Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Preview of a thought I am still hoarding

In speaking of tradition in terms of the meaning of the word "tradition," that is, in terms of turning something over (to someone), it is tempting to say that this is a metaphor with a limited application to the sorts of things to which we would like to apply it. Intellectual, liturgical, and cultural traditions seem to be exempt from the inescapable fact which makes the turning over of physical property difficult and involves it in contentions so fervid that complex legal structures of contract law and enforcement are required to keep them from tearing human society apart: that the one who turns over property no longer has it. Yves Congar in The Meaning of Tradition, writes:

Usually, when it is a question of handing over a material object, the donor loses possession of it and can no longer enjoy it. But this is no longer true when it is a question of spiritual riches--when a teacher transmits a doctrine he commits it into the keeping of another, to be enjoyed by him, without losing any of it himself.

Spiritual riches, we like to think, are free from competition. But is it always or even preeminently true of traditions that the possession of what is turned over is beyond contention? I believe that Congar maintains this position only by mistaking the meaning of competition for goods, and therefore of what it means to possess them or turn them over. Is it in order to enjoy some good that I strive to possess it when someone else has it and cling to it when I have it?

Tune in tomorrow (by which I do mean Wednesday, January 20, 2010, and not in any other iteration of the eternal return but in continuity with this very day!), when I shall try to say something of what I myself think about the meaning of possession, competition, and turning over (and therefore of the "meaning of tradition").