Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Patristic Evidence Suggests the So-called 'Pauline Church' Was Really the Church of St. Mark [Part One]

Of course scholars rarely ask how the existence of the heretical 'boogeymen' that populate the Patristic writings were established. The existence of 'Marcus,' 'Marcion,' 'Valentinus' and 'Heracleon' are basically taken for granted owing to the fact that Irenaeus, Hippolytus and the like are deemed to be reliable witnesses and their works 'inspired' reports.

But I've never been so sure. The first difficulty for me has always been that the later Church Fathers are too reliant on Irenaeus - a single voice basically deciding who and what is heretical in the early tradition. We know almost nothing about who Irenaeus was other than this name and the name itself sounds suspiciously like a title - i.e. 'the one who brought peace' to the Church or even its 'policeman.'

The next problem for me is that what we do know about Irenaeus comes almost entirely from a repackaged collection of his writings - the Five Books Against Heresies. I do not know of a single scholar who believes that Irenaeus wrote the Five Books from beginning to end in one session. Instead, as Robert Grant points out, the consensus opinion was that the books were written one after another over time basically stretching over the reign of the Emperor Commodus.

Nevertheless I think even this isn't an accurate depiction of the contents of the Five Books. There were clearly original writings of an indeterminable date (albeit likely dating no later than the beginning of the third century) and then there was a 'final editor' who bundled the writings in a single volume. By implication, most scholars assume that Irenaeus did the final editing on his own writings, but I am not so sure. I see strong signs that someone other than Irenaeus 'polished' the final product - i.e. introduced each book, connected the various 'lectures' as Photius refers to them (Bibl. 120) and purged the text of what were later deemed 'errors.'

The most likely candidate here for the 'final editor' of the Irenaean canon is of course Hippolytus, his famous student. Nevertheless, it has to be recognized that it could be possible that competing editions of the final redaction of Irenaeus's writings existed in the third century. Indeed we know this is true by the production of the Philosophumena attributed to Origen, the Against All Heresies attributed to Tertullian and which is preserved as an appendix to his authentic work Prescription Against the Heresies and the like. Each of these works is related to the existing finished product of the Five Books Against Heresies by Irenaeus. Photius knows of other texts including a syntagma (a pamphlet) attributed to Hippolytus entitled Refutation of All Heresies. There were certainly others.

The point again is that in order to properly understand the Letter to Theodore's place in the contemporary Christian environment at the turn of the century we cannot allow ourselves to simply take the Five Books Against Heresies as an original work by Irenaeus. Everything Photius tells us about Irenaeus implies that this - no less than what passes as Tertullian's Five Books Against Marcion - was the product of a highly sophisticated effort at repackaging the history of the early Church and glossing over the embarrassing details about the manner in which the Roman Church displaced and appropriated the primacy of the Alexandrian tradition.

I think that scholars underestimate the influence of Alexandria in the third century. There must be some reason why the Imperial authorities were constantly picking on this Church and essentially leaving the episcopate that was closest to home - i.e. the Roman Church - essentially unscathed. The fact that there were a great number of Christians, Roman Christians, in the Imperial courts in the period clearly had some role on the ultimate triumph of Rome over its Alexandrian rival. Everyone has to see the overarching plausibility of this notion. Yet the ultimate sign of the influence of Alexandria (beyond the interest in Origen throughout the two hundred years after his death) is the fact that Constantine took such an active role attempting to take over the see of St. Mark.

That it was the Alexandrian Church which was entrusted by the Emperor to determine the date of the central 'event' in the liturgical year was a blatant political calculation. Hippolytus certainly believed that he was just as qualified as anyone to carry out this work and one must imagine that the Roman Church had been doing exactly this throughout the third century with no assistance from Alexandria. The fact that Constantine chose a city which was not Rome or Alexandria for the head of his new tradition must also be seen as a deliberate attempt at greater ecumenicism.

Nevertheless if we go back to the turn of the third century we necessarily see the emergence of a Roman orthodoxy that was imposing itself on the rest of the Church and in particular encroaching on the traditional authority of the see of St. Mark. The fact that St. Mark becomes the mere secretary of St. Peter has to be seen as a deliberate calculation on the part of the apologists for Roman primacy. Yet if we are to be truthful again, it would be a misrepresentation to understand Rome as the 'see of St. Peter' in the second century. All of our existing evidence suggests that it was the city of twin episcopal thrones - i.e. the seats of St. Peter and St. Paul. Indeed it is very difficult to make sense of the original hitsorical situation in the Roman See.

The author of Acts clearly understands that the churches of Peter and Paul were originally separate but somehow became reconciled with one another in the time he was living. Yet there is no evidence from Acts that the city of Rome had any special importance at the time he was writing. Instead, the focus of the author seems to be that Antioch was the true seat of the Church. Antioch of course is understood to also be the 'see of St. Peter' but interestingly Peter and Paul are understood to have established different representatives in this city at the beginning of the apostolic age.

There is clearly one tradition that Peter established Evodius as the bishop of the city. Paul is never associated with Evodius in any way. Yet Ignatius represents a parallel figure who may originally have represented a separate apostolic line there. Eusebius says only that "Evodius having been established the first [bishop] of the Antiochians, Ignatius flourished at this time" (Eccles. Hist. III, 22). Yet the period referenced by Eusebius strangely is the rule of Trajan (= early second century CE). Peter and Paul would have been buried and gone in this age.

Many scholars have struggled to explain the curious manner in which the founding of the Antiochene Church is dated to the Trajanic period. Harnack assumes Eusebius possessed a list of the bishops of Antioch which did not give their dates, and that he was obliged to synchronize them roughly with the popes. It seems certain that he took the three episcopal lists of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch from the "Chronography" which Julius Africanus published in 221. Yet even this only represents the 'passing of the buck' so to speak. Why did Africanus speak so ambiguously about the founding of the Antiochene Church?

The bottom line is that no one before Eusebius could have given a date for the establishment of the first Catholic bishop of Antioch otherwise Eusebius would have been forced to use the information in his Chronicle. It would seem that Africanus must have topically mentioned something about Evodius succeeding Peter but with no firm dates associated with the event. It must be noted that neither Evodius nor Ignatius are mentioned in Acts. Acts simply concludes with a highly 'idealistic' (some would say fictitious) claim about the establishment of the Church at Antioch after Peter and Paul's alleged reconciliation there (based on a misrepresentation of what is said in the Letter to the Galatians). No 'first bishop' of Antioch is ever mentioned there.

We seem to be in a situation then where Eusebius established his Chronicle in a deliberately cautious manner, recounting the story in an inappropriate place (with events of the beginning of the second century) owing to its acknowledged legendary status. It is most unfortunate that the "Chronicle of Eusebius" is lost but in Jerome's translation of it we find in three successive years the three entries

  • that Peter, having founded the Church of Antioch, is sent to Rome, where he perseveres as bishop for 25 years
  • that Mark, the interpreter of Peter, preaches Christ in Egypt and Alexandria;
  • and that Evodius is ordained first Bishop of Antioch.

This last year is given as Claudius III by the Codex Freherianus, but by the fifth-century Bodleian Codex (not used in Schoene's edition) and the rest as Claudius IV (44 CE). The Armenian translation has Claudius II. Again, we have no mention of Evodius earlier than that by Africanus; but the latter is confirmed by his contemporary, Origen, who calls Ignatius the second bishop after Peter (Hom. IV, in Luc., III, 938A).

The highly dubious historical value of the information that Eusebius is preserving for us is confirmed by the fact that the ordination of Evodius should not have been given in the "Chronography" in the same year as the founding of the Antiochian Church by Peter. Moreover we also see that the year of the accession of Ignatius, that is of the death of Evodius, was unknown to Eusebius, for he merely places it in the "Chronicle" together with the death of Peter and the accession of Linus at Rome (Nero 14-68), while in the "History" he again mentions it at the beginning of Trajan's reign.

As such I strongly suspect that Eusebius is trying his best to avoid reopening the historical controversy surrounding the existence of rival two episcopal thrones in the city into the late second century. Indeed Athanasius and Chrysostom speak of Ignatius as though he were the immediate successor of the Apostles. Jerome (Illustrious Men 16) and Socrates (H.E. VI, 8) call him the "third" bishop after St. Peter, but this is only because they illogically include Peter among his own successors. Theodoret and Pseudo-Ignatius represent Ignatius as consecrated by Peter. Yet the Apostolic Constitutions preserves I think something closer to the real historical situation, namely that Evodius was ordained by Peter and Ignatius by Paul. It is worth noting that Evodius was never celebrated as a a martyr.

So it is that when we turn to the two thrones of Peter and Paul in that city it is impossible to imagine that it is anything other than a parallel historical phenomenon. Yet I would go one step further and necessarily identify 'Ignatius' as a term which means 'angel' or seraph (= fiery one). In other words, Ignatius is not the real historical name of the individual associated with the throne. It is a codeword which happens to bear a striking parallel to something that Tertullian writes about Marcion, namely that he was identified as an angel in his cultus:

As corrector apparently of a gospel which from the times of Tiberius to those of Antoninus had suffered subversion, Marcion comes to light, first and alone, after Christ had waited for him all that time, repenting of having been in a hurry to send forth apostles without Marcion to protect them. And yet heresy, which is always in this manner correcting the gospels, and so corrupting them, is the effect of human temerity, not of divine authority: for even if Marcion were a disciple, he is not above his master: and if Marcion were an apostle, Whether it were I, says Paul, or they, so we preach: and if Marcion were a prophet, even the spirits of the prophets have to be subject to the prophets, for they are not of subversion but of peace: even if Marcion were an angel, he is more likely to be called anathema than gospel-maker, seeing he has preached a different gospel. And so, by making these corrections, he assures us of two things—that ours came first, for he is correcting what he has found there already, and that that other came later which he has put together out of his corrections of ours, and so made into a new thing of his own. [Against Marcion 4.2]

This very interesting passage begins why identifying Marcion as the awaited 'Paraclete' of the heretical gospel and moves on to refute a series of titles which must have been associated with Marcion in his cultus - i.e. disciple, prophet (cf. Deut. 18.18) and angel.

We already know from Origen that Marcion was depicted as an enthroned ἐπίσκοπος at the head of the tradition, a double of St. Paul. Yet the information from Tertullian here already moves us in the direction of consolidating the Antiochene remembrance of Ignatius (= 'the fiery one') with Marcion the disciple, prophet and angel. For it must be duly noted that there was an ancient Antiochene tradition known to Ishodad of Merv (ninth century) that the little child held up by Jesus in Matthew 18:1 is really Ignatius:

Now the child whom our Lord called, and set him in the midst of them, and said, 'Except ye be converted, and become etc. is said to have been Ignatius, him who was afterward Patriarch of Antioch: now he saw angels singing in two choirs; and he taught that they should serve thus in all churches.

Indeed even if we pass over the tradition with respect to Ignatius 'being in the gospel' we see that the rest of the report - viz. the idea that Ignatius established the distinctive feature of the Antiochene church - is already known to Socrates Scholasticus and Chrysostom.

Yet it doesn't take much imagination to see that both these accounts ultimately date back to a tradition associated with St. Mark in Alexandria. Philo makes clear that the monastic Therapeutae sang their hymns antiphonally and Eusebius identifies St. Mark as the founder of this community and then makes explicit that the practice continued to his own day in the Alexandrian church. Indeed Tertullian's description of the primitive Agape which, if not established in Alexandria continued down to the time of Clement, seems remarkably similar to the description of the practice originally cited in Philo. For Tertullian notes of love-feasts of his day, says that, after washing hands and bringing in lights, each man was invited to come forward and sing to God's praise something cither taken from the Scriptures or of his own composition ("ut quisque de Sacris Scripturis vel proprio ingenio potest").

At the same time Origen identifies John in the place of Ignatius as the little child raised by Jesus in Matthew 18:2,3 and similar narratives. As Francesca Cocchini (Catechesis of the Good Shepherd p. 105) "Origen notes that Jesus did not invite the disciples to receive children in general, but one particular individual, ie, 'this child,' the one 'whom Jesus took and placed by His side.'" Many have noted before me that the Alexandrian tradition has always seemed to identify St. Mark with John Mark of Acts.

 As such there is very strong reasons for supposing that this was a tradition associated with the first bishop of Alexandria. Moreover Clement's repeated and explicitly mystical interest in the same passage inevitably hints at much the same equation.  There are also passages in the Homilies of St. Mark of Severus of Al'Ashmunein who confirm the identification.  Yet perhaps the perpetuation of a small throne - properly sized only for a child - is the greatest living symbol of this conception.

As Clement notes somewhere "And on the disciples, striving for the pre-eminence, He enjoins equality with simplicity, saying that they must become as little children.   Likewise also the apostle writes, that no one in Christ is bond or free, or Greek or Jew. For the creation in Christ Jesus is new, is equality, free of strife— not grasping— just. For envy, and jealousy, and bitterness, stand without the divine choir. Thus also those skilled in the mysteries forbid to eat the heart ... [Strom 5.5]

I will demonstrate Clement's notions of the mystical significance of the holding up of the divine child in my next post.  But to take this back to the original question - how can it be that the surviving text of Irenaeus is deemed to have been from the Commodian period when Book Three only witnesses the existence of a single a single episcopal line in Roman history?  This is a fundamental difficulty which isn't easily over come.  It is only our inherited prejudices which overlook the testimony of near contemporaries.

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