Saturday, July 14, 2012

Chapter Twelve of My New Book

The Emperor Septimius Severus died in 211 CE, six years after the great love of his life was taken from him.  His son Caracalla, undoubtedly working closely in conjunction with his wife Julia Domna, bribed a number of officers to accuse Plautianus of plotting against him the day after Severus had a  portentous dream.  Julia had exacted her revenge for years of abuse and embarrassment.  Caracalla was also motivated by a fear of his father's devotion to his lover.  It was a clear threat his own ambitions of becoming Emperor.

After Caracalla established himself as the new Emperor he drew up plans to conquer Parthia.  To further this ambition he went out of his way to establish himself as the new Alexander the Great, the great Macedonian general who conquered Iran.  In 214 CE he reached Asia Minor at the head of a large army, with a portion of the soldiers dressed in the armor of soldiers at the time of Alexander. The force was also accompanied by many war elephants.  Statues of Alexander were ordered to be sent back home to Rome. Pictures were commissioned, which bore a face which was half Caracalla, half Alexander. As Dio notes, all this was undertaken that "he might seem to be imitating Alexander, or rather, perhaps, Dionysus."'[2]

Of course a critical eye can already see in these actions a conscious development of Commodus's formula for winning over the masses.  Only now instead of acting the part of demigod in the arena, he was playing conqueror on the battlefield.  It is unlikely that the twenty  two year old came up with this idea himself.  His mother guided almost every aspect of his career down to the assassination of his younger brother Geta in her apartment on December 25, 211 CE.

Indeed the shallowness of his political ambitions seem to have been called out by the population of Alexandria.  They mercilessly lampooned the young Emperor until he and his mother developed a plan to deal with this unwelcomed criticism. We are told that in 215 CE Caracalla went to Alexandria, called the people together into the gymnasium at the center of the city pretended that the two compelling reasons for his visit were the worship of the god and the memory of his hero Alexander.  The people rejoiced and celebrated, celebrating the whole night long, but they did not know his secret intent. In all his actions, we are told, Caracalla was playing the hypocrite.  His true plan was to destroy most of the people assembled in the gymnasium.

It is said that Caracalla was upset that "they made many jokes at the emperor's expense about his murdering his brother, calling his aged mother Jocasta, and mocking him because, in his insignificance, he imitated the bravest and greatest of heroes, Alexander."[3]  Jocasta of course was the mother Oedipus her son in classical mythology.  The slaughter in Alexandria that Caracalla initiated was unprecedented.  We are told that the soldiers fell upon the encircled youths, attacking them and any others present. They cut them down, these armed soldiers fighting against unarmed, surrounded boys, butchering them in every conceivable fashion.  Some did the killing while others outside the ring dug huge trenches; they dragged those who had fallen to these trenches and threw them in, filling the ditch with bodies. Piling on earth, they quickly raised a huge burial mound. Many were thrown in half-alive, and others were forced in unwounded.

It is said that the slaughter was so great in Alexandria that "the wide mouths of the Nile and the entire shore around the city were stained red by the streams of blood flowing through the plain." [4]  The story is particularly significant given the fact that Origen of Alexandria was said to have narrowly missed being a victim of the holocaust.  We are told by the Christian chronicler Eusebius that Origen escaped from the city at this very time noting that"a considerable war broke out in the city, and he departed from Alexandria. And thinking that it would be unsafe for him to remain in Egypt, he went to Palestine and abode in Cæsarea."[5]  Of course it is impossible to believe that Origen had inside knowledge about a plot that was kept from the leading citizens of Alexandria.  Why then did Origen rush out of Egypt?

Ronald E Heine a noted expert on Origen argues that "Eusebius' statement that Origen left Alexandria for Palestine because 'no small warfare broke out again in the city' should should not be taken as a reference to the massacre under Caracalla in 215, but as a reference to the conflict between Origen and Demetrius."[6]  If this is the case it is hard to argue against the idea that Caracalla and Julia Domna were still indirectly responsibility for his departure given that this administration seems to have encouraged the reshaping of Christianity.  As we have already seen it was only in the previous year that the Roman redesigns on Easter took effect.  Origen's departure undoubtedly has something to do with increased hostility on the part of Demetrius to the continuation of traditional Alexandrian 'heresy.'

The story of this escape is particularly significant as it leads to our discovery of the original context of the writing of Clement's Letter to Theodore and with it the earliest example of Christian same sex union practices from Alexandria.  For it is well established that Origen's flight from Egypt ultimately led to the development of a community in Caesarea Maritima in Palestine.  We know about this fabulous Shangri La from two principle sources - letters of Origen originally kept in Caesarea, things written by Eusebius 'in defense of Origen' also from Caesarea a century later, and more importantly for our purposes, a circle of Church Fathers in the fourth century who had roots in the province of Pontus on the southern shores of the Black Sea.

What we will demonstrate in the coming chapters is that the hints and suggestions of same sex unions in Rome become an absolute certainty when we examine the details of this period from the perspective of the
Alexandrian Church.  The usual reason that is given for Demetrius's dispute with Origen is that the 'heretic' was guilty of self-castration.  While it is certainly true that emasculating oneself was a capital crime at least theoretically in the Roman Empire, few scholars think about the implications of this ancient sex change operation.  The ancient witnesses to this tradition certainly associated Origen's decision to be emasculated with homosexuality.  As such there can be no doubt that the persecution of a cockless Church Father by a married bishop of Alexandria necessarily took on greater cultural significance.  It should necessarily be viewed as symptomatic of a developing persecution aimed at homosexuals and homosexuality within early Christianity.

This understanding necessarily needs to be broken up in to two parts.  In this chapter we will demonstrate that this Alexandrian community in exile at Caesarea established men in unions or mystical partnerships with other men.  In a subsequent chapter we will identify the 'Theodore' of Clement's letter discovered at Mar Saba with one of the first men to participate in these same sex unions.  In order to accomplish both of these objectives however we will necessarily need to travel to northern Turkey as it were, a place which just so happens to have been the place traditionally identified as the land of Marcion and Marcionites generally.

It is interesting to note that like Origen the Marcionites are inevitably identified as castrated men or often masculinized women.  The Church Father Tertullian introduces his famous work Against Marcion with the idea that the Marcionites resembled the barbaric nature of the "strange tribes" of Pontus who "have no certain dwelling-place, whose life is uncivilized, whose sexual activity is promiscuous ... [and] whose women also have lost the gentleness, along with the modesty, of their sex as they display their breasts, they do their house-work with battle-axes, they prefer fighting to matrimonial duty."[7]  Indeed the Church Father goes on to say "more ill-conducted also is Marcion than the wild beasts of that barbarous land: for is any beaver more self-castrating than this man who has abolished marriage? What Pontic mouse is more corrosive than the man who has gnawed away the Gospels?"

It is very important to note that Pontus was the land of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.  This once again reinforces Marcia's identification with the popular notion of Marcionite Christian in the period.  The Roman historian Appian makes mention of female warriors from Pontus attacking Roman colonists in the first century BCE saying "these women were said to be Amazons, either because the auxiliary troops belonged to nations neighbouring on Amazonia, or because the barbarians gave that name to all warlike women."  The underlying understanding again is that early Christianity had castrated men because their women were savage and uncontrolled.  Perhaps it even included the idea that the Christian women emasculated their captured men.

The point here is that Pontus was an extremely important center in the development of early Christianity.  It wasn't just that Marcia of the Marciani is confusingly referenced as being from 'here' by way of the Hippolyta metaphor.  In this chapter we will trace a significant chain of events which unfolds from the immediate aftermath of Origen's 'Egyptian exodus.'  Origen leaves Alexandria in 215 and arrives in Caesarea by way of Tyre.  He is met there by two rich youths who undergo catechetical instruction before returning together to Neocaesarea, the capitol of Pontus to sit as rulers in that region.  One of these youths was the famous Gregory the so-called Wonder worker or 'Gregory the Great.'  While the name may not be familiar to most people he was one of the most popular saints of the Christian East.  His partner was named Athenodorus and we know nothing more about other than the two sat together overseeing the churches in Pontus.

We will eventually make the case that Gregory and Athenodorus are our first clear 'flesh and blood' Christian same sex couples.  Yet the path to this understanding will be come by means of an inner circle of influential Church Fathers who claimed to be descendants of Gregory's original ministry.  Basil of Caesarea, the grandson of a certain Macrina references his memory in the following terms

But where shall I rank the great Gregory, and the words uttered by him? Shall we not place among Apostles and Prophets a man who walked by the same Spirit as they; who never through all his days diverged from the footprints of the saints; who maintained, as long as he lived, the exact principles of evangelical citizenship? ... He too by Christ's mighty name commanded even rivers to change their course, and caused a lake, which afforded a ground of quarrel to some covetous brethren, to dry up. Moreover his predictions of things to come were such as in no wise to fall short of those of the great prophets. To recount all his wonderful works in detail would be too long a task. By the superabundance of gifts, wrought in him by the Spirit in all power and in signs and in marvels, he was styled a second Moses by the very enemies of the Church. Thus in all that he through grace accomplished, alike byword and deed, a light seemed ever to be shining, token of the heavenly power from the unseen which followed him.[8]

The cult that grew around Gregory is quite unique.  We learn from Eusebius that his real name was Theodore and a few other details of his life.  Yet it was owing to the efforts of Basil, his brother Gregory of Nyssa and his partner Gregory Nazianzus, that this Theodore - later known as 'Gregory the Great' - became one of the greatest saints in the early Church.

As we go through the material which survives from these ancient sources it is almost impossible to separate facts from fiction in the legendary accounts.  Yet even the legendary details are significant for our purposes.  We see in absolutely clear terms that Gregory was taken from the very beginning to be a new Moses for the people of Pontus and perhaps even the entire Christian world.  This understanding repeated over in Gregory of Nysa's Life of Moses.  Moses was the original worker of wonder (= Gk. thauma), Theodore followed in his footsteps and became known as Gregory Thaumaturgus.  It is important to also see however that the figure of Athenodorus was necessarily the Aaron to his Moses.  The two were certainly not blood relatives.  Instead they were made into brothers by means of a secret Alexandrian rite.

In order to get the proper perspective here we have to re-examine the surviving material associated with Gregory and Athendorus in light of the 'living example' of the so-called Cappadocian Fathers (Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzus and Basil).  Given the fact that so many of these figures share the same name, we will have to distinguish the thaumaturgus from the later figures by identifying him as 'Theodore' or 'Gregory/Theodore' or even 'Gregory the Great' throughout the material that follows.

It will be our contention that Theodore and his partner established a mystical 'brother assembly' in Pontus which continued into the fourth century. As such the interest in same-sex unions held among the Cappodocian fathers not only came from Theodore but more precisely, it was a preservation of the original religion of Christian Alexandria.  To this end we should see what we can learn about this original association with Alexandrian gnosis from Theodore's surviving Panegyric for Origen.  The document has always been treasured for the information that it provides us about the Christian tradition shared by the Egyptian and Palestinian churches as well as the apparent 'chance encounter' between Origen and Theodore and Athenodorus immediately following his Egyptian exodus.

Scholars have long noticed strange things about the narrative most notably the allusions to Theodore's 'family.'  The question becomes - were Theodore and Athenodorus brothers of the same parents or - as we now suspect - ritually established brothers - 'manufactured' if you will - according to an ancient mystery rite of Alexandria.  Theodore never mentions Athenodorus by name in the Panegyric.  There is a cryptic male 'other' figure in the text whom Theodore hides from plain view.  Theodore also tells us that he came from a rich family but that his father died when he was young.  By the fourth century the actual details of Gregory's life become confused through an industry of apocryphal legends related to the Cappadocian Fathers - Gregory of Nysa, his brother Basil of Caesarea and his 'spiritual' brother Gregory of Nazianzus.  Indeed as we shall soon see Gregory of Nyssa goes so far as to actually substitute the name of Firmillianus of Caesarea - a second century Cappadocian Father - for Theodore's original same sex partner.

Where did Gregory get the idea for using Firmillianus to replace Athenodorus?  There is a whole story to that which we will develop later in this book.  The short answer we shall use at present is that many scholars see it as a homage to the contemporary same-sex relationship between his brother, Basil and his partner Gregory of Nazianzus.  In other words there were two male couples living a century apart but which were ultimately quite intimately related to one another.  Basil and Gregory were modeling their relationship on the holy paradigm established by Theodore and Athenodorus.

Eusebius provides us in no uncertain terms with the understanding to make sense of their relationship - Theodore left his studies with Origen at Caesarea Maritima united to Athenodorus.  We can also see traces of this in Theodore's own Panygeric.  He tells us that his decision to go to see Origen was set in motion by his mother effort to get an education for her son. Theodore tells us that she decided that "I should attend a teacher of public speaking, in the hope that I too should become a public speaker."[9]  His mother made the fateful decision to send Theodore alone (there is no mention of him even having a 'brother' yet) to gain "instruction in the Roman tongue" to further his career as a lawyer and it was only after he attended this school that he met Athenodorus, presumably fell in love and decided to go see Origen at Caesarea Maritima.

Much the same thing is reported to have happened to Basil and Gregory of Nazianzus interestingly enough a century later.  Yet this in no way should make us suspect that the two 'invented' the original yoke between Theodore and Athenodorus.  The relationship is attested in the writings of Eusebius at the beginning of the fourth century.  Theodore tells us in one section of the Panygeric that Origen who acted the part of mystagogue uniting him to some other man:

And that man took up this charge zealously with me; and I, on my side, gave myself to it— more, however, to gratify the man, than as being myself an admirer of the study. And when he got me as his pupil, he began to teach me with all enthusiasm ... I was becoming well instructed in these laws, at once bonds, as it were, were cast upon my movements, and cause and occasion for my journeying to these parts arose from the city Berytus, which is a city not far distant from this territory, somewhat Latinized, and credited with being a school for these legal studies. And this revered man [Origen] coming from Egypt, from the city of Alexandria, where previously he happened to have his home, was moved by other circumstances to change his residence to this place, as if with the express object of meeting us.[10]

Scholars have always noticed the strange shift from the singular 'I' to the 'we' or 'us' throughout the narrative.  The figure of Athenodorus is made obscure - perhaps deliberately so - because their union was both sacred and secret in early Church.

Scholars however have struggled to make sense of the switch from 'I' to 'we.'  Michael Slusser, who published a recent English translation of the Panyrgetic argues that it is impossible that Gregory actually brought a brother with him from Pontus - "it seems unnecessary to connect the frequent use of the first person plural in the Panygeric with Eusebius's assertion that Athenodorus, a brother of Gregory, also studied with Origen, and to make them mutually dependent on each other."  Indeed he goes one step further arguing that the 'we' in the Panygeric occurs where a brother can hardly be meant, and the singular sometimes appears where one would expect a brother to be explicitly included, had one been present.[11]

So who was this 'we' that Theodore references in the Panygeric?  Richard Valantasis, an expert on the Greek Orthodox tradition suggests the list of possibilities include "fellow students, or the audience at the presumed presentation of the speech, or a combination of all of these."[12]  As such it is generally acknowledged by people who have actually studied the material that Gregory did not have a brother accompany him when he left Pontus.  To this end, Athenodorus only became the brother of Gregory after undergoing some sort of mystical initiation within the school of Origen at Caesarea.

Eusebius describes the historical situation as follows "[a]mong these Theodore, the same that was distinguished among the bishops of our day under the name of Gregory, and his brother Athenodorus, we know to have been especially celebrated. Finding them deeply interested in Greek and Roman learning, he infused into them a love of philosophy, and led them to exchange their old zeal for the study of divinity. Remaining with him five years, they made such progress in divine things, that although they were still young, both of them were honored with a bishopric in the churches of Pontus."[13]  Indeed this unusual situation where two men presided together over all the churches of Pontus is very odd.  Eusebius repeats the formula over and over again in his Church History - viz. "the brothers Gregory and Athenodorus, pastors of the churches in Pontus."[14]

We learn from Gregory of Nyssa that when Theodore arrived back in Pontus after his initiation into the Alexandrian mysteries at Caesarea Maritima he was allegedly confirmed as a priest in the most unusual manner.  The previous bishop just waves his hands while Gregory was still journeying far away and 'presto' he becomes the next to sit on the episcopal throne.  The implications clearly are that there was no 'Catholic Church' at Pontus of this time.  Theodore was probably the head of a separate church in this chaotic period, one which may well have attempted to bring former 'Marcionites' into some sort of communion with the greater Church.  Interesting also is the fact that Gregory of Nazianzus's family were also said to venerate 'God Most High' (Theos Hyspsitos).

It is important to note that in his Life of Gregory (the name Theodore ultimately took at baptism) Gregory of Nyssa makes repeated identification of our Gregory as a 'second Moses.' The bishop of Nyssa notes:

But since [Gregory] had set his mind on how the soul might be perfected by virtue, he devoted his entire life to this with zeal, and allowing himself to say good-bye to life's affairs he became in our parts another Moses, rivalling him outright with wonderous deeds. Both left this agitated and beset life, Moses and Gregory each in his own time going off by himself, until to each the reward of the pure life was manifested by a theophany. But it is said that Moses had a wife along with philosophy, while Gregory made virtue his only consort. So although they both had the same aim, for each of them departed from the crowd with the purpose of penetrating the divine mysteries with the pure eye of the soul, someone who knows how to size up virtue is entitled to judge which of them was marked more by the passionless life: the one who stooped to the legitimate and permissible participation in pleasures, or the one who transcended even that and gave no opening into his life to material attachment.[12]

The obvious comparison between Theodore (= Gregory) and Moses must have already been established long before.  The identification of Athenodorus as his 'brother' may have all but disappeared but it clearly imitated the pairing of Moses and Aaron.

Indeed it would be more correct to say here that Gregory of Nyssa comparison of Moses and Theodore is slightly imperfect.  It would be better to say that while Moses had a wife and appeared in public with his brother, Theodore presided over the churches of Pontus seated alongside a 'brother' who was not a blood relative.  For the moment we should reinforce that the association with Moses goes back to the earliest strata of information about Theodore.  His traditional epithet 'the wonder-worker' or Thaumaturgus, this developed as a conscious effort to imitate Moses as Gregory of Nyssa notes:

For just as the word says that Moses, having left the world of appearances and calmed his soul within the invisible shrines (for this is what "the darkness" stands for), learned the divine mysteries, and in person instructed the whole people in the knowledge of God, the same dispensation is to be seen in the case of this Great One. He had not some visible mountain of earth but the pinnacle of ardent desire for the true teachings; for darkness, the vision which others could not comprehend; for writing-tablet, the soul; for the letters graven on the stone tablets, the voice of the one he saw; through all of which both he and those initiated by him enjoyed a manifestation of the mysteries.[13]

It should be clear that the account of Gregory's miracles have been consciously lifted from the original account of Exodus. There is even a story about Gregory parting a large body of water later in the work.

As noted earlier, the Moses connection is deeply significant given as it goes back to a pre-Christian mystical interpretation of Moses and Aaron which was likely fundamental to the gospel.  In other words, just as Moses and Aaron became 'brothers' at their mystical union so to with respect to when men are united by god as 'brothers' they become apostles capable of working wonders on behalf of God. We have already argued that this Alexandrian yoking practice is found at the core of the longer gospel of Mark.  The Roman interest in Peter and Paul is derived from the same source too apparently.  While this tradition was quite influential in antiquity yet it is only known to us now through mostly fragmentary evidence - the most compelling being the practices of latter day 'Origenists' like the Cappadocian fathers.

According to our earliest sources this rite was performed in secret.  When Jerome is forced to deny his heretical past he allows us to at least peer into the room - "men’s bodies will be turned into spirits and their wives into men ... and we will be fashioned again into one body as it was in the beginning" much like Peter and Paul.[14]  This statement isn't as clear as it ought to be.  Does Jerome mean that the female wives of Christian presbyters get transformed into men at the end of time?  No certainly not. In the very next breath Jerome tells us that the presbyters of the Church were never allowed to marry women.  So what does he really mean?  The most likely explanation is that men were supposed to be paired in same sex unions together.

The current sitting Pope of the Catholic, Joseph Ratzinger in his recent book notes that of "Basil of Caesarea, Gregory Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa - the last was the only one who married." [15]  Yet many scholars even question this traditional claim that Gregory of Nyssa ever had a wife.[16]  As we shall see in our next chapter, there is very strong evidence that Basil and Gregory Nazianzus had strong erotic feelings for one another.  While no one ever comes out and says that they were ever married, the manner in which Basil's brother reshapes the the character of Theodore to reflect many of minor details of his brother's relationship of Gregory has long been recognized.

As Raymond Van Dam notes in his Families and Friends in Late Roman Cappadocia the original historical couple of 'Gregory and Athenodorus' becomes replaced with a hidden reference to 'Basil and Gregory Nazianzus':

although in this panegyric Gregory never mentioned his (i.e. Gregory Thaumaturgus') brother directly, drafting an account of the life of Gregory Thaumaturgus allowed him to provide an oblique meditation on the career of Basil, another native of Neocaesarea who had become a local bishop.  Through these implicit comparisons and contrasts  Gregory could comment indirectly on his brother's life and career. He also used this oration to comment on his own relationship with his brother. One commentary took the form of silence.  Gregory of Nyssa never mentioned this brother. Instead, in one story he claimed that Gregory Thaumaturgus' companion in his studies had been Firmilianus, "one of the aristocrats in Cappadocia" who would himself later became bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. This version of Gregory Thaumaturgus' life suggested a parallel with Basil's life. Just as Gregory Thaumaturgus had studied with a friend from Cappadocia, so Basil, another native of Pontus, had studied with his friend Gregory of Nazianzus, another native of Cappadocia. Basil had selected a friend as his companion, rather than his brother.[17]

Interestingly one of the strongest pieces of evidence that Gregory of Nyssa wasn't married is the manner in which Gregory Nazianzus references his sister Theosebia as his syzygos.[18]

Of course the question which now stands before us is why was it that Gregory of Nyssa was forced to take his sister as his partner rather than his more accomplished brother?  The obvious answer is that the bishop of Nyssa recognized - Basil was already taken.  He and Gregory Nazianzus were once madly in love.  They saw themselves following in the footsteps of Theodore and Athenodorus.  As such we can use the later relationship of Basil and Gregory to help us understand the earlier inaccessible information about Basil and Gregory.  At bottom - if Basil and Gregory can be demonstrated to have been madly in love with one another we can surely assume the same passionate longing existed between Theodore and Athenodorus and likely further was accepted and reinforced by the Alexandrian Church before them.

[11]  (eg, Address 5.55, "the remarkable dispensation by which I came to this man"; 5.56, "my mother . . . my parents"; 5.62, "I became a student of these very laws"; 5.65, "my sister's husband"; 16.185—89. 76.")[]

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