Be Not Confused! On Authentic Dogmatic Development and Sound Interpretation of Doctrine

Part 11

Another example illustrating the importance of already being informed by the Tradition when reading recent texts.

In Ut Unum Sint, John Paul identifies some areas in need of fuller study and dialogue before non-Catholic churches and ecclesial communions can enjoy full communion with the Catholic Church. He indicates first of all: “The relationship between Sacred Scripture, as the highest authority in matters of faith, and Sacred Tradition, as indispensable to the interpretation of the Word of God,” art. 79.

Let’s say theologian “Gary” reads this text and concludes that Sacred Tradition is important only for the interpretation of the Word of God. Further, Gary concludes that Sacred Scripture is to be identified with the Word of God. Finally, Gary concludes that Sacred Tradition is not to be identified with the Word of God but to have a role simply as an aid in its interpretation.

Gary’s big argument is an argument from silence. Because John Paul did not explicitly add other things, Gary contends, we can reject these other things. This argument for silence puts a big burden on the pope. If he doesn’t repeat everything, we must reject what he leaves out! That’s a burden, because the pope is bound to submit to the Deposit of Faith. He has no authority over it. He is its servant. Thus, if Gary is right, the pope has to repeat everything. But that is absurd. Therefore, Gary is out to lunch.

But we should not worry about Gary. We should ask, What, in fact, is the constant doctrine of the Church? That’s what we need to know, above all. What is the Catholic Truth?

First, Trent is very clear. The Word of God—promulgated above all by Jesus—is found both in Scripture and in Tradition. Vatican I confirms this teaching of Trent. Finally, Vatican II confirms the teaching of both Vatican I and Trent.

Vatican II teaches, “Tradition transmits in its entirely the Word of God…” (Dei verbum, art. 9). That is, every truth of Revelation is present in the Tradition. That is, the Tradition has real content. Thus, contra Gary, Tradition is not merely useful for the interpretation of the Word of God. It contains all the truths in the Word of God. This is important to keep in mind, lest, like Gary, we read Ut Unum Sint and come to think erroneously that Tradition is not the Word of God but rather is merely a help in its interpretation.

Second, Vatican II reiterates Trent’s teaching that both Scripture and Tradition are to be “accepted and honored with equal feelings of devotion and reverence,” art. 9. Since “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God,” art. 10, we should not, like Gary, say that only Scripture has the “highest authority”. The Word of God has the highest authority and its two witnesses are Scripture and Tradition. If Tradition transmits the entire Word of God, as Vatican II teaches, it too enjoys this highest authority.

Finally, the fathers at Vatican II left unanswered the following question: Are there any truths found in Tradition that are not found in Scripture. They chose not to answer this question. Thus, one can still maintain that Tradition holds truths that Scripture does not. In such case, Scripture cannot be identified with the Word of God; whereas Tradition transmits this Word in its entirety! This is where Vatican II leaves us.

But then again, Vatican II also teaches: “By means of the same Tradition the full canon of the sacred books is known to the Church,” art. 8. Now, one could argue that the knowledge about what constitutes the canon of sacred books is an element in the deposit of faith. But this element cannot compellingly be present in the Scriptures, as Vatican II implies that it actually is not. Hence, Vatican II points in the direction of stating that the Tradition, but not Scripture itself, gives us the knowledge what the canon is. If that knowledge is an element of the deposit, which I think it is, then Tradition contains one truth that Scripture does not.

When we read Ut Unum Sint, we should know these things, those that are certain and those that are importantly probable. We cannot map our journey accurately if we do not read the Tradition!

Above all, in connection with things ecumenical, it is necessary to have the rock solid foundation laid by Pius XI of immortal memory in his superb encyclical Mortalium Animos, which I recommend most highly.

So, in a nutshell, we cannot let theologians such as Gary argue from silence that we have “left behind” some dogmas. Our response: No dogma left behind!