The Decree of Pope St. Gelasius – The Liturgical Joke of Protestants

By: Jay Dyer Protestants are generally clueless when it comes to the canon of Scripture. Even the best of them act as if the Bible dropped out of heaven into their academic circles, as God, of course, needs their rigorous scientific exegesis. But what's the real problem with this? The problem is that the Protestants have taken the Bible out of its proper context - that of the Liturgy. And, for all you Federal Visionaries, the Church already has apostolic liturgies - we don't need you inventing and fabricating your own. But at least the FV guys are moving in the right direction. As I've stated many times in debates and discussions, the formation of the canon, whether new or old Testament, cannot be separated from the context that gave those books meaning - public liturgy. The only way we know the authorship of the texts is from Apostolic Tradition, as I've demonstrated many times, and the milieu of that Tradition was the public readings at the local liturgy. Scholars across various denominations have known this for years. This growth in the knowledge of God via liturgy and sacraments is called "mystagogy." Eastern Orthodox theologian, Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, explains: "Strictly speaking, there never was a Bible in the Orthodox Church, at least not as we commonly think of the Bible as a single volume book we can hold in our hand. Since the beginning of the Church, from the start of our liturgical tradition, there has never been a single book in an Orthodox church we could point to as the Bible. Instead, the various books of the Bible are found scattered throughout several service books located either on the Holy Altar itself, or at the chanter's stand. The Gospels (or their pericopes) are complied into a single volume — usually bound in precious metal and richly decorated — placed on the Holy Altar."

The Metropolitan is correct. The history of the canon evinces a long process of varying canons in various places, as any introduction on the topic shows. But day in and day out I get emails and would-be debaters (usually reformed) who insist on the impossible notion that the 66 books of the Protestant are known a priori. Nevermind that the Bible is a historical text that comes from the Catholic Church and from whose Tradition alone we know the authorship of many books, such as Matthew’s Gospel. No, nevermind all that, because the Holy Spirit has directly told my reformed friends which books are in the canon (wink wink). What was the reality of the Church in the West in the late 6th century? Keep in mind that the only canonical formulation that was official in the West had only been in the regional councils of Carthage and Hippo. The East saw no ecumenical list of the canon until the 6th Council in the 7th century. We wait until around 600 or so to see Pope St. Gelasius give a decree on the canon and which texts may be read in the liturgy. This is the key – it was always a question of what was to be publicly read in the services. This is because the Church took over the lectionaries of the synagogue. And those lectionaries included the Deuterocanon and were essentially liturgical documents – not private Bible study aids. We see how a-historical and completely out of the loop the Protestant position is.I have also shown here how for St. Cyril, liturgy was central to orthodoxy.

This means that Protestantism is a break with Apostolic Tradition and why their worship is in chaos and flux. No Protestants know how to worship, and can’t figure out whether the service is liturgical or charismatic. Is it visual or iconoclastic? Is it a real presence or a memorial? Is there a minister or does he have a priestly function? Who knows? The root of the problem is taking the Bible out of its context – the Liturgy. That is what the below quotation shows us – the reality of what the canon debates were all about – the limits and confines of Catholic worship via liturgy. Thus it is all the more amusing, not just when Protestants wrangle about the Deuterocanon, but especially when they are missing the entire milieu in which the canon was formulated – historic liturgical tradition.

Pope St. Gelasius wrote (circa 595):

“163 (1) After (all these) prophetic and evangelical and apostolic writings (which we have set forth above), on which the Catholic Church by the grace of God is founded, we have thought this (fact) also ought to be published, namely that, although the universal Catholic Church spread throughout the world has the one marriage of Christ, nevertheless the holy Roman Church has not been preferred to the other churches by reason of synodical decrees, but she has held the primacy by the evangelical voice of the Lord and Savior saying:Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, and I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven[ Matt. 16:18 f.]. There is added also the association of the most blessed Paul the Apostle, the vessel of election, who not at a different time, as the heretics say, but at the one time, on one and the same day, while contending for the prize together with Peter was crowned with a glorious death under Caesar Nero in the City of Rome; and equally have they consecrated the above-mentioned Church of Rome to Christ the Lord and have raised it above all other cities in the whole world by their presence and their venerable triumph.

Accordingly the see of PETER the Apostle of the Church of Rome is first,having neither spot, nor wrinkle, nor anything of this kind[Eph. 5:27]. But the second see at Alexandria was consecrated in the name of blessed PETER by Mark his disciple and evangelist . . . but the third in honor is considered the see of the most blessed Apostle PETER at Antioch. . . .

The Authority of the Councils and the Fathers *

164 (2) And although no one can lay a foundation other than that, which has been laid, which is Christ Jesus [cf. 1 Cor. 3:11], nevertheless for the purpose of instruction the holy, that is, the Roman Church, does not forbid these writings also, that is: the Sacred Synod of NICEA . . . EPHESUS . . . [and] CHALCEDON . . . to be received after those of the Old or New Testament, which we regularly accept.

165 (3) Likewise the works of blessed Caecilius Cyprian . . . [ and in the same way the works of Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, Athanasius, John (Chrysostom)) Theophilus, Cyril of Alexandria, Hilary, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, (and) Prosper may be admitted ] .Also the epistle of blessed LEO the Pope to Flavian [dogmatic, see n. 143 f.] . ; if anyone argues concerning the text of this one even in regard to one iota, and does not receive it in all respects reverently, let him be anathema.

Likewise it decrees that the works and treatises of all the orthodox Fathers who in no [way] have deviated from the society of the holy Roman Church . . . ought to be read.

Likewise, too, the decretal epistles, which the most blessed Popes . . . have written, ought to be received with reverence.

Likewise the deeds of the holy martyrs . . . [which] with remarkable caution are not read in the holy Roman Church . . . because the names of those who wrote (them) are entirely unknown . . . lest an occasion of light mockery arise. We, however, with the aforementioned Church venerate with every devotion both all the martyrs and the glorious combats of those who are known to God rather than to men.

Likewise we acknowledge with all honor the lives of the Fathers, of Paul, of Anthony, of Hilary, and of all the hermits, which however the most blessed Jerome has described.

The Apocrypha “which are not accepted” *

166 (4) [ After the long series of apocrypha has been presented, the Decree of Gelasius is thus concluded: ] These and f writings] similar to these, which . . . all the heresiarchs and their disciples, or the schismatics have taught or written. . . . . . . we confess have not only been rejected, but also banished from the whole Roman Catholic and apostolic Church and with their authors and the followers of their authors have been condemned forever under the indissoluble bond of anathema.”

from Denzinger

4 Comments on The Decree of Pope St. Gelasius – The Liturgical Joke of Protestants

  1. castleman711 // April 17, 2010 at 10:36 pm // Reply

    This is great. In my journey towards learning more about the historical facts about the cannon, I have never come to understand the liturgical focus on the cannon. While I understand that protestants, or sola scriptura types deny the cannon when they deny tradition, I find the liturgical focus now, to be extremely interesting.

    Jay, can you recommend any further reading on the liturgical views on the cannon?

  2. Dude,
    Your stuff on the canon and liturgy is outstanding. I really don’t know how a Protestant can give a response to some of the stuff that you and Gabe (separately) have written lately on the canon.

  3. I know this is an older post, but wow! This is one of the best writings on the subject I’ve ever read. Well done!

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