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Re: [GTh] "Why is the Gospel of St. Thomas dismissed by the Vatican as heresy?"

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  • M.W. Grondin
    Thanks for your clarification, Bob, and I ll go along with your new title; I rather like my own, but I have to admit that it may be too obscure to elicit the
    Message 1 of 5 , Feb 23, 2011
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      Thanks for your clarification, Bob, and I'll go along with your new title;
      I rather like my own, but I have to admit that it may be too obscure to
      elicit the response I'd hoped for. Thanks also for forwarding the question
      to Kopacek. Dick Harfield did look at our archives, and was disappointed,
      as I have been, by the lack of informed discussion. Admittedly, evidence
      is sparse, but we have a number of members who must be in a position
      to know something more about this question than I do.

      I wrote to Harfield this morning, commenting on his current answer to the
      question, and suggesting the following replacement wording:

      (Q: Why is the Gospel of St. Thomas dismissed by the Vatican as heresy?)

      A: Because it was and is viewed [by the Church] as an inauthentic gnostic work
      written long after the apostolic period of the first century. The first mention of a
      Gospel of Thomas was by Hippolytus of Rome in the early third century (222-235).
      He had found it in use among the Naasenes, a gnostic sect. Later writers associated
      it with Mani and his followers, as it was apparently in use among them as well.
      Although it could not have originated with Mani, the fact that it was in use exclusively
      among gnostic groups, and that it did not support what had become tenets of the
      Christian faith, were sufficient grounds for the Church to regard it as heretical.

      With respect to Irenaeus, Harfield's answer implies that Irenaeus knew of GTh.
      My response was this:

      " There's no evidence that [Irenaeus know of GTh]. He mentions other non-canonical
      gospels, but not Thomas. The first mention of the Gospel of Thomas was by Hippolytus,
      in a work dated 222-235, which is after the time of Irenaeus. Nevertheless, Hippolytus
      was a heresiologist following in the footsteps of Irenaeus, and there's no doubt at all that
      Irenaeus would have agreed with him that the Gospel of Thomas was gnostic, hence
      heretical. This has nothing to do with Irenaeus' rationalizations about the number four.
      He rationalized four because that was the number of gospels he took to be authentic.
      (According to my reading, one of the things he was trying to do was to champion
      the Gospel of John as an authentic gospel.)"
      Ref: http://www.ntcanon.org/Irenaeus.shtml#4_Gospels (seems reputable)

      Mike
    • Bob Schacht
      ... This is a much better answer. But one Q: We don t ... The Wikipedia article on Against Heresies explains that ... So, what we have is a wooden
      Message 2 of 5 , Feb 23, 2011
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        At 01:05 PM 2/23/2011, M.W. Grondin wrote:


        Thanks for your clarification, Bob, and I'll go along with your new title;
        I rather like my own, but I have to admit that it may be too obscure to
        elicit the response I'd hoped for. Thanks also for forwarding the question
        to Kopacek. Dick Harfield did look at our archives, and was disappointed,
        as I have been, by the lack of informed discussion. Admittedly, evidence
        is sparse, but we have a number of members who must be in a position
        to know something more about this question than I do.

        I wrote to Harfield this morning, commenting on his current answer to the
        question, and suggesting the following replacement wording:

        (Q: Why is the Gospel of St. Thomas dismissed by the Vatican as heresy?)

        A: Because it was and is viewed [by the Church] as an inauthentic gnostic work
        written long after the apostolic period of the first century. The first mention of a
        Gospel of Thomas was by Hippolytus of Rome in the early third century (222-235).
        He had found it in use among the Naasenes, a gnostic sect. Later writers associated
        it with Mani and his followers, as it was apparently in use among them as well.
        Although it could not have originated with Mani, the fact that it was in use exclusively
        among gnostic groups, and that it did not support what had become tenets of the
        Christian faith, were sufficient grounds for the Church to regard it as heretical.

        With respect to Irenaeus, Harfield's answer implies that Irenaeus knew of GTh.
        My response was this:

        " There's no evidence that [Irenaeus know of GTh]. He mentions other non-canonical
        gospels, but not Thomas. The first mention of the Gospel of Thomas was by Hippolytus,
        in a work dated 222-235, which is after the time of Irenaeus. Nevertheless, Hippolytus
        was a heresiologist following in the footsteps of Irenaeus, and there's no doubt at all that
        Irenaeus would have agreed with him that the Gospel of Thomas was gnostic, hence
        heretical. This has nothing to do with Irenaeus' rationalizations about the number four.
        He rationalized four because that was the number of gospels he took to be authentic.
        (According to my reading, one of the things he was trying to do was to champion
        the Gospel of John as an authentic gospel.)"
        Ref: http://www.ntcanon.org/Irenaeus.shtml#4_Gospels (seems reputable)

        Mike

        This is a much better answer. But one Q: We don't really have all of the Greek text of Ireneus' *Against Heresies.*  Per Wiki:
        Irenaeus' best-known book, Adversus Haereses or Against Heresies (c. 180) is a detailed attack on Gnosticism, which was then a serious threat to the Church, and especially on the system of the Gnostic Valentinus . [2]

        The Wikipedia article on Against Heresies explains that
        Only fragments of the original Greek text exist, but a complete copy exists in a wooden Latin translation, made shortly after its publication in Greek, and Books IV and V are also present in a literal Armenian translation. [2]

        So, what we have is a "wooden" translation in Latin for much of Irenaeus' work. For our purposes, whether or not Irenaeus says anything about GTh is significant, either way: If GTh was gnostic, then one would think that Irenaeus would have written about it, even if it were merely a minor work. And we  would, of course, be very interested in what he wrote. If he *didn't* write anything about it, might it be that he didn't think it was gnostic? At the very least, the fact that he didn't write about it would be very significant. If it didn't mean that it wasn't gnostic, in his eyes, it would surely be testimony to its lack of impact on Christians of that day. It would also probably mean that Valentinus didn't know about it, either, which would also be significant.

        Or, it could mean that GTh had not been compiled yet, which would obviously have significant impact on its date, which many members of the Jesus Seminar consider very early.

        So what Irenaeus does, or doesn't say about GTh, is significant about six ways from Sunday, no?

        Now it might be that Irenaeus' concerns against the gnostics are too narrowly drawn, e.g. wrt the Trinity, but he does not hesitate to take a swipe at other works as he goes along.

        Has anyone actually looked through all 5 vols. of *Against Heresies* with respect to questions like these?
        Anyone can play this game, because the complete(?) text of "Against Heresies" is supposedly on line:Bob Schacht
        Northern Arizona University
      • M.W. Grondin
        Dick Harfield and I have been able to agree on the following wording for the answer to the question Why [is/was GTh considered] heretical? ... In the early
        Message 3 of 5 , Feb 25, 2011
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          Dick Harfield and I have been able to agree on the following wording for
          the answer to the question "Why [is/was GTh considered] heretical?"
          --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
          In the early centuries of Christian history, what we now know as the
          "New Testament" was not yet in place. As a result, fierce theological
          battles broke out over what Christians should believe. Orthodox
          writers such as Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons and his pupil Hippolytus of
          Rome, wrote in great detail against what they regarded as the heresy of
          "Gnosticism", linking many different belief-systems under that title.
          When the Gospel of Thomas became known, it was associated with
          Gnosticism by the heresy-hunters, since it was found to be in use among
          groups considered to be gnostic. It was furthermore not believed by church
          writers to have been a 1st century document, nor authored by the apostle
          Thomas. For all these reasons, and because Irenaeus expressed the view
          (wide-spread among the bishops) that the only authentic gospels were
          those of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, other "gospels" such as those
          attributed to Thomas, Matthias, Philip, Bartholomew, etc., which expressed
          views considered by the bishops to be inconsistent with the tenets of
          Christian faith, were never considered for inclusion in the developing canon.
          --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
           
          The wording is mine, and is exactly as I sent it to Harfield, except for several
          omissions that he suggested, and to which I have no great objection. I can also
          now see a couple improvements in wording that I might make before posting it
          to Answers.com, but I won't include them here.
           
          Any suggestions as to better wording or substance? Is there anything in this
          answer that could be construed as contentious, questionable, or flat-out
          wrong?
           
          Mike G.
        • Bob Schacht
          ... Mike, Looks good to me. One of the key things in these public answers is to avoid saying too much. Saying too much creates diversions and raises questions
          Message 4 of 5 , Feb 25, 2011
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            At 11:50 AM 2/25/2011, M.W. Grondin wrote:


            Dick Harfield and I have been able to agree on the following wording for
            the answer to the question "Why [is/was GTh considered] heretical?"
            --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
            In the early centuries of Christian history, what we now know as the
            "New Testament" was not yet in place. As a result, fierce theological
            battles broke out over what Christians should believe. Orthodox
            writers such as Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons and his pupil Hippolytus of
            Rome, wrote in great detail against what they regarded as the heresy of
            "Gnosticism", linking many different belief-systems under that title.
            When the Gospel of Thomas became known, it was associated with
            Gnosticism by the heresy-hunters, since it was found to be in use among
            groups considered to be gnostic. It was furthermore not believed by church
            writers to have been a 1st century document, nor authored by the apostle
            Thomas. For all these reasons, and because Irenaeus expressed the view
            (wide-spread among the bishops) that the only authentic gospels were
            those of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, other "gospels" such as those
            attributed to Thomas, Matthias, Philip, Bartholomew, etc., which expressed
            views considered by the bishops to be inconsistent with the tenets of
            Christian faith, were never considered for inclusion in the developing canon.
            --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
             
            The wording is mine, and is exactly as I sent it to Harfield, except for several
            omissions that he suggested, and to which I have no great objection. I can also
            now see a couple improvements in wording that I might make before posting it
            to Answers.com, but I won't include them here.
             
            Any suggestions as to better wording or substance? Is there anything in this
            answer that could be construed as contentious, questionable, or flat-out
            wrong?
             

            Mike,
            Looks good to me. One of the key things in these public answers is to avoid saying too much. Saying too much creates diversions and raises questions that obscures the main point. I think you stay on-message in this answer.

            But this is small potatoes and yet good practice for the Major Leagues. It is my impression that the heavy lifting occurs over at the Wikipedia page on the Gospel of Thomas
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Gospel_of_Thomas, where it appears that you have entered substantively in the Discussion tab but have so far refrained from changing the main article itself? You advanced notice about the Wikipedia page almost a year ago here on the list, and I supported one of your comments on the discussion page. But now the task is to make the relevant changes to the main entry. In trying to do so, you butted heads with Goethean. But the stakes there may be higher, because I think the Wikipedia gets more readers than Answers.com.

            At any rate, since it looks like you're heading towards resolution with Dick Harfield, perhaps its time to take up the cudgels with wikipedia again? Advancing to main article editorial status is daunting, but for good reasons-- they don't want people just changing anything, willy-nilly. But main article editorial status is something I aspire to, myself, for reasons connected with other entries where I have more expertise to bring to the table. In a sense, you have a pretty good editorial staff right here. Bring it on! :-)

            Bob Schacht
            Northern Arizona University


          • Stephen Carlson
            ... I disagree. I argue that Origen thought it was a first-century document that contained some reliable Jesus sayings. Stephen -- Stephen C. Carlson Graduate
            Message 5 of 5 , Feb 25, 2011
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              On Fri, Feb 25, 2011 at 1:50 PM, M.W. Grondin <mwgrondin@...> wrote:
              It was furthermore not believed by church
              writers to have been a 1st century document, nor authored by the apostle
              Thomas.

              I disagree.  I argue that Origen thought it was a first-century document that contained some reliable Jesus sayings.

              Stephen
              --
              Stephen C. Carlson
              Graduate Program in Religion
              Duke University
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