Thursday, December 13, 2012

Apostolic Tradition is Not a Concept, but a Chain of Moments Spanning 2,000 Years

My seven-year-old heart wondered about a puff of smoke. And a balcony halfway around the world.

I doubt that I watched the announcement of Pope John XXIII’s election live from my grandmother’s home in Minnesota. Was it even broadcast live? But I saw a news report not long after October 28, 1958—maybe a newsreel at the local picture show.

Something like twenty years later—three puffs of smoke, three Popes later—my grandmother became a Catholic herself. Thirty years further on, I did the same.

This was one link in an impossibly long chain of linked moments stretching back through time to a moment in Caesarea Philippi. “You are Kephas [the Aramaic for rock],” the Lord said. “And on this rock—”

I think this is where we might misunderstand Apostolic Succession. We think of it as a theory. We think of it as a topic for debate and, sadly, schism. We think of it in the abstract.

In fact, it’s an endless living motion picture of the Holy Spirit, in which each frame links one follower of Christ, one Bishop, one saint, one devout believer, to the next.

My heart began to desire the Catholic Church when I saw moments like the election of John XXIII. And then another like this—

Of course, the chain linking me to the Church, or vice versa, began at the other end, with moments between Jesus and Peter and the other Apostles. Then between the Apostles and those who helped them write the Gospels. Then them and the early Fathers, and so on. Words, gestures, gazes of transmissions, long before television.

It is a living chain, so much more moving than words on a page (Scripture).

In Article 2 of Part 1, “The Transmission of Divine Revelation,” the Catechism says the same, though more formally and with the addition of the Holy Spirit:

This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, “the Church, in her doctrine, life, and worship perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.”

Some of that Tradition—especially the life and worship part, in the persons of two Peters—was transmitted even to a seven-year-old boy transfixed by a black-and-white newsreel somewhere in Minnesota in 1958.

[This post continues a series on the Catechism, and covers paragraphs 75–79. It also seeks to reflect, however idiosyncratically, on two questions in the Compendium of the CCC:

12. What is Apostolic Tradition?
Apostolic Tradition is the transmission of the message of Christ, brought about from the very beginnings of Christianity by means of preaching, bearing witness, institutions, worship, and inspired writings. The apostles transmitted all they received from Christ and learned from the Holy Spirit to their successors, the bishops, and through them to all generations until the end of the world.
13. In what ways does Apostolic Tradition occur?
Apostolic Tradition occurs in two ways: through the living transmission of the word of God (also simply called Tradition) and through Sacred Scripture which is the same proclamation of salvation in written form.]

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