[Msgr. Gherardini:] In my opinion, there is only one argument to discuss: and John Paul II suggested it when, during the famous excommunication in 1988, he reproached the Fraternity of St. Pius X for having “an incomplete and contradictory view of the Tradition”. Personally, I am of a quite different view, but it is just for this reason that I see in Tradition the only subject to be discussed in depth. If one would succeed in clarifying the concept of Tradition, without taking refuge in the subterfuge of the living Tradition, but also without closing one’s eyes to the internal movement of the apostolic-ecclesial tradition “eodem tamen sensu, eademque sentential” [even with the same sense, and with the same reasoning], the problem would cease to exist.
Allow me to direct your attention to an excerpt from Gherardini's book, Ecumenical Vatican II Council: A Much Needed Discussion, for an clearer view of his criticism of the term living Tradition. The excerpt is from DICI, here.
But why is it said to be living? The Council does not say, or at least not with the requisite clarity. Probably because of the unity — at least substantial (hence the continuity) – between the first stage of Tradition which is apostolic, and the following stages beginning with that which was immediately post-apostolic, down to the others, concerned with the great historic periods of the Church, and eventually all the way to the present stage.
This is probably what is meant. But silence about this continuity also implies, and unfortunately so, the absence of any certitude on this issue. “Living” might certainly indicate a link between the various stages and avoid more or less serious ruptures, thus ensuring the living and vital continuity of Tradition. But the text remains silent on the subject. It merely states that Tradition is living.
Now it does not suffice to declare it to be living for it to be really so. The vital communication between its various phases must not only be proclaimed, it must first and foremost be proved, and in such a way that the proof coincides with the continuity – at least substantial – of its contents with that of the preceding phases.
Tradition is living not when it becomes integrated into some novelty, but when we discover in, or deduce from it some new aspect, which, had before escaped notice; or when some new understanding of its original contents enriches the present life of the Church.
This life does not progress by leaps and bounds unconnected with each other, but along the main line of the “quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus creditum est,” which Vatican I, following in the footsteps of Trent, expressed by referring to the meaning “quem tenuit ac tenet sancta Mater Ecclesia” (DS 1507 and 3007).
The “always”, the “everywhere” and the “by all” are not concerned with an identity of words and hence of the statement as a whole, but really with the meaning that the Church, by means of her solemn and ordinary Magisterium, has always upheld, and still upholds now in her theological and dogmatic assertions.
The principle of the “living Tradition” was not the subject of any discussions. Yet, it is prone to pave the way to a falsification of the sacred deposit of the truths contained in Tradition.
In an atmosphere such as that prevalent during and after Vatican II, when only what was new appeared to be true, and when novelty was coming under the guise of the immanentist and fundamentally atheistic culture of our time, the doctrine of all times was but a vast graveyard.
Tradition has remained mortally wounded and is still agonizing today (unless it be already dead) because of stands taken which were radically irreconcilable with its past. So, it is not sufficient to define it as living, if there is not longer anything alive in it.
The truth is (and this is serious) that we speak of living Tradition only to rubber stamp any innovation presented as the natural development of truths officially handed down and received, even if the innovation has nothing in common with the said truths and is something far removed from a new shoot out of the old trunk.As a matter of fact, Tradition is living only inasmuch as it is and continues to be the same apostolic Tradition, which presents itself anew – unaltered –, in and through the ecclesiastic Tradition.
The former carries in itself a rather passive meaning: it is what is handed down, equal to itself, included in its transmission, because the deposit must be kept unaltered.
The latter, on the contrary, displays a more active meaning as the official organ which ensures the faithful transmission of the deposit and finds, in this its end, the justification of the adjective “living.”
Hence, a data which would not have its roots in the contents handed down would not be a data of the living Tradition, even in the case — in itself and per se — absurd, that this data would be officially proposed.
A blatant example: it will never be possible for the transcendental theology of Rahner to be declared an element of the living Tradition, because it is in fact its tomb.
Something in the Council, and many things in the post-Council era have contributed to dig this grave.
The legitimacy of the adjective “living” with regard to the progress in the knowledge we may have of Tradition is unquestionable as we have already said. In this case, it belongs to the field of “dogmatic progress.”
As a matter of fact, the duty of the Church’s Magisterium is not only to present anew the apostolic Tradition, but also to study it thoroughly, to analyze and to explain it.
The living character of Tradition is then manifested not by measuring the apostolic contents in comparison with the level and the contents of the culture of such or such a historical period but by the fact that it initiates a transition from an implicit to an explicit statement of the contents.
In any case, the present call to living Tradition can be summed up as a genuine danger for the faith of each Christian and of the Christian community as a whole.
The changes already mentioned and those, which will be studied further down, will fully prove this.
Gherardini's criticism of the term "living Tradition" goes a long way in delving perhaps the primary time bomb implanted in the Vatican II documents. Discussing possible flaws in the documents, themselves, has always been the field of traditional Catholics, and such a project is all but anathematized by liberals, progressives, and especially neo-conservatives (such as George Weigel or Jeff Mirus). However, Msgr. Gherardini is the canon of St. Peter's Basilica, not some "fringe" traditionalist.
What strikes me as particularly valuable is the realization that Gherardini's criticism has always been the position of the SSPX. Indeed, if one did not realize that the source was the canon of St. Peter's Basilica, one would suspect the author of having been a priest of the SSPX. One could, I imagine, remain ambivalent, explaining away Gherardini as an old dinosaur lurking in the shadows of the Vatican. However, this excuse is a flimsy counter when one considers that it was Gherardini's generation, the generation of Pope Benedict XVI, that brought about the Council and its aftermath. His work indicates that the intelligence of his generation (read: Benedict XVI) is returning to Tradition, and as it does, it more and more reflects the positions espoused by the SSPX and traditional Catholics in general. In its twilight, Gherardini's and Benedict's generation is refusing to pass from this world outside the embrace of, not just Tradition, but Catholicism.
Is Rome returning to Tradition? If the generation of Rahner and Küng is, then it would appear a miracle is in the offing.