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Vatican II on Tradition

About valid Tradition

Scriptural Tradition Latent Tradition Dynamic Tradition Informed Tradition Valid Tradition

Vatican II on Tradition

Dei Verbum. ‘Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation’ in The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents, ed. by A.FLANNERY, Dominican Publications, Dublin 1975, pp. 753-756.


7. God graciously arranged that the things he had once revealed for the salvation of all peoples should remain in their entirety, throughout the ages, and be transmitted to all generations. Therefore, Christ the Lord, in whom the entire Revelation of the most high God is summed up (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20; 3:16 - , 6) commandqd the apostles to preach the Gospel, which had been promised beforehand by the prophets, and which he fulfilled in his own person and promulgated with his own lips. In preaching the Gospel they were to communicate the gifts of God to all men. This Gospel was to be the source of all saving truth and moral discipline.] This was faithfuUy done:-it was done by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received— whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at dhe prompting of the Holy Spirit; it was done by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under dhe inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing.(2)

In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church dhe apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them “their own position of teaching authority.’’(3) Thus sacred Tradition, then, and the sacred Scripture of both Testaments, are like a mirror, in which the Church, during its pilgrim journey here on earth, contemplates God, from whom she receives everything, until such time as she is brought to see him face to face as he really is (cf. Jn. 3:2).

8. Thus, the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time. Hence the apostles, in handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to maintain the traditions which they had learned either by word of mouth or by letter (cf. 2 Th. 2:15); and they warn them to fight hard for the faith that had been handed on to them once and for all (cf. Jude 3).(4) What was handed on by the apostles comprises everything that serves to make the People of God live their lives in holiness and increase their faith. In this way the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.

The Tradition that comes from the apostles makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit.(5) There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts (cf. Lk. 2:19 and 51). It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth. Thus, as the centuries go by, the Church is always advancing towards the plenitude of divine truth, until eventually the words of God are fulfilled in her.

The sayings of the Holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Chureh, in her belief and her prayer. By means of the same Tradition the full canon of the sacred books is known to the Church and the holy Scriptures themselves are more thoroughly understood and constantly actualized in the Church Thus God, who spoke in the past’ continues to converse with the spouse of his beloved Son. And the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel rings out in the Church—and through her in the world—leads believers to the full truth, and makes the Word of Christ dwell in them in all its richness (cf. Col. 3:16).

9. Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal. Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. lt transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching. Thus it comes about that the Church does not draw her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Hence, both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal feelings of devotion and reverence.(6)

10. Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture make up a sinile sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church. By adhering to it the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remains always faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (cf. Acts 2:42 Greek). So, in maintaining, practicing and professing the faith that has been handed on there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful.(7)

But the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition,(8) has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone.(9) Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.

It is clear, therefore, that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.


1. Cf. Mt. 28:19-20 and Mk. 16:15. Council of Trent, Session IV Decree On the Canonical Scriptures: Denz. 783 (1501)

2. Cf. Council of Trent, loc. cit.; First Vatican Council, Session IIl, Dogm. Const on t*c Catholic Paith, c. 2 (on Revelation): Denz. 1787 (3006).

3. St. Irenaeus, Adv. Hacr., m, 3, 1: PG 7, 848; Elanrey, 2, p. 9.

4. Cf. Council of Nicea II: Denz. 303 (602). Council of Constantinople IV, Session X, can. 1: Denz. 336 (650-652).

5. Cf. First Vatican Council, Dogm. Const. on the Catholic Faith, c. 4 (on Faith and Reason): Denz. 1800 (3020).

6. Cf. Council of Trent, Session IV, loc. cit.: Denz. 783 (1501).

7. Cf. Pius XII, Apost. Const. Muntficentissimus Deus, I Nov. 1950: AAS 42 (1950) 756, takon along with the words of St. Cyprian, Epist. 66, 8, Hartel, III, B, p. 733: ‘4The Church is the people united to its Priests, the flock adhering to its shepherd."

8. Cf. First Vatican Council, Dogm. Const. on the Catholic Faith, c. 3 (on Faith): Denz. 1972 (3011).

9. Cf. Pius Xll, Encycl. Humani Generis, 12 Aug. 1950: AAS 42 (1950) 568-569. Denz. 2314 (3886).

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