Choosing the Gospels

Question: It seems logical that many others than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the life of Jesus. Why and how were these four Gospels chosen to be the accepted ones?

Robert McBride, Cheswick, Pa.

Answer: While there certainly are other reputed accounts of Jesus life, and some of these have the names of apostles attached to them (for example, Thomas and James), the evidence seems pretty clear that these Gospels were written long after the death of these apostles.

As for Mark and Luke not being apostles, yet having Gospels, St. Mark was likely the assistant to St. Peter, and so his Gospel is largely held to be St. Peter’s account. As for St. Luke, he is very clear to state that he carefully analyzed eyewitness accounts in preparing his Gospel.

Which books ended up in the canon of sacred Scripture was a complex process that developed in the early years of the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Even through the late fourth century there were some disagreements among believers as to which books belonged to the canon. The Book of Revelation and some of the epistles were disputed. Likewise, some for inclusion in the canon proposed other edifying writings from the early years, such as the Epistle of Pope St. Clement and the Didache.

The resolution of the final list, or canon, of sacred Scripture was largely resolved in a series of councils in the late fourth century: the Council of Rome in 382, the Synod of Hippo in 393 and the Council of Carthage in 397. These councils, in consultation with Pope Damasus and Pope Innocent, gave us the list of books in sacred Scripture we have today. This canon was largely undisputed until the 16th century when Martin Luther removed a number of Old Testament books and other Protestant denominations followed.

The primary standards used by the council fathers and popes were liturgy and doctrine. Did a particular book have widespread use and acceptance in the Church? Did a book comport well with the Faith and received doctrine of the Church? These standards, along with some particulars too numerous to mention here, produced the list that we have today of sacred Scripture. Surely, by faith, we know the Holy Spirit inspired this process as well.

Life support

Question: What is the Church’s stance on artificial life support? Can a Catholic be removed from it?

­— Gene Bozek, Jefferson Hills, Pa.

Answer: If, by artificial life support, you mean something such as a ventilator, the use of such machines is not required when they are no longer therapeutic and the person is certainly dying. Neither is it required to revive a person who is approaching death each time their heart stops.

Allowing someone to die whom the Lord is certainly calling is morally very different from directly causing a person to die, which is what euthanasia advocates claim the right to do.

One exception to the non-required use of artificial means is that food and water, even if supplied by a tube, should still be administered to those who are approaching death. Only in rare cases, where the major organs of the body have already shut down and can no longer process food or fluids, can this treatment be discontinued.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to msgrpope@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.