Q. I know that as Catholics we believe in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. What is included in Sacred Tradition?
A. The fullness of God’s Divine Revelation comes in the person of Jesus Christ, for he is the revealer and the revealed. He reveals God to man and man to himself.
Jesus called the apostles to follow him in a unique way. Jesus commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel, which in its essence means for them to preach Jesus Christ, the fullness of revelation to the world. Jesus told his closest companions, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation (Mk. 16:15). The apostles were given this privileged, unique relationship with Jesus, but they were not to keep it merely for the themselves. They were to share the good news of Christ’s salvation with the whole world.
And the apostles did indeed preach the gospel, at the cost of their very lives. The apostles saw the risen Lord, and they preached Christ’s promise that those who follow him will share in his resurrection. Neither the sword nor the enticements of the world would deter the apostles from what that knew and saw, that Jesus truly is risen!
The Lord’s command to preach ensured that the transmission of the Gospel be done in a living and human manner. The apostolic preaching was carried out in two ways: orally and in writing. The apostles transmitted the Gospel orally through their words, through their example, and through the institutions and communities that they established. The apostles transmitted the Gospel in written form as they, or through men associated with them, committed the message of Jesus to writing, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
When we read the Church Fathers and the great minds of the early Church, the reality of Sacred Tradition was something that they clearly taught. St. Augustine said, “But in regard to those observances which we carefully attend and which the whole world keeps, and which derive not from Scripture but from Tradition, we are given to understand that they are recommended and ordained to be kept, either by the apostles themselves or by plenary [ecumenical] councils, the authority of which is quite vital in the Church.”
The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, states that through Tradition, “the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.” In order that all that the Apostles preach might be preserved, the apostles left behind bishops as successors so that every generation of Christians may receive the pure Gospel. This continuation of the apostolic preaching is termed, “apostolic succession.”
In terms of the content of Sacred Tradition, we remember that essentially what is being handed down is Jesus Christ. He is the revealer and the fullness of revelation.
Again, Sacred Tradition is handed down to us in a living manner, through the Body of Christ, the Church. It is handed down in the Mass, and in all the sacraments. It’s handed down in the Church’s doctrines, in her moral and devotional life, and in the witness of the great saints that have gone before us.
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