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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

TV special plants Judas kiss on Catholic Church

By Lito B. Zulueta

Editor's Note: Published on page A1 of the Apr. 12, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

THE CATHOLIC Church has not hidden from Christians the existence of the Gospel of Judas and other Gnostic writings. But scholars and certain sectors of the media have tended to use the controversial writings to forward their own agendas and discredit the Church, a Catholic biblical scholar has warned.

"There may be malice involved," said Spanish Dominican Fr. Angel Aparicio of the University of Santo Tomas. "They may be scholars, but they have their own agendas. I am so surprised the National Geographic is promoting this (Gospel of Judas)."

Aparicio was referring to the National Geographic Society special aired on Palm Sunday that reported on the discovery of the so-called Gospel of Judas, an archeological find that non-Catholic biblical scholars such as Elaine Pagels, who was interviewed in the special, said should confirm the attempts of the early Church fathers to marginalize other Christian groups in a bid to establish the institutional Church.

"Elaine Pagels is a genuine scholar but she's biased for feminism," said Aparicio, who trained at the renowned Ecole Biblique et Archeologie in Jerusalem.

"Scholars like her promote a critique of the Church as monolithic and patriarchal. They want pluralism, but Christianity cannot just be any which way you want it to be."

Aparicio said the Gospel of Judas and other Gnostic writings such as the supposed Gospel of Mary Magdalene were excluded from the final canon of the New Testament not because the Catholic Church was trying to silence other Christian groups, but because their authenticity and fidelity to the teachings of Christ were suspect right from the start.

"There are guidelines for canonicity," Aparicio said.

"They included apostolicity or paternity from the apostles; that the books should be promoted by the big churches and big communities; they should be universally accepted, and they should be consistent with doctrine."

Filling gaps

He said none of the Gnostic writings and "apocrypha," lost or hidden books purporting to show the hidden life of Christ or fill in certain gaps in his life, fulfills the criteria.

Aparicio, who handles a course on the Synoptic gospels at the UST Ecclesiastical Faculties, explained that canonization, in which the Church selected the books that would comprise the New Testament, or the scriptures of divine revelation, was a long drawn-out process. Across the centuries, the Gnostic gospels and the apocryphal writings were consistently rejected as incompatible with Christianity, he said.

Knowledge as salvation

He said the questionable writings emerged because of "the need of ordinary Christians to know certain unknown details about Jesus, such as his youth," and also because some "heteredox Christians wanted to justify their beliefs."

Aparicio explained that Gnosticism was not compatible with the Christian faith because it promoted self-knowledge (gnosis is the Greek word for knowledge) as the sole basis of salvation. "Even St. Paul in his Letter to the Corinthians was already critical in his time of certain Gnostic tendencies which were inimical to the Gospel. To the Catholic Church, salvation involves both knowledge and practice."

He said knowledge as salvation is in fact promoted by the Gospel of Judas, in which Judas Iscariot, the apostle whom the Bible said betrayed Christ to his persecutors and killers, is portrayed as divinely appointed to do so by Christ himself in order to fulfill the design of salvation.

In the National Geographic special, a dramatization of the Judas codex has Jesus telling Judas in confidence that his star would shine the brightest for turning over Christ to his death.

What TV special didn't say

What the TV special does not say, according to Aparicio, is that the Gospel of Judas was promoted by the "Cainites," an ancient Christian sect that defended the role of Cain in the design of salvation.

Cain, in the first book of the Old Testament, Genesis, was the first son of Adam and Eve after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. In a fit of sibling jealousy, Cain slew his younger brother, Abel, in what the Bible says was the first murder committed by mankind.

"Judas Iscariot was considered a saint by the Cainites," Aparicio said.

The Gospel of Judas and the sect of Cain, therefore, were guilty of "determinism," for showing that Judas's betrayal and Cain's murder had been predestined as part of the design of salvation, Aparicio said.

Excuses Judas

In effect, the Gospel of Judas excuses Judas for his act of betrayal because it had been determined from early on, the Dominican scholar said, "contrary to what the Church teaches that man has free will."

In contrast, the other apostles, whom Christ had predicted would abandon him, "prevaricated" and in fact left him, but repented later on.

"They did not fall for determinism or predestination," Aparicio said. "They acknowledged their failings."

Request for balance

Because the Gnostic gospels contain dangerous implications for Christianity, Aparicio called on the National Geographic and the popular media to be accurate, objective and balanced in their presentation of the controversial texts.

In the special, a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission was quoted only toward the end of the two-hour presentation as saying that the books of the New Testament should be accepted by Christians as a matter of faith.

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