Question about Tradition

I’m trying to understand varying Christian views on “Tradition.” Specifically I’m curious as the views of Tradition from the Catholics here, from your POV. I know the “technical” definitions and popular usages and apologetic behind the idea of Tradition, but I’m looking for a practicing layman’s view and explanation.

Would you say that the Traditions that are taught by the formal teachings of the Catholic Church today were taught in the same way back in Acts? Meaning, is it your POV that there are no Traditions today that were added in over time, OR is it your POV that there are some Traditions were indeed added in, but they were added by the guidance of the Spirit in order to effect holiness in the lives of the people of the Church? I would really like to hear your personal perspective.

Hi, Kliska.

The fact that you refer to “Traditions” in the plural indicates that your idea of Sacred Tradition is not the Catholic idea. It is not as if we have various “traditions” within the Catholic Church like we have various traditions in our secular society, i.e. turkey at Thanksgiving, cake at birthday parties, decorated trees at Christmas, etc… which can change or be added to over time.

Sacred Tradition, at least from my own “laymen’s understanding” refers to the teachings of the apostles which were handed down orally and which are embodied in the very life of the Church, in its liturgies, sacraments, teachings, works of mercy, works of charity etc. Sacred Scripture is only that portion of Sacred Tradition that was committed to writing.

For instance, we have the Mass (the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist) explained in great detail by Justin Martyr around 150 AD, indicating this was already an old practice within the Church, yet we do not find these specific instructions in the Bible. I would suggest reading Justin Martyr’s “First Apology” in its entirety (its not very long) as an example of how Sacred Tradition operated in the early Church. As I said, the Bible gives us no great detail as to the liturgies that were practiced by early Christians, yet the Mass, according to Justin Martyr, was what Christians did when they gathered together on Sunday. If you read what he says about the Eucharist you will find a very developed doctrine with no uncertainty. IOW, while they had the Old Testament and some copies of the “memoirs” of the apostles, as Martyr refers to them, these were in no way the sole basis of the Christian faith and life of the Church.

Peace to you.

Steve

Actually I used “Traditions” quite deliberately because it is the only proper way I can communicate the question. There is a set of teachings that falls under the heading Tradition, but there are “Sacred Traditions” that are a part of that. I do understand the technical concept of “Tradition” from research, reading the CCC, reading Catholic Apologetics, etc… I’m asking a very specific question about the perspective of modern practicing Catholics in order to try to get a practical understanding of the layman’s take on it.

Sacred Tradition, at least from my own “laymen’s understanding” refers to the teachings of the apostles which were handed down orally and which are embodied in the very life of the Church, in its liturgies, sacraments, teachings, works of mercy, works of charity etc. Sacred Scripture is only that portion of Sacred Tradition that was committed to writing.

For instance, we have the Mass (the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist) explained in great detail by Justin Martyr around 150 AD, indicating this was already an old practice within the Church, yet we do not find these specific instructions in the Bible. I would suggest reading Justin Martyr’s “First Apology” in its entirety (its not very long) as an example of how Sacred Tradition operated in the early Church. As I said, the Bible gives us no great detail as to the liturgies that were practiced by early Christians, yet the Mass, according to Justin Martyr, was what Christians did when they gathered together on Sunday. If you read what he says about the Eucharist you will find a very developed doctrine with no uncertainty. IOW, while they had some copies of the “memoirs” of the apostles, as Martyr refers to them, these were in no way the basis of the Christian faith and life of the Church.

So to you, the church now in practice looks like the church in Acts? From your POV there are not teachings now that are a part of Sacred Tradition that were added under the guidance of the Spirit over time? Meaning, you make mention of the life of the church; in your opinion would that life match if we look at it “then” and “now?”

Peace to you.

Steve

Thank you for taking the time to share your POV,
grace and peace,
K

Can you please clarify by giving an example of some of these Sacred TraditionS so that we don’t speak past each other? In my understanding it is the oral transmission of the Gospel, through preaching, liturgical practices and instruction in Christian living.

To a great extent, yes, though our doctrines and liturgies are more refined and developed as would be expected as the Church ponders and meditates upon the kerygma over the last 20 centuries.

Example. The Church has always believed that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. That is a dogma which has not changed. The Church, being challenged, further defined this belief through concepts and words such as hypostatic Union. This is not a change in belief, but an explanation of a belief already held. So, nothing has changed as far as belief is concerned. We have no new dogma.

So, did you read Justin Martyr’s “First Apology”? I really can’t think of a better example to demonstrate Sacred Tradition.

Peace.

Steve

I’m trying to understand more of the actions, and not so much the underlying beliefs and whether or not those actions have changed over time, or are the same. So the underlying belief about baptism has resulted in an action that one can observe, as an example. The action of placing ashes in the shape of a cross on one’s forehead on Ash Wed. would be an outward action pointing to an underlying belief (again, just as an example). What liturgy is used, what the priests wear… I understand not everything and every action is subsumed under “Tradition” but I would also imagine most things are connected to it in some sense?

To a great extent, yes, though our doctrines and liturgies are more refined and developed as would be expected as the Church ponders and meditates upon the kerygma over the last 20 centuries.

Gotcha. So, those doctrines and liturgies would be said to be the same, only more “fleshed out” so to speak? And that fleshing out would be attributed to the Holy Spirit’s lead?

Example. The Church has always believed that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. That is a dogma which has not changed. The Church, being challenged, further defined this belief through concepts and words such as hypostatic Union. This is not a change in belief, but an explanation of a belief already held. So, nothing has changed as far as belief is concerned. We have no new dogma.

:thumbsup:

So, did you read Justin Martyr’s “First Apology”? I really can’t think of a better example to demonstrate Sacred Tradition.

I will try to do so, assuming I haven’t. (Unfortunately the old I get the more I have to check to see if I’ve read something, as sometimes I can’t remember to match title to content) :blush:

Peace.

Steve

Again, thank you.

And to anyone who is wondering, I’m truly and really not trying to make a point, I’m trying to understand the way it is viewed.

Okay, thanks for clarifying. Receiving ashes is a great example of a custom, rather than Sacred Tradition. In the Old Testament (and in the New) ashes were a sign of repentance, which is the interior disposition we are to assume during Lent, yet it is not even required that we attend Mass on Ash Wednesday. So, while it derives to some extent from Sacred Tradition in that we must repent and turn toward God, the specific practice is a custom. IOW, we can repent without receiving ashes on our forehead, thus keeping with Sacred Tradition without adhering to the custom.

Just a side note. This last Ash Wednesday I observed a group of people who went to the trouble of attending Mass, but then leaving after they received their ashes and not even staying to receive the Eucharist. Amazing! All they got was a dirty forehead.

Yes.

Yeah, join the club. :slight_smile: I think you will find it very interesting.

I believe you. :slight_smile:

Peace.

Steve

Don’t know if I can be much help here. My POV is that Capital “T” Tradition is the second leg of the three legged stool of the Church. It is the way in which the Holy Spirit chose to preserve the truth of the Gospel…through Apostolic succession and the unbroken Tradition it has carried down to us today.

Would you say that the Traditions that are taught by the formal teachings of the Catholic Church today were taught in the same way back in Acts?

I think that first of all, when we convert from the singular to the plural, we really need to drop the Capital T. The reason is that there are many things that are going to fall under the idea of “traditions”…some are going to be more closely linked to the formal and sacred “Tradition”, while others are going to be related more to custom and thus a small t, “tradition”.

Having made that distinction…the answer is No - they are not taught “in the same way” that they were back then. Different audience and different times call for different manners of teaching. The fundamentals have not changed, as Steve has pointed out, but there have been many changes in “the way” things are taught and expressed and even practiced.

Meaning, is it your POV that there are no Traditions today that were added in over time, OR is it your POV that there are some Traditions were indeed added in, but they were added by the guidance of the Spirit in order to effect holiness in the lives of the people of the Church? I would really like to hear your personal perspective.

I’m not going to use the term “added to” - not because I suspect you of insincerity - but because there IS among some non-Catholic Christians a view that “added to” and “tradition” are negative and hot button items…:wink:
What I will say is that there has been much building by the Holy Spirit upon the foundation laid by the Christ and the Apostles. All of this building has been for the benefit of Christ’s Holy Body, the Church.

Peace
James

Thank you both!

Grace and Peace,
K

You are welcome

Steve,
I’d like to offer this on your side note. Possibly those folks had gone to daily mass earlier in the day? I don’t know whether or not a daily mass would be offered on Ash Wednesday or not but if so could they have received the eucharist at that time? Or maybe someone wouldn’t want to receive the eucharist unworthily for whatever reason? Also it’s my understanding that anyone can receive ashes-some protestant denominations offer ashes as well. I suppose even an atheist could get ashes if they desired-yes?
I bring this up as one of my grandsons has shown an interest/desire in going to church. Neither of his parents are church goers or practice a particular faith. He was talking to them about his desire but he had concerns about being judged by the people at whatever church it was for being different. In his case fairly ignorant of Christianity. Blessings to you and yours.

Mass on Ash Wednesday is a daily Mass which no one is obligated to attend. So if they went to any Mass on Ash Wednesday they would have received ashes at that Mass. That is what we do at Mass on Ash Wednesday. Even if one is not interiorly disposed to receive the Eucharist, they are obligated to stay through the entire Mass.

If your grandson had witnessed this behavior he would have been led to believe that it was the ashes, rather than the Eucharist, that was more important. We still need a lot of catechesis in our Church.

I will keep your grandson in my prayers this evening. I really can’t imagine that anyone is going to judge him because he feels called to become closer to God. :slight_smile:

God bless.

Steve

Steve,
Thank you for you charitable, informative answers about the mass on Ash Wednesday, and the eucharist, and staying until mass has actually ended. You are probably correct when you write that my grandson would have gotten the wrong idea if he had witnessed what you did. Thank you for offering prayers for my grandson on his journey. Blessings to you and yours-be well.

You are most welcome. I am a grandfather who is completely head-over-heels in love with my three grandsons (2 two year olds and one brand new) so empathy is easy to come by.

God bless.

Steve

Hi Steve,
I just read Justin Martyr’s “First Apology”. Thanks for pointing that out. Are there any other early Church fathers in addition to Justin Martyr that you would recommend?

I am especially interested in the time frame from the apostles until the time of the Council of Nicea and the beliefs and practices of the early church after the apostles died. I’m not very strong in that area and would like to familiarize myself more with it.

There is a three volume set entitled “Faith of the Early Fathers” by William Jurgens which I would highly recommend that covers this period and much more. Specifically, Clement of Rome and Irenaeus are two you should read from the 1st and 2nd centuries. I think you can pick up the entire three volume set from Jurgens for around $25.00 on Amazon. Very interesting reading.

Peace.

Steve

If you read Acts, you notice that the first Christians submitted to the teachings of the Apostles. St. Paul further tells us in Thessalonians 2:14 to “stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught…either by word of mouth or by letter.”
Tradition is by definition the passing down of beliefs, practices, and customs from the past to the present.
The first Apostles received their instruction directly from our Lord. This instruction was entrusted to them to be passed to us. Jesus was born into a particular culture, and his Apostles would likewise been accustomed to the same religious practices. This too would be part of the tradition that has been passed to the present time, the roots of which can be found in the O.T.
The example of ashes as a sign of repentance has already been given.
If you look at the history of the Church, you will see that the structure of the Mass has been modified over time, but the essential elements have remained intact. The Sacrifice of the Cross continues to be represented to us in the offering of bread and wine that are transformed, through Christ’s power, into the Lord’s own Body and Blood.

Through the ages, other devotional practices and customs have developed in various locations as the Church has grown. Some of these have been integrated into the Church at large. Others have remained strictly local practices. These devotionals practices, or traditions are always subservient to the greater Tradition of the Church.

Thanks, Steve. Much appreciated. I wonder if Justin Martyr’s belief in the Eucharist turning into the actual body and blood of Christ was one of the reasons the pagan Romans thought of the early Christians as cannibals.

A book that I found most interesting was called “Four Witnesses - (The early Church in her own words”) by Rod Bennet. This work includes writings from Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyons.

One of the things I found interesting in the book was at the very end…there is a chart of when the various Fathers lived…and how their lives overlapped. It was (to me) a wonderful visual expression of the continuity of teaching and apostolic succession.

Peace
James

Tradition and A Few Good Catholic Men

Tradition is often thought to add to the content of the Gospel, and indeed, there are things that we know from Sacred Tradition that we cannot learn exclusively from Sacred Scripture. This manner of looking at Scripture and Tradition is known as the “Two Source” model, and it is one valid way of understanding the relationship between Scripture and Tradition.

However, another model, called the “Two Mode” model, recognizes that Tradition is also properly understood to be another mode of transmission of the one Gospel.

I want to focus here on the Two Mode model, and I would like to offer an excerpt from the movie, A Few Good Men, which illustrates this principal very clearly. In this courtroom scene, Cpl. Barnes is on the witness stand being cross-examined first by the prosecutor, Capt. Ross, and then by the defense attorney, Lt. Kaffee.


Capt. Ross: Corporal Barnes, I hold here the **. You’re familiar with this book?
Cpl. Barnes: Yes, sir.
Capt. Ross: You’ve read it?
Cpl. Barnes: Yes, sir.
Capt. Ross: Good. Would you open it up to the chapter that deals with code reds, please?
Cpl. Barnes: Sir?
Capt. Ross: Just flip open to the page of the book that talks about code reds.
Cpl. Barnes: Well, sir code red is a term that we use, I mean, just down at Gitmo, I really don’t think that…
Capt. Ross: Ah, we’re in luck then. “Standard Operating Procedures, Rifle Security Company, Guantanamo Bay Cuba”. Now I assume we’ll find the term code red and its definition in that book. Am I right?
Cpl. Barnes: No, sir.
Capt. Ross: Corporal Barnes, I’m a Marine. Is there no book, no pamphlet or manual, no regulation or set of written orders or instructions that lets me know that, as a Marine, one of my duties is to perform code reds?
Cpl. Barnes: No, sir. No book, sir.
Capt. Ross: No further questions.
[as Ross walks back to his table Kaffee takes the book out of his hand]
Kaffee: Corporal, would you open this book up to the part that says where the mess hall is?
Cpl. Barnes: Well, Lt Kaffee, that’s not in the book either, sir.
Kaffee: You mean to say the entire time you’ve been at Gitmo you’ve never had a meal?
Cpl. Barnes: No, sir. Three squares a day, sir.
Kaffee: Well, I don’t understand. How did you know where the mess hall was if it wasn’t in this book?
Cpl. Barnes: I guess I just followed the crowd at chow time, sir.
Kaffee: Thanks. No more questions.

+++

Lt. Kaffee powerfully demonstrates the idea that some things in the life of a Marine are learned not from a book but from observation of others. In the life of the Church, Catholics refer to this oral form of teaching as Sacred Tradition, and it is every bit as authoritative as the written word because God has authored them both.

When the Apostles taught about whether infants were to be baptized, how the Lord’s Supper was to be celebrated, about confession, weddings and many other things, they did not write an instruction manual. They taught by their actions and their personal example - their living witness - what we are to believe and do.

Jesus quoted scripture but never wrote a word Himself; the Apostles learned exclusively from what He said and what He did. In turn, the Apostles taught their disciples by their oral preaching and teaching, by their personal example, and by their written letters. Finally, the successors of the Apostles, the Bishops of the Catholic Church, continue to teach as Jesus and the Apostles did - from the scriptures, from their manner of life and from their oral teaching.**

Hello James,
Did some of the early Fathers you mentioned have any personal interaction with any of the apostles like the Apostles Paul and Peter or early Christian missionaries like Barnabas, Timothy, Silas, etc, or were they just natural leaders who sprang up in their respective areas after hearing and believing the gospel message from the descendants of those early Christians who received the gospel from the apostles and/or early Christian missionaries? Just curious.

I will try to read up more on this subject. Sorry for my lack of knowledge on the topic.

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