To engage with the Church’s past is to see something of the Church’s future. If we relate to the past as something that settles everything for us, something whose meaning is utterly and finally plain, it is to treat the texts of the past as closing off history, putting an end to our self-awareness as historical persons involved in unpredictable growth. If we dismiss the past as unintelligible, if we read its texts as closed off from us by their alien setting, we refuse to see how we have ourselves been formed in history; we pretend that history has not yet begun. And in the specifically theological context, we shall on either count be denying that we can only grow in company, can only develop because summoned by a word that is not ours. That word is made concrete and immediate for us in the human responses that have constituted the Church’s hsitory; all of this has made our present believing selves possible. T.S. Eliot, faced with the glib modern claim that “we know so much more than our ancestors”, riposted, “Yes; and they are what we know.”
[On the one hand:] When we examine a past period, we should, then, ask what it was that made it impossible for Christians simply to repeat what had been said….
[On the other hand:] the extraordinary regularity with which radical renewal in the Church has come from a new appropriation of tradition of one sort or another.
Rowan Williams, Why Study the Past? (London: DLT, 2005), pp. 94, 97.