When we talk about apostolic tradition are we talking about not only those things taught by the apostles but also those things taught by their successors? Would it be right to say that the immaculate conception, for instance, was not part of the apostolic tradition of the Apostles but it is part of Tradition today? The catechism defines Tradition in this way: “This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition”. Is Tradition only transmission or is it also further teaching? How does doctrinal developement relate to Tradition and are they equivalent?


I think that there is an error in thinking that there are new things thought up.

The Immaculate Conception is found within Scripture. There are no new dogmas. They may be developed as our finite knowledge changes.


In Lk. I., 28, we read how the Angel was sent by God to salute Mary with the words, “Hail, full of grace.” Grace excludes sin, and had there been any sin at all in Mary she could not have been declared to be filled with grace.

In Rev.12 St John shows clearly his knowledge of the deadly opposition between Mary and Satan.

St. Augustine, in the 4th century, wrote, *“When it is a matter of sin we must except the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I will have no question raised, owing to the honor due to Our Lord.” *

St. Ephrem, also in the 4th century, taught very clearly the Immaculate Conception of Mary, likening her to Eve before the fall. The Oriental churches celebrated the feast of the Immaculate Conception as early as the 7th century.


While these passages may provide a basis for the theology of the immaculate conception I have a hard time saying that they are teaching the immaculate conception in the same way it is taught today. The statement of Mary being filled with grace is full of mystery. It is nothing like that clear statements presented in the Catholic Catechism.

While I admire those fathers very much they are not the apostles. I am trying to understand the relationship between apostolic tradition and these teachings we see later on. I used the immaculate conception as only an example. While imagery of Mary as the new eve is much earlier than the 4th century I find it difficult to look back and try to force those ealier thinkers into a later mold. If they had understood the immaculate conception as it is understood today I think they would have come right out and said so.


That’s true. Just as the scriptures which point to Christ’s true nature, fully God and fully man, do not teach in the same depth as the Church Councils later taught. And the scriptures which point to the nature of the Trinity do not teach in the same depth as the Church Councils later taught.


This sounds like the question of the development of dogma.

You may want to read:


Tradition is the teaching of the Apostles and Jesus passed down through us by a continuity of belief. In other words, nothing in Tradition can contradict or add to what the Apostles taught in the early Church.

The development of doctrine is the recognition that there are certain conclusions that are implied in Scripture and Tradition but which are not explicitly stated. Doctrine can continue to develop because we are still able to see those implications. An excellent example of the development of doctrine is the concept of transubstantian. The early Church only understood that the Eucharist was the body and blood of Jesus. For most of the first half of Christian History, no attempt was made to explain how Jesus was present (and this is still the case in the Orthodox Church). However, examining scripture and the reality that the bread and wine still appear, feel and taste like bread and wine in every respect after the words of institution are proclaimed, and examining the specific words that Jesus said, theologians were able to determine transubstantian as the explination.

Therefore, developed doctrine is not equivalent to Tradition, but it stems from Tradition.



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