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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Tradition, Christian.


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In the older ecclesiastical fathers, the words παράδοσις and traditio are used to denote any instruction which one gives to another, whether oral or written. In the New Test. also, and in the classical writers, παράδουναι and tradere signify, in general, to teach, to instruct. In this wider sense, tradition was divided into scripta and non scripta sive oralis. The latter, triaditio oralis, was, however, frequently called traditio, by way of eminence. This oral tradition was often appealed to by Irenaeus, Clemens of Alexandria, Tertullian, and others of the ancient fathers, as a test by which to try the doctrines of contemporary teachers, and by which to confute the errors of the heretics. They describe it as being instruction received from the mouth of the apostles by the first Christian churches, transmitted from the apostolic age, and preserved in purity until their own times.

Oral tradition is still regarded by the Roman Church as a principium cognoscendi in theology and they attempt to support their hypothesis respecting it by the use made of it b the fathers. Much dispute has arisen, about the degree of weight to be assigned to tradition generally; many, however, consider that this is an idle controversy, and that each particular tradition should be tried on its own grounds. In coming to a decision on the merits of the question respecting doctrinal tradition, everything depends upon making the proper distinctions with regard to time.

In the first period of Christianity, the authority of the apostles was so great that all their doctrines and ordinances were strictly and punctually observed by the churches, which they had planted. The doctrine and discipline which prevailed in those apostolical churches were, at the time, justly considered by others' to be purely such as the apostles themselves had taught and established. This was the more common, as the books of the New Test. had not, as yet, come into general use among Christians; nor was it, at that early period, attended with any special liability to mistake. In this way we can account for it that Christian teachers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries appeal so frequently to oral tradition. But in later periods of the Church, the circumstances were far different. After the commencement of the 3nd century, when the first teachers of the apostolical churches and their immediate successors had passed away and another race sprung up, other doctrines and forms were gradually introduced, which differed in many respects from apostolical simplicity. And now those innovators appealed more frequently than had ever been done before to apostolical tradition, in order to give currency to their own opinions and regulations. They went so far, indeed, as to appeal to this tradition for many things not only at variance with other traditions, but with the very writings of the apostles which they had in their hands. From this time forward, tradition naturally became more and more uncertain and suspicious. No wonder, therefore, that we find Augustine establishing the maxim that it could not be relied upon, in the ever-increasing distance from the age of the apostles, except when it was universal and perfectly consistent with itself. The Reformers justly held that tradition is not a sure and certain source of knowledge respecting the doctrines of theology, and that the Holy Scriptures are the only principium cognoscendi. See Knapp, Christian Theology, 7:3; Eden, Theol. Dict. s.v.; Cunningham, Hist. Theology, 1, 186, 480; Hagenbach, fist. of Doctrines (Index); Hook, Church Dict. s.v.; Milman, Hist. of the Jews, 2, 42; Van Oosterzee. Christian Dogmatics, art. "Faith, Rule of."

TRADITION, in the Church of England, refers to customs, forms, rites, ceremonies, etc. which have been transmitted by oral communication, and, as used in Article 34, is not to be understood as including matters of faith. The traditions for which the article requires respect and obedience are all those customs and ceremonies in established use which are not expressly named in the Scriptures, nor in the written laws or rubrics of the Church, but stand simply on the ground of prescription. Among these may be mentioned the alternate mode of reading the Psalter, the custom of bowing in the Creed, the postures in various offices of the Church, the use of a doxology and collects after a sermon, the practice of pouring the baptismal water upon the head, the quantity of the elements consumed in the Eucharist, etc. These, though unwritten, are not the less obligatory when ascertained to be standing customs of the Church. The article ordains that "whosoever, through his private judgment, willingly and purposely doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church which be not. repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked, openly (that others may fear to do the like) as he that; offendeth against the common order of the Church," etc.


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Tradition, Christian.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/t/tradition-christian.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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