Theology Thursday - Rome on Scripture and Tradition

Here, in this excerpt from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we see the official Roman Catholic position on the relationship between scripture and tradition:1

The apostolic tradition in the apostolic preaching

76 In keeping with the Lord’s command, the Gospel was handed on in two ways: (1) orally “by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received—whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit”; and (2) in writing “by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, com mitted the message of salvation to writing.”

The Apostolic tradition in apostolic succession

77 “In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them ‘their own position of teaching authority.’” Indeed, “the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.”

78 This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, “the Church, in her doctrine, life, and worship perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.” “The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer.”

79 The Father’s self-communication made through his Word in the Holy Spirit, remains present and active in the Church: “God, who spoke in the past, continues to converse with the Spouse of his beloved Son. And the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel rings out in the Church—and through her in the world—leads believers to the full truth, and makes the Word of Christ dwell in them in all its richness.”

The relationship between tradition and sacred scripture

One common source

80 “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing and move towards the same goal.” Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own “always, to the close of the age.”

Two distinct modes of transmission

81 “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.” “And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound, and spread it abroad by their preaching.”

82 As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”

Apostolic tradition and ecclesial traditions

83 The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus’ teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition. Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical, or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church’s magisterium.

The interpretation of the heritage of faith

The heritage of faith entrusted to the whole of the Church

84 The apostles entrusted the “Sacred deposit” of the faith (the depositum fidei), contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church. “By adhering to [this heritage] the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remains always faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. So, in maintaining, practicing, and professing the faith that has been handed on, there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful.”

The magisterium of the Church

85 “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.” This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

86 “Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication, and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.”

87 Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles: “He who hears you, hears me,” the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.

Notes

1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. Articles 76 – 87.

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There are 10 Comments

Philip Golden Jr.'s picture

While somewhat familiar with Catholic Doctrine, I noticed that there is no mention of inerrancy, either of the written word or tradition and the magisterium. Does the RC have any concept of inerrancy for their authority base?

Phil Golden

Bert Perry's picture

Philip Golden Jr. wrote:

While somewhat familiar with Catholic Doctrine, I noticed that there is no mention of inerrancy, either of the written word or tradition and the magisterium. Does the RC have any concept of inerrancy for their authority base?

  

Papal infallibility was declared as a doctrine in 1870, and it is related to the Infallibility of the Church, both of which are fairly ancient doctrines.  Determining what teachings are infallible and which are not is, however, complicated.  Faithful Catholics will argue no contradictions between Scripture, Magisterium (tradition of teaching), and the Pope, but there are times that doing the mental math to correspond do this will make your head spin.  

It's like our arguments about what the "true meaning" of various portions of Scripture ought to be, but in my view it's a LOT more complicated.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ron Bean's picture

Years ago I had a long conversation/debate with a well-educated RC priest who explained it this way: The Pope is only infallible when he is speaking ex cathedra (from his chair), that is when he delivers a doctrinal statement from his throne and in his role as the head of the church. These statements are rare. Where there are times when there appear to be contradictions between Scripture and RCC teaching/tradition, the magisterium's interpretation is correct because the Church gave us the Bible. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

Editor

That squares with what I read in the Catechism on the magisterium.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Fred Moritz's picture

In 2015 I wrote "A Brief Evaluation of Roman Catholic Theology" for the Maranatha Baptist Seminary Journal.  You may find the article at: https://www.mbu.edu/seminary/journal/a-brief-evaluation-of-roman-catholic-theology/ . 

I did my research (as Tyler has done) in the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church and other sources.  I was able to secure an interview with a priest who was an official in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, FL (we were splitting our time between Florida and Wisconsin at the time).  I sent him the draft of my article prior to the interview.  He had no basic argument with the article, though he did make a couple of suggestions, which I accommodated in the final publication of the article.

Ron Bean's picture

A local RCC priest with whom I was familiar would regularly express his "doubt" of the existence of purgatory, particularly at the funerals of parishioners. Over coffee one day he introduced me to the Doctrine of Mental Reservation which, he maintained, allowed him to "equivocate" if telling the truth might cause pain or lead to an argument.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

Editor

i think anyone who preaches through Galatians will find the Catechism on justification and baptism eye-opening ... in a heretical way. There is a wide, wide, wide, wide gulf between Biblical Christianity and the Roman Catholic doctrine. Any knowledgeable Christian should be horrified when he reads the discussion on justification from the Catechism.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Philip Golden Jr.'s picture

So, I too, in both reading RC documents and listening to RC apologists, came to the same conclusion about Papal Infallibility and the authority of the Magesterium. But I sorta got the sense that their concept of infallibility is not the same as our concept of inerrancy. I can't quite put my finger on the exact difference, but it seems to leave a shadow of the possibility for "error" in what the Magesterium may put forward but still be considered infallible. I reread the catechism above and it is also interesting that they only mention scripture as being "inspired" although they do claim that scripture and tradition have the same "source." Interesting that inspiration is only used of scripture though.

Also, it seems as though Tradition is always in flux. This quote from the catechism is especially troublesome:

"Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical, or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church’s magisterium."

So essentially the RC church can make up doctrine along the way to suit the times. This leaves the church with absolutely no objective authority. If it is constantly adapting their "theological, disciplinary, liturgical, or devotional traditions" or evening abandoning it, then I question how it is truly authoritative. For me, this is the linchpin in the entire RC system. The church and its leaders use this doctrine to consolidate power and then use that power for spiritually exploitative actions. I think, once we understand how central the doctrine of Sola Scriptura was to the Reformation, it makes sense why the RC church waged violent war on the Reformers. It blew holes in the very thing that made its priests, bishops, cardinals, and the pope himself rich on the backs of the poor throughout Europe. 

Phil Golden

Ron Bean's picture

Phil hits it on the head. The magisterium's rulings on and interpretations of Scripture and tradition are the final authority and those can change. For example RC theologians agree that Peter had a wife and that a celibate clergy is an addition to their doctrine and tradition. Don't be surprised when they decide to let priests marry. Their "inconsistency" is consistent.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

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