Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I love Tradition!  I like tradition a lot, too, but I LOVE Tradition. (Excuse me while I go doodle "I <3 Tradition" all over my computer screen.)  Man, I really hate when my extreme nerdiness comes blazing through the screen like this.  Seriously!  Who gets that excited about Tradition?  And the sad part is, I mean it!  I only wish I were exaggerating.

The problem is, I don't know how to explain why I'm so excited about it.  I've tried several times, and I keep deleting it.  So far everything I've come up with is so boring, you'd rather poke your eyeballs with a stick than read it.  Trust me on this; I read the drafts. Besides, the stick would take a lot less time.  Did you really want to read a 47-page blog post today? 

It's killing me that I can't write an interesting post, because Tradition is really amazing.  Of the 78, 934 reasons that I love the Catholic Church, Tradition is in the top 5.  I want to tell you all about it.

I'm going to try again. One more time.

I didn't used to love Tradition.  As a Catholic, I accepted it as a fact of life: 

"Why do we believe that?" 
"Because the Church says." 
"Oh.  Okay."  Good enough for me.

Tradition was just something that was there.  I didn't love it, didn't hate it, didn't really think about it one way or another. I suppose it would be somewhat accurate to say that I vaguely thought that Tradition was the accumulation of the stuff that centuries of councils of the Church had come up with, but it's hard to say for sure, because I didn't really think about it.

Then I began to understand what it really is.  I began to see what is called the "deposit of faith".

"Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life.  For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers.  On this account we are bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the things pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of truth.  For how stands the case?  Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question?" - Irenaeus (said to have been taught by Polycarp, who was taught by John the Apostle. This quote from Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 4)

Tradition, the kind that we refer to as apostolic Tradition, divine Tradition, sacred Tradition, is that which is handed down to the Apostles by Christ Himself.  The Apostles have handed it on to their successors and the rest of the Church.  This is the Tradition that I refer to with a capital "T" to distinguish it from traditions that are handed down by men. (Btw, I think that traditions that men hand down are often good as well, but only so long as they don't nullify the Word of God.)

I think when I really began to love Tradition is when I began to study the Church teachings in a little more depth.  First, all I knew was that the Church said so.  Then I began to learn more about the scriptural basis for the Church's teachings, and then I began to learn more about the writings of the early Church.  I think that especially as I began to read some of the writings of the early Church fathers, I got really excited about Tradition.  That is when I could recognize the same Church, the same beliefs that I held and had been taught, were the same things they were teaching.  There was unity of belief through all of these things, the Scripture, the early Church fathers, the councils of the Church. That unity of belief throughout time is extremely exciting to me.
Tradition tells us which books belong in the Bible, for example.  There were some councils of the Church that formally defined this near the year 400 AD.  Notice that they didn't come together and make something up, but rather recognized and formally defined the truth of which books belonged and which didn't.  They did this by looking at what the Church had always believed.  However, it was necessary to have a formal and definitive statement, because there were some books that are in the New Testament that some didn't think should be there, and a few that people sometimes included that did not belong.  That's what the councils do when there is confusion.  They look at what the Church has always believed and make a formal and definitive statement of that to clear up the confusion.  They don't make up new stuff for us unsuspecting lay people to have to blindly follow.

I once had a friend remark longingly that he wanted a church where everything was based on the Scripture and the Church fathers' understanding of Scripture.  I thought, "That's what I have!"  If you've ever read any Church document, you will find it riddled with Scripture and quotes from the Church fathers to explain why it is that we believe it.

One last quote from Irenaeus for the road (this one from Book 4, chapter 33):

"True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the Apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved, without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the Word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God]."


  1. ROCK ON!! I did not have the privilege of growing up Catholic and the answer to why do we do that was never very clear. My ethnic background is pure WASP (read boring) So when I did find the Catholic Church in High School I fell head over heels in LOVE with Tradition, and all the beautiful traditions that have grown up around it! Yours is one of the best explainations I have seen to date!
    cant wait to see what you come up with next!!

  2. Thanks so much for stopping by! I'm really glad to hear someone else say that they love Tradition, because I was kind of feeling like a crazy person there for a moment. It's always nicer to be crazy with other people... Uh, I mean, to realize that we're not so crazy after all!:)

  3. AMEN! to everything you said. I only came to the Catholic Church well into adulthood and one of the things I love is the Tradition. You keep beating me to the blog posts I want to write about, LOL! I love the sense of connection Tradition brings not only to the Church today but to everyone from it's earliest beginnings. It's just another example of the Communion of Saints. As an after thought, I doubt you could write a boring blog if you tried. :)

  4. Rachel, please write about tradition! I would love to hear about what you have to say about it. Also, I thank you for your sweet compliment; next time I should send you the rough draft to show you how boring and technical I can really be!:)

  5. Another adult Catholic here enjoying your post!
    You make reading the early Church Fathers sound so interesting! Do you have any recommendations of where to begin?

  6. Married Couple- Thanks for stopping by! has all of the writings of the Church fathers that can be accessed for free, but they're a little overwhelming to start with. I really like "The Teachings of the Church Fathers" by John Willis. All it is is a bunch of excerpts from the Church fathers that referenced according to different beliefs (Scripture, Tradition, sacraments and so forth). If you have a particular topic you're interested in, it gives you a starting point.