Saturday, August 6, 2011

Clement, Origen and 'Secret Mark'

There is an uncanny parallel between Clement's description of his becoming a disciple of 'the Hebrew' he discovered in Egypt (commonly identified as 'Pantainos') and Gregory panegyric for Origen. I would like to point it out to my readers and then delve a little deeper into the mystical core of this tradition. First the parallel references:

Now the Scripture kindles the living spark of the soul, and directs the eye suitably for contemplation; perchance inserting something, as the husbandman when he ingrafts, but, according to the opinion of the divine apostle, exciting what is in the soul. [Strom 1.1]

And thus, like some spark lighting upon our inmost soul, love was kindled and burst into flame within us—a love at once to the Holy Word, the most lovely object of all, who attracts all irresistibly toward Himself by His unutterable beauty, and to this man, His friend and advocate. [Gregory to Origen 6]

It doesn't take a genius to see that the ideas here are Platonic but the application of this doctrine ultimately derives from Philo - especially the parallel comparison of the kindling of the divine spark to husbandry.

So when Clement makes reference to his 'Hebrew' teacher in Egypt and Gregory his Alexandrian teacher (Origen) in Palestine both compare it to a spark that is kindled into a flame there are familiar Platonic references to a sublimated homoerotic 'attraction' between student and pupil. I can't help but see this being reflected in what we know of Secret Mark through the Letter to Theodore. Indeed in many ways, Gregory's reference is far more explicit than anything in the letter found recently at Mar Saba.

The last words cited from Gregory's panegyric are:

Οἷος οὖν τις σπινθήρ, ἐνσκήψας μέσῃ τῇ ψυχῇ ἡμῶν, ἀνήπτετό τε καὶ ἐξεκαίετο ὅ τε πρὸς τὸν ἁπάντων ὑπὸ κάλλους ἀρρήτου ἐπακτικώτατον αὐτὸν λόγον τὸν ἱερὸν τὸν ἐρασμιώτατον, καὶ ὁ πρὸς τὸν ἄνδρα τόνδε τὸν αὐτοῦ φίλον καὶ προήγορον ἔρως

We should notice the appearance of the word ἔρως at the end of the sentence and follow the English translation even further:

And being most mightily smitten by this love, I was persuaded to give up all those objects or pursuits which seem to us befitting, and among others even my boasted jurisprudence,— yea, my very fatherland and friends, both those who were present with me then, and those from whom I had parted. And in my estimation there arose but one object dear and worth desire — to wit, - philosophy, and that master of philosophy, this inspired man.

Gregory goes on to say - again in typically Platonic terminology - that he was so inflamed by ἔρως for this man that he lost interest in all other things and just wanted to be with him "and when it seemed good to us to remain with him for a time, then he took us in hand, as a skilled husbandman may take in hand some field unwrought."

I think the sublimated sexuality in the terminology is again impossible to miss. I think it is still common parlance to speak of 'planting seed' as a sexual euphemism (I think it is for instance in a relatively recent Nelly song - 'recent' at least by ancient standards). The only difference here quite clearly is that Origen is not inseminating Gregory literally but figuratively. He is again - to go back to the original metaphor - implanting a 'divine spark' (undoubtedly some divine tradition of interpreting the gospel) 'inside' of Gregory which will fan into a large pure flame.

That Gregory uses the same imagery with respect to the some initiation where the divine man and man become 'united' as one is patently obvious again when we see him immediately go on to cite a line from the book of Samuel which is clearly the equivalent of to Theodore's controversy of the 'naked with naked' reference - namely "And the soul of Jonathan was knit with David." [1 Samuel 18:1] Gregory goes on to his explain to his readers that even after he had read this passage a few times he didn't realize its mystical import:

This word, indeed, I did not read till afterwards in the sacred Scriptures; but I felt it before that time, not less clearly than it is written: for, in truth, it reached me then by the clearest of all revelations. For it was not simply Jonathan that was knit with David; but those things were knit together which are the ruling powers in man— their souls—those objects which, even though all the things which are apparent and ostensible in man are severed, cannot by any skill be forced to a severance when they themselves are unwilling. For the soul is free, and cannot be coerced by any means, not even though one should confine it and keep guard over it in some secret prison-house. For wherever the intelligence is, there it is also of its own nature and by the first reason. And if it seems to you to be in a kind of prison-house, it is represented as there to you by a sort of second reason. But for all that, it is by no means precluded from subsisting anywhere according to its own determination; nay, rather it is both able to be, and is reasonably believed to be, there alone and altogether, wheresoever and in connection with what things soever those actions which are proper only to it are in operation. Wherefore, what I experienced has been most clearly declared in this very short statement, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David; objects which, as I said, cannot by any means be forced to a separation against their will, and which of their own inclination certainly will not readily choose it. Nor is it, in my opinion, in the inferior subject, who is changeful and very prone to vary in purpose, and in whom singly there has been no capacity of union at first, that the power of loosing the sacred bonds of this affection rests, but rather in the nobler one, who is constant and not readily shaken, and through whom it has been possible to the these bonds and to fasten this sacred knot. Therefore it is not the soul of David that was knit by the divine word with the soul of Jonathan; but, on the contrary, the soul of the latter, who was the inferior, is said to be thus affected and knit with the soul of David. For the nobler object would not choose to be knit with one inferior, inasmuch as it is sufficient for itself; but the inferior object, as standing in need of the help which the nobler can give, ought properly to be knit with the nobler, and fitted dependently to it: so that this latter, retaining still its sufficiency in itself, might sustain no loss by its connection with the inferior; and that that which is of itself without order being now united and fitted harmoniously with the nobler, might, without any detriment done, be perfectly subdued to the nobler by the constraints of such bonds. Wherefore, to apply the bonds is the part of the superior, and not of the inferior; but to be knit to the other is the part of the inferior, and this too in such a manner that it shall possess no power of loosing itself from these bonds. And by a similar constraint, then, did this David of ours once gird us to himself; and he holds us now, and has held us ever since that time, so that, even though we desired it, we could not loose ourselves from his bonds. And hence it follows that, even though we were to depart, he would not release this soul of mine, which, as the Holy Scripture puts it, he holds knit so closely with himself. [Gregory to Origen 6]

That this union with Christ (= David) is developed after a mystical purification (= baptism) is confirmed a little later in the same oration where we read Gregory acknowledge:

we earnestly aspire after this grace, which every man, be he only not absolutely impious, or a mere pleasure-seeker, ought to acquire for himself, in order to his being a friend of God and a προήγορον of His truth, and while we diligently pursue this virtue, we also give heed to the other virtues, in order that we may not approach our God in unworthiness and impurity, but with all virtue and wisdom as our best conductors and most sagacious priests. And the end of all I consider to be nothing but this: By the pure mind make thyself like (ἐξομοιώθητι προσελθεῖν) to God, that thou mayest draw near to Him, and abide in Him. [Gregory to Origen 12]

When we really stand back and look at this material it is difficult for us not to acknowledge that not only is what is being described here very similar to the superficially homosexual language of to Theodore but moreover the description of the heretical followers of Mark in the First Book of Irenaeus's Against Heresies.

For in this account we must be very clear to note that Irenaeus takes issue with the followers of a certain Mark (I have always identified them as followers of the Alexandrian apostle) for allowing this man to take the place of Jesus. Not only does Irenaeus (or more likely his Montanist source) take issue with Mark (or his episcopal representative) limiting the prophetic utterance of the spirit, the central part of their cult is to be desired in the manner that Gregory 'lusted' after Origen.

Irenaeus writes that Marcus "is a perfect adept in magical impostures, and by this means drawing away a great number of men, and not a few women, he has induced them to join themselves to him." [AH 1.13.1] Gregory himself interestingly is celebrated as a miracle worker who apparently wanted to 'join' with his teacher as if he were a living Christ. In another uncanny parallel to the 'grace' that Gregory expects the initiate to receive from his instructor, Irenaeus parodies the same initiator process in the following speech allegedly from a member of the Markan tradition:

"May that grace who is before all things, and who transcends all knowledge and speech, fill thine inner man, and multiply in thee her own knowledge, by sowing the grain of mustard seed in thee as in good soil"

We have already seen that Severus of Al'Ashmunein preserves a tradition where the mustard seed is liked to the divine seed that passed from Jesus to Mark and thus established the later as a second Christ. In a similar manner, Irenaeus goes on to point another appeal for quasi-sexual union between representative of Mark and initiate in the following terms with the representative declaring

"I am eager to make thee a partaker of my grace, since the Father of all doth continually behold thy angel before His face. Now the place of thy angel is among us: it behoves us to become one. Receive first from me and by me grace. Adorn thyself as a bride who is expecting her bridegroom, that thou mayest be what I am, and I what thou art. Establish the germ of light in thy nuptial chamber. Receive from me a spouse, and become receptive of him, while thou art received by him. Behold grace has descended upon thee; open thy mouth and prophesy." [ibid]

I find it very difficult to deny that Irenaeus's Aramaic source (see AH 1.21) is lampooning the very same initiation that Gregory underwent with Origen as the representative of Mark. In our next post we will note that Clement goes out of his way in the Stromata to avoid relying on human representatives of the divinity to preserve traditions. Clement emphasizes that he has in his possession the infallible living word of God at his disposal.

Yet I can't help but think that we are seeing something of a possible stand off between the Alexandrians who went to Origen because he brought some manuscripts from the library of Alexandria to them, and a rebuffed Clement who returned to Alexandria where he claimed the true 'mystic' gospel of Mark was found.   Am I certain that 'Carpocrates' had something to do with the name 'Origen' via 'Harpocrates' (= Horus the child)?  No, I am not.  But as my blog is an open notebook I have to admit, I think there is something possibly here nevertheless.

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