Searching through the passages of Catholic teaching on the relation of Scripture and Tradition in the indispensable pdf of Denzinger-Hünermann, I was struck by how often they use some variation on the formula “written or unwritten” to refer to Scripture and Tradition respectively. This seems to be derived from the locus classicus on these things 2 Thessalonians 2:15: “Therefore, brothers, be steadfast, and preserve the traditions you were taught by us whether by word of mouth or by letter.” The teaching of the Apostle is both written and unwritten, and this is true of Apostolic Teaching in general: it is handed down in two forms, distinguished by whether they are written or not. Thus the Council of Trent:
[This Gospel] our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions [in libris scriptis et sine scripto traditionibus] which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted [traditae] as it were from hand to hand.
Now, one can ask are these “unwritten traditions” essentially unwritten, or is their unwrittenness merely an accident; that is, are they doctrines which the Apostles simply didn’t get around to writing down, but could in principle be written down later, or are they the sort of thing that can’t be written down.
Often when people say “Apostolic Tradition” or “Sacred Tradition” they really mean something written down. Pope Benedict XVI in his memoirs (written before he became pope) notes that the historical method that came into vogue in Germany with the Enlightenment, and concentrated on documentary evidence, lead many theologians to identify Apostolic Tradition with doctrines for which there was documentary evidence from the early Church. He tells the following story from his student days in Munich to illustrate the point:
Before Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven was deﬁned, all theological faculties in the world were consulted for their opinion. Our teachers’ answer was emphatically negative. What here became evident was the one-sidedness, not only of the historical, but also of the historicist method in theology. “Tradition” was identiﬁed with what could be proved on the basis of texts. Altaner, the patrologist from Würzburg (who also had come from Breslau), had proven in a scientiﬁcally persuasive manner that the doctrine of Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven was unknown before the ﬁfth century; this doctrine, therefore, he argued, could not belong to the “apostolic tradition”. And this was his conclusion, which my teachers at Munich shared. This argument is compelling if you understand “tradition” strictly as the handing down of ﬁxed formulas and texts. This was the position that our teachers represented. But if you conceive of “tradition” as the living process whereby the Holy Spirit introduces us to the fullness of truth and teaches us how to understand what previously we could still not grasp (cf. Jn 16:12-13), then subsequent “remembering” (cf. Jn 16:4, for instance) can come to recognize what it had not caught sight of previously and yet was already handed down in the original Word. But such a perspective was still quite unattainable by German theological thought.
The historicist approach that Ratzinger attacks here is still very much with us in many “progressive” theologians, but there is also a way in which more “traditionalist” Catholics identify Apostolic Tradition with something written. They are prone to identify it with the written definitions of what Ratzinger above calls the “remembering” of what was implicit in the original word; that is, they identify it with dogma, with that which the Magisterium has explicitly defined (in writing) as belonging to God’s Revelation.
One way of seeing that neither of these positions can be right is by recalling that Apostolic Tradition is referred to as the “Word of God.” Eg. Vatican I: “innixi Dei Verbo scripto et tradito” [relying on the word of God written and handed down], and Vatican II: “Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God.” But no one would say of any actual non-scriptural document that it is the Word of God. Not the writings of the ante-Nicene Fathers, nor the Canons and Decrees of Ecumenical Councils, nor the ex cathedra teachings of Popes; none of these are ever called “the Word of God.”
A great help in understanding what the Apostolic Tradition is, and a great influence on the Church’s own teaching on this in Dei Verbum, is Bl. Cardinal Newman’s concept of “idea.” At the beginning of the Essay on Development Newman writes:
The idea which represents an object or supposed object is commensurate with the sum total of its possible aspects, however they may vary in the separate consciousness of individuals; and in proportion to the variety of aspects under which it presents itself to various minds is its force and depth, and the argument for its reality. Ordinarily an idea is not brought home to the intellect as objective except through this variety; like bodily substances, which are not apprehended except under the clothing of their properties and results, and which admit of being walked round, and surveyed on opposite sides, and in different perspectives, and in contrary lights, in evidence of their reality. And, as views of a material object may be taken from points so remote or so opposed, that they seem at first sight incompatible, and especially as their shadows will be disproportionate, or even monstrous, and yet all these anomalies will disappear and all these contrarieties be adjusted, on ascertaining the point of vision or the surface of projection in each case; so also all the aspects of an idea are capable of coalition, and of a resolution into the object to which it belongs; and the primâ facie dissimilitude of its aspects becomes, when explained, an argument for its substantiveness and integrity, and their multiplicity for its originality and power.
A powerful and real idea, when it takes hold of many minds becomes a principle of activity, “is not merely received passively in this or that form into many minds, but it becomes an active principle within them, leading them to an ever-new contemplation of itself, to an application of it in various directions, and a propagation of it on every side.” This is what Newman calls “development” “the germination and maturation of some truth or apparent truth on a large mental field.”
The “idea” to which Newman applies this account in the Essay is Christianity itself. The Apostles received that idea from Christ and handed it down to their successors, in the handing down through the ages the idea is “developed” in the sense that various aspects of it are brought out more explicitly, but it remains the same idea, indeed the infallibility of the Church is meant to guard the purity of the idea.
In a later essay Newman speaks of the “depositum fidei” as an idea:
What then is meant by the Depositum? is it a list of articles that can be numbered? no, it is a large philosophy; all parts of which are connected together, and in a certain sense correlative together, so that he who really knows one part, may be said to know all. . . . Thus the Apostles had the fullness of revealed knowledge, a fullness which they could as little realize to themselves, as the human mind, as such, can have all its thoughts present before it at once. They are elicited according to the occasion. A man of genius cannot go about with his genius in his hand: in an Apostle’s mind great part of his knowledge is from the nature of the case latent or implicit… I wish to hold that there is nothing which the Church has deﬁned or shall deﬁne but what an Apostle, if asked, would have been fully able to answer and would have answered, as the Church has answered, the one answering by inspiration, the other from its gift of infallibility; and that the Church never will be able to answer, or has been able to answer, what the Apostles could not answer…
Reading Dei Verbum with this in mind sheds a new light on everything. How is such an active “idea,” “latent” with “implicit” knowledge handed on? Not just through the Apostles telling people stuff, and then those people telling other people etc. Such an active idea is handed on in the whole form of life given by the Apostles. Thus Dei Verbum:
Therefore Christ the Lord in whom the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion (see Cor. 1:20; 3:13; 4:6), commissioned the Apostles to preach to all men that Gospel which is the source of all saving truth and moral teaching, and to impart to them heavenly gifts. […] This commission was faithfully fulfilled by the Apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. (7)
“The full revelation of the supreme God” cannot be fully expressed in written words, because it is Christ Himself. But tradition, as a form of life including preaching but also habits of life and rituals (example and observances), is able to hand on that revelation in a more complete way than any explicit formulation could. Ratzinger, himself one of the main periti in the drafting of Dei Verbum, puts it thus:
Revelation, which is to say, God’s approach to man, is always greater than what can be contained in human words, greater even than the words of Scripture. As I have already said in connection with my work on Bonaventure, both in the Middle Ages and at Trent it would have been impossible to refer to Scripture simply as “revelation”, as is the normal linguistic usage today. Scripture is the essential witness of revelation, but revelation is something alive, something greater and more: proper to it is the fact that it arrives and is perceived—otherwise it could not have become revelation. Revelation is not a meteor fallen to earth that now lies around somewhere as a rock mass from which rock samples can be taken and submitted to laboratory analysis. Revelation has instruments; but it is not separable from the living God, and it always requires a living person to whom it is communicated. Its goal is always to gather and unite men, and this is why the Church is a necessary aspect of revelation. If, however, revelation is more than Scripture, if it transcends Scripture, then the “rock analysis”—which is to say, the historical-critical method—cannot be the last word concerning revelation; rather, the living organism of the faith of all ages is then an intrinsic part of revelation. And what we call “tradition” is precisely that part of revelation that goes above and beyond Scripture and cannot be comprehended within a code of formulas. (Milestones, p. 127)
Considered thus, Sacred Tradition is the Church’s very life, which reflects the light of the Eternal Word as the moon reflects the sun. Thus Dei Verbum writes:
Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes.
A word I want to focus on here is “worship.” The importance of the Sacred Liturgy for the handing on of Sacred Tradition has been a theme of magisterial teaching at least since the famous lines of the “Indiculus” (circa 440): “obsecrationum quoque sacerdotalium sacramenta respiciamus, quae ab Apostolis tradita in toto mundo atque in omni Ecclesia catholica uniformiter celebrantur, ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi,” usually summarized “lex orandi lex credendi.” But in Dei Verbum one senses the influence of the Liturgical Movement.
For all its blind spots, the Liturgical Movement brought out the importance of the Liturgy for the handing on of Apostolic Tradition with admirable clarity. I am thinking, for example of Odo Casel’s work on “Mystery.” Casel takes “Mystery” to refer first to the ineffable and invisible God, and second to God’s Revelation in Christ:
Christ is the personal Mystery, because he reveals the invisible God in the flesh. The deeds of his self-abasement, and above all his sacrificial death on the cross, are mysteries, because in them God reveals himself in a way that goes beyond all human standards of measurement. Above all, though, his resurrection and exaltation are mysteries, because in them divine glory was revealed in the man Jesus, and this in a form that is hidden from the world and only open to believers.
The third sense of mystery is the one that I am thinking of:
This “Mystery of Christ” the Apostles proclaimed to the Ekklesia and the Ekklesia passes it on to all generations. But just as the plan of salvation does not involve simply teaching but, above all, the salvific deed of Christ, so the Church leads mankind to salvation not merely through the word but also through holy actions or deeds… Now that Christ is no longer visibly among us, as Leo the Great says “what was visible in our Redeemer has passed over into the mysteries.” (Sermo 74.2) His Person, His salvific deeds, the action of His grace we find in the Mysteries of the Liturgy, as Ambrose says, “I find You in Your mysteries”. (Apologia Prophetae David, 58)… The Mystery is ἄρρητον, ineffable, unspeakable, not only in the original sense of the word, that the initiates were not allowed to speak of it, but also in the sense that it is impossible to fully express in words. Therefore all speech about the Mystery remains inadequate. But precisely because it is ineffable, there is always a possibility of proclaiming something of it. The Spirit of God will reveal ever more to the willing…The essence of Christianity is the Person of the God-man and his Redemptive acts for the salvation of the Church, which is thus drawn into the Mystery. For Paul, Peter, and John, the heart of faith is not the teachings of Christ, not the deeds of his ministry, but the acts by which he saves us… Christianity, in its full and original meaning, the “Gospel of God,” or “the Gospel of Christ” is not a world-view with a religious backdrop, not a theological system or a moral law, but Mystery in the Pauline sense, that is God’s Revelation to mankind through theandric acts, full of life and power, and man’s passing over to God that this Revelation and these deeds enable… (Das christliche Kultmysterium, Regensburg 1932, pp. 18-27; translation partly my own and partly taken from here and here)
I think this is the heart of the “unwritten Tradition” handed on to us by the Apostles: the presence of the Eternal Word of God, the full Revelation of the Father in the Sacred Mysteries.
What are the consequences of this for how we do theology? I think Pope Benedict XVI is a really good example of how theology should be practiced given this account of Sacred Tradition. The first volume of his collected works to be published was the volume on the liturgy. In his introduction Pope Benedict notes the liturgy has always been “the center” of his theological research, even though his academic specialty is actually fundamental theology–the theology of faith and of revelation, for these are closely related. Reading Pope Benedict’s work one can see that that the “object” of His science is really the Revelation of God has handed down in the Church in Scripture and in the unwritten word found above all in the Sacred Mysteries. The written witness to the Tradition found in the Fathers is of great importance–but as a witness to a word to which we have present access in the living tradition. Thus the works of later doctors of the Church is also a witness to Apostolic Tradition (cf. Melchior Cano’s loci theologici). The infallible Magisterium of the Church is of great importance in excluding errors and defining specific propositions as being contained in Revelation. In the professio fidei drafted by the then prefect of the CDF, Cardinal Ratzinger, we say “I also believe everything contained in the word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgement or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.” The explicit statements of the Church are thus of great importance in defining specific propositions contained in the Word of God, but the object of faith is always that Word.
49 thoughts on “Unwritten Tradition”
Newman’s saving claim “there is nothing which the Church has deﬁned or shall deﬁne but what an Apostle, if asked, would have been fully able to answer and would have answered” is very important. Without it there is a serious danger that the deposit ceases to be a deposit and becomes a continuing revelation. For this reason while the writings of the fathers (and the Church’s liturgical rites) cannot be called ‘the word of God’ in the same sense as scripture they are the admissible evidence for the word of God passed down in unwritten form. The later doctors and theologians cannot be evidence in this way. This is why we cannot despise, condemn, omit at pleasure or turn into other new rites the received and approved rites of the Church. This is why the authority of the Fathers is independent of the Holy See. The Holy See can make someone a Doctor but they either are or are not a Father. If we step away from this then Modernistic chaos sets in. It is clear that this danger is at the heart of what St Pius X fears “I hold with certainty and sincerely confess that faith is not a blind sentiment of religion welling up from the depths of the subconscious under the impulse of the heart and the motion of a will trained to morality; but faith is a genuine assent of the intellect to truth received by hearing from an external source. By this assent, because of the authority of the supremely truthful God, we believe to be true that which has been revealed and attested to by a personal God, our creator and lord.” As it is precisely the content and not the propositional form of the unwritten traditions which is passed on through time they cannot be passed on except propositionally. Unlike a text they cannot be passed on without being understood.
Later in the same oath he says “Finally, I declare that I am completely opposed to the error of the modernists who hold that there is nothing divine in sacred tradition; or what is far worse, say that there is, but in a pantheistic sense, with the result that there would remain nothing but this plain simple fact-one to be put on a par with the ordinary facts of history-the fact, namely, that a group of men by their own labor, skill, and talent have continued through subsequent ages a school begun by Christ and his apostles. I firmly hold, then, and shall hold to my dying breath the belief of the Fathers in the charism of truth, which certainly is, was, and always will be in the succession of the episcopacy from the apostles. The purpose of this is, then, not that dogma may be tailored according to what seems better and more suited to the culture of each age; rather, that the absolute and immutable truth preached by the apostles from the beginning may never be believed to be different, may never be understood in any other way.”
Sometimes I fear Ratzinger is not as clear as Bl. John Henry Newman in drawing these lines. Ironically it is the failure to do so which justifies the kind of abandonment Ratzinger so laments of “the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries” and its replacement “as in a manufacturing process, with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product”. Nor is this danger confined to the liturgy.
Tell me more about the Fathers: what makes someone a Father, why a consensus of the Fathers is infallible etc. Is the difference between the witness to unwritten Tradition found in the Fathers and that found in later saints one of kind or of degree? I don’t understand why later doctors cannot be evidence of the Apostolic Tradition *at all*–though I don’t deny that their evidence cannot be as strong as that of the Fathers (a consensus of the doctors is not infallible).
You write “As it is precisely the content and not the propositional form of the unwritten traditions which is passed on through time they cannot be passed on except propositionally.” That I don’t think is quite right. There is a “knowledge” which the Church has in the form of its life (esp. in the Liturgy) which is not propositional but connatural.
Thank you for these reflections. Have you written something on the “blind spots” of the Liturgical Movement? I can see the need for liturgical reform (and today’s reform of the reform) as a consequence of your views, in order that the mystery of Tradition might be more fully experienced.
I’m actually planning to post something on the Liturgical Movement soon. One blind spot that I was thinking of here though is the false antiquarianism condemned by Pope Pius XII in Mediator Dei 63-64: ‘Clearly no sincere Catholic can refuse to accept the formulation of Christian doctrine more recently elaborated and proclaimed as dogmas by the Church, under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit with abundant fruit for souls, because it pleases him to hark back to the old formulas. No more can any Catholic in his right senses repudiate existing legislation of the Church to revert to prescriptions based on the earliest sources of canon law. Just as obviously unwise and mistaken is the zeal of one who in matters liturgical would go back to the rites and usage of antiquity, discarding the new patterns introduced by disposition of divine Providence to meet the changes of circumstances and situation. This way of acting bids fair to revive the exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism to which the illegal Council of Pistoia gave rise. It likewise attempts to reinstate a series of errors which were responsible for the calling of that meeting as well as for those resulting from it, with grievous harm to souls, and which the Church, the ever watchful guardian of the “deposit of faith” committed to her charge by her divine Founder, had every right and reason to condemn. For perverse designs and ventures of this sort tend to paralyze and weaken that process of sanctification by which the sacred liturgy directs the sons of adoption to their Heavenly Father of their souls’ salvation.”
I think the Fathers are strictly equivalent to that group of authors whose writings count as evidence for apostolic tradition. If a doctrine first appeared in St Bernard and nowhere earlier we would not take it as adequate evidence for apostolic tradition. If a doctrine first appeared in St John Damascene we would think it rather late but still evidence of possible apostolicity. That is the difference. Obviously other factors such as veneration as a saint are also limiting factors because an authentic witness must live as well as preach the Gospel. As Pius X says “faith is not a blind sentiment of religion welling up from the depths of the subconscious under the impulse of the heart and the motion of a will trained to morality; but faith is a genuine assent of the intellect to truth received by hearing from an external source.” So there is a “knowledge” which the Church has in the form of its life (esp. in the Liturgy) which is not propositional but connatural, but this is not the way in which the deposit is passed on. Holiness is crucial in the success of the transmission of the deposit but the deposit itself is passed on propositionally.
You are forgetting that St. Bernard is “ultimus inter Patres, sed primis non impar”; a line which Pius XII quotes approvingly.
I think St. Bernard is very relevant here. He would totally agree with St. Pius X that “faith is not a blind sentiment of religion welling up from the depths of the subconscious under the impulse of the heart and the motion of a will trained to morality…” But (against Peter Abelard) he would hold that the deposit is not merely propositional; it’s a “sacramentum” of the “mysterium” of Christ. The concrete and external truth of the mystery is mediated through (especially) the Liturgy. Assent to it is certainly an act of the intellect, but not only of the intellect.
That is an honourary title for St Bernard not a statement of fundamental theology. The form of the liturgy is passed on like any other sort of information. The sort of knowledge by connaturality you are talking about is not Faith it is wisdom and it is a perfection of the virtue of Charity. It is received by the faithful from God directly not passed on as part of the deposit. It presupposes all these things but it is not them.
I think I overstated my case a bit, but I think you are also overstating yours. How do you read this: “Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes.”
The liturgies etc. are things which contribute toward the holiness of life not the holiness of life itself. As such they are actual words and actions which can be written down and described. Without the holiness of life few people will be inclined to read the words or repeat the actions but still the holiness of life can’t be passed on immediately it must be passed on through the things which enable it.
You’ve convinced me that one has to distinguish connatural wisdom from the form of life which enables that wisdom. But I still don’t see that that form of life is entirely expressible with propositions. Quoting Dei Verbum again: “This commission was faithfully fulfilled by the Apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit.” It seems that just as the Apostles received the Revelation of Christ not only “from His lips” but also “from living with Him,” and from “the promptings of the Holy Spirit,” so they and their successors pass it on not only through “oral preaching,” but also through “example,” and “observances.” That is, they pass the Revelation on in the same way as they received it, and this enables a “fullness” of Revelation to passed on, that is not exhaustible in verbal expressions of the same.
Forget not the great contribution of Woody Allen: “90% of life is showing up.” To be a theologian, or a Father, or anybody in the faith, one has to “show up”, one has to be there in the community praying and working on the horizontal plane of the here and now with those living, and on the vertical plane of the past and future in private development of the interior life. I think entering to this “mysterium” by giving not just one’s mind, but one’s body and heart to assent, be it in a monastic community, in parish life, and at home. Cleaving the mental component from the physical and emotional is part of the danger of modern life.
Stephen I think you are exactly right about cleaving the mental from the physical and emotional. James K.A. Smith has written a very interesting book on this: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15863575-imagining-the-kingdom
I don’t like this passage of Cardinal Ratzinger’s: “Altaner, the patrologist from Würzburg (who also had come from Breslau), had proven in a scientiﬁcally persuasive manner that the doctrine of Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven was unknown before the ﬁfth century; this doctrine, therefore, he argued, could not belong to the “apostolic tradition”. And this was his conclusion, which my teachers at Munich shared. This argument is compelling if you understand “tradition” strictly as the handing down of ﬁxed formulas and texts.” Does he mean that no one before the fifth century knew that our Lady’s body was glorified, or had even asked themselves the question whether it was or not, but that from the fifth century people began to say to themselves, ‘hang on, given how much we speak about our Lady in the liturgy, and given how closely she was involved in the Incarnation, she must be fully glorified already’? It’s one thing to say that faith in the assumption wasn’t yet passed down by ‘fixed formulas and texts’, another to say that people hadn’t yet begun to think about it, but that when they did they would realise how coherent it was with what they already believed.
I think if a new convert had asked, e.g. St Augustine, where Mary’s body was, saying that they wanted to go and venerate it, he would have replied something like this: ‘the Church does not have any relics of the Lord’s mother, since we believe that after her life on earth was over, her body was preserved from decay, in honour of the One whom it had carried’. I really wonder what the ex-Pope thinks that St Augustine would say.
If one looks at the somewhat analogous case of St Augustine’s treatment of Our Lady’s sinlessness in On Nature and Grace, it does seem rather that he thinks her sinlessness implicit in what has been handed on, rather than that he had heard an explicit statement of Our Lady’s sinlessness from Ambrose or someone: “We must except the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honour to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin.” I suppose one can read it either way, but it seems to me more natural to read it as a case of something having been handed on as part of Newman’s “idea” or “large philosophy” of Christianity which would be “latent or implicit” in the minds of the Apostles and handed on by them still in this latent, implicit form.
I can see how the doctrine of our Lady’s sinlessness can have been handed on implicitly as part of the doctrine of her unique creaturely holiness. I can’t see, though, how the doctrine of her assumption can have been handed down implicitly. It doesn’t seem, for example, likely, that there was handed down the major premise: ‘God brings a uniquely holy person body and soul to heaven’, without a handing down of the proposition: ‘God brought Mary body and soul to heaven’. So I would say that the proposition was handed down explicitly, at the very least in the Roman church, even if it was not often mentioned in public preaching.
Here are some words of wisdom from the latest encyclical Lumen Fidei, and they are worth reading because they underscore how the Sacraments of the Church are the means by which the fullness of our Tradition is handed down.
And at 46, we see how Tradition assists in handing down the “foundational memory” of the faith via written word in the Lord’s prayer and the Ten Commandments.
In reading this, I think it is important not to try to call this or that Catholic college curriculum as the means by which Tradition is handed down, even if the writings of the Doctors of the Church are part of the curricular reading, or even if an serious effort has been made to provide students with key writings. For clearly Sacred Tradition is its own thing as much as it is sacred. I also believe it is important to help students understand what Sacred Tradition truly is and the roles of the Magisterium with respect to Apostolic tradition and veracity.
“40. It is through the apostolic Tradition preserved in the Church with the assistance of the Holy Spirit that we enjoy a living contact with the foundational memory.
“Faith, in fact, needs a setting in which it can be witnessed to and communicated, a means which is suitable and proportionate to what is communicated. For transmitting a purely doctrinal content, an idea might suffice, or perhaps a book, or the repetition of a spoken message. But what is communicated in the Church, what is handed down in her living Tradition, is the new light born of an encounter with the true God, a light which touches us at the core of our being and engages our minds, wills and emotions, opening us to relationships lived in communion. ***There is a special means for passing down this fullness, a means capable of engaging the entire person, body and spirit, interior life and relationships with others. It is the sacraments, celebrated in the Church’s liturgy.***
“46. Two other elements are essential in the faithful transmission of the Church’s memory. First, the Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father”. Here Christians learn to share in Christ’s own spiritual experience and to see all things through his eyes. From him who is light from light, the only-begotten Son of the Father, we come to know God and can thus kindle in others the desire to draw near to him.
“Similarly important is the link between faith and the Decalogue. Faith, as we have said, takes the form of a journey, a path to be followed, which begins with an encounter with the living God. It is in the light of faith, of complete entrustment to the God who saves, that the Ten Commandments take on their deepest truth, as seen in the words which introduce them: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Ex 20:2). The Decalogue is not a set of negative commands, but concrete directions for emerging from the desert of the selfish and self-enclosed ego in order to enter into dialogue with God, to be embraced by his mercy and then to bring that mercy to others. Faith thus professes the love of God, origin and upholder of all things, and lets itself be guided by this love in order to journey towards the fullness of communion with God. The Decalogue appears as the path of gratitude, the response of love, made possible because in faith we are receptive to the experience of God’s transforming love for us. And this path receives new light from Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5-7).
These, then, are the four elements which comprise the storehouse of memory which the Church hands down: the profession of faith, the celebration of the sacraments, the path of the ten commandments, and prayer. The Church’s catechesis has traditionally been structured around these four elements; this includes the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is a fundamental aid for that unitary act with which the Church communicates the entire content of her faith: ‘all that she herself is, and all that she believes’.”
That is a truly wonderful text from Lumen Fidei. I think what the Holy Father says here about the sacraments being able to transmit the Church’s memory in a way that exceeds the ability of any written formula, is precisely what the Ratzinger texts I quoted above are trying to get at.
I think a distinction needs to be made between the writings of the Doctors of the Church and Sacred Tradition. They are not identical. Sacred Tradition is witnessed with veracity by the Magisterium, not the Doctors. The Doctors are just theologians deemed doctrinally sound by the Church. And much of Tradition is unwritten, but much of it is. So, to say that the Sacraments transmit living Tradition is to point to unwritten Tradition; but to point to the Lord’s prayer or the Creed is to point to written Tradition promulgated with veracity. It is critically important that young Catholics get a clear sense of the meaning of these terms. This is not that difficult.
Adoremus, the way in which the Doctors witness to tradition must be different from the way in which the Magisterium does, and also from the way in which the Fathers do. Aelianus is surely right above to say that if one finds a doctrine only in one of the Doctors that is not enough reason to think that it is Apostolic. But still, if the Doctors are teachers within the Church, they to share in “the Church’s memory” to use Lumen Fidei’s phrase, and thus when one reads (say) St. Thomas on the Trinity one is reading a witness to (though also an interpretation of) the Tradition.
I think I see now more clearly that written expressions of Tradition are also instruments of Tradition–that is that they assist in handing on the unwritten Word of God, but I still hold to what I said above; no non-scriptural text can be called “The Word of God,” but tradition is called the Word of God. The Our Father is recorded in the Gospels, and so it is part of “Tradition” in the broader sense that includes Scripture.
It is important not to confuse the vertical and the horizontal the purpose of transmitting the material content of the deposit is that it might be animated from above by sanctifying grace. It is best transmitted by one in whom it is animated by sanctifying grace. Such persons will as a consequence of grace not only articulate but also exemplify the truths they transmit. Nevertheless they are not themselves sacraments, instruments by which grace is physically transmitted from above. They provide the occasion for that vertical transmission, they only positively accomplish the horizontal transmission. In so doing they transmit nothing by example that might not in principle have been transmitted by the spoken or written word. The Fathers have an authority distinct from the Doctors. The Fathers are the writers who are probative in establishing the content of the deposit and the magisterium cannot make or unmake a Father. As such the Magisterium is an office not a body of texts.
My understanding is that the Magisterium is predicated of the Pope in his authority over the Church, as an attribute of veracity. And that this attribute has existed in the Church since its inception. So the writings and transmission of Tradition of the early Church Fathers that have been handed down with veracity via the Magisterium. In this there is ecclesial unity. (Please correct me if you believe I am mistaken.) I agree that the Doctors of the Church do not witness to Tradition in the same way the Magisterium does. I believe that the Doctors of the Church do not witness to Tradition in any special way other than being declared by the Magisterium as being emminently worthy of study and doctrinally sound. (Again, please correct me if I am mistaken; these distinctions will get us somewhere.) This is to say that much of the theology of the Doctors of the Church has been drawn into the foundational memory of the Church and has helped to inform it in a principal way, but the actual execution of veracity in Tradition is an act of the Magisterium. If we read Saint Thomas Aquinas, we are reading the principle theologian of the Church. But we are not reading Tradition. We are reading theology that many Popes with veracity is free of doctrinal error and is emminently worthy of study. How the Church uses theology to witness Tradition, it seems, is where the action takes place; hence there has been a call in recent encyclicals to include more recent Christian philosophers which are sapiential. This is because the Church’s witness to Tradition is ever alive and it must use the language of today. Reading Thomas’ theology on the Holy Trinity is not the same thing as reading the Magisterium’s dogmas on the Trinity and the complete ecclesial body of exegesis on this dogma. It is important to know the distinction. Thomas supplements the other. But the other should be presented and studied also; at least to not give the impression that Thomas is the Magisterium.
Perhaps most important of all, I find, is understanding what the Church means when it says that the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, transmits Tradition. Does this not mean that Tradition is alive in us? What about having an informed Faith? What if Tradition is alive in us, but we are not fully informed about these concepts such as Tradition, veracity, the Doctors, the Fathers, the Word of God, Scripture, etc. etc. etc.? It seems we would n ot be giving full service to this gift of God to us in the Sacraments.
This is why I would propose that it is so important to study these things, and to get them right. The study of these things may appear to be rigid, like dogma, and contrary to contemplation; but I think they are supportive of contemplation; as a bird is free to fly only when its wings have grown into a precise shape, making them mathematically capable, as it were, of carrying its body through the air and up into the sky. The Holy Father in Lumen Fidei points out that finding God in the world today is not that difficult; if one sets his mind to it, one will find Christ. God will eventually have mercy on the poor man who seeks Him, and will show Himself. This is how I am approaching theology and this discussion of Tradition. If Tradition is conveyed to us via the Sacraments, this means that we are witnesses in some sense. But we do not possess the same charism of the Magisterium. So I would really like to understand Tradition, and the important distinctions that relate the Doctors, the Fathers and the Magisterium.
Also, I object to the expression the “mystery of Tradition.” Without qualification, that is dangerously amorphous and may unwittingly serve to undermine the veracity of the foundational memory of the Church.
The Magisterium is not an entity, it is an office exercised by the Pope and the Bishops. It is negatively guaranteed against error but there is no person of whom it may be said “God has promised that he possesses full knowledge of the deposit”. It is promised that this knowledge will not depart from the full body of the Church and of the episcopate not that the Pope will possess it individually still less some imaginary hypostasised ‘magisterium’. On many of the occasions on which the Pope and the Bishops have taught the Church while invoking this negative guarantee their words have been recorded and this produces a body of doctrinally reliable writings that the faithful may consult. Nevertheless, this is a small body of writings (one volume) and it does not constitute ‘Tradition’. Tradition is the teaching bequeathed by Christ and the Apostles to the Church in Scripture and also in other ways (ways which do not entail the Holy Spirit moving someone to write only what He wills and nothing more). This second category is unwritten tradition and because we know God will not allow the deposit to perish from the Church we know that it must have survived in some public and accessible way that permits us to have moral certainty (even before invoking the infallible doctrinal judgement of the Magisterium) as to what that Tradition is. The public and accessible record which gives us access to the unwritten tradition is the writings of the Fathers. The Magisterium is an office at the service of the deposit it cannot stand over the patrisitic witness, it is subject to that witness. The doctrine of a papal encyclical does not bind us unless it constitutes a doctrinal judgement in a matter of faith and morals. This is because our faith comes to us from Jesus Christ passed down by the Apostles and the Fathers it does not come to us through some sort of present revelation from God through an inspired Pope. The doctors are writers (some Patristic some not) who the Magisterium has judged to have transmitted the faith in an exemplary way. As such they are an extension of the Magisterium. The Church cannot simply vary the vocabulary in which the Magisterium has expressed its definitive doctrinal judgements because this vocabulary and its stability is essential to the preservation of the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error for which the magisterial office exists. As St Paul says “hold the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me in faith” or as Paul VI teaches in Mysterium Fidei
“the rule of language which the Church has established through the long labor of centuries, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and which she has confirmed with the authority of the Councils, and which has more than once been the watchword and banner of orthodox faith, is to be religiously preserved, and no one may presume to change it at his own pleasure or under the pretext of new knowledge. Who would ever tolerate that the dogmatic formulas used by the ecumenical councils for the mysteries of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation be judged as no longer appropriate for men of our times, and let others be rashly substituted for them? In the same way, it cannot be tolerated that any individual should on his own authority take something away from the formulas which were used by the Council of Trent to propose the Eucharistic Mystery for our belief. These formulas—like the others that the Church used to propose the dogmas of faith—express concepts that are not tied to a certain specific form of human culture, or to a certain level of scientific progress, or to one or another theological school. Instead they set forth what the human mind grasps of reality through necessary and universal experience and what it expresses in apt and exact words, whether it be in ordinary or more refined language. For this reason, these formulas are adapted to all men of all times and all places.”
A few questions to you, Aelianus, for the sake of clarity:
“The Magisterium is not an entity, it is an office exercised by the Pope and the Bishops.”
Q: Why can we not call an “office” and entity?
“It [the Magisterium] is negatively guaranteed against error but there is no person of whom it may be said “God has promised that he possesses full knowledge of the deposit”. It is promised that this knowledge will not depart from the full body of the Church and of the episcopate not that the Pope will possess it individually still less some imaginary hypostasised ‘magisterium’.”
Q: Can we not say that the Magisterium promulgates positive statements on dogma, and therefore that it’s charism is more than a negative guarantee?
“On many of the occasions on which the Pope and the Bishops have taught the Church while invoking this negative guarantee their words have been recorded and this produces a body of doctrinally reliable writings that the faithful may consult. Nevertheless, this is a small body of writings (one volume) and it does not constitute ‘Tradition’.”
Q: Can we look at this body and assess how these writings ensure veracity in theological inquiry? Is this not essential to veracity in theological inquiry?
“Tradition is the teaching bequeathed by Christ and the Apostles to the Church in Scripture and also in other ways (ways which do not entail the Holy Spirit moving someone to write only what He wills and nothing more).”
Q: Is not the Deposit of the Faith comprised of two things: Sacred Scripture (God’s word in the the Holy Bible) and Sacred Tradition? The statement above states that Tradition is Christ’s and the Apostles word in Scripture. Can we make the distinction between Scripture and Tradion more clear?
“The public and accessible record which gives us access to the unwritten tradition is the writings of the Fathers.”
Q: If “unwritten tradition” is a “public and accessible record” then how is it unwritten?
“The Magisterium is an office at the service of the deposit it cannot stand over the patrisitic witness, it is subject to that witness.”
Q: Does this not make it seem as if the Fathers have more authority than the Church? Does this not contradict Christ’s authorization of Saint Peter that what he binds on earth will be bound in heaven? You later write: “The doctors are writers (some Patristic some not) who the Magisterium has judged to have transmitted the faith in an exemplary way. As such they are an extension of the Magisterium.” Does this not contradict your previous claim that the “Magisterium… cannot stand over the patristic witness.” In other words, did not the office of the Magisterium exist from Saint Peter, through the Fathers and until today to stand over theologians and Doctors and Fathers?
“The doctrine of a papal encyclical does not bind us unless it constitutes a doctrinal judgement in a matter of faith and morals. This is because our faith comes to us from Jesus Christ passed down by the Apostles and the Fathers it does not come to us through some sort of present revelation from God through an inspired Pope.”
Q: Encyclicals frequently, more often than not, speak in terms of doctrinal judgment on faith and morals. To say this does not suggest that encyclicals convey “some sort of present revelation from God through an inspired Pope.” But neither do the Fathers convey “some sort of present revelation from God.”
Finally, I think we need to clarify our definition of Tradition, and the role of the Magisterium.
Clearly, there seems to be such a thing as written tradition – at least, if you could explain why you feel there is not – and clearly, it seems that Tradition is far more than the unwritten tradition of the Fathers.
Faithfully in Christ,
The Magisterium preserves veracity in Tradition, or so I thought, not the Fathers; and Tradition is more than the unwritten. How is tradition unwritten in this sense: “The public and accessible record which gives us access to the unwritten tradition is the writings of the Fathers.” This does not seem to make very good sense; ie. the ** writings ** of the Fathers gives access to ** unwritten ** tradition. How can a “written, public and accessible record” be an access to something “unwritten” or the basis of unwritten tradition? Moreover, how do we know these writings are true, have veracity, are part of Sacred Tradition? Because the Church says so, no?
Wouldn’t the Creed and the Mass of St. John Chrysostom, the Melikte liturgy, which is in union with Rome, be examples of written tradition? After all, they are written.
Now, with the Fathers, did they not live our Tradition by the lives, prayer life, on a daily basis; they established continuity between the lives of the Apostles and the early Church, by what they did in their daily lives, in their prayers, in the breaking of the Bread, and this established Tradition, a continuity, a succession, in union with the earliest Popes, in an unwritten way, in the way that two points on the same plane lays out one single line of Tradition?
You immediately begin talking once again of the ‘magisterium’ as if it were some sort of hypostasis. There is no such hypostasis, nor does the Church teach that there is. The guarantee given to the Pope and the Bishops in exercising their teaching office is of infallibility not of inspiration. Public revelation is ended. The teaching office is instituted to transmit this revelation. When those who exercise it make certain doctrinal judgments they are guaranteed against error but there is no Gnosis, no secret source from which those who exercise this office may draw to produce novel or unexpected doctrines. They must have recourse to the same sources as the faithful in general. They must turn to Scripture and the Fathers. They may rely on the guarantee of infallibility and not bother to check the sources of the faith, but to do so would be to test God. Thus the guarantee is negative. Tradition is unwritten in the sense that it is not inspired in written form. The writings of the Fathers are not tradition per se, they are the evidence for tradition. There is no patristic text of which it may be said that it contains only what God willed to be written and nothing else. The Doctors are a distinct group from the Fathers. While some writers are both Doctors and Fathers their authority in each case in not the same. A Father is one whose writings constitutes evidence of apostolic tradition, a source to which one must turn in establishing that a doctrine has been taught from the beginning. A Doctor is a teacher the Church has commended for the manner in which he or she has passed on that tradition. Their writings do not inherently constitute evidence that a doctrine has always been taught unless they are also a Father. A Doctor is made a Doctor by the Pope exercising his magisterium. A Father is a Father objectively. The Magisterium (i.e. Pope or a General Council) might identify someone as a Father but they do not make him a Father. You suggest that this authority of the Fathers prejudices the authority of the Church but the ‘The Church ‘ is not to be identified with this or that contemporary Pope or group of Bishops (as your objection appears to do) the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. The Fathers are members of the church no less than the Pope of the day and teachers of the Church just as much if not more than he.The power to bind and loose guarantees that the Pope will not in a definitive doctrinal judgement contradict the doctrine passed on though Scripture and the Fathers it does not empower the Pope to redesign that doctrine or invent new doctrines. Papal infallibility does not presuppose inspiration. It can quite easily be protected by the Pope having a car accident or loosing the draft text of his encyclical. It is negative. The Fathers in contrast and by definition do indeed pass on positive revelation. The Pope may as it happens pass on revelation but he need not. He is only guaranteed not to contradict revelation and then only when he speaks under the conditions laid down by Vatican I and Vatican II.
I believe that infallibility means to speak with veracity, not just to not contradict scripture, hence the guarantee is positive also; for example, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is a positive statement; albeit not new revelation. I am not sure who supposed the Magisterium was a hypostasis, but it was not I. The term Apostolic tradition is partly synonomous with Apostolic succession, a charism of the papacy, so again, I would earnestly seek more light in these distinctions. Could someone provide an example of written Tradition? And what is the relationship between the Magisterium and the Fathers. Clearly the two were historically contempraneous.
Also, how do the Fathers pass on “positive revelation” as you say, when “revelation” ended with the death of the last Apostle. The Fathers pass on Tradition. I’m curious, where are you gettiung these terms from, and if you are being serious? The Fathers of the Church, and the Magisterium, existed in time together, in an historically contemporaneous manner. Now the Magisterium is clearly more authorotative than the Fathers from whom the charism of veracity did not prescind; that charism belongs to the Church in its Magisterium. You say the Fathers are “objective.” What exactly do you mean by this? Any existent thing is objective. So why do you say this, my dear Aeleanus? The Fathers of the Church were the first witnesses of what the Apostles received, after the death of the last Apostle: hence, Tradition. The Magisterium, being an existent thing at the same time as this, is also objective. So I am not sure why you are making these distinctions.
If by “unwritten tradition” you mean that part of the Deposit of the Faith which is not Scripture, then please give an example of “unwritten tradition.” Please also provide an example of a written “unwritten tradition.” For clearly there is such a record of written Tradition.
Please also respond to my inquiry regarding your apparent contradiction where, above, you write: “The public and accessible record which gives us access to the unwritten tradition is the writings of the Fathers.” How can we say that tradition is unwritten when it comes from writings which are publically accessible?
Do you really know what you are talking about, are you a credible expert on this subject, competent to speak on it, or are you making it up as you go along?
@Adoremus, Aelianus is a professor of theology. Part of what he is saying is based on Trent and Vatican I, but I think part of it goes beyond them. I’ve just been skimming the conciliar debates on Dei Verbum with Ratzinger’s Commentary, and Cardinal Ruffini of Palermo gives pretty much Aelianus’ view–it’s also the view of the original schema on which Dei Verbum is based. Ratzinger disagrees with it though. Here’s an English version of a speech that Ratzinger gave criticizing the schema: http://www.scotthahn.com/download/attachment/3345
Ratzinger’s talk was very influential on the final draft of Dei Verbum. Basically he argues that tradition is not a set of propositions over and above what is found in scripture. He points out that neither the Fathers nor the Scholastics speak as though there is any such thing:
“Neither the Fathers nor pre-Tridentine scholastics held this position…. One may say that from the beginning the concept of paradosis [tradition] was foundational for patristic thought and belief. But the Fathers did not see this as a set of afﬁrmations being passed on alongside Scripture. In fact, they simply denied the existence of such statements. For them tradition was the insertion of Scripture into the living organism of the Church and the Church’s right of possession of Scripture, as Tertullian formulated in classic fashion in The Praescription of Heretics. For them, tradition is simply scriptura in ecclesia (Scripture in the Church). Scripture lives in the midst of its vital appropriation by the Spirit-ﬁlled Church and only so is it truly itself. For most of the Fathers the idea of tradition as a set of aﬂirmations communicated alongside Scripture was an idea they rejected as gnostic.”
He then goes on to show how strongly SSts Thomas and Bonaventure
@Aelianus, above you write, “It is important not to confuse the vertical and the horizontal the purpose of transmitting the material content of the deposit is that it might be animated from above by sanctifying grace.” That seems to me to be the heart of the question: what is the relation between the horizontal and the vertical. Ratzinger argues that they can’t be fully separated–that tradition itself is “sacramental” the mystery of the Revelation of Christ present now. You claim that they must be separated, or one falls into the modernist trap of continuing revelation. At present I still find Ratzinger’s position more convincing. I’ll try to post some more of his arguments later today–both from his Dei Verbum Commentary and from his very interesting book on Bonaventure, which I have also been skimming. Bonaventure is important for Ratzinger’s attempt to avoid modernism since Bonaventure himself had to distinguish himself against Joachimite continuing-revelation theories…
I think the position that Scripture is materially sufficient is very attractive but the Council did not in the end choose to make any kind of judgement upon it. I think it suffers from certain serious drawbacks because there are crucial events in salvation history which are not recorded in Scripture (such as the Assumption and the foundation of the See of Rome by St Peter) which are defined by the Church as divinely revealed. Obviously tradition simply means ‘handing over’ so in one sense ‘tradition’ means the entire deposit in its state of transmission. Unwritten tradition is unwritten in the sense that it is not revealed in written form. That does not mean it cannot be passed on in written form. Very largely, because Scripture is inspired and so the best starting point for teaching, unwritten tradition is passed on as ‘scriptura in ecclesia’. This is why the Fathers are at their most authoritative as interpreters of Scripture. Hence Trent and Vatican I defined that Scripture may never be interpreted contrary to the unanimous opinion of the Fathers. I once heard a Dominican argue that a text is always silent without a context and an interpreter and that consequently for Scripture to transmit Divine Revelation securely it must be provided with a guaranteed context (the Fathers) and interpreter (the Magisterium). I find this position very attractive but I have two problems with it. The first is that already mentioned, that there are facts solemnly taught as divinely revealed which are just not in Scripture. My other objection is that this position seems to place a text in too central a position. The Gospel is centred on Jesus Christ not on the Bible. Maintaining that Scripture is not quite materially sufficient seems to do that truth more justice. I am happy with the text, context interpreter idea so long as one admits that it is an account of the relation of Scripture to the Fathers and Magisterium not an exhaustive account of the transmission of Divine Revelation as such. It should also be said that the Bible is providentially unsystematic it is not designed as a DIY Christianity manual. It must be encountered in the Church to be read correctly and the Church is formed precisely by all those traditions of apostolic origin that Scripture does not contain or claim to contain. The fact that one cannot put one’s finger on where in the Fathers we find the non-scriptural portion of the Deposit expressed seems equally providential. This forces us to submit ourselves to their world to try to see and understand things through their eyes. It makes us truly ecclesial because we cannot simply walk off with our copy of the RSV and an email from Zenit and give glib answers to the question of what ‘the Church teaches’ based on the vagaries of curial fashion. The Church is the society generated by Christ’s body and blood. It is founded upon a mystery which it takes an entire lifetime and the attainment of sanctity to assimilate. The Church has elders and they know far better than us (including our Popes and Bishops) what Christ has given us and we (including our Popes and Bishops) need to honour them and patiently listen to them if we are to learn what He has to say. Nevertheless, this is knowledge we are talking about. To transmit it well and receive it well requires holiness but it is knowledge which is transmitted propositionally. The purpose of the those propositions is to acquaint us with the Holy One directly but that acquaintance while presupposing faith comes with charity. So the handing on of the Deposit is like a sacrament the matter is passed on by man with the right intention and in the right form but it is God who works salvation in us by those means.
@sancrucensis, thank you for the clarification. I appreciate your description of Ratzinger’s belief that “tradition is not a set of propositions over and above what is found in scripture.” I see this, and think this is correct. I am slightly familiar with the term “positive Divine revelation,” the expression which Aelianus uses. I believe this term is Thomistic, and Aelianus seems to be saying that the Fathers transmit “positive revelation.”
If “positive revelation” means “not a set of propositions over and above what is found in scripture” then I have no difficulty with it. My understanding is that Revelation ended with the Apostles. The fullness of revelation is Scripture. If the Fathers, who came after Revelation, transmit “positive revelation,” this seems to suggest that revelation continued beyond the Apostles, simply by the use of the term revelation. But if positive revelation means simply a positing or explication of something which is implicit already in Scripture, then I could see how “positive revelation” is tradition and not a set of propositions over and above what is found in Scripture.
On the vertical and horizontal, I feel the two might intersect at the point of the informed rational soul who is in a state of grace. In teaching theology, the professor who can assist the layman in his understanding is valuable.
@ aelianus. Excellent and thank you.
The Assumption is divinely revealed. But is the founding of the see of Rome by St Peter not rather an example of a truth taught infallibly qua necessary for preserving the deposit – like, e.g. the ecumenical nature of Trent?
St Thomas says that all revealed truths are present in the literal sense of Scripture somewhere. They need not be there in a clear way, however. E.g the assumption is literally taught by psalm 131 and by revelation 12, but we wouldn’t know that without the teaching of the apostles and the witness to that by the fathers. One could say the same about the sacrificial character of the Mass.
How do you read this? I take it to say that the Roman Primacy is of Divine Law.
“For no one can be in doubt, indeed it was known in every age that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the apostles, the pillar of faith and the foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our lord Jesus Christ, the savior and redeemer of the human race, and that to this day and for ever he lives and presides and exercises judgment in his successors the bishops of the Holy Roman See, which he founded and consecrated with his blood.
Therefore whoever succeeds to the chair of Peter obtains by the institution of Christ himself, the primacy of Peter over the whole Church. So what the truth has ordained stands firm, and blessed Peter perseveres in the rock-like strength he was granted, and does not abandon that guidance of the Church which he once received.
For this reason it has always been necessary for every Church–that is to say the faithful throughout the world–to be in agreement with the Roman Church because of its more effective leadership. In consequence of being joined, as members to head, with that see, from which the rights of sacred communion flow to all, they will grow together into the structure of a single body.
Therefore, if anyone says that it is not by the institution of Christ the lord himself (that is to say, by divine law) that blessed Peter should have perpetual successors in the primacy over the whole Church; or that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of blessed Peter in this primacy: let him be anathema.”
Vatican I, Dei Filius
Yes, I was thinking more of the fact that St Peter had lived in Rome as an example of something which could be an object of infallible teaching without being part of the deposit.
But on the main point, St Thomas says in the last article of q 1 of 1a that everything necessary for faith is taught clearly in the literal sense of Scripture. But I would understand this of per se credibilia, and so not including everything that has been revealed, e.g. the canon of Scripture itself. So Scripture is materially sufficient to know all per se credibilia (the things whose vision makes us blessed in heaven), but not to know all revealed truths.
@ aeleanus. I greatly appreciate where you write: “It should also be said that the Bible is providentially unsystematic; it is not designed as a DIY Christianity manual. It must be encountered in the Church to be read correctly and the Church is formed precisely by all those traditions of apostolic origin that Scripture does not contain or claim to contain.”
From this, it seems prudent and proper for even the literal meaning of Sacred Scripture to not be read or studied “sola scriptura,” as it were, but in the ecclesial context of “traditions of apostolic origin that Scripture does not contain or claim to contain,” and that students of the Bible should be made aware of this context.
@aelianus. I also think is is excellent when you underscore the importance of holiness and charity, when you write that learning what the Holy One has to say “is knowledge;” and that in order “to transmit it well and receive it well requires holiness but it is knowledge which is transmitted propositionally. The purpose of the those propositions is to acquaint us with the Holy One directly but that acquaintance while presupposing faith comes with charity.” I think in these words we begin to see His teaching coming to life in charity.
“To transmit it well and receive it well requires holiness but it is knowledge which is transmitted propositionally. The purpose of the those propositions is to acquaint us with the Holy One directly but that acquaintance while presupposing faith comes with charity.”
Can we look at these propositions? What are they? How are they presented? Who presents them? Are they presented in the form of a covenant, or are they presented dialectically…?
From the Ratzinger speech linked above: “History can name practically no affirmation that on the one hand is not in Scripture but on the other hand can be traced back even with some historical likelihood to the Apostles. There are three classic examples given in textbooks, namely, the canon of Scripture, the existence of seven sacraments, and infant baptism. But these do not pass the test. Those who know the history of the canon know as well the difficult struggle over determining what the Church came to recognize as canon, as its own rule, and what it excluded. The Church possessed no formulated communication left as its own legacy by the last living Apostle concerning which books should go together to make up Scripture. Instead the Church had to ponder the effects in herself of the work of the Holy Spirit amid arduous historical questioning, before she separated from each other the books in which she did and did not recognize this Spirit and so separated normative expressions of its nature from books not containing this. This living struggle in the Holy Spirit is a process of tradere, with the plus of tradition over Scripture and its letter, with the former not being a prepared statement to be handed on. One can say the same thing about the seven sacraments and the explicit specification of them as only seven in the twelfth century It is not that earlier the corresponding seven realities were not present, but rather their order and the insight into them as belonging to the classification “sacrament” in a word, the structuring of the sacramental cosmos, like that of determining the “biblical cosmos” was again a process that involved an historical labor in the Holy Spirit, and not the communication of a formulated statement. Infant baptism may wen be somewhat different, for perhaps it was practiced in apostolic times, but then again it was not transmitted as a statement, but as a part of the actual being of the church and of her life in the Holy Spirit. An objection arises right away, namely, that some dogmas are proved only by Tradition and not by Scripture. After 1950, one often heard that the dogma [of Mary’s assumption] was a typical example of a tenet provable solely through tradition. But such an account in this case really does not help, for it is basically an escape, not an explanation. For tradition clearly knows nothing about the bodily assumption of the Mother of God before the 5th century and when the first accounts do begin to appear they are not at all later records of something handed on orally down to that time. Instead, the insight came to light only after centuries of struggling to understand it, until finally in 1950 the Church declared that the insight was from the Holy Spirit and belongs to the basic content of revelation. Such an approach leads to no proof from tradition as a distinct material principle, but again it appears to be a process of spiritual appropriation and of elaboration of the mystery of Christ amid the Church’s historical struggles.”
“For tradition clearly knows nothing about the bodily assumption of the Mother of God before the 5th century.” Non possumus! This I can’t accept. When he goes on to say ‘the insight came to light only after centuries of struggling to understand it’, it’s not clear what the ‘it’ in question is.
As for the biblical canon, this was passed down from apostolic times in the sense that it was known that such and such books were authentic, i.e. written by an apostle or by someone working in close dependence on and as it were supervised by an apostle.
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It seems plausible that one of the Apostles witnessed the Assumption but did not communicate it as part of Tradition. However, the Book of Revelation seems to feature the Coronation. The Coronation would seem to necessitate the Assumption. But I am not sure I would say that Ratzinger’s claim that “tradition clearly knows nothing about the bodily assumption of the Mother of God before the 5th century” is not possible. Those parts of our faith which have been revealed are so rich and numerous, we do not need to nibble around the edges. We have had two thousand years to understand what it is that we do as Catholics when we support revelation through teaching and theology, I am alarmed so few people know what this is. I say “support” not to imply that understanding it makes it any more revealed than it ever was; but to suggest that we build up the mystical body of Christ when our soul provides a home for this knowledge, in the same way that our souls may provide an abode for the Holy Spirit. I find it sad when so many Catholic turn their minds to reason — logic, philosophy, geometry — as a basis for faith; instead of meditating upon the principles of sacred theology; ie. those principles of revelation that cannot be known by reason, but can be held more certainly by faith, those things which we must believe as Catholics; those things which are reasonable. This includes devotionals in those things, such as Padre Pio devotionals or devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, for which there is a reasonable, theological basis, reasonable and far more important to study than geometry, math, philosophy, logic. The maxim is faith seeking understanding, not reason forming the foundation of our Faith. This is our Faith. And in terms of meditating upon the mysteries of God and the Word of God, it seems to me that Catholics must mediate upon and study the ecclesial exegesis of these teachings first and foremost, above and along with the Doctors of the Church whose writings can easily be taken out of Church context, even by those with the best intentions.
Maybe the great church is more a church of the traditions of the early fathers than one of the apostles.
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The difference between Protestants and Catholics is that the latter elevate unwritten tradition as Basil of Cesarea said:
For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is thence who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? What writing has taught us to turn to the East at the prayer? Which of the saints has left us in writing the words of the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the Eucharist and the cup of blessing? For we are not, as is well known, content with what the apostle or the Gospel has recorded, but both in preface and conclusion we add other words as being of great importance to the validity of the ministry, and these we derive from unwritten teaching. Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized. On what written authority do we do this?
Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition? Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught? And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice? And as to the other customs of baptism from what Scripture do we derive the renunciation of Satan and his angels? Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation?
Well had they learnt the lesson that the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence. What the uninitiated are not even allowed to look at was hardly likely to be publicly paraded about in written documents.
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