History & Tradition

It is important to note Judaism has, throughout its entire history, had a scripture and tradition existence. Only sola scriptura is the real novelty.  Tradition, capital “T”, in the Catholic lexicon, does not mean “we have ALWAYS done it this way!!”  Some Orthodox and some Catholic fascists may mean it that way, but that is not how mainstream Catholicism means it.  Tradition in mainstream Catholicism means “How has the Holy Spirit guided us throughout the sojourn of His Church, His Bride, on this earth, awaiting His return?”

If Protestantism is true,
Christians have zero need to understand even their own history or tradition.

According to sola scriptura and the principle of private judgment, Protestants believe they can discover saving Christian truth themselves, using only their Bible and the Spirit. This understanding is especially prevalent in Evangelicalism—stemming perhaps from the influence of the Radical Reformers, who were not impressed by Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin and instead took the magisterial Reformers’ ideas to their logical end. As a result, most Evangelicals today know little about history and tradition, including the history of their own beliefs.

Distrust of History and Tradition

One of the events that led to the anti-traditional bent of Evangelicals was the revivalism of the First and Second Great Awakenings in the United States 200 years ago.

Even though Evangelicals owe many of their most important beliefs to John Calvin’s influence, through the revival spirit of anti-traditionalism many denied any connection with him and did not even have a basic understanding of who he was. Fast-forward to today, and the situation is much the same.

One Evangelical friend of mine said to me: “I don’t care what Luther or any other Protestant teaches.”

Why don’t he and other Evangelicals care what Luther or Calvin or anyone else says? Because my friend has the Holy Spirit dwelling within him, and he has his Bible, so he believes from those he can individually come to know divine truth.

Because Catholicism is true,
It’s important to learn from the wisdom of those who have gone before us in faith.

One of my Anglican friends wanted to buy a book by St. Augustine, a Father of the Church who is known as the “Doctor of Grace.” He happened to be close to a popular Christian chain bookstore, so he stopped in and looked around. Not finding the book, he approached the person working at the store to ask where he could find it: “Pardon me, where are your books by Augustine?” The employee looked at him blankly and responded, “Augustine who?”

This little story demonstrates an endemic problem with Evangelical Protestants: They have largely forgotten men and women who came before them in the Christian faith, those giants on whose shoulders (and prayers) they now stand. Christianity didn’t end in the year 100 when the Bible was finished being written and resume again 1,500 years later when the first Baptists founded a new ecclesial community. But going into this Christian store, one is hard pressed to find a book written in the time period between the Bible and the twentieth century.

A dose of humility is the remedy. Just as we do not attempt to re-derive all mathematical and scientific formulas anew in every generation, so we should stand on the shoulders of the saintly theological giants who have gone before us. If nothing else, it stands to reason that the men and women closest in time and proximity to the apostles could give us invaluable insights into their teachings. And, indeed, this is what we see when we read their works.

Even secular wisdom informs us that forgetting history condemns us to repeat it. Many of the heresies today are not new—they are unwittingly recycled from centuries past, often by well-meaning Christians who interpret the Bible apart from Tradition and the historical witness of the Church. The Catholic belief that our Lord has guided His Church into all truth through every century gives us the confidence that we can trust our forefathers in the Faith.

The Protestant’s Dilemma

If Protestantism is true, then Christians in each generation figure out all truth for themselves, with nothing but the Bible as their guide. After all, it is quite possible that the Christians who came before us made errors, even on important doctrines, and that God is raising up new voices today to correct those errors. But how can we know which are teaching truth, and which are reviving old heresies?”

Love & the tradition (long term of wisdom of generations) of living the faith,
Matthew

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