Friday, September 13, 2002

Will Catholics Please Respond?

In the comment section of my recent Scripture Alone post, several of us (non Roman Catholics) are debating what the Roman Catholic position on (sacred) tradition is. I am hoping Catholic readers will contribute to the discussion, which I will bring to the foreground below.

Keep in mind the question on the table is not What is wrong with the Catholic position? but rather What is the Catholic position?

In fact, I want to condense my question down to its essence:

Is there knowledge or doctrine that is revealed in sacred tradition but is not plainly found in, or derivable from, scripture?

According to Vatican II:
This tradition which comes from the Apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down…

This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face.
And what seem to be the relevant paragraphs from the catechism:
78 This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it…

80 Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal…
As far as answering my question is concerned, I personally find these teachings to be ambiguous. It (almost) makes one long for the brutal but straightforward language of Trent!

Here are the positions from three contributors to the Scripture Alone comments:
  1. Joel Garver:
    Catholic theologians can maintain that there is nothing in tradition that is not also present in Scripture, at least implicitly

    Tradition is a distinct mode of transmission, not a distinct source or content. Try an analogy. Imagine that a church service is broadcast over the web through Real Audio and, at the same time, is broadcast on the AM radio dial. You have two forms of transmission--web and radio--but only one source--the event of the church service. And those modes of transmission are, of course, distinct as the Catechism maintains.

    Tradition is like the radio broadcast of the church service along with a commentator who is present at it, while in the Real Audion version, you can barely make out the commentator off in the background. The commentator, however, is only interpreting what's going on the service.

    Perhaps also the two microphones for the two broadcasts are situated somewhat differently, so different aspects of the one source event are clearer in different modes of transmission, e.g., the choir being heard more loudly over the congregation in the one.
  2. Christopher Jones agrees with Joel Garver:
    [D]istinct means distinct but it does not mean separable. It means "capable of being distinguished," or having qualities that may be perceived and contemplated on their own. Thus (by analogy) the divine and human natures of Christ are distinct (not fused together or blended, which would be Monophysitism) but, by virtue of the hypostatic union, not separated or separable (which would be Nestorianism). There is one deposit of faith, with two modes of transmission. The modes may be distinguished, but the content is one.
  3. David Heddle has (alas, as usual) the reactionary position:
    While there may be one package (a single deposit of faith) it has two constituents, scripture and tradition. Distinct means distinct. When thoroughly integrated, it is clear that only the Magisterium can interpret tradition so an individual’s interpretation of scripture is subordinate to the Church’s interpretation of tradition.

Keep in mind we are debating what the Catholic position is, not our response to the Catholic position.

Speaking for myself, the Catholic position would be clarified by an answer, with an unambiguous yes or no, to the question I posed.

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