Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Tradition and the Roman Catholic Church

Owen Thomas professes: "Tradition can also mean what the Roman
Catholic Church calls the secret tradition, namely, that part of the
apostolic tradition which was not committed to writing, but was handed down orally by the apostolic bishops." He adds: "There is no historical foundation for the existence of such a tradition."

The declaration at the Council of Trent in 1564 concerning "the unwritten traditions" possibly confirms Thomas' interpretation of the Latin view concerning what has been handed down (i.e., tradition). Did not Trent also decide that the Bible does not contain all things necessary for salvation? Or maybe I should say, all things formally necessary for salvation. From one Catholic source, we read:

"The Roman Church, however, does not depend solely on literary and
historical evidence; it depends on its own consciousness of its belief,
and it must be admitted that the analysis of this consciousness can be
subtle" (John McKenzie, The Roman Catholic Church, p. 212)

The same book also states: "The Council of Trent admitted frankly that
the Roman tradition contains propositions which cannot be found in the Bible.
It countered the Protestant charge by asserting itself, so to speak; it denied that either in the Bible or in its own traditions is there any affirmation
that the Bible is the sole source of revealed truth . . . An unresolved
question in contemporary theology is whether the Council of Trent meant
that Scripture and tradition are two sources of revealed truth.
Certainly the Council did not mean that they are two unrelated sources.
The weight of opinion in Roman theology since the Council of Trent has
been that the Council did mean two sources. The Bible is superior in
dignity, but tradition is superior in completeness" (McKenzie, 212-213).

Of course, Catholics have told me that Owen Thomas' depiction of Catholic tradition is not correct: they say Catholic tradition is not secret or hidden. Below, I include the statement from Trent (Session IV):

This [Gospel], of old promised through the Prophets in the Holy Scriptures,[1] our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, promulgated first with His own mouth, and then commanded it to be preached by His Apostles to every creature[2] as the source at once of all saving truth and rules of conduct.

It also clearly perceives that these truths and rules are contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions, which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself, or from the Apostles themselves,[3] the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down to us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand.

Following, then, the examples of the orthodox Fathers, it receives and venerates with a feeling of piety and reverence all the books both of the Old and New Testaments, since one God is the author of both; also the traditions, whether they relate to faith or to morals, as having been dictated either orally by Christ or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church in unbroken succession.


David Waltz said...

Hi Edgar,

This post brings back a lot of memories. The issue of Scripture and tradition—especially within Catholicism and the Church Fathers—was one of my major topics of study in the first decade of the 21st century. Major points of contention included sola scriptura vs. prima scriptura; formal sufficiency vs. material sufficiency; inherent tradition vs. constitutive tradition; and importantly, the issue of the development of doctrine.

In your post, you wrote:

==Of course, Catholics have told me that Owen Thomas' depiction of Catholic tradition is not correct; they say Catholic tradition is not secret or hidden.==

I would agree with the above assessment. Though a few individual Catholic theologians have argued for the notion of disiplina arcani, a consensus of informed Catholic theologians have rejected the constitutive/hidden/secret doctrine of tradition, opting instead for the views of the material sufficiency of Scripture and inherent tradition.
Directly related to these issues is the fact that Trent rejected the partim...partim view of Scripture and tradition (revelation is partly in Scripture and partly in tradition), and instead accepted the et understanding (revelation is in Scripture and tradition).

Before ending, I would like to recommend the following threads:




Grace and peace,


Edgar Foster said...

Hi David,

Thanks for the clarification and additional links. While I don't get to interact with all your comments, I still appreciate your spirit, research, and fairness.

All the best,


Philip Fletcher said...

I don't see that there is revelation in tradition. That is in tradition after the end of the Canon of the bible. No tradition that is in place outside of Scripture is revealed as coming from God, no matter how it is looked upon. That doesn't mean it is wrong for tradition to have it's place in worship, but none come as a revelation of God.

Edgar Foster said...

Philip, while I agree with you, please keep in mind that Catholicism via the Council of Trent evidently does believe that tradition partly constitutes divine revelation. But we seem to believe that Christian tradition now appears in written form although you could say Witnesses have ways of doing things that are based on Scripture, but not directly in the Bible, if that makes sense.

Philip Fletcher said...

Yes that makes sense. I just don't view what we do as a divine revelation. That is any tradition that has started from the time that God's Kingdom has been established. We know the preaching work is based on Matt 28:19,20 and other scriptures. But the aspects of it like counting our time which is basically tradition isn't by a divine revelation. That is how I see it.

Edgar Foster said...

I see things that way too--we had an article or QFR some years ago that explained matters that way. For example, the Bible progressively gave revelations about the seed of Abraham, but our increased understanding of Romans 13 is not like divine unveiling about the seed. Counting time is another practice based on the Bible, but not explicitly mentioned there. But like you, I do not see counting FS time as a problem.