Council Fathers Consider How to Describe Tradition

The ecumenical council may adopt one of two views as a result of its discussions on the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, an official council expert said here last month.

Father Georges Tavard, A.A., of the Pittsburgh diocese, told reporters at a meeting of the U.S. bishops’ press panel that the two views are:

1.That Scripture and Tradition appear as two sources of Faith (or as two sources of Revelation).

2.That Tradition and Scripture are not two sources standing side by side, but that Tradition is the explanation of Scripture by the Church.

Father Tavard also noted that the council’s stand on the matter can affect the movement for Christian unity. Prior to the council’s opening the priest was a consultor of the Preparatory Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity and is now one of the experts named by Pope John XXIII to advise council Fathers.

Father Tavard said that the first view of the relationship maintains that Tradition contains the same truths as Scripture but in a more explicit way. He added that this view grew up among Catholic theologians in the post-Reformation controversies with Protestants and has a “polemical connotation.”

He called the second view the “older position” and said that Protestants find it “much more understandable.” It was formed, he continued, before the “Reformation forced theology to take sharper angles.”

“If we adopt the newer view,” he stated, “we run the danger of making this apologetical or polemical theology permanent.”

But he emphasized that the two views are basically compatible, saying that “to adopt one is not to condemn the other.”

Father Tavard stated that the post-Reformation view sometimes includes the idea that Tradition not only contains the same truths as Scripture but other truths as well.

He said the “older” view holds that “all of Faith is in Scripture, as interpreted by Tradition, and all Faith is in Tradition, but in a more explicit way.”

During the past 10 years, he stated, there has been “an impressive movement within the [predominantly Protestant and Orthodox] World Council of Churches to recover the concept of Tradition.” He continued:

“If we adopted a theology seeing Tradition as something completely separate from Scripture, we should run the danger of moving too far away from a position which the Protestants are approaching.”

He also asserted that adoption of a position stressing the distinction between Scripture and Tradition “might influence the piety and the devotions of Catholics, giving them a less Biblical aspect.”

Calling attention to a renewed emphasis on Scripture in the Church’s public worship, Father Tavard said that the council “would run into trouble if it urged a Biblical liturgical piety on one hand and separated Scripture and Tradition on the other.”

Defending the “older” view—that Tradition is the explanation of Scripture by the Church and that all Faith is in Scripture as interpreted by Tradition—he said:

“It is said by some theologians that the dogma of the Assumption cannot be found in Scripture …. But Pius XII’s bull of definition says that the ultimate foundation of the dogma of the Assumption is in Scripture.”

He said this foundation could not be found by philologists studying Scripture but by “the meditation of the Church on Scripture.”

He stated that when such truths are said to be implicit in Scripture, the word “implicit” should not be understood in its usual sense “as when a verse of Scripture is a little obscure but can be clarified by logical deduction.”

He said that doctrines are implicit in Scripture— which he termed “the Revelation of the main events of Salvation”—when they are implicit in the central doctrine of Salvation, the Incarnation, and “can be related meaningfully to it through the analogy of Faith.” (The analogy of Faith can be defined as the compatibility of a teaching with other teachings of the Church.)

From Council Daybook: Vatican II, Sessions 1 and 2, Floyd Anderson, ed. © 1965 by The National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. Used by permission of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the successor organization to the NCWC. All rights reserved.

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