Friday, November 23, 2012

The Most Likely Reason Why Polycarp Was Called 'Sabellius'

Many of the names of individual heresiarchs were developed by back formation. Ebion of the Ebionites, Elxai of the Elchasites and - according to me at least - Marcion. It should come to no one's surprise that I will make the case that the name was developed from a known early group. I have already discussed Celsus's reference to the Σιβυλλιστάς. I also long ago wrote a quick paper on Polycarp's identity as Peregrinus from Lucian's satire which I now think I will have to rework somewhat to make it reflective of 'serious scholarship.'  I have linked to it here.

I was reading Lightfoot's book on Ignatius when I noticed he made note of the fact that the followers of Peregrinus (or a certain Cynic philosopher named Theagenes) used the Sibyl to prove the divinity of their master.  I cite Lucian's reference in full:

Theagenes, as I have been told by one of my friends, recently said that the Sibyl had made a prediction about all this, in fact, he quoted the verses from memory:

But when the time shall come that Proteus, noblest of Cynics,
Kindleth fire in the precinct of Zeus, our Lord of the Thunder,
Leapeth into the flame, and cometh to lofty Olympus,
Then do I bid all alike who eat the fruit of the ploughland
Honour to pay unto him that walketh abroad in the night-time,
Greatest of spirits, thronéd with Heracles and Hephaestus.

“That is what Theagenes alleges he heard from the Sibyl. “That is what Theagenes alleges he heard from the Sibyl. But I will quote him one of the oracles of Bacis (i.e. a convenient tag for a spurious oracle) dealing with these matters.  Bacis expresses himself as follows, with a very excellent moral:

Nay, when the time shall come that a Cynic with names that are many
Leaps into roaring flame, soul stirred by a passion for glory,
Then it is meet that the others, the jackals that follow his footsteps,
Mimic the latter end of the wolf that has taken departure.
But if a dastard among them shall shun the might of Hephaestus,
Let him be pelted with stones forthwith by all the Achaeans,
Learning, the frigid fool, to abjure all fiery speeches,
He that has laden his wallet with gold by the taking of usance,
Thrice five talents he owns in the lovely city of Patras.

 What do you think, gentlemen? That Bacis is a worse soothsayer than the Sibyl? It is high time, then, for these wondrous followers of Proteus to look about for a place in which to aerify themselves—for that is the name they give to cremation. [Passing of Peregrinus 28 - 30]

I think this is the most straightforward explanation to the name 'Sabellian.'  Already Origen identifies a connection with the Σιβυλλα.  Even without my additional steps to identify this 'fiery one' with Polycarp, Lightfoot already connects the letters of Peregrinus mentioned by Lucian with the epistles of Ignatius (a name once again which also means 'fiery one').

The Sabellianisms in Ignatius then are clearly owing to the fact that Ignatius (= Polycarp) is Sabellius (= the 'fiery martyr' allegedly prophesied by the Sybil a fact prominently witnessed by his followers hence their name the Σιβυλλιστάς.  I am satisfied with this.

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