Saturday, May 18, 2013

Methodius and the Lost Origins of the Dialogue of Adamantius

I have been spending much of my time making sense of Bonwetsch's German translation of the third century Church Father Methodius.  It is more difficult that it may seem.  Yes I can read German but this book was written over a hundred years ago (1892) and languages change.  I spoke German at home with my parents.  It is another thing entirely to read theological texts in German when both of my parents were atheists.  I have no frame of reference for most of the religious terminology. 

Nevertheless I have been enjoying the task.  There are a number of passages in Concerning Free Will which parallel Maximus's On Matter - written a century earlier - word for word.  These two texts in turn mirror a section of the Dialogue of Adamantius.  If the original text behind Rufinus's Latin translation can be dated back to the middle of the second century (owing to its reference to a sustained persecution under a single Emperor) then Methodius's text must go back even further.  Perhaps we can argue that both go back to Maximus or even further. 

The reference to Valens, Valentinus and Valentinians in these sections in Adamantius and Methodius entirely disappear in Maximus.  We strongly suspect they go back to Marcionitism.  But how this manifest itself is still unclear.  Clouding the waters even further is the fact that Methodius is associated with anti-Origenism, and another strongly anti-Origenist work - De Resurrectione - is incorporated later in the Dialogue.  How could the Dialogue which 'stars' Origen (= Adamantius) have appropriated a source which was virulently hostile to Origen?  This situation is made even stranger if we assume the material began life as a Marcionite or anti-Marcionite text. 

I find it fascinating to consider all the possibilities here.  Yet I am increasingly certain that Methodius and the massive volume of texts that have never been translated into English is the solution.  I can't shake the feeling that Methodius is somehow connected with Clement of Alexandria.  R L Patterson clearly felt the same way when he notes a strong relationship between the two men.  He calls attention to Methodius' indebtedness to Clement's view of chastity in relation to marriage, especially in Paedagogus ii.10 and the third of the Strotnateis, is evident in the opening discourses of the Symposium. Methodius here follows Clement in viewing Adam as a young animal in need of discipline, in seeing God as progressively checking the irrational passions  to the point of ultimately embracing chastity in anticipation of the final perfection of souls.

There are many more borrowings of course, but I am particularly intrigued by the summary of Methodius's thought developed for us by Schaff and the contents of Secret Mark.  We read that for Methodius:

The world was created for the microcosm man, whose will is absolutely free, and who is progressively taught by God to conquer the devil. The Logos necessarily became incarnate to bring man into harmony with the Divine, and, bringing "knowledge of the Father of all," he stripped off the old man, which he replaced "with his own flesh." This is done through the Church, for whom the Logos left the Father in heaven; and the souls betrothed to him are "helps meet for him," thus realizing the "deep sleep" of Adam (Gen. ii. 21).

Isn't this exactly what is being described in the Letter to Theodore?  Maybe I have been spending too much on this ...

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