Saturday, October 25, 2008

Scripture as Tradition

In Messy Revelation I opened a discussion on the need for a renewed and deepened understanding of "revelation." Here I will provide documentation that illustrates that the perceived need for such a deepened understanding is recognized on many levels within the Church.

First it may be useful to quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church in this regard. My emphasis is provided in combined bold/italic text:
One common source. . .
80 "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal."40 Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own "always, to the close of the age".41
81 "Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit."42
"And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching."43
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 honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence."44
Apostolic Tradition and ecclesial traditions
83 The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus' teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition.
Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church's Magisterium.
It will be useful to compare these statements to those of several leading Churchmen at the recent 12th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The Zenit news service, in an article dated 10/07/2008, provides a convenient summary, Cardinal Says Scripture Inseparably United to Tradition: Synod Considers Word of God as More Than Bible from which I'll provided relevant excerpts, which appear to not only confirm the statements in the Catechism but to develop at least some of the implications of the Catechism's account:
Cardinal William Levada, a delegate president of the synod on the word of God [as well as Prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith], affirmed this Monday...

"As the dogmatic constitution 'Dei Verbum' reminds us, there exists an indissoluble unity between sacred Scripture and Tradition since both flow from the same source," he said. "Only the living ecclesial tradition allows sacred Scripture to be understood as the authentic word of God that acts as guide, rule and law for the life of the Church and the spiritual growth of believers.

"This involves the rejection of any interpretation that is subjective or purely experiential or the fruit of a unilateral analysis, incapable of embracing the global sense that has guided the Tradition of the whole of God's people down through the centuries."

It is in this context, the cardinal said, that the "necessity and responsibility of the magisterium are born."
What is the Cardinal saying here? Let's summarize his four points:

1. Scripture and Tradition flow from "the same source." Now, ultimately, that source is clearly God.

2. In fact, Tradition has a certain priority to Scripture, since only the Tradition of the Church allows Scripture--writings regarded as in some sense "inspired"--"to be understood as the authentic word of God." This means that only the Church decides what writings are to be considered "inspired" and in what sense that designation is to be understood. I submit that, in layman's terms, this essentially means that Scripture is itself part of "ecclesial tradition," that is, that Scripture is best understood as a written part of the Church's Tradition.

3. Based on point 2., it is clear that individual or private interpretations of Scripture cannot claim to be authoritative, since the authority of Scripture flows from the Church, the Body of Christ.

4. Further, the institutional Church is based on the necessity of having an authoritative interpretation of the "deposit of faith," the "ecclesial tradition" that includes Scripture.

The article then continues:
[Cardinal Levada's] point was further developed when Cardinal Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec, took the floor to affirm that the Word is much more than the Bible. He clarified that Christianity is not a religion of the Book.

"The Word of God means before all else God himself who speaks, who expresses in himself the divine Word that belongs to his intimate mystery," he said.

This Word, he added during his Latin-language discourse, which he delivered seated beside the Pope, speaks in a particular and also dramatic way in the history of man, especially in the election of a people, in the Mosaic law and the prophets.

Accompanying his words with artistic images projected on a large screen, the Canadian cardinal explained that, after God had spoken in many ways, the Word "summarizes and crowns everything in a unique, perfect and definitive way in Jesus Christ."
Again, let's summarize the salient points of this development of Cardinal Levada's statement:

1. Ultimately, in the truest sense, God himself--not any book--is the Word. It follows from what Cardinal Levada already said, that Christianity is not (as Muslims or Jews might have it) a "religion of the Book."

2. God, as the Word, has spoken in "the history of man," "especially"--but not exclusively--in the history of the people Israel: this point is basic to understanding the purpose of this blog.

3. After God, the Word, had spoken "in many ways," He spoke "in a unique, perfect and definitive way" by revealing Himself in his Son, Jesus of Nazareth. Thus, Jesus himself is in the most essential sense "revelation": he is God's self-revelation to us. All else, the ecclesial tradition that flows from this Divine source and which includes Scripture, is derivative from this unique self-revelation of God in Jesus.

N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham (Church of England) was in attendance at the Synod and on 10/14/2008 offered a brief intervention. The following words appear pertinent to Levada's and Ouellet's statements:

As a religion of incarnation, we are bound to do historical research. But this is sometimes confused with skepticism, and we must distinguish.

So, yes, we read the Canon as a whole; but the climax of the Canon is Jesus Christ, especially his cross and resurrection. These events are not only salvific. They provide a hermeneutical principle, related to the Jewish tradition of ‘critique from within. The narrative of scripture enshrines the path of death and resurrection as the principle for its own understanding.
What Wright appears to be saying, following especially on Ouellet's statement that God, the Word, having spoken "in many ways" in "the history of man," has spoken definitively in Jesus of Nazareth, is that:

1. Because Christian faith is historical--that is, based on the salvific events of Jesus' life, death and resurrection--we are bound as a condition of our faith to conduct historical research. But, this must not be confused with skepticism or relativism.

2. The hermeneutical principle that controls our historical research is precisely the historical reality of those salvific events.

This leads us to a further consideration. As Benedict XVI has made clear, the overarching theme of his papacy is the recovery of reason. As is well known, Wright has a strong background in philosophy and, in The New Testament and the People of God, explicitly bases his scholarship on a Thomist understanding of human knowledge. It is precisely this Thomist understanding that can overcome contemporary views that would claim that historical research is inevitably subjective. And by maintaining that skepticism must be distinguished from legitimate historical research, Wright is in agreement here, too, with Levada, who rejects subjectivism in the interpretation of Scripture. [N.B., Wright refers to his philosophical position as "critical realism." However, he gives no indication that he understands the distinctive meaning of this term, with its Cartesian and Kantian background. Nor does his discussion of "critical reason" entail any of the consequences usually associated with that distinctive position.]

Finally, John J. Collins offers a concise summary in his Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (p. 7):

Christian theology has often drawn a sharp line between Scripture and tradition, but in fact Scripture itself is a product of tradition.
It appears that in the wake of Vatican II the Church is beginning to take seriously what should be a virtually self evident truth. This development has undoubtedly been hampered by the prevalence of skeptical philosophical positions which derive largely from the Platonic tradition that has been the nemesis of reason in the West. It is to be hoped that Benedict XVI's call for a return to reason will lead to a renewal of true Thomist thought, which alone can safeguard the historical approach that is necessary for an understanding of the deposit of Christian faith.

UPDATE: The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states much of the above in a somewhat more forthright manner:

9. What is the full and definitive stage of God's Revelation?
The full and definitive stage of God’s revelation is accomplished in his Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, the mediator and fullness of Revelation. He, being the only-begotten Son of God made man, is the perfect and definitive Word of the Father. In the sending of the Son and the gift of the Spirit, Revelation is now fully complete, although the faith of the Church must gradually grasp its full significance over the course of centuries.


12. What is Apostolic Tradition?
96, 98
Apostolic Tradition is the transmission of the message of Christ, brought about from the very beginnings of Christianity by means of preaching, bearing witness, institutions, worship, and inspired writings. The apostles transmitted all they received from Christ and learned from the Holy Spirit to their successors, the bishops, and through them to all generations until the end of the world.
13. In what ways does Apostolic Tradition occur?
Apostolic Tradition occurs in two ways: through the living transmission of the word of God (also simply called Tradition) and through Sacred Scripture which is the same proclamation of salvation in written form.
14. What is the relationship between Tradition and Sacred Scripture?
Tradition and Sacred Scripture are bound closely together and communicate one with the other. Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ. They flow out of the same divine well-spring and together make up one sacred deposit of faith from which the Church derives her certainty about revelation.

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