Monday, March 11, 2013

So What's the Objection to 'Secret Mark'?

Let's grant the claim that Secret Mark - or at least the fragment to which Clement refers the reader - is about homosexuality or the homoerotic within the early Church. What's the objection? I've been participating in a discussion in the comments section of another blog where the author has claimed there is no reference to this longer Mark anywhere before the Letter to Theodore. I, of course pointed him to the reference to the longer gospel of Mark in use among the Marcionites. The heretics, says the author, appropriate a mystical interest in the Empedoclean notion of philia (= love, friendship). And that is where scholarly interest in this passage seems to stop.

But let us ask the dangerous question - what is the Empedoclean notion of philia if not homosocial, homoerotic and even possibly homosexual?   As Aristotle notes at the beginning of the Eighth Book of the Nichomachian Ethics:

Friendship seems too to hold states together, and lawgivers to care more for it than for justice; for unanimity seems to be something like friendship, and this they aim at most of all, and expel faction as their worst enemy; and when men are friends they have no need of justice, while when they are just they need friendship as well, and the truest form of justice is thought to be a friendly quality. But it is not only necessary but also noble; for we praise those who love their friends, and it is thought to be a fine thing to have many friends; and again we think it is the same people that are good men and are friends. Not a few things about friendship are matters of debate. Some define it as a kind of likeness and say like people are friends, whence come the sayings 'like to like', 'birds of a feather flock together', and so on; others on the contrary say 'two of a trade never agree'. On this very question they inquire for deeper and more physical causes, Euripides saying that 'parched earth loves the rain, and stately heaven when filled with rain loves to fall to earth', and Heraclitus that 'it is what opposes that helps' and 'from different tones comes the fairest tune' and 'all things are produced through strife'; while Empedocles, as well as others, expresses the opposite view that like aims at like. [Nichomachean Ethics 1155 a25]

What's there to debate?  The Marcionites are said to have incorporate an Empoclean interest in philia that was 'like with like' (= same sex).  Clement attests to the same understanding throughout his writings.

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