Catholic beliefs and doctrines have their roots in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ who founded the Catholic Church nearly 2,000 years ago. These beliefs have been codified in a few different sources, namely Scripture and Tradition. Ah, yes, it’s that hot, Catholic buzzword “Tradition.”
Some people shudder when they read it, others embrace it holding it up high for all to see like a beacon in the fog. But what exactly is it? I mean, what’s the big deal? Why are some people so darn repulsed by it and others understand it?
Catholic Tradition is not the horrendous “traditions of man” that are referenced in the Bible. In fact, for our purposes let’s just throw the word Tradition out the window right now.
The Catholic Church (a.k.a. the universal community of believers that received the faith from the apostles) has been around for a long time; about 2,000 years to be exact. The Church was born on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) when the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles and has been going ever since.
Imagine if you were 2,000 years old. You would have a lot of experience, a lot of wisdom and a lot of time for your faith to mature and develop. You would still be the original [insert name here] and the basic things about you would remain the same, but your understanding of those things would mature over time into something deep and powerful that only those who took some serious time to understand you might realize.
Looking in at you from the outside I might be pressed to ask, “How the heck did he/she ever come to that conclusion?” But I am sure that if I asked you, in all your 2,000 years of experience and wisdom, how you came to such and such conclusion you would be able to explain it to me.
It wouldn’t be all that fair if I had only heard from your half-friends and enemies (who, by the way, are all only about 400 years old or even younger) about the things you believed and the conclusions you made; relative to you they are in their infancy, disagree with you due to a lack of understanding the circumstances and are too stubborn to accept the conclusions you have drawn based on your 2,000 year experience and wisdom. I use this as an illustration of the Protestant churches facetiously, but the point still remains.
All Catholic belief is in Scripture, but the development of some of it happened over time. It was a maturing process based on much experience and the things handed down from previous generations. This is what the Catholic Church calls Tradition.
The Church never just made up doctrines out of thin air. What is commonly written in anti-Catholic literature about certain Catholic practices not appearing until the middle ages is really all a big misunderstanding. Often what they cite are the years and councils where the Church felt it was necessary to put an official stamp of approval or affirm practice that has been in Christianity since the beginning.
The Catholic Church did not make an “official” announcement on the canon of Scripture until the Council of Trent because before that time all Christians had accepted all books of the Bible. It was during the Reformation that the Church felt it was being challenged seriously enough so it decided it was time to make official what Christendom had believed for all the centuries prior.
The same thing is true for the belief in transubstantiation, purgatory, the sacraments, prayer to saints, etc. Some things that were decided at councils are not matters that are significant to salvation but merely better ways at making the Church run efficiently such as priestly celibacy. It’s a matter of Church discipline and could change tomorrow (although very unlikely). It has nothing to do with matters of faith.
Other things, such as prayer devotions like the rosary, didn’t develop until later. Devotions like these do not have the same status as official teachings of the Church. Even so, saying that a devotional, like the rosary, is a man-made tradition of Catholicism and therefore not Christian is like saying that computers are horrible because they haven’t been around since the dawn of time. In order to get to the point where computers came into existence we had to start somewhere. Through time the steps were made to get to the point where we had enough knowledge to invent a computer. The same is true with the rosary.
Jesus taught us the basis of prayer: the Our Father. Does this mean that all other prayers that follow that mold or that are different are bad because Jesus didn’t teach us those specific words? Of course not, that would be ridiculous. Jesus gave us a formula to pray just as the rest of the Scriptures give us the formula for our faith.
The entire foundation for our belief is in Scripture. The rest is history.