Is It Really From the Apostles? ....Yes!
In an earlier comment some months back, a person asked the following question:
“Can you explain why the Catholic Church claims that the doctrines of Sacred Tradition were handed down from the apostles when there appears to be no record of it?”
Now, I don’t know why this is a common thought among many people, but, there are records of the Sacred Traditions having been handed down from the apostles, and the evidence for such is found in the writings of the early ecclesiastic writers and the Early Church Fathers.
We must realize and understand, that it was the apostles who first spread the Christian faith throughout the world. Jesus Christ had chosen the Twelve Apostles as we learn from the sixth chapter of The Gospel According To Saint Luke:
12 And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and he passed the whole night in the prayer of God. 13 And when day was come, he called unto him his disciples; and he chose twelve of them (whom also he named apostles). 14 Simon, whom he surnamed Peter, and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, 15 Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon who is called Zelotes, 16 And Jude, the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, who was the traitor.
So Jesus chose the Twelve, and later He ordained them as we can see from the ninth chapter of The Gospel According To Saint Luke:
1 Then calling together the twelve apostles, he gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. 2 And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. ...6 And going out, they went about through the towns, preaching the gospel, and healing every where.
Jesus also instructed the Twelve to spread the good news of His Kingdom as we see in the first chapter of The Acts of the Apostles:
6 They therefore who were come together, asked him, saying: Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7 But he said to them: It is not for you to know the times or moments, which the Father hath put in his own power: 8 But you shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth.
So, the Apostles followed the commandment of the Lord, and went throughout the “uttermost part of the earth” and led many people to Christ and established churches throughout the known world. From Asia Minor to Northern Africa to Europe the faith was spread, by the Twelve and then by their disciples and followers whom they ordained as deacons, bishops, and presbyters. The Sacred Tradition was most definitely handed down by the Apostles, and we must remember that what the churches established by them, taught by them, and handed down through their successors, were the oral traditions that they received as well as written traditions.
We know that the Apostles went to various regions of the then known world (from both Holy Scriptures and from the traditions of those areas), such as follows:
Saint Andrew - Asia Minor, Greece, and possibly in areas of modern Russia and Poland.
Saint Bartholomew - Asia Minor, Ethiopia, India and Armenia.
Saint James the Greater - Samaria, Judea, and Spain.
Saint John - Asia Minor, Jerusalem, Samaria, Ephesus
Saint Jude - Syria, Mesopotamia, and Persia
Saint Matthias - Judea, Cappadocia, Egypt and Ethiopia.
Saint Matthew - Palestine, Ethiopia
Saint Philip - Greece and Asia Minor.
Saint Simon the Zealot - Egypt, Mesopotamia, Iberia
Saint Simon Peter - Palestine, Syria, and Rome
Saint Thomas - Parthia (western Asia), Persia and India
Saint Paul - Greece, Syria, Palestine, Asia Minor, Rome, and Spain
We also know, that in the early Church, there was a disagreement on the date for celebrating Easter. It seems that the eastern Church celebrated Easter according to the Jewish date for celebrating the Passover, which was the fourteenth day of the Jewish month Nisan, regardless of what day of the week it fell on. Several Early Church Fathers (Saint Polycarp for one) defended their choice of that date, saying that it was the tradition handed down to them by the Apostles.
Following are some of the things written by the Early Church Fathers, other ecclesiastical writers of the early Church, and firstly from some of the Epistles of Saint Paul:
Saint Paul the Apostle:
I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you (1 Cor. 11:2)
So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15)
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us (2 Thess. 3:6).
Pope Saint Clement I from his Epistle to the Corinthians:
The Apostles preached to us the Gospel received from Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ was God's Ambassador. Christ, in other words, comes with a message from God, and the Apostles with a message from Christ. Both these orderly arrangements, therefore, originate from the will of God. And so, after receiving their instructions and being fully assured through the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, as well as confirmed in faith by the word of God, they went forth, equipped with the fullness of the Holy Spirit, to preach the good news that the Kingdom of God was close at hand. From land to land, accordingly, and from city to city they preached, and from among their earliest converts appointed men whom they had tested by the Spirit to act as bishops and deacons for the future believers. And this was no innovation, for, a long time before the Scripture had spoken about bishops and deacons; for somewhere it says: I will establish their overseers in observance of the law and their ministers in fidelity.
Our Apostles, too, were given to understand by our Lord Jesus Christ that the office of the bishop would give rise to intrigues. For this reason, equipped as they were with perfect foreknowledge, they appointed the men mentioned before, and afterwards laid down a rule once for all to this effect: when these men die, other approved men shall succeed to their sacred ministry. Consequently, we deem it an injustice to eject from the sacred ministry the persons who were appointed either by them, or later, with the consent of the whole Church, by other men in high repute and have ministered to the flock of Christ faultlessly, humbly, quietly and unselfishly, and have moreover, over a long period of time, earned the esteem of all. Indeed, it will be no small sin for us if we oust men who have irreproachably and piously offered the sacrifices proper to the episcopate. Happy the presbyters who have before now completed life's journey and taken their departure in mature age and laden with fruit! They, surely, do not have to fear that anyone will dislodge them from the place built for them. Yes, we see that you removed some, their good conduct notwithstanding, from the sacred ministry on which their faultless discharge had shed luster.
It is our duty, then, my brethren, to follow examples such as these. For the Scripture says: Follow the saints for such as follow them shall be sanctified. And again, in another passage, it says: With an innocent man Thou wilt be innocent and with an elect Thou wilt be elect, and with one perverted Thou wilt deal perversely. Let us, therefore, associate with the innocent and law-abiding; these are God's elect.
These items below come from Saint Jerome’s “Lives of Illustrious Men” :
Saint Quadratus the bishop of Athens:
Quadratus, disciple of the apostles, after Publius bishop of Athens had been crowned with martyrdom on account of his faith in Christ, was substituted in his place, and by his faith and industry gathered the church scattered by reason of its great fear. And when Hadrian passed the winter at Athens to witness the Eleusinian mysteries and was initiated into almost all the sacred mysteries of Greece, those who hated the Christians took opportunity without instructions from the Emperor to harass the believers. At this time he presented to Hadrian a work composed in behalf of our religion, indispensable, full of sound argument and faith and worthy of the apostolic teaching. In which, illustrating the antiquity of his period, he says that he has seen many who, oppressed by various ills, were healed by the Lord in Judea as well as some who had been raised from the dead.
Pantaenus the philosopher:
Pantaenus, a philosopher of the stoic school, according to some old Alexandrian custom, where, from the time of Mark the evangelist the ecclesiastics were always doctors, was of so great prudence and erudition both in scripture and secular literature that, on the request of the legates of that nation, he was sent to India by Demetrius bishop of Alexandria, where he found that Bartholomew, one of the twelve apostles, had preached the advent of the Lord Jesus according to the gospel of Matthew, and on his return to Alexandria he brought this with him written in Hebrew characters.
Papias [A.D. 120], who is now mentioned by us, affirms that he received the sayings of the apostles from those who accompanied them, and he, moreover, asserts that he heard in person Aristion and the presbyter John. Accordingly, he mentions them frequently by name, and in his writings gives their traditions [concerning Jesus]. . . . [There are] other passages of his in which he relates some miraculous deeds, stating that he acquired the knowledge of them from tradition" (fragment in Eusebius, Church History 3:39 [A.D. 312]).
The remainder here come from the writings of just a few more of the Early Church Fathers and Ecclesiastical writers:
Eusebius of Caesarea
At that time [A.D. 150] there flourished in the Church Hegesippus, whom we know from what has gone before, and Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, and another bishop, Pinytus of Crete, and besides these, Philip, and Apollinarius, and Melito, and Musanus, and Modestus, and, finally, Irenaeus. From them has come down to us in writing, the sound and orthodox faith received from tradition" (Church History 4:21).
"As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth. For, while the languages of the world are diverse, nevertheless, the authority of the tradition is one and the same" (Against Heresies 1:10:2 [A.D. 189]).
"That is why it is surely necessary to avoid them [heretics], while cherishing with the utmost diligence the things pertaining to the Church, and to lay hold of the tradition of truth. . . . What if the apostles had not in fact left writings to us? Would it not be necessary to follow the order of tradition, which was handed down to those to whom they entrusted the churches?"
"It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors to our own times—men who neither knew nor taught anything like these heretics rave about.
"But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul, that church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles.
"With this church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree—that is, all the faithful in the whole world—and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition".
Clement of Alexandria
"Well, they preserving the tradition of the blessed doctrine derived directly from the holy apostles, Peter, James, John, and Paul, the sons receiving it from the father (but few were like the fathers), came by God’s will to us also to deposit those ancestral and apostolic seeds. And well I know that they will exult; I do not mean delighted with this tribute, but solely on account of the preservation of the truth, according as they delivered it. For such a sketch as this, will, I think, be agreeable to a soul desirous of preserving from loss the blessed tradition" (Miscellanies 1:1 [A.D. 208]).
"Although there are many who believe that they themselves hold to the teachings of Christ, there are yet some among them who think differently from their predecessors. The teaching of the Church has indeed been handed down through an order of succession from the apostles and remains in the churches even to the present time. That alone is to be believed as the truth which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition" (The Fundamental Doctrines 1:2 [A.D. 225]).
Cyprian of Carthage
"The Church is one, and as she is one, cannot be both within and without. For if she is with Novatian, she was not with [Pope] Cornelius. But if she was with Cornelius, who succeeded the bishop Fabian by lawful ordination, and whom, beside the honor of the priesthood the Lord glorified also with martyrdom, Novatian is not in the Church; nor can he be reckoned as a bishop, who, succeeding to no one, and despising the evangelical and apostolic tradition, sprang from himself. For he who has not been ordained in the Church can neither have nor hold to the Church in any way" (Letters 75:3 [A.D. 253]).
"Again we write, again keeping to the apostolic traditions, we remind each other when we come together for prayer; and keeping the feast in common, with one mouth we truly give thanks to the Lord. Thus giving thanks unto him, and being followers of the saints, ‘we shall make our praise in the Lord all the day,’ as the psalmist says. So, when we rightly keep the feast, we shall be counted worthy of that joy which is in heaven" (Festal Letters 2:7 [A.D. 330]).
"But you are blessed, who by faith are in the Church, dwell upon the foundations of the faith, and have full satisfaction, even the highest degree of faith which remains among you unshaken. For it has come down to you from apostolic tradition, and frequently accursed envy has wished to unsettle it, but has not been able".
Basil the Great
"Of the dogmas and messages preserved in the Church, some we possess from written teaching and others we receive from the tradition of the apostles, handed on to us in mystery. In respect to piety, both are of the same force. No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any rate, who is even moderately versed in matters ecclesiastical. Indeed, were we to try to reject unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the gospel in its vitals; or rather, we would reduce [Christian] message to a mere term" (The Holy Spirit 27:66 [A.D. 375]).
Epiphanius of Salamis
"It is needful also to make use of tradition, for not everything can be gotten from sacred Scripture. The holy apostles handed down some things in the scriptures, other things in tradition" (Medicine Chest Against All Heresies 61:6 [A.D. 375]).
"The custom [of not rebaptizing converts] . . . may be supposed to have had its origin in apostolic tradition, just as there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their writings" (On Baptism, Against the Donatists 5:23 [A.D. 400]).
"But the admonition that he [Cyprian] gives us, ‘that we should go back to the fountain, that is, to apostolic tradition, and thence turn the channel of truth to our times,’ is most excellent, and should be followed without hesitation" (ibid., 5:26).
"But in regard to those observances which we carefully attend and which the whole world keeps, and which derive not from Scripture but from Tradition, we are given to understand that they are recommended and ordained to be kept, either by the apostles themselves or by plenary [ecumenical] councils, the authority of which is quite vital in the Church" (Letter to Januarius [A.D. 400]).
"[Paul commands,] ‘Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter’ [2 Thess. 2:15]. From this it is clear that they did not hand down everything by letter, but there is much also that was not written. Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. So let us regard the tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief. Is it a tradition? Seek no further" (Homilies on Second Thessalonians [A.D. 402]).
Vincent of Lerins
"With great zeal and closest attention, therefore, I frequently inquired of many men, eminent for their holiness and doctrine, how I might, in a concise and, so to speak, general and ordinary way, distinguish the truth of the Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical depravity.
"I received almost always the same answer from all of them—that if I or anyone else wanted to expose the frauds and escape the snares of the heretics who rise up, and to remain intact and in sound faith, it would be necessary, with the help of the Lord, to fortify that faith in a twofold manner: first, of course, by the authority of divine law [Scripture] and then by the tradition of the Catholic Church.
"Here, perhaps, someone may ask: ‘If the canon of the scriptures be perfect and in itself more than suffices for everything, why is it necessary that the authority of ecclesiastical interpretation be joined to it?’ Because, quite plainly, sacred Scripture, by reason of its own depth, is not accepted by everyone as having one and the same meaning. . . .
"Thus, because of so many distortions of such various errors, it is highly necessary that the line of prophetic and apostolic interpretation be directed in accord with the norm of the ecclesiastical and Catholic meaning" (The Notebooks [A.D. 434]).
"The holy Church of God . . . has been established upon the firm rock of this Church of blessed Peter, the prince of the apostles, which by his grace and guardianship remains free from all error, [and possesses that faith that] the whole number of rulers and priests, of the clergy and of the people, unanimously should confess and preach with us as the true declaration of the apostolic tradition, in order to please God and to save their own souls" (Letter read at fourth session of III Constantinople [A.D. 680]).