Saturday, May 1, 2010

Photius Proves that Irenaeus Never Wrote a Work Called Five Books Against the Heresies

The purpose of these last rather technical posts is to underscore one thing - there is absolutely no certainty about anything in the Church until the fourth century.  It is only with Constantine that we are able to see 'real people' clearly.  Our recollection of the first and early second century is entirely shaped by legends and oral traditions.   Irenaeus and Clement stand out like rocks in a fast moving stream but even here there is little in the way of context.  More rocks appear in that same stream in the early to mid third century but the latter part of the third century is even more confused again owing to the Great Persecution.

It is entirely fitting that the modern Coptic tradition dates itself from this age - the 'Era of Martyrs.'   If only the rest of the Church could be so honest and stop pretending that it has any connection to the Common Era or anything to do with the manifestation of Jesus and all that followed.

I want to stress to my readers that almost everything that comes before the Era of Martyrs amounts to guesswork - or better yet - the most general pattern of an effort to centralize Christianity in Rome under the watchful eye of Caesar.

But then right when you begin to see this pattern emerge, history throws you a curve. Constantine ultimately RESISTED completing the effort to consolidate the religion in Rome and 'set up shop' in northwestern Asia Minor instead.  There are of course a number of reasons for Constantine re-establishing Christianity away from Rome.  Nicaea was close to Nicomedia, the city Diocletian had established as the capitol of the eastern Roman Empire and Constantine's official residence in the period.  Yet it cannot go unnoticed that Constantine must have had the idea that the only way to bring Alexandria into the fold was to establish the tradition away from its traditional rival Rome.

Rome and all its claims about being 'the church of Peter' clearly gets the shaft in the new arrangement.  This cannot be regarded as accidental.  It also has to be acknowledged that Alexandria was getting 'on board' the new program in name only.  The traditional Patriarchal succession - the so-called Origenist or Arian tradition based in the traditional Church of Mark in the eastern region just beyond the walls of Alexandria - was anathematized in favor of an Episcopal tradition that was really no older than Alexander, Constantine's handpicked Patriarch.

This new tradition had no roots in St. Mark whatsoever.  It had little or nothing to do with the non-Greek population which was mostly concentrated behind the walls of big cities like Alexandria.

If we do want to peel back the layers and how to understand how we got to a historical period like the third century where the Church of Rome really was the center of the Christian universe the only way to get there is through the inscription over the grave of Hippolytus composed by Pope Damasus, he was a follower of the Novatian schism while a presbyter (Ihm, "Damasi epigrammata", Leipzig, 1895, 42, n.37).

Who were the Novatians? You can read many things about them in many different books. I am sure of only one thing - they were the Christian Church which was effectively shut out of recognition by the Imperial court as representing the Roman Church in the early to mid third century. One has to remember that there were a great many Christians in the courts of the Severian Emperors throughout this period.

The bottom line is that 'Novatus' or 'Novatian' was never a historical person. It is undoubtedly the banner under which his reform Church stood - viz. novatus, a renewing, change (Aus. Idyll. 14, 39).

No one should be surprised that a historical boogeyman was developed from the concept of 'renewal.' It is no stranger than the invention of a heretic named 'Ebion.'

The point is that 'Novatus' is just a figure developed in the shadow of Hippolytus who must have been attempting to organize a truly 'world wide' Church against those who had traditionally sided with the Roman government. I can't help but see something of this attempt to foster an alliance against the ruling order in Hippolytus' meeting with Origen. Dionysius of Alexandria's supposed Epistle to Novatian (Church History vi.45) seems little more than a half-hearted attempt to prove that he didn't harbor any Novatian sentiments.

The bottom line is that a 'Church of Renewal' - i.e. a Christian community that wanted to distance itself from any association with the Imperial government did quickly develop in the late third century. Scholars have puzzled over why such a community appeared then when it - on the surface at least - appears to be identical with the official Roman Church.

The answer is in my opinion that the official Church was connected with the Imperial government and the age that Novatianism flourished happened to be one where Rome lost control of much of the Empire.

In my opinion the community was turning its back on traditional ties that the Roman Church had with the Roman government since Victor. The church sent only one representative to Nicaea and was not interested in joining yet another official attempt to control Christian doctrine. Eventually Constantine ranked the Novatians among the Marcionites and other heretics proscribing the closing of their churches and the burning of their books.

In any event, the point here is that the traditional assumption that Hippolytus was a loyal disciple of Irenaeus are only referenced by Photius in the tenth century (Biblio cod. 121) and all the rest of the assumptions we have about Irenaeus and his work Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called go completely out the door when you read Photius' account of Hippolytus.

Photius has the following as his entry for Hippolytus:

A booklet of Hippolytus has been read. Now Hippolytus was a disciple of Irenaeus. But it (i.e. the booklet) was the compilation against 32 heresies making the Dositheans the beginning of them and comprising those up to Noetius and the Noetians. And he says that these heresies were subjected to refutation by Irenaeus in conversation (or in lectures). Of which refutations making also a synopsis, he says he compiled this book. The phrasing however is clear, reverent and unaffected, although he does not observe the Attic style. But he says some other things lacking in accuracy and that the Epistle to the Hebrews was not by the Apostle Paul.

There are many things that we could say about this important passage but by far the most significant is that Photius opens the door to the idea that Irenaeus wrote individual 'lectures' which someone else assembled into large collections.

It should also be noted that there are so many texts related to one another which have very similar names - the 'Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called,' 'the Refutation of All Heresies,' 'Against All Heresies' and the like - and at the same time the material seems all related to a common source.

Photius indicates that Irenaeus is the source of much of the material but that it manifested itself as individual instructions - i.e. 'Against the Valentinians' would be one such lecture which later formed the beginning of Book One and retained its original form in Tertullian's Against the Valentinians. 'Against the Noetians' was another which was developed by Hippolytus.

The bottom line again is that seeing sometimes isn't believing. Just because there is a work floating around attributed to Irenaeus doesn't mean Irenaeus literally authored the work as it now stands. Hippolytus clearly developed it in its current form. It is not a verbatim copy of the original 'lectures' developed by Irenaeus.

It is impossible to know who or what Irenaeus was or what the original form of the text took. All we know is what Hippolytus (or one of his successors) wanted us to think was Irenaeus's beliefs and theology.

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