We concluded our preceding article with the remark that the main principles of the Reformation are usually considered to be two, namely the formal and the material principle. And we planned, the Lord willing, to look at these two principles in this article. 

We shall now call attention first of all to the formal principle. When we speak of the formal principle we mean that the Reformers acknowledged only one source of authority: the Holy Scripture. Maintaining this principle they stood opposed to Roman Catholicism, False Mysticism (Quakers, Anabaptists, etc.), and to Rationalism. 

First of all, the Reformers took a stand which was directly opposed to the stand of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church acknowledged, besides the Word of God, also tradition as a source of authority. On this subject of tradition Hodge, in his Systematic Theology, Vol. I, 108-110, writes as follows: 

“The word tradition (paradosis) means, (1) The art of delivering over from one to another. (2) The thing delivered or communicated. In the New Testament it is used (a) For instructions delivered from some to others, without reference to the mode of delivery, whether it be orally or by writing; as in II Thess. 2:15, “Hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle ;” “Withdraw yourself from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.” (b) For the oral instructions of the fathers handed down from generation, but not contained in the Scriptures, and yet regarded as authoritative. In this sense our Lord so frequently speaks of “the traditions of the Pharisees.” (c) In Gal. 1:14, where Paul speaks of his zeal for the traditions of his fathers, it may include both the written and unwritten instructions which he had received. What he was so zealous about, was the whole system of Judaism as he had been taught it. 

In the early Church the word was used in this wide sense. Appeal was constantly made to “the traditions,” i.e., the instructions which the churches had received. It was only certain churches at first which had any of the written instructions of the Apostles. And it was not until the end of the first century that the writings of the Evangelists and Apostles were collected, and formed into a canon, or rule of faith. And when the books of the New Testament had been collected, the fathers spoke of them as containing the traditions, i.e., the instructions derived from Christ and His Apostles. They called the Gospels “the evangelical traditions” and the Epistles “the apostolical traditions.” In that age of the Church the distinction between the written and unwritten word had not yet been distinctly made. But as controversies arose, and disputants on both sides of all questions appealed to “tradition,” i.e. to what they had been taught; and when it was found that these traditions differed, one church saying their teachers had always taught the one thing, and another that theirs had taught them the opposite, it was felt that there should be some common and authoritative standard. Hence the wisest and best of the fathers insisted on abiding by the written word, and receiving nothing as of divine authority not contained therein. In this, however, it must be confessed they were not always consistent. Whenever prescription, usage, or conviction founded on unwritten evidence, was available against an adversary, they did not hesitate to make the most of it. During all the early centuries, therefore, the distinction between Scripture and tradition was not so sharply drawn as it has been since the controversies between Romanists and Protestants, and especially since the decisions of the Council of Trent. 


That Council (the council of Trent; and “tridentine doctrine” refers to the doctrine as set forth by the Council of Trent. ― H.V.), and the Latin Church as a body, teach on this subject, ― (1) That Christ and His Apostles taught many things which were not committed to writing, i.e., not recorded in the Sacred Scriptures. (2) That these instructions have been faithfully transmitted, and preserved in the Church. (3) That they constitute a part of the rule of faith for all believers. 

From extracts taken from the acts of the Council and also from excerpts of the writings of Bellarmin and Petrus a Soto, it appears; 1. That these traditions are called unwritten because they are not contained in the Scriptures. They are, for the most part, now to be found in the works of the Fathers, decisions of councils, ecclesiastical constitutions, and rescripts of the Popes. 

2. The office of tradition is to convey a knowledge of doctrine, precepts, and institutions not contained in Scripture; and also to serve as a guide to the proper understanding of what is therein written. Tradition, therefore, in the Church of Rome, is both the supplement and interpretation of the written word. 

3. The authority due to tradition is the same as that which belongs to the Scriptures. Both are to be received “pari pietatis affedtu et reverentia.” Both are derived from the same source; both are received through the same channel; and both are authenticated by the same witness. This authority, however, belongs properly only to traditions regarded as divine or apostolical. Those termed ecclesiastical are of less importance, relating to rites and usages. Still for them is claimed an authority virtually divine, as they are enjoined by a church which claims to have been endowed by Christ with full power to ordain rites and ceremonies. 

4. The criteria by which to distinguish between true and false traditions, are either antiquity and catholicity, or the testimony of the extant Church. Sometimes the one, and sometimes the other is urged. The Council of Trent gives the former; so does Bellarmin, and so do the majority of Romish theologians. This is the famous rule established by Vincent of Lerins in the fifth century, “quod semper, quodubique, quod ab omnibus.” On all occasions, however, the ultimate appeal is to the decision of the Church. Whatever the Church declares to be a part of the revelation committed to her, is to be received as of divine authority, at the peril of salvation.” ― end of quote of Hodge. 

This Tridentine doctrine, the doctrine as expressed and set forth by the Council of Trent, is set forth by this Council in its fourth session, April 8, 1546, under the heading: Decree Concerning The Canonical Scriptures, and we quote: “The sacred and holy, oecumenical, and general Synod of Trent, ― lawfully assembled in the Holy Ghost, the same three legates of the Apostolic See presiding therein, ―keeping this always in view, that, errors being removed, the purity itself of the Gospel be preserved in the Church; which(Gospel), before promised through the prophets in the holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves; the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand : (the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament―seeing that one God is the author of both ― as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ’s own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession. 

And it has thought it meet that a list of the sacred books be inserted in this decree, lest a doubt may arise in any one’s mind, which are the books that are received by this Synod. They are set down here below: of the Old Testament: the five books of Moses, to wit, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy ; Joshua; Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, two of Paralipomenon, the first book of Estras, and the second which is entitled Nehemias; Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, the Davidical Psalter, consisting of a hundred and fifty psalms; the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaias, Jeremias, with Baruch; Ezechiel, Danial; the twelve minor prophets, to wit, Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habacue, Sophonias, Aggaeus, Zacharias, Malachias; two books of the Machabees, the first and the second. Of the New Testament: the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles written by Luke the Evangelist; fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle, (one) to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, (one) to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, (one) to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews; two of Peter the apostle, three of John the apostle, one of the apostle James, one of Jude the apostle, and the Apocalyspe of John the Apostle. 

But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema. Let all, there, understand, in what order, and in what manner, the said Synod, after having laid the foundation of the Confession of faith, will proceed, and what testimonies and authorities it will mainly use in confirming dogmas, and in restoring morals in the Church. 

Decree Concerning the Edition, And the Use, of the Sacred Books. 

Moreover, the same sacred and holy Synod, ― considering that no small utility may accrue to the Church of God, of it be made known which out of all the Latin editions, now in circulation, of the sacred books, is to be held as authentic, ― ordains and declares, that the said old and vulgate edition, which, by the lengthened usage of so many ages, has been approved of in the church, be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons, and expositions, held as authentic; and that no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever. Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, it decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall, ―in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, ―wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church, ―whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures, ― hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be punished with the penalties by law established.” ―end of Quote from the Acts of the Council of Trent.