tradition, Sacred Tradition, Catholic Tradition.

Catholic Tradition often seems odd to those outside the Catholic Church. People assume it’s something that we just… “made up.” The word “tradition” actually means handing down something to another person. Scripture testifies to this meaning of Catholic Tradition as the normal mode of transmitting the Faith:

“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thess 2:15)”For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you….” (1 Cor 11:23)

“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received….” (1 Cor 15:3)

“…I know whom I have believed [i.e., Jesus], and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.” (2 Tim 1:11-14)

“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Tim 2:1-2)

“…I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3)

This is the most basic meaning of Catholic Tradition: it is the true Faith itself, given to the Apostles by Christ and faithfully transmitted to each new generation. (Catechism, 77-78)

Sacred Tradition comes from Christ. It’s the full, living gift of Christ to the Apostles, faithfully handed down through each generation. It is through Tradition that the Holy Spirit makes the Risen Lord present among us, offering us the very same saving Word and Sacraments that he gave to the Apostles!

Understanding Catholic Tradition is essential to understanding the Catholic Church and the Catholic Christian faith.

Essentially, tradition is a thing handed down from one generation to the next. This is precisely the meaning of the biblical word for tradition: paradosis. Further, we make distinctions between large T and small t traditions even in secular and folk culture. Small t traditions express something of a culture, like a tangerine in your Christmas stocking or singing the happy birthday song at birthday parties. Some small t traditions (like toasting the bride and groom) are very ancient and widely diffused. Some, like Guy Fawkes night, are fairly new and may be confined to only one culture. Some have religious significance, like Advent candles, some are just ingrained customs (like birthday candles). Human culture is immersed in an ocean of such traditions ranging from throwing wedding rice to saluting the flag to celebrating bachelor parties. However, tradition is more than the mere cultural window dressing of small t traditions. It isn’t just little customs. It is also a way of being, thinking and seeing which powerfully (and often unconsciously) influences our lives and even our relationship with God.

There are aspects of Christian life which, the Church teaches, are principally handed on to us, not so much through Scripture as through tradition. Some of this tradition, says the Church, is small t stuff: candles, favourite songs, styles of prayer, popular forms of devotion, beloved books, treasured old rituals like Christmas caroling, foods such as Christmas cake and Christmas Turkey or Easter eggs. Yet, when push comes to shove, if children were not taught these traditions,  none of these small t traditions, vital and living though they are, is essential to the Faith.

The Second Vatican Council (“Vatican II”) wrote an important document called “On Divine Revelation” (Dei Verbum in Latin). It’s quite readable, and contains definitive teaching on the full meaning of Catholic Tradition.

The Council notes the importance of seeing that Catholic Tradition is firmly rooted in the Apostles: it is Christ’s whole gift to them, and to us. The Council writes:

 In His gracious goodness, God has seen to it that what He had revealed for the salvation of all nations would abide perpetually in its full integrity and be handed on to all generations. Therefore Christ the Lord in whom the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion…, commissioned the Apostles to preach to all men that Gospel which is the source of all saving truth and moral teaching, and to impart to them heavenly gifts.

(Dei Verbum, 7)

It is specifically this “commissioning of the Apostles” that is fulfilled in the handing on of Catholic Tradition.

The Apostles dedicated themselves to this mission, and they appointed other faithful men to succeed them and carry on their work. That same passage of Dei Verbum continues:

 This commission was faithfully fulfilled by the Apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The commission was fulfilled, too, by those Apostles and apostolic men who under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit committed the message of salvation to writing.

(Dei Verbum, 7)

Many Protestants believe that Catholics look to Tradition instead of Scripture. Not at all! Catholic Tradition stands with Scripture in forming the one single deposit of the Faith. For Catholics, Sacred Tradition is not in opposition to Scripture: they compliment and confirm one another. Vatican II’s Dei Verbum speaks of “a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture”: “both of them… [flow] from the same divine wellspring.”

It says that “Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity.” The Church, “led by the light of the Spirit of truth, …may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known.” (Dei Verbum, 9)

This statement reveals another key aspect of Catholic Tradition: it is linked to the active work of the Holy Spirit.

 

 

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  1. Making A Saint « Darc Xed : Louder Than Noise

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