When does a tradition became a Tradition, equally accepted and honored as the Bible? Or is a Tradition instigated by the Pope? Can anyone provide a specific example of a Tradition they hold equally viable with the scriptures?

From The Catholic Catechism:

82 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. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”


So the Catholic Church bases its beliefs on the truths revealed to it by God; that is, on Revelation from Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. This revelation comes in two parts: Scripture, which has been written down, and Tradition, which has been passed along by word of mouth.

In keeping with the Lord’s command, the Gospel was handed on in two ways:

  • orally “by the apostles who 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”;

  • in writing “by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing.”

(Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 76. The quotes are from the dogmatic constitution Dei Verbum of the Second Vatican Council, paragraph 7.)

Christ established his apostles, and their successors, to shepherd the Church; and he promised to be with it always, guiding and guarding it. The Church as a whole, therefore, and in particular the order of bishops in communion with the Pope, ultimately decide what is and what is not revealed truth. The God-given ability to do this rightly, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is called the Magisterium of the Church:

  1. “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.” This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

  2. All the faithful share in understanding and handing on revealed truth. They have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, who instructs them and guides them into all truth.

  3. “The whole body of the faithful... cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, ‘from the bishops to the last of the faithful,’ they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals.“

(Catechism of the Catholic Church. The quotes are from Dei Verbum paragraph 10 section 2, and from the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium of Vatican II.)

Tradition in the sense I'm speaking of is not a liturgical or devotional practice handed down through the ages. Helpful as these may be for private and communal worship of God, they are not things passed along to the whole Church, as needful for our salvation. As you've asked for examples, we're talking about things like the various beliefs regarding the Mother of God, the understanding of the nature of the Trinity, the belief in Purgatory, and so on. Indeed, the decision regarding which books were to be included in the canon of the Bible is itself a matter of tradition, though not proposed as dogma until the 16th century.

Tradition can be developed in a number of ways. Sometimes, as with the Assumption or the Immaculate Conception, it begins with a very widespread belief and practice of the whole Church. Sometimes (as with the Trinity) it begins with a rather abstract theological discussion. Often, though not always, these are eventually set out formally as in the Creed, or propounded as a dogma:

The Church’s Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these.

(Catechism, paragraph 88)

So if the question is literally When does a tradition become Tradition? the answer is, it doesn't; either it is, all along (because it was given us by the Holy Spirit), or it never was. If the question is When do we know that a tradition is Tradition? the answer is more or less As soon as we see that the whole body of the Church must, has, and does accept it.

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    Matt, I think that tradition is passed along by more than word of mouth. It also embodies the faith lives and the lived faith of the Church from its beginning. (Or so we were taught by our catechist ...) – KorvinStarmast Sep 15 '16 at 16:22

"When does a tradition became a Tradition, equally accepted and honored as the Bible?" Well, using the word "became" is innacurate, because it implies Bible we have today was first. Also to answer properly this one, we have to clarify what we mean by bible. First, when Jesus said “Farewell” and ascended into heaven, he did not leave us a book. In fact, there is no record of him instructing the disciples to ever write a book, nor was there an expectation that someday there would be a collection of writings attached to the Hebrew Scripture and considered equally inspired. Nor did Jesus leave a detailed manual or cataloged tradition.

What DID Jesus leave as an authority for the Church He was building? He left us Twelve Men —one with the Keys of the Kingdom and all Twelve with the authority to bind and loose (Matt 16:18-19; 18:15-18). He promised them the Holy Spirit to lead and teach them (John 14:25-26; 15:26; 16:7). He also promised that the decisions and judgments they made regarding the Kingdom would be ratified by King Jesus in heaven. He gave them the power to forgive and retain sins (John 20:20-23). He also promised them that he would be with them—and presumably their successors in the Church as the keys were successively passed on—until the end of time (Matt 28:19-20). Roman Catholism is not based on a book alone, though the Bible is essential to our faith. Our Lord did not leave us a book —He left us a Church with a Twelve-man Magisterium. (Of course they where eleven by the time!)

Second, it is also interesting that St. Paul refers to the Church as the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:14-15). Many wish that Paul had given this honor to the Bible, but no —it is the Church.

Apart from the Hebrew Scriptures, the magisterium preceded both the New Testament and the Sacred Tradition. Both would develop from the Apostolic Tradition. The Bible is not so negative with the dreaded "T" word. Notice these three passages in particular that mention the existence and importance of the apostolic tradition: "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us." (2 Thess 2:15); "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us." (2 Thess 3:6); "Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you." (1 Cor 11:2).

To conclude.. We have two products resulting from the magisterium (authority) given by Jesus to the apostles: the teachings, and the scriptures.

"Specific example of a Tradition"? The Eucharist, The Holy Trinity, The Canon..

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    That's helpful context, but it leaves open the question of when a "tradition" like the doctrine of the Trinity or the formulation of the canon achieved "Tradition" (can't be wrong) status. What was the process involved? – Nathaniel is protesting Oct 30 '15 at 21:21
  • @R. solazar So, in summary, you are saying that your faith is not primarily based on the canon of scripture, but on 12 men, in the company of which was a man who betrayed Jesus, someone who denied even knowing him three times- and someone who didn't believe what Jesus said(that He would rise in three days) so much so that he wouldn't believe that Jesus had actually risen until he actually felt the puncture marks. Interesting. – Jeremy H Oct 30 '15 at 21:38
  • Additionally, what about when the Bible says "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. Col 2:8 (KJV) The apostles were only men. Chosen, yes, but men nonetheless. Paul himself was a murderer. – Jeremy H Oct 30 '15 at 21:40

There is more than one type of Tradition. Some form over time, like the Rosary or abstaining from meat on Fridays. Others come from the deposit of Faith of the Apostles and Christ himself.

An example of Sacred Tradition working hand-in-hand and having equal sentiments of devotion and Reverence would be the Eucharist and how it's celebrated in the Mass.

The teachings of our Lord who through his apostle taught in a manner derived from Old Testament Judaism the method of how to celebrate. Reading scripture, praising God, humbling, repenting, singing songs and offering sacrifice, in this case, joining in Christ's Sacrifice. Every action in the Catholic Mass has a purpose and reflects the 2000 year old traditions of the Church.

Other traditions are adopted as the faithful as one body, pray, fast, and Worship the Lord our God.

Another example of Tradition would be the Canon of Scripture. Adopted hundreds of years after Calvary in the Catholic Church and over 1500 years after for the Protestant Church, the traditions are accepted as true even though those traditions are not specifically outlined in the Scriptures themselves.

  • This does a good job of explaining what Tradition is, but doesn't really answer the question of how it is decided that something done habitually is a Scared Tradition. – ThaddeusB Oct 30 '15 at 21:05

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