Recently, our inquiries into ius liturgicum and its many pertinent corollaries and parallels in other theological disciplines impelled us to focus on the various senses of traditio in the Church’s theological tradition. The present brief piece, a translation of the first thesis of Cardinal Franzelin’s classic work De divina traditione et Scriptura, is made from the second edition of that treatise, published in 1875. The chapter referenced from Petavius and recommended for its treatment of this topic is in process of translation, and, we hope, will follow soon after this. It is our hope that having such texts readily available for reference will be of use.
The manifold notion of Tradition is explicated.
“Tradition can be considered either in the objective sense, or the active sense, or the complex sense of both at once. Since sacred Tradition, taken more broadly in the objective sense, may be called a doctrine or institution pertaining to religion, which has been transmitted by the forefathers to the Church to be preserved, it is necessary that, by reason of origin, divine Tradition be distinguished from Tradition which is simply apostolic and ecclesiastical, each of which has its own, though different, authority and strength. Nor is there lacking a sure norm, according to which divine Tradition can be distinguished from another sort of a lower order.”
I. This thesis requires little except a declaration of concepts. In the objective sense, Tradition is that very thing which is passed on, a doctrine or institution transmitted from one’s forefathers: “the deposit which you have received, not what you have thought up, the thing given to you and not produced from you,” as St. Vincent of Lerins says, Commonit. n. 27. Now, since the mode in which doctrine is conserved and propagated to us can be varied, that mode is not defined per se by the name of Tradition in the objective sense; whence the Fathers sometimes, in declaring the mode, use epithets, and call it Tradition written (preserved for us in the sacred Scriptures) and unwritten. Thus Clement of Alexandria calls the interpretation or deeper understanding received from the forefathers, of the doctrine of the Scriptures, the unwritten Tradition of written Tradition (ή της ἐγγραφου ἀγραφος παραδοσις) Strom. VI. p. 679. ed. Paris 1641.
The act itself, or rather, the whole series and complex of acts and means, by which doctrine, whether theoretical or practical, is propagated and passed down to us, is called Tradition in the active sense. In this sense it is said by Tertullian (de coron. c. 4.) “Tradition originates, consuetude establishes, faith observes.”
It is readily clear, that active Tradition includes the object passed on, and in turn this object cannot be preserved unto us except with and through active Tradition. Thus, if Tradition be viewed more fully, it must always be considered in a complex way, namely, the object along with the mode of Tradition, just as matter with its form, because otherwise its conservation, integrity, force, and authority cannot duly be explained and understood, since all these things depend upon the mode of Tradition, or active Tradition, as shall become apparent as the disputation progresses. Thus the Fathers of Trent (sess. IV.) considered the Traditions, that is the object passed on, along with the origin and mode of the Traditions, that is, along with active Tradition; and their authority is very briefly but very effectively vindicated from the mode of Tradition, when the synod professes, that revealed doctrine and discipline is contained (and constituted) even in “in the unwritten Traditions, which have come down to us, received from the Apostles by the mouth of Christ himself, or given as it were by hand from the Apostles themselves, at the dictation of the Holy Spirit;” and “it receives and venerates, with equal pious affection and reverence (just as the sacred books), the Traditions pertaining as much to faith as to morals, as dictated either by word from Christ, or from the Holy Spirit, and preserved in the catholic Church by continuous succession.”
II. The distinctions indicated in the second part of the thesis thus must also be recalled, because, although there corresponds to the diverse origin of divine, simply apostolic, and ecclesiastical Tradition, a diverse grade of authority, yet Protestants are accustomed to ignore this quite self-evident doctrine of the catholic Church, and accuse Catholics of attributing to the word of men an authority equal with the word of God, not only because the Protestants hold truly divine Traditions as human, but also because they confound merely ecclesiastical Traditions with those that are divine, and thereon falsely accuse, that all are proposed to be believed promiscuously with equal faith. Read the rest of this entry »