Tuesday, November 16, 2010

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

I have to admit I don't quite understand all the amazement that Clement of Alexandria would have penned something like the Letter to Theodore.  Let's face it - Clement is not Irenaeus.  It is not as if Clement appears wholly 'orthodox' in his surviving material anyway.  It is unusual that Origen so distances himself from his former master so as not to mention him by name and then ultimately succumb to the charge of heresy himself. 

Two things likely worked to Origen's advantage which were not present during Clement's lifetime - (a) the chaos that reigned in the Empire since the murder of the Emperor Alexander Severus and (b) Origen's natural ability to write in a manner so obscure and difficult to 'decode' (save for those who knew the hermeneutical 'keys' he was referencing).

In any event, it is enough for us to say that Clement represents a first attempt to somehow disguise an original Alexandrian Christianity within the broadly defined 'rule' of the newly established 'great Church' of Rome.  Clement, as Schaff and others have already noted, is drawing from Marcosian sources throughout his writings.  Origen's master Ambrose was certainly a Marcionite.  The idea that something 'heretical' was hidden behind the veil that separated the inner sanctum of the only church in Egypt, one devoted to St. Mark, is beyond doubt. 

The only question which remains in front of us is whether this hidden truth was a 'mystic gospel.'  Again, I don't think that anyone can doubt this given the evidence from Book Five of the Stromateis. 

So we return to uncovering Clement of Alexandria's strange interest in describing what we have called the 'sacred physicality' of this church in Book Five.  What is his purpose?  It has to be noted that the Stromateis were originally comprised of seven books.  It is in the next book - Book Six - that Clement reveals his association with the Marcosian sect.  So Book Five should be seen as something of a preparation - a 'penetration of the veil' if you will - which is why the image keeps recurring in the chapters five, six, seven and eight.

We started with an examination of chapter four where Clement lays the ground work for the discussion which follows in chapter ten.  He writes:

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]

In chapters 5, 6, 7 and 8 Clement goes to great lengths to demonstrate his early claim that the Egyptians and Jews represent two systems which stand outside the ultimate truth about God.  In chapter five for instance he goes into great detail about the 'sacred physicality' of the Jewish temple the veil which protected the inner sanctum.  The argument concludes with the declaration that this veil was finally lifted by Jesus - "the Presence which had come, walking forth into the light, loosed the latchet of the oracles of the [old] economy, by unveiling the meaning of the symbols." [ibid 5.8]

Now we have already spent a lot of time examing Origen's discussion of a 'secret book' which remained in the inner sanctum which was the 'key' to unlock the mysteries of the Old Testament.  Clement here speaks only of Jesus's missionary activity in this light.  In other words, that the gospel narrative as a tool which 'unveiled' all the hidden meanings of the Law and prophets.  It would seem that we are very close to acknowledging at least that the Alexandrian tradition understood 'the Gospel' resided in the holy of holies in Alexandria. 

The traditional place of the gospel in an ancient church is the sanctuary.  Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic cathedrals will have a throne for the bishop in the apse behind the Holy Table or 'altar', with seats for the priests (Greek: synthranon) arranged to either side of him.  In order to understand Clement's discussion of the comparison of the Church of St. Mark in Alexandria with the temples of pagan mysteries it is important that we gain some context for how Christians always viewed the symbolism of their holy places.  To this end we will cite from an important reference in Wilkinson's From Synagogue to Church where the author notes the symbolic representation of 'heaven' and 'earth' within the 'sacred physicality' of the building:

Churches were built to be like the heavenly Tabernacle or the heavenly Temple. Often chancel rails divided the buildings into the Holy of Holies (or heaven) and the long room, partly to indicate where people were allowed to pray. The Law excluded all but the Chief Priest in Jerusalem from the Holy of Holies. The Gospel allowed Christian Priests into the sanctuary, but the rails kept out any who were not priests. The railing also represented the firmament, for according to Durandus they divided heaven from earth, or according to Simeon of Thessalonica, divided the sensible realm from the intellectual. These authors lived in the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, but they attest to a tradition over a thousand years old, for which the sources are Josephus and Philo ... In some churches there was a curtain at the entrance of the sanctuary. This stood for the veil which had divided the Holy of Holies from the long room in the Tabernacle, but it also represented the cherubim guarding against Adam's return to Paradise. [p. 144, 145]

It is worth noting that the earliest Coptic churches had a veil separating the inner sanctum from the nave.  We find clear evidence here and elsewhere that the laity were left on the wrong side of the veil, only hearing the service and witnessing the flickering of shadows through the curtain.  The symbolism of 'penetrating the veil' was clearly the equivalent of being transferred from the authority of the Law and prophets to the gospel. 

To this end I don't see how anyone can argue that there wasn't a gospel in Clement's Alexandrian inner sanctum.  This is the place 'the gospel' was always kept.  It was certainly a 'secret gospel' in that no one saw it.  Given that the only church in Alexandria until the end of the third century was St. Mark's, it would stand to reason that their would have been a claim that the original gospel of St. Mark was kept in the inner sanctum.  Indeed there is evidence that this claim was perpetuated into the ninth century.

This is precisely why I find the argument against the authenticity of the existence of something like 'Secret Mark' so annoying.  The critics make it seem as if Clement was making statements in the letter which were completely at odds with his known writings or - worse yet - that the idea that an autograph copy of St. Mark's gospel was kept 'secretly' in the inner sanctum of the church of St. Mark in Alexandria 'drops from the sky' as something without precedent in the tradition. 

Clearly there was a gospel in the inner sanctum and based on the manner in which tradition tells us that some text claiming to be Mark's autograph always resided there in the church down to its destruction under Islamic rule, nothing of what is written in to Theodore can be dismissed out of hand.  An example of this attachment to the Gospel of Mark is still demonstrated by the ritual seating of the Coptic pope which is described by the current Pope in Alexandria as follows:

On seating the Patriarch, " We seat Anba... the chief bishop to the holy apostolic seat of our father the blessed Saint Mark the beholder of God, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen."  After the Patriarch is seated, with the Book of St. Mark on his chest, (The bishops kiss him in the mouth, the priests on his chest and all the deacons kiss his hand.)  The patriarch kisses the Gospel of Mark embraces the apostolic head of the beholder of God, as he becomes his successor and is ready to follow his foot steps.  A song saying, " in succession of Mark the honorable apostle the speaker of the Divinity", another tittle known for him, would be chanted. [Shenouda the Evangelist Mark p 73]

I am really at a loss to explain why it is that there is 'something strange' about the ideas found in to Theodore.  Have these people ever been to a Coptic service?  Have they stood in an early Egyptian Church?  I really don't know sometimes about Biblical scholarship.

In any event the idea that Clement is referencing the existence of a gospel - probably ascribed to Mark - as being present in the inner sanctum of the only Church in Egypt at that time, the church of St. Mark should be seen as highly probable if not absolutely certain.  This will become especially apparent as we continue to through his methodology in the subsequent chapters of Book Five.  We see Clement begin chapter nine for instance by comparing whatever was hidden in the adyton of his church favorably with what was at the shrines of contemporary pagan mysteries:

For only to those who often approach them, and have given them a trial by faith and in their whole life, will they supply the real philosophy and the true theology. They also wish us to require an interpreter and guide. For so they considered, that, receiving truth at the hands of those who knew it well, we would be more earnest and less liable to deception, and those worthy of them would profit. Besides, all things that shine through a veil show the truth grander and more imposing; as fruits shining through water, and figures through veils, which give added reflections to them. For, in addition to the fact that things unconcealed are perceived in one way, the rays of light shining round reveal defects. Since, then, we may draw several meanings, as we do from what is expressed in veiled form, such being the case, the ignorant and unlearned man fails. But the Gnostic apprehends. Now, then, it is not wished that all things should be exposed indiscriminately to all and sundry, or the benefits of wisdom communicated to those who have not even in a dream been purified in soul, (for it is not allowed to hand to every chance comer what has been procured with such laborious efforts); nor are the mysteries of the word to be expounded to the profane. [ibid 5.9]

Now to be sure, it may be argued that Clement isn't being specific about what was being hidden in the inner sanctum so far.  But as we shall see the next chapter makes it absolutely impossible not to see that it was a gospel and by the very context of the statements in what follows - it was certainly kept secret from outsiders, even as Clement develops his arguments here something is being withheld from us.

For the moment at least, Clement seems content merely to emphasize that he as a Christian should not be compelled to reveal the secrets of his religion any more than a pagan philosopher would his:

They say, then, that Hipparchus the Pythagorean, being guilty of writing the tenets of Pythagoras in plain language, was expelled from the school, and a pillar raised for him as if he had been dead. Wherefore also in the Barbarian philosophy they call those dead who have fallen away from the dogmas, and have placed the mind in subjection to carnal passions. "For what fellowship hath righteousness and iniquity?" according to the divine apostle. "Or what communion hath light with darkness? or what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what portion hath the believer with the unbeliever?" For the honours of the Olympians and of mortals lie apart. "Wherefore also go forth from the midst of them, and be separated, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be to you for a Father, and ye shall be my sons and daughters." [ibid]

After going through the various pagan mysteries and their emphasis of a twofold division to mankind he concludes by citing "the great Parmenides of Elea" who describes "thus the teaching of the two ways: 'The one is the dauntless heart of convincing truth; The other is in the opinions of men, in whom is no true faith.'" [ibid] 

Of course all of this is preparation for the introduction in chapter ten of the twofold division to the Christian religion - between those need mere 'faith' and those who are 'perfect.'  This is explicitly referenced in the letter to Theodore but here in Book Five the reference is quite general:
Rightly, therefore, the divine apostle says, “By revelation the mystery was made known to me (as I wrote before in brief, in accordance with which, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets.” (Eph. iii. 3–5). For there is an instruction of the perfect, of which, writing to the Colossians, he says, “We cease not to pray for you, and beseech that ye may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye may walk worthy of the Lord to all pleasing; being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might according to the glory of His power.” (Col. i. 9–11). And again he says, “According to the disposition of the grace of God which is given me, that ye may fulfil the word of God; the mystery which has been hid from ages and generations, which now is manifested to His saints: to whom God wished to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the nations.”(Col. i. 25–27). [ibid 5.10]

Now we have already dealt with some of these issue in previous posts but it is very interesting that Clement should reference 'the apostle' as having some relationship with the 'secret' at the heart of the Alexandrian Church.  A Marcionite would certainly have interpreted these references as relating to the gospel received by the same apostle.

As we saw with the Marcionite interpretation of 1 Corinthians chapter 2, there is a basic chronological understanding that a simple gospel was first established, then an unspeakable revelation followed by the immediate production of a 'mystic' gospel.  The concept of the 'mystikon euaggelion' has been successfully examined by Scott Brown and it might be worth putting some of what he says in its proper context here.  Brown notes that in to Theodore:

the “mysteries” pertaining to the mystikon euangelion are concealed meanings rather than cultic actions is clear enough from Clement’s reference to this gospel’s special logia, where a personified interpretation “initiates” the hearer into a figurative “innermost sanctuary” of truth hidden by veils.  Here, the mystery-religion language of initiation refers explicitly to the interpretation of special passages. Clement used the metaphors of sanctuary and veil elsewhere in reference to the hiding (veiling) of the gnostic truth beneath the literal level of the scriptures (Strom. V.4.19.3–4; cf. VI.15.126.1–4; VI.15.129.4).30 The metaphor of the innermost sanctuary aptly signifiesh the divine realities concealed by the scriptures and the holiness requisite to entering this “space.” [p. 130, 131]

Brown has noted exactly what we have been developing here without the aid of the Marcionite paradigm.  Yet it is only by referencing the Marcionites that the material in chaper ten of Book Five of the Stromateis make sense.

For as long as we stay within the traditional Catholic paradigm Clement seems to be referencing two different people in the Stromateis and to Theodore.  Let's break up the references then in our last citation in order to see how it connects back to the themes in to Theodore.  The first citation from the Apostolikon reads as follows:

Rightly, therefore, the more than human (θεσπέσιος) apostle says, “By revelation the mystery was made known to me, as a wrote before in a few words, by the reading of which you will understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ, which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets”

Yet what Clement does not tell his readers is that the context of this 'mystery' is the revelation of the gospel (Eph 3.6).  There is no doubt about this.  This is explicit in the next line and goes on to reference the apostle's role in 'secretly' supplementing his original writing 'according to faith' with something of much deeper significance. 

Indeed it might be useful to cite the rest of the material in Ephesians to see how Clement secretly understands this 'more than human' apostle to be the author of something which was written after something else which needed 'mystical' explanation. 
By revelation the mystery was made known to me, as a wrote before in a few words, by the reading of which you will understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ, which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets of which by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ.

The point then is that Clement it is only with the Letter to Theodore that we understand that Clement's Alexandrian community secretly understood the name of the apostle we call 'Paul' to have been Mark.  Perhaps this is also why the Marcionites renamed one of the epistles in their Apostolikon 'to the Alexandrians.'

In any event we turn to Clement's next citation from the Apsotolikon the underlying affinity with to Theodore is obvious.  For instead of identifying this secret text as "a more spiritual Gospel for the use of those who were being perfected" (to Theodore I.21.22), Clement goes on to say in reference to the gospel referenced by the apostle:
For there is an instruction of the perfect, of which, writing to the Colossians, he says, “We cease not to pray for you, and beseech that ye may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye may walk worthy of the Lord to all pleasing; being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might according to the glory of His power.” (Col. i. 9–11).

Clement here clearly understands that the apostle assigns the a 'secret wisdom' for 'the perfect' in the form of a mystic gospel, a text which Clement goes on to note was given "according to the disposition of the grace of God which is given me, that ye may fulfil the word of God; the mystery which has been hid from ages and generations, which now is manifested to His saints: to whom God wished to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the nations.”

The idea that Clement secretly understood our 'Paul' to be Mark is witnessed elsewhere in his writings but for the moment it is enough to go on with what immediately follows these words in chapter ten of Book Five of the Stromateis.  Clement clearly witnesses a twofold dispensation again just as we read in to Theodore with respect to Mark:

So that, on the one hand, then, are the mysteries which were hid till the time of the apostles, and were delivered by them as they received from the Lord, and, concealed in the Old Testament, were manifested to the saints. And, on the other hand, there is "the riches of the glory of the mystery in the Gentiles," which is faith and hope in Christ; which in another place he has called the "foundation."

I don't know how many times I have to demonstrate that the basic paradigm ascribed to 'Mark' in to Theodore is obliquely assigned to 'the apostle' in Book Five of the Stromateis but the idea should by now be clear - Clement clearly does hold that there was a mystic gospel hidden in the inner sanctum of the Church of St. Mark in Alexandria which revealed the 'mysteries' associated with a simple gospel of faith revealed by the apostle in a former age.

More to follow ...

Email stephan.h.huller@gmail.com with comments or questions.

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