Sunday, November 4, 2012

Proof that Clement of Alexandria was a Crypto-Marcionite [Part One]

Clement of Alexandria was a crypto-Marcionite - in other words, he pretended to be a member of the 'great Church' but he secretly perpetuated the original 'heretical' beliefs associated with his native see of Alexandria.  Those who have followed this blog know that I have been saying this for some time now.  Above all else, this explains the strange notion in the Letter to Theodore that the Alexandrian community used a longer, 'mystical' version of the gospel of Mark in a clandestine manner.  The author of the Philosophumena says the exact same thing about the Marcionites.

The notion that we can finally understand who the Marcionites were is a great idea in theory.  Nevertheless, like all great ideas, it requires a bald proof which could win over even a disinterested observer.  Yet there is a problem - what does most of the world know or care about Clement of Alexandria?  Probably less than nothing.  The situation is even worse with regards to Marcion and the  Marcionites.

The good news however for those of us who deeply care about the truth is that we still live in a literate culture by historical standards.  Most people in our world have the basic ability to read and at least some of those people are able to understand what they are reading.   As such, if people care to inquire about who Clement of Alexandria was and what he believed in, it is at least possible to convince them that he was a Marcionite through a single piece of evidence from his writings.

It is deeply significant that every Church Father from the time of Irenaeus acknowledges that Marcion was accused of 'dividing the godhead' in the manner - let's be honest - of the rabbinic tradition.  The clearest - and earliest - attempt to explain the 'heresy' of the Marcionite division of the godhead in Book Three of Irenaeus's Against Heresies (c. 190 CE):

Marcion, therefore, himself, by dividing God into two, maintaining one to be good and the other judicial, does in fact, on both sides, put an end to deity. For he that is the judicial one, if he be not good, is not God, because he from whom goodness is absent is no God at all; and again, he who is good, if he has no judicial power, suffers the same [loss] as the former, by being deprived of his character of deity. [AH 3.25.3]
As such even someone's mother here should be able to make out what the earliest authority says about Marcion and his beliefs.  Of course, it might take a Jew or someone with some passing knowledge of the rabbinic tradition or the writings of Philo of Alexandria to make the connection between Marcionite beliefs and Judaism.

Now let's move back to Clement of Alexandria.  If only a handful of people know anything about the ancient Jewish tradition, even less have any deep and abiding knowledge about Clement. Would any of these 'experts' identify the above cited Marcionite beliefs with our Alexandrian Church Father?  Probably not.  Nevertheless the Letter to Theodore demonstrates Clement as a wily character.  He deliberately withholds sacred knowledge from his reader.  There were truths which outsiders - such as ourselves - were not privy to know.

So how can we prove that Clement of Alexandria held this Marcionite belief in secret?  The answer is rather straightforward.  A scholar could go through the writings of Clement and develop a long and very boring dissertation  which no one would read and even less would find convincing.  After all, most scholars secretly acknowledge how much bullshit gets published in academia.  It has become a business of getting published and what gets published is often undeserving of any serious attention.

Nevertheless there are countless passages which make secret allusion to the Marcionite beliefs of Clement of Alexandria.  When I say 'secret' of course I mean, Clement nudges and winks to his initiated readership confirming what they already know.  The actual argument ends up sailing over the heads of the uninitiated such as members of contemporary scholarship such as evidenced by this statement in Book One of his Stromata:

It is essential, certainly, that the providence which manages all, be both supreme and good. For it is the power of both that dispenses salvation -- the one correcting by punishment, as supreme, the other showing kindness in the exercise of beneficence, as a benefactor. It is in your power not to be a son of disobedience, but to pass from darkness to life, and lending your ear to wisdom, to be the legal slave of God, in the first instance, and then to become a faithful servant, fearing the Lord God. And if one ascend higher, he is enrolled among the sons. But when "love (agape) covers the multitude of sins," by the consummation of the blessed hope, then may we welcome him as one who has been enriched in love, and received into the elect adoption, which is called the beloved of God, while he chants the prayer, saying, "Let the Lord be my God (γενέσθω μοι κύριος εἰς θεόν)."

δεῖ δὴ τὴν διοικοῦσαν πρόνοιαν κυρίαν τε εἶναι καὶ ἀγαθήν. ἀμφοῖν γὰρ ἡ δύναμις οἰκονομεῖ σωτηρίαν, ἣ μὲν κολάσει σωφρονίζουσα ὡς κυρία, ἣ δὲ δι' εὐποιίας χρηστευομένη ὡς εὐεργέτις. ἔξεστι δὲ μὴ εἶναι ἀπειθείας υἱόν, ἀλλὰ μεταβαίνειν ἐκ τοῦ σκότους εἰς ζωὴν καὶ παραθέντα τῇ σοφίᾳ τὴν ἀκοὴν νόμιμον εἶναι θεοῦ δοῦλον μὲν τὰ πρῶτα, ἔπειτα δὲ πιστὸν γενέσθαι θεράποντα, φοβούμενον κύριον τὸν θεόν, εἰ δέ τις ἐπαναβαίη, τοῖς υἱοῖς ἐγκαταλέγεσθαι, ἐπὰν δὲ ἀγάπη καλύψῃ πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν, μακαρίας ἐλπίδος τελείωσιν αὐξηθέντα ἐν ἀγάπῃ ἐκδέχεσθαι τοῦτον ἐγκαταταγέντα τῇ ἐκλεκτῇ υἱοθεσίᾳ τῇ φίλῃ κεκλημένῃ τοῦ θεοῦ, ᾄδοντα ἤδη τὴν εὐχὴν καὶ λέγοντα· γενέσθω μοι κύριος εἰς θεόν. [Clement Stromata 1.27.173]

The reference to the prayer 'let the Lord be my God' is of course an allusion to Genesis 28:21 LXX "καὶ ἀποστρέψῃ με μετὰ σωτηρίας εἰς τὸν οἶκον τοῦ πατρός μου καὶ ἔσται μοι κύριος εἰς θεόν."

There can be no question that this is scriptural passage that Clement has in mind.  It is confirmed by Otto Staehlin (STAEHLIN O., FRUECHTEL L., 3e éd., GCS 52 (1960) pour les livres 1-6 ; STAEHLIN O., FRUECHTEL L., TREU U., 2e éd., GCS 17 (1970), 3-102 pour les livres 7-8).  Yet what does it mean?  I will explain the entire mystical understanding that Clement is putting forward in my next post.  But it should be patently obvious to anyone who has any passing familiarity with the writings of the Church Fathers that this is the Marcionite understanding of 'redemption.'  In other words, whereas the Catholic tradition understands the initiate to be purchased from the Devil by God, the Marcionites had a similar formula which assumed 'the Good god' purchasing from the Lord of the Jews.

Of course every - and I mean every - scholarly attempt to explain the Marcionite system has utterly failed.  The difficulty is that no one can come up with a context to justify the Marcionite contention that there were two gods in the Pentateuch.  In other words, scholars take the reports of Church Fathers about the Marcionites which seek above all to make the claims look ridiculous entirely at face value.  The Marcionite view continues to look ridiculous because scholars can't find a soap to wash away all the hostile 'ink' that has been layered on top of the reports about the Marcionites.

The reality is however that Clement of Alexandria once again comes to our rescue.  Clement provides the link to understand Marcionitism by that one flippant allusion to Genesis 28:21 in a cryptic discussion of the initiation being passed from being a slave to a son of God likening it to being passed between two hands of God - one lordly, the other good' (κυρίαν τε εἶναι καὶ ἀγαθήν, see above).  Where did Clement develop his understanding of the Pentateuch?  Philo of Alexandria.  Any one reading this discussion in the Stromata should have thought to himself - I wonder what Philo taught about the meaning of Jacob's curious prayer in Genesis 28:21?  Clement couldn't tell us directly the secret meaning of the Christian rite so he through out the Scripture hoping his readership would go back to Philo.

As it turns out we are fortunate to have two allusions to the cryptic meaning of Genesis 28:21 in the writings of Philo and both of them confirm the great secret of both Clement's Alexandrian community and Marcionitism.  There are two gods in the world.  The one 'lordly' the other 'kind and good.'  Jacob's prayer is acknowledging that Christianity was essentially about being taken away from the 'lordly' god and becoming adopted by the 'good god.'  Judge for yourself Philo's explanation of Genesis 28:21 first in his work the Planting of Noah:

Having now, therefore, discussed the place sufficiently in which the tree flourishes, let us now, in conclusion, examine also the subject of the fruit:--Now, what the fruit is, Moses will tell us himself: "For the Lord God everlasting," says he, "called it by its Name." (Gen 21:33) Therefore the appellations already mentioned reveal the powers existing in the living God; for one title is that of Lord, according to which he governs; and the other is God, according to which he is beneficent. For which reason also, in the account of the creation of the world, according to the most holy Moses, the name of God is always assumed by him: for it was fitting that the power according to which the Creator, when he was bringing his creatures into the world, arranged and adorned them, should be invoked also by that creation.  Inasmuch, therefore, as he is a ruler, he has both powers, that, namely, of doing good, and that of doing harm; regulating his conduct on the principle of requiting him who has done anything. But inasmuch as he is a benefactor, he is inclined only to one of these two courses, namely, to do good.  And it would be the greatest possible advantage to the soul no longer to feel any doubt about the power of the King for both purposes, but steadily to emancipate itself from the fear, which is suspended over it, on account of the vastness of his authority, and to kindle and keep alive a most firm hope of the acquisition and enjoyment of blessings arising from his being beneficent by deliberate intention.  Now the expression, "everlasting God," is equivalent to, God who bestows gifts, not sometimes giving and sometimes not, but always and incessantly; it is equivalent to, God who does good uninterruptedly; to God who, without intermission, is connecting a flow of benefits, coming one after the other; God, who pours forth blessings upon blessings, who is made up of mercies connected and united; God, who never omits any single opportunity of doing good; God, who is also the Lord, so that he is able to injure.

This also Jacob, the practiser of virtue, asked at the end of his most holy prayers. For he said, "And the Lord shall be to me as God." Which is equivalent to: He will no longer display towards me the despotic power of his absolute authority, but rather the beneficent influence of his universally propitious and saving power, utterly removing the fear with which he is regarded as a master, and filling the soul with affection and benevolence as felt towards a benefactor.   What soul could ever conceive thus that the master and ruler of the universe, without changing anything of his own nature, but remaining in the condition in which he always was, is continually kind and uninterruptedly bounteous? owing to which he is, to those who are happy, the most perfect cause of unlimited and overflowing blessings. And to trust in a king who is not by reason of the magnitude of his authority elated so as to do injury to his subjects, but who, through his love to mankind, prefers that every one should enjoy happiness without fear, is the greatest possible bulwark of prosperity and security. [On the Planting of Noah 88 - 93]

There can be absolutely no doubt that when we go back to the original statement in Clement regarding the secret beliefs and practices of Christianity, that the religion of Jesus was in fact offering this 'redemption' insofar as initiates stopped having 'the Lord' as their God and were instead purchased by Jesus the Chrestos (= good, kind).

The very same idea is reinforced by another passage from Philo's On Dreams.  There are two powers being consistently referenced in the writings of Moses under the names of 'Lord' and 'God.'  Jacob's vision of a heavenly ladder is essentially a presage for St Paul's heavenly ascent and adoption by the 'Good God' at the expense of the 'Lord.'  As we read again in Philo:

But do not fancy that it is an accidental thing here for him to be called in this place the God and Lord of Abraham, but only the God of Isaac; for this latter is the symbol of the knowledge which exists by nature, which hears itself, and teaches itself, and learns of itself; but Abraham is the symbol of that which is derived from the teaching of others; and the one again is an indigenous and native inhabitant of his country, but the other is only a settler and a foreigner; for having forsaken the language of those who indulge in sublime conversations about astronomy, a language imitating that of the Chaldaeans, foreign and barbarous, he was brought over to that which was suited to a rational being, namely, to the service of the great Cause of all things. Now this disposition stands in need of two powers to take care of it, the power that is of authority, and that of conferring benefits, in order that in accordance with the authority of the governor, it may obey the admonitions which it receives, and also that it may be greatly benefited by his beneficence. But the other disposition stands in need of the power of beneficence only; for it has not derived any improvement from the authority which admonishes it, inasmuch as it naturally claims virtue as its own, but by reason of the bounty which is showered upon it from above, it was good and perfect from the beginning; therefore God is the name of the beneficent power, and Lord is the title of the royal power. What then can any one call a more ancient and important good, than to be thought worthy to meet with unmixed and unalloyed beneficence? And what can be less valuable than to receive a mixture of authority and liberality? And it appears to me that it was because the practiser of virtue saw that he uttered that most admirable prayer that, "the Lord might be to him as God;" (Gen 28:21) for he desired no longer to stand in awe of him as a governor, but to honour and love him as a benefactor. Now is it not fitting that even blind men should become sharpsighted in their minds to these and similar things, being endowed with the power of sight by the most sacred oracles, so as to be able to contemplate the glories of nature, and not to be limited to the mere understanding of the words? But even if we voluntarily close the eye of our soul and take no care to understand such mysteries, or if we are unable to look up to them, the hierophant himself stands by and prompts us. And do not thou ever cease through weariness to anoint thy eyes until you have introduced those who are duly initiated to the secret light of the sacred scriptures, and have displayed to them the hidden things therein contained, and their reality, which is invisible to those who are uninitiated.  It is becoming then for you to act thus; but as for ye, O souls, who have once tasted of divine love, as if you had even awakened from deep sleep, dissipate the mist that is before you; and hasten forward to that beautiful spectacle, putting aside slow and hesitating fear, in order to comprehend all the beautiful sounds and sights which the president of the games has prepared for your advantage. [On Dreams 1.161 - 165]

It is hard to read these passages in Philo and not believe that the Christian mysteries were directly taken over from the Jewish rites described by Philo here.  Indeed if we are going one step further, given the status that Philo had in the Alexandrian Christian community, it is tempting to even wonder whether these are Mark's homilies on the Pentateuch under a false name.  Perhaps that's going too far but it is still an intriguing possibility nevertheless.

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