Scripture and Tradition in Catholicism and Lutheranism: A reply to Weedon

This blog could get very complicated. I will try to keep it simple. It is in response to Pastor Weedon’s blog on the subject of “The Catholic Principle and Lutheranism”. I will address the essay by Heath Curtis in a separate blog.

1) Thanks for the reference to Pius XII Mediator Dei and lex orandi, lex credendi (cf. paras 46-52). It is common knowlege that the princple can be reversed, but I did not know that the reversal had this level of magisterial approval. Certainly the original was that the rule of prayer established the rule of belief. Orthodox Christians have been very faithful to this. However, the Orthodox are missing the essential element of a living magisterium to establish, uphold and clarify the tenants of their faith and so are unable in practice to reverse the principle even if they would agree with it in theory. Lutherans, of course, subject the rule of prayer to the interogation of Scripture (and the Confessions). It is significant that in his encyclical Pius XII does not envisage Scripture as vetoing elements of liturgical or devotional practice, but “the ecclesiastical hierarchy”. It is this “hierarchy” which has

organised and regulated divine worship, enriching it constantly with new splendour and beauty, to the glory of God and the spiritual benefit of Christians. What is more, it has not been slow – keeping the substance of the Mass and sacraments carefully intact – to modify what it deemed not altogether fitting, and to add what appeared more likely to increase the honour paid to Jesus Christ and the august Trinity, and to instruct and stimulate the Christian people to greater advantage. (MD p.49)

Furthermore, he acknowledges that there has been a “progress and development of the sacred liturgy during the long and glorious life of the Church” which parallels the development of doctrine, including doctrines of the Word of God, the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and Mary as the Virgin Mother of God (cf. pp. 51ff). In any case, one thing that Pius XII certainly does is maintain the connection between church practice and church dogma in mutual relationship, which Pastor Weedon’s scheme tends to separate.

2) Weedon says that

The scriptures provide a negative critique on Tradition: Whatever in Tradition is contrary to the witness of the Sacred Scriptures must be rejected, whatever is not is accepted.

This in fact gets it exactly the wrong way round from Catholic thinking. Catholics regard Sacred Tradition as the safeguard of the Apostolic Faith which was committed to writing in the Sacred Scriptures, rather than the Scriptures as the safeguard of Apostolic Faith which was passed on in Sacred Tradition.

3) Catholics, like Lutherans, are also adamant that

only God’s Word shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel can do so.

Where we differ is in our understanding and definition of the Word of God. Lutherans equate the Word of God with Sacred Scripture in such a way that the only source of God’s Revelation is Sacred Scripture. Catholics understand Word of God to mean the fullness of God’s Revelation. What this includes is nicely set out in the Lineamenta for the 2008 Synod of Bishops on the Word of God. In brief, the full revelation of the Word of God includes (cf. para. 9):

a – the Eternal Word of God, the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, the Son of the Father
b – the created world [which] “tells of the glory of God” (Ps 19:1
c – “The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14): The Word of God par excellence, the ultimate and definitive Word, is Jesus Christ.
d – the words of man [which] are taken as the words of God, resounding in the proclamation of the prophets and the apostles
e – Sacred Scripture, under divine inspiration, [which] unites Jesus-the-Word to the words of the prophets and apostles…
f – But the Word of God is not locked away in writing. Even though Revelation ended with the death of the last apostle, the Word-Revealed continues to be proclaimed and heard throughout Church history…through spirited preaching and many other forms in service to the Gospel.

The latter can be taken to include the authoritative teaching role of the Magisterium and by inference the Sacred Tradition of the Church.

4) Pastor Weedon sets up a false dichotomy between “divine mandates” as “the way of the law” and “gifts from the Holy Spirit through the Church for her use…in whatever way best serves the gospel.” If something has been given to the Church as a “gift of the Holy Spirit” for the sake of the Gospel, do we in fact have a choice as to whether or not we should use it?

5) Pastor Weedon states that “the present church has authority to regulate” the “ceremonies that have come down to her from antiquity”. Did this apply to the Church of the 16th Century? Because if it did, the Lutherans at the time directly opposed the Church’s authority to do so. Which raises the question: by Whose authority doest the church regulate matters of ceremony? Is there any other authority than the authority of Christ? and if not, then did the Lutherans of the 16th Century flout the authority of Christ by flouting the authority of the “present church”?

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5 Responses to Scripture and Tradition in Catholicism and Lutheranism: A reply to Weedon

  1. Christopher says:

    the Orthodox are missing the essential element of a living magisterium to establish, uphold and clarify the tenants of their faith

    This is not true. What the Orthodox do not have is a single living person – apart from Jesus Christ – whose own view on a subject is given to be the final authority. The ‘living Magesterium’ of the Orthodox Church is in fact the conciliarity of the bishops of the local churches, which comprise the Church. You would be right to point out how difficult it is to get this lot to agree (much like herding cats) and this is exactly the point. Conciliarity is a block against innovationism. Changes cannot be made nor dogmas defined anew – apart from those already encapsulated in Holy Tradition – without a clear consensus of the Church as a whole: current and former bishops and Fathers, current and former laity by the ‘acceptance’ of a new doctrine or teaching.

    Tradition and the working of the Spirit in her people is the proper place for the traditioning on of Holy Tradition, not dogmatic parsing. Tradition itself is the living, grace guided ‘Magesterium’ of the Church with its own authority distinct from but not radically lower than that of the defined dogmas of Ecumenical Councils.

    Mystery, prayer and worship, contemplation and a ‘this too shall pass’ are most often the answers that this form of Magesterium gives. A tendency to clearly and infallibly address every passing fad and philosophy, of parsing each potentiality and possibility derived from a stray phrase of a Father can set one up for greater and greater difficulties as the structure takes on more and more weight as it seeks to rise to the heavens a la Babel.

  2. William Weedon says:


    On points #4 and #5, just a couple clarifications:

    #4 recognizes that what the Holy Spirit gives to Church in one time and place need not be the same as how He leads in another situation. There was a time when ALL Christians took home the consecrated species to receive during the week – and even to share with those who might desire the Sacrament. Does that mean that such practice should have been preserved at all times and places? Or take the fact that according to liturgiologists the Roman Mass likely did not originally include the Our Father. St. Gregory the Great added it (remember his letter to the bishop of Syracuse in reponse to him “bringing Greek additions” to the Roman rite!). These are the sorts of things to which I refer, which the Church in her freedom receives and rejoices in, but never says: “This is the way it has to be everywhere and for all time.”

    On point #5, the present Church *in every place* – I left that out by accident. The Lutheran contention in the 16th century was that Roman dietary laws are fine in Rome, but they cannot be imposed as divinely mandated upon German Christians. The phrase I was alluding to was in the FC Ep X:4 “We believe, teach, and confess that the community of God [Latin: churches of God] (in every place [Latin: every land] and at every time according to its circumstance) has the power to change such worship ceremonies in a way that may be most useful and edifying to the community of God [Latin: churches of God].”

  3. Schütz says:


    I have a great deal of sympathy for the Orthodox situation, regarding the difficulty of getting the bishops to act together with magisterial unity. The Catholic situation would be exactly the same if it were not for the service of the Petrine Ministry. Centuries ago, Luther conceded that although the best thing for the Church would be that all bishops lived in equality and love, such a thing is hardly possible without the papacy! So yes, I know that Orthodox bishops have magisterium, and I agree with the principle of conciliarity (we also hold to that in the modified form of collegiality), but one may ask its value if it cannot be exercised in a clear voice.

    You say that “conciliarity is a block against innovationism”. That is true, but the historical fact is that the Orthodox Churches have managed nothing other than local or national synods for the last 1000 years or more. For this reason, the conciliar instrument has been unable to address issues of global importance with the required authority at the required moment.

    “Dogmatic Parsing”? I haven’t heard that term before, but truly, if the language of faith may be spoken, surely it has a grammar, and surely it can be “parsed”? If a dogma has been revealed, surely that thing can be reflected upon with the authority that Christ gives his Church?

    With regard to a magisterial attitude of “mystery, prayer and worship, contemplation and a ‘this too shall pass'” compared to a “tendency to clearly and infallibly address every passing fad and philosophy”: Yes, at times the Roman method may seem to go too far in addressing the “joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time” (GS 1), but by contrast, the Orthodox appear sometimes to be far to “other worldly” to be of any earthly use.

  4. Schütz says:

    Pastor Weedon,

    Thank you for these clarifications.

    On: #4 Yes, indeed, changes have been made to liturgical practice and the Church has the authority to make these changes–as Pope Pius XII pointed out in Mediator Dei. The Church does so according to “fittingness”. It may be fitting that some things are done away with; other things may be so fitting as to be required by law. In general, the Catholic Church, like the Lutheran Church makes a distinction between those things required by divine mandate and those which are simply ecclesiastical law for the bene esse of the Church. But even on ecclesiastical matters, it is the Church’s “hierarchy” (as Pius XII puts it) who determine what is and what is not lawful in liturgical matters.

    On #5, the clarification is essential, because it identifies a strong shift in ecclesiology that took place among the Reformation churches–namely the shift to the notion of territorial churches (these lasted until the Prussian Empire, I understand) in which the local prince was often the chief authority.

    In contrast to the FC, we Catholics DO NOT “believe, teach, or confess that the churches of God in every land and at every time according to its circumstance has the power to change such worship ceremonies in a way that may be most useful and edifying to the churches of God” — at least not in such a way as to threaten the unity of eucharistic communion between the Churches.

    Local variations of the liturgy are governed in the Catholic Church by the following canons:

    Canon 846 of the Code of Canon Law states: “The liturgical books approved by the competent authority are to be faithfully observed in the celebration of the sacraments; therefore no one on personal authority may add, remove or change anything in them.”

    Number 22 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Vatican II) states: “Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the [local] bishop. In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established. Therefore, absolutely no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”

    Thus the local bishop or local territorial church (eg. an Eastern Rite) has the authority to regulate the liturgy within the limits of certain canons, but these changes are always to be made in communion with the whole Church–which in practice means with the approval of the Holy See. Aside from this, no-one at all, acting on their own authority, has the authority to make changes to the liturgy.

  5. Christopher says:

    far to “other worldly” to be of any earthly use.

    I think this is exactly true: the Orthodox see the Roman model as being very an “earthly” use of power to settle issues in a very “earthly” way. I would suggest that many “issues of global importance” at the time simply have not been issues of more than local or temporary import – not requiring dogmatic formulation, which is what an ecumenical council is for. Orthodox, out of kindness and forebearance, have refused to call many of their Councils “Ecumenical” so as not to impede Rome’s repentance for her arrogance. This is changing though, and one will sometimes see the original 8th Ecumenical Council that ended the Photian Schism as such, and one will sometimes also see one or all of the Palamite Councils referred to as the 9th.

    Otherwise, issues are dealt with on a local level by the local Church, or by the conciliarity of one, more, or all of the local Churches, e.g., the recent deposition and election of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, the various Councils in Moscow attended by Patriarchs, etc. The high degree of unanimity in the Orthodox Church – though far, far from perfect unity of mind – is proof that a centralized court of last appeal is not necessary, but simply desired.

    So, one must be careful in assuming that Orthodoxy says nothing about “issues of global [or earthly] importance” simply because they don’t speak from a central organ on behalf of all. Each bishop and local Church makes such statement on a regular basis, e.g., Moscow’s “Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church”, Constantinople’s various environmental conferences, and other more local issues facing different Orthodox Churches regarding abortion, business practices, etc.

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