Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Irenaeus's Consistent Use of Psalm 110 to Refute the Ancient Alexandrian Enthronement Ritual Originally Associated with Secret Mark [Part One]

I will have to break our current discussion of the 'Gospel of Jesus' as a mystical retelling of the story of Joshua  to revisit the topic of 'Secret Mark' once again.   I am quite literally always reading Patristic literature in my spare time (how this startling fact came about I shall never quite understand).  I happened to be glancing through Irenaeus's Against Heresies Book Two and came across a startling parallel with the opening words of  the Letter to Theodore.  Yet in order to fully understand the discovery, a little will have to be said about Irenaeus's train of though leading up to the section of text (because Irenaeus's writings have a strange, rambling flow to them which is difficult to describe if you haven't read them enough).

Book Two of Irenaeus's Against Heresies can only be compared to the way musical artists sometimes have left over music from a recording session and happen to repackage or re-release the material at a later date.  Much of the stuff that makes its way here reads like a commentary on the description of sects which appears in Book One.  Indeed it is impossible not to see in fact that one of the sects which Irenaeus identifies as the Marcosians is really the Alexandrian tradition of St. Mark associated with Clement the author of the Letter to Theodore.

I have written about this many times before but it should be noted that many scholars have seen parallels between what Irenaeus says about the followers of a certain 'Mark' and the mystical discussion which takes up much of Book Six in Clement's Stromateis.  The same can be said for the discussion which starts by Chapter Twenty of Book Two of Against Heresies.  For Irenaeus attacks Clement's interest in the mysticism of numbers and letters throughout as well (a) the fact that there are twelve apostles had great significance (AH 2.21), (b) that Jesus was thirty years old at the beginning of his ministry (ibid 2.22), (c) that Jesus ministry lasted for just a year (ibid), (d) that the 'year of favor' designated the Jewish concept of Jubilee rather than - as Irenaeus would have it - an indefinite period of grace after Jesus's crucifixion (ibid), (e) that Clement's mystical interpretation of the numbers associated with the inner sanctum of the Jewish temple was silly (ibid 2.24) and much more.

It is at the end of this long and developed criticism of the Alexandrian tradition's dependence on Pythagorean ideas taken over from Philo Irenaeus makes specific criticizes a core mystical doctrine of the same tradition which sounds in my mind remarkably like the understanding behind Clement of Alexandria's report of the Carpocratians in the Letter to Theodore.   Irenaeus's point is not only that the Alexandrian heresies separate 'the Father' from the traditional God of Israel - i.e. the Logos - but that they have some mystical doctrine of the generation of this 'Father' from the Logos from the parables and mystical sayings of their gospel.  It is so easy to lose sight of what Irenaeus is actually reporting about the heresies given his rambling and often incoherent style.  Nevertheless, even though Irenaeus does not specifically make reference to a 'Secret Gospel of Mark' whether this 'generation' which he keeps referring to in the material is something more than a mere 'abstract' understanding of the manner in which the godhead was a collection of semi-independent hypostases.

Indeed we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the term 'Father' was the traditional Alexandrian designation for the heir of the throne of St. Mark.  In other words, I wonder whether the discussion is about a human enthronement which developed from the addition to 'Secret Mark' which manifests itself in the Letter to Theodore.  In any event, I will leave it up to my readers to decide.  Here is the whole passage in question with the possible parallel sections to the Letter to Theodore highlighted:

A sound mind, and one which does not expose its possessor to danger, and is devoted to piety and the love of truth, will eagerly meditate upon those things which God has placed within the power of mankind, and has subjected to our knowledge, and will make advancement in them, rendering the knowledge of them easy to him by means of daily study. These things are such as fall under our observation, and are clearly and unambiguously in express terms set forth in the Sacred Scriptures. And therefore the parables ought not to be adapted to ambiguous expressions.

For, if this be not done, both he who explains them will do so without danger, and the parables will receive a like interpretation from all, and the body of truth remains entire, with a harmonious adaptation of its members, and without any collision (of its several parts). But to apply expressions which are not clear or evident to interpretations of the parables, such as every one discovers for himself as inclination leads him.  For in this way no one will possess the rule of truth; but in accordance with the number of persons who explain the parables will be found the various systems of truth, in mutual opposition to each other, and setting forth antagonistic doctrines, like the questions current among the Gentile philosophers.

According to this course of procedure, therefore, man would always be inquiring but never finding, because he has rejected the very method of discovery. And when the Bridegroom (cf. Matt. 25.5) comes, he who has his lamp untrimmed, and not burning with the brightness of a steady light, is classed among those who obscure the interpretations of the parables, forsaking Him who by His plain announcements freely imparts gifts to all who come to Him, and is excluded from His marriage-chamber.

Since, therefore, the entire Scriptures, the prophets, and the Gospels, can be clearly, unambiguously, and harmoniously understood by all, although all do not believe them; and since they proclaim that one only God, to the exclusion of all others, formed all things by His word, whether visible or invisible, heavenly or earthly, in the water or under the earth, as I have shown from the very words of Scripture; and since the very system of creation to which we belong testifies, by what falls under our notice, that one Being made and governs it,—those persons will seem truly foolish who blind their eyes to such a clear demonstration, and will not behold the light of the announcement [made to them]; but they put fetters upon themselves, and every one of them imagines, by means of their obscure interpretations of the parables, that he has found out a God of his own.

For that there is nothing whatever openly, expressly, and without controversy said in any part of Scripture respecting the Father conceived of by those who hold a contrary opinion, they themselves testify, when they maintain that the Saviour privately taught these same things not to all, but to certain only of His disciples who could comprehend them, and who understood what was intended by Him through means of arguments, enigmas, and parables. They come, (in fine) to this, that they maintain there is one Being who is proclaimed as God, and another as Father, He who is set forth as such through means of parables and enigmas.

But since parables admit of many interpretations, what lover of truth will not acknowledge, that for them to assert God is to be searched out from these, while they desert what is certain, indubitable, and true, is the part of men who eagerly throw themselves into danger, and act as if destitute of reason? And is not such a course of conduct not to build one’s house upon a rock (Matt. 7.25) which is firm, strong, and placed in an open position, but upon the shifting sand?  Hence the overthrow of such a building is a matter of ease.

Having therefore the truth itself as our rule and the testimony concerning God set clearly before us, we ought not, by running after numerous and diverse answers to questions, to cast away the firm and true knowledge of God. But it is much more suitable that we, directing our inquiries after this fashion, should exercise ourselves in the investigation of the mystery and administration of the living God, and should increase in the love of Him who has done, and still does, so great things for us; but never should fall from the belief by which it is most clearly proclaimed that this Being alone is truly God and Father, who both formed this world, fashioned man, and bestowed the faculty of increase on His own creation, and called him upwards from lesser things to those greater ones which are in His own presence, just as He brings an infant which has been conceived in the womb into the light of the sun, and lays up wheat in the barn after He has given it full strength on the stalk.

But it is one and the same Creator who both fashioned the womb and created the sun; and one and the same Lord who both reared the stalk of corn, increased and multiplied the wheat, and prepared the barn.  If, however, we cannot discover explanations of all those things in Scripture which are made the subject of investigation, yet let us not on that account seek after any other God besides Him who really exists. For this is the very greatest impiety. We should leave things of that nature to God who created us, being most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit; but we, inasmuch as we are inferior to, and later in existence than, the Word of God and His Spirit, are to that degree destitute of the knowledge of His mysteries.

And there is no cause for wonder if this is the case with us as respects things spiritual and heavenly, and such as require to be made known to us by revelation, since many even of those things which lie at our very feet [1] transcend our knowledge, so that even these we must leave to God. For it is fitting that He should excel all (in knowledge).

For how stands the case, for instance, if we endeavour to explain the cause of the rising of the Nile? We may say a great deal, plausible or otherwise, on the subject; but what is true, sure, and incontrovertible regarding it, belongs only to God.  Then, again, the dwelling-place of birds—of those, I mean, which come to us in spring, but fly away again on the approach of autumn—though it is a matter connected with this world, escapes our knowledge. What explanation, again, can we give of the flow and ebb of the ocean, although every one admits there must be a certain cause (for these phenomena)? Or what can we say as to the nature of those things which lie beyond it?

What, moreover, can we say as to the formation of rain, lightning, thunder, gatherings of clouds, vapours, the bursting forth of winds, and such like things; or tell as to the storehouses of snow, hail, and other like things? (What do we know respecting) the conditions requisite for the preparation of clouds, or what is the real nature of the vapours in the sky? What as to the reason why the moon waxes and wanes, or what as to the cause of the difference of nature among various waters, metals, stones, and such like things? On all these points we may indeed say a great deal while we search into their causes, but God alone who made them can declare the truth regarding them.

If, therefore, even with respect to creation, there are some things (the knowledge of) which belongs only to God, and others which come within the range of our own knowledge, what ground is there for complaint, if, in regard to those things which we investigate in the Scriptures (which are throughout spiritual), we are able by the grace of God to explain some of them, while we must leave others in the hands of God, and that not only in the present world, but also in that which is to come, so that God should for ever teach, and man should for ever learn the things taught him by God?

As the apostle has said on this point, that, when other things have been done away, then these three, “faith, hope, and charity, shall endure.” [1 Cor. 13.13]. For faith, which has respect to our Master, endures unchangeably, assuring us that there is but one true God, and that we should truly love Him for ever, seeing that He alone is our Father; while we hope ever to be receiving more and more from God, and to learn from Him, because He is good, and possesses boundless riches, a kingdom without end, and instruction that can never be exhausted.

If, therefore, according to the rule which I have stated, we leave some questions in the hands of God, we shall both preserve our faith uninjured, and shall continue without danger; and all Scripture, which has been given to us by God, shall be found by us perfectly consistent; and the parables shall harmonize with those passages which are perfectly plain; and those statements the meaning of which is clear, shall serve to explain the parables; and through the many diversified utterances (of Scripture) there shall be heard one harmonious melody in us, praising in hymns that God who created all things.

If, for instance, any one asks, “What was God doing before He made the world?” we reply that the answer to such a question lies with God Himself. For that this world was formed perfect by God, receiving a beginning in time, the Scriptures teach us; but no Scripture reveals to us what God was employed about before this event. The answer therefore to that question remains with God, and it is not proper for us to aim at bringing forward foolish, rash, and blasphemous suppositions (in reply to it); so, as by one’s imagining that he has discovered the origin of matter, he should in reality set aside God Himself who made all things.

For consider, all ye who invent such opinions, since the Father Himself is alone called God, who has a real existence, but whom ye style the Demiurge; since, moreover, the Scriptures acknowledge Him alone as God; and yet again, since the Lord confesses Him alone as His own Father, and knows no other, as I shall show from His very words, —when ye style this very Being the fruit of defect, and the offspring of ignorance, and describe Him as being ignorant of those things which are above Him, with the various other allegations which you make regarding Him,—consider the terrible blasphemy against Him who truly is God.

Ye seem to affirm gravely and honestly enough that ye believe in God; but then, as ye are utterly unable to reveal any other God, ye declare this very Being in whom ye profess to believe, the fruit of defect and the offspring of ignorance. Now this blindness and foolish talking flow to you from the fact that ye reserve nothing for God, but ye wish to proclaim the nativity and production both of God Himself, of His Ennœa, of His Logos, and Life, and Christ; and ye form the idea of these from no other than a mere human experience; not understanding, as I said before, that it is possible, in the case of man, who is a compound being, to speak in this way of the mind of man and the thought of man; and to say that thought [ennœa] springs from mind [sensus], intention [enthymesis] again from thought, and word [logos] from intention [2] and (to say) that a man sometimes is at rest and silent, while at other times he speaks and is active.

But since God is all mind, all reason, all active spirit, all light, and always exists one and the same, as it is both beneficial for us to think of God, and as we learn regarding Him from the Scriptures, such feelings and divisions (of operation) cannot fittingly be ascribed to Him. For our tongue, as being carnal, is not sufficient to minister to the rapidity of the human mind, inasmuch as that is of a spiritual nature, for which reason our word is restrained within us, and is not at once expressed as it has been conceived by the mind, but is uttered by successive efforts, just as the tongue is able to serve it.

But God being all Mind, and all Logos, both speaks exactly what He thinks, and thinks exactly what He speaks. For His thought is Logos, and Logos is Mind, and Mind comprehending all things is the Father Himself. He, therefore, who speaks of the mind of God, and ascribes to it a special origin of its own, declares Him a compound Being, as if God were one thing, and the original Mind another. So, again, with respect to Logos, when one attributes to him the third (= Bythus, Nous, Logos) place of production from the Father; on which supposition he is ignorant of His greatness; and thus Logos has been far separated from God. As for the prophet, he declares respecting Him, “Who shall describe His generation?” [Isa. 53. 8]. But ye pretend to set forth His generation from the Father, and ye transfer the production of the word of men which takes place by means of a tongue to the Word of God, and thus are righteously exposed by your own selves as knowing neither things human nor divine.

But, beyond reason inflated (with your own wisdom), ye presumptuously maintain that ye are acquainted with the unspeakable mysteries of God; while even the Lord, the very Son of God, allowed that the Father alone knows the very day and hour of judgment, when He plainly declares, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, neither the Son, but the Father only.” [Mark 13.32].  If, then, the Son was not ashamed to ascribe the knowledge of that day to the Father only, but declared what was true regarding the matter, neither let us be ashamed to reserve for God those greater questions which may occur to us.

For no man is superior to his master [cf. Matt. 10. 24; Luke 11.40]. If any one, therefore, says to us, “How then was the Son produced by the Father?” we reply to him, that no man understands that production, or generation, or calling, or revelation, or by whatever name one may describe His generation, which is in fact altogether indescribable. Neither Valentinus, nor Marcion, nor Saturninus, nor Basilides, nor angels, nor archangels, nor principalities, nor powers (possess this knowledge), but the Father only who begat, and the Son who was begotten.

Since therefore His generation is unspeakable, those who strive to set forth generations and productions cannot be in their right mind, inasmuch as they undertake to describe things which are indescribable. For that a word is uttered at the bidding of thought and mind, all men indeed well understand. Those, therefore, who have excogitated (the theory of) emissions have not discovered anything great, or revealed any abstruse mystery, when they have simply transferred what all understand to the only-begotten Word of God; and while they style Him unspeakable and unnameable, they nevertheless set forth the production and formation of His first generation, as if they themselves had assisted at His birth, thus assimilating Him to the word of mankind formed by emissions.

But we shall not be wrong if we affirm the same thing also concerning the substance of matter, that God produced it for we have learned from the Scriptures that God holds the supremacy over all things. But whence or in what way He produced it, neither has Scripture anywhere declared; nor does it become us to conjecture, so as, in accordance with our own opinions, to form endless conjectures concerning God, but we should leave such knowledge in the hands of God Himself. In like manner, also, we must leave the cause why, while all things were made by God, certain of His creatures sinned and revolted from a state of submission to God, and others, indeed the great majority, persevered, and do still persevere, in (willing) subjection to Him who formed them, and also of what nature those are who sinned, and of what nature those who persevere,— to God and His Word, to whom alone He said, “Sit at my right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.” [Ps. 110.1].

But as for us, we still dwell upon the earth, and have not yet sat down upon His throne. For although the Spirit of the Saviour that is in Him “searcheth all things, even the deep things of God,” [1 Cor. 2.10] yet as to us “there are diversities of gifts, differences of administrations, and diversities of operations;” [1 Cor. 12. 4 - 6]. and we, while upon the earth, as Paul also declares, “know in part, and prophesy in part.” [1 Cor. 13.9]. Since, therefore, we know but in part, we ought to leave all sorts of questions in the hands of Him who in some measure bestows grace on us.

That eternal fire is prepared for sinners, both the Lord has plainly declared, and the rest of the Scriptures demonstrate. And that God foreknew that this would happen, the Scriptures do in like manner demonstrate, since He prepared eternal fire from the beginning for those who were to transgress (His commandments); but the cause itself of the nature of such transgressors neither has any Scripture informed us, nor has an apostle told us, nor has the Lord taught us. It becomes us, therefore, to leave the knowledge of this matter to God, even as the Lord does of the day and hour (of judgment), and not to rush to such an extreme of danger, that we will leave nothing in the hands of God, even though we have received only a measure of grace (from Him in this world).

But when we investigate points which are above us, and with respect to which we cannot reach satisfaction, that we should display such an extreme of presumption as to lay open God, and things which are not yet discovered, as if already we had found out, by the vain talk about emissions, God Himself, the Creator of all things, and to assert that He derived His substance from apostasy and ignorance, so as to frame an impious hypothesis in opposition to God.

Moreover, they possess no proof of their system, which has but recently been invented by them, sometimes resting upon certain numbers, sometimes on syllables, and sometimes, again, on names; and there are occasions, too, when, by means of those letters which are contained in letters, by parables not properly interpreted, or by certain conjectures, they strive to establish that fabulous account which they have devised. For if any one should inquire the reason why the Father, who has fellowship with the Son in all things, has been declared by the Lord alone to know the hour and the day (of judgment), he will find at present no more suitable, or becoming, or safe reason than this (since, indeed, the Lord is the only true Master), that we may learn through Him that the Father is above all things.

For “the Father,” says He, “is greater than I.” [John 14.28]. The Father, therefore, has been declared by our Lord to excel with respect to knowledge; for this reason, that we, too, as long as we are connected with the scheme of things in this world, should leave perfect knowledge, and such questions, to God, and should not by any chance, while we seek to investigate the sublime nature of the Father, fall into the danger of starting the question whether there is another God above God.

But if any lover of strife contradict what I have said, and also what the apostle affirms, that “we know in part, and prophesy in part,” [1 Cor. 13.9] and imagine that he has acquired not a partial, but a universal, knowledge of all that exists, —being such an one as Valentinus, or Ptolemæus, or Basilides, or any other of those who maintain that they have searched out the deep things of God,—let him not (arraying himself in vainglory) boast that he has acquired greater knowledge than others with respect to those things which are invisible, or cannot be placed under our observation; but let him, by making diligent inquiry, and obtaining information from the Father, tell us the reasons (which we know not) of those things which are in this world, —as, for instance, the number of hairs on his own head, and the sparrows which are captured day by day, and such other points with which we are not previously acquainted,—so that we may credit him also with respect to more important points.

But if those who are perfect do not yet understand the very things in their hands, and at their feet, and before their eyes, and on the earth, and especially the rule followed with respect to the hairs of their head, how can we believe them regarding things spiritual, and super-celestial, [Wisdom 9.13,17] and those which, with a vain confidence, they assert to be above God? So much, then, I have said concerning numbers, and names, and syllables, and questions respecting such things as are above our comprehension, and concerning their improper expositions of the parables: since thou thyself mayest enlarge upon them. [Irenaeus AH.2.28]

[1] a later editor or perhaps Irenaeus upon reflection adds "I mean such as belong to this world, which we handle, and see, and are in close contact with"
[2] another interpolation - a later hands adds "but which logos?  for there is among the Greeks one logos which is the principle that thinks, and another which is the instrument by means of which thought is expressed"

I firmly believe that all scholarly interpretation of the heretical scheme with respect to the 'generation' of hypostases in the gnostic system has been fundamentally flawed.  Most of the models which have been developed have been too dependent on an uncritical interpretation of the writings of the hostile Church Fathers.

While it is true that the heretics certainly did engage in speculation about various named entities in the heavens, it was their specific application of the 'generation' of the angelic hypostases to their baptism ritual which was the real source of Irenaeus's anger.  We see a reflection of this notion that angels were present in the 'redemption' baptism of the gnostics in Excerpta Theodoto 22.  The point however is that the reason Irenaeus objected to these practices is that those emerging from the bath were understood to be superior to the Demiurge and co-equals with the heavenly Father - viz. 'sons' on the way to becoming 'fathers.'

I propose that the opening lines of the Letter to Theodore have a remarkably echo of this criticism of heretical doctrine in Irenaeus:

You did well in silencing the unspeakable teachings of the Carpocratians. For these are the "wandering stars" referred to in the prophecy, who wander from the narrow road of the commandments into a boundless abyss of the carnal and bodily sins. For, priding themselves in knowledge, as they say, "of the deep things of Satan", they do not know that they are casting themselves away into "the nether world of the darkness" of falsity, and boasting that they are free, they have become slaves of servile desires. Such men are to be opposed in all ways and altogether. For, even if they should say something true, one who loves the truth should not, even so, agree with them. For not all true things are the truth, nor should that truth which merely seems true according to human opinions be preferred to the true truth, that according to the faith.[to Theod. 1.2 - 4]

The point of course is that in the place of an 'unspeakable generation' which Irenaeus references, to Theodore alludes to 'unspeakable teachings' of the Carpocratians which apparently involve 'naked and naked' (γυμνὸς γυμνῷ) and which clearly involve the re-formation of a human being after the perfection of the heavenly Father.  While Clement references the Epistle of Jude's 'deep things of Satan' it is impossible not to see that the very terminology here is a mere caricature of the typical gnostic interest in 1 Corinthians 2.10's 'deep things of God.'  In other words, both texts undoubtedly witness the same underlying heretical phenomenon.

If the reader looks carefully he will see that there is an underlying notion of humans being enthroned as gods - "But as for us, we still dwell upon the earth, and have not yet sat down upon His throne."  Not only does this have to develop from the 'generation' of angelic hypostases theme that runs through the text, it makes clear that the seemingly abstract concepts associated with wholly imaginary divine beings was utterly tied to very real human rituals - viz. enthronement.

We will have more to follow in subsequent posts on this ...

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