Friday, August 25, 2006

Response - Scripture and Tradition (Part 1)

Continuing the discussion, Mr. Cauley responded to my Part 1 response in his Thu Aug 24, 2006 12:42 am post on the Preacher's Files. The following is my response to him.

As time permits, I will do my best to respond to what you've said. I just don't want to make any promises I can't keep!

Kevin Cauley wrote:
Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

"Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical or devotional 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."
In essence, what this statement does, is make Catholic Tradition (with a big "T") immune from criticism of change. How so? Well, if Tradition (with a big "T") ever does change, the Catholic Catechism makes it so that they can simply declare it a tradition (with a little "t") and say, "Well, it was never part of our Tradition (with a big "T") to begin with." It is a very convenient doctrine to have because changes can be made in the big "T" Tradition without actually having to admit to making changes in the big "T" Tradition.

It may seem "convenient" to you, but it simply is what it is to me. If you can find me an example of a teaching that was once seen as unchangeable, and later was changed, that might help.

I have to wonder whether past Catholic doctrines which, at the time were consider big "T" Tradition, were later, after the doctrines were abandoned, decided only to be little "t" traditions. One such example would be the scientific discovery of a heliocentric solar system. The Catholic Church opposed that teaching for many years (and even persecuted some for believing it, such as Galileo) before finally accepting it. Was that not a change in big "T" Tradition?

This is largely an exaggeration that has been perpetuated by people trying to prove that science is incompatible with religion, and that religion tries to stifle science. Suffice it to say, the problem was not the heliocentric theory itself, as Galileo was not the first to propose it, rather, it was the fact that Galileo claimed he had proven it (when he had not), and tried to move it into the theological realm.

This explains:

Galileo could have safely proposed heliocentricity as a theory or a method to more simply account for the planets’ motions. His problem arose when he stopped proposing it as a scientific theory and began proclaiming it as truth, though there was no conclusive proof of it at the time. Even so, Galileo would not have been in so much trouble if he had chosen to stay within the realm of science and out of the realm of theology. But, despite his friends’ warnings, he insisted on moving the debate onto theological grounds.

In 1614, Galileo felt compelled to answer the charge that this "new science" was contrary to certain Scripture passages. His opponents pointed to Bible passages with statements like, "And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed . . ." (Josh. 10:13). This is not an isolated occurrence. Psalms 93 and 104 and Ecclesiastes 1:5 also speak of celestial motion and terrestrial stability. A literalistic reading of these passages would have to be abandoned if the heliocentric theory were adopted. Yet this should not have posed a problem. As Augustine put it, "One does not read in the Gospel that the Lord said: ‘I will send you the Paraclete who will teach you about the course of the sun and moon.’ For he willed to make them Christians, not mathematicians." Following Augustine’s example, Galileo urged caution in not interpreting these biblical statements too literally.


Theologians were not prepared to entertain the heliocentric theory based on a layman’s interpretation. Yet Galileo insisted on moving the debate into a theological realm. There is little question that if Galileo had kept the discussion within the accepted boundaries of astronomy (i.e., predicting planetary motions) and had not claimed physical truth for the heliocentric theory, the issue would not have escalated to the point it did. After all, he had not proved the new theory beyond reasonable doubt.

(For more on Galileo, see my previous post)

Another such example is the Vatican Council's "formulation" of the doctrine of infallibility in 1870. After this pronouncement Catholics will tell you that this doctrine was always "assumed" by the church to be true prior to this time all the way back to the days of the apostles. That's exactly the kind of convenient teaching that Catholicism loves. In that way, there has been no change, per se, yet, at the same time, there can be a formal declaration of such a doctrine. Why the need for the formal declaration if there hasn't been any change? It's an example of a "tradition" becoming a "Tradition."

You may find it suspect, but that doesn't prove that the Catholic claim that it was always held is false. If you look at the history of Catholicism, you will find many formal definitions and pronouncements later in history of teachings that were always clearly taught. Why? Often because controversey had arisen over a certain teaching, and to make sure people knew without a doubt what the truth was, the Church officially declared one way or the other so that there would be no question. Up until that point, it had been accepted without question, but then it was questioned, and the Church had to settle the question once and for all. This is how the Church works, and how the major heresies were declared and condemned.

So, while I understand that Catholicism teaches that their "Tradition" never changes, it is really a clever ruse. What they really are saying is that if "Tradition" is ever proved to be wrong, then it must never have been part of "Tradition." Additionally, if Catholicism decides to accept a new doctrine, they can simply proclaim that it was always part of their "Tradition" even though it started as a "tradition." In that way, "Tradition" never changes, but it does so by definition, not by factuality. That is to say, Catholicism defines "Tradition" as "never changing doctrine" and thus, if a doctrine changes it either wasn't "Tradition" to begin with or it always was depending upon the change. This is the logical fallacy known as begging the question.

Again, you may find it "convenient," but you haven't shown an proof that it is begging the question.

From an earlier post:

These traditional teachings then took on an air of authority superior to the scriptures themselves.

This is where we see the Rabbinic traditions as going wrong, as even Catholics don't believe our Oral Tradition is above the scriptures, we believe they are equally authoritative and important, since we believe they are both part of God's Word. We believe that none of the Oral Tradition can contradict the scriptures, and we believe none of it does. I understand you don't agree with that, but I just thought I'd point out what we see as the difference between the Jews and us.

Mr. Cauley's response:
I'm sure the Jews would have said something similar. That should cause you great concern. My point was that the Catholic Encyclopedia rightly judged that Jewish tradition became elevated above scripture. That's the danger with accepting the authority of tradition. When the tradition ends up conflicting with the scripture (and they always do), the tradition always wins out and the scripture always takes second place.

This is full of assumptions. If it was man made tradition, certainly there would be great concern. But as I'm convinced our Tradition is given and protected by God, I'm not worried in the least. I disagree that our Tradition conflicts with scripture.

I'm sure the Jews had "explanations" for why Jesus was wrong about His analysis as well, but the "explanation" only reinforces the point that tradition has been elevated above scripture to begin with. That's exactly what has happened with Catholicism. One such example is the "explanation" that Catholicism offers for why it is acceptable to call religious leaders "fathers" when Jesus clearly said not to do such in Matthew 23:9. Here is a clear conflict between Catholic Tradition and scripture. What has won out? Not scripture, but tradition.

No faithful Catholic will ever say Jesus was wrong, and they will never say the scriptures were wrong. In our understanding, there is no conflict at all. And while your understanding may seem right to you, I have to wonder by what authority you claim your interpretation to be the correct one?

Actually, the Catholic Catechism is conflicted on this point. Consider the following two statements:

"The apostles entrusted the "Sacred deposit" of the faith (the depositum fidei), contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church. "By adhering to [this heritage] the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remains always faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. So, in maintaining, practicing and professing the faith that has been handed on, there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful."
In the very next paragraph it says:

"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. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ." This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome."
It's a rather convenient doctrine to say that the entire church has been entrusted with God's word, but that "authentic interpretation of the Word of God" is entrusted to the living teaching office alone. So, the church has the word, but can't interpret it. If you can't interpret it, then how can you really have it? This is another convenient teaching that allows Catholicism to both have a "fixed" set of teaching (i.e. what the church has) while allowing changes as the papacy sees fit (what the office of the living teaching says scripture says). Quite deceptive.

I'm not sure what you see as the problem in the two texts you quoted? We have the teachings of Christ for the Church, which the teaching office is in charge of preserving and interpreting correctly. It's like we have the laws of our nation, which government officials and particular branches are in charge of properly interpreting for the people. The pope does not change anything. There's nothing deceptive about's very easy to claim that, but I haven't seen any proof. (And I don't mean from you, I mean from the time I started investigating Catholicism to try and disprove it, until now. I didn't start out wanting to be Catholic, you know.)

You've now misrepresented me. I never said that Jesus was opposed to all tradition. What I said was:

"Jesus was opposed to the traditions of men becoming the strainer through which scripture was understood."

It certainly wasn't intentional, I apologize for mistating your position. I agree with this.

This is exactly what Catholicism does. It strains scripture through the traditions of men. I understand that Catholicism claims them to be God's tradition, but again, that must be proved, not assumed.

This, of course, I disagree with. And I know nothing I say will convince you otherwise, and it's not my intention to do so.

This is exactly what is in contention. I understand that Catholics believe that THEIR tradition is sanctioned by God and thereby NOT human tradition. However, it's one thing to SAY that; it's an entirely different thing to prove that. That's where Catholicism falls far short.

So you say, and I disagree. I agree, one shouldn't just accept such a claim without proof. I've posted the scriptures that I believe show Christ gave the apostles tradition, who passed that on, and expected it to be followed. I haven't seen any scripture saying that scripture alone is sufficient. I have seen historical proof, especially how the Bible came about. I see in the scriptures that a Church was instituted, not a book. I see the Church called "the pillar and ground of truth," not a book. So, personally, I have seen proof, and I have tried to provide explanations of that as best I can.

I'll agree with you that there was apostolic revelation outside of written revelation in the first century. Where we disagree, however, is that this non-written public revelation was entrusted to the church. It was not. In fact, the main impetus of the early church was to confirm the written revelation and ferret out the oral tradition, just the opposite of what Catholicism claims. Such makes suspect all of Catholic oral tradition.

I don't find this anywhere in the scriptures, quite the opposite.

The very fact of the matter is that early in the 2nd century A.D. the written messages of the apostles were already being read as scripture among the churches. We know that they were read as scripture when they were originally delivered to the early churches, for so the writings themselves say (Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27). It is a myth, however, to say that the 1st and 2nd century churches didn't have the New Testament. Consider "The Formation of the New Testament Canon." History shows that they actually did and that they distinguished such teachings from the mere writings/traditions of men.

By the middle to end of the second century, you actually have writings that are listing the books of the New Testament as being part of the apostles inspired writings. One such example is the Muratorium Fragment. There is little discussion, if any, to authoritative tradition at this time. Why would that be? Mainly because they were not concerned with oral tradition as they were with inspired written documents.

My answer would be because there was no question about what that tradition was, it was very much agreed upon. It was a bit later that major heresies arose (arianism, pelagianism, nestorianism, etc), which challenged Sacred Tradition. Because of the Church's God-given authority, though, they were able to settle the matters. Just like with scriptures, though there were certainly texts they agreed were inspired, there were also arguments over other texts and whether or not they were inspired, and because of the Church's authority, they were able to settle the matter once and for all.

I probably won't be able to keep going back and forth, as I'm sure it could last forever! I'll respond to the other posts that have already been written, but beyond that I'm afraid I may have to refrain.

No comments: