Understanding Roman Catholic Tradition

n style="font-size: 16px">generations, but they are not sacred Tradition, for the Church does not consider them

to have their origin in divine revelation. To distinguish human traditions from sacred Tradition,

Catholic literature generally capitalizes the latter.

Neither is Roman Catholic Tradition the conclusions of scholars who have studied the

documents, history, and archaeology of the first centuries in search of the primitive Christian

faith. Tradition is not the writings of early Christian leaders, ancient liturgies, or even

the decrees of synods and ecumenical councils. These may be partial expressions of or

witnesses to Tradition, but they are not sacred Tradition itself.

So what exactly is Tradition? Catholic bishops tell us that "Tradition is the word living

continuously in the hearts of the faithful,"2 "the living memorial of God’s Word"3. Roman

Catholic Tradition is not something you can read or even lay your hands on.

[Tradition] … is not an inanimate thing passed from hand to hand; it is

not, properly speaking, an assemblage of doctrines and institutions consigned to

books or other monuments…. it must be represented as a current of life and truth

coming from God through Christ and through the Apostles to the last of the faithful

who repeats his creed and learns his catechism. The Catholic Encyclopedia4

Tradition, as explained by Catholic scholars, is not contained in books, but in people,

in the life of the Church. It is the life experience of the Catholic faithful. It is revelation "…written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records…."5

Roman Catholicism describes Tradition as a "living transmission"6 through which "…

the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation

all that she herself is, all that she believes"7. It is the living faith produced by "realities and

words that are being passed on."8 This, explains Catholic scholars, is accomplished in a

variety of ways:

The way in which the faith is transmitted can take almost any form in the

Church: the sign of the cross that a mother traces on the forehead of her child;

teaching the basic prayers of Christianity, especially the "Our Father," in the home

and in religious instruction; living, praying, and singing in the local congregation,

into which the young person grows; Christian example in everyday life and

Christian action even to the point of martyrdom; the witness given by Christian

music (especially hymns and chorales), by architecture and the plastic arts

(especially representations of the cross, which is considered a privileged Christian

symbol); and, not least, by the liturgy of the Church. The Church’s Confession of

Faith9

Catholic definitions equating Tradition with the oral teachings of the apostles are misleading.

For example, the Second Vatican Council described Tradition as revelation that

the apostles passed on "…by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they

gave, by the institutions they established… "10. In support of this definition, the Council

referred to Paul’s instruction to the Thessalonians:11

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were

taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. 2 Thessalonians 2:15

In citing this verse, the Church would have us believe that Roman Catholic Tradition is

equivalent to the Apostle Paul’s oral teachings. This is misleading, however, for, as we

have seen, Roman Catholic Tradition is a far more complex concept. It is not the direct oral

teaching of the apostles as referred to in 2 Thessalonians 2:15. Rather, Roman Catholic

Tradition is "a current of life and truth."12 It can be as ethereal as an idea that, after having

lain dormant for centuries, can spring to life in modern times through pious contemplation.

The Assumption of Mary is one such example. The Church pronounced it a divinely

revealed dogma in 1950. In view of Mary’s sinless perfection, said the Church, Mary’s body

did not undergo decay at the end of her life. God miraculously took her up to heaven. In the

document defining the Assumption of Mary, Pope Pius XII cited several Scriptures in an

attempt to demonstrate a biblical basis for the doctrine.13 In doing so, he acknowledged that

most of the Scriptures referenced had been put forth by theologians and preachers who

had "…been rather free in their use of events and expressions taken from Sacred Scripture

to explain their belief in the Assumption."14 The fact of the matter is that none of the Scriptures

the Pope cited said anything about Mary’s Assumption. Only one, Luke 1:28, even

refers to Mary. Nevertheless, the Pope used them anyway. No reasonable comparison can

be drawn between such teachings based on Roman Catholic Tradition and the Apostle

Paul personally and directly instructing the Thessalonians—the "traditions" of 2

Thessalonians 2:15.

Scripture and Roman Catholic Tradition are not equals. The Roman Catholic Church

teaches that "…both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal

feelings of devotion and reverence"15. But the Scriptures are a written record of revelation.

They are tangible, unalterable, and accessible to all. Moreover, they are an inspired record,

"God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16, NIV), the writings of "…men moved by the Holy Spirit

spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:21). Scripture, therefore, is rightly called the Word of GodRoman Catholic Tradition, on the other hand, is an amorphous body of beliefs and

practices which the Church claims has been handed down for some 60 generations in

"human formulas"16: a bishop teaching, a priest delivering a Sunday’s homily, a theologian

writing, a mother reciting prayers with her children, a hymn, a stained glass window, or the

unspoken "spiritual realities"17 shared by the faithful. Though a child could see the difference

between this and Scripture, the Church cannot, or will not.

Adapted from The Gospel According to Rome (Harvest House Publishers: Eugene, 1995).

1. Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 166.

2. The German Bishop’s Conference, The Church’s Confession of Faith (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1987), p. 45, quoting J. A.

Mohler. See also the Second Vatican Council, "Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation," no. 8; and the Council of Trent, session

4, "First Decree: Acceptance of the Sacred Books and Apostolic Traditions."

3. Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 113.

4. Jean Bainvel, The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, NY: Robert Appleton Co., 1912), "Tradition," vol. 15, p. 9.

5. Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 133.

6. Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 78.

7. Second Vatican Council, "Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation," no. 8.

8. Second Vatican Council, "Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation," no. 8.

9. The German Bishop’s Conference, The Church’s Confession of Faith (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1987), p. 46, quoting J. A.

Mohler.

10. Second Vatican Council, "Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation," no. 7.

11. Second Vatican Council, "Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation," no. 8.

12. Jean Bainvel, The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, NY: Robert Appleton Co., 1912), "Tradition," vol. 15, p. 9.

13. Genesis 3:15; Psalm 131:8; 44:10-14; Song of Solomon 3:6; 4:8; 6:9; 8:5; Isaiah 61:13; Luke 1:28; Romans 5-6; 1 Corinthians

15:21-26, 54-57; Revelation 12.

14. Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, no. 26.

15. Second Vatican Council, "Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation," no. 9.

16. Jean Bainvel, The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, NY: Robert Appleton Co., 1912), Tradition," vol. 15, p. 11.

17. Second Vatican Council, "Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation," no. 8.

 

  

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  • Ok, Dr. Denis, I guess this is where I'd ask- so was it some Pope or Bishop somewhere down the line that found scripture or something to bring in the rule of no meat on friday's?  Or is it my understanding that the Church had a tradition somewhat like lent where the parishioner  gave up meat every week and not just on Lent? If that's the fact did the Church scare them into it by saying it was on their conscience if they ate meat? 

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  • During the early beginnings of the church many Jewish ordinances and customs were carried into the church causing division, debate, and forcing the congealment of doctrine.  Anyway, some churches split off retaining much of their former Jewish character or legalists as they were called.  It must have truly been very difficult for some to transition from the law to that of salvation through grace by faith.  Even the Apostles didn't know what to do about things like eating with Gentiles, keeping feast days, circumcision, etc. I'm very sure that this no meat on Friday thing was totally conceived by a person or persons in the early period of one branch of Christianity (Catholicism).  Paul's writings elucidate this and other principles very openly and straightforwardly making many stipulations and examples of the differences in the expectations of the Gentiles.  This included a break with Jewish teachings, but  nowhere dies it say that the church should, must, or will abstain from meats of Friday or any other time.  The early church was not one of pomp and ceremony.  In most cases, at first, homes were the church and the service was plain, focused, and simple.  The Apostles never taught anything different or practiced anything different..  This thing with eating meat could loosely be related to the eating of meat sacrificed to idols - which was taboo for mainline Jewish Christians. But again, Paul made it clear that even this was not a detriment for all.  It was left to the conscience of the individual who knows the truth and understand that idols were comical and absurd. Its all laid out in the New Testament, really it truly is...Anyway, the early church had no such custom of giving up meat on Friday or any other day.

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