Remarkable Convergence of Opinion about the Importance of Church Tradition


Previously, I wrote a brief report about a book I read, Tradition and the Church, by Msgr George Agius. It was written in the late 1920’s.

Agius made what seemed a far-fetched assertion, that the Church could have thrived even if scripture (NT) hadn’t been written, owing to the strength and growth of the apostolic tradition.

Well, so now I pick up Jaroslav Pelikan’s first volume of The Christian Tradition, A history of the Development of Doctrine, first published around 1971. Guess what, he says essentially the same thing. The Church was thriving without a body of NT scripture, by virtue of a strong, public apostolic tradition.

These are both technical books, and might bore a lot of people. But, for those who are interested in how important Catholic tradition is, here are two books that should not be ignored. Agius was a Catholic priest and scholar. Peilkan was an American raised in the Lutheran tradition, who joined the Orthodox church before his death. He was a highly respected scholar and was awarded over 40 honorary doctoral degrees in his career.

They both also give their respective definitions of traditions, both agreeing that the tradition started with Jesus Christ.


Wow, it’s nulla scriptura now?

The Bible is the foundation of our faith. This doesn’t mean that it is the only thing that informs faith, but it is the bedrock on which that faith stands.


I don’t think the OP is saying that we do not need scripture, but that tradition was all there was following the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospels were written decades later. Tradition sustained the early Church, and continues to sustain us today, along with scripture and the Holy Eucharist.


I don’t know how to correctly answer what you are asking but I will pray for you.
Hail Mary…


I strongly disagree. The Church that Christ established is the foundation of our faith, and from that foundation springs the Holy Scriptures, not the other way around. This is what scripture actually teaches. 1 Timothy 3:15 for example. Apostolic Tradition gave us the Bible.


Excellent point. I’ve made it myself before-a bit naively I’m sure-and it’s great to hear it’s been made by scholars. I suppose the concept’s been around since the beginning.


I was going to say this but you’ve said it so concisely. To say that the Bible is the foundation of our faith is the tail wagging the dog. Without the church councils, led by the Holy Spirit, there would be no definitive text. The Bible is a fruit of the Catholic Church.


If Apostolic tradition hadn’t given us the Bible, we would have no idea what was tradition and what wasn’t, because we would have no idea where or when it came from. I didn’t say it was the foundation of everything, since that is obviously Christ himself, but of the faith since that is where it was written down and defined. People can have very different interpretations of what tradition is.

I cannot even believe that I am having this discussion.


both authors made the observation that the apostles were obeying Christ’s command to preach. They were preaching for quite some time before the NT writings were completed.

The point of my starting this thread was to pinpoint a couple places where the subject of tradition in the early church is discussed. The one author is a Catholic scholar, a priest. The other is a Protestant historian.

It is remarkable how they agree with the facts.


OTC, the Church and her teaching authority is infallibly protected from error. That authority given to the Apostles in union with Peter exists independent of whether or not Scripture was written. Without Scripture we would still know through the Christ-given teaching authority of the Church the life of faith given to us by Christ. That isn’t to say that our knowledge of Him and His salvific work that we find in the Gospels, Epistles and St. John’s Apocalypse - and the history of the People into whose midst He was born - isn’t a great gift from the One Who inspired Scripture.

I didn’t say it was the foundation of everything, since that is obviously Christ himself, but of the faith since that is where it was written down and defined. People can have very different interpretations of what tradition is.

Christ Himself laid the foundation on the person of Peter and the Apostles united to him. That is the source of the Faith we proclaim - their witness to the life, death and resurrection of the Lord. That witness comes to us in two forms: Sacred Tradition and Scripture, with the first preceding the second. One just has to observe how much the “definition” of Scripture is argued over to see that there must be an authority preceding Scripture to define what has come to us in written form.


My apologies if I misinterpreted what you were saying. As a former Protestant, I may have a tendency to be over zealous in defense of the Church’s teaching authority.


How on earth would you know that Christ had given authority to the Church or to Peter without the Bible? Tradition does not precede scripture because scripture is a part of tradition, and indeed, it is the part of tradition without which all the rest has no credibility. Without the Bible, how would we even know why Christ came in the first place?



That’s not a problem. I wasn’t at all trying to attack the Church’s teaching authority - the Church obviously has the authority to interpret scripture, but without the Bible, most of the matter-to-be-interpreted would be only a matter of oral tradition, which is incredibly hard to pin down. Of course, there are matters that are not perfectly attested in the Bible, but the primary source of Sacred Tradition on the matters that are most important to Christianity is the Bible.


I think a bit of a false dichotomy is being expressed here. The Church teaches that Sacred Tradition is co-equal with Sacred Scripture.

If we look at it objectively, both the Old Testament and New Testament Canon developed out of oral tradition, in combination with the written word such as the Epistles, etc. Sacred Scripture is not “the one thing” any more than Sacred Tradition is "the one thing’’ With no Sacred Tradition, we would have no Sacred Councils defining the doctrine of the Trinity, Mary’s Divine Motherhood and the Divinity and Humanity of Christ, condemnation of heresies, etc. We would have no Sacred Council telling us what the Canon of Scripture is and most of the Bible would not have been passed on to the next generation to get written down in the first place. Without Sacred Tradition, we would have no writings of the Church Fathers showing us how Scripture is to be interpreted. We would not have the Nicean Creed, etc. In short, it is irreplaceable.

Orthodoxy maintains that Sacred Scripture is part of Sacred Tradition because of this, but as mentioned, the Catholic Church expresses her understanding of this reality differently and takes into consideration the authority of the Magisterium, which is somewhat foreign to the Orthodox mindset on this issue.


Indeed! It should be kept in mind that both Lutherans (Conservative) and Orthodox have many similar things with Catholics.

I don’t know if you’ve had the opportunity to read Early Church Fathers, but if you haven’t you are in for a treat :). I’d start with Justin Martyr, Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus.



Hmm, I gather from this that I agree with the Orthodox position on this issue. It seems that it really comes down to the way the word Tradition is being used. Ive always thought of Tradition as encompassing everything that came down to us from the Apostles, “either by word of mouth or by epistle.” Does the Catholic Church only use the term to describe the unwritten portion?


Sacred Tradition would certainly include written works in addition to word of mouth. The Ecumenical Councils, the writings of the Church Fathers, Papal Encyclicals, etc. would all fall into this area.

And while I do agree that the Orthodox are correct in their understanding of the issue, so are Catholics. The Catholic Church is not saying that Sacred Scripture somehow developed outside of Sacred Tradition. Rather, she is expressing it as an issue of authority. All the Catholic Church is saying by the Bible being co-equal with Tradition is that, because pages of Sacred Scripture are Divinely inspired, they stand on their own authority equal to the remainder of Sacred Tradition. And of course, we have to remember that Sacred Tradition, in addition to the Magisterium, interprets Sacred Scripture through writings of the Fathers, Doctors, great saints, Popes, Councils, etc.


Another example of how the Church is able to affirm the truth wherever it may be found.





Protestantism has given the perception that the Christian faith came from the Bible, as if people read the Bible and then started building churches based upon what they read and understood. That is how many protestant denominations have developed within the last hundred years, even many protestants don’t even follow the pattern of early protestantism. There truly is lots of confusion. Its taken years for me to completely detox my mind from that way of thinking and to fully think as a traditional Catholic without the automatic presuppositions that I had from protestantism. The Christian Faith came through Christ through His Church that He established, which has been led by the Holy Spirit.

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