Lesson XI—Holy Scripture and Tradition
Q. What do you mean by Holy Scripture?
A. A collection of books which were written by holy men, inspired by the Holy Ghost, and acknowledged by the Catholic Church to be the written Word of God.
Q. How is Holy Scripture divided?
A. Into the books of the Old and the New Testament; or, of the Old and the New Law.
Q. What are we told in the books of the Old Testament?
A. In the books of the Old Testament we are told those truths which God made known before the coming of Christ.
Q. What are we told in the books of the New Testament?
A. Some of the truths which God made known through Jesus Christ and His Apostles.
Q. Is it easy for everyone to understand the Holy Scripture?
A. There is nothing more difficult than to understand the true meaning of every passage of the Scripture.
Q. How do we know this?
A. From Holy Scripture itself, which says that “there are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest to their own destruction.” 2 Peter iii. 16.
Q. May not everyone explain the Bible in his own private manner?
A. “No prophecy of the Scripture,” says St. Peter, “is made by private interpretation.” 2 Peter i. 20.
Q. To whom belongs the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures?
A. To the Catholic Church alone.
A. “Because the Apostles carefully entrusted the Scriptures to their successors; and to whom the Scriptures were entrusted, to them also was committed the interpretation of Scripture.” St. Irenaeus.
Q. How does the Church make known the meaning of any passage of Scripture?
A. She makes it known either directly by a solemn definition, or by the universal consent of the Church dispersed throughout the world; and she makes it known indirectly when she tells us that we are to interpret Scripture in such a way that our interpretation shall be in harmony with her teaching upon all other points of Christian doctrine.
Q. Have any great evils followed from the unrestricted private interpretation of the Bible?
A. Yes; numberless heresies and impieties.
Q. What have the chief pastors of the Church done to guard the faithful against corrupted Bibles, and against erroneous interpretations of the Bible?
A. They have decreed—1. That, with regard to reading the Bible in the vernacular, we should have the learning and piety requisite for it. 2. That the translation should be approved by the Holy See, or accompanied with explanations by a Bishop.
Q. Why did you say that in the New Testament we are told some of the truths, and not all the truths which God made known through Jesus Christ and the Apostles?
A. Because all the truths preached by Jesus Christ and the Apostles are not recorded in the Bible.
Q. How do we know this?
A. From the Bible itself, which says: “Many other signs also did Jesus in the sight of His disciples, which are not written in this book.” John xx. 30.
Q. Why did the Apostles not write down all that Jesus had taught?
A. Because Jesus Christ had not commanded them to write, but to preach His doctrine. “Go ye into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” Mark xvi.15.
Q. What is the unwritten doctrine of Jesus Christ and the Apostles called?
Q. How did the unwritten doctrine of Jesus Christ come down to us?
A. The Apostles took great care to instruct their disciples thoroughly, and make them capable of so instructing others. Thus their pure doctrine was delivered to the first Bishops and priests of the Roman Catholic Church. By these, it was in like manner handed down to their successors; and so on, unimpaired, to those who, at the present time, teach in the Catholic Church.
Q. How do we know this?
A. We know it from what St. Paul writes in his Second Epistle to the Bishop Timothy (chap. 11.2), and from the early Fathers of the Church.
Q. What does St. Paul write?
A. “And the things which thou hast heard of me by many witnesses, the same commend to faithful men, who shall be fit to teach others also.”
Q. Which of the early Fathers of the Church writes, when speaking of the ninety-first heresy: “All things are not found in the Holy Scripture, for the Apostles have taught us some by tradition, some by writing”?
A. St. Epiphanius.
Q. Who is it that writes: “Of the many truths of faith held by the Church, some have been received from the inspired writings, others from tradition; both sources are equally pure and certain”?
A. St. Basil, in his treatise on the Holy Ghost. Chap. xxvii.
Q. Is that which was taught by Jesus Christ and His Apostles, but which is not written, less true than that which is written?
A. The one is just as true as the other.
A. Because the Apostles taught the true doctrine of Jesus Christ not less by their preaching, than by their writings, and the Holy Ghost expressed His will, as well by their tongues as by their pens.
Q. What follows from this?
A. That we must believe the unwritten Word of God as firmly as the written.
Q. Who assures us most emphatically of this?
A. St. Paul, in these words: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our Epistle.” 2 Thess. 11. 14.
Q. Was this also the belief of the Fathers of the Church?
A. It was; for St. John Chrysostom writes, in his 4th homily on the Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Thessalonians: “Therefore it is evident that the Apostles taught many things without writing, which we must believe as firmly as those which are written.”
Q. Name some of those truths of which the Bible does not speak, but which we believe from tradition?
A. We know only from tradition—1. That little children are to be baptized.
2. That we must keep holy the Sunday instead of the Saturday.
3. We know only from tradition those books which are divine, and contain the written word of God.
Q. But was it not possible that those truths which were taught by the Apostles, but were not written, might easily be corrupted, or forgotten altogether, because not recorded in Holy Scripture?
A. No; because God himself took care that what He had taught should not be forgotten, but be handed down to us uncorrupted.
Q. Was there any written Word of God for two thousand years, from Adam down to Moses?
A. There was not.
Q. How then did all that God spoke to Adam, Noah, etc., come down uncorrupted to Moses, who was the first to write down the Word of God?
A. By tradition; that is, God took care that the Patriarchs, His faithful servants, should hand down by word of mouth His doctrine uncorrupted from generation to generation.
Q. Could not, and did not God do the same from the time of the Apostles down to us?
A. He could, and did, by means of the faithful pastors of His Church.
Q. How did the pastors of His Church hand down to us the unwritten doctrine of the Apostles?
A. Partly by word of mouth and partly by their writings, in which they explain the doctrine of the Apostles, written and unwritten.
Q. What do we understand from this?
A. That, for example, the faith of the Catholic Church in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament would have been at all times precisely what it is, had it pleased God that the passages in Holy Scripture, relating to it, had never been written; and so with all the rest of the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Q. Are the doctrines of the Catholic Church then entirely independent of Scripture?
A. They are; because she taught her doctrines, and they were believed by the early Christians before the New Testament was written—centuries, indeed, before the Bible was collected into its present form; and she would have done so, in precisely the same manner, had they never been written.
Q. What, then, do we mean when we say: “I believe the Holy Catholic Church”?
A. We mean that we firmly believe in the fact that Jesus Christ has established a visible church, endless in her duration, and infallible in her doctrine, which we must believe and obey without reserve, if we would obtain eternal salvation; and that this Church is no other than the Roman Catholic Church.
Q. How do people come to lose this faith?
A. 1. By want of instruction.
2. By neglect of prayer and other religious duties.
3. By worldliness and a wicked life.
4. By reading bad books.
5. By intercourse with scoffers at religion.
6. By mixed marriages.
7. By becoming members of secret societies.
8. By pride and subtle reasoning on the mysteries of our religion.
9. By want of submission to the Church.
10. By godless education.