I wrote in a previous post that “Tradition includes, of course,…writings, but it is primarily the life of the Church, which is the womb of those writings (including the writings of Scripture).” Note carefully the last part: Scripture itself was written and promulgated within the life of the Church, i.e. as part of our living Tradition. In fact, one of the criteria for determining which books would be included in the New Testament canon was their use in the liturgy: if a writing was widely read during Mass during the first centuries of the Church, there is a good chance that it was included in the canon. The opposite was true as well: if a writing did not get proclaimed during the liturgy, it was not considered eligible for the canon.
We see in this the integral link between Scripture and Tradition. Due to the Reformation-era debates, we have separated these two means of revelation, but they are only distinct, not separate. Vatican II in Dei Verbum declared, “there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end.” (DV 9). The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of Scripture and has led our Tradition; therefore, they cannot be divided and pitted against each other.
Pope Benedict took up this theme recently when he told biblical scholars that the Bible can only be understood with the Church:
Pope Benedict…said that a correct understanding of Scripture does not come from “the individualistic illusion that biblical texts can be better understood outside the community of believers” but rather rises from the Tradition of the Church.
Holy Father laid out the three criteria that the Second Vatican Council prescribed for correctly interpreting Scripture…
First, “Sacred Scripture is one by virtue of the unity of God’s plan, of which Jesus Christ is the center and the heart.”
Second, “Scripture must be read in the context of the living Tradition of the entire Church. … In her Tradition the Church carries the living memory of the Word of God, and it is the Holy Spirit Who provides her with the interpretation thereof in accordance with its spiritual meaning.
“The third criterion concerns the need to pay attention to the analogy of the faith; that is, to the cohesion of the individual truths of faith, both with one another and with the overall plan of Revelation and the fullness of the divine economy enclosed in that plan.”
Does this preclude individual Bible reading? Not at all. What it does is tell us that when we read the Bible individually (which we should do), we are reading it as part of a universal community that has read and interpreted and lived the Scriptural message for 2,000 years. We are not reading it in isolation, but in conjunction with great Scripture scholars and saints such as Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, and Teresa of Avila. This allows us to dig much deeper into the Bible than would occur with a solely personal reading.