Sunday, November 21, 2010

And Now We Know Start to Know Why the Alexandrians 'Denied the Mystic Gospel was by Mark'

I think there are very few people out there have read all the references to the Marcionites in the writings of the Church Fathers.  Most people have better things to do.  Nevertheless I happened to have had a life long fascination with the Marcionites.  I have always thought they are key to making sense of how Christianity developed from Judaism.

When I tell people that I think this, they seem a little shocked.  'Didn't the Marcionites hate Judaism?'  I don't think so.  As I was raised within a mystical Jewish tradition, I see Judaism as the number seven and Christianity as the number eight.  The word 'gospel' in Aramaic means the announcement of the Jubilee, and as Clement of Alexandria notes in Book Six of the Stromateis, the Jubilee is symbolized by the number eight. 

It's a Saturday night, and I am stuck at home watching the kids while my wife is out and about.  This means that I can take a break from the detailed comparisons I have been developing between Book Five of the Stromateis and the Letter to Theodore over the last week.

The Alexandrian tradition was connected with Judaism in a way that the rest of Christianity was not.  Clement is especially indebted to Philo and the Jewish tradition in Alexandria.  Whether or not my readership will find this fanciful, the story of Christianity in Alexandria essentially goes Philo, St. Mark and then Clement and Origen. 

I have no doubt that the original historical situation was far more complicated than this.  Yet this all that has come down to us so we have make the possible use of the available evidence. 

Clement doesn't make explicit reference to St. Mark or his writings in any of the manuscripts that were preserved by Arethas of Caesarea in Cappadocia, our principle source for the writings of Clement. 

Yet the gospel of Mark is the centerpiece of the argument in the homily on riches (Quis Dives Salvetur).  The narrative starts from a long citation of Mark chapter ten and then strangely 'jumps the tracks' as it were to conclude with an argument that says that Zacchaeus - a figure who is only known from Luke in our existing canon - essentially 'solves' the 'difficulties' raised in the Mark's story of the rich youth (Mark 10.17 - 31). 

I have written about the strangeness of Clement's argument in Quis Dives Salvetur many times here.  In order to make sense of Clement's interpretation of the original cited passage from Mark chapter ten we have to assume that reading Mark through the lens of another 'mystic gospel.' 

There are so many of these little 'oddities' in Clement's writings, it is difficult to know why it is that so many scholars doubt the authenticity of Morton Smith's discovery.  We are in the process of demonstrating that Clement's citation of material from the Apostolikon (the so-called 'writings of Paul') in Book Five of the Stromateis necessarily implies a Marcionite POV on the part of Clement. 

Of course we have only been able to demonstrate that the writings of Clement betray his association with the so-called 'Marcosians' (i.e. 'those of Mark')  by a number of scholars.  Yet I don't think anyone should take the original 'heresiological compendium' of Irenaeus all that seriously.  It wasn't like Irenaeus was the ancient equivalent of Charles Darwin, accurely attempting to set down all the names of the 'heretical species.' 

The work has survived down to us as 'Against Heresies' is better described as a mix of things Irenaeus wrote over the course of his life alongside material appropriated from Justin's Syntagma.  The account of the Marcosians and the Carpocratians often sound suspiciously similar to one another.  Marcellina the Carpocratian is identified by Jerome as a Marcionite.  The Marcionites and Marcosians have obvious similarities, none more so than the fact that they are both associated with someone named 'Mark.' (Marcion being a diminutive form of Mark according to Hilgenfeld). 

Yet the most convincing argument to me at least that the Marcionites and Marcosians were one and the same comes from the writings of Gregory Nazianzen.  While Gregory was a figure from the fourth century Church, he was a man of such rare intellect in early Christianity that is difficult to simply ignore his lumping together of the Marcionite and Marcosians as interchangeable terms for the same tradition.

Gregory is widely considered the most accomplished rhetorical stylist of the patristic age. As a classically trained speaker and philosopher who eventually went on to the most powerful position in the Church of that time - i.e. bishop of Constantinople - it is difficult to simply explain away his lumping together of the Marcionites and Marcosians.

Indeed Gregory was not the first to mistake a Marcosian for a Marcionite.  Origen's patron Ambrosius is said to have been a Valentinian by Eusebius (HE 6.18.1), a Marcionite by Jerome, (Ill. Liv. 56) and Epiphanius writes that 'some say that Ambrose was a Marcionite, but some, that he was a Sabellian.' (Pan. 64.3)  The only way to reconcile these accounts is to remember that the Marcosians are usually classified as a branch of the Valentinian tradition by the arrangement of Agaisnt Heresies. 

I want to stress again that the later Church Fathers just borrowed Irenaeus's classifications as some sort of rough guide to help label heresies.  Tertullian interestingly notes that the Valentinians themselves denied that there ever was a Valentinius.  I have never seen convincing evidence that there were ever people who described themselves as 'Marcionites.'

I think the reason that Clement and Origen can both engage in polemical attacks against the Marcionites is because they recognized that the sect was non-existent.  They attacked the beliefs of the 'Marciontes' as a way of distinguishing their Alexandrian tradition from association with heresy.

Yet there was a clear underlying 'sameness' between the Marcionites and the tradition of St. Mark at Alexandria.  The most obvious thing to consider is that the Marcionite canon featured a letter to the Alexandrians and the fact that Alexandria does not even figure in the Catholic history of Christianity.  Something doesn't quite fit here either. 

When we read that Clement says that they guard a mystic gospel and even deny its association with St. Mark, it becomes difficult to avoid seeing that this must have been the beloved Marcionite gospel.  Tertullian and Adamantius make clear that the Marcionites did not ascribed their gospel to a human author.  They said that it was revealed to 'Christ' from heaven.  As von Harnack notes the Marcionite text must have been called 'the Gospel of Christ' - a technical concept which appears over and over again in the Apostolikon (the writings of Paul). 

Yet there is even something more interesting lurking here in the shadows of Christian antiquity.  If the Marcionites confirmed the authenticity of their 'Gospel of Christ' by references to their apostle's gospel writing in the Apostikon, these letters actually make reference to two texts being produced.  There was a simply historical narrative 'according to faith' and a 'secret wisdom' which was revealed only to the perfect. 

Of course very little of what the Marcionites actually believed or practiced has come down to us so it is difficult to confirm that they indeed possessed a hidden 'mystic gospel' in addition to a simply historical narrative.  Nevertheless words attributed to Marcion about his community's sacred text makes it difficult to ascribe them to our rather poorly written canonical gospel-type - "O wonder beyond wonders, rapture, power, and amazement is it, that one can say nothing at all about the gospel, nor even conceive of it, nor compare it with anything" (von Harnack, Marcion, so Anm. 2, 256. 1 18. 94 f.; Schäfers, Eine altsyrische antimarkionitische Erklärung von Parabeln des Herrn usw., 1917, S. 3 f.)

This reference comes from an anonymous Syrian commentary on the gospel which identifies the 'Proevangelium' of Marcion as beginning with these cited words.  Harnack wrongly assumed that this was the same as the so-called 'Antitheses.'  Sebastian Moll agrees noting that Harnack:

was convinced that this Pro-Evangelium referred to Marcion's Antitheses. However, the enthusiastic opening statement just mentioned does not seem to fit what we have discovered in this chapter concerning the rather monotonous character of the Antitheses.  The only other work of Marcion known to us is his letter, but that is even less likely to be identified with the Pro-Evangelium. Therefore, this Pro-Evangelium is either a third work of Marcion we do not know anything about, or, and this is the option I would suggest, the name refers to nothing else but Marcion's Gospel itself. Everything fits so well. We are dealing with a commentary on the Gospel, so it would make perfect sense for the author to refer to Marcion's Gospel - as the competing one - at the beginning of his work, rather than to any other work written by the arch-heretic.  Moreover, right before the author mentions Marcion's Pro-Evangelium, he declared that all those writings are untrustworthy which are not based on the Law and the Prophets. This critique again applies perfectly to Marcion's Gospel, since it was free of any positive reference to these texts. Finally, the name Pro-Evangelium (in the sense of 'prior to the Gospel') would be most appropriate for Marcion's Gospel, as he indeed believed his version to be prior to the one used by the Church. [the Arch-Heretic Marcion p. 119 - 120]

Moll adds that that the opening words to the Gospel are never mentioned by Tertullian or others may simply be due to the fact that they were added later on by Marcion's followers.

It should be noted that what has caused everyone problems including von Harnack is the underlying assumption that the Marcionites had only one gospel.  If we can allow ourselves to conceive of the possibility that the Church Fathers were ill-informed, we can embrace the anonymous Syriac report as proof once and for all that the Marcionite gospel and 'mystic Mark' were one and the same. 

Indeed the statement in to Theodore that Mark wrote his 'public gospel' at Rome and then the 'mystic gospel' was written later in Alexandria, should not be taken to mean that the 'public gospel' was somehow conceived as the original gospel.  When we go back to our original comparison with 1 Corinthians chapter 2, it is important to note that the apostle only says that the public text was the gospel which most people saw first - "and so it was with me, brothers. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human 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 ... We do, however, 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.  We speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, a hidden wisdom that God predestined to our age for our glory." [1 Cor 2.1 - 7]

Yet it is interesting that Eznik of Kolb intimates that the Marcionites connected the words "what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” (1 Cor 2.9) with the 'unspeakable revelation' in 2 Corinthians 12.4.  I have long noted that the Catholic Apostolikon preserves the words in a very unnatural manner.  It is as if the editor of our canon wanted to create some doubt that the apostle was the man who went to the third heaven.  Eznik interestingly preserves the fact that 'Marcion' claimed to have beheld the revelation.

Of course in the rest of the anti-Marcionite literature there are confusing claims about the nature of the Marcionite gospel.  It is alternatively described as (a) 'the gospel of Marcion,' (b) a corrupt version of Luke, (c) a gospel written by the same author who authored the Apostolikon, (d) the text referenced in the Apostolikon as 'my gospel' or 'the gospel of Christ.'  Yet as we have just demonstrated, with the Marcionite reading of the Apostolikon there must have been actually TWO gospels - one public and one secret. 

Given that Eznik seems to infer that the 'unspeakable' revelation was given to Marcion as the basis to the Marcionite gospel, it would stand to reason that 'Marcion' was the name of the Marcionite apostle.  Moreover it would also stand to reason that the following chronology must have accounted for his authoring two gospels:

  1. his 'unspeakable' revelation
  2. the production of the public testimony of Jesus crucified
  3. the unveiling of the original revelation in his 'secret' mystic gospel
I think that this chronology can be made to agree with Clement's explanation to Theodore in the Mar Saba document.  Yet there are some other interesting parallels we should note before exploring these issues.

As we have already noted, Clement of Alexandria has been demonstrated to have been an associate of the Marcosian sect.  The Marcosians were headed by a man named 'Mark' who had an unspeakable revealtion (cf. AH 1.13.1) and apparently wrote a gospel.  This 'gospel of Mark' had a secret baptism ritual just before Mark 10.39 just as 'mystic Mark' (AH 1.20.1,2).  Irenaeus also makes a curious statement these followers of Mark "adduce an unspeakable (ἄρρητα) number of apocryphal and spurious writings, which they themselves have forged, to bewilder the minds of foolish men, and of such as are ignorant of the Scriptures of truth."  Irenaeus goes on to cite only references to gospel passages in what follows in the chapter.  It would seem that these followers of Mark also had more than gospel. 

So it that we stumble upon two seemingly complimentary statements.  The first is from Clement's Letter to Theodore where the Alexandrian Father secretly instructs Theodore to outsiders "one should not concede that it is Mark’s mystic Gospel but should even deny it on oath."  Interestingly enough as we noted before, Clement almost never gives the name of a human author when citing from his gospel.  It is referenced instead as 'the gospel' or 'scripture' or by some such title. 

The author of thew Philosophumena where the author (presumably Hippolytus) attacks the claims of at least some Marcionites that their preferred gospel is the gospel of Mark (Phil. 7.18).  The Marcionites as we have just seen likely had two gospels.  It is interesting to note that Clement only wrote his Letter to Theodore owing to Theodore's acquaintance with a group who claim to have a mystic gospel of Mark.  He makes clear in the same letter that his normal way of dealing with those inquiring about the mystic gospel was to deny that Mark was the author of the mystic gospel. 

The point then is that it would seem that there was a contemporary precedent for denying that Mark wrote a mystic gospel which went beyond the things preserved in his public gospel.  Alcibiades was famous for having revealed the secrets of Eleusis.  Apparently at least a few Christians in the late second century weren't so good at keeping secrets either. 

When Clement corrects whatever the Carpocratians had said about the mystic gospel, it is apparent that their testimony gave rise to the opinion that this text have been heretical for he notes:

Now of the things they keep saying about the divinely inspired (θεόπνευστου) Gospel according to Mark, some are altogether falsifications, and others, even if they do contain some true elements, nevertheless are not reported truly.

Clearly the people being referenced here were revealing the very secret that Clement acknowledges is never supposed to be revealed - namely that Mark was the author of the 'gospel of Christ.'  The very term θεόπνευστος is used once in the New Testament in the deutero-Pauline writings denoting accepted writings:

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings ... But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All scripture given by inspiration of God (θεόπνευστος) is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness ... [And so] I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. [2 Tim 3 - 4]

The Carpocratians have apparently revealed the thing that the Alexandrian tradition never uttered - that Mark was the author of the community's sacred (and hidden) mystic gospel.  Clement has had to learn to adjust his traditional silence on the subject of his community's 'secret wisdom' and we are all fortunate because of the chain of events set in motion by those heretics.  We are on the brink of solving a two thousand year old mystery which will shake Christianity to its core.

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