The transmission of Revelation

Cathal Barry explains that Church Tradition is preserved by the bishops as successors to the apostles

God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”. That is, of Jesus Christ. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Christ must be proclaimed to all nations and individuals, so that this revelation “may reach to the ends of the earth”.

The Catechism cites the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum which outlines that God graciously arranged that the things he had once revealed for the salvation of all peoples should remain in their entirety, throughout the ages, and be transmitted to all generations.

Moral discipline

Dei Verbum also notes that Christ commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel, which had been promised beforehand by the prophets, and which he fulfilled in his own person. In preaching the Gospel, they were to communicate the gifts of God to all men. This Gospel was to be the source of all saving truth and moral discipline.

The Church teaches that, in keeping with the Lord’s command, the Gospel was handed on in two ways.

Orally: “by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received – whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit”.

And in writing: “by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing”.

In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority. In this way, the apostolic preaching was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.

Living transmission

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, according to the Catechism, “the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes”. It notes the writings 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.

The Catechism states the Father’s self-communication made through his Word in the Holy Spirit, remains present and active in the Church. As Dei Verbum puts it:

“God, who spoke of old, uninterruptedly converses with the bride of His beloved Son; and the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel resounds in the Church, and through her, in the world, leads unto all truth those who believe and makes the word of Christ dwell abundantly in them.”