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Understanding Catholicism - Scripture and Tradition

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Understanding Catholicism - Scripture and Tradition


Jesus wrote nothing but taught his apostles orally. They in turn passed on the teaching of Jesus orally.


We can see this in Paul’s letters to Timothy. Paul tells Timothy to take as a norm the sound words that he heard from Paul and to guard it carefully (2Tim 1:13-14 & 1Tim 6:20). Timothy is in turn to pass this on to others, who will pass it on in their turn (2Tim 2:1-2).


In time some of this teaching (known as the deposit of faith) was written down and later gathered together (in the 4th century) into what we know as the New Testament. Other teaching continued to be passed on orally, although this in turn was eventually written down in the writings of the early fathers, creeds, liturgies and the decisions of Church Councils. This is known as Sacred Tradition or just Tradition (with a capital ‘T’) This is not to be confused with disciplinary, liturgical and devotional traditions and practices that have grown up over time in particular places (tradition with a small ‘t’).


The Catholic Church believes that Scripture and Tradition together contain the fullness of the truth that Jesus taught. Tradition also includes authoritative teaching that expands on what was originally passed on. Though public revelation ceased with the death of the last apostle, the deepening understanding of the truths contained in that revelation continues.


Scripture itself attests that it is not complete (Mk 4:33-34 & 6:34, Jn 16:12, 20:30 & 21:25, Acts 1:2-3)


Paul instructs people to hold to the traditions he has passed on to them (1Cor 11:2, 2Thess 2:15 & 3:6)


The Catholic Church believes that:

“The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.”

(Catechism of the Catholic Church para 85).


This teaching office is known as the Magisterum.


As the Catechism explains

“Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.” (para 86)





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