What is the “deposit of faith”?

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The phrase has an interesting history. It was first used as a technical term at the Council of Trent (1545-63) and implied the full treasure of the church’s teachings. The deposit includes the canon of scripture, the sacraments, and all teachings since apostolic times. It was understood in church tradition that revelation ended with the generation of the apostles: Therefore the deposit of faith is closed to further additions or subtractions. What church tradition has done since that era is to “reap the interest,” so to speak, on that original deposit with any ensuing teaching.

Of course it’s also true that the church’s treasure is not a thing but a person: Jesus Christ himself, “a living resource” of truth and salvation, as theologian Nancy Dallavalle puts it. So while the deposit of faith is “unchanging” since the apostles, it’s nevertheless quite alive.

The introduction of the term came at an embattled time in church history, when “what is truth?” was more than a rhetorical question in light of the Reformation’s many challenges to tradition. The "deposit of faith" became a catch-phrase through the documents of the First Vatican Council (1869-70), a gathering that sought above all to fix the body of truth infallibly and for all time in the face of Enlightenment questions.

Vatican II (1962-1965) revived the term under new conditions. By this time scripture itself was undergoing a sea change in scholarly understanding, and the community of faith was asking the “what is truth?”question less defensively. This council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation saw the sacred commission of a deposit of faith as entrusted to the whole church and not as the sole possession of its magisterium or teaching authority. The subsequent encouragement of scripture study by scholars and the laity alike was one way the church incorporated this newfound appreciation concretely.

The opening of the Eucharist to the vernacular and the laity’s increased participation in many liturgical roles also enlarged the shared sense of responsibility for the treasury of tradition. The fresh articulation of church doctrine that sprang from the council was a surprising indication of how much the Christian community could hear as new from such an ancient vault of treasure. Which reminds us again that the real deposit of faith is not a trove of documents but a living person: Jesus Christ.

Matthew 5:17-19; 6:19-21; 13:51-53; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 2 Timothy 1:12-14; 2:11-13; 3:10-17

"The Deposit of Faith" from the the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix

The New World of Faith by Avery Dulles (Our Sunday Visitor)
New Evangelization: Passing on the Christian Faith Today
by Donald Wuerl (Our Sunday Visitor, 2013)

Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.

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