Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why I Came to Accept to Theodore's 'Secret Mark' as an Unrecognized Reference to the Marcionite Gospel

I know this will be yet another tangential post breaking away from our discussion of how the Gospel of Jesus was necessarily developed from the story of Joshua in the Pentateuch, the Book of Joshua and related literature. Yet when I woke up this morning and saw Markus Vinzent's conversation with his publisher on Facebook it got me thinking - why don't other people with just as much exposure to the New Testament and Patristic literature see what he and I observe as second nature?

Of course I am not claiming that Vinzent would subscribe to acceptance of the authenticity of Mar Saba 65. He has never even mentioned whether he understands the text to be an authentic letter of Clement of Alexandria or not. The point is though that there is more than enough evidence from Patristic sources to confirm that something like 'Secret Mark' - i.e. an earlier gospel which lies behind the canonical texts of Mark and Luke - existed in antiquity. It is usually identified as 'the Gospel of Marcion' or some related terminology owing to the interest in this late second century heretical boogeyman in Patristic writings.

Yet if we accept the basic understanding that the reports about Marcion and the Marcionites in the Church Fathers are at least to some degree propagandist 'exaggerations' on some level the possibility exists that there exists other evidence which is more intimately acquainted with a commonly held gospel which does not identify the material as 'Marcionite' or associated with a certain 'Marcion.'  I don't know if my readers can comprehend this logic because I think to a great degree there is a simple-mindedness to the general interpretation  of Patristic material - and it comes to the same basic but often ignored reality.

The Patristic reports about 'Marcion' do not represent factual eyewitness reporting.  If anything they are an inversion of the worst aspects of hagiography albeit in reverse.  They are a conscious recycling many times over  of a hostile 'folklore' which takes a few basic facts (which are for all intents and purposes indistinguishable at first glance from outright lies and exaggerations) and then manipulates them for contemporary propagandist purposes.  I don't know if I can ever convince the simple-minded that 'Marcion' is ultimately a caricature of someone or something which doesn't necessarily have to be what appears at first glance from a reading of Irenaeus or Tertullian (i.e. a late second century heretic).  It is the reporting about Marcion that appears in this period so the late second century Catholic echo chamber reinforcing the sanctity of its own reporting begins an endless process of 'confirming' the original reporting with really little or no new information).

We can be certain that Tertullian never met a 'Marcionite' and never saw a Marcionite text.  He is clearly recycling a lost original report - probably associated with the 'encratite' school associated with Justin which he doesn't fully understand (hence the perplexing arguments that appear throughout Books Four and Five which make no sense unless the original author's preferred gospel text was a Diatessaron).  Indeed Ephrem the Syrian represents a continuation of this Diatessaron-based critique of the Marcionite gospel and for all intents and purposes these are our only witnesses outside of Eznik of Kolb and the corrupt testimony of 'Adamantius' who have actually (a) met a 'Marcionite' (b) engaged in a dialogue about the readings in their gospel firsthand (or come into contact with reliable and independent sources who had but who are no longer known to us) and (c) and come away from these encounters with something meaningful and comprehensive to say about the state of the Marcionite canon.

I am not saying of course that there wasn't some reality to the reports about what is called the 'Marcionite' tradition.  My point is to emphasize that most of the Church Fathers are just echoing things already established about the sect without properly understanding the original reports.  Tertullian is absolutely guilty in this respect.   The opening words of Against Marcion lay bare the corrupt state of the manuscript and how far removed the final editor is from the original reports.   This doesn't mean that the testimony is worthless; it just means it has to be used with extreme caution.

A case in point - the Letter to the Galatians was not the first epistle in the Marcionite canon.  This was the first Epistle in the canon associated with the Syrian tradition that we have noted criticized the Marcionite tradition (i.e. Tertullian's source and Ephrem).  We know that the Letter to the Galatians was the first epistle in Ephrem's canon from Ephrem's own writings and this must have been true also for previous generations of Syriac speaking Christians who shared not only Tatian's Diatessaron (or a derivative thereof) but also his canon.

Of course it doesn't take a genius to see what when Tertullian reworks this original material (perhaps from Rhodo or some other late second century critic of 'Marcion') the treatment of the Letter to the Galatians first is misunderstood to be indicative of the order that appeared in Marcion's canon rather than Tertullian's source (cf. Against Marcion 1:1).  When Epiphanius recycles the material yet again in the fourth century the original error has become an established 'fact' about the sect (i.e. that Galatians was first) whereas there are still clear signs from Tertullian's rather innocent use of the original material that the Letter to the Corinthians was actually the first epistle in the Marcionite canon (as with the author of the Muratorian canon).

I don't expect Vinzent's book to touch upon these issues of course.  They are too nuanced, 'speculative' and distracting for a book that probably knows it can make its point (i.e. the primacy of the Marcionite gospel) by merely examining the earliest readings of commonly held material in the writings of the Church Fathers.  Nevertheless this level of scrutiny is necessary for us to get beyond the endless recycling of the caricature of 'Marcion' in the same Patristic tradition.

Indeed my question has always been whether we can be sure that Ambrosius the supposedly 'repentant' Marcionite or Marcosian heretic (depending on which Patristic source you read) is really a typology for the Alexandrian tradition.  Were Clement, Origen and all the Alexandrian Church Fathers up to and including Arius really a pack of confused, overly inventive and ultimately misguided Christians or was their scrambling in the dark an attempt to rescue an original Marcionite tradition through the 'allegorical method' with respect to a Catholic canon that was imposed on them?  For it is impossible to deny that Origen's mind-blowing dependence on allegory is utterly perplexing.

To some extent of course one can argue that the precedent for this allegorical method is found in Philo and Clement.  Yet Origen's methodology represents nothing short of a complete departure from reality at times.  It is as if the 'reality' of the official text is an unfortunate imposition, an obstacle for a more mystical truth which the Alexandrian not only can't reveal because of its sacredness but won't even acknowledge exists as a formalized text.

Origen's methodology is very different from that of his master Clement.  Clement makes reference to the existence of a 'mystical text' even outside of the Letter to Theodore but almost never distinguishes what texts he is citing from at any given moment.  There is a deliberate obscurity which out in the open and self-referenced by Clement.  Origen on the other hand is always very careful to show he is using 'officially sanctioned' Catholic texts but seems to 'compensate' by applying radical interpretations of these same narratives where 'reality' and 'what is said' almost gets in the way of what is meant to be believed.

While Porphyry, in a fragment of the third book of his Against the Christians preserved by Eusebius attests that Origen, the "outstanding Christian exponent of the allegorical method" is employing the allegorical works of the Stoics Cornutus and Chaeremon and of the NeoPythagorean and Middle-Platonist Numenius, there is something radically different going on here from the parallel 'habits' of Philo two centuries earlier and I think a lot of this can be explained if we assume that Ambrose never gave up his Marcionite affiliations and Origen was simply justifying the retention of ancient tradition through a rambling and deliberately clandestine allegorical method.

We shouldn't have our thesis dismissed that fear was driving Origen's allegory interpretation for Porphyry, a man who knew Origen well, makes this explicit in what immediately follow.  For he immediately adds after these last comments that because Origen's "life was that of a Christian and contravened the laws" which as Sordi notes alludes to Christianity being a superstitio illicita.  I have always argued that Origen was nothing more than an apologist for Ambrosius's hypocritical embrace of the official faith.  Ambrosius is said to have been deacon of the Alexandrian Church of St. Mark, the highest position a married layman with kids could hold.  But his wealth was immense and so we must imagine that this 'former' Marcionite was really only a crypto-Christian, a follow of St. Mark's Alexandrian tradition forced to survive in a new Roman Catholic universe.

It is a scenario exactly as Hippolytus describes it from his account of the heretical sect of Mark in the pages of his Philosophumena.  He references the existence of 'Marcosian cells' in the network of official churches under the superficial authority of Rome. Hippolytus mentions bishops within the Catholic Church who secretly hold on to their 'Marcosian' faith and like Clement 'deny' their dependence on their true master:

For also the blessed presbyter Irenaeus, having approached the subject of a refutation in a more unconstrained spirit, has explained such washings and redemptions, stating more in the way of a rough digest what are their practices. (And it appears that some of the Marcosians,) on meeting with (Irenaeus' work), deny that they have so received (the secret word just alluded to), but they have learned that always they should deny. Wherefore our anxiety has been more accurately to investigate, and to discover minutely what are the (instructions) which they deliver in the case of the first bath, styling it by some such name; and in the case of the second, which they denominate Redemption. But not even has this secret of theirs escaped (our scrutiny).[Philosophumena 6.37]

I find impossible to ignore the description of 'another baptismal rite' which Irenaeus is connected with something in Mark chapter 10 no less than the acknowledgment of their secretive nature - i.e. their 'denial' in a manner that is suggestive of Clement in to Theodore. There is of course a lot more to my acceptance of 'Secret Mark' as one and the same with the Marcionite gospel referred indirectly through secondary sources. Yet this is all my current occupation will allow me to devote to this subject at this present moment ...

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