Scripture and Tradition


This is from a column I wrote for our KofC Newsletter this month:

  In the Reformation some groups insisted that truth could only be found in Scripture - *Sola Scriptura*.  Catholic teaching proclaims that: "*Sacred Scripture* is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit."42*"And [Holy] *Tradition *transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching." As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, "does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence."  ….It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.*" [Catechism of the Catholic Church 81-82, 95]    

       Judaism has a similar teaching [What is the Oral Torah?](""), by Aish HaTorah’s Discovery Seminar]. [Note that the Torah is written scripture; the Talmud contains those portions of the Oral Torah that were written down after the destruction of the Temple; other portions of tradition remain unwritten.] The Oral Torah preceded the giving of the written Bible. When the Jewish people stood at Mount Sinai 3,300 years ago, God communicated the 613 commandments, along with a detailed, practical explanation of how to fulfill them. At that point in time, the teachings were entirely oral. Just prior to his death, forty years later, Moses wrote the scroll of the written Torah ( the Five Books of Moses).  Similarly, the New Testament was entirely oral at first.  Then portions were set down in the Gospels and Epistles, but there is much more.

He illustrates the need for oral tradition with the story of one who applied for a job at a prestigious investment banking firm. On his resume he claimed to have graduated from Harvard Business School, but it admits that he never attended classes there. He just read the lecture notes taken by his roommate who did. Needless to say, the interviewer was not impressed and he didn’t get the job.

He further comments: *If the entire Torah would have been given in writing, everyone would be able to interpret it as he desired. This would lead to division and discord among people who followed the Torah in different ways. The Oral Torah, on the other hand, would require a central authority to preserve it, thus assuring the unity of Israel… *That has a familiar ring.


It is true that without the authority of the Scriptures and Holy Tradition the Orthodox and Catholic Churches would have broken up eons ago. Scriptures and Holy Tradition backs each other up protecting the Church just in case one supersedes the other. For instance in the original Star Trek episode, “Mirror, Mirror” the good Captain Kirk was beaming back to his starship when during an ion storm he and his party was accidently beamed aboard an alternative Universe where the Federation of Planets he belongs to is actually an evil empire in this alternative Universe. The bad Captain Kirk was also beaming up at the same time and landed into the Universe of the good Captain Kirk with the Federation of Planets as a peaceful organization. Mr. Spock from the good Universe noticed that his captain was acting badly and ruthless so he put this Captain Kirk into the brig (prison) until he can figured out what happened. The bad Captain Kirk that had come from this alternative Universe could not understand what had happened and wondered why Mr. Spock was putting him into prison. He said to Mr. Spock that he would get Mr. Spock’s head for this. Mr. Spock said casually, “I do not think so. Your authority on this ship is quite limited.” That is why the Church has two authorities, Scriptures and Holy Tradition because not one authority can do it all for as Mr. Spock noted when the Captain wanted his way, the good Mr. Spock had reminded him that any one authority when it tries to supersede the other by itself becomes quite limited. The Scriptures on their own cannot overtake Holy Tradition and vice versa because their authority by itself is quite limited. That is why the Orthodox and Catholic Churches obey both authorities. There would only be a dangerous breakdown within our Churches if we did not abide to these two authorities. Thank you for bringing up the Rabbi’s words.


It is vital to understand and assent to the real teaching of Christ through His Church:

To repeat, as Vatican II’s *Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation *(Dei Verbum) #10, proclaims:
“But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, (8) has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, (9) whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.

“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.” [My underlining]

Thus all attempts to separate them fail the Way, the Truth and the Life.


Thank you for bringing this up. It is quite interesting that the teaching authority of the Catholic Church tends to be the Magisterium of the Church while in the Eastern Orthodox Churches the Laity have this office as well. While it has been the Bishops and Popes for the Catholic Church to direct the faithful the emphasis in the Eastern Orthodox Churches tend to include the Laity into the great mission of been the great theologians for the Church.


chimo #4
It is quite interesting that the teaching authority of the Catholic Church tends to be the Magisterium of the Church while in the Eastern Orthodox Churches the Laity have this office as well.

It is much more than “quite interesting” as the reality is that the Magisterium has been instituted by Christ Himself:
**All four promises were made to St Peter alone: **
“You are Peter and on this rock I will build My Church.” (Mt 16:18)
“The gates of hell will not prevail against it.”(Mt 16:18)
“I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven." ( Mt 16:19)
“Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” (Mt 16:19) [Then, later to the Twelve].

**Sole authority: **
“Strengthen your brethren.” (Lk 22:32)
“Feed My sheep.”(Jn 21:17).
Jesus warned dissenters: “if he refuses to hear even the Church let him be like the heathen and a publican.” (Mt 18:17).

The laity certainly are empowered to teach what the Magisterium teaches as St John Paul II’s great Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation *Christifideles Laici *(on the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World), 1988, reiterated, in “the ‘Criteria of Ecclesiality’ for Lay Groups” as requiring “The responsibility of professing the Catholic faith, embracing and proclaiming the truth about Christ, the Church and humanity, IN OBEDIENCE TO THE CHURCH’S MAGISTERIUM, AS THE CHURCH INTERPRETS IT.” #30, my emphasis].

But Vatican II had carefully taught that witnessing is an action of assent to, and then offering of, the truth – ‘the *universitas fidelium *(the university of the faithful) referred to in *Lumen Gentium *art 12, constitutes those who are agreed on the truth - what God has revealed, under the guidance of the sacred Magisterium. This is what gives them universality - spiritual unity. “the truth interiorly possessed gives them consensus, and not the other way around, as though their consensus on some doctrine made it true.” ’ [Fr John A Hardon, S.J.,*The Catholic Catechism, Doubleday, 1975, p 225-227]

Thus those dissenting are outside of the sensus fidelium.


, Doubleday, 1975, p 225-227]

Thus those dissenting are outside of the sensus fidelium.

You have a passion to what the Church of Rome and her Magisterium possess. I do admire this. It is the quality which makes the Church of Rome and her faithful to follow it. I do not want to debate about the Magisterium of the Catholic Church because it is this that makes you what you are. That is good. However I do not see the Orthodox Church within this same framework as is found in the Church of Rome. The Magisterium of the Orthodox Church has a different outlook and tone than the one in the Church of Rome. One does not exist for over 2000 years unless the Magisterium of that Church has been leading it. This incudes the Church of Rome and to the Orthodox Churches. I admire the Church of Rome’s teaching authority yet from the same string I also admire the teaching authority of the Orthodox Churches. It is as if the same Holy Spirit has built within our Churches this framework by which each Church can possess. Yet to the Catholic the Orthodox model is not what they can come to understand and to the Orthodox the Catholic model seems foreign to them. Each Church possesses an incredible teaching authority that if you step back and look at it, it needs to be admired and appreciated. We need to step back and wonder why the same Holy Spirit has authorised two different and yet complimentary models. What works for the Catholic works for them and what works for the Orthodox works for them. What we need to do is to find out why! I am very impressed with the Catholic model and I do find answers within the Orthodox model and the Catholic model. Since both Churches have developed their models within the last 2000 years it is an expression of what the Holy Spirit is able to do.


The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford Univ Press) states that there is no official interpretation of any verses of scripture in Judaism.

So, the previous citation of Jewish tradition is one that I would like to study further, when I get a chance.

Threads on this subject appear again and again. Maybe it’s my turn to say that Jesus did not command his disciples to write a book but to preach. So, the oral tradition was the operative mode under which the Church grew alongside the developing canon of scripture. It was the church which identified the authenticity of select writings (over the course of hundreds of years) – as we all know – along with the understanding of the meaning of those writings.

My reading of the history of the Orthodox Church in the Orthodox Study Bible shows that the OC seems to want to trace an entirely separate line of tradition from that of the Western Church. I’m beginning to appreciate that idea more, as I appreciate more how language was a barrier between the Eastern and Western Churches.

One example of the difference in tradition (doctrine) relates to the sin of Adam. The OSB comments that people are not responsible or inherit Adam’s sin, but they are responsible for their own sins. I’m not trying to ignite a controversy about that here, only to mention an example of how the traditions vary.

The OSB says that the OC does not have an official canonical list of books in scripture, and the OSB has a few more books than lets say a Catholic Bible. Their list of Psalms includes a #151 about the death of David (as I recall).

More generally, I think everyone should realize that every “church” in the phone book has its own scripture, tradition, and magisterium, whether they admit having a magisterium and tradition, or not. That’s the essence of the divide in Christian churches today. As was said centuries ago, as the Reformation crystalized, the Protestants rejected “the” pope but as somebody said “set up a pope on every dunghill.” So, there are still “popes” whether people admit it or not – people that they consider infallible teachers.


Thank you for explaining your position. I don’t find the Star Trek scenario a true model for truth or the Church. It is fiction.

In that model Spock is the ultimate leader, or by analogy the Pope if you will.

There must be one clear leader through whom the Holy Spirit is at work who decides what is Holy Tradition because sometimes people will disagree.

You seem to be just assuming that the Orthodox model of Authority is completely legitimate.


It is because you have not lived as an Orthodox. How can you understand something you do not know? If two people had lived for over 2000 years than how can you say that one person lives better than the other? Since both Churches have lived for over 2000 years than there must be good in both Churches, would you not say? I am an Orthodox Christian who grew up as a Catholic and I had lived in both worlds. I know how the Catholic thinks and believe. When I discovered the Orthodox Church that had baptised me and which I had not known for almost 28 years I had discovered a Church that was raised differently than the one I grew up with. To my surprise the Orthodox Church operates on a different approach and model than the one I grew up with. I was beginning to understand the Orthodox model and to me it was strong enough to teach me even better than the Catholic model. If I had remained within the Catholic model I would not have discovered myself. It was the Orthodox model which had given me my true self. Yet it was the quality of life which the Catholic model had given me that has remained in me. It is very much like when a man discovers his wife so that the relationship with his wife would be much stronger than the one he had with his family. I appreciate the life I had as growing up Catholic and it will always be with me but I have grown stronger in my relationship with the Lord when I had discovered the Orthodox Church.

The Orthodox Church had lived for over 2000 years. She has something to teach us. The Catholic Church as well can teach us.The two Churches, Catholic and Orthodox were created and developed differently not to divide us but to unite us. You have to discover that for yourself. I do not know why the Star Trek story is not understandable. The point of the story is that if someone only relies on the Scriptures without Holy Tradition it would only get you into trouble. And if you rely only on Holy Tradition without the Scriptures the same trouble occurs. A healthy balance of having both Scriptures and Holy Tradition to lead you was the point of the Star Trek story. I am sorry you do not understand the point.

I realise that Catholics tend to be lead more by the Pope. That is very good. This is not the approach of the Orthodox. They have another model which helps them and it is this model which has served them for over 2000 years. What is good for the Catholic is good for the Catholic and what serves the Orthodox is good for them. You cannot tell another Church what best serves them. You can only know what best serves you. If another Church has a different model than the one you are used to I think it is a gift of the Holy Spirit who has authored both models. Whether you believe it or not both Churches Orthodox and Catholic adhere to the same Scriptures and Holy Tradition. That is why both Churches have remained to this day without splitting up into many thousands of groups.


Chimo #6
The Magisterium of the Orthodox Church has a different outlook and tone than the one in the Church of Rome. One does not exist for over 2000 years unless the Magisterium of that Church has been leading it.

There is no Magisterium in the Orthodox Churches which comprise various groups of Orthodox some of whom disagree with each other.

That Roman primacy of jurisdiction was widely accepted in the East at this time [5th century] is clear from the negotiations before and during the Council of Ephesus. Cyril of Alexandria appeals to Celestine of Rome to deal with Nestorius in Constantinople; and Celestine replies, delegating Cyril to excommunicate Nestorius if he fails to recant within ten days, equating his own judgment with “the divine sentence of our Christ,” and stating that he has written in similar terms to four other major Bishops. In the ensuing Council of Ephesus, we find that Cyril presides in the place of Celestine, and that the whole Council accepts as “suitable” and worthy of confirmation by all, the words of the Roman legate Philip, in presenting for conciliar approval (not debate) Celestine’s prior condemnation of Nestorius.

We need to step back and wonder why the same Holy Spirit has authorised two different and yet complimentary models.
Since both Churches have developed their models within the last 2000 years it is an expression of what the Holy Spirit is able to do.

Always evaded, and replaced by chummy opinions, is the fact of primacy and infallibility established by Jesus of Nazareth. Catholicism is always a communion of episcopates united in sanctification and governance under the pope and having one belief through Christ’s Church. Whether Latin or Eastern Rites no one may dissent with impunity from the one faith.

Dissenters in both Latin and Eastern Rites do just that – the idea of “following one’s conscience” on contraception while ignoring the infallible doctrine since 1930 against contraception – is a case in point, and the Orthodox don’t even have the doctrine.

As Fr Brian Harrison points out:
"…many Orthodox theologians and bishops have now severely qualified or even surrendered any serious claim to infallibility on the part of their Church. Also, there is no longer any unity, any identifiable “official” position of Orthodoxy as such, in regard to unnatural methods of birth control. Some authorities continue to reprobate these practices, while others – probably the majority by now – condone them. Increasingly, Orthodox married couples are advised just to follow their own conscience on this issue.

“…in recent decades, with more extensive cultural and ecumenical contacts, and with an increasingly large and active Eastern diaspora in Western countries, Orthodoxy’s underlying vulnerability to the same liberal and secularizing tendencies in faith, morals and worship that have devastated the West is becoming more apparent. That virus – an inevitable result of breaking communion with the visible ‘Rock’ of truth and unity constituted by the See of Peter – is now inexorably prodding Orthodoxy toward doctrinal pluralism and disintegration.”

Another red herring is the denigration of Ecumenical Council Vatican I which gave us the dogma on papal infallibility.


Your interpretation of the Orthodox Churches in your post is based on your Catholic upbringing. The Orthodox do not interpret themselves as the Catholic sees them. Only an Orthodox can interpret themselves. Yet in the same thought only a Catholic can best interpret the Catholic Church. Why we seem to be experts on each other does not bring any unity at all! It is mindboggling that we can still do this. Why do we not step a back to see each other in way that best serves us? Why can’t we appreciate that what works for our Church may not be the way for the other Church? Why can’t we come to discover what makes each Church, Catholic and Orthodox to be what they are? Why do we argue about what we do not know? I believe what works for the Catholic Church best serves them and what works for the Orthodox Church best serves them. That means there must be some good within each Church to be able to be here now 2000 years later still trying to proclaim the Gospel. Why don’t we try to look for the good that is in each Church that enabled that Church to be where it is now? I would like to say that when I see the Catholic Church I see more the face of Mary and when I see the Orthodox and Eastern Churches I see more the face of Jesus. It is very easy to understand. Mary speaks more within the Catholic Church. The Orthodox Churches speak more on Jesus. I had discovered more of Jesus within my growth in the Orthodox Churches. It was there that I had learned more about mercy. Mercy is the written code of Orthodoxy. The Catholic Church displays more of discipline as discipline is more their written code. That is why I believe we were made different. The Justice and Discipline of God is found more in the Catholic Church while the Mercy of God is more proclaimed in the Orthodox and Eastern Churches.

This Discipline and Mercy is the two attributes of God. Our unity is based on this healthy balance of Justice/Discipline and Mercy to be made available for every Christian. Therefore our unity is based on this healthy balance. What is lacking in one Church the strength of the other Church would be there to help make it to be more complete. The Orthodox and Eastern Churches will do well to incorporate and integrate the Discipline of the Catholic Church and the Catholic Church will do well to find the Mercy contained within the Eastern and Orthodox Churches to make it their own. This is where our two Churches must find within each other to help each other to become stronger.


Chimo #11
I believe what works for the Catholic Church best serves them and what works for the Orthodox Church best serves them.

That is the essence of the problem – a feeling, which can become a “belief”, which fails to assent to Christ’s teaching.

The reality that various Orthodox Churches do have the priesthood, the Mass and sacraments, does not, and cannot, excuse the lamentable departure from Christ’s teaching through His Church on primacy and infallibility which is ignored when it suits – such as with the case of the Orthodox Churches over the infallible teaching against contraception, denial of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and the permission of divorce and remarriage.


I am not trying to make comparisons here, but looking for common ground. Would you agree that we can understand and see the faults of say Protestantism without being a Protestant ?

Would you agree that Mercy does not mean a license to excuse oneself of divinely revealed truth ? ( I am thinking here how artificial contraception violates the beautiful plan of God.)

PS. Abu, thanks. I always grow from your wisdom.


Thank you JohnR77 for the kind compliment – I try to offer what the Christ, through His Church, Her Saints and faithful, has provided.


Great thread! I remember before I became a Catholic I was very involved in ministry and was a devout student of the Bible. Being a Southern Baptist I held to Bible alone. Being a thinker, I got to the point where I was asking myself questions like how the Bible was put together, and why is there so many denominations, etc. I obviously did not believe at the time in church authority, but eventually started thinking about if the Bible was put together centuries after Christ, then who had the authority to determine what books should go in there. I went through a journey of seeking other ancient writings that I thought should be in the Bible, and to make a long story short I saw the need for authority outside of the Bible alone. Then in perfect timing I discovered the Early Church Fathers and everything started pointing to the Catholic Church. Once I started studying the faith it all fell into place and all my hard questions got answered above and beyond my satisfaction.

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