For most Protestants, the word “Tradition” would be something that would raise a red flag. They see Catholic Tradition as some sort of man-made traditions, the kind Christ warned against in Matthew 15:1-9 and Mark 7:1-13. It is where Jesus condemned “traditions of men which nullify the Word of God.” Some non-Catholic Christians would see some teachings that come from Catholic Tradition as man-made doctrines that conflict with biblical teachings. They would tell you that all authority comes from the Bible alone and nothing else. They might feel like Catholics have added things to what they believe that goes beyond what the Bible teaches.
Well, the Bible (the canon of the New Testament) is a tradition itself. The New Testament is a Catholic tradition that all Christians follow today. The books that belong in the New Testament are a part of Tradition. And every Christian follows and accepts that Tradition, if not, you would not have a Bible. You would have no way of knowing which books were inspired and which were not, if it wasn’t for Church Tradition.
What is Tradition. Tradition is the living transmission of the message of the Gospel in the Church. The oral preaching of the Apostles, and the written message of salvation under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Bible), are conserved and handed on as the deposit of faith through the apostolic succession in the Church. Both the living Tradition and the written Scriptures have their common source in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ (paragraphs #75-82 Catechism of the Catholic Church). The theological, liturgical, disciplinary, and devotional traditions of the local churches both contain and can be distinguished from this apostolic Tradition (#83 CCC).
For Catholics, Tradition is another word for what is called the “Deposit of Faith.” St. Jude said, “The faith once and for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). The Greek word St. Jude used for “handed down” is a word from which we get the English word “tradition.” The “deposit of faith,” was handed on to the Church from Christ and the Apostles.
Consider this analogy from apologist and author Patrick Madrid:
“An acorn is the same identical thing as the oak tree it grows into, even though they appear different. The same is true of Tradition (i.e., doctrine). It may have been expressed in terms or in ways that might seem removed or even different from how it is expressed in the life of the Church today. The Trinity doctrine is a good example. It was not nearly so well thought out in the second century as it is today, nor was the precise theological vocabulary that the Church relies on today developed in those early years. This is why some people are perplexed when they see some Catholic Traditions or customs that seem much more ritualized or codified than they appear to have been in the early Church. Don’t let that confuse or disturb you. Just as an acorn grows and develops into an oak tree and remains the same essential organism it always was, so too with Tradition in the life of the Church. It is a living tradition, so we can and should expect it to mature and amplify as we move through time” (Patrick Madrid, Why Is That in Tradition, pgs. 19-20).
How did St. Paul view the subject of Tradition? Well, in 1Corinthians 11:1-2 he says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.” St. Paul helps us begin to see more fully the nature of Sacred Tradition in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, when he says, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” It is here that we see that some teachings were handed down to the Church through the written word (Sacred Scripture) and some are handed down through oral or “living Sacred Tradition.”
The Catholic Church defines Tradition in two ways. The first meaning refers to what some call as the “small-t” traditions that are man-made, and therefore can be changed as the needs of the Church dictate. They are what is known as the Church’s customs and disciplines (such things as holy days of obligation, not eating meat on Fridays during lent, what colored liturgical vestments to be worn at different seasons of the year, etc.). But, there is a category of Tradition that is known as the “capital-T” Traditions that are doctrinal and therefore unchangeable. These Traditions are not man-made, but are God-made. They are revealed truth given to the Church by Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Truths given to the Apostles that were inspired by the Holy Spirit so it could be passed on to the Church. Revelation from God that needed to be taught and explained.
St. Paul spoke to the devine aspect of Tradition:
“Our exhortation was not from delusion or impure motives, nor did it work through deception. But as we were judged worthy by God to be entrusted with the gospel, that is how we speak, not as trying to please human beings, but rather God, who judges our hearts….And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now in work in you who believe” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, 13).
Until next time, God bless.