What is it with Catholics and all their Traditions?

If you’ve heard about various Catholic Doctrines and beliefs, you may have found yourself asking this question.Where does Catholic Doctrine come from? If it’s not in scripture, why do they believe it? This post is intended to give you a brief explanation of Tradition and why the church holds it with such regard.

First, we need to establish a distinction between “tradition” and “Tradition” (or “Sacred Tradition”). Small-t traditions (like advent candles, forms of devotion, abstaining from meat on Friday’s etc.) are customs or disciplines that develop within the church. They have purpose and meaning in the life of faith and they can contribute to our piety – they are good things to do – but they really aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of things.

In Patrick Madrid’s “Why is That in Tradition” He describes Sacred Tradition as “The Church’s lived understanding of the deposit of faith, handed down faithfully and completely from one generation to the next.” Sacred Traditions are those practices and beliefs that are referred to with a big “T.” I can’t really give you a comprehensive, bulleted list off-hand, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church (http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/ccc_toc.htm) pretty much covers it. If you’re serious about researching the Catholic Faith and want to get a better idea of which Traditions are Sacred Traditions – the Catechism is the most reliable source…

Anyway, to give you an idea, these are some Sacred Traditions.

  • Authority/ Magisterium of the Church (The primacy of Peter, Apostolic Succession, the Canon of Scripture)
  • Doctrines (The Trinity, Mary as the mother of God and her perpetual virginity, veneration of the Saints, Purgatory)
  • Sacraments (Modes of Baptism, Confession to a Priest, The Eucharistic Liturgy, the Mass as a sacrifice, the real presence of the Eucharist)

Now that I’ve explained WHAT the Sacred Traditions are I’m going to make my case for why we uphold these Sacred Traditions and how they are in-line with the Christian life.

These Sacred Traditions are part of divine revelation – just as Scripture is… But the entirety of our faith cannot be found in scripture. For example, the canon of the New Testament is a crucial to our faith; it is part of God’s revelation. But the canon was not revealed in scripture itself; rather the important information was revealed by God and collected. So, you must believe in SOME Tradition if you accept the canon of the New Testament.

Scripture itself tells us the importance of oral tradition and reminds us to hold fast to the traditions handed down to us…. (All passages are from the New American Standard Bible)

2 Thessalonians 2:15: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.”

1 Corinthians 11:2 – “Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions just as I delivered them to you.

These verses show that scripture itself doesn’t tell us that scripture alone is the only source of truth – rather scripture tells us that there is another source of truth found in the teaching of the church.

2 Timothy 3:15 – “…I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of truth.”

Scripture also warns us that we, as individuals, cannot interpret scripture – but that we must rely on those who have been sent to instruct.

Acts 8:30-31 – “Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, ‘Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”

2 Peter 1:20 – “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.”

2 Peter 3:14-16 – “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

Now, certainly, the condemnation of man-made traditions is justified, seeing that Scripture warns against those as well (Matthew 15:1-9, Mark 7:4-8. Colossians 2:8, Colossians 2:22) but these warnings are focused on human traditions. Logically speaking, if God is warning us of human traditions, there must also be Sacred Traditions – our challenge comes in knowing the difference.

But God didn’t leave us to arbitrarily estimate the line between man-made tradition and Sacred Tradition… instead he gave us the tools and people to help us differentiate. He gave us the rich history of the Church, what Timothy calls the pillar and support of truth. Statements from the Church Fathers, Ecumenical Councils, and Papal Encyclicals – documents from men who were chosen by God to teach and to guide – they are recorded for our instruction.

Again, if you are truly interested in Sacred Traditions and want to know more about where they come from and why we have them, I would also encourage you to read the church fathers if there are certain Sacred Traditions that you are questioning. The Catechism cross-references a lot of writings and I have some reference books as well. Let me know if you need specific references. I also hope to continue writing about specific Traditions and explaining them in more detail. So, check back!

In Christ,