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The catholic church, the bible and sacred tradition

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Many non-Catholics believe that the bible is the sole rule of faith. They hold that any teaching that is not supported by the scripture should not be accepted. Some protestant Christians put it this way: “If a teaching is not found in the pages of the bible, we will not believe it.” This position is referred to as Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone).

On the contrary, the Catholic Church believes in both the bible and the sacred tradition. She believes that the Sacred Scripture is the word of God and she venerates it as venerates the Lord’s body (Cf. Dei Verbum, art.21). However, the Church believes that the bible does not contain materially all the essential truth of Christian faith.

It is not the sole rule of faith. She believes in the living faith handed on by the apostles. What the apostles handed on contains everything that serves to make God’s people live their lives in holiness and increase their faith (Cf. DV, art.8). The apostles handed on their faith in both word of their mouth and in writing. For Catholics, the bible and Sacred Tradition are the supreme rule of faith. One is not separated from the other. This article set to explain why the Catholic Church believes in both the Bible and sacred tradition.

Tradition is the faith that the apostles received and handed on to the faithful by word of mouth or by letter. It is the living transmission of the apostolic preaching accomplished in the Holy Spirit (CCC 78). It is the living faith of the Church.

It is important to state that the Bible came from the Church and the Church did not come from the Bible. It was not the Bible that made the Church; it was the Church that made the Bible. Before the production of the Bible, the Church existed for almost twenty years. The faith of the Church was based on the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. They went about preaching Jesus as the messiah. Their preaching was oral communication of the message of salvation. In the period of the early Christians, people communicated with one another verbally. They first passed on the stories of Jesus by word of mouth and not through writings. When they spoke of scripture, they referred to Jewish sacred writing: the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. Then, there was no New Testament. The Church existed without the bible for a long time. The Christians depended on the teachings of the apostles.

However, some circumstances made the early Christians begin to write down the teachings and stories about Jesus. The first was the death of the apostles and the eyewitnesses. When the Christians saw that the apostles and the people who accompanied Jesus in his ministry were dying, they began to record the stories told about Jesus by them. These stories about Jesus were also written down so that they will be read in liturgical celebrations.

It is clear to state that the message of salvation (gospel) was handed on in two ways: orally and in writing. It was first handed on by the apostles through their preaching, their examples, the institutions they established, which they received whether from Christ himself or from the prompting of the Holy Spirit (Cf. CCC 76). The living transmission of these preaching and institutions of the apostles with the aid of the Holy Spirit is called Tradition. More so, the message of salvation was committed into writing by the apostles and their close associates under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This writing constitutes the Bible.

Many Christians often think that the bible always existed from the beginning of the Church. The bible is from the Greek word, biblos, which means book. It is a collection of books. It consists of Old and New Testaments. Testament means covenant or will. The first book of the New Testament is Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, written around 50 A.D. The first written gospel is Mark’s gospel, written around 70 A.D. Around 4th century, the Church approved the acceptance of the twenty-seven books of the bible.

The Catholic Church so much believes in the bible. She believes that the bible is the word of God. The Church holds that the Sacred Scripture is “the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit” (DV, 9). She teaches that “in the Sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children and talks with them” (DV, 21). In the bible, the Church finds strength and nourishment; she welcomes it not as human word but as word of God (CCC 104).

The Catholic Church unlike other churches believes that the bible together with Sacred Tradition is the supreme rule of faith. The bible does not contain everything that brings about salvation. Most of the institutions, faith and teachings of the early Christians cannot be found in the bible. This does not mean that they should be rejected as the doctrine of Sola Scriptura suggests. The faith of the early Christians was more extensive than what was put down in the bible. The scripture does not contain materially all the essential truth of Christian faith.

The bible itself does not claim to contain everything about the faith of the early Christians. Nowhere is it stated in the bible that the bible is the only rule of faith. St Paul teaches that the scripture is “useful for teaching the truth, rebuking errors, correcting faults and giving instruction for right living” (2 Tim 3:16). He does not say that the scripture is sufficient for teaching the truth. In his first letter to Timothy, he says that the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth (1Tim 3:15).

The Church does not depend on the bible alone for the certainty of the revealed truth. Both Tradition and Bible must be accepted and honored with equal devotion and reverence. The both make up a single sacred deposit of the word of God entrusted to the Church. The Church has the authentic authority to interpret the word of God both in its written form and in the form of tradition Thus, Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and teaching authority of the Church are connected that one cannot stand without the other (Cf. DV, 9,10).
Anyaegbu Thaddeus, OP. Dominican Community, Ibadan


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1 Comment
  • The historic conflict between the Catholic faith and Protestantism centres around the subject of the place of the Word of God, the Bible. The Catholic Church believes, as the writer has clearly stated, that the Scripture plus Tradition, make the real essence of the Faith. Protestants however disagreed with this asserting that only the Scripture is to constitute the rules for belief and guide for conduct.
    This writer has itemized some of the arguments from the Catholic side. Let us look at this arguments.
    First, the Catholic Church insist that the Church ‘made’ the Bible and existed before the Bible since a committee of the church selected those books to form the canon of the scripture therefore it sees herself and her tradition as equal if not superior to the Bible. In other words, if the church existed before the Bible then her traditions and practices must be equal to it. This is the first error of the Roman Church. What is scripture? It is not necessarily the collectionof the different letters or when they were collected that made it the Bible. It was not when Constantine convened the Council that finally selected the 27 letters that made the canon of New Testament that it became the Bible, it was already Scripture even when they were read as letters from churches to churches as far back as 70 A.D.- right from the days of the Primitive Church and long before the institution of the Catholic Church as we know it. And they were already scriptures even when they were recited as oral traditions before it was committed to writing. What makes it Scripture is not because it was committed to writing or printed but BECAUSE IT IS THE WORD OF GOD. By placing her traditions some of which emanated from the traditional religion of Rome on the same footing with the Scripture the Catholic Church commits and still commits one of the greatest blunders and heresies possible to humanity. This is the point where Luther, Calvin, Huss, Wyccliff, Savonarola etc., would not concede to Rome.

    The claim that the Scripture is not superior to tradition is also fallacious and problematic. What makes a tradition authentic if not anchored on the Scripture? The claim that many of the early Christian beliefs are not in the Bible is also problematic. The e