What is Sacred Tradition in the Catholic Church? Isn't the Bible Alone sufficient for us without all of the "Tradition" that pollutes the Word of God with man-made stuff? The answer is absolutely not.
Sacred Tradition is the oral teaching of Jesus Christ handed down to his apostles, who in turn handed it down to their disciples (the early Church Fathers), and then to the next generation, and then finally to us. How do we know this? Well, for almost 400 years there was no written New Testament to fall back on. All of the apostles and disciples taught orally for the first 400 years. Yes, you might say, but didn't Paul, Peter, John, Luke, etc., write everything down in their epistles and gospels? Yes, they did, but none of it was widely available to geographically separated disciples and it wasn't part of "The Bible" until the Councils of Rome, Hippo, and Carthage put the 27 books of the New Testament together in 382 AD, 393 AD, and 397 AD. At that time, it took on the mantle of infallible scripture with the Old Testament. Interestingly, Protestants today accept this Catholic "Tradition" of these 27 books of the Bible being divinely inspired. Protestants also accept the Catholic Tradition of meeting on Sunday, rather than the Jewish custom of meeting on Saturday.
Why is Tradition important? Well, for starters, people who translate the bible into their vernacular might want to put their particular spin on a verse, like Luther did with Romans 3:28, when he inserted the word "alone" after "faith" ("For we hold that a man is justified by faith [alone] apart from works of law"), a word that was not in the Latin text from St. Jerome. He justified it based on his personal opinion on what the verse should have said, even though it directly contradicts James 2:24 ("You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone"). So Tradition took a hit there, and the whole Protestant Reformation began, based on "Sola Fide", or the erroneous doctrine of being saved by "Faith Alone". Scripture cannot be in conflict with Scripture, and one of the ways this is guaranteed is by Sacred Tradition.
There are some instances of Sacred Tradition in the Bible that are interesting. For instance, in Acts 20:35, Paul says the following:
"In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, `It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
These words are not recorded anywhere else in the Bible, including the 4 gospels, so this is one example of an oral teaching of Jesus being handed on to Paul,who hands it down to us.
Another example of this is in the book of Jude 1:9, which says the following:
"But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, disputed about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him, but said, "The Lord rebuke you."
This dispute, between the Archangel Michael and the devil over Moses' body, is nowhere to be found in the written text of the Old Testament.
Here are a few more:
Matthew 2:23:And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene."(This "he shall be called a Nazarene" prophecy is not in written scripture anywhere).
Matthew 23:2:"The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat;"(Moses' seat is not mentioned anywhere in written scripture).
1 Corinthians 10:4:"and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ." (Nowhere in the Old Testament does it say that a rock "followed" the Israelites in the desert.)
2 Timothy 3:8: "As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith;" (These 2 individuals who opposed Moses are not written in the Old Testament).
Hebrews 11:35: "Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life" (This is a direct reference to 2 Maccabees 7, which Luther threw out of his bible in the 16th century. This story cannot be found anywhere in the Protestant Bible. It is in the Catholic Bible, and has been since the 4th century.)
So what happens if we jettison Sacred Tradition and let Sacred Scripture stand on its own? Heresies based on the modern culture start to creep into the interpretations of scripture, for one thing. All of a sudden, new people pop up who say that the Eucharist is only symbolic, and not the actual body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ (and the word "symbolic" is not even in scripture when referring to the Eucharist. None of the writings of the Early Church Fathers used the word "symbolic" either, always referring to the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Jesus). Artificial birth control and abortion become part of certain churches' "OK list". And today, the Episcopalians and even the Lutherans are saying that it's now OK to have practicing homosexual ministers - Somewhere, Martin Luther, the inventor of the "Scripture Alone" doctrine is turning over in his grave! Both the Old Testament and the New Testament condemn the practice of homosexuality as being evil.
Sacred Tradition does NOT refer to individual practices and customs, such as the language of the Mass, kneeling or standing for Holy Communion, eating or not eating meat on Friday, etc. Rather, it is the oral teaching of Jesus Christ handed on to the Apostles and the Church, which carries equal weight with the Church's book, the Bible. Here is what "Dei Verbum", or the "Word of God" document from Vatican II has to say about Sacred Tradition:
"Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit. To the successors of the apostles, sacred Tradition hands on in its full purity God’s word, which was entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit.Sacred Scripture does condemn in many places the traditions of man (having to do with Jewish practices about not healing on the Sabbath, hoarding money, not helping Samaritans, etc), but those have NOTHING to do with the Traditions Paul is talking about below.
"Thus, by the light of the Spirit of truth, these successors can in their preaching preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same devotion and reverence."
1 Corinthians 11:2: I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you"
2 Thessalonians 2:15: So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.
2 Thessalonians 3:6:Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
The Catholic Church guarantees the faithful handing on of the Word of God through the teaching authority of the Pope and his Bishops, known as the Magesterium. The Magesterium ensures that no new erroneous doctrine or heresy pops up to lead the people astray. Like a three legged stool, the trinity of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magesterium makes sure that the Word of God is faithfully handed on to each succeeding generation. If any of the three legs goes away, error is certain to creep in, like it is doing in many protestant churches today, who interpret scripture based on their personal opinion of what they think it says. Sin is now being enshrined in many of their doctrines, and it is happening before our very eyes, as they overturn centuries of their tradition with a simple majority vote of their delegates.