Skip to comments.Catholic Tradition: A Mediated Gift
Posted on 07/05/2003 7:46:44 PM PDT by NYer
By Stephen Hand
For Roman Catholics Tradition is a source of revelation. This is a major and substantial difference between Catholics and all Protestants. Unlike most Protestants, who believe that the Faith of Jesus Christ is completely perspicuous and can be apprehended in an unmediated way by recourse of individuals to the holy Scriptures, the Church teaches that even Scripture is part of, and a witness to, the Tradition which preceded it in the economy of salvation. This being so, it is the task of the Church's magisterium alone to interpret this current of revelation.
The history of Protestantism with its endless divisions and quarrels about the content, meaning, and articles of Faith is eloquent testimony to the need for a living magisterium to interpret and mediate revelation to us, whether it be from Scripture or Tradition. The meaning of any text can be disputed. And this is precisely why divisions and schisms and sects have come about through history. The Jehovahs Witnesses and Unitarians do not find the Holy Trinity in Scripture. Neither did Arius of Alexandria. Yet the Holy Trinity, which is actually alluded to abundantly in Scripture, is, for Catholics, a primary article of Faith. It is a crucial part of that revelation which is "received" and interpreted by the Church through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who will be with this visible Church to the very end of the world (Mt 28:20) and who came to guide her "into all truth" (Jn 16: 13). It is this promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit which is the assurance that the living magisterium of the Church cannot ever defect from the Faith, never become apostate, even if not a few of her members have. To say otherwise is to collapse into schismatic thinking.
Revelation closed with the death of the last Apostle, according to the teaching of the Church. If there were no living magisterium to interpret and thus mediate the substantial contents and meaning of Tradition, distinguishing it from mere small "t" traditions or customs, chaos would have ensued with the death of St. John. But that did not happen. To be sure, the Church was very soon faced with many heretics and schismatics who caused great storms and rocked the Church because they obstinately insisted that they, and not the living magisterium, possessed the key, via private judgment, to the true understanding of the Faith. However, the center held against them all. It held because the living magisterium, consisting of the Pope and all bishops in communion with him, and never apart from him, possessed both a veto power, as it were, and the authority to checkmate opposition when it crossed dogmatic lines. When Rome speaks the debate is over.
It is not Protestants alone who arbitrarily attempt to reconstruct a new church and wrongly pit traditions against Tradition. Schismatics and zealots have always quoted Church Father against Church Father or Pope against Pope from the beginning, just as we see schismatic groups today who claim to be Catholic absurdly quoting Popes against Popes, employing in so doing an essentially Protestant hermeneutic to the extent that they put "private interpretation" above the magisterium. When this happens one immediately sinks into the quicksand of a selective and arbitrary Christianity wherein the individual chooses (the root meaning of heresy) what parts of Tradition and revelation he will accept and what parts he will reject. When we see this we immediately note the confounding of mere traditions and Tradition. Integrists and Protestants both want to be the ones to interpret the Tradition and declare what is essential to it and what is only accidental, though they have been neither "called" nor "sent" to do this. Many Protestants have a great respect for the Church Fathers. Calvinists have always been partial to St. Augustine and have opposed him to St. Thomas, for example, accepting much of the former and rejecting the latter. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, had a great respect for Thomas a' Kempis's tradition of spirituality, but deplored the Fathers who pointed to the Petrine primacy as the only principle of unity in the Church.
Since the Council, then, some today who wish to reject it, whole or in part, follow the same Protestant hermeneutic when they pit Pope against Pope and think they can, by way of private judgment, pronounce one Pope Catholic, declaring allegiance to the Encyclicals of yesterday, but calling another a "modernist" and resisting or rebelling against his development of that Tradition which the Church received. This is a total misunderstanding of what the Church is, the visible Mystical Body of Christ guided by the Holy Spirit until the end of time.
Certainly the Popes in every age have always sifted the thought of the times and the thought of non-catholics for truths which are compatible with the Faith. This developing of the Tradition is precisely how the magisterium in part exercises its pastoral authority, interpreting the Tradition for today, and assimilating truths congruent with the Faith, purifying them and leaving the bones, not merely reciting yesterday's Papal texts to the exclusion of organic development which answers the needs of the "today" of the Church.
When Pope St. Pius X urged daily communion, recalling a Tradition older than the small "t" traditions which for so long (ages!) urged Catholics not to approach the Eucharist often, or even during Mass(!), he was renewing the Church, calling her back to her more essential and better self. The Church is often in need of reforms (not of revolutions, as in Luther's dismal rupture or as concieved by liberals). When this same Pope Pius X thought it imprudent to simply begin excommunicating modernists who were, according to his Encyclical, Pascendi, hiding in the bosom of the Church everywhere, many hot heads thought he was not exercising his authority properly. They were convinced a mere Oath against Modernism was simply naive. They salivated for abundant and outright excommunications! Yet this Saint-Pope had his reasons for not wanting to tempt God by provoking even more rebellion and schism in the Church. The same can be seen with Pope Pius XII, to name but one other. He chose not to excommunicate neo-modernists, doubtless in the interests of preventing even greater evils. The fact is that very few Popes in history have conducted wholesale excommunication campaigns against those who were deviant in dogmatic matters. The Church is not rash in these matters and often disciplines only a few in a representative manner as she deems best as a warning to others. She leaves the rest of the dissidents, whether on the left or right, to God's judgement and mercy.
This is why many Integrists today, for example, who insist on the Church of yesterday only, are not able to be coherent in their analysis and selective choosing. If they say the Pope does not have the authority to bind them in dogmatically related theological matters, they are fallen from the Faith by definition and are Sedevacantist whether they know it or not. Some will say they do not reject the Council per se, but spend their lives fighting it tooth and nail, as if there were no dogmatic perils in attacking it, and not accepting the fact that it is the failure to obey the letter of the Conciliar texts, which cannot be separated from its spirit, which accounts for the rebellions which are storming the Church today. They attack the very dogmatic foundations of the Church when they attack a Church Council and seek to simplistically blame every evil on it. If one accepts the Council then one necessarily accepts what teachings it promulgates, for example the theological development called ecumenism, which is hardly uncatholic per se, nor the Council's true understanding of religious liberty, nor even the carefully circumscribed teaching regardng interfaith relations with members of other religions.
If one does not accept the Council then one is a practical or actual Sedevacantist who in his private judgment (an erroneous measure to be sure!) says the chair of Peter is empty. Absurd as this conclusions is, due to an erroneous understanding of Tradition, at least the Sedevacantists are consistent. They (should) know, whether they want to follow their own logic or not, what it means and what the implications are ---however absurd---- when one says that the Pope and magisterium has made wholesale rupture with --- as opposed to developed --- the Church's Tradition. The Gates of Hell, then, have prevailed (!) in stark contradiction to the eternal promises of Our Lord (Mt. 16:18). The Church has never, we might add, approved any opinion to the contrary among the theologians who speculated about such matters.
One may, of course, be critical of how liberals (whether bishops of laypersons) abuse the Council and implement an Indifferentist ecumenism (always condemned by the Church, as in Mortalium Animos) at the local and national levels, as opposed to the Catholic ecumenism proposed by Vatican II; but one may not say that the magisterium or Council itself is apostate, in rupture with Tradition. To do so is to collapse into the quicksand of private judgment.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church distinguishes Tradition from mere traditions, the former being normative in every age, the latter subject to change:
83: The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus' teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. 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 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.
This is perfectly clear to all who know their Church history and Catholic dogmatics. Only the Church's magisterium can mediate and interpret the Tradition for us. It belongs to their competence and charism alone.
You are a keen observer! Apologetics and Theology were selected since they are relevant to many catholic discussions, hence, applicable to christian discussion, as well.
This post was prompted by a heated discussion on another thread. It involved a Texas priest who was removed for changing the format of mass at his parish. Your commentary, of course, is always welcome!
Only if it is an authoritative teaching - not if it's a piece of contemporary opinion. If a letter surfaced in which Jack Sprat, Roman Catholic layman, opined in 1737 that the moon was made of green cheese, I wouldn't take it as normative for belief.
"the Holy See can never accept conditions which would involve the renunciation of an office it knows to be of Divine appointment and vital for the maintenance of the Church's unity."
This was actually a quote in the article itself, from Catholic Encyclopedia, "Union of Christendom" (1913).
"the 'conversion' of Russia is not to be limited to the return of the Russian people to the Orthodox Christian religions, rejecting the Marxist atheism of the Soviets, but rather, it refers purely, plainly and simply to the total, integral conversion of Russia to the one true Church of Christ, the Catholic Church."
The article says this was stated by "The Vatican-appointed Fatima scholar Father Joaquin Alonso, who had many interviews with Sister Lucy".
So are these sources not authoritative enough?
Quoted reply from Wideawake -
"Quoting from an almost century old document written by a layman with no ecclesiastical authority, when different documents with actual authority have been written by official congregations of the Catholic Church is - I have to say - either ignorant or intentionally deceptive."
Mention "The Catholic Encyclopaedia of 1913" to any of the millions of faithful in Latin America or Asia or Africa and you'll be met with blank stares of nonrecognition. In fact, I would bet that the majority of US Catholics are completely unaware of its existence.
(2) The apparition at Fatima isn't even binding on Catholics as a matter of belief. One can be a wholly orthodox Catholic and completely reject the Fatima apparition.
So, given the fact that no Catholic need believe in Fatima, why should the personal opinion of one scholar with no doctrinal authority, expressing what he believed to be the teaching of a non-binding apparition, be normative for the Church?
The fact is, you are unwilling to acknowledge what the Catholic Church teaches authoritatively on the matter.
Read Ut Unum Sint - an official encyclical letter (not a random scholar's opinion) sent to all Catholics (not just the faithful in one country or two) by the Pope himself (not a local conference or a consulting scholar).
There is plenty in that document for an Orthodox Christian to disagree with, I'm sure.
But it's one thing to disagree with what Catholics actually hold and another to create a straw man for yourself in order to make your disagreement more satisfying.
Other relevant authoritative teaching on these subjects can be found on the same website, including the document of the Second Vatican Council entitled Unitas Redintegratio and the encyclical commemorating the apostolate of SS. Cyril and Methodios Slavorum Apostoli.
There is also the Pope's congratulatory apostolic letter Euntes in Mundum on the thousandth anniversary of the evangelization of the Kievan Rus - but unless you know Latin or Italian you won't be able to read it.