This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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What is meant by ‘tradition’

Catholic readers and, outside the Christian framework, readers who are familiar with the work of Rene Guenon, Frithjof Schuon, Titus Burckhardt, or Ananda Coomaraswamy, will find this entire chapter tedious and can probably skip over it. For anyone else it will serve as a necessary primer on the term ‘tradition’ as used throughout this manual.

Etymologically, the term ‘tradition’ means simply ‘that which is transmitted’. For us, tradition refers to the content of a revelation in its earthly situation and historical elaboration. From this point of view, tradition is doctrine, but it is also more, since it encompasses the doctrine established at its point of origin as well as its authentic development throughout history. That is to say, when we refer to the Christian Tradition, we have in mind the doctrine bequeathed to the disciples directly by Christ (oral transmission) as well as the Scriptures established later in time (written transmission), as well as the dogmatic formulations proposed by the Magisterium from now until the end of the world (historical unfolding of the doctrine). A tradition is therefore a ‘living doctrine’ the life of which can be traced from the planting of its seed through its entire development.

From here we might ask if all religions are not traditional. The answer is, for the most part, yes. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism are in fact all traditional religions. Yet the situation is more complex since, in almost all cases, there are revolutions and innovations that occur, resulting in the formation of a new ‘branch’. This new branch might remain connected to the original vine, thereby remaining ‘traditional’ and representing a valid expression of the possibilities contained in the original doctrine; or, on the other hand, the new outgrowth might (intentionally or unintentionally) separate itself completely from the established religion, at which point it might retain the name but, having reinvented or re-interpreted the doctrine, or having introduced novelties into it, it can no longer be called ‘traditional’ since it has departed from the authentic line of transmission.

Examples of both cases are readily available in Christianity. First, the disagreement that resulted in the Great Schism of the 11th century, dividing the Eastern Orthodox from the Roman Catholic, was not deep enough to render either party ‘unorthodox’, and that is why there is an acknowledged communion between the two, despite their division. The Protestant Reformation was a very different case, and represents the second possibility. Being the product of a reforming impulse that was in some sense legitimate but ultimately destructive and revolutionary, the Reformation produced a fragmented collection of new churches, each with their own doctrinal innovations, all of them unified by sentiments that were decisively anti-traditional.

This is no exaggeration and, in saying this, we are merely taking the representatives of Protestantism at their word, since Protestant writers, as a general rule, explicitly condemn ‘tradition’, a term which, for them, has a meaning very different from the Catholic usage. ‘Scripture alone’ is adopted as the single guide to truth and is then used as a foil to discredit any theology that cannot be easily proof-texted. From the traditional point of view, the doctrine of ‘sola scriptura’ amounts to sawing off the branch that one is sitting on. Without the living components of a traditional framework (such as the teaching authority that is the Magisterium) scripture becomes a mirror reflecting the best and worst of the well-intentioned interpreter’s imagination; the individual then finds himself adrift in a sea of words taken from a language he does not speak and from a time he does not know that speak to him of ideas he is almost certainly not equipped to untangle.

We will address the issue of oral and written transmission shortly, but here we’ll simply say that for a traditionalist, scripture is tradition, or one of its ‘modes’ of transmission, as valid as all others, but never absolutized. In Catholicism the error of ‘Bibolatry’ is naturally excluded.

To return to the main point, when we reference tradition, we are not dealing with profane theories, human inventions, personal preferences, or cultural idiosyncrasies, but with transcendent knowledge. When we refer to a ‘traditional civilization’, we mean any civilization that is animated by a revealed doctrine so thoroughly that the institutions, arts, economy, and daily life of that civilization revolve around that same transcendent center, and this center acts as the principle that guides and informs every peripheral activity, however worldly, like the hub of a great wheel, so that social life is ‘baptized’ such that every task becomes kind of ritual or prayer of religious participation.

Now it should be obvious why, in traditional civilizations, the established religion seems to sit at the top of the social hierarchy. This is logical and in fact necessary, since it is the role of the religious authority to maintain, develop, and diffuse principial knowledge throughout society.

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