What is Sacred Tradition and why do Catholics believe in it?


Sacred Tradition is basically all the ways in which the teaching of the Apostles, the “deposit of faith,” is passed on and preserved by the Church. This deposit was preserved and passed on through the writing of Sacred Scripture, which was inspired by the Holy Spirit, but it is also found in the ordinary teaching of the bishops, in the writings of the early Church Fathers, in the authoritative documents of the Church, and in the liturgical worship of the faithful.

Since the teaching and preaching of the Apostles has a divine origin, as does the consigning of that preaching to writing, both the preaching and the writing comprise the “Word of God” and thus “must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence” (Dei Verbum, no. 9).

So, you see, Catholics commit themselves to this Sacred Tradition because we believe that it too is a source for what God wants us to know about Himself and His Church. Even Scripture recommends this Tradition. St. Paul in particular speaks in many places about this:

  • He presents Scripture and Tradition as standing alongside each other: 2 Thes 2:15; 2 Tim 3:10, 14-15
  • He affirms the Tradition that his audience received: Rom 10:8, 17; Gal 1:11-12; Eph 1:13-14; Col 1:5-7; Titus 1:3
  • He commands them to follow it: Phil 4:9; 1 Thes 4:1-2; 2 Thes 3:6-7; 2 Tim 1:13
  • He praises them when they follow it: 1 Cor 11:2; 15:1, 3, 11; 1 Thes 2:13
  • He indicates that this Tradition will continue forever: 1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 2:2.

Note that, whenever “tradition” is condemned in Scripture, for example, by Jesus (cf. Mt 15:3-9; Mk 7: 8-13) or by Paul (cf. Col 2:8), what is being condemned are the traditions of men, or traditions that are contrary to the Word of God. The authentic, Sacred Tradition of the Church, however, has its very source in Jesus Christ and is preserved by the Holy Spirit working in the Church.

I hope that answers your question. There are many different ways to articulate what Sacred Tradition is, and what the relationship is between Tradition, Scripture, and the Magisterium (or teaching office) of the Church. I highly suggest reading the Catechism, nos. 74-95, and Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, from the Second Vatican Council.

Peace of Christ to you,

Nicholas Hardesty,
WIMM Board Member Director of Religious Education,
Blessed Mother Catholic Church
Feel free to email your questions to

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