Friday, May 27, 2011

Vacation Notes (Part Two)

I have a few minutes to get away from the sun here in Florida and I want to continue my last post on lust. My readership must realize that German was my mother tongue, yet another language which does not distinguish between `love` and `lust.` My question isn`t just how could anyone possibly justify condemning lust as evil - a position which Clement associates with the Carpocratians - but whether we should believe even for a minute that Clement`s claims about the Carpocratians are legitimate.

For I mentioned to my reader an experience that I had at Magic Kingdom, a brief moment in another wise wholesome vacation. I was left wondering, how is it possible to control even the feeling of sexual longing? Isn`t this an involuntary response? How then could the Carpocratians have claimed that Jesus wanted us to beyond merely desiring the things of our neighbors but the longing for things as such?

My question is whether the first part of the Carpocratian interpretation of Secret Mark (i.e. a commonly held apocryphal gospel of Alexandria) can be argued to be compatible with Clement`s description of the sect as a licentious community in what follows. Let me cite the two parts to the continuous narrative. First Clement says in Strom. 3.2:

Clearly the command which says "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife" speaks of the Gen- tiles, in order that anyone who, as the law directs, abstains from his neighbour's wife and from his sister may hear clearly from the Lord, "But I say unto you, Thou shalt not lust." The addition of the word "I," however, shows the stricter force of the commandment, and that Carpocrates fights against God, and Epiphanes likewise. The latter in the same notorious book, I mean Concerning Righteousness, writes in one passage as follows: "Consequently one must understand the saying 'Thou shalt not covet' as if the lawgiver was making a jest, to which he added the even more comic words 'thy neighbour's goods'. For he himself who gave the desire to sustain the race orders that it is to be suppressed, though he removes it from no other animals. And by the words 'thy neighbour's wife' he says something even more ludicrous, since he forces what should be common property to be treated as a private possession."

Epiphanes is a Carpocratian. He argues that Jesus commands his hearers to go beyond the Law, to a righteousness based on ritual asceticism. How then can Clement then immediately claim that these same Carpocratians were licentious perverts? For he goes on to say:

These then are the doctrines of the excellent Carpocratians. These, so they say, and certain other enthusiasts for the same wickednesses, gather together for feasts (I would not call their meeting an Agape), men and women together. After they have sated their appetites (" on repletion Cypris, the goddess of love, enters," as it is said), then they overturn the lamps and so extinguish the light that the shame of their adulterous "righteousness" is hidden, and they have intercourse where they will and with whom they will.

I simply don`t believe that the Carpocratians were perverts. I think that Clement was just dishing out a popular claim about Christians in general (i.e. that they engaged in licentious love feasts). The bottom line is that the first half of the quote isn`t compatible with what follows and we are left wondering who or what the original Carpocratians really were.

If Clement isn`t telling us the whole truth about the Carpocratians in his accepted writings, how can we be so sure about what is real or illusory with respect to the Letter to Theodore?

More to follow ...

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