If You Want to Keep Your Tradition, Then You Must Keep Your Balance 23

Welcome to the “real world,” Kid.

When most americans hear the word tradition, here is what immediately comes to mind:

Welcome to the Thanksgiving Day Parade!

For a sophisticated few, the word tradition conjures up an image like this:

Welcome to Mardi Gras!

To educated elites, the word tradition looks something like this:

Welcome to Aggieland! (and Welcome to the SEC)

And if you don’t get it, you’re not one of us.

And if you are Catholic… For a good many it comes down to two things:


And that’s about it.

In the opening scene from Fideler on the Roof, Tevye remarks, “And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: Tradition!” The question is: do we keep our balance with tradition or do we keep our tradition with balance?

The message I took away form Fideler on the Roof was “Traditions: we can’t live with them and we can’t life without them.” From the onset of the play, Tevye and his daughters begin to question their longstanding traditions. Traditionally, marriages were arranged in their quaint little town and no one ever questioned that tradition. Once Tevye decides to break with that tradition and marry Tzeitel, his oldest daughter, to the boy she loves instead of the old man chosen for her by the matchmaker, everything else begins to spiral out of control. Inevitably, his second oldest daughter, Hodel, acts on this precedent to persuade her Father to allow her to marry a Marxist. Eventually, the unspeakable happens. Chava, his youngest daughter elopes and marries an Orthodox Christian. In protest, Tevye disowns her, vows never to speak to her again, and tells the the family to consider her dead.

In the end, the Christian government, drives the Jews from their homes. The family is disintegrated. Leaving his three oldest daughters behind in the diaspora, Tevye and his wife Golde depart for America with their two youngest daughters. At Tevye’s beckoning nod, the nameless fideler follows them out of the village, signifying that they are taking their broken traditions with them.

How so? Hearkening back to the opening scene, the sage Tevye ends the sequence with a prophetic reminder: “Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as… As a fideler on the roof.”

Traditions. We can’t live with them and we can’t live without them. Tradition by itself is like a one-legged stool. Without tradition, we are left with a two-legged stool, at best. To maintain a proper balance, we ought to consider the role of tradition in a stricter sense, but with a much broader context. Here, I am talking about Sacred Tradition with a capital “T.”

How can considering the Sacred Tradition of the Church teach us about tradition in general? Doesn’t it make better sense to understand what we mean by tradition first and then see how that applies specifically to Tradition in the Church?

I would like to propose that Tradition with a capital “T” serves as an exemplar for tradition. In Verbum Dei, the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, we are presented with a model that looks more like this:

This model is not quite perfect but it is a start. I would like to follow up tomorrow on the question I raised here, using this text from Verbum Dei as a starting point:

“It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.” — VD, II, 10.

If we can understand how tradition functions within this context, we may be able to apply it to other aspects of our lives and save countless other important things as well.


  1. Hey, I like the three legs to your stool. I think I would name the seat either “Truth” or “Life”. True reason, tradition, and scripture, are needed to understand and love God and to be able to receive His graces. There are so many false reasons, traditions, and “holy books” out there that tempt man away from truth and life, to seek after what they are comfortable with instead of what is real. The least we can do with these lost ones is to hit them hard over the head with this three-legged stool to see if truth and life are able to make a dent in their skulls!… Not advocating violence, in case anyone has trouble comprehending my typed words =) . God love you. Keep it coming.

  2. Your poster with the ‘real world kid’ really leaves me with heavy heart because….. it’s true. What chance does the kid have to develop his Spiritual muscles in the real world with 1 hour a week in church is all the Spiritual feeding he gets (perhaps even then it’s force-fed), and then when he moves on to the next step in his life he’s bombarded with Relativity and Secular living.

    • I kind of raised that problem and did not resolve it today. Here is where I hope to go with this. We need to educate and not just assume that traditions will carry over to the next generation. To do that we need to teach the core values that underlie our traditions. Tradition without education is just passing on hollow bonbons, sugar coating, icing without the cake. Young people need substance. If we do not give them substance, they will swallow the next best thing our secular culture hands them, namely, gratification without accountability. Of course, that will not work either. But what else can they expect if they are not educated properly? If we want to help the upcoming generations, we need to educate ourselves to educate them properly and make up for severely lost ground. Not to sound pessimistic, but it is an uphill trudge.

      • I completely agree with everything you’ve raised here. That’s why we need proper formation of both the young and the ‘old’. We need witnesses of the Faith that are passionate, knowledgeable and sincere who are unafraid of rocking the boat and telling-it-as-it-is.

  3. Great post, loved the photos and the comments, too! Just curious, though: yet another person commenting here mentioned the nuns “beating” children with rulers. I begin to wonder about this. I went to 12 years of Catholic school, mostly Dominican-run. 50 kids per classroom, 100 per grade level. Nobody ever hit me. Very occasionally I saw a misbehaving middleschool boy hold out his hand for a single rap with a ruler across the back of his hand . . . that was about it. Did I have an unusual, or a typical Catholic school experience in that regard?I was chalking it all up to anti-Catholic myths, about those misfit mean cranky child-beating nuns, but I see that comment so much. I wonder.

    • Your experience with Catholic school nuns was not the exception to the rule (no pun intended). The occasional disciplinary measure (pun intended) has a grain of truth to it but it gets exaggerated mostly out of humor by Catholic boys who were raised into men, in part, by dedicated women who wore the habit and surrendered their lives to the Lord’s service — the part that gets overlooked more often than not. The occasional rap with the ruler when needed was enough to keep everyone in line. If not, the nose in the corner, a trip to the principle’s office, or writing lines on the chalkboard after school helped do the trick. Most of the corporeal punishment was left to the parents. That was my experience, anyway.

  4. I really liked this Biltrix and the points you made regarding “Tradition” I also like “saving countless other important things as well.” That is true. I have a question for you since you are posting about this. What do you think about Martini’s view points. I am really on the fence with this. Should we change for the times? Should vestments etc.. be done away with? I can see what he is saying/said but can the Church do this and still remain who She is? Thanks for answering and God Bless, SR

    • Cardinal Martini’s views were a bit extreme. Pope Benedict’s approach of educating on the tradition makes more sense to me. Doing away with things like vestments not only disregards the richness of our heritage, it also waters down and opens the door to further watering down the sense of what we do and the reasons why we do it. Certain things, like clerical vestments, are set aside from the profane to indicate that we are partaking in the sacred through the mediation of the ones appointed for holy service. Visual signs immediately draw our attention to that. And when we learn more about them, we see that these are not just mere trappings or outdated formalities, but rather emblems of a sacred character. Vestments do not define the priesthood or the Church, yet they point to it in a very distinctive way. And if I may, these sacramentals as outward signs help us to unite ourselves in faith here and now with the mystical body in its historical element. The externals retain their importance and significance when we see through them to the deeper reality that undergirds them. Were we to do away with them, we might ultimately do away with that vision for many people.

  5. See, this was more on my line of thinking. If we begin to get rid of things, where is it going to stop! This is part of being Catholic. I was on a blog about this, and I told them I would be back as I truly had to think about it. The blog owner is for it. One of my very thoughts, was “the visual signs” as I am a very black and white person, and the more visuals I have the better in my life. Like Reinkat’s icons for example. I tend to agree more on your views and opinions on this. I guess I just needed some confirmation before I replied. There are still times my “conversion” will make me have to think twice, as I was not born and raised in the Church. Those who are/were sometimes I need some help shuffling these things around. So thanks for the “shuffle!” God Bless, SR

    • I really do not see the point to people’s saying that the Church needs to do away with things we obviously are not going to do a way with. It just leads to confusion and dissent. Maybe that is the point. At any rate, your sense that this was wrongheaded thinking was spot on. Thanks for sharing this here. It gives me an idea for a future post. God bless, SR!

  6. The best tradition we can hand on to our children is tradition with a T. That’s the only way to combat the nonsense they’re bombarded with. The family traditions have their place too but only if they can be traced back to Tradition. What we can’t do is hit our children over the head with the stool or they might turn and run the other way. I think leading by example and healthy discussion and catechesis at home is the way to go.

    • Good point! Education is the key, especially within the family. And of course, it does not make sense to beat them over the head with it, or else they probably will rebel. Thanks 8-Kids!

    • Very true, Gracie. A tradition essentially is a. conventional bearer of meaning (pardon the convoluted jargon coming from this airheaded philosopher). Standing on its own, it loses its meaning, becomes a senseless end in itself, and deforms culture. When it is maintained with the proper balance, it educates and strengthens culture. It can be an aid to help us grow in faith. When it becomes the object of faith, it can take the form of idolatry.

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