Thursday, August 23, 2012

Chapter Nine of Naked With Naked

One of the greatest difficulties we face is the difficulty inherent in projecting a thoroughly modern concept like ‘homosexuality’ onto the ancient cultural landscape. Was the intense longing shared between two Christian eunuchs ‘homosexual’? Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines the principal meaning of the term - “of, relating to, or characterized by a tendency to direct sexual desire toward another of the same sex.” As such, it would seem to be perfectly appropriate. Nevertheless there are of course other definitions, other standards to judge what is and isn’t homosexual. In the end, however these concerns do matter that much to us as we are above all else chronicling the revelation of a ‘heavenly form’ of love among mortals. It is difficult not to imagine that true Christian love was anything but shocking to contemporary observers.

Yet it also has to be said that we have just examined the Alexandrian expression of this religious tradition and Alexandria was only one of many ancient Christian cultural centers. To develop a well-rounded sense of same sex attraction in earliest Christianity we would have to expand our understanding to Rome, Edessa and other places in the near East. There must certainly have been different very expressions of the same basic underlying conception co-existing in cities across the Empire. Moreover it is impossible not to see that these same ideas transform over time into something which resembles quite strikingly the modern concept of same sex marriage. Yet it is hard to get away from the fact the tradition began as a castration cult.

Indeed one must imagine that the series of Imperial decrees beginning at the dawn of the second century were in part directed against the growth of this Palestinian cultus. As a result of the success of this effort we see by the early fourth century a great many unmutilated monks imitating or adapting this ancient Alexandrian cultural ideal without the traditional buffer of castration with predictable results. This doesn’t mean that homosexual intercourse wasn’t a feature in some same sex Christian couples before this time. It just means that by the fourth century we see clear signs of what we might call the ‘Roman Catholic paradigm’ – that is, uncastrated males living within exclusively ‘homosexual’ (i.e. all of the same sex) communities.

By the fifth century Rome becomes the safe haven for members of the neo-Alexandrianism. To this end we have an all-male priesthood that strictly prohibits its members from ever getting yoked to a female. Indeed the Roman Catholic Church today is the effective Christian bulwark against the wiles of women. It sees itself as upholding a rule as old as the apostles. As Jerome himself notes Rome preserves what was once the universal regulation of churches in the East and of Egypt too - to ordain only those who were unmarried, or who ceased to be husbands.

There simply are no examples of married Popes in the Roman tradition. There were of course a handful of officials who were widowers or put aside their wives in order to enter into the priesthood. Yet the pattern remains incredibly consistent and ultimately unassailable. Pope Siricius (384–399) left his wife and children to become Pope. Pope St. Agatho (678–681) was married for twenty years as a layman and had one daughter. With his wife’s blessing apparently he became a monk at the monastery of Saint Hermes in Palermo. It is thought his wife entered a convent. Pope Adrian II (867–872) was married before he took Holy Orders, to a woman called Stephania, and had a daughter. His wife and daughter were still living when he was elected Pope and resided with him in the Lateran Palace. They were murdered by Eleutherius, brother of Anastasius Bibliothecarius, the Church's chief librarian.

As such there is a clear pattern in the Roman Catholic Church, one which was originally shared by most other churches in the world and especially in Syria, Egypt and North Africa. Popes and priests had always been forbidden to yoke themselves to women. They were expected to spend their personal time exclusively in the company of men. It is at the earliest period of Roman Church history that we see the clearest examples of the idealization of same sex unions but as late as the sixteenth century we have the witness of the greatest French essayist Michel de Montaigne testify to the existence of what was clearly homosexual marriage practices within the highest ranks of the ecclesiastic hierarchy.

Montaigne writes that “on my return from Saint Peter's I met a man who informed me ... that on this same day [March 18, 1581] the [Holy Week] station was at San Giovanni Porta Latina, in which church a few years before certain Portuguese had entered into a strange brotherhood. They married one another, male to male, at Mass, with the same ceremonies with which we perform our marriages, read the same marriage gospel service, and then went to bed and lived together. The Roman wits said that because in the other conjunction, of male and female, this circumstance of marriage alone makes it legitimate, it had seemed to these sharp folk that this other action would become equally legitimate if they authorized it with ceremonies and mysteries of the Church. Eight or nine Portuguese of this fine sect were burned."

Of course there must have been other examples of this practice in the millennia and a half that separated the original veneration of Peter and Paul, Linus and Cletus or Pius and Hermas. Nevertheless we must again emphasize that the original form of the union was effectively subverted from within the church by the end of the second century. While Marcia undoubtedly opened the door to the participation of woman in the joining of angels, less than a generation later the Church Father Irenaeus effectively outlawed the mystical devotion to angelic syzygies. We have already touched upon the historical circumstances surrounding these changes. Nevertheless it might be useful to examine evidence that a gospel like ‘secret Mark’ might have existed in early Roman Christianity.

In our previous chapter established the underlying ‘typology’ governing the relationship of God the Father to God the Son, Moses and Aaron and, in the heretical communities at least, Paul and Peter. It is clear that Irenaeus was bent on ‘reforming’ the original tradition yet his motivation does not seem to stem from homophobia. Irenaeus was troubled by the mystical implications of these same sex unions – i.e. what they said about the godhead. He opposed their expression because they reinforced the idea that there were strong divisions and a basic inequality within the heavenly household. Above all else for Irenaeus there was a real danger in the perpetuation of these rites and practices – they reinforced the inherent weakness of the Jewish Creator god.

Irenaeus objected to the understanding that God and his Son represented two different glories in heaven. This conception in turn was used to support the notion that there were two different orders of holiness within the ranks of Church and humanity generally – i.e. the spiritual class and ‘psychics.’ For these heretics Moses was greater than Aaron just as Paul was greater than Peter and ultimately the Father was greater than his Son. Irenaeus was wholly opposed to any discussions of this sort – i.e. invoking ‘degrees of separation’ in the heavenly household. This controversy would eventually spillover into the so-called ‘Arian controversies’ in fourth century Alexandria which would define Christianity for all ages to come.

Yet if we stop for a moment and actually look at what caused Irenaeus to oppose the perpetuation of angelic syzygies and ‘spiritual marriages’ among the heresies, we see that they really have very little in the way of substance behind them. For instance Irenaeus repeatedly admonish his heretical opponents for claiming that Jesus was a god who descended from a wholly unknowable Father to reveal a hitherto unknown doctrine of salvation to humanity. Those who promote this understanding are accused of ‘dividing the godhead.’ Yet the oldest symbol of the Roman Church is that of the concordia apostolorum – that is of Peter and Paul staring into each other’s eyes – together embodying the concept of humans communing in divinity.

We see clear evidence of Peter and Paul be represented in this concordia apostolorum as early as the fourth century. As the Blackwell Companion on Paul notes "art historians, noting the apostles' frequent pairing, have suggested possible iconographic prototypes, including Rome's other founding duo, Romulus and Remus. As surviving remnant of this motif dating from the fourth century was discovered in the recent excavations of the catacomb of the 'ex-vigna Chiaraviglio,' near the Basilica of San Sebastiano, possibly associated with the memoria to the apostles at that site.

We are told that “two palm trees, standing on either side of the apostles, attest to their coming martyrdom as they lock arms in greeting. Another early example of this theme, on an early fifth-century ivory belt buckle discovered beneath the cathedral of Castellammare di Stabia (30 km southeast of Naples), shows the two leaning in toward one another, their cheeks touching and their arms entwined. This particular composition may have been influenced by a painting in Rome's fourth-century basilica of San Paolo fuori le Mura (destroyed by fire in 1823). Here, Paul and Peter's meeting was the final fresco on the north wall, ending a series of forty episodes on the life of Paul and concluding a biblical cycle that made brotherhood one of its unifying themes by depicting Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, and Moses and Aaron. One of the scenes of Moses and Aaron portrayed the two brothers embracing – perhaps an intentional allusion to the concordia apostolorum.”

It is also interesting to note that at the very moment the paintings were being completed, the Church Father Gaudentius of Brescia preserved the same ideas in writing. Gaudentius emphasized the analogous, fraternal relationships, citing the line of Psalm 133:1, “Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity" and as “twins” born from one spiritual womb, “blood brothers,” siblings by a communion of blood. If this is the earliest symbol of the Roman Church, Irenaeus ends up co-opting the symbol in order to dismantle its heretical implications (i.e. that Paul was greater than Peter because the Father was superior to the Son). Irenaeus here embraces the ultimate symbol of the original Roman doctrine of two unequal powers in heaven before declares war on its implications. The thrust of his classic work Against Heresies for instance is to vehemently attack any trace of ‘dualism’ anywhere in the Church. Yet Irenaeus cannot simply wave his hand and make the veneration of ‘Peter and Paul’ go away. Instead his approach was to wage a relentless assault against the theological implications of that ancient Christian dualism, and make it fit within an artificial universal monism.

As we have just seen, Irenaeus zeroed in on the idea that there are two powers in heaven. According to the traditional Roman understanding the Father and Son each spoke separately to the Church through a divided gospel, each part being associated with the twin apostles Peter and Paul. Of course the related controversy of whether there should be two or four gospels is a matter of indifference for us. The fact that we have learned to adopt Irenaeus’s fourfold gospel – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – is something we can’t really explain. Yet it is important to note that we never catch a glimpse of what we should expect to see – i.e. that a monotheistic tradition like Christianity should have only one holy gospel rather than many.

It would have been impossible for Irenaeus to go from an established canon of only one gospel to four gospels. The fact that the pre-existent Roman, Marcionites and the Alexandrian tradition were founded on more than one – i.e. specifically two gospels – ultimately allowed for Irenaeus’s sudden doubling of that number to establish a new rule at the end of the century. It was Irenaeus who represented the start of something knew and a third century reference cited by the fourth century Church Father Eusebius makes this plain. As the anonymous author declares “all the early teachers and the apostles received and taught what they now declare, and that the truth of the Gospel was preserved until the times of Victor (178 – 189), who was the thirteenth bishop of Rome from Peter, but that from his successor, Zephyrinus (189 – 199), the truth had been corrupted.”

The reforms of Irenaeus included a canon of four gospel and related writings, a Sunday-centered liturgy and a unique Passover calculation. There is strong evidence to show that they were enacted during the reign of Septimius Severus (c. 193 – 211 CE) and continued through the Severine dynasty that followed (211 – 238 CE). Most importantly for our purposes, it was in this age that the two gospels associated with ‘Peter and Paul’ or ‘Peter and Mark’ became replaced with the familiar set of four canonical gospels. The only reference to the old system which shows up side by side with his introduction of his new canonical rule. The gospel is ‘supposed to be’ divided into four and with the acknowledgement that "Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome" while the supposed ‘first gospel’ of the Catholic tradition – the Gospel of Matthew – was first produced somewhere in the world.

The original tradition not only said there should be two gospels but added that the Church was itself divided into two classes of people – that of the ‘spiritual’ elite and the ‘psychics.’ The divided gospel appealed its message to these separate constituencies. The original tradition at Rome understood that it was the mysterious power of angelic syzygies which established the twofold gospel. When Peter and Paul were yoked together they spoke for the two separate powers in the divine godhead. The Father and the Son spoke through the public and secret gospels respectively.

We have in our possession a Patristic text loosely translated into Latin from Greek called the Prescription Against the Heresies which probably developed directly or indirectly from a lost treatise of Irenaeus on the same subject. The text as it stands now presents a series of 'cures' for heresy and indeed the most dangerous idea of all – i.e. that Peter and Paul wrote two different gospels. The original mystical formulation of the Roman tradition is now turned around into something which ‘insulted’ the honor of St Peter, the author claiming that the heretics suppose that Peter wrote the first gospel God but that Paul saw "something was lacking" in it and thus developed a "fuller gospel of knowledge."

We can be certain that the heretics would have chosen their words more carefully. Their original formulation was undoubtedly closer to what is appears in Clement’s Letter to Theodore where the author says:

As for Mark, then, during Peter's stay in Rome he wrote an account of the Lord's doings, not, however, declaring all of them, nor yet hinting at the secret ones, but selecting what he thought most useful for increasing the faith of those who were being instructed. But when Peter died a martyr, Mark came over to Alexandria, bringing both his own notes and those of Peter, from which he transferred to his former book the things suitable to whatever makes for progress toward knowledge. Thus he composed a more spiritual Gospel for the use of those who were being perfected.

Irenaeus goes on to explain in understanding of the Roman version of this original myth that "another form of Gospel was introduced by Paul beside that which Peter and the rest had previously put forth."

That this gospel of Paul was at once also a 'secret gospel' is also clear when he goes on to note "Paul was caught up as far as the third heaven, and when brought into paradise heard certain things there and this secret revelation rendered him more qualified to teach another doctrine beside that which was originally revealed by Peter." The inescapable truth that emerges from this report and others like it is that there were two gospels originally at Rome from the very beginning. Irenaeus's objection that establishing the gospel in two parts divided the truth of the one God is immaterial to the discussion. We can be assured that all these traditions held that a secret god was 'hidden' in the world, existing high above the heaven occurred by the god of the Jews. Even the Jewish tradition has its own version of this basic mystical concept.

As we have already noted many times in this discussion, it all comes back to the symbol of Peter and Paul as the foundation of the Roman Church. Yet there is a great deal of evidence which suggests that the Roman Church was divided according to this very same apostolic arrangement without explicitly referencing the names of these apostles. We should begin with the consistent symbolic representation of two churches of Rome associated with a certain Pudens (2 Tim 4:21). The tradition appears in the ‘Acts of Pudentiana and Praxedis,’ or as it is sometimes called ‘the Acts of Pastor and Timothy.’

The story goes something like this. A certain 'Pastor' otherwise known as 'Hermas' is said to be the ‘brother’ of Pope Pius (142 - 157 CE). Hermas narrates the story of the founding of two churches in Rome which correspond to the two children of Pudens. The first, named after the daughter Pudentiana (= 'modesty' or shame). In the story, the church is ultimately transferred to the Pastor. The second church associated with another layman named Novatus (= 'renewed') and associated later Prudens other daughter Praxedis (= 'active'). It is this second figure of Praxedis that the 'church within the Church' theme is most explicit.

All of these names were originally symbolic in nature. Of especial significance is 'Novatus' (= novelty) who reappears in association with in important sectarian movement in the third century which lasts for some time in the Roman capitol. These ‘Novatians’ represented a conservative movement within the early Church especially numerous in Italy and North Africa. We are told in the Liber Pontificalis the official 'book of Roman Popes, that Novatian heresy rose to prominence with the translation of the relics of Peter and Paul at the time of Cornelius (c. 251 CE). Hippolytus is similarly identified as a Novatian and later an ‘anti-Pope’ because he reigned at the same time as a number of Petrine representatives. Yet as we have already noted, there may originally have been no conflict here owing to the fact that he was likely the representative of Paul in the city of Rome.

Yet the name ‘Praxedis’ seems to be connected with an ‘Praxeas’ a figure in turn argued recently to be an allusion to Hippolytus’s teacher Irenaeus. In 1992 Stuart George Hall, professor of ecclesiastical history at King's College London argued that Irenaeus was to be identified with the figure of 'Praxeas' from a text found among the loose Latin translations of Tertullian of Carthage in the third century. Hall contended that Praxeas means 'fixer' or 'fraud' and that it may be a nickname Tertullian invented to disguise Irenaeus. Apparently, Tertullian was angry that Irenaeus had actively worked to make his own sectarian tradition heretical in the eyes of the bishop of Rome.

In Against Praxeas Tertullian alleges that this Praxeas dissuaded a bishop of Rome some time ago from recognizing the leaders of his community, Montanus and Prisca as prophets and receiving their churches into communion. He adds that Praxeas went on to teach a dangerous doctrine, which so strongly emphasizes the one substance of the divine household that it amounted to declaring the Father was crucified on the Cross. It is very significant that Praxeas is said to have asserted the 'monarchy' of God: God is single, and so Father, Son and Spirit are 'one and the same.' This is very similar to things said in the writings of Irenaeus including a book he penned with this exact title "On the Monarchy."

Indeed Irenaeus was also responsible for promoting these very same ideas in letters to the very same bishop Victor. We have already seen the church of Praxedis was related to that of Novatus which in turn can be connected with Irenaeus's student Hippolytus. Hall's theory has been recognized to be quite persuasive and can certainly help us ultimately establish Irenaeus on an episcopal throne beside that of Victor in the city of Rome. Indeed the pattern of two bishops one associated with Peter and the other with Paul has already been noted to go back to the first successors of the apostles.

Yet there is yet another witness from the early second century which we have ignored so far - the example of Pope Pius and 'his brother' the Pastor Hermas. The Muratorian canon written at the beginning of the third century makes reference to this phenomenon in the following manner - "But Hermas wrote the Shepherd very recently, in our times, in the city of Rome, while bishop Pius, his brother, was occupying the [episcopal] chair of the church of the city of Rome. And therefore it ought indeed to be read; but it cannot be read publicly to the people in church either among the Prophets, whose number is complete, or among the Apostles, for it is after [their] time."

Of course if we go back to that text we began to examine earlier in this chapter, the Acts of Pudentiana and Praxedis, we see that this Pastor Hermas was assigned to have jurisdiction over the Church of Pudentiana (= modesty). This work mentioned here - the Shepherd - can also be demonstrated to have preserved the original orthodoxy of having two gospels rather than one. For the Alexandrian Church Father Origen draws our attention to the text noting that just as there are two parts to man - soul (psyche) and spirit (spirit) - so also is "sacred Scripture" divided into two. How do we know that this notion of 'sacred Scripture' being divided into psychic and pneumatic portions of the Church is a reference to the Gospel? For this we need to go to a near contemporary reference from Origen of Alexandria.

Very early in his career – indeed while Clement of Alexandria was still living - Origen points to the saying in "the little book of The Shepherd" where "Hermas is commanded to write two little books, and afterwards to announce to the presbyters of the Church what he learned from the Spirit." Origen cites the remaining sections of the work in considerable details saying "for these are the words that are written: 'And you will write,' he says, two books; and you will give the one to Clement, and the other to Grapte. And let Grapte admonish the widows and orphans, and let Clement send through all the cities which are abroad, while you will announce to the presbyters of the Church.'"

These two books - one psychic and one spiritual - can only represent the traditional twofold gospel of the Roman Church. Indeed according to Origen's interpretation of the Shepherd of Hermas this Grapte, "is the pure understanding of the letter itself" established for those " who have not yet advanced to the stage of being joined to a heavenly Bridegroom." The figure of Clement however is said to embody the instruction of those "being built up by this means, have begun to rise above the cares of the body and the desires of the flesh; while he himself, who had learned from the Holy Spirit, is commanded to announce, not by letter nor by book, but by the living voice, to the presbyters of the Church of Christ, i.e., to those who possess a mature faculty of wisdom, capable of receiving spiritual teaching."

Origen is clearly emphasizing again that the early Roman Church originally had two gospels in its canon - one developed for the simple portion of the Church, the other spiritually perfected. This was certainly a very similar situation to what appeared in his native city of Alexandria. Yet the city of Rome also originally had two bishops, the one represented by Clement who traditionally had an interest in communities outside of Rome and the other associated with Grapte and who strictly looked after the affairs of the churches under Roman jurisdiction. It is interesting to note also that the very name Grapte of course means 'written' in Greek.

Of course if the Roman Church at one time had only two gospels in its New Testament canon – a public and secret version of the Gospel of Mark – what happened to the secret text? Before we attempt to answer that question we should take note of something about the existing copies of the Gospel of Mark that is quite significant – its ‘Latinized Greek’ writing style. It has long been acknowledged by scholars that the Greek used by Mark bears witness to signs that the author himself was a native Latin speaker.

There are Latin words that creep into the discussion such as his use of modios = Lat. modius - a measure (Mark 4:27), legiôn = Lat. legio or legion (Mark 5:9, 15), spekoulator = Lat. speculator or guard (Mark 6:27), dênariôn = Lat. denarius a Roman coin (Mark 6:37), xestês = Lat. sextarius or container (Mark 7:4), kênsos = Lat. census or tribute money (Mark 12:14), phragellan = Lat. fragellare or to whip (Mark 15:15), kenturiôn = Lat. centurio or centurion (Mark 15:39, 44-45) - both Matthew and Luke use ekatontrachês, the equivalent term in Greek. There is also evidence of Mark providing his readers with Latin translations of Greek words and a few examples of Latin idioms translated into Greek. As such there is good reason to believe that the person writing or editing the existing text may have been doing so from Rome where the greatest concentration of Latin speakers was located in the Empire.

Of course as the Letter to Theodore and many other sources tell us, a fuller ‘secret’ gospel was expanded in Alexandria. Many have argued that this ‘secret Mark’ was not a text written by the same evangelist but something developed as a cento in the second century or later. What is a cento? A cento is a poetical work wholly composed of verses or passages taken a single author; only disposed in a new form or order. It is very significant that Irenaeus makes reference to the heretics developing their heretical narratives (= Greek hupotheses) by rearranging pre-existent lines from the canonical gospels.

We read for instance in Book One of his Against Heresies the Church Father making the following statement:

such, then, is their narrative (hupothesews), which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support … By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions.

The great New Testament scholar Robert Graves apparently identified this passage as making reference to ‘secret Mark.’ Many others have similarly argued that the reason why the gospel sounds so much like something the evangelist Mark would have written is because the material merely represents material from our existing gospel of Mark jumbled up and rearranged in a different order.

It can’t be coincidence that Irenaeus says much the same thing about a heretical gospel that he saw firsthand in Rome. The heretics are accused by him of rearranging the true sayings of the gospel in such a way as to introduce a new hupothesis or plotline to the gospel. Paul Hinlicky reproduces his argument as “the problem with Gnostic revisionist exegesis [is that] it does not in fact represent or reproduce the plot of the Scripture. Indeed, it is a different plot altogether, and involves, at least in part, a different set of characters.” Yet what exactly is the storyline which Irenaeus says the heretics ‘added’ to their cento-gospel? The love which a man shared for his boy servant which is taken as a symbol for the angelic syzygy established between the Jewish god and another male power.

For the moment, let’s follow the trail of logic in the writings of the Roman Church Father. Irenaeus begins by likening the gospel to a series of gems arranged in a mosaic that is supposed to look like a king. The heretics have instead rearranged the original ‘stones’ (i.e. the sayings of the gospel) to have the heretical cento gospel present him as something of a clever fox, sneaking around the earth and having a secret mission at odds with the traditional authority of the Creator, the god of the world.

Irenaeus then accuses his heretical adversies of “collecting a set of expressions and names scattered here and there [in Scripture], they twist them, as we have already said, from a natural to a non-natural sense. In so doing, they act like those who bring forward any kind of hupothesis they fancy, and then endeavour to support them out of the poems of Homer, so that the ignorant imagine that Homer actually composed the verses bearing upon that hypothesis, which has, in fact, been but newly constructed; and many others are led so far by the regularly-formed sequence of the verses, as to doubt whether Homer may not have composed them. Of this kind is the following passage, where one, describing Hercules as having been sent by Eurystheus to the dog in the infernal regions, does so by means of these Homeric verses.”

In order to demonstrate how easy it would be to rearrange the original words of scripture Irenaeus to develop a cento on his own, transposing random lines of the writings of Homer to make it seem Hercules traveled to the underworld to save a dog:

Thus saying, there sent forth from his house deeply groaning. (Od., x. 76)
The hero Hercules conversant with mighty deeds (Od., xxi. 26)
Eurystheus, the son of Sthenelus, descended from Perseus (Il., xix. 123)
That he might bring from Erebus the dog of gloomy Pluto (Il., viii. 368)
And he advanced like a mountain-bred lion confident of strength (Od., vi. 130)
Rapidly through the city, while all his friends followed. (Il., xxiv. 327)
Both maidens, and youths, and much-enduring old men (Od., xi. 38)
Mourning for him bitterly as one going forward to death (Il., xxiv. 328)
But Mercury and the blue-eyed Minerva conducted him. (Od., xi. 626)
For she knew the mind of her brother, how it laboured with grief (Il., ii. 409)

Irenaeus of course argues that this is exactly the kind of arrangement the heretics have employed with their gospel and concludes “now what simple-minded man, I ask, would not be led away by such verses as these to think that Homer actually framed them so with reference to the subject indicated? But he who is acquainted with the Homeric writings will recognise the verses indeed, but not the subject to which they are applied, as knowing that some of them were spoken of Ulysses, others of Hercules himself, others still of Priam, and others again of Menelaus and Agamemnon.”

Of course a suspicious mind has to wonder if Irenaeus finds it so easy to develop centos perhaps our existing gospels may actually be centonized gospels from original heretical material. It all comes down to a matter of perspective. What really matters for our purposes is to take a second look at the citation which immediately precedes this material which Irenaeus uses as an example of a heretical hupothesis developed by means of centos. Irenaeus says that his adversaries make a great deal about a mystic narrative about the Creator or ‘Demiurge’ remaining “ignorant until the appearing of the Lord. But they relate that when the Saviour came, the Demiurge learned all things from Him, and gladly with all, his power joined himself to Him.”

In what immediately follows Irenaeus tells us that the heretics “maintain that he is the centurion mentioned in the Gospel, who addressed the Saviour in these words: "For I also am one having soldiers and servants under my authority; and whatsoever I command they do." They further hold that he will continue administering the affairs of the world as long as that is fitting and needful, and specially that he may exercise a care over the Church.” Yet it is important to note that the identification of this character as a ‘centurion’ only appears in the Catholic ‘synoptic’ texts. In John and in the lost heretical gospel he is clearly a ruler of the Jews and most certainly the high priest in Jerusalem.

What is interesting about Irenaeus’s testimony is that there was a gospel presumably at Rome which presented a very different version of what appears in our text as a healing narrative at Capernaum. It is worth noting that Origen reports from the Italian heretic Heracleon that in the Roman version of the gospel this narrative did not take place in Capernaum either. We read Jesus “is not said to have done or to have spoken anything there.” Rather than being a centurion the figure for the repentant Demiurge was clearly the high priest who is always identified as the very logos of God in the writings of Philo the Jew and other Christian writers.

The high priest is not only described as having soldiers under his command called hyperetai in the gospel (John 18:3) as well as possessing slaves, he is also represented as a spokesman for the Christian message. For we read immediately after Lazarus’s resurrection that “one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” At this point the evangelist adds in his own voice that the high priest “did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.”

The point of course is that in the original gospel known to the heretics the hupothesis of the repentance of the Creator was told expressed through the love of the high priest for his servant boy. The closest we get to this original narrative is what is now preserved in the Syriac Diatessaron which reads:

the servant of one of the chiefs (of the Jews) was in an evil case, and he was precious to him, and he was at the point of death. And he heard of Jesus, and came to him with the elders of the Jews; and he besought him, and said, My Lord, my boy is laid in the house paralysed, and he is suffering grievous torment. And the elders urgently requested of him, and said, He is worthy that this should be done unto him: for he loveth our people, and he also built the synagogue for us. Jesus said unto him, I will come and heal him. That chief answered and said, My Lord, I am not worthy that my roof should shade thee; but it sufficeth that thou speak a word, and my lad shall be healed. And I also am a man in obedience to authority, having under my hand soldiers: and I say to this one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant that he do this, and he doeth it. And when Jesus heard that, he marvelled at him, and turned and said unto the multitude that were coming with him, Verily I say unto you, I have not found in Israel the like of this faith. I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall recline with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven: but the children of the kingdom shall be cast forth into the outer darkness: and there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And Jesus said to that chief, Go thy way; as thou hast believed, so shall it be unto thee. And his lad was healed in that hour. And that chief returned to the house and found that sick servant healed. [Diatessaron 12]

Notice at once there is no reference to ‘centurion’ and – at least from our inherited perspective - many of the bits and pieces from Matthew, Luke and John seem to have been folded into one continues narrative which supports the gnostic hupothesis. Of course one can make just as a compelling case that Irenaeus has in fact split up this original narrative through the same cento method especially given the fact that the lines “I say unto you, that many shall come from the east” on downward now stands alone in the middle of a new section in Luke chapter 13.

Like most of life, it all comes down to who you want to believe. The argument that the heretics assembled together the narrative in the Diatessaron from the pre-existent narratives of Matthew, Luke and John in order to support their contention that there was a divine pairing of males in heaven is no more convincing than claiming that Irenaeus broke it all apart using the same methodology. Irenaeus’s apparently didn’t like the implications of the same sex union mysticism no less than the idea of the high priest being a symbol of the conversion of the Demiurge. In each case he was troubled by the implication that the Creator was a less than perfect divinity.

Yet Irenaeus also tells us that there was a lesson which the heretics learned from the conversion of the Creator story. He notes that they teach that of the “subdivision of the animal souls themselves” – i.e. the boy servant – “they say that some are by nature good, and others by nature evil. The good are those who become capable of receiving the seed; the evil by nature are those who are never able to receive that seed.” What ‘seed’ (sperma) are the heretics talking about? The answer on the one hand is obviously the healing word of Jesus. Yet at the very same time it is impossible to see that it can also be taken as a homosexual reference too.

Many scholars have noted that this ‘centurion narrative’ has a striking gay hupothesis. James Neil in his Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations In Human Societies even goes so far as to argue that “the episode with the Roman centurion and his pais, and the total absence of any hint of disapproval of homosexuality in the Gospels shows that Jesus seemed unconcerned about the prohibition against homosexual acts in Jewish Law.” Yet this seems to miss the entire point of the gospel employed by the earliest members of the Roman tradition.

The fact that Irenaeus and Tertullian make clear that the adult male figure here was symbolic at of the Demiurge, the original relationship between the high priest the boy (pais) is directing our attention upwards to the syzygy of the angels. In other words, the point of the original gnostic hupothesis was not to sanction existing human sexual relationships but introduce something from the highest reaches of heaven to men and angels. In the beginning – in Alexandria – this certainly meant that sexual intercourse of any sort was bad. The goal of earliest Christianity was to attain the Platonic vision of beauty by physically changing the nature of men. In due course this ideal fell victim to Imperial decrees and persecutions. Nevertheless for a brief period of time it did exist and it is important for us to acknowledge its existence if we want to understand what the Christian religion is supposed to be about.

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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