By Monsignor J. Brian Bransfield
People ask if everything Catholics believe is found in the Bible. The answer? Both “yes” and “no.” The Church “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the Holy Scriptures alone” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] no. 82 Dei Verbum 9). Jesus is the ultimate Source of everything Catholics believe, for he reveals God’s plan to save the world from sin as he reveals the Father’s love. Jesus does this because he is the Son of God. He is always united with his Father and thus is the fullness of both Revelation.
The mission of Jesus continues through the ministry of the Church that he founded, and he has given the Church the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for guidance in everything. The Revelation of Jesus is thus extended to the Apostles and handed on through two means: Sacred Scripture and Tradition.
Sacred Scripture is the inspired word of God, the collection of sacred books that hand on the truth of Revelation in written form.
Tradition, as understood by the Church, is more than a collection of customs or time-honored habits. It encompasses the Church’s teaching, life and worship. The living apostolic Tradition highlights the fact that the Apostles received the words and deeds of Jesus who passed on the authority to teach in his name. “Tradition transmits, in its entirety, the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit” (CCC no 81; Dei Verbum 9).
The Bible reveals that God fulfilled his saving plan of love to free us from sin. The culmination of the entire Bible are the words and deeds of Jesus, in particular his Passion, death and glorious Resurrection.
The beliefs of Catholics are found in the Bible in two ways: explicit and implicit. Some teachings of the Catholic Church are easily found in the Bible. For example, that Jesus is the Son of God, that he called Twelve Apostles to follow him, that he healed, forgave sins, proclaimed the Kingdom of God present in his person, and that he suffered, died and rose again for our sins, are all very explicit in the Bible. The Holy Spirit makes known the full meaning of these events in and through the Church, and makes the power of these events effective throughout history and in our lives today.
Some beliefs are more hidden. Love loves to hide secrets, so that when we find them we are enraptured even more by their beauty. The mystery of Jesus is so profound that sometimes you have to look closely to see all the parts that he has made known. The Holy Spirit has hidden some dimensions of the mission of Jesus in the Bible. The truths of faith are clarified by the Tradition through the Magisterium, the Church’s authentic teaching office. These truths never contradict the Word of God in Scripture, but serve to articulate its truth more clearly.
The Holy Spirit helps us to find and to articulate these mysteries. The teaching on the Trinity, that is, that there are three Persons in one God, is found in the Bible in the many instances where Jesus speaks about his relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The terms that the Church needed to express this mystery were given to her over several hundred years by the same Holy Spirit that inspired the Gospel writers as they wrote of the words of Jesus that revealed the mystery in the first place. The Church’s teachings about the Blessed Mother, the saints, the role of virtue and holiness are found in the Bible implicitly in varying degrees.
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Monsignor J. Brian Bransfield is General Secretary of the USCCB and previously served as Executive Director of the Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesis.