Monday, November 3, 2008

What Catholics mean by Sacred Tradition...

One of the things that I was confused about regarding the Catholic faith, was it's focus on something called Sacred Tradition. Didn't Catholics know that Jesus rebuked tradition and it is something that should not be practiced?

And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!(Mark 7:9).

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.(Col 2:8).

The traditions condemned in these verses are those traditions that take you away from Christ and the commands of God.

So what do Catholics mean by Sacred Tradition? In it's most basic definition, it is the divinely revealed truth, that may or may not be revealed by Scripture. Now, before you go leaping off to conclusions that Catholics are adding to Sacred Scripture, I think that it is worth reflecting on your own faith, in order to see if there is evidence of Sacred Tradition that you may share with Catholics.

There is a great book titled, By What Authority, where the author Mark Shea takes you through his discovery of Sacred Tradition. He gives the following three examples of Sacred Tradition that all Christians share:

New Testament
Catholics and Protestants alike share the same cannon of New Testament Scripture. Did you know that the New Testament Cannon was not made official and closed until sometime near 300 A.D.? This means that if you were a Christian before this time, you would not have known which writings were truly inspired as oppose to those that were not. There were many writings circulating, while may be profitable for Christian reading and at times thought to be divinely inspired, was eventually not accepted as part of the official divinely inspired cannon. Some of those books include:

Epistle of Barnabas
Shepherd of Hermas
Apocalypse of Peter

We also know that the New Testament did not come with a Table of Contents. The New Testament does not tell you which books are officially a part of it. There was a process that the Holy Spirit worked, that made each of the books officially part of the New Testament. Therefore, the New Testament itself is a part of Sacred Tradition - yet all Bible believing Christians believe it - even those who rebuke tradition. For those people that say they only believe in the Bible, they are really saying that they believe in the Bible, and they believe in the authority that the Holy Spirit used to work through the Church in order to form the New Testament Cannon.

If you are a Christian, you are required to believe in the Trinity. Christianity requires the belief in one God - not many. However, the Trinity is not something that is explicitly taught or explained in Sacred Scriptures. This is an example of a divinely revealed truth and a revelation that came after a time. Therefore it is part of Sacred Tradition, that does not appear in Scripture.

The Trinity is actually older than the New Testament. Theophilus of Antioch, writing around 180 A.D., speaks of "the Trinity of God [the Father], His Word and His Wisdom (To Autolycus II.15).

A better case can be made, using only the Holy Scriptures, for polygamy rather than monogamy. In the Old Testament, God blesses Solomon with many wives.

I gave your master's house to you, and your master's wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.(2 Samueul 12:8).

According to this, having multiple wives would be considered a blessing from God. While there are some sects of self-claimed Christians that believe this is still valid, for the most part, it is completely understood that Monogamy is a necessary belief for the entire Christian Society. However, like I mentioned before, it is easier to prove the case against monogamy rather than for it. This too is an example of Sacred Tradition that both Catholics and Protestants share.

Sacred Tradition are those things that are better described in Scripture as:

Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. (1 Cor 11:2)

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 Thess 2:15)

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. (2 Thess 3:6)

Catholics do not add to the Christian Faith through the use of Sacred Tradition - they fulfill it. It is through Sacred Tradition that the faith was originally shared, not through the Scriptures. Jesus fulfilled his mission and the Apostles went out preaching the Gospel. They did not immediately start writing the New Testament. From Sacred Tradition, we receive the New Testament as well as many of the other teachings that we share as Christians.

If anything, this post is a plug for the book by Mark Shea. It was entertaining and interesting to watch the mind of an Evangelical discover Sacred Tradition.

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