Thursday, November 18, 2010

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

I have always wondered whether scholarship spends too much time examining the minutae at the expense of the 'big picture.'  In the case of the study of Clement of Alexandria and the question of whether he really authored the Letter to Theodore, I really wonder - what do scholars really know about what Clement's motivations were?  How much do they know about why Clement wrote any of his surviving works?   I wonder even if people can make sense of the real purpose to his writing the Stromateis and in particular its Fifth Book. 

As we are continuing to go through a systematic study of the relationship between the Letter to Theodore and the Fifth Book of the Stromateis, let's stop where we are and ask the most basic of questions.  Indeed it is the kind of question our mothers or spouses or friends would ask us if they bothered to wonder why we spend so much time on things which matter to no one but us. 

What purpose did Clement have in mind when he wrote Book Five of the Stromateis

I know it might seem like a rather simple-minded question but I have posited that he is secretly referring throughout to the same mystikon euangelion that is explicitly referenced in to Theodore.  Many will likely argue against my thesis simply because they don't believe that to Theodore is authentically Clementine.  Nevertheless, I am no longer bothering to engage in that rather limited combat.  I am expanding the battlefield as it were and arguing that the two texts are related. 

In short I am demanding my opponents come up with an alternative to my explanation of Book Five. 

Indeed there is always at least a general acknowledgement that Clement references 'mysteries' and mystical interpretations in his writings.  Yet I have always wondered how so many people can be so sure that to Theodore is a fake when Clement's motives in his other writings have never been properly examined. 

The point is again that the more I go through Book Five of the Stromateis, the more I am convinced that no one has even bothered to look at the big questions.  I mean what is the purpose of setting up the idea that the Jews and the pagans had mysteries symbolized by the 'veil' and 'shrine' (adyton) if not as a set up that Christianity has 'key' to unlock all the mysteries of the religions and philosophical traditions that came before it. 

I think most people who have read Clement will agree with me so far.  But I want to go one step further.  I am convinced that the underlying argument which holds together Book Five necessitates the existence of the mystikon euangelion of to Theodore

My point again is that Book Five has to be about something.  We can't claim that to Theodore isn't written by Clement when we don't have a real sense of why wrote any of his works.   I would argue that there is one thread running throughout Book Five and it is the same understanding that is behind to Theodore and in a strange sense, Clement's Exhortation to the Greeks

According to Clement the mysteries of the Alexandrian Church resemble the Jewish religion of old and the pagan mysteries insofar as there is a truth in the 'adyton' shielded by a 'veil.'  It is enough to say that this truth is ultimately described as mystical (μυστικός) or related to a 'mystical doctrine' ( Prm. p.779 S., cf. Ti. 3.12 D).  In Jewish and pagan mysteries there was some physical object in the sacred place that served as a mystical symbol.  Christianity clearly had no such physical object in its shrine.  My question would be then, what else other than the 'mystic gospel' could Clement be alluding to in Book Five?

I think it was very useful that Scott Brown attempted to shift emphasis away from Smith's translation of mystikon euagellion as 'secret gospel' (II.6, 12) arguing instead that it was "a mystic gospel whose essential truths were hidden beneath the literal level of the narrative." (Mark's Other Gospel p. 54).  Brown argues that this was a "mistranslation" which "unfortunately led Smith to read the notions of physical guarding and secrecy into the statement that the gospel was 'very securely kept' within the church (II.1)."  Brown muses that he doubts that "we are supposed to imagine guards perpetually posted outside a locked room, preventing the curious from discovering a secret text!"

I am not so sure that there is a question of 'mistranslation' in Smith's terminology, only a question of emphasis.  I think Brown is right in emphasizing that above all else this was a text which explained the "essential" or "mystical truths" associated with a widely circulating 'simple' gospel of 'faith.'  Yet our reading of Book Five of the Stromateis had made it clear that this gospel was the 'truth' which was indeed 'kept secure' in the adyton of the church of St. Mark. 

Indeed, Brown's emphasis on the fact that the gospel functioned as a 'mystical' text is important and indeed supported by our study of the material in Book Five.  Nevertheless there is a second meaning to mystikon - that of 'secret' or 'private' - which is clearly evidenced in this book as well as other ancient writers (Cicero Att.4.2.7, Strabo 10.3.9, LXX 3 Ma.3.10 etc.).  Words often have two or three shades of meanings which are often present in any given situation.  I don't think we should be arguing that Smith's choice of words are incorrect, rather than Brown's just happens to widen the contextual framework that we can understand the document. 

In any event, we have made a lot of progress already making sense of references to the 'secret gospel' concept in the Apsotolikon (i.e. 'the letters of Paul').  We made the argument that only when you read these writings with a Marcionite interpretation does the presence of the mystical text of to Theodore become apparent.  Yet there are other clues too that we should consider. 

It is interesting that Clement only once refers to the apostle by the name 'Paul' when citing his writings in Book Five.   There are thirty five references by contrast to ἀπόστολος here usually alongside some overblown title or adjective such as 'the more than human apostle.'  It is all very curious.

I have suggested that the way Clement employs the apostolic letters in Book Five it would seen as if he understood that the apostle had a 'mystical gospel' or 'secret wisdom' which helped explain the 'simple' gospel based on faith which was preached openly throughout the world.   I think there is a connection with the same understanding in Clement's to Theodore.  The only difference is that Clement does not ascribe the 'secret gospel' to Mark in the Stromateis.  He is deliberately evasive about the name of the apostle and the fact that there was even a 'secret gospel.'  

Nevertheless once we get past the childish of rejecting to Theodore merely because it challenges our traditional way of understanding Christianity, we can I think begin unlock new and hidden meanings in Clement's writings including Book Five of the Stromateis

In our last post we note that chapter ten begins with an explicit citation of various passages from the Apostolikon that reinforce the fact that the 'more than human apostle' established a gospel to instruct the perfect.  The first citation at the beginning of the chapter from Ephesians 3 makes this explicit.  There was a mystery from the beginning of time which was revealed in the apostle's gospel. 

Yet in order to explain that this 'mystery' pertains only to a 'mystical' gospel written for the instruction of the perfect, Clement cites a great deal of material from the letter to the Colossians.  Indeed immediately after the citation of Ephesians, Clement segues to Colossians by saying:

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 1.9.11)

Clement then 'jumps' a few verses in Colossians chapter 1 to verses 25 - 27:

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 1.25 - 27)

This establishes that the 'more than human apostle' is again referencing the same mystery of him receiving (and writing) the gospel which he explains as follows:

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."

Schaff's notation makes it seem as if this reference to θεμέλιον or 'foundation' is found in Col 1.27 which is inaccurate.  We will come back to this later.  It is enough to say for the moment that Clement understands that this 'mystery' alluded to by the apostle was delivered by different but related messages to the two 'bodies' within the church - i.e. those who are 'spiritual' and 'carnal.' 

Our last post in this series concluded at this very point in chapter ten.  Yet it should be noted that Clement continues to cite from Colossians to make his point that the first mystery 'manifested to the saints' was delivered only to the 'perfect.'  It was a secret and mystical doctrine which the Marcionites clearly thought was a reference to the gospel of their community.  I have already noted striking similarities to the statement in to Theodore regarding the 'mystical gospel' - "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." (I.20 - 22)

Of course it has to be acknowledged that Clement seems to be far less explicit in the fifth book of the Stromateis.  Whoever Theodore was Clement clearly felt comfortable enough 'pulling down the veil' which seems to be firmly in place throughout the Stromateis.  As we continue to examine Clement's explanation of Colossians chapter 1 we read in what immediately follows our last citation a very gnostic-sounding explanation of the terminology in Col 1.28:

And again, as if in eagerness to divulge this knowledge, he thus writes: "Admonishing every man in all wisdom, that we may present the whole man (πάντα ἄνθρωπον) perfect in Christ (τέλειον ἐν Χριστῷ)" not every man simply (οὐ «πάντα» ἁπλῶς «ἄνθρωπον»), since no one would be unbelieving. Nor does he call 'every man' who believes 'perfect in Christ' (οὐδὲ μὴν «πάντα» τὸν πιστεύοντα «τέλειον ἐν Χριστῷ»), but he says all the man, as if he said the whole man (ἀλλὰ «πάντα ἄνθρωπον» λέγει, ὡς εἰπεῖν ὅλον τὸν ἄνθρωπον), as if purified in body and soul (οἷον σώματι καὶ ψυχῇ ἡγνισμένον).

The whole point of Clement drawing our attention to Colossians chapter 1 is to get to this reference regarding the 'whole man' being presented 'perfect in Christ' (τέλειον ἐν Χριστῷ).  I want to stress again that Clement starts with Ephesians chapter 3 to establish the apostle's mystery of his reception of the gospel and now the parallel reference to the same mystery is used to establish that it was exclusively for those being instructed or made 'perfect in Christ.'

Now it may be asked why the apostle says that the Church 'admonishes' or 'warns' (νουθετοῦντες) those 'in all wisdom.'  Why should they be 'warned'?  Clearly this is a parallel idea to what we read in to Theodore with regards to keeping the existence of the 'mystic gospel' secret.  For Clement immediately goes on to say:

For that the knowledge does not appertain to all, he expressly adds: "Being knit together in love, and unto all the riches of the full assurance of knowledge, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God in Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge.  Continue in prayer, watching therein with thanksgiving." And thanksgiving has place not for the soul and spiritual blessings alone, but also for the body, and for the good things of the body. And he still more clearly reveals that knowledge belongs not to all, by adding: "Praying at the same time for you, that God would open to us a door to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am bound; that I may make it known as I ought to speak." For there were certainly, among the Hebrews, some things delivered unwritten. "For when ye ought to be teachers for the time," it is said, as if they had grown old in the Old Testament, "ye have again need that one teach you which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food. For every one that partaketh of milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness; for he is a babe, being instructed with the first lessons. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, who by reason of use have their senses exercised so as to distinguish between good and evil. Wherefore, leaving the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on to perfection."

Clearly then the 'warning' is related to the 'secret wisdom' in 1 Cor 2.6,7 which first alerted us to a relationship with the 'mystic gospel' that was hidden in the adyton of the church in Alexandria. 

Indeed for those who might argue that Clement alludes to something 'unwritten' - viz. the idea that the mystery in Alexandria was like that formerly "delivered unwritten" (τινα ἀγράφως παραδιδόμενα) among the Hebrew - the passage that follows make manifest that there certainly was a written text. Whatever lay behind the veils of the adyton, the act of 'speaking' it was the first step in the initiates familiarity with the text. Indeed in to Theodore the same idea is expressed - viz. "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." (I.28 - II.2)

Indeed whatever my readership might believe about the authenticity of to Theodore, when they take a second look at the argument which unfolds in Book Five of the Stromateis they will find it impossible to argue that there is not a parallel with regards to their most central theme.  The reason, for instance, that Clement ends this paragraph with a long citation from Hebrews is because it absolutely confirms his point.  Hebrews not only distinguishes between 'milk' and 'solid food' but more importantly for Clement specifically references the latter as developing from the former - i.e. "wherefore, leaving the elementary teachings of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on to perfection" (τὴν τελειότητα φερώμεθα).

Every step along the way to this statement, Clement has reinforced a number of ideas related to the twofold division of the gospel message within the church of Alexandria.  We have already mentioned a few.  However because I am so intrigued by the connection of all of this with the Marcionite tradition I would like to go back to Clement's allusion to the original of the doctrine of 'faith' with something Clement understands the apostle calls θεμέλιον or 'foundation.'  I think the twofold juxtaposition is worth citing again - "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' (θεμέλιον)"

As we have already noted, Clement begins chapter ten by citing from Ephesians chapter 3 before moving on to a lengthy discussion of Colossians chapter 1.  This statement appears at the very beginning of that discussion, just after the citation of Ephesians 3.2 - 5.  It is worth noting that there is a reference to 'foundation' (θεμελίῳ) at the end of Ephesians chapter 2 that some might argue is the reference which Clement has in mind.  Here the apostle makes reference to the twofold division of the Church and Jesus the cornerstone acting as the 'foundation' (Eph 2.20) holding together those "who were far away and peace to those who were near." (Eph 2.17,18)

I don't think this is the reference that Clement has in mind.  The most obvious reason for this is that it makes no sense for Clement to speak of this concept of θεμέλιον to be 'in another place' (ἀλλαχῇ) immediately after citing text which stands literally a line or too after this reference to θεμελίῳ in Ephesians 2.20.  I would argue instead that Clement has actually just referenced the passage that he has in mind a little earlier in Book Five in chapter four where Clement is confirming and even making clearer the very concept he is alluding to here in chapter ten. 

Yet before I bring forward that material I want to go back to our original question - what is the real point of Book Five of the Stromateis?  I would argue that it is to make clear that another 'mystic' gospel was built on top of the foundation of the original 'simple' gospel known to most people. 

Indeed when we go back to the first words of Book Five Clement explicitly outlines this very concept when he says in the second sentence:

we proceed now to the sequel [of our last argument], and must again contemplate faith; for there are some that draw the distinction, that faith has reference to the Son, and knowledge to the Spirit. But it has escaped their notice that, in order to believe truly in the Son, we must believe that He is the Son, and that He came, and how, and for what, and respecting His passion; and we must know who is the Son of God. Now neither is knowledge without faith, nor faith without knowledge. Nor is the Father without the Son; for the Son is with the Father. And the Son is the true teacher respecting the Father; and that we may believe in the Son, we must know the Father, with whom also is the Son. Again, in order that we may know the Father, we must believe in the Son, that it is the Son of God who teaches; for from faith to knowledge by the Son is the Father. And the knowledge of the Son and Father, which is according to the gnostic rule -- that which in reality is gnostic -- is the attainment and comprehension of the truth by the truth. [Strom. 5.1]

These very tentative words initiate Clement's first steps toward making the case that a 'more spiritual gospel' necessarily developed from a simple historical text used to establish people 'in the faith' - or in this case the 'distinction' made by 'some' that "faith has reference to the Son, and knowledge to the Spirit."

The question which must stand out in our mind is why would Clement start his book with this very suspicious argument that there is something more than mere 'faith.'  Indeed throughout what follows at the very beginning of Book Five Clement's language is almost deliberately vague and elusive.  He immediately follows the last citation with the curious reference to the idea that:

We, then, are those who are believers in what is not believed, and who are Gnostics as to what is unknown; that is, Gnostics as to what is unknown and disbelieved by all, but believed and known by a few; and Gnostics, not describing actions by speech, but Gnostics in the exercise of contemplation.

Clement eventually goes on spell out how 'faith' and what is beyond - or better - than faith relate to one another.  We read:

The apostle, then, manifestly announces a twofold faith (διττὴν καταγγέλλων πίστιν), or rather one which admits of growth and perfection for the common faith lies beneath as a foundation (κοινὴ πίστις καθάπερ θεμέλιος). To those, therefore, who desire to be healed, and are moved by faith, He added, "Thy faith hath saved thee."  But that which is excellently built upon is consummated in the believer, and is again perfected by the faith which results from instruction.

The last half of the statement seems to come straight from the Letter to Theodore.  However it might be more useful for us to compare Clement's reference here to the apostle's 'announcement of a twofold faith' (διττὴν καταγγέλλων πίστιν) with his 'announcement of the witness of God' (καταγγέλλων ὑμῖν τὸ μαρτύριον τοῦ θεοῦ) in 1 Corinthians 2.1 which eventually leads to the revelation of a 'secret wisdom' which goes beyond the simple gospel narrative of 'Jesus crucified.' 

I am utterly convinced that Clement is interested the concept of 'foundation' because of what the apostle says in the Alexandrian recension of 1 Cor 3.10.  Clement thinks that these words confirm the idea that his apostle built upon the foundation of a simple gospel of 'faith.'  This citation of the Alexandrian recension of 1 Cor 3.10 (and which I suspect is the original Marcionite recension) comes as we noted in Strom. 5.4. 

However we are still making our way through the first chapter of Book Five where we see a little later, Clement come back once more to the idea that a secret 'spiritual' thing was built upon a foundation of faith:

For that investigation, which accords with faith, which builds, on the foundation of faith, the august knowledge of the truth, we know to be the best.

Yet whenever Clement attempts to explain what is the 'secret wisdom' behind the veils of the inner sanctum in Alexandria he can't help but give a glimpse of some sort of connection with Marcionitism.  Indeed his statement that almost immediately follows is particularly intriguing:

He who communicated to us being and life, has communicated to us also reason, wishing us to live rationally and rightly (καὶ ζῆν μεταδέδωκεν καὶ τοῦ λόγου, λογικῶς τε ἅμα καὶ εὖ ζῆν ἐθέλων ἡμᾶς). For the word of the Father of the universe is not the word that is uttered, but the wisdom and most manifest kindness of God, and His power too (ὁ γὰρ τοῦ πατρὸς τῶν ὅλων λόγος οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ προφορικός, σοφία δὲ καὶ χρηστότης φανερωτάτη τοῦ θεοῦ δύναμίς). 

Even though this statement comes in the middle of an attempt by Clement to put some distance between his Alexandrian tradition and the beliefs of the heretics, the very identification of the 'word' of their community with the Marcionite title for Jesus viz. χρηστὸς.  Indeed as we shall see, chapter ten in Book Five of the Stromateis actually concludes with an explicit identification of Jesus as χρηστὸς.

With the intriguing possibility that Clement might indeed be a crypto-heretic again opened let's skip over the next chapters in our book to go back to uncover why it is that Clement wants to identify the gospel established in the simply 'faith' as the 'foundation' of the mystic text of his community.  As we noted Strom. 5.4 makes reference to the concept of a twofold revelation of doctrine in order to protect the divine mystic truth.  Clement writes:

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 problems from the beginning." Similarly speaks the noble apostle (ὁ γενναῖος ἀπόστολος ) 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."

We have already discussed at length the fact that Clement undoubtedly identified this 'secret wisdom' with the mystic gospel and developed a number of studies of this and related passages in the writings of Clement and Origen. 

We also mentioned at the time that Clement seems to go out of his way to continue to follow the apostle's original argument in 1 Corinthians chapter 2 as if it holds some important clue to the identity of this 'secret wisdom' just referenced.  Now that we have already unraveled Clement's interest in the term 'foundation' (θεμέλιον) I think everyone will see the concept of the 'mystic gospel' lying naked in front of us in the next passage of the Stromateis:

The philosophers did not exert themselves in contemning the appearance of the Lord. It therefore follows that it is the opinion of the wise among the Jews which the apostle inveighs against it. Wherefore he adds, "But we preach, as it is written, what eye hath not seen, and ear hath not heard, and hath not entered into the heart of man, what God hath prepared for them that love Him. For God hath revealed it to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searcheth all things, even the deep things of God." For he recognises the spiritual man and the Gnostic as the disciple of the Holy Spirit dispensed by God, which is the mind of Christ. "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit, for they are foolishness to him." Now the apostle, in contradistinction to gnostic perfection, calls the common faith the foundation, and sometimes milk, writing on this wise: "Brethren, I could not speak to you as to spiritual, but as to carnal, to babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, not with meat: for ye were not able. Neither yet are ye now able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envy and strife, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? " Which things are the choice of those men who are sinners. But those who abstain from these things give their thoughts to divine things, and partake of gnostic food. "According to the grace," it is said, "given to me as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation and something else is built thereon with gold and silver, precious stones."  Such is the gnostic superstructure on the foundation of faith in Christ Jesus.  But "the stubble, and the wood, and the hay," are the additions of heresies. [Strom. 5.4]

With all that we have seen and all that we have learned in this examination how is it possible not to recognize that Clement's variant reading of 1 Corinthians 3.10 makes the apostle explicitly shout out that he has not only laid the 'foundation' (θεμέλιον) - i.e. a gospel of simple faith - but moreover another text developed for the instruction towards perfection which is here identified as 'gold and silver, precious stones."

That Clement thinks the apostle is talking about the augmentation of a gospel is absolutely explicit since he goes out of his way to reference the heresies and their gospels as the addition of 'stubble, wood and hay' which will burn in the fire. 

I will continue to discuss this subject for some time at my blog because I think it is so important but I would like to leave my readers noting how it would would have been impossible to gain this understanding from our version of 1 Corinthians 3.10 as someone - presumably a later editor has changed the Alexandrian reading from:

Κατὰ τὴν χάριν τὴν δοθεῖσάν μοι ὡς σοφὸς ἀρχιτέκτων θεμέλιον τέθεικα, ἄλλος δὲ ἐποικοδομεῖ χρυσίον καὶ ἀργύριον, λίθους τιμίους

to our present - and seemingly deliberately corrupt reading of:
Κατὰ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν δοθεῖσαν μοι ὡς σοφὸς ἀρχιτέκτων θεμέλιον ἔθηκα, ἄλλος δὲ ἐποικοδομεῖ. ἕκαστος δὲ βλεπέτω πῶς ἐποικοδομεῖ. θεμέλιον γὰρ ἄλλον οὐδεὶς δύναται θεῖναι παρὰ τὸν κείμενον, ὅς ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς Χριστός. εἰ δέ τις ἐποικοδομεῖ ἐπὶ τὸν θεμέλιον τοῦτον χρυσόν, ἄργυρον, λίθους τιμίους

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and another is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw

I would even go so far as to say that the correction of this section - with the reference to effectively 'going beyond what was said by Jesus Christ' - betrays knowledge that this passage was used to support the existence of the 'mystic gospel' of Mark.  But I think I have said more than enough for people to think about for some time.

More to follow ... 

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