I uphold a strong respect and admiration for the tradition of our forefathers (and foremothers), not in the sense of unwavering doctrine and clinging to the beliefs and practices of the past, but what is a dynamic and living tradition that has been passed on to us and that we pass on to those that follow.
Trade is the handing over of goods for currency (or vice-versa, or for other goods), whereas tradition is the handing on or handing down of goods, and these goods are often priceless – pneumatic truths, effective spiritual practices, and that wonderful warehouse of divinity and sublime beauty that is poetry and mythology.
I am not an advocate of traditionalism, which idolises and, indeed, worships the traditions of the past as solely authoritative and baseline principles, in much the same way as the rationalists cling to reason as the ultimate source of religion and divinity. Recognising these as vital elements of our spiritual makeup are, I believe, essential, but adhering to one alone, including scripture and/or church doctrine, is not only naïve and foolish, but actually dangerous, in that it deifies and idolises what is essentially, while inspired and ,without doubt, useful, also severely incomplete and flawed.
Some people argue that we should not have a Priesthood, or certain Sacraments, or Apostolic Succession (among other things) because they are not mentioned in the Bible. This is, effectively, a Protestant standpoint, and one that is as flawed as that which they are criticizing, if not more so. Firstly, the Bible is inaccurate and contradictory. It is also vague, and, for the most part, doesn’t give much information on spiritual practices to follow, which is an equal criticism of the Gnostic scriptures we have today. If we cling to the Bible (and other scripture and revealed works) as the only source for our spiritual practices (in effect, worship it as the word of God, when Christ is the Word of God, and Christ must be experienced, not merely read about), then we will have very little to work with, as the Bible simply doesn’t, and can’t, have everything.
Tradition, I feel, bridges this gap, and it is tradition that gave effective practices to our ancestors (such as the Eucharist and Apostolic Succession, which predate Christianity), and it is this same tradition which gives us these effective practices (built upon experience, trial and error, experimentation, and cultural integration) today. We don’t just hand down something because it’s tradition – we do so because it works, and it is tradition because it works. If it is broken or doesn’t work in our land or for our character, we fix it or alter it to suit our time, but we do so with experience, respecting that tradition is there so we don’t have to start from square one. Adepts, masters, and other such people have handed such on based on their life’s work and attainment, and it is the role of the priest (among others of equal grounding) to continue this by handing on not only those things which previous people have handed on, but what the priest him or herself has found useful and vital from their own experiences. If it was not useful, was not worth something, why would it be handed on? Would you travel a vast sea with a stock of trade you didn’t feel was worth something, or, indeed, worth a lot? Would you leave your spiritual family some rusty relics of merely sentimental value, or would you give them what matters, something that they can actually use to help them not only get to their ancestors’ stage of evolution, but go beyond it? Tradition is about the master being such a good teacher that his student transcends him, helping him avoid the pitfalls that he himself has encountered, and teaching him the value of this handing down of things, that this spiritual growth might be shared continuously (and humbly, for without some humility, our growth will collapse into egotism), not hogged by one “illuminated” master who merely uses it to raise his social status or mystical grandeur.
Tradition (which is, indeed, what the word “Kabbalah” means, from “to receive/accept”, and was/is the oral tradition of teachings handed down side-by-side with the scriptural teachings of the Torah, which hints at why we need both in Gnosticism too) is undying. The Romans are gone. The Greeks are gone. Those old Christians are gone, and the old Gnostics are gone. Gnosis remains, and the path to Gnosis is preserved in tradition, one that will live on when we’re gone, and one that is undying because it is living.
“True tradition is always a living tradition. It changes while remaining always the same. It changes because it faces different situations, not because its essential content is modified. This content is not an abstract proposition; it is the living Christ Himself, who said ‘I am the Truth’.”