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Between History and Dogma: On the Spirit of Tradition in the Demands and Limitations of Modernity



The philosophical anthropology of the twentieth-century French Catholic philosopher Maurice Blondel has had a significant impact on modern and contemporary theology. However, Blondel's less well-known idea of tradition in the text History and Dogma remains to be adequately assessed by the English-speaking world. In order to appreciate Blondel's contribution to the idea of tradition in modern Catholicism and to discover how his thought remains a rich resource for contemporary theology, this essay traces the shifts in late-medieval theological discourse that reveal a gradual move toward conceptualizing tradition as a bureaucratic reality mediated through institutional and juridical means which comes to full expression during the modernist crisis in the Roman Catholic Church. Having situated Blondel's thought within the historical and theological development of the modern idea of tradition in Catholicism, the essay argues that Blondel offers an alternative account of tradition as ‘liturgical action,’ which vivifies Christ's sacramental presence in tradition and resists reducing tradition to a bureaucratic reality or a natural phenomenon.