Mondays and Tuesdays are Joseph Bottum's turns at this site, but he is sick in bed. Please join me in praying for his rapid recovery.
Herewith an excerpt from a fine opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by Fr. Thomas Williams, a seminary rector in Rome, on the kerfuffle over the National Geographic's shameless touting of a "Gospel of Judas":
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.
As I mentioned yesterday, people in the business of tailoring Christianities to fit their spiritual tastes we will have always with us. That is no doubt why Jesus promised the apostles that he would send them the Holy Spirit to lead and keep the Church in the truth.
It does seem that The New Republic is obsessing about my friends and me. Last week there was that 9,000-word preview of a writer's forthcoming book under the guise of a review of my Catholic Matters. And now Michael Sean Winters resumes the attack with "Benedict the Ecumenical." The gist of the now-familiar spin is that Pope Benedict has turned out to be a pussycat, much to the consternation of those of us who wanted him to be the biblical raging lion seeking whom he may devour.
It is all nonsense, of course. But I can see the hoped-for partisan utility of it. Mr. Winters is writing a book on how the Democrats can win back the Catholic vote. Readers may judge the elegance of his reasoning. He takes note of my expressing concern in a recent issue of FIRST THINGS about public statements by Archbishop Niederauer of San Francisco. He writes, "Niederauer told the San Francisco Chronicle he had seen Brokeback Mountain and found it 'very powerful.' Smelling salts for Father Neuhaus." Clever. In fact, in the May issue of FT, the archbishop and I have a very civil exchange in the continuing discussion of the Church's teaching and practice with respect to homosexuality.
"It is a new day at the Vatican," Mr. Winters writes. "A curial official told me that [George] Weigel's access to the papal apartments is no more, and, insult to injury, he is also no longer welcome to stay at the American seminary while visiting Rome. [Father Joseph] Fessio recently had to admit in The Washington Times to misrepresenting Benedict's remarks. And Neuhaus is ranting in the pages of First Things."
Oh dear. Mr. Winters needs to find himself a new curial official. It is no secret that the Holy Father, for perfectly sensible reasons, does not run the open house that was the life-long style of his venerable predecessor. Some years ago, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, he explained to me his rigorous daily regimen and at age 79 he is not likely to change that. It is simply false that Weigel is not welcome at the Pontifical North American College. As for Fr. Fessio, he has indeed clarified his remark about Benedict's view of the unchangeability of Islam, and that is discussed in the forthcoming FT. But then the lowest blow: I am ranting? At the risk of seeming discourteous, let me suggest, very gently, that if one is looking for rants, he would find the pages of TNR ever so much more satisfying.
Unlike the authors of TNR, I really have no interest in capturing Catholicism for partisan political purposes. More than that, I find the very idea repugnant. Which, I am well aware, does not mean that others will not keep on trying.
But this is Holy Week and I hope further postings will be on more edifying, or at least less distasteful, topics.
In addition to which:
Rodney Stark's latest book--The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success--has been getting a lot of attention. Our editor-in-chief even has a blurb on the dustjacket commending Stark for reframing old questions in fresh and provocative ways. That may well be, but Algis Valiunas writes in the April issue of FIRST THINGS that Stark also succumbs to a profoundly wrongheaded and "philistine" reading of Christianity. Those who prefer their criticism with no holds barred will relish this provocative critique of a provocative book. Isn't it time for you to become a subscriber to FIRST THINGS?
Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal says this about Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth:
"This is the story of how one priest discovered the way of grace and glory that is being Catholic. Writing with eloquence, deep intelligence and wit, Father Neuhaus guides us past all the confusion and controversy and lets the splendor of truth shine through. If you're a serious Catholic, if you want to be a serious Catholic, if you want to know what it means to be a serious Catholic, read this book."