Friday, November 26, 2010

I Think Origen Was Referencing a 'Mystical Hearing' (μυστιχωτέρων ἀκρόασιν) From Secret Mark in his Commentary on Matthew 14.14

I have been thinking about this all day.  I hjave been wondering whether the reading which has crept into the manuscript of is incorrect. Instead of Origen telling his readers that he is appealing to a 'mystical order' (μυστιχωτέρων ἀχρόασιν) in the beginning of Matthew chapter 19 he original said he was referencing a 'mystical hearing' of the material (μυστιχωτέρων ἀκρόασιν). 

Let's first cite the material in Matthew in context which Origen connects with some sort of mystical import:

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 

Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him.  Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.  At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.  Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’  In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.  This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

When Jesus had finished saying these words, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan

It will undoubtedly surprise many people to learn that Origen accords this section of the gospel with the highest honor.  Indeed it is even more peculiar that he concentrates upon its line - "And it came to pass when Jesus had finished (ἐτέλεσεν) these words."  Origen emphasizes that Jesus is 'completing' (ἐτέλεσεν) the words of the Old Testament.  Sure, that's easy for Origen to say - but how so?

Well, the first step to understand here is that Origen connects the original reference to 'seven times seven' in Matthew 18:23 to the parable that follows about the releasing of debts.  There can be no doubt that Origen connects the 'perfecting of the words' with the fulfilment of the expectation of the messianic Jubilee - "that the things spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled." But this isn't all there is here. 

Indeed Origen immediately goes on to reference what I am certain is the 'hearing' of the mystic gospel of Alexandria when he says:

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 hearing (μυστιχωτέρων ἀκρόασιν), 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.” [Comm Matt 14.14]

Now I know there are those who want to somehow make Alexandrian Christianity and its religious mysteries a non-entity.  We are supposed to believe that St. Mark never had a real presence there.  We are somehow told that the same Christianity that Irenaeus promotes in Rome was 'already' established in Alexandria or being established there as Irenaeus was writing.

Of course the facts of the matter are that if you actually sit down and think about all this nonsense, you realize at once that this can't be true.  There was something fundamentally different about Alexandrian Christianity which was forcibly made to conform to the brand of orthodoxy being promoting at Rome.  That there were religious mysteries in Alexandria is made absolutely explicit everywhere in Origen's writings as we read:

And when those who have been turned towards virtue have made progress, and have shown that they have been purified by the word, and have led as far as they can a better life, then and not before do we invite them to participation in our mysteries. For we speak wisdom among them that are perfect ... And since the grace of God is with all those who love with a pure affection the teacher of the doctrines of immortality, whoever is pure not only from all defilement, but from what are regarded as lesser transgressions, let him be boldly initiated in the mysteries of Jesus, which properly are made known only to the holy and the pure. [Against Celsus 3.59 - 60]

And again:

Not to participation in mysteries, then, and to fellowship in the wisdom hidden in a mystery, which God ordained before the world to the glory of His saints, do we invite the wicked man, and the thief, and the housebreaker, and the poisoner, and the committer of sacrilege, and the plunderer of the dead, and all those others whom Celsus may enumerate in his exaggerating style, but such as these we invite to be healed. For there are in the divinity of the word some helps towards the cure of those who are sick, respecting which the word says, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick; others, again, which to the pure in soul and body exhibit the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest by the Scriptures of the prophets, and by the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which appearing is manifested to each one of those who are perfect, and which enlightens the reason in the true knowledge of things. [ibid 3.61]

The point is that there is no way to make an Alexandrian mystery religion 'fit' with the notion of a virulently anti-heretical Roman Church.  What people usually do is just assume that Clement and Origen voluntarily submitted their tradition to the authority of Irenaeus's Church.  Why would one apostolic tradition give up its authority to another?   It makes no sense especially when Alexandria tends to embody everything that Rome despises. 

Now once you accept that there was this mystery religion in Alexandria, the obvious question is what gospel was its liturgical text?  The obvious answer is that it must have been a gospel of Mark.  St. Mark is the patron saint of Alexandria after all.  So why don't Clement and Origen ever mention Mark with any special reverence?  Well the argument cuts both ways.  The only answer that solves everything is that St. Mark was unknown to Alexandria at that time - and then what are you left with?  How are there mysteries in Alexandria without a mystagogue?

I won't cite from the Letter to Theodore again but it is my belief that this is the only workable answer.  St. Mark was the mystagogue of Alexandria.  But another question remains - how could our canonical gospel of Mark have been the liturgical text to the mysteries of any Christian community?   It is simply too short.  There isn't enough there for anything substantial.  There would have be another gospel of Mark - a mystic gospel of Mark - that filled in the gaps in the narrative.  But now I have tipped my hand ...

In any event, we have already noted that the Marcionites certainly must have read 1 Corinthians 2.1 - 3.10 as if it made reference to two gospels - one public and one private.  Not surprisingly Origen goes on to reference exactly this passage immediately after the 'mystical hearing' allusion:

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. [Comm Matt 14.14]

Now people will argue that Origen is not referencing a 'mystic gospel' at all but only that which is referenced in Matthew 21 - 35.  I would counter that this only one of many places where Matthew's narrative has appropriated material from the mystic gospel.  The other obvious example is Matthew 20:20 - 27 is clearly the Marcionite reading of the passage.   Indeed the way to figure out which of the synoptic readings is the original is to consult Ephrem's Diatessaron. 

The point through all of this is that it is impossible to believe that Origen could have thought there were 'mystical passages' established in all four canonical gospels from the beginning.  Clearly there was a mystical text which managed to get into the hands of outsiders (cf. to Theodore II.4 - 9).  It is also my belief that Irenaeus, the editor of the final edition of our New Testament canon did whatever it took to foster 'peace' in the Church. 

The point is that when we go back to Origen's discussion of the parable which precedes his reference to the 'mystical hearing' there can be no doubt that he is NOT refering to Matthew alone.  He writes a little earlier in Book 14 of the Commentary on Matthew that:

next to the general conception of the parable, it is right to examine the whole of it more simply according to the letter, so that he who advances with care to the right investigation of each detail of the things previously written may derive profit from the examination of what is said. Now there is, as is probable, an interpretation, transcendental and hard to trace, as it is somewhat mystical (μυστιχωτέρα), according to which, after the analogy of the parables which are interpreted by the Evangelists, one would investigate each of the details in this ... But it is probable also that some other things could be added to the number by a more competent investigator, the exposition and interpretation of which I think to be beyond the power of man, and requiring the Spirit of Christ who spoke them in order that Christ may be understood as He spoke; for as “no one among men knows the things of the man, save the spirit which is in him,” and “no one knows the things of God, save the Spirit of God,” (1 Corinthians 2:11) so no one knows after God the things spoken by Christ in proverbs and parables save the Spirit of Christ. [Comm Matt 14.6]

How can we as serious scholars entertain the idea that Origen is only referencing a Holy Spirit that spoke through four evangelists when we know that Clement a generation earlier referenced a θεόπνευστος Gospel of Mark and indeed a 'more spiritual gospel'?  Indeed it takes nothing short of scholarly malpractice to turn a blind eye to the evidence from the Mar Saba document.

Indeed in the course of describing the heretical followers of Mark he makes explicit reference to his effort "to state the remainder of their mystical system (tes mystagogias auton), which runs out to great length, in brief compass, and to bring to the light what has for a long time been concealed"  [AH i.15.6]  He similarly makes reference to their"hidden" gospel [AH i.20.1] and adds that "these persons endeavour to set forth things in a more mystical (mustikoteron) style." [AH i.14.1] 

Clement of Alexandria who is connected with this Markan tradition makes a number of similar references about his own Alexandrian tradition:

[the Lord] allowed us to communicate of those divine mysteries, and of that holy light, to those who are able to receive them. He did not certainly disclose to the many what did not belong to the many; but to the few to whom He knew that they belonged, who were capable of receiving and being moulded according to them. But secret things are entrusted to speech, not to writing, as is the case with God. [Strom i.1]

And to him who is able secretly to observe what is delivered to him. that which is veiled shall be disclosed as truth; and what is hidden to the many, shall appear manifest to the few. For why do not all know the truth? why is not righteousness loved, if righteousness belongs to all? But the mysteries are delivered mystically, that what is spoken may be in the mouth of the speaker; rather not in his voice, but in his understanding. [ibid]

So that we may have our ears ready for the reception of the tradition of true knowledge; the soil being previously cleared of the thorns and of every weed by the husbandman, in order to the planting of the vine. For there is a contest, and the prelude to the contest; and them are some mysteries before other mysteries. [ibid]

But since this tradition is not published alone for him who perceives the magnificence of the word; it is requisite, therefore, to hide in a mystery the wisdom spoken, which the Son of God taught. [ibid i.12]

Now we have already mentioned the necessary Marcionite reading of this passage in the Apostlikon (1 Cor 2.6,7) and the fact that the Marcionites apparently had another - apparently hidden 'proevangelium' - besides their public gospel. That this gospel resembled Mark has already been established as well as it partaking of Matthew, Luke and John.

Is it possible then that the Alexandrian secret gospel was somehow connected with this heretical sect?  I certainly think so and I believe that Origen's association with Ambrose, a known heretic opens the door to that connection with the Marcionite tradition.  Yet there is sure to be a cry somewhere that all of this 'is a little speculative.'  After all, Origen never explicitly mentions such a secret gospel, nor do we normally think of the Marcionites as using Matthean narratives. 

Of course a few days ago I demonstrated from von Harnack's work that the Marcionite were indeed reported to have referenced a number of Matthean periscopes.  Indeed Tertullian's Against Marcion only makes sense if the original author of the anti-Marcionite report thought the Marcionite gospel resembled Matthew in some way (he accuse Marcion of taking things out of his gospel which only appear in Matthew). 

Yet here is the ultimate curveball.  When Origen makes reference to this section of Matthew it is almost universally recognized that he makes reference to Marcionite wrongly interpreting the material.  The Alexandrian makes this explicit when he explains the contents of the narrative:

and the king being moved with compassion released him and forgave him all the debt, but the servant did not wish even to pity his own fellow-servant; and the king before his release ordered him to be sold and what was his, while he who had been forgiven cast him into prison. And observe that his fellow-servants did not bring any accusation or “said,” but “told,”(cf. Matthew 18:31) and that he did not use the epithet “wicked” at the beginning in regard to the money lost, but reserved it afterwards for his action towards the fellow-servant. But mark also the moderation of the king; he does not say, You worshipped me, but You besought me; and no longer did he order him and his to be sold, but, what was worse, he delivered him to the tormentors, because of his wickedness. (cf. Matthew 18:34) But who may these be but those who have been appointed in the matter of punishments? But at the same time observe, because of the use made of this parable by adherents of heresies, that if they accuse the Creator of being passionate, because of words that declare the wrath of God, they ought also to accuse this king, because that “being angry,” he delivered the debtor to the tormentors. But it must further be said to those whose view it is that no one is delivered by Jesus to the tormentors,— pray, explain to us, good sirs, who is the king who delivered the wicked servant to the tormentors? And let them also attend to this, “So therefore also shall My heavenly Father do unto you;” (cf. Matthew 18:35) and to the same persons also might rather be said the things in the parable of the Ten Pounds that the Son of the good God said, “Howbeit these mine enemies which would not that I should reign over them,” Luke 19:27 etc. The conclusion of the parable, however, is adapted also to the simpler; for all of us who have obtained the forgiveness of our own sins, and have not forgiven our brethren, are taught at once that we shall suffer the lot of him who was forgiven but did not forgive his fellow-servant. [Comm Matt 14.13]

Now all of us know that the Marcionite gospel had the parable of the pounds from Luke.  Yet Origen makes explicit that their gospel also made reference to the current parable which appears only in Matthew in our canon.  There can be no doubt that the Marcionites are meant as both Migne and Robertson confirm it. 

Indeed a passage which appears a little earlier in the chapter connect the 'heretical interpretation' of Matthew 14.23 - 35 with other narratives that we know (through Irenaeus and Epiphanius) which the Marcionites took great interest.  Origen writes:

And these things will take place whenever that happens which is written in Daniel, “The books were opened and the judgment was set;” (Daniel 7:10) for a record, as it were, is made of all things that have been spoken and done and thought, and by divine power every hidden thing of ours shall be manifested, and everything that is covered shall be revealed, in order that when any one is found who has not “given diligence to be freed from the adversary,” he may go in succession through the hands of the magistrate, and the judge, and the attendant into the prison, until he pays the very last mite; (Luke 12:58-59) but when one has given diligence to be freed from him and owes nothing to any one, and already has made the pound ten pounds or five pounds, or doubled the five talents, or made the two four, he may obtain the due recompense, entering into the joy of his Lord, either being set over all His possessions, (Matthew 24:47) or hearing the word, “Have authority over ten cities,” (Luke 19:17) or “Have authority over five cities.” [Comm Matt 14.9]

The Church Fathers tell us that the Marcionites use these passages to demonstrae that the Creator was inferior to their god.  Now Origen tells us there is another passage - one that only appears in Matthew in our canon - but which was part of some hidden meta-gospel in the tradition. 

It is also interesting to note that Origen only attacks the Marcionite for criticizing the Creator for turning over souls to the 'prison' in the underworld.  Origen never says that the passage isn't about our redemption from the ruler of the world (which is the Marcionite interpretation).  Indeed the lengths he goes to refusing to admit what the proper understanding of the passage is becomes quite hilarious:

But it were indeed a hard task to tell according to the conception of Jesus who is the one fellow-servant who was found to be owing a hundred pence, not to his own lord, but to him who owed many talents, and who are the fellow-servants who saw the one taking by the throat, and the other taken, and were exceedingly sorry, and represented clearly unto their own lord all that had been done. But what the truth in these matters is, I declare that no one can interpret unless Jesus, who explained all things to His own disciples privately, takes up His abode in his reason, and opens up all the treasures in the parable which are dark, hidden, unseen, and confirms by clear demonstrations the man whom He desires to illumine with the light of the knowledge of the things that are in this parable, that he may at once represent who is brought to the king as the debtor of many talents, and who is the other one who owes to him a hundred pence, etc.; whether he can be the man of sin previously mentioned (2 Thessalonians 2:3) or the devil, or neither of these, but some other, whether a man, or some one of these under the sway of the devil; for it is a work of the wisdom of God to exhibit the things that have been prophesied concerning those who are in themselves of a certain nature, or have been made according to such and such qualities, whether among visible powers or also among some men, in whatever way they may have been written by the Holy Spirit. But as we have not yet received the competent mind which is able to be blended with the mind of Christ, and which is capable of attaining to things so great, and which is able with the Spirit to “search all things, even the deep things of God,” (1 Corinthians 2:10) we, forming an impression still indefinitely with regard to the matters in this passage, are of opinion that the wicked servant indicated by the parable who is here represented in regard to the debt of many talents, refers to some definite one. [Comm Matt 14.9]

The point is that the Marcionites had a meta-gospel; Origen suggests all these accounts are connected with by one 'key' (to borrow a metaphor from elsewhere in his writings) which unlocks a great mystic secret.  Sounds to me, like Origen knows about a 'secret meta-gospel.'

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