As part one of a 3-part series on Authority and the Catholic Church, I am starting with an essay on the role of Scripture, sacred tradition, and the Magisterium in forming Church teaching. This is written from a Catholic perspective in an attempt to be fair. What will follow, Lord willing, is a rebuttal and perhaps an essay on Sola Scriptura.


The Catholic Church has always relied on various sources in the development of its teachings. Scripture, sacred tradition, and the Magisterium form a triad that has played a central role in shaping the Church’s doctrine. This essay will explore the significance of each source and how they work together to develop Church teaching.


The Bible has always been an important source of inspiration for Catholicism, and it remains a primary means of expressing the faith. The Old and New Testaments are the foundational texts of Christianity, and the Catholic Church considers them to be the inspired Word of God, which canonizes them as the genuine books of the canon.

Scripture offers lessons on how to live a Christian life, answers the eternal questions regarding creation, nature, and purpose, and provides guidance on how to remain faithful to God’s plan. It is also the primary source the Church turns to when responding to ethical dilemmas such as the ethical issues surrounding abortion, euthanasia or stem cell research.

However, the interpretation of Scripture remains a challenge that required guidance. In this regard, Catholics rely on the Magisterium to provide them with the necessary interpretation. The Magisterium’s authority to interpret Scripture stems from Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit to the apostles, assuring they would receive knowledge, wisdom and guidance to teach the truth correctly.

Sacred Tradition

Sacred tradition refers to the unwritten teachings that have been passed down from generation to generation. Often referred to as the “deposit of faith,” the tradition embodies the teachings of Jesus Christ, handed down through the apostles, and the early Church. As Catholics, they believe that Christ entrusted the deposit of faith to the apostles and that it has been faithfully preserved through the Church’s teachings, established under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Sacred tradition fills in those gaps left by Scripture alone, such as the liturgy or the sacraments, and clarifies the teachings’ full implications. It is through the Tradition that Catholics know to confess their faith through the Nicene Creed, believe in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Since 1965, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has been the official compendium of Catholic doctrine and a reliable reference for Catholics worldwide.


The Magisterium is the authoritative teaching body of the Catholic Church, composed of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. It serves to safeguard and transmit the faith throughout the ages. The Magisterium has the task of clarifying and interpreting the divine deposit of faith, specifically that which is found in Scripture and Tradition.

From Apostolic times, bishops speak and teach with authority. This official Magisterium continues to this day, with the pope and the Church’s bishops serving as the Church’s teachers. These teachers are supported by theologians, who work to take the teachings of the Church and make them relevant to the world today.

The Magisterium carries out its duty through a variety of means, including encyclicals, apostolic letters, catechisms, and Church councils. It also helps bishops worldwide to clarify and provide guidance to the faithful in the face of changing times and social challenges to the faith.

The Magisterium’s role is to ensure that the Church’s teachings are handed down in their purest and most authentic form according to the deposit of faith, constantly adapting to the changing times without compromising its fundamental truths. The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes that the Magisterium is not above the word of God; instead, it serves to clarify and confirm God’s Word.

Interplay between Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium

The Scriptures, sacred tradition, and the Magisterium do not stand alone, but rather they complement one another. Each source contributes to the development of Catholic doctrine in its unique way, ultimately leading to a more comprehensive understanding of the truth.

The sacred tradition carefully preserves the truths revealed in Scripture and guards their essential meaning, which illuminates the Church’s interpretation of the divine deposit over time. For example, the Catholic Church’s view on the Blessed Trinity became more explicit and developed in the early Church notable from the teachings of the Church Fathers, such as St. Augustine and St. Athanasius.

The Magisterium uses the sources of faith to provide guidance for Catholics to clarify Church teaching. The Church looks upon its teaching documents, such as Encyclicals and Catechisms as expressions of the Magisterium acting within the deposit of faith to enrich the truth of the faith to the faithful. The Magisterium’s primary function is to ensure that the Church maintains its doctrinal integrity over time.

The Magisterium also helps to clarify what the Bible says precisely by considering the way Catholics have interpreted it over the centuries. Thus, it is essential to note that Catholic doctrine develops from the combined interpretation of Scripture, sacred tradition, and Magisterium.

Thus, the three sources of Catholic teaching interact with each other in a complementary and interdependent way. The Magisterium is that which conveys and safeguards the biblical, and traditional sources of faith, and helps the Church make explicit their applications to contemporary societies.

Importance of Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium in Catholic teaching

The Scriptures, sacred tradition, and the Magisterium depth to each other and Catholic teachings, and hence the importance of the three sources in the formation of Church teaching. These three sources offer a comprehensive insight into Catholic doctrine, and each source reinforces the other.

Scripture provides the foundation for the Church’s teaching, which has been enduring for over two millennia. Sacred tradition guides the interpretation of the words within Scripture through the values and beliefs passed down from the apostles. Magisterium provides clarity and guidance within the context of contemporaneous growth and interpretation.

As affirmed in Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, Scripture is the foundation of the Church’s teaching and its understanding. If Catholicism is to continue to thrive and incarnate Scripture, its doctrines, and its insights into the living of Christian life, then each source’s integrity must be kept verbatim to the living Tradition of the Church.


In conclusion, the role of Scripture, sacred tradition, and the Magisterium in forming Church teaching is profound, emphasizing the complementary nature of these sources in Catholic teachings. Catholics understand Scripture through sacred tradition and rely on the Magisterium to guide and interpret the faith. The interrelation of these sources forms an integral part of Catholicism, ensuring that the faith has remained steadfast and enduring since its foundation by Christ and the apostles. We pray that as Catholics, we continue to respect these three sources of teaching and ensure that their treasures will be handed down, generation after generation.