility of any claim to represent the deliverances of divine revelation crucially depends on consistency with what that revelation has always been understood to say.  For modern churchmen to imply by their words and actions that even two millennia of consistent traditional teaching cannot be trusted can only generate skepticism about the trustworthiness of these churchmen themselves.  In theology as in politics, those who undermine tradition saw off the branch on which they are themselves sitting.


  1. My favorite Scruton moment was when he was giving a talk on music, and played a clip of a song by the technical death metal band Atheist. He said that while music was terrible, there was one truly talented musician in the band, the drummer. Death metal drumming is influenced by jazz, you see. Buddy Rich invented blast beats, for example. Jazz is OK in Scruton book even if he hates rock, rap, and pop.

    Relatedly, one can create a music political spectrum, with Adorno on the far-right (everything except classical and folk predating recorded music is bad), Scruton on the center-right (he accepts jazz but is otherwise like Adorno), the center-left consisting of fans of "indie rock" "real metal" "real punk", progressive rock, and underground rap, as opposed to the corporate sellout versions, and "poptimism" on the far-left. The fundamental dividing line between right and left is one's position on recorded music, or one's acceptance of genres that can only be safely enjoyed in a live setting with ear protection. The left is in favor of both, the right is skeptical at best.

    1. Well, I just like Taylor Swift. (: /

    2. If I remember rightly, didn't Scruton say he thought Metallica's Master of Puppets was interesting?

  2. I wonder what Scruton would have thought about socially enforced practices that, although they feign the *appearance* of tradition, are just ideological inventions. Can one of those inventions end up as a bona fide tradition?

    It seems that sometimes it can be hard tell which practices are really traditions in the emergent-byproduct sense of the word.

    1. Please elaborate, give some examples.

  3. I disagree that the left hates tradition. They love tradition, they just call their traditions other things.

    As soon as a white person cooks the wrong food, wears their hair the wrong way, makes the wrong music (cultural appropriation), moves in or out of the wrong neighborhood (gentrification and white flight respectively), or says the wrong word (racism), you'll see liberals lecture you about tradition.

  4. The essay is also included in The Roger Scruton Reader, edited by Mark Dooley.

  5. I had a few thoughts on the conservatives mentioned here. Conservatism isn’t against individual reason because individuals are prone to making mistakes. It’s against it because Conservatism’s founders were “individually” riddled with Enlightenment scepticism. They did not believe that reason could know with certitude, and appealed to “general reason” instead. But general reason does not exist. Reason is located ONLY in individuals, for they alone have a soul and a mind.

    Hence the conservative allergy to natural law and all absolutes and certitudes. Scruton was clear: “Those who seek in everything an overriding purpose or systematic plan… will be distressed, not only by the conservative viewpoint, but also by… modern history, as it overwhelms [with a] flood of novelty (The Meaning of Conservatism). Instead, the only “truth” is society itself, in thrall to a “value [that] will not be the outcome of some all-embracing principle… but on the contrary, it will proceed from the immediacies of politics” (The Meaning of Conservatism). For Burke, society does not conform to absolutes and universals outside itself. Instead, England’s political system was “the happy effect of following nature, which is wisdom without reflection, and above it”. He means conventions, but natural law is “reflection” by definition, and conventions must conform to it and be argued about for that reason.

    Conservatism believes society to be an evolutionary mechanism for producing a superior human nature remedying created nature – nature per se, hence the conservative characterisation of the “state of nature” outside society as brutish. Logically, all progress and perfection is in the species. As the conservative, Robert Nisbet said, history for the conservative is what evolutionism is for the biologist.

    This view is not that of Catholic social theory, or its ecclesiology. Cardinal Newman could well describe the process of doctrinal development on one level as a kind of dialectic. But, on another level, it is only the thought of many individuals. On the only level that counts, the true level, it is the mind of God, for the Church is not a society like civil society. It has a soul and a mind, and is divinely chartered, whereas civil societies are not (Leo XIII, Libertas).

    According to Catholic social theory, civil society is ultimately ordered to absolutes beyond itself. And its secular end is based upon nature, which is universal, immutable and rationally known by all (in different degrees). All of this runs against the divinisation of social contingency which is the core of Conservatism. Conservatism’s attacks on Liberalism also hit Catholic teaching. Scruton and Burke knew this.

    1. The choice to identify Burke and others like him (with Scruton) with the defining character of conservatism is a loaded decision. In reality, there existed a perfectly sound conservative (without the "ism" attached) motive and principle to attack Locke and Rousseau's naive dismissal of tradition and custom, without Burke's erroneous ideas about it. Such motive was a conserving motive, and minds who rejected Locke in favor of a more sound embrace of tradition and custom did so long before Burke gave a bad account of it. They were conserving before Burke, and (many) did so with more sound basis.

      As Feser indicates above (as per Aristotle), virtue itself is a matter of habit, and requires habituation. No person, and consequently no society, can be virtuous without conforming to good customs much of the time - indeed, without willing to go along with customs precisely because they are the customary modes of good behavior. A person whose character is such that he wills to freely imbibe in actions that are customary some times and freely reject other customs, at whim, is not virtuous. To the extent liberalism naively sets aside custom as an essential and valuable aspect of society, to that extent liberalism hates the good.

    2. It's only loaded if one accepts the conservative rhetoric that Aquinas was a "conservative" in the post eighteenth-century ideological sense. Conservatism is not about "conserving" because it radically lacks any template whatsoever upon which to conserve. Chesterton commented, "All conservative theory is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not… leave a white post alone [and] it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be a white post you must always be painting it again; that is, you must always be having a revolution" (Orthodoxy). While Conservatism is quite capable of making common sense comments about a variety of issues, like any ideology, its core is not the belief in absolute, universal principles which led the Christian West to truly conserve what is important. Making conservation merely a matter of following changeful socially determined habit, without explicit reference by society as a whole to universals from beyond it (like natural law), lead to the social engineering that so annoys many conservatives today. Scruton believed that Conservatism is closer to socialism than liberalism. So did Hayek, who said he could never be a conservative because conservatism is incapable of establishing a firm position on anything, and follows society.

    3. Making conservation merely a matter of following changeful socially determined habit, without explicit reference by society as a whole to universals from beyond it (like natural law), lead to the social engineering that so annoys many conservatives today.

      Sure. But there is NO REASON to make "conservation" merely that without reference to fundamentals like natural law. That's a goofy way to propose conservation, and if that's what Burke and Scruton said, then they were BAD conservatives. Of course many customs have (and can be shown to have) connection to natural law. And should be understood that way.

      Without someone arguing that "custom can be ditched whenever you like", no society would need to have a strongly-formulated thought that "we need to keep our customs from destruction" - mostly, it would happen naturally. In the context of a liberal endarkenment mind-set of destruction of the past including custom, along with other, more direct offensives against such deranged philosophy, we need also defensive measures to sustain customs from stupid destruction. That doesn't make conservative work empty or useless, it just isn't the WHOLE needed effort.

    4. Unfortunately, Conservatism, in its founders and continuers, Burke, de Maistre, Scruton and Kirk, refused any accountability of society to principles from beyond it (there’s plenty of evidence of this). Chesterton's analogy with the black post refers to this. Merely conserving what historical society leaves to us will inevitably give us a black post, even if we started with a white one.

      As Chesterton pointed out, contrary to Conservatism, having a white post (let's say a society informed by natural law and Christianity) obliges us to tear up social conventions regularly. Politics should be informed by a rational discussion to establish whether new conventions conform to a template that is not contingent society, but absolutes and universals from beyond it. So, yeah, the dreaded rational, a priori template that makes conservatives wilt. Obviously, the Christian, natural law template is not that of liberalism, or its version of natural law. Obviously, political discussion should take account of different traditions and contexts. But universals trump society every time. Liberalism got that right (that’s why Mannheim, Scruton and Hayek all place Conservatism nearer to socialism than to liberalism on the ideological spectrum) - it got its template wrong though, which makes a catastrophic difference. But we cannot adopt the conservative argument that, because bad universal templates produce bad results, we should abandon universal templates. This is just Conservatism wallowing in its Enlightenment scepticism again.

      Nature comes before society, even if the latter is implied in it: The “person possesses rights he holds from God, and which any collectivity must protect” (Pius XI, Mit Brennender Sorge); “just as civil society did not create human nature, so neither can it be said to be the author of the good which befits human nature”, “Laws come before men live together in society” (Leo XIII, Libertas). It is a far cry from the political absolutism preached by Conservatism.

    5. Unfortunately, Conservatism, in its founders and continuers, Burke, de Maistre, Scruton and Kirk, refused any accountability of society to principles from beyond it

      This is, again, the reflection of a CHOICE to consider "conservatism" to be defined by a specific, narrow school of conservatives, emblematically represented by Burke and certain thinkers after him. BUT THAT'S NOT THE ONLY OPTION.

      Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes that "conservatism" has a broad sense and a narrower sense, and it pays to notice the differences:

      Conservatism in a broad sense, as a social attitude, has always existed. It expresses the instinctive human fear of sudden change, and tendency to habitual action.

      [Note that the use of "fear" here is due to a mistaken psycho-pathologic view of human behavior. If you substituted "caution" that would be more accurate and more neutral.]

      Cecil, for instance, contrasts “modern Conservatism” with the “natural conservatism” from which it arises and depends on, found “in almost every human mind” (Cecil, 1912: 8). The arch-royalist and anti-populist Earl of Clarendon, writing the history of the 17th century English Civil War soon after it happened, was instinctively conservative in this broader, un-self-conscious sense. Thus Beiser contrasts the “conservatism [that] had always existed in Germany as a social attitude”, with a self-conscious conservatism that developed as a social force in the 1790s, opposed to the Aufklärung or Enlightenment, and in reaction to the French Revolution (Beiser 1992: 281).

      Clarendon wrote over 100 years before Burke, so it is unlikely that he was influenced by Burke.

      Speaking more generally, and in contrast to the Burkean-conservative skepticism of human reason, it offers:

      Other commentators, however, contrast this “pragmatic conservatism” with a universalist “rational conservatism” that is not sceptical of reason, and that regards a community with a hierarchy of authority as most conducive to human well-being (Skorupski 2015).

      To take Burke and his ilk as standing for all of conservatism is to mistake one school for the whole.

    6. There's no school of Clarendon Conservatism. Conservatism as a movement began with Burke. Its aim was to preserve the Enlightenment political/philosophical revolution that triumphed in the late-seventeenth century. This was characterised by absolutism (of the monarch or Parliament) and scepticism. The seventeenth century was a battle between the Baroque world embodying the old Christian Western worldview, and the modern state present in places like Paris and London. Clarendon was probably influenced by the latter, as well as the general human desire to conserve.

      Conservatism, the social attitude, is not Conservatism, the ideology. Conservative ideology may well make hay out of a human aptitude, just as Marxism will make hay out of the human liking for fair play, but to reduce both ideologies to those things is not a discussion of anything important.

      Of course, there are schools of Conservatism, but the only one that interests people around here, probably, is the one that plays up to people who like tradition and religion etc., the Conservatism of the movement's founders and continuers - Burke, de Maistre, Kirk and Scruton. As I've pointed out above, this Conservatism is antithetical to the traditional West and its religion.

    7. but the only one that interests people around here, probably, is the one that plays up to people who like tradition and religion etc.,

      Manifestly, the school of rational conservatism plays well with SOME of the people around here.

    8. I would be fascinated to know who the great lights of rational Conservatism might be.

  6. The idea that the development is something the Church does is not recent. It goes back at least to Vatican II, to Dei Verbum specifically. I wrote about it here: https://crisismagazine.com/opinion/development-of-doctrine-and-its-discontents

  7. WCB

    Sometimes tradition is simply wrong. And needs to be set aside for progress. A good example was English thinker John Lilburne. Who lived during the era of the English Civil Wars. At that time, average English citizens had few established rights. Lilburne agitated for free born rights. Rights all mankind had, rather than rights doled out by kings and church. This was new. Lilburne spent much of his life in prison for this. But in the end he became arguably the most popular man in England. His concept of rights finally won out in England, and his concept of inalienable right has been cited in the U.S. by Supreme court justices. Long before Rousseau or Locke. Both the French revolution and American Revolution over threw old and foolish traditions. American inalienable rights echoed Lilburne. Eventually old traditions that women could not vote, attend colleges or be doctors or lawyers were abandoned. Bad traditions. Slavery was a bad tradition that was finally ended in the Western world. Many other examples of bad traditions being abandoned can be listed.
    Modern liberals scoff at tradition? No, modern liberals and progressives examine tradition and attack the bad ones. Like Jim Crow and Segregation for example.

    Sometimes, long and well established traditions are evil and foolish.

  8. A science fiction account of two characters from different worlds (and world-views) interacting sheds light on the issues at play here. One culture disapproves of expending any energy on anything not directly and provably benefiting all men, where the other is like ours (more or less). The person from the former notes that in her space ships, all the corners of counters and furniture are square-edged because they are easier to manufacture, thus cheaper and use less effort / energy. The person from the latter notes that rounded corners, contoured surfaces, and so on, minimizes injuries, especially in crisis situations where your attention is on something else. (And that once you pay off the design-work of the contoured surfaces and the machines to make them so, the constant ongoing extra cost is miniscule, and the total extra cost is only a few cents per unit - which is (probably a lot) less than the unmeasured costs of injuries and damage to others.)

    My point is that CUSTOM is a lot like the smoothed-over, contoured surfaces that make life less damaging to navigate. Indeed, some famous conservative-sort made just this point: custom is what you have left after you have sandpapered off the rough edges that catch on people's lives and scratch them repeatedly. Even "mere" social customs (like etiquette) are the resulting rules which merely express in compact form the generational wisdom gained from sanding off irritating and disturbing types of actions that make life harder to bear. Important customs like rules of governance and police procedures are, similarly, (at this date) the result of dozens upon dozens of generations of intelligent people formulating as rules actions or constraints that protect us from behavior that can severely damage us - or kill us - without need or benefit to society.

  9. On a slightly different take: one of the problems that we Catholics have encountered from the liberal mind-set in the Church is the overthrowing of rites and customs in liturgy, from a framework of "simplifying" the liturgy. The problem is that ritual involves symbolism, and indeed good liturgy involves symbolism at MANY different levels and under different axes of effect. Some symbols act directly upon our conscious minds by reminding us of some specific event in the past (like an event recounted in the Gospels). But others act upon our other faculties or senses and NOT directly through the rational mind: music acts affectively on our souls. Smells bypass our thoughts to engage us differently. Poetry affects us both musically and verbally. But even symbols that act primarily through words do so on many levels, not all of which we consciously advert to.

    This means that when the Consilium went about "simplifying" the liturgy, many of the embedded symbols and actions of the customary liturgy were lost. The result is poverty stricken as rite. If humans were angels, i.e. intellect without body, maybe that would not have been so bad, but we are not. Customs, including those in our celebrations and rites, are are part of completed human persons.

  10. Actually, the Second Council of the Vatican was fairly positive on the liturgy, from a traditionally Catholic point of view. The problems with that council are on a rational level and concern some of its doctrinal formulations. These concern false ecumenism, and a series of perceptions: the idea that men are saved by false religion, the invention of a separate ordinary episcopal jurisdiction autonomous from that of the Pope, the idea that the Church was wrong in the past in its teaching on Judaism, and the idea that false religion has rights. The language employed in Council documents has favoured these interpretations; the"spirit" of the council is inbuilt into some texts as they stand. These need vigorous "reinterpretation" by the Church, just like the Council of Constance, which led to a similar half century of confusion. The Church has seen it all before and will fix it again, as always. The great Tridentine Church which gave us life was frustrated by the brute force of Enlightenment regimes and the modern state, not by their ideas. It will bury them all - we are still dealing with the reform Trent began.

    1. I think Tony was referring not to VII, but the Consilium, which is the group after
      Vatican 2 thet oversaw the changes to the liturgy.

    2. Actually, the Second Council of the Vatican was fairly positive on the liturgy, from a traditionally Catholic point of view.

      Quite correct - in the documents themselves.

      Tony was referring not to VII, but the Consilium, which is the group after
      Vatican 2 thet oversaw the changes to the liturgy.

      Right: the Consilium committee that produced the Novus Ordo clearly defied the documents and its product(s) were in stark contradiction to what the Council approved. And what happened to the liturgy AFTER the Novus Ordo Missal was approved was even worse: a period of pseudo-approved "experimentation" (that was never intended by the Council) in which practically anything a parish priest could imagine was tried, with bishops rarely pulling back on the reins; Gregorian chant abandoned with prejudice; and Vatican after-the-fact approval to inventions that had no basis in the Council (e.g. communion in the hand and girl altar boys).

      These post-VII operations were in addition to the difficulties and obscurities introduced in the documents on ecumenism and religious liberty.

    3. Communion in he hand is actually an example of Catholic tradition being restored. Or do you believe that Jesus put small pieces of bread into the disciples' mouth at the Last Supper?
      Communion in the hand was a tradition for at least four centuries before some people came up with the idea of communion on the tongue.

    4. It's gone down in history as Paul VI's New Mass, not Consilium's New Mass, for very obvious and proper reasons.

    5. Ok, but it is not a mass that follows the directives in Sacrosanctum Concilium, as is equally obvious. That Paul VI established the committee, and approved the output (with some significant but modest tweaks), doesn't make it the mass intended by the Council Fathers.

  11. Or do you believe that Jesus put small pieces of bread into the disciples' mouth at the Last Supper?

    I believe that Christ ordained them as priests at the Last Supper.

    Communion in the hand was a tradition for at least four centuries

    From what I have read, the historical details are way more complex than that.

    1. He may have ordained them as priest, but he did not tell them to shove peaces of bread into the mouths of
      ordinary Christians.

      Maybe the details are more complex, but communion in the hand was definitely a tradition for at least four centuries and it was more common than communion on the tongue.

    2. That is actually a interesting debate. Do we have any ancient descriptions of how exactly communion was received on the patristic era?

      Not that i find that so important. Even if communion on the tongue is a latter praticee, it became universal*, and it is based on catholic beliefs on a organic way, it would be a genuine development, it does not seems cool to just change it for older and forgoten pratice.

      *i think, could be wrong

    3. Talmif

      But the point is that communion in the hand was a universal too.
      What's important for this debate is that traditions are not immutable. Good traditions can stay, bad traditions should go. It's as simple as that

    4. One of the tricky things about traditions is that they are notoriously hard to judge whether or not they actually are good. Or maybe a better way of putting it is whether or not a particular tradition is a cultural "load-bearing wall."

      Paraphrasing Chesterton, it's really tempting to look at a tradition that is getting in the way of where you want to go, deem it "bad" for that reason, and then only on hindsight realize that the tradition was actually enforcing a certain things you also consider good.

    5. Right. Chesterton urged that one could be reasonable in avoiding, or even ditching a custom, only when you understood the reasons it existed and the web of other goods it served primarily, secondarily, and tertiarily, AND judged that those goods were not sufficient to keep the custom intact, either because of the competing goods you would achieve by removing the custom, or by reason of the evils that the custom also dragged along with it (or the combination). Ignorance of the web of goods connected to the custom constitutes a good reason NOT to mess with it.

      As for communion in the hand: as I suggested earlier, it appears (from what I have read) that there was actually MIXED approaches during the first few centuries, not all one custom. And in any case, we who are 15 or 16 centuries away from the changeover into communion on the tongue, unless we have the entire body of record on why the change was made, can reasonably assume that they HAD a good reason at the time. And whatever the case was in the 4th century, when we eventually did have a custom of some 15 or more centuries of one custom, changing back to an earlier custom does not constitute merely a "reversion" to a custom: nobody in existence remembers anybody who within their memory could recall the prior practice and desire to "return" to it. After 15+ centuries, the custom was built into a massive web of supports and connections that touch many other parts of Catholic society. There was no discussion, in the 1970s, for why that custom was bad or had to change.

    6. Sure, sure. Even Scruton afirmed it on the text, that is acceptable.

      Still, Tony does make good points. Changing a pratice that is doing good because back them christians did things diferently is just strange.

    7. Depends on the tradition. Millenarian traditions like human sacrifice in the Americas and infanticide in Confucian China might have seemed reasonable to those societies. We are lucky to be Christians and Westerners.

    8. Millenarian traditions like human sacrifice in the Americas and infanticide in Confucian China might have seemed reasonable to those societies.

      "seemed reasonable". I dare say that they most probably did. But evaluating the goods that they seemed to serve, against a backdrop of better understanding of reality, revealed quite clearly that the "seeming" reasonableness actually was flawed, the practice served far more evil than good. The point is to be able to understand the connections that the custom has to many goods in society as well whatever evils are attendant on it, and in that understanding be able to judge between keeping it vs. changing it. We westerners were able to bring in new information into the system whereby a better evaluation of the practices was possible. Changing those customs WITHOUT such better evaluation that shows the custom is more bad than good is the problem.

  12. Actually, Confucian China and the pre-Hispanic Americas did have the information. They had natural law, known by light of reason. Natural law, and reason, were frustrated by the "tradition" of these societies, for millennia.