Sunday, June 13, 2010

How the Philosophumena is an Older Work than Our Existing Five Books of Irenaeus Against Heresies

It is hard to get a clear idea about which is going on the Church in the third century beyond the general idea that the Roman See was effectively dictating the terms of orthodoxy to the rest of Christianity.  For most scholars this enough to prove that Rome was always meant to be the spiritual center of the religion.  Not surprisingly, I don't quite see it that way.  I see it as the period where a tradition about Jesus and his chosen disciple Peter displaced an earlier tradition about Jesus and his beloved disciple John Mark.

It also doesn't matter much to me that there isn't very much in the way of direct evidence from the period to support my theory that John Mark was originally understood to be the Christian messiah.  This was a bloody age.  This was a period in history where the Empire sank into civil war, chaos and brutality.

I see the doctrines of the Catholic Church unmistakably tied to a desperate attempt of the Severan Emperors to hold the Empire together.

For reasons I have already developed at length here, it can be argued that Commodus initiated the reorganization of the religions of Judaism, Samaritanism and Christianity.  The central part of the paradigm of each restructuring effort was to regulate the establishment of 'acceptable readings' for each religion.  I have always argued that the fourfold division of the gospel can be argued to be roughly paralleled by the organization of the Mishnah.  Both efforts were accomplished in this same period.

I am not in a position yet to formulate exactly HOW the same principles of reform reshaped these three monotheistic tradition.  This blog is a forum which I use to tell readers what ideas are going through my head at the present moment.  It is enough to say that there is a general pattern of reform in all three traditions.  In at least two of the three (Samaritanism and Christianity) the resistance against these Imperial efforts eventually turned into brutal repression.

My general assumption is that the expression of a secret doctrine involving Mark as the messiah of Israel was purged from the religions with which he was intimately associated.  Within the Patristic writings at least we see a marked shift from Irenaeus - who explicitly demonizes the very name and the tradition associated with the Alexandrian apostle (AH i.13 - 21) to the efforts of later Roman editors who introduce a convenient scapegoat in Marcion to leave open the possibility of an Alexandrian Church reconciled with Rome.

As I see it Marcion begins his life as a heretical boogeyman.  His purpose is to further define Irenaeus's initial identification of heretical elements in the Alexandrian tradition.  As the author of the Philosophumena notes:

For also the blessed presbyter Irenaeus, having approached the subject of a refutation in a more unconstrained spirit, has explained such washings and redemptions (of the followers of Mark), stating more in the way of a rough digest what are their practices. (And it appears that some of them) on meeting with (Irenaeus' work), deny that they have so received (the secret word just alluded to), but they have learned that always they should deny. [Philosophumena vi.37]

Indeed part of the author of the Philosophumena's 'reform' of Irenaeus's initial report is to acknowledge that the CONTEXT of this gathering in the name of Mark is an ecclesiastical tradition that parallels the very Church that Hippolytus was struggling with at Rome.  It is a church tradition WITHIN the Church as he notes:

And when they consider that these have been tested, and are able to keep (secret the mysteries) committed unto them, they then admit them to this (baptism). They, however, do not rest satisfied with this alone, but promise (their votaries) some other (boon) for the purpose of confirming them in hope, in order that they may be inseparable (adherents of their sect). For they utter something in an inexpressible (tone of) voice, after having laid hands on him who is receiving the redemption. And they allege that they could not easily declare (to another) what is thus spoken unless one were highly tested, or one were at the hour of death, (when) the bishop comes and whispers into the (expiring one's) ear. And this knavish device (is undertaken) for the purpose of securing the constant attendance upon the bishop of (Marcus') disciples, as individuals eagerly panting to learn what that may be which is spoken at the last, by (the knowledge of) which the learner will be advanced to the rank of those admitted into the higher mysteries. And in regard of these I have maintained a silence for this reason, lest at any time one should suppose that I was guilty of disparaging these (heretics). For this does not come within the scope of our present work, only so far as it may contribute to prove from what source (the heretics) have derived the standing-point from which they have taken occasion to introduce the opinions advanced by them. [ibid vi. 36]

The point then is that even though the Philosophumena does not explicit say 'Marcion is being introduced to cut the Alexandrian Church some slack' it is noteworthy that it is in the Philosophumena that the author goes out of his way to distance Marcion from the Evangelist Mark - "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." [ibid vii.18]  In my mind the Philosophumena is nearest to the beginning of the myth of 'Marcion of Pontus.'

As I have noted many times at this blog - the Five Books of Irenaeus are composed of material which dates to a period over a generation earlier than the Philosophumena, but the Philosophumena never the less as a completed work dates to an earlier period than the editing of the Five Books Against Heresies.

More on that tomorrow.

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