Friday, April 30, 2010

The 'Redemption' of the Marcosians in a Historical Context

I have long argued that Irenaeus's reference (AH i.20.1 - 4) to a 'redemption' baptism in Mark chapter 10 is a clear allusion to LGM 1 (the first bit of 'extra material' in the Alexandrian copies of the Gospel According to Mark referenced in Clement's Letter to Theodore). All the pieces are there including a connection to Salome. Nevertheless I was flipping through Schaff's discussions of a contemporary ritualized 'interest' in a mythologized 'redemption' fable which is important to keep in mind in these discussions. Schaff writes:

all the essential elements of the later church doctrine of redemption may be found, either expressed or implied, before the close of the second century. The negative part of the doctrine, the subjection of the devil, the prince of the kingdom of sin and death, was naturally most dwelt on in the patristic period, on account of the existing conflict of Christianity with heathenism, which was regarded as wholly ruled by Satan and demons. Even in the New Testament, particularly in Col. 2:15, Heb. 2:14, and 1 John 3:8, the victory over the devil is made an integral part of the work of Christ. But this view was carried out in the early church in a very peculiar and, to some extent, mythical way; and in this form continued current, until the satisfaction theory of Anselm gave a new turn to the development of the dogma. Satan is supposed to have acquired, by the disobedience of our first parents, a legal claim (whether just or unjust) upon mankind, and held them bound in the chains of sin and death (Comp. Hebr. 2:14, 15). Christ came to our release. The victory over Satan was conceived now as a legal ransom by the payment of a stipulated price, to wit, the death of Christ; now as a cheat upon him (1 Cor. 2:8, misapprehended) either intentional and deserved, or due to his own infatuation. (This strange theory is variously held by Irenaeus, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzen, Ambrose, Augustin, Leo the Great and Gregory the Great. See Baur, ch. I. and II. p. 30-118.093).

The point is that we can't hope to make sense of the ancient Church if we impose our inherited concepts of 'what Christianity is supposed to be' upon texts like Clement's Letter to Theodore.

I think the Clement's witness of a mystery ritual developed by St. Mark at Alexandria which doesn't necessarily involve water (see Brown's discussion of this) is paralleled by an ambiguity in Irenaeus' report about the baptism practices of 'those of Mark' developed from Mark chapter 10. Irenaeus says that 'some' Marcosians use water and others don't implying, I think, that the source for their 'second baptism' was inherently ambiguous about the presence of water in the narrative, like LGM 1.

I know this may be too advanced for many readers who - let's face it- are still struggling with the authenticity of 'Secret Mark' but Schaff's remarks make clear to me that ALL OF THESE highly fabulous interpretations of 'redemption' developed from Marcionitism. Again, I don't want to overwhelm the reader with information but the Marcionites have the clearest understanding of the CONTEXT for why EVERYONE ELSE was developing mythical interpretations of the 'buying and selling' of slaves for Christ 'redeemed' through ritual water immersion.

Before I go too far with this interpretation let me remind my readers of my conviction that the name 'Marcion' is a back-formation of Marcioni, a Semitic gentilic plural meaning 'those of Mark.' In other words, those described as 'Marcosians' were really 'Marcionites' who were trying to adapt to the 'new rules' of the Roman Church 'empowered' by assistance from the Emperor Commodus.

More to follow ...

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