Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Common Marcionite and Alexandrian Interpretation of 1 Corinthians Chapter 2

Scholars are a brilliant bunch sometimes.  My question is clearly - do the best and brightest really end up in the study of the New Testament and Patristic literature?  Even if you have the ability tob translate a passage from Coptic or some obscure language into English does that make you necessarily the best person to understand that same text?  I don't want to go too far down that road (because I start sounding like the fox in the fable about sour grapes) but the point is clearly that I take issue with the way many scholars synthesize the material they study.  Here is just one example.

Why is Origen always presented as some sort of 'visionary' who came up with all these imaginative interpretations of the Bible?  Why don't we treat him as a representative of a pre-existent Alexandrian exegesis?  We know that he studied under Clement (although Origen never mentions his master by name).  We also know that the latter day Popes until Arius were all so-called 'Origenists' and 'Origenism' continued to pervade Alexandrian thought into the fifth century.  Why isn't 'Origenism' simply identified as a Origen's 'spin' on the Alexandrian Christian tradition?

Whatever the case may be we know Origen was put on the payroll of a prominent, rich (and repentant) heretic named Ambrose.  Ambrose's heresy is alternatively identified as Valentinian by Eusebius and Marcionite (twice) by Jerome.  Nautin argued that Eusebius's report is the more correct basing most of his argument owing to a small section which survives of Book Five as preserved in the Philocalia.  However I would like to start our present analysis by citing from the whole section and arguing that the evidence suggests instead a Marcionite context for Ambrosius.  All the reader has to be aware is that Ambrosius commissioned Origen to write a Commentary on John and the following words are addressed to Origen's 'taskmaster':

I will add to the proof of this an apostolic saying which has been quite misunderstood by the disciples of Marcion, who, therefore, set the Gospels at naught. The Apostle says: “According to my Gospel in Christ Jesus;” he does not speak of Gospels in the plural, and, hence, they argue that as the Apostle only speaks of one Gospel in the singular, there was only one in existence. But they fail to see that, as He is one of whom all the evangelists write, so the Gospel, though written by several hands, is, in effect, one. And, in fact, the Gospel, though written by four, is one. From these considerations, then, we learn what the one book is, and what the many books, and what I am now concerned about is, not the quantity I may write, but the effect of what I say, lest, if I fail in this point, and set forth anything against the truth itself, even in one of my writings, I should prove to have transgressed the commandment, and to be a writer of “many books.” Yet I see the heterodox assailing the holy Church of God in these days, under the pretence of higher wisdom, and bringing forward works in many volumes in which they offer expositions of the evangelical and apostolic writings, and I fear that if I should be silent and should not put before our members the saving and true doctrines, these teachers might get a hold of curious souls, which, in the absence of wholesome nourishment, might go after food that is forbidden, and, in fact, unclean and horrible. It appears to me, therefore, to be necessary that one who is able to represent in a genuine manner the doctrine of the Church, and to refute those dealers in knowledge, falsely so-called, should take his stand against historical fictions, and oppose to them the true and lofty evangelical message in which the agreement of the doctrines, found both in the so-called Old Testament and in the so-called New, appears so plainly and fully. You yourself felt at one time the lack of good representatives of the better cause, and were impatient of a faith which was at issue with reason and absurd, and you then, for the love you bore to the Lord, gave yourself to composition from which, however, in the exercise of the judgment with which you are endowed, you afterwards desisted. This is the defence which I think admits of being made for those who have the faculty of speaking and writing. But I am also pleading my own cause, as I now devote myself with what boldness I may to the work of exposition; for it may be that I am not endowed with that habit and disposition which he ought to have who is fitted by God to be a minister of the New Covenant, not of the letter but of the spirit.

While it is true that the section which immediately precedes the highlighted material can be interpreted to be rather generic, it cannot be ignored that it starts with yet another reference to Romans 2:16 - i.e. "according to my gospel."  Indeed this time the specific Marcionite interpretation is referenced.  It is explicit here alongside explicit referencing of Ambrosius's 'former' beliefs.  In my opinion all of this cannot be regarded as coincidental.  Origen, as Nautin argues, is indeed providing us with some crucial context for why the work was attempted in the first place.

We have already referenced that it has been noted in the literature that Origen cites verses from 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16 more than fifty times.  Now we have to add that the single statement in Romans 2.16 is also repeatedly referenced in the work.  I would argue that these two facts are related.  Origen's point in citing the material in Corinthians is clearly to explain Ambrosius's identification of another gospel as the 'more spiritual gospel' written after the apostle formerly declared a simple faith of Jesus crucified.  It cannot be ignored that even in the Catholic paradigm John is presented as a gospel written 'later' after the other texts were established in the apsotolic age.  As such one could make the case that John is being argued to be 'similar' to or a replacement for the Marcionite interest in Secret Mark as Paul's 'secret wisdom' written for the perfect. 

This isn't as crazy as it seems.  We already noted that Origen when treating Rom 2.16 in a former section does not deny that Paul might have established a written gospel.  He merely says that it is not customary (συνεθίζω) to acknowledge this.  In other words, it could have been held as a secret belief of a particular community.  Now Origen makes explicit reference to the Marcionite interpretation of the same passage - the Apostle did indeed write a gospel.  This knowledge was clearly kept from other Christians. 

I will add to the proof of this an apostolic saying which has been quite misunderstood by the disciples of Marcion, who, therefore, set the Gospels at naught. The Apostle says: “According to my Gospel in Christ Jesus;” he does not speak of Gospels in the plural, and, hence, they argue that as the Apostle only speaks of one Gospel in the singular, there was only one in existence.

It is important to note what Origen does not say.  He does not say that the Marcionites are in error for holding that the Apostle wrote a gospel.  Rather there error is in arguing that only one gospel was in existence.

Origen's use of language is very specific.  One can't even determine whether he means that the many gospels pertains to the Apostle's gospel writing efforts (i.e. that he wrote more than one gospel) or their refusal to accept other gospels (a point developed by Irenaeus earlier).  The point however is that it is impossible to see that the Marcionites and the Alexandrians interpretation 1 Cor 2.1 - 7 as a reference to a gospel writing effort on the part of the apostle.  This is very critical and I would argue provides the ultimate proof for the Mar Saba document's authenticity.  Morton Smith never realized or connectred Clement's reference to a 'public' and 'secret' gospel to the Marcionite interpretation of the Apostolikon.  Now that we see it, it is impossible to ignore the uncanny resemblance between Origen's exegesis of the material in his Commentary on John. 

I have even found references in this work to Origen's connection of the Gospel of Mark as the gospel employed by the Apostle called 'Paul' among the Catholics.  I would suggest that this is supported by a number of references found in the anti-Marcionite writings of the Church Fathers - i.e. that the Marcionites used a variant (and fuller) version of Mark as the gospel of their community alongside the Apostolkon (the so-called 'letters of Paul').  This was their original New Testament.  Among those letters was even one that was called 'to the Alexandrians.'  The only difference between them and us was that they argued that the Gospel and the Apostolikon were written by the same person.  In other words, there can be no doubt that the Marcionite apostle was responsible for the literary production of their canon.  As such that leaves us with one of two possibilities - either someone named 'Paul' wrote the gospel or 'Mark' wrote the letters we attribute to someone named 'Paul.' 

I would argue that the name 'Paul' is a deliberate Catholic distraction.  It might have been a title originally employed by the Marcionites for Mark.  The reason for this is obvious - even the Catholic tradition does not hold that 'Paul' was the apostle's original name.  It was an appelation he picked up later after undergoing baptism.  To this end the question comes down to whether 'Saul' was really his original name.  The fact that (a) the Marcionites rejected Acts as spurious, (b) that they are never identified as identifying him as 'Saul,' (c) that they are even intimated as rejecting this notion, (d) argue for the Gospel of Mark being written by their apostle and (e) happen to be identified by a group identification (i.e. the Marcionites) which can be argued to derive from the Latin name Marcus either in Greek or Aramaic makes the second case more likely. 

The Marcionites identified the apostle as being named 'Mark' and it is only our indoctrination in Catholic beliefs that makes the name 'Paul' seem more natural.  Indeed when one considers the structure of the Marcionite canon - i.e. a longer and fuller gospel of Mark followed by a series of letters, one of which was directed to the Alexandrians, the idea seems hard to ignore.  It would also happen to explain the underlying connection between the Letter to Theodore and Origen's almost fifty references to 1 Cor 2.1 - 7 in the Commentary on John.

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