Apocryphal Sources of Catholic Doctrine?


I was perusing the “Fathers Know Best” section of CA, and felt compelled to ask the question -

You can look at the “proofs” for various Marian doctrines originating in the Protoevangelium of James.

Too bad, the Protoevangelium is pseudopigrapha, and its authorship is faked.

You can look it up on wikipedia.

So my question is, why do catholics use these documents as proofs when they are clearly written centuries later and clearly apocryphal?


Wikipedia is clearly not a source that you would want to site to prove much of anything. :slight_smile:

The real questions that you probably want to clear up for people before they can correctly answer you would be this:

What do you have against Mary or the teachings thereof?
What part of the Marian doctrines do you have a problem with?

Clearing up these points will help to better answer your question.


In the wikipedia article, it says that the Protoevangelium or Gospel of James was written “about A.D. 150” and “may be the earliest surviving document attesting the veneration of Mary and claiming her continuing virginity.” I’ve seem it elsewhere dated to about A.D. 120.

Regardless of who the author actually was, the document attests to the fact that, at a time when there were still living witnesses of the Apostles’ preaching, like St. Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John, there were at least some Christians who believed in Mary’s continuing virginity.


We read the non-inspired works of the Early Church Fathers because it helps us learn. Sure they are not inspired, and in fact there are some things that are not correct Church teaching. But they are excellent to see how they explain the doctrines of the Church that we know are true, and they are also verification that some of those doctrines were clearly part of the early Church.

For example, doctrines on Mary - the Church is very clear and specific on its doctrines and teaching related to Mary. They are not comprehensively found in the Bible, as of course our Church teaches that Divine Revelation comes to us both orally and written, and that is obvious to us given when the NT was written. So the value of the ECF is that we can read where they discuss their beliefs in Mary, and we see that it is exactly what the Church teaches us today, albeit in their own words (which can sometimes aid in our understanding).

So I would not point the ECF to someone who wants to learn the faith, as they are better served by reading the CCC and Bible so everything they read is truth, but to someone who knows the faith and wishes to be enriched, the ECF are perfect for that.

Hope that explanation helps!


None of the early documents, approved or otherwise, of the Church are “proofs” nor meant to be seen as such. They, including the NT, are “witnesses” to what the Church had already been teaching, both orally and in written word, by the Apostles from the very beginning. No doctrines or dogmas about Mary or anything else were “invented” or “thought up” along the way. There was debate about various teachings, but not because those teachings weren’t known but only because some, including the divinity of Christ, were disputed.

Too bad, the Protoevangelium is pseudopigrapha, and its authorship is faked.

Calling the authorship “faked” is, I think, too strong a term. Someone wrote it in the name of St. James, the Apostle, yes, but what he wrote he apparently thought true. The Church rejected it because it didn’t meet the criteria for sacred writing, not because it was “faked” or a deliberate deception.

You can look it up on wikipedia.

And you can look up a lot of things in sources that don’t have all the facts. Better to consult the online Catholic Encyclopedia than wikipedia for accuracy.

So my question is, why do catholics use these documents as proofs when they are clearly written centuries later and clearly apocryphal?

As I wrote above, the Catholic Church doesn’t use such documents as “proofs” for anything. They are viewed as documents that tell us something of what was believed at the time by some, and so are useful, but not definitive.


Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption by Shoemaker, Stephen


The ancient Dormition and Assumption traditions are a collection of over 60 different narratives, preserved in 9 ancient languages, that commemorate the end of the Virgin Mary’s life. This study aims to make this collection more accessible by analyzing the liturgical, archaeological, and narrative sources of the earliest traditions of Mary’s death. Several of the most important narratives appear here in English for the first time.

Product Details
500 pages; 6 illus.;
ISBN13: 978-0-19-925075-2
ISBN10: 0-19-925075-8
About the Author(s)
Stephen J. Shoemaker, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, University of Oregon



hardback $200 paperback $40


The idea has been around for thousands of years. OK, with that I agree.

But, could it be argued that the author was a heretic, liar, or non_christian, and his beliefs were completely fabricated.

Why dont we believe in the stories of Jesus in the gospels of mary magdeline or thomas?

Does the term pious fraud mean anything to you?


The issue that becomes moot to our Protestant friends is this:

The very church that denied many other books and gospels, including that of Mary Magdeline, is the church that said long before the bible was put together, that the Mary has these qualities that we venerate.

You can’t have it both ways. You either accept the bible and everything that came before it, or you create your own relegion.

The same church that was witness to Christ, and the Early Church fathers had authority on these matters.


It’s most likely that the Proto-evangelium of James got popular and was copied and recopied because it encapsulated stories that were already going around, and were already believed. So some of the stuff is probably fictional/legendary, and some of the stuff (what we actually concentrate on) is probably confused retellings of true events.

It serves as a snapshot of what the early Christian faithful were thinking.

So it’s not really so much who the author was, as who kept on copying the thing. :slight_smile:


Faked is definitely the mot juste here.

The question is not one of canonicity - but that’s what you’re talking about; the book was so far from being thought canonical, that it appears on a list of condemned books.

When a presbyter was found to have written the Acts of Paul in 190, just a generation later the the “Pseudo-Gospel”, he was deposed for having done so; even though he had acted out if love for the Apostle. This abook is not only a condemned writing - it’s also fraudulent and deceitful. Quite apart from its inaccuracies; it’s merely a second-century equivalent of the DVC that is pro-Christian instead of anti-Christian; but as for being reliable records of fact, they are equal. But pro-Christian lies are no more moral than the anti-Christian sort.

It only seems good, because people’s “devotion” to the BVM over-rules everything else.

And you can look up a lot of things in sources that don’t have all the facts. Better to consult the online Catholic Encyclopedia than wikipedia for accuracy.

There are plenty of reliable articles in Wikipedia - that article is one of them. No abundance of facts can alter the fact that the “Protevangelium” is worthless as history, was condemned, and is valuable only as evidence for the history of Marian devotion.

As I wrote above, the Catholic Church doesn’t use such documents as “proofs” for anything. They are viewed as documents that tell us something of what was believed at the time by some, and so are useful, but not definitive.

That could be said of the works of Luther, or Marx, or Freud, or JP2, or a host of others, for they tell us a great deal about the ideas of their authors. Is the Bible as pifflingly unimportant as that ? And did the Fathers have as low an opinion of it as that ? This Catholic idea that the Bible is (in effect) irrelevant balderdash that we don’t need, need not bother with, need not know at all, & could easy afford to lose, is a modern aberration, & not in sense traditional. It certainly has no basis in Catholic teaching, for Trent does not say that Tradition is to be accepted instead of the Bible, but that both “are to be received with equal veneration and respect”. Too many Catholics seem determined to prove that, whatever the CC may do or say in its doctrine, in practice, it does indeed hate, despise, resent, and fear the Bible. No wonder there are Protestants who think this. :frowning:

And as for not being definitive - that destroys the notion that Christianity is a revealed religion; it becomes infinitely malleable instead. The Bible is definitive, because it is the inspired and canonical record of the revelation of God in Christ. A defence of a fiction which find itself driven to undermine the Bible in order to do so, is pretty desperate; sacrificing dogmas to protect a silly story is desperate. The Bible needs a tradition, but tradition has equal need for the Bible: the NT is the only reason to think that the men in tinfoil hats have authority over anything - without it, they could be anyone. ##


how about this.

a man, trying to be good, makes up documents that are lies.

catholics believe them.

how can we trust this document to tell the truth when it contains LIES?


The Gnostic gospels have been categorically condemned by the Magisterium as false. This does not mean that they do not contain useful historical information.

The Fathers and other apocryphal works such as the protoevangelium are not the sources of Catholic doctrine. Scripture and Sacred Tradition - the constant and unchanging teaching of the Church - are. In fact, before the canon of Scripture was decided upon by the Magisterium, it was just Sacred Tradition. Most of the Fathers’ writings are, however, generally free from error, and most of the doctrines espoused by the earliest Christians are now de fide.

Early Christian documents are useful as historical evidence that a particular teaching, such as the Real Presence, or practice, such as the veneration of the Saints, existed in the times of the earliest Christians and was not made up, say, in the 12th century. The Magisterium, bound by Sacred Scripture and Tradition and guided by the Holy Spirit, is the final arbitrator of what doctrines are to be held by the faithful.


Mr. Goat,

Please explain to us why anyone believes the bible, in it’s current form, is not full of errors if it were not for the Church?

What makes it error free other than the Good Word of the shepards of the bible??

I really need to understand where you are coming from.


None of the Church council made lies or heretical doctrines. When the Early Church gather Council it was to defend against heresy and protect the Truth.

There is no doctrine in the Catholic Church and all the Early Council that are lies.

Tell me what are these so called lies. I bet most of the Catholic Apologists here can refute your silly claims of lies.


Ok. Perhaps I can phrase my argument as this.

People today in the CC belive in the Assumption. I am not saying this is a new idea. Only that it is based of heretical gospels. The author probably had no idea about the life of mary or the life of Jesus and just started writing something that sounded nice, or worse, was trying to decieve people. Because of its insistence on tradition, the CC never thought to question this and gradually assimilated this into its teaching, being well meaning, but ultimately drawing its sources from unreliable teachers who did not know what they were talking about.


That is not heretical. The belief is based on the belief of the Early Church Fathers.

Some citation of the ECF:

“If the Holy Virgin had died and was buried, her falling asleep would have been surrounded with honour, death would have found her pure, and her crown would have been a virginal one…Had she been martyred according to what is written: ‘Thine own soul a sword shall pierce’, then she would shine gloriously among the martyrs, and her holy body would have been declared blessed; for by her, did light come to the world."
Epiphanius, Panarion, 78:23 (A.D. 377).

“[T]he Apostles took up her body on a bier and placed it in a tomb; and they guarded it, expecting the Lord to come. And behold, again the Lord stood by them; and the holy body having been received, He commanded that it be taken in a cloud into paradise: where now, rejoined to the soul, [Mary] rejoices with the Lord’s chosen ones…” Gregory of Tours, Eight Books of Miracles, 1:4 (inter A.D. 575-593).

“As the most glorious Mother of Christ, our Savior and God and the giver of life and immortality, has been endowed with life by him, she has received an eternal incorruptibility of the body together with him who has raised her up from the tomb and has taken her up to himself in a way known only to him.” Modestus of Jerusalem, Encomium in dormitionnem Sanctissimae Dominae nostrae Deiparae semperque Virginis Mariae (PG 86-II,3306),(ante A.D. 634).

“It was fitting …that the most holy-body of Mary, God-bearing body, receptacle of God, divinised, incorruptible, illuminated by divine grace and full glory …should be entrusted to the earth for a little while and raised up to heaven in glory, with her soul pleasing to God.” Theoteknos of Livias, Homily on the Assumption (ante A.D. 650).

“You are she who, as it is written, appears in beauty, and your virginal body is all holy, all chaste, entirely the dwelling place of God, so that it is henceforth completely exempt from dissolution into dust. Though still human, it is changed into the heavenly life of incorruptibility, truly living and glorious, undamaged and sharing in perfect life.” Germanus of Constantinople, Sermon I (PG 98,346), (ante A.D. 733).

Second how can it be a heresy to consider what is heresy it must be contrary to the truth who is Jesus Christ.

Even the Bible mades this pretty clear. In fact the Bible does show that Mary did assumed. In Revelation 12, it is written.

Rev 12:1

And a great potent appeared in the heaven, a woman clothed with the sun with a moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and she cried out pangs of birth in anguish of delivery.

This woman is Mary. Because the male child is Jesus. This male child is said to rule all nations with an iron rod. He is also the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

How do we know this child is Jesus? Well we see in Rev 12:5 we see the child taken up to heaven and to his throne. Who has a throne in heaven? Jesus who is sitteth at the Right Hand of the Father.

I just pointed out to you the child is Jesus. So who then is the woman? Who is the Mother of Jesus? Mary. How did then woman appear in heaven? Well she would have to assumed. Well, you might argue that she can’t be Mary since most Protestant will protest that.

She give birth pangs which would contradict the Immaculate Conception. Yet then again, in Luke’s Gospel a Simeon, a prophet prophecize onto Mary, “and for a sign that is spoken against, and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.”

So indeed Mary can suffer pains and that include giving birth pangs. The belief of the Assumption is Scriptural and it not base on some Apocrypal Source.


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