John Lilburne's journal about answering a question regarding tradition in the Catholic Church on



About John Lilburne







2238 L Thu 31 Jan 2002

I have posted 124 answers on as john_the_reader. The Catholicism section that I write can be found at:

Home > Society & Culture > Religion > Christianity > Catholicism

The question asked about tradition, things not being written down, papal infallibility and limbo. Here is my response:

Complicated questions.

Things being written down. John's Gospel concludes: "But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." In those days they would have written less than we do today, because of the technology available. Many written things have survived to today, but many more have been lost.

About tradition, perhaps the following from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, will be helpful in getting a better understanding of it.
"78. 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.'[DV 8 # 1.] 'The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer.'[DV 8 # 3.]"

In the 1995 Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism there is an entry on tradition. It includes: "Sometimes Trent is interpreted as teaching that revelation is contained in two separate, parallel sources, Scripture and tradition, and this was, in fact the general interpretation of the Counter-Reformation, which interpreted revelation as a series of propositions contained either in Scripture or handed down by oral tradition, so as to imply two different sources of Tradition. ... Today it is generally agreed that Scripture itself is a product of tradition ... In the early Church an oral tradition preceded the written tradition collected in the Scriptures. In this sense tradition logically and chronologically precedes Scripture."

I think limbo is an good example of how this sort of tradition works. Contary to the first two responses the term "limbo" is not found in the text of the 1994 or 1997 Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is in the index, which refers you to CCC 1261:

1261. "As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: 'Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,'[Mk 10 14 ; cf. 1 Tim 2:4 .] allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism."

The Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism has an entry on it:
"limbo, ..., place or state of natural happiness happiness for the nonbaptized dead. ... Augustine (d. 430) contended that unbaptized children who die are condemned to hell, though they do not suffer all its pains because they are not guilty of person sin. Medieval theologians, wishing to mitigate the harshness of Augustine's position, postulated the existence of limbo. ... Modern theology, when it does not reject the notion outright, questions the theological premises upon which limbo is based. It is difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile the concept of limbo with the Christian affirmation of God's universal salvific will ...".
It explains limbo is "Neither officially defined nor abrogated by the Church ...".

So as the Catechism teaches there is growth in understanding the faith:
94. "Thanks to the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the understanding of both the realities and the words of the heritage of faith is able to grow in the life of the Church:
- 'through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts';[DV 8 # 2; cf. Lk 2:19, 51 .] it is in particular 'theological research (which) deepens knowledge of revealed truth'.[GS 62 # 7; cf. GS 44 # 2; DV 23; 24; UR 4.]
- 'from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which (believers) experience',[DV 8 # 2.] the sacred Scriptures 'grow with the one who reads them.'[DV 8 # 2.]
- 'from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth'.[St. Gregory the Great, Hom. in Ezek. 1, 7, 8: PL 76, 843D.]"

But in this process the Catholic Church has a structure of authority which includes the Pope. This enables the growth in understanding to be recognised and established, with unity being maintained.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 31 January 2002.

Links to other sites:

The question and other answers on