I was looking up a reference in the CCC today and happened upon the following two sections:

1114: “Adhering to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures, to the apostolic traditions, and to the consensus . . . of the Fathers,” we profess that “the sacraments of the new law were . . . all instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Quotation of the Council of Trent, DS 1600-1601)
1117: As she has done for the canon of Sacred Scripture and for the doctrine of the faith, the Church, by the power of the Spirit who guides her “into all truth,” has gradually recognized this treasure received from Christ and, as the faithful steward of God’s mysteries, has determined its “dispensation.” Thus the Church has discerned over the centuries that among liturgical celebrations there are seven that are, in the strict sense of the term, sacraments instituted by the Lord.

I had these sections marked, of course, but what caused me to comment about them here is the contrast of the old and the new they represent. The first is the voice of Medieval/Trentian/Papal Syllabus of Errors Catholicism. What those gathered at Trent meant by “apostolic traditions” and “consensus…of the Fathers” is easy to determine from their writings and sermons what they thought that meant. The Seven Sacraments were given by God to the Church through the Apostles, or so they believed. But history has a way of messing with that kind of theory, and modern Rome well knows that is not the case, and no serious minded person believes they can demonstrate the modern Roman theory from patristic sources. So, modern Rome, while continuing to cite Trent and speak of apostolic tradition and the like, speaks with a very different accent in section 1117. Oh yes, you still have the high-flying claim of the Spirit’s guidance of Rome “into all truth,” accompanying claims regarding the canon of Scripture and the doctrine of the faith, but note that instead of an identifiable apostolic tradition coming directly from the Apostles, now we have a much less definable concept of “tradition,” one that involves a “gradual recognition” that leads to a slow “discernment” over “centuries” that out of all the liturgical celebrations, there are seven that are, strictly, sacraments.

The odd cohabitation of the old and the new is a constant element of modern Roman Catholicism, but one that raises all sorts of apologetic issues, more for the defender of Rome than for the one defending against her claims. But in either case, I have often pondered the odd situation of Rome. Her main structures were built upon a foundation that her modern practitioners no longer believe (not unlike modern liberal Protestant denominations), but she continues to claim the same kind of authority by redefining the words. Try nailing ten Roman Catholic theologians or apologists down on a specific definition, identification, and utilization, of “tradition.” It simply isn’t possible. So she continues claiming “apostolic tradition” and all the authority inherent in such a phrase, while at the same time admitting (at least in her modern theologians) that the Apostles really had nothing to do with these beliefs: they are the result of “Spirit guided reflection” upon the “deposit of faith.” RC apologists will flip flop back and forth between the old and the new constantly, presenting a moving target. Keep this in mind the next time you listen to a debate, especially on authority issues, or historical topics.

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