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From what I think I understand, the Catholic Church believes that there is no direct revelation from heaven to lead the church, and that the scriptures alone are not enough to rely on, this is why they balance Tradition (big 'T') with scripture.

Sacred Tradition comes from Christ. It's the full, living gift of Christ to the Apostles, faithfully handed down through each generation. It is through Tradition that the Holy Spirit makes the Risen Lord present among us, offering us the very same saving Word and Sacraments that he gave to the Apostles!

Understanding Catholic Tradition is essential to understanding the Catholic Church and the Catholic Christian faith. (see Catholic Tradition)

Example of some scriptures used to support the concept of Tradition:

"So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter." (2 Thess 2:15)

"For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you...." (1 Cor 11:23)

"For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received...." (1 Cor 15:3)

If I had to answer my own question I would say that revelation is received directly from God, and Tradition is passed down from one man to another:

This is the most basic meaning of Catholic Tradition: it is the true Faith itself, given to the Apostles by Christ and faithfully transmitted to each new generation. (Catechism, 77-78)

But what is meant by, "true Faith?" (big 'F'?) or, "to have the Holy Spirit make the Risen Lord present among us?" Does this mean that Tradition is more than just words and stories passed form one generation to the next? Is it understood to carry with it a divine fullness of knowledge that makes revelation obsolete? If I had to make up my own analogy; if revelation were like wifi, is Tradition a boot-disc that get's passed down by succession? It seems to me that having the Lord present among us by the Holy Spirit through Tradition is not much different than having the Lord speak to us through the Holy Spirit by Revelation. What's the difference?

  • I don't think I have time to make a great answer; I'd be pulling any answer I have from here. – Matt Gutting Nov 6 '14 at 21:44
  • "From what I think I understand, the Catholic Church believes that there is no direct revelation from heaven to lead the church[.]" Incorrect. Catholics believe in the revelation directly from heaven = Jesus Christ cf. Art 2-7 of the Creed. – user13992 Nov 6 '14 at 22:45
  • “...Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles...” "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...” This seems to me to add more to the question and less to the answer. – ShemSeger Nov 6 '14 at 22:46
  • @ShemSeger Word of God = Jesus Christ. – user13992 Nov 6 '14 at 22:49
  • @FMS so basically the same as saying, "the Holy Spirit makes the Risen Lord present among us?" – ShemSeger Nov 6 '14 at 22:53
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First of all, it's important to understand that the Catholic Church does not believe that there has been, nor will be, any new public revelation from God since the Ascension of Jesus; Jesus was "God's Last Word", the full and perfect Word of God. (Perhaps this is what you meant by saying "the Catholic Church believes that there is no direct revelation from heaven to lead the church"?)

Though there have been some private revelations to individuals or groups, and many claimed revelations, none of these belong to the "deposit of faith"—the knowledge and teachings which the Church believes to be divinely sourced and definitively true. This latter kind of knowledge is the revelation of the Word of God Jesus Christ.

This revelation is complete—again, as the Catechism says (quoting St. John of the Cross):

In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word—and he has no more to say... because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son.

(St. John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, 2, 22, 3-5; quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 65)

But though the revelation is complete, the interpretation of what has been revealed to us in and through Christ is ongoing:

even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.

(Catechism, paragraph 66)

In Catholic understanding, tradition is a part of revelation, just as scripture is. The Gospels and the rest of the New Testament were written down to preserve the message the Church received from Christ; but in addition the apostles handed on

by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received—whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

(Dei Verbum section 7, quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 76. Dei Verbum is the Dogmatic Constitution [teaching and doctrinal document] on Divine Revelation promulgated by the Second Vatican Council in 1965.)

This orally transmitted part of revelation has come down, the Church believes, directly from the apostles:

"In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them 'their own position of teaching authority.'" Indeed, "the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time." This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it.

(Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 77–78; the quotations are from Dei Verbum again.)

Thus this Tradition is more than just "passed down from one man to another"; it's passed down from the Lord Himself, and from His Apostles, by their divinely instituted teaching authority, and its truth is preserved by the oversight of the Holy Spirit. Through the passing down of this tradition from Jesus, the Holy Spirit remains present and alive in the Church:

The Father’s self-communication made through his Word in the Holy Spirit, remains present and active in the Church: "God, who spoke in the past, continues to converse with the Spouse of his beloved Son. And the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel rings out in the Church—and through her in the world—leads believers to the full truth, and makes the Word of Christ dwell in them in all its richness."

(Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 79. The quotation is from Dei Verbum section 8.)

Thus tradition, as one part of the Deposit of Faith, is a source of our understanding of God:

"Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God" (Dei Verbum 10), in which, as in a mirror, the pilgrim Church contemplates God, the source of all her riches.

(Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 97)

  • So... has all Tradition been revealed? Or does the Catholic church believe there is still some untapped knowledge that has been passed along that has yet to be made known to the church? If the Catholic Church is the "Custodian of Truth" that seems to imply there will be some maintenance to preform. For example; What happens when a new social issue arrises that has never been addressed before? To use another IT analogy, is Tradition like a database that can be read from when needed? – ShemSeger Nov 7 '14 at 16:21
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    Scripture + Tradition = THE Revelation? – ShemSeger Nov 7 '14 at 20:47
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    @ShemSeger well, there's one piece missing: the Magisterium, which is the authority inherited from the apostles by which the Church interprets tradition. But you didn't ask about that :-) You really need to read this, starting at the bookmark and through the end of the section. Especially the "In Brief" parts. – Matt Gutting Nov 7 '14 at 21:03
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    Tradition is non-written revelation. Scripture is written revelation. The Bible, the fact that those particular written records have been collected together into one Book and judged inspired, is an example of Tradition. What is written in the Bible is Scripture. – Matthew Nov 7 '14 at 23:07
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    "the Catholic Church does not believe that there has been, nor will be, any new public revelation from God since the Ascension of Jesus" This is not true. A good example of an expected future public revelation would be the Day of Judgement. – Please stop being evil Dec 12 '14 at 9:37

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