The Inerrancy of Ecclesiastical Tradition
In a very enlightening article, entitled "Operative Points of View", (Christian Order, March 2001) Father Chad Ripperger, F.S.S.P examines divergent points of view regarding extrinsic tradition, which he identifies with ecclesiastical tradition. At the root of the crisis that has gripped the Church since the opening of the Second Vatican Council is, however, precisely this commonly asserted identification of extrinsic tradition and ecclesiastical tradition.
Tradition is a word of Latin origin, traditio, meaning "a handing over"; it translates the Greek, New Testament term paradosis, which means "a teaching among". According to Father Ripperger the distinction between Sacred Tradition and ecclesiastical tradition is that which is had between what is intrinsic to the Deposit of the Faith and extrinsic to it.
Father Ripperger, accordingly defines "ecclesiastical tradition" as:. . .all of those things which are not intrinsic to the Deposit of Faith, but which form the heritage and patrimony of the work of previous generations graciously passed on by the Church to subsequent generations for their benefit. Because it is extrinsic to the Deposit of Faith, ecclesiastical tradition is also called extrinsic tradition, examples of which include the Church's disciplinary code as set out in canon law and non-infallible teachings of the ordinary magisterium. This would include those things contained in Apostolic exhortations and encyclicals in which infallibility is not enjoyed, e.g. Pope Leo XIII in Immortale Dei asserts that the Church is a perfect society.
The Teaching of Nicea II
This definition however is problematical, for it is not entirely coherent with the Fourth Anathema of the Second Council of Nicea, which states:If anyone despises or rejects any written or unwritten ecclesiastical tradition, anathema sit.
What cannot be rejected must therefore be of its very nature the touchstone of Catholicity. Hence what is not-infallible, in the sense of what is genuinely erroneous or discordant with what is true and Catholic, cannot be rightly or properly contained in "ecclesiastical tradition".
That Nicea II speaks of "ecclesiastical tradition" here, and not Sacred Tradition -- for the term in this anathema is sometimes translated as "tradition of the Church" -- can be seen from its decree on the veneration of icons, wherein it approves of this devotion on account of it immemoral acceptance by the Church, even though there was no prior definitive judgement of the Magisterium; the implicit logic being that the Church on account of Her indefectibility cannot endure for long a custom that is erroneous or detrimental. The horos or definition the Council reads:We define (orizomen) with all certainty and care that both the figure of the sacred and lifegiving Cross, as also the venerable and holy images, whether made in colours or mosaic or other materials, are to be placed suitably in the holy churches of God, on sacred vessels and vestments, on walls and pictures, in houses and by roads; that is to say, the images of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, of our immaculate Lady the holy Mother of God, of the honourable angels and all saints and holy men. For as often as they are seen in their pictorial representations, people who look at them are ardently lifted up to the memory and love of the originals and induced to give them respect and worshipful honour (aspasmon kai timetiken proskynesin) but not real adoration (alethinen latreian) which according to our faith is due only to the Divine Nature. So that offerings of incense and lights are to be given to these as to the figure of the sacred and lifegiving Cross, to the holy Gospel-books and other sacred objects in order to do them honour, as was the pious custom of ancient times. For honour paid to an image passes on to its prototype; he who worships (ho proskynon) an image worships the reality of him who is painted in it" (Mansi, XIII, pp. 378-9; Harduin, IV, pp. 453-6).The key phrase I wish to point out is at the end, as was the pious custom of ancient times, since to term Sacred Tradition, which is one of the two pillars of the Deposit of the Faith, as merely a pious custom is not habit of the Church. This is further corroborated by what the Council taught elsewhere where it states its intention in teaching:To summarize, we declare that we defend free from any innovations all the written and unwritten ecclesiastical traditions that have been entrusted to us.From this we can see that Nicea II was also not refering merely to solemn judgments of the Church of the past, but to all that is most properly a part of "ecclesiastical tradition"
For this article, I do not suppose it was Father Ripperger's intention to define "ecclesiastical tradition" in this stricter, most proper sense, since it is well known in catholic theology that the term can be legitimately used in a broader sense, though this is not the sense used by Nicea II.
The Crucial Assertion of the Aggiornomento
The notion of ecclesiastical tradition as containing what could be erroneous, even though it may at first seem insignificant, is as the heart of the Conciliar Crisis in the Catholic Church.
For the Aggiornomentoists, what is required for pastoral efficacy is that the ecclesiastical tradition be revised, purified, updated. As has been shown in "The Neo-Modernist Rupture at the Council and in the New Rites", this error is the logical consequent of the new definition of truth put forward by The New Theology, which is itself the first-born of what Pope St. Pius X called "the heresy of heresies": Modernism.
Fr. Ripperger, in his article in Christian Order, shows how it came to be that extrinsic tradition was no longer held by so many churchmen as a norm. Inasmuch as what is extrinsic to the Deposit of the Faith is external to it, this prior doubt to extrinsic tradition was truly justified, since apart from Revelation no mundane body of knowlege or custom is inerrant of itself [de se]. On the other hand any doubt of extrinsic tradition cannot be held in regard to ecclesiastical tradition, for that would directly contradict the teaching of the second, infallible council of Nicea, held in 787 A.D..
Hence the necessity of distinguishing between extrinsic tradition and ecclesiastical tradition; or more properly between what is merely extrinsic to the Deposit of the Faith and what has an authentic relationship to it. Such a distinction will show how what is properly "ecclesiastical tradition" is in itself inerrant on account of its principles [ex principiis], and hence must be retained and handed down continually in the Church until the end of time.
The Distinction of First and Second
When one speaks philosophically about the relationship between any two things, one can only speak properly about the second when one speaks about the notion of "origin", for "second" by definition is what follows what is "first". And "following" implies a hierarchy of order founded upon and derived from a principle.
Accordingly when considering the relationship between the Deposit of the Faith and all that is handed down in the Church, one must speak of the relationship of order to origin if one is to properly distinguish what related or not. Hence it is that the distinction of extrinsic tradition vis-à-vis the Deposit of the Faith is a theologically inadequate basis for a discussion of what in the Church is to be held and handed down, approved and continued in being, in contrast to what is to be despised, rejected, disapproved of, and discontinued. This controversy lies most evidently at the heart of the disagreement between those who favor the Conciliar experiment and those who favor a restoration of the former status ecclesiae.
There is in the notion of "extrinsic tradition" what is authentically and non-authentically related to the Deposit of the Faith; this is so because everything extrinsic to another can be ordered in some manner to it or not. Now just as a thing can be ordered from, toward, and about another, when it has a true relation with it, and away, against, and apart from it, when it has no true relation with it, so in the "extrinsic tradition" of the Church there are a diversity of elements which are either in harmony or opposed to the Deposit of the Faith. Without doubt what is opposed can be despised, rejected, and disapproved, but what is not, must be held fast.
A thing related in a true sense to another must be either ordered from it, toward it, or about it. This is so because "truth" by definition is "the adequation of one thing with another"; and just as what is made equal is placed in some relation of parity with another, so inasmuch as two things are discussed in a hierarchy of order, one being first and another second; so the second can only be such if it follows the first. But "to follow" by definition is to proceed from, or approach toward, or accompany about; and hence there is an order from, toward, and about.
Three Distinctions within Extrinsic Tradition
In the "extrinsic tradition" of the Catholic Church there are elements which proceeded from, approached towards and accompanied about the Deposit of the Faith as the Church handed this Deposit down through the ages.
The "Deposit of Faith" is a theological term for all that was left to us by Christ and His Apostles in fulfillment of His Mission as "father of the world to come". It includes things both written and unwritten, all of which pertain to Divine Revelation, whether as part of Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition. As such it is not merely a body of knowledge, in the sense that a "body of knowledge" is a collection of ideas or teachings. But it is properly a "body of knowledge" in the sense that it is a collection, left to the Church for all time, of things and teachings, that in being revealed, are made known to the Church, and which we must believe and hold as true. In respect to the act of faith, then, the Deposit of Faith, can be spoken of as a body of revealed knowledge, expressed in human language, written or orally transmitted. (In this stricter, technical sense, it will be termed "the deposit of the faith" in the following discussion.) To this extent it is the "form" of "ecclesiastical tradition" in its most proper sense.
The first category contains all that proceeded from the Deposit of the Faith formally, that is, because it was precepted or counseled by the Deposit. This part of extrinsic tradition is thus derivative, procedent, and begotten. It is derived from the Deposit as what is commanded or counseled is from the command or counsel. It is procedent, as what steps forth from what is within. It is begotten, as a body which comes forth according to the nature of what begets.
Since the Deposit of the Faith, in respect to the formation of extrinsic tradition is in its most proper sense a body of revealed knowledge expressed in human language, written and orally transmitted, one can speak of three manners in which traditions proceed from it. In the most proper sense, what proceeds from the Deposit of the Faith are all those teachings of the Church which must be believed. The immediate cause of this part of extrinsic tradition is the infallible Ordinary and Extraordinary Magisterium of the Church. In more proper sense, what proceeds form the Deposit of the Faith are all those words and deeds which, according with it, must both be done and believed. This is so because a mixture of word and deed is not in the most proper sense derived directly from a verbal body of teaching. In this category are the Sacraments being confected, reckoned according to the essential characteristics in which the Church confects them, e.g. unleavened or leavend bread, the linguistic forms of the essential parts of the sacramental formulae, etc.. The immediate cause of this part of extrinsic tradition is the Sacred Hierarchy exercising the High Priesthood of Christ. In a proper sense, what proceeds form the Deposit of the Faith are all those deeds which must be done, but which are not objects of belief inasmuch as they are actions. In this last category are the works of virtue commanded by Divine Revelation for all or those evangelical counsels which are counseled for all. The immediate cause of this part of extrinsic tradition is each and every member of the faithful when acting under the guidance of actual grace in the fulfillment of their Christian duties.
Since the Church is by grace indefectible from Christ and indestructible in nature, it follows that in every age She faithfully and adequately fulfills Her mission to continue the work of Christ on Earth by fulfilling the commands of the Deposit of the Faith. And hence, it must be that procedent tradition is inerrant, for otherwise the Church would fall away from Christ and lead men astray.
In the second category are all those things which approach toward the Deposit of the Faith. This is accedent tradition. What approaches toward the Deposit of the Faith is all that is taken up into an order of submission to it, for to approach by definition is to submit to another as a governing terminus. Since the Deposit of the Faith is a body of revealed knowledge expressed in human language, in the most proper sense only knowledge expressed in human language can approach it. In this most proper sense, what approaches the Deposit of the Faith is Sacred Theology, the science of human understanding seeking wisdom by the application of reason to faith in the Revealed Truth, contained in Magisterial and non-magisterial teaching. In a more proper sense, word and deed approaches toward the Deposit of the Faith, in liturgies, prayers, hymns, devotions, the Rosary, etc., all of which strive to adequately express an authentic spirit of discipleship vis-à-vis the Deposit. And in a proper sense, deeds approach toward the Deposit of the Faith, as works of holiness which strive in some fitting manner to increase the devotion of the faithful in their following of Christ; such are sacred art, music and architecture, pilgrimages, religious orders, and the like.
Since anything disharmonious to the Church will eventually weaken and obstruct Her fulfillment of Her Divine Mission, it must be held that after long review and consideration, all that is approved and held as such for many generations, and which pertains to accedent tradition is also inerrant.
In the third category are all those things which accompany about the Deposit of the Faith. This is concomitant tradition. In a most proper sense, this category includes all that is necessary and useful to the human expression of the Deposit of the Faith, such as human language, written and spoken, especially the sacred languages of Hebrew, Greek and Latin, and the ancient Christian languages of Syriac, Coptic, etc.. In this category too are all human philosophies which have been used to accurately express the Deposit of the Faith, and all terms, concepts, ideas, metaphors, explanations, etc., which have thus been employed. In a more proper sense, are all those words and deeds which have accompanied the Deposit of the Faith, such as methods of instruction and education, communication, and disciplinary laws and customs, which have been used by the Church and/or the faithful to fulfill their Christians duties. In a proper sense, are all those deeds which have accompanied the Deposit of the Faith in Church tradition. Such are the actions or initiatives of the hierarchy and faithful throughout history, which have propagated the Deposit of the Faith.
Since concomitant tradition is formally historical circumstance more than something derived from or accedent to the Deposit of the Faith, it is more properly extrinsic to the Deposit than either procedent or accedent traditions. In the less, though proper sense, concomitant tradition clearly could be the result of moral failures on the part of members of the Church, and hence may need to be corrected, condemned or removed; but inasmuch as it is, it is clearly not a part of ecclesiastical tradition in the sense insofar as its author is neither the Church nor those members of Her moved by Her Spirit, Teaching and example. Inasmuch as much as it is word and deed it could stand for improvement. And inasmuch as it is a historical or cultural circumstance of the Church's origin or history, it cannot be denied or rejected without the Church's loss of an accurate comprehension of Her own identity.
What then is properly "Ecclesiastical Tradition"?
Since Holy Mother Church in the Second Ecumenical Council of Nicea has forever bound the entire Church and everyone who would be a member of Her not to despise or reject ecclesiastical tradition, clearly what is held to be "ecclesiastical tradition" must be so understood as to exclude all that ought to otherwise be rejected or corrected. For this reason it is inadequate to speak of "extrinsic tradition" since this can contain erroneous teaching and deleterious or detrimental discipline, to cite but two examples.
Since everything which pertains to procedent tradition is essentially inerrant, and since all that pertains to immemorial accedent tradition must be regarded as inerrant, and since all that pertains to concomitant tradition, in the most proper sense, is inextricable to the very identity of the Church, it is clear that "ecclesiastical tradition" in the proper sense includes these three categories.
Ecclesiastical tradition in the proper sense is inerrant. Hence it can not be alienated from the Church, nor can it ever be held as dangerous to the Faith. Accordingly no reform nor renewal of the Church can improve upon ecclesiastical tradition thus understood; for inasmuch as it is the work of the Church Herself, there exists no power on Earth able to produce something more correct than the Church Herself. Hence, he who would assert the necessity of correction in ecclesiastical tradition asserts equally the impotency and hence infidelity of the Church Herself in the fulfillment of Her Divine Mission. But this is contrary to the Faith. Therefore there can be no renewal or reform of ecclesiastical tradition; by the very fact of being a Catholic one is obliged to embrace both the Church and Her traditions. To do otherwise is apostasy. To advocate otherwise is heresy. Hence the grave necessity of every member of the Faithful, from the Pope, the Cardinals, the Bishops, the clergy, the religious to the layman in the pew, to hold fast to ecclesiastical tradition and to propagate it faithfully in the Church.
Likewise, the path to authentic reform and renewal is not away from ecclesiastical tradition, but towards it; to make it ever more the norm and foundation of Catholic life and pastoral action, by excising from Catholic life all that is contrary to it and incoherent with it. For this reason it is clear that the Second Vatican Council, far from being a part of ecclesiastical tradition in the proper sense, is rather a wholesale attack upon ecclesiastical tradition, precisely because it is founded upon the Neo-Modernism's new definition of truth (cf. "The Neo-Modernist Rupture at the Council and in the New Rites"). It is and shall be a most solemn duty of all the faithful to therefore overturn the reforms begun by the Second Vatican Council and to restore Ecclesiastical Tradition to its proper and normative place in the Church.
May the Lord through the gracious intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary grant us all the grace to accomplish this!