What exactly are the components of Big T Tradition and Church Teaching?

It seems many lay posters at CAF assume that random quotes from saints and Popes have the same weight as the Bible itself when it comes to determining Church doctrine, often many posters do little but post such quotes and seem to assume that “if I can find 3 saints and 2 Popes, and at least 1 who is both a saint and a Pope, that agree on something, that makes it Church teaching, and I don’t even have to make any more effort to justify my claim”. I often see this on Marian topics.

On the other hand I get the feeling some on CA are fine with picking and choosing what to defend with this approach and use a lot of handwaving to justify the idea that “Church teaching never changed on this, yes the average Catholic used to be taught this but that doesn’t make it Church teaching”. So, Limbo of the Infants was supposedly “never official Church teaching, just a theological speculation”, though most preVII Catholics were taught this as “official Church teaching”.

Seems there’s a lot of leeway here to disavow Church teachings that are no longer considered socially acceptable. (Same for problematic topics such as slavery.) I can think of only one regular CAF poster who DOES find Limbo to be the most reasonable answer to the question of what happens to infants who die prior to Baptism. And it does seem most of the posters who believe such infants go to Heaven are heavily biased by their own experiences.

Then there are the saints canonized in the past by “popular acclaim” and who have many pious stories taught about them, yet may never even have existed… :confused:

Many also don’t find the opinions of current living priests and bishops to be worthy of belief, they are quick to dismiss them as “too liberal” or even “heretical enemies of the Church trying to undermine it from within”. So apparently I shouldn’t trust what the USCCB positions are, I should depend on what saints said 100 years ago, or more?

I wind up feeling very confused as to what sources count towards official Church Tradition and Teaching. Then there are posters who still believe “the only valid reason for annulment is non-consummation” though that has nothing to do with annulment, or who treat it essentially as a Catholic version of “Divorce with Cause”, and think “if a marriage ended due to abuse or adultery then it obviously qualifies for Annulment”. There seems to be a “folk Catholicism” many Catholics follow, that has very little to do with “what the Church really teaches”. (And that’s just in the US - I get a feeling in other countries there is even more of this going on and at times going over the line into syncretism.)

Purchase a copy of Denzingers, “The Sources of Catholic Dogma” and read it. It contains the authoritative teachings of the Church for virtually every subject. By reading it, you will also find that there is perfect agreement in what the Church has always taught.


Also the Catechism of the Catholic Church. usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/

It should be noted that prior to something being dogmatically defined, many times it is acceptable to hold different views or to explain it in a way that may even later be determined as heretical. The concept of the Trinity is an example that prior to it being defined dogmatically was expressed differently than what later became orthodox Catholic doctrine.

The quotations from ancient Christian writers and teachers (who are, indeed, often saints and/or Popes) are usually meant to show that a particular belief is reasonable and in line with historical Christian understanding going however far back. Such quotations are not meant to be on a level with Scripture (though as Catholics we are fine with Scripture not containing everything that Christians have passed down and therefore sometimes turn to such historical evidence to supplement Scripture or speak where it is silent).

Individual clergy (and, indeed, individual old-timey saints) can teach things that are out of line with the Faith as it has been handed down, which is why you will sometimes see the advice of a priest or bishop dismissed as erroneous. Naturally, it is risky to declare on our own judgment that someone else is out of step with the faith (especially when that person has been called to a teaching role in the Church), so one should be careful and charitable in saying such things. (On CAF, too often this is a matter of clashing political ideologies as much as the truth of the Faith.)

It’s true that the Limbo of infants was commonly taught in the past, and many Catholics may have come away thinking it was official doctrine, but speculations on the fate of unbaptized infants have always been a matter of making our best guess based on what we do know. It is defined doctrine that Original Sin alone, if not removed by sanctifying grace, will send a soul to hell upon death. While St. Augustine, who really formulated the Western idea of Original Sin, seems to have been OK with infants being damned, other thinkers ever since have tried to reconcile the data in various ways.

  • Original Sin damns, check.
  • Baptism is the ordinary way to remove Original Sin, check.
  • Martyrdom or sincere desire will suffice if literal baptism cannot be had before death, check (a very old conclusion of the Church, from the days when some would-be Christians were martyred or died of other causes while still catechumens).
  • Unbaptized infants have Original Sin but are unable to commit personal sin, check.
  • On the other hand, they don’t have the understanding to form a desire for baptism the way an adult convert can, check.
  • And most importantly of all, God is both just and merciful in infinite measure, so nothing arbitrary or unfair is going to happen while He’s in charge, check.
    The most common theological conclusion between Augustine and just recently was that there must be a border region of Hell (Limbo) that is really a sort of perfect Earth or mini-Heaven, lacking the presence of God but not otherwise offering punishment. Unbaptized infants and sometimes pagan celebrities the writer admired (as in Dante’s Inferno) were placed there. But while it was a very common assumption, Limbo isn’t anything we have Divine Revelation on, and so it cannot be taught as defined doctrine. The more recent tendency has been to lean heavily on the mercy of God and the fact that He is not bound by the rules He sets for us, so that we can rightly hope (but not absolutely know) that unbaptized but otherwise innocent infants are cleansed and admitted into Heaven outside the regular economy of the sacraments.

People (or legendary figures) made saints by popular acclaim may still be good examples of virtue, even if fictional or fictionalized. The “popular acclaim” factor means that the Magisterium never actually put its teaching authority behind the canonizations of these figures, so the question of their existence does not call Church teaching into question. (Conversely, it is commonly believed, though not certain, that canonizations by the Pope, as is the current practice, count as exercises of infallibility on the topic of “this person ultimately went to Heaven.”)

It’s simple. The laity do not interpret tradition. The Magisterium does. If a lay person is not sure how a particular teaching applies to their life, they should speak with their priest.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints may spend years looking into the lives of candidates for sainthood. Then, when the investigation is completed, there are arguments put forth for and against the person moving on to the next step in becoming a saint. Martyrdom can be a reason for declaration of sainthood. Otherwise, two miracles attributed to the intercession to God by the potential saint are thoroughly investigated, and if cures are involved, they must be complete and lasting for a certain period of time. The Pope can, in his discretion, shorten the period of time for investigation as in the case of Pope Benedict for Pope John Paul II. At the end, all information is presented to the Pope who confirms and elevates that person to sainthood.



[quote=ToeInTheWater]I wind up feeling very confused as to what sources count towards official Church Tradition and Teaching.

You bring up several valid points, all of which have reasonable answers. But you should consider the fact that you are being confused by internet chatter, not real teachings. :wink: I always think this message board is a two edged sword. It can do much damage to those who don’t have enough Faith or understanding of Catholicism, OR it can help tremendously for those same people! Those who seek answers from the where the waters run clearest, will have the advantage. Imbibing from the fenny places on the internet can be hazardous to your spiritual health! :wink:

All things humans create can be used for good or bad.

Pope Francis:



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