Can the Catholic Church list all the teachings given to the apostles by divine revelation and contained in Sacred Tradition?


Full Question

Can the Catholic Church list all the teachings given to the apostles by divine revelation and contained in Sacred Tradition?

Answer

No it can't, because some of the teachings have been passed down in implicit rather than explicit form, and it is impossible to list all of the implications of a set of doctrines.

A good example of why this is so can be found in the Monothelite controversy. The Monothelites were seventh-century heretics who claimed that Jesus had only one will, the divine. The orthodox position is that Jesus also has a human will which is distinct from but never in conflict with his divine will. This position was infallibly defined at the Third Council of Constantinople (680-681).

Neither the Bible nor the writings of the earliest Church Fathers explicitly stated that Christ has a human will distinct from but in harmony with his divine will. That doctrine was not handed on from the apostles in explicit form, but it was handed on in implicit form.

The apostles taught, as the Bible and the Fathers indicate, that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. This contains the implicit teaching of two wills, because if Christ is fully human, he must have a human will, and if he is fully divine, he must have a divine will. For Christ to lack one or the other would make him either not be fully human or not be fully divine. Because of Christ's supreme holiness and the unity of his Person, his human and divine wills are never in conflict.

All of this is recognized even by Protestants. They acknowledge that the doctrine of the two wills of Christ must be accepted as something coming to us from the apostles, even though it did not come in explicit form. It was a legitimate doctrinal development that emerged when a heresy struck and the Church was sought a deeper, more explicit understanding of what it already implicitly knew.

Because the Church cannot make an exhaustive list of implicit doctrines, it does not try, but allows new implications within the apostolic deposit to be realized over the course of time, as the Holy Spirit leads the Church into all truth (Jn 16:13).

If the Church tried to make such a list, it would be attempting to run ahead of the Holy Spirit by forcing the process of doctrinal development to a sudden and premature end. Attempting to cause doctrinal development to advance at a more rapid pace would inevitably lead to problems. One problem in making such a list is that it would become fodder for heretics. If the Church had tried to make such a list before the outbreak of the Monothelite controversy, the list would not have included the proposition "Christ has a human will distinct from but entirely in harmony with his divine will."

No one would have thought to include that proposition because no dispute had arisen about the issue. Once the Monothelites appeared and the Church was pushed into realizing what Christ's full humanity implies, the Monothelites would have said to the orthodox party, "You can't say that Christ has two wills. The list of apostolic Teachings doesn't mention such a doctrine."


Catholic Answers Staff