Seminary/School of Divinity



Degree Name

Master of Arts in Theology (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work



Christian D. Washburn

Second Advisor

John Martens

Third Advisor

John Boyle


On April 8, 1546, the Council of Trent in its Fourth Session on Scripture and Tradition decreed, “This truth and rule [of the Gospel] are contained in written books and [et] in unwritten traditions.” With this dogmatic statement, Trent affirmed that the Gospel (i.e. revelation) is contained in both Scripture and Tradition, in contradistinction to the Protestant claim that it is contained in Scripture alone (i.e.sola scriptura). Yet, the decree remained rather ambiguous on exactly how revelation is contained in both of them, begging the question of what the Council affirmed, if anything, about the nature of the relationship between Scripture and Tradition. As a result of this ambiguity, this topic has become a focal point of theological debate among Catholic scholars. The debate reached its climax in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Interestingly, the original draft of the decree, presented on March 22, 1546, was more explicit on this matter by stating, “This truth [of the Gospel] is contained partly [partim] in written books, partly [partim] in unwritten traditions. "For reasons unknown, however, the Council Fathers changed the partim-partim formulation to a simple et in the final decree. Much ink has been spilled trying to explain this change. In fact, in many regards, the change has become the principal issue of the debate over the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, since understanding the intention behind the change sheds significant light on how to correctly interpret the definitive decree. As will be shown below, different understandings of the change have led to rather drastically different interpretations of the Tridentine decree, resulting in Catholic theologians coming to theologically incompatible conclusions regarding the relationship between Scripture and Tradition.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.