Voce mea ad Dominum

Random thoughts from an amateur theologist.

Monday, September 04, 2006


This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. - Mark 7:6b-7

Tradition is probably one of the most misunderstood aspects of the Catholic faith. First of all there is Sacred Tradition, and then there are traditions. What is the difference?

I will start with traditions. These are things like the use of holy water to bless yourself on entering the Church, or genuflecting to the tabernacle prior to entering your pew to pray, or bowing at the words et incarnatus est during the recitation of the creed, or making the sign of the cross before or after receiving holy communion. The number of traditions in the Catholic Church is very large. They are acts of piety which have developed over the 2 millenia since the foundation of the Church in the Upper Room at Pentecost, and they are different in the Eastern Catholic Churches from the Western (or Roman) Catholic Church. They are not doctrines or dogmas in that they are not a necessity to the faith. They merely are reverent ways that Catholics express their love for the Lord.

Sacred Tradition is another thing altogether. It is by its nature essential to the faith and is part of the deposit of the faith which was given to the disciples by the Lord himself. Sacred scripture is part of Sacred Tradition, but even further our understanding of Sacred Scripture (i.e. its interpretation) is evident only in light of that Tradition. How then is Sacred Tradition understood and applied?

Here are some examples of how the Church applies its Sacred Tradition. When the Church was faced with the issue of gentiles first becoming Jews through circumcision prior to becoming Christians, the apostles convened a council at Jerusalem and evaluated the issue by reflecting on the teachings handed on to them by the Lord Jesus. They then made a definitive proclamation that this was not necessary. Likewise centuries later when a bishop named Arius was teaching that Jesus was a creature and not divine, the Church bishops convened a council once again this time at Nicea and reflected on what had been handed to them by the apostles and their successors, and they proclaimed that Jesus was begotten of the Father and consubstantial with him as well thus squelching the heresy of Arianism once and for all. With each successive challenge to the faith, the Church met in council and as the apostles did in Jerusalem, faced these challenges head on using the teachings handed to them from the Lord himself in order to resolve them.

While traditions can be rattled off like a grocery list, Sacred Tradition cannot. There is no list of Sacred Traditions that are not mentioned in the scriptures because Sacred Tradition encompasses the entire faith including the scriptures and may be understood as the standard by which all matters of faith are judged. The reason for this is rather straightforward. Traditions (by this I mean traditions) find their origin in human piety. Sacred Tradition originates from God himself.


At 9:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad you are back to writing again. I thank you. Debbie


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