Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cyril of Jerusalem's Mystagogic Catecheses as a Remarkable Parallel to the Mystic Rites of the Letter to Theodore

I happened to be looking for something else when I stumbled upon Alexis James Doval's remarkable work on the Mystagogic Catecheses - a work traditionally ascribed to Cyril of Jerusalem. I immediately recognized that there are remarkable parallels between what is described of the Jerusalem rite and what is preserved in the disputed Letter to Theodore. This should be no means surprising given that from the late second century onward there is a remarkable pairing of Jerusalem and Alexandria as related sees. Both Clement and Origen flee Alexandria and are established in Jerusalem, Origen being in the middle of dispute between the two bishops as to whether or not he can serve as a priest there. Indeed even as late as the early fourth century the bishop of Alexandria claimed parts of Palestine and Gaza as his jurisdiction.

Whatever the case may be, if we can see through the obvious dissimilarities insofar as Clement, in the manner of all early Christians, rejected the use of temples and permanent physical 'houses of God' and the Mystagogic Catecheses is an adaptation of something much older to the newly build Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Nevertheless in spite of these differences it is obvious to me at least that the basic scheme of Alexandrian baptismal rites is retained in the Mystagogic Catecheses's formulation.

For instance Clement of Alexandria - undoubtedly using the desert tabernacle as his model - identifies Mark as acting the part of:

mystagogue [who would] lead the hearers into the innermost sanctuary of that truth enveloped by seven [circuits]. Thus, in sum, he prepared matters, neither grudgingly nor incautiously, in my opinion, and, dying, he left his composition to the church in Alexandria, where it even yet is most carefully guarded, being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries.

Scholars have always interpreted this description as if this describes a 'secret room' reserved for 'extra secret rites.' Yet the Mystagogic Catecheses demonstrates this is a complete misreading fostered in no small part by Morton Smith's debatable translation of the original Greek.

The adyton wasn't necessarily a 'secret chamber' any more than Mark's composition was a 'secret gospel.' It was just a room that was sacred where baptisms were carried out. Indeed we see the exact same thing in its description of function of the physicality of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I don't know if my readers can get the Google books preview for these pages outside of the United States (I have to use Explorer to get the whole preview - Chrome and Foxfire don't give me all the pages). Yet I can go to the library today and reproduce the illustration on page 87 and post it later today.

I think the Mystagogic Catecheses is very, very important for the study of the Letter to Theodore and Douval's excellent book in particular because it connects the 'mystagogic formula' in the Letter to Theodore to something real. I even wonder if the discovery at Mar Saba has something to do with the Jerusalem Church using the letter to justify or point to an apostolic origin for its peculiar rites in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Both the Mar Saba monastery and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre fell under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Jerusalem. The fact that books get moved around with in a bishopric or that someone from Mar Saba saw and copied the original letter into a book which was deposited in the Mar Saba later is certainly a possibility. Even the story of the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is interesting as Wikipedia notes:

Emperor Constantine I ordered in about 325/326 that the temple be demolished and the soil - which had provided a flat surface for the temple - be removed, instructing Macarius of Jerusalem, the local Bishop, to build a church on the site. The Pilgrim of Bordeaux reports in 333: There, at present, by the command of the Emperor Constantine, has been built a basilica, that is to say, a church of wondrous beauty. Constantine directed his mother, Helena, to build churches upon sites which commemorated the life of Jesus Christ; she was present in 326 at the construction of the church on the site, and involved herself in the excavations and construction.

During the excavation, Helena is alleged to have rediscovered the True Cross, and a tomb, though Eusebius' account makes no mention of Helena's presence at the excavation, nor of the finding of the cross but only the tomb. According to Eusebius, the tomb exhibited a clear and visible proof that it was the tomb of Jesus; several scholars have criticised Eusebius' account for an uncritical use of sources, and for being dishonest with Edward Gibbon, for example, pointing out that Eusebius' chapter headings claim that fictions are lawful and fitting for him to use. Socrates Scholasticus (born c. 380), in his Ecclesiastical History, gives a full description of the discovery (that was repeated later by Sozomen and by Theodoret) which emphasizes the role played in the excavations and construction by Helena; just as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (also founded by Constantine and Helena) commemorated the birth of Jesus, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre would commemorate his death and resurrection.

Now most have argued that the fact that to Theodore's reference to 'other gospels' written by Mark makes it completely incompatible with true orthodoxy. Yet at the same time the writings of Clement were preserved - or just barely (with only surviving exemplar in almost all cases) - despite writings often being declared as hetero-orthodox by writers such as Photius of Constantinople. Agamemnon Tselikas alerts us to a very interesting story in his study of the Mar Saba letter by noting that Clement's Quis Dives Salvetur was originally preserved at one church under the auspices of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and then later moved to a central location.

We read in section D 'Textological Observations' of his original BAR report that:

The scribe who copied the text [of to Theodore] at the time mentioned should have a model in miniscule writing certainly dating from the 9th century onwards. For example, the ms No. 414 of the collection of the Holy Sepulchre contains the work of Clement "Who is the saved rich. " The ms dates to the late 17th century, is written in Jerusalem, and seems to be a direct copy of the ms 23 of the collection of the Monastery of the Holy Cross, which dates from the 9th century and in much earlier years was in the monastery of St. Sabba (until to 1857 or 1864). It is worth noting that all the manuscripts of the monastery, except for a few modern and historically lower or some that were forgotten in the cells, as well as some foreign language (Arabic and Russian) moved from the Patriarch Nicodemus the year 1887 and joined the central library of the Patriarchate in Jerusalem

The only difference of course is that there was no monastery associated with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre originally.

Interestingly though the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the alleged Muslim desecration of the sanctuary became the pretext for the First Crusade. Having fallen in disrepair already, the Crusaders after 'recapturing' the structure were slow to renovate the church, only beginning to make modifications in the Romanesque style in 1112. They first built a monastery where the Constantinian basilica used to be, having first excavated the Crypt of St. Helena. In 1119 the shrine of Christ's tomb was replaced. The coronation of Fulk and Melisende at the church in 1131 necessitated more radical modifications. The Constantinian courtyard was covered with a Romanesque church (dedicated in 1149), which was connected to the rotunda by a great arched opening resulting from the demolition of the 11th-century apse.

The point of course is that it is anyone's guess where the Mar Saba document might have originally been housed, yet the idea that Cyril might have taken an interest in the text because it testified to the unique 'mystagogic' baptism rites established at the new church of the Holy Sepulchre remains a highly interesting possibility.  What really confirmed some connection to Cyril's work is the fact that Douval repeatedly mentions the influence of Clement of Alexandria's thought in the Mystigogic Catecheses.  Some examples:

This possible connection with Clement only indicates that M[ystagogic Catecheses] may be exhibiting some signs of an Alexandrian tradition, but this is far from saying that the idea is Origenist. [Douval p. 211]

In M 2.2, the author uses the imagery of removing a garment (Song 5:3), symbolizing the renunciation of sin and then draws in the image of Adam in Paradise: the candidates, disrobed of their sinful nature, mirror Adam naked in Paradise: mirror Adam naked in Paradise naked with no shame. In one respect this image calls to mind the Ori- genist idea that Adam and Eve received physical bodies, symbolized by the clothes God made for them, only as a result of their sin,29 and to an Ori- genist, this ritual disrobing might symbolize a return to this presinful spiritual existence. [Indeed] Epiphanius cites this idea as Origenist, but it is also found in Clement of Alexandria in Excerpta ex Theodoto 55. [p. 221]

Was John [II of Jerusalem whom Douval credits with developing the mystagogic catecheses] an Origenist? Before we answer this question, some qualification is in order concerning the term "Origenist. The Alexandrian school, mainly under the influence of Clement and Origen, had established a tradition of thought that was widespread and respected. Jerome himself referred to Origen as an "immortal genius" in his Lives of Illustrious Men 54 and continued to defend him for his exegetical work, questioning only certain doctrinal points.5 Epiphanius's radical anti-Origen stance seems to have been the exception. Hence, by normal standards, to be labeled an Origenist in any distinctive or pejorative way would mean that one seriously entertained Origen's more characteristic and questionable views. Such was the case with John of Jerusalem of Jerusalem, judging by the letter of Epiphanius, which cites eight specific Origenist doctrines held by John ... [p. 207]

This is only some of the direct references which Douval makes to an Alexandrian doctrine of naked present in the writings of the Mystagogic Cathecheses. I am starting to think that this points to the possibility at least that John II of Jerusalem might have had direct or indirect knowledge of the Letter to Theodore.

There is of course much more work to be done. I have scheduled an interview with Professor Douval this afternoon and hopefully will be able to bring back some of his thoughts on the possible connection. Until then I have managed to find a generic image of the fourth century church (which was very different from the present layout) and posted it at the top and bottom of this article. I really think it is worth everyone's while to go to the link and see the material in Google books and judge for yourselves if there is something similar to the rites described in to Theodore ...

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