It is well established that the Latin Church Father Jerome accuses the Arian faction of whitewashing the writings of Clement, Origen and other notable Alexandrian writers. This is certainly why works a private correspondence like the Letter to Theodore seemed so shocking to modern readers. They were used to the sanitized texts of Clement. Another example is when a famous tenth century Byzantine scholar came across the now lost text of his Outlines – “in some cases what [Clement] says appears orthodox, in others he indulges in impious and legendary fables … He talks much other blasphemous nonsense, either he or someone else under his name. These monstrous blasphemies are contained in eight books, in which he frequently discusses the same points and quotes passages from Scripture promiscuously and confusedly, like one possessed.”
As we have just noted, what is being presented to us here is the real Clement of history. What he was saying only sounded jarring to the ears of later Church Fathers because ‘orthodoxy’ had moved so far away from the earliest Christianity. Indeed it likely also explains why the Outilnes does not survive to this day – it brings back memories of things the Church would rather forget. In a very similar manner Clement’s letter to Theodore provides us with an important statement not only about the Alexandrian tradition, but more importantly about our own ‘human expectation’ of Jesus.
It is in that letter that Clement says that this falling away from the truth comes down to a lack of faith. Indeed it is also said that ‘the faith’ as the proper means of finding the truth about Jesus and the only proper grounding for the true interpretation of the gospel. Yet what does ‘the faith’ mean for Clement? Faith has always been a stumbling block for modernism. We have almost been groomed from our first exposure to higher education to juxtapose ‘belief’ against ‘reason’ owing to a relatively recent misunderstanding of the original terminology. To make an appeal to ‘the faith’ isn’t necessarily an intellectual cop out. The reason it is foundation of the Christian religion is because what the tradition is asking to accept something totally incredible as our starting point of reference.
Of course ‘the truth’ of Christianity has changed many times over the course of its existence. Yet for Clement at least ‘the faith’ was defined as the belief in God coming to visit mankind in the form of a man. The starting point to the Alexandrian religion was that in a certain year of the Emperor Tiberius, a divine being came down to earth with a hidden purpose. If this idea was too incredible for you to take seriously you probably shouldn’t think about becoming a Christian.
The reason we bring this up in our discussion is that all religions make this choice upon their believers. Did a power of God really come down to Egypt and rescue his people from certain annihilation? This is the choice you have to make if you want to convert to Judaism. Many very intelligent people happen to be people of faith. Indeed judging from his writings at least, Clement was also the furthest thing from being an irrational person. He demonstrates himself to have been acquainted with some of the greatest thinkers in the western tradition – Plato, Aristotle, Heraclitus, Empedocles and the Stoics just to name a few. So how was it then could someone as intellectually gifted as Clement could have embraced a Christian religion which many modern critics assume to be intellectually inferior to Greek philosophy?
The short answer is that Clement clearly did not think that Christianity was only for stupid people. There certainly were stupid Christians, just as there are stupid politicians, lawyers and people of every walk of life. Nevertheless, for the Alexandrian tradition at least, faith was a first step to knowledge about God. Clement is not arguing on behalf of the idea that we should ‘just blindly believe.’ His point is simply that belief is a necessary starting point for some chosen people to grow in to a full acquaintance with God. In other words, you have to begin with ‘faith in God’ in order to arrive at ‘knowledge of God.’
Of course with the Letter to Theodore we can take that a step further. Clement is saying that we have to believe that Jesus was God in order to come into acquaintance with the ultimate God – the Father – a being that cannot be seen, a being that mankind cannot come into direct acquaintance without the aid of his Son. This is utterly essential to understand the context of the discussion about doxa which appears here and elsewhere in his writings. Jesus is at once the divine doxa or if you will - the very appearance, glory or even the ‘reputation’ of the unknown Father. The Carpocratian who were at Rome were condemned by Clement because they offer up, a lie in place of the truth , a human doxa – Jesus as a man born according to a mere woman.
It goes without saying that we should expect something that walks like a duck and quacks like a duck to be a duck. Nevertheless Clement would likely argue that no one would develop a religion about an ordinary duck. The reason that a mystery religion developed around Jesus was because he was an extraordinary being. Indeed we do not know a single ancient writer who takes Jesus to be an ordinary man. The demand to believe that Jesus was something special is universal. We are interested in what Clement defines as ‘the true faith’ because it would appear to shatter our understanding according to common sense.
The Irish theologian Francis Hitchcock has drawn attention to Clement’s unusual understanding of the word ‘faith’ in his book on the Alexandrian Church Father. He notes that Clement’s use of the terminology is quite striking - “in one passage he seems to say that this faith is not established by demonstration, quoting the words of the Master: "Blessed therefore are those who, not having seen, have yet believed." And yet he implies, throughout the whole treatise, that faith is not a blind choice, but a rational volition. How are we to reconcile these apparently contradictory statements?” The answer, as Hitchcock himself notes, is to look at what it is that Clement is asking us to believe in –. Jesus as the Son of God.
For Clement the understanding of Jesus as a divine being is the great revelation which can only be granted man by the power of God and which ultimately turns someone into a ‘true gnostic.’ Yet it should be obvious that we are now right back at the very place that we began our investigation – that is, with the controversial statement originally established by Simon Magus in the gospel and preserved in some form by a text known to Clement of Alexandria - "No one knew the Father but the Son, and him to whom the Son shall reveal Him." According to this gospel which Clement seems to have held in common with the tradition of Simon, this saying is meant to explain that no one had come into acquaintance with the Father before his divine Son Jesus floated down to earth.
We have already made clear that the orthodox found this saying problematic and did their best to obscure its original meaning by changing the words from ‘knew’ into ‘knows’ among other variations. Now Jesus was argued to be declaring that there was a truth which Christianity held in common with the Jews. What Jesus was coming to reveal to the world was something already known since the time of the Patriarchs. Clement would have been completely opposed to this interpretation. When Clement voice is actually heard without later ‘corrections’ such as in the lost Hypotyposeis it is clear that he presents Jesus and his message as something radically knew unknown to previous generations of Jews – “the Son is called the Word, of the same name as the Word of the Father, but this is not the Word that became flesh, nor even the Word of the Father, but a certain power of God, as it were an efflux from the Word itself, having become mind, pervaded the hearts of men."
We needn’t get into the particulars about what Clement exactly means by this definition. We shall come again to this shortly. The point here is that not only was Jesus conceived as being a wholly divine being not human in the ordinary sense of the word, but more importantly, this was a new and unknown divinity who came to bring something new and previously unimagined to the world. It is only through the Letter to Theodore that we can know hope to know how Clement understood humanity to have been brought into acquaintance with this god previously unknown to the Jews. A myth was presented in part of the Gospel of Mark that no longer survives, a story about chosen disciple who was taught the mysteries of the kingdom of God which is key to solving this age old riddle about the identity of Jesus.
It might be useful for us to actually cite the material relating to the longer passage from the Gospel of Mark which is cited by Clement. For we are told in the Letter to Theodore that the Alexandrian copies of the gospel add an otherwise unknown narrative squeezed in between two well-known stories which almost appear ‘back to back’ in our received text - the Question of the Rich Youth (Mark 10:17 – 31) and the Demand of James and John (Mark 10:35 – 45). It is absolutely critical that the reader becomes familiar with these two narratives or ‘pericopes’ (= ‘a set of verses that forms one coherent unit or thought’). St Mark is regarded as being something of a genius for the manner in which he weaves stories one on top of the other. The myth of Jesus Christ can only make sense if we come to terms with how the additional material ‘completes’ our understanding of this important section.
So it is that after Jesus discusses wealth with a rich man and Peter the group walks away and Jesus again predicts the death of the ‘Son of Man’ to them (Mark 10:32 – 34). It is immediately following this short lacuna that Clement tells us of something new which appears in the Alexandrian copies of the Gospel of Mark:
And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, 'Son of David, have mercy on me.' But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb, they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do, and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan."
Scholars have struggled with these words ever since the discovery of the manuscript. Who is this unknown disciple and what is this ‘mystery’ that Jesus ‘taught’ him? A great number of books and articles have been written on the subject, nevertheless it will be our contention that because previous generations have failed to grasp the significance of Jesus as a wholly divine hypostasis the material has yet to be fully understood.
So let’s go back to Hitchcock’s discussion of ‘faith’ in the writings of Clement of Alexandria. We are told in the Letter to Theodore that the Carpocratians do not understand these words according to ‘the truth of the faith’ but rather according to human expectations. We have already explained what this means – that Jesus was a mortal man. It is this carnal understanding that makes what follows seem dirty – ‘naked man with naked man.’ Yet Clement intimates an alternative explanation to Theodore which develops from the understanding that Jesus was really wholly divine, that there was nothing ‘carnal’ about him to begin with.
This fits perfectly with the role of faith in the system of Clement of Alexandria as developed by Francis Hitchcock who brings forward the following words to assist our understanding – “[n]either can God be apprehended by demonstrative science, for such science is from things precedent and more knowable, whereas nothing exists before that one who is self-existent.” In other words, Clement would say that science must begin with the faith in Jesus as God in order to get to Christian truths. Faith is the ‘first step’ to the mysteries of Christ. Clement says this in his writings. Indeed he offers up a threefold gradation which extends from faith to knowledge and ultimately – to love. "But knowledge implies more than belief; just as it is more than salvation to receive the highest honour after salvation" and again more explicitly, "The first change is from paganism to faith; the second from faith to knowledge, and the third to love.”
If ‘love’ or agape is the ultimate Christian reality, the absorption of the individual into the divine essence, then faith and knowledge are the path which leads us to this truth. It will be our contention that this last step of ‘love’ is revealed by the passage cited from the secret Gospel of Mark in the Letter to Theodore. Clement doesn’t tell us exactly what took place in this ritual, only that it existed and was ‘taught’ to a chosen disciple by Jesus at Bethany. Yet we can be certain that love is the ultimate mystery of the tradition given the things hinted at in the letter - the Carpocratian misunderstanding about ‘naked man with naked man,’ the reference to agape when the resurrected youth first sees Jesus, the fact that Clement elsewhere in his writings condemns the Carpocratians corruption of the Christian Agape meal.
For the moment however we shall leave off discussing the Christian love mystery to a subsequent section. It is enough to acknowledge that scholars have not yet come to any meaningful agreement as to what the ‘mystery’ is mentioned in the letter. Morton Smith argues that it was a second baptism rite and the Canadian scholar Scott Brown puts forward an equally emphatic that “there is no mention of water or depiction of a baptism”. After all it just says, the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And so Brown argues “the young man’s linen sheet has baptismal connotations, but the text discourages every attempt to perceive Jesus literally baptizing him.”
In spite of Brown’s objections most people go along with Smith’s identification of the ‘mystery’ as a second baptism ritual. What Brown is usually credited for however is the consistent demonstration that Morton Smith didn’t fully understand the text he discovered. For instance Brown demonstrates that Smith didn’t understand the geographical references in the text. He assumed that the ‘Bethany’ of Secret Mark was near Jerusalem not on the other side of the Jordan. Yet there is a much more significant oversight on Smith’s part – his failure to mention that Clement, in a well known lost work called the Outlines or ‘Hypotyposeis,’ makes specific reference to the fact that Jesus baptized only one disciple – Peter the chief of the apostles.
It is utterly astounding that Smith could have missed this reference. The information about this quote is passed on to us by a monk of the sixth and seventh century named John Moschus in a work he wrote with his companion Sophronius, the future bishop of Jerusalem:
Yes, truly, the apostles were baptised, as Clement the Stromatist relates in the fifth book of the Hypotyposes. For, in explaining the apostolic statement, "I thank God that I baptised none of you," he says, Christ is said to have baptised Peter alone, and Peter Andrew, and Andrew John, and they James and the rest.
We know that the Hypotyposeis was a work of scriptural commentary. So Moschus is telling us that in a section commenting on 1 Corinthians 1:14 Clement said that Jesus baptized Peter and only Peter.
It is amazing to see Morton Smith’s complete failure to bring forward this reference. Some of those who want to disprove the discovery argue that this statement from Clement adds weight to the notion that he didn’t use the Secret Gospel. If Clement thought that Jesus baptized only Peter, then he could not very well have thought that he also baptized the youth in the secret gospel. Yet there people haven’t spent enough time actually looking at Clement’s attitude toward Peter in his surviving writings. Indeed we will argue that the reference in the Hypotyposeis will actually lead to the solution to the fifty year old controversy over the text.
Yet let’s start with a much smaller question for the moment – why doesn’t Smith mention this reference? In many ways it would seem to be a ‘no brainer.’ If the same author wrote the Letter to Theodore and the Hypotyposeis you would have expected Morton Smith to make the connection and say Peter was the youth of Secret Mark. Nevertheless as we have already noted, Smith completely ignores the reference. Brown on the other hand is very aware of the reference but puts forward the unusual argument that it has nothing to do with Secret Mark. It all goes back to his insistence that the story from Secret Mark has nothing do with water baptism.
Brown tells us that we have to be careful about Clement is actually saying in the Hypotyposeis. While we are used to assuming that Jesus did not baptize any of his disciples: Clement found evidence for a single exception in 1 Cor 1:14, not [Secret Mark], and that exception was Peter, not the anonymous young man. Had Clement thought that Jesus baptized the young man whom he had raised from the dead, Clement could not very well conclude that Jesus baptized “Peter alone” (Peter is differentiated from this young man in Mark 14:51–54).
On the surface at least this is a well-crafted argument. It serves its purpose of seeming to force anyone who accepts the text to be genuine to support Brown’s argument that the mystery has nothing to do with water baptism. Yet the objection is a lot weaker than it appears. First of all, Brown tries to make it seem that Clement got the idea of Jesus baptizing Peter came from the First Letter to the Corinthians. This is ridiculous. That text reads “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name” and Clement only cites “I give thanks that I baptized none of you.” Clement almost certainly got his understanding of Jesus baptizing Peter from a gospel of some kind. That Clement should make reference to a gospel while discussing material from the Letter of Paul is hardly surprising. He has a tendency to do exactly this – i.e. go off topic and make reference to all sorts of tangential arguments. Indeed one of his most popular works has such a habit of going off topic it is called ‘the Miscellanies.’
Brown’s second argument - that the same youth would have been initiated twice – is even easier to disprove. Mark 14:51- 54 tells us the story of a youth wearing a linen cloth runs away as Jesus is being arrested by Roman soldiers. This passage has always intrigued modern scholarship, this in spite of the fact that no ancient commentator references the material before the end of the fourth century. There have been many attempts to connect this ‘youth’ dressed only in a linen cloth to Secret Mark’s similarly described youth. Yet Robert Horton Gundy, a respected authority on the Gospel of Mark, provides a very strong reason not to accepting that understanding.
Gundy acknowledges that in the fact that there are three young men described as being attired in linen cloths (Secret Gospel of Mark, Mark 14:51-52, and Mark 16:1-8). Yet he makes a strong case against believing that the same figure appears three times in the narrative, perhaps in successive stages of Christian initiation. As Gundy puts it “standing against such an identification is the lack of an anaphoric definite article after the initial mention of a young man.” What is an ‘anaphoric definitive article’? In plain English it means the equivalent of the English word ‘the.’ In other words “in every comparable situation Mark starts with an indefinite expression and thereafter uses the anaphoric definite article.”
Gundy provides every example of a character who makes more than one appearance in the Gospel of Mark and shows that he is always introduced as ‘a’ certain someone and then ‘the’ certain someone later. The fact that the youth in Mark chapter 14 is introduced as ‘a’ youth after Mark chapter 10’s youth was already distinguished as ‘the’ youth makes the identification of him as the same figure who appeared earlier highly unlikely. There are certainly more than one unnamed youths in the narrative. Mark 14:51 likely depicts a separate individual engaged in what turned out to be an interrupted baptism rite.
If indeed all of Brown’s objections have been pushed aside, the testimony from the Hypotyposeis should stand. Clement does seem to indicate that Peter was baptized by Jesus. The text doesn’t say ‘with water’ quite specifically. Nevertheless it would appear that a gospel like Secret Mark might well have been in the hands of Clement of Alexandria. After all, he seems to identify Peter as the youth. On the surface at least this doesn’t seem to be a stretch. After all Peter is the main character in the gospel, if you discount Jesus the Son of God. Indeed the real question should rather be – how is that our tradition does not mention the baptism of Peter and the apostles. If being immersed in water is so important for salvation, why aren’t they baptized?
The truth is that a number of ancient Christian texts seem to indicate that groups outside of the Roman Church did indeed think that Peter and the apostles were baptized by Jesus. The controversy seems to be at the heart of at least one treatise from a third century Latin Church Father named Tertullian. Moreover another anonymous third century text makes explicit reference to the existence of ‘second baptism’ rites both among heretics and orthodox communities. Even more unusual is the fact that these traditions seem to support parts of the interpretations of Brown and Smith. They seem to be saying ‘yes there was a second baptism rite’ but ‘it didn’t involve water.’
Let’s take a second look at this ‘Anonymous Treatise on Second Baptism’ The author – whoever he was – presents an argument which in some ways actually resembles the Letter to Theodore. The author was prompted to write what follows based on certainly claims made on the subject of second baptism which he felt were dangerous to the faith of the multitudes. Indeed the text might resemble the Letter to Theodore in other ways as well. For instance, the author begins by acknowledging that water baptism has nothing to do with the kind of baptism that Jesus came to bring into the world. John the Baptist was already baptizing with water, all the disciples including Peter had undergone that ritual immersion yet Jesus was responsible for something else – a baptism according to the spirit which the heretics identified with the principle of fire.
So maybe the baptism of Secret Mark had something to do with immersing the catechumen in fire? Of course we are certainly not talking about roasting people on a bonfire. Maybe some imaginative way of surrounding the person with flames was used; after all fire and air were always identified as ‘spiritual’ elements by the ancients. Both the heretics and the author of the treatise seem to acknowledge that Jesus had Peter undergo a ‘spiritual’ baptism. The anonymous author even points to Acts chapter 1 as the context for this ‘fire baptism’ – “but in the beginning of the mystery of the faith and of spiritual baptism, the same Spirit was manifestly seen to have sat upon the disciples as it had been fire.”
Yet if we look carefully at the anonymous author’s arguments it is plain that he is just bring forward any argument possible to deny whatever was the basis to the heretical understanding of ‘spiritual baptism.’ He likely did not have a solid tradition of his own. Indeed a little earlier in the same treatise he brings forward John 20:22 as the definitive place where the disciples were baptized according to the spirit – “when He had breathed upon His apostles, and had said to them, Receive the Holy Ghost, thus and thus only bestowed upon them the Spirit.” Yet if this was the real context for ‘baptism by the Holy Spirit’ why does he say the description of what happened at Pentecost was the original context a few paragraphs later?
It is hard to shake the feeling that the author of this treatise was writing in an environment which had an established practice of ‘spiritual baptism by fire’ and was vainly trying to provide his hearers some alternative context for their beliefs within the canonical gospels. Does that prove that Secret Mark was their preferred text? Not quite. But it is important to at least note that the heretical practice is identified by the author of the treatise with Simon Magus – “For because John said that we must be baptized in the Holy Ghost and in fire, from the fact that he went on to say and fire, some desperate men have dared to such an extent to carry their depravity, and therefore very crafty men seek how they can thus corrupt and violate, and even neutralize the baptism of holiness who derive the origin of their notion from Simon Magus, practising it with manifold perversity through various errors.”
It is also important to note that these heretics also got their idea that John the Baptist foretold the idea of Jesus introducing ‘fire baptism’ from watching flames come upon the water when Jesus was immersed in the Jordan. The anonymous author makes specific reference to the idea that this notion appeared in a ‘gospel’ which he argues disproves the traditions of the sect members – “[they say that] that when He was baptized, fire was seen to be upon the water, which is written in neither of the Gospels.” Yet the presence of this story in the gospel of this tradition only helps support their claim to represent a very old tradition.
The idea that fire appeared on the water during John’s baptism of Jesus is found in the gospel used by the oldest Jewish Christian group, the early Church Father Justin Martyr and many of our oldest surviving gospel manuscripts. It is usually associated with ‘adoptionism’ or the view that Jesus was a human being who was only made divine at baptism. Yet this isn’t necessarily so. All that is being said is that the heretical group had a text which said that fire appeared on the water when John was baptizing ‘him’ – a figure we presume to be Jesus. It is worth noting that a garbled version of this description of a mixed fire and water baptism also appears in Irenaeus’s description of a group associated with a certain heretic named Mark. Indeed there are many more references which make it clear that these two reports are not only about the same group – they each represent corrupted versions of a lost original source.
Indeed the most interesting point which comes from this tradition is that the heretical group’s ‘second baptism’ of fire is connected with the same section of text where the extra material from Secret Mark is cited in the Letter to Theodore. Let us first cite the original material from the Anonymous Treatise:
And even to this point the whole of that heretical baptism may be amended, after the intervention of some space of time, if a man should survive and amend his faith, as our God, in the Gospel according to Luke, spoke to His disciples, saying, "But I have another baptism to be baptized.” Also according to Mark He said, with the same purpose, to the sons of Zebedee: "Are ye able to drink of the cup which I drink of, or to be baptized with the baptism wherewith I am baptized?” … For what was said by the Lord, "I have another baptism to be baptized," signifies in this place not a second baptism, as if there were two baptisms, but demonstrates that there is moreover a baptism of another kind given to us, concurring to the same salvation. And it was fitting that both these kinds should first of all be initiated and sanctified by our Lord Himself, so that either one of the two or both kinds might afford to us this one twofold saving and glorifying baptism; and certain ways of the one baptism might so be laid open to us, that at times some one of them might be wanting without mischief
What should be made clear from the treatise is that John baptizing by the Jordan and fire coming suddenly upon the water is not the ‘second baptism’ of the community. It is rather a ‘sign’ of what is to come with Jesus. The ‘second baptism’ seems to be associated with Mark 10:40 – the material which immediately follows the ‘Secret Mark’ addition in the Letter to Theodore.
Is this all mere coincidence? Before we go any further it is important that we cite the parallel text in Irenaeus’s Against Heresies. The material is often quite close in language only now the heretical group is identified as being connected with a heretic named Mark who was said to have been a follower of Simon Magus. The section which reads almost identical with what we last cited reads:
And the baptism of John was proclaimed with a view to repentance, but the redemption by Jesus was brought in for the sake of perfection. And to this He refers when He says, "And I have another baptism to be baptized with, and I hasten eagerly towards it." Moreover, they affirm that the Lord added this redemption to the sons of Zebedee, when their mother asked that they might sit, the one on His right hand, and the other on His left, in His kingdom, saying, "Can ye be baptized with the baptism which I shall be baptized with?" Paul, too, they declare, has often set forth, in express terms, the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; and this was the same which is handed down by them in so varied and discordant forms.
It is impossible to hold that we are dealing with two independent reports here. The citations from the gospel are the same and appear in the same order – only with the anonymous treatise distinguishing the names in which they appear in the Catholic canon and Irenaeus cites the words from Matthew rather than Mark.
It is important however to note to Scott Brown’s point that Irenaeus makes reference to a consistent understanding among the groups that practiced this ritual that it is not about water immersion. Apparently the ‘fire’ is connected with the spirit and the Anonymous Treatise tells us that the community developed its own ‘Markan’ form of baptism:
and such men as these do all these things in the desire to deceive those who are more simple or more inquisitive. And some of them try to argue that they only administer a sound and perfect, not as we, a mutilated and curtailed baptism, which they are in such wise said to designate, that immediately they have descended into the water, fire at once appears upon the water. Which if it can be effected by any trick, as several tricks of this kind are affirmed to be— of Anaxilaus— whether it is anything natural, by means of which this may happen, or whether they think that they behold this, or whether the work and magical poison of some malignant being can force fire from the water; still they declare such a deceit and artifice to be a perfect baptism
Again we must point out that the report in Irenaeus also compares the followers of Mark to the famous magician Anaxilaus, nevertheless the details of fire in the water have now been transferred to liquid in the Eucharist cup.
It is very frustrating at times to try to make sense of corrupt traditions. Nevertheless there is still enough here to get a glimmer of light on things. We have in these two texts from the turn of the third century repeated reference to the existence of such a ‘liberation’ ritual in close proximity to the request of the sons of Zebedee (Mark 10:35 – 45). There must be an allusion here to the ‘mysteries of the kingdom of God’ referenced in Secret Mark. Moreover the fact that Clement repeatedly intimates that Peter was initiated into some sort of ‘baptism’ is also highly significant. It might well explain the suddenness of the request of the brothers in the canonical gospel of Mark.
The way the text stands now, Mark’s gospel would appear to connect the baptism request of James and John with martyrdom. This is because Mark 10:32 – 34 is Jesus telling his disciples that the Son of Man is going to die in Jerusalem and then Mark 10:35 introduces the sudden demand of the sons of Zebedee to be seated next to Jesus:
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
If the text is allowed to stand as is with this material immediately following Mark 10:32 – 34 the only interpretation possible is that James and John want to die. This happens to be the interpretation of the material offered up by Irenaeus.
Nevertheless the fact that Irenaeus and the anonymous other make us aware that a group of heretics associated with ‘Mark’ and whose views are cited verbatim by Clement of Alexandria happen to connect the same request with a second form of baptism suggests contact with Secret Mark. Indeed it is very strange that some other disciple besides Peter should speak directly to Jesus here. This is the only place in the gospel of Mark where this happens. If Jesus has just finished baptizing Peter the sudden outburst could be attributable to the two brothers being jealous of Jesus being perceived to have granted special status for Jesus. It is also worth noting that Clement goes out of his way in the Outlines to say that “Peter and James and John, after the Saviour's ascension, though pre-eminently honoured by the Lord, did not contend for glory, but made James the Just, bishop of Jerusalem.” No outburst ever happened again once the group was baptized into perfection.
The idea that emerges from the Outlines is that order was established among the disciples once Jesus baptized Peter and Peter baptized Andrew and Andrew baptized John and James and they the rest. Peter is the head of the Church but this is certainly a new kind of Church. It is not the familiar orthodoxy for which we have grown accustomed. Clement does not know of a single passage from his gospel that portrays Peter in a negative light. Peter never abandoned Jesus, he never fails, he is never depicted as lacking faith or falling short of perfection. Instead he is the embodiment of the true gnostic to whom it is said in the Hypotyposeis again along with James and John “the Lord after His resurrection imparted knowledge. These imparted it to the rest of the apostles, and the rest of the apostles to the Seventy, of whom Barnabas was one.”
One cannot help but get the feeling that this is a very different Peter than the figure we have become acquainted with through the Roman Church. Indeed many of the passages in Clement’s gospel appear very different from our own received texts. For instance it is startling to see the variation in the citation of Matthew 16:17:
Many (πολλοὶ) also of those who called to the Lord said, “Son of David, have mercy on me (υἱὲ ∆αβίδ, ἐλέησόν με).” A few (ὀλίγοι), too, knew Him as the Son of God (υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ); as Peter, whom also He pronounced blessed (ἐμακάρισεν), “for flesh and blood revealed not the truth to him, but His Father in heaven” (ὅτι αὐτῷ σὰρξ καὶ αἷμα οὐκ ἀπεκάλυψε τὴν ἀλήθειαν, ἀλλ' ἢ ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς) —showing that the Gnostic recognises the Son of the Omnipotent, not by the eyes of the flesh conceived in the womb, but by the Father’s own power All our canonical gospels stress that Peter identified Jesus as the Christ and in Matthew it is Christ, the Son of God which is utterly senseless. Yet Clement makes clear here that Peter was originally rewarded for being the true Gnostic in knowing that Jesus was the Son of God.
The language of this passage certainly reinforces the idea we have already shown, namely that Clement’s gospel knew that Jesus was wholly divine rather than a human being. We also see Clement repeat the distinction between the understanding that comes from the flesh and that which comes from God. Indeed we should pay close attention to the difference in wording between Clement’s passage and our Matthew. It is again reminiscent of the language in to Theodore. There is no mention of the concept of ‘the truth’ in Matthew; Jesus merely distinguishes between ‘flesh and blood’ and ‘his Father in heaven.’ The Peter of Clement’s otherwise unknown gospel sounds more like a philosopher introducing the concept of ‘the truth’ into the mix.
There is one more source we have to bring forward to confirm our identification of Peter as the youth of Secret Mark. We have just taken a look at the material that immediately follows the addition to Mark’s gospel. Now it is time to take a close look at what immediately precedes it. It is certainly significant that Peter is the last person to address Jesus before the additional text from Secret Mark. Clement pays a great deal of attention to Peter in a homily he wrote on this section of text (Mark 10:17 – 31). It is important to bring up this text – Who is the Rich Man Who Shall be Saved – for as we noted in our last chapter Clement also seems to indicate that Peter was chosen by Jesus to undergo the secret mystery rite of the Alexandrian Church – described it as “composing the soul before [Jesus] as a mirror, and arranging everything in all respects similarly.”
Yet let’s confront what is at first sight an obstacle to identify Peter as the youth of Secret Mark - the latter is explicitly referenced as ‘rich’ while Peter is usually understood to have been a poor fisherman. Indeed Clement seems to say as much in his homily asking why Peter makes such a big deal about giving up everything he owns when he likely had only a few pennies to his name. It might be important to cite the original passage in question again from Clement’s gospel of Mark to gain some perspective:
Peter began to say to Him, Lo, we have left all and followed Thee. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall leave what is his own, parents, and brethren, and possessions, for My sake and the Gospel's, shall receive an hundred-fold now in this world, lands, and possessions, and house, and brethren, with persecutions; and in the world to come is life everlasting. But many that are first shall be last, and the last first."
Why does Mark put this exasperated cy into the mouth of Peter? If it were anyone else it would imply that he too was a rich man. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to make any sense with the familiar character of Peter the fisherman.
We have already brought up the fact that the name ‘Peter’ was originally connected with dreams and magic. As such Clement may well have been secretly been aware that this Simon was really one and the same with the heretic called ‘the Magus.’ It is for instance a well-known that one of the most common themes in early portraits of Peter is his use of a magic wand (see photos). Interesting too is the fact that our earliest source about Simon Magus is the Acts of the Apostles and he is clearly understood to be rich. We are told by the author of Acts that “he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Of course he is condemned by his namesake Peter in the tradition – thereby apparently making it impossible for the two Simons to be one and the same figure. Nevertheless the parallels are uncanny between them.
We should put this argument to the side for the moment. For instance it may well have been that Simon was associated with wealth only after his baptism by Jesus. Indeed it is still worth noting the words of Jesus to Peter one more time “whosoever shall leave what is his own, parents, and brethren, and possessions, for My sake and the Gospel's, shall receive an hundred-fold now in this world, lands, and possessions, and house, and brethren.” Taking these words literally would imply that undergoing the mystery rites will suddenly enrich one with land, possessions a house and brothers. Peter giving up whatever he had would – at least theoretically – lead to his possession of much more than he had originally.
For those who wonder how Peter could be alive one minute – suddenly ‘die’ and then come back alive with ‘land’ (on which his ‘tomb’ is located), possessions (he is ‘rich’), ‘house’ (mentioned explicitly in the letter’ - and going out of the tomb, they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. All of this bears such an uncanny resemblance to the Markan narrative of Alexandria that it is difficult to believe the agreement is mere coincidence. Nevertheless in order to see the connection one has to embrace the understanding that both sides of the account – Mark 10:17 – 31 and the material from Secret Mark are ‘myths.’ Indeed one has to accept that the ‘death’ of Peter and his regeneration from ‘poverty’ to ‘riches’ was not intended to be taken literally.
Of course we have already demonstrated that Morton Smith’s interpretation of Jesus was hampered by his uncontrollable need to see ‘history’ in the narrative. We now begin to see that this shortcoming wasn’t just limited to the person of the Savior. Smith couldn’t see Peter as the figure in the narrative because he ‘knew’ that Peter was poor so connecting him with the ‘rich youth’ didn’t make sense to him. The transformation from poverty to riches however was undoubtedly viewed ‘mystically’ by Clement and his community. This is undoubtedly also why the gospel was identified as a ‘mystic’ text – it wasn’t describing something ‘real’ in the conventional sense of the word.
Clement says for instance in the Letter to Theodore that Mark’s purpose in adding these stories was to bring in “certain sayings of which he knew the interpretation would, as a mystagogue, lead the hearers into the innermost sanctuary of that truth hidden by seven veils.” The implication here of course is that less concern was given to whether the stories were factually true as much as they would support a mystical understanding passed on by word of mouth. Indeed this very same mysticism seems to have been embedded in parts of the material which still survives in the canonical gospel of Mark. Clement hints at a secret interpretation of the conversation between Jesus and Peter in the Question of the Rich Youth periscope which makes it almost certain that Peter was indeed the youth who emerges ‘rich’ from the tomb.
About half way through Who is the Rich Man who Shall be Saved Clement is engaged in explaining many of the uncertainties of the text. When he gets around to explaining why Jesus demands that the disciples leave their family behind a number of clear hints that Peter is about to get baptized slip out. The first thing Clement’s says to his readers is:
If then one's father, or son, or brother, be godless, and become a hindrance to faith and an impediment to the higher life, let him not be friends or agree with him, but on account of the spiritual enmity, let him dissolve the fleshly bond (τὴν σαρκικὴν οἰκειότητα).
Clement goes on to set up a ‘lawsuit’ where Jesus and one’s human father are making appeals for one’s soul. The first person to be introduced is one’s father according to the flesh: :
Let your father be imagined to present himself to you and say, "I begot and reared thee. Follow me, and join with me in wickedness, and obey not the law of Christ;" and whatever a blasphemer and man is dead by nature (ἄνθρωπος καὶ νεκρὸς τῇ φύσει) would say.
Already the reader can clearly see that in this ‘battle of the soul’ our father after the flesh is likened to a ‘dead man’ – a striking coincidence given that in Secret Mark the next narrative begins with Peter dead in a tomb.
So it is that Clement seems to be saying that while each of us may resemble our father physically it is our duty as Christians to put him to death and be reborn according to the likeness of Jesus. There is some precedent for this assumption. The literature associated with the battles between Simon Magus and Peter introduce the father of the narrator who has undergone initiation in Simon’s magical rites and now carries about Simon’s person on his body. The father panics because he knows the authorities are looking to arrest Simon and he doesn’t want to end up dying on his behalf. In the end, he confesses his sins and Peter washes away the image with the true water of baptism and everyone lives happily ever after.
We make reference to the story here because there is something of Simon’s ‘magic’ in Clement’s paraphrase of Jesus’s words to Peter. Indeed when Jesus is presented as following the appeal of our material father the references to death only continue. Jesus is made to declare:
I regenerated thee, who wert ill born by the world to death. I emancipated, healed, ransomed thee. I will show thee the face of the good Father God. Call no man thy father on earth. Let the dead bury the dead; but follow thou Me. For I will bring thee to a rest of ineffable and unutterable blessings, which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of men; into which angels desire to look, and see what good things God hath prepared for the saints and the children who love Him." I am He who feeds thee, giving Myself as bread, of which he who has tasted experiences death no more, and supplying day by day the drink of immortality. I am teacher of supercelestial lessons. For thee I contended with Death, and paid off in full (ἐξέτισα) thy death, which thou owedst for thy former sins and thy unbelief towards God.
The language here is unquestionably the language of apolytrosis – the redemption rite associated with what follows this narrative and immediately proceeds the demands of the sons of Zebedee. There is not only an explicit reference to ‘ransoming’ or ‘redeeming’ but also ‘paying in full’ one’s debt to death. Clement understands Jesus’s answer to Peter’s statement ‘we have left everything to follow you’ as saying ‘and as such you will undergo the apolytrosis or redemption ritual.
Yet let’s take matters one step further. We have already managed to connect Jesus’s reply to Peter, his command to give up “what is his own, parents, and brethren, and possessions” in order to “receive an hundred-fold now in this world, lands, and possessions, and house” with what originally followed in Secret Mark, namely “And going out of the tomb, they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich.” In other words, Mark was assuming that most of the promises of the kingdom of God was immediately available to those underwent the mystery. What about the final reference to the reception of ‘brothers’ in Mark 10:30? This is the only thing missing from the original formula which isn’t accounted for in the passage from Secret Mark.
Of course if the reader understands the whole mysteries of the kingdom of God to have been a brother making rite then it all begins to make sense. Jesus is now the brother of the youth who has been adopted by their common Father in heaven. Indeed all subsequent individuals who undergo this rite become his brother and the brother of all those who precede and come after him. Jesus is thus the ‘firstborn of many brothers’ a saying the Alexandrian tradition was very fond of imbuing with mystical import.
As we shall see shortly the ritual introduced in Secret Mark is above all else a ‘brother making’ rite. This sacrament continues to be practiced in certain backwater Orthdoox communities to this day. To this end if we understand the real focus of the ritual introduced to Peter wasn’t simply about being ‘baptized’ and adopted by a new Father but made into a brother of Jesus – even his twin – we can see this echo resurface in Who is the Rich Who Shall Be Saved. The last mention of Peter happens a few lines later and is typically amended by English translators to have Clement say:
For it is neither penniless, nor homeless, nor brotherless people that the Lord calls to life, since He has also called rich people; but, as we have said above, also brothers (καὶ ἀδελφοὺς κατὰ ταὐτὸν), as Peter with Andrew, and James with John the sons of Zebedee, but of one mind with each other and Christ
Yet as Butterworth notes in his critical edition of the text the manuscript actually reads kat’auton in Greek not kata tauton so the French edition translates the text as follows:
il veut que ses frères soient dignes de lui. Mais, comme nous l'avons déjà dit, il veut que ses frères soient dignes de lui ; que leurs mœurs soient semblables aux siennes; qu'ils soient tels que Pierre et André, Jacques et Jean, fils de Zébédée, en paix entre eux et avec lui-même. Il ne veut point que nos possessions nous soient une cause de persécution et de troubles
or in its rough English equivalent:
he wants his brothers to be worthy of him. But, as we have already said, he wants his brothers to be worthy of him as their ways are similar to his, they are like Peter and Andrew, James and John son of Zebedee, in peace with each other and with himself. He does not want us that our possessions are a cause of persecution and unrest.
According to this understanding then Peter was baptized into Jesus’s likeness and passed on that supernatural entity on to his ‘brother’ Andrew. Indeed it is very strange to notice that James and John are ‘brothers’ too.
It just seems odd now doesn't it? Two pairs of brothers just happen to be the first souls to be baptized by Jesus according to Clement. Yet they are also being baptized into Jesus as a careful scrutiny of those apolytrosis gospel references reveals “can you be baptized with the baptism I am baptized?” and again James and John “will be baptized by the baptism I am baptized.” The secret to understand the mysticism here is that they are merely being baptized by Jesus they are being formed after the process by which he was first formed. They are now identical with him; they are his brother while at the same time the brother of each other. And so begins the last stage of our discovery, the forbidden mysteries of adelphoeisis.