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Christian tradition is a collection of traditions of practices or beliefs associated with Christianity or groups with Christianity. These beliefs have more or less authority based on the nature of the practices or beliefs and on the group in question.
Many churches have traditional practices, such as particular patterns of worship or rites, that developed over time. Deviations from such patterns are sometimes considered unacceptable or heretical. Similarly, traditions can be stories or history that are or were widely accepted without being part of Christian doctrine, e.g., the crucifixion of Saint Peter or the evangelistic activity of Thomas the Apostle in India, which are widely believed to have happened but are not recorded in scripture. Similarly the names of the Magi who visited Jesus at his birth are thought to have been invented much later than the events; they are not considered authentic or obligatory, but can be considered a tradition.
Tradition also includes historic teaching of the recognized church authorities, such as Church Councils and ecclesiastical officials (e.g., the Pope, Patriarch of Constantinople, Archbishop of Canterbury, etc.), and includes the teaching of significant individuals like the Church Fathers, the Protestant Reformers, and founders of movements like John Wesley. Many creeds, confessions of faith, and catechisms generated by these bodies and individuals are also part of the traditions of various bodies.
Tradition and ecclesial traditions
The Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Anglican churches distinguish between what is called Apostolic Tradition or sacred tradition, and ecclesial traditions. In the course of time ecclesial traditions develop in theology, discipline, liturgy, and devotions. These the Church may retain, modify or even abandon. Apostolic Tradition, on the other hand, is the teaching that was handed down by the Apostles by word of mouth, by their example and "by the institutions they established", among which is the apostolic succession of the bishops: "this living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition". "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."
Prior to the sixth century, the Catholic Church's teachings on morality were incoherent. Catholic researchers such as Bernard Hoose and Mark Jordan have found that claims to a continuous teaching by the Church on matters of sexuality, life and death and crime and punishment are "simply not true". Not only was there "inconsistency, contradiction and even incoherence" in the Church's doctrines but the researchers' work has led to the insight that "the tradition itself is not the truth guarantor of any particular teaching."
Among the main groups of Christianity, there are Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants. In the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy, sacred tradition, but not "ecclesial traditions", is considered official doctrine and of equal authoritative weight to the Bible. Among conservative Protestants, the Bible itself is the only final authority (see sola scriptura and prima scriptura), but tradition still plays an important supporting role. All three groups generally accept the traditional developments on the doctrine of the Trinity, for instance, and set bounds of orthodoxy and heresy based on that tradition. They also have developed creedal and confessional statements which summarize and develop their understanding of biblical teaching.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 83 Archived June 29, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 76-78 Archived August 5, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 80 Archived June 29, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
- Baum, Wilhelm; Winkler, Dietmar W. (2003). The Church of the East: a concise history. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-29770-7.
- Hotchkiss, Gregory K. The Middle Way: Reflections on Scripture and Tradition, in series, Reformed Episcopal Pamphlets, no. 3. Media, Penn.: Reformed Episcopal Publication Society, 1985. 27 p. N.B.: Place of publication also given as Philadelphia, Penn.; the approach to the issue is from an evangelical Anglican (Reformed Episcopal Church) orientation. Without ISBN