Reflection of the Week - 7th February 2023

By Richard Rohr

Posted in Faith

A Holy Balancing Act

Scripture as validated by experience, and experience as validated by Tradition, are good scales for one’s spiritual worldview.

At the Centre for Action and Contemplation (CAC), we use the metaphor of a tricycle to illustrate this dynamic relationship. The front wheel is experience and the two back wheels are Scripture and Tradition. Richard explains:

People have every right to ask preachers and teachers, ‘By what authority do you say what you say?’ That’s why I want to declare our methodology right at the beginning and say that it’s three-wheeled, which allows us to move forward. The front wheel, experience, may seem surprising, because neither Orthodox Christians, Catholics, nor Protestants were taught a lot about it. We make experience the front wheel because we all filter Scripture and Tradition through our own experience anyway! We cannot not do that. It’s common sense. It’s obvious.

But we didn’t have the courage or maybe the awareness to state what we now realise is obvious. Catholics thought that all our teaching was based on Tradition with a big ‘T’: the Tradition of the first 1,500 years at least. Well, maybe, but it was more Italian tradition, French tradition, German tradition, and that’s tradition with a little ‘t.’

So, at the CAC we make it our work to get back to the big ‘T,’ the perennial Tradition. What keeps recurring? What keeps coming back, century after century, in mystics, saints, and councils of the church? What do wise people keep saying? The Catholic intellectual St Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) held that if it’s true, it’s from the Holy Spirit. [1] And if it’s from the Holy Spirit, it’s going to keep being discovered again and again.

Scripture is validated as well by two other wheels on our tricycle. If it’s true—and this is an act of faith—we would say that it somehow has to be found in Scripture. It can’t be directly contradicted by Scripture. We Catholics weren’t too good at that. We put all our eggs in the Tradition basket. So, let’s look for validation in both worlds—in verses from Scripture, and in writings of mystics, saints, prophets, church Fathers and Mothers, and Councils of the Church. [2]

Since the Reformation in the sixteenth century, much Christian infighting and misunderstanding has occurred over the Catholic and Orthodox emphasis on Tradition versus the Protestant emphasis on Scripture. Tradition usually got confused with small cultural traditions, and the Protestant cry of ‘Scripture alone!’ gradually devolved into each group choosing among the Scriptures it would emphasise or ignore.

Both currents have now shown their weaknesses and biases. They lacked the dynamic third principle of God experience: personal experience that is processed and held accountable by both Scripture and Tradition, as well as by solid spiritual direction and counselling. This is our trilateral principle at the Living School for Action and Contemplation. [3]


[1] Thomas Aquinas, De Veritate, q. 1, a. 8, and Summa Theologia I–II, q. 109, a. 1, ad 1.

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, ‘Good Theology Creates Good Politics,’ Conspire 2021 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2021), video.

[3] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Yes, And…: Daily Meditations (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2013), 5.

Source: A Holy Balancing Act — Center for Action and Contemplation (

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