Catholic Tradition is Catholic Identity

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“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” –  2 Thes 2:15

“If anyone preach to you a gospel other than that which you have received, let him be anathema.” (Gal. 1:9)

“[W]hat was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes.” (Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, n. 8)

Tradition and Divine Truth

The Ignatian gives his life to defend and spread the Catholic Faith first and foremost because it is the Truth about God and man’s eternal salvation.

His mission as a priest of Our Lord Jesus Christ is clear: “Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth” (Jn. 17: 17). In order to be able to know this divine Truth, man must know truths. These are the truths revealed by Him who said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”.

These divinely revealed truths about God and man, the mysteries of life, death, eternity, human relationships, and all that is important to society are to be found in their integrity only within the frontiers of the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church. “The Truth possesses us: Christ, who is the Truth” (Benedict XVI).

The Church is by divine mission “the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3: 15), the truth that God revealed for the salvation of all peoples  and willed to be transmitted in its entirety throughout the ages and to all generations (Dei Verbum, 7, Vatican II).

The Church defines in both the Council of Trent and Vatican Council I that there are two sources of God’s revelation, the divinely inspired Sacred Scriptures and the divinely assisted Tradition. (See also Vatican Council II, Dei Verbum,9).

The first is the Word of God contained in the Bible. The second is the Divine Word not written but communicated orally from Christ to the Apostles either directly from His lips or through inspiration of the Holy Spirit, e.g. the validity of infant baptism.

The chief instruments for the handing down of Tradition through the millennia are first and foremost the sacred liturgy and the professions of faith and secondly, the writings of the Fathers of the Church, the practice of the Church, the acts of the martyrs, and archeological monuments.

Tradition has a double dimension.

Firstly, it refers to the set of divinely revealed truths regarding faith and morals communicated to us from Christ through the Apostles orally and from them to succeeding generations of bishops.

Secondly, Tradition also functions as the infallible criterion of interpretation for deciding whether or not a doctrine is Catholic. Tradition has this role of “rule of faith” (regula fidei) because “it precedes the Scriptures in time, knowledge, and extension. It is different from the Scriptures (…) because it is not only a remote rule [criterion], but proximate and immediate” (L. Billot, Tradition et Modernisme, [from the French translation by Jean-Michel Gleize, Courrier de Rome, Versailles, 2007, p. 32])

This is because even the Sacred Scriptures are due to Tradition. The Church, the bearer of Tradition, pre-exists the Bible. The first Christians were Christian not because of the New Testament texts but because of Tradition, the divinely revealed truths handed down to them either directly by Our Divine Lord directly or through His apostles and their successors.

The Scriptures also understandably cannot fulfill the role of proximate criterion of Catholic identity because by their very nature and the users’ limitations they are open to contradictory  interpretations, as the countless, ever proliferating Protestant groups prove.

As the infallible criterion of interpretation, it is therefore not merely one agent for interpreting biblical texts and theological theories but is itself constitutive of Divine Revelation.

The chief instrument or organ of Tradition is the Church, divinely established and promised divine assistance in guarding Divine Revelation, interpreting it, and unfolding its contents. Within the Church, the successors of St. Peter and the councils have the role of confirming the genuineness of any biblical interpretation or theological theory.

But any magisterial act of popes or councils, in order to be a valid interpretation of essential Catholic doctrine must absolutely be in harmony with the teachings of previous acts of the magisterium (see St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III, q. 64, a. 2; Franzelin, On Divine Tradition; Newman, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine).

Hence, Catholic identity is guarded by Tradition

“Through Tradition ‘the Church, in her doctrine, life, and worship perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 78, citing Vatican Council II, Dei Verbum, 8, 1).

Tradition demands obedience from man because it is guaranteed by the divine authority behind the truths of the Sacred Scriptures and of the Oral Tradition that constitute the Church’s body of unchanging doctrine, her depositum fidei.

“The concept of depositum, a possession entrusted to someone…implies that we are dealing with something that it is wrong for the person to whom the matter is entrusted to touch. More than that, he has been stripped of his power to use the object in his care. What we have learned is our possession. What has been handed down to us we possess as a kind of loan.” (Josef Pieper, Tradition, p. 21, 2010)

These truths are absolutely the very lifeblood of Catholicism since they are the core truths received from our Divine Lord directly or through the apostles divinely assisted which the Church is called to transmit until the end of time, obliging us to “an irrevocable adherence” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 88).

By the infallibility of Tradition as the regula fidei for interpreting sacred scripture and theological doctrines, though there can – and there has been ‒ the unfolding of implicitly contained truths (such as the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption), truths that have been part of Tradition, i. e., authoritatively and repeatedly and continuously taught through the centuries by popes and bishops and held to be true by the sensus fidei of faithful Catholics, have a binding character that may never be contradicted by any papal or conciliar decree.

Though the power of the Pope is supreme in the Church, it is not arbitrary or unlimited and it is subject to authority , i. e., to the sources of divine revelation in Sacred Scripture and oral tradition and the criterion of Tradition.

This is how the Church finds a solution to those rare exceptions when there are real or apparent contradictions between a particular papal or conciliar pronouncement and preceding magisterial teaching.

Lovers of Tradition because Lovers of Truth

In conclusion, Ignatians like all true Catholics are lovers of the Church’s Tradition because it is bonded to Truth.

Catholic Tradition’s truths are no mere man-made concoction but as divinely revealed are the sacred tradition that is the one and only tradition that man is called to place as the bedrock of his existence.

Moreover, to assent to Catholic Tradition is no irrational act but an act of assent to doctrines that, although surpassing the limitations of the human mind, are never in contradiction to it.

Hence, since in dealing with Tradition we are dealing with Truth, our attitude is clear:

“Clearly we are not dealing with something new, evolution and metamorphosis. It is a question of preserving through all change the identity of something presupposed and preexisting, against the passage of time and in spite of it. All at once the slogans are fundamentally different. Instead of a “new way of looking at things” and “progress,” we hear, “The Word they still shall let remain.” One passionately resists “another Gospel” (II Corinthians 11:4).” (Josef Pieper, Tradition, pp. 2-3)