Thursday, May 24, 2018

Friday, May 18, 2018

Parallels Between Clement's Initiation in Alexandria by Barnabas in the Homilies and Secret Mark

Clementine Homilies (Clement and Barnabas in Alexandria after hearing an unnamed preacher in Rome): I left all my affairs as they were, and sped to Portus; and coming to the harbour, and being taken on board a ship, I was borne by adverse winds to Alexandria instead of Judæa ... And when I said that I wished I could meet with some one of those who had seen Him, they immediately brought me to one, saying, “There is one here who not only is acquainted with Him, but is also of that country, a Hebrew, by name Barnabas, who says that he himself is one of His disciples; and hereabouts he resides, and readily announces to those who will the terms of His promise.” Then I went with them; and when I came, I stood listening to his words with the crowd that stood round him; and I perceived that he was speaking the truth not with dialectic art, but was setting forth simply and without preparation what he had heard and seen the manifested Son of God do and say.

I took Barnabas by the hand, and by force conducted him, against his will, to my lodging, and constrained him to remain there ... And having spent several days, and instructed me briefly in the true doctrine he said that he should hasten into Judæa 
Clementine Recognitions (Clement and in Rome):
But as the day was declining to evening, I laid hold of Barnabas by the right hand, and led him away, although reluctantly, to my house; and there I made him remain, lest perchance any one of the rude rabble should lay hands upon him. While we were thus placed in contact for a few days, I gladly heard him discoursing the word of truth yet he hastened his departure, saying that he must by all means celebrate at Judæa 
Secret Mark:
he [Jesus] stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb, they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do, and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan [to Judea]

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Who Was Irenaeus Writing For or Writing To?

Irenaeus's massive tome, Adversus Haereses, survives only in Latin.  It is the oldest surviving heresiological work.  While we use terms like 'heretic' and 'heresy' to mean something like 'dissenting voices' Irenaeus's purpose was in fact quite different from this.  His point was to argue that 'the sects' (= heresies) were properly identified as belonging to his Church, albeit under the influence of various 'inventive personalities' who - through their cunning - distanced themselves from the true Church.
"These men falsify the oracles of God, and prove themselves evil interpreters of the good word of revelation. They also overthrow the faith of many, by drawing them away, under a pretence of knowledge, from Him who rounded and adorned the universe."  
While Irenaeus's tome now appears as something of a 'bird watching guide' - i.e. a listing of various 'types' of sectarians, there are clear signs that the work itself developed into its present form.  A work principally directed against the Valentinians (and now preserved by Tertullian in Latin as Adversus Valentinianos) is at the core of Book One of Irenaeus's tome.  But on top of this lost work the list of 'all the other heresies' was added at a later date and perhaps from earlier sources.

Of course the exact history of how this present work - Adversus Haereses - was formed is clouded by the general tendency of the Church Fathers to plagiarize one another at will.  There are at least a half dozen variations of Adversus Haereses ascribed to different authors - some older, most later - than Irenaeus.  The depth of dishonesty among the first Church Fathers should convince us to hold off on saying for instance that Justin really did write a lost 'syntagma' or pamphlet against the heresies which forms the basis to much of the additional material in Adversus Haereses.  This too might have been a forgery written in the name of Justin as indeed additions to Justin's existing works have been identified by even conservative scholars made around the time of Irenaeus.

In short there was a flood of forged and reforged 'compilations' or lists of heresies that seem to have been channeled through Irenaeus.  They exists and do not exist any longer in the names of virtually everyone associated with Irenaeus so we can't get a clear picture of where and when Irenaeus's influence begins and ends.  It seems as if there was an orthodox 'factory' of heresiological literature associated with this one Church Father at the end of the second century.  Why was this obsession with listing heresies so prevalent in the period?  The short answer seems to be that it was part of the orthodox myth making exercises epitomized by fake histories like the Acts of the Apostles and the Acts of Paul.

In other words, at the same time that for instance the orthodox Church was making up a story of its origins from the first apostles, it was also actively promulgating the argument 'the sects' were really reprobate members of their community.  Even though the heresies themselves clearly pitched the idea that they too had a chain of transmission from Jesus through 'alternative distribution channels' - i.e. hearers of Paul who were ignored or condemned by their rivals works like Adversus Haereses succeeded in effectively ignoring these 'alternative histories.'  Why so?  Because the point of Irenaeus's efforts was to say, the heretics stole our books, the heretics came to our churches - we were already established when these men appeared, mostly in the middle of the second century.

The curious thing about these fake histories is that they are always willing to argue for some sort of association between the 'true Church' and the heresies.  Marcion it is claimed, once belonged to the community, Valentinus and others 'came to Rome' to join the community at some date.  If the counterclaims were at all respected of course the 'story of the Church' would be told from a completely different perspective.  The story would have been of 'rival' communities.  But this was not the path that Irenaeus took and the answer for this quite clear when you look at the sources themselves.  Irenaeus was ultimately making the case that the orthodox had the right to the property of the heretics.  Irenaeus was making the case that the orthodox bishops should be the overseers of Christians generally and the only people that such a message could be appealed to would be members of the Imperial court ultimately.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Marcion, Irenaeus and the Monarchia

I am of course a 'minority opinion' within the study of Marcion(1) - I don't think that any 'eyewitness testimony' about the Marcionism is 'eyewitness testimony' at all.  Who really ever met a Marcionite, let alone Marcion?  In this regard I find myself on the opposite end of the spectrum from most scholarship on the subject.  I think the only people to have ever met a Marcionite or engaged in any meaningful way with Marcionism are the Eastern sources - that is Ephrem the Syrian and Eznik the Armenian.   Yes they are late sources but they are also very good sources.

I am not convinced for instance that Epiphanius (fourth century) ever met a Marcionite or had any contact with the Marcionite canon.  'What's that?'  exclaim the Marcionite orthodoxy in scholarship, 'but he published detailed information about the Marcionite canon.'  But Epiphanius published lots of  alleged 'firsthand accounts' of things which are not what they appear to be.  He never encountered the 'Greater Questions of Mary' a text which he claims was in the hands of a particularly sexualized heretical group.  I have on this very blog listed over a hundred claims of Epiphanius which scholars have strong doubts about or are outright lies.

The point is that early Christian scholarship reverences 'textual evidence.'  The preservation of written documentation about early Christianity and early Christian communities forms the backbone of our knowledge in the field.  But I often feel there isn't sufficient suspicion about the reliability of a lot of this information.  Not merely that our sources are 'lying' to us, but that their dishonesty took a much subtler form - viz. instead of providing us with 'direct' firsthand experience of a phenomenon or controversy many of the most prolific Church Fathers simply plagiarized earlier reports which haven't come down to us in their original form.

So to this end, Epiphanius did not sit down at a table with the Catholic canon and the Marcionite canon and set out to write the little pamphlet that was famously attached to his Panarion, a tome of dozens of 'heretical sects' within the first three hundred and fifty years of Christianity.  I suspect that he simply got one of his underlings to cull the many 'Against Marcion' texts that were already in existence and lifted the textual criticism efforts of previous generations of Church Fathers.

Why does this matter?  Because I think it helps explain why Epiphanius's list of 'things in the Marcionite canon' doesn't match Tertullian's and vice versa.  Moreover, and this goes back to my original point,  it helps explain why Tertullian and Epiphanius 'agree' that the Marcionite gospel is 'like Luke' but disagree with Ephrem and Eznik who say essentially their gospel was 'like' a gospel harmony or like the Diatessaron.

The point of course is that both sets of claims can't both be true.  The gospel of Marcion can't both be what Irenaeus, Tertullian and Epiphanius say it is - viz. 'an adulterated version of Luke' and what Ephrem and Eznik take it to be - a gospel very similar to the Diatessaron.  This is a fundamental disconnect which is only explained by traditional scholarship by assuming that 'latter day' Marcionism moved completely away from the 'traditional variety' known to Irenaeus and Tertullian.

But there is something even more peculiar about the chasm which exists between these two camps of 'Marcionite reporting.'  Tertullian makes the case for a strongly dualistic - almost Manichaean - understanding of Marcionite theology.  The rest of our sources tend to disagree.  The Marcionites argued for three powers and most curious of all, Irenaeus - who is Tertullian's source for claims that the Marcionite gospel was 'like Luke' - is an important source for information that the Marcionite godhead was tripartite (or at least that the two principle powers of God were 'just' and 'merciful' rather than 'good' and 'evil').

How is all this confusion to be explained?  The short answer is that the Church Fathers are clearly not very good sources of information about Marcion.  This seems obvious to me given the situation but it is nothing short of heresy within the field of study of Marcionism.  The Church Fathers have to be considered to be reliable sources otherwise, the unconscious argument goes, we can really say anything with any certainty about Marcionism.

But sometimes that's the way it is.  I might like 'being intimate' with someone.  But if that person proves to be an unreliable, dishonest person I might have to break off the relationship or - if I am really enamored - acknowledge that things are going to end up badly but nevertheless 'hang in there.'  Just because I want to enjoy a passionate relationship with an uncommitted partner doesn't mean that everything is going to work out.

In the same way the undeniably contradictory information about the Marcionite sect - when the writings of the Church Fathers are taken as a totality - necessarily means that someone has to be wrong about the group.  But the underlying complexity of the relation between sources is also problematic.  For Clement of Alexandria, Marcion was an extreme Platonist.  For the author of the Philosophumena a devotee of the pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles.  Tertullian can say Marcion was too much a Jew and a Jew-hater almost in the same breath.

We can't keep pretending that there isn't something wrong with the state of evidence with respect to Marcion any longer.  It's like the girl who doesn't hear from her boyfriend for most of the night - almost every night - only to be told he's 'got problems with his phone service.'   The real issue with respect to the bad reporting about Marcion in the Church Fathers has to be identified.  How can so many people allegedly having firsthand experience with Marcion, his church and his canon contradict one another in their reporting?

The short answer is of course that no one - with the exception of Epiphanius - ever claims to have before them the Marcionite canon.  Epiphanius is a pathological liar who always aggrandizes his knowledge and his authority so let's dismiss that claim.  No one else actually claims to have before them firsthand information about the very thing they are writing about.  This in itself helps explain why there is so much bad reporting about Marcion.  On some level, some of the stuff is just made up.

Yet there is more to it than that.  Why did all these Church Fathers develop all these wacky theories about Marcionism if they in fact had no firsthand knowledge of the thing they were reporting on?  The real answer comes when we change the 'why' into a 'how.'  How did all this reporting come about?  The how is obvious - the opening lines of Tertullian's Against Marcion make absolutely explicit that at least three different versions of this heresiological tome were floating around at the time the surviving text was produced.  In other words, the world was filled with individual Christians proving that they could write something against Marcion.  It was sort of like the ancient equivalent of the 'ice bucket challenge.'

Given the number of 'Against Marcion' treatises that were floating around at the end of the second century (at least ten different known texts of this name in the span of fifty years) it seems self-evident there was some sort of demand for this type of text.  But why and by whom?  Why does no one in our surviving literature defend Marcion?  Why isn't there a 'For Marcion' pamphlet among all the negative reporting?  It wasn't that Marcion wasn't old, or wise, or learned, or apostolic.  He is credited with all these things and more.  For some reason Marcion was loathed or at least not actively defended by any influential Christians during the period of Commodus's rule.

Let's give the only historical example that has come down to us of a Marcionite.  The story of the 'questioning' of Apelles the Marcionite in Eusebius's Church History.  Eusebius picks up a text that is now lost to us.  It tells of an 'inquisition' of Apelles.  The treatise is directed to Zephyrinus of Rome's deacon Callistus - a man who would later go on to himself sit on the episcopal throne.  The unnamed recounts the story like this:
For the old man Apelles, when conversing with us, was refuted in many things which he spoke falsely; whence also he said that it was not at all necessary to examine one's doctrine, but that each one should continue to hold what he believed. For he asserted that those who trusted in the Crucified would be saved, if only they were found doing good works.  But as we have said before, his opinion concerning God was the most obscure of all. For he spoke of monarchia as also our doctrine does ... When I said to him, Tell me how you know this or how can you assert that there is monarchia, he replied that the prophecies refuted themselves, because they have said nothing true; for they are inconsistent, and false, and self-contradictory. But how there is monarchia he said that he did not know, but that he was thus persuaded.  As I then adjured him to speak the truth, he swore that he did so when he said that he did not know how there is one unbegotten God, but that he believed it. Thereupon I laughed and reproved him because, though calling himself a teacher, he knew not how to confirm what he taught.
The point of course is that Apelles is asked 'how do you know there is a monarchia' and Apelles the Marcionite refuses to answer.   Why does he refuse to answer?  Apelles was an intelligent man, very capable of making arguments.  And yet he pretends he doesn't want to explain what he knows of the heavenly monarchia to the assembled gathering?

It is worth pointing out that there is a contemporary parallel worth investigating.  In the Samaritan the chronicle of Abu'l Fath (who was clearly drawing from an earlier Greek MS) detailing the events of the reign of the Emperor Commodus there is a story which might shed light on why Apelles the Christian was so reluctant to explain his understanding of the heavenly monarchia.    Commodus sent Alexander of Aphrodisias - or the exegete (ὁ ἐξηγητής) as he was called by his contemporaries - to debate a Samaritan named Levi over the very same issue - the heavenly monarchy.  What follows in this lengthy document is a remarkable philosophical discussion but one which finds surprising parallels for what was going on elsewhere in the Empire under Commodus.

We are told Commodus mercilessly slaughters the Samaritans owing to their opinions about the monarchia by the exegete (ὁ ἐξηγητής) as revealed during the debate.  Was this the underlying historical context that was causing Apelles to avoid explaining his Marcionite understanding of the monarchia?   Did he fear for his life?  There is nothing in the surviving document from Eusebius which tells us that Apelles was martyred after his interrogation.  But is worth noting that another body of literature associated with the martyr Apollos - also from Alexandria, like Apelles - says that indeed that this 'philosopher' was killed after he reveals the Father of Jesus, the god whom Jesus told his believers to "honour [as] the monarch."

A great number of ancient witnesses see the names Apelles and Apollos as interchangeable - viz. Origen, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Grotius.  Could Commodus have been waging a war in favor of the religious veneration of the earthly monarchy (i.e. his own throne) as a reflection of the heavenly momarchia?  It is something clearly that Allen Brent would consider.  But I would go one step further as we return back to our original point.  The reason Marcion was vilified by the Christians of the Commodian period is because he promote what was deemed (by the authorities) the wrong understanding of the divine monarchia.  Irenaeus by contrast was favored because he promoted the right understanding - the right belief - associated with this phenomenon.

It is coincidence it seems that like Alexander of Aphrodisias, Irenaeus basically took to task an entire religion - the Christian religion that existed before him - on the subject of 'right belief' regarding the monarchia.  I can't think of a single individual let alone a community whom Irenaeus identifies as having the 'right understanding.'  He simply expounds to his readership - as if it never existed before. Interestingly Irenaeus's orthodoxy reconciling three gods as one ruler is developed at least in part from Aristotelian mixture theory according to the H A Wolfson.  Indeed like Alexander of Aphrodisias, Irenaeus is referenced by the epithet - 'the exegete' (ὁ ἐξηγητής).

The truth is that I don't know why there are so many parallels in two different religions regarding - the monarchia, Aristotelian mixture theory and an Imperial campaign to enforce political orthodoxy in religion. All that we can be certain of is that there seems to be some underlying commonality.  Indeed a recently discovered Hebrew fragment of Nicholaus of Damascus (usually dated to the court of Herod the Great where he held a prominent position) might make matters even more complicated. All that we know for sure is that a man who was usually dated to the period before Christianity seemed to anticipate very Christian ideas regarding the Trinity.  The fragment reads:
And concerning them Nicholas in the name of Aristotle wrote that God is one in substance, three in definition, that is to say, one cannot think that those (principles), being one substance which is God — i.e. that with which He makes the world, and that with which He is its form, and that with which He is its aim — are separated from Him, even in thought, nor even when we consider that24 the world was void and absent, and after this has come to be ; (in fact), if so (i.e. if those principles depart from Him), He (= God) would be neither a god nor a First Cause.
This fragment is explained by its discoverer Mauro Zonta in the following terms:
If this is the case, Nicolaus produced a peculiarly Peripatetic version of this dogma : God is one, being a single substance, but He is also three, insofar as He is the efficient cause, formal cause, and final cause of the whole world. The fragment immediately follows a reference to Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and this suggests that it was quoted from Nicolaus’ exposition of this book (a work of his which is quoted by a famous scholion in the ms. of Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, gr. 1853, f. 312r, possibly a section of the DPA itself). If so, it is likely that its original location in the book was framed within an account of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book Lambda, ch. 6ss. (although it must be remembered that Nicolaus did not always keep the same order of contents as the one he found in Aristotle’s books5). As for Aristotle’s own theology, the question whether his God, the Prime Mover, is an efficient or final cause is a very controversial matter, and it is not surprising that Nicolaus wished to harmonize those views as he could find good reasons in favour of both. If he was a Christian, the idea that God as Creator is an efficient cause fits quite naturally in his exegesis of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, as the introduction of the fragment indicates, in particular if one compares book 12, chapters 6-7, of this work.6 Concerning God as formal cause, this idea is less immediately evident in Aristotle. However in at least one passage of Lambda, his Prime Mover is said to be substance without matter, essence only (Lambda 1074a35, cf. 1071a36) ; this will allow Alexander of Aphrodisias (c. 200 AD) to regard it as pure, immaterial form, εἶδος ἄνευ ὕλης (cf. e.g. Alexander’s Quaestiones I.1, p. 4.7-16,7 I.25, p. 39.9s.).8 As for the connexion of these different kinds of causes to each other, Aristotle’s Physics II.7 states that in living beings the efficient cause is identical (at least, i.e., specifically identical) with the formal cause, and moreover that this is identical (both specifically and numerically) with the final cause. Thus the doctrine of the fragment, even if unusual, seems a plausible one for a Peripatetic scholar, and it warrants some historical and philosophical analysis for its peculiar harmonizing character. Nicolaus’ interpretation of Aristotle’s Prime Mover seems to have been combined with the fundamental Christian view about the second person of the Trinity. According to this view, the Christ is ὁ λόγος as found already in the first words of St. John’s Gospel (λόγος belongs to Aristotle’s standard terminology to indicate the formal cause, see Metaph. passim, e.g. 983a28). Can the final cause be understood as representing the Spirit ? Certainly the final cause might be identified as the soul, in accordance with Aristotle’s natural philosophy, and especially with his definition of soul as the final cause or perfection (ἐντελέχεια) of the living being in De Anima II. While the Holy Spirit is not identical with Aristotle’s soul, the idea of perfection is often connected to it by Church Fathers (e.g. John of Damascus9). Moreover, the concept of “final cause” can be regarded as an expression of God’s perfection in truth, knowledge, will and love as we will see in some later, namely Mediaeval sources for Christian theology.
The fact that Nicolaus's ideas anticipate Christian notions regarding the Trinity does not mean, however, that we should move up the dating for Nicolaus.  Instead I would argue that the Trinity is in fact a secondary phenomenon within Christianity.  It developed from the very same period - and under the very same Imperial pressure - as we see document in the fragment preserved by Abu'l Fath.

The gospel itself - at least in its original form - had to explicit reference to the Trinity.  We should instead imagine that the pre-existent Aristotelian notion of a tripartite division in the godhead was used to 'correct' heretical beliefs to the contrary.

(1) in point of fact I am really a 'non-existent' opinion' as I have never formally published anything on the subject.  But I have thought, written, blogged, considered the problem of Marcion for over 30 years.

Monday, December 18, 2017

An Example of the Veneration of the Number Four in the Christian Tradition Before the Four Gospels Were Canonized

From the so-called Valentinian Exposition at Nag Hammadi:
I will speak my mystery to those who are mine and to those who will be mine. Moreover it is these who have known him who is, the Father, that is, the Root of the All, the Ineffable One who dwells in the Monad. He dwells alone in silence, and silence is tranquility since, after all, he was a Monad and no one was before him. He dwells in the Dyad and in the Pair, and his Pair is Silence. And he possessed the All dwelling within him. And as for Intention and Persistence, Love and Permanence, they are indeed unbegotten. God came forth: the Son, Mind of the All, that is, it is from the Root of the All that even his Thought stems, since he had this one (the Son) in Mind. For on behalf of the All, he received an alien Thought since there were nothing before him. From that place it is he who moved [...] a gushing spring. Now this is the Root of the All and Monad without any one before him. Now the second spring exists in silence and speaks with him alone. And the Fourth accordingly is he who restricted himself in the Fourth: while dwelling in the Three-hundred-sixtieth, he first brought himself (forth), and in the Second he revealed his will, and in the Fourth he spread himself out.

Is it Coincidence that the Gospel of John is Called 'the Spiritual Gospel'?

This is what Clement of Alexandria - the ultimate 'Platonist Christian' - tells us about the Gospel of John, the fourth gospel in the canon.  But was it placed 'fourth' in the arrangement of texts because it was designed to be this 'spiritual gospel'?  In other words, did the pre-existent Christian interest in the Tetrad determine not only the 'desirability' of having 'four gospels' but also arranging the first three to be more or less 'identical' in basic structure and then the 'fourth' - i.e. the gospel of John - as something different because it was the 'fourth' - i.e. that it was related to the veneration of the holy tetrad?

It is worth noting that Philo already sees the creation of the heavenly beings on the fourth day as related to the holiness of the tetrad. In his explanation of this part of Genesis, in particular the fourth day of creation, Philo explicitly lays bear the importance of the number four within the context of the Hellenic philosophical tradition, a tradition marked quite clearly:
But the heaven was afterwards duly decked in a perfect number, namely four. This number it would be no error to call the base and source of ten, the complete number; for what ten is actually, this, as is evident, ten is potentially; that is to say that, if the numbers from one to four be added together, they will produce ten, and this is the limit set to the otherwise unlimited succession of numbers; round this as a turning-point they wheel and retrace their steps. 
Philo describes the underlying perfection, or completeness, inherent in the number four.  The tetrad was a Pythagorean numerical understanding related to the number four (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10).  In Aristotelian terms the number four potentiality ten.

Philo also describes the sense of motion, or cyclical nature implied by this number four, which actuates to the number ten, as a “turning point” and “wheel”, alluding to the base ten that was used by the Greeks for counting and within which after the number ten one begins to “count again”, starting with eleven, twelve and so on. Philo also describes the number four as embedding within it three dimensional space, making it the perfect day (symbolically speaking of course) within which God should establish the foundations of the heavens within which the world of man was thought to be governed in antiquity, and speaking to the importance the field of geometry held to the ancients, a tradition that became the hallmark of the West.

Philo writes:
There is also another property of the number four very marvelous to state and to contemplate with the mind. For this number was the first to show the nature of the solid, the numbers before it referring to things without actual substance. For under the head of one what is called in geometry a point falls, under that of two a line. For if one extend itself, two is formed, and if a point extend itself, a line is formed: and a line is length without breadth; if breadth be added, there results a surface, which comes under the category of three: to bring it to a solid surface needs one thing, depth, and the addition of this to three produces four. The result of all this is that this number is a thing of vast importance. It was this number that has led us out of the realm of incorporeal existence patent only to the intellect, and has introduced us to the conception of a body of three dimensions, which by its nature first comes within the range of our senses. 
And lastly, in reference to the four elements, and four seasons upon which the ground and order of human existence ultimately rests, Philo concludes with the following summation:
There are several other powers of which four has the command, which we shall have to point out in fuller detail in the special treatise devoted to it. Suffice it to add just this, that four was made the starting-point of the creation of heaven and the world; for the four elements, out of which this universe was fashioned, issued, as it were from a fountain, from the numeral four; and, beside this, so also did the four seasons of the year, which are responsible for the coming into being of animals and plants, the year having a fourfold division into winter and spring and summer and autumn. 
The point of course is that it is unmistakable that the Gospel of John, the fourth gospel, is very different from the three that proceed it in the canon.  The other three have the same basic order and verbatim linguistic features shared in common.  John stands almost completely outside the other three.  Could it be that it was designed that way?  Could it be that as the fourth gospel it was designed with a specific 'spiritual' purpose in mind? 

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