Tuesday, June 29, 2010

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


So it is that when we attempt to develop a history of the Christian liturgical year before our earliest reliable source of information - viz. Clement - we find ourselves in a very difficult position.  For while there seems to be clear evidence from the end of the second century that the Alexandrians opposed the Quartodecimian faction's calculation of Easter based on a tradition Jewish lunar calendar[1] it is difficult to get a clear picture of how the Alexandrian liturgical calendar functioned or how it ultimately developed over time.  Nevertheless what cannot be doubted is the fact that the Alexandrian Church already had a distinct liturgical year but one which was of such antiquity that both the Roman and Palestinian churches bolstered their position against the Asian Quartodecmanist by citing their observance of "the holy day in unison and together."[2]

Indeed there is an unfortunate and undue emphasis on the literal 'calculation of Passover' in these critical debates in the late second century.  The real issue is clearly whether Christianity should have a liturgical year based on a lunar or solar calendar. There seems to be a clear emphasis in the earliest Alexandrian sources that Easter should emphasize the eventual triumph of the sun over the lunar year. This becomes absolutely clear in one of the few surviving references to the Alexandrian Anatolius, later associated with Laodicea in Syria who writes:

As we are about to speak on the subject of the order of the times and alternations of the world, we shall first dispose of the positions of diverse calculators; who, by reckoning only by the course of the moon, and leaving out of account the ascent and descent of the sun, with the addition of certain problems, have constructed diverse periods (Lat. circulos) self-contradictory, and such as are never found in the reckoning of a true computation; since it is certain that no mode of computation is to be approved, in which these two measures are not found together. For even in the ancient exemplars, that is, in the books of the Hebrews and Greeks, we find not only the course of the moon, but also that of the sun, and, indeed, not simply its course in the general,(gressus) but even the separate and minutest moments of its hours all calculated, as we shall show at the proper time, when the matter in hand demands it.[3]

Anatolius is criticizing Hippolytus's recent publication of a method of calculating Easter which he later describes as employing "certain unknown courses of the moon ... without, however, teaching thereby an exact method of calculating Easter." He cites instead what appears to be a chain of Alexandrian authorities dating back into what is now for us a historical 'dark age' in the Egyptian Church - i.e. Isidore, Jerome and then Clement - who Anatolius describes as "our predecessors, men most learned in the books of the Hebrews and Greeks" who although noting "similar beginnings for the months just as they differ also in language, have, nevertheless, come harmoniously to one and the same most exact reckoning of Easter, day and month and season meeting in accord with the highest honour for the Lord's resurrection."  Anatolius clearly means by this that they properly emphasize the day of the sun.

Yet Anatolius ranks Origen highest of all Alexandrian authors and he describes his predecessor as "the most erudite of all, and the acutest in making calculations" from "a little book on Easter" (Peri Pascha?) which is explicitly referenced as follows by the now bishop of Laodicean bishop:

in this book, while declaring, with respect to the day of Easter, that attention must be given not only to the course of the moon and the transit of the equinox, but also to the passage (transcensum) of the sun, which removes every foul ambush and offence of all darkness, and brings on the advent of light and the power and inspiration of the elements of the whole world, he speaks thus: In the (matter of the) day of Easter, he remarks, I do not say that it is to be observed that the Lord's day should be found, and the seven days of the moon which are to elapse, but that the sun should pass that division, to wit, between light and darkness, constituted in an equality by the dispensation of the Lord at the beginning of the world; and that, from one hour to two hours, from two to three, from three to four, from four to five, from five to six hours, while the light is increasing in the ascent of the sun, the darkness should decrease.

Various commentators have scratched their heads over the reference (which does not survive in our existing MS of the Peri Pascha).  Yet it is obviously derives from Origen's frequent reference to a contemporary Alexandrian 'Feast of Unleavened Bread' which is to be celebrated 'with bitterness' (or alternatively 'bitter herbs' cf. Ex. 12.8)[5] until the eighth day, which is the traditional date of the crossing of the sea.[6]

For our purposes it is enough to say that Origen makes explicit a connection between the Jewish technical term motsa'e shabbat 'the goings of the Sabbath' (plural construct suffix) or the transition from the seventh to the eighth as being embodied in the ἀνατολή of the sun.  This must have been a core concept in ancient Alexandria and is here only described with reference to images of light and darkness.  Nevertheless one can also see that in the Letter to Theodore of Origen's predecessor Clement, the rising of the sun over the waters which killed the Egyptian armies of Pharaoh, is connected to a baptism of the dead ritual which interestingly takes place after seven days of the release of a beloved νεανίσκος from a tomb just before the setting of the sun that day.  Jesus 'rising' αναστασ is clearly an allusion to the eventual resurrection of Christ in Mark 16:9. But the overriding liturgical setting in the Church of St. Mark according to Clement seems also to make reference to a 'piercing' of a sevenfold barrier of darkness with "
those who are being initiated into the great mysteries" being "led" into "the innermost sanctuary of that truth hidden by seven veils."  Anyone familiar with the oldest Coptic churches would expect the Episcopal throne to be physically kept within the ἀδυτον, an area separated from the rest of the church by a curtain or veil.[7]

This is not the place to develop a systematic understanding of what the original Alexandrian liturgy might have looked like or how the Exodus narrative might have been interpreted to support the idea of a 'baptism on behalf of the dead.'  Nevertheless it is interesting to note that the idea of abandonment of the lunar calendar of the Jews seems to emerge in the context of a 'death baptism.'  The apostle begins with a warning for his hearers to see to it "see to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which is according to ordinance of men and the worldly στοιχεῖον rather than on Christ."  What follows can be clearly be understood as a description of an ancient Christian liturgy.  The Marcosians are explicitly cited by Irenaeus as promoting the idea that Paul knew and referenced their ἀπολύτρωσις baptism (AH i.21.2, they would also undoubtedly have translated στοιχεῖον as 'letters' rather than our 'basic principles' of the world).[8]  It might be useful then to continue the process of reading Colossians chapter 2 as a description of what ultimately became the Alexandrian liturgy.

After shunning what is clearly the 'ordinances' of Jewish law and its contemporary interest in kabbalah, the apostle references his hearers as having witnessed an image of "Christ" dwelling in "all the πλήρωμα of the Deity."  Through this initiatory process they too "have been given πλήρωμα in Christ, who is the κεφαλή over every power and authority."  Yet before we go any further we should notice at once that κεφαλή can clearly also be a liturgical reference to the beginning of the year.  Fitzmeyer demonstrates that κεφαλή renders ראש into Greek some 281 times however it should be noted that the specific term 'rosh hashanah' never occurs in the Torah.  It is as old as our oldest surviving Jewish sources and it is there explicitly connected with the year of favor or if you will the Jubilee " "The first of Tishrei is the beginning of the year (rosh hashanah) for years, sabbatical cycles, and the jubilee?" (Mishnah, Rosh Hashanah 1.1)  We shall come back to all of this later but it should be enough to see that Alexandrians like Clement who connect the year of favor with the 360 day solar year could well have understood a reference to Christ as the 'head' in terms of him being the beginning of a new understanding of the year, or to use Jerome's rendering of Origen's lost original explanation of Luke 4:19 - a 'new Kalends.'[9]

It is worth noting that the apostle immediately after dismissing Jewish ordinances and their stoicheion tou kosmou reminds them of the new liturgical system which is:

in him [Christ] you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.  When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.  Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the κεφαλή, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.  Since you died with Christ to the worldly στοιχεῖον, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

It should be obvious to any reader that the concept of Christ as the 'head' of something new is inextricably interwoven with the rejection of the liturgical cycle of the Jewish lunar year.  According to this rival solar liturgy the initiate after being 'baptized into death' rises out of the waters and is redeemed from the darkness of the old ways.

It is of course difficult to get a precise handle on how this idea developed in Alexandria in the years which lead up to Clement implicity declaring that Jesus announced the coming of a three hundred sixty day year from the synagogue in Galilee (Luke 4:19). Nevertheless there are clear echoes of this passage in Colossians in various writers before and after Clement which give us some crucial clues. The Clementine Homilies makes a puzzling reference also to some who are "well instructed in the doctrines taught by Moses, finding fault with the people for their sins, called them sons of the new moons that are according to the moon."[10] Heracleon similarly (fragment 21) makes reference to the idea in the Kerygma Petri that the 'you' in John 4:22 (i.e. "you worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is of the Jews.”) "stands for the Jews and the Gentiles. . . We must not worship as the Greeks do, who believe in the things of matter, and serve wood and stone, nor worship the divine as the Jews. They who think they alone know God do not know him, and worship angels, the month, and the moon [emphasis mine]."[11]

Clement however, it should be noted cites the very same passage in the Kerygma Petri in a little more detail and offers some support for its days from the New Testament held in common by other churches:

And that it is said, that we and the Greeks know the same God, though not in the same way, he will infer thus: "Neither worship as the Jews; for they, thinking that they only know God, do not know Him, adoring as they do angels and archangels, the month and the moon. And if the moon be not visible, they do not hold the Sabbath, which is called the first; nor do they hold the new moon, nor the feast of unleavened bread, nor the feast, nor the great day."  Then he gives the finishing stroke to the question: "So that do ye also, learning holily and righteously what we deliver to you; keep them, worshipping God in a new way, by Christ." For we find in the Scriptures, as the Lord says: "Behold, I make with you a new covenant, not as I made with your fathers in Mount Horeb." He made a new covenant with us; for what belonged to the Greeks and Jews is old. But we, who worship Him in a new way, in the third form, are Christians. For clearly, as I think, he showed that the one and only God was known by the Greeks in a Gentile way, by the Jews Judaically, and in a new and spiritual way by us.(Stromata 6:5)

While it is consistent throughout all of these authors that there was a firm Alexandrian tradition from the very earliest period which rejected the liturgical year of the Jews based as it was on an imperfect lunar calendar in favor of some rival solar based system, the exact details of how and where one system began and the other ended is hard to come by.  Perhaps at least part of this difficulty arose from the Marcionites who, not only preserved a 'letter to the Alexandrians' in their New Testament canon, but who emphasized that the apostle's introduction of the new liturgy was a complete rejection not only of the old Jewish system but also a condemnation of the Jewish god.[12]

The Alexandrians themselves must have been very careful to distinguish their official position from that of the Marcionites.  This may in part explain why there is such a reluctance to explain how it was that Alexandria 'switched' or turned away from a lunar based liturgical system to the three hundred and sixty day calendar first introduced by St. Mark.  Origen however, whose patron Ambrosius was after all a (former) Marcionite ultimately gives us the clue to bring us back to our original interest in the 'year of favor.'  For he, in the tenth book on his Commentary on John he makes specific allusion to Colossians 2:16 and writes:

now in what manner, in those heavenly things of which the shadow was present to the Jews on earth, those will celebrate festivals who have first been trained by tutors and governors under the true law, until the fullness of the time should come [emphasis mine], namely, above, when we shall be able to receive into ourselves the perfect measure of the Son of God, this it is the work of that wisdom to make plain which has been hidden in a mystery; and it also may show to our thought how the laws about meats are symbols of those things which will there nourish and strengthen our soul. But it is vain to think that one desiring to work out in his fancy the great sea of such ideas, even if he wished to show how local worship is still a pattern and shadow of heavenly things, and that the sacrifices and the sheep are full of meaning, that he should advance further than the Apostle, who seeks indeed to lift ourminds above earthly views of the law, but who does not show us to any extent how these things are to be. Even if we look at the festivals, of which passover is one, from the point of view of the age to come, we have still to ask how it is that our passover is now sacrificed, namely, Christ, and not only so, but is to be sacrificed hereafter.(Comm John 10:12)

Of course his reference to the 'fullness of time' might well sound like a generic reference to some ambiguous age to some unfamiliar with Origen's writings. However a brief overview of other references in the Commentary of John and elsewhere will make absolutely clear again that he is explicitly referencing the 'year of favor' - i.e. the yearlong period of Jesus's ministry - as the very point in which the shadow of lunar worship was pierced by the new system of righteousness introduced by Christ.

In various works such as his On Prayer the connection between the 'ministry of Jesus' and 'the fulness of time' is made absolutely explicit viz. "the fullness of the time is in the sojourn of our Lord Jesus Christ, when they who desire receive adoption as sons."[12]  But at the very beginning of the Commentary on John Origen speaks of Moses and the prophets having knowledge of 'the fulness of time' ultimately arriving at knowledge of Christ's glory:

We must not, however, forget that the sojourning of Christ with men took place before His bodily sojourn, in an intellectual fashion, to those who were more perfect and not children, and were not under pedagogues and governors. In their minds they saw the fulness of the time to be at hand--the patriarchs, and Moses the servant, and the prophets who beheld the glory of Christ. And as before His manifest and bodily coming He came to those who were perfect, so also, after His coming has been announced to all, to those who are still children, since they are under pedagogues and governors and have not yet arrived at the fulness of the time, forerunners of Christ have come to sojourn, discourses (logoi) suited for minds still in their childhood, and rightly, therefore, termed pedagogues. But the Son Himself, the glorified God, the Word, has not yet come; He waits for the preparation which must take place on the part of men of God who are to admit His deity. And this, too, we must bear in mind, that as the law contains a shadow of good things to come, which are indicated by that law which is announced according to truth, so the Gospel also teaches a shadow of the mysteries of Christ, the Gospel which is thought to be capable of being understood by any one.(Comm John 1:9)

Yet as Hanson notes we should be careful to read this passage in the right context.  As he notes from several other passages in Origen's writing, Origen is actually saying that Moses and Elijah only received this perfect knowledge of the glory of Christ when they were standing as witnesses at the Transfiguration.[13]  This context is very important also because it is a revelation where Jesus is understood to transform himself into someone sitting on a throne.[14]

In the end there are tentative grounds for establishing a very early Alexandrian tradition which understood Jesus's ministry to be connected with the coming of a new age which would see the abandoning of the Law and the prophets and the lunar based liturgical year which developed out of these sources.  Alexandria seems to be 'ground zero' of this tradition.  As such both Roman and Palestinian sources inevitably go to the Alexandrian well as it were to combat 'Judaizers' in the Church such as the so-called Quartodeciman factions of Asia.  Yet the original Alexandrian system seems also to have had problematic elements.  As we shall see shortly Irenaeus, while never specifically condemning the 'Quartodecimianists' chooses instead to anathematize  key parts of the original Alexandrian doctrine including its identification of the 'year of favor' as a historical event which already took place and its mystical interest in the number 'six' (which is necessary to add to any lunar year to arrive at the three hundred and sixty day calendar of the Alexandrian Church).

Irenaeus's approach can be explained in part by his loyalty to his master Polycarp (who is always lumped together with the Quartodeciman camp).  Nevertheless it must also be supposed that Irenaeus recognized that the Alexandrian tradition necessarily raised the status of Alexandria at the expense of Rome (cf. AH 3.3.2f).  Irenaeus, in other words, was not so much interested in ultimately preserving the lunar calculations of the Asiatic Church as establishing and associating any new compromise with Rome as the new center of power.  A parallel approach can be seen at Nicea where a qualified acceptance of Alexandrian Easter traditions were offset by unacceptable demands (at least from the perspective of Arius, the presbyter of the traditional seat of power in Alexandria, the martyrium of St. Mark)  that the church compromised its original monophysite interpretation of the nature of Christ.

More to follow ...

[1] Eusebius Church History 5.25
[2] ibid
[3] fragment from Ægidius Bucherius, of the Society of Jesus
[10] Yet in the beginning of the world men lived long, and had no diseases. But when through carelessness they neglected the observation of the proper times, then the sons in succession cohabiting through ignorance at times when they ought not, place their children under innumerable afflictions. (Clementine Hom 22) cf also Diognetes 4 "And as to their observing months and days, as if waiting upon the stars and the moon, and their distributing, according to their own tendencies, the appointments of God, and the vicissitudes of the seasons, some for festivities, and others for mourning,--who would deem this a part of divine worship, and not much rather a manifestation of folly?"
[12] it is amazing how little of the Marcionite interpretation of Col 2:16 will allow us to hear. Tertullian allows us to hear what amounts to being a Marcionite question to the Catholics namely "Did he [i.e. God], you ask, wipe out observances he himself had appointed? Better he than someone else: else if it were some other, then that other supported the Creator's judgement, by abolishing observances the Creator had himself passed sentence on. But this is not the place for asking why the Creator has broken down his own laws: it is enough that we have proved he intended to break them down, so as to put it beyond doubt that the apostle has set up no rules in opposition to the Creator, since this removal of the law was the Creator's intention."[Tertullian Against Marcion 5:4] It is amazing to see that Tertullian can't tell us much beyond "when he says, Let no man judge you in meat and drink or in respect of an holy day or of the new moon or the sabbath, which are the shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ, what think you, Marcion? We are not now discussing the law, except that here too he explains in what way it is superseded, by being transferred out of shadow into body; that is, from figures into the truth, and that is Christ. So then the shadow belongs to him whose is the body; which means that the law is his whose also is Christ. Separate them off, to one god the law, to another god Christ, if indeed you can separate any shadow from that body of which it is the shadow. Evidently Christ belongs to the law, if he is the body of it, the shadow."

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