12 April 2006

Spy Wednesday

Today in Holy Week we remember our Lord's betrayal by one of his dearest friends - it is a painful part of his blessed passion, so integrally so that St. Paul reminds us that the Lord instituted the Supper of his Body and Blood "in the night in which he was betrayed..." (1 Cor. 11.23; it could have been "the night in which he washed his disciples feet;" or, "the night in which he gave us the new commandment;" or, "the night in which he prayed for the church;" &c.). In any case, the pain of our Lord's betrayal, and our complicity in it, is likely to be overcome this year by the "Gospel of Judas" marketing juggernaut. So herewith some resources for understanding the place of the Gospel of Judas in the history of Christian heresies (with help from Christianity Today's Weblog):
  • Ben Witherington in four parts: 1, 2, 3, 4.
  • Also, there is this from Fr. Thomas Williams in the Wall Street Journal, not yet available online to non-subscribers, but helpfully excerpted by First Things:
    "The so-called “Gnostic Gospels” are not even Christian documents per se since they proceed from a syncretistic sect that predates Christianity. Gnosticism grew out of a multiplicity of belief systems that combined elements from Asian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, and Syrian pagan religions, and incorporated Christian and Jewish themes as well. From the moment of their appearance, these documents were rejected by the Christian community because of their incompatibility with the Christian faith.

    Judas made a good poster boy for the Gnostic movement. One of the central tenets of Gnosticism concerns the origins of evil in the universe. Unlike Christians who believe that a good God created a good world, the Gnostics claimed that a flawed God created a flawed world. Thus Gnostics championed the rehabilitation of Old Testament figures like Cain, who killed his brother Abel, and Esau, the elder brother of Jacob, who sold his birthright for a plate of pottage. Judas fits perfectly into the Gnostic agenda of blaming God for the evil in the world.
    So what of Judas’s rehabilitation? Though the Catholic Church has a canonization process by which it declares certain persons to be saints, it has no such procedure for condemning people to hell. Jesus’s severe indictment of Judas–”It would be better for that man if he had never been born” (Matthew 26:24)–has led many to assume that Judas didn’t fare well after death. But even these words do not offer conclusive evidence regarding his fate. In his 1994 book, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” Pope John Paul II wrote that Jesus’s words regarding Judas “do not allude for certain to eternal damnation.” In other words, it’s in God’s hands.
    The enormous economic success of The Da Vinci Code surely explains much of the buzz swirling around the Gospel of Judas, and we can be on the lookout for Judas spin-offs in the months to come. One hopes, however, that Christians’ faith doesn’t get thrown into tilt with every recycled theory that hits the papers. In the end, for those who reject out of hand the possibility of miracles, any theory, outlandish as it may be, trumps claims made by Christians.


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