Tradition

After its opening chapter on divine revelation, Dei Verbum moves in its second chapter to treat tradition, to be understood both as the process of 'handing on' (tradition as act) and the living heritage that is handed on (tradition as content)—with both the process and the heritage being located within the Church community. The dynamic of tradition, both as act and content, is already very much at work in the history of Israel, when the Jewish people hand on the memory of their sufferings and the powerful disclosure of God, who delivered them from slavery in Egypt

62 For more on Vatican II's teaching on revelation, see G. O'CoUins, RetrievingFundamental Theology (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1993), 48—97.

and brought them home from exile in Babylon. Parents must pass on to their children the marvellous story of the saving acts of God (Deut. 6: 20—5; 26: 5—10), which justify the loving loyalty to 'the Lord, our God' which is the heart of the law (Deut. 6: 4-9).

With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the invisible bearer of tradition, the whole Church, and not simply her authoritative leaders, has been empowered to transmit her memory, experience, and expression of the foundational self-revelation of God that was completed with Christ and the NT community. Thus 'tradition' involves the present 'Church in her doctrine, life, and worship' transmitting to every generation 'a/l that she herself is, all that she believes' (Dei Verbum, 8; italics added). This total view of tradition is significant for the question of scripture and tradition: that is to say, the relationship between the written and inspired word of God and the larger reality of the whole Church in her 'transmitting' role.

Tradition as process (or act) and as living heritage (or content), after being quietly endorsed for well over a thousand years, was severely tested by the sixteenth-century Reformation's principle of 'scripture alone' (sola scriptura). Faced with this challenge, the Council of Trent in its fourth session of April 1546 taught that the 'gospel', which is roughly equivalent to 'revelation', is 'the source of all saving truth and rule of conduct', and is 'contained' not only in the 'written books' but also in the 'unwritten traditions which have come down to us' (DH 1501; ND 210). Even though the Council had spoken of only one source, 'the gospel' in the singular, this teaching through its language of the gospel being 'contained' in 'written books' and 'unwritten traditions', led many Catholics to develop the 'two-source theory', according to which some revealed truths could be contained in tradition and not in scripture.

The documents of Vatican II and, in particular, Dei Verbum, although they do not expressly set out to pronounce on this long-standing two-source theory, in effect rule it out—not least by understanding revelation primarily as the living self-communication of God (Dei Verbum, 2-6), rather than as a body of revealed propositions or propositional truths contained in the Bible or other sources. Moreover, in highlighting the process of tradition (singular) rather than individual traditions (or particular teachings and practices), Dei Verbum insists on the way that tradition and scripture are united in their origin (revelation), function, and goal (ibid. 9). Being so strictly united in their origin, function, and goal, scripture and tradition cannot be treated as if they were two sources, and certainly not as if they were two separate sources.

Other important items in Vatican II's teaching on tradition include the way Dei Verbum, while acknowledging only scripture as 'the word of God', recognizes the role of tradition in actualizing and clarifying revelation (ibid. 8)—a striking example of how tradition and scripture dynamically function together to serve the life of faith. What is at stake here is also the sense of all human beings and not simply Catholic Christians being essentially 'traditional'. The various societies that make up humanity all receive an immensely rich cultural heritage from their past; experiencing together multifaceted reality, they can receive and find the truth about God and themselves in a never-ending dialogue between the tradition they have inherited and the experiences they meet. The divine self-revelation is actualized for human beings who are through and through 'traditional' beings.

Secondly, Vatican II's documents on ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio, 14—17) and on the Eastern Churches (Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 5-6) expressed the way Tradition (upper case) or the patrimony as a whole is passed on through particular traditions (lower case). Yves Congar (1904-95), a notable theological expert at Vatican II, championed the distinction between the Tradition and the traditions. Along with some outstanding Protestant theologians such as Gerhard Ebeling (b. 1912) and philosophers such as Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002), Congar also encouraged many Protestants to recognize that an exclusive appeal to scripture alone is not possible. Scripture has its uniquely powerful role in judging and reforming specific traditions, but the Tradition of the Church is the essential setting for appropriating and understanding revelation. Let us put this point another way. The Bible as the inspired record of Christian origins provides all believers with the mirror and test of their self-identity, and official teachers of the Catholic Church are called to stand 'under' the written word of God and 'serve' it (Dei Verbum, 10). Nevertheless, the inspired scriptures do not interpret themselves; they are read and applied by a living community with its authoritative leaders.

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