Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Polycarp Was Cockless

As many readers of this forum know I have always thought that Christianity only makes sense as a eunuch cult. The attire of the orthodox priesthood was taken over from the eunuch priests of Artemis. The Catholic priesthood clearly developed from a tradition which embraced castration (probably the Marcionites). There is the example of Origen which is now taken as some sort of historical aberration. 

The reality is that I was doing some research to complete my new book on Polycarp (which is basically a reworking of something I sent to Robert Price and David Trobisch over ten years ago) and I was going through the contents of the Life of Polycarp I kept noticing the manner in which Pionius stresses Polycarp's aversion to women and marriage. All of this made me think that Polycarp might indeed have been a eunuch. 

There is a long discussion about virginity (παρθενίαν) where Polycarp apparently distinguished between three types of chastity. The first two types are fairly general descriptions of the chaste state, the kind of stuff we are used to. But what is described as the third and best type can only make us believe that Polycarp was himself a eunuch. We read:

But the third kind which practises a chastity victorious in every feat----what superiority has it not over the others! What desirable and laudable honour does not belong to the kind of continence and virginity, which shakes off and (so to speak) casts away all the shackles of the lower life, and with light bound and agile step outruns and overleaps the feats already described! For it evinces greater determination in the person who adopts it, than the being content with one alone or the desisting after experience, and it proclaims superior power in God who bestowed it. For that it is voluntary on the part of the man who so chooses, and that it is a gift of God whose is the power, our Saviour showed when He said that men made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake, and that all men could not receive this word. [Life of Polycarp 14]

Now I know what the response to this discovery will be from my detractors (at least the reasonable ones) - Pionius is a late unreliable source. But I think that this discovery withstands that criticism because there are certain features in the Letter to the Philippians for instance which supports the general idea of an affinity between Polycarp and Marcionitism despite stories of his hatred for the sect. 

This is often the reality of 'real life.' The existence of a conflict between an individual and the tradition which reared him doesn't necessarily argue against an underlying similarity or affinity between the rebel and the thing he rebels against. Sometimes these conflicts are personality driven. We just don't know. 

The reality is that I am quite confident given all the things said in the Life of Polycarp and all the things UNSAID by Irenaeus about his master Polycarp that Pionius is indeed giving an accurate description of Polycarp's support of ritual castration. I think we can safely put the name Polycarp in our list of ancient Church Fathers that were eunuchs. Indeed the important legendary reference to the flames of the pyre at Polycarp's martyrdom not affecting his flesh is clearly borrowed from the martyrdom account of the eunuch prophet Daniel. The idea that eunuchs were impervious to flames is also recycled as we noted in the story about Pope Demetrius of Alexandria in Severus of Al'Ashmunein's History of the Coptic Patriarchs. Demetrius is explicitly identified as a eunuch in that text. 

So our list of eunuchs now looks like this:

1. Jesus (Tertullian Monogamy 5. 6)
2. St. Mark (Philosophumena, VII, xxx) finger = figurative reference to the male member in all ancient languages
3. St. Paul (Tertullian Monogamy 3)
4. St John (Tertullian Monogamy 17 ‘spado’; Jerome vol. vii. p. 655 ‘eunuchus’; cf. Leucius Acts of John) 
5. All the disciples except Peter (De Monogamia 8.4)
6. 'Marcion' and the Marcionite priesthood - (Tert Against Marcion 1.1; 1:29; 4. 11; 4.17; Origen Commentary on Matthew 15.3)
7. the Egyptian contemporaries of the unnamed Alexandrian in Justin's report (Justin I Apol. 29) 
8. Polycarp (Life of Polycarp 14)
9. Valentinus (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata iii.13-14) and presumably many Valentinians
10. Basilides and the Basilidians (Strom. iii. 508 ff.) 
11. Athenagoras of Alexandria who calls the unmarried state eunouchía, and the unmarried man eunuoûchos (Suppl. 33-34) 
12. Julius Cassianus (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata iii.13-14)
13. Montanus (Jerome Epist. 41.4)
14. Hyacinthus the Christian teacher of Marcia the concubine of the Emperor Commodus (Philosophumena 5.7) 
15. Marcus Aurelius Prosenes from procurator of the wine-cellar under Commodus to chief chamberlain of Septimius Severus. 
16. Carpophorus identified as "from the household of the Emperor" (Hipp. Ref. 9.12) 
17. Pope Demetrius of Alexandria 
18. Origen of Alexandria 
19. Proculus Toracion Christian who healed Septimius Severus and stayed on his household until his death. 
20. The eunuchs of the court of the Emperor Diocletian 

It is also VERY tempting to begin to suspect that Irenaeus was a eunuch. There are two telling pieces of information (a) his loyalty and devotion to Polycarp must have been confirmed by his following the path of ritual castration and (b) that Irenaeus infers that he and his fellow Christians sat in the court of Commodus (AH iv.30) implies like many of the others just listed in this category that he was likely a eunuch too. I need one more piece of information to confirm Irenaeus but I thought it was worth sharing with everyone.

Email stephan.h.huller@gmail.com with comments or questions.

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