The Word of God
Before Creation, the Word of God existed, and it was through God's Word that all was created (cf. Genesis 1:3-26, John 1:1-5). Before the Fall of Man, God's Word moved freely through creation and with man (cf. Genesis 3:8-9), and after the Fall, the Word of God continued to be revealed to man (cf. Genesis 4:6-15). God revealed his Word to those who found favour in his sight, such as Noah and his sons (cf. Genesis 6:13-7:5, 9:1-17), Abram, whom God named Abraham (cf. Genesis 12:1-3, 12:7, 15:1-21, 17:1-21), and so on until Moses.
The Word of God was revealed to Moses just as his ancestors (cf. Exodus 3:2-4:17), but unlike his ancestors, Moses began to record the Word of God (cf. Exodus 17:14, 24:4, 34:27, Numbers 33:2, Deuteronomy 31:9, 22, 24, John 5:46-47). God himself even recorded his Word on two stone tablets (cf. Exodus 31:18, 34:1, Deuteronomy 10:1-4). The words that Moses wrote were inspired by God, and at times, not merely inspired, but dictated by God. From the time of Moses, until the time of Christ, men inspired by God recorded the law, history, and prophecy of the Jewish people. Since these men were inspired by God, what they wrote is revered as the very Word of God.
In Moses' books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, we find a very specific type of literature, the definition of law and doctrine. Throughout the Old Testament, we find references to this law and doctrine that testify to adherence to it, but these are only references, and do not define this law and doctrine. Only in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, do we find the definition of Jewish law and doctrine. The remainder of the Old Testament is filled with history and prophecy that do not define Jewish law and doctrine, but testify to it.
The Jews did not depend solely on the written Word of God, but acknowledged Jewish tradition as the Word of God as well. Most of what is included in the Old Testament was at first only oral tradition. Sooner or later, much this oral tradition was written down, and became written tradition. Some writings, such as the ones of Moses, were immediately considered Sacred Scripture, but for the most part, this written tradition remained only tradition for years and even centuries before being accepted as included in Sacred Scripture. This tradition did not become the Word of God when it as accepted as Sacred Scripture, but was always the Word of God. As prophecies came out of the mouths of the prophets, they were considered the Word of God.
There is a great deal of Jewish tradition that was not included in the Old Testament, but this does not deny that it is the Word of God. The authors of the New Testament actually made reference to this Jewish tradition, which verifies that they believed that this tradition was the Word of God.
"He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, 'He shall be called a Nazorean.'" (Matthew 2:23). In this verse, St. Matthew makes reference to the prophecy that the Messiah would be "called a Nazorean," but this prophecy is not found in Scripture. The word "prophets" is plural; therefore, more than one prophet said that the Messiah would be a Nazorean. These prophecies were not recorded in Scripture, but were made known to Matthew by either oral or written tradition. We have no record of this prophecy, and so we do not know if Matthew knew of it by oral or by written word. We do know, however, that Matthew regarded it as a true prophecy, and so regarded it as the Word of God.
St. Paul writes that the names of the sorcerers that opposed Mosses were Jannes and Jambres (cf. 2 Timothy 3:8), and that a prophet was sawed in two (cf. Hebrews 11:37). Both of these pieces of information are not found in Scripture. The Old Testament tells us that sorcerers opposed Mosses, but their names are not given, as well, the Old Testament does not mention any prophets being sawed in two. If Paul were writing Divine revelation, what is the purpose of this information? There would have been no purpose, as this information means nothing to anyone without foreknowledge of Jewish tradition. From Jewish tradition, we know the names of these two sorcerers, and we also know that the prophet Isaiah was sawed in half during the reign of Manasseh. The story of Isaiah being sawed in half is recorded in the book "The Ascension of Isaiah"; however, this book is not considered as inspired by God, and contains matter that is deemed unreliable. This book may not be the Word of God, but we cannot deny that it does contain some Jewish tradition that is the Word of God.
St. Jude also refers to Jewish tradition that is not found in the Old Testament, a dispute over the body of Moses between Michael the Archangel and the devil (cf. Jude 9), and a prophesy from Enoch (cf. Jude 14). Both the story over the dispute over Moses' body, and the prophecy of Enoch would be known by the Hebrew readers of this letter. Like the sawing of Isaiah in two, these Jewish traditions have also been recorded in books that are not inspired by God, but do contain Jewish tradition that is regarded as the Word of God. The dispute over the body of Moses is found in "The Assumption of Moses," and the prophecy of Enoch is found in the book of Enoch.
The book of Enoch is attributed to the Enoch found in Genesis 5:18-24, but the book was actually written in the first or second century before Christ. By quoting the book of Enoch, Jude is not testifying to Divine inspiration of this book, but is only making reference to Jewish tradition. These books that contain Jewish tradition that is regarded as the Word of God also include writing that is not regarded as the Word of God, and this is why they are not included in the Old Testament. The authors of these books were not revealing the Word of God that was previously unknown, but simply recording the Word of God that had already been revealed, either through history or revelation. We cannot deny, though, that this Jewish tradition found outside the Old Testament is the Word of God.
In the first century, something extraordinary happened, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14). Jesus' every word, every gesture, every expression, every breath, was the very Word of God. From the lips of Jesus, the Word of God was heard and rejected by many (cf. John 6:66), but a few accepted the Word of God (cf. John 6:68-69), and they were Christ's Church.
The Catholic Church was established by Christ, and he promised that this Church will stand against the powers of Hell (cf. Matthew 16:18). When Jesus ascended into heaven, the members of his Church remembered what he had said and done while he was with them, and so the Word of God was in them. The recollection of those that witnessed God's Word was not sufficient, and Christ sent the Holy Spirit to be with his Church forever and to guide them into all truth (cf. John 14:15-18, John 14:26, John 16:13-15).
St. John was very specific that the Holy Spirit would be with Christ's Church always (cf. John 14:16), and that he would teach the Church everything and remind them of all that Christ had told them (cf. John 14:26). The Holy Spirit would take from what the Father had given the Son, and give it to the Church. What the Holy Spirit gives to the Church is guidance into all truth and whatever is to come (cf. John 16:13-15).
This guidance by the Holy Spirit into all truth is necessary for the Church to fulfil Christ's commandment to proclaim his gospel to the whole world (cf. Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15). It is the Holy Spirit that gives Christ's Church the authority to teach Christ's Gospel, and this teaching authority is referred to as the Sacred Magisterium. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Sacred Magisterium proclaims prophecies and Christ's teachings. Since God is perfect and cannot err, the Sacred Magisterium, which is always guided by the Holy Spirit, can never err in proclaiming doctrine of faith and morals.
The Word of God was fulfilled in Christ; therefore, the Word of God was not complete without the Gospel of Christ, and the Gospel of Christ contains the complete Word of God. The Gospel of Christ was proclaimed by the Magisterium of his Church, at first orally and eventually in writing. These proclamations of the Magisterium are the Word of God.
When the Gospel of Christ was first written down, the authors were not so presumptuous as to assume they were writing Sacred Scripture. When they referred to Scripture, they were referring only to the Old Testament, and not what they were writing. This does not mean that they were not convinced that they were writing the Word of God, they knew the Gospel of Christ, and they knew that what they wrote was this Gospel. By writing about the Word of God proclaimed by the Magisterium, one does not necessarily know they are writing Scripture, which has God as its true author.
It is clear that Moses was writing Scripture, as it seems that God was dictating to him (cf. Exodus 17:14, 24:4, 34:27, Deuteronomy 31:19-22), but this is not the case with the New Testament. In the book of Revelation, St. John claims that he is writing the prophecy of Christ and the Word of God (cf. Revelation 1:1-3), but he makes no claim that this book should be added to Sacred Scripture. And so, all the authors of the New Testament believed that they were writing the Word of God, but not additions to Sacred Scripture.
All writings that contain the Word of God, are not necessarily Scripture. Like the previously mentioned Jewish books not contained in the Old Testament, they record Jewish tradition that is the Word of God, but they also contain words that are not God's. All Christian books contain at lest a part of God's Word. If we look at this article, I pray that the Holy Spirit guides me in writing every word, consequently, if my prayers are answered, this entire article will be the Word of God. Nothing I am writing is a revelation, but simple a reiteration of what the Magisterium has proclaimed. For me to claim that I am writing the Word of God, and to claim that I am writing Sacred Scripture, are quite different things. I am not writing Scripture, but like all Christian authors, I am writing the Word of God. I write with the same attitude as the authors of the New Testament; however, unlike what they wrote, my writings will not be elevated by the Magisterium as Scripture. The authors of the New Testament never suggested that what they had written was Scripture, and it was only after their deaths, that the Magisterium declared their writings as Scripture.
Like the Old Testament, the New Testament did not suddenly exist, but slowly developed with a great deal of dispute. Around the year 156 AD, the first attempts were made to compile a "New Testament" to accompany the existing Jewish Bible. There were a number of different catalogues of this "New Testament": the Muratorian Canon of the Roman Church, catalogued in the last quarter of the second century; the Mommsen's Canon from the West African Church, catalogued around the year 360; and the Damasan Canon, catalogued in the year 382, which became the New Testament we use today.
Obviously, with the different catalogues of the New Testament, there were some additional writings included in some catalogues and some writings not included in others. The books of the Damasan Canon that were in dispute are: the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistle of James, the Second of Epistle Peter, the Second and Third Epistle of John, the Epistle of Jude, and especially the Apocalypse of John, also known as the book of Revelation. There were also some disputed passages in the other books: Mark 16:9-20, about the apparitions of Jesus after the Resurrection; Luke 22:43-44, about Jesus sweating blood; and John 7:53-8:11, about the woman caught in adultery. The disputed books that were not included in the Damasan Canon are: the Gospel according to the Hebrews, the Acts of Paul, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Didache. In total there were around two hundred and fifty early writing that were suggested for inclusion in the New Testament.
The six books excluded from the New Testament with serious disputed should be examined more closely, since these books could have become, and were at one time, considered Sacred Scripture. While the Magisterium, guided by the Holy Spirit, has declared that these books are not Scripture, we should look upon these books as valuable Christian teachings.
The Gospel according to the Hebrews is also known as the Gospel according to the Nazarenes, and is regarded as the original Hebrew text that became the Greek Gospel of Matthew. It is not look on as a distinct Gospel equal to the four canonical Gospels, but more of a first draft, so to speak, of a Gospel. It can be compared to the hypothetical work Quelle (German for source), which some scholars believe the three Synoptic Gospels were based on.
The Acts of Paul was not written by St. Paul, but by an orthodox Christian around the year 160. This book is much like the Acts of the Apostles in that it is the history of St. Paul's ministry, but unlike the Acts of the Apostles, this book cannot be directly linked to an apostle, and therefore, was not accepted in the Canon of the New Testament. Since this book was based on a number of years of oral tradition, it may not be entirely historically correct; however, it does record a great deal of oral tradition attributed to Paul. So as a record of Paul's ministry, this book is significant.
The Epistle of Barnabas is not actually an epistle, but a theological tract. It does not claim to be written by Barnabas, or to have an apostolic origin. We do not have any clue as to who wrote it, nor to whom it was addressed, although we know that it is not of Jewish origins, and that it came from Alexandria. The author shows an unfamiliarity with Mosaic rites, so we can deduce that he was not Jewish, and that his intended audience was also not Jewish. Only the Alexandrians were acquainted with it until the fourth century, and it attained the honour of being publicly read in their churches. The date of its composition is most likely the late part of the first century, or possible early in the second. This is an example of early Greek Christian literature, and it is understandable why the Alexandrians included it in their New Testament.
We are unsure of the origins of the Apocalypse of Peter, and St. Peter could have written it. The Gospel of Peter, which we know was written much later and not by Peter, quotes almost this entire book exactly. This book was widely accepted in Palestine, and it was annually read on Good Friday in some Palestinian churches.
The exclusion of the Shepherd of Hermas from the New Testament was greatly disputed, as it was widely accepted as Scripture, and publicly read in many churches. Even those who denied it to be canonical, recognised its worth, and recommended new Christians to read it. The Hermas who wrote it is suppose to be the one mentioned in Romans 16:14, and so this book does have an apostolic origin. This book was written in the last part of the first century, and was almost included in the New Testament.
The Didache, or Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles, like the exclusion of the Shepherd of Hermas, was greatly disputed. This book is also from the first century, probably between the years 65 and 80, and can be found in the later work the Apostolic Constitutions. There is an old credence that each of the Twelve Apostles contributed to this work, but there is no evidence to support this. We can tell that the author was definitely Jewish, and that it was written very early, since Jewish custom is still described as very important in the Christian Church. Although this book is not Scripture, it is very important in verifying a number of Christian doctrines not found in the New Testament.
By the time of the fourth century, the idea of a New Testament was firmly established; however, the Canon of the New Testament varied from church to church, and at the end of this century, the need for a universal catalogue was recognised. The task of deciding which of the over two hundred and fifty texts should be included in the New Testament and which should be excluded was immense, but with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church was able to do it. In 382, Pope St. Damasus I summoned St. Jerome to assist at a Roman synod that was devoted to this matter, and the resulting Damasan Canon was declared the universal catalogue of the Catholic Church.
The catalogue of the Old Testament was not disputed among Christians like the New Testament was, since it was the Jews that determined this catalogue. The Old Testament Canon adopted by the Christian Church was the one used by the Hellenist Jews, whose intellectual and literary centre was Alexandria. This version of the Jewish Bible is called the Septuagint, and was in the Greek language. The translation of the older Hebrew Bible into Greek began about the middle of the third century BC, and during this time, the Hellenist Jew made some additions to the original Hebrew Canon. In the century immediately preceding Christ, the Septuagint became the accepted Bible of all the Jews, including the Palestinian rabbis. However, after the first century, the Jews discarded the Alexandrian books, and returned to the older Hebrew Canon. The Jewish move away from Greek influence did not affect the Christian Church, and they retained the Alexandrian books. The Roman synod under Pope Damasus I in 382 also declared the Septuagint as the universal catalogue of the Church's Old Testament.
The Roman synod that canonised the Old and New Testaments was not a general synod, and it did not have jurisdiction over the Universal Church, but the authority of the Pope was enough for the Biblical Canon declared by this synod to be universally accepted. The acceptance of this canon was not immediate, and not without dispute. The African Church had used a different New Testament canon for centuries, and was the cause of most of the resistance against the Pope's canon. An African synod was held in Hippo in 393 that confirmed the Pope's canon as the canon of the African Church. Opposition to this canon remained in Africa, and it was necessary to reconfirm this canon in Africa three more times in 393, 397, and 419, this time at the seat of the primary African See of Carthage. After the four African synods, the Canon of the Old and New Testaments of the Catholic Church was not changed until heretics broke with the Sacred Magisterium.
A strong feeling remained for some of the previously defined New Testament canons, and when heretic churches broke away from the Magisterium, they defined their own New Testament catalogue. The Nestorian canon is almost identical to the ancient East Syrian one, excluding the Second Epistle of Peter, the Second and Third Epistles of John, the Epistle of Jude, and the Apocalypse of John. The Armenian Orthodox Church includes a Third Epistle to the Corinthians and two from the Corinthians. The Coptic Orthodox Church includes the Apostolic Constitutions and the Epistles of Clement. And, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church also includes the Apostolic Constitutions.
These Churches with different New Testament canons are not related to the Eastern Orthodox Churches, but the Nestorian and Monophysite heresies of the fifth and sixth centuries. The Eastern Orthodox Churches that brook away from the Catholic Church in the ninth and eleventh centuries accept the same New Testament canon as the Catholic Church. The Old Testament canon of these Nestorian and Monophysite Churches is the same as the Catholic canon, with the inclusion of several apocrypha books.
The Christian Bible is the written Word of God, and its contents are Divinely guaranteed truths. The faithful were encouraged to read it according to their spiritual needs, and it was publicly read in the churches. This included translations into the vernacular, which the Church provided to newly converted nations as soon as possible. This was the reason for the early Latin and oriental translations, as well as the translations for the Armenians, the Slavonians, the Goths, the Italians, the French, and the partial translations into English.
With a universally accepted Canon of the New Testament consisting of early records of Christian tradition, the Church never denied the remainder of Christian tradition. This is affirmed by Tertullian: "Wherever it shall be clear that the truth of the Christian discipline and faith are present, there also will be found the truth of the Scriptures and of their explanation, and of all Christian tradition." The writings of the New Testament were distinguished form other Christian writings as Sacred Scripture, and therefore, officially declared acceptable for public reading in Christian churches. Other Christian writings were still regarded with reverence, and occasionally, also read publicly in churches. The Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas were held with very high esteem, and were required reading for catechumens (those entering the Church) at times.
The Canon of the New Testament did not replace, or diminish the role of the Holy Spirit. As Christ promised, the Holy Spirit always remained with the Church, to guide its Magisterium in all truth (cf. John 14:15-18, John 14:26, John 16:13-15). It was through the guidance of the Holy Spirit that the Magisterium was able to define not just the canon of Scripture, but Christian doctrine as well.
The Catholic Church has always followed Christian doctrine; however, it was not until a doctrinal dispute that the definition of a doctrine was actually proclaimed. The first record of this is the Council of Jerusalem, which declared that Christians were not bound by Mosaic Law (cf. Acts 15:1-31). The role of the Holy Spirit in this doctrinal definition is expressly mentioned in Acts 15:28, and the first record of a doctrinal declaration is the letter recorded in Acts 15:23-29.
Aside from this doctrinal declaration in the book of Acts, the New Testament does not define doctrine. Unlike the doctrinal definitions in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the New Testament is devoid of this type of literature. The closest thing we have to doctrinal literature from the first century is the Didache, but this is still not an official doctrinal declaration, as it does not declare its source as the Magisterium. If we look at the letter recorded in Acts 15:23-29, we see that the magisterial source of this document is clearly stated in Acts 15:23, and verse 28, thereby attesting to the authority of this doctrine's source.
Paul and Barnabas opposed the doctrine of binding Christians to the Mosaic Law and disputed it, but even though Paul was considered an apostle, he did not have the authority to make a doctrinal declaration. This is why the dispute was taken to Jerusalem, where the Magisterium of the Church was at that time. Once the dispute was put before the Magisterium of the Church, a doctrinal definition was possible.
The early doctrinal definitions of the Magisterium are lost; many of which may have only been oral, since Christ's return was anticipated rather soon, and their seemed to be no need to record Christian doctrine for future generations. From the time of the Council of Jerusalem to the time of the Council of Nicaea in 325, we have very little official doctrinal definitions. We do have one in the form of a letter from Pope St. Dionysius, which defines a portion of the Trinitarian doctrine. Apart from this letter, and the one in the book of Acts, the actual doctrinal definitions of the early Church have not been preserved.
We do not have the early doctrinal definitions, but we do have evidence of these early declarations, as well as evidence of Christian doctrine before it was defined. Since a doctrinal definition is not necessary until a doctrinal dispute arises, many doctrinal definitions did not occur until a very late date. These doctrines were believed and followed before they were defined, but they were not defined until they were disputed.
Evidence of Christian doctrine has always been abundant before it is officially defined by the Magisterium, as one of the requirements of a doctrinal definition is the pre-existence of the doctrine. In the first three centuries of the Church, we have a number of documents that prove the existence of Christian doctrine that was officially defined in later centuries.
Since the New Testament does not define Christian doctrine, aside for defining that Christians are not bound by Mosaic Law, the definition of Christian doctrine must be found outside of the New Testament. This does not mean that the New Testament was not consulted in defining doctrine, it may not contain doctrinal definitions, but it does contain proof of the existence of Christian doctrines. The Bible and all other relevant Christian documents are thoroughly examined by the Magisterium, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in define Christian doctrine.
It is through the guidance of the Holy Spirit that the Magisterium is able to make doctrinal definitions without error, and therefore, these declarations are the Word of God. The Word of God that is declared by the Magisterium, which is not declared as Scripture, is referred to as Sacred Tradition. It is through the Sacred Magisterium that Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are proclaimed, and through the same Sacred Magisterium that Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are interpreted to reveal the Word of God.
The Magisterium, Tradition, and Scripture are not separate entities, but a single deposit of God's revealed Word. The Sacred Magisterium is the mechanism of the Holy Spirit revealing the Word of God to man. Sacred Tradition is the oral or written recording of the Word of God revealed through the Sacred Magisterium. And, Sacred Scripture is a portion of Sacred Tradition that the Sacred Magisterium has elevated. The role of the Sacred Magisterium continues after the declaration of Sacred Tradition and Scripture, as the only authority to interpret what it has declared.
It is obvious that Scripture cannot exist without Tradition, and both Scripture and Tradition cannot exist without the Magisterium. This does not mean that the Magisterium takes precedence over Tradition and Scripture, or that Tradition takes precedence over Scripture, but that it is only when the three are united that the Word of God can be perceived by man.
Further clarification of the word "tradition" is need because there is an important difference between Sacred Tradition, and Christian tradition. First, you will notice that Sacred Tradition is capitalised, while Christian tradition is not. This is done to clearly distinguish the two terms from each other, as their definitions are completely separate from each other.
Sacred Tradition is the Word of God proclaimed by the Sacred Magisterium. This includes all Christian doctrine, such as the Canon of the Bible, and in accepting Sacred Tradition, one accepts Sacred Scripture. One becomes a Christian by accepting all Sacred Tradition, and likewise, one becomes a heretic by denying any part of Sacred Tradition.
Christian tradition is the history and practices of the Christian Church, which lend themselves to a Christian life; however, they are not necessary. Some of this history may or may not be accurate, and the Christian is not required to believe it. Even though some of this history may not be accurate, a Christian is not wrong in believing it, as this history is in the context of devotion to Christ. An example of this is the names of the three wise men from the East who came to adore the child Jesus: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. The New Testament is silent in their names, and in their number. Some traditions claims there were only two, while others claim there were four, or even eight or twelve. The exact number and their names are not really important, what is important is the devotion to Christ through these traditions.
Another example of Christian tradition that is doubtful to be historically correct is the Christian conversion of Pontius Pilate held by the some Eastern Churches. There are many other stories about Pontius Pilate, one of which claims he committed suicide, but this is not important. What is important, is that those that believe in the conversion of Pilate are strengthen in their faith by this story.
Examples of Christian traditions that are very probable are the names of Mary's parents, Anne and Joachim, and the perpetual virginity of her husband, Joseph. The Magisterium claims that these traditions are true; however, it has not doctrinally declared them as true. The reason for this is that the Magisterium does not deem it necessary to Christian faith to believe these traditions. So the Magisterium claims these traditions as true, but does not require a Christian to believe them.
The practices of Christian tradition are also deemed unnecessary to Christian faith; however, they are often regulated, and must be followed. An example a regulated tradition is the celibacy of the clergy in the Latin Rite. The Magisterium has not declared that a celibate clergy is necessary to Christian faith, and the Eastern Rites have never required celibacy of their clergy. The Latin Rite does require celibacy of their clergy, and so this tradition must be kept, not because it is necessary to Christian faith, but because it is regulated, and obedience is necessary to Christian faith.
Christian obedience belongs to Sacred Tradition, and is supported by Sacred Scripture, so unless the Latin Church repeals the requirement of celibacy of its clergy, this tradition must be followed. It is not required that the Christian agree with a celibate clergy in the Latin Rite, but obeisance is required. Unlike Sacred Tradition, Christians can disagree with Christian tradition, but disagreeing with Sacred Tradition would make one a heretic.
Another practice of Christian tradition is infant Communion. In the early days of Christianity, it was not uncommon for infants to receive the Lord's Supper immediately after they were baptised. In the East, the practice was almost universal and even exists today in some places, but in the West, infant Communion was not as common, and is not practised today. Again, this practice is regulated, this time it is not required, but is not allowed without magisterial consent.
With these examples, the difference between Tradition with a capital "T" and tradition with a lower case "t" should be clear. A Christian must agree with Tradition, and by disagreeing with Tradition, one becomes a heretic. A Christian may or may not agree with tradition, but if it is regulated, it must be obeyed, with or without agreement, not for the sake of the tradition, but for the sake of Christian obedience.
The Tradition and the tradition of the Catholic Church must not be confused with the traditions mentioned in Matthew 15:1-9, Mark 7:1-16, and Colossians 2:8. The traditions mentioned in these verses deny the Word of God, and separated man from God. The Tradition of Catholic Church is the Word of God, and both the Tradition and the tradition of the Catholic Church bring man closer to God. "Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours." (2 Thessalonians 2:15). "We instruct you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to shun any brother who conducts himself in a disorderly way and not according to the tradition they received from us." (2 Thessalonians 3:6).
Tradition and Scripture cannot be separated from the Magisterium. It is from the Magisterium that both Tradition and Scripture came, and without the Magisterium they cannot be properly interpreted. This is much like the court and law of most governments, the Magisterium is akin to the court, and Scripture and Tradition are akin to the law. The law came from the court, and only the court can interpret the law. If every citizen were given the right to interpret the law for themself, there would be no order in that land, even if every citizen had the best of intentions to follow the law. Instead, the court interprets the law which it had created. Scripture and Tradition come from God, and the Magisterium can be said to have created them because of the essential role of the Holy Spirit in the Magisterium.
Although the Word of God cannot be revealed without the unity of the Magisterium, Scripture, and Tradition, this is what heretics have claimed to do. This is the very nature of heresy, to place one's self in the role of the Magisterium and declare the Word of God. The heretic commonly denies the Magisterium, but places themself in the very role they deny exists. This is the root of heresy, to claim inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and proclaim a false Word of God.
The Sacred Magisterium has truly existed since the beginning of creation, when the Word of God was revealed to creation. Through the centuries, the Magisterium has varied in form, but when Christ built his Church, he gave the Magisterium a definite form, which would last until he returns. When Christ defined the Magisterium of his Church, he addressed his apostles during the Last Supper, and told them that the Holy Spirit will always be with them so they may proclaim all truth (cf. John 14:15-16:15). Nowhere does Christ ever suggest that the Magisterium will be with anyone except those to whom he entrusted his Church. This does not deny that the Holy Spirit dwells in every Christians, but the authority to determine the Word of God rests only with those entrusted with the care of Christ's Church.
For the most part, the early schisms, both heretical and pure, were caused by men who were not in care of the universal Church, but claimed to be the Magisterium and broke with the true Magisterium. In many cases, these false Magisteriums declared very little doctrinal definitions, and were not too far from the truth. But in the second millennium of the Church's history, a new bread of heretical schisms began to develop. These new heretical schismatics not only put themselves in the place the Sacred Magisterium, which they denied existed, but claimed that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every Christian gave every Christian the authority to determine the Word of God. To add to this, they also denied the validity of Sacred Tradition, thereby declaring that the Word of God is revealed solely from every Christian's interpretation of Sacred Scripture.
These heretics claimed that Scripture alone was the Word of God, which is deceitful, since many interpretations can be applied to Scripture. So, what these heretics were really claiming, was that their Scriptural interpretation alone was the Word of God. Most of these heretics would deny this, but the results of their teachings prove this. These heretics claimed their interpretation of Scripture was correct, but their interpretation is different from the Catholic one, and also different from all the other heretical interpretations.
A simple analysis of this new heresy shows how ridicules it is. The Magisterium, from which both Tradition and Scripture came from, does not exist. Tradition, from which Scripture came from, does not exist. And, Scripture alone is the word of God. The Tradition that defines Scripture as the Word of God, is the word of man. The Magisterium that created Scripture and declared the Tradition that Scripture is the Word of God, is the word of man. When this new heresy is logically analysed, it claims that the Magisterium is the word of man, and Tradition is the word of man, which leaves us with the conclusion that the source of Scripture is man. While these heretics profess in word that Scripture alone is the Word of God, in reality their teachings reduce the origins of Scripture to that of man.
The other aspect of this new heresy that is equally ridicules, is that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit gives every Christian the authority to interpret Sacred Scripture. As mentioned earlier, if every citizen were given the authority to interpret the law of the land for themself, there would be no order in that land, even if every citizen had the best of intentions to follow the law. Likewise, when every Christian is given the authority to interpret Scripture for themself, there is no order. The proof of this is the history of those who embraced this heresy. From the heretic churches formed by this heresy, more heretic churches formed, followed by more. Each church interpreting Scripture differently, and conflicting with each other's interpretation. The Word of God does not conflict with itself, so obviously, these churches are not revealing the Word of God from Scripture.
The beginning of this heresy did not have the element of giving every Christian the authority to interpret Scripture, since this element is obviously ridicules. The fist cases of this heresy were in the first millennium; however, we are not sure of its first appearance. One of the first heretics to teach this was Constantine of Mananalis, also known as Silvanus, who began his teachings around 657. He taught that his personal interpretation of the New Testament is the only correct one, and that his followers should use no other text.
The cases of similar heresies were isolated and small, and there was no major action by the Church in response to them. This changed on January 2, 1080. Pope St. Gregory VII declared that the Duke of Bohemia was not allowed to publish Sacred Scripture in the language of that country. This was contrary to the Church's actions in the last thousand years of translating the Bible into the vernacular of christianised nations. The pontiff feared that the reading of the Bible in the vernacular would lead to irreverence and the wrong interpretation of Sacred Scripture.
The Waldensian and Albigensian heresies in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries also began misusing Scripture, but it was not until the Wycliffite and Hussite heresies at the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries, that the Bible was viewed as the only source Divine truth. This is the true beginning of this heresy, as it is not connected with the earlier heresies with similar views on the Bible.
This heresy was firmly defined and given the name Sola Scriptura by the Lutheran heresy, which was the basis of Protestant heresies. The authority given to all heretics to privately interpret Scripture for themselves was the cause of all later divisions within Protestantism. This obvious error was later recognised by Martin Luther who then demanded that all conform to his interpretation of Scripture, in direct conflict with his earlier teachings.
Without the authority of the Magisterium and the example of Tradition, these heretics spread heresies which they backed-up with their personal interpretation of Scripture. Tertullian addressed this issue around the year 200, and said the heretics had no right to appeal to Scripture, since they had abandoned apostolic tradition. "These things being so, in order that we may be judged to have the truth, - we who walk in the rule which the Churches have handed down from the Apostles, the Apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, - admit that the reasonableness of our position is clear, defining as it does that heretics ought not to be allowed to challenge an appeal to the Scriptures, since we, without using Scripture, prove that they have nothing to do with the Scriptures."
Moreover, Tertullian gave a test by which to prove the authenticity of a church's doctrine. The test is to historically trace the origins of a doctrine back to the Apostles, without any lapses in time. Tertullian explains:
Moreover, if there be any [heresies] bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, so that they might seem to have been handed down by the Apostles because they were from the time of Apostles, we can say to them: let them show the origins of their Churches, let them unroll the order of their bishops, running down in succession from the beginning, so that their first bishop shall have for author and predecessor some one of the Apostles or of the apostolic men who continued steadfast with the Apostles... Therefore, they will be challenged to meet this test even by those Churches which are of much later date - for they are being established daily - and whose founder is not from among the Apostles nor from among the apostolic men; for those which agree in the same faith are reckoned as apostolic on account of the blood ties in their doctrine. Then let all heresies prove how they regard themselves as apostolic, when they are challenged by our Churches to meet either test. But in fact they are not apostolic, nor can they prove themselves to be what they are not. Neither are they received in peace and communion by the Churches which are in any way apostolic, since on account of their diverse belief they are in no way apostolic.
Origen made a similar point, sometime between the years 220 and 230, that apostolic tradition was handed down unchanged from the Apostles, but the doctrine of heretics differs from the doctrine of their predecessors. "Although there are many who believe that they themselves hold to the teachings of Christ, there are yet some among them who think differently from their predecessors. The teaching of the Church has indeed been handed down through an order of succession from the Apostles, and remains in the Churches even to the present time. That alone is to be believed as the truth which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition."
Placing themselves in the role of the Magisterium, which they denied existed, Protestants then began to alter Scripture. First, all the Hellenist books were removed from the Old Testament, leaving only the older Hebrew books. In addition to this, Luther removed the book of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation. Ulrich Zwingli also removed the book of Revelation, and the followers of Luther remove Second Peter, along with Second and Third John. The Protestants later returned to the correct New Testament canon, but did not correct their Old Testament canon. The orthodox Lutheran Church does print the Hellenist books in their Bible, but are appended to, and not include in, the Old Testament.
In defending their perversion of the God's Word, Protestants often perpetuate false ideas about Scripture and the Catholic Church. One such idea is that the Catholic Church does not want its members to read the Bible. This idea stems from a number of historical facts: most Catholics are unfamiliar with the Bible when compared to most Protestants; the Bibles of Catholic Churches were locked up at times; vernacular translations of the Bible were sometimes forbidden; the Bible was listed in the Index of Prohibited Books; and the Catholic Church burned Bibles.
The stereotype of Catholics being unfamiliar with the Bible is slowly changing, but it cannot be denied that most Protestants are much more familiar with the Bible than Catholics. There are a number of Catholics that are very lazy and are not only unfamiliar with the Bible, but with the Catholic Church and its doctrines. These Catholics are one of the favourite targets of evangelising Protestants, since they easily believe misinformation about the Catholic Church, and easily accept heretical doctrine. But even among devout Catholics, an unfamiliarity with the Bible still seems to be prevalent when compared to Protestants. This is readily understood when the motive for Protestant Bible study is examined. The basis of Protestant faith is the Bible, so Bible study is viewed as the best way to grow in faith. This is exemplified in the Gospel Blues classic Nobody's Fault but Mine by Blind Willie Johnson: "I have a Bible in my home. If I don't read my soul will be lost, nobody's fault but mine."
The basis of Catholic faith is the living Word of God found not only in the Bible, but also in all Catholic teachings. There are some very devout Catholics who never read the Bible, and only hear it read in church. With only hearing the Bible read in church, they remain in constant prayer and meditation on the saving graces of Christ. Some may scoff at only hearing the Bible read in church, so an explanation is required of how much Bible reading occurs in Catholic churches. Every Sunday during Mass, the Liturgy of the Word is celebrated, which includes the First Reading, usually from the Old Testament, a Psalm, the Second Reading, from either the Old or New Testament, and the Gospel Reading. These readings are regulated in a three-year cycle. A devout Catholic is being described, so they would probably attend daily Mass when possible, if not everyday. The daily Liturgy of the Word differs from the Sunday one by the usual absence of a Second Reading, and a two-year cycle. Again, we are describing a devout Catholic, so they may also attend the Liturgy of the Hours anywhere from once a day, to seven times a day. The seven Hours each have their own Bible readings that are cycled over the year, including Psalms, and various Old and New Testament readings.
Many devout Catholics have a Missal, which contains the Sunday and Weekday Mass readings. They use their Missal to prepare for Mass by reading the Scriptures specified for that Mass before attending it, and also to read the Scriptures specified for Masses they cannot attend. Some Catholics even have a Breviary, which contains the Liturgy of one or all of the Hours, and they celebrate this liturgy outside of church.
Most Catholic Priests, Monks, and Nuns, are required to attend daily mass if possible, and to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours. In addition to the seven Hours, some are required to, or simply have the desire to, celebrate two more Hours during the night (the word "Hour" here does not describe the length of time this liturgy takes to celebrate, but the time at which it is celebrated).
This Catholic reading or listening to the Bible is more prayerful and contemplative than it is scholarly, hence details such as verse and chapter numbers are not stressed. Few Catholics spend time memorising specific verses with their chapter and verse numbers. The Catholic emphasis is on the Word of God, and not the letter of the Bible.
This is illustrated in one of the differences between theological degrees granted by Catholic schools and Protestant schools. Protestant degrees place a large emphasis on the study of the Greek and Hebrew languages, many times Greek is a requirement. Catholic degrees do not emphasis the study of any languages, and the most often language studied is Latin. Again, the Catholic emphasis is on the Word of God, and not the letter of the Bible.
Catholic churches did at one time lock up their Bibles, often chaining them to the church, but this historical fact must be viewed in context. This was before the invention of the printing press, making any book rare and expensive. The cost of a Bible was the cost of a thousand sheep skins and three years wages for a scribe. This would be the same today as the cost of an upper middle class house. Bibles were not the only books that were locked and chained up, many of the books used in the universities were also locked up. The Bibles were not locked or chained up to keep people from reading them, but to keep people form stealing them. The motive behind this action was to make Scripture more available to the faithful.
As stated before, when a vernacular translation of the Bible was denied, it was to stop irreverence and the wrong interpretation of Scripture. This was only to stop the invention and spreading of new heresies. If people had accepted the correct interpretation of the Bible, and not invent their own, this would never have happened. Generally, translations of the Bible into the vernacular were provided to newly converted nations as soon as possible.
The Bible was listed in the Index of Prohibited Books, but again this must be put in context. Many Protestants like to think that the Index of Prohibited Books was a strict list of book that were prohibited and burnt when found. This is pure fantasy. Again, the motive behind this action was to stop the invention and spread of new heresies. In 1199, Pope Innocent III stated that the desire to read Scripture was praiseworthy, but that the practice was dangerous for the simple and unlearned. On March 24, 1564, Pope Pius IV declared in his Constitution, "Dominici gregis," the Index of Prohibited Books. According to the third rule of this Index, the Old Testament could be read in the vernacular by pious and learned men, according to the judgement of their bishop. The fourth rule allowed the reading of the New Testament in the vernacular by laymen, according to the judgement of their confessor or pastor. Clearly, this was not simply a list of prohibited book, but regulations to prevent the misuse of the Bible.
Subsequent popes made similar proclamations. Pope Benedict XIV, whose pontificate was from 1740 to 1758, required that the vernacular version read by laymen should be either approved by the Holy See or accompanied with notes written by learned and pious authors. This requirement was declared again by the Sacred Congregation of the Index on January 7, 1836, and again by Pope Gregory XVI in his Encyclical of May 8, 1844.
Did the Catholic Church really burn Holy Bibles? No. Is this verse found in the Holy Bible, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was a god"? No, it is found in the Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Translation of the Bible. No serious Christian would deny that this unholy Bible misleads people away from Christ, and should be distorted. So it is with the heretic Bible the Catholic Church burned, they were unholy and needed to be distorted. John Wyclif's translation of the Bible contained over three thousand errors, many of which modern Protestant would not except, and for the good of all Christians, the Catholic Church burned them and all other heretic Bibles.
In total, Catholics are encouraged to read and study the Bible, as long as it is done with the guidance of the Magisterium, which is guided by the Holy Spirit.
Another idea is the notion that the Bible does not need to be interpreted, but simply read. Everything a person reads and hears is interpreted by that person. This is an undeniable function of the human mind. People with similar cultural, historical, and educational backgrounds often have similar interpretation, but as culture, history, and education vary, so does the interpretation. This variance is increased with the complexity of the subject.
The writing of the Bible began three and a half thousand years ago, and was completed two thousand years ago. The authors of the Bible were Hebrews of varying culture. The languages the Bible was written in were Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. How could the average English speaking person of the modern age be expected to interpret the Bible? Obviously, they cannot. A scholar must understand the language, history, and culture of the particular passage they are interpreting. Most of the new heretic churches are based on an unscholarly interpretation of the Bible.
Some uninformed heretics believe that the Catholic Church has added to Scripture, specifically the Old Testament. It is true that the Catholic Church has added to Scripture, but what they have added is the very New Testament that these heretics use. The Catholic Church has not added anything to the Old Testament. The Canon of the Old Testament that the Catholic Church uses existed for seventeen centuries before heretics removed some of it in the sixteenth century. The problem is not that the Catholic Church added to Scripture, but that heretics have subtracted from Scripture.
Many believe that some doctrines of the Catholic Church conflict with the Bible. This is the result of unauthorised personal interpretations of the Bible. With a correct interpretation of the Bible, there is no conflict between itself and Catholic doctrine. In fact, the Bible supports most Catholic doctrine. The conflicts arise from the many heretical interpretations of the Bible that conflict with the correct interpretation, and each other.
The majority of these alleged conflicts occur in the New Testament, which the Catholic Church added to Bible. If Catholic doctrine actually conflicted with the New Testament, it would have been pure stupidity to include these conflicts. The Catholic Church had a thousand years before anyone found these alleged conflicts, so they had ample time to remove any conflicts. When the subject is seriously considered, there are not conflicts between Scripture and Catholic doctrine.
Heretics usually given a date of conception to Catholic doctrines that they refer to as "non-Biblical." This is always the date in which the definition of this doctrine is officially declared. As stated earlier, these doctrines existed well before they were officially defined, since they did not need defining until they were disputed. Many of these doctrines are supported in the Bible, but the misinterpretations of the Bible by these heretics do not allow them to appreciate this.
The most popular date given for these so-called "non-Biblical" doctrines, and even the conception of the Catholic Church, is August 25, 325. This was the close of the First Ecumenical Council, which was held in Nicaea, and aside from the already mentioned doctrinal definitions, this council produced the earliest documentation of official doctrinal definitions. Like all doctrinal definitions, this was not the conception of these doctrines, but an official defence of the apostolic origins of these doctrines, mainly against Arianism. This is how it is described in a letter written around the year 361: "[The Fathers of the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea], without prefixing consulate, month, and day, wrote concerning Easter: 'The following has been decided.' And it was at that time decided that all should comply. But concerning matters of faith they did not write: 'It has been decided,' but 'Thus the Catholic Church believes.' And thereupon they confessed how they believed. This they did in order to show that their judgement was not of more recent origin, but was in fact of Apostolic times; and that what they wrote was no discovery of their own, but is simply that which was taught by the Apostles."
The idea that this was the conception of the Catholic Church is unfounded when the historical facts are considered. The council lasted two months and twelve days, in which a creed, twenty canons, and a synodal decree were created and agreed upon by three hundred and eighteen bishops from throughout Christianity, including several bishops from outside the Roman Empire. The creed, canons, and synodal decree clearly describe the Catholic Church as it exists today. It is impossible to imagine that in this short amount time the above-mentioned bishops, from all of Christianity, completely fabricated the church described in the council's documents. It is even more impossible to imagine that the entire Christian community would immediately accept all of these decrees, unless they were already accepted and in practice.
The documentation of the Nicaea Council is not the only evidence of the doctrines defined in it. Before this First Ecumenical Council, there were a number of local councils that produced similar declarations. As well, there is an abundance of early literature, including the New Testament, describing these doctrines well before they were official defined by the Nicaea Council. The Council of Nicaea did not conceive of the Catholic Church, but defended the doctrines of the catholic and apostolic Church against the prevalent heretical doctrines, namely Arianism.
There are a number of Catholic traditions not found in the Bible that Protestants believe in. These include who the authors were of the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Hebrews, and 1, 2, and 3 John. There are also a number of Catholic doctrines not found in the Bible that most Protestants believe in. These doctrines include the Divinity of Christ; the redeeming value of Christ's Passion; Christ's coming to judge the world, and the New Testament is the infallible Word of God. These and all similar revelations are only known to us through the infallible Magisterium of the Catholic Church.
No Protestants would deny that the New Testament is the infallible Word of God, but this doctrine is not supported in the Old or the New Testament. This is an exclusively Catholic doctrine that slowly began to develop around the year 156, and was defined in 382 under Pope St. Damasus I. The New Testament that all Protestants use today is the Damasan Canon, which is named after Pope Damasus I. It was not until the Protestants questioned this doctrine that it was officially defined by the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in 1546. If Protestants truly followed the heresy of Sola Scriptura, they would deny that the New Testament is the Word of God, and would therefore become Jews. Protestants may deny the doctrine of Papal Infallibility in word, but in practice, they support it by accepting the infallible papal teaching that the New Testament is the infallible Word of God.
The Christian Church was founded on the doctrines preached by Christ and his Apostles. Those who received these doctrines did so solely on the authority of their source. In the lifetime of the Apostles, the only necessary medium of faith was the intellectual submission to these doctrines. There was no occasion for personal interpretation. Scripture is quite clear on this point: "And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly, that in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe." (1 Thessalonians 2:13). "Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17). In the time of the Apostles, faith came through hearing the Word of God through Christ's Church, and this continues today.
It is completely illogical to base one's faith upon personal interpretation of a book; even a Divinely inspired book. Faith is a process of submission, whereas interpretation is a process of judgement. The validity of faith rests in the authority of the teacher, whereas the validity of interpretation rests in the authority of the reader. Faith comes from the living Word of God, not from personal interpretation of a dead text. By basing one's faith upon personal interpretation of Scripture, one is not placing their trust of a higher authority, but in one's own authority. In doing this, one places themself on the same level as God.
Protestant heretics view the simple faith of Catholics as foolish and unworthy of human intellect, but it is this simple unquestioning faith that has sustained the unity of Christ's Church for two thousand years. Without the total and absolute submission to the Word of God proclaimed by Christ's ambassadors, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, there is no unity. The history of Protestantism demonstrates this with the disunity between Protestant churches, and even within these churches. The only healing of this disunity can be in humble intellectual submission to Divine authority.