St. Basil on Tradition

St. Basil of Caesaria writes:

“Of the dogmas which are preserved in the church, there are some which we have from Scripture, others we have received from the tradition of the Apostles, and both have the same force; nor will anybody contradict them who has any experience of the laws of the church.”

As Richard Traverse Smith points out, though, Basil is referring “to practices or teaching which is embodied within practices, rather than to formal doctrines” (all of the latter of which are contained in Scripture alone). To quote Basil again:

“For if we go about rejecting the unwritten customs as of slight importance, we shall unawares do injury to the vital parts of the Gospel itself, or rather, reduce the preaching of it to a mere name (italics mine). For instance (to mention in the first place what comes first and is most common) who has taught us by writing to sign with the cross those who place their hope in Christ? What Scripture has taught us to turn to the east in the prayers? The words of invocation, when the bread of the Eucharist and cup of blessing are consecrated, which of the saints has left to us in writing? For we are not content with those words which the Apostles and the Evangelists record, but, both before and after, we use others and consider them to possess great importance to the mystery; and these we have received by unwritten teaching. And we bless both the water of baptism and the oil of unction, and even the way a person in baptized. Out of what Scripture? Is it not on account of the silent mystical tradition? The very anointing with oil itself, what written record has taught? And whence received we the custom that man should be thrice immersed? And the rest of the ceremonies in baptism, as the renouncing of the devil and his angels, whence have we….? For this cause we all look to the east in our prayers, but few of us know that in doing so we seek our native land Paradise, which the Lord planted in Eden, toward the sun-rising. And we pray standing on the first day of the week, not only because, being risen together with Christ, we should seek those things which are above, but because that day appears to be a type of the world for which we hope.” – On the Holy Spirit xxvii, 66.

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[…] there is (oral) “Tradition,” which, as St. Basil says, refers primarily to the handing down of ritual actions in the liturgical worship of the church. […]

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