Note: This was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
If Catholicism and Orthodoxy have preserved “Tradition,” why isn’t there milk and honey used during baptism?
First, why is this a big deal? It is because they claim that a Sola Scriptura view leaves out important traditions and teachings that are not found in the Scripture, but rather in tradition.
To prove this viewpoint the will point to quotes from Fathers such as Basil of Caeserea that say something to the following effect:
Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or enjoined which are preserved in the Church, some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have delivered to us in a mystery by the apostles by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force
If such traditions have the “force” of true religion, why isn’t drinking milk mixed with honey something still required as part of the baptismal rite?
Some apologists will say that maybe milk and honey was never quite so serious. However, it was.
Jerome writes Against the Luciferians:
Do you demand Scripture proof? You may find it in the Acts of the Apostles. And even if it did not rest on the authority of Scripture the consensus of the whole world in this respect would have the force of a command. For many other observances of the Churches, which are due to tradition, have acquired the authority of the written law, as for instance the practice of dipping the head three times in the laver, and then, after leaving the water, of tasting mingled milk and honey in representation of infancy; and, again, the practices of standing up in worship on the Lord’s day, and ceasing from fasting every Pentecost; and there are many other unwritten practices which have won their place through reason and custom. So you see we follow the practice of the Church, although it may be clear that a person was baptized before the Spirit was invoked.
Over 150 years previous, Tertullian wrote on another continent in De Corona in reference to baptism that “we taste first of all a mixture of milk and honey” and that is
“sufficiently plain that you can vindicate the keeping of even unwritten tradition established by custom; the proper witness for tradition when demonstrated by long-continued observance.”
Elsewhere, Hippolytus records the practice in his book “The Apostolic Tradition.” Doesn’t that mean it is Apostolic Tradition to have milk and honey with baptism? Or is he lying?
Clement of Alexandria is an early, Eastern witness to the practice, just as Chromatius is a later western witness.
Isn’t it clear that all of these men attest to the practice over centuries and that it was precisely the sort of extra-biblical tradition Basil was talking about. So, this begs the question, why do we not do it anymore when it was so clearly practiced as Apostolic Tradition in both the east and the west?
Yet, the tradition died. Christ states that “[h]eaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33). Clearly milk and honey could not be originally his words.
Of course, all of this begs the question: how do we know that another tradition attested to by such a wide witness is actually legitimate? The truth of the matter is, apart from the Scripture (which is defined as “God breathed” in 2 Tim 3:16), no tradition can be held with the same degree of certainty. You heard straight from the horse’s mouth, milk and honey had “the authority of the written law.” Yet now, it doesn’t.
This is because there is not a single extra-biblical tradition that defines itself as literally breathed out by God. If God Himself did not breath it out, then how do you even know it is actually true with the same degree of certainty? Plain answer: you don’t.