All religious faiths and denominations have principles that believers follow. The Catholic Church’s Catechism of the Catholic Church is the organized presentation of its teachings regarding faith and morals. The catechism follows a detailed outline with precision beginning with “The Profession of Faith” in Part 1.
Broken down into Sections, Chapters, and Articles, we are led on a journey through what we believe as Catholics. Man has a capacity for God, and God comes to meet man. It’s in this meeting that God reveals His plan of loving goodness and reveals Himself, in stages, to His people. This culminates in the Father giving us His Son, our Mediator and Savior.
How was this Divine Revelation transmitted through the generations from the time of the apostles to today? The answer lies in exploring apostolic tradition, Sacred deposit of the faith, and the Magisterium. What is the Sacred deposit of the faith, and why is it important?
The Catholic Church’s Apostolic Tradition is Foundational to the Faith
Jesus came that all might be saved, and he trained his hand-picked apostles to preach the Gospel. “This Gospel was to be the source of all saving truth and moral discipline.” (CCC, 75) The Gospel was handed on orally and in writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
The apostles appointed bishops to be their successors and gave them teaching authority to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time (CCC, 77).
This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition,
since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through
Tradition, ‘the Church, in her doctrine, life, and worship perpetuates and
transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.’
Sacred Tradition is Authoritative in the Catholic Church
The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus Christ left behind all the knowledge that would be needed through public revelation. Jesus gave verbal instructions in the form of teachings to the apostles which were passed down to their successors.
This Tradition, while not recorded in the books of the Bible, was written in the teachings of the early Church Fathers, including Polycarp and his disciple, Ignatius, in the mid-second century.
Sacred Scripture is Authoritative in the Catholic Church – with 73 Books
God tasked the authors of Sacred Scripture with writing down His revelation. It took centuries to compile these books to form a Canon, or authoritative collection of Sacred Scripture.
When the Canon was established and finalized in the late fourth century, Sacred Scripture contained 73 books: 46 in the Old Testament, and 27 in the New Testament.
When Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, he left out seven books in the Old Testament that he thought were not equal in authority to the others. Today Protestant Bibles still have 66 books instead of 73. However the Catholic Church has always maintained that the original 73 books are all authoritative.
Sacred Scripture + Sacred Tradition = the Sacred Deposit of the Faith in the Catholic Church
The apostles entrusted the “Sacred deposit” of the faith (the depositum fidei),
contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church.
“By adhering to [this heritage] the entire holy people, united to its pastors,
remains always faithful to the teachings of the apostles, to the brotherhood,
to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (CCC 84)
The Magisterium of the Catholic Church Interprets the Word of God
Comprised of the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome (the Pope), the Magisterium is the living, teaching office of the Catholic Church. The Magisterium interprets the Word of God in both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.
The Catholic Church is the sole authority for interpreting Scripture. We need to read Scripture in light of the Church’s interpretation and teachings. Personal interpretation leads to a multiplicity of meanings, leading people into error.
The Magisterium is not superior to, or even equal to, the Word of God, but is its servant (CCC 86).
The Sacred Deposit of Faith Is Important Because It’s the Fullness of Truth
Many non-Catholics today base their faith on the Bible alone (“sola scriptura”). This doctrine rejects Sacred Tradition and is problematic since Sacred Scripture actually depends on Sacred Tradition. As discussed above, Jesus transmitted His teachings through the spoken word.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we strive to align our lives to His teachings which result from the unfolding of salvation history. How can we look to the teachings of Jesus Christ if we refer to a Bible that is seven books short? How can we seek God’s Will if we don’t take into consideration what He said and taught by example?
Without Sacred Tradition and all the books of Sacred Scripture, the deposit of the Faith passed down to us is incomplete.
The Station of the Cross: Proclaiming the Fullness of Truth with Clarity and Charity
Perhaps apostolic succession, the Magisterium, and the Sacred Deposit of the Faith are new concepts for you. Fear not! Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in wisdom and knowledge.
Also tune in to The Station of the Cross. You will surely hear more about Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition on many of our radio programs. As you listen, you’ll come to a greater understanding of the fullness of Truth.
We invite you to listen at thestationofthecross.com or download the iCatholicRadio app.