Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus,
“Do you understand all these things?” They answered, “Yes.” And [Jesus] replied, “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”
Our Lord Jesus gives us four beautiful parables in this week’s Gospel passage, and I would like to focus on the fourth. It is only one sentence long, quoted above. The “scribes” that Jesus describes are those disciples who understand the Scriptures that came before Jesus, what we call the Old Testament, and the new teachings that Jesus is giving them. We do not cast off the old because it is old, nor do we reject the new because it is new. Both Old and New Testaments are essential to understanding the Kingdom of God as Jesus describes it. When a new teaching comes along, we examine it in light of our existing relationship with God. This preexisting relationship includes our lived experience of God, both the written Word contained in Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church that has been handed down along with the Scriptures. This is, in fact, how the canon of the Bible was compiled. Someone had to decide which gospels, letters, and teachings belonged in the Bible. This teaching office of the Church, what we call the Magisterium, has the duty of judging what is and what is not in agreement with Sacred Scripture and Tradition. The Magisterium is the college of bishops around the world in union with the pope.
By these three authorities, Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium, we maintain the eternal truths of the Church and find new ways to express them. The new and the old are both important. We need to remember the past and learn from it so that we do not lose the continuity of our identity in Christ and our relationship with Him. At the same time, we need to explore new things so that our relationship and identity do not become stagnant or out-of-touch with the wider world. We cannot simply take refuge in the past, nor can we lightly dispense with it in search of new things.
Think of this in terms of building a home with beautiful landscaping around it. You want to cultivate the land around the house and so you dig flowerbeds along the foundation. If you dig too deeply or carelessly, you might undermine the foundation and put the stability of the house at risk. The foundation is important. It must be maintained. Similarly, as you dig you find a large fieldstone under part of the yard. This can be removed without damaging the house and can be discarded if necessary. Or, if the stone is particularly beautiful, it can be placed artistically with the lawn, and the landscaping can be formed around it, enhancing the beauty and the richness of the whole property. This ‘old’ thing can be described in a new way to great benefit. It is a gift that may have been otherwise overlooked if not for the ‘new’ digging and development that brought it to light. It may even be that this previously undiscovered rock is supporting part of the foundation and is more essential than previously known. To remove it, in this case, would be detrimental to the house. It is all the more important then, to preserve this previously unobserved ‘old’ thing. If you do a little research, you may find that the previous owner of the property knew about the stone and wrote about it in the documents of sale. You may have missed that reference in your previous readings of the documents (scriptures), but the tradition of the past preserved it, and you, the current authority (magisterium) can now better describe it to your household, and plan accordingly. Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium work together to maintain and develop the old and work in the new in beautiful and fruitful ways.
May we be like those worthy scribes described in the Gospel and bring together the old and the new in fruitful and joyful expression of our rich and ever-growing faith.
Peace in Christ,
Father Matthew Kuhn