Tuesday, December 18, 2012

It Wasn't Just the Heretical Gospel Which Appeared 'Centonized'

I have to admit I was only aware of Irenaeus's account of a 'centonized' heretical gospel.  A cento poem is a poetical work wholly composed of verses or passages taken from other authors; only disposed in a new form or order.  They were very popular in antiquity and as it turns out Irenaeus (via Tertullian, Prescription Against All Heretics) also argued that the heretics 'rearranged' the various verses of the Pauline letters to into a new mosaic.  We read:

Where diversity of doctrine is found, there, then, must the corruption both of the Scriptures and the expositions thereof be regarded as existing. On those whose purpose it was to teach differently, lay the necessity of differently arranging the instruments of doctrine. They could not possibly have effected their diversity of teaching in any other way than by having a difference in the means whereby they taught. As in their case, corruption in doctrine could not possibly have succeeded without a corruption also of its instruments, so to ourselves also integrity of doctrine could not have accrued, without integrity in those means by which doctrine is managed.

Now, what is there in our Scriptures which is contrary to us? What of our own have we introduced, that we should have to take it away again, or else add to it, or alter it, in order to restore to its natural soundness anything which is contrary to it, and contained in the Scriptures? What we are ourselves, that also the Scriptures are (and have been) from the beginning. Of them we have our being, before there was any other way, before they were interpolated by you.

Now, inasmuch as all interpolation must be believed to be a later process, for the express reason that it proceeds from rivalry which is never in any case previous to nor home-born with that which it emulates, it is as incredible to every man of sense that we should seem to have introduced any corrupt text into the Scriptures, existing, as we have been, from the very first, and being the first, as it is that they have not in fact introduced it who are both later in date and opposed (to the Scriptures). One man perverts the Scriptures with his hand, another their meaning by his exposition.

For although Valentinus seems to use the entire volume (of the Catholic scriptures), he has none the less laid violent hands on the truth only with a more cunning mind and skill than Marcion. Marcion expressly and openly used the knife, not the pen, since he made such an excision of the Scriptures as suited his own subject-matter. Valentinus, however, abstained from such excision, because he did not invent Scriptures to square with his own subject-matter, but adapted his matter to the Scriptures; and yet he took away more, and added more, by removing the proper meaning of every particular word, and adding fantastic arrangements of things which have no real existence.

These were the ingenious arts of "spiritual wickednesses," (Eph 6:12) wherewith we also, my brethren, may fairly expect to have to wrestle, as necessary for faith, that the elect may be made manifest, (and) that the reprobate may be discovered. And therefore they possess influence, and a facility in thinking out and fabricating errors, which ought not to be wondered at as if it were a difficult and inexplicable process, seeing that in profane writings also an example comes ready to hand of a similar facility.

You see in our own day, composed out of Virgil, a story of a wholly different character, the subject-matter being arranged according to the verse, and the verse according to the subject-matter. In short, Hosidius Geta has most completely pilfered his tragedy of Medea from Virgil. A near relative of my own, among some leisure productions of his pen, has composed out of the same poet The Table of Cebes. On the same principle, those poetasters are commonly called Homerocentones, collectors of Homeric odds and ends, who stitch into one piece, patchwork fashion, works of their own from the lines of Homer, out of many scraps put together from this passage and from that (in miscellaneous confusion).

Now, unquestionably, the Divine Scriptures are more fruitful in resources of all kinds for this sort of facility. Nor do I risk contradiction in saying that the very Scriptures were even arranged by the will of God in such a manner as to furnish materials for heretics, inasmuch as I read that there must be heresies, (1 Corinthians 11:19) which there cannot be without the Scriptures. (Prescription 39 - 41)

I don't take away from this discussion that only Valentinians engaged in the 'centonizing' of scripture.  Rather Tertullian is only getting his information from Irenaeus and Irenaeus attacks only the Valentinians with this accusation.  Indeed when we go back to that passage in Against Hersies, it is surprising to see how vague Irenaeus's original charge really was.  He doesn't say that this 'centonizing' was limited to the gospel.  No, it would appear instead that the Pauline epistles would have to be included in the material where passages were massively rearranged.

The facts are that Irenaeus devotes most of his energies against the Valentinians because Florinus was his great rival in Rome.  This in no way should limit our understanding of centonized material among the heretics. There was a different argument traditionally developed against the Marcionites.  They are said to have 'cut out' things from a commonly held gospel.  Yet this original treatise might not have been originally written by Irenaeus.  The most likely candidate instead was Theophilus of Antioch and the original arguments were such that they made the case the Marcionite 'cut things' from a commonly held Diatessaron-like gospel.  Irenaeus merely adapted those original arguments (and that original text) according to a new paradigm - the Marcionites corrupted the newly minted gospel of Luke.

It should be noted again that this doesn't mean that the Marcionite gospel and Apostolikon wouldn't have appeared 'centonized' - or, had passages in a completely different order and rearranged.  The commonly-held Diatessaron of the earlier period likely had a very different order to the narrative (compare the gospel used by the community that composed the Epistle to the Apostles).  Instead we should see that the very term 'Marcionite' was something of a red herring.  Whatever the term was supposed to connote, it no longer had any meaning by the third century.  All that people had available to them were - as the opening words of Tertullian's Against Marcion openly admits - a series of hopelessly rewritten treatises which no longer described an actual 'real' historical group.  By the time Clement referenced 'those of Marcion' he knew quite well that this sect was nothing more than a phantasmal group.

Irenaeus's comments in Book One of Against Heresies should in no way limit the centonizing of the gospels to the Valentinians.  Irenaeus wrote principally against this sect, because his chief rival in Rome just happened to be so aligned.  The fact that the Marcionites and Valentinians are inevitably spoken of in the same breath likely meant that they share more or less the same basic canon at least initially.  Notice that in Irenaeus's initial statement about the group he uses the term 'apostolikon' a terminology chiefly associated with the Marcionite in later literature:

Such, then, is the account which they all give of their Pleroma, and of the formation of the universe, striving, as they do, to adapt the good words of revelation to their own wicked inventions. And it is not only from the Evangelic and the Apostolic (τῶν εὐαγγελικῶν καὶ τῶν ὰποστολικών) that they endeavour to derive proofs for their opinions by means of perverse interpretations and deceitful expositions: they deal in the same way with the law and the prophets, which contain many parables and allegories that can frequently be drawn into various senses, according to the kind of exegesis to which they are subjected. And others of them, with great craftiness, adapted such parts of Scripture to their own figments, lead away captive from the truth those who do not retain a stedfast faith in one God, the Father Almighty, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. [Against Heresies 1.3.6]

Up until now, Irenaeus hasn't yet accused the Valentinians of rearranging scripture and transferring individual passages from book to book or letter to letter.  This charge only comes up a few chapters later.

It is in chapter eight of Book One of Against Heresies that Irenaeus - once again speaking of the 'Pleroma' of the heretics, makes reference to the fact that they develop 'centonized' scripture (not merely 'centonized' gospels):

Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions. Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skilful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skilful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king's form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king. In like manner do these persons patch together old wives' fables, and then endeavour, by violently drawing away from their proper connection, words, expressions, and parables whenever found, to adapt the oracles of God to their baseless fictions.[ibid 1.8.1]

In no uncertain terms then should we doubt the idea that Clement may well have shared the 'centonized' Evangelic and the Apostolic (τῶν εὐαγγελικῶν καὶ τῶν ὰποστολικών) of the Marcionites and Valentinians.  In fact we may even suppose that our gospel is a centonized version of a collection shared by Clement, the Marcionites and Valentinians.

Those who vainly cling on to the fact that both Tertullian's and Epiphanius's testimony makes it seem like the Marcionite gospel and apostolikon followed the familiar pattern of our New Testament, don't recognize the purpose of Irenaeus's original text.  Irenaeus makes it quite clear that he was using his own canon as the basis for his assault against their corruptions.  The fact that the argument develops as a cursory 'line by line' examination of our familiar canonical texts only reflects Irenaeus's original methodology.  Indeed in the next chapter of Against Heresies Book One he makes absolutely clear the centonized appearance of the heretical canon:

they act like those who bring forward any kind of hypothesis they fancy, and then endeavour to support them out of the poems of Homer, so that the ignorant imagine that Homer actually composed the verses bearing upon that hypothesis, which has, in fact, been but newly constructed; and many others are led so far by the regularly-formed sequence of the verses, as to doubt whether Homer may not have composed them. Of this kind is the following passage, where one, describing Hercules as having been sent by Eurystheus to the dog in the infernal regions, does so by means of these Homeric verses,-- for there can be no objection to our citing these by way of illustration, since the same sort of attempt appears in both:--

"Thus saying, there sent forth from his house deeply groaning." (Od., x. 76). "The hero Hercules conversant with mighty deeds." (Od., xxi. 26). Eurystheus, the son of Sthenelus, descended from Perseus." (Il., xix. 123). "That he might bring from Erebus the dog of gloomy Pluto." (Il., viii. 368). "And he advanced like a mountain-bred lion confident of strength." (Od., vi. 130). "Rapidly through the city, while all his friends followed."(Il., xxiv. 327). "Both maidens, and youths, and much-enduring old men." (Od., xi. 38). "Mourning for him bitterly as one going forward to death." (Il., xxiv. 328). "But Mercury and the blue-eyed Minerva conducted him." (Od., xi. 626. "For she knew the mind of her brother, how it laboured with grief." (Il., ii. 409).

Now, what simple-minded man, I ask, would not be led away by such verses as these to think that Homer actually framed them so with reference to the subject indicated? But he who is acquainted with the Homeric writings will recognise the verses indeed, but not the subject to which they are applied, as knowing that some of them were spoken of Ulysses, others of Hercules himself, others still of Priam, and others again of Menelaus and Agamemnon. But if he takes them and restores each of them to its proper position, he at once destroys the narrative in question. In like manner he also who retains unchangeable in his heart the rule of the truth which he received by means of baptism, will doubtless recognise the names, the expressions, and the parables taken from the Scriptures, but will by no means acknowledge the blasphemous use which these men make of them. For, though he will acknowledge the gems, he will certainly not receive the fox instead of the likeness of the king. But when he has restored every one of the expressions quoted to its proper position, and has fitted it to the body of the truth, he will lay bare, and prove to be without any foundation, the figment of these heretics.

But since what may prove a finishing-stroke to this exhibition is wanting, so that any one, on following out their farce to the end, may then at once append an argument which shall overthrow it, we have judged it well to point out, first of all, in what respects the very fathers of this fable differ among themselves, as if they were inspired by different spirits of error. For this very fact forms an a priori proof that the truth proclaimed by the Church is immoveable, and that the theories of these men are but a tissue of falsehoods.(ibid 1.9.1 - 5)

The point of course is that these centonized texts of the heretics cannot possibly be limited to the gospel.  They must necessarily include the Epistles of Paul and the pattern we noticed in Clement of Alexandria is an indication of widespread divergences between the New Testament collections among heretical and Catholic communities.

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