Scripture and Tradition in the teaching of the Catholic Church

I wish to continue here the discussion begun in the post and following combox below. You might wish to take up the discussion there in the combox here – as I will append my reactions to the previous discussion here also.

One comment first: I asked the question in the last post about the “origin” of the doctrine – or principle – of “sola scriptura”. The responses from PE and Pastor Weedon were sufficient to ascertain one thing – indeed the answer I was expecting from such honest chaps: Neither of them argued that “sola scriptura” is a doctrine/principle which has its origin in Scripture itself. Both believe that it arose through the reflection and development of the post-apostolic Church. THAT is significant. It is tantamount to admitting that “sola Scriptura” is a (gasp! shock!) tradition of the Church.

But, for now, the teaching of the Catholic Church on Revelation and the nature of the Sacred Scriptures from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

74 “God graciously arranged that the things he had once revealed for the salvation of all peoples should remain in their entirety, throughout the ages, and be transmitted to all generations. ” [DV 7; cf. 2 Cor 1:20; 3:16 – 4:6].

75 “Christ the Lord, in whom the entire Revelation of the most high God is summed up, commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel [Nb. not write]… In preaching the Gospel, they were to communicate the gifts of God to all men. This Gospel [nb. not “the scriptures”] was to be the source of all saving truth and moral discipline”32 [DV 7; cf. Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15].

76 In keeping with the Lord’s command, the Gospel was handed on [nb. Latin. transmissio] in two ways:

– orally “by the apostles who handed on [nb. Latin: tradiderunt], by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established [nb. Latin: in praedicatione orali, exemplis et institutionibus], what they themselves had received – whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit.” [DV 7]

– in writing “by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing” [DV 7].

77 “In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority” [DV 7# 2; St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 3, 1: PG 7/1, 848; Harvey, 2, 9]. Indeed, “the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.” [DV 8# 1].

78 This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it… “The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition…” [DV 8# 3].

79 “God, who spoke in the past, continues to converse with the Spouse of his beloved Son…” [DV 8# 3; cf. Col 3:16].

80 “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal” [DV 9].

81 “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit”42 [DV 9].

“And (Holy) Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.” [DV 9].

82 As a result the Church…”does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone…” [DV 9].

83 …The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition.

Tradition is to be distinguished from…[“]traditions[“], born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these [“]traditions[“] can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church’s Magisterium.

84 The apostles entrusted the “Sacred deposit” of the faith (the depositum fidei) [DV 10# 1; cf. I Tim 6:20; II Tim 1:12-14(Vulg.)], contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church…

85 “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone [nb. Latin: soli vivo Ecclesiae Magisterio!]. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ” [DV 10# 2]. This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

86 “Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it…” [DV 10§2].

87 Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles: “He who hears you, hears me”, [Lk 10:16; cf. LG 20] the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.

102 Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely [ie. his Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity] [cf. Heb 1:1-3]:

103 For this reason, the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord’s Body… [cf. DV 21].

104 In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, “but as what it really is, the word of God”67 [Th 2:13; cf. DV 24]…

105 God is the author of Sacred Scripture…
106 God inspired the human authors of the sacred books…
107 The inspired books teach the truth…

108 Still, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book”. Christianity is the religion of the “Word” of God, “not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living” [St. Bernard, S. missus est hom. 4, 11: PL 183, 86]…

111 …The Second Vatican Council indicates three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it. [cf. DV 12# 4].
112 1. Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture”…
113 2. Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”…
114 3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith [cf. Rom 12:6]…

115 According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

119 “It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgement. For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is u
ltimately subject to the judgement of the Church
which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God” [DV 12# 3].

But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me [St. Augustine, Contra epistolam Manichaei 5, 6: PL 42, 176].

120 It was by the apostolic Tradition that the Church discerned which writings are to be included in the list of the sacred books90 [cf. DV 8# 3].

124 “The Word of God, which is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, is set forth and displays its power in a most wonderful way in the writings of the New Testament” [DV 17; cf. Rom 1:16] which hand on the ultimate truth of God’s Revelation. Their central object is Jesus Christ, God’s incarnate Son… [cf. DV 20].

126 We can distinguish three stages in the formation of the Gospels:
1. The life and teaching of Jesus…
2. The oral tradition
3. The written Gospels…

129 Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament; but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as Revelation reaffirmed by our Lord himself [cf. Mk 12:29-31]. Besides, the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament [cf. 1 Cor 5:6-8; 10:1-11]…

132 “Therefore, the study of the sacred page should be the very soul of sacred theology. The ministry of the Word, too – pastoral preaching, catechetics and all forms of Christian instruction, among which the liturgical homily should hold pride of place – is healthily nourished and thrives in holiness through the Word of Scripture” [DV 24].

133 …Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ [DV 25; cf. Phil 3:8 and St. Jerome, Commentariorum in Isaiam libri xviii prol.: PL 24, 17B].

More to read in the comments in the combox!

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56 Responses to Scripture and Tradition in the teaching of the Catholic Church

  1. GAB says:

    Schutz, thankyou very much for the welcome. And for those links. Most interesting and pertinent.

    A couple of comments to other posters:

    There is very good reason for believing that Matthew as we have it now was either translated directly or substantially based upon an Aramaic original. Eusebius explicitly says that Matthew wrote a gospel in the Hebrew tongue (ie. Aramaic) first and that this was later rendered into Greek to give it wider distribution. Furthermore, though I know no Hebrew whatsoever and only a very little Greek, people I know who do have more than a passing acquaintance with these languages inform me that one can clearly detect a number of Hebraic/Aramaic idioms and words lying beneath the Greek in Matthew. Granted, I am taking their word for it, but still…

    Secondly, Vicci, I get what you mean when you talk about the Incarnation seeming to be inconsistent with Mary being ever-virgin. If I’m not mistaken, the problem is to do with the kenosis. God, when He becomes Man, should not be given any advantage or special treatment but should be, as Paul says (and you quoted), like us in all but sin. To suggest that His family life was something out of the ordinary seems to impinge upon that. I recall feeling something similar when I first thought seriously about the Immaculate Conception. I still feel it when certain people suggest Mary had a painless delivery. In answer I can only say that, for my part, I don’t see why Mary’s perpetual virginity should be a necessary truth (ie. had to happen) only that it is true. Christ wasn’t the first to be an only child. Quite apart from Jerome’s arguments (which I, for one, find convincing scripturally- it makes no sense to me why James and Joses, etc. should have two mothers), if there had been other blood relatives from Christ’s immediate family, the same thing would have happened to them as happened to Mary- they would have been accorded special honour. The fact that Mary alone was accorded special honour as time went on is significant. Or, at the very least, vaguely suspicious.

    Vicci said: “She was picked by God -gosh, as if any earthly veneration could add to that!” It doesn’t seek to add to it (as you rightly point out, how could it?), merely to recognise it.

    Vicci said: “It’s a pity so much effort is spent in ‘fighting’ this POV, when
    there’s so much work to do.
    I’m sure you’re busy!

    Blessings to you as yu go about it.” Well put.

  2. Vicci says:

    I am not convinced!
    (but I must admit a certain allure in all of this..)

    The chat has been, in the main, a joy. I’ve been led to get out the Books, and have a good read. No bad thing! As the discussion has developed, a sense of people being really nice.. (but sticking to their they should) has pervaded Schutz’s ‘com-box’.
    Not unique..but refreshing!

    I like the invoking of the ‘authority of Luther’ in all of this. Nice touch! Not so much because he’s Luther..but because he’s a Doctor !!
    I’m sure that similar invocation of his thoughts on veneration of Mary, or praying to her (or the saints) will also feature!
    My sources suggest strongly that the Greek Matthew shows a form which repudiates the suggestion of translation. I’m no scholar, so I defer to such scholarly opinion. (how they ‘know’ such stuff is hard to grasp!).
    Clearly, there is no extant Hebrew (Aramaic) version.

    Any Germans present?
    I am wondering if Luther translated the troublesome ‘brother’ as ‘cousin’?
    ( or ‘friend, relative, mate’..whatever.)??

    Now, I am taking my (2nd!) glass of Barossa Semillon, and leaving the discussion for folk more learned..and less cheeky.


    Clearly God is a Lutheran!!

  3. Past Elder says:

    As to the Hebraic original nature of the Greek Matthew, evidence of this starts from Word One, I was taught before the Revolution. Matthew offers a genealogy of Jesus back to Abraham; Luke back to Adam. For the Jewish audience of the original Matthew, Abraham is what counts and all that is needed to establish Jesus’ pedigree so to speak; for the Gentile audience of Luke, desecent from Adam is shown to connect him with all men, not just Jews.

    As to how Luther handled it, I am not a German but will have to do until one comes along, though I grew up among the bleeders, was taught by them, speak a Bavarian dialect, can outlast the heartiest grandmother doing the polka at a wedding reception, and will not have Christmas unless stollen and sausage are served for breakfast, the true test of Germanicity, Germanitude, Germanness, and Germanhood.

    So for starters, Luther in John 7:5 uses Brueder, in Mark 3:21 uses die Seinen and Brueder.

  4. William Weedon says:

    Oh, dear. So much…

    Well, a beginning:

    Dear David, I do not see a contradiction at all. Sacred Scripture teaches us the value of Tradition (and also teaches us to distinguish between mere human traditions and apostolic ones); Tradition teaches us that the sacred Scriptures are the sole source for the foundations of Christian dogma because our faith rests upon the revelation made to the Apostles and Prophets and not on any other revelations made to men, regardless of their sanctity. The Scriptures do not derive their authority from Tradition’s witness about them; they derive their authority from being incontrovertibly the Word of God.


    This Lutheran holds with Dr. Luther and the entire Lutheran Church for centuries that the Blessed Virgin Mother remained Virgin her whole life through. The Lutheran Symbols state this as well: “So she is truly the Mother of God and yet has remained a Virgin.” SD VII:24 I wrote an article about this that Forum Letter published at Christmas. If you email me, I’d be happy to share a copy of the article with you.

  5. Vicci says:

    Thanks, Pastor W.
    I have ‘Asked Pastor’
    Hopefully it’s worked.


  6. William Weedon says:

    I think I’ll post it here as well. It might be of some use to others (and hopefully the Forum folks won’t yell at me):

    Ever-Virgin? But We’re LUTHERANS!

    Because Lutherans are not immune to the historical amnesia that characterizes so much of our world, it is not surprising that they react with shock when they read in the Lutheran Symbols such words as these:

    “The Son became man in this manner: He was conceived, without cooperation of man, by the Holy Spirit and was born of the pure, holy [Latin: and ever-]Virgin Mary.” SA I 1:4

    “Therefore, she is truly the mother of God and yet has remained a virgin.” FC SD VIII:24

    What was rather a commonplace to earlier generations of Lutherans has become all but a novelty among them in this day and age: the notion that Blessed Mary remained a virgin until her death.

    Now, note the use of the word “until” in the previous sentence. Quite obviously I did not mean that AFTER her death she ceased to be a virgin! The word “until” doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t necessarily say diddly about what comes afterwards. It’s attention is fixed on “up to that point.” So St. Jerome and the Lutheran Reformers argued we must understand the “until” in Matt 1. “He did not know her until she had given birth to a son.” The “until” there – eos – says nothing about what happened next.

    But doesn’t the Bible teach that Jesus had brothers and sisters? Indeed it does. But a brother or sister does not mean, necessarily, a son or daughter of Mary. In fact, it is rather striking that they are never called Mary’s children in the Sacred Scriptures and that at the cross our omniscient Lord (who realized that St. James, at least, among his brothers would shortly be a believer and leader of the Church) entrusted the Blessed Mother into the care and keeping of St. John. For century upon century, Christians understood this as a clear indication that Mary had no other offspring to look after her.

    How did the early Lutherans speak of this? Luther was well known for saying we ought not make too much of the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Mother. In this he was not innovating, but following the wisdom of St. Basil the Great. In a Christmas homily, that great father once observed:

    For “he did not know her” – it says – “until she gave birth to a Son, her firstborn.” But this could make one suppose that Mary, after having offered in all her purity her own service in giving birth to the Lord, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, did not subsequently refrain from normal conjugal relations. That would not have affected the teaching of our religion at all, because Mary’s virginity was necessary until the service of the Incarnation, and what happened afterward need not be investigated in order to affect the doctrine of the mystery. But since the lovers of Christ [that is, the faithful] do not allow themselves to hear that the Mother of God ceased at a given moment to be a virgin, we consider their testimony sufficient. Homily [PG 31, 1468]

    Yet Luther similarly had no truck for those who denied her ever-virginity. He wrote, quite scathingly:

    Helvidius, that fool, was also willing to credit Mary with more sons after Christ’s birth because of the words of the Evangelist: ‘And he knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born Son.’ This had to be understood, so he thought, as though she had more sons after the first-born Son. How stupid he was! He received a fitting answer from Jerome. [St. Louis XX:2098, cited in Pieper II:308]

    Thus, though Luther was opposed to making a great issue of the topic, he certainly believed it and not only wrote about it, but preached it. In his homily delivered on the Eve of the Day of Circumcision in 1541, only a few short years before his death, he proclaimed:
    Now, although Mary was not required to do this – the Law of Moses having no claim over her, for she had given birth without pain and her virginity remained unsullied – nevertheless, she kept quiet and submitted herself to the common law of all women, and let herself be accounted unclean. She was, without doubt, a pure, chaste virgin before the birth, in the birth, and after the birth, and could certainly have gone out of the house after giving birth, not only because of her exemption from the Law, but because of the interrupted soundness of her body. For her son did not detract from her virginity, but actually strengthened it…. [House Postils III:256]

    Nor may we suppose this a bit of medieval catholic leftovers that the fervor of the Gospel had not yet cleansed from the great Reformer. A century after the Reformation, Johann Gerhard’s Sacred Meditations announce:

    He is the first and only-begotten of His mother here on earth, who according to His divine nature is the first and only-begotten of His Father in heaven. [Sacred Meditations XIV]

    And in his Christmas homilies, the perpetual virginity remained a recurring theme. For example, using typology he sees the mystery of the perpetual virginity hidden in the account of Gideon’s fleece:

    Thus, in Jud. 6:38,40 God performs a sign before Gideon so that the dew fell on his spread-out fleece, but the entire ground remained dry; the next morning, the fleece remained dry and the ground was wet. Thus the pure virgin Mary alone among all women, through the working of the Holy Spirit, received the Christ-dew, about which Isaiah 45:8 states: Drip down you heavens from above. Later, this dew came upon the entire earth, that is, the fruits of this birth pertain to all mankind; however, Mary once more became a dry pelt, that is, she remained a pure virgin after the birth, just as she was before the birth. [Postilla I:51]

    The examples could be multiplied, but these will suffice to demonstrate that our Lutheran forebears both assumed, meditated upon, and publicly taught the perpetual virginity of Blessed Mary. While rightly noting that no doctrine hinges upon confessing this, they nevertheless clung to it. Why?

    It was how they were taught to read the Sacred Scriptures. They firmly believed that the entirety of the Sacred Scriptures were a testimony to the Savior, and their read was typological. Thus, they found figures of Mary’s perpetual virginity in the Old Testament. Not just Gideon’s fleece, but Ezekiel’s vision of the closed door through which none may pass but the Lord (Ez. 44:2) and Aaron’s rod that budded and numerous others. Their focus was not so much upon Mary in all of this, as upon her Son, and the popular belief that being born of a virgin without violating her virginity demonstrated clearly that her Son was not only man, but truly the Logos enfleshed.

    How do we read the Scriptures? Do we read them the same way our Lutheran forebears did? If so, we’d not be quite so shocked to discover that the Lutherans could joyfully hold to a quite old and established tradition which, while not explicit in the Sacred Scriptures, they held to be consonant with them and certainly not contradictory to them. I would humbly suggest that what matters about the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Mother is not so much the doctrinal freight of the teaching itself as the light it casts upon how we receive tradition in the Lutheran Church.

    Luther once addressed the topic – not in the context of perpetual virginity, but of the baptism of infants. His words are instructive:

    I did not invent it [infant baptism]. It came to me by tradition and I was persuaded by no word of Scripture that it was wrong. [AE 40:254]

    Such words could equally well apply to the attitude of the great teachers in our Churches during the 16th and 17th centuries regarding, among other things, the perpetual virginity.

    At work here is what Krauth once observed about the difference between a Lutheran and a Reformed approach to Scripture:

    In the former [the Reformed tradition], Scripture is rega
    rded more exclusively as sole source; in the latter [the Lutheran], more as a norm of a doctrine which is evolved from the analogy of faith, and to which, consequently, the pure exegetical and confessional tradition of the Church possesses more value. [Conservative Reformation, p. 123]

    Blessed Mary, Ever-Virgin, then, was what they received from the Church in ages before them and which no Scripture convinced them was in error. For myself, I believe we were richer in those days before a hermeneutic of suspicion about tradition [show me where the Bible says THAT] became so prevalent in our Churches.

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