Deposit of Faith

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In Jewish, Grecian, and Roman law a deposit was a contract by which the depositor freely entrusted something to the guardianship of another. The Greek word for deposit (παραθήκη) is used three times in the New Testament (1 Tm 6.20; 2 Tm 1.12, 14). In each case it refers to the spiritual heritage entrusted to the author of the Epistles or to their recipient. The term was not unknown to the Fathers; Vincent of Lérins used it in speaking of the unchanging teachings that the Church ever preserves. Not in use in the Middle Ages, the word came into the theological vocabulary at the end of the 16th century, and it was canonized by Vatican Council I (H. Denziger, Enchiridion symbolorum 3070, cf. 3020), which identified the deposit of faith with the revelation made known by God and handed down to the Church through the Apostles.

Meaning. The deposit of faith can be considered as an ensemble of truths entrusted by Christ to the Apostles and now guarded as a sacred trust by the Church, which can neither subtract nor add to it. This notion is valid but incomplete, for the deposit of faith is first of all a reality given to the Church and only subsequently an apprehension of that reality. The deposit of faith includes all that God has entrusted to the ChurchHis great acts in history (in the OT the acts by which God saved Israel; in the NT the activity, the Passion, and death of Christ) in their enduring salvific efficacy and in their divinely revealed meaning, and the prolongation of that reality and meaning in the Church by means of the divinely given Sacraments, Scriptures, hierarchical institution, and the continuous interpretative assistance of the Holy Spirit in the whole body of the faithful. Thus, in the integral sense, the deposit of faith is a divinely given reality whose salvific efficacy and divinely assigned meaning is preserved in the Church.

The deposit of faith and the church. Vatican I and the two Epistles to Timothy (see citations above) stress that the Church has the duty to preserve and interpret the deposit of faith, neither adding to it nor subtracting from it. This must not be taken to mean that the Church keeps the deposit rigid and immobile as a buried treasure. Rather, because the deposit of faith is meant to be a living and efficient salvific reality for every age, the Church preserves it by proclaiming it in such a way as to make present and meaningful its salvific efficacy. In short, the Church guards the deposit by making it relevant to every age and mentality. Hence, in the apostolic age the Twelve made relevant the deposit to the needs and problems of the various communities they encountered. (This ultimately led to four forms of the one gospel.) see gospels, the holy. In subsequent ages the Church refuted erroneous interpretations of the deposit and gradually unfolded some of its inexhaustibly rich significance in accordance with the needs of the times.

The existence of a deposit of faith forcefully impresses upon the Church that it is God's servant. The divine goods with which the Church is enriched are not its own but God's. Over these it has not an unlimited control. It is a faithful servant, a depositary, a guardiannot a master of these goods. The Church may act in regard to them only in the service of God.

Related realities. Revelation, Scripture, tradition, and Church are closely related to the deposit of faith. Revelation is the deposit of faith insofar as this deposit makes known or reveals the God who gives it to the Church. The Church is the divinely instituted community within which the deposit of faith is preserved in the Scriptures and in divinely guided traditional activity (e.g., oral tradition, liturgy, ecclesiastical practices, and attitudes passed on from generation to generation).

See Also: doctrine, development of; orthodoxy; revelation, fonts of; revelation, theology of; rule of faith; tradition (in theology); witness, christian.

Bibliography: e. dublanchy, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, (Paris 190350) 4.1:526531. j. r. geiselmann, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche (Freiburg, 195766) 3:236238. p. mÉdebielle, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot et al. (Paris 1928) 2:374395. y. m. j. congar, La Tradition et les traditions, 2 v. (Paris 196063). r. latourelle, Théologie de la révélation (Bruges 1963). c. spicq, "S. Paul et la loi des dépôts," Revue biblique 40 (1931) 481502.

[p. f. chirico]