Monday, June 6, 2011

More On the Possible Identification of Pope Heraclas with Heracleon

I know most people will raise their eyebrows at the suggestion that Heracleon might have been one and the same with the shadowy 'Origenist' Pope and it is entirely possible that it might end up being disproved. However let's look at the evidence surrounding Heraclas. As Wikipedia notes:

He is described by Clement of Alexandria (Strom. iv. 9) as the most esteemed (δοκιμώτατος) of the school of Valentinus; and, according to Origen (Comm. in S. Joann. t. ii. § 8, Opp. t. iv. p. 66), said to have been in personal contact (γνώριμος) with Valentinus himself. He is barely mentioned by Irenaeus (ii. 41) and by Tertullian (adv. Valent. 4). The common source of Philaster and Pseudo-Tertullian (i.e. probably the earlier treatise of Hippolytus) contained an article on Heracleon between those on Ptolemaeus and Secundus, and on Marcus and Colarbasus.

Some small corrections of the article. The Greek δοκιμώτατος can mean 'excellent' or 'most-esteemed' but its principle meaning is 'acceptable.' The sentence in Clement should actually be translated as 'acceptable' so we read in the original section in Clement:

Whosoever therefore shall confess in Me before men, him will I also confess before my Father in heaven. "And when they bring you before synagogues, and rulers, and powers, think not: beforehand how ye shall make your defence, or what ye shall say. For the Holy Spirit shall teach you in the same hour what ye must say." In explanation of this passage, Heracleon, the most acceptable of the school of Valentinians, says expressly, "that there is a confession by faith and conduct, and one with the voice. The confession that is made with the voice, and before the authorities, is what the most reckon the only confession. Not soundly: and hypocrites also can confess with this confession. But neither will this utterance be found to be spoken universally; for all the saved have confessed with the confession made by the voice, and departed. Of whom are Matthew, Philip, Thomas, Levi, and many others. And confession by the lip is not universal, but partial. But that which He specifies now is universal, that which is by deeds and actions corresponding to faith in Him. This confession is followed by that which is partial, that before the authorities, if necessary, and reason dictate. For he will confess rightly with his voice who has first confessed by his disposition. And he has well used, with regard to those who confess, the expression 'in Me,' and applied to those who deny the expression 'Me.' For those, though they confess Him with the voice, yet deny Him, not confessing Him in their conduct. But those alone confess 'in Him,' who live in the confession and conduct according to Him, in which He also confesses, who is contained in them and held by them. Wherefore 'He never can deny Himself.' And those deny Him who are not in Him. For He said not, 'Whosoever shall deny' in Me, but 'Me.' For no one who is in Him will ever deny Him. And the expression 'before men ' applies both to the saved and the heathen similarly by conduct before the one, and by voice before the other. Wherefore they never can deny Him. But those deny Him who are not in Him." So far Heracleon. And in other things he seems to be of the same sentiments with us in this section; but he has not adverted to this, that if some have not by conduct and in their life "confessed Christ before men," they are manifested to have believed with the heart; by confessing Him with the mouth at the tribunals, and not denying Him when tortured to the death. And the disposition being confessed, and especially not being changed by death at any time, cuts away all passions which were engendered by corporeal desire.

The point is that it all comes down to the question of when Clement was writing the material in Book Four of the Stromateis. Most scholars date that composition effort to the beginning of the third century. The normal dates given for Heraclas as Pope (based on Eusebius) are 231 to 247. Yet almost everyone at the very same time admits (a) we don't really have any reliable information on the Alexandrian Church in the period and (b) Eusebius's reconstruction is unreliable and 'idealistic.'

I would argue that the proper starting point should be the uncanny similarity between Jerome's statment (Ep. xlvi) that "until Heraclas and Demetrius" the bishops of Alexandria were ordained by priests. The pairing here of 'Heraclas' with Demetrius certainly implies that the two functioned at the same time. This seems remarkably similar to the Dialogue with Heraclides where 'Heraclides' is clearly the Pope (he is addressed as 'father' throughout) and in complete agreement with Origen's doctrine but all hostility comes from Demetrius who was present, had also had authority perhaps equal to the that of the otherwise unknown 'Heraclides' but wasn't Pope per se.

As I noted we know very little about the actual manner in which the Church of Alexandria actually functioned in the period. Demetrius was certainly an outsider. He is consistently identified by the surviving literature as a married man completely at odds with the traditional model of Alexandrian Christianity yet nevertheless he somehow rose to the top (my guess is that he was appointed from without and certainly from Rome as an 'overseer' of the overseers).

With respect to the person of 'Heraclas' there is very little reporting that actually has real substance. Eusebius makes some reference to him while defending his own philosophical studies (Eusebius, Church History VI.19) "in this we imitated Pantænus, who before our day assisted many and had no little knowledge of these matters, and Heraclas, who is now one of the priests of Alexandria, whom I found a hearer of my own teacher of philosophical studies, for he had already been with him for five years before I began to attend these lectures. On this teacher's account he put aside the ordinary dress he had worn till then, and assumed the garb of a philosopher, which he still wears, and he ceases not to study the books of the Greeks with all his might."

That some scholars claim that this means that Heraclas was five years older than Origen is silly. Origen was an exceptionally young student. If we accept the traditional dating that Origen was born in 185 and then in his eighteenth year was obliged by his father's martyrdom and the consequent confiscation of his goods to commence teaching grammar, Origen's 'hearing' of Pantaenus can be dated to the end of the second century and thus Heraclas's similarly can be further dated to 195 CE. All of this is consistent with Clement's citation of Heraclas's views in the fourth book of the Stromateis, written at a period slightly subsequent to this period.

We also hear in Eusebius that Heraclas "gave a great example of philosophical life and askesis" (ibid., vi, 33), and it was his reputation for knowledge of philosophy and Greek learning that drew Julius Africanus to visit Alexandria. Indeed it is worth noting Hallencreutz's observation that "this biographical note needs some elaboration. The first point to note is that Julius Africanus mentions Heraclas and not Origen — who, after all, was the most creative and influential representative of Alexandrian theology during the first half of the third century — when he records that he went to Alexandria and gives his reason for that visit." (p. 8,9)

Carole Boyce Davies in her Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora gives the following outline of Julius Africanus's career:

Existing records indicate that Africanus may have served as a soldier under Septimus Severus during his campaign against the Osrhoenians in 195 CE. Thereafter, he sojourned in the court of the Christian king of Edessa, Abgar IX (179–216), where he became acquainted with a man who would become one of his principal mentors, Bardesanes (or Bar Daisan), a skilled archer and erudite author of The Book of the Laws of the Countries, a powerful and highly influential refutation of the claims of astrology. Drijvers's (1966) comments on Bardesanes's accomplishment in this book reveals the extent to which his association with Africanus helped to launch the younger writer in his career as a polymath. From Edessa, Africanus's quest for knowledge took him to Armenia, to Phrygia, and ultimately to Alexandria, where he was attracted by the reputation of Heraclas, the newly appointed teacher of the introductory studies at the Christian school. At Alexandria, he became acquainted with Origen, a fellow North African, and came under the influence of the writings of Clement of Alexandria, whose Stromata — a chronological study of human history from the creation to the time of writing—was to influence and form the model for his own major contribution to historiography — the Chronology, otherwise known as Chronicles, discussed below.

After his studies at Alexandria, Africanus moved to Emmaus in Palestine. From there, in 214, he was sent as an envoy to the court of the emperor Alexander Severus in Rome, where he successfully solicited funds for the restoration of the town Emmaus, which had fallen into ruins. But even before the completion of this task, Africanus was recalled to Rome, where he had been commissioned to design a library for the emperor. (p. 58)

The Chronology was clearly written after the completion of the baths of Alexandria (as we learn from the fragment Oxyrinchus Papyrus III (412). The point however from all of this is that there are very good reasons for doubting Eusebius's reconstruction of the Alexandrian episcopal succession.

Africanus went to Alexandria based on the reputation of Heraclas alone. This must have occurred at the turn of the third century given that he appears in Rome in 214 by way of Emmaus. Heraclas wasn't just the 'head of the Catechetical school' in the period but already something like a Papal figure given Origen's testimony with respect to 'Heraclides' in the Dialogue of the same name. As noted, the pairing here between 'Heraclides' co-ruling with Demetrius has a striking parallel to Jerome's testimony with respect the pairing of 'Heraclas and Demetrius' cited above (Ep. xlvi). Notice also that Heraclas's name appears before Demetrius in the report.

I think the writings of the Church Fathers were covering up an unsightly conflict both within and without the Alexandrian Christian community. The only things we can be certain of are that:

  1. Clement originally occupied whatever seat of authority Heraclas assumed at the beginning of the third century.  
  2. While this is traditionally assumed to be 'the head of the catechetical school' I think it was more significant.  Eusebius tried to reconcile the period by having Demetrius assume the position of 'Pope' continuously throughout the period and then Heraclas is fastened to the intervening period followed by Dionysius.  I have always maintained that Origen succeeded Heraclas in the position and that Origen's authority was much greater than previously recognized. 
  3. Clement's reference to Heracleon being a Valentinian was certainly based on knowledge of Irenaeus's original report and likely was developed from resentment over his replacement on the throne in Alexandria.  Notice that the topic is avoiding persecutions and failure to become a martyr.  Clement fled owing to persecutions, persecutions which ultimately led to Heraclas's 'reward' - i.e. the throne.  The same pattern can be seen playing out a hundred years later with respect to Peter of Alexandria

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