Thursday, June 28, 2012

Chapter Four of My New Book

The Church and the Whore

The Church Fathers make one thing very plain in their remembrance of history - heresy came to the Church by means of a woman.  That this is a misogynist interpretation of events in earliest Christianity is without question.  Nevertheless it should not be merely swept under the rug on account of its political correctness.  We face something of the same difficulty that the Roman Catholic tradition does when it attempts to affirm historical precedent.  Yes it certainly may seem 'ugly' or 'unfortunate.'  It may even represent 'regressive thinking.'  Nevertheless this notion of a sinful woman being at the core of the early heresies is essential to the understanding that the early Fathers had about the unfolding history of the Church.

Academics might argue that the idea represents something of an orthodox counterpart to the gnostic myth of the fallen feminine creative power.  We all likely know the story in one of its many forms.  God the man was perfect, even the heavens were perfect until a woman emerged in the heavenly household. The woman's name was Sophia or 'wisdom.'  She had been given a male consort, she was supposed to remain in the station assigned to her.  Yet after a matter of time she became obsessed with the masculine perfection of the invisible Father and was passionately drawn toward 'knowing him.'  She impregnated herself by means of her own desires and the 'abortion' of the present world and its Lord were born from her shortcomings.

The role of women in the Church has always been a perplexing one.  There is the well established dichotomy of the virgin and whore throughout the Bible no less than the example of silence and subordination presented as the highest virtue for members of the female sex.  As the good book says "better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered woman."  Nevertheless as we just noted at the beginning of this chapter, there is very strong evidence that women were seen as playing a key role in 'corrupting' the tradition ascetic values of the Christian religion by the earliest Church Fathers.

As the late fourth century Latin Father Jerome puts it plainly - "Simon Magus founded his sect assisted by the help of Helena, a prostitute.  Nicolaus of Antioch, that inventor of all impurities, led a crowd of women.  Marcion sent a woman ahead of him to Rome, to prepare the people's minds to be deceived by him.  Apelles had in Philumena a comrade in his doctrines.  Montanus, the eulogist of an impure spirit, first corrupted with gold and later defiled with heresy many churches through the agency of Priscilla and Maxmilla, women who were rich and of noble birth."[1]

Jerome of course was a radical ascetic and as such had a very low opinion of women.  He stands very close to the ideal of same sex union and is famous for his "nudum Christum nudus sequere" ("naked to follow a naked Christ"), which became the cornerstone of medieval monasticism and the basis for the radical poverty of saints such as Francis of Assisi, who stripped himself in public to act out his renunciation of secular life.  Yet these very ideas interestingly derive ultimately from Clement of Alexandria, Secret Mark and the traditional Alexandrian interpretation of Mark chapter 10 and Jesus's command "If thou wouldest be perfect, sell what thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shall have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me."[2]

Jerome perpetuated the original Alexandrian ideal of the perfection of maleness and the inferiority of all that is female.  He cites the harshest criticism of women in the writings of St Paul with particular zeal.  Jerome was famous for criticizing contemporary teachers who argued that baptized women would be offered an equal share in the hereafter.  "The truth," noted Jerome "is that, in view of the purity of the body of Christ, all sexual intercourse is unclean."[3]  The idea that heresy came to the world - and Rome in particular - by means of a woman, and a whore no less is certainly eye opening for us.  Nevertheless for Jerome and his tradition it confirmed what they already 'knew' about women generally.

It should be noted that Jerome's story about a female heretic coming to Rome to seduce the primitive Church is developed from a well attested incident in early Christian writings.  Nevertheless it is important to note that he cites the story in a way that is very different from most of our other sources.  The example underscores how careful we should be about using information from the early Fathers uncritically.  There certainly was a woman who came to Rome during the reign of bishop Anicetus (150 - 167 CE).  Nevertheless the original story is forever lost to us.  If we can figure out who this woman was and what she was doing in Rome at this time we can I believe begin to make sense of how the original ideal of same sex unions between men in the Church became corrupted.

In most accounts the name of the woman who came to Rome in the middle of the second century was Marcellina.  She is traditionally associated with the followers of a certain Carpocrates - the very group Clement takes on in the letter to Theodore.  Nevertheless both of these pieces of information can be argued to have succumbed to corruption, perhaps deliberately, at a very early stage of transmission.

The original mention of 'Marcellina' was found in an early and now lost Church chronology called the Outlines (Hypomnemata) written by a certain Jewish Christian figure named Josephus or Hegesippus (a Latin corruption of the Greek 'Josephus').  Clement of Alexandria read and used this work.[4]  So too Irenaeus, Eusebius and a late fourth century Church Father named Epiphanius of Salamis whom it has been argued provides us with the most accurate information about the contents of original text.  Indeed Epiphanius is understood to make direct reference to the lost text in the middle of his account of the Carpocratians when he writes "'A certain Marcellina who had been led into error by them paid us a visit some time ago. She was the ruin of a great number of persons in the time of Anicetus, bishop of Rome, who succeeded Pius and his predecessors."[5]  The text says that she 'paid us a visit some time ago' because they are Hegesippus's words not Epiphanius who wrote from Cyprus not Rome.[6]

The material was clearly written sometime after the woman's original visit which is identified as taking place between 150 - 167 CE.  We can narrow that date a little further by taking a second look at some other references to the same work in the surviving literature of the Church Fathers.  It has long been acknowledged by scholars for instance that Eusebius is citing Hegesippus when making reference to the bishops of Rome in the late second century. He writes "and to Anicetus succeeds Soter, after whom Eleutherus" [7] which is a loose or direct citation of a bishops list in the same chronological work.  This means that the concluding portions of Hegesippus's work were written at the beginning of the reign of Eleutherus 175–189.

The Church Father Irenaeus also uses the same work in the third book of his Against Heresies when "indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul" all the way down to the words "Pius, then after him, Anicetus. Soter having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate."[8]  This statement is often mistaken to be an indication of when Irenaeus was writing rather than it being a citation from the same concluding section of the Outlines by Hegesippus.  To this end, the original reference to 'Marcellina' made its way into the original chronology 175 - 180 CE and Irenaeus made reference to the passage some time after that.

There is one more layer for us to pull back in order to begin to make sense of the identity of this female heretic.  If we can be certain that this story about 'Marcellina' was added in the early years of the reign of Eleutherius as bishop, we can have equal confidence that whoever added the material was reacting to a scandalous statement about this woman which appeared in an anti-Christian work written by a pagan named Celsus c. 160 - 169 CE.[9]  It is very unfortunate that we do not have Celsus's original work available to us to know exactly what he said about the heretic.  Instead all of our information about this text comes from Origen of Alexandria's response which was written about seventy years later and often cites words, sentences and paragraphs from the original treatise.

In this particular case Origen's preservation of the original material looks very similar to Jerome's citation which started this discussion.  Celsus, like Jerome makes reference to "the existence of certain Simonians who worship Helene, or Helenus, as their teacher, and are called Helenians" and then proceeds to discuss the female heretic mentioned in Hegesippus.  Because Celsus is presumed to have written from Rome his knowledge of her existence connects the woman to the city in the Outlines.  Yet Origen, who certainly knew and used Hegesippus and was aware of the connection between Celsus's account and the material added to the chronology, only makes topical reference to the original statement in the treatise.

Origen writes that "Celsus knows, moreover, certain Marcellians, after (apo) Marcellina, and Harpocratians after (apo) Salome, and others after (oi apo) Mariamme, and others after (oi apo) Martha.  We, however, who from a love of learning examine to the utmost of our ability not only the contents of Scripture, and the differences to which they give rise, but have also, from love to the truth, investigated as far as we could the opinions of philosophers, have never at any time met with these sects.  He makes mention also of the Marcionites, whose leader was Marcion."  It can't be coincidence that all of Celsus's heretics are women.  He repeatedly discredits Christianity for the fact that the gospel depends on the testimony of females.[10]

The interest in Mariamne and Martha is very significant as Allie Ernst notes the specific Greek terminology here does not necessarily imply that the groups associated with each named themselves after the sisters from the gospel.  Instead we have to note a parallel with Jerome's reference to the Montanists prophets Priscilla and Maximilla.  It cannot be coincidence that the name 'Mary' is cited in its original Hebrew form (= Mariamme).  Martha takes the same basic form in Greek or Semitic languages.

Celsus was originally making reference to various Christian groups that developed around women in his day and at least three of the four women are gospel characters - Salome, Mariamme and Martha.  Of the two other figures - Helene the consort of Simon, and Marcellina - only the latter can be argued to have been a contemporary figure.  And so we stumble upon the central difficulty of this ambiguous passage - why would Celsus have stuck 'Marcellina' after the Helenians and before the Harpocratians, and those of Mariamme and Martha (= Priscilla and Maximilla) whom Origen deliberately leaves unnamed?  The answer must be that Celsus's point is to identify contemporary Christian groups he has met at Rome who claim to happen to identify themselves as going back to apostolic female figures.

Of course this still leaves us in some difficulty with the reference to the Marcellians who don't seem to be connected to anything apostolic.  Yet the fact the name 'Mariamme' is also cited might provide us with a critical clue.  If the groups spoke Hebrew or Aramaic (and the puzzling 'Helene or Helenus' reference might also confirm that) then we can begin to see that it is Origen not Celsus who provides the 'Marcellians from Marcellina' reference.  The original reference in Celsus undoubtedly simply had something which was taken in the sense of 'those of Marcellus' as Marcellina is the female form of the Latin Marcellinus which means 'of Marcellus' and Marcellus in turn is the diminutive of the name Marcus.

Indeed the critical reference to piece this altogether is what concludes the chapter, namely that Celsus "makes mention also of the Marcionites, whose leader was Marcion."  Clearly Celsus did not know that the Marcionites came from someone named Marcion.  In fact the material which followed in Celsus's original treatise all deals with the groups fighting over Pauline terminology and sayings so the concluding statement in chapter 62 helps explain the sudden transition. Celsus clearly identified a female leader of a group called the 'Marcellians' but the terminology was taken by Jerome at least to mean 'Marcionite' - i.e. "Marcion sent a woman ahead of him to Rome, to prepare the people's minds to be deceived by him."

How could Jerome have been mistaken here?  The name Marcion is the Greek diminutive of Marcus in the same way as the Latin Marcellus (in English = 'Marky').  The original reference in Celsus which Origen does not cite in full, must have been ambiguous enough to have some people interpret it as meaning 'female Marcionite,' 'Marcion' or even a female named Marcellina who was a Carpocratian.  The latter of course represents only a reckless rendering of the original material as Hegesippus also transforms 'Harpocratian' into 'Carpocratian' and ignores the apparent fact that the female Marcionite was separate from the Harpocratians who devoted themselves to Salome.  They only happen to stand beside one another in Celsus's original treatise.

To this end we can discount the fact that there ever was a woman named 'Marcellina' who was a 'Carpocratian.'  Nevertheless there was a female 'Marcionite' who appeared in Rome between 161 - 169 CE.  The ambiguity in Celsus's original account (or the willingness of Church Fathers to misrepresent the original information) leads to the tradition that a heretic named Marcion actually appeared in the city at this time.  For Irenaeus also states that Marcion came to Rome and flourished under Anicetus [invaluit sub Aniceto] just as we have independent testimony about 'Marcellina.'  The Catholic Encyclopedia again notes that information that was being borrowed from Hegesippus by Irenaeus, Eusebius and Epiphanius is also "found in the poem of Pseudo-Tertullian against Marcion; the author has mistaken Marcellina for Marcion."[11]

Yet the confusion can't to be blamed entirely on Epiphanius.  As with most of these reports about 'heretics' the material has become a massive ball of string which is extremely difficult to disentangle.  It would seem from our vantage point that Jerome is closest to getting it right.  There was a famous woman who first appeared in Rome in the middle of the second century, a harlot, who cast a long shadow over the tradition for the rest of the century.  Nevertheless we have to take matters one step further.  The guesses with respect to 'Marcellina' and 'Marcion' all represent Latin and Greek misunderstandings of an original Aramaic term which means 'followers of Mark' (= marqyone which is used in Syriac texts to identify the so-called 'Marcionites').[12]

A basic confusion then must have arisen with Celsus's report of the appearance of a prominent Christian believer during the reign of the Antonines - i.e. Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus.  Of course the only reason that the Outlines added information about 'Marcellina the Carpocratian' was because the Christian woman was continuing to enjoy remarkable popularity a generation later.  Indeed why else would the author writing from Rome again pick her out of the five groups mentioned in Celsus's original treatise?  It is worth noting that in both Irenaeus's and Eusebius's account of the Carpocratians there is mention that members of the sect 'branded' members of their sect on their right ear.  The statements are clearly from Hegesippus's Outlines but the material unmistakably represents a corruption of information again given by Celsus.

For Origen notes that "Celsus has said that certain among the Christians are called 'cauterized in the ears;' and also that some are termed enigmas" as well as 'stumbling-blocks.[13]  The original context of the 'stopped' ears becomes a little clearer in the next sentence in Origen's response when he says that he has never heard of "who are styled Sirens, who betray and deceive, and stop their ears, and change into swine those whom they delude."  Celsus must have said that these women - not likely even the female Marcionite - fight among one another saying that their followers must 'stop their ears' as Odysseus did in Homer - "Therefore pass these Sirens by, and stop your men's ears with wax that none of them may hear; but if you like you can listen yourself, for you may get the men to bind you as you stand upright on a cross–piece half way up the mast, and they must lash the rope's ends to the mast itself, that you may have the pleasure of listening. If you beg and pray the men to unloose you, then they must bind you faster."[14]

The connection between men being saved by the latching themselves on to the cross with their ears unable to hear the heresy of other teaching must have been a powerful image for these philosophically inclined Christians.  So too the story in the same book about Circe turning men into pigs. Indeed we are told by some Church Fathers that the Carpocratians worshiped statues of Homer.  [15]  Yet by now the reader should see that all the information which has come down to us about this sect is nothing more than a deliberate corruption of Celsus's original testimony in Hegesippus's Outlines.  This misrepresentation of the original material in Celsus cannot have been a mere accident.  The 'Carpocratians' and the appearance of 'Marcellina' was very much a deliberate fabrication to avoid identification of the real female heretic who appeared at the time of the Antonines.

So it is that the key to finally solve the two thousand year old mystery here is to take a second look at what Eusebius cites from another part of Hegesippus's original work in Book Four of his Church History.  In the course of explaining all the various heretical groups which split from the original Jerusalem Church Hegesippus places the following two names side by side "... and Marcianists, and Carpocratians and ..."  It is already well established that Hegesippus derived his information from Celsus's original report where similar names appear side by side in Origen's report - i.e. 'Marcellians, Harpocratians.''  Clearly the specific form Markianistai is the source of all the later confusion.

There has been a raging debate within scholarship for over a century whether the name relates to an individual named 'Marcion' or 'Marcian.'[16]  It isn't just modern readers who are confused.  As we shall see Clement of Alexandria gets drawn into a third century controversy in Antioch involving followers of a heretic named 'Marcian' who used a heretical 'gospel of Peter.'[17]  Marcel Simon representing one modern interpretation notes that "the disciples of Marcion are referred to by the Greek church fathers sometimes as Markianoi and sometimes as Markianistai (Justin, Dialogue 35; Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 4.22.5).  Yet the matter isn't as simply resolved as that.  The specific form found in Justin - Marcianoi - like its counterpart Christianoi can be interpreted in two ways, as a typical Greek diminutive 'those of little Mark' and 'those of the little Christ' or as a Latinized formation meaning 'those of Mark' and 'those of Christ.'

The difficulty is further compounded by the fact that the Gospel of Mark itself was copied or edited by someone who employed Latinized Greek phrases.  The famous example of Mark 3:6 where the term Herodianoi is used to mean 'the followers of Herod' is an unmistakable parallel.  The point here is that Christianoi, Herodianoi, Marcianoi and the like are not the normal way one would express the concepts of 'followers of Christ,' 'followers of Herod' and 'followers of Mark' in Greek.  The confusion certainly arises in Celsus's original treatise and these terms - 'Christian' and 'Marcian' - were originally coined.  As Origen writes in Book One "And Celsus having promised to make us acquainted, in a subsequent part of his work, with the doctrines of Judaism, proceeds in the first place to speak of our Saviour as having been the leader of our generation, in so far as we are Christians, [os genomenou hegemonos te katho Christianoi esmen genesei hemon] and says that "a few years ago he began to teach this doctrine, being regarded by Christians as the Son of God."[18]

To this end it would only be natural to assume that because Celsus is the first historical figure to coin the unusual formation Christianoi that he was responsible for the confusing Marcianoi or Marcianistai.  If we follow the pattern demonstrated in the term 'Christian' it would follow that 'Marcian' here would simply mean 'those of Mark.'  Nevertheless because there is a particular woman that Celsus had in mind there is an additional layer to the confusion.  The figure Celsus and Hegesippus reference as being the influential Christian lady who came to Rome during the reign of the Antonines is named Marcia, the name commonly used female form of Marcus in the period.

To this end the original report of Celsus must have made reference to the Marcianoi with the understanding of many that the woman he met was named Marcia.  Origen's reference to the Marcellianous apo Marcellinas is just an attempt to explain the unusual Greek terminology in Latin because the Greek terminology clearly represents a 'Latinism.'  Later Christian writers clearly identified who this 'Marcia of the Marcians' was - she was Marcia Aurelia Ceionia Demetrias the Christian concubine of the Emperor Commodus.  It would have been impossible to have a woman rise to such prominence in a Church tradition that was basically misogynist unless she was connected to power and influence.

So the reference in Jerome to the historical female heretic necessarily also makes reference to their connection to wealth.[19]  Marcia came over to Rome as part of the Imperial household of the Emperor Lucius Verus.  Celsus frequently makes reference to contemporary Christians gathering in the houses of rich patrons and being instructed by women.[20]  After the death of Lucius she seems to have become the mistress and consort of senator Marcus Ummidius Quadratus Annianus who was the brother of Ummidia Cornificia Faustina.  Both were children of Marcus Aurelius's sister Annia Cornificia Faustina and involved in a plot to kill the Emperor Commodus in 182 CE.  While all the plotters were ultimately put to death, Marcia survived and became the beloved consort of the Emperor until his death in 192 CE.

When the material from Celsus's original report about the Marcianoi was added to Hegesippus's outlines the identification of Marcia as the female Christian mentioned by the pagan writer must have been well established.  Not only was she the most powerful Christian in the world at that time, she also was the one who had the most political influence.  A third century reworking of Irenaeus's original Against Heresies makes reference to her direct involvement in the running of the Roman Church.  She consulted with Victor the bishop no less than rescued and favored the future bishops Zephyrinus and Callixtus.[21]

The Roman historical literature from the period makes clear that Marcia Aurelia Ceionia Demetrias had an incredible hold on Commodus.  Dio Cassius, who lived through the period reports "that she greatly favoured the Christians and rendered them many kindnesses, inasmuch as she could do anything with Commodus."[22]  In spite of Commodus and Marcia regularly engaging in the worst sort of depravity, the church historian Eusebius calls the Commodian era something of the first golden age of the Catholic Church.  The contemporary Christian theologian Irenaeus boasts that many Christians sat in the Imperial court at the time.  There were grumblings from other Christians that these men were in the pocket of Caesar, to which Irenaeus replies "think of all the money we give to the poor."[23]

Nevertheless despite the obvious fact that those Christians who went along with Marcia's agenda received benefits from her influence, the established traditions of Christianity must have been less enthused about her meddling in the Church.  It would be hard to imagine that Marcia could have merely accepted the traditional misogyny of Alexandrian Christianity.  As the most powerful figure in contemporary Christianity and the many statements that she 'destroyed' many in the age, it would seem that this woman was responsible for the revaluation of the tradition low estimation of the worth of 'things female' in the Church.  Indeed it would have been intolerably hypocritical for the Roman leadership to condemn women and heterosexual unions given the harlotry of a woman was responsible for the religion's new found favor.

The irony of Christianity's rise to prominence in the Empire being entirely attributable to the sexual prowess of whore could not have been lost on knowledgeable contemporary observers.  Many indeed would have felt that it wasn't merely 'ironic' but nothing short of the corruption of the salvation brought by Jesus to the world.  Marcia was certainly identified as a heretic.  Nevertheless Hegesippus's original development of Celsus's material only tells part of the story.  Marcia was inspirational in setting in motion the complete revaluation of the Church in the third century.  To understand how this took place we have to go back to the example of her namesake 'Demetrius' and his arrival in Alexandria at the end of the Commodian period.  As we have already demonstrated, there is more to this 'appointment' that meets the eye ...


[2] Why then command as new, as divine, as alone life-giving, what did not save those of former days? And what peculiar thing is it that the new creature (ἡ καινὴ κτισις) the Son of God intimates and teaches? It is not the outward act which others have done, but something else indicated by it, greater, more godlike, more perfect, the stripping off (γυμνῶσαι) of the passions from the soul itself and from the disposition, and the cutting up by the roots and casting out of what is alien (ἀλλότρια) to the mind. [Quis Dives Salvetur 10 - 12]
[10] who beheld this? A half-frantic woman, as you state, and some other one, perhaps, of those who were engaged in the same system of delusion, who had either dreamed so, owing to a peculiar state of mind, or under the influence of a wandering imagination had formed to himself an appearance according to his own wishes, which has been the case with numberless individuals; or, which is most probable, one who desired to impress others with this portent, and by such a falsehood to furnish an occasion to impostors like himself. [2.55]  "there came an angel to the tomb of this said being--according to some, indeed, one, but according to others, two--who answered the women that he had arisen. For the Son of God could not himself, as it seems, open the tomb, but needed the help of another to roll away the stone
[15] Celsus appears to me to have misunderstood the statement of the apostle, which declares that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God has created to be received with thanksgiving of them who believe; and to have misunderstood also those who employed these declarations of the apostle against such as had corrupted the doctrines of Christianity.  His name seems noticeably absent from the statement of the late fourth century Church Father Jerome notes that "at Alexandria from the time of Mark the Evangelist until the episcopates of Heraclas and Dionysius the presbyters always named as bishop one of their own number chosen by themselves and set in a more exalted position."

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