Catholic Tradition

82. As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, 'does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.' [DV 9.]--Catechism of the Catholic Church, (C) 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

As Roman Catholic apologists like to point out, the RCC is not guided only by the Sacred Scriptures, but also by Holy Tradition. Like so many other aspects of the Catholic cult, this unwillingness to accept God's Word as sufficient shares many characteristics with those other religions and cults which the Roman church absorbed in order to gain control over their devotees.

In the Book of Exodus, we read the account of Moses' mountaintop encounter with the Lord God Almighty. When Moses came down the mountain with the tablets containing the Decalogue, Ten Commandments, this was the beginning of the process Jews call Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah.

All in all, there are 613 laws in Torah. Why did God write but ten "utterances" on the stone tablets? Rabbis and biblical scholars tell us that the Ten Commandments are but general headings and that each of the other 603 laws can be assigned to one of these ten categories. The laws God provided, if kept in the spirit, were adequate to cover all aspects of community and personal living. God is all-wise. Surely He provided the perfect number of perfectly written rules to protect and guide His chosen people.

Originally, the Law was in the hands of the prophets (nevi'im) and the priests (Levites). This changed under Persian rule, when Ezra returned to the Jewish homeland. From this time on, religious teaching and leadership was in the hands of scholars, who were referred to as scribes (soferim). You know what happens when lawyers or academicians get their hands on anything.

It is not in man's nature, apparently, to leave perfection alone. Priests and scribes began adding to God's perfect collection of laws. It was not plain enough that God commanded against eating blood (Leviticus 17:11); these deep thinkers determined it was necessary to supplement God's law with a complex set of rules for slaughtering animals and preparing food in the "kosher" manner. Over the centuries, hundreds, nay! Thousands, of rules, comments, codicils, interpretations, etc., were added to the growing collecting of oral "tradition" concerning the Law given by God in Torah.

In the rabbinical era, folks began gathering all this multitude of "traditions" into some semblance of order. And thus were born the six orders of the Mishna. Today, Orthodox Jews are guided by Torah and tradition. And here it can get really confusing.

The Gemara is an addition to the Mishna. The gemara do not adhere closely to the text, but offer instead an enormous amount of addition material only loosely connected to the Mishna. They supplement the Mishna with Jewish literature and exposition of Scripture. As such, they are excelient historical references.

Actually, though there is but one Mishna, there are two Gemaras, each developed by rabbis over centuries. The gemara developed in Israel is called the Yerushalmi and the one that came out of Babylon is the Bavli. The gemara are NEVER printed alone, but always with the Mishna. Thus, if you have the Israeli gemara and the Mishna bound together, you have the Yerushalmi Talmud. The combination of Babylonian Gemara and Mishna is known as the Bavri Talmud.

The Talmud, supreme sourcebook of Jewish Law, sometimes is referred to as the Shas. The word Shas is a shortened form of Shisha Sedarim (six orders), which is a reference to the six orders of the Mishna. Actually, there are two distinct versions of the Talmud: the Yerushalmi (Jerusalem) Talmud and the Bavli (Babylonian) Talmud. Of the two, the Bavli Talmud enjoys greater popularity and authority, and it is to this version the generic term Talmud refers.

Orthodox rabbis may devote a lifetime to studying the Talmud, which describes how to apply the laws in Torah to different life situations. Talmud is not a legal code, but it provides the material used to decide all issues of Jewish law (Halakha).

Conservative Rabbis also consider the Halakha as binding, but they do not accept the most recent and strict opinions as absolutely binding. Instead, they use the Talmud as did the rabbis of old, which is also a rarely used option for the Orthodox.

The more liberal Reformed and Reconstructionist Jews don't even teach Talmud in their Hebrew schools, though it still is taught in seminary. They refer to Torah in their research on points of Torah law, but also consider the times and parallels in other societies.

Since the closing of the Talmud, Jews have continued to develop the Law in areas of practical application, though always honoring the opinions of the Talmudic rabbis. Modern rabbis are free to interpret, but never to contradict the findings of those who developed the Talmud.

There is a sharp division between Torah Law and Rabbinic Law. Torah Law is drawn directly from prohibitions in the Written or Oral Torah. Rabbinical Law was developed to provide a buffer to prevent Jews from inadvertantly violating Torah Law. For example, God provided for a penalty to be administered to the loser in a striving between two men: forty lashes no more. That was the Torah Law. Rabbinical Law provided that such punishments were to be 40-minus-one, so that should a person miscount he would not violate God's law.

Torah Law: Deuteronomy 25:1 -3, "If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked. And it shall be, if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault, by a certain number. Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee." Rabbinical Law: 2 Corinthians 11:24, "Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one."

Here is an example of how such oral and written traditions can get all mixed up. It is extracted from the soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Torah and Halachic Authority

"Often, a false distinction is made by uninformed posters between 'Torah' (meaning Written) Law and Oral Law---in normative Judaism, the two stand together in distinction to Rabbinic Law. Example: the Written Law says an eye for an eye'. The Oral Law says (and historical documents from the Second Temple era confirm) that this was _never_ intended literally, but rather means measured and just (monetary) compensation for damages inflicted'. The Rabbinic Law upholds this principle, but might still command a man to forego the monetary damages in certain cases so as not to even come close to transgressing some other Torah prohibition, such as exacting interest on a debt, or causing baseless hatred. The first two are Torah, the last is not. But all are binding on Jews worldwide. (A still lower level of 'law', called minhag, or 'custom', is post-Talmudic and usually has force only within particular communities.)"

Then, there is the Tosafot , which are supplemental commentaries on the Talmud written by various Rabbis. Sometimes, the Gemara will quote a legal source external to the Mishna. This is a citation of a Baraita (external teaching), which can be any authoritative legal material which was not included in the Mishna. Everything in the Tosefta is, by definition, Baraita.

At the end of the Bavli Talmud, there are a number of tractates which address such issues as dying, mourning, engagement, marriage, sex, modesty, self-examination, etc.

And then we come to Midrash, which is a term referring to exegesis, a compilation of the results of exegesis, or to the interpretation of a particular verse or passage to search out the fullness of God's Word. As is to be expected, there are two basic approaches to Midrash. One is that the wording of Scripture was inspired by God and every word is important even repetitions, apparent errors and peculiar word orders. The other school argues that language is a human thing and subject to all the ordinary flaws of human communication.

All these "authoritative" sources of rules and legislation. All but one of them are the products of man's ingenuity, yet all are considered to have the force of religious law, even the Law given by God Himself, within the community of Judaism. Who can know all these things? What Jew can live his life so well that he never falls into lawbreaking? I would submit that the only Jew ever to live in such a manner was the Jew Jesus of Nazareth. In the days of Temple worship, there was provision in the Law for atoning sacrifices. There has been no Temple, no altar, wherein Jews might sacrifice since the since the Roman sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD. There is no hope of forgiveness for any Jew outside of Messiah.

As I have shown, I hope. God provided His chosen people a complete compendium of laws which, if followed perfectly in the spirit would have made their living comfortable and assured them of spending eternity with their God. Of course, God knew they would not be able to do that. The Law stands, even today, as given, for it is through the Law that we came to know sin.

Now, what has the RCC done with God's Law? Well, among other things they diluted it, as did the Jews, by declaring tradition to be co-equal with Scripture in determining doctrine. One big difference between the way Jews handle their multiplicity of sources and Rome's way is that any Jewish scholar, or even serious lay student, can find the books of tradition and search them. This is because the sources have been identified, compiled and published.

I have never discovered, nor even heard of an authoritative compilation of what Catholicism calls "Sacred Tradition." I suppose the nearest comparison to the Talmud would be found in the Code of Canon Law and, perhaps, the Catechism of the Catholic Church would approximate the Midrash.

Then, there are all the writings of the Early Church Fathers which, depending upon the needs of the Catholic apologists, may be either authoritative or merely informational. At times, the writings of a particular father can be both authoritative (when they support the RCC position) and only informational (when they oppose the RCC position).

To this growing pile of sometimes authoritative sources of tradition, we might add the writings of the Doctors of the Church, which include some really off-the-wall mystical stuff from such folks as the Little Flower. Popes tend to write a lot and what they write to the whole church is not only authoritative but some are considered infallible declarations of God's will (they claim), unless it suits the needs of some apologist to declare that a particular papal utterance failed to meet the conditions for infallibility. This is so even when what one pope declares infallibly is then countermanded by another, also infallible, pope or some equally infallible church council. So, too, are the rules of the 21 infallible church councils considered infallibly authoritative. And we have the pronouncements of such historical and current RCC agencies as the Inquisition, the Sacred Congregation of the Faith, the Penitentiary, the Curia, etc., all of which have the authority of law within the RCC.

The Roman Catholic church explains the mutability of tradition by declaring there actually are two types of tradition: there is Tradition with a capital 'T' and tradition with a small 'T'

83. "The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus' teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition.

"Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church's Magisterium.

"The heritage of faith entrusted to the whole of the Church."--Catechism of the Catholic Church, Op. cit

I love that one phrase, "In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned.. ." Ha!

Enter the Magisterium. This is the mighty Teaching Authority of the Roman Catholic church. Ultimately, all religious legislation seems to fall under the control of the Magisterium. The Magisterium is defined as:

"The Church's teaching authority, instituted by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, which seeks to safeguard and explain the truths of the faith. The Magisterium is exercised in two ways: 'extraordinary', when the Pope and ecumenical councils infallibly define a truth of faith or morals that is necessary for one's salvation and that has been constantly taught and held by the Church; 'ordinary,' when the Church infallibly defines truths of the faith: 1) taught universally and without dissent, 2) which must be taught or the Magisterium would be failing in its duty, 3) connected with a grave matter of faith or morals, and 4) which is taught authoritatively. Not everything taught by the Magisterium is done so infallibly; however, the exercise of the Magisterium is faithful to Christ and what He taught.--Peter J.M. Stravinskas, Ed., The Catholic Dictionary, Our Sunday Visitor, (1993), p.316)

Just how much clout does the Magisterium enjoy? Well, the Magisterium has declared that the Magisterium is the sole agency authorized to interpret the Word of God (CCC, Logia 100). In fact, the Magisterium has declared that the Magisterium is co-equal in authority with the Word of God and Sacred Tradition (Big 'T'). Since the Magisterium has declared the Magisterium to be infallible in such matters, then it must be true. Right?

95. "'It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.'[DV 10 # 3.]--Ibid..

So, for Roman Catholics, all one really needs to know about God's will is what the infallible Magisterium infallibly determines to infallibly declare, since only she is empowered by Christ with the authority to do so (CCC, Logia 88). And what the Magisterium infallibly declares to be the will of God is authoritative, for her declarations are "under the action of the Holy Spirit." Which is just as well, for there is no authoritative compendium of Sacred Tradition for Catholics that I am aware of, unless it is written in Latin and resides in the basement of St. Peter's.

Knowing God's Law is a lot easier for the Bible-believing Christian. We have His revealed Word as our sole authoritative document on matters of doctrine and faith. Sure, there are commentaries, creeds and constitutions, but these are intended as aids to understanding the Bible, not as authoritative rules and laws extrapolated from Scripture. Granted, there are legalists among Bible believers, but their writings and pronouncements have no more authority than any other commentary or creed.

2 Peter 1:20-2 1, "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."

Revelation 22:18-19, "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."


Ye Must Be Born Again