Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Irenaeus and Hippolytus vs Clement and Origen

I know that reading my blog can be annoying for some. I don't know that I can put forward a sweeping 'here it is' statement with respect to the situation in the earliest Church ('earliest' meaning late second century/early third centuries). The information is so garbled and so corrupt that we are reduced to small individual 'snapshots' of what happened in earliest antiquity and the images that appear to us are confusing and difficult to sort out.

Take for example the teacher and student relationship between Irenaeus and Hippolytus juxtaposed against that of Clement and Origen. It is assumed that Hippolytus was a faithful student of Irenaeus just as Irenaeus was faithful with respect to Polycarp a generation or so earlier. Yet there is something very different when we look to the teacher/student relationship which is alleged for Clement and Origen. No one who studies the earliest Alexandrian writers ever speaks of a continuous Alexandrian tradition flowing from St. Mark through to Clement and then this knowledge being passed on to Origen. Origen is said to have been Clement's student by Eusebius but everyone seems to think that he was an innovator of a new school of exegesis.

Yet isn't that odd? Somehow the tradition of St. Peter - i.e. 'orthodoxy' - is held to have been immaculately preserved in the example of Hippolytus an 'anti-Pope' but the tradition of St. Mark is wholly invented and proof of its non-existence is the fact that Origen's teaching don't resemble that of his teacher Clement. I guess the inference here is that Alexandrians were 'free to innovate' while the members of the Roman Church weren't.

But this is absurd. For Clement clearly implies that a tradition of St. Mark existed and at the same time he fails to recognize Origen who was already influential by the time of Clement's death (c. 225 CE). There were no letters from Clement to Origen in the library that Alexander assembled at Jerusalem even though he was a student of both men. Isn't that curious in itself?

Now we don't know exactly where Clement ended up. He seems to have left Alexandria some time around the beginning of the third century and stayed for a while in Palestine thereafter. We also know that Origen leaves Alexandria around 215 CE and also makes his home there. Yet those two lines never seem to intersect which is odd because I have found, as a Canadian living in America, that whenever I come across another Canadian expatriate in 'the States' I immediately have a bond with that person (no matter how superficial that bond may be).

Why don't two Alexandrians living in the 'Wild West' of Palestine (so-called because there seems to be no established episcopal tradition after the Bar Kochba revolt) immediately become best of friends? Certainly there are a lot of circumstances which might account for two leading figures of the Alexandrian Church not recognizing one another or not coming together in Judea, but nobody seems to wonder whether such a 'coming together' could even be possible. There are such pronounced differences between the beliefs of the two men that one could only imagine that Clement would have felt that Origen was something of a heretic.

Now the idea that Origen was a heretic is already established very early in the Patristic tradition. Yet do we have to assume that because Clement and Origen were from Alexandria that they liked each other? Hippolytus and Callixtus were both from Rome and they hated one another. I can't help but suspect that the lack of any correspondences between Clement and Origen is very significant. After all our understanding of who Origen was has clearly been 'purified' by apologists like Eusebius. The way Eusebius pulls a line out of one letter of Alexander of Jerusalem and suddenly everyone thinks everything is honky dory between the two.

Just look at the reference again and tell me that there is anything here which should convince anyone that Clement and Origen were friends or even amicable acquaintances:

Again the above-mentioned Alexander, in a certain letter to Origen, refers to Clement, and at the same time to Pantænus, as being among his familiar acquaintances. He writes as follows:

For this, as you know, was the will of God, that the ancestral friendship existing between us should remain unshaken; nay, rather should be warmer and stronger. For we know well those blessed fathers who have trodden the way before us, with whom we shall soon be; Pantænus, the truly blessed man and master, and the holy Clement, my master and benefactor, and if there is any other like them, through whom I became acquainted with you, the best in everything, my master and brother. [Church History 6.8,9]

All that Alexander says is that Alexander became acquainted with Origen because of his previous association with Clement. I had the same thing happen to me with strippers. I was 'dating' one girl and then while sitting around waiting at a table for her to finish with a customer, I ran into another girl who was even prettier. The two girls weren't friends.

The point is that if this is as good as it gets for evidence that Clement was Origen's teacher and the two men represented something of an 'Alexandrian tradition' then we're all in trouble. Our house is truly built on sand.

So it is that despite the fact that Eusebius had a wholly library of information related to the two men in Jerusalem at his disposal, this is the best piece of evidence he can come up with respect to 'connecting' Clement and Origen. One can argue 'he didn't have to attempt to imply intimacy' between the two men. But the point is that he did.  Eusebius tries to suggest that Alexander is pointing at an Alexandrian tradition here - Pantaenus, Clement and then Origen. He even goes on to suggest that 'Adamantius' (who he seems to hint was 'Origen' although the connection isn't explicit) also established Heraclas as his replacement.

The truth is that I don't know what this 'Catechetical School of Alexandria' really was. It seems uncannily similar to the 'school' that grew up around Origen in third century Palestine.  We have to remember that when baptism rites are referenced in Jerusalem in the fourth century Cyril of Jerusalem also makes reference to 'mystagogic catecheses' which precede water immersion.  How can it be ignored then that 'school' is surely something of a misnomer. Catechesis was the preliminary steps to entering the Christian mysteries. If Origen and Clement couldn't agree on the same teachings, how can claim that they shared the same baptism?

And what kind of 'tradition' are we really talking about here?  Demetrius was supposedly the bishop of Alexandria for this entire period (though we really have no reliable information about any of this).  Clement and Origen were heads of the 'school' in Alexandria supposedly and also identified as 'prebyters' in Judea.  Heraclas and Dionysius were heads of the school and also Popes in Alexandria (the term 'Pope' being first used with Heraclas supposedly).

How can the waters be any murkier?  How can the truth be more obscure?  Eusebius supposedly wrote the Church History to 'explain' the history of the Church.  Has anything about the origins of Alexandrian Christianity been 'explained' in any of these narratives?  There is the myth of St. Mark establishing monasteries throughout Egypt, I guess.  Yet Eusebius's focus is to make Origen seem like something other than a heretic.  Why does this take precedence over telling the story of the Alexandrian Church?  Why does defending Origen trump everyone and everything else in Egypt?

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