Thursday, August 24, 2006

Scripture and Tradition (Part 1)

I was recently invited to read an article by a Church of Christ preacher named Kevin Cauley over at the Preacher's Files,(last post on that page). Interestingly enough, I'm not sure if Mr. Cauley is aware of this, but his father and my grandfather are elders at the same congregation, the congregation where I grew up, and our families know each other. Who would have thought that I, a mere housewife, would be discussing such things with an experienced preacher like Mr. Cauley? And yet, here I am, spending way too much time explaining my POV, lol.

This is the first part of his article on Catholic tradition. I was pleasantly surprised at first to see that, for the most part, with a few exceptions, in this section his explanation of Catholic teaching on the matter is fairly accurate. This is always refreshing, as normally the first step in discussing with non-Catholics is restating what the Catholic Church actually teaches. This was my response to the first part:

Hello Kevin,

I read the article, and I'd first like to say that on the whole, I think you've done a good job of accurately portraying the Catholic position. Thank you for that!

Allow me to point out a few places, though, where I have some small problems.

(From Part 1 of his article)
They consider this body of literature to be on equal footing with the Old and New Testament scriptures. They also believe that it is a body of information that is living in the sense that it changes and grows through time and circumstance. (Emphasis mine)

This may seem a bit nitpicky to non-Catholics, but it is an important distinction to Catholics...we don't believe the teachings of the Church "change," but we do believe they can develop. If I may make an would be like the difference between a flower turning into, say, a potato (that would be change), and a seed developing into a flower. Basically, as time goes on and new issues arise in society because of new technology, (like stem cell research, cloning, etc), the Church can adapt her teachings to further expound upon what is right and what is wrong. But we believe the teachings themselves remain the same, it is only we who are coming to a better understanding of it and learning how to apply it properly.

Next, let me point out a common error that is usually completely unconsciously made!

You correctly state our belief that:

The Bible, they say, is not the sole source of God's word. There is also the oral tradition of the church.

But in the next sentence is the problem:

This oral tradition, they claim, is equally as authoritative as God's word and infallible. (Emphasis mine)

You see, we believe the oral Tradition actually IS God's Word, as you correctly pointed out earlier. I imagine you're probably so used to using "God's Word" as synonymous with the Bible that you didn't even think about it! But here, in describing our beliefs, it would be more accurate to say "the Bible" or "the scriptures" or some such thing, (as you did in the last sentence of that same paragraph) since as it stands, the sentence is, in the Catholic understanding of things, basically saying, "God's word is equally as authoritative as God's word." =)

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.

It is a shame that what the Catholic Encyclopedia correctly points out as erroneous, Catholicism embraces today, namely, the "infinity of the Scriptures" through their living magisterium, and claiming divine authority for such things through their magistrates, "which alone is worthy of God."

I don't believe Catholicism embraces the infinity of the Scriptures, as it is a Catholic teaching that the deposit of faith, that is, all the teachings of Christ (Oral Tradition included) have been handed to us once and for all, and the main role of the Church is to guide the flock and make sure the teachings remain constant and intact and unchanged, not to create numerous new teachings forever and ever. I understand you disagree, but again, I'm just trying to explain what it is we do and don't believe the Church is and does.

As for the argument that Christ is against all tradition, this is the Catholic understanding of things:

He was not condemning all traditions. He condemned only those that made God’s word void. In this case, it was a matter of the Pharisees feigning the dedication of their goods to the Temple so they could avoid using them to support their aged parents. By doing this, they dodged the commandment to "Honor your father and your mother" (Ex. 20:12).

As for (I believe you meant) Colossians 2:8:

"...these verses merely condemn erroneous human traditions, not truths which were handed down orally and entrusted to the Church by the apostles. These latter truths are part of what is known as apostolic tradition, which is to be distinguished from human traditions or customs." (From the link above)

And the Hebrew writer proclaims regarding Christ's doctrine, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever" ( Hebrews 13:8). In fact, Paul was adamant about the fact that he didn't receive his teaching via the medium of men, and not even that of other apostles, when he stated in Galatians 1:11,12 "But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." Paul received his teaching from Jesus' Spirit himself and not through any human tradition.

All of this, Catholics would absolutely agree with. Remember, we believe the apostles were given the teachings, what we call the deposit of faith, the Word of God, once and for all directly from Christ. We believe the apostles, then, handed this teaching on as they were instructed to do, and we believe the Holy Spirit protected them from error.

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures. . . . Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed" (1 Cor. 15:3,11). The apostle praised those who followed Tradition: "I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you" (1 Cor. 11:2).

The first Christians "devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching" (Acts 2:42) long before there was a New Testament. From the very beginning, the fullness of Christian teaching was found in the Church as the living embodiment of Christ, not in a book. The teaching Church, with its oral, apostolic tradition, was authoritative.
(From the link above)

And further:

Catholics know that public revelation ended with the last apostle’s death. But the part of revelation that was not written down—the part outside the Bible, the apostles’ inspired oral teaching (1 Thess. 2:13) and their binding interpretations of Old Testament Scripture that forms the basis of sacred Tradition—that part of revelation Catholics also accept. Catholics follow Paul’s command: "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter" (2 Thess. 2:15, cf. 1 Cor. 11:2).

Let me be clear that I don't intend to get into a debate on here, I only wish to present and explain my beliefs, not to convince others that they are right.

God Bless!

(I added the caveat as I've seen many a time the people on this site jump on a person like sharks who smell blood, and I didn't really want to get into that. Fortunately, this round seemed much tamer than previous dealings.)

More to follow in the next post concerning Part 2 of Mr. Cauley's article.


Anonymous said...

Something I don't understand about Scripture and Tradition, why weren't early church father's writings about traditions included in the Bible if they are considered God's Word? Surely these traditions were established by the late 4th century when the Bible was compiled.

Thanks for your time,
Steve Kehl
Mount Vernon, Ohio

Stephanie said...

Hi Steve, sorry about the delay in getting your comment published!

As for your question, first I'd say written tradition (scripture) and oral tradion often overlap, so there is plenty of Tradition that is included in Scripture.

Beyond that, though, I'd say not everything was written down because the Bible was not meant to be The Book Which Contained Everything. God gave us the Church to guide us, which then gave us the Bible, and so oral and written Tradition compliment each other while each coming from the same source. When you have a living authority in the Church, it's not really necessary for every last thing to be written in the scriptures.

Those are the thoughts off of the top of my head anyway, I'm sure there are more and better reasons out there. :-)