Thursday, September 8, 2011

Why Does God Have to Go on the Cross?

I don't think I am going to spend a lot of time referencing ancient texts in this post. I just want to think about the very Jewish juxtaposition in Marcionitism "dividing God into two, maintaining one to be good and the other judicial" [Irenaeus AH 3.25.3] for a moment. By now we have seen that the Marcionites understood the Just God to be the one described in the Law. This is the 'god of the Jews.' The 'Good God,' the power of mercy is what is commonly thought of as 'the Christian god' - although I want to make clear that this was not the original distinction.  The Marcionites clearly appealed their message to Jewish proselytes first and foremost [Tertullian Against Marcion 3.21]  As such the Good God must have been understood to have been making an appeal to those under the Law (= Jews).

But here is where it all starts becoming unclear to me.  For I don't understand why the 'Good God' has to end up being crucified. This has bothered me from the start of my initiation into the mysteries of Christian thought.  The 'Good God' has supposedly been sitting up in heaven detached from all the goings on here.  I can see the whole 'unjust punishment' thing going on.  In other words, Jesus is so pure that evil just can't help itself.  The Devil and his minions want blood.  But then again we've just demonstrated that the Marcionites didn't think the Jewish god was the Devil.  He was merely 'Just' which is strange because it would seem to be an injustice to persecute the divine embodiment of Mercy.  It doesn't make sense.

I have the feeling that most of us have just assumed that the Marcionites were dualists so we really worked out the logic of their tradition using the Manichaean playbook.  To this end, I wonder if we have it all the wrong way around.  Maybe the Catholics were right in a sense and Jesus was the Just God - the Logos - however we want to identify him from the old Alexandrian system.  Irenaeus says this so many times, you wonder if this is a point that even the heretics might acknowledge. See also Ephrem's statement "the followers [of Marcion] therefore name our God 'the Just One" [Against Marcion 1]

So let's assume for a moment that god who was formerly all justice - hence his association with the Law - looks down at the world and in particular at the portion that is being governed by his Law and decides 'this isn't working.' This situation would definitely help explain "He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him."  [John 1.10, 11]  If we follow the Catholics so far we hit a stumbling block - for it has never made sense to anyone why the Just God has to allow himself to be crucified.  Until of course you start to consider the Marcionite understanding.

If the Marcionites were with the Catholics up until this point everything starts to suddenly make sense with the rest of the mission.  It was all about the repentance of the Just God.  We know this from Eznik's description.  Yet the account is very unclear.  We read:

He sent his Son to redeem them and 'to take on the likeness of a slave and to come into being in the form of man' [Phil 2:7] in the midst of the sons of the God of the Law. 'Heal' he said 'their lepers and give life to their dead and open their blind and make very great healings as a gift to them, so that the Lord of creatures might see you and be jealous and raise you on a cross.'

'And then having become dead you will descend into the Harsh (or, Hell) and you will raise them thence because it is not customary for the Harsh to accept life into its midst. And for the same reason you will go up to the cross so that you might resemble the dead and so that you might open the mouth of Hell to take you and enter into the middle of it and empty it.'

And when he had raised him on a cross, they say, he descended into the Harsh and emptied it. And having raised the souls from the middle of it he led them into the third heaven, to his Father.

And the Lord of creatures having become angry, in his anger he rent his robe and the curtain of of his temple. And he darkened his sun and he clothed his world in umber. And in his affliction he dwelt in mourning. Then when Jesus descended a second time in the form of his divinity to the Lord of creatures, he brought a lawsuit against him on account of his death.

And when the Lord of the world saw that divinity of Jesus, he discovered that another God apart from himself existed. And Jesus said to him, 'I am in litigation with you, and let no one judge between us, but the laws that you wrote.'

And when they had placed the Law in the middle, Jesus said to him "Did you not write in your Law, 'Whoever will murder he will die, (cf Num 35.30 - 34)?' and 'Whoever sheds the blood of a righteous one, his blood will be shed (Gen 9:6)?'" And he said, 'Yes, I wrote."

And Jesus said to him "So give yourself into my hands, so that I might slaughter and shed your blood, because rightly am I more lawful than you, and great favors have I bestowed on your creatures." And he began to reckon up those favors that he had bestowed on that one's creatures.

And when the Lord of creatures saw that he had gained victory over him - neither did he know what to say in reply because by his own Law he was condemned; nor did he find an answer to give because he came forth condemnation in exchange for his death - so having fallen down in supplication, he was praying to him "Whereas I sinned and slaughtered you ignorantly because I did not know that you were a god, but rather I considered you a man, let there be given to you in exchange, for revenge, all of those who wish to believe in you to take wheresoever you wish."

So Jesus having released him, he carried off Paul from the astonished ones, and he revealed to him their prices, and he sent him forth to preach that we have been bought for a price, and everyone who believes in Jesus has been sold by that Just One to the Good One.

Yet I am not so sure that this was the original formula.  I think the Marcionites might have thought that the Just God ended up being crucified on the Cross as a sign of repentance.  The basis for my reconstruction is Ephesians 2:16:

having abolished in the flesh the enmity (ἔχθραν), the law of commandments contained in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man of the two, making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity (ἔχθραν) thereby

The Greek word here for enmity is ἔχθρα bur in Syriac it is baldababota (ܒ݁ܥܶܠܕ݁ܒ݂ܳܒ݂ܽܘܬ݂ܳܐ). I wonder whether what we have in this material an original Aramaic discussion which was the basis for the otherwise unexplained Gnostic creature Ialdabaoth:

For he is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the wall of separation between them; And he has abolished by his precious (gospel) the baldababota between them, and he has abolished by his commandments the ordinances of the law, that he may create, in his person, from the two, a new man, thus making peace and he reconciled both in one body with God, and with his cross he destroyed the baldababota [Eph 2:15 - 16] 

I assume of course that 'flesh' is a mistake for the very closely related Aramaic word 'gospel.' Indeed the process whereby Gnostics began to speak of a creature named 'Ialdabaoth' represents one level of corruption.

It is very important to consider that the Catholics consistently substitute 'the Devil' for where the Marcionites saw 'the Just God.'  In the case of the concept of the redemption (referenced at the end of Eznik's description) the Catholics say that the Christian god 'purchases' or 'redeems' those enslaved by the Devil where as the Marcionites understand the transaction to have taken place between the Just God and the Good God.  The 'purchase' is always understood in terms of the crucifixion.  As Michael Bird notes:

In the middle of his ministry, Christ sought to undo the works and ways of the creator (see Irenaeus, Haer. 1.27.2; cf. Hippolytus, Haer. 7.30.3). Although the “princes of this world” in collusion with the creator crucified the Lord of glory (Tertullian, Marc. 5.6.6; cf. Adamanitus, Dial. 2.9), through his death Christ was able to redeem, purchase, and deliver people from the creator (so Epiphanius, Pan. 42.8.1; cf. Adamantius Dialogues 1.27).

Yet even this doesn't make any sense.  Why would the death of Jesus on the Cross lead to the 'purchase' of the Jews from the Just God to the Good God?  In the radical dualistic system shared to some extent by the Catholics, the Serpent (= Devil) ends up being nailed to the Cross and since humanity was formerly under his sway one can imagine a scenario - at least theoretically - where the Christian God somehow inherits the slaves of the vanquished being.

We get this sense from some of the early Patristic references - cf. S. Athanasius (de Incarn. Verb.) says, “The Lord came to cast down the devil, to purify the air, and to make for us a way to Heaven.” S. Basil (Hom. de Humil.) says, “The devil was crucified in Him whom he hoped to crucify, and was put to death in Him whom he had hoped to destroy.” And S. Leo (Serm. x. de Pass.), “The nails of Christ pierced the devil with continuous wounds, and the suffering of His holy limbs was the destruction of the powers of the enemy.”)  Yet the passage in Ephesians seems to imply that the Law was the source of the enmity - i.e. the crucifixion has 'destroyed' the commandments and ordinances as well as 'the enmity.'  Perhaps the Law was the enmity.

However are we to understand that the Law was nailed to the Cross?  The Gospel of Truth from Nag Hammadi seems to imply that something like this did indeed happen for we read:

This is the book which no one found possible to take, since it was reserved for him who will take it and be slain. No one was able to be manifest from those who believed in salvation as long as that book had not appeared. For this reason, the compassionate, faithful Jesus was patient in his sufferings until he took that book, since he knew that his death meant life for many. Just as in the case of a will which has not yet been opened, for the fortune of the deceased master of the house is hidden, so also in the case of the All which had been hidden as long as the Father of the All was invisible and unique in himself, in whom every space has its source. For this reason Jesus appeared. He took that book as his own. He was nailed to a cross. He affixed the edict of the Father to the cross.

Oh, such great teaching! He abases himself even unto death, though he is clothed in eternal life. Having divested himself of these perishable rags, he clothed himself in incorruptibility, which no one could possibly take from him. Having entered into the empty territory of fears, he passed before those who were stripped by forgetfulness, being both knowledge and perfection, proclaiming the things that are in the heart of the Father, so that he became the wisdom of those who have received instruction. But those who are to be taught, the living who are inscribed in the book of the living, learn for themselves, receiving instructions from the Father, turning to him again. a book of ordinances was indeed affixed there:

Clearly this has something to do with the ideas contained in Ephesians chapter 2 again that:

For he is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the wall of separation between them; And he has abolished by his precious gospel the enmity between them, and he has abolished by his commandments the ordinances of the law, that he may create, in his person, from the two, a new man, thus making peace and he reconciled both in one body with God, and with his cross he destroyed the enmity

So how was the 'gospel' nailed to the cross, thereby destroying the enmity inherent in the Just God and his Law?  This is our next question for our next post ...

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