8 Great Quotes on Tradition

Tradition gets a bad rap these days. Quotes dissing it – implying that tradition is only for the weak, inhibited and nefarious- are a dime a dozen. So here are eight great quotes on tradition, beginning with my favourite church historian ever.

1. “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.”

– Jaroslav Pelikan, The Vindication of Tradition: The 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities

2. “Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.”

– W. Somerset Maughan

3. “Tradition, which is always old, is at the same time ever new because it is always reviving – born again in each new generation, to be lived and applied in a new and particular way. Convention is simply the ossification of social customs.”

– Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

4. “A kind Providence furnishes the limpest personality with a little gum or starch in the form of tradition.”

– George Eliot, Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life

5. “Tradition does not mean a dead town; it does not mean that the living are dead but that the dead are alive. It means that it still matters what Penn did two hundred years ago or what Franklin did a hundred years ago; I never could feel in New York that it mattered what anybody did an hour ago.”

– G. K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America

6. “Traditions have been replaced by lifestyles.”

– Lars Svendsen, A Philosophy of Boredom

7. “Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.”

– Winston Church, from a speech given at the Royal Academy of Art in 1953

8. “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes – our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking around.”

– G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

I dunno know about you, but…



16 responses to “8 Great Quotes on Tradition

        • Well, as long as it was a difficult decision, I’m satisfied. The monarchy, and particularly Her Majesty, embodies tradition in a really concrete way. 🙂

          • It does and she certainly does. I find her a very great lady, and suspect GB would be a better place if the government asked her advice more. Then again they could hardly do worse. 🙂

            It’s fascinating to think about the people she’s met, nearly every famous person (or at least the worthy ones) since the 2d war. What an oral history that would be. 🙂

  1. Pingback: A Break from the Polemics | J.P. Bentley·

  2. LOVE. THIS. Tradition does not deserve to be slammed – it is a beautiful and necessary part of life! Thanks for counteracting the negativity!

  3. Reblogged this on catholictwentysomething and commented:
    As a Catholic, I am so often subject to a turned-up-nose reaction to the ancient traditions of my faith…traditions that I LOVE and embrace wholeheartedly. I do not see them as archaic, nor do I believe they are. As this awesome post from Laura reminds us, ‘tradition’ and ‘progress’ need not be at odds with one another.

  4. I remember my RCIA director making the distinction between tradition and convention, which has always stuck with me. I wonder if he got it from Merton.

    Bonus quote from Pope Emeritus Benedict: “Not infrequently are tradition and progress in awkward opposition. Actually though, the two concepts are interwoven: tradition is a living reality that, in itself, includes the principle of development, of progress.”

  5. Pingback: Freedom and Tradition | nebraskaenergyobserver·

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