Mary Ann Collins
The Catholic Church officially states that Catholic tradition is equal in authority to the Bible. There are two problems with this.
First, Catholic tradition consists of various expressions of worship and belief of the Catholic people. It is nebulous. It keeps changing. You cannot find it written in one place. You can’t really put your hands on exactly what it is.
Second, it has been said that a two-headed dog won’t hunt. You can’t have Scripture and tradition as equal sources of authority. When there is a conflict between the two, then one or the other has to take priority.
The Early Fathers used Scripture as the standard against which they tested Church tradition. The modern Catholic doctrine that Church tradition is equal in authority with the Bible is contrary to the writings of the Early Fathers.
Jesus made it clear that Scripture takes priority over tradition. He rebuked the scribes and Pharisees because their traditions nullified the Word of God. He used Scripture to measure the validity of their religious traditions. He was distressed because the religious leaders of his time considered their traditions to be equal in authority to Scripture. He rebuked them saying,
The Bible clearly tells us that we are not to add to Scripture or take away from it. We need to stay with what has been written. The Bible says,
In other words, adding to Scripture results in disobeying God. It also puts us in the position where God may wind up calling us liars.
If we say that Tradition is equal in authority to Scripture, then we can no longer use Scripture to test Tradition, like Jesus did. Instead, we are allowing Tradition to determine how we interpret Scripture. Either this is “adding to Scripture” or else it is perilously close to it.
“ACCORDING TO TRADITION…”
We often hear the expression, “According to tradition…” But how reliable are these statements? The following illustrates that people’s confidence in these traditions can be disproportionate to the evidence supporting them.
According to tradition, around 40 A.D., the Apostle James (the Greater) was in Saragossa, Spain. He was discouraged because his mission had failed. Mary appeared to him. She gave him a pillar (column) of jasper wood, and a small wooden statue of herself. She also told him to build a church in her honor. This is considered to be the first apparition of Mary.
There are some problems with this story. In the first place, in 40 A.D., Mary may well have been alive. (It was only a few years after Jesus was crucified.) If she was alive, then how could she “appear” to anybody?
In the second place, the early Christians didn’t have churches. They met in people’s homes. (See Acts 2:46; Acts 20:20; Romans 16:19; 1 Corinthian 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2, which all refer to churches meeting in people’s homes.) The Book of Acts ends around 60 A.D., when Paul was in Rome. There is no record of any church buildings.
Furthermore, starting with the stoning of Stephen, Christians were killed for their faith. It is basic common sense that people who are being killed for their faith do not want to call attention to their religious gatherings. That is not a good time to build church buildings.
According to tradition, in the eighth century, a hermit “discovered” the body of the Apostle James in Saragossa. This discovery is questionable in view of the fact that (as we shall see) the Catholic Church has a history of fake discoveries of relics (bodies of saints, pieces of the “true” cross, the nails which were used to crucify Jesus, bread from the Feeding of the Five Thousand, etc.).
Relics were believed to have spiritual power to protect people from demons, give them victory in war, and bless them in other ways. People wore small relics on chains around their necks, as charms for protection. Churches were built over the bodies of saints. Important relics drew pilgrims, which could have a significant financial impact on a community. Bodies of saints were stolen and portions of them were sold for money. Graveyards were robbed, and the bodies were passed off as relics of saints. Kings and bishops took great risks to steal the bodies of important saints. Towns that had relics prospered and expanded.
Relics were important for raising money. Historian Paul Johnson says, “A cathedral without a well-known saint was missing an important source of revenue.”
A great cathedral was built in Saragossa in honor of Our Lady of the Pillar. It is in an area of Saragossa known as Campostella (which means “starry field”) . It is a major pilgrimage site. The wooden statue of Mary, and the pillar (the column of jasper wood) can be seen on special occasions.
An acquaintance of mine visited this cathedral. There is a fountain with a statue of Mary, holding a star in her hand, and standing on James’ coffin. I have a seen a photograph of it.
The Cathedral has a statue of Our Lady of the Pillar which wears clothing. It has a crown made of 25 pounds of gold and diamonds, with so many diamonds that you can hardly see the gold. In addition, it has six other crowns of gold, diamonds, and emeralds. It has 365 mantles, embroidered with gold and covered with roses of diamonds and other precious stones. It has 365 necklaces of pearls and diamonds, and six chains of gold set with diamonds. The cathedral has another statue of Mary which is five feet high, made of pure silver set with precious stones, with a diamond-studded crown of pure gold.
According to tradition, the head of the Apostle James (the Greater) is buried in Jerusalem. It is in the Cathedral of St. James.
WHAT IS OUR SOURCE OF AUTHORITY?
Jesus promised us that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church. That requires the supernatural intervention of God.
According to the Catholic Church, God has done this by making popes and Catholic Church councils infallible. (This will be discussed in the next chapter.) Therefore, Catholic teachings and traditions should be used to interpret Scripture.
According to the Bible, God has done this by giving us the Bible and by sending us the Holy Spirit to teach us and to guide us. God has given us the Scriptures for instruction in doctrine and in how to live a Godly life. (2 Timothy 3:16) And He has sent the Holy Spirit to “guide us into all truth.” (John 16:13) Therefore, Scripture should be used to test everything—including doctrines, teachings, traditions, and religious practices.
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