Among all of the controversies surrounding the Protestant reformation, one of the primary concerns was the proper appropriation of tradition. In Cardinal Sadolet's letter to the people of Geneva, he argues that Calvin and his contemporaries did not have the support of Christian tradition on their side. The reformers had a mere 25 years of tradition to the Roman Church's prodigious 1500 years. Calvin's response is cunning. He writes, “…the ancient church is clearly on our side, and opposes you, not less than we ourselves do.” (Calvin, John. “Reply by John Calvin to Letter by Cardinal Sadolet to the Senate and People of Geneva.”49). In responding this way he turns Sadolet's logic around and claims that the reformers are actually being more faithful to the tradition than the Catholic Church was. Thus, the appeal of the Protestant reformation was not meant to dispense with tradition. Rather, it was an argument against the way in which the Catholic Church had appropriated it.
The question then is this: What is the role of tradition in interpreting Scripture? The Catholic position appears to be that Scripture and tradition are to be held on the same level. The mainline Protestant reformers clearly hold up Scripture as authoritative (sola scriptura) without dispensing with tradition, but (perhaps problematically) leave the question of its proper position unestablished. The radical reformers seem to completely disregard tradition as irrelevant, professing that one can really read Scripture unassisted by tradition. The result of this lack of articulation on the part of Protestantism seems to be partly responsible for the fractious milieu that has become one of its hallmarks.
At the risk of muddying the waters of discussion, I will go ahead and say that, on this point at least, I think the radical reformers were more than a little naive simply because nobody is able to completely divorce themselves from their own context (cultural, historical, denominational, etc). Thus, even in the most deconstructed traditions, such as the Quakers, you will find them to be just that–– a tradition. But how does one interpret Scripture in continuity with all of Christian (and Jewish!) history? Can we just appeal to the early church without looking at the less flattering parts that follow? Should we go so far as the Catholic Church and put the two on the same level?