by Jayson M. Brunelle
The Judeo-Christian tradition is wholly unique in how it approaches its understanding of God. Unlike the other great world religions, where we have a situation of man searching for God (an “upward” movement), the Judeo-Christian tradition is based entirely on God’s revealing Himself to man (a “downward” movement). This process whereby God reveals Himself through words and deeds is properly referred to as “Divine Revelation.” This concept of God’s self-revelation to man is so important that the Second Vatican Council devoted an entire dogmatic constitution to it – Dei Verbum, or The Word of God.
One of the most important things about Divine Revelation is that it springs from a twin-fold source: Sacred Scripture and Holy, Sacred Tradition. The important thing for Catholics to remember about this reality is that one does not take precedence over the other; that is to say, both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are equal in terms of conveying God’s self-revelation to humanity.
This concept of the equality of both Scripture and Tradition was rejected by the protestant reformers. They came to adopt the notion of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), and vehemently rejected the idea that there was any such thing as Sacred Tradition. Personally, I believe that the single most effective argument against sola Scriptura is the Bible itself. Let’s follow this line of thinking: if the Bible is both inspired and inerrant, as both Catholics and Protestants believe, we can correctly state that it is an infallible document. But an infallible document cannot come from a fallible source; namely, the Catholic Magisterium that defined the canon of Sacred Scripture. If the written tradition is inspired, then so too must be the source from which it emerged. To say otherwise would be a logical fallacy, for an effect cannot be greater than its cause. Sacred Scripture emerge from Sacred Tradition, the latter being a living tradition whereby the Holy Spirit guides the Pope and the bishops united to him. As stated previously, Scripture, or the written tradition, emerged from the oral tradition. This oral Tradition is a living tradition that was passed on by the apostles to their successors, the bishops and the pope, who additionally possesses the charism of papal infallibility. Only the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, has been entrusted with the task of preserving and interpreting the entire deposit of faith; and it may happen that there are truths of the deposit of faith that are not explicitly contained in the written tradition – Scripture – but are none the less truths of our faith. This is precisely why Protestants have so many problems with the Marian dogmas. Really, divine inspiration is a concept that seems more complicated than it is. One might think of it in these terms: when you were in grade school, you had a teacher and a book. You had to read from the book, and if you had any questions about what the book meant in a given passage, you would ask the teacher to interpret or explain the difficult passage. This isn’t a bad analogy for Scripture and Tradition.