Sacred Tradition and the Bible are not different or competing revelations. They are two ways that the Church hands on the gospel. Apostolic teachings such as the Trinity, infant baptism, the inerrancy of the Bible, purgatory, and Mary’s perpetual virginity have been most clearly taught through Tradition (with a capital T), although they are also implicitly present in (and not contrary to) the Bible. The Bible itself tells us to hold fast to Tradition, whether it comes to us in written or oral form. (2 Thess. 2:15, 1 Cor. 11:2).
Sacred Tradition should not be confused with customs and disciplines, small “t” traditions, such as the rosary, priestly celibacy, and not eating meat on Fridays in Lent. These are good and helpful things, but they are not doctrines. Sacred Tradition preserves doctrines first taught by Jesus to the apostles and later passed down to us through the apostles’ successors, the bishops.
The Catholic Church has many Traditions. Here we’re talking about capital “T” Traditions. Many ask, “If these are not written in the Scriptures, are we bound to obey them?” This is often an area of contention for our Protestant brothers and sisters. What Fundamentalists and Evangelicals often do, unfortunately, is see the word “tradition” in Matthew 15:3 or Colossians 2:8 or elsewhere and conclude that anything termed a “tradition” is to be rejected. They forget that the term is used in a different sense, as in 1 Corinthians 11:2 and 2 Thessalonians 2:15, to describe what should be believed. Jesus did not condemn all traditions; he condemned only erroneous traditions, whether doctrines or practices, that undermined Christian truths. The rest, as the apostles taught, were to be obeyed. Paul commanded the Thessalonians to adhere to all the traditions he had given them, whether oral or written.
Is the Bible the sole rule of faith for Christians, or does Tradition also provide a norm for believers? Let’s see what one Father of the Church had to say: “But in regard to those observances which we carefully attend and which the whole world keeps, and which derive not from Scripture but from tradition, we are given to understand that they are recommended and ordained to be kept, either by the apostles themselves or by plenary councils, the authority of which is quite vital in the Church” St. Augustine In 2 Timothy 2:2, St. Paul refers to several generations of apostolic succession – his own generation, Timothy’s generation, the generation Timothy will teach, and the generation they in turn will teach. The early Church Fathers, who were themselves links in this chain, clearly recognized the necessity of teaching and keeping the Traditions that had been handed down.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about Tradition, “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.” Indeed, “the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time. 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, the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.”
Being Catholic is to believe in God and all that He has revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief. One method God has used to reveal truth to us is through the Church in the form of Tradition.