Friday, December 10, 2010

Serapion of Antioch (c. 190 CE) Provides Yet Another Reason to Connect Marcion with the Letter to Theodore [Part One]

The state of scholarship on the Marcionite tradition is embarrassingly pathetic.  It's like no one wants to see reality of the current state of affairs because it means sacrificing the faith we have in the accuracy of the heresiological reports of the Church Fathers. 

Let's revisit the situation once again.  Irenaeus doesn't just say that the Marcionites used a corrupt version of the gospel of Luke.  He says that 'other' Marcionites used a gospel of Mark from which they drew their inference that Jesus was crucifed and Christ stood by watching impassably.  The same idea that some Marcionites used an otherwise unknown gospel of Mark is repeated in the Philosophumena.  One of the greatest authorities on Marcionitism, Aldoph von Harnack also argues that Origen and Epiphanius can be used to piece together another Marcionite inference from Mark 10:38, namely that 'Marcion' ended up enthroned beside Jesus.

We also noted that the eleventh chapter of Book Three of Irenaeus's Against Heresies makes it clear that the Marcionites at the heart of the rejection of the Gospel of John in the late second/early third centuries.  At the same time however, the Marcionites clearly had another gospel besides the canonical gospel of John where they drew their understanding that the author of the Apostolikon was the predicted 'Paraclete' of Jesus (cf. John 14.16).

The place that everything is heading in our investigation is that there appears to be another gospel beside the short 'openly' disseminated gospel associated with the Marcionite tradition.  This text is repeatedly identified as resembling a 'curtailed Gospel' which Catholics would recognize as containing a great preponderance of 'Lukan' material.  Yet there was another gospel in the Marcionite tradition - a pro-evangelium - which seems to have contained a mix of material from all four canonical gospels but which was secretly associated with Mark or 'Marcion' (which is only the diminutive form of the same name)

It is so important that we break our enslavement to the idea that the Marcionite gospel was a 'corrupt version' of Luke.  Indeed we should learn to stop defining the Marcionite pro-evangelium especially only in terms of familiar canonical gospels.  It is for this reason in fact that we find the Marcionite extoling this text in the following terms, "O wonder beyond wonders, rapture, power, and amazement is it, that one can say nothing at all about the gospel, nor even conceive of it, nor compare it with anything."

It is utterly unfortunate that we have allowed the hostile reports of the Church Fathers with their palpable closed-mindedness define the gospels of this separate and very ancient Christian tradition.  If we would just let the light of truth enter into our minds, we see that when the Marcionites are allowed to define even their publicly circulating gospel, we see an uncanny resemblance with the things stated in Clement's Letter to Theodore.  Nowhere is this more telling than in Eusebius's preservation of a certain letter by Serapion the bishop of Antioch at the turn of the third century to the parish of Rhossus of Syria, which lay on the Gulf of Issus, a little to the northwest of Antioch. For it is in this letter that he references the fact that 'Marcionites' defined what seems to be their public gospel as written 'according to Peter.'

This notion of the Marcionites being in possession of a gospel of Peter has always perplexed scholars.  Indeed the seeming implausibility of this statement has led many to conclude that the docetic community mentioned here cannot be the same as the Marcionites of Irenaeus and other Church Fathers.  Indeed Eusebius's transcription of the letter appears to be faulty near the conclusion, Serapion's words being preserved in Greek as follows:

Ἡμεῖς δέ, ἀδελφοί, καταλαβόμενοι ὁποίας ἦν αἱρέσεως ὁ Μαρκιανός, ὃς καὶ ἑαυτῶι ἐναντιοῦτο, μὴ νοῶν ἃ ἐλάλει, ἃ μαθήσεσθε ἐξ ὧν ὑμῖν ἐγράφη, ἐδυνήθημεν γὰρ παρ' ἄλλων τῶν ἀσκησάντων αὐτὸ τοῦτο τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, τοῦτ' ἐστὶν παρὰ τῶν διαδόχων τῶν καταρξαμένων αὐτοῦ, οὓς Δοκητὰς καλοῦμεν τὰ γὰρ πλείονα φρονήματα ἐκείνων ἐστὶ τῆς διδασκαλίας, χρησάμενοι παρ' αὐτῶν διελθεῖν καὶ εὑρεῖν τὰ μὲν πλείονα τοῦ ὀρθοῦ λόγου τοῦ σωτῆρος, τινὰ δὲ προσδιεσταλμένα, ἃ καὶ ὑπετάξαμεν ὑμῖν

As Lampham notes "'meanness of spirit'(μικροψυχίαν) had been generated in the community and Serapion's first visit had failed to detect the underlying cause of the problem. On reflection, and with the benefit of expert advice, he recognized that he had been duped by certain of the brethren whose minds 'lurked in some hole of heresy' (αἱρέσει τινὶ ὁ νοῦς αὐτῶν ἐφώλευεν) influenced, as they were, by a certain Marcianus. His second visit would soon put matters right. The other matter of particular interest in Eusebius' account is that the Bishop of Antioch seems to have taken exception not to certain interpretative changes to the canonical text, but rather to a number of additions (προσδιεσταλμένα) to it." (Lampham, Peter the Myth and the Man p. 16)

Lampham also brushes aside those who claim that someone other than the leader of the Marcionite sect is meant here saying "it is often suggested that this Marcian was not the heretic of Pontus, but the leader of a Docetic sect at Rhossus.  It should be noted, however, that twice previously (HE 4.22.5 and 5.) Eusebius has used the term 'Marcianists' in connection with Marcion, the founder of the well-known heretical sect." (ibid)  Yet the truth is that this is not the only difficulty with this passage.  It would seem to have been very badly translated from Syriac into Greek and so Schaff acknowledges great difficulties with his translation saying that "the interpretation of these last two clauses is beset with difficulty. The Greek reads τουτέστι παρὰ τῶν διαδόχων τῶν καταρξαμένων αὐτοῦ, οὓς Δοκητὰς καλοῦμεν, (τὰ γὰρ φρονήματα τὰ πλείονα ἐκείνων ἐστὶ τῆς διδασκαλίας), κ.τ.λ. The words τῶν καταρξαμένων αὐτοῦ are usually translated “who preceded him,” or “who led the way before him”; but the phrase hardly seems to admit of this interpretation, and moreover the αὐτοῦ seems to refer not to Marcianus, whose name occurs some lines back, but to the gospel which has just been mentioned. There is a difficulty also in regard to the reference of the ἐκείνων, which is commonly connected with the words τῆς διδασκαλίας, but which seems to belong rather with the φρονήματα and to refer to the διαδοχῶν τῶν καταρξαμένων. It thus seems necessary to define the τῆς διδασκαλίας more closely, and we therefore venture, with Closs, to insert the words “of that school,” referring to the Docetæ just mentioned."

We should have very little confidence in Schaff's translation and the other attempts into English fare little better.  The important thing to see is that there is universal agreement that there is (a) a reference to a 'gospel' associated with Peter (b) the idea of something heretical being added to it.  So we read in one rendering that Serapion says that"in this [gospel of Peter] we have discovered many things, superadded to the sound faith of our Saviour ; some, also, attached that are foreign to it, and which we have also subjoined for your sake." 

The difficulty I have with this rendering is that the word 'faith of our Savior' does not appear in the original.  As Schaff notes the subject of the sentence is 'the gospel of Peter' so the original sense has to be that there have been successive productions of this gospel which were docetic in character, not successive generations of docetics who used the same gospel.  So Myllykovski notes:

Das Verb καταρξαμένων hat Schwierigkeiten bereitet. Swete erklärt, das EvPetr sei laut Serapion "emanated from the Docetic party"; Junod, Eusebe, 10 n. 22: "ä savoir grace aux successeurs de ceux qui furent ä ses debuts". Anders Vaganay, Evangile, 3 n. 1: "c'est-ä-dire par les successeurs de ceux qui l'ont intronisé.

So he decides instead to follow Schaff's advice seemingly and make the gospel - rather than the Docetic sect itself - the subject of the sentence in his translation which reads:

Wir kennen, Brüder, die Häresie des Marcian. Er widersprach sich selbst und wusste nicht, was er sagte. Ihr könnt dies aus dem, was euch geschrieben ist, ersehen. Durch andere, die eben dies Evangelium benützten, das heißt durch die Nachfolger seiner Urheber, die wir Doketen nennen, da ja seine Ideen größtenteils dieser Richtung angehören, kamen wir in die Lage, dasselbe zu erhalten und durchzulesen und zu finden, daß zwar das meiste mit der wahren Lehre unseres Erlösers übereinstimmt, manches aber auch davon abweicht, was wir unten für euch anfügen

And which Google translate renders:

We know, brothers, the heresy of Marcian. He contradicted himself and did not know what he said. You can do this from what you wrote is, see. called by others who used just this gospel by the successors of its authors, which we call docetic, since his ideas largely belong to this direction, we were in a position to receive it, and read and find that although the most of the true doctrine of Christ agrees, some but also deviates from what we attach below for you.

I am securing the most scholarly rendering of the German translation possible, but in the meantime it is enough to note that the end result sounds remarkably similar to this in the Letter to Theodore:

As for Mark, then, during Peter's stay in Rome he wrote an account of the Lord's doings, not, however, declaring all of them, nor yet hinting at the secret ones, but selecting what he thought most useful for increasing the faith of those who were being instructed. But when Peter died a martyr, Mark 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 whatever makes 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 sayings of which he knew the interpretation would, as a mystagogue, lead the hearers into the innermost sanctuary of that truth hidden by seven veils

More to follow ...

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