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 Are All Revealed Truths in Sacred Scripture? 
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Are All Revealed Truths in Sacred Scripture?
by Fr. Francis J. Connell, C.SS.R.
The American Ecclesiastical Review, May 1963, pp. 303-314.

One of the most important discussions in the field of Catholic theology and biblical studies at the present day concerns the relation between Sacred Scripture and tradition. The main problem, briefly, is this: Is the entire content of divine revelation contained in Sacred Scripture, the written word of God? Or, are there certain revealed doctrines that are contained only in divine tradition, the unwritten word of God? Needless to say, if there are such doctrines they are not necessarily "unwritten" with respect to non-inspired writings. It is only with respect to the inspired books that they can be called "unwritten." And we are concerned only with Scripture and tradition in the New Law. The inspired writings and traditions of the Old Law are not the subject of this investigation.

Furthermore, it must be emphasized that those who support the view that all revelation is contained in Sacred Scripture do not hold that all revealed truths are present in the written word of God explicitly and totally. They believe that some doctrines are in the Scriptures only by implication and allusion, and that divine tradition is necessary in order that the Church can discern the full meaning of what is contained in the Bible. In the words of Fr. Avery Dulles, S.J.: "Some would say that these doctrines are in Scripture, not according to its obvious literal meaning but in some deeper or fuller sense—a sense gradually discerned by the Church as she prayerfully ponders on the word committed to her. If this be true, there is no cogent reason for contending that there are 'more truths' contained in apostolic tradition than in the inspired Scriptures."1

Fr. J. Danielou, S. J., thus explains this view: "On the level of revealed truths it is difficult to find in tradition truths which are totally absent from Scripture. Even the baptism of infants, the guardian angel, and prayer for the dead are mentioned there. Tradition's work, then, will be to make more explicit what is only indicated in Scripture. This is the distinctive function of the living magisterium. The new dogmas defined by the magisterium are not new revelations, but rather explanations of the revelation given to the apostles and handed down through Scripture and tradition."2

In this article I shall refer to the opinion of those who believe that all revelation is contained in some manner in Sacred Scriptures as the "new opinion" and to the view of those who believe that some revealed doctrines are contained in Tradition alone as the "old opinion." In using this terminology I have no intention of deciding which of the two views is actually the older. Those who uphold what I call the new view contend that it was widely held before Trent. But, with reference to the view commonly held up to comparatively recent times, it can be called a new opinion.

The new opinion must not be identified with the teaching of the early Protestants. They rejected divine tradition entirely and defended Scripture as the all-sufficient proponent of revelation, whereas this new view regards divine tradition as necessary for the full understanding of the written word of God. Nevertheless, this opinion is surely an approach to the Protestant stand, especially at the present day, when many Protestants are admitting the need of tradition in some form. Thus, Dr. Jaroslav Pelican, a Lutheran theologian, who spoke at the 1962 meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America, after repeating the statement of a recent (Protestant) Commission on Faith and Order to the effect that, "tradition is primitive, tradition is inevitable, tradition is exegetical," commented: "This view of tradition suggests that it is time for both sides to get beyond the frozen positions and the clichés of the 16th century. If tradition is primitive, Protestant theology must admit that sola Scriptura requires redefinition. But if tradition is exegetical, Roman Catholic theology must admit that sola Scriptura, properly understood, is correct."3

Catholic scholars who support the new view also emphasize the value of their opinion toward establishing better relations between Catholics and Protestants, although it would be unjust to charge that the promotion of ecumenism is their sole reason for propounding this teaching. In the words of Fr. Danielou: "The discussion of these problems is of considerable importance from the ecumenical point of view. The Protestant attempt to restore to tradition its rightful importance is certainly incomplete, but it does constitute a break with the erroneous interpretation of sola Scriptura, an opinion, which makes any discussion futile. A more accurate understanding on the part of Catholics of the agreement between Scripture and tradition does away with the principal Protestant objection to the Catholic position."4

It is not my purpose to discuss every phase of this question. For example, I do not intend to treat in detail the famous Fourth Session of the Council of Trent, which has engaged the attention of many recent authors.5 I intend merely to propose one difficulty to the new theory, which I believe should be seriously taken into account by the defenders of this view. The difficulty is this: Whatever may have been the mind of the Fathers of Trent in the decree "Sacrosancta oecumenica,"6 the common teaching of theologians from the middle of the sixteenth century up to comparatively recent times has been that there are certain divinely revealed truths which are found in the unwritten word of God alone, not in Sacred Scriptures. Now, it is true, theologians as such do not belong to the Ecclesia docens and accordingly have no right to speak authoritatively in the name of the Church. Nevertheless, the fact that the Church allows theologians unanimously (or with practical unanimity) to teach a certain doctrine for a considerable period of time is equivalent to a positive approbation of that doctrine. As J. Salaverri, S.J., expresses it: "The consent of theologians in matters of faith and morals is so intimately connected with the teaching Church that an error in the consent of theologians would induce an error in the universal Church."7 Indeed, the authority of theologians properly understood is one of the loci theologici.

In other words, if the Church permitted theologians unanimously (or with practical unanimity) to teach for a long time as Catholic truth a doctrine that is false, the infallible teaching authority of the Church in its ordinary and universal magisterium would be endangered. Now, for centuries Catholic theologians with moral unanimity taught that there are certain revealed doctrines that are contained only in unwritten tradition, not in Sacred Scripture. Hence, the new opinion, teaching the contrary, is at least difficult to reconcile with the infallibility of the Church.

It is important to reiterate that we are neither concerned with purely ecclesiastical traditions, nor with pre-Christian religious traditions. Neither are we concerned with active tradition, the preaching and teaching of the Church. Tradition, as we here understand it, signifies truths communicated to the Church by Christ or by His apostles through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. But here we meet another distinction. This objective tradition may be taken widely or strictly. In the wide sense it means the entire deposit of faith, communicated by Christ and by His apostles to the Church as the word of God. These truths were taught orally before the composition of the New Testament. In the strict sense objective tradition means only those revealed truths which (according to the old view) were not committed to the inspired writings.8 It is important to keep these two senses in mind, because (in the old view) it can be said correctly either that all revelation is contained wholly in tradition and partly in Scripture or that it is partly in tradition and partly in Scripture—the former statement referring to tradition in the wide sense, the latter to tradition in the strict sense. According to the new view "the word of God may be found in its totality in Sacred Scripture and in its totality in the living tradition of the Church."9

To prove that there was practical unanimity in theological teaching in support of the old view from the Council of Trent up to comparatively recent times, it is only necessary to quote the assertions of the theologians who wrote on this subject in the course of those four centuries. Of course, in an article such as this it is impossible to quote or even to cite the hundreds of scholars who have discussed this matter in the course of that period. I shall present only a comparatively small number, spread out over the centuries, as a sampling of what appears to have been a definite and unqualified unanimity from shortly after the Council of Trent until about the middle of the twentieth century.

The late Fr. Lennerz, S.J., has narrated that two of the Tridentine Fathers shortly after the Council upheld in their writings the existence of tradition as a font distinct from Sacred Scripture. These were Luigi Lappomano, bishop of Verona, and Clement Cardinal Dolera. The former made this statement in an instruction to his flock in 1553, the latter in a compendium of theology which first appeared in 1562.10

St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J., (1542-1621) wrote: "It is necessary to know that there are some books that are truly divine, and this certainly cannot be had from Scriptures… Hence, this so necessary a dogma, that there is divine Scripture, cannot sufficiently be had from Scripture alone. Accordingly, since faith is based on the word of God, we shall have no faith unless we have the unwritten word of God."11

Suarez, S.J., (1548-1617) asserted: "According to the true and Catholic faith it cannot be denied that besides Scripture there is in the Church of Christ the word of God, not written in canonical books, which must be accepted with the same faith as the written word."12

Gonet, O.P., (1616-81) declared: "I say that besides Scripture there are unwritten traditions pertaining to the rule of faith… There are three types of traditions. Some are immediately from Christ, and these are divine; some from the apostles with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, and these are apostolic; some which begin with the prelates of the people, and which obtained the force of law by use and custom, and these are ecclesiastical. The first two have the same force and certitude as the written word of God because they are based on the same authority as the written word. "13

Witasse (1660-1716), writing in question-answer form, has the following: "Q. What is tradition? A. It is the word of God not written by the sacred authors. Q. Does this word enjoy the same authority as the written word of God? A. It would be foolish to think otherwise, for the word of God does not draw its authority from writing, but on the contrary, writing derives its authority from the word of God." As an example of unwritten tradition he gives the canon of Sacred Scripture "which is known to us only from Tradition. Scripture does not manifest it."14

C. Billuart, O.P., (1685-1757) lays down the principle that "in addition (praeter) to Sacred Scripture divine tradition must necessarily be admitted" and then adds as an example: "Whence do the heretics know that Sacred Scripture, which they commend so highly, is sacred and divine? Not from Scripture itself… It is only from tradition that we know that this and no other scripture is sacred and divine."15

St. Alphonsus, C.SS.R., (1696-1787) wrote: "Traditions are those truths which were first communicated by Jesus Christ or by the Holy Ghost to the apostles, then by the apostles were given to the disciples, and thus under the guidance of the Holy Ghost without interruption were, so to say, transmitted by hand and communicated up to the present time. These traditions, which are the unwritten word of God, have the same authority as the written word of God . . . Traditions are necessary that belief may be given to many articles of faith . . . about which nothing at all exists in scriptures, so that these truths have come to us only from the font of tradition."16

N. Bergier (1715-90) thus proposes the subject: "The great question between Protestants and Catholics is to know if there are some divine or apostolic traditions touching dogmas which are in no wise contained in Sacred Scripture, and which are nevertheless a rule of faith. Protestants deny it, we sustain the opposite."17

B. Liebermann (1759-1844) wrote: "Sacred Scripture is not perfect in the sense that it embraces the whole religion of Christ. If Scripture were perfect and the only source of Christian doctrine, it should before all tell us which books belong to Sacred Scripture. But it is entirely silent (omnino silet) about this dogma of supreme importance."18

J. Perrone, S.J., (1794-1876) wrote: "Besides Sacred Scripture, divine and dogmatic traditions must be admitted, entirely distinct from Scripture… We have added that we must admit such traditions entirely distinct from Scripture to exclude the view of Protestants regarding traditions merely inherent and declarative."19

J. Franzelin, S.J., (1816-1886) wrote much about tradition, and clearly upheld the old view. For example, he stated: "After the apostles and after the completion of the inspired writings the Church propagated by the apostles always professed, theoretically and practically, that some truths are divinely revealed which she had received, not from the Scripture but only from tradition."20

A. Bonal, S.S., (1827-1904) whose manual of theology went through seventeen editions in the latter half of the nineteenth century, says: "Divine tradition is an entirely distinct source (locus) of Christian revelation, not only because it manifests that revelation in the state of the living and practical word, but also because it contains revealed truths which are not contained in the divine Scripture." This proposition Bonal declares to be an article of faith.21

J. Hermann, C.SS.R., (1849-1927) makes these statements: "The unwritten word of God must be admitted as a source of revelation and of faith, independent of Scripture. . . . Divine traditions have the same force as Sacred Scripture, inasmuch as they have the same authority as the divine word of God." Both these propositions, the author asserts, are to be believed with divine-catholic faith, because of the Tridentine decree.22

A. Tanquerey, S.S., (1854-1932) in his textbook for seminaries, asserts: "There exists divine tradition, as a font of revelation distinct from Scripture." This he says is de fide. He defines tradition as "revealed doctrine on faith or morals, not related in the Sacred Scriptures, committed by God to the Church and infallibly transmitted by legitimate pastors. "23

G. Van Noort, the distinguished Dutch theologian of the first quarter of the twentieth century, says: "Tradition is a source of revelation distinct from Scripture, and goes beyond the data of Scripture. This is a dogma of faith from the Council of Trent and from the Vatican Council. The first part of the proposition states the existence of tradition in general and consequently includes inherent tradition; the second part refers specifically to constitutive tradition."24

J. Salaverri, S.J., one of the group of Spanish Jesuits who have published a comprehensive work on dogmatic theology in recent years, asserts: "Scripture needs tradition as a font of revelation to establish its divine authority. For the fact of inspiration, on which the divine authority of Scripture depends, is a truth per se revealed; therefore it must be contained in the fonts of revelation. But the fact of inspiration of all and each of the books of the New Testament is known only from divine tradition." And the author states that "it is a doctrine of divine faith, solemnly defined in the Councils, especially Trent and Vatican I, that Scripture and tradition are two fonts of divine revelation, endowed with equal authority."25

From this limited selection of theologians who wrote in the course of the four centuries following Trent and who presented the doctrine accepted by the vast majority of those who wrote on Scripture and tradition it can safely be concluded that what they said on this subject was the teaching of the Catholic Church during that period. These theologians did not present the opposite view, which we here refer to as the new view, as even probable. These theologians wrote the textbooks that future priests, bishops and popes used in the seminaries, and these in their ministry preached to their people the doctrine they had received. Never once did the Church say that the doctrine that there are certain divinely revealed truths, coming down from Christ in a source distinct from Scripture, was erroneous or even doubtful. And, it should be noted, some of these theologians explicitly stated that this doctrine is a truth of divine-catholic faith. If these theologians were wrong, it would seem that the error was fundamentally due to the neglect or error of the teaching Church.

It is not my claim that there was complete unanimity among the theological writers. Fr. Tavard, A.A., believes that several writers shortly after Trent, including Melchior Cano, can be quoted in favor of the new opinion.26 Fr. Geiselmann narrates that about the middle of the nineteenth century J. Kuhn in Germany taught that "In the early age of the Church we can find no dogmatic formulation for which there is not at least some premise or starting point in Scripture."27 Fr. G. Van Ackeren, S.J., adds the names of Mohler and Newman as laying the background for the dislodgment of the old view.28 But, granting all this, such a small number of scholars would be entirely insufficient to weaken the stand taken by the great number who maintained the opposite.

A decree of the First Vatican Council is very important in connection with the subject we are discussing. In its Constitution on Catholic faith the Council solemnly declared that "with divine and Catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God, Scripture or tradition (in verbo Dei, scripto vel tradito) and are proposed by the Church, either by solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal magisterium, to be believed as divinely revealed."29 The first "or" (vel) is very significant. If words mean anything, it indicates that there are some articles of divine-catholic faith, which are not in Scripture (verbo Dei scripto), but are in tradition (verbo Dei tradito). Those who favor the new opinion point out that the Council of Trent said that the truths of revelation are contained in written books and in unwritten tradition, a statement "which does not include in itself the notion of a separation into two distinct and somewhat unrelated sources."30 But no such defense of the new opinion can be drawn from the declaration of the Vatican, which clearly indicated that there are some revealed truths that are not in Scripture but are in tradition.

Moreover, Pope Pius XII in several passages of Humani generis speaks of the sources of revelation, and of both sources of revealed doctrine.31 Yet, the use of fontes and of duplex fons revelationis is objected to by those who uphold the new doctrine.

In 1959, Fr. H. Lennerz thus proposed the difficulty, which I have endeavored to explain:
The title of the dogmatic decree of the fourth session of the Council of Trent is "The Sacred Books and the traditions of the apostles are received." If what was stated in a recent investigation be true, something happened to this decree, which is unique in the history of councils and their dogmatic decrees. For this decree, shortly after the Council, was no longer understood in the sense, which the Council gave it. The Catechism of the Council of Trent did not understand it correctly and the same is to be said of post-Tridentine theologians. For all erroneously thought that the doctrine of the Council was that the whole deposit of faith is not contained in Scripture, but that another font of revelation exists—that is, the unwritten tradition of the apostles— and that the Council had proposed this doctrine in opposition to the Reformers, who claimed that there is only one source of revelation, Scripture alone. And perhaps it can be noted not without reason: That all the theologians erred in this way could hardly remain unknown to the magisterium of the Church. Nothing is known whereby the Church noted or corrected this "error" and opposed the "true" doctrine to the common teaching of theologians. Can we suppose that the Church at least tacitly approved this erroneous doctrine of theologians, or must we say that the Church also was ignorant that what the theologians taught was not the true doctrine of the Council? Can we say this error persisted for four centuries in the Church, and finally in our time the true sense of the decree has been discovered?32

It might be objected to our line of reasoning that the same difficulty is present for those who maintain the old view. For, it could be asked: "Is not the new view really the one that prevailed in the Church in earlier centuries? And if that view is false, what about the infallibility of the Church in those times?" I admit, quite honestly, that if a false opinion was held universally and definitely by the theologians, with the approval of the Church, for a long period of time in the early centuries, it would offer a grave difficulty to the theme of this article. As far as I know the most thorough study of the early concept of tradition is found in Fr. Tavard's book Holy Writ or Holy Church.33 However, I do not believe that this establishes as certain that it was the common and approved teaching of all theologians in those days that all revelation is contained in the Bible. The statements of the pre-Tridentine writers (especially the Fathers) have been interpreted in the old sense by such reliable authors as Franzelin,34 Tanquerey,35 Salaverri,36 and Van Noort.37

Some will perhaps say that the new view is the result of a "re-appraisal" or re-examination of the doctrine of the relation of Scripture to tradition. Now, it is surely lawful and commendable to re-appraise and to re-examine the doctrines of the Church in order to draw from them new facets of truth. But a re-appraisal that involves the denial of a doctrine hitherto taught by the Church, whether by a definition or by the ordinary and universal magisterium, is certainly not permissible. The new view would seem to be this kind of appraisal. And if this be allowed, why not re-appraise in the same way such truths as the infallibility of the Pope, the malice of contraception, the divinity of Christ, etc.?

I present these comments without any desire to impugn the scholarship or the sincerity of those who are supporting the new view. It may be that they have an answer to my difficulty, and if so I shall gladly hear them. At present, in view of the common consent of theologians for centuries, and the definition of the First Vatican Council, I myself cannot perceive any answer. It may be that the Second Vatican Council in its next session will discuss the question, and I feel sure that every good Catholic will accept the decision whole-heartedly.

Francis J. Connell, C.SS.R.


1 A. Dulles, S.J., "The Council and the Sources of Revelation," America, 107, n. 35 (Dec. 1, 1962), 1176-77.
2 J. Danielou, "Scripture, Tradition and the Dialogue," Theology Digest, IX, 1 (Winter, 1961), 42. I wish that Fr. Danielou had told us where in Scripture it is indicated that three sacraments give a character.
3 J. Pelican, "Protestant Concept of the Church," The Catholic Theological Society of America; Proceedings of the Seventeenth Annual Convention (Pittsburgh, Pa.), 135.
4 J. Danielou, loc. cit.
5 For example, G. Tavard, A.A., Holy Writ or Holy Church (New York, 1959); H. Holstein, S.J., "The Question of Tradition at Trent," Theology Digest, IX, 1 (Winter, 1961), 43-48; J. L. Murphy, "Unwritten Tradition at Trent," AER, CXLVI, 4 (April, 1962), 233-63.
6 DB, n. 783.
7 J. Salaverri, S.J., De ecclesia Christi (Madrid, 1958), n. 863. Of interest in this connection is the letter of Pope Pius IX, sent in 1863 to the Archbishop of Munich-Freising, in which the Pope defends the "universal and constant consent of Catholic theologians" against the ideas of some German scholars (DB, 1679-84).
8 J. Herrmann, C.SS.R., Institutions theologicae dogmaticae (Paris, 1937), I, n. 370. See also J. Franzelin, Tractatus de divina traditione et scriptura (Rome, 1882), 18 ff.
9 J. Geiselmann, "Scripture and Tradition in Catholic theology," Theology Digest, VI, 2 (Spring, 1958), 78.
10 H. Lennerz, S.J., "Sine scripto traditiones," Gregorianum, XL (1959), 632.
11 R. Bellarmine, S.J., De verbo Dei, Lib. IV, Opera omnia (Naples, 1856), I,121.
12 F. Suarez, S.J., Defensio fidei catholicae, L. I, cap. 9, n. 7.
13 J. Gonet, O.P., Clypeus theologiae thomisticae (Cologne, 1671), Tom. IV, 254-57.
14 C. Witasse, Tractatus theologici (Venice, 1738), 61-62.
15 C. Billuart, O.P., Summa S. Thomae (Paris, 1900), III, 289-91.
16 S. Alphonsus, De fidei veritate. Cap. VI, n. 30. S. Alphonsi Opera dogmatica (Rome, 1903), 292.
17 N. Bergier, "Tradition," Dictionnaire de theologie (Paris, 1834), Vol. VIII, 152-53.
18 B. Liebermann, Institutiones theologicae (Mainz, 1857), I, 450.
19 J. Perrone, S.J., Praelectiones theologicae (Ratisbon, 1854), Tractatus de vera religione, I, 175.
20 J. Franzelin, S.J., op. cit., 251.
21 A. Bonal, Institutiones theologicae ad usum seminariorum (Toulouse, 1891), Tom. I, 564 ff.
22 J. Herrmann, C.SS.R., Institutiones theologicae (Paris, 1937), I, nn. 374, 376.
23 A. Tanquerey, S.S., Synopsis theologiae dogmaticae (Paris 1937), I, nn. 1079, 1086.
24 G. Van Noort, Dogmatic Theology, Vol. III, The Sources of Revelation (Tr. J. Castelot, S.S., and W. Murphy, S.S., Westminster, Md., 1960), 146.
25 J. Salaverri, S.J., Sacrae theologiae summa (Madrid, 1958). De Ecclesia, Vol. I, nn. 788, 800.
26 G. Tavard, A.A., "Tradition in early post-Tridentine Theology," Theological Studies, XXIII, 2 (Sept. 1962), 377-405.
27 J. Geiselmann, loc. cit., 78.
28 G. Van Ackeren, S.J., "Is all Revelation in Scripture?" The Catholic Theological Society Proceedings of the Seventeenth Annual Convention (Pittsburgh, 1962), 254.
29 DB., n. 1792.
30 J. L. Murphy, loc. cit., 262.
31 AAS, XLII (1950), 561-67.
32 H. Lennerz, S.J., "Sine scripto traditiones," Gregorianum, XL (1959), 624.
33 An excellent study of tradition, especially in the active sense, can be found in a paper delivered by Fr. Walter Burghardt, S.J., before the Catholic Theological Society of America, in 1951—"The Catholic Concept of Tradition in the Light of Modern Thought," Bulletin of the Sixth Annual Convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America (Detroit, 1951), 42-77.
34 J. Franzelin, S.J., op. cit., especially chapters II and III.
35 A. Tanquerey, S.S., op. cit., nn. 1090-93.
36 J. Salaverri, S.J., op. cit., n. 812.
37 G. Van Noort, op. cit., n. 150.

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