By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM
A classical objection: What Catholics call the “Apostolic Tradition” is just a human tradition, which Jesus clearly condemned in the Gospel, when He said to the Pharisees, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?…So, for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said, ‘this people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain they worship me, teaching the doctrines and precepts of men’” (Matt. 15:3-9).
This objection is a classic example of taking a text out of context and making it into a pretext against the Church of Jesus Christ. The Pharisees’ traditions made void the word of God, whereas the Apostolic Tradition brought to us the oral word of God and interpreted the written one.
Jesus condemned the traditions of the Pharisees because they made void — replaced — the word of God. But since He came not to destroy but to fulfill, He also upheld all the good traditions, such as the various pilgrimages to Jerusalem; the solemn festivals celebrated in the liturgical calendar with all its appurtenances, songs, and ceremonies, especially the elaborated ceremonies of the Passover meal; the paying of the Temple taxes; the respect for the Chair of Moses.
But while Jesus refuted the classic objection by His actions, it was St. Paul who provided the refutation of Sola Scriptura in his explicit teachings, in chapter and verse.
Example: “So, brethren, stand fast, and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thess. 2:14). If every tradition were condemnable, then not only Catholics would be in big trouble, but St. Paul too!
Here he explicitly and unmistakably speaks of the written word of God (his letters) and the oral word of God (the words of his mouth). Both ways are true and good and beautiful, and we are called by him to hold fast to every tradition — teaching, practice, etc. — that came from him, in writing and orally.
In the following chapter of his letter, he goes much further and commands the brethren, in the name of God the Son, to observe the Apostolic Tradition: “Now we command you, brethren, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who is living in idleness, and not in accord with the tradition that you receive from us” (2 Thess. 3:6).
Was St. Paul taking Jesus’ name in vain to command the brethren to do something that Jesus had condemned? It would be blasphemous to suggest it. He was using his apostolic authority to command the brethren to observe the tradition he had handed on to them.
But that is not all. St. Paul dares tell the people to imitate him in his love and observance of the traditions, and commends the people for doing so! He wrote: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you” (1 Cor. 11:1-12).
Even though he wrote 14 letters to the early Christians, he is very fond of the oral tradition, the unwritten teaching he passed on to the folks: “Follow the patterns of the sound words, which you have heard of me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13).
To Timothy he makes the same exhortation about the oral tradition: “What you have heard from me before many witnesses, entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:1-2).
Timothy must have done everything orally, since there are no records of any of his writings — if he ever wrote anything of St. Paul’s teaching.
The troublemaking Apostle Paul finishes his exhortation to Timothy about the oral tradition in this way: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned, and have firmly believed: knowing from whom you have learned it” (2 Tim. 3:14). It was he who taught Timothy, of course, both orally and in the two letters.
Let us remember that faith comes through hearing, not reading. Reading helps, but hearing is the ordinary and most effective way.
The thorough refutation of the classic objection to tradition by St. Paul raises another point: Who, in the history of the Church, has followed on the footsteps of the Scribes and Pharisees and invented man-made traditions that make void the word of God?
Martin Luther is a classic example of such people. He invented Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide and instituted them as new man-made traditions, which his followers of various creeds have observed since his ill-fated revolution in Germany.
By attacking the Apostolic Tradition, Luther attacked the Bible itself. To him and his close followers, it is fittingly applied the words of Isaiah quoted by Jesus: “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?…So, for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said, ‘this people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain they worship me, teaching the doctrines and precepts of men’” (Matt. 15:3-9).
Sola Scriptura is a precept of men, invented in the 16th century, which denied the apostolic mission to guide, teach, and sanctify the people Jesus redeemed with His Most Precious Blood. Luther created confusion, error, and heresy in a relativistic and individualistic concept of religion, which made void the word of God as taught by the Apostolic Tradition, both written (the New Testament) and orally transmitted.
Again, it is St. Paul who warned the faithful against those who dissented from the apostolic doctrines: “Now I beseech you brethren to mark them out who make dissentions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned, and avoid them” (Romans 16:17-18).
Next article: Further contradictions in Sola Scriptura.
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(Raymond de Souza is director of the Evangelization and Apologetics Office of the Winona Diocese, Minn.; EWTN program host; regional coordinator for Portuguese-speaking countries for Human Life International [HLI], president of the Sacred Heart Institute and a member of the Sovereign, Military, and Hospitaller Order of the Knights of Malta. His web site is: www.RaymondeSouza.com.)