Friday, November 26, 2010

Does Origen Mean 'Mystic Gospel' When He Says 'Mystic Order' (Mystici Ordinis)?

Yesterday I brought forward a very important passage from Origen's Commentary on Romans which demonstrates that authenticity of Clement's Letter to Theodore.  Origen's writing makes clear that the heresies associated with a certain figure named 'Mark' (i.e. the Marcosians, the Marcionites) are really nothing more than hostile reports about Alexandrian Christianity in Roman Church Fathers from the late second and early third centuries.  That the Alexandrians had a different context for their baptism rituals is clear from many other sources.  What hasn't been widely recognized is the fact that Origen was associated with heretical practices ...

Really?  Do people think that Origen was somehow 'innocent' of all the charges of heresy which keep coming to the surface after the third century?  His patron was a Marcionite.  What do people think?  That one day Ambrose just woke up and decided that he wanted to be a Catholic and then decided to have a heretic like Origen guide him to orthodoxy?

I used to have a close friend who did nothing other than date strippers and hang out in brothels.  You can imagine when I used to tell my wife that I was going to go out on the town with him.  'He's reformed,' I used to tell her.  'Over my dead body,' she'd reply. 

In any event, I am particularly intrigued by the reference in Origen's Commentary on Romans to a 'mystici ordinis' with regards to the 'other' baptism of the Alexandrian community (i.e. one NOT based on the baptism of John by Jesus).  The original Greek text is lost to us.  It now only survives in a Latin translation so we have do some detective work to piece together what Origen was driving at through foreign terminology.

There can be no doubt that Origen was speaking about a 'mystic order' but the word ordo has a very deep importance in the Latin translations of Origen's writings.  The evidence is quite overwhelming that Origen's translator used ordo to describe a 'separate order of rank.'  In other words, that the 'mystic order' represented by the baptism of the dead represents a ritual of a higher 'spiritual rank' than what was carried out in the Catholic Churches in imitation of the 'repentance baptism' of John the Baptist.

Let's look again at the passage in the Commentary on Romans.

But attend yet more closely to this mystical order. It is necessary for thee first, to die to sin, that thou mayest be buried with Christ. Burial belongs to the dead. If thou dost yet live to sin, thou canst not be buried with Christ, Burial belongs to the dead. If thou dost yet live to sin thou canst not be buried with Christ, nor be placed in his new tomb, because thy old man lives and cannot walk in newness of life. The Holy Spirit has carefully taught that the tomb, in which Christ was buried, must be new; and that he was wrapped in clean linen, that every one who wishes to be buried with Christ, bring nothing of oldness to the new tomb, nothing of uncleanliness to the clean linen ... But observe how careful is the Apostle, for he says, ' Whosoever of us have been baptized into Christ.' Therefore our baptism is 'into Christ.' But Christ himself is said to have been baptized by John not with that baptism which is 'into Christ,' but with that Baptism, which is into the Law. For so he says himself to John, 'Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulful all righteousness.' By which it shews that the Baptism of John was the ending of the old, not the beginning of the new." [Comm. Rom 8.5]

As I noted in my last post, there is nothing in our canonical gospels which allows for the development of a 'death baptism.'  To be sure the 'new tomb' and the 'clean linen' come from Matthew chapter 26 but what does any of this have to do with baptism and especially Origen's interest in a 'baptism of the dead'?

So Origen goes on to write "it is necessary for you first, to die to sin, that you may be buried with Christ. Burial belongs to the dead. If thou dost yet live to sin, thou canst not be buried with Christ, Burial belongs to the dead" this clearly something 'mystical.'  Origen knows this as part of his mysteries, the Alexandrian mysteries.  Not just some reference in the 'writings of Paul' but something directly drawn from the gospel.  Again this reference can't be to the Passion narrative.  It doesn't make sense.

First of all the context in Romans is not to Jesus's death but the death of an initiate, the burial of an initiate and the union of the initiate with Jesus.  To argue that the Passion narrative is what the author of Romans has in mind is utterly unnatural.  The Passion is about Jesus's crucifixion, his burial and his resurrection.  I think that the 'mystical order' that is being described here has more to do with what Clement points us to the narrative which came just before Mark 10.37. 

Here an initiate has been newly placed in a tomb.  Jesus rolls away its stone and "straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him."  This is clearly the 'mystical context' referenced by the apostle - i.e. someone who 'died' and was buried and longs to become united with Jesus - "and going out of the tomb, they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do, and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body."

This is why it a μυστικόν εὐαγγέλιον.  It is 'of' or 'related to' the religious mysteries.  It isn't 'historical' in the normal sense of the word.  The narrative provides the context or the basis for the rites of the Alexandrian Church.  How can anyone deny that whatever these rites were, they would have had to have something to do with 'dying' and 'burial' and 'baptism'?  Are we so stuck on the questions about the survival of the manuscript that we find impossible to see how this ties together all sorts of things - mostly Marcionite 'things' - which Morton Smith couldn't possibly have figured out, couldn't possibly have known. 

Indeed we began this post by asking what Origen means by 'mystical order' in his Commentary on Romans we actually discover a parallel use of μυστιχωτέρων in his Commentary on Matthew Book 14 Chapter 14.  We read:

"And it came to pass when Jesus had finished (ἐτέλεσεν) these words." [Matt 19.1] He who gives a detailed and complete account of each of the questions before him so that nothing is left out, finishes his own words. But he will give a declaration on this point with more confidence who devotes himself with great diligence to the entire reading of the Old and New Testament; for if the expression, “he finished (ἐτέλεσεν)these words,” may be applied to no other, neither to Moses, nor to any of the prophets, but only to Jesus, then one would dare to say that Jesus alone finished His words, He who came to put an end to things, and to fulfil what was defective in the law, by saying, “It was said to them of old time," etc., and, again, “That the things spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled." But if it is written somewhere also in them, then you may compare and contrast the discourses finished by them with those finished by the Saviour, that you may find the difference between them.

And yet at this point, also, investigation might be made whether in the case of the things spoken by way of oracle the expression, “he finished,” is applied either to the things spoken by Moses, or any of the prophets, or of both together; for careful observation would suggest very weighty thoughts to those who know how “to compare spiritual things with spiritual,” and on this account “speak not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth.” (1 Cor 2.13) But perhaps some other one, attending with over-curious spirit to the word “finished,” which is assigned to things of a more mystical order (μυστιχωτέρων), just as we say that some one delivered to those who were under his control mysteries and rites of “perfecting” (τελετὰς) not in a praiseworthy fashion, and another delivered the mysteries of God to those who are worthy, and rites of “perfecting” proportionate to such mysteries, might say that having initiated them, he made a rite of “perfecting,” by which “perfecting” the words were shown to be powerful, so that the gospel of Jesus was preached in the whole world, and by virtue of the divine “perfecting” gained the mastery of every soul which the Father draws to the Son, according to what is said by the Saviour, “No one comes to Me except the Father which has sent Me draw him.”

Wherefore also “the word” of those who by the grace of God are ambassadors of the gospel, “and their preaching, is not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit of power," (πνεύματος δυνάμεως 1 Cor 2.4) to those for whom the words of the doctrine of Jesus were finished. You will therefore observe how often it is said, “He finished,” and of what things it is said, and you will take as an illustration that which is said in regard to the beatitudes, and the whole of the discourse to which is subjoined, “And it came to pass when Jesus had finished these words, all the multitudes were astonished at His teaching." But now the saying, “Jesus finished these words,” is referred also immediately to the very mystical parable according to which the kingdom of heaven is likened unto a king, but also beyond this parable to the sections which were written before it (i.e. Matt 18.21 - 35)

The point then is that this is the exact passage which started our investigation.  We made clear that a Marcionite reading of the material in 1 Corinthians Chapter Two would imply the existence of two gospels after the description in Clement's Letter to Theodore.  Now we see Origen develop a very similar argument with regards to a 'mystical order' related to the ritual baptism of the dead in his Commentary on Romans.  In his Commentary on Matthew, the connection of 'mystical order' to a 'mystical gospel' is complete.

It would seem that the Alexandrian Church did indeed know of a 'mystical gospel' which explained the historical narrative of Jesus and his crucifixion in terms of some deeper and metaphysical meaning related to the mysteries.  I also strongly suspect that the 'Marcionites' were really unrepentant followers of St. Mark, anyone who revealed that they did not accept Petrine or Roman authority - Marcion being a diminutive of Mark as Hilgenfeld has already suggested. 

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