Monday, July 23, 2012

Chapter Nineteen of My New Book

Origen's self-castration is the most important single piece of information which comes out of the early period.  It is unusual of course that we should end up talking about the private parts of a Church Father.  It is even stranger to find that organ is universally acknowledged to have been deliberately removed by the ecclesiastical writer.  The explanation that we get for this 'brazen act' is entirely superficial.  Both Eusebius and Epiphanius attribute the strange act to his obsessive devotion to scripture - "[f]or he took the words, there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake, in too literal and extreme a sense. And in order to fulfill the Saviour's word, and at the same time to take away from the unbelievers all opportunity for scandal,— for, although young, he met for the study of divine things with women as well as men,— he carried out in action the word of the Saviour."[1]

These words of Eusebius are not helpful in understanding Origen's self-castration.  They make it seem as he was some odd ball who spent too many hours reading books.  The reality is that Origen was only doing what  those around him in Alexandria had been doing for generations.  Something about this young student caught the attention of bishop Demetrius and he wanted to make an example of him.  The self-castration thing may well have been a convenient excuse for the outside world.  We will make the case that in fact the complete removal of the male sexual organs was necessary for the early Christians to imitate the example of Jesus, who was almost universally understood in the early period to be an angelic hermaphrodite.[2]

The point then is to get away from developing convenient explanations for phenomena we don't yet fully understand.  It will be our contention that above all else this Alexandrian mystery rite was based on the refashioning of humanity after the image of God and the angels.  These sort of beliefs emerge in the eastern Orthodox tradition from time to time and date back to these most ancient sources.  Perhaps the best known recent example of this are the Skoptsy of Imperial Russia.  They were best known for practicing castration of men and the mastectomy of women in accordance with their teachings against sexual lust. The Skoptsy were persecuted by the imperial government and later by the Soviet Union, but enjoyed substantial growth before fading into obscurity by the mid-20th century.

Skoptsy is a plural of "skopets", an archaic word meaning "castrated one" in the Russian language. They believed that after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had the halves of the forbidden fruit grafted onto their bodies forming testicles and breasts. Thus, the removal of these sexual organs restored the Skoptsy to the pristine state before the Original Sin.  Like Origen the Skoptsy maintained that they were fulfilling Christ's counsel of perfection in Matthew 19:12 and 18:8-9.   There were two kinds of castration: the "lesser" and "greater seal" (i.e. partial and complete castration). For men, "lesser" castration was the removal of the testicles only, while "greater" castration was the removal of the penis as well. Men who did the "greater seal" used a cow-horn when urinating. The castrations were made with primitive tools such as a shaving knife without using any anesthetic.

This attempt to getting rid of the features which distinguished the sexes is already found in the early literature associated with the Marcionites.[3]  This castration interest then goes back to the earliest period of New Testament exegesis.  It was only Antoninus Pius's ban on the practice after the Jewish War which drove the practice underground.[4]  Justin Martyr, writing from the middle of the second century tells the story of a young man in Alexandria petitioned the Roman prefect for permission to be castrated.  As Craner notes in his study of the practice "permission was denied, but Justin's apologetical use and evident approval of the effort itself are striking.  The youth intended, so Justin writes, to persuade non-Christians that sexual promiscuity was not a mysterion, or secret rite, among Christians, and he cites the incident to demonstrate that some Christians forgo marriage altogether and live completely in continence."[5]  Craner also notes that the Church Father Basil of Ancyra writes reports the continuation of the practice in the early fourth century but now viewed with disgust by the orthodox authorities.

It is hard to believe that Demetrius was surprised by Origen's self-castration.  There is a tradition that he himself was a eunuch. There were countless others in the city and in Egypt as a whole.  The idea that Demetrius suddenly pulled up Origen's tunic and was horrified by the realization that something was missing  is a wholly modern contrivance.  At best, it can be argued that the bishop was using the mutilation as the pretext for getting rid of the presbyter.  We should recall the homosexual innuendo that was brought against Origen's person among his Christian brethren.  This seems to be reflected in the hesitation in Eusebius's voice  when he emphasizes in the last passage that Origen studied "with women as well as men."  Having a sex change was the same in antiquity as modern times - it was always associated with homosexuality.

Epiphanius, the man who gave us the 'Origen was almost raped by a black man' story of the chapter - delves a little deeper into question of how he actually performed the self-castration noting that it is said "that our Origen also thought of it as a way of dealing with his body. For some say that he severed a nerve so that he would not be disturbed by sexual pleasure or inflamed and aroused by carnal impulses. Others say no, but that he invented a drug to apply to his genitals and dry them up."[6]  Interesting also that Epiphanius isn't sure whether it was this 'Adamantius' or another contemporary Alexandrian who castrated himself, implying again that there were other Adamantius's and other prominent self-made eunuchs.

Our only purpose in bringing these things up is to reinforce that in the earliest period it wasn't just men becoming yoked together.  As we have already noted many times before, there is a strong suggestion beneath the surface that at least one of those two individuals underwent some sort of radical surgery.  Indeed it is worth noting that the strongest argument in favor of the idea that Origen castrated himself because of a pre-existing tradition which encouraged such behavior is the manner in which he cites Philo, the famous Alexandrian Jew to support the act.  When Clement explains the reference in Matthew to becoming a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven he notes "and Philo, who enjoys a high reputation among intelligent people for many subjects discussed in his treatises on the Law of Moses, says in the book entitled  On that the worse is accustomed to attack the better that ‘it is better to be made into a eunuch than to rage after sexual intercourse.’

There can be no doubt that the Alexandrian Christian tradition was encouraging castration no less than that the act was connected to the ritual at the heart of Secret Mark.  Already we read in the material cited by Clement "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."  It is difficult to believe that this instruction to do something to himself was the original justification for Origen's 'daring deed.'  As we shall see in due course Clement himself makes constant reference to the 'uprooting of the sinful part' of a man.  There were certain things obviously which were acknowledged never to be made public.  This was certainly one of the most sacred as it was the means by which one could claim to be made after his image and ultimately 'adopted' as the son of the Father and made a brother of Christ.

That doing these things to oneself somehow constituted changing one's nature should by now be obvious.  It set in motion a complete break from all the inherited material assumptions that were given at birth to a child.  Indeed the mystical understanding at the heart of this tradition is found in the famous words of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians - "if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who changed us into himself through Christ."  It would be our supposition that the 'transformation' which is being spoken of here - no less than the frequent allusions to baptism in relation to the death in the same Pauline writings - is an allusion to contents of the secret gospel.[7]

Of course as the narrative in the longer gospel of Mark makes reference to such transformations taking place in yoked pairs, it is not surprising that Origen could not have done this act on his own.  The person who initiated him into these 'divine truths' was clearly his teacher Clement.  If indeed Clement and Origen were also ritually yoked together it is interesting to note that our reconstructed history of the period shows that the two were acting in unison in terms of their travels schedule.  Shortly after Origen leaves Alexandria in 215 CE Clement goes back, demonstrating quite that the pair effectively 'traded places' with one another in the center of the Christian world.[8]

Indeed if Hitchcock is right, and it was Clement rather than Origen who is the Adamantius of Church History Book Six Chapter 15, then it is also Clement who "divided the multitude and ... selected Heraclas, and made him his partner (koinwnos) in the work of instruction. He entrusted to him the elementary training of beginners, but reserved for himself the teaching of those who were farther advanced."[9]  Scholars have always struggled with the curious silence with exists with respect to Clement and Origen's relationship.  We may now begin to suspect that Demetrius flew into such a fit of rage against the young teacher that even Clement kept his continuing relationship with Origen secret.  He doesn't even name the author of the Peri Archon in his reference to the text in the Can the Rich Man be Saved.

It would seem that Heraclas became Clement's new 'partner' in Alexandria.  This may have been done in part to prove to Demetrius that Clement had also cut Origen off.  Nevertheless it has to be acknowledged that this act should not in itself be taken to mean that Clement and Origen were still not 'spiritually attached.'  The bond is everywhere described as 'adamantine.'  The language that Clement uses in the Letter to Theodore would certainly imply that the Church Father was capable of keeping his relationship with Origen hidden from the authorities.

It is interesting to take a second look at this term used to describe Clement's new relationship with Heraclas. The choice of koinwnos was certainly not accidental.  It is used by Paul in the epistles as an equivalent to syzygos - "so if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me." (Phil 1.17).  Here the 'partner' manifest the presence of the teacher or his 'other half.'  It should be noted that this is precisely what Origen was doing with respect to Theodore - he was instructing him on Clement's behalf in the very manner that we see Clement directs his readership to learn more about the doctrines of the Church by reading Origen's Peri Archon.

Similarly God is described as the 'partner' of the gnostic at the end of Clement's Stromata and in terms which explicitly evoke the mystical adamantine imagery of the previous chapter.  Clement tells us that the true gnostic "worships the Maker, and loves him, the partner (koinwnon) of life, pitying and praying for him on account of his ignorance" and who "makes the man lord and master of himself; so that the Gnostic is temperate and passionless, incapable of being dissolved by pleasures and pains, as they say adamant (adamantos) as by fire." [10]  The language here is so strikingly similar to what we saw in the writings of Theodore of Pontus that it once again suggests him borrowing it either directly or indirectly from Clement.

The underlying assumption here is that the yoking which occurs between man and man is a mirror of that which governs that of man and God.  The friend helps make the other better, raising him to perfection - even working the very will of God.  One of Clement's favorite sayings from the gospel - a saying which no longer appears in any of our copies of the text - is that of "see your brother, see your god."[11]  The point again is that the two yoked men are not only refashioned as brothers through the Alexandrian mystery rite but more importantly that they are to see God in the other.  To the initiated outsiders of course they appear as one and the same soul inhabiting two different bodies.

To this end, this understanding can afford us a second look at the relationship between Clement and Origen.  When Clement returns home after visiting Rome he establishes Heraclas as his 'partner' on the catechetical chair of Alexandria.[12]  Clement however can be seen to have been working again in cooperation with Origen who originally established Heraclas in his 'elementary instruction."[13]  By the time Julius Africanus visits the city, Heraclas is a figure of great importance in the city. Nevertheless in the period leading up to his return to Alexandria, Clement can be seen as something of a Paul figure traveling and visiting various sees.  The minute Clement dies - presumably shortly after his return - we start to see Origen suddenly take a more pronounced leadership role in the network of churches founded by former students.

To this end, it is almost as if Clement and then Origen were Patriarchs in exile, dislodged owing to Demetrius's usurping their authority.  In the period where the Letters to Theodore were written, Clement is something of an occultated Father.  One yardstick might be the fact that Theodore of Pontus did not have to go to Alexandria to be baptized.  Origen may well have assumed the role of Father owing to the fact that Clement was already now dead.  Indeed the one thing which is clear from the Panygeric is that Origen is already now the 'father' of Theodore and Athenodorus.  Yet he also prepared Heraclas alongside a 'brother' named Plutarch, who becomes a great martyr in the Alexandrian Church.

We should notice the odd language in Eusebius's account where Plutarch is said to have been honored with divine martyrdom after 'right living' (biwnai kalws).  Yet this isn't meant in some abstract sense.  Eusebius is making reference to Plutarch dying as a witness to the faith.  It is plainly evident also that Heraclas and Plutarch have been established in some mystical bond where originally Plutarch was the greater souled of the two.  Eusebius says that Plutarch gave Heraclas "abundant evidence of a philosophic and ascetic life."  This example moreover is said to have also established Heraclas as being "esteemed worthy to succeed Demetrius in the bishopric of Alexandria."[14]

The words Eusebius uses to describe their relationship makes it seem as the perfection Plutarch received in martyrdom was passed to his brother - this because they were yoked by the same adamantine bond.  The same ideas show up in the writings of another contemporary student of Origen in the period - Firmilian of Caesarea.  While we don't know who Firmalian's 'partner' was (Gregory of Nyssa mistakenly identified him as Theodore of Pontus) we find a lengthy discussion of the mysticism involving pairs from his only surviving letter.  In that text Firmilian praises the fact that "those that come together into this house (the Church) are united with gladness ... that among the saints there is great and desirous love for assembling together."  This is clearly not a generic statement about members of the church coming together.  Firmilian in no uncertain terms means paired male souls.

For as Firmilian explains in what immediately follows the correct path to salvation is found in men imitating the pairing of angels or he puts it:

unity and peace and concord afford the greatest pleasure not only to men who believe and know the truth, but also to heavenly angels themselves, to whom the divine word says it is a joy when one sinner repents and returns to the bond of unity. But assuredly this would not be said of the angels, who have their conversation in heaven, unless they themselves also were united to us, who rejoice at our unity ...  For the grace of God is mighty to associate and join together in the bond of charity and unity even those things which seem to be divided by a considerable space of earth, according to the way in which of old also the divine power associated in the bond of unanimity Ezekiel and Daniel, though later in their age, and separated from them by a long space of time, to Job and Noah, who were among the first; so that although they were separated by long periods, yet by divine inspiration they felt the same truths. And this also we now observe in you, that you who are separated from us by the most extensive regions, approve yourselves to be, nevertheless, joined with us in mind and spirit. All which arises from the divine unity.[15]

According to the neo-Alexandrian tradition all the divine prophetic voices were paired.  They were yoked according to a divine mystery which came to fulfillment with the coming of Christ.

A very similar idea appears in the Clementine tradition where we are told that "God, teaching men with respect to the truth of existing things, being Himself one, has distinguished all principles into pairs and opposites."[16]  Yet with Firmilian we are clearly talking about male pairs being ritually united through the sharing of one divine soul.  So we see in what immediately follows Firmilian makes clear that "even as the Lord who dwells in us is one and the same, He everywhere joins and couples His own people in the bond of unity, whence their sound has gone out into the whole earth, who are sent by the Lord swiftly running in the spirit of unity."[17]  This is the union of souls embodied by Clement and Origen or Theodore and Athenodorus.  Firmilian's purpose however is also to warn against those who have not been properly fitted together according to the divine mysteries.[18]

The example of Eusebius and the martyr Pamphilus help us intimate that this ritual uniting males in the neo-Alexandrian tradition continued into the fourth century.  Pamphilius was of a rich and honorable family of Beirut who is said to have given all his property to the poor and attached himself to "perfect men." Pamphilius seems to have come into contact with Origenism through his teacher Pierius, the head of the catechetical school in Alexandria in the late third century who was called the 'little Origen' by his contemporaries owing to his devotion to his master.[19]  He was ordained as a priest in Alexandria before settling in Caesarea Maritima to become a priest.

According to Eusebius, he suffered martyrdom in the third year of the Diocletian persecution, after spending two years in prison. While he was in prison, Pamphilus and Eusebius worked together on five books in defense of Origen.  There are many references to the intimacy that Eusebius shared with Pamphilus.  He calls Pamphilus his "thrice longed for" (tripotheton) and 'much desired comrade' (= potheinotatos etairwn) .   The terminology here is derived from the pagan understanding of 'eros potheinos' or much-longed love whose wings allow for the fulfillment of hope and desire.   It is interesting that Eusebius's name in most manuscripts is that of Eusebius Pamphili - "Eusebius of Pamphilus" which has been variously explained.  As Caspar Gregory in his Canon and Text of the New Testament explains "Eusebius was closely united to him, and is called therefore the Eusebius of Pamphilus."  This union seems to be reflected in what Socrates Scholasticus calls "their joint (koine) life of Origen, and admirable defense of him in answer to such as were prejudiced against him, prove that he was not the first who made this declaration, but that in doing so he was the mere expositor of the mystical tradition of the (Alexandrian) church."[20]

Before we go any further let us stop for a moment and count the number of 'brothers' we have already discovered in the Alexandrian tradition.  Clement and Origen, Theodore and Athenodorus, Heraclas and Plutarch, Eusebius and Pamphilius and now Pamphilius's teacher Pierius is also said to have a 'brother' Isidorus who dies a martyr.  Is this all coincidence?  Did all the third century Alexandrians join the Church with their whole family?  Or are we witnessing something unnoticed about the mystery rite - namely that it was at its core an adoptive brother-making?

Here is what we know for certain.  Just as Plutarch's brother Heraclas seems to be 'connected' to the 'noble life' of his brother, Pierius seems to have been cleansed of his sin of offering up idolatrous sacrifices by the martyrdom of his brother Isidorus.[21]  It would seem that the Alexandrian tradition took quite literally the bond that existed between conjoined pairs.  It wasn't just that the good deeds of one were passed on to the other connected by the Holy Spirit, the death of one brother was understood to 'purify' or cleanse the sins of the other.

This understanding seems to be taken to the next level in the description of another set of brothers in the third century, Aedesius and Apphianus, who are said to be brothers "not only in God, but also in the flesh, being a son of the same earthly father."[22]  We may question whether the two brothers were actually physically related, yet the idea that their deaths occur in two separate cities "at about the same time" like Peter and Paul according to Eusebius suggest the material that survives has been reworked to advance the mystical principles of the tradition.[23] Apphianus dies in Caesarea and Aedesius in Alexandria. Yet the heavy emphasis on Aedesius's philosophical background  has led some to conclude that he is really Aedesius the Neoplatonist philosopher and mystic born of a noble Cappadocian family.[24].

It is often very difficult to know what to believe with respect to the historicity of these early martyrdom traditions.  The idea that both brothers 'at the same time' during the reign of the Emperor Maximinus Daia is almost as absurd as Photius's claim that Eusebius and Pamphilius were "imprisoned together."  Nevertheless we come face to face time and again with the core of the early Christian experience.  It all goes back to a very ancient mystical belief regarding the sympathy between twins.  The Epistle of Ignatius to Polycarp in the middle of the second century for instance defines Christian life in terms of two individuals "working together, with each other, fighting together, running together, suffering together, sleeping together, rising together as the managers, lieutenants and attendants of God."[25]  Clement of Alexandria similarly declares that each ought to share in suffering (sumpaschein) and bear one another’s burdens, for fear that anyone who thinks he is standing firmly should in fact fall."

We should emphasize over and over again that the later ideal of monks being sent into the desert to live a life without spiritual partner is a complete departure from the original understanding.  Above all else, there is a spirit of togetherness which pervades every aspect of the early religion.  We need to go back time and again to the mystical understanding of Empedocles with respect to love uniting souls that were divided from the beginning, of Plato with regards to the power of same sex attraction to establish perfection and Aristotle and his ideal of one soul inhabiting two bodies.  These aren't just abstract principles for the contemplative life.  They all principles which clearly influenced Mark's composition of his longer gospel.

It is impossible to deny that Clement was very much influenced by these ideas in his own writings.  We read  Clement's clearest statement of the very purpose of the Christian life defined in these very terms - "we suffer with Him, that we also may be glorified together as joint-heirs of Christ. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to the purpose. For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren. And whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified."[26]  In a few sentences we have the entire Christian religion summed up for us.  Yet we can even do one better.  The entire font of heretical teaching that would shape the Byzantine culture for centuries to come can be coined in a single word - adelphopoiia.

Not surprisingly it is a term which quite literally sends shivers down the spines of the most bigoted members of the western apologetic tradition, such power does it still possess ...

[1] "precisely because of his goal of leaving no scripture uninterpreted he disguised himself, as an allurement to sin, and issued mortally dangerous exegeses. The so-called Origenists took their cue from this — not the first kind, the practitioners of the obscenity. As I have already remarked, I cannot say whether they originate with this Origen who is also called Adamantius, or whether they have another founder whose name was also Origen."  Similarly Eusebius attributes his daring deed to his devotion to scripture "at this time while Origen was conducting catechetical instruction at Alexandria, a deed was done by him which evidenced an immature and youthful mind, but at the same time gave the highest proof of faith and continence. F
[8] Clement references Zechariah chapter 3 near the conclusion of this treatise a passage pregnant with symbolism referencing 'the high priest Jesus' is said to be cleansed and enthroned with "your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come."  Clement begins by making reference to the adamantine symbolism used in the section where Jesus is described as a "brand plucked from the fire" saying:What an infatuated desire, then, for voluntary death is this, rooted in men's minds. Why do they flee to this fatal brand, with which they shall be burned, when it is within their power to live nobly (biwnai kalws) according to God, and not according to human custom?
[16] (Socrates Scholasticus 3.7)
[18]  Firmilian declares that "it is of no advantage that some are very near and joined together bodily, if in spirit and mind they differ, since souls cannot at all be united which divide themselves from God's unity."[12]  The example the Church Father has in mind, is the sitting Roman bishop Stephen who was not established according to these divine mysteries and seeks to impose his will on the contemporary neo-Alexandrian Church hierarchy spread across the world.  Firmilian even goes so far as to declare that Stephen is far from God because of alienation from the initiation come to members of the tradition -  "'For, lo,' it says, 'they that are far from Thee shall perish.' But such shall undergo the judgment of God according to their desert, as depart from His words who prays to the Father for unity, and says, 'Father, grant that, as Thou and I are one, so they also may be one in us.'"

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