Monday, September 24, 2012

The canon of scripture, Damasus, and the "Gelasian Decree"


In some non-Catholic circles, there exists an argument against Pope Damasus having decreed the canon of Scripture at a council in Rome, ca 382 A.D. Here is an example from the One Fold blog arguing against Catholic apologist John Martignoni:
What John is referring to when he says the “canon was set at the Council of Rome in 382 A.D,” is actually a list from the Gelasian Decree produced in the sixth century and sometimes falsely attributed to the council of Rome.
A similar claim is made by Protestant historian F.F. Bruce:
What is commonly called the Gelasian decree on books which are to be received and not received takes its name from Pope Gelasius (492-496). It gives a list of biblical books as they appeared in the Vulgate, with the Apocrypha [sic] interspersed among the others. In some manuscripts, indeed, it is attributed to Pope Damasus, as though it had been promulgated by him at the Council of Rome in 382. But actually it appears to have been a private compilation drawn up somewhere in Italy in the early sixth century. (Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, p. 97)
One of the apologetic reasons for claiming the 382 decree on the canon is false is because the text in question includes the longer Catholic canon with 7+ books1––what Bruce calls the "Apocrypha." Catholics today refer to these texts as the Deuterocanon. Those opposed to the authenticity of the 382 decree are apparently averse to admitting to the antiquity of the Catholic canon. Admittedly, this is peculiar, because One Fold, perhaps following the admission on page 97 of Bruce, admits that the longer Catholic canon was declared at Hippo (393) and Carthage (397), just a few years later anyway.
The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa — at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397 — but what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities. (ibid. 97)
It's worth noting that Bruce admits the longer Catholic canon was "already the general practice" of the early Christian communities.

Nevertheless, what of the authenticity of Pope Damasus proclaiming the longer canon in 382? Catholic historian William Jurgens writes as follows:
The first part of this decree has long been known as the Decree of Damasus, and concerns the Holy Spirit and the seven-fold gifts. The second part of the decree is more familiarly known as the opening part of the Gelasian Decree, in regard to the canon of Scripture: De libris recipiendis vel non recipiendis. It is now commonly held that the part of the Gelasian Decree dealing with the accepted canon of Scripture is an authentic work of the Council of Rome of 382 A.D. and that Gelasius edited it again at the end of the fifth century, adding to it the catalog of the rejected books, the apocrypha. It is now almost universally accepted that these parts one and two of the Decree of Damasus are authentic parts of the Acts of the Council of Rome of 382 A.D. (Jurgens, Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. 1, p. 404)
So, according to Jurgens, both Damasus and Gelasius included the canonical list, but Gelasius added additional forbidden texts. Whether this took place at the "end of the fifth" century or the "sixth" century, as Bruce asserts, they are apparently speaking of the same Gelasian text. The question is whether or not what Gelasius wrote in the 5th/6th century was an innovation from the 382 Decree of Damasus as One Fold and Bruce assert.

It seems to me, the Decree of Damasus in 382 at the council of Rome is the more historically sound. Here's why. In 1912, the author Ernst von Dobsch├╝tz, gave his historical rationale for doubting that Damasus made a decree on the canon at Rome in 382. He points out that in the Gelasian decree is a quotation from St. Augustine dating from 416. Therefore, he denies that any other part of the decree could have originally been from Damasus in 382. From this, he concludes that the entirety of Damasus' decree has "no historical value." We see, of course, that this is specious reasoning. After all, if Damasus declared a canonical list in 382, and Gelasius in the 5th/6th century added to that a quote from Augustine, that would not erase Damasus' original declaration.

All these dates and names can be confusing. But here's the apparent timeline:
  • 382 - Pope Damasus makes his decree on the larger Catholic canon
  • 416 - Augustine makes his comments.
  • 5th/6th century - Gelasius takes Damasus' decree, and edits it, adding to it the Augustinian quote and lists other apocryphal texts
If Gelasius added an Augustinian quote, it has no effect on what Damasus declared. Yet von Dobsch├╝tz concludes the entire Decree of Damasus is worthless. Bruce apparently echoes this historical view by calling into question the dating of the canonical list in Damasus' decree.

Another Protestant resource confirms Jurgens and the timeline I have posited above:
A council probably held at Rome in 382 under St. Damasus gave a complete list of the canonical books of both the Old Testament and the New Testament (also known as the 'Gelasian Decree' because it was reproduced by Gelasius in 495), which is identical with the list given at Trent. (The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed., p. 232)
Thus, we have sound evidence that the longer Catholic canon found acceptance from councils ancient and more recent including Rome (382), Hippo (393), Carthage (397), Nicea II (797), Florence (1442)Trent (1546) and Vatican I (1870). It is this canonical list that has found consistency throughout the centuries.


1For the text of the decree on the canon at the council at Rome (382), see Gary Michuta's Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger, page 126-127, or refer to the Latin text here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

TV star Donna D'Errico on her Catholic faith

In recent news, Donna D'Errico, former prime time TV star, has been talking about her renewed Catholic faith. I first read about this at Catholic Vote. The story was in reference to an interview she did with Fox411, in which she expressed her affinity for the Divine Liturgy and the Rosary. See also her recent interview at Ignitum Today.  Pro-Catholic stories like Donna's among the world of celebrities are uncommon. As a follow to that interview, I asked her if she would answer a few short interview questions for my blog, and she was kind enough to reply. Here is her interview with The Catholic Voyager:
TCV: Recently, you articulated that you've made mistakes in life, and eluded to something you've worn for the past 6 years. Can you expound on that item and what it means to you? 
DD: I was referring to my Brown Scapular. I was enrolled into the Brown Scapular many years ago, and have not removed it since. 

TCV: Who is your favorite saint and what about them appeals to you? 
DD: Saint Monica. Her struggles in her marriage resonate with me. 

TCV: Today there are many "Catholics" who dissent with a variety of Church teaching. For example, there are politicians, some nuns and even priests, actors, or actresses who disagree with the Catechism on abortion or doctrines like how priests must be male to sacramentally represent Christ. Would you consider yourself a "traditional" Catholic who embraces the doctrines of the Church? Or do you see yourself as having views opposed to those taught in the Catechism?  
DD: If your beliefs are not in full accordance with the Baltimore Catechism, then you're not Catholic.


TCV: What advice would you give to young people today, especially young ladies, who are adverse to religion, on what the Church has to offer? 
DD: I'm not sure what advice I could give to anyone who is adverse to religion. I'm certainly no missionary. I returned because outside of it, I was lost and headed down the wrong road. I don't buy into the new-age mindset that everyone is automatically saved and automatically goes straight to Heaven. It sounds really nice and all, but it's just not the case. If you die with mortal sin on your soul, you go to Hell - plain and simple. The one, true, Canonically correct, pre-Vatican II Catholic Church offers everything you need to be able to make it into Heaven. 

TCV: You recently mentioned support for Ron Paul as opposed to either major party candidate. Do you feel that the nation could stand to benefit from a third party leader outside the major-two-party system? 
DD: Yes. Although it wasn't always this way, candidates who represent either of the two major political parties are largely all the same person. You may as well cover your eyes and throw a dart, and decide who to vote for that way. They are puppets, controlled by puppeteers. The only chance we have of getting someone in office who is not controlled by the "powers that be" is by voting for the person rather than the party.
I want to thank Donna for her response to my interview request and for all her interviews in which she courageously has spoken with the conviction of truth on things Catholic such as the Liturgy, the Rosary, prayer, and Confession.



Monday, September 3, 2012

Osgood File errs on Creationism and Evolution?

The Osgood File is a mini radio show played on some radio stations throughout the nation. On August 23, 2012, the host, Charles Osgood, reported on Autism risk as it related to the father's age of the child. You can read the whole thing here if you're interested in the Autism study.

One of the parts that caught my ear was the following of Osgood's statement:
...most mutations are benign. And in fact, they're the essential engine of evolution - or, evidence of the Hand of God, if you're a creationist. It's the way that organisms change over time.
As it is stated, it appears that Osgood believes there is a void between someone who believes there is a Creator and someone who believes in the theory of evolution. Osgood's statement is made as a contrast. As we've discussed on this blog, there is a sentiment that religious belief and science are at odds, and Osgood's statement fits in with this myth.

Truth be told, not all Creationists must be anti-evolution. In fact, such believers aren't even a rare exception. And Osgood did not qualify his statement.

Although evolution is a matter of science and not theology, the idea is not incompatible with Catholic theology as long as it does not attempt to eliminate God from the ensoulment of humans. For example:
Taking into account the state of scientific research at the time as well as of the requirements of theology, the encyclical Humani Generis considered the doctrine of "evolutionism" a serious hypothesis, worthy of investigation and in-depth study equal to that of the opposing hypothesis. Pius XII added two methodological conditions: that this opinion should not be adopted as though it were a certain, proven doctrine and as though one could totally prescind from revelation with regard to the questions it raises. He also spelled out the condition on which this opinion would be compatible with the Christian faith, a point to which I will return. (Pope John Paul II, Truth Cannot Contradict Truth, 1996)

Further expounding on Pope Pius XII's Humani Generis, Pope John Paul II continued:
Pius XII stressed this essential point: If the human body take its origin from pre-existent living matter, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God ("animas enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides nos retinere iubei"; "Humani Generis," 36). Consequently, theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the spirit as emerging from the forces of living matter or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person.
So essentially, evolution is not incompatible with the faith, so long as it does not claim to interfere with the theological matter of the soul––a matter outside the bounds of science.

One of the pertinent statements in Pius XII's Humani Generis reads as follows:
[T]he Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that...research and discussions...take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter -- for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. (Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis, #36, 1950)
It is thus not a matter of religion being opposed to science. Even in 1950, when scientists were less clear on evolution, Pius XII specifically welcomed research on evolution. He then referenced the matter of "Catholic faith" which teaches that God creates the soul.

Thus, Osgood's blanket statement contrasting those who believe in evolution versus those who believe in Creation beckons clarification.