Saturday, November 13, 2010

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

We have now started to examine Clement's argument in Book Five of the Stromateis. I don't know why it is that it is this book in particular which betrays the knowledge of the secret gospel. Perhaps there are in fact other references to the concept in his writings. It just happens to be the most obvious to me.

There are a few facts that we can almost be certain about in earliest Egyptian Christianity. At the top of that list is the idea that there was only one church in the tradition. It stood just outside the eastern walls of Alexandria in the former main Jewish district of the city in region which is now called 'Chatby.' By the fourth century the building would be identified as 'the martyrium of St. Mark' but it is uncertain - even unlikely - that the building was originally conceived as the burial place of the Evangelist. It was undoubtedly originally simply known as the a church built "in a place called the Cattle-pasture near the sea, beside a rock from which stone is hewn." [Severus of Al-Ashmunein History Coptic 1.2]

In any event this building is described in Clement's Letter to Theodore as having an adyton hidden from the rest of the church by seven veils. (II.1) It was in this 'hidden' sacred place that the original autograph of the gospel of Mark was securely kept. Indeed there is a sense of the physical space of the building in this document when Clement implies that initiates were brought in to the adyton to 'hear' the text for the first time - i.e. "being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries." (ibid).

I can't shake the sense that Book Five reflects on very much the same 'sacred physicality.' As we noted in our last post Clement literally describes first what it must have been like to any visitor to the church, literally seeing shadows flicker on the veil that divided the mass of participants from the inner sanctum or adyton:

For he who is still blind and dumb, not having understanding, or the undazzled and keen vision of the contemplative soul, which the Saviour confers, like the uninitiated at the mysteries, or the unmusical at dances, not being yet pure and worthy of the pure truth, but still discordant and disordered and material, must stand outside of the divine choir. "For we compare spiritual things with spiritual." (1 Cor 2.13) Wherefore, 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. [Stom. 5.4]

I can't stress how important it is to keep an eye on the strange 'coincidence' that whenever we see Alexandrian Church Fathers reference 1 Corinthians Chapter Two or 2 Corinthians Chapter Four whenever the sacred and secret gospel is referenced.

I was having a conversation with a fellow scholar today who couldn't get over the fact that in the tradition interpretation of 1 Corinthians Chapter 2 'Paul' is not understood to be referencing a written gospel. I tried to explain to him that it doesn't matter what I thought or he thought what the correct interpretation of the material was, we know with absolute certainty that the Marcionites argued that their apostle did indeed 'receive' the gospel from heaven in his lifetime.

Whether the readers accept my argument that this apostle was originally named Mark by the Marcionites rather than 'Paul' (which as I have noted many times before even in the Catholic tradition is a name which the apostle changed to after being called something else previously; 'Paul' was not his original name). Origen explicitly references the Marcionite argument and tells us that the 'Gospel of Christ' (Romans 2.16 etc) in the Apostolikon, or 'the writings of Paul' if you will, was in fact 'the Gospel of Mark.' (cf. Mark 1.1). Indeed already in the Philosophumena the Marcionites themselves understand that the Gospel of Mark is the Marcionite gospel.

I am certain that part of the reason why no one can make heads or tails of To Theodore is because these same people have never taken the time to learn what the Marcionites believed and why they believed it. In any event, I am hanging my hat on the idea that the only way to understand the Alexandrian tradition and its 'secret gospel' is to follow the lead which is contained in the Marcionite reading of these words:

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, comparing spiritual things with spiritual [1 Corinthians 2.1 - 13]

I hope that everyone understands now how the Marcionites read these words. They Marcionites held that the same person who wrote these words also revealed their gospel. They emphasized that it wasn't a human being who wrote this book. This book was written in heaven and then 'revealed' to the apostle by God. It was called 'the gospel of Christ' because of the Marcionite version of Mark 1:1. The Catholics obviously added the word 'Jesus.' The apostle himself was the messiah of the tradition announced by Jesus in the narrative.

In any event, we are only interested in the reason why Clement cites 1 Cor 2.13 in the middle of his allusion to the 'secret thing' at the heart of the adyton referenced above. Origen interestingly takes the phrase “spiritual things with spiritual things” to denote the central hermeneutical procedure that permeates his entire exegetical work as well as that of many other ancient exegetes. We ran across the idea in our last post where Origen references an analogy to a locked house which only can be opened with a special key. In his homily on the ark in Genesis, Origen remarks toward the end "To be sure, if someone can, at leisure, bring together Scripture with Scripture, and compare divine Scripture and fit together ‘spiritual things with spiritual’ (1 Cor 2:13), we are not unmindful that he will discover in this passage many secrets of a profound and hidden mystery.”

For the patristic exegete it is axiomatic that one should seek the explanation of a term or a figure in other texts where the same word is used. To the modern interpreter, conditioned to literary genres and different historical contexts, it seems almost capricious to explain a passage in one book by means of a passage having only a slight verbal similarity from another book of a different literary genre written in a different epoch. To the patristic exegete, or at least the Alexandrian exegete, such a procedure was necessary and absolutely consistent with the basic premise of the unified authorship of Scripture.

Yet I would even go one step further. It is true that Origen generalizes the underlying sense of the original passage to mean that there was were 'secrets' which could only be learned by comparing passages in the Old and New Testaments. The original context however in 1 Corinthians - at least from a Marcionite reading precludes the possible application of the material to the Law and prophets. They interpreted 'human wisdom' as the Torah and 'secret wisdom' as the gospel. So when we read in 1 Corinthians 2.13 "not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, comparing spiritual things with spiritual" the Marcionite interpretation is rather limited. The apostle must have been understood to have encouraged a comparison of the 'secret wisdom' established by the spirit of God and the simplified gospel referenced at the beginning of the section - i.e. "I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."

Is this really such an outlandish suggestion? Let's start with the puzzling description in To Theodore Thus "he composed a more spiritual gospel (pneumatikoteron euaggelion) for those being perfected." [I.21 - 22] The obvious sense here is that we are dealing with two spiritual things - one 'more spiritual' than the other. Isn't 1 Corinthians 2.13's "πνευματικοῖς πνευματικὰ συγκρίνοντες" the perfect context for understanding this perplexing reference in to Theodore? In other words, according to our proposed Marcionite interpretation of the passage both gospels are 'spiritual,' the secret gospel being 'more spiritual' is the one which 'explains' the simple publically proclaimed gospel "useful for increasing the faith of those who were being instructed." [I.17,18]

Now some might question - how can I argue that the Alexandrian tradition was Marcionite - or crypto-Marcionite - when Origen expands the meaning of the original interpretation to include the Old Testament? The answer might be difficult for people to accept because they don't have any contact with crypto-traditions. Yet I am fairly certain that all that Origen was doing was clouding the waters so as to make it less obvious that he was part of a subversive tradition. After all his patron Ambrose was a Marcionite and Origen strangely never references his association with Clement.

My point then is that we should see Origen's adaptation of the original understanding of 1 Corinthians 2.13 to include the Old Testament as a necessary compromise to make him and his tradition seem less Marcionite. In fact, I don't find a single passage where Origen actually applies 1 Cor 2.13 directly to his interpretation of the gospel. There is no way that anyone reading 1 Cor 2.13 in its original context could possibly argue that the apostle wasn't describing that 'the gospel' was meant to be understand by comparing it to another spiritual text. Why else then does Origen refuse to follow the apostle's original advice? The clear inference must be that this exegesis was meant to be done in secret in the adyton of the great church in Alexandria and not mentioned to outsiders.

Instead Origen and his followers provide example after example of applying 1 Cor 2.13 to the various Jewish scriptures to demonstrate their orthodoxy. A case in point in Peri Pascha:

This is what the great prophet, in full understanding, ordains for the Hebrew nation when he envisions the taking and the preserving of the lamb, and then its sacrificing and its eating after being roasted, and the manner of clothing, and the haste in consuming what had been sacrificed, and the burning up of the remains, and the fulfillment of the commandment that this should be done "forever in the generations" to come as a memorial for them "and their sons" (cf. Exod 12:14, 24); for he recognizes there not only the historical but also the anagogical meaning, as it is written: "interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit" (1 Cor 2:13). I will therefore try, with the grace of God, to expound the spiritual meaning in order that the power of the salvation accomplished in Christ may become manifest to those who love instruction ... [Peri Pascha 1039]

What the reader should just see for now is that Origen is quite comfortable explaining the 'spiritual meaning' associated with the 'mere' historical narrative of Exodus by means of canonical texts in the New Testament canon. But this couldn't have been the apostle's original meaning. The context of 1 Cor 2.13 is wholly rooted in a section which compares a 'mere' historical gospel with a more spiritual gospel. The Marcionites had to have identfied their gospel with the 'spiritual wisdom' of 1 Cor 2.6,7. The Dialogues of Adamantius make that explicit.

My point then is that the necessary Marcionite reading of that passage had to have been that the apostle recognizes that there was an 'testimony' about the circumstances which led to Jesus crucifixion which was properly supplemented by knowledge from a secret gospel. I defy anyone to explain the section any other way. I leave you with the question - isn't that exactly what Clement describes in To Theodore?

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 ... [later he] 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 for the use of those who were being perfected. Nevertheless, he yet did not divulge the things not to be uttered, nor did he write down the hierophantic teaching of the Lord, but to the stories already written he added yet others and, moreover, brought in certain traditions of which he knew the interpretation would, as a mystagogue, lead the hearers into the innermost adyton of that truth hidden by seven veils. Thus, in sum, he prepared matters, neither grudgingly nor incautiously, in my opinion, and, dying, he left his composition to the church in Alexandria, where it even yet is very securely kept, being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries.

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