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Center for Action and Contemplation
Experience, Scripture, and Tradition
Experience, Scripture, and Tradition

A Holy Balancing Act

Monday, February 6, 2023

The Daily Meditations this week focus on the first of Richard Rohr’s “Seven Themes of an Alternative Orthodoxy”: 

Scripture as validated by experience, and experience as validated by Tradition, are good scales for one’s spiritual worldview. 

At the CAC, we use the metaphor of a tricycle to illustrate this dynamic relationship. The front wheel is experience and the two back wheels are Scripture and Tradition. Richard explains: 

People have every right to ask preachers and teachers, “By what authority do you say what you say?” That’s why I want to declare our methodology right at the beginning and say that it’s three-wheeled, which allows us to move forward. The front wheel, experience, may seem surprising, because neither Orthodox Christians, Catholics, nor Protestants were taught a lot about it. We make experience the front wheel because we all filter Scripture and Tradition through our own experience anyway! We cannot not do that. It’s common sense. It’s obvious.  

But we didn’t have the courage or maybe the awareness to state what we now realize is obvious. Catholics thought that all our teaching was based on Tradition with a big “T”: the Tradition of the first 1,500 years at least. Well, maybe, but it was more Italian tradition, French tradition, German tradition, and that’s tradition with a little “t.”  

So, at the CAC we make it our work to get back to the big “T,” the perennial Tradition. What keeps recurring? What keeps coming back, century after century, in mystics, saints, and councils of the church? What do wise people keep saying? The Catholic intellectual St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) held that if it’s true, it’s from the Holy Spirit. [1] And if it’s from the Holy Spirit, it’s going to keep being discovered again and again.  

Scripture is validated as well by two other wheels on our tricycle. If it’s true—and this is an act of faith—we would say that it somehow has to be found in Scripture. It can’t be directly contradicted by Scripture. We Catholics weren’t too good at that. We put all our eggs in the Tradition basket. So, let’s look for validation in both worlds—in verses from Scripture, and in writings of mystics, saints, prophets, church Fathers and Mothers, and Councils of the Church. [2] 

Since the Reformation in the sixteenth century, much Christian infighting and misunderstanding has occurred over the Catholic and Orthodox emphasis on Tradition versus the Protestant emphasis on Scripture. Tradition usually got confused with small cultural traditions, and the Protestant cry of “Scripture alone!” gradually devolved into each group choosing among the Scriptures it would emphasize or ignore.  

Both currents have now shown their weaknesses and biases. They lacked the dynamic third principle of God experience: personal experience that is processed and held accountable by both Scripture and Tradition, as well as by solid spiritual direction and counseling. This is our trilateral principle at the Living School for Action and Contemplation. [3] 


[1] Thomas Aquinas, De Veritate, q. 1, a. 8, and Summa Theologia I–II, q. 109, a. 1, ad 1.  

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Good Theology Creates Good Politics,” CONSPIRE 2021 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2021), video. 

[3] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Yes, And…: Daily Meditations (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2013), 5. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 7. Jenna Keiper, Bisti Badlands. Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 6. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

The landscape of our own lives informs how we understand Scripture and Tradition. 

Story from Our Community:

As a cradle Catholic, I always identified as a heterosexual woman and believed I would grow up to marry a man.… After relationships with different men, I fell in love with a woman; I was 36. That began my journey of discovering myself. Now my young adult daughter is attending a Catholic college, and I find myself accompanying her in her journey to reconcile being Catholic in a tradition that does not honor her parents’ relationship. I’m still in the process of reconciling my faith with my sexuality, even now, teaching at a Catholic University.… Richard Rohr has been an inspiration to me on this journey, for which I am grateful. I believe we are all children of God, created in His image and of His flesh through the Eucharist, and I fiercely defend my Catholicism and relationship with God. —Suzanne N. 

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