BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (16) – Does the Bible tell us everything we need to know?
– Rev José Mario O Mandía
We have seen previously that God revealed himself fully with the coming of Jesus Christ. We have also seen that Jesus Christ chose successors who could continue his work of transmitting revelation down to the end of time. These successors have handed down through the centuries what is called the Deposit of Revelation. It is called a “deposit,” much like money is deposited in a bank for it to be kept safely and for it to grow.
Jesus Christ entrusted these truths to the Apostles and their successors so that they could preserve and transmit it (thus making it grow). The Apostles and their successors (the bishops) have the obligation of safeguarding and teaching. This responsibility is called the Teaching Office or the Magisterium of the Church. The body of revealed truths handed on to the Church for it to preserve and transmit were handed down in writing (Sacred Scripture) and by word of mouth (Sacred Tradition).
Some people think that the Bible suffices to know Christ and his doctrine. This is the belief on sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”). But the Bible itself does not say that it contains everything, that it should be the only rule of faith. In fact, the last chapter of the last verse of Saint John’s Gospel tells us: “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).
It is helpful to remember that Jesus Christ sent the apostles out to preach, not to write down what they had heard. A good part of our Lord’s teachings were first passed on by word of mouth before they were put down in writing.
St Paul exhorts the Thessalonians not only to follow what has been written, but things which they have heard. Both fall under the heading “Traditions”: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (II Thessalonians 2:15).
The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCCC no 12) thus defines “Tradition” or “Apostolic Tradition” as follows: “Apostolic Tradition is the transmission of the message of Christ, brought about from the very beginnings of Christianity by means of preaching, bearing witness, institutions, worship, and inspired writings. The apostles transmitted all they received from Christ and learned from the Holy Spirit to their successors, the bishops, and through them to all generations until the end of the world.”
The Compendium explains where we can find this Apostolic Tradition. In point no 13, it says: “Apostolic Tradition occurs in two ways: through the living transmission of the word of God (also simply called Tradition) and through Sacred Scripture which is the same proclamation of salvation in written form.”
“Tradition and Sacred Scripture are bound closely together and communicate one with the other. … They flow out of the same divine well-spring and together make up one sacred deposit of faith from which the Church derives her certainty about revelation” (CCCC 14). This wellspring is the teaching of Jesus Christ which he handed down to his apostles and which the Apostles preached in turn to the early Christians.
An important document that explains this extensively is the Second Vatican Council’s Dei Verbum. Google it!