Friday, July 19, 2013

The Nature of Jesus [Part Two]


Irenaeus makes clear he was not going to be made to feel bad about taking the gold of Caesar.  This especially if these handouts helped secure the establishment of an ever greater number of 'tabernacles of God' in the world.  In the language of this Church Father the time he was living in was not only the fulfillment of the 'true Exodus' - for which the redemption of the ancient Israelites was only a mere typology, but in another place, drawing from the writings of the book of Isaiah "this present time, therefore, in which men are called and saved by the Lord, is properly understood to be denoted by "the acceptable year of the Lord."

The Church needed gold and for Irenaeus there was no such a thing as 'dirty money.'  Money was needed in order for the Church to triumph over heresy and to assist in the spreading of the word before the end times approached.  The servants of the Antichrist had mixed up the true gospel, shifting countless passages and words from the original place like stones in a mosaic, completely altering the underlying image of God.  Irenaeus was quite willing to use the 'mammon of unrighteousness' to restoring the truth about God preserved in what he identified were the four original testimonies of the apostles. 

Of course scholarship is quite content to give Irenaeus a pass when it comes to this restoration effort.  There is very little interest in the greater academic community to question his claim to know the order and content of the original gospel narrative.  Nevertheless buried in ignored reports at the fringes of the world, there are echoes that not every believer was so willing to go along with his massive Imperial sponsored reorganizational effort. 

We still have in our possession an enigmatic Ethiopian tradition which prophesizes the coming of a Roman king associated with Irenaeus who will "transgress the faith of the Church," and who will "come in Rome, and there shall be associated with him a certain archbishop, and they shall change and pervert the word of the Twelve Apostles, and they shall cast it aside in the desire of their hearts and they shall teach what they wish."  A similar tradition which now only survives in an early Islamic interpretative text speaks of this Roman king specifically 'dividing the gospel into four,' of 'changing the original language' of its narrative from Aramaic to the language Empire and severing its relationship with Judaism in favor of something 'more compatible' with Gentile taste. 

While there is no one source which details for us the exact chronology of this falsification effort, it is easy to see a straight line developing from Irenaeus to various third century Church Fathers based in Rome and Alexandria.  While the names of Zephyrinus, Callistus, Hippolytus and Demetrius are hardly household names, they represent the first efforts to consolidate the reforms initiated by Irenaeus in the name of the 'Johannine tradition' that allegedly preceded him. 

Before his coming the Christian world was divided between the idea that Jesus was exclusively human or exclusively divine.  Irenaeus the 'divine peacemaker' sought above all else to establish unity through a wholly new doctrine where Jesus was both God and man.  While the exact nature of this consolidation effort differed from parallel efforts to transcend sectarianism and foster greater ecumenism in Judaism and Samaritanism, it is worth noting that both these monotheistic traditions just happened to find themselves becoming 'streamlined' in the same period (180 - 235 CE). 

Whether it be rabbinic reports of leading rabbis 'being helped into bed' by an Emperor named 'Antoninus' or Samaritan attestations of massive spilling of blood to transform the composition of the priesthood, there is a clear sense that as the Empire found itself disintegrating, the Imperial government took an increasing interest in the practices of Palestinian religious associations.  It is against this backdrop of the near destruction of the Roman state that the orthodox idea of Christ as man and god, and who, after suffering on the cross was resurrected and ascended as the son of god to heaven, ultimately developed. 

Why did the Church Fathers take such a hard line against 'doceticism'?  It is because, as we see in the writings of Irenaeus, the belief that Jesus only seemed to be human, was tied to the idea of him assisting the believers 'escape from the authorities' - whether heavenly or earthly.  Gnostics understood themselves to be in the possession, through the sacraments of the Church, of a 'Homeric helmet of invisibility.'  The catechumen of this ecclesiastical order hid from view their real reason for partaking in these 'heavenly mysteries' - i.e. freedom from the Law.  As such the effort to define Jesus 'in the flesh' was part and parcel of a greater effort to ground the teachings of the Church in an earthly doctrine. 

Against this radical doctrine of escapism and crypto-theism Irenaeus established a material Church which encouraged members to 'stand up' and be 'openly counted' as witnesses for the coming judgment.  Creedal formulas were established not merely in Christianity but in Judaism and Samaritanism so as to make absolutely clear the boundaries of 'right belief.'  It cannot be accidental that the Church took over the word sacramentum from the Imperial armies in this age.  Caesar was not only expanding citizenship to almost all members of the Empire in this age, but also enrolling those citizens most actively associated with potentially seditious movements to rigidly defined proclamations of faith, in order to reinforce 'what was acceptable' at every gathering of believers. 

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