Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why Dating Irenaeus to the Reign of Zephyrinus Begins to Solve the Mar Saba Mystery

After my last post on Irenaeus it should be obvious that no definitive statement can be made about the dates for Irenaeus's activities. All we can say with certainty is:

  1. Irenaeus was 'young' when Polycarp's was active at 'the royal court' (whatever that meant)
  2. He wrote Against Heresies after the Roman apostolic succession list in 3.3.3 was copied out from some source (likely the appendix added to the Hypomnemata ascribed to Hegesippus)
  3. He must have written Against Heresies before Hippolytus wrote his Syntagma and all the other parallel copying efforts were established in the first century (i.e. the Philosophumena, Pseudo-Tertullian)
  4. He was active when there were a number of Christians at the Imperial court AH 4.30.1
All of this evidence fits the material that becomes assembled into Against Heresies in the early third century date as easily as it does the traditional dating of the reign of Commodus (180 - 192 CE).  I would argue in fact for some of the material being established during the Commodian period but ultimately being assembled into a five volume collection by a later editor in the third century.  

The point here is that Clement of Alexandria's testimony regarding the heresies must be older than Irenaeus's. There are so many signs which confirm that Clement wasn't aware of Irenaeus's anti-heretical writings.  Here are a few:
  1. Clement's 'innocent' use of the term gnostikos - i.e. he has no shame in identifying himself or his tradition as 'gnostic.' 
  2. Clement's 'innocent' use of other gnostic terminology - i..e. identifying himself and his tradition as 'the perfect,' the 'spiritual class,' others as 'sarkic,'  'secret teachings,' 'depth' etc.  
  3. Clement's familiarity and use of apocryphal gospels and texts. 
  4. Clement's intimacy with heretical books and authors (and especially his citation of Marcosian material condemned by Irenaeus in AH 1.13 - 21 in Book Six of the Stromata)
  5. the historical understanding of the how the gospel canon develops in the Letter to Theodore
I think Clement was clearly aware of the Roman Church and the books that it considered holy and went out of his way to embrace those texts and traditions.  Yet how much of this was part of an effort to extend his influence?  The obvious modern example is the effort of Jewish religious leaders to avoid the rabbinic legacy of anti-Christian and hostile Jesus references for the sake of the modern secular state of Israel.  

Eusebius cites letters of Alexander of Jerusalem which make clear that Clement was actively engaging not only Christians in and around Jerusalem but also paid a visit to Antioch.  It would impossible for Clement to have any influence among the Antiochenes without accepting the authority of the Acts of the Apostles.  The same can be said about influencing Roman Christians and the writings which reinforced that city's apostolic legacy (i.e. the Shepherd, Clement of Rome, the claims of Peter to have written or dictated a gospel there etc.).  

When we look at the writings of Clement there are no clear signs that Irenaeus's claims of a worldwide Church centered in Rome had already been developed.  It is also difficult to believe that these claims could have already existed before Victor's war against the Quartodecimanists.  Indeed the whole question of Irenaeus's position on the Quartodeciman controversy is perhaps the most difficult to make any sense of.  For at best Irenaeus seems to argue for a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy on the date of Easter.  But this seems to be at odds with Victor's 'Sunday only' policy from the end of the second century (Victor dates as leader of the Roman Church are usually assigned to 189 - 199 CE).  

Indeed most interpretations of the controversy here are so utterly uncritical it is difficult to read them without wanting to run out of the Rome.  Yes to be sure Victor wanted to cut off those who did not accept the celebration of Easter Sunday (or whatever we want to make of Eusebius's testimony).  But Eusebius makes clear that the churches of Judea pointed to a pre-existent Alexandrian position on Easter Sunday that basically ignored or did not know of any 'authority of the Roman tradition' whatsoever.  

It is difficult to believe that if the Roman tradition had any long history of celebrating Easter Sunday that Irenaeus could turn around and argue for a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy on the question.  Indeed it is unmistakable that Irenaeus cites the reconciliation of Polycarp and Anicetus - 'agreeing to disagree' - in response to Victor's intolerance of any position but what was - for all intents and purposes - the Alexandrian position on Easter.  

To this end, I see further evidence here of Irenaeus writing in the third century for it is difficult to imagine that Irenaeus could have contradicted a sitting bishop of Rome on such a sensitive question.  Indeed the fact that Against Heresies again manages to avoid the whole question of the proper dating of Easter is again quite interesting.  One may argue of course that whatever Irenaeus wrote originally might have been redacted in a later period.  Nevertheless the one reference to Polycarp is quite interesting as it again emphasizes his appearance in Rome and the compatibility of his teaching with the Roman tradition.  Could such a view have been promulgated at Rome during Victor's reign?  It seems unlikely as Polycarp was a known Quartodecimanist and Victor was actively 'cutting off' such people from the Church.  

One might argue that Irenaeus was writing from Lyons or somewhere outside of Rome.  Of course given the fact that the work was written over many years, the individual segments or parts could have been written anywhere.  But why the emphasis on Rome and Polycarp's compatibility with Roman teachings if:
  1. Polycarp had in fact very little in the way of ties to Rome
  2. Roman hostility to his position on the dating of Easter could have developed into such full fledged hatred as Victor embodied
  3. The hostility of Gaius of Rome to the Johannine tradition further emphasizes Polycarp's ultimate incompatibility with Roman tradition
I would argue instead that any attempt to reconcile Polycarp to the Roman tradition could only have happened after Victor's attempts to marginalize the Quartodecimanists in the closing years of the second century.  In other words, Irenaeus's writings better fit the reign of Zephyrinus (199 - 217 CE).  This is of course not to say that Irenaeus couldn't or didn't write during the previous period.  But the most sensible way of reading the material is that after Victor's ultimately unsuccessful attempts to subdue the Quartodecimanists, Irenaeus encouraged a policy of toleration towards their tradition.

Under this scenario we can also begin to comprehend Hippolytus's antipathy towards Callixtus a little better too.  In the Philosophumena for example Callixtus's tenure as deacon (or 'second in command') during Zephyrinus's reign is completely ignored and instead the narrative focuses on 'hanky panky' that took place during the reign of Victor with the Imperial government.  Victor was instrumental in a 'deal' between Commodus's concubine Marcia and an influential Christian from Rome Carpophorus to free Callixtus from the mines.  If Irenaeus had influence with Zephyrinus and then Callixtus was picked over Hippolytus for the throne of the episcopate, the Philosophumena's dredging up 'questionable associations' during Victor's tenure can be viewed as an effort to smear Callixtus.

It is also worth noting that Hippolytus also becomes a 'champion' at tackling Gaius of Rome's attack against the Johannine writings.  Irenaeus also makes reference to such hostility but the most important thing to take notice of is Irenaeus deliberate attempt to avoid directly linking Polycarp to John in Against Heresies. Few people have ever noticed that the two ships seem to sail past one another with any direct reference or association (other than their appearing in the same paragraph together):

But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time,--a man who was of much greater weight, and a more stedfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles,--that, namely, which is handed down by the Church. There are also those who heard from him that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, "Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within." And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, "Dost thou know me?" "I do know thee, the first-born of Satan." Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth; as Paul also says, "A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself." There is also a very powerful Epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians, from which those who choose to do so, and are anxious about their salvation, can learn the character of his faith, and the preaching of the truth. Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles.

What makes this so interesting is that it is utterly cryptic. If you know ahead of time that Polycarp was John's devoted student then you 'see' the connection but if you read these references without such knowledge you'd think we have to ultimately unrelated figures in the history of the Church being juxtaposed against the heresies.

The point here of course is that the way the paragraph is arranged here speaks to the difficulty that the Quartodeciman position traditionally had in Rome even down to the time Irenaeus was writing.  Unlike the Philosophumena, the Quartodecimanists are not listed as 'heresies' in Book One.  The Gospel of John is clearly the gospel which upheld the Quartodeciman dating of Easter.  Polycarp was again a noted Quartodecimanist.  Yet Irenaeus does his best to avoid the whole question of the dating of Easter in Against Heresies and in fact goes so far to avoid linking Polycarp and the 'Asiatic churches' to John.

Indeed instead of referencing John's legacy as an old man and the influence he had over the churches there, Polycarp and his legacy as an old man becomes the "things all the Asiatic Churches testify as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time."  This is clearly an attempt to sidestep the Quartodeciman question and the legacy of John.  Why so?  Because it must have already been established that John's teaching was incompatible with the truths accepted by the previous bishop of Rome - i.e. Victor.

Leaving aside the question of whether 'Gaius of Rome' and 'Victor' were in fact one and the same person (i.e. Hippolytus's attacks against the sitting bishop Callixtus were coupled by a similar assault on a previous occupant of the chair) what this brings to light is the absolutely unlikelihood that Against Heresies could have been written at the end of the second century.  How could Victor have accepted the Gospel of John as canonical when it supported the Quartodeciman dating of Easter?  The more likely scenario is of course that:

  1. Irenaeus wrote most of Against Heresies during the time Zephyrinus sat on the episcopal throne
  2. that the Imperial court referenced as having many Christians is in fact that of Severus Septimius (193 - 211 CE).  On the great number of Christians in Severus's court consider the wet nurse of Severus's eldest son Caracalla (Tertullian, Ad Scap. 4: "lacte Christiano educatus." Cf. on this, Hist. Aug. Car. 1: The little Caracalla played with a Jewish boy. Jews and Christians could still be confused by pagans), Severus's alleged healing by Proculus (Tert. Ad Scap. 4), the graffito of Alexamenos, as well as a number of studies which confirm this presence through burial inscriptions at Rome
  3. the canonical gospel being divided into four was an attempt an ecumenism (i.e. to reconcile the Quartodeciman and pro-Alexandrian factions)
  4. that Rome became chosen as the new home for this reconciled Church (and thus instantly drew the support of the Asian and Syrian churches who resented the growing influence of Alexandria in the region)
  5. the Alexandrian tradition had traditionally been referenced among Syriac speaking Christians as marqiyone (= 'Markan') and seperate reports became assembled into Irenaeus's anti-heretical compendium as 'Marcosian' and 'Marcionite' 
  6. Clement of Alexandria's 'mystic' gospel of Mark was one and the same with the gospel of both the Marcosians and the Marcionites.  
I think this is a very workable solution to the manner in which the New Testament canon was ultimately introduced to the contemporary world in the third century.  We must remember that nothing in the writings of Clement suggest that he had any knowledge of the sanctity of a gospel divided into four.  It is with Origen that this reality is established and that this means that it was only a generation earlier that the canon was established.  Tertullian too was only reflecting a recent development.

I have discovered that while not explicitly confirming a third century dating of Irenaeus, Arnold Ehrhardt helps provide some context for making this a distinct possibility.  More on that later ...

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