Saturday, August 13, 2011

Paul of Samosata and Artemon of Rome

My difficulty with most scholarly assumptions about Paul of Samosata is that they aren't critical enough. He is often described as a Jewish Christian for instance - but with a given name like 'Paul'? Yet a more substantial objection of course is that he is connected with Artemon before him and with Lucian of Antioch and Arius after him. It is really difficult to see any single thread that could connect all of these elusive figures. Yet this doesn't mean that there isn't one. I have always wondered whether the problem is that scholars aren't imaginative enough to find it.

The key, I think, to unlock this mystery is to remember how many of the earliest heresies in Irenaeus's work are accused of 'separating' Jesus and Christ. In other words, the one (Jesus) was a divine hypostasis and the other (Christ) was wholly human. The reason this understanding comes second nature to me, I guess, is that I am Jewish and the messiah can only be conceived as a wholly human being.

In any event, this idea that Paul of Samosata might actually have argued for 'Christ' being someone (secretly) other than Jesus is the only way to connect all the individuals connected to him. Indeed I think if we take a second look at Eusebius's testimony from the so-called Little Labyrith (a mid-second century text usually identified with either Hippolytus or Gaius of Rome). Eusebius writes:

In a laborious work by one of these writers against the heresy of Artemon, which Paul of Samosata attempted to revive again in our day, there is an account appropriate to the history which we are now examining. For he criticises, as a late innovation, the above-mentioned heresy which teaches that the Saviour was a mere man, because they were attempting to magnify it as ancient. Having given in his work many other arguments in refutation of their blasphemous falsehood, he adds the following words:

"For they say that all the early teachers and the apostles received and taught what they now declare, and that the truth of the Gospel was preserved until the times of Victor, who was the thirteenth bishop of Rome from Peter, but that from his successor, Zephyrinus, the truth had been corrupted.

And what they say might be plausible, if first of all the Divine Scriptures did not contradict them. And there are writings of certain brethren older than the times of Victor, which they wrote in behalf of the truth against the heathen, and against the heresies which existed in their day. I refer to Justin and Miltiades and Tatian and Clement and many others, in all of whose works Christ is spoken of as God. For who does not know the works of Irenæus and of Melito and of others which teach that Christ is God and man? And how many psalms and hymns, written by the faithful brethren from the beginning, celebrate Christ the Word of God, speaking of him as Divine.

How then since the opinion held by the Church has been preached for so many years, can its preaching have been delayed as they affirm, until the times of Victor? And how is it that they are not ashamed to speak thus falsely of Victor, knowing well that he cut off from communion Theodotus, the cobbler, the leader and father of this God-denying apostasy, and the first to declare that Christ is mere man? For if Victor agreed with their opinions, as their slander affirms, how came he to cast out Theodotus, the inventor of this heresy?" So much in regard to Victor. His bishopric lasted ten years, and Zephyrinus was appointed his successor about the ninth year of the reign of Severus. [Eusebius Church History 5.28]

I think in many ways the reference to Victor helps connect the heresy with Alexandria insofar as Victor's position was clearly allied with the Alexandrian Church - not merely with respect to the dating of Easter.

Zephyrinus represents something new because this was the age the fourfold gospel became establshed in the world. It was the period when the Muratorian canon was first established. I have argued - despite the bad reading of Book Three of Against Heresies - that this was the age Irenaeus was active. Notice again in what follows in Eusebius that the controversy again becomes centrally focused on the question of a 'correction' of scripture under Zephyrinus - the very period the fourfold gospel was certainly introduced.

Once again following Eusebius's citation from the Little Labyrinth we read:

They have treated the Divine Scriptures recklessly and without fear. They have set aside the rule of ancient faith; and Christ they have not known. They do not endeavor to learn what the Divine Scriptures declare, but strive laboriously after any form of syllogism which may be devised to sustain their impiety. And if any one brings before them a passage of Divine Scripture, they see whether a conjunctive or disjunctive form of syllogism can be made from it.

And as being of the earth and speaking of the earth, and as ignorant of him who cometh from above, they forsake the holy writings of God to devote themselves to geometry. Euclid is laboriously measured by some of them; and Aristotle and Theophrastus are admired; and Galen, perhaps, by some is even worshiped. But that those who use the arts of unbelievers for their heretical opinions and adulterate the simple faith of the Divine Scriptures by the craft of the godless, are far from the faith, what need is there to say? Therefore they have laid their hands boldly upon the Divine Scriptures, alleging that they have corrected them.

That I am not speaking falsely of them in this matter, whoever wishes may learn. For if any one will collect their respective copies, and compare them one with another, he will find that they differ greatly. Those of Asclepiades, for example, do not agree with those of Theodotus. And many of these can be obtained, because their disciples have assiduously written the corrections, as they call them, that is the corruptions, of each of them. Again, those of Hermophilus do not agree with these, and those of Apollonides are not consistent with themselves. For you can compare those prepared by them at an earlier date with those which they corrupted later, and you will find them widely different.

But how daring this offense is, it is not likely that they themselves are ignorant. For either they do not believe that the Divine Scriptures were spoken by the Holy Spirit, and thus are unbelievers, or else they think themselves wiser than the Holy Spirit, and in that case what else are they than demoniacs? For they cannot deny the commission of the crime, since the copies have been written by their own hands. For they did not receive such Scriptures from their instructors, nor can they produce any copies from which they were transcribed.

But some of them have not thought it worth while to corrupt them, but simply deny the law and the prophets, and thus through their lawless and impious teaching under pretense of grace, have sunk to the lowest depths of perdition.

The point here is that if we turn around the arguments of the Little Labyrinth we end up with a community identifying itself as the 'original faith' of the Church (rather than innovators) who maintain copies of scriptures before the reforms of Zephyrinus with apparent Marcionite tendencies in terms of doctrine. I think all things point to them being Alexandrians (or Alexandrian expatriates) and we should not be distracted by many of these same people running out and condemning Paul of Samosata after the re-establishment of Roman rule. They were clearly looking out for their self-interest.

More investigation is needed but it is noteworthy that both Firmilianus and Demetrius of Alexandria never make it to the synod to condemn Paul. Severus of Al'Ashmunein notes that he discovered a chronology which adds a number of years to Dionysius's reign - long enough to have made it to Antioch to condemn Paul and while Zenobia ruled Egypt as its queen. I think there is more to this story than meets the eye. More to follow (got to sleep ...)

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