Friday, June 10, 2011

Carpocratians and Curriculum: Irenaeus' Reply By Robert M. Grant

It seems suitable, when honoring a dean who has become a bishop, to write on an episcopal theologian who thought he could answer Gnostics by discussing curriculum. I doubt that in either office Krister Stendahl would ever have taken such a tack. It is odd to see Irenaeus doing so.  Irenaeus's Hellenistic culture was important to him, even when he wrote against Gnostic heresies.[1] It appears in his preface, where he rhetorically claims not to be using rhetoric, and in his references to the authors and themes of Hellenistic education. To be sure, he was no philosopher. His training was not on the level of Apuleius, who called
himself a "Platonic philosopher." But he was versed in logical argumentation-"dialectic"-as known to rhetoricians.[2] Here we look at one important aspect of his Hellenistic argument against Gnostics.

The Situation

Irenaeus himself tells us most of what we know about the Carpocratians, apart from exotic details about the life and thought of Carpocrates' son Epiphanes which we owe to Clement. The account seems rather incoherent. Carpocrates taught that the soul of Jesus, "which was strong and pure, preserved the memory of what it had seen in the sphere of the unbegotten Father." After passing through the realms of the archons who made the world, it escaped to the Father. Similar souls can make the same ascent, for they receive powers enabling them to perform the same actions. These souls when in bodies can perform any deeds they wish, for "good and evil actions exist only by human opinion." So far, so good; the moral doctrine is essentially Cynicism.

Next, however, Irenaeus says that "in their transmigrations into various bodies the souls have to (oportere)p articipatei n every [kind of] life and every [kind of] act." They have to experience everything; otherwise they must return to bodies.  He admits that he has doubts as to whether they really live this way, but claims that advice to act thus is to be found in their books.[3] We observe that Justin, whose works Irenaeus knew, expressed similar doubts about Gnostic licentiousness.[4] Both authors were thus able to make charges against their opponents without being responsible for their information.

Irenaeus's Comments

Irenaeus devotes parts of two chapters in his second book (31.2-32.2) to attacks on the behavior of Simonians and Carpocratians.[5]  First he discusses their use of magic and then turns to their demand for libertinism, more accentuated among the Carpocratians.

a) This demand is opposed to the teaching of the Lord, especially as expressed in the Matthaean Sermon on the Mount. The Jesus whose soul they claim to admire taught them not to perform the actions they advocate or to think about them. "If nothing were bad or good, but some things were considered unjust or just because of human opinion alone, he would never have declared in his teaching, 'The just will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.' As for the unjust and those who do not do the works of justice, he will send them into eternal fire."[6]

b) They claim that they must experience everything imaginable. But have they ever "tried to devote themselves to what is related to virtue, what is difficult, what is glorious, what is artistic-in other words, what is considered good by everyone"? Surely Irenaeus here has Phil 4:8 in mind: "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is any praise, think on these things."[7] There is a commonly accepted standard of good and bad, but the Carpocratians seem to consider only the bad. Their actions thus fail to reach their own goal of complete experience.

c) Now Irenaeus proceeds to indicate their shortcomings. "If one ought to experience every work and activity, it was fitting to learn all the arts without exception, both theoretical and practical or those learned by self-mastery and acquired by effort and exercise and perseverance."  The studies he is about to list are the ones that a student would encounter after he studied grammar, probably rhetoric, and possibly dialectic. He would go beyond literature to theory and practice. Thus music dealt with the study of harmony, arithmetic with addition and subtraction and the relations of numbers, geometry with abstract essence, astronomy, like the others, with divine things and their harmony with one another. (Clement adds dialectic with its distinction of genera from species.)[8]

The distinction between theoretical and practical arts, already expressed by Aristotle (Metaph. E (vi) 1025b20), is frequently set forth around Irenaeus's time.[9] But all the studies came to be regarded as important, and the tetrad of theoretical studies gradually attracted other areas to itself, as Irenaeus's list itself shows. [10] Marrou notes that the first century polymath Cornelius Celsus gave the title Arts to a collection that included only four treatises: agronomy, medicine, rhetoric, and military science.[11]

Galen's treatment of these studies is noteworthy. Like the Gnostic Epiphanes and Origen he was taught by his father, who he says was an expert in "geometry, architecture, practical and theoretical arithmetic, and astronomy.[12]  In Protrepticus 5 he says that closest to the god Hermes, discoverer of the arts, stand those who practice geometry, arithmetic, philosophy, medicine, astronomy, and literature; in second place there are teachers of grammar, carpenters and architects and stonecutters; after them come the rest of the arts. The list is significant because Galen's own art, medicine, has replaced music (and is above his father's architecture) and because in his view all the arts were close to a god. Elsewhere (chap. 14) he returns to the theme and differentiates "mental" arts from "manual" ones. The line is hard to draw, for his first class includes medicine (first of all!), rhetoric, music, geometry, arithmetic, logic, astronomy, grammar, and law. He is willing to add sculpture and painting (architecture has disappeared), but he has no use for merely manual arts. (The point seems to neglect his own emphasis on the role of the hand in De usu partium)

In his Gymnasticus the rhetorician Philostratus includes in sophia  the study of philosophy, rhetoric, poetry, music, geometry, and astronomy, but places military science, medicine, painting, sculpture, and working in stone and metal in a lower rank. Below these come navigation and gymnastics. Similarly in the Life of Apolloniush e rates poetry, music, and astronomy at the top, rhetoric (if not for pay) below them, and at the bottom painting and sculpture, along with navigation and farming.' [13]

These examples and others show that Irenaeus's catholic list of sciences and arts was not unique.

  1. He begins with "music, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and all the other theoretical disciplines." These are the mathematical disciplines generally regarded as the foundation of the so-called enkyklios paideiaor liberales artes.
  2. He then turns to the practical or productive arts.[14] "The whole of medicine, the knowledge of herbs [= pharmacy] and all the disciplines developed for saving life."[15]
  3. "Painting, sculpture in bronze and marble, and other arts like these." These arts, Galen said, involve toil and pain but make money for the artisan.[16]
  4. "Agriculture, the care of horses and of flocks and herds, and all the arts which include others, such as navigation, gymnastics, hunting, military science and kingship." Galen discusses the advantages and disadvantages of such arts in relation to the health of the artist; but horsemanship and hunting had been included in such lists for a long time. We find the former in Teles and, along with hunting, in an old Stoic fragment.[17]
  5. "Without counting all the others, of which they could not learn a ten-thousandthp art in a whole life's labor." Ultimately only God possesses such knowledge as we learn from Wis 7:17-20.18

d) Instead of working at any of these arts and sciences, the Carpocratians turn to pleasures, lust, and disgusting deeds. They thus condemn themselves on their own grounds because they lack experience of the matters just discussed.  Irenaeus concludes by returning to his strongest point. These people really profess the hedonistic philosophy of Epicurus and the indifference of the Cynics. They wrongly claim to follow one whose teaching was sharply opposed to theirs.  We note that Irenaeus's argument is not consistent with what Clement of Alexandria tells us about the Carpocratians. He says that the youthful Gnostic Epiphanes, son of Carpocrates, was "educated by his  father in the encyclical education and Platonic philosophy."[19]

If Clement is right, Irenaeus should have argued not that the Carpocratians knew nothing about the subjects he listed but that they knew only part of them, the theoretical studies. Did he know? or did he care?  Presumably he did not know the book by Epiphanes which Clement cited. Its ridicule of both private property and monogamy could hardly have been answered  by raising a question about Carpocratian education.

Irenaeus's Use of His Sources

As we have seen, Irenaeus's list of advanced studies is similar to other lists produced or copied by some of his contemporaries, presumably often based on the writings of rhetoricians.[20]  Philostratus was himself
a rhetorician.  Irenaeus pointed out how much the Gnostics claimed to experience and how limited their experience really was. He has listed items from  the higher studies, that is, those going beyond reading books, and has pointed out how difficult it would be to know all these subjects. Sextus Empiricus makes the same point against teachers of literature, and we must suspect that Irenaeus took the idea from some similar source.
If the grammarian possesses an art capable of discriminating among the things said by poets and prose-writers, he must understand either the words only, or the objects behind them, or both. But it is evident that they do not understand the objects. For some of these are physical, some mathematical, some medical, some musical, and he who deals with the physical must of course be a physicist, he who deals with the musical a musician, and of course he who deals with the mathematical a mathematician, and similarly with the other sciences. Experience proves the self-evident truth that the grammarian is not simultaneously all-wise and skilled in every science.[21]  This is Irenaeus's point too (2.32.2). It is most unlikely, however, that he had read much, if any, of Sextus's Adversus Mathematicos, since it denounces the basic sciences plus logic, physics, and ethics. Irenaeus is against Gnosticism, not philosophy or science.

Irenaeus's Use of Examples

Since many of Irenaeus's own rhetorical examples are related to his listing of the basic theoretical and practical arts and sciences, he may even have found the headings in a book of examples intended for the use of speechmakers.[22] By "examples" we mean essentially what ancient writers called parabolai or similtudines, though as Quintilian notes the terms were not rigidly fixed.[23]  Irenaeus first points out against Gnostic shortcuts that in all the arts one needs self-control, effort, meditation, and perseverance. Then he
speaks of arts based on verbal proficiency. These are the traditional mathematical sciences recommended by Plato and Greek educators after him. First comes music, to which Irenaeus alludes when he speaks of melody and harmony (2.25.2; 4.20.7). Arithmetic is second: we note only that he could criticize the Basilidian Gnostics for having 365 heavens when they should have had 4380 for the number of daytime
hours in the year, or 8760 including the nights as well (2.16.4).

Third comes geometry and fourth, astronomy. From geometry come the examples of concentric circles, spheres, and tetragons (2.13.6). The exempla related to astronomy attest little knowledge of it. Though the sun is a very small planet [24] its rays go a long way (2.13.5). We cannot look at the sun because our eyes are weak (4.29.1).[25] Interestingly enough, the example of the sun (-god) as dimming the sight of those who stare at it (him) occurs in Sextus Empiricus too.[26]  Much of Irenaeus's rather meager astronomical information comes through Marcosian Gnostics, leaving the bishop himself to state that no one knows the cause of the moon's phases (2.28.2).

Medicine a nd pharmacy are also among the arts. They have been developed for the preservation of human life, or as Sextus Empiricus puts it, medicine is "a curativea nd pain-relieving art."[27]  Irenaeus is rather fond of medical examples. He compares Gnostics with "those who fall into delirium;t he more they laugh, the more they think they are healthy and do everything as if they were healthy but do some things more than in health, the sicker they are" (1.16.3). He asks, "What doctor desiring to cure a sick man will act in accordance with the desires of the sick man and not with what is suited to medicine?" (3.5.2). Inevitably he compares Christian love toward heretics with "a harsh medicine which consumes the foreign and superfluous flesh formed on a wound" (3.25.7). Less vividly he compares God with a mother who is able to supply solid food to an infant, but mankind like the child cannot yet receive it (4.38.1; cf. 1 Cor 3:2-3).

Other more practical arts are learned by effort and exercise. One example, used for soul and body, is related to all of them. The artisan plans at high speed, but completes the work more slowly because of the inertia of his subject matter. The velocity of his mind is fused with the slowness of the instrument (2.33.4).  One of these arts is painting, in relation to which perhaps we should consider the mosaic picture of a king transformed into one of a fox (1.8.1). Another is sculpture.  In this regard we are told that clay is not molded for its own sake but for that of the statue to be made in bronze, gold, or silver (2.15.3).[28]  Again, a clay statue may be colored to make it look as if of gold; but one need only take off a fragment to let the clay appear (2.19.8).
Another is metal-working. Here Irenaeus relies on his Christian predecessors. One of them said that "a precious stone, of great value with some, is insulted by a bit of glass artfully made like it, if no one is there to test it and unmask the fraud. And when bronze is mixed with silver, who can readily verify it if he is not an expert?" (1 pr. 2).

Again, the Gnostics were eager to point out that "gold in mud does not lose its beauty" (1.6.2). Irenaeus himself noted that straw is useful for refining gold (5.29.1). He made little use of examples from the other arts he listed, including marble-working, agriculture (though he does note that the stalk helps wheat grow, (5.29.1), veterinary arts, pastoral arts and other arts of craftsmen (opifices). He makes no use of navigation. A bit more comes from gymnastics and hunting.

A strange example comes from gymnastics. In the wrestling school "novices struggle with others and seize some part of their opponent's body firmly with their hands and fall because of what they hold.  Though they fall they think they have won because they tenaciously hold that member they first grabbed, but in reality they are held in derision because they have fallen" (5.13.2). Another such example may be based on a gospel saying (Matt 12:29) but this itself is proverbial. "A strong man can be overcome neither by an inferior nor by an equal, but by one who is stronger" (5.22.1).

Equally strange examples are taken from hunting. First, the Gnostics are compared with a beast that hides in a forest and comes out to devastate many. It can be caught only when the forest is delimited and defoliated so that the beast can be seen. It still has to be captured, but with the new situation it can be struck from every side, wounded, and killed (1.31.4). Second, Gnostic liars are like those who offer customary foods in order to capture some animal, gradually softening it up through the foods, and then, taking it captive, they tie it up harshly and by force take it wherever they wish (2.14.8).

Irenaeus warms to the examples apparently taken from military and political science but perhaps invented for the occasion. First, suppose that "hostile forces have defeated their enemies and led them bound as captives, and have possessed them as slaves for such a long time that they even have children." If now "someone feels sorry for those who were enslaved and defeats the same enemies, will he act justly if he frees the children of the captives but leaves those whom he vindicated subject to them? Liberty would be given to the sons because of their fathers' vindication, but not to the fathers who underwent captivity" (3.23.2). Or again: "If a free man, forcibly abducted by someone whom he served for many years by increasing his property, then obtained some help from it, he could seem to be taking possession of part of his master's property, whereas in reality he would depart having received very little in return for his many labors. If anyone accused him of having acted unjustly, the accuser would prove to be an unjust judge in relation to the man who had been led into slavery by force" (4.30.2). Presumably this defense of the Israelites who despoiled the Egyptians is based on earlier Jewish apologetic and is not a simple rhetorical "example."

Kingship appears several times. A king is responsiblef or military victory because he is in charge, as is the Father in Christian theology (2.2.3). (More "banausic" examples in this context make the same point. An axe cuts, a saw saws; but it is the man who made the tools who does the work.) Again, "The advent of a king is announced by slavess ent in advancef or the preparatioonf those who are beginning to receive their lord. But when the king comes and his subjects are filled with the joy predicted, have received the liberty that comes from him, share in the sight of him, hear his words and enjoy gifts from him, it is no longer necessary for the king to bring anything beyond ... himself" (4.34.1). The theological emphasis of the "example" is obvious, and
the idea that the kingdom of God announced by Jesus was Jesus himself is found in Origen. This example may have been composed for the occasion.

In one more example the situation of the devil is "as if a rebel should take possession of some region and disturb those in it and assume the glory of a king among those who do not know he is a rebel and a thief' (5.24.4). Once more, the analogy seems to be invented to fit the theological point.  It is not so much the rhetorical method of Irenaeus that we find novel. After all, he was well aware that Jesus had taught with parables or comparisons. The novelty lies in the subject matter, paralleling much of the Greco-Roman educational curriculum and using it for rhetorical purposes.

Gnostic attitudes toward the curriculum

Finally, even if Carpocrates taught his son the encyclical studies, Irenaeus was probably right in supposing that Gnostics were not enthusiastic about mundane and ordinary studies. The attitude of the Hermetic Asclepius, on the borderline of Gnosticism is hostile toward the curriculum. Trismegistus attacks those who make philosophy incomprehensible by mixing it up with arithmetic, music, and geometry. They abandon pure religion for detailed information about  the stars, the earth, and music, all of which should lead simply to reverence. Nock and Festugi6reg ive parallelsf or this attitude [29] A more definitely Gnostic statement appears in the Tripartite Tractate from Nag Hammadi. The speculative wisdom of the Greeks is inconsistent because of archontic influences. "Therefore nothing is in agreement with other studies, nothing, whether philosophy or kinds of medicine or kinds of music or types of logic."[30]  The word for "logic" is organon, as often among Peripatetics.

Though Irenaeus's targeting was inaccurate when he aimed at the Carpocratians, the fact that some Gnostics rejected the curriculum of studies helps justify his onslaught.

1 See my article "Irenaeus and Hellenistic Culture," HTR 42 (1949) 41-51; W. R. Schoedel, "Philosophy and Rhetoric in the Adversus Haereses of Irenaeus," VC 13 (1959) 22-32; idem, "Theological Method in Irenaeus (Adversus Haereses 2.25-28)," JTS35 (1984) 31-49.
2. See the basic article by B. Reynders, "La polemique de saint Irenee: Methode et principes,"R echercheds e theologiea nciennee t medieval7e (1935) 5-27.
3 All this occurs in Adv. haer. 1.25.1-5 and is reprinted by Morton Smith, Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973) 301-3.
4 Apol 1.26.7.
5 See Adelin Rousseau and Louis Doutreleau, eds., Irenee de Lyon Contre les heresies Livre I (2 vols.; SC 293-94; Paris, 1982) 187-88.
6 Adv. haer. 2.32.1; Matt 12:43. he Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 79, No. 1/3, Christians among Jews and Gentiles: Essays in Honor of Krister Stendahl on His Sixty-Fifth Birthday (Jan. - Jul., 1986), pp. 127-136
7 RSV, slightly revised.
8 Clement Strom. 6.80.2-3.
9Philo Leg. alleg. 1.57; Quintilian Inst. orat 2.18; Galen (see below); and Origen Hom. in Luke (ed. Rauer; GCS, 9).
10 H. Fuchs, "Enkyklios Paideia," RAC 5 (1965) cols. 365-98.
11H enri Irenee Marrou, SaintA ugustine t la fin de la culturea ntique( Paris:U niversite de Paris, 1937) 226-27.
12 De probisp ravisquea limentorumsu ccis6 .755 (ed. Kuhn); cf. Libr.o rd 4.19.59.
13 Gymn 1; Vita Apoll. 8.7.3.
14 See also the distinctions drawn in Diog. Laert. 3.84, with the discussion of the forms of medicine in 3.85.
15 Cf. the discussion by Origen in Horn. in Jer.. frg. from Homer 39 (ed. Nautin, 374) in
Philoc. 2.2 and my note "Paul, Galen, and Origen," JTS 34 (1983) 533-36.
16. C omm.I I in Hippocrd. e humor2. 8 (ed Kuhn, 16. 311-12).
17 Stobaeus4 .34.72; 2.67.5 = Stoicorumv eterumfragmen3ta. 294.
18 Cited by Origen Horn. in Luke. (ed. Rauer; GCS, frg. 50).
19 Clement Strom 3.5.3
20 See FriedmarK tihnert,A llgemeinbildunugn dF achbildunign derA ntike( Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaftenz u Berlin. Schriftend er Sektion fur Altertumswissenschaf3t 0; Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1961) 71-111.
21 Adv. math 1.300.
22 For such books see Karl Alewell, Uber das rhetorische IIAPAAEIFMA: Theorie, eispielsammlungenV,e rwendunign der rOmischeLn iteraturd er Kaiserzeit( Leipzig: August Hoffmann, 1913); but these are paradeigmata.
23 Inst. oral 5.11.1-2; a comparison of oratory with music precedes, 5.10.124-25.
24 Here Irenaeus agrees with Theophilus Ad Autol. 1.5.
25 Again, cf. ibid., 1.2 and 1.5
26 Adv. math. 1.306.
27 Ibid., 1.51.
28 Cf. Melito Hom. pasch. 36-37.
29 Asclep.1 3-14; CorpusH ermeticum(e d. A. D. Nock and A.-J. Festugiere;4 vols. in 2; Paris: Belles Lettres, 1945) 2. 369 n. 115.
30 Harold W. Attridge in James M. Robinson, ed., TheN ag Hammadi Libraryin English (New York: Harper & Row, 1977) 85, partly revised; Codex I (treatise 5) 109,25-110,17. 136

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