By what other voice, too, than that of the orator, is history, the witness of time, the light of truth, the life of memory, the directress of life, the herald of antiquity, committed to immortality?”Cicero, De Oratore (Bk II, Ch 9)
The only reason we are still alive is our inconsistency in not having actually silenced all tradition.”Gerhard Krüger, Geschichte und Tradition (1948)
All reasoning takes place within the context of some traditional mode of thought, transcending through criticism and invention the limitations of what had hitherto been reasoned in that tradition: this is as true of modern physics as of medieval logic.“Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (1984)
Society is indeed a contract…It is to be looked on with other reverence; because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.“Edmund Burke Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”G. K. Chesterton, The Thing (1929)
The Ciceronian Society celebrates tradition and seeks to preserve the best of humanity’s religious, intellectual, and artistic inheritance through scholarship, education, and by building the kinds of communities, churches, and friendships conducive to human flourishing, learning, and memory.
What do we mean by tradition?
We do not celebrate and preserve something merely because of its age nor do we adopt an unthinking and indiscriminate adherence to traditions. Not all traditions recommend themselves nor is there some imaginary “golden age” to which we might return. We do not claim to have the future or the past “on our side” and we reject the notion that history has “sides” at all.
Tradition is also not an enemy of change, creativity, or freedom. It does not stand “in opposition to rationality,” as Theodor Adorno once asserted (“Theses on Tradition”) nor is it simply a synonym for the means by which one race, class, gender, religion, or generation “oppresses” another. Traditions are not chains.
Tradition is, Josef Pieper’s explains, “preserving through all change the identity of something presupposed and preexisting, against the passage of time and in spite of it.” It is the safeguarding of what Russell Kirk liked to call, “the permanent things.” It is both the intentional and unintentional act of receiving and then passing along the good, the true, and the beautiful in the times and places we find ourselves. And it is foundational for moral formation.
The most important truth we pass along is the Gospel. As the Apostle Paul writes:
15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,”1 Corinthians 15:1-3 (ESV)
Over two millennia, the Church has remained the great repository, not only of the Gospel, but also of the collective memory of particular places and peoples. Individual churches or denominations may neglect this responsibility at times, but, by the grace of God, the followers of Jesus Christ endure in their preservation of all that makes life meaningful and worth living.
The Ciceronian Society serves the Church in this task through its scholarship and podcast. We will also use our conference and smaller events to connect leaders in ministry, non-profits, and education so that these communities may learn from each other and explore avenues of collaboration. In the future, we will develop thematic educational tools that can be used by churches and families for the purpose of intellectual discipleship and for the preservation of sacred traditions and local memory.
Against the forgetfulness of our age and the penchant for revisionist history, the Ciceronian Society seeks to humbly remember and preserve the Truth as a holy inheritance. Against unthinking innovation and the pursuit of change for its own sake, we encourage a more critical view of progress and celebrate change that preserves rather than destroys. Against a radical disregard, ossification, or idealization of the past, we aim to regularly recall and transmit our all-too-human story. Such recollection may be cause for repentance, but it may also inspire greater affection, creativity, healing, and understanding. Finally, against the indifference toward future generations, we view the preservation and transmission of local, national, and especially sacred traditions as a moral obligation to the living, and to our ancestors and descendants.
Suggested Reading List:
The subject of “tradition” is difficult to read and write about in the abstract. This is why we encourage you to explore concrete traditions in the places you live and with the communities you belong to. Public libraries, local museums, and public history sites are obvious resources for learning more about local traditions, as are local festivals, social clubs, and historical markers. Churches, especially older ones, often contain libraries, records, pictures, and other resources to dive deeper into local traditions. And, of course, the elderly of any community are among the greatest repositories of tradition and often among its greatest protectors.
The following are some recommended readings on the subject of tradition and we welcome your suggestions for others.
**View a full catalog of his works here
- A Continuous Harmony (1972)
- The Way of Ignorance (2005)
- The Unsettling of America (1977)
- What are People For? (1990)
- Another Turn of the Crank (1995)
Justin Garrison and Ryan Holston (eds.)
- The Historical Mind (2020)
- Redeeming the Time (1996)
- Tradition: Concept and Claim (1970)
- Tradition as Challenge (2015)
- Also see “Tradition: The Concept and Its Claim Upon Us” in The Imaginative Conservative
Richard M. Weaver
- In Defense of Tradition (2000)