Saturday, June 26, 2010

I Have Decided to Edit My Second Article on the Throne of St. Mark Online [Part Four]


I have made a great effort to demonstrate that what I see as clear evidence which suggests that there was a pre-existent Alexandrian tradition which passed on a highly mystical form of scriptural exegesis. This tradition was passed on through such luminaries as Clement and Origen, although there must have been many more representatives in antiquity.[1] The historical reality we are faced with when attempting to reconstruct the Alexandrian Christian tradition is that only the writings of these two Alexandrians have come down to us in any great number.

But there is another phenomenon which gets little attention and that is that each successive generation of Alexandrians seems to want to distance itself from prominent predecessors. In the case of Clement he goes out of his way to distance himself from Julius Cassianus, in the case of Origen we have the curious situation that despite our possession of a great number of his writings, never to explicitly mention Clement by name. Moreover it is well established that subsequent generations of Alexandrians in the third and fourth centuries seemed to have distanced themselves from Origen including Arius, the presbyter of the martyrium of St. Mark in the early fourth century. The same stigma eventually becomes associated with the name 'Arius' too.

So it is that when we look at the paucity of references to St. Mark in Alexandrian writers or the lack of explicit identification of the Alexandrian tradition as being 'of Mark' (outside of the recently discovered Letter to Theodore, Gregory Nazianzus's Oration for Athanasius and the Passio Petri Sancti associated with Peter I) we must examine this in light of the equally strange phenomenon just cited - viz. each successive generation of Alexandrian writers disassociating itself with its predecessors. One could argue of course that this is a sign of immaturity i.e. that of a new tradition 'finding its legs.' This is the typical approach to Origen's 'excessive tendency for allegory.' Yet I feel that this ignores the historical reality of the late second, third and early fourth centuries in Alexandria.

Tzamalikos in his recent study of one of the most important references to the concept of the Jubilee offers another explanation which I feel is much closer to the mark. Origen in tackling Luke 4:18 - 28 its reference to Isaiah chapter 61 and its 'year of favor' makes reference to a secret doctrine which I think might go back to the inscription on our throne:

So we should consider what those things are that he spoke through the prophet and later proclaims about himself in a synagogue. He says, "He sent me to preach the Gospel to the poor." [Lk 4.18] The "poor" stand for the Gentiles, for they are indeed poor. They possess nothing at all: neither God, nor the law, nor the prophets, nor justice and the rest of the virtues. For what reason did God send him to preach to the poor? "To preach release to captives.'' [Lk 4.18] We were the captives. For many years Satan had bound us and held us captive, and subject to himself. Jesus has come "to proclaim release to captives, and sight to the blind.'' [Lk 4.28] By his word and the proclamation of his teaching the blind see. Therefore, his "proclamation" should be understood ἀπὸ ϰοινου not only of the "captives" but also of the "blind." [Lk 4.18]

"To send broken men forth into freedom. . . ." [Lk 4.19] What being was so broken and crushed as man, whom Jesus healed and sent away? "To preach a year of favor to the Lord. . . ." [Lk 4.19] Following the simple sense of the text, some say that the Savior preached the Gospel in Judea for only one year, and that this is what the passage "to preach a year of favor of the Lord and a day of retribution" means. But perhaps the divine word has concealed some mystery in the preaching of a year of the Lord. For, other days are to come, not days like those we now see in the world; there will be other months, and a different order of Kalends. Just as those will be different, so too will there be a year pleasing to the Lord. But all of this has been proclaimed so that we may come to "the acceptable year of the Lord," when we see after blindness, when we are free from our chains, and when we have been healed of our wounds.[Origen Homily on Luke 32.3 -5]

As I noted earlier the standard way of interpreting this statement by Origen is "a typical example of his allegorical reading method (plain sense/ divine mystery)."[2] Yet I prefer Tzamalikos approach which takes into account Origen's need to cloak and ultimately transform an original Alexandrian interpretation owing to contemporary Imperial pressure.

Tzamalikos, referencing Origen's hesitation in this passage, notes that "[t]his is a way for him to connote the doctrine of apokatastasis obliquely, without having to explicate this to his audience."[2] He also points to a number of other places in the Homilies on Luke where Origen makes clear that he is prevented by fear of retribution:

I do not know whether we should divulge such mystical things before this sort of audience, particularly among those who do not examine the essence of the Scriptures, but are happy with the barest sense alone. It is dangerous. [Homily on Luke 23:5]

This idea that expounding 'the truth' has danger associated with it is reinforced in many other passages in his writings such as his declaration in the Homilies on Ezekiel:

I freely confess the maxim spoken by a wise and faithful man, which I often invoke: "It is dangerous even to speak truly about God." For not only are the false things said about him dangerous, but likewise things that are true and that are brought forth at the wrong time give rise to danger to the one who speaks them. [Homily on Ezekiel 1:11.3]

The Homilies on Luke are generally regarded as having been written after his expulsion from Alexandria and relocation in Caesarea in 232. He continued to write in his new home until the persecution of Decius (c. 250 CE) prevented him from continuing these works. Origen was imprisoned and barbarously tortured which discontinued his ability to author new works.[3] He was still alive on the death of Decius only lingering on until his death, probably, from the results of the sufferings endured during renewed persecutions at the age of sixty-nine.[4]

It is worth noting that Tzamalikos limits his discussion of the 'secret doctrine' associated with the Jubilee to the familiar Origenist notion of ἀποκατάστασις. He points to the fact that Origen says elsewhere in the Homilies that "Luke was unwilling to record these things [i.e. the ἀποκατάστασις] explicitly, whereas John proclaimed some things that were too sublime to be committed to writing."[ ] But I think this approach is far too limiting. The origin of the supposed 'Origenist' interest in ἀποκατάστασις actually derives from the Jewish doctrine of tikkun olam (תיקון עולם) which is itself only one part of the original expectation associated with the Jubilee year.[ ]

To this end I think that the tradition cited by the great Coptic historian Severus of al'Ashmunein is far closer to the mark when he says that Origen was in 'danger' owing to his continuing to promote specifically Jewish doctrines. We read:

So when Origen, whom Demetrius had excommunicated, saw that the Church had rejected him, he went to the Jews, and expounded for them part of the Hebrew books, in a new fashion; and he concealed the prophecies which they contain of the Lord Christ, so that when he came to the mention of the thicket in which the ram of Abraham, the Friend of God, was caught by its horns, which the Fathers interpret as a type of the wood of the Cross, Origen even concealed and abandoned this interpretation. He wrote books full of lies and containing no truth.[ ]

I have written elsewhere about the fact that the throne of St. Mark has its central image on its backrest a ram standing in front of the tree of life. It makes far more sense then to see Origen's 'heresy' as being connected with the preservation and maintenance of specifically Jewish doctrines - undoubtedly connected with Alexandria's Jewish community as we saw earlier.

In this case, Origen is clearly going beyond a mere discussion of his own views on ἀποκατάστασις and going back to the Jewish understanding of the 'year of favor' as the Jubilee year. He not only references what he calls "the simple sense of the text" that "some say that the Savior preached the Gospel in Judea for only one year, and that this is what the passage 'to preach a year of favor of the Lord and a day of retribution means'" but also a "mystery in the preaching of a year of the Lord." What can that possibly mean? The only clue Origen gives us here is that there is promise from Jesus's preaching in his year long ministry "there will be other months, and a different order of Kalends." The Catena Aurea has reworked Origen's material to make it reflect Irenaeus's arguments against Alexandrian heretics who similarly promoted Jesus's year long ministry from a previous generation - i.e. that the "acceptable year of the Lord" is "the whole time from His advent onwards to the consummation," after which there follows "the day of retribution that is the judgement."[AH ii.22.2]

Yet it must be said that what is cited in the Catena is clearly not Origen's view.  Origen is clearly sheltering a tradition which dates back through previous generations of Alexandrians and which Irenaeus attacked and vigorously opposed.  What was this original Alexandrian understanding of the coming Jubilee announced by Jesus from the scroll of Isaiah regarding the coming of a 'Jubilee year'?  The only way that this will be made manifest to us is to go back through previous generations of Alexandrian exegesis of Isa 61:2, first through the figure of Clement of Alexandria (whom Origen goes out of his way never to explicitly reference in his many writings) and then the interpretation of 'those of Mark' who Irenaeus condemns but whose understanding can be demonstrated to be secretly at the heart of Clement's exegesis.

When all of this is undertaken we will be in a position to explain the inscription of 'year one' on the Alexandrian throne.  It was an apparent reference to the idea that Mark's alleged enthronement in Alexandria was seen as a fulfillment of Jesus's prophecy of the coming 'year of favor.'  In other words, the sitting of Mark in the chair that became the symbol of the continuation of the Alexandrian Church through the generation was itself taken to be a historical marker, that this event marked the end of a previous age and the beginning of the process of  ἀποκατάστασις which formed the core theological interest of the Origenist Patriarchs which sat in St. Mark's chair throughout the third and early fourth centuries.

[2] Stephen Davis personal correspondence.
[3] Eusebius, Church History VI.39
[4] Eusebius, Church History VII.1

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