Wednesday, May 24, 2006
A recent discussion I’ve been in shows definite “assumptions about the Assumption”- that is, belief in the Assumption rests on faith and private interpretation rather than Biblical proof and historical confirmation. Recall, Pope Gelasius condemned the earliest books that speak of Mary’s Assumption. A Roman Catholic said:
“Gelasius condemned books, not necessarily specific doctrines, in the Decretum. That's the point. The books were apocryphal because they had dubious origins and authorship. And like most apocryphal writings, they contained some truth and some error.”
And then later:
“You're asking me why someone would decree certain books to be apocryphal? Do you agree that the Deuterocanonicals have some truth in them - yet you consider them to be apocryphal? Now I could turn around and cherry pick any doctrine out of them (as Mr. Swan has done) and claim that it was that particular doctrine was the reason why you declared them apocryphal. Now do you see the flaw in that method?"
At least, Gelasius had the benefit of the 27-book New Testament which contained the testimony of eyewitnesses to Jesus Christ and the Gospel. Could it be, Gelasius had a rule of faith- the 27 book New Testament which contained the writings of eyewitnesses by which to judge purported New Testament books? It must have been something to this effect, unless Roman Catholics want to hold God simply told Gelasius certain books were not to be accepted. Recall though in the decree of Gelasius he sets forth a list of “accepted books’.
Does one find the teaching of Mary's Assumption in the New Testament? No. What about in the writings of the Church Fathers previous to Gelasius? No. What about in the authentic piety of decreed Roman Catholic festivals and observances? No.
So in the Bible, in the writings of the Church Fathers previous to Gelasius, and in the authentic decreed piety of the Roman Catholic Church, the doctrine of the Assumption is non-existant.
But yet this Roman Catholic says that Gelasius didn't condemn the Assumption when he condemned the Transitus Beatae Mariae of Pseudo–Melito. Well, on what basis could Gelasius have affirmed the Assumption? History shows no basis- not the Bible, not the writings of the ECF's, nor in official piety and festivals of the Roman Catholic Church.
This Roman Catholic’s point rests on two foundations:
1) Faith. He begins with the belief that the Assumption is a fact, so no amount of evidence showing it isn't will change his mind.
2) Private interpretation. When reading the decree of Gelasius, This Catholic invokes what Roman Catholics abhor: private interpretation. He interprets the decree to mean what it needs to mean in order for the Assumption to remain a 'fact' in his theological worldview. He’s not alone in this. Catholic apologist Robert Sungenis does the same thing, by use of his private interpretation he speculates the books were condemned because they gave “conflicting accounts” of the true fact of Mary’s Assumption.
Now, I grant that no amount of evidence will convince this roman Catholic that Gelasius condemned Mary’s assumption, and that no “tradition” of Mary’s Assumption was given by the apostles (the earliest ‘tradition’ suggests no one ‘knows’ what happened to Mary). I grant that the few wires he’s able to cross in his own theological electrical system gets him off the hook and allows his theological worldview to keep churning along like a car that needs a complete overhaul. But Roman Catholics should stop for a moment and consider the facts and logic I’ve just presented. Then read the condemnation by Gelasius. Then take into consideration this statement from William Webster:
"In 494 to 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius issued a decree entitled Decretum de Libris Canonicis Ecclesiasticis et Apocryphis. This decree officially set forth the writings which were considered to be canonical and those which were apocryphal and were to be rejected. He gives a list of apocryphal writings and makes the following statement regarding them:
The remaining writings which have been compiled or been recognised by heretics or schismatics the Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church does not in any way receive; of these we have thought it right to cite below some which have been handed down and which are to be avoided by catholics (New Testament Apocrypha, Wilhelm Schneemelcher, ed. (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1991), p. 38).
In the list of apocryphal writings which are to be rejected Gelasius signifies the following work: Liber qui apellatur Transitus, id est Assumptio Sanctae Mariae, Apocryphus (Pope Gelasius 1, Epistle 42, Migne Series, M.P.L. vol. 59, Col. 162). This specifically means the Transitus writing of the assumption of Mary. At the end of the decree he states that this and all the other listed literature is heretical and that their authors and teachings and all who adhere to them are condemned and placed under eternal anathema which is indissoluble. And he places the Transitus literature in the same category as the heretics and writings of Arius, Simon Magus, Marcion, Apollinaris, Valentinus and Pelagius.
Pope Gelasius explicitly condemns the authors as well as their writings and the teachings which they promote and all who follow them. And significantly, this entire decree and its condemnation was reaffirmed by Pope Hormisdas in the sixth century around A.D. 520. (Migne Vol. 62. Col. 537-542). These facts prove that the early Church viewed the assumption teaching, not as a legitimate expression of the pious belief of the faithful but as a heresy worthy of condemnation."
Source: William Webster, The Assumption of Mary
Of course, this appeal was denied by the Catholic I was discussing this issue with:
"Mr. Swan, I can be convinced. All you have to do is produce a magisterial document from the Roman synod of 494 A.D. that condemns Mary's Assumption. I will help you: look for a document that contains some kind of a formal statement or declaration along these lines: "If anyone says that the Mother of Our Lord was assumed bodily into heaven, or says that The Blessed Mother did not undergo the bodily corruption that is the destiny of all created beings, let him be anathema."My fictitious example here is the way formal doctrinal condemnations come in the Catholic Church. They do not come by way of routine blanket declarations regarding apocryphal literature like the Decretum Gelasianum. The fact is, you will never be able to produce an authentic magisterial document that contains the preceding statement, because such a document does not exist. The only thing you could do is used the one I just wrote and present it as authentic. But that wouldn't convince me either."
The books condmend by Gelasisus were condemned for what the taught, as well as their dubious origins: Gelasius says,
"These and the like, what Simon Magus, Nicolaus, Cerinthus, Marcion, Basilides, Ebion, Paul of Samosata, Photinus and Bonosus, who suffered from similar error, also Montanus with his detestable followers, Apollinaris, Valentinus the Manichaean, Faustus the African, Sabellius, Arius, Macedonius, Eunomius, Novatus, Sabbatius, Calistus, Donatus, Eustasius, Iovianus, Pelagius, Iulianus of ERclanum, Caelestius, Maximian, Priscillian from Spain, Nestorius of Constantinople, Maximus the Cynic, Lampetius,Dioscorus, Eutyches, Peter and the other Peter, of whom one besmirched Alexandria and the other Antioch, Acacius of Constantinople with his associates, and what also all disciples of heresy and of the heretics and schismatics, whose names we have scarcely preserved, have taught or compiled, we acknowledge is to be not merely rejected but excluded from the whole Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church and with its authors and the adherents of its authors to be damned in the inextricable shackles of anathema forever (New Testament Apocrypha, Wilhelm Schneemelcher, Ed., (Cambridge: James Clark, 1991)."
Big Question time: This Catholic claims that the Transitus material contained truth and error mixed together: "like most apocryphal writings, they contained some truth and some error." and also:
"Pope Gelasius rightly condemned this writing because it was obviously fictional, NOT because it contained an account of Mary's assumption, which it does. After all, other apocryphal writings condemned by early popes contain accounts of the resurrection and ascension of Christ. Does that mean the popes rejected the idea of the resurrection and ascension of Christ? No. It just means that errors and fabrications are usually mixed with truth in apocryphal writings."
I'll grant that apocryphal material can contain elements of truth. We could go through one of the stories on Mary's Assumption together and take a look. Now, since Gelasius in notes that the teaching of the Transitus material is condemned as well, can he show which standard Gelasius used as his rule of faith? Can he show which rule of faith he uses to determine what is true or false in the condemned book?Most importantly, show me which rule, or rules of faith Gelasius used. If he says it was "Tradition" that allowed him to affirm the Assumption in this material, show me that "Tradition." Show me something, please, anything historical that will prove the Assumption was a true belief at the time of the condemnation of Gelasius.
What he's asking me to grant is that a "tradition" of the Assumption exisited, Galasius knew it, and did not judge the Assumption in the transitus literature as heretical. All he needs to do is produce that "standard". Unless he does this, I can only conclude that Gelasius had a 27 book New Testament by which to judge truth from error by.