Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Against Polycarp [Part Thirteen]

It would be a shame if this book merely degenerated into a myopic analysis of a number of mostly forgotten ancient texts. Above all else we have a story to tell, a wonderful tale about a truly great and important man who towered over the development of Christianity in ways that are unappreciated by modern scholarship. While there is it is very easy to see why few people before us saw the true glory of 'Polycarp' it is impossible now to go back to our traditional reliance on the fables of Irenaeus. There is something more buried within the most ancient texts associated with Christian antiquity. Something which we must above all else uncover in order to attain a truly accurate portrait of the man who is the real founder of the Catholic tradition.

Does Irenaeus really contradict our claims about 'Polycarp' having the role we ascribe to him?  No, in fact, he merely makes two additional claims which are worth noting. The first of course is that Polycarp did not invent his tradition out of thin air.  He was merely a witness for the testimony of St. John, the beloved disciple of John.  His second point, which turns out to be critical for our study of Clement, is that this tradition associated with John and Polycarp was exactly preserved in all churches everywhere by the faithful disciples of Jesus.  To this end, the Roman Church witnessed the same understanding of 'orthodoxy' independent of the Asian tradition. In other words, Clement was witnessing the same thing as Polycarp.

On the surface at least, one could argue that the Letter of Polycarp's very similar language and very similar citation would support this claim. When Polycarp says:

but remembering what the Lord taught when he said, "Judge not that ye be not judged, forgive and it shall be forgiven unto you, be merciful that ye may obtain mercy, with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again"

and Clement says:

remembering the words of the Lord Jesus which He spake, teaching forbearance and long-suffering
for thus He spake Have mercy, that ye may receive mercy "forgive, that it may be forgiven to you. As ye do, so shall it be done to you. As ye give, so shall it be given unto you. As ye judge, so shall ye be judged. As ye show kindness, so shall kindness be showed unto you. With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured withal to you."

we are not talking about a case of Polycarp 'knowing' the writings and Clement and citing the material but rather of an original, lost collection of writings associated with Lucian's stranger and one text being manipulated one way and another original text being manipulated in another direction in order to make it seem as if there are two separate Christian witnesses who just happened to be in Rome in different ages.

Why was this textual manipulation effort so important for Irenaeus?  We just need to go back to his reference and his student Hippolytus's witness to a second document associated with this author which apparently was used by heretics to bolster their understanding that the purpose of Christianity was to make men equal to God and the angels. By changing the name of the author to 'Clement' it essentially kills the argument of people like Florinus of Rome that the letter came from the hand of our stranger.  Yet there is another obvious reason why Irenaeus had to develop a separate figure named 'Clement of Rome.'   We just have to go back to the visit of his master 'Polycarp' to Rome in 153 CE. As we now this event was a turning point in the history of the Church.  Even Irenaeus has to acknowledge that it is the beginning of a long effort to get all the churches of the Empire under one roof as it were with regards to the celebration of Easter.   But what happened to Irenaeus's overriding claim that all the churches agreed on all points of doctrine owing to some miraculous preservation of 'the truth' owing to the faithfulness of all the disciple of Jesus?   Why didn't Polycarp agree with Anicetus with regards to the celebration of Easter?

As we noted earlier, Irenaeus tries to make this dispute seem to be less significant than it actually is.  As we noted from Taley's study of the original report, the reality of the situation must have been not how we should celebrate Easter but whether or not Easter should be continued to celebrated as the Jewish Passover.  This is hardly a triviality.  It opens the door to the question of whether or not those advocating the 'Quartodecimian' position (so called from the Vulgate Latin quarta decima in Leviticus 23:5, meaning fourteen i.e. those who celebrated Pasch beginning with the eve of the 14th day of Nisan) were really just advocating this one 'innovation' or in fact a form of Christianity more closely aligned to traditional Jewish observances.

Irenaeus is unfortunately usually taken to be our only source for what happened in Rome in the middle of the second century. Yet there are some other sources of information which we might consider in order to help make sense of matters. During the course of his discussion Taley points us in the direction of a document which might have come from Polycarp's hand or possibly one of his disciples noting "that the writer of Epistula Apostolorum 15 put on the lips of the apostles and to which they received the Lord's affirmative reply. That work, it will be remembered, was written in Asia Minor around the middle of the second century, although no firm dating is possible. The visit of the distinguished Asian bishop, Polycarp, to Anicetus was in 154. In the light of that coincidence, one might suppose that Epistula Apostolorum at that point adds its voice (and the authority of the risen Christ!) to the disagreement between the Roman and Asian bishops, however amicably Anicetus and Polycarp resolved their differences."

The idea that the Epistula Apostolorum might be connected with Polycarp is particularly attractive for other reasons too. When the text lists the disciples of Jesus, John appears in the place of Peter at the head of the twelve.  It is also worth noting that the gospel of John is usually understood to have made the Quartodeciman position possible as it (e.g., 19:14, 19:31, 19:42) implies that Nisan 14 was the day that Jesus was executed in Jerusalem.  The Synoptic Gospels place the execution on the first day of Unleavened Bread (Matthew 26:17), usually understood as Nisan 15 given a seven-day feast (Leviticus 23:6), leading to holdings of contradictory chronology.

The point here of course is that the Epistula represents a very different tradition of John than we are familiar with one with a very different 'gospel according to John' which - as we shall see momentarily - resembles a 'gospel harmony' rather than our familiar canonical text. For now it is enough to take note of a curious biographical detail related to the author of the Epistula which has always puzzled scholars studying it. The reason why members of the community associated with the Epistula venerate the 14th of Nisan as the date of Easter has as much to do with a figure who lived long after the death as Christ the circumstances of the Passion. For the Epistula makes Jesus announce to his disciples that one day:

when the Pascha cometh, one of you shall be cast into prison for my name's sake; and he will be in grief and sorrow, because ye keep the Pascha while he is in prison and separated from you, for he will be sorrowful because he keepeth not Pascha with you. And I will send my power in the form of mine angel Gabriel, and the doors of the prison shall open. And he shall come forth and come unto you and keep the night-watch with you until the cock crow. And when ye have accomplished the memorial which is made of me, and the Agape, he shall again be cast into prison for a testimony, until he shall come out thence and preach that which I have delivered unto you.

The scholarly consensus is that material "must not be read into Acts 12" because "there are both similarities and differences with the account of Peter's imprisonment and release." If the figure identified here is not to be identified with the head of the Roman Church Taley's connection of the material with Polycarp is pregnant with possibilities.

It seems very probable then that the author is referring to the imprisonment of someone long after Jesus and Peter that gave great notoriety to this figure. The veneration of the fourteenth of Nisan in this community's calendar has as much to do with this individual as it does the circumstances of Jesus's death. As such there is a very strong echo of something that we already read in Lucian's narrative about Peregrinus which is worth us repeating:

Then at length Proteus was apprehended for this and thrown into prison, which itself gave him no little reputation as an asset for his future career and the charlatanism and notoriety-seeking that he was enamoured of. Well, when he had been imprisoned, the Christians, regarding the incident as a calamity, left nothing undone in the effort to rescue him. Then, as this was impossible, every other form of attention was shown him, not in any casual way but with assiduity, and from the very break of day aged widows and orphan children could be seen waiting near the prison, while their officials even slept inside with him after bribing the guards. Then elaborate meals were brought in, and sacred books of theirs were read aloud, and excellent Peregrinus—for he still went by that name—was called by them 'the new Socrates.' Indeed, people came even from the cities in Asia, sent by the Christians at their common expense, to succour and defend and encourage the hero. They show incredible speed whenever any such public action is taken; for in no time they lavish their all. So it was then in the case of Peregrinus; much money came to him from them by reason of his imprisonment, and he procured not a little revenue from it.

Indeed scholars have always noticed that there is a 'strange' mix of Jewish and Christian terminology in Lucian's account of Peregrinus. The reason for this is that Peregrinus seems to have emerged, not from the Catholic Church that Irenaeus pretends already existed, but rather a Palestinian Jewish tradition that continued to maintain many features of traditional Jewish worship.

So it is that in the concluding words of this section in the Epistula emphasize that it is imperative that Christians continue to maintain at least some features of the traditional Jewish religion. When Jesus is asked by one of his disciples whether they should continue the Pasch he replies "Yea, it is needful, until the day when I come again, with them that have been put to death for my sake." Yet there is something else that comes out of research related to the Epistula Apostolorum. Taley notes that the traditional Jewish practice was to establish a fast before the fourteenth of Nisan. The Mishnah required a fast from all food from the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice that preceded the sacrifice of lambs for Passover. While this daily evening offering was normally completed around 3 PM, on the Preparation of the Passover the hour was advanced somewhat to allow more time for the slaughter and offering of the paschal lambs. The fast was not broken until nightfall, and only with the eating of the Passover.

Taley describes this modest Jewish ritual as "the germ of the Christian Pascal fast" and adds importantly that:

As the Christian Pascha emerged it would not, as memorial of Christ's death, share in the festivity of the Jews. Therefore, the Christian fast was extended through the hours of the rejoicing accompanying Passover, past the midnight conclusion of that festivity. Epistula Apostolorum and other texts show that this vigil, and presumably the fast was extended to cockcrow, the hour for the sacramental consummation of the vigil. The established Quartodeciman practice is generally regarded as having extended the fast through the day of 14 Nisan to cockcrow of 15 Nisan. The establishment of the dominical Pascha, however, would situate the preceding fast on the Sabbath, and both Jewish and Christian disciplines forbade fasting on the Sabbath under normal circumstances. Western, especially Roman tradition made occasional exceptions to this prohibition from as early as the third century. Tertullian in his Montanist period castigated these Sabbath fasts, insisting that fasting is never to be allowed on any other Sabbath than that of Pascha.

The point here clearly is that the conflict between Polycarp and Anicetus in 153 CE necessarily led to other ruminations. Even if Polycarp or his followers were to finally give into the Roman custom regarding the culmination of the celebration always occurring on a Sunday following the 14th of Nisan there would necessarily also have arisen a debate about whether or not it was permissible to fast on the Sabbath.

It is worth noting that the so-called 'Marcionite' sect is accused of deliberately engaging in Sabbath fasts in order to express their hatred of the Jewish god. This is very unlikely to have been the case and the original context of the statement had more to do with the very slowly developing 'agreement' over the proper manner to celebrate Easter.  To the end it is hard to get around Taley's suggestion that this document is connected with Polycarp. It seems to through additional light on the Lucian's original report about our stranger and his connection to the established texts of our Christian tradition. Before we go back to our discussion of Clement it might be worth bringing in another possible reference in the writings of the fifth century chronicler Socrates Scholasticus. In the course of discussing the history of the greater Church, Socrates develops a tangential discussion of the parallel 'Novatian' community where a Jew called Sabbatius (i.e. 'of the sabbath') gets into trouble with the head of that tradition named Marcian.

While Socrates places the story in the fourth century there are striking similarities with the Polycarp narrative that deserve our attention. Socrates might well have received a tradition he didn't understand from this ultimately foreign tradition and adapted it to the wrong age. Indeed the fact that Hippolytus, the student of Irenaeus is identified as the earliest 'Novatian' is very intriguing (Ihm, "Damasi epigrammata", Leipzig, 1895, 42, n.37). We should strongly suspect that the Novatians were not developed from a historical person named
'Novatus' or 'Novatian' (there is great variation in the spelling of his name). It was undoubtedly rather a Roman tradition disgusted with the early Popes (Zephyrinus, Callistus etc), who had gotten too close to the Severan Emperors. 'Novatian' should be understood as a description of the banner under which Hippolytus's 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 an Ebionite tradition being associated with a heretic named 'Ebion.' So when we look back to Socrates ultimately confused account of a narrative he didn't fully understand, he might have placed the incident in the wrong age. Socrates interestingly seems to have no idea when the historical Polycarp lived, identifying him as dying in the middle of the third century. Now we come upon a parallel story where a Jewish convert with the artificial name 'Sabbatius' makes his way to the capitol where a newly consecrated head of the tradition named Marcian was presiding.

The first thing we should see is that the head of the Alexandrian Church at the time of the stranger's visit to Rome was also Marcian. Lucian tells us that Peregrinus came to Rome only after spending a great deal of time in Egypt being initiated into an 'amazing askesis.' Upon his arrival in the capitol as we know a conflict arose from his differing interpretation of the celebration of Easter. So it is that in this bizarre story set now in the fourth century (rather than the second) Socrates tells us that after "Marcian accordingly having been constituted bishop of the Novatians, a division arose in their church also, from this cause. Marcian had promoted to the rank of presbyter a converted Jew named Sabbatius, who nevertheless continued to retain many of his Jewish prejudices; and moreover he was very ambitious of being made a bishop." An innovation was apparently made in Asia Minor - Pazum of Phrygia specifically - regarding the celebration of Easter which 'Sabbatius' secretly promoted.

Socrates goes on to tell us that he took disciples and developed a plan to publicly participate in the orthodox celebration of Easter while secretly maintain his 'innovation.' We hear accordingly that:

in the first place, under pretext of more ascetic austerity, he privately withdrew from the church, saying that 'he was grieved on account of certain persons whom he suspected of being unworthy of participation in the sacrament.’ It was however soon discovered that his object was to hold assemblies apart. When Marcian understood this, he bitterly censured his own error, in ordaining to the presbyterate persons so intent on vain-glory [emphasis mine]; and frequently said, ‘That it had been better for him to have laid his hands on thorns, than to have imposed them on Sabbatius.’

Later in the same narrative we are told that Marcian established some sort of 'synod' to examine Sabbatius and so after summoning him they:

desired him to explain the cause of his discontent. Upon his affirming that he was troubled about the disagreement that existed respecting the Feast of Easter, and that it ought to be kept according to the custom of the Jews, and agreeable to that sanction which those convened at Pazum had appointed, the bishops present at the Synod perceiving that this assertion was a mere subterfuge to disguise his desire after the episcopal chair, obliged him to pledge himself on oath that he would never accept a bishopric. When he had so sworn, they passed a canon respecting this feast, which they entitled 'indifferent,' declaring that a disagreement on such a point was not a sufficient reason for separation from the church; and that the council of Pazum had done nothing prejudicial to the catholic canon. That although the ancients who lived nearest to the times of the apostles differed about the observance of this festival, it did not prevent their communion with one another, nor create any dissension. Besides that the Novatians at imperial Rome had never followed the Jewish usage, but always kept Easter after the equinox; and yet they did not separate from those of their own faith, who celebrated it on a different day. From these and many such considerations, they made the 'Indifferent Canon,' above-mentioned, concerning Easter, whereby every one was at liberty to keep the custom which he had by predilection in this matter, if he so pleased; and that it should make no difference as regards communion, but even though celebrating differently they should be in accord in the church. After this rule had been thus established, Sabbatius being bound by his oath, anticipated the fast by keeping it in private, whenever any discrepancy existed in the time of the Paschal solemnity, and having watched all night, he celebrated the sabbath of the passover; then on the next day he went to church, and with the rest of the congregation partook of the sacraments. He pursued this course for many years, so that it could not be concealed from the people; in imitation of which some of the more ignorant, and chiefly the Phrygians and Galatians, supposing they should be justified by this conduct imitated him, and kept the passover in secret after his manner. But Sabbatius afterwards disregarding the oath by which he had renounced the episcopal dignity, held schismatic meetings, and was constituted bishop of his followers, as we shall show hereafter

It is impossible in my mind not to see the resemblance of this story to what we have received through Irenaeus about parallel events more than two centuries earlier. The question which must be asked is whether it is at all possible that history could have again repeated itself with such uncanny similarity?

Indeed Socrates himself can't help notice the parallels with Irenaeus's description of the visit of Polycarp to Rome in the second century. This becomes clear when we examine the section following what we just cited he alludes to another canon of indifference in the second century which demonstrates that:

the observance originated not by legislation, but as a custom the facts themselves indicate. In Asia Minor most people kept the fourteenth day of the moon, disregarding the sabbath: yet they never separated from those who did otherwise, until Victor, bishop of Rome, influenced by too ardent a zeal, fulminated a sentence of excommunication against the Quartodecimans in Asia. Wherefore also Irenæus, bishop of Lyons in France, severely censured Victor by letter for his immoderate heat; telling him that although the ancients differed in their celebration of Easter, they did not desist from intercommunion. Also that Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who afterwards suffered martyrdom under Gordian, continued to communicate with Anicetus bishop of Rome, although he himself, according to the usage of his native Smyrna, kept Easter on the fourteenth day of the moon, as Eusebius attests in the fifth book of his Ecclesiastical History.  While therefore some in Asia Minor observed the day above-mentioned, others in the East kept that feast on the sabbath indeed, but differed as regards the month. The former thought the Jews should be followed, though they were not exact: the latter kept Easter after the equinox, refusing to celebrate with the Jews

If the story in Socrates is acknowledged to have been a misplaced account of the original events in Rome in the year 153, it should be obvious how Irenaeus glossed over the story of the original agreement between Polycarp and Anicetus.

When Irenaeus writes that the two men 'agreed to disagree' but that "in this state of affairs they held fellowship with each other; and Anicetus conceded to Polycarp in the Church the celebration of the Eucharist, by way of showing him respect; so that they parted in peace one from the other" he is really only recasting the situation reported in Socrates as "he ['Sabbatius'] celebrated the sabbath of the passover and then on the next day he went to church, and with the rest of the congregation partook of the sacraments." In other words, the reason Polycarp is called mockingly called 'Sabbatius' is because it wasn't just the veneration of the fourteenth of Nisan which his community retained. They also kept the seventh day as the 'Jewish Sabbath' - i.e. not only a day of rest but a day for which it was inappropriate to fast. That Polycarp so venerated the Sabbath is demonstrated in the Martyrdom tradition with his desire to die on a 'Great Sabbath.'

As such it is very tempting to use the misunderstood narrative in Socrates's chronicle as a Novatian remembrance of the events of 153 CE. Indeed Socrates interestingly also notes again that Sabbatius apparently used a variant gospel as we read a little later that:

Holding schismatic assemblies "Reading one day at one of these meetings that passage in the Gospel where it is said, ‘Now it was the Feast of the Jews called the Passover,’ he added what was never written nor heard of before: ‘Cursed be he that celebrates the Passover out of the days of unleavened bread.’ When these words were reported among the people, the more simple of the Novatian laity, deceived by this artifice, flocked to him.

The narrative concludes with the idea that 'Sabbatius' eventually established his own Church with his own bishops which drew many members from the tradition associated with Marcian. Irenaeus interestingly also reports that his Polycarp "coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics [i.e. those associated with 'Marcion'] to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles,--that, namely, which is handed down by the Church."

Of course it can't be denied that the original account in Socrates purports to deal with events in the fourth century and with regards to events with in the 'Novatian' church rather than the Catholic tradition. Yet as we asked before - could the Quartodecimian controversies of the second century really have played out a second time in the fourth century when Constantine had already established the rules regarding the Easter service in 325 CE? It seems highly unlikely and thus we may assume that the story about Sabbatius was wrongly assigned to the wrong period owing to an error on the part of Socrates. To this end, whether it is taken as a 'eternal repetition' of controversies within the Church or indeed as we suggest - a misunderstood Novatian report about the controversies of 153 CE - it would seem that Irenaeus had very good reason to establish a figure like 'Clement of Rome' as a means of glossing over the underlying 'strangeness' of Polycarp's Johannine tradition in the context of second century Roman Christianity.

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