Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Did Celsus Rather than Justin Write the Seminal 'Syntagma' Against the Heresies and Against Marcion?

Let's leave aside for the moment the inquiry from our last post where we questioned whether the Philosophumena's reference to Valentinus appropriating ideas from Plato was itself borrowed from Justin's Syntagma using the presence of similar arguments made in Celsus's True Word (and assuming that Celsus read Justin's Syntagma).  On the surface at least it is hard to tell whether the Philosophumena borrowed that idea from Justin, Celsus or indirectly from these sources through another Christian source.  Nevertheless there is another possibility which is worth considering - that the syntagma that defined second century Christianity was not even written by a Christian at all but by a pagan seeking to stamp out what he saw as 'dangerous' and 'seditious' ideas swirling around the community's secret associations.

As we have already noted several times in our previous posts, it is generally established that the basic framework of Justin's Syntagma was 'augmented' - not once but over and over again in the period starting with Irenaeus and likely ending at the dawn of the fourth century.  One can even conceive of at least some tweaking of these narratives (perhaps to make them agree or at least stop contradicting one another) as late as the fourth century.  This process of augmentation is a very curious one when we start to think about it.  A book is very much the property of an individual author.  By what authority would Irenaeus, Hippolytus and many other later figures have justified 'adding' new names to an original 'syntagma'?  The short answer here would be the Holy Spirit.  Yet there clearly has to back to every day meaning of 'syntagma' which implies the constitution of a body of people.

A. that which is put together in order:
1. body of troops drawn up in order, τὸ ς. τῶν συμμάχων their contingent, X. HG3.4.2, cf. 5.2.20; ς. ἱππέων corps of cavalry, Plb.9.3.9; τὸ ς. τῶν πεζῶν, = Lat. cohors, Id.11.23.1: metaph., τὸ ς. τῶν οἰμωξομένων the whole army of them, Luc.Tim.58. b. double τάξις or battalion, Ascl.Tact.2.8.
2. the constitution of a state, ς. πολιτείας a form of constitution, Isoc.7.28, 12.151; τὸ Λακωνικὸν κατάστημα καὶ ς. Plb. 6.50.2; ς. τῆς πολιτείας τρία three classes or orders of men in the state, D.S.1.74.

Of course we have inherited a rather naive notion of Justin as a 'Christian thinker' establishing an 'arrangement' of heresies much like an ornithologist would collect species of birds.  Justin was not Charles Darwin.  This was the furthest thing from being a 'scientific investigation.'  While it is unfortunate that we no longer have his Syntagma, there are some clues in Celsus's True Word which suggest its nature as a 'constitution' of Christianity - or perhaps better yet as arrangement or laying down of what was unacceptable for the new religion.  The problem - as always - is that scholars spend too little time thinking about the possible meaning of concepts and terminology and instead have typically 'knee-jerk' attempts to move away from subjects which challenge their pre-supposition.

Consider for a momen Gelasius of Cyzicus and his Syntagma ton kata ten en Nikaia agian Synodon prachthenton.  Gelasius was the son of a priest of Cyzicus, and wrote in Bithynia, about 475.  His Syntagma or collection of Acts of the Nicene Council was a work of some importance. It is divided into three books (Labbe, II, 117-296): bk. I treats of the Life of Constantine down to 323; bk. II of History of the Council in thirty-six chapters; of bk. III only fragments have been published and deal with individual laws passed by the council.  The point of course is that we have in front of us a Christian use of the word syntagma which actually makes some sense when we go back to Celsus's use of Justin's text.

Celsus was writing a work which sought to belittle the Christian religion.  As part of this process Celsus was trying to establish the fact that instead of having the 'true logos' (the title of his book) which was established at the beginning of the world's oldest civilizations, Christianity was a recent religious tradition which continued to split into factions to the point that no clear and coherent message was any longer discernible.  Yet unlike a modern scholar (and indeed the approach often taken by this blog) Celsus wasn't interest in 'proving' his points through what we might call a 'doctoral thesis.'  At various points in his narrative Celsus simply quotes from pre-existing commentaries such as the 'Jew' who insults early Christianity from a Jewish perspective for much of Book One and Two.

The use of Justin's Syntagma in Book Five is a similar - albeit much shorter - effort.  Celsus needed to find an authoritative source to quickly establish the idea that there were many sects in early Christianity.  As such it was only natural that he reach out to a text called the 'syntagma contra omnes haereses.'  It is uncertain whether Celsus even knew who Justin was.  What is clear however from an earlier reference is that he clearly acknowledged the existence of an 'acceptable' Christian assembly - presumably associated with this 'syntagma' or constitution.  Indeed if we look closely at the citations that immediately precede his citation of Justin's syntagma it is very significant that Origen makes explicit reference to Celsus's acknowledging of the acceptability of the 'great Church' presumably the source from which he quotes the syntagma.

It is noteworthy that Celsus begins by contemplating the heretical understanding of Jesus as an angel rather than a man.  In an extremely long citation he notes that Celsus writes the following:

Let us then pass over the refutations which might be adduced against the claims of their teacher, and let him be regarded as really an angel. But is he the first and only one who came (to men), or were there others before him? If they should say that he is the only one, they would be convicted of telling lies against themselves. For they assert that on many occasions others came, and sixty or seventy of them together, and that these became wicked, and were cast under the earth and punished with chains, and that from this source originate the warm springs, which are their tears; and, moreover, that there came an angel to the tomb of this said being--according to some, indeed, one, but according to others, two--who answered the women that he had arisen. For the Son of God could not himself, as it seems, open the tomb, but needed the help of another to roll away the stone. And again, on account of the pregnancy of Mary, there came an angel to the carpenter, and once more another angel, in order that they might take up the young Child and flee away (into Egypt). But what need is there to particularize everything, or to count up the number of angels said to have been sent to Moses, and others amongst them? If, then, others were sent, it is manifest that he also came from the same God. But he may be supposed to have the appearance of announcing something of greater importance (than those who preceded him), as if the Jews had been committing sin, or corrupting their religion, or doing deeds of impiety; for these things are obscurely hinted at. [Against Celsus 5.52]

Clearly then Celsus was writing at a time where there existed at least two different gospels and where each gospel was associated with a different tradition, thus serving Celsus's purpose of again emphasizing the disagreements which exist between the communities.

Indeed the very next line of Celsus's is actually only referenced in chapter 61 of Origen's response.  Celsus reportedly writes:

Let no one suppose that I am ignorant that some of them will concede that their God is the same as that of the Jews, while others will maintain that he is a different one, to whom the latter is in opposition, and that it was from the former that the Son came 

It is at this point that Celsus prepares to whip out Justin's Syntagma for just before Origen brings this up in chapter 59 of the same work he notes that Origen follows this statement up by continuing:

The Jews accordingly, and these (clearly meaning the Christians), have the same God" and as if advancing a proposition which would not be conceded, he proceeds to make the following assertion: "It is certain, indeed, that the members of the great Church admit this, and adopt as true the accounts regarding the creation of the world which are current among the Jews, viz., concerning the six days and the seventh

This reference to the 'great Church' or 'big Church' is of extreme significance especially as it immediately followed up by what we have determined to be certain citations of Justin's Syntagma.  Yet the implications of this discovery have yet to be thought through.

Celsus's work, as Origen notes, is principally directed against the heresies and in specific the Marcionites.  As Origen notes Celsus could not find any arguments against the Catholic Church.  Indeed this section in particular is clearly used to reinforce that Christians "give the same account. as do the Jews, and deduce the same genealogy from him as they do." However, as regards "the conspiracies of brothers against one another," we know of none such, save that Cain conspired against Abel, and Esau against Jacob; but not Abel against Cain, nor Jacob against Esau: for if this had been the case, Celsus would have been correct in saying that we give the same accounts as do the Jews of "the conspiracies of brothers against one another." Let it be granted, however, that we speak of the same descent into Egypt as they, and of their return thence, which was not a "flight," as Celsus considers it to have been, what does that avail towards founding an accusation against us or against the Jews?" [6.59]

In chapters 61 to the end of the book Celsus is shown to cite directly from the syntagma which is universally regarded as developing into Hippolytus's syntagma and then our Philosophumena.  Yet the context is clearly within an overall effort 'against the heresies' but specifically 'against Marcion.'  How curious then is almost the last sentence of Origen's citation of the True Word where he writes:

You must know, however, that Celsus had promised another treatise (ἄλλο σύνταγμα) as a sequel to this one, in which he engaged to supply practical rules of living to those who felt disposed to embrace his opinions.

Ἴσθι μέντοι ἐπαγγελλόμενον τὸν Κέλσον ἄλλο σύνταγμα μετὰ τοῦτο ποιήσειν,  ἐν ᾧ διδάξειν
ἐπηγγείλατο, ὅπῃ βιωτέον τοὺς βουλομένους αὐτῷ καὶ δυναμένους πείθεσθαι [8.76]

Clearly then, by the very testimony of Origen, the implication is that the True Word itself took the form of a syntagma.  Is it possible then that Justin never actually wrote the original syntagma but instead whatever work passed under this name no less than the fabled 'syntagma contra Marcionem' ultimately derived from this pagan critic?  This would certainly explain something that puzzled no less an authority than Henry Chadwick who noted how often Church Fathers employed ideas from Celsus against the heresies.

Irenaeus, Hippolytus and the rest of the early heresiologists would then be following in the footsteps of a non-believer in combating the 'dangerous' ideas of early Christianity.

Email stephan.h.huller@gmail.com with comments or questions.

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