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Shadows of Divine Things

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This site is devoted to theological and philosophical investigations of the spiritual meanings of life, current events, music, spiritual growth, nature, and learning to be attuned to listening to the 'language of God.' The name of this blog comes from one of Jonathan Edwards's journals which he called 'Shadows of Divine Things,' and later renamed 'Images of Divine Things.' As a Christian I am continously on a spiritual journey to grow more into the image of Christ, to understand what it means to be crucified with Christ. To seek the truths of the Christian Faith is of upmost importance, and to know that any truths that are found outside of Christianity are present there because they ultimately point to God. I have an M.A. in theology and apologetics and I completed one year of graduate studies in Philosophy at Marquette University.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Quod Ubique, Quod Semper, Quod ad Omnibus: A Protestant View of Tradition, Part One

In a previous post titled A Protestant View of Tradition (Introduction) I described my background and experience (so to speak) with the issue of Tradition in light of my Protestant upbringing. I ended this post with these questions; what are we as Protestants to think about Church tradition? What are we to think about holding fast to the traditions of the apostles? What, in fact, does this mean? And can Roman Catholics and Protestants ever see eye to eye on this issue? I hope to tackle a few of these and other questions in this and several upcoming posts.

I have just recently finished reading Yves Congar’s book The Meaning of Tradition. So the focus of this post, continuing the issue of Tradition, will be my response to Congar’s work (of course these responses will in no way be exhaustive). Let me begin by saying that I would recommend this book to any Protestant who was interested in learning about the Roman Catholic (RC) view of Tradition. I have been told by Catholics that Congar’s work (this shorter version) is a standard text on Tradition. So if you are interested, I have provided a link to the book at Amazon at the end of this post.



According to Congar Tradition encompasses several important elements or features:

1) The economy of God [Congar notes, “In ecclesiastical terminology ‘economy’ is the name for the series of acts planned by God for the salvation of mankind. F.p. 10] which is the deposit (or Gospel), The Church, Tradition, sacraments, etc.

2) Unwritten apostolic traditions (simply put this is the spoken Word, the Gospel, certain doctrines expounded in councils and creeds, and other mysteries of the Church).

3) Issues or doctrines which are not explicitly taught in Scripture; this ties in with ‘Unwritten apostolic traditions.’

4) The Role of the Magisterium in preserving the content of the deposit.

This first post will be devoted to the first two on the list above, followed by a second post dealing with the latter two, and a third post with final responses to Congar’s ideas and theology.

Congar declares that the economy of God is simply the series of acts planned by God for the salvation of mankind. This includes the Gospel itself, the Scriptures, the Church herself, Tradition, and the Sacraments. As we saw in my earlier post, ‘holding fast to the traditions of the apostles’ (as Paul declared in 2 Thess. 2:15) would certainly entail the deposit of the Gospel, the Sacraments of the Church, the spoken and written Word (i.e. the Scriptures), and of course these are the things Paul is calling Traditions. This of course is something that all Protestants would have no contention about (granted they actually adhere to what the Reformers/Protestants taught regarding these things).

We, as Protestants know that saving faith is not found outside the context of the Church (the body of believers), but is presented within the context of the Church via the Gospel message (delivered by a member of the body written or spoken, see Acts 8:26-36 and Romans 10:13-18), and demonstrated to us time and again through the sacraments. This is classic Reformed theology. So it is certainly not at this point that Protestants should ‘protest.’

We see Calvin mirror the above assertions in his Institutes when he declares, “As our present design is to treat of the visible church, we may learn from the title mother, how useful and even necessary it is for us to know her; since there is no other way of entrance into life [salvation], unless we are conceived by her, born of her, nourished at her breast, and continually preserved under her care and government till we are divested of this mortal flesh and ‘become like the angels.’” [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. John Allen (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), p.416]

With respect to “unwritten apostolic traditions” there seems to be no contention as far as the Gospel is concerned. It should be pointed out here that the Roman Catholic Church’s assertion that the Church preceded the written Word of the New Testament is in fact correct. This, however, is not a threat to Protestants as some seem to think it is, or seem to make it. Historically speaking the Church was established via the spoken word through Christ first, and then through Christ’s apostles to those who heard their spoken words. This is the very thing Paul is getting at in 2 Thess. 2:15 when he declares that these traditions of the apostles are both spoken and written. So Protestants should not be alarmed when Roman Catholics declare that the Church preceded the written word of the New Testament. This certainly does not thwart the authority of the Scriptures. If anything, it confirms its authority.

However, it is with these other unwritten “apostolic traditions” that Protestant do, perhaps, have reason to ‘protest.’ These would be the issues that were not actually explicit in the Scriptures. Issues such as the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the infallibility of the Pope (or Magisterium), etc., are all issues which gain, I think, warranted protest. Albeit, within these unwritten “apostolic traditions” there contain a handful of doctrines which are perhaps touched on in Scripture but not as explicitly as they were delineated in Tradition at certain councils and through certain creeds; issues such as The Trinity, The deity of Christ, especially the canon of Scripture itself, etc. These are perhaps the doctrines that fell into the rule Quod Ubique, Quod Semper, Quod ad Omnibus (“We must believe what has been believed everywhere, always, and by everyone”) of St. Vincent. With these issues, Protestants can certainly agree with Roman Catholics and call them essential doctrines of Christianity. Even Congar declares that these issues are essential in that they are supported by Scripture, and not merely Tradition. It is here where we see both a unity and yet a division (depending upon the issue) amongst Catholics and Protestants.


3 Comments:

Blogger Ben Myers said...

This looks like it will be a great series -- I'll be following it with great interest.

5:45 PM, December 07, 2005  
Blogger Jeremiah Kier Cowart said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:34 PM, December 07, 2005  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

A Friend of mine has posted some thoughts about my series on Tradtions - you can go read his comments at: http://unitatisredintegratio.blogspot.com/

7:50 PM, December 07, 2005  

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