Friday, October 29, 2010

Origen Knew About the Existence of an Alexandrian 'Secret Gospel'

Now that all the utterly contrived arguments against the authenticity of the so-called Mar Saba document (the letter of Clement written in an eighteenth century handwriting discovered by Morton Smith in 1958) have fallen away, all that the proponents of the 'hoax hypothesis' can do is claim that its distinction between a public and secret gospel of Mark is wholly unprecedented in Patristic literature.  Even the most zealous supporter of the authenticity have a difficult time with this argument.  How do you prove that an idea which seems to contradict all our inherited notions about the canon was really held by a pseudo-Church Father like Clement of Alexandria?

Of course the answer was there from the beginning.  It was very much like that saying of Jesus from the agrapha - "I have often desired to hear it, and I had no one who could utter it."  All that was required was for someone to think outside of the box, to ask the right questions.  The entire early Alexandrian tradition always seems strangely connected with heretical traditions associated with someone named Mark.  Philip Schaff and others noted that Clement of Alexandria frequently witnesses arguments and lines of reasoning identified with the 'those of Mark' (Marcosian) sect from Irenaeus AH 1.13 - 21.  Followers of Origen were classified as heretics soon after his death and many of his ideas (and his patron Ambrose) are explicitly identified as Marcionites.  Could the original Markan tradition of Alexandria have been covertly outlawed (cf AH 3.2.1) without anyone explicitly referencing the apostle by name?

I have discovered something quite startling in recent days.  If you suppose, just for arguments sake, that the general affiliation of the Alexandrian tradition with 'those of Mark' (Aram. marqiyoni) never entirely left the Church but was only buried 'beneath the surface' then the Letter to Theodore suddenly seems to be providing some context for a number of puzzling Pauline passages including 1 Cor 2.1 - 8 and 2 Cor 4.3 - 6.  After all these texts make reference to a 'secret' gospel for 'the perfect' and a 'veiled' gospel that the apostle himself wrote by his own hand.   Our Catholic tradition attempts to divert our eyes from passages where the apostle references his own gospel writing efforts (viz. 'my gospel' etc.) but there was never any other explanation for these curious passages other than a handful of fragmentary references to the Marcionites which never quite added up to a full explanation.

But the Letter to Theodore changes all that.  Clement is forced to reference some great secret that his community has maintained aboutthe original gospel in spite of persecutions and hardship.  Clement tells an otherwise unknown 'Theodore' that there were in reality two gospels of Mark - one 'public' and one 'secret' - the latter being zealously guarded by the Church of Alexandria:

As for Mark, then, during Peter’s stay in Rome he wrote an account of the Lord’s doings, not, however, declaring all of them, nor yet hinting at the mystic ones, but selecting what he thought most useful for increasing the faith of those who were being instructed. But when Peter died a martyr, Mark came over to Alexandria, bringing both his own notes and those of Peter, from which he transferred to his former book the things suitable to those studies which make for progress toward knowledge. Thus he composed a more spiritual gospel Gospel for the use of those who were being perfected. [To Theodore 1.15 - 18]

The revelation which came to me yesterday while eating a meatball sandwich was that the apostle of the Marcionite community outlines the exact same understanding of a 'public' and 'private' gospel in one of his letters - only scholars have never recognized it as such because they have always assumed that Paul never possessed a written gospel text.  They have taken the Catholic claims about the fourfold division of the gospel (and the Gospel of Luke being the 'Gospel of Paul) entirely at face value. 

Yet I realized while eating the meatball sandwich the other day - eating and reading Irenaeus's Against Heresies Book Three I should stress - that Origen, Clement's successor in Alexandria, always interprets 1 Cor 2.1 - 7 as if it related to written gospel tetxs.  All we have to do is look again at the original text and substitute the word 'gospel' for 'wisdom' in our imaginations:

When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified ... My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on the wisdom of man, but on God's power.  Yet we do speak a wisdom among the perfect, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. [1 Cor 2.1-7]

There are two dispensations being referenced here by the apostle - viz. what was written the first time he came to them, where his message and preaching were rudimentary and then 'something else' which is for 'the perfect.' 

I already demonstrated one passage from Origen in my last post which shows that he references Alexandrian 'mysteries' associated 'those being perfected' through a 'secret gospel.'  I now want to take special care to show that Origen always interprets the word 'wisdom' in this section as meaning 'written gospel.'  I will cite example after example to prove this starting with a section in the Commentary on John where Origen identifies the gospel with Jesus himself.   It is worth noting that in the Commentary on John, Origen cites verses from 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16 more than fifty times.  I will highlight the citations from the pertinent parts of 1 Corinthians in red:

He [the apostle] writes in a certain place: “According to my Gospel.” Now we have no written work of Paul which is commonly called a Gospel. But all that he preached and said was the Gospel; and what he preached and said he was also in the habit of writing, and what he wrote was therefore Gospel. But if what Paul wrote was Gospel, it follows that what Peter wrote was also Gospel, and in a word all that was said or written to perpetuate the knowledge of Christ's sojourn on earth, and to prepare for His second coming, or to bring it about as a present reality in those souls which were willing to receive the Word of God as He stood at the door and knocked and sought to come into them.

But it is time we should inquire what is the meaning of the designation “Gospel,” and why these books have this title. Now the Gospel is a discourse containing a promise of things which naturally, and on account of the benefits they bring, rejoice the hearer as soon as the promise is heard and believed. Nor is such a discourse any the less a Gospel that we define it with reference to the position of the hearer. A Gospel is either a word which implies the actual presence to the believer of something that is good, or a word promising the arrival of a good which is expected. Now all these definitions apply to those books which are named Gospels. For each of the Gospels is a collection of announcements which are useful to him who believes them and does not misinterpret them; it brings him a benefit and naturally makes him glad because it tells of the sojourn with men, on account of men, and for their salvation, of the first-born of all creation, Christ Jesus. And again each Gospel tells of the sojourn of the good Father in the Son with those minded to receive Him, as is plain to every believer; and moreover by these books a good is announced which had been formerly expected, as is by no means hard to see.

... Now an objection might be raised to our first definition, because it would embrace books which are not entitled Gospels. For the law and the prophets also are to our eyes books containing the promise of things which, from the benefit they will confer on him, naturally rejoice the hearer as soon as he takes in the message. To this it may be said that before the sojourn of Christ, the law and the prophets, since He had not come who interpreted the mysteries they contained, did not convey such a promise as belongs to our definition of the Gospel; but the Saviour, when He sojourned with men and caused the Gospel to appear in bodily form, by the Gospel caused all things to appear as Gospel. Here I would not think it beside the purpose to quote the example of Him who...[lacuna in text]...and yet all. For when he had taken away the veil which was present in the law and the prophets, and by His divinity had proved the sons of men that the Godhead was at work, He opened the way for all those who desired it to be disciples of His wisdom, and to understand what things were true and real in the law of Moses, of which things those of old worshipped the type and the shadow, and what things were real of the things narrated in the histories which “happened to them in the way of type,” but these things “were written for our sakes, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” With whomsoever, then, Christ has sojourned, he worships God neither at Jerusalem nor on the mountain of the Samaritans; he knows that God is a spirit, and worships Him spiritually, in spirit and in truth; no longer by type does he worship the Father and Maker of all. Before that Gospel, therefore, which came into being by the sojourning of Christ, none of the older works was a Gospel. But the Gospel, which is the new covenant, having delivered us from the oldness of the letter, lights up for us, by the light of knowledge, the newness of the spirit, a thing which never grows old, which has its home in the New Testament, but is also present in all the Scriptures. It was fitting, therefore, that that Gospel, which enables us to find the Gospel present, even in the Old Testament, should itself receive, in a special sense, the name of Gospel.

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 fullness 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 fullness 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. What John calls the eternal Gospel, and what may properly be called the spiritual Gospel, presents clearly to those who have the will to understand, all matters concerning the very Son of God, both the mysteries presented by His discourses and those matters of which His acts were the enigmas. In accordance with this we may conclude that, as it is with Him who is a Jew outwardly and circumcised in the flesh, so it is with the Christian and with baptism. Paul and Peter were, at an earlier period, Jews outwardly and circumcised, but later they received from Christ that they should be so in secret, too; so that outwardly they were Jews for the sake of the salvation of many, and by an economy they not only confessed in words that they were Jews, but showed it by their actions. And the same is to be said about their Christianity. As Paul could not benefit those who were Jews according to the flesh, without, when reason shows it to be necessary, circumcising Timothy, and when it appears the natural course getting himself shaved and making a vow, and, in a word, being to the Jews a Jew that he might gain the Jews— so also it is not possible for one who is responsible for the good of many to operate as he should by means of that Christianity only which is in secret. That will never enable him to improve those who are following the external Christianity, or to lead them on to better and higher things. We must, therefore, be Christians both somatically and spiritually, and where there is a call for the somatic Gospel, in which a man says to those who are carnal that he knows nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, so we must do. But should we find those who are perfected in the spirit, and bear fruit in it, and are enamoured of the heavenly wisdom, these must be made to partake of that Word which, after it was made flesh, rose again to what it was in the beginning, with God.

The foregoing inquiry into the nature of the Gospel cannot be regarded as useless; it has enabled us to see what distinction there is between a sensible Gospel and an intellectual and spiritual one. What we have now to do is to transform the sensible Gospel into a spiritual one.

For what would the narrative of the sensible Gospel amount to if it were not developed to a spiritual one? It would be of little account or none; any one can read it and assure himself of the facts it tells— no more. But our whole energy is now to be directed to the effort to penetrate to the deep things of the meaning of the Gospel and to search out the truth that is in it when divested of types. Now what the Gospels say is to be regarded in the light of promises of good things; and we must say that the good things the Apostles announce in this Gospel are simply Jesus. One good thing which they are said to announce is the resurrection; but the resurrection is in a manner Jesus, for Jesus says: “I am the resurrection.” Jesus preaches to the poor those things which are laid up for the saints, calling them to the divine promises. And the holy Scriptures bear witness to the Gospel announcements made by the Apostles and to that made by our Saviour. David says of the Apostles, perhaps also of the evangelists: “The Lord shall give the word to those that preach with great power; the King of the powers of the beloved;” teaching at the same time that it is not skilfully composed discourse, nor the mode of delivery, nor well practised eloquence that produces conviction, but the communication of divine power. Hence also Paul says: “I will know not the word that is puffed up, but the power; for the kingdom of God is not in word but in power.” And in another passage: “And my word and my preaching were not persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit and of power.” To this power Simon and Cleophas bear witness when they say: “Was not our heart burning within us by the way, as he opened to us the Scriptures?” And the Apostles, since the quantity of the power is great which God supplies to the speakers, had great power, according to the word of David: “The Lord will give the word to the preachers with great power.” Isaiah too says: “How beautiful are the feet of them that proclaim good tidings;” he sees how beautiful and how opportune was the announcement of the Apostles who walked in Him who said, “I am the way,” and praises the feet of those who walk in the intellectual way of Christ Jesus, and through that door go in to God. They announce good tidings, those whose feet are beautiful, namely, Jesus.
Let no one wonder if we have understood Jesus to be announced in the Gospel under a plurality of names of good things. If we look at the things by the names of which the Son of God is called, we shall understand how many good things Jesus is, whom those preach whose feet are beautiful ... And the power of God is the eighth good we enumerate, which is Christ. Nor must we omit to mention the Word, who is God after the Father of all. For this also is a good, less than no other. Happy, then, are those who accept these goods and receive them from those who announce the good tidings of them, those whose feet are beautiful. Indeed even one of the Corinthians to whom Paul declared that he knew nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, should he learn Him who for our sakes became man, and so receive Him, he would become identified with the beginning of the good things we have spoken of; by the man Jesus he would be made a man of God, and by His death he would die to sin. For “Christ, in that He died, died unto sin once.” But from His life, since “in that He lives, He lives unto God,” every one who is conformed to His resurrection receives that living to God.

But who will deny that righteousness, essential righteousness, is a good, and essential sanctification, and essential redemption? And these things those preach who preach Jesus, saying that He is made to be of God righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Hence we shall have writings about Him without number, showing that Jesus is a multitude of goods; for from the things which can scarcely be numbered and which have been written we may make some conjecture of those things which actually exist in Him in whom “it pleased God that the whole fullness of the Godhead should dwell bodily,” and which are not contained in writings. Why should I say, “are not contained in writings”? For John speaks of the whole world in this connection, and says: “I suppose that not even the world itself would contain the books which would be written.” Now to say that the Apostles preach the Saviour is to say that they preach these good things. For this is He who received from the good Father that He Himself should be these good things, so that each man receiving from Jesus the thing or things he is capable of receiving may enjoy good things. But the Apostles, whose feet were beautiful, and those imitators of them who sought to preach the good tidings, could not have done so had not Jesus Himself first preached the good tidings to them, as Isaiah says: “I myself that speak am here, as the opportunity on the mountains, as the feet of one preaching tidings of peace, as one preaching good things; for I will make My salvation to be heard, saying, God shall reign over you, O Zion!” For what are the mountains on which the speaker declares that He Himself is present, but those who are less than none of the highest and the greatest of the earth? And these must be sought by the able ministers of the New Covenant, in order that they may observe the injunction which says: Go up into a high mountain, you that preachest good tidings to Zion; you that preachest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with strength! Now it is not wonderful if to those who are to preach good tidings Jesus Himself preaches good tidings of good things, which are no other than Himself; for the Son of God preaches the good tidings of Himself to those who cannot come to know Him through others. And He who goes up into the mountains and preaches good things to them, being Himself instructed by His good Father, who “makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust,” He does not despise those who are poor in soul. To them He preaches good tidings, as He Himself bears witness to us when He takes Isaiah and reads: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and sight to the blind. For closing the book He handed it to the minister and sat down. And when the eyes of all were fastened upon Him, He said, This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears.” [Origen Comm. John 1.8 - 11]

I think anyone who bothered to read that whole section will plainly see that Origen not only assumes the apostle's meant 'gospel' by wisdom but that there was a secret gospel behind the public gospel, just as the apostle describes in 1 Cor 2.1 - 7.  Does anyone else finds Origen's reference to it not being 'customary' or 'commonly' to identify Paul as having written a gospel?   More to follow ...

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