Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Gospel of Judas??

Many thanks to our summer seminarian, Jim, for providing answers to these two questions from bloggers:

1) “What is the Gospel of Judas?”

The Gospel of Judas is a gnostic text that appeared around the second century A.D. It claims that Judas was cooperating with Jesus, and was following directions from Jesus when he handed Him over for His Crucifixion. It also suggests that Jesus taught Judas the true gospel which neither he nor Jesus shared with any of the other Apostles. This book has never been recognized as canonical, which means that it is not considered by the church to have been inspired by the Holy Spirit. In fact, St. Irenaeus, in his work Against Heresies, written around 180 A.D., denounced this text as heretical teaching.

Gnostics were people who first appeared around the first century B.C. and believed that there was “secret knowledge” (gnosis is Greek for knowledge) by which mankind could achieve salvation. They believed that the material world was evil, and the spiritual world the only true and good world. Knowledge of the secrets could free one from the corrupt human body and achieve salvation. There are those who still espouse this kind of thought today. Contrary to these beliefs, God created the world and “saw that it was good.” The Catechism, at No. 339, states, “By the very nature of creation, material being is endowed with its own stability, truth, and excellence, its own order and laws." The fact that sin exists, and that mankind has misused parts of the creation, does not take away its inherent beauty and value. In addition, Jesus lived, died, and rose again to provide salvation for all, so it hardly makes sense that He would deal in secret knowledge, so as to limit those who could be saved.

The National Geographic Society has spent a lot of time promoting the discovery of the small piece of scroll on which is the only available copy of the Gospel of Judas. It suggests that from scientific analysis of the scroll, the Gospel of Judas is “authentic.” The use of this terminology is misleading, and its authenticity only relates to the fact that the scroll is indeed from around the third century A.D., and that the writings are similar to other Gnostic writings of that time. But as to the theological or historical content of the Gospel of Judas, it is completely contrary to the Christian faith.

2) “What is the distinction between vicar, reverend and monsignor?”

Well, reverend is strictly a title for someone who has been ordained, a sign of respect. The distinction between vicar and monsignor depends on whether you're speaking to the vicar or the monsignor, because each would say that he was the one doing all the other one’s work. Seriously though, “parochial vicar” is the canonical term for what used to called a curate, or an associate, or assistant pastor for a parish. A vicar general is a priest appointed by the Bishop to help govern the local church. Monsignor is an honorary title, which, according to the book "Catholicism for Dummies," “has no extra authority, dignity, or salary. It is merely a title of honor given by the pope at the request of the local bishop.


At 11:39 AM, Anonymous hockey lover said...

I am a bit confused of something. Are the Gospels of Thomas, Mary etc. "actually" written by these people or someone else? If not then they should not have been written in the first place-needless confusion for people. I guess that's what they wanted when they wrote the books.

At 5:07 PM, Anonymous Tom said...

Are the Gospels of Thomas, Mary etc. "actually" written by these people or someone else?

They were written by someone else, usually centuries after the Apostles died.

It's not a custom that goes over very well today, but identifying someone famous as the author of a book used to be pretty common. It wasn't always done maliciously; the idea of "author" seems to have meant more "the person who taught these things" rather than "the person who wrote these words down."

It's possible, for example, that parts of the New Testament were actually written, not by the Apostles whose names are attached to the books, but by people who were instructed by them.

And it's certain that several books named for different Apostles were written long after they died, and though not included in the Bible are still the source of many important Christian traditions (not doctrines, but traditions, about Mary's childhood, for example). This shows that the Christians of the first several centuries, while not accepting such books uncritically, didn't reject them altogether.

I think the problem today with heretical works like the Gospel of Thomas lies less with their true authors -- whose views, in any event, were entirely overcome by orthodox Christianity more than a millenium ago -- than with the fake or lousy scholars spreading lies in magazines and on television about the books' authorship, history, and significance.


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