Skip to comments.Vatican II And The Word Of God: Part Three
Posted on 03/24/2004 10:43:02 AM PST by ConservativeStLouisGuy
Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church
One of the big problems that many of our evangelical brothers and sisters have with the Catholic Church is that it appears to have an endless number of traditions that seem to get in the way of the simple word of God in the Scriptures. In addition to this, Catholics uphold the teaching authority of the Church (Magisterium being the Latin word for this) which seems to compete with the authority of the Bible.
Tradition and Traditions
Interestingly enough, though prior Church Councils such as Trent (16th century) had affirmed the importance of extra-biblical traditions and the teaching authority of the Church, no official document had ever really attempted to explain the exact nature of Tradition and Magisterium and how they relate to Scripture. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council, understanding the strategic importance of this issue, were determined to address all this in Dei Verbum, their Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.
For many Catholics, the concept of tradition brings to mind various practices and customs passed down through the ages such as the rosary, the Stations of the Cross or genuflecting before the Blessed Sacrament. Rather than dwelling on such individual traditions, the Second Vatican Council preferred to examine the larger reality of Tradition with a capital T. Note how inclusive the reality of Tradition is considered to be in this key text from DV paragraph 8: "Now what was handed on by the apostles includes everything which contributes to the holiness of life, and the increase in faith of the People 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."
Actually, this simply echoes the way Paul uses the word tradition in 2 Thessalonians 3:15 Hold fast to the traditions which we gave you whether by word of mouth or in writing. Paul uses traditions for the entire heritage he is passing on, both those he taught by personal example and those written down.
Tradition is really the entire Revelation of Gods Word and all the abundance of life which this Word produces as it is lived out and passed on from generation to generation. It actually pre-dates the inspired text of Scripture, is the source from which the inspired writers draw in writing down the words of Scripture, and forms the living context of Scripture as it is proclaimed and lived down through the ages.
Think about it. Most scholars agree that the earliest books of the Old Testament the five first books of the Bible known as the Pentatauch were not written in their final form until about 400BC. Yet Abraham lived in 1800 BC, Moses 1200 BC and David 1000 BC. So how did people get to hear about Gods dealings with these figures? How did the Jews first learn of the 10 commandments? Before the Bible was written in its final form, the words and deeds of God were passed down orally. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the stories about the deliverance in the Red Sea, the words of the prophets all this would all have been shared orally for hundreds of years before assuming the written form we now know as the Old Testament.
The process of Tradition, of picking up a great and ancient heritage by living in it, is something we experience in a natural way. When you think of how we learn English, we dont study grammar until we go to school. We simply pick it up by living in it and hearing it spoken around us. Thats the way a lot of things are in life, we naturally learn through family tradition. And even many of those things that are formally studied cannot be learned entirely by reading a book. That is why a physician spends years as an intern and resident after formal classroom studies.
Scripture and Tradition
Maybe this is why Jesus lived with the Apostles for three years and never wrote anything, except in sand. They heard not only His words, but the tone in His voice, the smile on His face, the anger when He was driving out the money changers from the temple. They absorbed a whole lot more than written words could ever convey.
In a similar way, Paul went to live the people in Ephesus for two and a half years. Later he wrote a letter back to them. Which do you think had more impact on the Ephesians, the years they heard him teach and observed his example, or his letter of 6 chapters? That short letter is inspired by the Holy Spirit, but is nonetheless limited in what it is able to transmit to us. Tradition is the larger reality of Paul living among them and passing on all that he had received from the Lord and the Apostles.
So Tradition, according to Vatican II, is everything involved in the living experience of the Word of God, passed from Jesus to the Apostles and then from one generation to the next, down to us. Scripture was birthed out of this living experience which forms, as it were, Scriptures native habitat. And if Scripture is to be truly understood, it must be viewed in its native habitat.
The Church, in Dei Verbum, was trying to show us that Scripture and Tradition are not two separate things. They are not in competition with each other and we certainly dont use Tradition to get around Scripture as the Pharisees did. But Scripture is never intended to be taken apart from Tradition. It shines and only becomes fully understandable within Tradition. Tradition is meant to support and interpret the inspired Word of God. Thus for Catholics the Word of God is always Scripture in Tradition, not Scripture alone.
The Scriptures are unique, however and no other Church writing neither documents nor papal encyclicals are called the Word of God like the Scriptures are. They are not inspired in the way Scripture is. But it is only within that whole body of life and experience and writing called Tradition that the Scriptures take on their intended meaning for us.
How do you square this glowing description of Tradition with the harsh words both Jesus (Mk 7:1-13) and Paul (Col 2:8) had for traditions? In both cases, what comes in for criticism are traditions of human origin that get in the way of Gods commandments. Tradition which is spoken about by Vatican II, goes back to the Lord and the Apostles. Tradition is not about voiding or adding to the Word of God in Scripture, but helping to interpret and understand it better. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, adding a precision not specifically present in the documents of Vatican II, notes that Tradition should be distinguished from various traditions which arise over the course of the ages and are passed down. These traditions can express the Tradition and serve it, but they can also outlive their usefulness.
So who determines which traditions go back to the beginning and, as part of Tradition, are essential? Who determines which traditions of later origin may be changed? Catholics can differ even violently about such questions of tradition, as illustrated by the debate on women priests, for example. And for that matter, who determines the proper interpretation of Scripture? Different people reading the same passage of Scripture can have different opinions as to what it means (thats why there are thousands of Christian denominations who claim to be under the authority of the same Bible!).
Thats where the Magisterium comes in. This Latin word simply means teaching authority of the bishops, successors of the apostles, who teach in union with the pope, who is the successor of Peter. It was the Magisterium of the Catholic Church in the 2nd through 4th centuries that discerned which books were inspired and were to be recognized as Scripture. It was the Magisterium of the successors of the apostles that guided and guarded the process of handing on apostolic tradition. Yet Vatican II makes abundantly clear that this Magisterium is not over the Word of God, but under it. It was instituted by Christ there to serve the revealed Word of God, not to change it or add to it. Thus the pope cant suddenly decide to declare, for example, that there are four persons in the Blessed Trinity. He doesnt have any such authority. That is, in fact, essentially what the dispute about women priests is about. The reason the pope is against it has nothing to do with his personal feelings on the matter. Theologically he understands that he doesnt have the authority to do go against Christs choice, related in Scripture, for men as His apostles, and the continuous, universal tradition of the Church to admit only male candidates to the priesthood and episcopacy. Though many theologians disagree, the successor of Peter has ultimate authority to interpret Scripture and Tradition, and has decided the question in a definitive way.
The Magisterium of the Church is ultimately about having the authority to determine finally what the Word of God says through Scripture and Tradition. In the US government, the Constitution of the nation is not supposed to be changed by the Supreme Court. Those judges are supposed to be under the authority of the Constitution. Their particular authority is to determine definitively, when push comes to shove, how to interpret and apply that Constitution. In similar fashion, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church interprets, guards and preserves the teaching of the Word of God for us with one very important difference: the successors of the apostles receive a charism of truth from the Lord that aids them in their task (note the revelation Peter received in Mat 16:17). Unfortunately, there is no such guarantee of divine assistance for the US Supreme Court! When the successors of the apostles together with the successor of Peter fully engage their doctrinal authority on a matter of the Word of God, they speak definitively and with Gods authority.
God, then, has provided for us three gifts that together guarantee we can always know with confidence the truth about God and His plan for us. It is not a question of which gift is more important than the others rather Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium together form a three-legged stool that is stable and reliable. Upon this stool, the Church can rest. If any of the legs is taken away however, the stool collapses, the Church falls, and is fragmented. The Council Fathers sum it up well in Dei Verbum paragraph 10:
"It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God's most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls."
This article is the key point of disagreement between Protestants and Catholics. While the Catholics would say the above, Protestants would make the following editorial change:
But Tradition is never intended to be taken apart from Scripture. It shines and only becomes fully understandable within Scripture.
A small but significant change in perspective.
BTW-Thanks for posting the rest of the articles. Sometimes one wonders what to post and what not.
Vatican rejects appeal by women priests
The Vatican said yesterday that it has upheld its decision to excommunicate seven women who call themselves priests, saying the move was necessary to protect the rest of the faithful.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in a statement that it had rejected the women's appeal of the excommunication order because of the "gravity of offences committed".
The women - who include the former first lady of the US state of Ohio, as well as women from Austria and Germany - participated in an ordination ceremony aboard a boat travelling Europe's Danube River on 29 June last year.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation declared them excommunicated on 5 August after they refused to renounce their claims and prohibited the women from celebrating Mass or receiving the sacraments.
The women appealed the decision and asked for clarification on what constitutes "schismatic" conduct and on Biblical passages regarding equality of women.
The Vatican rejected the appeal and explained Monday that the women were "accomplices in schism" for having participated in the ordination ceremony with Argentine Bishop Romulo Braschi, who had already been excommunicated.
In addition, the women "formally and obstinately reject a doctrine which the Church has always taught and lived ... 'that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women,'" the statement said, citing a document by Pope John Paul II.
Vatican stands firm on women priests (BBC)
Excommunication of 7 women "ordained" in Austria is confirmed (Vatican Information Service)
Vatican comments on excommunications of women ´priests´ (8/8/02)
Church removes women ´priests´ (6/8/02)
Catholic women in unofficial ordination (1/7/02)
Next up: Kennedy and Kerry. Please!
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