Who was Vincent of Lérins? He was a Gaul and writer who died about 445. His work Commonitorium is a defense of orthodox belief and is about how to hand it on. Vincent is famous for the adage that true Catholic faith is that which is believed always, everywhere and by everyone.
Why bring him up?
In a talk to participants in a conference on the globalization of education – globalization being perhaps the new katholikon – Francis quoted Vincent to attack people who desire Tradition. There is a summary article at Catholic News Agency. It’s amusing. Practically the whole article was about the pretty vicious (if truth be told) attack on people who desire Tradition.
Let’s have a look at the attack through the lens of the CNA piece (I don’t have the interest or time to translate the original). My emphases and comments:
Pope Francis on Wednesday criticized people who “call themselves guardians of traditions, but of dead traditions,” saying that failing to move forward is dangerous for the Church today. [Hmmm… I thought that the bishops were supposed to be the guardians of tradition. Perhaps he doesn’t know the title of the document he signed? Traditionis custodes?]
Speaking to the organizers of a conference on education on June 1, the pope said that it was vital to make progress by “drawing from the roots.”
He said that “there is the fashion [moda] — in every age, but in this age in the Church’s life I consider it dangerous — that instead of drawing from the roots in order to move forward — meaning fine traditions — we ‘step back,’ not going up or down, but backward.”
“This ‘back-stepping’ makes us a sect; it makes you ‘closed’ and cuts off your horizons. Those people call themselves guardians of traditions, but of dead traditions.” [Here’s the deal. This is all just blank assertions without any foundation. “Those people”? How is the “fashion” that, apparently, there always is, dangerous now in some particular way? And if it is always going on, perhaps it isn’t what he thinks it is. And… “drawing from roots to move forward”… okay, fine. What does that mixed metaphor even mean?]
Pope Francis underlined that “the true Catholic Christian and human tradition … grows, progresses.”
“Education, for its part, is always rooted in the past, but it does not stop there: it is directed towards ‘forward-looking initiatives,’ where the old and the new converge to create a new humanism,” he said. [Oh boy. A “new humanism”. What would something like that look like, I wonder. What would constitute a “new humanism”? I did a quick search on the phrase and found a couple of candidates, one of which (a school of lit crit) I dismissed. The other… well… UNESCO. Here are a couple of links about “new humanism” – HERE and HERE]
The pope underlined that true tradition is “what that fifth-century theologian described as a constant growth: throughout history, tradition grows, progresses: ut annis consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetur aetate.”
The pope was referring to St. Vincent of Lerins, who wrote about the development of Church teaching, saying that it “is solidified over the years, extended with time, and refined with age.”
Pope Francis has invoked this quotation numerous times since his election in 2013, including in a letter on Amoris laetitia in 2018. [Is Communion for the divorced and remarried something that we have as a Church held everywhere, always and by everyone?]
The pope did not mention the liturgy or Catholic doctrine in his June 1 address, but focused his speech on education. [Okay, I guess we can stop here, since this doesn’t have anything to do with liturgy or doctrine.]
He said that Virgil’s Aeneid contains an image that “can serve to illustrate the mission of educators, who are called to preserve the past … and to guide the steps of the young towards the future.”
“An eloquent example of how to confront the crisis can be found in the epic figure of Aeneas, who amid the flames of his burning city, carries on his shoulders his elderly father Anchises and takes the young son Ascanius by the hand, leading them both to safety,” Francis said.
“Aeneas saves himself, but not by himself. He brings with him his father, who represents his past, and his son, who represents the future. And so he moves forward,” he added.
Pope Francis said that this representation of tradition being respected and preserved reminded him of “what Gustav Mahler said about tradition: ‘Tradition is the guarantee of the future,’ not a museum piece.” [He likes pull quotes. Fine.]
The pope met at the Vatican with participants in a conference organized to evaluate the work accomplished so far by his Global Compact on Education and to plan for its development in the years to come.
“I thank you for all that you do in the service of education, which is also the specific contribution that you are offering to the Church’s synodal process. Keep moving in this direction, from the past towards the future, continuous growth,” he said.
“And be attentive to the ‘back-stepping’ so much in vogue today, which makes us think that by stepping back, we can preserve humanism,” the pope added.
Okay… there were some other bits in that talk, I guess I have to just bite the bullet with some machine help:
Starting from Troy, Aeneas does not bring with him goods, things – apart from the Penati idols – but only the father and the son. The roots and the future, the promises. … [Now wait just a cotton-pick’n minute! “Apart from the Penati idols”? He tries to make it sound like Aeneas brought out only his father and his son (= past and future). No. No. No. He also brought with him his “Aeneads”, as they would be called, trumpeter Misenus (because everyone needs his trumpeter), his friends Achates, Sergestus, and Acmon, Iapyx, and Palinurus. He left his wife to die in the flames. BUT… and this is key… he also brought the di penati! These are the tutelary gods of the household, like the Roman lares and the genius of the head of the household, the paterfamilias. Di penates guarded the whole well being of the microcosm of the cosmos that was the family house, members, servants everything. And as families had them, so too did the larger res, society. Make no mistake. If pius Aeneas needed to rescue anything from the wreck of Troy, it was going to be the tutelary deities of his house. Why? Because it all comes down to proper worship to secure their blessings and protection. You might remember: the ghost of Hector comes to tell Aeneas to get out of Dodge and take not just any penates …
sacra suosque tibi commendat Troia penatis;
hos cape fatorum comites, his moenia quaere
magna pererrato statues quae denique ponto.’
TROY’S PENATES. In other words, Aeneas brought with him the di penates so that he could continue to worship and secure blessings in the exact same way he did in TROY … before the enemy got the horse in and held a council. The imagery of Aeneas in this case flies directly in the face of everything Francis and those around him are doing! The image of Aeneas leaving Troy with father, son, followers and penates is exactly about the preservation of Troy in a new place and age and worship is the key.]
Another fundamental element is to invest the best energies with creativity and responsibility. Elder Anchises represents the tradition that must be respected and preserved. I am reminded of what Gustav Mahler said about tradition: “Tradition is the guarantee of the future”, not a museum piece. [SO?!?] Ascanius represents a tomorrow that must be guaranteed; Aeneas is the one who acts as a “bridge”, who ensures the passage and the relationship between generations. [Because he is bearing also the penates, even more than Anchises.] Education, in fact, is always rooted in the past, but not to stop: it is aimed “at a long-term planning”,  where the old and the new come together in the composition of a new humanism. And against this, there is the fashion – in all centuries, but in this century in the life of the Church I see it as dangerous – which instead of drawing from the roots to move forward – that sense of beautiful traditions – [I wonder what traditions he thinks are beautiful and which he doesn’t think are beautiful. That’s a good question: for Francis, what constitutes a “beautiful” tradition?] takes a “retreat”, not “under and up”, but backwards. This retreat that makes us sect, that closes you, that takes away your horizons: they say they are guardians of traditions, but of dead traditions. The true Catholic, Christian and human tradition is what that theologian [Saint Vincent of Lerins] – 5th century – described as a continuous growth, that is, throughout history, tradition grows, goes on: “ut annis consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetur aetate “. The true tradition is this, which is carried on with the children.
You know what? I’ll tell you some other things that Vincent of Lérins said.
How about this one? From Commonitorium:
51. … I cannot sufficiently wonder at the madness of certain men, at the impiety of their blinded understanding, at their lust of error, such that, not content with the rule of faith delivered once for all, and received from the times of old, they are every day seeking one novelty after another, and are constantly longing to add, change, take away, in religion, as though the doctrine, let what has once for all been revealed suffice, were not a heavenly but an earthly rule — a rule which could not be complied with except by continual emendation, nay, rather by continual fault-finding; whereas the divine Oracles cry aloud, Remove not the landmarks, which your fathers have set (Proverbs 22:28)….
16. When then all men protested against the novelty, and the priesthood everywhere, each as his zeal prompted him, opposed it, Pope Stephen of blessed memory, Prelate of the Apostolic See, in conjunction indeed with his colleagues but yet himself the foremost, withstood it, thinking it right, I doubt not, that as he exceeded all others in the authority of his place, so he should also in the devotion of his faith. In fine, in an epistle sent at the time to Africa, he laid down this rule: Let there be no innovation — nothing but what has been handed down. For that holy and prudent man well knew that true piety admits no other rule than that whatsoever things have been faithfully received from our fathers the same are to be faithfully consigned to our children; and that it is our duty, not to lead religion whither we would, but rather to follow religion whither it leads; and that it is the part of Christian modesty and gravity not to hand down our own beliefs or observances to those who come after us, but to preserve and keep what we have received from those who went before us. What then was the issue of the whole matter? What but the usual and customary one? Antiquity was retained, novelty was rejected.
“God gives some Popes to the Church, God tolerates some Popes in the Church and God inflicts some Popes on the Church.”