Monday, May 07, 2007

Scripture and Tradition

The idea of Sacred Tradition has undergone a great deal of development over the centuries. The material distinction between Scriptural Doctrine and the Doctrines of Tradition was not made a formal part of theological study until the 14th c. at the earliest (it most notably appeared among the counciliarist theologians associated with the Council of Constance and its condemnation of Wycliffe’s doctrines, among which was a primitive form of sola scriptura). And even then there were those who objected to the idea that a doctrine (de fide) can be established without any appeal to the literal sense of the Sacred Text. Aquinas (who saw this issue very differently than some of his later hyper-Papal brother Dominicans) had already asserted the necessity of Scriptural support for doctrine:

"Nevertheless...nothing necessary to faith is contained under the spiritual sense [of the biblical text] which is not elsewhere put forward by the Scripture in its literal sense." STh, I., q. 1, ad. 3

The Ecumenical Council of Trent (as has been noted by several scholars including Yves Congar and Joseph Ratzinger) did not decide the question of whether Sacred Tradition is a secondary source of doctrine in the sense that it supplies doctrines not found either explicitly or implicitly in Sacred Scripture or whether it only exhibits (albeit in a different and equally authoritative way) the same doctrine substantially contained within the Apostolic Writings. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council may have in fact decided in favor of the older (second) view. When it says, "Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other (DV, 9)", it seems to be saying that they contain the same doctrine, i.e., communicate, 'share' in the same substance, which is the Doctrine of the Gospel. Granted, it leaves the Theology of Revelation with respect to this issue still undeveloped and ambiguous when it says that "[they] come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal (ibid.)", but then it also says, "Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church." The word "single" in the previous sentence seems to corroborate the interpretation already given to the meaning of the word "communicate". Either way, it is false to claim that there is a definite teaching of the Church on this matter.

The Orthodox Church, on the other hand, seems to have a much less definite view of the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, giving priority to Holy Tradition. The Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura has its roots in the primacy of Scripture characteristic of the Western Roman Catholic theological tradition.

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