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Editor’s note: this article is part 1 in a two-part series on the Catholic teaching on the deposit of faith. Part 2 can be found here.

(LifeSiteNews) — Whenever the faith comes under attack, whether from outside or from within the Church, it is good for the Christian to return to the basics.  

Such was the case during the Arian heresy, when one of the most fundamental claims of Christ in the Gospel, that He was indeed the Son of God and equal to the Father – the truth for which He was condemned and crucified – was outright denied or explained away by heretics so as to be stripped of its real meaning. 

READ: St. Athanasius’ glorious defense of Christ’s divinity brought him persecution, banishment 

Such again is the case today, when bishops and cardinals openly and repeatedly claim the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as justification for the acceptance of every sexual perversion, the denial of the precepts of the moral law, the rejection of the divinely established ecclesiastical hierarchy, and the substitution of the apostolic rites of the worship of God with pagan ceremonies venerating nature. 

Truths long accepted as settled Catholic doctrine are now proposed as matter for debate, and the denial or rejection of what our forefathers in the faith believed or practiced is couched as a development of the very doctrines that are denied and trampled upon with contempt. In such a time of crisis, Catholics must return to the basics of their faith. For the stronger the building’s foundation, the more firmly it can sustain all attacks. 

What, then, is the deposit of faith, the infallible foundation upon which our salvation rests? And why does this deposit of faith not change? I will explain:  

  • what is meant by the phrase, the deposit of faith,  
  • what kinds of things are included in the deposit of faith,  
  • and in a follow-up article, why this deposit is immutable. 

What the ‘deposit of faith’ means 

The deposit of faith is what God has supernaturally revealed to the world through the prophets and apostles, and most of all through His own Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, which has been handed on to the Catholic Church for the salvation of souls in every place until the coming of Christ in glory at the end of time. The deposit of faith is the result of supernatural divine revelation. 

This “sacred deposit” includes truths about both what is to be believed and what actions are to be done in order to be saved; namely, revealed truths concerning faith and morals. It is from this deposit that the Magisterium of the Church draws all that She definitively proposes to the Christian faithful to be believed in faith as revealed by God. 

The truths about what must be believed are supernatural mysteries about God revealed directly by Him, or they are contained within or implied by those truths, or they are intrinsically and necessarily related to such truths. As such, they are to be assented to by the mind through the supernatural virtue of faith. 

These truths can all be articulated in determinate statements and include both speculative truths – that God is three persons in one nature, or Jesus Christ is one divine person in two natures, human and divine, or the substance of Christ’s body is really and truly present in the Eucharist – as well as practical truths: that it is gravely evil to murder or to commit adultery or to commit sodomy, or baptism takes away all sins, confers grace, and makes one an adopted son or daughter of God, or that it is necessary for salvation that the soul have sanctifying grace, or one must keep the Commandments to please God. 

The truths about actions to be done include not only those pertaining to the supernatural moral life of grace and the virtues, such as keeping the Commandments, but also those that pertain to the liturgical life of the Church. God has revealed how man ought to live and how He wishes to be worshiped. These two aspects of actions that God has revealed must come together in the sacraments of the Church. 

The sacraments are actions that are at once acts of worship and signs that God has established for the infallible communication of grace to souls, making men to be morally good. The sacraments derive their saving efficacy from the death of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross and make souls pleasing to God in the way that His own Son is pleasing to Him through the supernatural love of charity. 

How the deposit of faith is handed on in the Church 

The truths to be believed and the actions to be done that are part of the deposit of faith have been handed on in the Church in two ways, through Sacred Tradition and through Sacred Scripture. Sacred Tradition includes both the preaching of the truths of revelation and the doing of the actions God has revealed must be done for salvation. The proclamation of the Gospel, living morally, and the liturgical performance of the sacraments all belong to the handing on of the deposit of faith by Sacred Tradition. 

Complementary to Apostolic Tradition is the handing on of the same deposit of faith through the written Word of God, Sacred Scripture. This written word, being inspired by the Holy Spirit, is at once the word of man and the Word of God. It is a stable and enduring means by which God has revealed Himself and His plan of salvation to the world. Because of the inspiration of the human authors of Scripture by the Holy Spirit, such authors are really and truly the spokesmen of God Himself, and their word is true with the truth of God Himself. 

Therefore, what is affirmed in Scripture is affirmed by the Holy Spirit, and must be true, as God can neither deceive nor be deceived. Because all of Scripture is the Word of God, it is necessarily, in its entirety, part of the deposit of faith and must be believed as His infallible and unerring salvific Word, revealing who He is and what He wills for man. 

As the Council of Trent taught, “This supernatural revelation, according to the faith of the universal Church, as declared by the holy synod of Trent, is contained ‘in the written books and in the unwritten traditions which have been received by the apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself; or, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit have been handed down by the apostles themselves, and have thus come to us.”  

And as the First Vatican Council taught, “By divine and Catholic faith, all those things must be believed which are contained in the written word of God and in tradition, and those which are proposed by the Church, either in a solemn pronouncement or in her ordinary and universal teaching power, to be believed as divinely revealed.” (Vatican I Dei Filius, ch.3). 

So, the deposit of faith contains those divinely revealed truths handed on to the Church through Sacred Scripture and Apostolic Tradition, which the Church’s Magisterium proposes to the faithful in a definitive way to be believed as revealed by God. 

This teaching on the deposit of faith is similarly articulated in the Code of Canon Law, canon 750:

§1: Those things are to be believed by divine and catholic faith which are contained in the word of God as it has been written or handed down by tradition, that is, in the single deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and which are at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn Magisterium of the Church, or by its ordinary and universal Magisterium, which in fact is manifested by the common adherence of Christ’s faithful under the guidance of the sacred Magisterium. All are therefore bound to avoid any contrary doctrines.

§2: Furthermore, each and everything set forth definitively by the Magisterium of the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals must be firmly accepted and held; namely, those things required for the holy keeping and faithful exposition of the deposit of faith; therefore, anyone who rejects propositions which are to be held definitively sets himself against the teaching of the Catholic Church.

How the Church receives, preserves, and articulates the deposit of faith 

The most essential and important truths of the deposit of faith have been gathered by the Church over the centuries in Her various creeds and formulas of faith. She has also clarified what is contained in this deposit by Her solemn definitions, and condemned as errors and heresies whatever contradicts the truths contained in this deposit. Such definitions and condemnations, rather than constituting any addition to the deposit of faith, are a more explicit articulation of what God has already revealed to the world once and for all through the prophets, apostles, and His Son Jesus Christ.  

The deposit of faith, then, was sealed with death of the last apostle, St. John the Evangelist. With his death, God’s public revelation to the world had been completed and thereby came to an end. Christ Himself revealed that He would build His Church upon the apostles as its foundation stones, signifying that He would give to the world all that it needed for salvation through them. All that comes after the apostles must draw upon, clarify, and articulate more explicitly what was revealed to the world through them. 

For this reason, the teaching office of the Church, the Magisterium, was instituted by Christ as an office derivative of the teaching authority of the apostles themselves, with the distinction that, while it belonged to the apostles to establish the fullness of the deposit of faith and to hand it on as such in its integrity to the Church, it belongs to their successors, the bishops in union with Peter’s successor, the Pope, to preserve, clarify, and interpret that same deposit of faith. 

READ: US Bishop calls out brother bishops: ‘Deposit of faith has been fragmented and corrupted’ 

On the other hand, it does not belong to the Pope or bishops to add to or take away from anything of what has been handed on to the Church by Jesus Christ or the apostles as part of the deposit of faith. Such a departure would be an adulteration or betrayal of the deposit of faith. Nor does it belong to those who are not successors of the apostles to define or authoritatively teach the deposit of faith in the way that is proper to the Magisterium, namely, through solemn definitions or condemnations. 

Rather, the faithful receive and believe what the Church in Her hierarchy over the centuries definitively teaches as belonging to the deposit of faith, adhering to it and defending it when attacked. 

The Second Vatican Council lays out this constant teaching of the Church on nature of the deposit of faith and the relation between Scripture, Tradition, the Magisterium, and the Christian faithful in the following way in Dei Verbum: 

The apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess. 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 1:3) Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the people of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes.

Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the Word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit, the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort.

But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the Word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.

It is clear, therefore, that Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.

So the deposit of faith is the content of all those truths that God has supernaturally revealed to the world through the prophets, the apostles, and His own Son Our Lord Jesus Christ – which, as a single, complete gift and treasure, has been handed on to the Church through Apostolic Tradition and Sacred Scripture, and which is definitively articulated and interpreted by the Church’s Magisterium when She proposes to the Christian faithful truths of faith and morals to be believed as revealed by God. 


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