Living Tradition


To a Protestant who was under the impression that we Catholics consider the Catechism as more authoritative than the Bible, I pointed out that the Catechism has the authority the Church’s Magisterium lends to it. The Bible alike is authoritative only because the Catholic Tradition and Magisterium guarantee it is a faithful and inspired report of Revelation*. The Catechism is, in a systematic and technical way, a faithful report of all the important teachings of the living Tradition. Each phrase, and almost each word in it, like any other authoritative document of the Church, has many bearings in the Tradition and the Bible, as can be checked in the numerous references.


Most Protestants, it seems, practically equate the Word of God with the Bible, as if the divine Revelation was only present to us in Scripture. But it is not so: the Word of God is a real living bodily** Person, who promised to stay with us through a living organism that he entrusted with his Revelation.

The Bible is not historically prior to Tradition, nor has doctrinal precedence on it; the Old Testament was produced by the Jewish Tradition, the New Testament by the Catholic Church Tradition. As the Bible is all about Christ, His Bride the Church inherited the Jewish Tradition and the Jewish Bible from Him. Then the Old Testament, Torah and Prophets as well as the Greek books, is hers, too.

Church Authority

Tradition (traditio) means transmission, handing on. The Church’s exclusive and permanent mission is to faithfully hand on to all the world until the end of times the Divine Revelation. The Church would have no authority at all to do so, and no guarantee that she teaches the truth, if Christ had not bestowed her His own authority through the Apostolic Succession and the gift of infallibility to Peter.


The central means of handing on the Revelation is, historically as well as doctrinally, the Eucharist. Christian initiation (Baptism and Eucharist) in Apostolic times is where the Tradition of the Church and her teaching of how Christ fulfills the Torah and Prophets took form.

The very existence, permanence and authority of the Holy Church comes from the Holy Sacrifice, the real bodily presence of Christ, brought to humanity by the Holy Spirit through the Eucharist. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the Eucharist, the feast of the Lamb who gave his life so that His beloved Bride, the Church, would live. Everything in the life of the Church is meant to ensure the Eucharist is worthily celebrated and received: souls are cleansed by repentance (sacramental penance when necessary) and forgiveness and listening to the Word, and then nourished with the fullness of grace given in the very flesh and blood of Christ.


* Cf. Vatican II dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum)

Quotes from Dei Verbum [my emphasis]:

Chapter II – Handing on Divine Revelation

8. […] This tradition which comes from the Apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.

The words of the holy fathers witness to the presence of this living tradition, whose wealth is poured into the practice and life of the believing and praying Church. Through the same tradition the Church’s full canon of the sacred books is known, and the sacred writings themselves are more profoundly understood and unceasingly made active in her; and thus God, who spoke of old, uninterruptedly converses with the bride of His beloved Son; and the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel resounds in the Church, and through her, in the world, leads unto all truth those who believe and makes the word of Christ dwell abundantly in them.


10. […] But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written [Scripture] or handed on [Tradition], has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.

It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, sacred scripture and the teaching authority of the church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.


** Bodily Person: a glorious body is no less a real body than a material body; in fact it is much more real, the ultimate reality to which we are all destined.