Good Day! Why do we Catholics have Sacred Traditions which is not found in the Bible? Thanks
As Catholics we do not hold to the Protestant reformation idea of Sola Scriptura (The Bible Alone), we believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and as such should be revered, respected, obeyed, thoroughly studied, and implemented in our daily lives. But we don’t look to the Bible as the sole rule of faith. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that only the Bible should be used as a rule of faith, in fact as we will see St. Paul instructs his readers to obey both his written letters and unwritten Apostolic Tradition.
An often used text to defend sola scriptura is from 2 Timothy,
All Scripture is inspired by God andprofitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
A Catholic response to this verse would be “absolutely!” You will not find a Pope or Church Council that would disagree that scripture is important or even the infallible Word of God. What a Catholic would disagree with is the inference that this means “only scripture”, it doesn’t say this in the text and can’t be extracted from the text without some major leaps and twists.
What Sacred Tradition Is
Sacred tradition is the traditions of the Church that were handed down by the apostles. These traditions are never contradictory of the Bible, the compliment and enhance our understanding of the Word of God.
The Apostles didn’t write everything down, they probably didn’t even write most of it down, but they taught wherever they established churches. The Apostles were bishops and it’s the bishops job to teach and shepherd his flock, and this is exactly what they done. St. Paul even instructed the Thessalonians’s to hold on to the Apostolic traditions,
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 Thessalonians’s 2:15
Why was adhering to Tradition so important to St. Paul? These letter were written 10-15 years before even the first Gospel was written (Gospel of Mark was written in the late AD60’s). So St. Paul was passing on the teachings of Christ in oral form, and then writing letters back to these churches to remind them of what he instructed.
An example of early Christian belief that wasn’t written down is the assumption of the Virgin Mary, this was taught and held from the earliest days of the church but was never defined as a dogmatic doctrine until the 1950. That isn’t because it was “invented” by Pope Pius XII, but because he was inspired to codify what had been taught since the early days of the church.
The best defense for this idea of unwritten tradition comes from St. John’s Gospel,
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.
The purpose of the Gospel is to introduce us to the person of Jesus Christ, His teachings, and His Good News. We are introduced to these things so that we may believe and have eternal life.
The Bible is not a systematic manual of theology, Jesus gave us the Good News and the way to salvation and set up a Church to teach and lead us in this new way of life.
The question of scripture and tradition was addressed by the Vatican 2 document Dei Verbum:
And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess. 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 1:3) (4) Now what 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. This tradition which comes from the Apostles develop in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. (5) For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her. The words of the holy fathers witness to the presence of this living tradition, whose wealth is poured into the practice and life of the believing and praying Church. Through the same tradition the Church’s full canon of the sacred books is known, and the sacred writings themselves are more profoundly understood and unceasingly made active in her; and thus God, who spoke of old, uninterruptedly converses with the bride of His beloved Son; and the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel resounds in the Church, and through her, in the world, leads unto all truth those who believe and makes the word of Christ dwell abundantly in them (see Col. 3:16).
Dei Verbum paragraph 8
Didn’t Jesus condemn tradition?
Yes and no. Jesus condemned the traditions of man, traditions that ran counter to principles laid out in scripture, but He also affirmed certain traditions that didn’t conflict with scripture.
Jesus said that He respected the teaching authority of the Pharisees because they occupied “Moses’ seat”, even though this was a tradition and found nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures. This “seat” may have been a literal chair in the temple, or a figurative position, but Jesus respects it nevertheless,
The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.
There are several verses used to attack the traditions of the Church, some are from the mouth of Christ and a couple from St. Paul, but when these verses are cited they usually lack context.
Colossians 2:8 is sometime cited against tradition, but this is about those who insisted that new Christians must adhere to Jewish customs to be Christian, and also ignores St. Paul’s other mentions of tradition (both times saying we should hold onto it).
Getting back around to your question, the reason we have tradition is because it helps us live out the words of Christ.
I believe the council fathers, at the second Vatican council, sum it up better than I could. Once again I’ll defer to Dei Verbum the council tells us about how related scripture and tradition really are, and how they interrelate and compliment each other:
Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit. To the successors of the apostles, sacred Tradition hands on in its full purity God’s word, which was entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. Thus, by the light of the Spirit of truth, these successors can in their preaching preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same devotion and reverence.
Dei Verbum paragraph 9
Thank you for your question and I hope this answer is satisfactory.
(This question was asked on my site by Ruth. If you’d like to ask a question yourself, please visit this page Questions about Catholicism )