Thursday, May 9, 2013

De-Constructing De Recta in Deum Fide

By far the worst characteristic of scholars - and I mean a very widespread, awful trait that pervades scholarship in Christian antiquity - is the need to systematize.  Perhaps I am guilty of reading too much Nietzsche growing up.  No, let me restate that - I admit that I read way, way too much Nietzsche growing up.  Nevertheless his main point about scholars being wimpy and ultimately dangerously myopic systematizers is a legitimate one. 

Once you get used to the way these knuckleheads think - their instinct to 'smooth things over' for widespread acceptance of their otherwise ignored endeavors - you can't help hate the whole bunch of them.  For there is something noble about laboring in obscurity (of course I am somewhat biased in that regard).  Yet once you see a scholar essentially cop out and consistently try and 'de-weird' a text - in otherwise make it 'fit' within the most convenient scenario which requires little or no change to our existing paradigm, you can't help but hate that person or at least hate their intellectual cowardice. 

I felt this very same reaction when I was reading again Pretty's attempt to make sense of the parallel noted by the authors of the Philocalia when they noted that a parallel exists between Eusebius's reference to a section of material associated with an otherwise unknown 'Maximus' who lived at the turn of the third century and a certain work of Methodius who we presume lived at the end of the third century.  Pretty cops out of this difficulty by choosing the path of least resistance - undoubtedly because it gets in the way of publishing his translation.  But his conclusions are untenable - not in the least of which because of Harris's arguments.

Pretty seems only interested in the question of whether Origen was Adamantius.  Yet there is a deeper question of continuing parallels between the writings of Methodius and the Dialogue.  In this case Pretty is dealing with the trifecta of common references to 'the problem of matter' in Maximus, Methodius and the Dialogue.  Yet Harris points to a similar parallel between Methodius and the Dialogue where both sources must have corrupted an original source dealing with 'Marcion' into one which purportedly ascribed these details to a 'Valentinian.'  This is very critical and Harris's thesis calls into question Pretty's 'cop out' solution making Maximus a disciple of Methodius which simply isn't possible given the evidence. 

Here is Pretty's discussion of the question of parallels between Methodius, Maximus and the Dialogue:

Eusebius' Praeparatio Evangelica seems to have been commenced during the persecution of Diocletian (303-311), but it was not concluded until some time afterwards, judging from the references in it to contemporary events (and absence of reference to the Constantinian victories).

The name "Maximus" constitutes a problem quite apart from the Adamantian Dialogue. As we have already seen, Eusebius states that the extract from another writer incorporated in his Praep. Evang., 21 was from a work by Maximus. His actual words are: "However, as a book singularly appropriate to the subject, 'Concerning Matter,' has also been written by Maximus, a distinguished member of the Christian faith, I have resolved to adduce from this work material pretty relevant to the proper discussion of the question before us" (Praep. Evang. 2.7.21). However, Robinson has shown reasonably satisfactorily, through a careful analysis of this 'material' (or extract), that it was really taken from a book by Methodius, not Maximus (of whom we know pratically nothing); cf. Robinson's Philocalia pp. xl - xlvi.

We are thus left with the question, How did Eusebius get the name of Maximus mixed up with the work of Methodius? The matter is further complicated, as previously indicated, by the fact that his very same extract is found in the Dialogue of Adamantius. The extracts, however, are not exactly parallel, for the author of our Dialogue began his borrowing at a point in the Methodian dialogue prior to that at which Eusebius' excerpt commences, and continued to use Methodius' work for some time after the Eusebian borrowing has concluded. This result has one important fact relative to the Dialogue of Adamantius: obviously the Adamantian author made his extract directly from Methodius, and not indirectly through Eusebius. We are not, therefore obliged to postulate a date for the composition of the Dialogue of Adamantius subsequent to Eusebius.

There still remains the question of Eusebius' association of the name of Maximus with the Dialogue of Methodius Apart from the passage in the Praep. Evang. already given, there is only one other place where Eusebius mentions Maximus at all: Hist, eccl., 5, 27: "Moreover, there are still preserved by many large numbers of writings composed with commendable zeal by men of the early Church living at the time [i.e., the period of the emperors Commodus to Septimius Severus, 180-211]. From those of which we ourselves do indeed have certain knowledge might be mentioned the treatise of Hera- cleitus, 'On the Apostle': that also of Maximus, on the question much debated among the heretics, 'The Origin of Evil,' and and 'Concerning the Origin of Matter'...."

From this passage, it appears that Eusebius thought of Maximus as living somewhere about the beginning of the third century, but the extract he quotes comes from a book of Methodius who died c. 311 CE. Therefore it seems clear that a) Eusebius did not know the true author of the passage he was extracting from Methodius' dialogue On Free Will; b) he assumed that the author was Maximus because he had heard that a certain person of that name had written on a similar subject. This Maximus he placed at the end of the second century because the question of the origin of evil and free will was much discussed at the time. If, however, the theory advanced in this thesis be correct, Maximus was none other than a disciple Methodius, and the author of the Dialogue of Adamantius. But until more information is forthcoming, such theories can be little more than guesses. [p. 19]

It should be noted that Pretty completely ignores Harris's work throughout his translation of De Recta in Deum Fide.  Again this can be attributed to his single-minded focus on the question of whether Origen = Adamantius. 

I am not prepared at the present moment to put forward my own theory but it is worth noting that Methodius himself is something of an enigma.  We almost know as little about Methodius as we do Maximus.  Methodius is dated to the late third century because of his work against Porphyry but even these quotations may have been ascribed to him after his death.  The basic point we have to consider here is that Eusebius does not mention Methodius and our other sources only identify him as a contemporary and hostile witness to Origen.  My suspicion is that Methodius was an Alexandrian who rejected Origen - possibly even Clement of Alexandria, thus explaining the silence over their 'teacher-student' relationship in later sources.  But again this explanation is only in its preliminary stages and might not be supported until further research is completed.  It's just a hunch. 

In any event here is the citation of text from Eusebius Prepar. Evang. cited above:
Let this suffice to show the character of Philo's opinions. Maximus too, a man not undistinguished in the Christian life, has composed a special treatise Concerning Matter; from which I think it will be useful to quote some sentences of moderate length, for the accurate decision of the question before us.

'I DO not suppose that you any more than myself are ignorant that it is impossible for two unoriginate things to subsist together, although you certainly seem to have attached to your argument this presupposition, that it is absolutely necessary to affirm one of two things, either that God is separate from matter, or on the other hand that He is inseparable from it.

'Should any one therefore choose to say that He is united with it, that will be an assertion that the Uncreate is one only; for each will be a part of the other, and being parts each of the other they will not be two uncreated, but one consisting of different parts; for as we do not say that man though consisting of different parts is broken up into the small coin of many created things, but, as reason requires, we say that man is one being of many parts created by God, so, if God is not separate from matter, we must necessarily say that the Uncreated is one only.

'But if any one shall affirm that He is separate, there must of necessity be something that is intermediate between the two, which also makes their separation evident. For it is impossible that one thing can be proved to be separate from another, when there is no third in which the separation between them is found. And this stands true not only in this and any single case, but in very many.

'For the argument which we used in the case of two uncreated beings must necessarily succeed equally well, if the uncreated things were admitted to be three. For in their case also I should ask, whether they are separated one from another, or on the contrary each united to his neighbour.

'So if any one should choose to say that they were united, he will receive the same answer as the first; but if, on the contrary, that they are separated, he cannot avoid the necessary existence of something that separates them.

'But if perchance any one should say that there is also a third statement which may fitly be made concerning things uncreated, that is, that God is not separated from matter, nor on the other hand united with it as a part, but that God exists as it were locally in matter or matter in God, let him receive the conclusive answer, that if we call matter the place of God, we must of necessity say that He can also be contained, and is circumscribed by matter.

'Moreover He must be carried about like matter in a disorderly way, and does not remain settled and constant in Himself, when that in which He exists is carried now this way and now that. And besides this we must also say that God has existed in things of worse nature. For if matter was once without order, and He wishing to change it for the better put it into order, there was a time when God was in things without order.

'I might also fairly ask this question, whether God completely filled matter, or was in some portion only of it. If then any one should choose to say that God was in some portion of matter, he makes Him very much smaller than matter, if indeed a part of it contained the whole of Him: but if he should say that God is in all matter, he has to explain how He was to work upon it. For he must either say that there was a sort of contraction of God, and that when this was effected He wrought upon that part from which He had receded; or else that He wrought upon Himself together with the matter, not having any place into which He could withdraw.

'If however any one shall say that matter is in God, it is equally necessary to inquire whether it is by God's being separated from Himself, just as tribes of living creatures subsist in the air, by its being divided and parted for the reception of the creatures that arise in it; or whether matter is in God as in a place, that is, as water is in land.

'For if we should say, "As in the air," we must necessarily say that God is divisible: but if, "As water is in land," and if matter was in confusion and disorder, and moreover contained evils, we are compelled to say that God is the place of disorder and evil: which seems to me an irreverent statement, nay more, a dangerous one. For you claim the existence of matter in order to avoid calling God the author of evil, and while wishing to escape from this you say that He is the receptacle of evil.

'Now if you had said that from the nature of existing creatures you supposed matter to be uncreated, I should have had much to say about matter in proof that it cannot possibly be uncreated. But since you said that the origin of evil was the cause of such a supposition, I therefore think it well to proceed to the examination of this latter point. For when a clear statement has been given of the mode in which evils exist, and of the impossibility of denying that God is the author of evil, if matter is attributed to Him, I think that such a supposition is utterly overthrown.

'You say then that co-existing from the beginning with God there is matter without qualities, out of which He formed the beginning of this world? '

'Such is my idea.'

'Well then, if matter was without qualities, and if the world has been made by God, and there are qualities in the world, God must have been the maker of the qualities.'

'That is true.'

'Now since I heard you say before, that it is impossible for anything to be made out of the non-existent, answer me this question of mine. Do you think that the qualities of the world have not been produced out of pre-existing qualities?'

'I think so.'

'But are something else besides the substances?'

'That is so.'

'If then God made the qualities neither out of pre-existing qualities, nor out of the substances, because they are not themselves substances, we are compelled to say that they have been made by God out of non-existents. And hence I thought it was too much for you to say, that it was impossible to suppose that anything has been made by God out of non-existents.

'However, let the argument on this point stand as follows: Even among ourselves we see men making some things out of what is non-existent, however much they seem to be making them in some material: as for instance let us take our example in the case of architects. For they make cities not out of cities, and temples in like manner not out of temples.

'But if, because there are substances underlying these things, you suppose that they make them out of existing things, your argument deceives you. For it is not the substance that makes the city, or the temples, but the art which is employed about the substance; and the art is not produced out of some underlying art in the substances, but is produced out of an art which is non-existent in them.

'But I suppose you will meet my argument in this way, that the artist makes the art which is in the material substance out of the art which he has in himself. Now in answer to this I think it may fairly be said, that it is not produced even in the man out of any underlying art. For it is not possible to grant that the art exists independently by itself, since it is one of the accidents, and one of those things which have existence given to them at the moment when they are produced in a substance.

'For the man will exist even apart from his skill as an architect, but this will have no existence unless there be first a man. And hence we are compelled to say that it is the nature of the arts to be produced in men out of what is non-existent. If therefore we have now shown this to be so in the case of men, why was it not proper to say that God was able to make not only qualities but also substances out of what was non-existent? For the proof that it is possible for something to be made out of what is non-existent shows that this is the case with the substances also.

'But since you are anxious to inquire concerning the origin of evil, I will pass to the discussion of that subject. And I wish first to ask you a few questions. Do you think that evils are substances, or qualities of substances?

'I think it is right to say that they are qualities of substances.

'But matter, we said, has no quality nor shape?

'So I declared in the preface to my argument.

'If therefore evils are qualities of substances, and matter had no qualities, but God, you said, was the maker of qualities, God must be also the creator of evils. When therefore even in this way it is impossible to say that God is not the cause of evils, it seems to me superfluous to attach matter to Him. But if you have anything to say against this, begin your argument.

'If our inquiry arose out of contentiousness, I should not think it right to give a second definition of evils: but since it is rather for the sake of friendship and the benefit of our neighbour that we are examining the questions, I think it right to allow a new definition concerning them.

'I think it must have been long manifest to you, that my purpose and my earnest desire in our arguments is, that I do not wish to gain a victory by plausible statement of falsehood, but that the truth should be shown by means of accurate inquiry. And I clearly understand that you also are so disposed. Wherefore employ without any diffidence whatever kind of method you think will enable you to find the truth: for by employing the better method you will benefit not only yourself, but certainly me also on matters of which I am ignorant.'

'I think you plainly admitted that evils also are a kind of substances? '

'Yes, for I do not see them existing anywhere apart from substances.'

'Since then you say, my good sir, that evils also are substances, it is necessary for us to examine the definition of substance. Is it your opinion that substance is a kind of concrete body? '

'It is.'

'And does the concrete body subsist of itself independently, not requiring anything from whose previous existence it may receive its being? '

'Just so.'

'And do you think that evils depend on action of some kind? '

'So it seems to me.'

'And do actions come into being at the moment when the agent is present?'

'Such is the case.'

'And when the agent does not exist, there will never be any action of his? '

'There will not.'

'Well then, if substance is a kind of concrete body, and this requires nothing in union with which it may begin to exist, and if evils are actions of some agent, and if actions do require something in union with which they begin to exist, evils cannot be substances.

'But if evils are substances, and murder is an evil, murder will be a substance: yet surely murder is an action of some one, and so murder is not a substance. If however you mean that the agents are substances, I too agree. For example, a man who is a murderer, in respect of his being man is a substance: but the murder which he does is not a substance, but a work of the substance.

'So we say in one case that the man is evil, because of his committing murder, and in a contrary case that he is good, because of his doing good. And these names are attached to the substance in consequence of its accidents, which are not itself: for the substance is not murder, nor again adultery, or any of the like evils. But just as the grammarian is named from grammar, and the rhetorician from rhetoric, and the physician from the art of physic, though his substance is neither the art of physic nor yet rhetoric, nor grammar, but receives the name from its accidents, from which it seems fit to be so called, although it is neither one nor the other of them, in like manner it appears to me that the substance also acquires an additional name from what are thought to be evils, though it is neither of them.

'And in like manner if you imagine some other being in the mind as the cause of evils in men, I would have you consider that he also, inasmuch as he works in them and suggests the doing evil, is himself evil in consequence of what he does. For he too is said to be evil for this reason that he is the doer of evils. But the things which any one does are not himself, but his actions, from which he receives the name of being evil.

'For if we were to say that he himself is what he does, and if he does murders and adulteries and thefts and all the like, then he himself is these: and if he is himself these, and these gain real existence at the time of being done, and in ceasing to be done cease to exist, and it is by men that they are done----then the men must be the makers of themselves and the causes of their own being and ceasing to be.

'Whereas if you say that these are his actions, he has the character of being evil from what he does, not from what constitutes his substance. But we said that a man is called evil from the accidents pertaining to his substance, which are not the substance itself, as the physician from the art of physic.

'If then each man is evil in consequence of his actions, and if his actions receive a beginning of existence, then that man also began to be evil, and these evils too had a beginning. And if this is so, a man will not be without a beginning in evil, nor evils un-originate, because we say that they originate with him.'

'The argument against your opponent you seem to me, my friend, to have completed satisfactorily. For from the premises which you assumed for your argument you seemed to draw the conclusion fairly. For in very truth, if matter was without qualities, and God is the maker of qualities, and evils are qualities, then God must be the maker of evils.

'As to the argument then against that opponent, let us grant that it has been well stated: but in my opinion it is false to say that matter has no qualities; for of no substance whatever is it permissible to say that it is without qualities. For while describing what kind of thing matter is, the speaker indicates its quality by saying that it is without qualities, for that is a certain kind of quality.

'Therefore, if you please, take up the argument again from the beginning against me; since in my opinion matter has qualities eternally and without beginning. For so I maintain that evils arise from the emanation of matter, in order that God may not be the cause of evils, but matter the cause of them all.'

'I welcome your ready zeal, my friend, and commend your earnestness in these discussions. For certainly every one who wishes to learn ought not to assent simply and at random to what is said, but should make a strict examination of'the arguments. For even if the opponent by giving a false definition affords his adversary an opportunity of drawing such a conclusion as he pleases, it does not follow that he will persuade the hearer of this, but if he shall say what seems possible to be said fairly. From which one of two things must follow; for either he will gain the full benefit of hearing an answer to the question which seems to be stirred, or he will convict his opponent in the argument of saying what is not true.

'I think then that you ought not to have stated that matter possesses qualities eternally. For if this is so, of what will God be the maker? For whether we say substances, these we affirm existed before; or on the other hand qualities, these also were there.

'Since therefore substance exists, and qualities also, it seems to me superfluous to say that God is a creator. But that I may not seem to be arranging an argument for myself, do you now answer the question, in what way do you say that God is a creator? Is it that He changed the substances so that they were no longer those which they once were, but became others different from them? Or that He kept the substances the same that they were before, but changed their qualities? '

'I do not at all think that there has been any change of substances: for this appears to me an absurd thing to say. But I assert that there has been a certain change of the qualities, in respect to which I say that God is a creator; just as if one should chance to say that a house has been made out of stones, of which we cannot say that they are no longer stones in their substance, when the stones have become a house.

'For I say that the house has been made by the quality of construction, the former quality of the stones having evidently been changed. Just so it seems to me that God also, while the substance remains, has made a certain change in its qualities, in reference to which I say that the creation of this world has come from God.'

'Since therefore you assert that a certain change of the qualities has come from God, answer me a few questions which I propose to ask. Tell me now whether like myself you also think that evils are qualities of substances? '

'I think so.'

'And were these qualities in matter eternally, or had they a beginning of existence?'

'I say that these very qualities were eternally co-existent with matter.'

'But do you not say that God has made some change of the qualities?'

'That is what I say.'

'Was the change then for the better or for the worse? '

'I am disposed to say, for the better.'

'Well then, if evils are qualities of matter, and God changed its qualities for the better, we are compelled to ask, whence came the evils. For the qualities did not remain of the same kind as they were by nature. Either, if there were no evil qualities previously, but such qualities, you say, have grown around the matter from the first qualities having been changed by God, God must be responsible for the evils, as having changed what were not evil qualities so that they now are evil.

'Or do you not think that God changed the evil qualities for the better, but say that the rest, and so many only as were neither good nor bad for the purpose of arranging the world, have been changed by God? '

'So I held from the beginning.'

'How then do you say that He has left the qualities of the bad as they were? Was it that He was able to annihilate them also, but had not the will; or that He had not the power? For if you say that He had the power but not the will, you must necessarily admit that He is responsible for them, because though He had power to bring evils to an end, He permitted them to remain as they were, especially at the time when He began to operate on matter.

'For if He had taken no care at all about matter, He would not have been responsible for what He permitted to remain. But when He began to operate on a certain portion of it, but left a portion as it was, though He had power to change that also for the better, it seems to me that He incurred the responsibility of causing it, as having left a portion of matter to be mischievous in the destruction of the part on which He operated.

'Moreover in regard to this part it seems to me that the very greatest wrong has been done: this part, I mean, of matter which He so arranged that it now participates in evils. For if one were to examine the facts carefully, he would find that matter has now fallen into a worse condition than its former disorder. For before it was arranged in order, it might have had no sensation at all of evil; but now each of its parts becomes sensible of evils.

'Now let me give you an example in the case of a man. For before he was fashioned and made a living creature by the Creator's skill, he had from his nature the advantage of not participating in any evil at all: but from the time of his being made man by God, he also receives the sensation of approaching evil, and this, which you say has been done by God for the benefit of matter, is found rather to have been added to it for the worse.

'But if you say that the reason why evils have not been made to cease was that God was not able to annihilate them, you will be asserting that God is deficient in power: and the want of power will mean either that He is by nature weak, or that being overcome by fear He has been brought into subjection by some greater power.

'If then you will dare to say that God is weak by nature, you seem to me to be in danger for your very salvation: but if through being overcome by fear from the greater power, the evils will be greater than God, as prevailing over the impulse of His will; which seems to me an absurd thing to say of God.

'For why will not rather these evils be gods, as being able according to your argument to overcome God, since we say that God is that which has the authority over all things?

'I wish, however, to ask you a few questions also about matter itself. So tell me now, whether matter was something simple or compound: for the diversity of its products brings me round to such a mode of examining this subject. Since if matter was simple and uniform, but the world compound, and composed out of different substances and mixtures, (it is impossible to say that it has been made out of matter, because compounds cannot be composed out of a single thing which has no qualities); for "compound" signifies a mixture of several simple things.

'But if on the other hand you should choose to say that matter is compound, you must of course say that it has been composed out of certain simple things. Now if it was composed out of simple things, those simple things once existed by themselves, and matter has come from their composition; whence also it is shown to be created.

'For if matter is compound, and compounds are constituted out of simples, there was once a time when matter did not exist, that is to say, before the simples came together. But if there was once a time when matter did not exist, but never a time when the uncreate did not exist, matter cannot be uncreate. Henceforward, however, there will be many uncreate things. For if God was uncreate, as well as the simple elements out of which matter was composed, the uncreate will not be two only.

But is it your opinion that no existing thing is contrary to itself?'

'It is.'

'And is water contrary to fire? '

'It appears to me contrary.'

'And in like manner darkness to light, and heat to cold, and also moist to dry? '

'I think it is so.'

'Therefore if no existing thing is contrary to itself, (and these are contrary to each other) they will not be one and the same matter, nor yet from the same matter. I wish, however, to ask you again another question like this. Do you think that the parts of a thing are not destructive one of another? '

'I do.'

'And that fire and water, and the rest in like manner, are parts of matter? '

'They are so.'

'Well then? Do you not think that water is destructive of fire, and light of darkness, and all the other similar cases? '

'I do think so.'

'Therefore if the parts of a thing are not destructive one of another, while the parts of matter are destructive one of another, they will not be parts one of another: and if they are not parts one of another, they will not be parts of the same matter: nay more, they will not themselves he matter, because, according to the adversary's argument, no existing thing is destructive of itself.

'For nothing is contrary to itself; because it is the nature of contraries to be contrary to others. As for example white is not contrary to itself, but is said to be the contrary of black: and light is shown in like manner not to be contrary to itself, but appears to have that relation to darkness, and very many other things of course in the same way.

'If therefore there were also one kind of matter only, it would not be contrary to itself: but since such is the nature of contraries, it is proved that the one only kind of matter has no existence.'

So far the author before mentioned. And since the discourse has now been sufficiently extended, we will pass on to the eighth book of the Preparation for the Gospel; and after invoking the help of God, will fill up what is wanting to the preceding speculation. [Prep. Evang. 7.2.21]

And in the Philocalia the same information is cited albeit with the following caveat:

The foregoing is taken from Book VII. of the Praeparatio Evangelica of Eusebius; being, as he says, the work of Maximus, a Christian writer of some distinction. But it has been discovered word for word in Origen's discussion with the Marcionites and other heretics, Eutropius defending, Megethius opposing.

Email with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.