Sacred tradition

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Sacred tradition, or holy tradition, is a theological term used in the major Christian traditions, primarily those claiming apostolic succession, such as the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian, and Anglican traditions, to refer to the foundation of the doctrinal and spiritual authority of Christianity and of the Bible.

Christian tradition is a collection of traditions consisting of practices or beliefs associated with Christianity. These ecclesiastical traditions have more or less authority based on the nature of the practices or beliefs and on the group in question.

Apostolic succession the method whereby the ministry of the Christian Church is held to be derived from the apostles by a continuous succession

Apostolic succession is the method whereby the ministry of the Christian Church is held to be derived from the apostles by a continuous succession, which has usually been associated with a claim that the succession is through a series of bishops. This series was seen originally as that of the bishops of a particular see founded by one or more of the apostles. According to historian Justo L. González, apostolic succession is generally understood today as meaning a series of bishops, regardless of see, each consecrated by other bishops, themselves consecrated similarly in a succession going back to the apostles. According to the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, "apostolic succession" means more than a mere transmission of powers. It is succession in a Church which witnesses to the apostolic faith, in communion with the other Churches, witnesses of the same apostolic faith. The "see (cathedra) plays an important role in inserting the bishop into the heart of ecclesial apostolicity", but, once ordained, the bishop becomes in his Church the guarantor of apostolicity and becomes a successor of the apostles.

Catholic Church Largest Christian church, led by the Bishop of Rome

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2017. As the world's oldest and largest continuously functioning international institution, it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation. The church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the pope. Its central administration is the Holy See.

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Christians believe that the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles were preserved in the scriptures as well as by word of mouth and were handed on. This perpetual handing on of the tradition is called the "Living Tradition"; it is believed to be the faithful and constant transmission of the teachings of the Apostles from one generation to the next. That "includes everything which contributes towards the sanctity of life and increase in faith of the People of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship [the Creeds, the Sacraments, the Magisterium, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass], perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes." [1] The Deposit of Faith (Latin: fidei depositum) refers to the entirety of divine revelation. According to Roman Catholic theology, two sources of revelation constitute a single "Deposit of Faith", meaning that the entirety of divine revelation and the Deposit of Faith is transmitted to successive generations in scripture and sacred tradition (through the teaching authority and interpretation of the Church's Magisterium (which consists of the Church's bishops, in union with the Pope), typically proceeding synods and ecumenical councils).

Jesus The central figure of Christianity

Jesus, also referred to as Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Christ, was a first-century Jewish preacher and religious leader. He is the central figure of Christianity. Most Christians believe he is the incarnation of God the Son and the awaited Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament.

Word of mouth or viva voce, is the passing of information from person to person using oral communication, which could be as simple as telling someone the time of day. Storytelling is a common form of word-of-mouth communication where one person tells others a story about a real event or something made up. Oral tradition is cultural material and traditions transmitted by word of mouth through successive generations. Storytelling and oral tradition are forms of word of mouth that play important roles in folklore and mythology. Another example of oral communication is oral history—the recording, preservation and interpretation of historical information, based on the personal experiences and opinions of the speaker. Oral history preservation is the field that deals with the care and upkeep of oral history materials collected by word of mouth, whatever format they may be in.

Tradition belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past

A tradition is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past. Common examples include holidays or impractical but socially meaningful clothes, but the idea has also been applied to social norms such as greetings. Traditions can persist and evolve for thousands of years—the word tradition itself derives from the Latin tradere literally meaning to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping. While it is commonly assumed that traditions have ancient history, many traditions have been invented on purpose, whether that be political or cultural, over short periods of time. Various academic disciplines also use the word in a variety of ways.

In Eastern Orthodox theology, Holy Tradition is the inspired revelation of God and catholic teaching (Greek katholikos, "according to the whole") of the Church, not an independent source of dogmatic authority to be regarded as a supplement to biblical revelation. Tradition is rather understood as the fullness of divine truth proclaimed in the scriptures, preserved by the apostolic bishops and expressed in the life of the Church through such things as the Divine Liturgy and the Holy Mysteries (Eucharist, baptism, marriage, etc.), the Creed and other doctrinal definitions of the First seven ecumenical councils, canonical Christian iconography, and the sanctified lives of godly men and women.

Eastern Orthodox theology Eastern Orthodox theological views

Eastern Orthodox theology is the theology particular to the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is characterized by monotheistic Trinitarianism, belief in the Incarnation of the essentially divine Logos or only-begotten Son of God, a balancing of cataphatic theology with apophatic theology, a hermeneutic defined by a polyvalent Sacred Tradition, a concretely catholic ecclesiology, a robust theology of the person, and a principally recapitulative and therapeutic soteriology.

Catholic (term) The term "catholic"

The word Catholic comes from the Greek phrase καθόλου (katholou), meaning "on the whole", "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words κατά meaning "about" and ὅλος meaning "whole". The first use of "Catholic" was by the church father Saint Ignatius of Antioch in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans. In the context of Christian ecclesiology, it has a rich history and several usages.

Divine Liturgy Rite practiced in Eastern Christian traditions

Divine Liturgy or Holy Liturgy is the Eucharistic service of the Byzantine Rite, developed from the Antiochene Rite of Christian liturgy which is that of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. As such, it is used in the Eastern Orthodox, the Byzantine Catholic Churches, and the Ukrainian Lutheran Church. Although the same term is sometimes applied in English to the Eucharistic service of Armenian Christians, both of the Armenian Apostolic Church and of the Armenian Catholic Church, they use in their own language a term meaning "holy offering" or "holy sacrifice". Other churches also treat "Divine Liturgy" simply as one of many names that can be used, but it is not their normal term.

According to the Christian theological understanding of these Churches, scripture is the written part of this larger tradition, recording (albeit sometimes through the work of individual authors) the community's experience of God or more specifically of Jesus. Thus, the Bible must be interpreted within the context of sacred tradition and within the community of the church. That is in contrast to many Protestant traditions, which teach that the Bible alone is a sufficient basis for all Christian teaching (a position known as sola scriptura ).

Christian theology is the theology of Christian belief and practice. Such study concentrates primarily upon the texts of the Old Testament and of the New Testament, as well as on Christian tradition. Christian theologians use biblical exegesis, rational analysis and argument. Theologians may undertake the study of Christian theology for a variety of reasons, such as in order to:

God in Christianity is the eternal being who created and preserves all things. Christians believe God to be both transcendent and immanent. Christian teachings of the immanence and involvement of God and his love for humanity exclude the belief that God is of the same substance as the created universe but accept that God's divine nature was hypostatically united to human nature in the person of Jesus Christ, in an event known as the Incarnation.

Sola Scriptura is a theological doctrine held by some Christian denominations that the Christian scriptures are the sole source of authority for Christian faith and practice.

Usage of term

The word tradition is taken from the Latin trado, tradere, meaning "to hand over, to deliver, to bequeath". [2] In 2 Thessalonians 2:15, Paul exhorted the faithful to "keep the traditions that we taught you, whether by word of mouth or by letter." Paul's letters form part of Sacred Scripture; what he passed on "by word of mouth" is part of Sacred Tradition, handed down from the apostles. Both are the inspired word of God; the latter helps to inform understanding of the former. Sacred Tradition can never be in conflict with Sacred Scripture. [3]

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.

History

Among the earliest examples of the theological appeal to tradition is the response of early orthodox Christianity to Gnosticism, a movement that used some Christian scripture as the basis for its teachings. [4] Irenaeus of Lyons held that 'rule of faith' (regula fidei) is preserved by a church through its historical continuity (of interpretation and teaching) with the Apostles. [5] Tertullian argued that although interpretations founded on a reading of all Holy Scripture are not prone to error, tradition is the proper guide. [6] Athanasius held that Arianism fell into its central error by not adhering to tradition. [7]

Orthodoxy adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion

Orthodoxy is adherence to correct or accepted creeds, especially in religion. In the Christian sense the term means "conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early Church." The first seven ecumenical councils were held between the years of 325 and 787 with the aim of formalizing accepted doctrines.

Gnosticism variety of religious ideas and systems, originating in Jewish Christian milieux

Gnosticism is a collection of ancient religious ideas and systems which originated in the first century CE among Jewish and early Christian groups. These various sectarian groups, labeled "gnostics" by their opponents, emphasised personal spiritual knowledge (gnosis) over faith in orthodox teachings and ecclesiastical authority. They were regarded as heretics by the Fathers of the early church. Influenced by sources such as Hellenistic Judaism and Middle Platonism, Gnostic beliefs flourished in the Mediterranean world until the second century, after which a decline set in. In the Persian Empire, Gnostic ideas spread as far as China via Manichaeism, while Mandaeism is still alive in Iraq.

Religious text Texts which religious traditions consider to be central to their practice or beliefs

Religious texts are texts related to a religious tradition. They differ from literary texts by being a compilation or discussion of beliefs, mythologies, ritual practices, commandments or laws, ethical conduct, spiritual aspirations and by creating or fostering a religious community. The relative authority of religious texts develops over time and is derived from the ratification, enforcement, and its use across generations. Some religious texts are accepted or categorized as canonical, some non-canonical, and others extracanonical, semi-canonical, deutero-canonical, pre-canonical or post-canonical.

Tradition in the Orthodox Church

For the Orthodox Christian, there is one Tradition, the Tradition of the Church, incorporating the Scriptures and the teaching of the Fathers. As explained by Athanasius of Alexandria, "Let us look at the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the catholic Church from the very beginning, which the Logos gave (edoken), the Apostles preached (ekeryxan), and the Fathers preserved (ephylaxan). Upon this the Church is founded (tethemeliotai)"(St. Athanasius, "First Letter to Serapion", 28) [8]

Holy tradition for the Eastern Orthodox is the deposit of faith given by Jesus to the apostles and passed on in the Church from one generation to the next without addition, alteration, or subtraction. Vladimir Lossky described tradition as "the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church." [9] It is dynamic in application yet unchanging in dogma. It is growing in expression yet is always the same in essence. Rather, Orthodox believe tradition is that faith once delivered as understood within the context of lived history. Tradition is a gift of the Holy Spirit, a living experience, which is relived and renewed through time. Fr. Georges Florovsky wrote

"Tradition is not a principle striving to restore the past, using the past as a criterion for the present. Such a conception of tradition is rejected by history itself and by the consciousness of the Orthodox Church. Tradition is the constant abiding of the Spirit and not only the memory of words. Tradition is a charismatic, not a historical event". (Florovsky, Georges. "The Catholicity of the Church" in Bible, Church, Tradition, p. 47) [8]

Sacred Tradition in the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church views tradition in much the same terms, as a passing down of that same apostolic faith, but, in a critical difference from the Eastern Orthodox position, Catholicism holds that the faith once delivered, the understanding of it continues to deepen and mature over time through the action of the Holy Spirit in the history of the Church and in the understanding of that faith by Christians, all the while staying identical in essence and substance. [1] Moreover, the understanding may continue to grow and be enriched in the future, not only through mystical experience, but through the practice of the sciences of philosophy and theology as guided by the Holy Spirit; exemplified, for instance, by the Scholastics such as Saint Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham in the High Middle Ages. A common metaphor used to explain this position is that of a seed: the acorn itself has neither branches nor leaves, yet once planted in fertile soil, it gradually grows into a tall oak; throughout its lifetime, however, it ever continues to be the same tree that was planted.[ citation needed ]

In the area of moral theology, Mark D. Jordan said that medieval texts appeared to be inconsistent. According to some, prior to the sixth century, the Church's teachings on morality were incoherent. [10] According to John T. Noonan, "history cannot leave a principle or a teaching untouched; every application to a situation affects our understanding of the principle itself." [10]

Dei Verbum

The Second Vatican Council taught on tradition, scripture, and magisterium in Dei verbum , n. 10:

Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort.

But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.

It is clear, therefore, that Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God's most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.

Thus, all of the teachings of the Catholic Church come from either Tradition or Scripture, or from the magisterium interpreting Tradition and Scripture. These two sources, Tradition and Scripture, are viewed and treated as one source of Divine Revelation, which includes both the deeds of God and the words of God:

This plan of revelation is realized by deeds and words having in inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them. ( Dei verbum , 2)

The magisterium has a role in deciding authoritatively which truths are a part of sacred tradition.

Protestant position

Some Protestant denominations claim that the Bible alone is the source for Christian doctrine. This position does not deny that Jesus or the apostles preached in person, that their stories and teachings were transmitted orally during the early Christian era, or that truth exists outside of the Bible. For sola scriptura Christians today, however, these teachings are preserved in the Bible as the only inspired medium. Since in the opinion of sola scriptura Christians, other forms of tradition do not exist in a fixed form that remains constant in its transmission from one generation to the next and cannot be referenced or cited in its pure form, there is no way to verify which parts of the "tradition" are authentic and which are not. [11]

Scholars such as Craig A. Evans, James A. Sanders, [12] and Stanley E. Porter [13] have studied how sacred tradition in the Hebrew Bible was understood and used by New Testament writers to describe Jesus.

The Anglican Church does accept apostolic tradition, which can be found in the writings of the early Church Fathers, the decrees of the seven Ecumenical Councils, the Creeds, and the liturgical worship of the Church. [14]

See also

Related Research Articles

Revelation the revealing or disclosing of some form of truth or knowledge through communication with a deity or other supernatural entity

In religion and theology, revelation is the revealing or disclosing of some form of truth or knowledge through communication with a deity or other supernatural entity or entities.

<i>Dei verbum</i> Catholic Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation

Dei verbum, the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on 18 November 1965, following approval by the assembled bishops by a vote of 2,344 to 6. It is one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council, indeed their very foundation in the view of one of the leading Council Fathers, Bishop Christopher Butler. The phrase "Dei verbum" is Latin for "Word of God" and is taken from the first line of the document, as is customary for titles of major Catholic documents.

The five solae of the Protestant Reformation are a foundational set of principles held by theologians and clergy to be central to the doctrine of salvation as taught by the Lutheran and Reformed branches of Protestantism. Each sola represents a key belief in the Lutheran and Reformed traditions in contradistinction to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. These Reformers claimed that the Catholic Church, especially its head, the pope, had usurped divine attributes or qualities for the Church and its hierarchy.

Magisterium

The magisterium of the Catholic Church is the church's authority or office to give authentic interpretation of the Word of God, "whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition." According to the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, the task of interpretation is vested uniquely in the Pope and the bishops, though the concept has a complex history of development. Scripture and church tradition "make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church", and the magisterium is not independent of this, since "all that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is derived from this single deposit of faith."

Formal principle and material principle are two categories in Christian theology to identify and distinguish the authoritative source of theology from the theology itself, especially the central doctrine of that theology, of a religion, religious movement, tradition, body, denomination, or organization. A formal principle tends to be texts or revered leaders of the religion, while a material principle is its central teaching. Paul Tillich believed the identification and application of this pair of categories in theological thinking to have originated in the 19th century. As early as 1845 the Protestant theologian and historian Philip Schaff discussed them in his The Principle of Protestantism. They were utilized by the Lutheran scholar F. E. Mayer in his The Religious Bodies of America in order to facilitate a comparative study of the faith and practice of Christian denominations in the United States. This is also treated in a theological pamphlet entitled Gospel and Scripture by the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Accommodation is the theological principle that God, while being in His nature unknowable and unreachable, has nevertheless communicated with humanity in a way which humans can understand and respond to. The concept is that scripture has accommodated, or made allowance for, the original audience's language and general level of understanding. Often included in these ideas is the notion of human sinfulness or capacity; so in other words God accommodates himself to the human capacities of those to whom biblical revelation is given.

The infallibility of the Church is the belief that the Holy Spirit preserves the Christian Church from errors that would contradict its essential doctrines. It is related to, but not the same as, indefectible, that is, "she remains and will remain the Institution of Salvation, founded by Christ, until the end of the world." The doctrine of infallibility is premised on the authority Jesus granted to the apostles to "bind and loose" and particularly the promises to Peter in regard to papal infallibility.

Biblical inspiration The doctrine that the human authors and editors of Bible were led or influenced by God

Biblical inspiration is the doctrine in Christian theology that the human authors and editors of the Bible were led or influenced by God with the result that their writings may be designated in some sense the word of God.

Prima scriptura is the Christian doctrine that canonized scripture is "first" or "above all" other sources of divine revelation. Implicitly, this view acknowledges that, besides canonical scripture, there are other guides for what a believer should believe and how he should live, such as the created order, traditions, charismatic gifts, mystical insight, angelic visitations, conscience, common sense, the views of experts, the spirit of the times or something else. Prima scriptura suggests that ways of knowing or understanding God and his will that do not originate from canonized scripture are perhaps helpful in interpreting that scripture, but testable by the canon and correctable by it, if they seem to contradict the scriptures.

The rule of faith is the name given to the ultimate authority or standard in religious belief. It was used by Early Christian writers as Tertullian. The phrase is sometimes used for early creeds.

Private revelation

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Catholic theology is the understanding of Catholic doctrine or teachings, and results from the studies of theologians. It is based on canonical scripture, and sacred tradition, as interpreted authoritatively by the magisterium of the Catholic Church. This article serves as an introduction to various topics in Catholic theology, with links to where fuller coverage is found.

Sensus fidei, also called sensus fidelium is, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "the supernatural appreciation of faith on the part of the whole people, when, from the bishops to the last of the faithful, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals." Quoting the document Lumen gentium of the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism adds: "By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority,... receives... the faith, once for all delivered to the saints. ...The People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life." The foundation of this can be found in Jesus' saying in Mt 16:18 that "the gates of Hell will not prevail against it," where "it" refers to the "Church", that is, the Lord's people that carries forward the living tradition of essential beliefs throughout history, with the Bishops overseeing that this tradition does not pursue the way of error.

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A dogma of the Catholic Church is defined as "a truth revealed by God, which the magisterium of the Church declared as binding." The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

The Church's Magisterium asserts that it exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging Catholics to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these.

The Deposit of Faith is the body of revealed truth in the Scriptures and Tradition proposed by the Roman Catholic Church for the belief of the faithful. The phrase has a similar use in the Episcopal Church.

Cessationism versus continuationism is a Christian theological dispute concerned with the question whether the charismatic gifts are currently in operation.

<i>The Shape of Sola Scriptura</i> book by Keith Mathison

The Shape of Sola Scriptura is a 2001 book by Reformed Christian theologian Keith Mathison. Mathison traces the development of sola scriptura from the early church to the present. He views the Protestant Reformation as a time of recovery of the doctrine that had been under assault from the fourth century. He argues that relativism and individualism permeate present-day teaching on the subject, and that widespread misunderstanding of the doctrine of sola scriptura has been eroding the church from within. This, in Mathison's view, has led to conversions from Protestantism to other religions, and has undermined the relationship among Scripture, church tradition, and individual believers as set forth by the early church and restated by the Magisterial Reformers.

Criticism of Protestantism covers critiques and questions raised about Protestantism, the Christian tradition which arose out of the Reformation. While critics praise Protestantism's Christ-centered and Bible-centered faith, Protestantism is faced with criticism mainly from the Catholic Church and some Orthodox Churches, although Protestant denominations have also engaged in self-critique and criticized one another.

References

  1. 1 2 Pope Paul VI. "Dei Verbum", §8, 18 November 1965
  2. Hardon S.J., James. The Catholic Catechism, Crown Publishing Group, 2011, p. 43 ISBN   9780307779588
  3. Hardon S.J., James. "Sacred Tradition", The Question and Answer Catholic Catechism, Doubleday Religious Publishing Group, 1981, p. 41 ISBN   9780385136648
  4. McGrath, Alister. 1998. Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Chapter 1 'The Patristic Period, c. 100451.'
  5. McGrath. op.cit. pp. 2930.
  6. McGrath. op.cit. p. 30.
  7. McGrath. op.cit. p. 30.
  8. 1 2 Bebis, George. "Tradition in the Orthodox Church", Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
  9. "Tradition and Traditions", in Leonid Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky, The Meaning of Icons, (Olten, Switzerland: Urs Graf-Verlag, 1952), 17, in the revised edition (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1982), 15.
  10. 1 2 Keenan, James F (17 January 2010). A History of Catholic Moral Theology in the Twentieth Century: From Confessing Sins to Liberating Consciences. p. 45. ISBN   9780826429292.
  11. White, James. "Does The Bible Teach Sola Scriptura?", Alpha & Omega Ministeries
  12. Evans, Craig A. and Sanders, James A., Luke and Scripture: The Function of Sacred Tradition in Luke-Acts, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001 ISBN   9781579106072
  13. Porter, Stanley. Sacred Tradition in the New Testament, Baker Publishing Group, ISBN   9780801030772
  14. Novak, Victor E. (5 August 2011). "Scripture, Tradition, and the Deposit of Faith". Virtueonline. Retrieved 14 August 2019.

Further reading