Mark 7:8, referring to “human traditions” is often a verse which non-Catholic folk will hold up as proof text of the manner in which the Catholic Church has gone astray, introducing all manner of non-Biblical beliefs. The usual list includes there is the veneration of Mary, her Immaculate Conception and her bodily Assumption into Heaven. There is also transubstantiation, praying to saints, the confessional, penance, purgatory, and more. There are the variety of would-be apologists that do not understand what the Church offers about these topics, but there are Protestant and Reformed apologists who are quite clear on the Church’s teaching, but hold the root error is that Catholics place Sacred Tradition on the same par as Sacred Scripture. Is there analysis true? Let’s hear from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC):
The Relationship Between Tradition And Sacred Scripture (CCC §§80-83)
One common source. . . “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal.”(Dei Verbum 9) Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own “always, to the close of the age”. (Mt 28:20)
. . . two distinct modes of transmission…”Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.” (DV 9) “And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.” (DV 9)
As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.” (DV 9)
Apostolic Tradition and ecclesial traditions
The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus’ teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition.
Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church’s Magisterium.
As a Church we rely on the constancy of Tradition which is considered part of the depositum fidei (deposit of faith) – Sacred Scripture and Tradition together. The other traditions can come and go as it seems beneficial to the faithful. But there is one additional aspect: authentic interpretation. The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome (CCC §85). Yet, it is often the very exercise of this teaching office that non-Catholics would label as “human tradition” since it is not explicit in Scripture. As we study this passage in Mark be attentive to which “traditions” are being spoken about in the context of the passage and the Faith.