Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reconstructing Clement's Unrecognized Reference to the Secret Gospel of Alexandria [Part One]

I have been think about my next book forever it seems.  The question that always arises for me is - why invest a half a year of my life for something that (a) won't make any big impact on the world anyway and (b) won't make me a dime.  The truth is that I have enough material for about three books.  Yet I don't think many people appreciate how taxing this work really is.  Is it worth the mental exhaustion? 

I have started to think however that I might have something interesting to say about the 'secret gospel.'  I hope at least some of you reading these posts agree. 

Yesterday I announced that I had found a witness from the 'authentic writings of Clement' which echoes the formulation regarding a 'secret gospel' in the disputed letter of To Theodore.  All you need to do is read the Apostolikon (trans - 'the letters of Paul') and 1 Corinthians 2.7- 8 like a Marcionite and le voila!  You have a reference to the 'secret gospel' in the Stromata. 

I'd like to start at the beginning of the section.  But as it is highly unlikely that the chapter divisions which now appear in the Stromata were established by Clement himself, I think I will go back a little earlier in the essay to give us the proper context when the 'secret gospel' is finally referenced.  It is difficult to overstate how important the context of the 'veil' is in this book.  Clement begins in chapter four by saying that:

in accordance with the method of concealment, the truly sacred Word truly divine and most necessary for us, deposited in the shrine of truth, was by the Egyptians indicated by what were called among them adyta, and by the Hebrews by the veil. Only the consecrated -- that is, those devoted to God, circumcised in the desire of the passions for the sake of love to that which is alone divine -- were allowed access to them. For Plato also thought it not lawful for "the impure to touch the pure." [Strom 5.4]

So there was clearly something hidden behind a 'veil' in Clement's Alexandrian Church (undoubtedly the building which would later be called 'the Martyrium of St. Mark') which Clement himself sees as being symbolic of the truth that Jews and Greeks never managed to penetrate.

Indeed a little later in the same chapter Clement exclaims that "all then who have spoken of divine things, both Barbarians and Greeks, have veiled the first principles of things, and delivered the truth in enigmas, and symbols, and allegories, and metaphors, and such like tropes."  Clement avoids speaking directly about the manner in which the Jews veiled the truth.  Instead Clement prefers to envision the Christianity in Alexandria and its gospel as a revelation of things which could not be expressed in the pagan mysteries.  He says that:

those, taught in theology by those prophets, the poets, philosophize much by way of a hidden sense. I mean Orpheus, Linus, Musaeus, Homer, and Hesiod, and those in this fashion wise. The persuasive style of poetry is for them a veil for the many. Dreams and signs are all more or less obscure to men, not from jealousy (for it were wrong to conceive of God as subject to passions), but in order that research, introducing to the understanding of enigmas, may haste to the discovery of truth. Thus Sophocles the tragic poet somewhere says: "And God I know to be such an one, Ever the revealer of enigmas to the wise, But to the perverse bad, although a teacher in few words,"- putting bad instead of simple. Expressly then respecting all our Scripture, as if spoken in a parable, it is written in the Psalms, "Hear, O My people, My law: incline your ear to the words of My mouth. I will open My mouth in parables, I will utter My riddles (προβλήματα) from the beginning." Similarly speaks the noble apostle to the following effect: "Howbeit we speak wisdom among those that are perfect; yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought. But we speak the wisdom of God hidden in a mystery; which none of the princes of this world knew. For had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory."

This is the first of many references to 1 Cor 2.7 - 8 in Stromata Book 5 and even in this seemingly vague citation we can already assemble evidence that it references the 'secret gospel' of To Theodore. 

The critical thing for us to keep our eye on is the scripture that Clement juxtaposes against 1 Cor 2.7 -8 - i.e. Psalm 78.  They are presented back to back:

« Ἀκούσατε, λαός μου, τὸν νόμον μου, κλίνατε τὸ οὖς ὑμῶν εἰς τὰ ῥήματα τοῦ στόματός μου· ἀνοίξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὸ στόμα μου, φθέγξομαι προβλήματα ἀπ´ ἀρχῆς.»

Καὶ ὁ γενναῖος ἀπόστολος τὰ ὅμοια ὧδέ πως λέγει·

« Σοφίαν δὲ λαλοῦμεν ἐν τοῖς τελείοις, σοφίαν δὲ οὐ τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου οὐδὲ τῶν ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου τῶν καταργουμένων· ἀλλὰ λαλοῦμεν θεοῦ σοφίαν ἐν μυστηρίῳ, τὴν ἀποκεκρυμμένην, ἣν προώρισεν ὁ θεὸς πρὸ τῶν αἰώνων εἰς δόξαν ἡμῶν· ἣν οὐδεὶς τῶν ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου ἔγνωκεν· εἰ γὰρ ἔγνωσαν, οὐκ ἂν τὸν κύριον τῆς δόξης ἐσταύρωσαν.»

So how exactly does Clement get the idea that Psalm 78 is referencing the same concept as the words of the apostle?  Perhaps it might help if we recognize that there is an established Alexandrian exegesis of the passage as witnessed by Clement's successor Origen.

This same passage is always used by Origen to prove that the prophets spoke allegorically.  In Against Celsus Book Four Chapter 49 Origen attacks Celsus for claiming that:

“our writings are incapable of admitting an allegorical meaning.” For from the prophetic Scriptures, in which historical events are recorded (not from the historical), it is possible to be convinced that the historical portions also were written with an allegorical purpose, and were most skilfully adapted not only to the multitude of the simpler believers, but also to the few who are able or willing to investigate matters in an intelligent spirit ... Asaph,who, in showing the histories in Exodus and Numbers to be full of difficulties and parables, begins in the following manner, as recorded in the book of Psalms, where he is about to make mention of these things: “Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.” Moreover, if the law of Moses had contained nothing which was to be understood as having a secret meaning, the prophet would not have said in his prayer to God, “Open my eyes, and I will behold wondrous things out of Your law;” whereas he knew that there was a veil of ignorance lying upon the heart of those who read but do not understand the mystical sense (τὰ τροπολογούμενα ἐπικείμενον), which veil is taken away by the gift of God, when He hears him who has done all that he can, and who by reason of habit has his senses exercised to distinguish between good and evil, and who continually utters the prayer, “Open my eyes, and I will behold wondrous things out of Your law.”

This is clearly only a vague reference to a 'mystical sense' hidden by a veil.  Yet the diserning reader can clearly see the underlying allusion to 2 Corinthians 3.14.  But it is worth noting that this discussion also happens to segue to a reference to a veiled or hidden gospel "And even if our gospel is hidden, it is hidden only to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."

It might be tempting for the reader to walk away from the discussion thinking that Origen is only speaking about 'spiritual knowledge' passed on by word of mouth.  Yet in another citation of Psalm 78.2 it is clear that he also has a 'hidden book' in mind as we read:

Figurative speech is called an enigma: therefore, enigmatists refer to those who speak figuratively. and who else is there who have spoken in figures but “the law and the prophets” For listen to how david speaks: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will speak propositions from the beginning." Moreover, Isaiah, since the things he wrote are enigmas, declares in this fashion: “and the words of this book,” he says, “will be like the words of a sealed book, which, if they put into the hands of an illiterate man and say to him: 'Read,' and he will say 'I cannot read.' but if they give it to one who can read, he will say: 'i am not able to read it, for it is sealed.'” now the book is said to be sealed because it is entangled with figures and wrapped in enigmas. [Homily 13 on Numbers]

Clearly then Clement and Origen must have read Psalm 78.2 as pertaining to the manner in which God developed both the Law and the original narrative which formed the gospel.  "Hear, O My people, My law: incline your ear to the words of My mouth. I will open My mouth in parables, I will utter My riddles (προβλήματα) from the beginning" means that the parables and riddles are the veil which hide a text 'hidden wisdom' which I will argue was a secret written gospel.

Yet I think we should stop right there before going back to Clement and just making one point about the Alexandrian interpretation of the material.  Clement and Origen are telling us that the Law and the prophets foretold the coming of some sort of 'secret wisdom' established from the beginning by God.  It is worth noting that this passage in Isaiah 29 was very important to Origen.  And he explicitly connects this 'secret book' as something known to his Alexandrian instructor - identified only as 'the Hebrew' in the Philocalia - which solved all the mysteries of scripture:

The Divine words say that the Divine Scriptures have been closed up and sealed with the key of David, and perhaps with the seal which is described as "the stamp of a seal, a hallowed offering to the Lord" - that is, with the power of God [1 Cor 2.2], who gave the Scriptures, the seal being the emblem of power.  Now John interprets the closing up and sealing in the Apocalypse, when he says: "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and none shall shut, and that shutteth, and none openeth: I know thy works: behold I have set before thee a door opened, which none can shut." And a little farther on: "And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and without, close sealed with seven seals. And I saw another, a strong angel, proclaiming with a great voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? And no one in the heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look thereon. And I wept because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look thereon: and one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book and the seven seals thereof." As regards the sealing up only, Esaias thus speaks: "And all these sayings shall be to you as the words of this book which is sealed, which men deliver to One that is learned, saying, Read this: and he saith, I cannot read it, for it is sealed: and the book shall be delivered into the hands of a man that is not learned, saying, Read this: and he saith, I am not learned." (ibid 2.1)

Origen goes on to say that "we must consider these things to be spoken not only of the Apocalypse of John and Esaias, but also of all Divine Scripture, which is beyond question full of riddles, and parables, and dark sayings, and various other obscurities, hard to be understood by men, whose ears can catch no more than the faint echoes of the Divine words" but that in some sense the recorded gospel was the lost key to unlock these mysteries - viz.  "this was what the Saviour wished to teach us." (ibid 2.2)

Whatever this secret book of Revelation and Isaiah 29 was Origen likens it again to a messianic 'key' which unlocks all the mysteries of the Bible.  This was first instructed to him by his teacher again described only as 'the Hebrew':

That great scholar used to say that inspired Scripture taken as a whole was on account of its obscurity like many locked-up rooms in one house. Before each room he supposed a key to be placed, but not the one belonging to it; and that the keys were so dispersed all round the rooms, not fitting the locks of the several rooms before which they were placed. It would be a troublesome piece of work to discover the keys to suit the rooms they were meant for. It was, he said, just so with the understanding of the Scriptures, because they are so obscure; the only way to begin to understand them was, he said, by means of other passages containing the explanation dispersed throughout them. The Apostle, I think, suggested such a way of coming to a knowlege of the Divine words when He said, "Which things also we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual." (ibid 2.3)

Who is this 'Hebrew master' (cf. Phil. 1.3.4; 4.13.4) the instructor of Origen who told him that there was some 'secret book' which held the key to unlock all the mysteries of the Old and New Testament?  The obvious answer is that it was Clement of Alexandria, a name which is never explicitly referenced in any of Origen's writings.  We are told by Eusebius that Origen studied under Clement but Origen only mentions this 'Hebrew.' 

If it can be acknowledged that Origen is in fact referencing 'Clement' here it is very interesting that in this last section Origen takes us back to 1 Corinthians Chapter Two again - the section where we have noted that the Apostle makes reference to a 'secret wisdom' which Origen and the Marcionites took to mean the written gospel.  Indeed let's look at the whole passage in the Apostolikon and emboldened the words referenced by Clement and Origen as having some thing to do with a 'secret book' or gospel in Alexandria:

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 human wisdom, but on the power of God.

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. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began ...
 as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” - the things God has prepared for those who love him— these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.  The Spirit searches all things, even the Depth of God ... This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words." [1 Corinthians 2.1 - 13]

Clearly once we accept the idea that there was an Alexandrian tradition - very closely related, if not identical with Marcionitism - which passed on a common set of scriptural interpretations, there is indeed a 'whisper' embedded in the writings of Clement and Origen that a 'secret gospel' was in existence in Alexandria.

If we go back through the material just cited in Origen he infers that when 'the Apostle' references this 'secret wisdom' filled with 'spirit-taught words' he is talking about the 'secret book' alluded to in the vision of John in Revelations and Isaiah 29.  This 'secret book' solves all the riddles, parables and allegories of the Bible.  There was certainly a tradition associated with this 'secret book.'  Origen learned about it from his 'master' in Alexandria.  Clement uses the reference in Psalm 78 in the exact same way as Origen - i.e. to infer the existence of some secret wisdom revealed at the end of times to pull back the veil on the Lord's sayings and the Hebrew scriptures.  Why isn't it likely that Clement is Origen's 'Hebrew' master who taught him about the existence of this 'secret book' in Alexandria? 

More to follow ...

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