Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Was Clement a Crypto-Marcosian?

"Irenaeus gives an account of Marcus and the Marcosians in 1.13 - 21 ... Hippolytus and Epiphanius (Haer 34) copy their accounts from Irenaeus, and probably had no direct knowledge of the works of Marcus or of his sect. Clement of Alexandria, however, knew and used his writings." [Philip Schaff note on Eusebius Church History iv.11.4]

" ... for on comparison of the sections just cited from Clement and from Irenaeus [regarding the Marcosians] the coincidences are found to be such as to put it beyond doubt that Clement in his account of the number six makes an unacknowledged use of the same [Marcosian] writing as were employed by Irenaeus." [William Smith A Dictionary of Christian Biography p. 161]

"Clement of Alexandria, himself infected with Gnosticism, actually uses Marcus number system though without acknowledgement (Strom, VI, xvi)." [Arendzen JP. Marcus. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX]

Peter Jeffrey has recently challenged those of us who accept the authenticity of to Theodore to put it into a late second century context. In order to do this you have to find someone who accepts the authenticity of to Theodore who also has intimate familiarity with the second century Church Fathers.

Not a long list I am afraid.

As I have noted here many times, it is almost impossible to read the writings of Irenaeus, Hippolytus or Tertullian if you aren't already sold on the 'orthodox program.' If you don't believe that the Holy Spirit was being passed Jesus to his disciples to Polycarp and the rest of the God squad, chances are you're going to fall asleep reading more than a chapter or too of any of these books.

I think part of the appeal of To Theodore (and the 'gnostic writings' writings generally) is that you have a large number of people in America especially who want to 'find God' without having to accept the authority of the Church. Finding 'new writings' of early Christians in a jar somewhere also has a lot of other peripheral things going like challenging that same authority so it takes on a kind of 'entertainment value' you don't find in Irenaeus.

The bottom line is that it is difficult for most observers who WANT to Theodore to be authentic to develop an argument about how it fits within a late second century or early third century Christian milieu.

Those who claim it is a hoax can in a sense just attack it for sounding 'strange.' My difficulty with this argument is that they haven't considered the possibility that Alexandrian Christianity from the period might indeed have been just that - strange - when compared with everything we have come to accept from our Roman sources (or sources that accepted the teachings that were coming out of Rome in the period).

As such if to Theodore's doctrines were indeed 'strange' they might well have embodied the 'strangeness' of contemporary Alexandrian doctrines.

The answer that those promoting the hoax proposition will inevitably respond with is that either there was no separate Alexandrian tradition in the period (J Harold Ellens) or that Clement isn't as far removed from Roman orthodoxy as the Letter to Theodore.

I have yet to hear a convincing argument that To Theodore can be demonstrated to be un-Clementine in any way. In my opinion the real difficulty we have is even defining who or what constitutes authentic 'Clementine' thought.

I happen to side with the school of Photius of Constantinople with regards to acknowledging that the Hypotyposeis were not written by Clement. There are clear contradictions between what the author of the Hypotyposeis says about Peter and Cephas being two different disciples of Jesus and the real Clement of Alexandria saying that they are different names of the same historical individual. Photius and his student Arethas of Caesarea came to same conclusion about the text through a completely different set of concerns.

The point is that once you throw out the Hypotyposeis all significant 'conflicts' with 'accepted texts' of Clement of Alexandria immediately disappear.

All that is left is a lingering question - why did Clement only pretend to accept Roman orthodoxy and secretly posit instead Alexandria as the superior Episcopal See? The answer of course should be obvious. While Clement might not have been born in Alexandria, it was his home and people generally root for the home team.

To be honest I have always found it more unusual that someone in a position of power in Alexandria would willing accept the authority of a rival See. But then again, as I said, I don't begin with the assumption that these people were all governed by some supernatural power which filled them with superhuman altruism and unselfishness.

I have argued instead that there are signs that Irenaeus was very familiar with arguments that appear in To Theodore and his response to many of Clement's central claims show up throughout the Five Books Against All Heresies (or the Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called.

As to the question of how Clement could on the one hand, pretend to be loyal to the emerging orthodoxy of the See of St. Peter, and then secretly adhere to a native doctrine associated with St. Mark, isn't that the very presumption behind Irenaeus' Five Book Against All Heresies?

I mean, Irenaeus spells out at the beginning of Book One that there are these heretics hiding in the Great Church and he is going to provide a manual describing 'how to spot a heretic' so that bishops can effectively hunt them down. Among the groups which he describes are a sect he calls 'those of Mark' who have 'hidden writings' including a gospel which differ markedly from the accepted texts of the Catholic Church.

Does anyone doubt that the gospel of the heretic Mark was a heretical 'gospel according to Mark'? Birger Pearson apparently has reservations and said so in his review of my book.

Yet if greater minds than both of us have already determined that Clement was influenced by the religious community centered around this 'Mark', and if later Church Fathers determined that this Mark that was so influential to heretics came from Egypt (Sulpicius Severus, "His. Sac.", II, 4) why is it so controversial to connect St. Mark of Alexandria with the heretic Mark?

Of course the case for identifying St. Mark as the heretic Mark is much more nuanced than this. I have developed fifty parallels between Irenaeus' Marcosians and Clement of the Markan See of Alexandria to advance my case. Yet at its most most fundamental, I would like to ask my readers whether they think it at least possible that this Markan tradition of Alexandria was systematically demonized and marginalized by the emerging tradition at Rome?

If you don't take my word for it why not consult the head of the contemporary Alexandrian Church Pope Shenouda III who in his recent popular work the Evangelist Mark writes:

How much injustice did St. Mark receive from the followers of St. Peter? They tried to rob him his apostolic dignity, and credit all his efforts to somebody else? I mean St. Peter.


1- Denying his fellowship to the Lord during the period of the Lord's ministry on earth and that he became Christian only after the resurrection at the hands of St. Peter.
2- They claimed that St. Mark's Gospel was written by St. Peter.
3- They attempted to credit all St. Mark's preaching, even that in Egypt and the Five Western Cities to St. Peter.

Strange was the fact that they tried to falsify the history of our fathers and our church.

My point I guess is that people like Jeffrey begin with the idea that 'Christian orthodoxy' begins and ends with Rome. There are other possibilities which haven't even been seriously investigated in order to explain the claims of the Letter to Theodore and the most obvious being the persistent claim of the Alexandrian tradition that their Episcopal tradition was separate from all others and went back to a figure named St. Mark who was not only a disciple of Jesus but THE witness of the historical Passion.

I am not here to stand up and claim that everything about the Alexandrian Episcopal claims are accurate (although I think they are ultimately truer than the silly Roman claims regarding Peter). The point is that you can't begin to develop an argument for the authenticity of to Theodore without taking seriously the underlying formula for Alexandrian Episcopal succession.

With that in mind, we are left with the problem of having to explain why Clement would ultimately accept - at least superficially - Irenaeus' canon and his Roman Christian orthodoxy but secretly held another canon and another understanding of 'truth.' In short, what caused the development of Alexandrian 'crypto-Christianity'?

In the Wikipedia entry for crypto-Christianity it is said that:

Crypto-Christianity commonly refers to the secret practice of the Christian religion, usually while attempting to camouflage it as another faith or observing the rituals of another religion publicly. In places and time periods where Christians were persecuted or Christianity was outlawed, instances of crypto-Christianity have surfaced.

While during the initial development of the Christian Church under the Roman Empire it did indeed often have to practice in secret, the term crypto-Christianity is not usually applied to that era because the Christians did not publicly declare adherence to another religion, but simply did not publicly declare their Christianity.

Yet I think this is absolutely ridiculous. The whole premise of Irenaeus' Against All Heresies is that there are 'false brethren' within the great Church centered in Rome who only hypocritically hold fast to the beliefs he was espousing.

Already in the beginning of Book One he speaks of writing the material which follows for the sake of weak in the church who do not "perceive not the true character of these men ... because [while] their language resembles ours, while their sentiments are very different." [AH Pref. 2] As I have emphasized many times before Irenaeus is speaking of a worldwide Church which has members within its ranks who likely hold heretical beliefs described in its pages or as he puts it:

the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world.

But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shineth everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.[AH i.10.1,2]

I ask my readers, do claims of the most conservative among those who promote the hoax position based upon an unquestioned acceptance of these claims of Irenaeus make any real sense? Does anyone actually believe that the doctrines of the Petrine Church were sown in Egypt as Irenaeus claims in the EXACT SAME WAY as they were in every place in the world only to disappear and be replaced by another so-called heretical tradition associated Mark?

Of course the advocates for this claim will argue that Mark was only a representative of a doctrine first established by St. Peter in Rome. But I find this highly suspect. I would argue that it makes a lot more sense to imagine a number of different doctrines spreading in the world all claiming to be 'the true beliefs' of Christianity and then in the late second century Irenaeus with the assistance of Imperial backing from his friends in the Imperial court [AH iv.30.1] consolidated (mostly through intimidation) all the other traditions to accept a new template for orthodoxy - or else.

For those who are not convinced of my claims, I leave you with the conclusion to Irenaeus First Book where he openly acknowledges that the compendium is only the first step towards ridding the world of unwanted and ever-persistent heresies. The final step is the punishment and eradication of these noxious weeds or as Irenaeus writes that:

I have laboured to bring forward, and make clearly manifest, the utterly ill-conditioned carcase of this miserable little fox. For there will not now be need of many words to overturn their system of doctrine, when it has been made manifest to all. It is as when, on a beast hiding itself in a wood, and by rushing forth from it is in the habit of destroying multitudes, one who beats round the wood and thoroughly explores it, so as to compel the animal to break cover, does not strive to capture it, seeing that it is truly a ferocious beast; but those present can then watch and avoid its assaults, and can cast darts at it from all sides, and wound it, and finally slay that destructive brute.

So, in our case, since we have brought their hidden mysteries, which they keep in silence among themselves, to the light, it will not now be necessary to use many words in destroying their system of opinions. For it is now in thy power, and in the power of all thy associates, to familiarize yourselves with what has been said, to destroy their wicked and undigested doctrines, and to set forth doctrines agreeable to the truth. Since then the case is so, I shall, according to promise, and as my ability serves, labour to destroy them, by refuting them all in the following book. Even to give an account of them is a tedious affair, as thou seest. But I shall furnish means for destroying them, by meeting all their opinions in the order in which they have been described, that I may not only expose the wild beast to view, but may inflict wounds upon it from every side.[AH i.31.3,4]

I know that people who believe in Irenaeus and the doctrines he was promoting want to believe that these references to 'destroying opinions' and the 'killing of animals' just happen to be overblown hyperbole I am not so sure. I think there were documented executions of Alexandrians and other heretics during the reign of Commodus while Irenaeus and members of his Church sat in the Imperial court and received money from Caesar [iv.30.1].

I think a case can be made that Clement HAD TO superficially adopt Irenaeus's canon and his orthodoxy in order to maintain his influence over the Alexandrian community. He need only look to the contemporary example of Apollonius of Alexandria for some perspective ...

Email stephan.h.huller@gmail.com with comments or questions.

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