Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Pattern of 'the Tenth Year' in All Reports Related to Demetrius of Alexandria

I have always wondered what evidence there is for the existence of Demetrius the Patriarch of Alexandria. As far as I can tell there is just this one year that is ever associated with Demetrius - or better yet - one chronological reference i.e. 'the tenth year' of the Emperor. It is strange the way the 'tenth year' keeps recurring in any report related to Demetrius. This because it is well established that a Quintus Tineius Demetrius was Prefect of Egypt in the tenth year of Commodus's reign (189 - 190 CE) and thus exactly the same year as 'Demetrius' comes to head the church in the same year in Alexandria according to Eusebius:

In the tenth year of the reign of Commodus, Victor succeeded Eleutherus, the latter having held the episcopate for thirteen years. In the same year, after Julian had completed his tenth year, Demetrius received the charge of the parishes at Alexandria [Church History 5.22]

So it was the tenth year of Julian's reign and the tenth year of Commodus. Yet this is not the last time we hear the reference to the 'tenth year' with respect to Demetrius. It keeps getting recycled in not one, not two but every single report associated with this 'overseer' of the Church.

Origen's father is said to have become a martyr in 'the tenth year' of the Emperor - only this time it is Septimius Severus according to Eusebius:

It was the tenth year of the reign of Severus, while Lætus was governor of Alexandria and the rest of Egypt, and Demetrius had lately received the episcopate of the parishes there, as successor of Julian. As the flame of persecution had been kindled greatly, and multitudes had gained the crown of martyrdom, such desire for martyrdom seized the soul of Origen, although yet a boy, that he went close to danger, springing forward and rushing to the conflict in his eagerness. [Church History 6.1]

Eusebius also says that Origen also fled Alexandria in the Imperial persecutions of the tenth year of Severus's successor:

It was in the tenth year of the above-mentioned reign [i.e. Severus Alexander] that Origen removed from Alexandria to Cæsarea, leaving the charge of the catechetical school in that city to Heraclas. Not long afterward Demetrius, bishop of the church of Alexandria, died, having held the office for forty-three full years, and Heraclas succeeded him. At this time Firmilianus, bishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, was conspicuous. [Church History 6.24]

The reality is that Quintus Tineius Demetrius, the prefect of Egypt only served for a single year - i.e. the tenth of Commodus's reign. While Eusebius here gives the 'persecutions' as the reason for his exist elsewhere it is argued that he was fleeing Demetrius's iron grip on the contemporary Church. Could it be that these were both different ways of describing the same thing - i.e. there was only one Demetrius and he was the Imperial representative in the Roman province rather than the bishop of Alexandria? There is quite literally no information about Demetrius in Eusebius other than his appointing Heraclas in Origen's stead.

Indeed, in order to put this situation in its proper context we have to remember than in Alexandria strangely - and solely because of Demetrius's presence (which doesn't quite fit the list) - individuals are inevitably described as 'heads of the catechetical school' before rising to the role of bishop. The only one who breaks this mold is Demetrius because, as the Coptic tradition of Severus of al'Ashmunein notes - Demetrius was an outsider and an ignoramus. I suspect the reason the married Demetrius is so out of place among the fathers of the Alexandrian tradition was because he wasn't even a bishop at all but a Roman administrator.

In any even if we go through all the evidence we see it claimed that Origen was the head of the catechetical school before Heraclas, and successor of Clement of Alexandria:

But while he [Origen] was lecturing in the school, as he tells us himself, and there was no one at Alexandria to give instruction in the faith, as all were driven away by the threat of persecution, some of the heathen came to him to hear the word of God. The first of them, he says, was Plutarch, who after living well, was honored with divine martyrdom. The second was Heraclas, a brother of Plutarch; who after he too had given with him abundant evidence of a philosophic and ascetic life, was esteemed worthy to succeed Demetrius in the bishopric of Alexandria. He [Origen] was in his eighteenth year when he took charge of the catechetical school. [Church History 6.3]

The point here is that under the existing understanding Heraclas was first 'head of the catechetical school' and then bishop of Alexandria in 231 CE 'the tenth year of Alexander Severus.' When did Heraclas actually take over the catechetical school supposedly? It is not clear in Eusebius's testimony although the transfer of the school from Clement to Origen is tied again to the tenth year of Septimius Severus. This transference is allegedly connected with Demetrius again:

For they say that his manner of life was as his doctrine, and his doctrine as his life. Therefore, by the divine Power working with him he aroused a great many to his own zeal. But when he saw yet more coming to him for instruction, and the catechetical school had been entrusted to him alone by Demetrius, who presided over the church, he considered the teaching of grammatical science inconsistent with training in divine subjects, and immediately he gave up his grammatical school as unprofitable and a hindrance to sacred learning. [ibid]

Yet the story goes that when Demetrius discovered that Origen was castrated he ran him out of town:

But it was impossible for him, though desiring to do so, to keep such an action secret. When Demetrius, who presided over that parish, at last learned of this, he admired greatly the daring nature of the act, and as he perceived his zeal and the genuineness of his faith, he immediately exhorted him to courage, and urged him the more to continue his work of catechetical instruction.

Such was he at that time. But soon afterward, seeing that he was prospering, and becoming great and distinguished among all men, the same Demetrius, overcome by human weakness, wrote of his deed as most foolish to the bishops throughout the world. But the bishops of Cesarea and Jerusalem, who were especially notable and distinguished among the bishops of Palestine, considering Origen worthy in the highest degree of the honor, ordained him a presbyter.

Thereupon his fame increased greatly, and his name became renowned everywhere, and he obtained no small reputation for virtue and wisdom. But Demetrius, having nothing else that he could say against him, save this deed of his boyhood, accused him bitterly, and dared to include with him in these accusations those who had raised him to the presbyterate.

These things, however, took place a little later. But at this time Origen continued fearlessly the instruction in divine things at Alexandria by day and night to all who came to him; devoting his entire leisure without cessation to divine studies and to his pupils. [Church History 6.8]

Yet to me at least it seems that there is something amiss in this story. As I have noted in previous posts, castration practices were well established in Alexandria. If Demetrius was looking for such individuals he would have discovered that Origen was a eunuch very early in his career.

Moreover there is so sign whatsoever that Origen had attained any lasting fame while at Alexandria. Julius Africanus goes to see Heraclas very early in the third century and references Clement as being already gone having made a name for himself in the Commodian period. Those texts which are usually identified as having been written before Origen's flight from Alexandria are never actually completed in Egypt. Given that there isn't a single completed work in Alexandria it would stand to reason that his time there was quite limited.

I have also long noted that Eusebius's claim that Origen went back to Alexandria later to see Demetrius again is not as convincing as one might think. Firstly the original report in EH 6.14,15 that Eusebius used referenced only a figure named 'Adamantius' who was identified as Origen (rather weakly) by Eusebius. I have argued that the original report which referenced a certain 'Adamantius' (= Ezekiel 28) was actually from a narrative dealing with Clement and deliberately manipulated by Eusebius to make it seem as Origen reconciled himself with the bishop (to diffuse the charge of being a heretic).

Indeed the whole narrative of Church History is overtly apologetic and it is quite easy to see through Eusebius efforts. The claim that Origen wanted to join his father in the persecutions of Severus has a twofold purpose. It helps avoid the charge that Origen ran away from martyrdom and never attained martyrdom as well as diffusing the well known testimony of Porphyry that Origen began life as a pagan. As Eusebius notes:

These things are said by Porphyry in the third book of his work against the Christians. He speaks truly of the industry and learning of the man, but plainly utters a falsehood (for what will not an opposer of Christians do?) when he says that he went over from the Greeks, and that Ammonius fell from a life of piety into heathen customs. For the doctrine of Christ was taught to Origen by his parents, as we have shown above. And Ammonius held the divine philosophy unshaken and unadulterated to the end of his life. His works yet extant show this, as he is celebrated among many for the writings which he has left. For example, the work entitled The Harmony of Moses and Jesus, and such others as are in the possession of the learned.

These things are sufficient to evince the slander of the false accuser, and also the proficiency of Origen in Grecian learning. He defends his diligence in this direction against some who blamed him for it, in a certain epistle, where he writes as follows:

When I devoted myself to the word, and the fame of my proficiency went abroad, and when heretics and persons conversant with Grecian learning, and particularly with philosophy, came to me, it seemed necessary that I should examine the doctrines of the heretics, and what the philosophers say concerning the truth.

And in this we have followed Pantænus, who benefited many before our time by his thorough preparation in such things, and also Heraclas, who is now a member of the presbytery of Alexandria. I found him with the teacher of philosophic learning, with whom he had already continued five years before I began to hear lectures on those subjects. And though he had formerly worn the common dress, he laid it aside and assumed and still wears the philosopher's garment; and he continues the earnest investigation of Greek works.

He says these things in defending himself for his study of Grecian literature.

About this time, while [Origen] was still at Alexandria, a soldier came and delivered a letter from the governor of Arabia to Demetrius, bishop of the parish, and to the prefect of Egypt who was in office at that time, requesting that they would with all speed send Origen to him for an interview. Being sent by them, he went to Arabia. And having in a short time accomplished the object of his visit, he returned to Alexandria.

But sometime after a considerable war broke out in the city, and he departed from Alexandria. And thinking that it would be unsafe for him to remain in Egypt, he went to Palestine and abode in Cæsarea. While there the bishops of the church in that country requested him to preach and expound the Scriptures publicly, although he had not yet been ordained as presbyter.

This is evident from what Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem and Theoctistus of Cæsarea, wrote to Demetrius in regard to the matter, defending themselves thus:

He has stated in his letter that such a thing was never heard of before, neither has hitherto taken place, that laymen should preach in the presence of bishops. I know not how he comes to say what is plainly untrue. For whenever persons able to instruct the brethren are found, they are exhorted by the holy bishops to preach to the people. Thus in Laranda, Euelpis by Neon; and in Iconium, Paulinus by Celsus; and in Synada, Theodorus by Atticus, our blessed brethren. And probably this has been done in other places unknown to us. He was honored in this manner while yet a young man, not only by his countrymen, but also by foreign bishops.

But Demetrius sent for him by letter, and urged him through members and deacons of the church to return to Alexandria. So he returned and resumed his accustomed duties. [Church History 6.20]

I find it impossible to believe that Origen ever returned to Alexandria and in point of fact - aside from the report which identifies only an 'Adamantius' cited earlier - Eusebius brings forward no evidence to support his claims. One would think that somewhere in the hundreds of books available to Eusebius at the library of Caesarea he could a found a letter or a personal reference to Origen's return trip to Alexandria. The reality is of course that Eusebius can't find anything. It is very similar to the situation with respect to Origen allegedly being Clement's student or even his friend. Eusebius is forced to go to a weak reference by Alexander that both men were his instructors and that having Clement as his teacher 'led' Alexander to Origen. Hardly proof of any meaningful relationship between the two Alexandrians.

In the same way I see no evidence for Origen having returned to Alexandria after being chased by Demetrius in the 'tenth year' of some Imperial reign. While Eusebius has effectively developed the original story to have Demetrius rise to oversee the church of Egypt in the tenth year of Commodus (180 CE), Origen affected by persecutions in the 'tenth year' of Severus (203 CE) and finally flee the city in the 'tenth year' of Severus Alexander (232 CE), I think all these events happened in a single 'tenth year' of one of the three named Emperors.

I strongly suspect that in the real historical narrative Origen was eighteen years old when Quintus Tineius Demetrius became prefect of Egypt. Clement had already been chased out of town. Late in his rule Demetrius discovered that Origen was a eunuch and expelled the heretic. Heraclas took over as head or bishop of the church of Alexandria and lasted until Dionysius took over:

And in Alexandria Heraclas, having received the episcopal office after Demetrius, was succeeded in the charge of the catechetical school by Dionysius, who had also been one of Origen's pupils. [ibid 6.29]

There is still more work to be done with respect to this theory but the good news is that there is no further evidence to deal with. We have cited every reference to Demetrius in Eusebius (and indeed in any historical reliable source). The only other historical note to take into account is that the earliest Pope of Alexandria known to historians is Heraclas. Demetrius, strangely is never so named.

The usual date for Origen's death is 253 CE. If he was eighteen while fleeing Demetrius in 190 CE, we can recalculate his birth to 172 CE. None of this is beyond the realm of possibilities. The question is of course - can we find more evidence or is this all there is?

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