Thursday, March 19, 2015

On the Importance of Sacred Tradition

Fifth Sunday of Lent

This Sunday, the second reading will be from Hebrews 5:7-9. I strongly recommend reading verses 1-10, to get a little context.

This is one of those verses that it’s REALLY important that we don’t take it out of its context in the rest of Sacred Scripture. Taken out of context, you could easily err in to Arianism, which heretically taught that Christ was not God.

And yet, one COULD proof text it into legitimacy, if we believed that Scripture was our one, and only highest authority, and that nothing existed (apart from mortal man) that could determine what was the correct belief. To guide us in understanding what the writings in Sacred Scripture don’t mean.

With nothing to play referee (especially about the relative importance of different passages), we could proof-text our way into all sorts of heretical places.

That is why Tradition is so important, and why we, in the Catholic Church, place it on equal footing with Sacred Scripture.

There are a lot of things which cannot be fully addressed by scripture alone. For example, I would venture a guess that no Bible-believing Christian would doubt the doctrine of the Trinity, and yet it is never explicitly mentioned in Sacred Scripture. Nor will you ever find the word “Abortion.” These things must be inferred, and that is - at least in part - the work of Tradition.

It is worth noting that for the first few hundred years of the Church’s existence, there was no such thing as “the Bible” in the way that we know it. What they had at the time was a collection of letters (and other scrolls) that circulated from one Christian community to the next as they were read and discussed by the faithful and the faithful learned from these letters under the instruction of their Bishops.

Some letters were true, some were fabrications. (The gospels of Thomas, Peter, and Judas, are a few that I have heard of.) What guided the Church during those first centuries, to know which letters were good and which were not?

Two things. The first was the Holy Spirit, and the second was, in a word, Tradition. Paul exhorted the early Christian community in Thessalonica to “stand firm and hold to the Traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15, emphasis mine).

When the inclusion of particular books in the New Testament was being discussed (between 16 and 17 centuries ago), among the things that was considered was whether the book was inconsistent with the traditions handed down from the Apostles. The writings were measured against the pre-existing Tradition, to determine its inclusion or exclusion.

It is in this same Tradition that we have unpacked the teachings in Scripture for the last two thousand years, that we have come to understand the Eucharist, the Communion of Saints, the role of the Blessed Mother, and dozens of other things.

Lord, Thank you for making yourself known to us. Thank you for your beautiful self-revelation in Sacred Tradition, and for giving us the Scriptures as a steady point that we can use to contemplate and come to understand your intentions for our lives, and for all of humanity. Give us greater trust in Sacred Tradition as a source in its own right. Help us to know that because Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture flow from one source, they will speak as one.

Happy Feast of St Joseph!

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