Archive for February, 2012


“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” – Gen 3:8

To properly understand the relationship between Tradition and Scripture one must first understand Revelation. Revelation simply put is the act of God revealing Himself and His plan for man to mankind. Its content simply put is what God has revealed. The first time I ever seriously thought about Scripture and Tradition (that is outside the context of contemporary apologetics) I realized something that is quite obvious but often overlooked: God did not first reveal Himself through the written word. God first revealed Himself through the spoken word and through deeds. In other words, Tradition chronologically speaking precedes Scripture.

God has been revealing Himself to man since the creation of Adam and Eve (Gen 1:28-30) and walked with them in the Garden of Eden. That He walked with them tells us that Adam and Eve had an intimate relationship with Him. They would have known Him in a personal way and to some degree what His plan for them was. To what degree and how that plan would be fulfilled prior to the fall is something we cannot know. What we do know is that God did not drop a book from heaven for them to read. God revealed Himself to Noah: no book. He revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: no book. God does not reveal Himself through the written word until Moses.

Tradition (that’d be small “t” tradition, not Revelation) says that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. Whether he did or not is beside the point. At the very least Moses, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote the 10 commandments. While the Israelites were wandering in the desert God also revealed to them the Law. These laws were not just laws concerning religion, but also civil laws for right living and an ordered society. These too needed to be written down and with the 10 commandments constitute the origins of Holy Scripture. (I should make clear that this assertion is my own and not based on scholarly research. I scholarship finds or has found Scriptural writing that predates Moses I readily accept this. It does not change the point being made here). We now come to the start of there being two modes of Revelation (Scripture and Tradition) rather than just one (Tradition). Prior to this God’s revelation of Himself was passed on orally. Stories, family traditions, and hymns are ways that Revelation was handed on (tradition), but they in and of themselves are not Tradition (notice the capital “T”), are not divinely inspired. Put another way, the content they transmit is divine Revelation, but the wording is not necessarily divinely inspired.

This continues today: the writings of the Church fathers, saints, and the liturgy are just a few of the ways in which Tradition is expressed. While they are all part of Tradition they in and of themselves are not Tradition; their content is divine, but the wording is not divinely inspired. What is it that distinguishes Scripture from these places of Tradition? Why is Scripture a mode of Revelation and not something to be subsumed within Tradition? The answer is inspiration.


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The Church teaches us that God’s Revelation comes to us through two modes: Sacred Scripture and Tradition. These two modes of Revelation come from the same divine wellspring or fount. This I accept without doubt. I am quite firm in this belief. Belief, however, does not mean understanding, and I have struggled for many years with the question of how to understand this. So this is the first in a series of posts in which I will be seeking a deeper understanding of this mystery of the faith. The whole point of this blog, no?

My problem is this: As a man who was raised and educated in the Roman Catholic Church I came to see Scripture and Tradition not as two distinct modes of Revelation, but more as separate places of Revelation, both of which are needed for it’s fullness. I envisioned Scripture in one hand and Tradition in the other. I suspect that a large part of the reason for this was due to the polemics of apologetical writings in opposition to Protestantism. As I learned more about Scripture and Tradition outside of the polemics of apologetics I came to be dissatisfied with my vision of them as two separate things each completing the other. I began and quickly took on whole-heartedly to conceive not of Scripture and Tradition, but rather of Scripture in Tradition. This resulted in another problem: the danger of subsuming Scripture to Tradition.

And now the question: How to understand the relationship between Scripture and Tradition while neither separating them nor subsuming Scripture to Tradition? The main text I will be using to investigate this mystery of our faith is Yves Congar’s Tradition and Traditions.

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Historical Accuracy

The importance of historical accuracy can not be overstated. Historical accuracy is one of the essentials for proper understanding of any given topic. With this we can also include the necessity of being open to the fact that perhaps what you know to be historical fact is actually incorrect, regardless of the source.

What has prompted my reflection concerning the importance of historical accuracy is the problem of St. Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople. This issue, which is disciplinary rather than doctrinal, constitutes one of the major divides between Rome and Constantinople. As far as historical figures go he is one of the most contentious. The reason for this is largely due to a wrong understanding of history. For centuries the prevailing view in the West has been that Photius was a usurper of the patriarchal throne of Constantinople and the father of the schism between East and West. Needless to say, he would not be and has not been looked upon to kindly by Church historians and theologians. Today this view of Photius is perpetuated mainly through the Catholic Encyclopedia (completed 1914) on NewAdvent.org. Understandably (nothing else should be expected) the Catholic Encyclopedia took its information for St. Photius from Western scholarly works of that time. The problem with these works is that the authors never seriously questioned the Western view of Photius. Their work was written from the bias of the already generally accepted view. It would not be until 1948, 34 years after the Catholic Encyclopedia was finished, that this view would be seriously challenged. That challenge came from Francis Dvornik, S.J. in his book The Photian Schism.

At the moment I am 90 pages in and Dvornik has certainly exceeded my expectations. I am extremely impressed with the degree of scholarship and his  very thorough examinations and comparisons of source material. If one is going to form an opinion about St. Photius, be it good or ill, they need to read this book.


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Mystery is a good to be embraced. Without mystery our minds would be a constant whirring and buzzing of activity sure to drive us insane. Mystery lets me know that I do not have to know everything; I do not have to figure everything out. Mystery allows me to trust and to wonder. It is a recognition of myself and of God: He is and I am not; He is the Uncreated Creator and I am the created. But how could I acknowledge that mystery is a necessary part of my relationship with God if I didn’t acknowledge that mystery also stands between myself and the rest of creation.

Well, I suppose that is a start for now. 

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