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Monday, February 4, 2013

What is Sacred Tradition?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
         and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

In light of next Sunday's 2nd reading, I thought I'd address the question of Sacred Tradition.

Note what Sacred Tradition is not:  it is not customs or man-made traditions.  The Catholic Church has some of these traditions or customs, such as bowing our heads when praying,  having a church steeple, decorating the church during Christmas, flowers on the altar...

But this is not to be confused with Sacred Tradition. 

Catholics profess that the Word of God has been revealed to us through two channels:  Sacred Scripture AND Sacred Tradition.  Thus, Sacred Tradition is the Word of God that is contained in the teachings of the Apostles, preserved for us via the Holy Spirit, and proclaimed by the Church. 

"Sacred Tradition is the living and growing truth of Christ contained, not only in Scripture, but in the common teaching, common life, and common worship of the Church......It simply acted as a lens and refocused the light of Scripture so that something which had been hidden there was now visible. For, despite appearances, the dogmatic definitions of the Church do not just pop up with absolutely no relation to Scripture. Rather, they assemble the materially sufficient revelation of Scripture using the mortar of Sacred Tradition. And that Tradition is not separate, secret and parallel to Scripture, but the common teaching, life, and worship of the Church......The biblical Council, like the modern Catholic Church, places Scripture in the context of Tradition and magisterial, apostolic authority.....The Church does not sit down and derive the dogma from the tortured reading of a few isolated texts of Scripture. Rather, it places the Scripture in the context of the Tradition handed down by the apostles and the interpretive office of the bishops they appointed." --Apologist Mark Shea

Our 2nd reading this Sunday offers examples from St. Paul of what we mean by Sacred Tradition:

I am reminding you, brothers and sisters,
of the gospel I preached to you,
which you indeed received and in which you also stand.
Through it you are also being saved,
if you hold fast to the word I preached to you,
unless you believed in vain.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received:--1 Corinthians 15

In other words, Sacred Tradition, as St. Paul says, is the gospel preached to the early Christians, BY WORD OF MOUTH.  As the New Testament had not yet been compiled, he could not have been referencing the Bible when he talks about the "gospel" preached to them, and to hold fast to the "word" preached to them.  Rather, what he was alluding to was the paradosis--or, the Word of God orally proclaimed through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  AKA Sacred Tradition. 

Incidentally, when in dialogue with Christians who object to the Catholic view of Sacred Tradition and who hold a Sola Scriptura (or, Bible Alone) point of view, it might be helpful to show them that they do indeed believe some things NOT found in the Bible, and thus are contradicting their Sola Scriptura paradigm.

Most Christians believe these things that are not found in the Bible:

-the table of contents of the Bible.  That is, the canon of Scripture, or what books are considered inspired (or God-breathed) and what books are not inspired.  There were over 400 ancient Christian texts that the bishops of the early Church either affirmed or rejected as being inspired.  Thus, when a Christian says that he knows that the Gospel of Mark is inspired, it is because of Sacred Tradition.  Not from the Bible.  For the Bible does not say that the Gospel of Mark is inspired. (And even if an ancient text did claim inspiration, does claiming to be inspired make it so? Nope.)

-that revelation ended with the death of the last apostle.  Not in the Bible, but believed by a majority of Protestants.

-that the canon of Scripture is closed.  Christians believe that there are no further books that may be considered inspired.  This is something known by Tradition, but not found in the Bible.

For more in-depth study visit these websites:

Newsletter by Apologist John Martignoni on Sacred Tradition

Catholics Come Home
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15

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