Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

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Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Every Thursday night, on CBS, millions of viewers tune in for the adventures of police officers dedicated to solving crime using the best forensic science. In the course of each investigation, the forensics team searches for evidence in order to piece together the sequence of events leading up to the crime and find the culprit. The team finds the best evidence the sooner they come upon the scene of the crime; the older the scene the less useful the evidence is. What works for forensic science also applies to the profession of the Christian Faith.

The modern person has greater difficulty in coming to the Christian Faith merely on the basis that we are separated from the events by such a great span of history. For us to assent the Church’s Faith, we have to sort through evidence for the person of Christ and for the claims of the Church. For those who think that this is a silly observation, consider that in the Italian courts recently had to hear a case in which an atheist charged an elderly priest with fraud, claiming that Christ never existed. In saying that we are Christians, we must be familiar not only with the evidence but also know why the evidence is reliable.

Dan Brown wants his readers to choose another source for their evidence for Christ. Mr. Brown would have us believe that the four Canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are not reliable evidence for Christ; rather Mr. Brown would have us turn to the works of the Gnostics and their literary products. There is not sufficient time to go into the claims of Gnostic Christians here. Instead, I would like us to consider why the Canonical Gospels are a better source for our evidence concerning the person of Christ.

Playing Gil Grissom for a moment, we might ask which evidence comes from a time most proximate to the events in question. The best scholarship would suggest that the Canonical Gospels date from mid-first century (50 -100) A.D. More conservative scholars favor an earlier date given that none of the Canonical Gospels mention the destruction of the Temple which occurred in 70 A.D. For Christians making the case that Judaism is fulfilled in Christ, hence ending the worship of the Temple, this would be a curious omission. More liberal scholars favor an later dating of the Canonical Gospels, pushing the date of the composition of St. John’s Gospel to the mid-second century (150) A.D. The sophistication found in St. John’s Gospel suggests that there had to be a long period of formulation. In either case, we can place the Canonical Gospels in the mid- to late first century. How do the Gnostic Gospels match up?

According to the best historical records, the Gnostic Gospels date from the mid-second century and later. In contrast to Mr. Brown’s claim that some eighty gospels were considered for inclusion in the Bible, historians note the existence of about 20 or 30 Gnostic Gospels, some known only from mention in texts refuting their claims. For The Da Vinci Code, two Gnostic Gospels stand out: The Gospel of Philip and The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Scholars would date the Gospel of Philip to 250 A.D. and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene to the late second century (175 - 200) A.D.

This should give us pause. Brown wants us to accept the testimony of texts which appear approximately 150 years after the events they purport to describe over those sources which are virtually contemporary to the events they relate. Frankly, that doesn’t make any sense. When you then add that the Gnostic Gospels are often vague and disagree with one another, that they only exists in a few copies, mostly fragments, and their generally misogynistic tone, it seems odd that we should accept the Gnostic version of events over the Canonical Gospels.

For this week’s response to The Da Vinci Code, I would suggest something elementary. If you are unfamiliar with the real Jesus, why not get to know Him through the best historical documents we have, the New Testament? On my website, Apologize and Don’t Be Sorry, I provide a list of relevant citations from the New Testament in which we see clearly that the early Church professed that Jesus Christ is True God and True Man. There are enough citations that you could read one each day of Lent.

For your further reading, try out the book which, in my estimation, is the pick of the litter. In their work, The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code (Ignatius Press, 2004), Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel have collaborated to produce a systematic debunking of most of Brown’s baseless assertions. A good feature of this work is the ample citation of other scholarly works, not necessarily from Catholic authors, which permits readers to go more in depth in their own research. I would have liked a more complete treatment of Opus Dei, but as they couldn’t address every single error, some matters must be omitted.

2 Comments:

Blogger Cathques said...

On a 'Catholic' discussion board in Australia we have a self titled biblical scholar who teaches at a 'Cathoic' university here claiming,among other things, that that the gospels were created to make it appear as if Jesus was the Messaiah and that Paul founded a church parallel to that of Peter's church. How does one go about refuting these claims?

9:52 PM  
Blogger Carl E. Olson said...

Thank you for so kindly recommending our book. I do regret that one topic we don't address at enough length is Opus Dei, which was due largely to time (meeting a very short deadline). I'm glad to see that so much good and sound material about Opus Dei is now seeing the light of day. Anyhow, thanks again!

2:09 PM  

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