Hundreds turn up to listen to Father Ambrose Vaz speak on "Gospel of Judas".

GospelOfJudas02.jpgSINGAPORE - About 700 people turned up for a talk on the Gnostic "Gospel of Judas". The May 4 talk was organized by Church of the Holy Spirit and given by the Director of the Biblical Apostolate, Father Ambrose Vaz (left), in response to widespread interest generated by publication of the controversial "gospel".


Father Vaz began the talk by defining the Bible as "the living Word of God inviting us to a relationship with God". "All events recorded are interpreted in the light of this personal relationship with God," he said. "The problem today is that people often take the Bible as an extract of history." The Gnostic gospels, however, are not about a relationship with God, but are about events taken to fit their ideology, he explained.

Out of the many faith experiences written by people at that time, only four books were recognized by the faith community and placed into the Bible which is the rule of life and morals, as communicated by God. "This is why people swear on the Bible," Father Vaz explained.

There is only one Gospel, he said. The Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are four ways of telling the one Gospel, he added. Four criteria for acceptance of books in the New Testament were cited:

- Apostolicity: These writings have been mandated or backed by an apostolic figure.

- Catholicity: These books are for the universal church, and not applicable only to a certain need.

- Orthodoxy: These books do not go against the spirit of the Gospel.

- Established usage: The faith community was already using the books or practising the teachings in the books.

Up to 50 other books, including the "Gospel of Judas", were not included in the canon of the Bible, although there is archaeological evidence for only about 20 books today. These books make up the Apocrypha. "They were considered useful to read, but not divinely inspired to guide us on faith and morals," said Father Vaz.

"The 'Gospel of Judas' is heretical, because it doesn't convey the truth of God," Father Vaz told the interested listeners. This was proclaimed by St. Irenaeus, in the year 180; at the end of the second century, the faith community had already agreed on four Gospels.

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Father Vaz also explained that most of the non-canonical gospels stem from Gnosticism, which is "the doctrine of salvation by knowledge (gnosis)" that "removes the need of a personal saviour".

Gnosticism is based on the principle that there is mysterious knowledge of religious and philosophical truths to be acquired by an elite group. Through acquiring this knowledge, members of that elite group are saved.

The knowledge that Gnostics claim to have is dualistic, that reality consists of the spiritual world which is good, and the material world which is evil. Two supreme gods oppose each other - the good, unknowable god from whom a series of lesser divinities were formed, and the evil god who produced the universe from foul matter. The world is therefore seen as evil and flawed.

The final words on the last page of this Coptic manuscript read: "Gospel of Judas." The National Geographic Society released the first modern translation of the ancient Judas text on Apr 6. It is among dozens of manuscripts known as the gnostic gospels. They represent the beliefs of various sects that arose in the second century which exalted arcane knowledge, mixing Christian belief with pagan speculation and theories. CNS photo

Man is composed of body and spirit. The spirit is man's true self, a divine spark, a portion of the godhead. As each individual's spirit is imprisoned in a body, and the evil god keeps man's spirit as a slave of the material world and ignorant of his "divine" condition, there is a need for a spiritual saviour, a messiah or "Christ", to offer redeeming gnosis.

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This saviour is a guide, a master who teaches a few "spiritual" people - the Gnostics - about their true spiritual nature and helps them to wake up from the dream world they live in. The Gnostics would then be freed from the material world. 

The evil god is blamed for the evil in the world because it created an inferior world. Therefore people who lived in the world cannot be blamed for the evil deeds they did. This is why the Gnostics champion the causes of people like Judas and Cain, explained Father Vaz.

In the "Gospel of Judas", Judas fits in perfectly with the Gnostic agenda. The Gnostic gospel claims that it was Jesus, his master, who planned for him to carry out the "evil" deed. The reason given is that Jesus understood that his body was evil and wanted to free himself from it through death, so he sent Judas, the only disciple who understood what Jesus was doing, to deliver him to the Jews.


Judas kisses Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus is handed over to soliders in this detail from a contemporary Bible illumination. CNS photo

"But the Gospels show that Jesus was afraid of dying," countered Father Vaz. In addition, it is "absurd" to claim that Jesus passed a message in secret to someone, because he always conducted an "open ministry" for all to hear, he added. Quoting from an essay "Gnosticism and the Struggle for the World's Soul" by Father Alfonso Aguilar, Father Vaz identified for the audience the influence of Gnosticism in many popular forms of entertainment such as "Star Wars", "The Matrix", and "Harry Potter".

In each of these movies, the protagonist becomes aware of his true self after being given secret knowledge by his master or mentor. "The danger of Gnosticism is that it asks us to hope for good things through knowledge, not through taking up the cross and following Christ," observed Father Vaz in his conclusion. "Victory is achieved by getting a special recipe, not by following a way of life.

"Gnosticism is a way of thinking that makes us hope for a magic solution to get out of the misery of this world. It will cause the church a lot of problems if we are not aware of it," he said. However, Father Vaz added that "it is okay to watch such movies as entertainment, but not to absorb such principles in our life."

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Krish Mathavan, 30, came away from the talk realizing that "Gnosticism is dangerous" in the forms of the "subtle new age movements out there".

In response to a query about "The Da Vinci Code" being a work of Gnostics, Father Vaz responded that, "Gnostics will say that Leonardo da Vinci was given secret knowledge like Judas."

Mary Chua, who attended out of curiosity, said, "I don't believe in the 'Gospel of Judas' and 'The Da Vinci Code' because I am too deeply rooted in my faith."

Attentive listening by some of the 700 persons who came to the talk by Father Ambrose Vaz at the Church of the Holy Spirit.

Father Vaz affirmed this when he said, "The 'Gospel of Judas' should not worry us if we are confident in the Gospels we have."

Colin and Madelene Lauw had attended the talk as they knew it would be a hot topic of discussion among their non-Catholic friends. "We have three children whom we will definitely explain this to," said Madelene.

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