Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Against Polycarp [Part Twenty Five]

So what are we now suggesting with all of our research into the influence of the hypomnemata over the reporting of 'history' in the second century?  'Marcion' is certainly a wholly mythical figure.  This doesn't mean that there wasn't a tradition of 'Marcionites.'  Rather the name 'Marcion' seems to have been developed by back formation from an original Aramaic term in the hypomnemata which applied to a woman - viz. Marcellina.

It is difficult to ignore the importance of the hypomnemata for it is the one historical witness to the period we are examining and only a certain 'Marcellina' is mentioned in its pages.  Indeed we should follow William Smith's lead when connecting all the dots here - "Jerome states (Ep. 130, ad Ctes. vol. L p. 102) that Marcion sent on a female disciple before to Rome, to prepare the way for him, but he is not supported in this by any other authority. Possibly Jerome was thinking of Marcellina." Schaff also offers up the same scenario. Yet we would go one step further and say that once you realize that the hypomnemata only mentions Marcellina is the idea that Marcion is a made up figure or at best a misunderstanding which arose from an improper reading of the original text.

Yet the situation here is a little more complicated than merely suggesting that 'those of little Marcia' were confused for 'those of Marcion.'  It is difficult not to see that the overarching idea that caused the confusion is the existence of a heretical tradition associated with the apostle Mark associated with both.  The Philosophumena goes out of its way to deny any connection between Mark and the Marcionites.  In the case of Marcellina it was clearly her traditions roots in Alexandria that is the source of the error.

So when Celsus makes reference to the original reference - undoubtedly in Aramaic - to the 'Harpocratians of Salome' this eventually becomes garbled in later accounts of the tradition to the 'Carpocratians.'  The underlying sect however was clearly originally in quite similar terminology with what gets passed on to 'those of Mark' as we read the two descriptions placed back to backt:

'those of Marcus' - Marcus compounds philters and love-potions, in order to insult the persons of some of these women, if not of all, those of them who have returned to the Church of God--a thing which frequently occurs--have acknowledged, confessing, too, that they have been defiled by him, and that they were filled with a burning passion towards him  A sad example of this occurred in the case of a certain Asiatic, one of our deacons, who had received him into his house. His wife, a woman of remarkable beauty, fell a victim both in mind and body to this magician, and, for a long time, travelled about with him. At last, when, with no small difficulty, the brethren had converted her, she spent her whole time in the exercise of public confession, weeping over and lamenting the defilement which she had received from this magician.  Some of his disciples, too, addicting themselves to the same practices, have deceived many silly women, and defiled them. They proclaim themselves as being "perfect," so that no one can be compared to them with respect to the immensity of their knowledge, nor even were you to mention Paul or Peter, or any other of the apostles.  [AH 1.13.5,6]

'those of Marcellina' - The soul, therefore, which is like that of Christ can despise those rulers who were the creators of the world, and, in like manner, receives power for accomplishing the same results. This idea has raised them to such a pitch of pride, that some of them declare themselves similar to Jesus; while others, still more mighty, maintain that they are superior to his disciples, such as Peter and Paul, and the rest of the apostles, whom they consider to be in no respect inferior to Jesus. For their souls, descending from the same sphere as his, and therefore despising in like manner the creators of the world, are deemed worthy of the same power, and again depart to the same place. But if any one shall have despised the things in this world more than he did, he thus proves himself superior to him.  They practise also magical arts and incantations; philters, also, and love-potions; and have recourse to familiar spirits, dream-sending demons, and other abominations, declaring that they possess power to rule over, even now, the princes and formers of this world; and not only them, but also all things that are in it. These men, even as the Gentiles, have been sent forth by Satan to bring dishonour upon the Church, so that, in one way or another, men hearing the things which they speak, and imagining that we all are such as they, may turn away their ears from the preaching of the truth; or, again, seeing the things they practise, may speak evil of us all, who have in fact no fellowship with them, either in doctrine or in morals, or in our daily conduct. But they lead a licentious life, and, to conceal their impious doctrines, they abuse the name, as a means of hiding their wickedness; so that "their condemnation is just," when they receive from God a recompense suited to their works.[AH i.25.2,3]

It is simply absurd to think that there were two unrelated sects who end up being described in these unflattering terms. Indeed when we go back to the part of Irenaeus's narrative that is almost universally described as coming from the hypomnemata there is this very same context, namely a defense of the authority of 'Peter and Paul' in Rome against 'gnostics.'

The one piece in the puzzle that doesn't quite fit is the fact that the text of Irenaeus in AH 3.3.2 now identifies 'Marcion' and the 'Marcionites' as the enemies who Polycarp, the author of the hypomnemata railed against.  We would have expected Marcellina or those of Marcellina.  We can be certain that the hypomnemata never witnessed the existence of any Marcionites and moreover outside of this passage Irenaeus doesn't seem to take much interest in a sect of this name.  There is a way however that the original hypomnemata reading of 'those of Marcellina' can be finally be reconciled with the presence of Marcion in AH 3.3.2.  All we need to do is to take up the suggestion of Harvey - the editor of the only critical edition of Irenaeus's text - that Irenaeus's native tongue was Aramaic.  If we take that argument one step further and argue that Irenaeus wrote in Syriac or Aramaic we can argue that one of many errors in translating the original Aramaic material has occurred here in Book Three.

Let us look one last time at the same passage we have determined reflects knowledge of the original hypomnenata:

Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre- eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere ... But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time,--a man who was of much greater weight, and a more stedfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics 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 ... And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, "Dost thou recognize us?" "I do know the first-born of Satan."

What has struck almost anyone who read this description is why Irenaeus records the question in the plural if it is 'Marcion' who directs a question to Polycarp.  Why is recorded that Marcion says 'do you recognize us?' (cognoscis nos/epiginoskeis hemas?) when he meets Polycarp in Rome?

Is Μαρκίωνί/Marcioni here the singular diminutive of the name Mark or a mistranslation of an Aramaic collective gentilic plural marqioni (pronounced 'marqione' = 'those of Mark/Marcus'). The latter explanation would help explain the plural form in the question and would presumably reflect the presence of the Marcosians in Rome at the time.  Critical to this understanding is the fact that Irenaeus makes specific reference to Polycarp making reference to the head of the 'Marcosians' as a child of Satan:

With good reason, therefore, and very fittingly, in reference to thy rash attempt, has that divine elder and preacher of the truth burst forth in verse against thee as follows:"Marcus, thou former of idols, inspector of portents, Skill'd in consulting the stars, and deep in the black arts of magic, Ever by tricks such as these confirming the doctrines of error, Furnishing signs unto those involved by thee in deception, Wonders of power that is utterly severed from God and apostate, Which Satan, thy true father, enables thee still to accomplish, By means of Azazel, that fallen and yet mighty angel,-- Thus making thee the precursor of his own impious actions." Such are the words of the saintly elder. And I shall endeavour to state the remainder of their mystical system, which runs out to great length, in brief compass, and to bring to the light what has for a long time been concealed. For in this way such things will become easily susceptible of exposure by all. [AH 1.15.6]

It is difficult to decide whether Irenaeus is citing Polycarp against the head of a sect of 'those of Mark' or 'those of Marcion.'  Yet the context - i.e. the reference to the hypomnemata make clear it is neither.  The original context is actually 'those of little Marcia' or 'Marcellina' a figure later incorporated as the first Marcionite witness in Rome.

Harvey alludes to numerous other interpretations of the strange 'do you recognize us?' question.  "Valesius in his notes on the passage in Eusebius considers the word to have been used in the sense of fraternal recognition; as the deacon, in celebration of the eucharist in the discharge of his office, said to those approaching the Lord's table. Chrysostom also interprets the word 1 Cor 16:18 as implying friendly regard. Grabe considers this interpretation to be inconsistent with the Apostle's reply."  Indeed there are various 'corrections' of the original text which read 'epiginoske me/cognosce me?' (Clerm. edition, the earlier Edd. of Eusebius, Ruffinus, Nicephorus).. Yet Harvey rightly thinks the plural form is the original. It is attested in the Martyrdom of Polycarp, Jerome and most other sources. Polycarp's response is equally strange leaving out the 'you' which is added to most translations - 'epiginosko ton prototokon tou Satana' i.e. 'I recognize the firstborn of Satan.'

The immediate context of the passage tends to argue also for a group of heretics rather than an individual "He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics 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."  In short, the Aramaic source Irenaeus was citing - perhaps in a Syriac narrative of his own - speaks of a collective body addressing Polycarp to 'recognize' them.  He says he refuses based on his recognition that they were the 'firstborn of Satan.'  The context is clearly that rather than being the true 'firstborn of Israel' they as a collective body were the first born of Satan.  There never was an original reference to 'Marcion' here or anywhere in the writings of Irenaeus.

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

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.