“If it ain’t in the Bible, I don’t believe it.” Have you ever heard said that? How about this one: “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” You might have that bumper sticker. Why not? Doesn’t this represent the glory of the Protestant Reformation’s elevation of Scripture to a position of the sole source of authority in the Christian’s life? Don’t these pithy statements represent the best of what it means to adhere to the doctrine of sola Scriptura?

No, they don’t. In fact they unfortunately represent a common misunderstanding of what sola Scriptura means.

Where does one go for authority? In whom do we place our trust? The Church? Tradition? Scripture? The Pope? These represent important questions that are normally not understood outside the perspective of individual traditions.

There are essentially five views that exist in the church today concerning the important issue of authority.

1. Dual-source theory

Belief that Tradition, represented by the magisterial authority of the Roman Catholic Church, is infallible and equal to Scripture as a basis for doctrine; the Church itself is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice since it must define and interpret Scripture and Tradition.

Adherents: Roman Catholics

Notice that there is one complete deposit of faith, given by Christ to the Apostles. This one deposit is transmitted by two sources, written tradition (Scripture) and unwritten tradition. Notice also the dotted line as Scripture moves from the “Age of the Apostles” to the “Age of the Church.” This represents that the Scriptures were not complete in canonized form (all the books were not decided upon) until the forth century. The Roman Catholic church believes itself responsible for the interpretation of both written and unwritten tradition. Because of their belief that the Holy Spirit protects the Roman Catholic church from error, they believe that they are the ultimate and final authority for the Christian. This is why this view is often referred to as sola ecclesia (”the church alone”).

2. Prima Scriptura

Belief that the Body of Christ has two separate sources of authority for faith and practice: 1) the Scriptures and 2) Tradition. Scripture is the primary source for authority, but by itself it is insufficient for all matters of faith and practice. Tradition also contains essential elements needed for the productive Christian life.

Adherents: Some Roman Catholics (an alternate view)

Like the previous, the prima Scriptura view has an abiding dual-source of authority. Notice how the dotted line representing Tradition continues on in this model. This is illustrative of Tradition’s continued subordinate influence within the Church. For the prima Scriptura model, Tradition must be continually “kept in check” by Scripture. If there is ever a conflict between Tradition and the Scriptures, the Scriptures are to correct and interpret Tradition. Scripture, according to this model, is the primary and final authority in all matters. According to this view, the Scriptures contain all that is necessary for salvation and is, therefore, “materially sufficient.” But it is not “formally sufficient,” since it must have an infallible interpreter, the Church.

3. Regula Fidei

Lit. “Rule of faith.” Belief that tradition is an infallible “summary” of Scripture passed on through apostolic succession. Ultimately, there is only one source of revelation, but two sources of authority. In other words, Tradition is Scripture.

Adherents: Eastern Orthodox, some Protestants

Notice how the dotted line representing Tradition continues on in this model. Like the previous, this is illustrative of Tradition’s continued subordinate influence within the Church. For the regula fidei model, however, tradition equals Scripture in an infallible summary form (example: Nicene creed). The Church carries the correct interpretation of Scripture but does not add anything new to it (unlike the previous two). Therefore, all interpretation of Scripture must agree with the interpretation that has been consistently held within the Church—the regula fidei or ”rule of faith.”

4. Sola Scriptura

Belief that Scripture is the final and only infallible authority for the Christian in all matters of faith and practice. While there are other authorities, they are always fallible and the must always be tested by and submit to the Scriptures.

Adherents: Reformed Protestants/Evangelicals

Notice that the only difference between the sola Scriptura view and the regula fide view is that in the sola Scriptura view tradition is not infallible. It is very important to realize that advocates of sola Scriptura would believe that there were two sources of authority for the first 300–400 years of the Church. Like the previous view, tradition would be understood as a summary of what was written in Scripture that had always been accepted by the universal Church. Unlike the previous view, this summary is not infallible.

At this time, Scripture was in the process of being recognized (canonized) and the teachings of the apostles which had been passed on through word of mouth (tradition) was only reliable for the first 100 years (or so) of Church history. The majority of Scripture (Gospels, Acts, and Pauline corpus which makes up at least 80 percent of the NT) was accepted as authoritative by A.D. 200, if not earlier. At the same time, the teachings of the apostles that were being passed on through word of mouth was becoming increasingly obscure and unreliable. Once the New Testament had been circulated throughout the Church, and once the canon had been recognized, the Church became totally reliant upon the Scriptures (both Old and New Testaments) for ultimate authority in all matters of faith and practice. Scripture is always to be interpreted according to the accepted, albeit fallible, regula fidei of the early church as represented in the early creeds and councils.

As an important and related sidenote, there has been much recent discussion among Protestants and Orthodox concerning the similarities in the two traditions’ view of authority. In fact, mutual consent has been attained and confessions of misunderstanding given from both sides. Notice here the agreed statement from The Dublin Agreed Statement 1984 involving Anglicans and Orthodox:

“Any disjunction between Scripture and Tradition such as would treat them as two separate ‘sources of revelation’ must be rejected. The two are correlative. We affirm (1) that Scripture is the main criterion whereby the church tests traditions to determine whether they are truly part of the Holy Tradition or not; (2) that Holy Tradition completes Holy Scriptures in the sense that it safeguards the integrity of the biblical message” (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985), 50–51.

As well, notice this agreement between Lutherans and Orthodox:

“Regarding the relation of Scripture and Tradition, for centuries there seemed to have been a deep difference between Orthodox and Lutheran teaching. Orthodox hear with satisfaction the affirmation of the Lutheran theologians that the formula sola Scriptura was always intended to point to God’s revelation, God’s saving act through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, and therefore to the holy Tradition of the Church . . . against human traditions that darken the authentic teaching in the Church.” —Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue: The Agreed Statements 1985–1989. (Geneva: Lutheran World Federation, 1992), 11.

5. Solo Scriptura or Nuda Scriptura

Belief that Scripture is the sole basis and authority in the life of the Christian. Tradition is useless and misleading, and creeds and confessions are the result of man-made traditions.

Adherents: Radical Reformers, Fundamentalists, Restorationist Churches

This is not a formal position but a pejorative designation of a practical one. It represents the unfortunate position of many evangelical or fundamental Protestants who misunderstand sola Scriptura believing that it means that the ideal place for believers to find authority and interpret Scripture is to do so in a historical vacuum, disregarding any tradition that might influence and bind their thinking. Not only does this undermine the Holy Spirit’s role in the lives of believers of the past, but it is a position of arrogance, elevating individual reason to the position of final authority. It also disregards the fact that it is impossible to interpret in a vacuum.

Protestants have many authorities in their lives. Whether it be parents, government, the church, or traditions. The doctrine of sola Scriptura does not mean that we don’t have any other authorities or even sources of revelation, but that the Scripture alone is the final and only infallible source—it is the ultimate source.

Just for good measure so that I cannot be accused of not trying to get in trouble, here is how I would chart some traditions and denominations.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    51 replies to "Five Views of Tradition’s Role in the Christian Life"

    • the Old Adam

      Nice work.

      We leave room for tradition (small ‘t’)…but the Bible is, as you say, the final source.

      The Word (not just the Bible, though) carries it’s own authority because the Word can faith create faith…and nothing else can.

    • maggie

      Has archaeology found the original texts of the writers of Bible? If not, how can we trust the copies?
      How can we trust the Catholic Church et all, that they included the appropriate documents in the Bible?
      How do we know which writings … old and new Testaments … were truly inspired of God?
      How do we know if the early texts were translated properly … as we have many translations these days, and many people disagree on the translations.
      Did God intervene and tell Moses, Solomon, David, Habbikuk, Haggai, Matthew, Paul, for instance, exactly what to write in their prayes, songs, letters? After this many years, and the fact the Bible “was in the hands of the Catholic Church” are we sure we are reading what God himself wants to say to us?

    • Irene

      Hi, the old Adam,

      So, what is your reason for saying Scripture is always the final source (opposed to tradition)?

      Maggie – hello,

      Those are good questions! I’m interested to see what kind of answers you may get.

    • Irene


      I’ve realized my question to you was badly put. It sounds like I’m trying to start a long argument, but I’m not. I’m trying to narrow down differences to something more specific.

      I would anticipate your answer to be something like: Word of God over traditions of men any day.

      And to that I would agree. So that is not a point of difference. IF it were true that Sacred Tradition were just as much “from God” as Sacred Scripture, then I think it’s at least possible your beliefs on this issue may be different. So, the *real* point of difference would be: Is Sacred Tradition inspired?

      CMP, I think this post of yours, especially with all the charts, is great for narrowing down differences.

    • rw

      Michael can you please define tradition?
      We Baptist have a tradition of asking for “prayer requests” every time we meet, but I can’t find this in Scripture. The practice if reality feels like nagging God or a superstition where the more people you get to pray for you the better to get God to do something. Depending on how many groups you are in you can easily end up with 30 or 40 specific request to pray for over and over until the next meeting. Questioning this tradition is met with horrified looks and cooling friendships.
      Another example: do we have to sing every Sunday? Are other forms of worshipful art lesser because say painting or photography isn’t something the Apostles did?
      I’ve noticed that most of what churches do on Sunday morning follows tradition not scripture and people don’t react well to suggestions that you change tradition. Even when that adherence to tradition is failing the church and the unbelievers all around you.

    • the Old Adam

      “So, what is your reason for saying Scripture is always the final source (opposed to tradition)?”

      Because tradition is great…but where it does not lead to assurance in the gospel and the freedom from the self-focused religion project…then it (tradition) can be a hinderance to faith (what Christ has done).

      Even Scripture is not read in a wooden way, but is dealt with theologically. Through the interpretive grid of the gospel…and not the law.

    • Irene

      Thanks for the response, the old Adam.

      But don’t you see that if what you say is true, then you are using the Gospel tradition to, on the one hand, validate Scripture as an infallible means of transmitting the Deposit of Faith, and, on the other hand, to INvalidate….tradition! as an infallible means of transmitting the Deposit of Faith.

      I hope you can see how inconsistent that appears to me. Can you please clarify?

    • the Old Adam

      The gospel isn’t “tradition”. It IS God’s Living Word.

      “Faith comes by hearing and the Word of God.”

      Hearing what? Law? What to do? No.

      By hearing the gospel Word of forgiveness to real sinners.

      That’s where faith is created.

    • the Old Adam


      This is good news.

      It’s only 15 min.. Give it a try and feel a sense of relief and freedom come over you.

    • Irene

      So Sacred Tradition can not be said to be divinely inspired because it conflicts with Sacred Scripture? Is that what you mean?

    • the Old Adam

      Where Tradition opposes the pure gospel, it is not helpful.

      Where it points to the gospel, or where it holds up the gospel, then there is nothing wrong with it at all.

    • the Old Adam

      The errant doctrine of Purgatory is a perfect example of that.

    • Irene

      Here’s what I’m getting at:
      What is the basis for concluding that Sacred Scripture is divinely inspired, or “from God”, while Sacred Tradition is not?

      At first, I thought you were leading toward the answer that tradition could not be inspired because it contradicted a gospel message/tradition. That is inconsistent, though, as I brought up in comment #7.
      But you corrected me by saying, no, the gospel is not a tradition, it IS Scripture.

      Next, I understand you to be saying that Tradition can not be inspired because it is contradicts Scripture. Well, so far that could be true, because I (no doubt like you) believe that anything that contradicts truth must be false, and Scripture is absolutely true. However, it’s still not a satisfactory answer. Even if I accept for the sake of argument that the two contradict, I could still say that Tradition is true and Scripture is false!

      I’m looking for someone, especially a Protestant, to name a distinction between the two by which we may name one true and one false.

      The question seems to me to be very relevant to CMPs charts and post, which show the authority attributed to Scripture vs Tradition by various Christian groups. I am wantng to nail down a “why”. On what basis are their distinctions made?

      [I’ll just throw this in too: I said for the same of argument I would accept that Scripture and Tradition conflicted. That, though, can not be shown without appealing to tradition, such as the Protestant tradition; you end up coming back to tradition proving tradition false again.]

    • the Old Adam

      “What is the basis for concluding that Sacred Scripture is divinely inspired, or “from God”, while Sacred Tradition is not?”

      Faith comes by hearing the gospel. Where Tradition is NOT the gospel, or does not support the gospel, then it is useless at best, and harmful at worst…because it can cause us to take our eyes off of what He has done…and turn them to what ‘we do’…which is the basis of the Galatian letter.

    • Irene

      Ok, so you are reiterating that Sacred Tradition sometimes conflicts with Sacred Scripture, so Tradition must not be inspired.

      But why can’t I then say that Sacred Scripture sometimes conflicts with Sacred Tradition, so Scripture must not be inspired? It’s the same reasoning.

      What is it that makes Scripture inspired and authoritative, but doesn’t also apply to Tradition?

      Here are possible examples – that don’t work:
      –Scripture has it’s origin in the apostolic age.
      +So does Tradition.
      –Tradition is passed on by an imperfect Church. Scripture is more stable.
      + That same Church copied, canonized, translated, and passed on that stable Scripture.
      –Scripture is the Word of God, not of men.
      +Sacred Tradition (not small “t” tradition), also, is not the tradition of men but of God.

      See what I mean? I’m just very curious to know if there is a good answer to this. Why does a Christian group call Scripture inspired but not Tradition?

    • the Old Adam

      The Scriptures contain everything needful.

      If tradition helps to reveal that, support that, then it is good.

      If Tradition overrides what is revealed in Scripture…then it is not good.

      Purgatory, for example, tells people that Christ’s sacrifice for us on the Cross did not accomplish everything. And that is not helpful to our faith, but is damaging to our trust in Christ.

    • Irene

      I get that you believe that the Church’s Sacred Tradition and the Church’s Sacred Scripture sometimes conflict, and that Scripture trumps Tradition. What I don’t get is the bigger picture, the view from a higher altitude.

      WHY do you say that Scripture is “of God” and Tradition is “of men”?

      If I were a Martian come to learn about religions of the Earth, looking at this blog post, one thing I would ask would be, why do these groups of Christians have a solid line for Scripture and a dotted line for Tradition? How did they arrive at that conclusion?

    • RDavid

      “How did they arrive at that conclusion?”

      Which did Jesus emphasize?

    • Irene


      Is the validity of Sacred Tradition and/or Sacred Scripture dependent on which Jesus directed us to?

    • Irene

      Clarification: Is the validity of Scripture and/or Tradition as an infallible authority dependent on which Jesus directed us to?

    • the Old Adam

      Scripture is of men…and of God.

      The gospel is of God.

      Tradition can be for…or against the gospel.

    • the Old Adam

      (God uses fallible men in putting together and interpreting His infallible Word)

      The finite contains the infinite.

    • RDavid


      Since He is the foundation of our faith, wouldn’t His practices and words be a helpful indicator (at the very least)?

    • Irene

      “Scripture is of men…and of God.”

      What criteria is it that affirms this, but does not affirm that Tradition is of God?

      [“The finite contains the infinite.”
      By the way, I love little phrases like this that have meanings so much bigger than they are. St. Augustine had so many, right?
      -about Mary: She ruled our Ruler. She carried him in whom we all are. She gave milk to our Bread.]

    • Irene


      Sure! (: I’m just trying to get you to say yes or no to that.

      You say that Scripture is an infallibly authoritative transmission of the Faith, but Tradition is not, because that is what Jesus indicated to us?

      Where does he say this?

    • RDavid


      “You say that Scripture is an infallibly authoritative transmission of the Faith, but Tradition is not…”

      I never said that. I am simply asking the question.

    • Irene


      So you DON’T think that? What DO you think then? Why the solid line for Scripture and dotted line for Tradition?

      I think that the difference in the lines is that those Protestants believe Scripture to be from God (through men, yes), but Tradition to be just from men. What I would really like to know is, What makes the Bible inspired/divine that at the same time doesn’t make Tradition divine? What are the criteria for saying one of these modes of transmission is divine but the other is not?

      I’m beginning to think there is no real answer here, at least in this thread.

    • Irene

      So you DON’T think that? What DO you think then? Why the solid line for Scripture and dotted line for Tradition?
      I think that the difference in the lines is that those Protestants believe Scripture to be from God (through men, yes), but Tradition to be just from men. What I would really like to know is, What makes the Bible inspired/divine that at the same time doesn’t make Tradition divine? What are the criteria for saying one of these modes of transmission is divine but the other is not?
      I’m beginning to think there is no real answer here, at least in this thread.

    • Irene

      [Sidenote: if the above comment comes up again later, it’s because the first copy is now awaiting moderation. I had a typo in my normal email address]

    • RDavid


      Personally, I take more of a combination of Regula Fidei and Sola Scriptura (more along the lines of a paleo-orthodoxy). I think the prior the canon of Scripture being finalized, God was guiding the church on th major issues through the Regula Fidei, pre-creedal/creedal formulas, and of course the Apostles and their immediate disciples. Once the canon was finalized, that Apostolic authority was found there.

    • Irene


      How, then, did the apostles and their immediate disciples lose their authority? Possibly because their message was becoming obscured by time? The difficulty I have with that is: If that apostolic tradition was degrading to unreliability within one or two generations, was it truly of God in the first place?
      Well, and besides that, if the apostolic tradition was degrading beyond reliability that soon, how are the various Scriptures then reliably canonized centuries later?

    • RDavid


      I don’t think the apostles and their immediate disciples lost their authority. It is because of their authority that their writings became Scripture.

    • Irene


      If they didn’t lose their authority, why the dotted line (showing fallibility) for Tradition?

    • RDavid


      “why the dotted line (showing fallibility) for Tradition?”

      Since I did not write the post I can only give my guess on why, which would be that not everything passed along in Tradition was infallible. That which was not part of what would become Scripture, but that became Tradition early, would not (necessarily) be infallible. But again, that is just my guess of what CMP was trying to say (or draw).

    • RDavid

      Also, let me say that CMP’s description of Prima Scriptura, Regula Fidei, and Sola Scriptura have more in common, and more mixing, than he is giving credit for here.
      I think more evangelicals hold to Prima Scriptura and Regula Fidei than he is giving credit to here.

    • Irene


      I really do appreciate your patient replies.

      It just seems inexplicable to me that all infallibly authoritative witness to the deposit of faith would be wound up in Scripture (it certainly doesn’t appear to be written as an all-inclusive compilation), while the infallibly authoritative witness of those who say, “These books are the Word of God,” is dismissed as invalid. It’s inconsistent.

      There seems to be no criteria which make Scripture infallible and Tradition not infallible.

    • Maggie

      One way of looking at it is to decide if these traditions are found in scripture, AND we believe the scriptures are truly infallible and God ordained.
      If we believe the Bible leaves out many things and God ordained them later, then WHO KNOWS?
      Not to say that some traditions are not “good” things, but that they would become fallible.

      eg: If Jesus is our High Priest and the forgiver of our sins, why should we pray to an earthly priest who also apparently can forgive sins.

      If the apostles healed someone and the people fell down at their feet and tried to worship them, they were told to get up and worship Jesus who gave them the power.
      Which would suggest that maybe we shouldn’t pray to many other “saints” either.

      Does the bible lift up Mary in any way other than Jesus loved her as his mother. Is she prayed to in the scriptures?

      How much money did Jesus and the apostles take for their trouble of preaching and healing? They seemed to only have their basic needs met by the people. Not billions of dollars while the people starved.

    • Irene

      Hi Maggie,

      Well, I think there is one thing CMP and theOldAdam and RDavid and I and I presume you, too, would agree on. And that is that there was one final revelation, Jesus Christ, leaving one Deposit of Faith, and that the Bible and Sacred Tradition are merely transmissions of that faith…..except for maybe group #5 above, who maybe confuse the revelation and the transmission of that revelation?

      Maybe that’s a good idea for a post on this blog…come to think of it, I need to read that recent one about Charismatics. Maybe CMP already wrote such a post…

    • Maggie

      Well, I see what you are saying … laugh … I think.
      What I’m wondering is HOW you know what your faith looks like … like what part is revelation or the transmission.

      Are you saying that only some parts of the Bible reveal our revelation and that the rest is up for discussion as to it’s transmisstion?
      Or that only part of it is the revelation? Are you saying the whole Bible is to believed, yet Jesus and apostles really told us a lot more things that didn’t get into the Bible? Who picks and chooses those “extra” revelations and would come from man? Are they to be trusted?

      If we believe the Bible is infallible … it’s obvious that we can’t trust ANYTHING that is not written in it.
      If the Bible is fallible, then tradition is also fallible.
      Then we are left with WHO CAN WE TRUST ???

      Because I sure know a few things that I’m NOT going to trust/believe in the Bible … #1 being hell as eternal torture.

    • rw

      Can someone please define Tradition with a capital T and give some examples of what that might mean and if it means something different to Catholics than Protestants. As far as this Baptist can tell, to Baptists, Tradition is anything not specifically called for in Scripture that we’ve done twice and really liked, especially if we can eat while doing it. Seriously – Heaven help you if you try to tweak it that third time….

      Irene, if it helps, I think Protestants have decided that to the best we can ascertain, Scripture is our foundation because we reject the idea that a human being can be the ultimate authority in anything. Our belief is that even though scripture has been in man’s hands, it is concrete communication of the Holy Spirit and there for the place we can all stand on.

    • maggie

      You have definitely said what I believe … much better than I can.

      I might as well say it, since nobody ever wants to refute the questions/examples I pose when I’m trying to be open to other concrete reasoning.

    • Irene


      “Can someone please define Tradition with a capital T and give some examples of what that might mean and if it means something different to Catholics than Protestants.”

      Yes, it means something different and that difference is the cause of too much misunderstanding. As a Catholic, I’ll speak for them. Catholics have both small “t” tradition and large “T” Tradition. “t” tradition could also be called custom… Things like purple altar cloths for Lent, using organ for hymns, first communion in 2nd grade. “T” Sacred Tradition is what the Church has no authority to alter, only to preserve and expound, such as baptism for forgiveness of sins, and only men being priests.
      One of the things the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about it is “the theological, liturgical, disciplinary, and devotional traditions of the local churches both contain and can be distinguished from the apostolic Tradition.”

      The second half of your comment #39 just above hits the nail on the head. If Tradition really is just tradition of good men (good Christian men doing their best but still just men), then I’d have to throw my hat in with the Protestants. BUT, *IF* Tradition is really of God, taught by Jesus, protected by the Holy Spirit, then wouldn’t Protestants have to at least consider throwing their hat in with the Catholics?
      So what I’m interested in is not that “Scripture trumps Tradition because Scripture is God’s Word and Tradition is man’s word”.
      How do Protestants know that Tradition is not ALSO God’s Word?
      I don’t think the bit about the Holy Spirit being more direct in Scripture holds up. Both Scripture and Tradition (so Catholicism claims) are the Holy Spirit working, preserving Jesus’ Church, through humans. Whether the Spirit causes them to write truth, or protects them from speaking error,….it’s still the same infallible Spirit.
      I think the answer lies more in the question RDavid brought up: What were Jesus’s instructions in this matter?

    • rw

      Maggie and Irene thanks for your responses.

      Irene, based on the examples you have given in your response of what Sacred Tradition is we Baptist call that “doing what Scripture tells us to” , like you we Baptists baptize for the forgiveness of sin and in SBC have male head pastors. I guess now that I reflect on that for Protestants Sacred Tradition would be how we do the stuff Scripture says we have to do, and tradition would be stuff we do that isn’t expressly required or forbidden in scripture.

      Catholic question: Are their things in Catholic Sacred Tradition that aren’t expressly called out in the Scripture – ie like having an infallible Pope – is that ST or something else?

    • Irene

      Hi again rw,

      “Catholic question: Are their things in Catholic Sacred Tradition that aren’t expressly called out in the Scripture – ie like having an infallible Pope – is that ST or something else?”

      Yes, you are correct in saying that Catholics believe not everything in Sacred Tradition is explicitly declared in Sacred Scripture. Really, there’s a whole different paradigm between Catholicism and Protestantism (as CMPs charts point out). I used to be Lutheran, so like many other people, I’ve lived in both paradigms.

      The Catholic Church sees the Church as giving birth to the Scriptures. (It often seems like Protestants see it the other way around.). But even so, the Scriptures enliven and guard Tradition, while Tradition serves and interprets the Scriptures. They are described as coming from the same font, but working together to transmit God’s final revelation of Himself, the revelation which is the actual person, Jesus. (It also often seems as if Protestants believe Scriptures to be God’s final and only revelation. Catholics see Scriptures, instead, as an inspired means of transmitting that revelation.)

      That’s where I think so much misunderstanding comes from. Catholics do not put men’s traditions on a level with God’s written Word. Catholics believe Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are BOTH from God in an authoritative way.

      Now I’m getting off track of your question. So yes, some things in Tradition are not plainly written in Scripture. Like the primacy of the successor of Peter, purgatory, baptism of infants, male-only priesthood, the Trinity. There may be supporting passages, etc., but not always crystal clear. In the Catholic paradigm, Scripture is not meant to stand alone. It has to be interpreted in light of the Tradition in which it was written.

    • Pete again

      CMP loves making charts, and they are always interesting to me.

      Charts help him to “categorize” the different branches of Christianity, like putting different species of insects in mason jars so that we can study them. Charts help him to do this, and to see how everyone “fits in”. Maybe he was a science major in college?

      Anyway, the biggest part of “Unwritten Tradition” is interpretation of the Scriptures.

      “Is it in the Bible?” depends on your group’s interpretation. The primacy of Peter is clearly in the Bible, but what exactly is that supposed to look like? The Trinity is in there, but is not “crystal clear”. Infant Baptism is obviously described in Scripture to many, but it is nothing more than a man-made tradition to others. The Eucharist is clearly taught as the true Body and Blood of Christ…obviously…right?

      EVERY group thinks that their “Unwritten Tradition”…aka biblical interpretations…are infallible. For Southern Baptists, for example, their “sinner’s prayer to be saved” is part of (what they believe to be) their infallible tradition.

      The only differences between the groups is who/what DECIDES tradition.

      For RCs, it’s the Magisterium/Pope. For ECs, it is the Tradition handed down for 2000 years. For Protestants, in most cases, it boils down to their individual choices and judgment. All of them claim help from the Holy Spirit in doing this.

    • Irene

      Pete again,

      I don’t want to altogether change the direction of this comment thread, but maybe I could get just a “in a nutshell” comment from you: How do EOs interpret “You are Peter…” and related passages? What is their significance to the Orthodox Church? No arguing from me, just curious.

    • Pete again

      Hi Irene,

      In a nutshell, EOs look at the first 800 years (up until Charlemagne) and find that the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, was indeed “first among equals”, but he did not even come close to the power that he has today.

      In practical terms, what that means is that the Pope back then had no DIRECT jurisdiction or authority over any priests in the diocese of Alexandria, Jerusalem, etc., which of course is quite different from what we see today.

      His position in the Church, outside of his patriarchate, during the 1st millennium was akin to the Supreme Court Chief Justice, rather than the President, as he is today’s RCC.

      As far as the passage in Matthew, a majority of the church fathers see the “Rock” as either Peter’s faith, or Christ himself.

      It is also interesting to note that no EO patriarchate has ever installed a “parallel eastern bishop” in Rome to replace the Pope.

      I’m not doing the subject justice, but there you have it in a nutshell.

    • Pete again

      Hi Irene,

      Today, eastern Christians using the Old Julian Calendar are celebrating the Feast Day of Saints Peter and Paul!

      I pulled this from one of the church websites:

      Sermon of Blessed Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (Ipponesia)

      “On this present day Holy Church piously remembers the suffering of the Holy Glorious and All-Praiseworthy Apostles Peter and Paul. Saint Peter, the fervent follower of Jesus Christ, for the profound confession of His Divinity: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God”, – was deemed worthy by the Saviour to hear in answer: “Blessed art thou, Simon… I tell thee, that thou art Peter (Petrus), and on this stone (petra) I build My Church” (Mt. 16: 16-18). On “this stone” (petra), is on that which thou sayest: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God”,– it is on this thy confession I build My Church. Wherefore the “thou art Peter”: it is from the “stone” (petra) that Peter (Petrus) is, and not from Peter (Petrus) that the “stone” (petra) is – just as how the Christian is from Christ, and not Christ from the Christian.”

      “Our Lord Jesus Christ chose from among the disciples His twelve Apostles for preaching the Word of God. Among them, the Apostle Peter for his fiery ardour was vouchsafed to occupy the first place (Mt. 10: 2) and to be as it were the representative person for all the Church. And therefore it is said to him, preferentially, after the confession: “And I give thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: and if thou bindest upon the earth, it will be bound in the Heavens: and if thou loosenest upon the earth, it will be loosened in the Heavens (Mt.16; 19). Wherefore it was not one man, but rather the One Universal Church, that received these “keys” and the right “to bind and loosen”. And that actually it was the Church that received this right, and not exclusively a single person, turn your attention to another place of the Scriptures, where the same Lord says to also all His Apostles: “Receive ye the Holy Spirit”, – and further after this: “Whoseso sins ye remit, are remitted them: and whoseso sins ye retain, are retained” (Jn. 20: 22-23); or: “with what ye bind upon the earth, will be bound in Heaven: and with what ye loosen upon the earth, will be loosened in the Heavens” (Mt. 18: 18). Thus, it is the Church that binds, the Church that loosens; the Church, built upon the foundational corner-stone – Jesus Christ Himself (Eph. 2: 20) doth bind and loosen.”

    • Irene

      Hi again Pete,

      Thanks for the replies. The Latin rite Catholic Church also just recently celebrated the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul. [One thing I’ve been meaning to look up, maybe you know: one of the prayers used the phrase that those two “share one martyrs’ crown”, and it sounded like the phrase went way back. I wonder if it just meant, simply, that they were both martyrs, or something more significant?]

      It sounds like the Orthodox interpretation of that Matthew passage (just the Scripture interpretation, not the resulting tradition, I know) is very much like the Protestant interpretation.

      You mentioned that in early years the bishop of Rome did not come close to “the power he has today”. I can only speak for recent times, but it seems that some of the pope’s “power” is the influence of celebrity status, rather than divine authorization. I’m not faulting the popes, just saying that the media seems to be pope-obsessed sometimes.

      I do believe in the primacy of Peter, but I also think Catholics would do well to, while properly respecting the office of the Successor of Peter, also realize what treasures they have in their own bishops.

      Well, I sincerely hope and pray for the reunification of our two Churches. (:

    • anon

      Hi Irene,

      This is Pete again. I’ve been trying to post for days. I guess I’ve been blocked from commenting on the blog!

      Keep the Faith!

      Glory to God for all things

    • Irene

      @Pete again,

      Yes. Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for us!

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