The relationship between Scripture and tradition is a question as acute today as ever. The sixteenth century by no means settled the issue, decisive and significant though the problem was at that time. The theology of the Roman Catholic Church bristles currently with differences of opinion on this matter. One could mention several publications in which Roman Catholic thinkers are putting an emphasis on Holy Scripture that has been unheard of in their communion. The term “sufficiency” is being applied to the Bible by Roman writers, a term long a Reformation trademark.

This does not mean that tradition is being rejected. Tradition is, however, being called the living tradition, growing out of the full richness of Holy Scripture. It is not surprising, then, that the current Vatican Council had to face a consideration of the question. The strongly conservative theologians, who have spoken out against the more progressive ones at the council, prefer to speak of a twofold source of revelation: Scripture and tradition. They lean on Trent, whose fourth decree, it is said, places Scripture and tradition on a par as sources of revelation. But heated discussions have centered on this decree lately, and full oneness of mind is far from present.

The name of J. R. Geiselmann, a Roman scholar with many studies in the area of Scripture and tradition to his credit, figures prominently here. Along with him are figures such as Yves Congar and Peter Lengsfeld. Indeed, the question is being raised anew in many circles: are there two sources of revelation? That this question should be so persistent at present is related to the intense concern that Roman scholars have shown for the witness of the Bible in recent years. The Bible, according to Rome, is the inspired Word of God. Can tradition have its own place as an independent source of revelation alongside the inspired Word? Did not the Church itself define the Canon precisely to distinguish the Word from all human traditions? Questions like these are being pressed hard.

Geiselmann has tried to show that it was not Trent’s intention to place tradition on a par with Scripture. This historical question concerning Trent is far too complex to discuss in this column, but it seems that a clear and unambiguous statement of the two-sources doctrine was altered at the last moment of Trent under the influence of Nacchianti and Bonuccio, who had argued at the council for the sufficiency of Scripture. I get the impression that Geiselmann’s opinion has the support of most of the progressive wing in Roman theology. They find in this historical opinion, of course, considerable support for their own strong emphasis on the unique significance of the Word of God for preaching and theology.

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Geiselmann’s thesis has not been lacking for opponents. H. Lennerz, of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, has written against him with approval of other conservatives, in an article entitled “Scriptura Sola?” In it he insisted that the alteration of the proposed motion concerning the twofold revelation dogma at Trent has no real significance.

It is enough for us to note the interesting fact that Roman theologians are discovering in a new interpretation of Trent a strong piece of historical support for their own desire to place more value in the Scriptures. We need not be too curious as to whether their interpretation of Trent is correct or not. Curiosity here is hard to satisfy since the published Acts of Trent have nothing to say about the original motion.

One is left wondering whether such inter-Roman discussions as this have possibilities for new perspectives on the centuries-old strife between the Scripture-and-Tradition vs. Scripture-alone factions. If Rome is going to give unique significance to the Word and the Reformation clearly is understood not to have rejected all tradition in the name of Sola Scriptura, do we have reason to expect an end to the controversy?

I discussed this question almost daily with Roman theologians during the Vatican Council. I had the opportunity to meet and speak with several of the theological advisors to the council, men such as Karl Rahner, Henri de Lubac, Hans Küng, E. Schillenbeekcx, and others. In several discussions about the twofold revelation concept, the emphasis was on the canonical and inspired Scriptures as exceeding everything else in importance. The significance of the Word of God was accented continually. But at this point other questions arise. If tradition and Scripture are not equal sources of revelation, what is their relationship? One hears of the living tradition which is based upon and which interprets the Word. One hears of Scripture and the authority of the church to teach the Word. The problem is thus moved to the locus of ecclesiology. Especially since the first Vatican Council, it is easy to understand that the questions concerning Scripture and tradition should revolve about the dogma of the infallible teaching authority of the church. This teaching authority does not create new revelations; it only preserves the original treasure of revelation, the revelation coming to an end with the death of the last apostle. Tradition adds nothing to the original revelation; it explains revelation under the guidance of the infallible authority of the church.

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In view of this, one may ask whether much is won by the newer approach to the question of tradition and Scripture. The issue is clarified, but the clarification comes by way of the infallible teaching authority. We now hear a good deal more about the church’s infallible ability to teach the infallible Word.

The study of the Bible itself has come under the shadow of this emphasis. Roman Catholic exegetes sometimes go a long way out on a limb as far as tradition is concerned. I could mention some amazing studies of the words by which Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper and the words he spoke to Peter in Matthew 16. Exegetical studies come out with expressions that are hard to reconcile with Roman dogma at times. But at the same time the dogma remains untouched and the infallible authority to teach unquestioned. This authority takes the struggle out of historical-critical research and the tension out of Bible study. This is the unique character of Roman Catholic theology in our day. On one hand it is given great freedom in its methods of biblical research. On the other hand the steady line of infallible teaching authority stands unmoved through all.

A certain kind of dualism pervades the situation, a dualism which only creates new problems. From our corner, we shall be watching the developments in Rome with deep interest. For when men begin to read Scripture in new ways, it is not possible to predict the outcome. This is our attitude in the present situation: the Word of God is not bound! (2 Tim. 2:9).

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