It is difficult to know how to begin introducing Orlando Espín’s remarkable Idol & Grace: On Traditioning and Subversive Hope. It is a slim book about “traditioning”, the living and active process by which the Christian faith is transmitted, received, and lived. As Espín makes clear early on, his book is not a historical account of tradition or a theology of tradition, two related projects so admirably performed in Yves Congar’s Tradition and Traditions. While this may be true of Espín’s Idol and Grace if ‘tradition’ is taken to be an unchanging body of propositions or practices, it seems that such a remark is more indicative of authorial modesty rather than intent. The difficulty of introducing Idol & Grace is that this book about traditioning, offered from the perspective of a Latino/a Western Catholicism concerned with and grounded in the experience of the marginalized and lo cotidiano, is in truth a short primer in systematic, moral, and political theology, such that it does indeed contain, at least implicitly, a brief history and theology of traditioning. An immense amount of theological, cultural, and sociological material must be deployed for the development of any substantive “theology of tradition(ing)”, but what makes Idol & Grace so distinctive within this genre is the clarity and scope of its vision and the ease with which Espín discusses any number of theological topics and issues. When working through what Christian traditioning means and is, Espín offers clear and reasoned proposals regarding everything from the doctrines of God and revelation, Christology, ecclesiology, and the Christian life, to what it means to do theology and live faithfully within the context of globalization and massive social and economic disparities, all of which is done within the key of an intercultural and dialogical theology. The result is impressive, even more so because of the book’s eminently readability.
What is it, then, that the Christian traditions actually “tradition”? What is it that they hand over and receive and celebrate in their myriad different times and places? Throughout the book there is a mild and yet firm denial that what Christianity traditions is a timeless and universal depositum fidei, an ossified group of claims to be held and practices to be performed. This measured and consistent polemic against the “doctrinification” of Christian traditioning, a temptation which Espín is comfortable labeling as idolatrous, is coupled with a positive vision of God’s self-revelation and presence in Jesus Christ and the inauguration of a “subversive hope” that God is with and for the socially and economically marginalized and disposable. Indeed, it is the memory of Jesus and the subversive hope which he inaugurated and traditioned which becomes the red thread running throughout the book’s different sections. In contrast to the idol of Christianity reduced to a series of truth claims, grace names God’s work to enable and sustain the memory and hope of Jesus, which is witnessed to by acts of compassion and justice intra et extra ecclesiam, and which is what Christianity traditions when it is faithful to God’s act of self-donation in Christ.
This is a clear and compelling view of Christian traditioning, and there is whole host of theological and cultural arguments and presuppositions at work which will hopefully be fruitfully developed in this symposium. Elías Ortega-Aponte’s response to the book beautifully draws upon and develops the startling and daring ethical challenge Espín’s work puts before the reader. Mary Doak’s contribution advances several implications for ecclesiology and sacramentology given Espín’s account of traditioning. In his appreciative and substantive response to Idol & Grace, Todd Walatka reflects upon what Espín’s book means for the nature and task of theology as whole. Finally, Samuel Cruz offers some contextualizations for the book and a series of questions regarding to what extent Espín’s account of tradition is itself traditioned, and so one tradition among many within Christianity. From the opening remarks of Idol & Grace it is clear that the book was crafted and written in the company of many voices and friends. It is our hope that this symposium will continue the conversations that led to the book and which are present within it.