A reader struggles to understand Sacred Tradition

A reader struggles to understand Sacred Tradition April 2, 2014

He writes:

I just finished reading your book “By What Authority” and let me tell you, it was one of the best books I have ever read in regard of Tradition and the Catholic Faith. It has definitely given me stronger faith.

I’m glad!  Thanks be to God!

I am an 18 year old Catholic in south texas in Our Lady of Guadalupe parish. I have made it my passion to learn all I can about the catholic faith ever since my confirmation. Last year I underwent a loss of Faith due to a book my dad have me “yes and no” by Peter Kreeft. It was an apologetic book but I think my faith wasn’t strong enough to read it. I lost my faith and it was horrible for me. So I had been struggling to try and regain what I had lost.

What troubled you about the book?  Dr. Kreeft’s work is generally very uplifting for me.  One thing to bear in mind is that God sometimes permits such crises of faith precisely in order that we can grow in faith from them.  Since Confirmation is all about the sanctifying gifts that make us more like Christ it may well be that this trial will prove a gift to you.  Remain close to him in prayer and the sacraments and trust that he will help you!

And Sacred Tradition has been a major factor for me writing to you today telling you that your book has helped me greatly. Sacred Tradition is the link from us 2000 years later to Christ who died for us 2000 years ago. God bless you for your book……. I do have a couple of questions though.


1) Is the Eucharist and the Sacraments Sacred Tradition? Meaning, do they come from Tradition rather than Scripture?

They come from Christ and the apostles and are transmitted to us in the common life, common worship, and common teaching of the Church in union with the apostles and Peter and their successors the bishops.  Scripture is simply the written aspect of the Tradition.  And really, at the end of the day, the Tradition is Jesus himself, handed over (tradere) to us in the sacraments and sacred teaching of the Church.

2) do you know the “two mode” theology of the relationship between Scripture and Tradition vs the “two source” theology of Scripture and Tradition?

I’m not sure what you mean, but I suspect it has something to do with my answer above: namely that the tradition that is handed down is not a thing but the person of Jesus, who transmits his life to us in the written and unwritten tradition of the Church.  Is that what you mean?

3) do the councils throughout time show this Sacred Tradition?

Yes.  The Councils mark different moments in the life of the Church where she attempts to plumb the depths of the revelation and apply it to the particular historical circumstances in which she finds herself.  See my discussion of the development of doctrine in the final chapter of BWA.

 Thank you for your response! Mr. Kreeft’s book bothered me because it opened my mind to the possibility that there is no God. And that is what affected me.

Okay.  Well, it’s a question the world will confront us with, so it’s best to be equipped to confront it.  Glad you are recovering from your crisis.

1)And what I meant to ask about the Sacraments was were they part of the Tradition handed on from the apostles to the early Church just as much as the oral teaching of Christ dying and resurrecting for the Jews and Gentiles?

All the sacraments are there in the Tradition, however, they will all require development over the centuries in various ways.  The Mass in the first century is there in germ form, but its details will change.  Same with other sacraments.  A good book for tracing the development of doctrine and practice over time the Catholic Catechism by Fr. John Hardon.  Also vital is John Henry Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.  The gospel is as Jesus described it: a mustard seed.  Everything necessary for the plant is there in the seed planted in the first century.  But the process of growing the plant will be complex and historically conditioned.

The “two mode theology” and “two source theology” are theological concepts for the relationship between Scripture and Tradition. The “two source” theology is the view mostly held after Trent’s decree on Sacred Tradition and Scripture. This view holds that Revelation is Partly in Tradition and Partly in Scripture. It is called “source” because it was supposing that scripture and tradition are “sources” of revelation, which Vatican II didn’t like. In Vatican II the “two mode theology” was developed and remains the official standing of the Church. It suggests that there is only one source of revelation and that is God. But his revelation exists in two forms: Scripture and Tradition. Meaning that revelation is completely in Scripture and Completely in Tradition.

Okay.  Sounds reasonable to me.  This is an example of development of doctrine, by the way.  Trent is on the right track, but V2 refines Trent’s insight.  The Hardon book will be of real use on this.

Can you explain to me, if time permits, a more in depth explanation of how Sacred Tradition was used for the Canon of the New Testament in the councils?

All the councils did was ratify the common practice of the Churches.

Common practice? I thought in your book you spoke of a roots and fruits criteria from Sacred Tradition to determine the canon?

Right.  And that was expressed in the common practice of the churches.  The reason books were read in the liturgy was because there was a tradition that they came from the apostles and the contents of the books reflected the teaching of the apostles.

So the Traditions that were passed from the Apostles correlated doctrinally to what the books contained? Is that what the fruits criteria means?

Yeah.  The books reflected what the tradition taught.  It’s a mutually reinforcing thing.  Like when your family photo album contains pictures illustrating the stories you’ve heard from your parents and grandparents.

What do they mean when they say that Sacred Tradition is the lived experience of the Gospel. I thought Tradition was also doctrines like the Marian dogmas and the Trinity and also the Tradition of the Table of Contents. I’m confused when they say that it’s the lived experience. It makes it seem like Tradition isn’t doctrines.

Ultimately Jesus is the Tradition (“tradere” means to “hand over”).  Jesus was both “handed over” suffering and death and is “handed over” to us in the common life, common worship, and common teaching of the apostles, both written and unwritten and–supremely–in the sacrament of the Eucharist where he is handed over to the faithful to be consumed.

Dogmas and creeds (technically known as “symbols of the Faith”) summarize aspects of the Tradition.  But the Tradition is bigger than these summaries.  Remember: ultimately what is believed is a Person, not a thing, concept, or idea.  The doctrines of the Church are important and vital.  But that’s because they point us back to Jesus Christ.

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