Thursday, November 22, 2012

The 'Third Race' of Sabellianism

It is important to note that it is difficult to know for certain what Celsus actually wrote.  Most of the time - it seems at least - Origen is quoting material in the order the appeared on the page before him.  But there are clear times where he is not citing things in order (the material that opens the first book for instance).  Nevertheless half the fun of reading ancient books is figuring them out and we have here what some might call the ultimate puzzle with respect to his reference to the Sibullians (Σιβυλλιστάς).

I want to draw the readers attention to the fact that the narrative (see previous post) in what immediately precedes Celsus's reference to the Sibullians is really an attack against the claim of many Christians that they venerate a previously unknown God.  Celsus begins by noting that 'Judaism' has to be tolerated because it is a well established religion.  The Jews worship in a way unique to their ancestors and the Roman state must accept the will of the 'superintending spirits' which established this particular religion.  Christianity on the other hand is chastised for venerating 'an angel' which came down from heaven to reveal this 'unknown God' - the Father.  This religion is a novelty which has no tradition behind it and so has none of the protection afforded 'Judaism.'

The reason this background is necessary is because Celsus - after ridiculing its claims about the 'unknown' Father - goes on to emphasize that the only form of Christian worship which should be tolerated in the Empire are those Christians who will acknowledge the god of the Jews.  It sounds like a strange argument at first because we are so used to thinking of Jews - not Christians - being hated by European civilization.  Yet it is clear that the Roman authorities were ruling a large body of non-European people.  They may have been naturally predisposed in favor of the Greeks owing to their common linguistic and cultural heritage.  It is important to note that Celsus is clearly developing something of a 'legal precedent' for what forms of Christianity were to be deemed as acceptable (even though his True Word is not strictly speaking a legal text).

The argument develops with an initial acknowledgement that the 'great Church' (or perhaps 'the big assembly') of Christians do indeed acknowledge that their god is the same as the Jews.  So what's the problem, you might ask?  Clearly Celsus's beef is with the 'secret practices' of Christians - i.e. what they do behind close doors, in secret assemblies and mystery rites.  This is clear from the first book where he distinguishes between two types of voluntary associations - "some are public, and that these are in accordance with the laws; others, again, secret, and maintained in violation of the laws."  Origen makes clear Celsus is referencing "the 'love-feasts ' of the Christians, as if they had their origin in the common danger, and were more binding than any oaths.

I don't believe that Celsus is making reference to the existence of specific laws against Christianity at the time he was writing.  What he is saying instead - and this is very important - is that Christians should be punished because they are a voluntary association which meets in secret and, as Origen notes, Celsus proceeds "to speak of the Christians teaching and practising their favourite doctrines in secret, and saying that they do this to,some purpose, seeing they escape the penalty of death which is imminent."  In other words, they should be punished because by being a secret voluntary association they are engaging in a capital offense.

It is my belief then that the reason why Origen felt compelled to answer Celsus's original objections is because the True Word was partly responsible for the justification of the slaughter of Christians.  In other words - to put it plainly - Celsus said that Christians should be punished because they engage in secret rituals contrary to the law and this prompted the authorities to take a second look at the religion and ultimately punish many of its members.  To this end, when we see the familiar list of heretical groups written originally in Latin and translated into Greek which make their way into the writings of Justin and Hegesippus - Celsus must have written before these lists were assembled.  He was in point, the inspiration for making this list in the first place.

The basis for the prohibition placed of the various sects was of course that they were deemed to be voluntary associations which met in secret.  This is very important.  For when we see Irenaeus and the other Church Fathers pick up the attack and assume that the various 'heresies' are reprobates the real 'demonizing' of the various sects was already established by Celsus and the Roman authorities.  It wasn't Christianity per se that was being outlawed by the government but specific groups within the fold.

The truth is that we have no idea when these various Christian 'philosophical sects' (hence the name 'heresies') were effectively outlawed.  It would seem however that this must have taken place after Celsus wrote his True Word.  Yet the True Word helps us clearly understand what was the basis for being 'exempt' from persecution - willingness to accept the god of the Jews as the 'Christian god.'  This explains why most of the known 'martyrs' of the Commodian period for instance seem to have some association with heresy.  The Scillitan martyrs for instance confess that they are in the possession of 'books of Paul.' There are also countless Alexandrian martyrs beginning from the Commodian period.

The question which determined 'heresy' (or perhaps better 'belonging to an unwelcomed Christian sectarian affiliation') was whether an individual acknowledged worshiping the Jewish god or if you will 'the ruler of the world.'  One can imagine at least that this situation evolved (or devolved as it were) into a question of swearing by the oath of Caesar.  But the original question seems to have been posed by Celsus - and that is, how can the Christians expect to have protected status as a religion if they are a voluntary association which meets in secret and worships another divinity other than the 'god of the Jews' whose religion - 'Judaism' - is an accepted form of worship in the Empire?

To this end, it is very tempting to date the development of the concept of 'heresy' in Christianity to the Antonine period.  Hadrian was an individual who relished in mystery rites of all sorts.  It is hard to imagine him coming down hard on 'secret' voluntary associations.  Antoninus Pius on the other hand was far more conservative and more importantly ruled in a period where Judaism itself was being effectively reconstituted. While it is difficult to point to specific textual evidence to 'map out' the reshaping of Judaism, the frequent reference to 'Antoninus' in the rabbinic literature and the influence he had on 'R. Judah' is sufficient at least accept the idea at least in theory.

It is here that Basil provides us with an important clue to understand Sabellianism - a sectarian association which is unmentioned in any of the early heresiologists (Justin, Hegesippus and Irenaeus) and even when it is mentioned by Hippolytus it is not categorized as a heretical group."Sabellianism is Judaism imported into the preaching of the Gospel," writes Basil "the same God transformed as the need of the moment required" (Letter 210; compare Letters 189 and 236).  This is a critical observation because it dovetails with a similar tendency in Hippolytus reporting about the Noetians (= the followers of Noetus a related sect).

It is important to note that Judaism wasn't always centered on the veneration of a single power.  The writings of Philo and the testimonies of the earliest rabbinic authorities on the 'two powers in heaven' doctrine within Judaism make that perfectly clear.  Rather we should see that there was a conscious effort perhaps to favor those within Christianity who would venerate a single power and thus abandon the traditional belief as it were of a 'known god' and a greater unknown power only revealed by Jesus.

It is impossible to know anything definitively about Christianity before the third century.  Nevertheless there are clear signs that by the reign of bishop Victor of Rome things were certainly changing within the Church.  As Peter Lampe points out for us, it is at this time that the status of the Valentinians was certainly changing.  What's more we have to imagine that it was in this age that Irenaeus - a noted 'Sabellian' for lack of a better term - was certainly extraordinarily influential.  What is often ignored with respect to the testimony of the Philosophumena is that it makes clear both Zephyrinus and Callistus were Sabellians too.

Indeed it is impossible any longer to ignore the reality that for Dionysius of Alexandria and most of the witnesses who follow him - Sabellianism was associated with Rome.  Of course we shouldn't take this to mean that the Roman Church began as a Sabellian institution.   Instead we should think in terms of the effect that generations of Roman authorities were having on the churches outside of Rome.  They were emphasizing a 'monarchy' in heaven and were acting like a monarchy (i.e. 'one rule') here on earth.

With this tentative framework in mind it is interesting to go back to the statement made by Celsus - either at the end of the Antonine period (155 - 160 CE) or the end of the rule of his son Marcus Aurelius (177 - 180 CE) regarding what was appropriate for Christians to believe.  We read Origen begin his reporting at the start of chapter 62 of the Fifth Book of Against Celsus:

After the above remarks he (Celsus) proceeds as follows:

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 (Μή με οἰηθῇ τις ἀγνοεῖν, ὡς οἱ μὲν αὐτῶν συνθήσονται τὸν αὐτὸν εἶναι σφίσιν ὅνπερ Ἰουδαίοις θεόν,  οἱ δ'  ἄλλον,  ᾧ τοῦτον ἐναντίον,  παρ'ἐκείνου τε ἐλθεῖν τὸν υἱόν)

Now, if he imagine that the existence of numerous heresies among the Christians is a ground of accusation against Christianity, why, in a similar way, should it not be a ground of accusation against philosophy, that the various sects of philosophers differ from each other, not on small and indifferent points, but upon those of the highest importance? Nay, medicine also ought to be a subject of attack, on account of its many conflicting schools. Let it be admitted, then, that there are amongst us some who deny that our God is the same as that of the Jews: nevertheless, on that account those are not to be blamed who prove from the same Scriptures that one and the same Deity is the God of the Jews and of the Gentiles alike, as Paul, too, distinctly says, who was a convert from Judaism to Christianity, "I thank my God, whom I serve from my forefathers with a pure conscience." And let it be admitted also, that:

there is a third class who call certain persons "carnal," and others "spiritual," (καὶ τρίτον γένος τῶν ὀνομαζόντων ψυχικούς τινας καὶ πνευματικοὺς ἑτέρους)

I think he here means the followers of Valentinus,--yet what does this avail against us, who belong to the Church, and who make it an accusation against such as

hold that certain natures are saved, and that others perish in consequence of their natural constitution (τῶν εἰσαγόντων φύσεις ἐκ κατασκευῆς σῳζομένας ἢ ἐκ κατασκευῆς ἀπολλυμένας)

And let it be admitted further, that there are some

who give themselves out as Gnostics (καὶ ἐπαγγελλόμενοι εἶναι Γνωστικοί),

in the same way as those Epicureans who call themselves philosophers: yet neither will they who annihilate the doctrine of providence be deemed true philosophers, nor those true Christians who introduce monstrous inventions, which are disapproved of by those who are the disciples of Jesus. Let it be admitted, moreover, that there are some:

who accept Jesus, and who boast on that account of being Christians, and yet would regulate their lives, like the Jewish multitude, in accordance with the Jewish law (καὶ τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἀποδεχόμενοι ὡς παρὰ τοῦτο Χριστιανοὶ εἶναι αὐχοῦντες,  ἔτι δὲ καὶ κατὰ τὸν Ἰουδαίων νόμον ὡς τὰ Ἰουδαίων πλήθη βιοῦν ἐθέλοντες)

and these are the twofold sect of Ebionites, who either acknowledge with us that Jesus was born of a virgin, or deny this, and maintain that He was begotten like other human beings,--what does that avail by way of charge against such as belong to the Church, and whom Celsus has styled "those of the multitude?" He adds, also, that

are Sibullians (εἶναι καὶ Σιβυλλιστάς),

having probably misunderstood some who blamed such as believed in the existence of a prophetic Sibyl, and termed those who held this belief Sibyllists (γεγονέναι τὴν Σίβυλλαν καὶ Σιβυλλιστὰς).

He next pours down upon us a heap of names, saying that he knows of the existence of certain Simonians who worship Helene, or Helenus, as their teacher, and are called Helenians ...

The important point to see again is that the argument is being framed by Celsus in terms of - who should Christians believe the Father to be?  The Marcionites for instance clearly believed he was an unknown divinity - not the property of 'Judaism' at all but a 'separate God' (to channel Simone Pétrement).   Celsus's point again is to say effectively - the Christians can't have a god of their own.  They have to worship the Jewish god in order to enjoy the protection to practice their religion.

I don't think Celsus is being honest here when he says the Marcionites simply said that the Son came from the unknown Father.  I suspect that they believed that the Son was in fact the 'god of Jews' and thus his 'inferiority' was a temporary thing.  His death necessarily 'sublimated' his being through the power of repentance, but that is a whole other discussion.  But our point here however is not to go off on other tangents but to simply ask the question - what is Celsus saying here and when did he say it?

Perhaps the most intriguing question is what follows the first two 'classes' of Christians - i.e. those who "concede that their God is the same as that of the Jews" and those who "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."     What is often ignored here is the fact that only in the second class of Christians is the idea of a 'divine Son' put forward.  There are Christians who concede with the Jews that their god is the same and then there are - what is clearly the Marcionites - who hold that it is different.  Then - and this is absolutely critical - Celsus suddenly changes and introduces a "third race" (τρίτον γένος) "who call certain persons 'carnal,' and others 'spiritual'" and who "hold that certain natures are saved, and that others perish in consequence of their natural constitution."  

I have looked at this reference for some time and I always took note of the reference to the 'third class' noting that no 'first,' 'second' or 'fourth' class for that matter is ever mentioned.  My assumption, no different than anyone else's I suppose, was that the first two classes were that of the Christians who "concede that their God is the same as that of the Jews" and those who "will maintain that he is a different one."  But this is plainly wrong because it ignores the greater context of the whole section.

As we noted 'the Son' - i.e. a divine hypostasis - is only associated with the second group who are clearly one and the same with the Christians who identify Jesus as an angel who was too weak to move the stone of the tomb.  Yet if we go back to that section we see that specific term 'second' is used, making clear that the reference to the 'third race' is tied to the greater narrative.  Back in chapter 33 Celsus says after ending his brief discussion of the 'Jewish race' that:

Let the second come forward (Ἴτω δὲ ὁ δεύτερος) and I shall ask them whence they come, and whom they regard as the originator of their ancestral customs. They will reply, No one, because they spring from the same source as the Jews themselves, and derive their instruction and superintendence from no other quarter, and notwithstanding they have revolted from the Jews.

It is unmistakable now that the argument before the 'bringing forward' of the 'second race' is identical with the words used (and cited above) before bringing forward the 'third race' "who call certain persons 'carnal,' and others 'spiritual'" and who "hold that certain natures are saved, and that others perish in consequence of their natural constitution."  

The 'first race' are the Jews who 'became a distinct people' after the Exodus.  The 'second' is 'the Christian race' (τὸ Χριστιανῶν γένος cf. 3.53).  These rebelled from the Jews and now deny that they have the same god.  While it makes sense that Celsus should speak of two races - i.e. the Christians and the Jews (cf. 4.23 Μετὰ ταῦτα συνήθως ἑαυτῷ γελῶν τὸ Ἰουδαίων καὶ Χριστιανῶν γένος) most people will be somewhat surprised to learn about his 'third race.'  They certainly sound like Valentinians - and Origen makes the connection while making clear that Celsus never uses the exact terminology.

The point here is that it is impossible to believe that this is some casual reference to a 'third race' because all that follows in the reference - i.e. those "who call certain persons 'carnal,' and others 'spiritual'" and who "hold that certain natures are saved, and that others perish in consequence of their natural constitution" are explicitly referenced a little earlier in the same chapter.  At the beginning of this section Origen quotes Celsus as saying:

It is folly on their part to suppose that when God, as if He were a cook, introduces the fire which is to consume the world, all the rest of the human race will be burnt up ( τὸ μὲν ἄλλο πᾶν ἐξοπτήσεσθαι γένος), while they alone will remain, not only such of them as are then alive [emphasis mine], but also those who are long since dead(5.14)

In other words, this is not some casual reference to a 'third race' but a group which is very different from the Marcionites, who do not believe in the bodily resurrection.  Instead this group believes that its 'physical constitution' (i.e. some change having apparently come over their bodies) is impervious to fire.

To this end, I cannot believe any longer that Origen's separate references to characteristics associated with this 'third race' in 5.62 are utterly disconnected.  Everything that appears after the reference to the 'third race' down to Origen's description of Celsus 'next pouring down upon us a heap of names' of sectarian groups belong to the one group called 'Sibullians' in other words that the 'third race' are those

who call certain persons 'carnal,' and others 'spiritual,' hold that certain natures are saved, and that others perish in consequence of their natural constitution, who give themselves out as Gnostics, who accept Jesus, and who boast on that account of being Christians, and yet would regulate their lives, like the Jewish multitude, in accordance with the Jewish law are called Sibullians (εἶναι καὶ Σιβυλλιστάς),

The dividing line is clearly that only after the reference to the 'Sibullians' does Origen say that a 'heap of names' appears.  In other words, the Sibullians are not part of that 'heap of names.'  They are a group fleshed out by Celsus and undoubtedly pertaining to the information which preceded.  

All that Origen can say about the 'Sibullians' is that Clesus 'having probably misunderstood some who blamed such as believed in the existence of a prophetic Sibyl, and termed those who held this belief Sibyllists (γεγονέναι τὴν Σίβυλλαν καὶ Σιβυλλιστὰς).  But this is a mere guess and one which may be quite tactical.  For it is Origen's point a little earlier that when Celsus makes reference to the 'great Church' he means 'the Catholic Church.'  This may well be true but it apparently took some 'straightening out' for it to get in the form where it no longer referred to classes of people as 'carnal' and 'spiritual' (terminologies shared by not only the Valentinians but also the Montanists), who give themselves out as gnostics (used by Clement and the Alexandrian tradition), who are Christians but have an attachment to the Law (compare Ptolemy's letter to Flora).

In other words, it were the Sabellians who represented the alternative to Marcionitism depreciation of the Jewish god and Jewish Law.  Celsus clearly identified this tradition as 'the great Church' but it was the Church that Origen and the rest of us think of when we think of the Catholic tradition.  I think Markschies observation about 'monarchian Valentinians' being undeservedly identified as Dualists or people who believed in multiple principles is the beginning of the solution (cf. Markschies 'Gnosis (2002) 179 - 191.) Specifically I am thinking of Polycarp's disciple Florinus whose beliefs are identified as follows in Agapius's Chronicle:

Then at Rome appeared another heresiarch named Florinus, who was a priest. He was the object of public indignation and was deposed from the priesthood. Then he left the church, full of anger, and attracted some disciples. He said that there were three divine beings who agreed among themselves: one of them was established on high, the second below him, in the middle, and the third below the latter, at the bottom. Each of the last two honours, respects and considers as superior to himself those above him. The god which is in the middle calls the god who is above him the Father; and the god at the bottom likewise gives the name of Father to him who is above him, so that each of them is like the Son to him that is above him. Together they created the world. (In the beginning) they formed and created a subtle substance; then they created man and placed him in the region located between heaven and earth; they embellished this location with fires and lights, making for him a paradise where they planted different species of pleasant trees, and established him in the newly created world. A certain angel, seeing this, envied the man; without the permission of the gods he came down and established himself with a certain number of his companions. He set himself to oppose the man and wanted to expel him from paradise; and he didn't stop opposing him and fighting him until he was expelled from it; then he possessed himself of Paradise. The man multiplied and his descendants were numerous; but they were unable to return to Paradise. When the gods saw this, they sent to him someone to get him to return to his place, and so that the man and his posterity might reenter Paradise; but (the angel) refused to do it. Then the gods were annoyed with the angel and his companions. Then the bottom god was himself entrusted with it. By a ruse he transformed himself into a man and appeared before Satan who was disobedient and before his companions; he didn't stop fighting against them until he expelled them from Paradise and had restored the first man to his place. Florinus denied the resurrection of the dead. Apart from that, he advanced some impious propositions which he had put forward.

I have always said that Irenaeus's claim to preserve the true teaching of Polycarp is suspect because of the intimacy of Florinus.  I hope the reader is beginning to see that Irenaeus did little more than 'clean up' Sabellianism.  Note also that the Ziqnun speaks of three hypostasis in relation to Sabellius and more over Michael the Syrian and bar Hebraeus invoke Valentinus.

Clearly then what I think we are looking at is an explanation why 'Valentinians' were tolerated at Rome until Irenaeus, why 'Against the Valentinians' begins Against Heresies Book One even though the sect is not the earliest etc.  The solution to this dilemma is that Christianity at Rome transformed in stages.  The bottom line is that in between the time that the Marcionites were rejected and the orthodoxy of Irenaeus was being established the influence of Polycarp was being felt through his student Florinus.  While it is said that he was a 'Valentinian' I think he was merely preserving the Sabellian beliefs of his master in a 'less purified' way than what we see in the writings of Irenaeus.

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