Tag Archives: scripture

Holy Tradition

A question on the bible and the nature of Tradition always surfaces. Many of those who follow the Protestant line dismiss the intimate connection Tradition that the Catholics and Orthodox make viz. the bible. The magisterial reformers of the 16th century (Luther, Zwingli) led Christians astray by teaching that sola scriptura was a true doctrine taught by the bible. No such thing. What we now come to understand as sacred Scripture found in the publication called The Bible was developed by the Church… the Church did NOT come out of the Bible. History teaches us this fact. History that Evangelicals refuse to admit. The Church, therefore, predates the New Testament, and the Bible. Tradition trumps Scripture. After all, who decided what the Bible would be? The Church, in Council.

In defense of biblical tradition here is but one support: “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

Holy Tradition assists us in interpreting the words of sacred Scripture. One fact, Divine Revelation, which we accept with that faith which we owe to God alone, was completed with the death of the last Apostle, St. John. At the Council of Trent the Council Fathers taught:  Hence, too, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by Holy mother Church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding. May understanding, knowledge and wisdom increase as ages and centuries roll along, and greatly and vigorously flourish, in each and all, in the individual and the whole Church: but this only in its own proper kind, that is to say, in the same doctrine, the same sense, and the same understanding. AND yet, it is also true to say that Tradition gives us a renewed sense of what we believe and hold to be True about our divinely revealed faith. Doctrine, according to the Magisterium develops but does not reject the Truth nor take up modernist teachings to explain what is revealed by the Lord. Offering an interpretation of John 16:12-13: “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth,” Joseph Ratzinger speaks of  “livingness” of tradition through all the ages, and not merely at the time of the Apostles and that’s it.

In his Commentary on Vatican II’s document Dei Verbum, Joseph Ratzinger wrote:

The dynamic concept of tradition, with which the Council here develops its positive conception of traditio, was strongly attacked from two quite opposite directions. On the one hand, Cardinal Ruffini rejected it from his position of traditionally neoscholastic theology, but on the other, Cardinal Leger attacked it from an ecumenical standpoint. In spite of the sharp division in their general theological orientations, the arguments of these two Council fathers were astonishingly similar Ruffini firmly emphasized the idea of revelation being concluded with the death of the last Apostle, rejected the idea of including disciples of the Apostles among the origins of revelation, and opposed the idea of a living and growing revelation, for, in accordance with the text of Trent and Vatican I, he considered that this should be mentioned only in connection with a strong emphasis on the strict unchangeability of a revelation that had been concluded once and for all, with which he referred to an appropriate text by Vincent de Lerins, quoted at both Councils. In the concept of the schema, and especially in its emphasis on spiritual experience as a principle of the growing knowledge of revelation, he detected theological evolutionism, condemned as modernism by Pius XII. In another tone and with other reasons Cardinal Leger insisted on the same point, He found that the Schema, especially in its idea of progress, which seemed to refer not only to the knowledge of tradition, but tradition itself (Haec … Traditio … proficit), blurred the strict distinction between apostolic and post-apostolic tradition and endangered the strict transcendence of divine revelation when it was confronted with the statements and actions of the teaching office of the Church. The Cardinal was concerned that the Church should bind itself firmly to the final and unchangeable word of God, that does not grow, but can only be constantly assimilated afresh and cannot be manipulated by the Church. The Theological Commission considered the question carefully, but decided not to make any major alterations in the text. It pointed out that the clause ” … Traditio proficit” is explained by a second clause “crescit … tam rerum quam verborum perceptio“, i.e. the growth of tradition is a growth in understanding of the reality that was given at the beginning. (Commentary pp.186-187)

In another place Tradition is expounded upon in this manner by Pope John Paul II, in the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei when he about the error:

The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition, which, as the Second Vatican Council clearly taught, “comes from the apostles and progresses in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts. It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth”.

Let me suggest reading a good and essential book: Joseph Ratzinger, God’s Word: Scripture, Tradition, Office (Ignatius Press).

Orthodox Abbot Tryphon offers this reflection on Holy Tradition which supports the proper interpretation of the Bible:

Many evangelical protestants see Holy Tradition as standing in direct contrast to Scripture, as though Tradition is always relegated to “the traditions of men”. However, there are numerous references in Holy Scripture to Holy Tradition. For example:

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1-4).”

It must be noted that in this instance, the oral word preceded the written word. hence becoming Holy Tradition.

In John 20:30-3, it is revealed, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book”, and in John 21:25, we read, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written”. One of my personal favorite passages regarding Holy Tradition is found in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

Holy Tradition is not apart from the Bible, but supports the proper interpretation of the Bible. Holy Tradition emanates from Christ Himself, and is expressed by the Apostles, the Holy Fathers, and the Church. The Fathers, in fact, are the very guardians of the Apostolic Tradition, for they, like the Apostles before them, are witnesses of a single Truth, which is the Truth of the God-man, Jesus Christ. Since Christ is one, unique, and indivisible, so also is the Church unique and indivisible. The Church is the incarnation of the incarnated God-man, Jesus Christ, and will continue through the ages, and even throughout all eternity.

St Pius X

St Pius X as cardinalWith Saint Pius X we have an example of a man who was given the mission “to safeguard the Catholic faith and to restore all things in Christ,” based on “heavenly wisdom and apostolic fortitude.” This is what we need to attend to. From the Office of Readings given today for the liturgical memorial of Saint Pius X comes from the 1911 apostolic constitution Divino Afflatu written by himself:

The collection of psalms found in Scripture, composed as it was under divine inspiration, has, from the very beginnings of the Church, shown a wonderful power of fostering devotion among Christians as they offer to God a continuous sacrifice of praise, the harvest of lips blessing his name. Following a custom already established in the Old Law, the psalms have played a conspicuous part in the sacred liturgy itself, and in the divine office. Thus was born what Basil calls the voice of the Church, that singing of psalms, which is the daughter of that hymn of praise (to use the words of our predecessor, Urban VIII) which goes up unceasingly before the throne of God and of the Lamb, and which teaches those especially charged with the duty of divine worship, as Athanasius says, the way to praise God, and the fitting words in which to bless him. Augustine expresses this well when he says: God praised himself so that man might give him fitting praise; because God chose to praise himself man found the way in which to bless God.

The psalms have also a wonderful power to awaken in our hearts the desire for every virtue. Athanasius says: Though all Scripture, both old and new, is divinely inspired and has its use in teaching, as we read in Scripture itself, yet the Book of Psalms, like a garden enclosing the fruits of all the other books, produces its fruits in song, and in the process of singing brings forth its own special fruits to take their place beside them. In the same place Athanasius rightly adds: The psalms seem to me to be like a mirror, in which the person using them can see himself, and the stirrings of his own heart; he can recite them against the background of his own emotions. Augustine says in his Confessions: How I wept when I heard your hymns and canticles, being deeply moved by the sweet singing of your Church. Those voices flowed into my ears, truth filtered into my heart, and from my heart surged waves of devotion. Tears ran down, and I was happy in my tears.

Indeed, who could fail to be moved by those many passages in the psalms which set forth so profoundly the infinite majesty of God, his omnipotence, his justice and goodness and clemency, too deep for words, and all the other infinite qualities of his that deserve our praise? Who could fail to be roused to the same emotions by the prayers of thanksgiving to God for blessings received, by the petitions, so humble and confident, for blessings still awaited, by the cries of a soul in sorrow for sin committed? Who would not be fired with love as he looks on the likeness of Christ, the redeemer, here so lovingly foretold? His was the voice Augustine heard in every psalm, the voice of praise, of suffering, of joyful expectation, of present distress.

In God’s image we are made

“The image of God is not depicted on gold but is imaged in humanity. The coin of Caesar is gold; that of God, humanity. Caesar is seen in his currency; God, however, is known through human beings. And so give your wealth to Caesar but reserve for God the sole innocence of your conscience, where God is beheld.”

This reflection for the 29th Sunday of Church year from an unknown 5th century author names a key in our spiritual life: our humanity, not temporal items. God reveals Himself in the body, not in gold, real estate or academic degrees. Whom do we seek to know: God or things?

Sacred Scripture as historical texts reveals Christ Jesus

The 20th and 21st centuries have seen Catholics draw closer to the Bible, the revealed Word of God. During the pontificate of Benedict XVI there was almost an explosion of emphasis on Scripture study, a resurgence of biblical preaching, a serious consideration of what it means to be an evangelical Catholic and lectio divina. In my opinion, it was Benedict XVI who gave critical attention to the sacred Scriptures in the calling of the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God coupled with the concretizing the Church’s programatic direction with the publication of Verbum Domini (2010).

Rome Reports gives a spotlight on a recent initiative of the American Bible Society‘s “The Bible and the World.”

This initiative of the ABS is yet another great example of the place we Catholics need to have for the daily praying with God’s word, and the study of the historical text. As the preparatory commission for the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God stated about the complexity and beauty of the sacred text viz. our salvation in Christ Jesus,

Pastorally speaking, this truth requires an understanding on how to gather, in an analogous way, the various meanings of the Word of God in the faith of the Church, as seen in the Bible. In the Scriptures, Jesus Christ is shown to be the Eternal Word of God, which shines forth in creation, is given a historical character in the message of the prophets, is fully manifested in the Person of Jesus, is echoed in the voice of the apostles and is proclaimed in the Church today. In a general sense, the Word of God is Christ-the-Word, who, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is the key to all interpretation. “The Word of God, who was in the beginning with God, is not, in his fullness, much talk or a multiplicity of words; but a single Word, which embraces a great number of ideas (theoremata), each of which is a part of the Word in its entirety… and if Christ refers us to the Scriptures in testifying to himself, it is not to one book that he sends us to the exclusion of another, but to all, because all speak of him.”Thus, continuity can be seen in diversity.

Fr. Harrington Receives Heartfelt Tributes

Daniel Harrington SJOne of my former professors of Scripture is battling cancer.  Please offer a prayer for him. Jesuit Father Daniel Harrington was honored for his tremendous work in sacred Scripture. His notes and wisdom are still fresh in my mind. He is in his final year of teaching; this coming semester he is scheduled to teach three courses. Father Harrington’s many years of teaching, writing and research is a testament to the hard work of faith and reason that we ardently need.

The Harvard educated Jesuit priest served as editor of New Testament Abstracts since 1972; edited the eighteen-volume Sacra Pagina series of New Testament Commentaries (Liturgical Press) and wrote “The Word “ column for America magazine for three years. His bibliography, however,  is more extensive. Not long ago Harrington and Christopher R. Matthews published Encountering Jesus in the Scriptures (Paulist Press, 2013), a collection of scholarly essays exploring who Jesus was in the first century—and what he means for us today. Putting biblical theology to work for the people of God in the Archdiocese of Boston, Harrington has been on the staff at St. Agnes Church in Arlington and at St. Peter’s in Cambridge.

Father Harrington remarked,

“It has been my privilege as a member of the Society of Jesus for more than 50 years to immerse myself in the study of the Bible — the ancient languages, the forms of expression, the culture settings and the theological significance.”

“The old saying ‘If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life’ certainly applies to me. It’s all been a joy.”

Read about the event here.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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