Sunday, May 23, 2010

On the Marcosian Tetrad and the Irenaean Quarternion

I was amazed to see that one of the authors at Wikipedia actually spent the time to pull back an important layer of Irenaeus's work against the Marcosians. I read this with great interest:

Both the Tetrad and Sigé appear in the context as if they made revelations to Marcus, but (what has not been sufficiently observed) in different ways. When Irenaeus is simply recording what he found in his Marcosian authority, he speaks of the Tetrad or Tetractys. Thus (66-69):—
That the Tetrad herself came down to him from the highest and from the invisible [and innominable] places in female form, because, it is said, the world could not bear her male [element], and that she made known who she was … And that the Tetractys, when she had explained this to him, said 'And I will also show thee' … And as Marcus waited expecting her [Aletheia or Truth, another aeon] to say something more, the Tetractys again came forward and spoke ...
Sigé on the other hand, is mentioned only when Irenaeus speaks in his own person, and always with a touch of sarcasm. Thus (68-78):
... the letters of which Marcus's Sigé (he Markou Sigê) pronounced (edogmatise) the 'Forefather' to consist … and he [apparently 'Perfect Reason'] uses as his minister the greatness of the seven numbers, as says Marcus's Sigé … and the seventh [heaven] shouts out the letter O, as Marcus's Sigé positively affirms, she who babbles at great length but says nothing true … Thus then the all-wise Sigé announces to him the origin of the 24 letters … Who will endure that Sigé of thine that babbles so much, her who names the Innominable, and declares the Unutterable, and expounds the Unsearchable?
It may therefore be questioned whether Marcus ever represented Sigé as herself visiting him. Two passages indeed suggest pretty clearly that he held her to be faithful to her name. Speaking of "Truth," virtually the alphabet, also called Man, he says (69) that she "is the fountain of every speech, and the beginning of every voice, and the utterance of everything unutterable, and the mouth of the unspoken Sigé (tês siôpômenês Sigês). Again we hear (64) that Marcosians were taught to offer a prayer for deliverance from "the Judge" to a female divinity addressed as "thou that sittest beside God and the mystic Sigé before the aeons" (or ages: ô paredre theou k. t. l.). This address supplies the required clue, for the divinity is presently called "the Mother," in a passage almost immediately preceding the occurrence of the name Colarbasus; and elsewhere (75: cf. 84) "the Mother of the Universe" is identified with "the first Tetrad." Sigé herself then doubtless remains hidden above; but her mysteries are made known to Marcus by the Tetrad, the Colarbas or Voice of Four, who must be the (nameless) "most mighty power from the invisible and innominable places," to whom he boasted that he owed his "knowledge," as we read in Irenaeus's first paragraph about him 

But the question still remained in my mind - why the Tetrad? Why does the followers of Mark think that a Tetrad came down upon Mark in the baptismal water?

The answer became obvious when I thought in terms of the Alexandrian cultural context in which I propose Christianity developed. The answer it turns out is found in philosophy where we read:

Hierocles specifies what distinguished the perfection of the decad (10) from that of the tetrad; the tetrad possessed a perfection ontologically superior to that of the decad; it is 'somehow' unified, by contrast the more diversified perfection of the decad. Hierocles takes care to add 'somehow' when describing the unified perfection of the tetrad; this is because he wants to avoid any confusion with an even higher principle that would be unified in the true sense of the word, for the tetrad is not truly unified, like the monad is but only compared to the decad, which is perfect in accordance with a "detailed development." This means that the decad, by specifying and diversifying the seminal reasons contained in the tetrad, has already moved away, to a greater extent than the tetrad from the first principle. The same clarification is found in Proclus (In Timaeus 1 p. 432 Diehl) "For the tetrad contains all things, and so does the decad, but one contains them unitively, and the other in a separated way; and although the decad contains all that the tetrad contains, yet because it contains them in a separated way; and although the decad contains all that the tetrad contains, yet because it contains them in a separated way, it is less perfect than the tetrad. For that which is closer to the monad is more perfect, and the smaller the quantity, the greater the power (dunamis). Here, Proclus identifies the tetrad with the Intelligible Being, and the decad with the demiurge.[Hadot Studies in the Neoplatonic Hierocles p. 75]

It is important to note that the idea that the tetrad is the power (dunamis) of the decad is also mentioned and commented often in this tradition. Hierocles speaks of it in the same phrase as that in which he distinguishes the perfection of the tetrad from that of the decad. But the relation between the tetrad and the decad - viz. the dunamis (Aram. hyl) to the demiurge - is most clearly expressed in Philo who writes:

For what the decad is in act (entelechia) the tetrad is in potential (De Opfi Mundi 47)

There can be no doubt in my mind that Mark taught his followers an understanding derived from mathematics - namely that above all else was the monad (the Father), below him was the tetrad (the Son) and below the son was the decad (the Demiurge).

This understanding would clearly have driven Irenaeus crazy for above all else he wanted Christians to identify the Son with the Creator. The idea that the demiurge was subordinate to the son sounds entirely Marcionite and now - as we have again learned - there is no difference between the Marcosians and the Marcionites other than Irenaeus speaks in terms of the former, the other Church Fathers the latter.

It is also worth noting that the tradition Platonic understanding would have identified the tetrad with the term 'power.' We have just seen that Mark thought that the power of the tetrad came into the water when he was baptized. We have shown in a previous post that the Aramaic word hyl not only was understood to have transformed the waters of the Red Sea when the Israelites crossed but moreover is understood to contain the powers of 8, 10 and 12 owing to the ordinal placing of those letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

One more thing that is worth noting. Clement explicitly identifies the tetrad with the Tetragrammaton:

Four pillars there are, the sign of the sacred tetrad of the ancient covenants. Further, the mystic name of four letters which was affixed to those alone to whom the adytum was accessible, is called Jave, which is interpreted, "Who is and shall be." The name of God, too, among the Greeks contains four letters. [Stromata v.6]

So if the Marcosian interest in the tetrad is connected with Clement (which I think it is) one could somehow understand the initiation into the baptismal waters as 'adding' the divine name to the catechumen. Is it just me or does the Toledoth Yeshu preserve a parallel idea to this? We read:

In the Temple was to be found the Foundation Stone on which were engraved the letters of God's Ineffable Name. Whoever learned the secret of the Name and its use would be able to do whatever he wished. Therefore, the Sages took measures so that no one should gain this knowledge. Lions of brass were bound to two iron pillars at the gate of the place of burnt offerings. Should anyone enter and learn the Name, when he left the lions would roar at him and immediately the valuable secret would be forgotten.

Yeshu came and learned the letters of the Name; he wrote them upon the parchment which he placed in an open cut on his thigh and then drew the flesh over the parchment. As he left, the lions roared and he forgot the secret. But when he came to his house he reopened the cut in his flesh with a knife an lifted out the writing. Then he remembered and obtained the use of the letters

All the miracles of Jesus are identified as resulting from his knowledge of the four letters of the divine name "The insurgents with him replied that if Yeshu was the Messiah he should give them a convincing sign. They therefore, brought to him a lame man, who had never walked. Yeshu spoke over the man the letters of the Ineffable Name, and the leper was healed. Thereupon, they worshipped him as the Messiah, Son of the Highest." The Toledoth goes on and on delighting in describing all the magic Jesus performed with the power of the Tetragrammaton.

So my question is - are the ideas of Mark really that crazy or do they just sound strange because Irenaeus has done such a bad job EXPLAINING THEIR ORIGINAL CONTEXT? Clearly I suspect the latter ...

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