Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why Did a Later Editor Blame the Heretics For Irenaeus's Gospel Centos?

When you are writing blog posts as long as I have, you become quite aware when what you are writing will be very difficult for most people to understand.  This is one of those posts.  I don't think many of my readers will even know what a 'cento' is, nor indeed where or why Irenaeus says that the gospels of the heretics were developed in the manner of centos generally.  Nevertheless I have to write this post because it is so essential to the understanding of how the New Testament came to be and why the Letter to Theodore is so utterly essential to the study of that phenomenon.

A cento is a type of poem which literally was conceived as a patchwork of lines adapted from Homer or Virgil for a whole new literary purpose.  There were centos dating back to the period two hundred years before the Common Era when lines from the Iliad and Odyssey were rearranged and developed into something totally new.  The cento was not a respected literary genre until much later in history (i.e. to a period when classical culture had already died).  It was nevertheless extremely popular in Rome during the reign of Commodus, the time Irenaeus was telling us that 'heretics' were developing new gospels from the canonical four.

Irenaeus's testimony is extremely significant for the study of the 'Secret Mark' because a number of scholars including Robert Grant connect Irenaeus's description with the longer gospel of Alexandria.  I think Grant has missed the mark here and not scrutinized Irenaeus's remarks and seen that our canonical gospels might themselves have been centos created in the Commodian period.  I have always noted that the name 'Lukas' (a rarity in antiquity) is clearly related to the Emperor's given name 'Lucius.'  Luke literally emerges out of a void to become the spokesmen for Paul, the original theologian of Christianity.  I have also always felt that Irenaeus speaks of there being a 'danger' for the heretics in rejecting the two compositions associated with 'Luke' (i.e. the anti-Marcionite gospel and Acts) is a reflection of the contemporary association of the text with the Emperor (cf. AH 2.15,16)

The point however is that it is very important that Irenaeus puts forward the cento as an explanative tool for understanding why many gospels seem to have been composed in the Commodian period.  Indeed Celsus similarly notes that "certain of the Christian believers, like persons who in a fit of drunkenness lay violent hands upon themselves, have corrupted the Gospel from its original integrity, to a threefold, and fourfold, and many-fold degree, and have remodelled it, so that they might be able to answer objections." (Origen Contra Celsum 2.27)  Origen only says that he does not "know of any others who have altered the Gospel, save the. followers of Marcion, and those of Valentinus, and, I think, also those of Lucian. But such an allegation is no charge against the Christian system, but against those who dared so to trifle with the Gospels." (ibid)  Yet Irenaeus's testimony regarding the 'inspiration' of centos is clearly related.

It is now very important for us to see that Irenaeus's original statement about the development of gospels from centos was itself not a part of the original material behind Against Heresies 1.8.  The reason we know this is that Tertullian preserves an older version of Irenaeus's original treatise written against the Valentinians (i.e. before the material was fixed to the 'Five Books Against Heresies' by a later editor).  Our side by side comparison not only shows how significant the 'touch up job' was in Against Heresies (Photius explicitly mentions how problematic the original material of Irenaeus was cf. Bibliotheca  120) but that allusion to the gospels being manufactured as centos was certainly added much later, probably by the final editor of Irenaeus's corpus (Hippolytus?).

I have emboldened the original material from Irenaeus's lost treatise against the Valentinians in the left column and then shown where the parallels are in what survives in Against Heresies.  The reader should notice first of all the number of times that the editor of Against Heresies has rearranged original material from Irenaeus to somewhere else in the same argument.  I have also emboldened in red the introduction of the cento argument which is wholly unknown to the earliest copies of the anti-Valentinian treatise.  It should also be noted that the editor of the Five Books Against Heresies has not only inserted the red material at the point shown below but also stopped following the original Against the Valentinians treatise of Irenaeus redistributing the material which follows (a) earlier in the narrative (cf. 20, 21, 22) and then again in what proceeds in AH 1.6 (all of our observations here are based on Riley's original study).

Adv. Valentininos 27 -  31

Now I continue with what they say about Christ on whom they graft Jesus--with the same liberty as when they stuff the spirit-like seed in him along with the soul-like breath. They make him a mash of inventions of both Men and gods: [1] the Demiurge also has his own Christ, his natural son (consequently soul-like), produced from himself, preached by the prophets.

[2] His nature must be decided by prepositions: specifically, he was produced through a virgin, not from a virgin, because he came into existence carried in a virgin in a transportational, not a generational, sense. He came through her, not from her; he experienced her not as a mother but as a conveyance. [3] Upon this Christ, then, in the sacrament of baptism, Jesus descended in the form of a dove. Apart from this, there was even [4] in this Christ spice from the spirit-like seed of Achamoth-to keep the rest of the stuffing from spoiling, I presume.  [5] Following the analogy of the first Tetrad, they crowd him with four substances: the spirit-like from Achamoth, the soul-like from the Demiurge, the bodily which is indescribable, and the substance from Saviour, namely dove-like. Saviour at any rate remained in Christ untouched, unhurt, unknown. Finally, [6] when captured, he left him during Pilate's questioning. [7] Likewise, the seed from his mother did not receive injury, being equally, immune and unknown even to the Demiurge. [8] The soul-like and bodily Christ suffered to illustrate the experience of the higher Christ who was stretched on Cross, otherwise known as Horos, when he shaped Achamoth in essence, though not in intelligible form. In such a way everything becomes an illustration or image; even, obviously, these Christians themselves are imaginary.

[9] Meanwhile, the Demiurge is still ignorant of all this. [10] Even though he is supposed to proclaim these matters through the prophets, he is not aware of the true meaning of this task of his, because [11] the Valentinians allot the prophets' patronage to three entities: Achamoth, her seed, the Demiurge. [12] Anyway, when he has heard of Saviour's approach, he runs to meet him crying "Hail!" [13] He came with his entire force (the symbol for this is the centurion in the gospel), and when he was enlightened by Saviour concerning everything, he discovered his own prospects, namely that he would succeed to his mother's office. [14] Hereafter he administers the world confidently, especially for the sake of protecting the church as long as necessary. I shall now gather from various sources material to demonstrate what they have decreed about the classification of the human race. [15] They say that from the beginning man had a threefold nature which was nevertheless united in Adam. After Adam they divide up man's nature according to its individual characteristics. [16] They have found an opportunity to explicate this sort of division in the posterity of Adam himself, a posterity, divided into three different moral characters. Cain, Abel, Seth, who can be called the well-springs of the human race, distribute to this race their qualities of character and the results of how they were judged. [17] Specifically, the Valentinians assign the earthy nature, regressed from salvation, to Cain; the soul-like nature, balanced between good and evil prospects, they place in Abel; the spirit-like, prejudged fit for salvation, they find in Seth. [18] Consequently they separate souls into two groups, good or evil, according to their nature, earthy from Cain, soul-like from Abel. [19] They distinguish only two groups because they put the spirit-like nature from Seth on a different level arbitrarily and call it grace, not a nature, a grace which Achamoth rains from above into good souls, i.e., souls of the soul-like category. (Only into these, for the earthy kind, i.e., evil, can never attain salvation. They define this earthy nature as unchangeable and incorrigible by nature.) 


[20] Therefore, this grain of a spirit-like seed is insignificant and small when it is sown, but because of its training, the worthiness of these souls grows and advances--as we said above--[21] until they become so outstanding that the Demiurge, ignorant at that time (i.e., before Christ's appearance) of the cause, values them highly. [22] From their number he habitually chose kings and priests. Even now if they attain a full and complete knowledge of these idiocies, they will gain certain salvation, a salvation which is indeed due them since they are born into the spirit-like state.

Because of these beliefs, they do not consider good works necessary for themselves, and they do not observe any calls of duty. They also avoid the necessity of being martyrs by any convenient quibble, for they say this rule of works has been prescribed for the soul-like seed in order that we might work out by our actions that salvation which we do not possess by virtue of our nature ...

Adv. Haeresis 1.7.1 - 1.8.1

... [1] There are also some who maintain that he (= the Demiurge) also produced Christ as his own proper son, but of an animal nature, and that mention was made of him by the prophets. [2] This Christ passed through Mary just as water flows through a tube; [3] and there descended upon him in the form of a dove it the time of his baptism, that Saviour who belonged to the Pleroma, and was formed by the combined efforts of all its inhabitants. [4] In him there existed also that spiritual seed which proceeded from Achamoth. [5] They hold, accordingly, that our Lord, while preserving the type of the first-begotten and primary tetrad, was compounded of these four substances,--of that which is spiritual, in so far as He was from Achamoth; of that which is animal, as being from the Demiurge by a special dispensation, inasmuch as He was formed [corporeally] with unspeakable skill; and of the Saviour, as respects that dove which descended upon Him. [7] He also continued free from all suffering, since indeed it was not possible that He should suffer who was at once incomprehensible and invisible. [6] And for this reason the Spirit of Christ, who had been placed within Him, was taken away when He was brought before Pilate.  [7] They maintain, further, that not even the seed which He had received from the mother [Achamoth] was subject to suffering; for it, too, was impassible, as being spiritual, and [9]  invisible even to the Demiurge himself. It follows, then, according to them, that [8] the animal Christ, and that which had been formed mysteriously by a special dispensation, underwent suffering, that the mother might exhibit through him a type of the Christ above, namely, of him who extended himself through Stauros, and imparted to Achamoth shape, so far as substance was concerned. For they declare that all these transactions were counterparts of what took place above.

[20] They maintain, moreover, that those souls which possess the seed of Achamoth are superior to the rest, and are more dearly loved by the Demiurge than others, [21] while he knows not the true cause thereof, but imagines that they are what they are through his favor towards them.[22]Wherefore, also, they say he distributed them to prophets, priests, and kings; and they declare that many things were spoken by this seed through the prophets, inasmuch as it was endowed with a transcendently lofty nature. [11] The mother also, they say, spake much about things above, and that both through him and through the souls which were formed by him. Then, again, they divide the prophecies [into different classes], maintaining that one portion was uttered by the mother, a second by her seed, and a third by the Demiurge. In like manner, they hold that Jesus uttered some things under the influence of the Saviour, others under that of the mother, and others still under that of the Demiurge, as we shall show further on in our work.

The Demiurge, while ignorant of those things which were higher than himself, was indeed excited by the announcements made [through the prophets], but treated them with contempt, attributing them sometimes to one cause and sometimes to another; either to the prophetic spirit (which itself possesses the power of self-excitement), or to [mere unassisted] man, or that it was simply a crafty device of the lower [and baser order of men]. He remained thus ignorant until the appearing of the Lord. [12] But they relate that when the Saviour came, the Demiurge learned all things from Him, and gladly with all, his power joined himself to Him. [13] They maintain that he is the centurion mentioned in the Gospel, who addressed the Saviour in these words: "For I also am one having soldiers and servants under my authority; and whatsoever I command they do. [14] They further hold that he will continue administering the affairs of the world as long as that is fitting and needful, and specially that he may exercise a care over the Church; while at the same time he is influenced by the knowledge of the reward prepared for him, namely, that he may attain to the habitation of his mother.  [15] They conceive, then, of three kinds of men, spiritual, material, and animal, represented by Cain, Abel, and Seth. [16] These three natures are no longer found in one person, but constitute various kinds [of men]. The material goes, as a matter of course, into corruption. [19] The animal, if it make choice of the better part, finds repose in the intermediate place; but if the worse, it too shall pass into destruction. But they assert that the spiritual principles which have been sown by Achamoth, being disciplined and nourished here from that time until now in righteous souls (because when given forth by her they were yet but weak), at last attaining to perfection, shall be given as brides to the angels of the Saviour, while their animal souls of necessity rest for ever with the Demiurge in the intermediate place.

And again subdividing the animal souls themselves, [18] they say that some are by nature good, and others by nature evil. The good are those who become capable of receiving the [spiritual] seed; the evil by nature are those who are never able to receive that seed.

Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions. Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skilful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skilful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king's form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king. In like manner do these persons patch together old wives' fables, and then endeavour, by violently drawing away from their proper connection, words, expressions, and parables whenever found, to adapt the oracles of God to their baseless fictions. We have already stated how far they proceed in this way with respect to the interior of the Pleroma. (AH 1.8.1 INSERTION)

Then, again, as to those things outside of their Pleroma, the following are some specimens of what they attempt to accommodate out of the Scriptures to their opinions ...

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