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Catholic Dictionary




Literally a "handing on," referring to the passing down of God's revealed word. As such it has two closely related but distinct meanings. Tradition first means all of divine revelation, from the dawn of human history to the end of the apostolic age, as passed on from one generation of believers to the next, and as preserved under divine guidance by the Church established by Christ. Sacred Tradition more technically also means, within this transmitted revelation, that part of God's revealed word which is not contained in Sacred Scripture. Referring specifically to how Christian tradition was handed on, the Second Vatican Council says: "It was 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 by the prompting of the Holy Spirit" (Constitution on Divine Revelation, II, 7). (Etym. Latin traditio, a giving over, delivery, surrender; a handing down: from tradere, to give up.)