|Tradition is the river of new life that flows
from the origins, from Christ down to us, and sweeps us into the history
of God with humanity
At the General Audience in St.
Peter's Square on Wednesday, 3 May, the Holy Father continued to focus on
the Apostolic Tradition of the Church. Citing Dei Verbum, the Pope
emphasized that: "What was handed on by the Apostles comprises everything
that serves to make the People of God live their lives in holiness and
increase their faith", and that in this way "the Church, in her doctrine,
life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that
she herself is". The following is a translation of the Holy Father's
Catechesis, which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In these Catecheses we wish to understand a little more what the Church
is. The last time we meditated on the theme of Apostolic Tradition. We saw
that it is not a collection of things or words, like a box of dead things.
Tradition is the river of new life that flows from the origins, from
Christ down to us, and makes us participate in God's history with
This topic of Tradition is so important that I would like to reflect
upon it again today: indeed, it is of great importance for the life of the
The Second Vatican Council pointed out in this regard that Tradition is
primarily apostolic in its origins: "God graciously arranged that the
things he had once revealed for the salvation of all peoples should remain
in their entirety, throughout the ages, and be transmitted to all
generations. Therefore, Christ the Lord, in whom the entire Revelation of
the Most High God is summed up (cf. II Cor 1:20; and 3:16-4, 6), commanded
the Apostles to preach the Gospel... and communicate the gifts of God to
all men. This Gospel was to be the source of all saving truth and moral
discipline" (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum,
The Council noted further that this was faithfully done "by the
Apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the
example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they
themselves had received — whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of
life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the
Holy Spirit" (ibid.).
The Council adds that there were "other men associated with the
Apostles, who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed
the message of salvation to writing" (ibid.).
An explanation of the number '12'
As heads of the eschatological Israel, and likewise as Twelve, the
number of the tribes of the Chosen People, the Apostles continued the
"gathering" begun by the Lord and did so first and foremost by
transmitting faithfully the gift received, the Good News of the Kingdom
that came to people in Jesus Christ.
Their number not only expresses continuity with the holy root, the
Israel of the 12 tribes, but also the universal destination of their
ministry, which brought salvation to the very ends of the earth.
This can be understood from the symbolic value that the numbers have in
the Semitic world: twelve results from the multiplication of three, a
perfect number, and four, a number that refers to the four cardinal
points, hence, to the whole world.
The community, born from the proclamation of the Gospel, recognizes
that it was called by the words of those who were the first to experience
the Lord and were sent out by him.
It knows that it can count on the guidance of the Twelve, as well as
that of those who were gradually associated with them as their successors
in the ministry of the Word and in the service of communion. Consequently,
the community feels committed to transmit to others the "Good News" of the
actual presence of the Lord and of his Paschal Mystery, brought about in
The missionary mandate
This is clearly highlighted and visible in certain passages of the
Pauline Letters: "I delivered to you... what I also received" (I Cor
15:3). And this is important. St. Paul, it is well-known, originally
called by Christ with a personal vocation, was a real Apostle, yet for him
too, fidelity to what he received was fundamentally important. He did not
want "to invent" a new, so-to-speak, "Pauline" Christianity. Therefore, he
insisted, "I have passed on to you what I too received". He passed on the
initial gift that comes from the Lord and the truth that saves.
Then, towards the end of his life, he wrote to Timothy: "Guard this
rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us (II Tm
It is also effectively demonstrated by this ancient testimony of the
Christian faith written by Tertullian in about the year 200: "(The
Apostles) after first bearing witness to the faith in Jesus Christ
throughout Judea and founding Churches (there), they next went forth into
the world and preached the same doctrine of the same faith to the nations.
They then in like manner founded Churches in every city, from which all
the other Churches, one after another; derived the tradition of the faith
and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may
become Churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able
to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic
Churches" (Tertullian, De Praescriptione Haereticorum, 20: PL 2,
The Second Vatican Council comments: "What was handed on by the
Apostles comprises everything that serves to make the People of God live
their lives in holiness and increase their faith. In this way the Church,
in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every
generation all that she herself is, all that she believes" (Dei Verbum,
Tradition: the living Gospel
The Church transmits all that she is and believes, she hands it down
through worship, life and doctrine.
So it is that Tradition is the living Gospel, proclaimed by the
Apostles in its integrity on the basis of the fullness of their unique and
unrepeatable experience: through their activity the faith is communicated
to others, even down to us, until the end of the world. Tradition,
therefore, is the history of the Spirit who acts in the Church's history
through the mediation of the Apostles and their successors, in faithful
continuity with the experience of the, origins.
This is what St. Clement of Rome said towards the end of the first
century: "The Apostles", he wrote, "have preached the Gospel to us from
the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent by God. Christ, therefore,
was sent forth by God, and the Apostles by Christ.
"Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according
to the will of God.... Our Apostles also knew, through Our Lord Jesus
Christ, that there would be strife on account of the episcopal office.
"For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect
foreknowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned,
and afterwards gave instructions that when these should fall asleep, other
approved men should succeed them in their ministry" (Ad Corinthios,
42, 44: PG 1, 292, 296).
This chain of service has continued until today; it will continue to
the end of the world. Indeed, the mandate that Jesus conferred upon the
Apostles was passed on by them to their successors. Going beyond the
experience of personal contact with Christ, unique and unrepeatable, the
Apostles passed on to their successors the solemn mandate that they had
received from the Master to go out into the world. "Apostle" comes
precisely from the Greek term, "apostéllein", which means "to send
Pastoral, liturgical and prophetic
The apostolic mandate — as the text of Matthew shows (Mt 28:19ff.) —
implies a service that is pastoral ("Go therefore and make disciples of
all the nations..."), liturgical ("baptizing them"), and prophetic
("teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you"), guaranteed by
the Lord's closeness, until the end of time ("and lo, I am with you
always, to the close of the age").
Thus, but differently from the Apostles, we too have a true, personal
experience of the presence of the Risen Lord.
Therefore, through the apostolic ministry it is Christ himself who
reaches those who are called to the faith. The distance of the centuries
is overcome and the Risen One offers himself alive and active for our
sake, in the Church and in the world today.
This is our great joy. In the living river of Tradition, Christ is not
2,000 years away but is really present among us and gives us the Truth, he
gives us the light that makes us live and find the way towards the future.