Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My Continuing Conversation With an Unnamed Expert on Cyril of Jerusalem

I always seem to get into trouble when I post both the names and emails of people I am corresponding with. I guess I can understand why it is that they get annoyed with me for doing this. So I have decided to turn over a new leaf with respect to my attempts to get to the bottom of the question of whether Alexandrian 'ex-pats' (i.e. Christians who fled the Egyptian city) had a role in shaping the early liturgy in Jerusalem in particular.

The ultimate end game here would be to suggest that what we read about in Clement's Letter to Theodore manifested itself in the 'ritual nudity' that we see reflected in the material associated with Cyril of Jerusalem. In those references those preparing to be initiated into the mysteries of the Christian religion (= baptism) take off their clothes and enter into a secret room to take part in a rite that I have already noted sounds very similar to what is described in the Letter to Theodore. The Letter to Theodore of course is the 'disputed' manuscript discovered by Morton Smith in the Mar Saba monastery (I say 'disputed' but really the 'dispute' is about as serious as a child resisting eating his broccoli).

I feel that the flight of countless Alexandrian ex-pats to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem in the second, third and fourth centuries is one of the most interesting and under-reported events in the history of early Christianity. I think it explains the hostility to the 'Marcionites' and 'Marcosians' in the existing literature (I will explain this later). Yet for the moment I want to start our discussion by citing what this acknowledged expert on Cyril of Jerusalem had to say about my developing theory so far.

A note to my readers - I have previously posted my discussion with this expert here and noted what I considered to be parallels with Secret Mark here. The discussion here makes reference to another discussion I had earlier in the year with respect to Secret Mark ultimately 'stealing' its 'naked with naked' theology from Plato first referenced here.

In any event, here is the latest installment in our discussion. My response to the professor to follow in a subsequent post. Here is what he wrote:

I would like some clarification first on your understanding of Clement's Letter.

As I understand your thoughts on this topic, this Letter of Clement is a second century witness to an even earlier (Mark's so-called secret Gospel account) practice of initiation (reflected in Mark's so-called secret Gospel account). Is Mark's account of the young man intended to be an event from the life of Jesus? Or is it a story, based on some event in Jesus' life, composed to present an initiation rite in the guise of the original event in order to communicate a secret knowledge about such things? If so, Mark's account would be reflecting initiation rites of his day (50's-60's AD). Is this feasible, or am I missing something here? Since you want to use the letter in a historical-critical manner, it needs to be clear what elements of the letter represent which historical period from the time of Jesus through to Clement's Alexandria and then ultimately Cyril's Jerusalem.

I had some other thoughts that might depend on your response to the above, but I will include them now anyway:

If the Letter in genuine, the extra Markan pericope sounds like a story symbolic of an initiation rite, but is the supposed Markan account supposed to be understood as describing something Jesus actually did - an articulated initiation rite with subsequent mystagogia? Or is it a "mystical" (I read Gnostic) story intended to communicate spiritual knowledge. It sounds so much like a Gnostic text that I can't see how it would survive or exert any influence into Cyril's episcopate, he being so anti-Gnostic as reflected in the Catecheses. It could nonetheless reflect a rite practiced at the time (but what time exactly). But then how would you go about proving that it is "the original source for all baptismal liturgies"?

I am not sure what the big deal is about the nudity issue. In the Syrian tradition (Didascalia, mid-3rd century) initiates are disrobed (and thus segregated). Is there any reason to think disrobing would not be an early practice in many places?

I am also not sure the "connections" to Platonic thought. Noting compatibility between Christian and Platonic ideas is one thing (Justin being a great example); establishing a direct connection between Plato and initiation rites is another. In Jewish proselyte baptism we already se the connection between conversion and a rite with water. Paul connects Christ's death and resurrection and the initiates incorporation in Christ to baptism (Romans, e.g.). This seems to me like a no-brainer connection - why look for a source other than Paul himself? I don't know what the extra-cannonical sources are you refer to, but could Paul himself be the source for those ideas? At what point would Platonic ideas get introduced in a way that adds something unique to the tradition? In general, I tend to think that nothing would prevent a confluence of all sorts of compatible ideas and practices; identifying them specifically is always a challenge.

A quick comment before leaving. I hope the reader can see how any discussion of Secret Mark or the Letter to Theodore inevitably gets bogged down in the question of whether the document is authentic. My point of course is that Clement of Alexandria was the instructor of Alexander of Jerusalem, the first real 'bishop' of the Jerusalem community (those who appear before Alexander on the list are little more than names, most of which have no serious claim to being historical). If Theophilus of Caesarea was Alexandrian (as the Liber Pontificalis suggests) and Alexander too. Alexander's devotion to Clement clearly must have had an impact on the establishment of the liturgy at this time.

In any event, my response will be posted tomorrow ...

Email with comments or questions.

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