TRADITION

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TRADITION, in its general application, is any knowledge handed down from one generation to another by oral communication. This is the shape in which history appears before the art of writing is invented or introduced ; and the later this takes place, the farther back does tradition ex tend, till if loses itself in mythology. Any person who lias noticed the manner ir which facts are distorted, even at the present day, if not protected against grad ual change and misrepresentation by un questionable documents, although the sources of correct information have been so greatly increased, will easily understand why historical tradition is to be received with the utmost caution. Every person, every country, every age, involuntarily gives a coloring to facts, to say nothing of intentional misstatements. But there is a species of historical tradition which exists even after the invention not only of writing, but of printing. It is the repetition of hearsay, by which misrepresentations of facts, or downright inventions, creep into notice, and soon become widely repeated and believed, either because they suit the purposes of a party, or because they are presented with an air of credibility. How many stories, believed for centuries, have at last been proved latterly false! how many are yet in the mouths of millions, and, nevertheless, untrue ! It becomes the historian, therefore, to examine into the origin of every statement, and the character and situation of those on whose authority it rests: did they know with certainty what they relate ? were they not actuated by interest, passion or prejudice ? The same caution which the historian must observe in regard to traditions, politicians and citizens of a free government ought to exercise in regard to those party jumors which we might term political traditions. Without such caution, a free people becomes the tools of demagogues. Every statement in print receives, from this very circumstance, a kind of authority; and what has not been said in print? Newspapers (q. v.), much as they contribute to general information, also contribute much to the propagation of these unfounded reports. The counterstatements of opposite papers serve, indeed, in some measure, to correct each other's misrepresentations; but, as the mass of people read only the papers of their own party, misstatements will inevitably gain a footing; and a man who is desirous of believing only the truth, must subject the stories admitted on hearsay by his party to a critical scrutiny. It was long believed that a female was raised to the papal chair, under the name of John VIII (see Joan the Papess); and how many persons have credited the newspaper stories that Napoleon used to beat his wife, and had criminal intercourse with his daughterinlaw! The story of the beating is, in fact, still repeated in some histories of Napoleon, so called ! It is a very common mistake to VOL. xn. 27 ascribe to the statements of ancient writers full credibility, though the writer may have lived in a time or country so distant from that to which his narrative relates, that he had no better opportunity of judg ing than ourselves. (See Niebuhr's Ro man History.)Tradition, in another sense, forms one of the chief points of dis* agreement, between the Roman Catholics and Protestants, perhaps the most important. The Catholic understands by tra dition the unwritten word of God, that is, sacred truths orally communicated by Jesus and the apostles, which were not written down, but, by the assistance of the Holy Ghost, were preserved in the church from one generation of bishops to another. The chief sources of it are considered to be the fathers of the church, who, indeed, introduced rites not prescribed by the Bible, and some of which, as the baptism of children, confession, the celebration of certain festivals, &c, have been retained by many Protestant sects, yet with different views from those entertained by the Catholics respecting their importance, or necessity for salvation. The Catholics ascribe to their tradition divine authority, and thus make it a principle in their dogmatics. They maintain that the church has always remained in possession of the revelation of the Holy Ghost, which the apostles enjoyed, and that this revelation or belief of the church is ascertained by the decrees of the councils (q. v.), the concurrence of the fathers of the church, and the decrees of the popes (the Galilean church, however, does not give this authority to the decrees of the pope, unless they are acquiesced in by the church universal, though it admits that this acquiescence may be tacit). The Bible, indeed, is adopted as a rule of faith by the Catholics as well as by the Protestants i but the former consider it as to be explained and understood according to the construction which the church puts upon the doctrines contained in ita principle sanctioned by the council of Trent. A reverence for tradition, therefore, is taught in all Catholic catechisms; and it is the foundation on which the Catholic believes in his rites, and the characteristic parts of his religious worship. In the Canones et Decreta Concilii jTridentini, Appendix, p. xxii, we find in pope Pius's creed the following passage : Apostolicas et ecclesiasticas traditiones, reliqucBque ejusdem ecclesice, ohservationes et condi tutiones Jirmissime admitto et amplector Item, sacram scripturam hixta eum sensum, quern tenuit et tenet san^a mater ecch sia, cujus est judicare devero sensu et mtervretatione sacrarum scriptiirarum, admitto ; nee earn unquam, nisijuxta unanimem consenswn patrum accipiam, et interpretaW. The council of Trent ascribes equal authority to tradition and the Bible. It has been said, indeed, that it ought to have given greater authority to the former, as the latter can only, by the council's own decree, be legitimately explained by the church or traditions. From all that has been said, it appears that tradition is to the Catholic what reason is to the rationalist, and the literal text of the Bible, scientifically and conscientiously settled, to the supematuralist. (See Roman Catholic Church.)