Monday, September 3, 2012

Chapter Eleven of Naked With Naked

The proper starting point to any discussion about the New Testament is that we no longer possess the writings which made up the original collection. This point is clearly driven home by any ancient discussion of the Marcionite tradition. Instead of our four gospels that make up the one complete story of Jesus’s ministry they had texts divided along the lines of secret and profane revelations. Moreover instead of our received collection of fourteen letters of Paul they had some other smaller number with many significant changes which are essential to understand the underlying differences between our traditions.

In many cases, these changes come down to a single word. In one of the Pauline addresses for instance our version of the apostle address announces that ‘a little leaven raises the whole lump’ while in the older version it read ‘adulterates the whole lump.’ There are countless examples like this derived from a great number of mostly unread tomes that are preserved on dusty university library shelves. Yet one in particular is mostly ignored by scholars and is essential reading for our purposes. In a third century work which takes the form of several dialogues between various Marcionites and a Catholic representative named ‘Adamantius’ we read the Marcionite text of the letters of Paul had the reading ‘to each his own power’ where as our received text reads ‘to each his own wife.’

Most readers again can’t fathom why a single word should make such a difference. Yet the phrase ‘to each his own wife’ appears in different forms throughout the Pauline writings. These sections of text were especially treasured by eunuchs and monastic communities who eschewed relations with women – all of which makes the received reading ‘to each his own wife’ particularly puzzling. In the letter in our canon addressed to an anonymous community (often identified as ‘to the Ephesians’) we hear the apostle announce that ‘so each love his wife as himself.’ In the first letter to the Corinthians it is repeated as simply ‘to each his (own) wife.’

Yet because of the information about the Marcionites we know that the original reading was ‘so each love His power as himself’ and ‘to each His power’ – meaning Jesus, the power of the Father is given to each us ‘wives’ as a husband at our baptism. The understanding really isn’t as heretical as it first seems. The Church still speaks of Christ as our bridegroom. The question then is why did someone come along and make it seem as if the apostle was really a spokesman for marriage as a requirement of Christian life when in fact monks always stayed unmarried as priests do to this very day in the Catholic Church.

The simply answer of course is that the words of the writings of Paul were changed because they were supporting a doctrine which Demetrius and the bishops that supported him inside and outside of Alexandria were trying to eradicate. In other words, the words of these letters were deliberately changed to support the sanctity of conventional heterosexual marriage. The original doctrine of course was that the Father was offering up ‘His power’ to unite with those being initiated in the baptismal font.

This understanding is most faithfully preserved in the writings of an otherwise obscure third century Church Father named Methodius of Olympus who is often identified as a likely author of the aforementioned Marcionite dialogue. Methodius makes reference to this reading at one point in his rather lengthy dialogue on virginity called the Symposium which develops out of the aforementioned material from our ‘to the Ephesians.’ He begins by saying that a wholly cosmic Jesus is portrayed in the gospel as coming down from heaven at the beginning of the gospel, “emptying Himself for their sake, that He might be contained by them, as I said, through the recapitulation of His passion, should die again, coming down from heaven, and being joined to His wife, the Church, should provide for a certain power being taken from His own side, so that all who are built up in Him should grow up, even those who are born again by the baptismal font, receiving of His bones and of His flesh, that is, of His holiness and of His glory.”

The understanding here is very different from what is found in our New Testament canon. Jesus is said to have established ‘his power’ as the husband for the Church. Who is this ‘power’? What is clear from the start is that this figure is repeatedly identified as ‘resting’ or established within the person of the apostle himself. In other words, whether he is called Paul or Mark the power of God is a man. Not surprisingly we also see the earliest heretics identifying themselves as this ‘power of God’ including the most famous heretic of all – Simon Magus. The underlying point here is that Methodius is in fact reinventing or turning inside out the traditional notion of Eve being established from Adam’s ‘side.’

According to the early Christian interpretation of the Pauline letters the man first united with Jesus through baptism is identified as God’s ‘side’ – the same word used in the account of the creation of Eve in Genesis. It also happens to be the word used to describe an important mystical event that is reported in the Passion narrative – “one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side (ten pleuran) and forthwith came there out blood and water.” There is a very prevalent early tradition that still survives in Islam, that the person killed on the cross was not Jesus but a disciple who was transformed into the likeness of the Lord.

If we look carefully at what immediately follows, Methodius goes on to say that the side is the Spirit of truth, the Paraclete, of whom the illuminated receiving are fitly born again to incorruption. For it is impossible for anyone to be a partaker of the Holy Spirit, and to be chosen a member of Christ, unless the Word first came down upon him and fell into a trance, in order that he, being filled with the Spirit, and rising again from sleep with Him who was laid to sleep for his sake, should be able to receive renewal and restoration.” We have already noted that the Marcionites and other early heresies identified our apostle Paul as this same ‘Paraclete.’ In other words, we see once again confirmation that Jesus was uniting with a particular disciple in order to prepare males for marriage with other males, repeating the pattern of establish established from the beginning in the gospel.

In the second chapter of the Book of Genesis Eve is described as being made out of Adam’s side. According to the secret gospel of Mark used by the Marcionites Jesus is the living embodiment of the Philia bringing together men with other men to restore the cosmic fissure established by Neikos or strife. It has already been noted by some scholars that the feminine gnostic hypostasis prunikos is somehow related to this understanding. In other words, we are standing at the very meaning of the phrase ‘to each his own power’ in the first letter to the Corinthians.

The heretics whom the apostle addresses want to unite the believers with a feminine hypostasis of the divine Father – probably the Jewish conception of ‘wisdom.’ The apostle took this a mystical ‘open door’ to the idea of heterosexual marriage which he believed was an abomination. He begins chapter seven of the letter with the famous words ‘it is good for a man not to touch a woman’ and then continues to say that a ‘power’ was established for the initiates because of this porneias (whore mongering). The apostle says ‘each has his own power’ according to the Marcionite reading because those who are perishing are males uniting with a female principle, those attaining eternal life males with male.

It isn’t just that the Marcionite variant for 1 Corinthians 7:2 has been overlooked, Methodius’s original testimony as to the meaning of this section of text has also been ignored. The Church Father is clearly reporting that Jesus established a man who is alternately identified as his ‘power’ or ‘side’ as the helpmeet of the gnostic initiate. This man has already been united with Jesus and is now being prepared for marriage with another man as the living ‘power’ of Jesus on earth. In order to properly understand this conception the reader need only take not of what immediately follows in Methodius’s exegesis of the material here and in Ephesians chapter 5.

Methodius goes on to say that “he may fitly be called the side of the Word, even the sevenfold Spirit of truth, according to the prophet of whom God taking, in the trance of Christ, that is, after His incarnation and passion, prepares a help-meet for Him - I mean the souls which are betrothed and given in marriage to him.” The familiar notion of Jesus as bridegroom usually assumes ‘the Church’ – i.e. a large collective body of believers – as his bride. Yet for Methodius this is not so. For he immediately goes on to say:

it is frequently the case that the Scriptures thus call the assembly and mass of believers by the name of the Church, the more perfect in their progress being led up to be the one person and body of the Church. For those who are the better, and who embrace the truth more clearly, being delivered from the evils of the flesh, become, on account of their perfect purification and faith, a church and help-meet of Christ, betrothed and given in marriage to him as a virgin, according to the apostle, so that receiving the pure and genuine seed of His doctrine, they may co-operate with Him, helping in preaching for the salvation of others. And those who are still imperfect and beginning their lessons, are born to salvation, and shaped, as by mothers, by those who are more perfect, until they are brought forth and regenerated unto the greatness and beauty of virtue; and so these, in their turn making progress, having become a church, assist in labouring for the birth and nurture of other children, accomplishing in the receptacle of the soul, as in a womb, the blameless will of the Word.

In other words, Methodius argues that the apostle was really speaking about the elect, a union of two males joining one another in order to attain eternal life.

The point here again is that there is a lost edition of the New Testament which is pretty much recognized by all scholars. This collection had slightly different words, phrases and sentences all of which supported the idea of men coming together with other men to bring down to the purity of angels to mankind. Methodius is clearly not conceiving of a simply situation were initiates close their eyes as they enter into the water alone and imagine that they are being married to Jesus. Methodius envisions men who have already been made into ‘his power’ marrying other man who want to made into the same power. Once again we see men being made one with Jesus, through the ritual union with other men. The source of this doctrine clearly has to be lost secret gospel of Mark which we have traced back through the writings of Hippolytus to a similar doctrine of restoration.

Methodius probably died sometime during the reign of Decius and Valerian (260 – 264 CE). The same murky historical information seems to accompany his closely related rival Origen who was the famous student of Clement of Alexandria. Both men seemed to have been eunuchs associated with the Phoenician city of Tyre but disagreed on important details of Christian doctrines. The fact that Origen converted a rich former Marcionite patron in the city suggests at least that there was a strong heretic influence not only here but throughout the Christian East at the time.

It is not difficult to see why Origen ran away from Alexandria. The city as we have already noted fell under the influence of a married Pope who seems to have encouraged the accepted reading of ‘to each his own wife’ at the expense of the original doctrine. Origen was persecuted as a cockless embodiment of the original tradition of Alexandria associated with the secret gospel and the apostle Mark. In the course of Origen’s life he would change the outward appearance of his doctrine so many times that Methodius would accuse him of abandoning the original principles of his tradition. Nevertheless we should only consider for the moment the earliest period in Origen’s life where he clearly preserves the original doctrines of mystical same sex unions.

It can be established that Origen left Alexandria in 215 and arrived in Tyre before moving on to Caesarea. It is here that Origen met 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 have no information about him other than the two sat together overseeing the churches in Pontus.

Gregory and Athenodorus are our first clear example of a historical Christian same sex couple. Up until this point in our investigation we have only seen idealized references to legendary pairings and interpretations of scripture. Yet the true path to knowledge here must go through real ‘flesh and blood’ examples of Christians who had undergone this secret Alexandrian rite. While the story of Gregory and Athenodorus actually takes place in the early third century, their pairing will become especially significant in the fourth century and 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 disciple of Gregory’s named Macrina quite literally gushes over the legacy of the ‘wonderworker.’ “But where shall I rank the great Gregory,” begins Basil, “and the words uttered by him?” He responds to his own question by explaining that we should place him “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.” We are told that “by Christ's mighty name” Gregory “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, relates Basil, “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. Thus, concludes the fourth century Father, “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.”

So it is important to note that in Pontus, the region traditionally associated with Marcion, a second Moses figure is said to have reigned with a male consort undoubtedly representing a latter-day Aaron. We learn from Eusebius that Gregory’s real name was Theodore. Yet whether no matter who is the source of our information, the material which survives contains so much legendary information it is often difficult to figure out what to believe. At the very core of this tradition again, this ‘Theodore’ 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.

According to Gregory of Nysa, Moses was the original worker of wonder (= Gk. thauma), and 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. As we re-examine the surviving material now associated with the so-called Cappadocian Fathers (Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzus and Basil) the fact that so many of these figures share the same name (i.e. ‘Gregory’) we will distinguish the ‘wonderworker’ from the later figures by identifying him as 'Theodore' in what follows.

As noted 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 Cappadocian 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.

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." 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.

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.

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." As such it is generally acknowledged by people who have actually studied the material that Theodore 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." 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."

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.”

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.”

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 such 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. 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 Pope of the Catholic tradition 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." Yet many scholars even question this traditional claim that Gregory of Nyssa ever had a wife. 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.

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.

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.

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