Principled differentiation

How can one have a principled way of differentiating between Divine Revelation and theological opinion without engaging Tradition?

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Or, more polemically stated: How can one claim that the bible (or any document for that matter) is self interpreting, when there is so much disagreement about what it’s contents mean? Are we even supposed to be able to know what it means? Surely, right? So how are we to reconcile disparaging views? Just read, pray, and decide for ourselves?

No. This isn’t a recipe for unity. And, that may not even be how the text tells us we are to find out what it means.

I have been thinking and reading about this for a few weeks now, how we can come to know something from the bible, and I keep on coming back to the absolute necessity of engaging tradition. (Everyone has one. Not everyone is aware of it, or claims to engage one. A mere canon of books in a bible is proof of a tradition.)

One person suggested that its common sense. Something along the lines of “Either you have it or you don’t.” As if, clearly, when you just read it everything makes sense. And whatever doesn’t likely doesn’t matter all that much. But that wasn’t satisfying either.

I’m all for common sense readings. Common sense also tells me though, that it’s difficult to decide and agree upon on what the “common sense” reading of a text may be. So common sense tells me we need more than just common sense. Make no bones about it, I am not pro-tradition. I am way more than that. I am currently incapable conceiving of a way to reading this text, or any text, without one.

So help me out here: explain the logic behind how one can read scripture and claim to understand or to know something from the bible without tradition. Not “give me reasons why tradition is bad”, but positively show me how you can operate without it at all. Because I can’t find any myself. Even if you don’t hold that position, give it a shot.

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One thought on “Principled differentiation

  1. Great point. I think it’s most problematic when you talk about living like the early Christians, those who were followers of Jesus and the earliest fathers of the Church, and simultaneously claim to derive everything you know of God and how we are meant to worship Him from the Bible. The Bible as we know it was not in existence until at least 60 years after the death of Christ in most scholars’ opinions. Does that mean that for 60 years people were meant not to worship God? Does that mean that no new Christians could be added to the Church until they had a Bible with which to inform their views of who this Jesus guy was? Of course not! But if they didn’t have the Bible, they had to rely on something else to guide their conversions–their worship and understanding. They had to rely on tradition. Namely, they turned to those Christians who had been disciples of Christ while He was alive, especially the Apostles, and trusted that they knew the true Jesus and that they knew how to pray the way they were meant to. Ironically, it seems that Catholics are the ones most concerned with becoming like the earliest Christian converts. Even to this day, there are so many holes in the text. The Scriptures give us a strong sense of who Jesus was, absolutely. It’s also important to draw spiritual insight from your own relationship with the Lord. But if we believe in objective truth–absolute right or wrong–we can’t be left to come to our own conclusions on morality, for instance. In the Gospels, Jesus never spells out how it is we are to use alcohol, for example. He never tells us how to use “the pill.” Christians, when left to their own devices, come to a myriad of different understandings of both these quandaries. If there is an objective truth, however, some of these Christians are wrong. That’s where the Church comes in. That’s where we rely on the Holy Spirit working through this body to teach us how to think about the ever-evolving world we live in through the eyes of Christ. That’s where we rely on Sacred Tradition. Not to mention the fact that Jesus Himself establishes His Church on Peter, the Rock. We see Peter exercise this leadership at Pentecost, so you can’t say the early Christians (remember: those who knew Christ) didn’t think they needed an authoritative figure after Christ ascended to the Father. Even in running to the empty tomb, John submitted himself to the seniority of Peter by allowing him to enter first. The early Christians had a deep regard for this special leadership that Christ bestowed on Peter. If you take issue with that, you’re objecting to the decision of God, are you not? If Jesus didn’t think this sort of figure were necessary, He wouldn’t have given Peter (or any of the Apostles) this role in the first place. But He did, and it is this role that has been extended throughout the ages to answer the questions posed by Culture and unify Christians as One Body in One Spirit.

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