A NEW LIGHT ON TRADITION
Explaining Sacred Tradition More Convincingly
It has been previously explained that, in the Church, Tradition with a capital ‘T’ is Sacred Tradition; the Sacred Oral Word; the Gospel; and is not man-made. It is not the man-made traditions of the Jewish fathers that our Lord criticized in Matthew 15:1-9, and Mark 7:5-13, as being followed at the expense of the Law. Man-made traditions, Jewish or otherwise, are not inherently bad in themselves, and Jesus would not have objected to them had they not been upheld at the expense of the Law. It is when they infringe on God’s precepts that they are condemned.
Sacred (Christian) Tradition, on the other hand, is something totally different. It was simply called Tradition, and it was all oral, to begin with. For the first seventeen years after the Ascension of our Lord, Christian Revelation (that is, the Gospel, in the singular), was all oral. Absolutely nothing was written by any of the Apostles.
So, in the beginning, the word ‘Gospel’ in the singular meant, the Sacred Oral Word. Allow me to prove it: The first Apostle to use the word ‘Gospel’ in his writings was Paul in First Thessalonians (1:5), written in 51 A.D., and Galatians (2:5), written either around 48 A.D. or after 51 A.D. Of what was to become the New Testament, it was one of the first three books to be written. Other letters followed, and the four gospels were written between 70 and 90 A.D. So, when almost nothing had been written by the Apostles, Paul wrote the very first words, and right in the first few words he has ever written, he used the word ‘Gospel’. Therefore, he was referring to the Sacred Oral Word. Therefore, the word ‘Gospel’, in the beginning, meant the Sacred Oral Word. The Holy Bible was extracted from Sacred Oral Tradition centuries later.
The Sacred Oral Word did not remain oral, in the sense that it was never committed to the pen. Actually, it was written down. The main disciples who accompanied the Apostles wrote down and recorded what the Apostles preached; knowing full well that they would later have to preach them, themselves. To simplify, we say that the disciples of the Apostles recorded the Sacred Oral Word with the approval of their respective Apostle; and afterwards, some of the Apostles and some of their disciples, wrote the Written Word, which was what 300 years later became the New Testament of the Holy Bible.
Later on, after 50 A.D., as more and more letters began to be written to the churches and to individuals, taken from the precepts of the Oral Word, the word ‘Gospel’ began to mean, the Sacred Oral Word and the Written Word, prompting St. Paul in 52 A.D. to anticipate and call the Oral Word and the Written Word, ‘tradition’:
2 Thessalonians 2: 15 Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.
So, presently, the word ‘Gospel’ means the Bible and Tradition! Nowadays, we use the capital ‘T’ to differentiate Tradition from other Church traditions that can change with time. Basically, Tradition, with the capital ‘T’, does not change. Ever since Divine Christian Revelation (the New Testament and Tradition) became complete, that is, ever since the time of the Apostle John in the first century (the mid 90’s), Tradition, forming part of the Deposit of Faith, has remained constant. What can change is the method of teaching and the method of interpreting knowledge of new scientific facts that come to light, and their ramifications, such that the faithful may continue to live the proper moral life. The teaching authority of the Church, the Magisterium (the Pope and the bishops) is the body that decides on such matters. Thus, we can use the connotation: a ‘living Tradition.’ The Bible, Tradition and the Magisterium are interconnected. Not one of these three can ever subsist without the other two! (CCC 82, and 95) The Deposit of Faith consists of the Bible and Tradition. This is the totality of Divine Revelation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) confirms the basic constancy of the Deposit of Faith:
CCC 74 God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”:29 that is, of Christ Jesus.30 Christ must be proclaimed to all nations and individuals, so that this revelation may reach to the ends of the earth:
God graciously arranged that the things he had once revealed for the salvation of all peoples should remain in their entirety, throughout the ages, and be transmitted to all generations.31
CCC 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.”47 This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.
CCC 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.”48
Footnotes: 29 1 Timothy 2:4. 30 cf. John 14:6. 31 Dei Verbum 7; cf. 2 Corinthians 1:20; 3:16-4:6. 47 Dei Verbum 10 § 2. 48 Dei Verbum 10 para 2.
Kindly read CCC 75-84, 95, 97, 100, 113, 120, 126, 174, and 1124, as they deal with this subject.
For a fact, the Oral Word, now written down, ruled the Church, not just then, but throughout four centuries. Around the 50s A.D., parts of Tradition began to be used in the writings of letters to the churches and to individuals, addressing problems that these churches were encountering. Afterwards, the four gospels were composed. These letters and gospels were approved at the Council of Hippo in 393 and later at the Council of Carthage in 397 A.D., as forming the New Testament of the Holy Bible, as we know it today. In fact the whole books of the Catholic Bible were approved at these two councils, and there has been no change ever since.
When we say, ‘Tradition’, we are talking here about what Jesus Christ our Lord taught the Apostles and what our Lord the Holy Spirit re-taught and explained to the Apostles (and not directly to us), as per the promise. Addressing the Apostles, Jesus said:
John 14: 26 “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name–he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.”
John 16: 12 “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. 13 But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming.
Therefore, from the words of Jesus, we deduce two things that the Holy Spirit did at Pentecost and thereafter: He reminded the Apostles of what Jesus said, and He taught them new things, which they were not ready to learn from Jesus. This is a mystery connected to what Jesus had said a couple of minutes before the last quote above: “But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). Now, the intimate involvement of the Holy Spirit can best be grasped from the verses of the Acts of the Apostles referenced just two paragraphs below the next two quotes. Now, Paul confirms this intimate involvement in two separate verses:
1 Thessalonians 1: 5 For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the holy Spirit with much conviction.
2 Timothy 1: 13 Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard this rich trust with the help of the holy Spirit.
Our Separated Brethren are confused about the meaning of Tradition and what it consists of. All of the previous paragraphs are the answer. For those who are not cognizant of the preceding paragraphs, they might charge that tradition is unreliable; that it is word of mouth and is subject to distortions. Such a charge usually reduces most Catholics to silence. But, our answer should be to direct them to the above and to history (and the actions of the Holy Spirit), thus proving that Tradition ruled the Church right from the beginning. Besides, since nothing of the New Testament was committed to the pen for 17 years, and if Tradition is unreliable and became corrupt, then the Bible is now corrupt, because what was written down was taken from Tradition! If the Bible is corrupt, then our faith is in vain!
If they refuse to go deep in history, tell them that earthly word of mouth may be unreliable according to human wisdom. But, we are not dealing with human wisdom here. We are now in the realm of Divine Wisdom. For the brief period when nothing was written, we can still say that according to Divine Wisdom, Tradition is extremely reliable. What has happened in this realm is that Jesus taught all the Apostles the same thing. Did He not? And, what has happened is that the Holy Spirit re-taught all the Apostles the same thing. Did He not? And the Apostles went out and taught the Jews and the Gentiles the same thing. Did they not? And the Holy Spirit remained with the Apostles and watched over them. Did He not? (Acts 1:2; 4:8; 13:2; 15:28; 16:6-7; 20:22-23; 20:28; 21:4, and 21:11). He is still watching over their successors, even now!
We have already demonstrated the involvement of the Holy Spirit in the teaching and preaching process. Kindly, refer to the two Pauline quotes above, where Paul says that the Gospel came not just in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit, and that the disciples guarded this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit! So, the Gospel came to the Apostles supernaturally, and their retention of it was also supernatural!! Now, grasp this: The Holy Spirit always presides over Church councils. The first council in the history of Christianity, the Council of Jerusalem:
Acts 15: 28 ‘It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, 29 namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell.’”
So, all at once, all had the Gospel. All had the same teaching, from India to the Atlantic! This Deposit of Faith became the Norm. From then on, the Word of God had its momentum that no one could derail, and everything would be measured with respect to this Norm. Heresies became rampant soon after, as they are nowadays, for, the devil had not been idle; rather, he worked overtime trying to destroy the Church. Therefore, whenever a heresy surfaced, it was examined and compared to the Norm. If it did fit, well and good. If, however, there was any contradiction, the new is rejected and the old, the Norm, retained and upheld as being authentic, just as aptly described by Paul:
Galatians 2: (concerning false brothers) 5 “to them we did not submit even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain intact for you.”
With this knowledge and understanding, many a scripture passage can now be seen in a new light and begin to make more extraordinary sense, like the ones immediately above and below:
1 John 2: 24 “Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, then you will remain in the Son and in the Father.”
In the above quotes, Paul and John are both confirming what we explained: that the old is the authentic and the new is the improvised. You see, nothing was added to Divine Revelation after the time of John. And, John is saying, ‘Take to heart what you learned in 31, 32, 33, 34, 44, and 54 A.D., and not what you have heard in the last 500 years. Keep to the Norm!! Paul says:
Galatians 1: 9 As we have said before, and now I say again, if anyone preaches to you a gospel other than the one that you received, let that one be accursed!
Remember here that the word ‘received’ was written 350 years before the Bible was compiled; even before the gospels were ever written! Now, the following quotes are two corroborating explanatory statements from of old:
St Athanasius (296-373 A.D.): “The very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, was preached by the apostles and was preserved by the Fathers. On this was the Church founded, and if anyone departs from this, he neither is, nor any longer ought to be called, a Christian.”
St. Vincent of Lerins (d. after 434 A.D.): “Guard” says St. Paul, “what has been committed”. What does it mean? It is what has been faithfully entrusted to you, not what has been discovered by you; what you have received, not what you have thought up; be not the leader but the follower!
To visualize matters better, in the early life of the Church, if a bishop turned out to be an injected wolf (Matthew 7:15 and Acts 20:29), or a heretic, the whole Truth was with the other bishops who would force him to change his ways and repent, otherwise, he would be exposed and excommunicated. This is the force of Tradition given to us through the grace of Divine Wisdom! On the other hand, during the first centuries of the life of the Church, a popular answer to the claims of a heretic, was: ‘Who are you? Where did you come from? Who is your bishop? Show us your Catalogue of Bishops!’ This shows that there is a record in the churches of the line of bishops and priests who have served, thus proving Apostolic Succession by the Laying on of Hands, a customary procedure when sending disciples out on missions to establish churches and man them, as attested to in Numbers 27:18-23; Deuteronomy 34:9; Matthew 19:13; Acts 9:17; Hebrews 6:1-2, 1 Timothy 4:14, and:
2 Timothy 1: 6 For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.
Titus 1: 5 For this reason I left you in Crete so that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you,
Actually, heresies were benefiting the Church tremendously; producing explanations which helped crystallize and broaden understanding of already proven, existing teachings. ,In other words, heresies helped the Church defend, and thus, define her borders and everything within; define them to her faithful and to those wishing to convert. Keep in mind that accepted Church teachings were explained further only when they were challenged by the heretics. As an illustration, I do not go around calling out my age every couple of seconds. But, when I declare it and am challenged, I would affirm it and, if necessary, show my ID as proof. Often, dates given to dogmas and doctrines are dates on which heresies were refuted and not when these dogmas and doctrines were put into practice.
For the sake of our Separated Brethren, we point out an important axiom: that we do not join the Church because the choir is good, or because the pastor preaches well, or because the service is neat and orderly and well coordinated, or because there is fellowship, or because the church is nearby and is heated and air conditioned. We do want all these things, but, they are hardly the criteria for joining the Church.
We do join the Church because she has the whole Truth, including, most importantly, the Real Presence of the Lord: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. The whole Truth is the only consideration. Nothing else matters. Never mind if, for example, we are given the cold shoulder or we are left out from some activity, or our ego is not being soothed. One can always find a way out, or, in irreconcilable situations, look for another Catholic church nearby to fit into. The important thing is to be in the Church that Jesus Christ founded, which the forces of the netherworld can never prevail against (Matthew 16:19); in which the Deposit of Faith can be found in its entirety. That means that the Church Jesus Christ established never died. After the Resurrection, there was no time in A.D. history in which the Catholic Church was not!!!
In conclusion, the Holy Bible is all truth, but not all the truth. There is ‘Tradition’. It is sacred! After all, it is the Word of God, just like the Holy Bible is. And, it was written down during the time of the Apostles and under their supervision! Ours is not a religion of the Book; it is the Religion of the Word! Where can we find Tradition? What concerns us from Tradition is all over the pages of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. However, the Catechism does not contain only Tradition, but also Scripture and Magisterial teaching throughout the history of the Catholic Church. In pocketbook form, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a 700+ page book containing 2,865 numbered paragraphs; a really beautiful document selling for under $ 10! On the Internet, the whole Deposit of Faith (the Bible, the Catechism and Magisterial documents) can be had through this Vatican link: http://www.vatican.va/archive/index.htm.
Reflection #1: Kindly reflect on this truth: With every mention of the word ‘church’ in the Bible, the Catholic Church is meant, because there was no other church in existence for one thousand years! Logic! The link here is St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch for some 38 years (d. 107 A.D.), who was the first on record to call the Church the catholic Church. The key is that he was ordained Bishop of Antioch by Peter and was the disciple of John, and lived concurrently with John for a third of a century. So, St. Ignatius of Antioch is an Apostolic Man, just like Timothy and Titus, and therefore, knew what he was and what he was talking about. Why is he not mentioned in the Bible? God did not choose Peter and John to write about their travels. He chose Paul for this mission. Some of those who were appointed bishops and took their positions and did not travel with the Apostles were also not mentioned by Paul.
If you are thinking of the word catholic being with a small ‘c,’ I tell you that the rules of Grammar dictate that we use a capital ‘C’ for the only Church in existence for a thousand years!
Now, let me repeat: With every mention of the word ‘church’ in the Bible, the Catholic Church is meant, because there was no other church in existence for one thousand years!
Reflection #2: The Catholic Church is necessary for salvation for those who know that fact (CCC 846; and 847: This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church). Listen to just one sentence of Paul’s: “To me, the very least of all the holy ones, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ, and to bring to light [for all] what is the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God who created all things, so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the principalities and authorities in the heavens” (Ephesians 3:8-10). It says: through the church and not through the Bible.
Reflection #3: The Catholic Church has all the Truth; all of God’s revelations. Paul calls “the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).
Almost all the ideas in this article are adaptations from The Church and Tradition, by Msgr. George Agius, TAN Books (.com), 1928/2005; highly recommended for those who doubt. God bless.