Sunday, June 1, 2008

For Praisethelord

Praisethelord wrote:

Please define the difference between "Tradition" and "tradition" when you get a chance. Where would the Immaculate Conception of Mary, Perpetual Virginity of Mary, Assumption of Mary, and Co-Mediator teachings fall? Thank you!

Welcome to the blog, Praisethelord!

The Catholic Church does differentiate between "Tradition" and "tradition."

Tradition with a capitol 'T' refers to defined doctrines regarding faith and morals, which cannot be changed. It is made up of both Holy Scripture, and oral or written traditions which have been passed down through the centuries. For example, which books are in the Bible canon are Tradition, as they are not listed in the Bible. The vast majority of Tradition is composed of doctrines which almost all of Christianity agrees upon. For example, the Incarnation or the nature of the Trinity.

Usually, the Catholic Church only formally defines doctrines which they begin to be questioned. For example, the earliest doctrines were regarding the nature of the Trinity, because very early in Christianity, people questioned whether Jesus was equal to God, whether He had the same Divine nature.

Hence, the Nicene Creed, which states that Jesus was:

God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.

That is Tradition, which is now formally defined.

Similarly, various Marian doctrines were not formally defined until after the Reformation, because they were accepted until then. Martin Luther believed both in Mary's Perpetual Virginity, and in her Immaculate Conception.

I think most non-Catholics think of Marian doctrines as add-ons from the Middle Ages, but really, most date from the earliest times, 100-300 years A.D. Catholic Answers has quotations from the Early Church Fathers on the titles Ever Virgin, Full of Grace, and Mother of God.

The Immaculate Conception, Perpetual Virginity of Mary, and her Assumption have been formally defined, and thus would fall under Tradition. Mary has not been formally defined as "Co-Mediatrix," but I believe this would probably still fall under Tradition, as it is also a very ancient view, and so the Church would be extremely unlikely to say that she is not "Co-Mediatrix."

There is a movement within the Catholic Church to formally define this title, but personally, I think it better to leave it undefined because it is so often misunderstood. I'm going to cut-and-paste from a previous post, here.

The Catholic Catechism, paragraph #1544 states: Everything that the priesthood of the Old Covenant prefigured finds its fulfillment in Christ Jesus, the "one mediator between God and men." The Christian tradition considers Melchizedek, "priest of God Most High," as a prefiguration of the priesthood of Christ, the unique "high priest after the order of Melchizedek"; "holy, blameless, unstained," "by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified," that is, by the unique sacrifice of the cross.

Considering Mary as mediatrix does not negate Jesus as the One Mediator. This is a difference in understanding what is meant by mediatrix. When Catholics refer to Mary as Mediatrix, we saying that God entered the world through her. Jesus was physically born by a woman, and that woman was Mary. Because she cooperated with God, by saying yes to him, Jesus was able to enter the world.

Does this mean our salvation depends on her? No. But because she cooperated with God, God worked through her (mediated), and so she has been known from the earliest time of Christianity as Theotokos, or God-Bearer.

Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong gives a great answer to this question on his website:

7) So, just as we are allowed the unfathomable privilege of participating in our own redemption, likewise God willed that the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, the Immaculate one, the perpetual Virgin, the Second Eve, would play a part in the Redemption of all, by consenting to the Sacrifice on the Cross of her Son, who was God in the flesh. She doesn't (solely and sufficiently) cause the Redemption any more than we (solely and sufficiently) cause our own redemption. Her role is to freely assent and to bear the suffering in her immaculate heart that Jesus bore in His Sacred Heart (hence those two devotions in Catholic theology).

8) "Co" in Latin does not mean "equal"; it merely means "with" or "alongside." We see this even in English. If you have a "co-pay" with regard to health insurance, that doesn't mean that you always pay equally with your insurance provider (I sure hope not!). "Co-Pilot" sometimes means "equal" but usually not. Etc. But because the term Co-Redemptrix is so misunderstood, it has fallen out of use in the last 50 years or so. But nevertheless, Pope John Paul II has used it at least five times, as Dr. Miravelle notes.

9) This was God's marvelous plan - to involve a creature and a woman at every step of the way, so as to achieve a certain "balance" - if I may properly speak in such a way. Eve brought down the human race, acting with Adam; Mary helped to raise it, acting in concert with Jesus Christ, her Son, the second Adam (as Paul describes Him). If Satan could cause the fall of the human race through the frailty of Woman and Man, why is it not plausible that God could in turn bring about the Redemption of the human race in part through the Immaculate Mary, the Second Eve, the Theotokos? To me it all makes eminent sense. It is contrary neither to Scripture nor to common sense and reason.
Tradition with a small 't' are things which are customary in the Church, but can be changed. For example, requiring celibacy for priests is a tradition, while reserving ordination for men is a Tradition. Other traditions include fasting regulations, what sort of sacred vessels can be used for Mass, whether to sprinkle or dunk for Baptism.

For a really good explanation of Tradition, I suggest reading an article by Mark Shea, who is a convert to Catholicism. Here are a few excerpts.

This pattern of seeing Scripture in light of Sacred Tradition is absolutely crucial to understand, because failure to grasp it accounts for an enormous amount of misunderstanding. Evangelicals who have received (usually without realizing it) a pair of contact lenses colored by the Tradition of the Closure of Public Revelation can "see" that Tradition implied in Paul's commands to Timothy. Yet we do not derive the doctrine from Scripture. Rather, we see it reflected there. But since Evangelicals have not received the contact lenses with the Tradition of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, they are unable to see it reflect there. Instead, they imagine that doctrine is arrived at by Catholics sitting down with a Bible and saying, "Let's see. What is the most tortured and extreme reading I can get out of Matthew 1:25 today? Hey! Let's say Mary remained a virgin perpetually!"

In reality, however, Catholics see the Perpetual Virginity of Mary reflected in Scripture in just the same way the Council of Jerusalem saw the Circumcision Exemption reflected in Amos and Evangelicals see the Closure of Public Revelation reflected in Paul's command to Timothy. The Church does not sit down and derive the dogma from the tortured reading of a few isolated texts of Scripture. Rather, it places the Scripture in the context of the Tradition handed down by the apostles and the interpretive office of the bishops they appointed.

In this context, we discover not explicit, but implicit testimony to the doctrine, while those verses which appear to speak of Jesus' siblings or Mary's relations with Joseph after the birth of Christ can easily be understood in a way compatible with her perpetual virginity. We find, for instance, that mention of Jesus "brothers" can mean "cousins" in the first century Jewish milieu. We find that Matthew 1:25 need not necessarily imply anything about Mary's subsequent sexual relations with Joseph any more than "Michal had no children till the day of her death" implies that Michal had children after her death. We also find Mary-a woman betrothed-is astonished at Gabriel's proclamation that "You will bear a son." This is an odd thing for a betrothed woman to be astonished about. After all, a betrothed woman could expect and hope to bear many sons... unless she had already decided to remain a virgin even after marriage. Then she would be astonished at the prophecy.

We find also the New Testament subtly but clearly identifies Mary with the Ark of the Covenant, wherein dwelt the Presence of God. Luke 1:35 speaks of the power of the Most High "overshadowing" Mary just as the Shekinah glory overshadowed the Ark (Numbers 9:15). John does the same thing in Revelation, juxtaposing the Ark (Rev 11:19) with an image of a woman clothed with the sun who gives birth to a "male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter." (Rev. 12:5). The connection between Mary and the Ark, once it is made by with the help of Sacred Tradition, is hard not to see. Knowing the identity of Mary's "male child" it would be an easy mental connection for any pious Jew to immediately think of her as a kind of Second Ark.

Well, one such pious Jew was a certain Joseph of Nazareth who, after his dream (Mt 1:23) did know the identity of Mary's "male child." He also knew, as a Jew steeped in the Old Testament, what happens to people who touch the Ark without authorization (2 Sm 6:6-8). So it becomes very psychologically probable that Joseph, knowing what he knew, also would have chosen celibacy in this rather unusual situation. And so, in short, the Sacred Tradition of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, like Sacred Tradition of the Closure of Public Revelation, turns out to illuminate Scripture in an unexpected and yet satisfying way. Which is why the Church of the sixth century knows and defines (at the Second Council of Constantinople), that Mary is Ever-Virgin even though it is not written explicitly in the New Testament any more than the words "After the apostles die, there will be no new revelation." For the Second Council of Constantinople, knowing what the Council of Jerusalem knew, acts like the Council of Jerusalem did: operating in light of the apostolic Tradition that Mary was Ever-Virgin, the Church reads Scripture accordingly and sees its Tradition reflected there.

You can read my defense of Sacred Tradition here.

I hope this helped answer your questions, and let me know if you have any more.

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ann nonymous said...


Thanks for that post! That was one of the very best explanations I've ever read on the subject. Excellent job!

Anonymous said...

This is probably the only time I've truly grasped the difference; awesome job, Kelly. Thank you.

PraisetheLord said...


Thanks for the post. I'm working my way through it - wow! what a lot of information. I appreciate you taking the time to explain it and all the links. The more I read about Catholicism, the more I'm pushed to research writings of the early church. Thanks again Kelly.

motherofmany said...

I've been gone, so I did not get to answer in the original thread.

If the traditions set forth by councils are binding, and those who do not agree are anathema (though I hate to write that word after the previous debacle), how is that tradition different from a doctrine?

Changing the requirements for salvation, whether you capitalize it or not, is by the very definition of the word changing doctrines.

Kelly said...

Amy, I'm not positive I understand your question, so let me know if my answer isn't what you are looking for, okay?

Councils deal with many different issues, some of which are doctrinal in nature, thus Tradition, and some are more matters of liturgy or discipline, thus tradition.

A very well known example would be the Tridentine Mass (usually known as the Latin Mass) which was set forth in the Council of Trent, and followed by something like "Thus we set the Mass to be this in perpetuity." Some Catholics today feel that the second Vatican Council did not have the authority to change the Mass that was set by the council of Trent.

Anyway, there are phrases which are customary to use at councils, and they do not necessarily mean that something is binding forever, but as long as that council is in force.

Similarly, an anathema is a penalty of church law. A church law is a tradition, and can be changed. Hence, anathemas not being used any longer. As I wrote in the article, even though Trent wrote "let them be anathema" even at the time, in order to be anathema, the person would have to go through a formal procedure, so just having it written in the Council didn't automatically anathemize (?) all those who did not agree with that theological position.

motherofmany said...

Councils deal with many different issues, some of which are doctrinal in nature, thus Tradition, and some are more matters of liturgy or discipline, thus tradition.

How do you know which are capital and which are lower case?

Anyway, there are phrases which are customary to use at councils, and they do not necessarily mean that something is binding forever, but as long as that council is in force.

But there again I do not undersdtand how traditions based on scripture can be changed. That is what a doctrine is- a practice based on scripture. If something is not binding forever, then the salvation of one Catholic is different from the salvation of another Catholic under a different council.

Tanya said...


As far as I know, Traditions based on Scripture are not changed. Tradition never conflicts with Scripture. Doctrine does not change. Practices may change.

Here is one example. It used to be a practice that eating meat on Friday was a mortal sin. There was never anything instrinsically wrong with eating meat on Friday; however it was and is and always will be wrong to disobey church authority. It is no longer a mortal sin to eat meat on Friday, but it will always be a sin to disobey the church.

As Catholics, disobeying Church authority is the same as disobeying Christ Himself. We believe Jesus established His Church to guide us in faith and morals and we are to obey. The Church teaches us to observe Fridays as a day of penance, a day to remember the sacrifice of Christ in a special way, as a way to help us grow in our Christian walk. Denying ourselves meat on Fridays used to be a way to help Catholics observe this.

motherofmany said...

But I don't understand how you can be required to follow rules that change if God does not change.

Here is the definition of doctrine I found:

"Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary - Doctrine

Pre"cent\, n. [L. praeceptum, from praecipere to take beforehand, to instruct, teach; prae before + capere to take: cf. F. pr['e]cepte. See Pre-, and Capacious.]

1. Any commandment, instruction, or order intended as an authoritative rule of action; esp., a command respecting moral conduct; an injunction; a rule.

For precept must be upon precept. --Isa. xxviii. 10."

So where is the difference in the traditions and a doctrine? And if they are changeable based on the governing body incharge at the time, that makes them the traditions of men, right? If traditions are based on scripture they cannot change. If they must be based on Tradition to allow the church to change them, then they aren't really derived from scripture. The scriptures haven't changed, God does not change, so why do the doctrines change?

Kelly said...

Amy, we have discussed before that there are similar traditions in non-Catholic churches. For example, how often the Lord's Supper is celebrated. Some churches celebrate weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly. Do you use those little plastic pre-filled cups, or do the ladies bake the bread themselves?

Some have a foot-washing ceremony, and many do not. How does the church deal with discipline of members? I hear Doug Philips of the Vision Forum excommunicates people at his church, as do the Amish.

Many churches in my area meet twice a day on Sunday, plus a Wednesday service, and non of the members would dream of missing one of these for less than serious reasons, because they feel it is their obligation to "forsake not the fellowship."

Some churches require their ministers to receive a Masters degree in Divinity. Our priests have a requirement of celibacy (in most cases) in addition to educational requirements.

I fail to see how these examples are any different from the Catholic church changing their traditions at times. These matters are often not explicitly mentioned in Scripture, and if a person is a member of a church body, then that person feels in practice, if not in theory, that the church has the authority to decide and change these matters.

motherofmany said...

I cannot speak for all non-Catholic churches, but as to my own experience, I have never been a part of a church that would excommunicate a person for breaking of a tradition. The only things people have been brought before the church for were clearly stated in scripture (adultery, fornication, theft, etc.) and while there are different ways of determining practices, such a communion, type of building, etc., these are never held as required beliefs that could get someone removed from the church.

The Amish are very much like the Catholic church in many ways. I wrote about that once. I disagree with Amish doctrine and practice and would therefor never become a member of an Amish community.

And I know some non-catholic churches do use their own determinations to create doctrine- they are at fault in this. I know it is easy to forget, but just because I am not catholic does not mean I agree with protestants, either. I have stated several times there are problems in every church. Without exception.

But the original question was about the changing of binding teachings in a church and how that lines up with a God who says he does not change. You and I had discussed this before- if the early catholics had all they needed for salvation, how can God possibly require something new or different today and still call it the same church?

NancyP said...


While I don't want to bring up something that will be bizarrely controversial, I think the Catholic Church's position on Galileo's discoveries is a good example of how some things have to change over time.

When Galileo was alive, his discoveries astonished and shocked many people, and the Church ordered him to recant some of his theories. Reluctantly, as a good Catholic, he did so and spent the final years of his life under house arrest.

Of course, scientists of his day and later times knew Galileo had a good theory going. Many, many (too many) centuries later, the Catholic Church not only apologized but has also come out with some pretty definitive statements about the relationship between science and faith. The Vatican even has its own observatory.

Some things (divinity of Jesus, salvation by His sacrifice on the cross) can never change. Others can.

Kelly said...

Nancy, I believe the problem with Galileo wasn't this theories, it is that he insisted on presenting his theories as fact, despite repeated request to couch them as theories. Telescopes wouldn't improve enough for around 150 years to prove his theories, so it was a reasonable request. Certainly, heliocentrism was a popular theory among astronomers at the time.

That's what my astronomy professor at a state university told me, but I believe you can find a similar article on Catholic Answers. ;)

NancyP said...

Kelly, you are right...I wasn't so much concerned with Galileo's actions as much as the Church's eventual change. It sometimes takes a lot of time and thought, but tradition can change. Tradition with a capital T cannot.

I think it's also worth noting that Galileo remained a faithful Catholic, in spite of his trials and tribulations. I'm sure (knowing one certain priest the way I do) that it is very, very hard to submit to the Church on occasion, particularly when you are a convicted individual.

I, personally, am happy to be Catholic, and one of the reasons for this is that the Catholic Church doesn't see a conflict between scientific discovery and faith. We know what our church teaches, and we can rejoice in each new scientific discovery, too!

Kelly said...

Nancy wrote: I'm sure (knowing one certain priest the way I do) that it is very, very hard to submit to the Church on occasion, particularly when you are a convicted individual.

I hear you there! Just other day, my parish priest was telling me that I just wouldn't understand a certain theological issue because it was too complicated, and he just didn't have time to explain it to (poor, little 'ol) me. ;)

Wasn't it St. Augustine who said that the Church isn't a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners?

Kelly said...

But the original question was about the changing of binding teachings in a church and how that lines up with a God who says he does not change. You and I had discussed this before- if the early catholics had all they needed for salvation, how can God possibly require something new or different today and still call it the same church?

But I could as easily turn the question around on you, because you have described an early Church that is in so many ways, the exception to the rule. The New Testament describes apostles with the authority to bind and loose from sins, to decide if circumcision is required, and then pass that decision on to all other churches.

Oral tradition is mentioned as something to be obeyed, but you say, not beyond the first generation to any of these things, despite the apostles choosing a successor to Judas in Acts. Acts 19:11-12 even describes the use of relics in the early church, though that isn't really a binding doctrine, but a "tradition of man".

Why would an unchanging God create a church for one generation, and then completely change it?

motherofmany said...

What I said was the oral tradition and the written tradition were one in the same. Authority was given to the apostles to give new scripture, and also to perform miraculous signs becuse the OT says to test a prophet's varacity by the signs he can do. Casting lots for a new apostle also followed the OT rule that God determines the outcome. But none of them claimed to be doing or saying any of it by their own power. They were each under the direct authority of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Just as prophets in the OT, they were specifically called. While they could heal and teach and even chose assistants, they could not pass on those miraculous deeds unless commanded. You can disciple anyone you like, but you cannot pass onthe specific calling you have received from the Holy Spirit.

But I don't see how the apostles being able to do these things makes a case for an evolving doctrine any more than things changed when a prophet was revealed in the OT. Daniel, for instance, was given a great many revelations, but he did not have the power to pass the prophetic ability to anyone else. The same with Jeremiah, Isaiah, etc.

I don't know why the power to heal proves apostolic succession, either. The cohen in the OT had the power to heal as well, but each new generation of cohen had to be chosen by God from among the Levite candidates, not by the current group. There was a difference between those who were disciples and elders, and those who were prophets and apostles.

Kelly said...

Yes, but then what do the Christians depend on for receiving the Gospel when the apostles have died away, and there is another 200 years before the New Testament is compiled in the form in which it exists today?

We keep going around and around with this, but in the end, we each see our own theology reflected in Scripture. I don't think I'll ever be able to satisfactorily explain the Catholic position to you, because you don't agree with it, and won't see it grounded in Scripture.

Tanya said...

We keep going around and around with this, but in the end, we each see our own theology reflected in Scripture. I don't think I'll ever be able to satisfactorily explain the Catholic position to you, because you don't agree with it, and won't see it grounded in Scripture.

I just wanted to say, I've been reading this exchange and I think there are some things about which we may have agree to disagree. What I appreciate about Amy is that she is not arguing or debating some strawman, misconception, or fallacy about the Catholic church, but seems to be really trying to understand our position. Thanks, Amy.

Kelly said...

Oh, I certainly apologize if I seemed short with Amy! I talk with her so much here, and at her blog, and sometimes even e-mail, that I'm probably much more lax about checking what I write to make sure it doesn't leave the wrong impression.

I think it's great that Amy has gone from "Why do you worship Mary" type questions to these more advanced level ones. I'm sure she knows what I'm going to write half the time. Actually, she tends to quote my favorite scriptures on her blog, before I can bring them up in comments. ;)

Tanya said...

Kelly, I didn't think you sounded short with Amy. :) I just wanted to let her know I appreciated the way she was debating - it's refreshing after seeing so many non-Catholics arguing over issues that don't even exist! It can also be a relief to agree to disagree. When I was going through my conversion, my dad was constantly throwing things up in my face about the Catholic church that were untrue. I was able to show him that the Catholic church in his mind did not exist, and then we were able to have some real discussions, in the end coming to the agreement that we would just never agree on some issues. Just knowing that he at least understand the true position makes a lot of diffence!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that article, it is useful to read about the difference between Tradition and tradition. I guess an important thing is understanding what is meant when particular words are used as they do not mean the same to each group. (Such as that when you talk about Mary as a mediatrix what you mean is that she brought Christ into the world rather than that she paid for our sins to make us right from God.)

Kelly said...

saved sinner,

I would agree that a lot of differences come in how we define our terms. I think a lot of times it seems as if the Catholics are playing at semantics, but many of our theological terms date back to many centuries ago, and language really does change.

To give one example, we have a celibate priesthood. Celibate means "unmarried" in Catholicism but within the past few decades, the common meaning has changed to "refraining from s*xual activity."