Today we're going to talk about Sacred Tradition.
(Does anyone else think of The Fiddler on the Roof when you hear the word "tradition"?)
Basic Church Teaching
Sacred Tradition, basically, is the teaching of Jesus Christ handed down from generation to generation through the Apostles and their successors. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say:
"In keeping with the Lord's command, the Gospel was handed on in two ways:
- orally 'by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received - whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit';
- in writing 'by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing.'" (CCC 76)
So Oral Tradition is just as big a part of passing on the Gospel as Written Tradition (Scripture) is. It doesn't replace Scripture or anything like that; rather, the two go hand in hand.
Oral Tradition and the Bible
I find it interesting that Scripture itself is considered part of Sacred Tradition. Indeed, without Oral Tradition we wouldn't have Written Tradition. The books of the Bible have been around for - well, a really long time; but it wasn't until the Council of Carthage in 419 that they were officially compiled in a definitive list. At this point the Church said, "Here, these are the books that are divinely inspired; this is what you can read as absolute truth." How did they know which books were divinely inspired? Through Oral Tradition.
Oral Tradition, then, has always been a part of the Christian faith. This is Biblically supported, as explained in this article, which points out several relevant Bible verses:
"...stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter" (2 Thess. 2:15)
"So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ" (Rom. 10:17)
"[W]hat you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2)
Tradition vs. tradition
Tradition means the basic truths of Christianity which have been handed down from age to age - things that are indispensable to the Catholic faith. So, things like the Trinity. The word "Trinity" is never mentioned in the Bible (though it is Biblically supported), but it is a basic tenant of the faith. You can't be a Christian and not believe in the Trinity. That's Tradition with a big T.
Other examples of Tradition with a big T include the divinity of Christ, Purgatory, the Immaculate Conception, and other such doctrines. (Not all of these are indispensable to Christianity - there are lots of good Christians who don't believe in the Assumption of Mary, for instance - but they are indispensable to Catholicism.)
The tradition with a small t means pretty much anything which is a part of the faith, and sometimes a big part, but not an indispensable part. These traditions can be done without. They may change through time.
Examples of tradition with a small t include women veiling themselves at Mass, setting up Nativity scenes at Christmas time, having Mass in Latin, devotions such as the rosary, and even having unmarried priests. All these things are changeable and unnecessary. We don't veil at Mass anymore; there was a time Nativity scenes hadn't been invented; Mass can now be said in English; devotions come and go; and at certain times in Church history priests have been allowed to marry. Small t traditions are nice touches to the faith, and people often feel they are integral parts of their lives; but they aren't basic tenants of the faith the way big T Traditions are.
This is all explained very well in this article.
I don't know if I can think of anything else to say about Sacred Tradition at the moment. So let's talk! Comments? Questions? Concerns? Arguments?
Is there any way this feature could be better? Have you any ideas for future Catholicism Explained posts? Does anyone else feel like watching Fiddler on the Roof right now? :)