Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mark and Marcion in the Patristic Writings

I have been developing the case for why it is that I think that 'Marcion' was a non-existent heretical boogeyman. Problem 1 is the fact that his name DOES NOT appear in Book One outside of the late addition of Justin's Syntagma. This means that Irenaeus wrote against the Valentinians and against the Marcosians but not specifically against a sect called 'the Marcionites' which is very strange don't you think?

I can't believe that scholars just shrug their shoulders at this point and don't inquire further. It is enough to 'believe' I guess.

If the 'barbarous language' [AH i.pref.2] that Irenaeus developed his original works against the heresies was Aramaic it is easy to see where 'the Marcionites' are hiding in his writings. The Marcosians are the 'Marqioni' (Aram = 'those of Mark') and 'Mark' was transformed into 'Marcion' by back formation in a similar manner to the way Ebion became head of the Ebionites, or in a different manner Cerinthos is derived from the Aramaic qruntha (Petrement was basically right in my opinion about the origins from Κόρινθος).

It is worth noting that the term 'Marcosian' is never actually used by Irenaeus in Book One. Instead, Mark is just developed into a heretical 'boogeyman' coupled by a series of references to his 'followers' or 'disciples.'

I am not, of course, the first person to attempt to disentangle the 'historical truth' behind the Patristic writings on the 'heresies.'  But I have a novel approach which hasn't been attempted before.

What I have been engaging in here at my blog is the deconstruction of the Five Books Against Heresies, attributed to Irenaeus but as I have noted many times here, it is actually a collection of treatises written by the Church Father and assembled by a third century Roman editor or series of editors.

I have argued that the Roman editor(s) were already living in an age where Alexandria had been effectively subdued.  It was no longer necessary to demonize the tradition.  Where Irenaeus had to make the case for the legitimacy of the Roman Church by attacking all that had come before it as a 'falling away' from the 'truth of the apostles' Hippolytus only needed to provide his readers with 'warning signs' or convenient 'labels' to help spot heresy.

To this end let's look at the Philosophumena for a moment (a work which I am not sure was actually written by Hippolytus but was perhaps 'a step away' from being by Hippolytus).  If you look at the structure of the argument you wouldn't even know that Philo and Alexandrian Judaism even existed as a historical argument.

The author's purpose is to blame the Greek philosophers for the development of 'the heresies.'  Book One is a description of the various philosophers and then it concludes with the words:

The opinions, therefore, of those who have attempted to frame systems of philosophy among the Greeks, I consider that we have sufficiently explained; and from these the heretics, taking occasion, have endeavoured to establish the tenets that will be after a short time declared. [Ref. i.23]

It is utterly bizarre to make the case that heretics effectively 'stole' their ideas DIRECTLY from the Greek writers but what we should see is that its purpose is to AVOID RECOGNIZING the existence of Alexandrian Judaism.

The situation reminds me of the manner in which Origen only responded to Celsus's Alethes Logos at the end of his career owing to the difficulties inherent in Alexandrian Judaism.  Whoever Celsus was we must acknowledge that he was undoubtedly a highly intelligent person.  He must have circled the 'problem' of Christianity and decided to direct his attack against its weakest point.

It is not surprising therefore that his thesis was built around the idea that Jews and Christians RECENTLY stole their idea of the Logos from pagan sources.  This is also why the book very quickly develops into an extended citation of a work written by an Alexandrian Jew (whom I tentatively identified in a previous post as Philo of Alexandria) against a Christian sect which exclusively employed an early copy of the Gospel of Matthew.

We must imagine that for almost a hundred years Celsus's Alethes Logos hung over the Christian Church.  It's main point that the Jews AND Christian stole their veneration of the Logos from pagan sources was very difficult for Christian apologists to tackle.  On the one hand, the gospel identifies Jesus as the Logos.  This is a specifically Greek term which was only used by Jews in Alexandria since the time of the Ptolemies.

Irenaeus, Origen and Hippolytus all do their best to avoid the central difficulty of this Alexandrian Jewish attack. Irenaeus simply demonizes those who employ proofs for the Christian religion from Greek mathematics.  As we noted in another post, he specifically identifies Mark as developing an interest in the tetrad (the four) which Platonic philosophers identified as a kind of 'mediator' between the monad (the one) and the hebdomad (the seven) and the decad (the ten).

I won't dwell on the manner in which Celsus's work in many ways overshadows late second and early third century Christian apologetics, but the point clearly is that Irenaeus DIDN'T like the stigma associated with having his religion identified as a 'recent innovation.'  Above all else, he wanted to make it seem as if Christianity was a NATURAL CONTINUATION of Judaism.  All the patriarchs and prophets were pointing to the advent of Jesus.  It was an event which was expected by the original authors of Judaism.

The tradition associated with Mark clearly made the case that Christianity was a revelation which was wholly unexpected and unknown to previous generations of Jews.  This doesn't mean that they thought that Jewish kabbalah as such was 'totally stolen' from the Greeks.  I am sure that Justus of Tiberias, Philo and Mark himself only saw mathematics as a neat way to prove certain things about the traditional religion of Israel.

The point is that Irenaeus knew that having these vestiges of Alexandrian Judaism necessarily compromised Christianity's ability to present itself as an established and well-grounded religious tradition or something which could emerge as a tradition by which nations could be governed.

Of course the million dollar question now before us is 'who was this Mark who was so intimately associated with 'proving' Judaism through mathematics'?  Most of you know who I think he was.  Marcus Julius Agrippa, the last king of the Jews who is praised by Josephus and condemned by the later rabbinic literature for his love of Greek philosophy.  His secretary Justus the son of Pistus was a recognized expert on Plato cited even in Diogenes Laertius's tome.

The inevitable point here of course is that the hundred years which separated Agrippa and his circle and Irenaeus saw the Empire as a whole turn in a more conservative direction.  After Hadrian and his efforts to deify his boy lover Antinous, the subsequent age seemed to turn its back on religious innovation. It can be inferred for instance that Antoninus was called 'Pious' according to Justin because he "followed traditional opinions" [1 Apology 2]

The Jewish portrait of Marcus Agrippa is clearly of a man who received knowledge of a better God than that venerated by Jews for centuries from his knowledge of math and sciences. It is this kind of knowledge which has become 'heretical' in Christian circles in the late second and early third centuries.

Now before people tell me that 'Marcion' has nothing to do with these sorts of tendencies, I encourage them to read ALL the existing sources a little better. Indeed I am so frustrated by the complete ignorance of most 'experts' as to the full range of opinions regarding this sect.

Most people just read Tertullian's five volume tome and consider themselves to be an expert on Marcion. What they should be doing instead is looking at Clement's EARLY statements about the Marcionites as a sect which very much resembles the Marcosians in Irenaeus's writings.

Clement says with absolute certainty that the Marcionites developed 'philosophical arguments' EVEN Pythagorean arguments (i.e. that used letters, numbers and geometry) as we read:

If Plato himself and the Pythagoreans, as indeed later also followers of Marcion, regard birth as something evil (though the last named was far from thinking that wives were to be held in common), yet by the Marcionites nature is regarded as evil because it was created out of evil matter and by a just Creator. On this ground, that they do not wish to fill the world made by the Creator-God, they decide to abstain from marriage. Thus they are in opposition to their Maker and hasten towards him who is called the good God, but not to the God, as they say, of the other kind. As they wish to leave nothing of their own behind them on this earth, they are continent, not of their own free choice, but from hatred of the Creator, being unwilling to use what he has made. But these folk, who in their blasphemous fight against God have abandoned natural reasoning, and despise the long-suffering and goodness of God, even if they do not wish to marry, use the food made by the Creator and breathe his air; for they are his works and dwell in his world. They say they have received the gospel of the knowledge of the Strange God; yet at least they ought to acknowledge gratitude to the. Lord of the world because they receive this gospel on this earth.

But we shall give a detailed answer to these people when we discuss the doctrine of First Principles. The philosophers whom we have mentioned, from whom the Marcionites blasphemously derived their doctrine that birth is evil, on which they then plumed themselves as if it were their own idea, do not hold that it is evil by nature, but only for the soul which has perceived the truth. For they think the soul is divine and has come down here to this world as a place of punishment. In their view souls which have become embodied need to be purified.
[Stromata iii.12,13]

And again:

This Pythagorean speaks as follows: "The ancient theologians and seers testify that the soul is conjoined to the body to suffer certain punishments, and is, as it were, buried in this tomb." And Pindar speaks of the Eleusinian mysteries as follows: "Blessed is he who has seen before he goes under the earth; for he knows the end of life and knows also its divine beginning. Similarly in the Phaedo Plato does not hesitate to write as follows: " And these men who established our mysteries. .." down to the words "and will dwell with the gods." And what when he says, " As long as we have still the body and our soul is involved in such evil, shall we never have sufficient possession of that which we desire?" Does he not hint that birth is the cause; of the worst evils? And in the Phaedo he bears witness again: " All who have rightly been concerned with philosophy run the risk that other men will fail to notice that their sole object is to pursue death and dying."

And in another place: " Accordingly here the soul of the philosopher mostly disregards his body and flees from it, and seeks to be existent by itself." Does he not agree to some extent with the divine apostle when he says, "0 wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?" unless he speaks of "body of death" in a figurative sense to refer to the agreement of those who have been enticed into evil. And that sexual intercourse, as the cause of birth, was rejected long before Marcion by Plato is clear from the first book of the Republic. For after praising old age he continues: "Mark it well, for me the more the other pleasures of the body fade away, the 49 more grow the desires and pleasures of rational enquiry ." And with reference to sex relations: "Be silent, O man, it is with the greatest joy that I escaped from it-as if I had escaped from a wild and raging tyrant."

Again in the Phaedo he disparages birth when he writes of "the doctrine which is secretly taught about this that we men are in a sort of prison." And again, "Those who are manifestly distinguished for their holiness of life are liberated from these places on earth and are set free as if this earth were a prison, and go to the pure home above." Nevertheless, although he says this, he perceives that the administration of this world is good, and says: "One ought not to set oneself free and run away."And to sum up briefly, he has given Marcion no opening for his view that matter is evil, when he himself reverently says of the world, " All that is good the world has received from him who has composed it; but from its previous state arise all the recalcitrant and unjust things in the heaven and from this it derives these elements and causes them in living beings."

With even greater clarity he adds: "The cause of these things was the material element in the world's constitution, which was at one time bound up with its ancient nature. For before it came into its present ordered state it was in a condition of great chaos." To the same effect in the Laws he laments the of men saying: "The gods had mercy on mankind which born for trouble, and to give them rest from their labours appointed the changing cycle of feasts." And in the Epinomis discusses the causes of this pitiful condition and says this: )m the beginning birth was difficult for every human being; to get to the state of being an embryo, then to be born, and l to be nourished and educated, all this is attended by count- pains, as we all agree."

What then? Does not Heraclitus call birth death, just as Pythagoras and Socrates in the Gorgias, when he says: "Death is what we see when we are awake; and what we see in our sleep is a dream." But enough of this. When we discuss First Principles we consider the difference between the views of the philosophers and those of the Marcionites. But I think I have shown clearly enough that Marcion took from Plato the starting-point of his "strange" doctrines, without either grateful acknowledgment or understanding.

Now we may continue our discussion about continence. We were saying that from a dislike of its inconveniences the Greeks have made many adverse observations about the birth of children, and that the Marcionites have interpreted them in a godless sense and are ungrateful to their Creator.
[ibid iii.17 - 22]

Indeed I could go on and on here but the important point is that Clement, Origen and the entire Alexandrian tradition never so much as once mention the heretic 'Mark' referenced in the writings of Irenaeus in the same way as Irenaeus himself never once mentions 'Marcion' in the authentic parts of Book One (i.e. the material which isn't dependent on Justin's Syntagma which was added by a later editor to 'round out' the collection). It is very remarkable that when Clement identifies someone who derived his heresy from Pythagoras and Plato, that individual is named 'Marcion' (itself derived from the name 'Marcus'). Origen is far more cautious (namely because he himself is a overtly Platonizing Christian with clear ties to 'Marcionitism').

Gregory Nazianzen's similarly declares that the Arians "will flee from Marcion's god, compounded of elements and numbers." (Oration 33:16)

The point is that I think that Marcion was developed in the third century as a kind of way to mediate Irenaeus's original attack against the Alexandrian followers of St. Mark. Irenaeus doesn't admit of course that this Mark was the Evangelist. His original claim was that this was some other heretic who came along later (part of the confusion might have arisen with a Patriarch named Mark or Marcian who is supposed to have ruled the Alexandrian See at the time of Polycarp.

I think Hippolytus goes out of his way to develop the original Aramaic text and its reference to 'those of Mark' (viz. 'Marqione') into a separate heretical sect that no longer has anything to do with Egypt per se. Like the Serapis idol which was brought from Sinope in Pontus, 'Marcion' is developed into having the same pedigree.

If we look carefully too, Hippolytus follows later Irenaeus's original arguments for making a heresy associated with 'Mark' which DEVELOPED RECENTLY and placed them beside his account of Valentinus in Book Six. Given that he knows that the original Alexandrian followers of St. Mark have read Irenaeus account and railed against its false portrait of their apostolic lineage [Ref. vi.42] Hippolytus goes on to say in Book Seven:

When, therefore, Marcion or some one of his hounds barks against the Demiurge, and adduces reasons from a comparison of what is good and bad, we ought to say to them, that neither Paul the apostle nor Mark, he of the maimed finger, announced such (tenets). For none of these (doctrines) has been written in the Gospel according to Mark. [Ref. vii.18]

As such Hippolytus now develops a new understanding whereby NOT ALL Alexandrians are chastised as heretics. After meeting with Origen he is apparently willing to consider that NOT ALL people who develop arguments for Christianity out of Plato are bad people either.

Instead Hippolytus has developed a special category for those Christians who promote the idea that St. Mark witnessed all sorts of heretical doctrines in his gospel or that the Apostle 'Paul' developed these same beliefs in his writings. They are now called 'Marcionites' from another heretical boogeyman named 'Marcion' and these ideas were inserted by Hippolytus back into his original collection of Irenaeus's writings against the heresies in Five Books in the section which is universally attributed to be from Justin's Syntagma (this is really Hippolytus's reworked copy of Justin's Syntagma).

It is for this reason that we see 'Marcus' effectively disappear as a heretic in the third century. At the same time it is readily apparent that all subsequent 'heresiologists' focus on 'Marcion.' Hippolytus had helped set the stage for a new and improved conception of orthodoxy which 'improved' on the teachings of his master ...

Email with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.