Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Third Parallel to Our Centonized Epistle in Clement's Alexandrian Community

It is Christmas and on the very week that people busy themselves with buying gifts, I feel I have been given one of the greatest gift of all - an original idea.  Before I knew the joys of fatherhood, I only knew the hope of 'ideahood.'  Through all of my travails and all my experiences, I was aware of my own mortality and longed to receive something - well - that made me feel that I was special.  That is really what it all comes down to, isn't it?  The world tells the essentially weak and inferior intellectual personality everyday - you are not special.  Someone else will make all the money.  Some one else will get all the pretty women.

What the weak and inferior intellectual type consoles himself with from a very young age is that he will give birth to an idea and he will live forever through it.  Indeed, we triumph over the superior physicality of the animal man - no, we hope to crush, destroy and ground into the dust the earthly man - by transforming ourselves into something ethereal.

The great idea that I was given this week was recognizing the possibility that the Epistles of Paul were centonized.  What is a cento?  A cento is a kind of poem where individual passages from a literary work were rearranged into a different order to produce a different meaning.  Irenaeus (and later Tertullian) argues that the heretics did this our canon.  They - metaphorically speaking - are accused of taking a mosaic where a collection of stones took on the form of a king and shifted them to make the image of a fox.

But I think the process was the other way around.  Irenaeus himself demonstrates himself to be quite adept at manufacturing centos.  I think he took the original shape of the Pauline canon in the hands of the Marcionites and the Egyptian Church of Clement of Alexandria and by not only shifting around many passages and re-carving the individual epistles established our familiar canon.

The passage I have been focusing on in Book Three of his Stromata is critical.  In that book Clement tells us that he and the heretics share a common gospel written by or in the hands of Paul but that the heretics interpret it incorrectly.  In the section that follows, he brings forward what appear to be a string of citations from Romans as well as other epistles that I no longer believe are a random citation of 'scripture.'  Instead what we have in front of us is a surviving remnant of a lost epistle of Paul.

It makes no sense that both parties could agree that Paul is making reference to their common gospel in the equivalent of Romans chapter 7 and then Clement attacks them for misinterpreting Paul's exegesis here by throwing in bits and pieces from other epistles - some not even written by the apostle.  Instead I think that if we look at contemporary writers we can begin to see the survival of references to this lost 'cento' epistle.

I have already gone line by line through the critical section of text.  I have mentioned two examples of parallels to the word, phrase and specific scripture order in Tertullian's Against Marcion and the writings of an otherwise obscure Church Father named Methodius.  Now I want to move down and present yet another parallel line pairing from the Stromata, the section here emboldened:

That is why Paul too speaks strongly against a similar group to those mentioned in the words, "Beloved, you possess these promises. Let us purify our hearts from everything which might stain flesh or spirit, aiming at the goal of holiness in the fear of God. My zeal for you is God’s zeal. I betrothed you to Christ, with a view to presenting a chaste virgin to her one and only husband." (2 Cor 7.1; 2 Cor 11.2) The Church has obtained her bridegroom; she cannot marry another. But each of us has the right to marry, within the law, the woman of our choice. I am speaking of first marriage. "But as the serpent in his wicked cunning deceived Eve, I am afraid that your thoughts may be corrupted so that you lose your singlehearted devotion to Christ." (2 Cor 11.3) The Apostle’s words are very cautious and instructive. So that admirable man Peter says, "Beloved, I urge you, as temporary residents in an alien land, to abstain from physical desires. They are marshalled against your soul. See that your behavior is such that the pagans can look up to you. This is God’s will. You are to muzzle the activity of those without understanding by the quality of your actions. Live as free people, not as though your freedom were a cover-up for vice, but as slaves in God’s service." (1 Pet 2.11-12, 15-16) Similarly, in his Epistle to the Romans, Paul writes: "We are dead to sin: how can we continue to live in it? Our old humanity was crucified with him, so as to destroy the very body of sin" down to "Do not present the parts of your body to sin to be instruments of vice." (Rom 6.2, 6, 13) At this point, I think that I ought not to leave on one side without comment the fact that the Apostle preaches the same God whether through the Law, the prophets, or the gospel. For in his letter to the Romans he attributes to the Law the words "You shall not lust" which in fact appear in the text of the gospel. He does so in the knowledge that it is one single person who makes his decrees through the Law and the prophets, and is the subject of the gospel’s proclamation. He (Paul) says, "What shall we say? Is the Law sin? Of course not. But I did not know sin except through the Law. I did not know lust, except that the Law said, ‘You shall not lust.’" (Rom 7.7) If the heretics who assail the creator suppose that Paul was speaking against him in the words that follow: "I know that nothing good lodges in me, in my flesh, that is to say," (Rom 7:18) they had better read the words which precede and come after these. He has just said, "Sin lodges in me," which makes it appropriate to go on to, "Nothing good lodges in my flesh." (Rom 7:17 - 18) On top of this he continues, "If I act contrary to my will, the effect is not mine but the effect of sin lodging in me," which, he says, "is at war with" God’s "Law and my own reason and takes me prisoner under the Law of sin which is in my very bones. What a wretched man I am. Who will rescue me from this body which is doomed to death?" (Rom 7.20, 23-4) Once again, since he never remotely gets tired of doing good, he does not hesitate to add, "The Law of the Spirit has freed me from the Law of sin and death," since through his Son "God has pronounced judgment upon sin in the flesh so that the Law’s ordinance might find fulfillment in us, whose lives are governed by the Spirit not by the flesh." (Rom 8.2-4) ... So again he attacks the hedonists and adds, "The object of the flesh is death, since those whose lives are governed by the flesh follow the flesh in their objectives; and the object of the flesh is hostility to God, for it is not subject to God’s Law. Those who live on the level of flesh cannot please God" should not be understood as some people lay down, but as I have already argued. Then in distinction from these people, he addresses the Church. "You are not living by the flesh but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God is dwelling in you. Anyone without Christ’s Spirit is not of him. But if Christ is in you, then your body is a dead thing because of sin, but the Spirit is life through righteousness. So, brothers, we are in debt. Not to the flesh, to follow it in our lives; for if you follow the flesh in the way you live, you are on the way to death. But if by the Spirit you put to death the practices of the body, you will live. For all who are guided by God’s Spirit are sons of God."

Clement brings forward Romans 6:2, then Romans 6:6 and then Romans 6:13.  In between Romans 6:6 and 6:13 there is a word - ἕως - which leaves the question open as to how much text is missing here.  I think the answer is to be found in Tertullian's Resurrection of the Flesh which connects 6:6 to 6:13 quite directly:

It will be this worldly living which he calls the old man, who he says was crucified together with Christ, (Romans 6:6) not a corporal constitution but a moral character. Otherwise, if we do not so take it, our corporal constitution has not been crucified together, nor has our flesh suffered the cross of Christ; but as he has added, That the body of transgression may be made void, (ibid) by amendment of life, not by destruction of its substance, even so he says, That henceforth we may not be in bondage to transgression, so that, having on this reckoning also died together with Christ, we may believe that we shall also be alive along with him. For he says, Even so ye, reckon ye yourselves dead indeed: (cf. Romans 6:11) to what? to the flesh? No, but to transgression. Consequently they will be saved to the flesh, but alive to God in Christ Jesus, by means of the flesh surely to which they will not be dead, seeing they are dead to transgression, not to the flesh. For he adds yet once more, Let not therefore transgression reign in your mortal body for you to obey it and to present your members to transgression as weapons of unrighteousness: but present yourselves to God as those that are alive from the dead (Romans 6:13)----not 'as those alive' but 'as those alive from the dead'----and your members as weapons of righteousness. (Resurrection of the Flesh 47)
I think we are getting very close to developing a respectable theory here.  Just a matter of waiting here.

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

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