Monday, August 5, 2013

Jesus the Roman Demi-God [Part Six]


We should finally begin to accept the idea that Jesus was never originally conceived as the ‘ruler of the world.’ Neither the Ebionites nor the Marcionites held fast to this late Catholic belief. It is only when we come to terms with how much of our inherited understanding of Jesus is based on Imperial theology that we start to see the degree to which Irenaeus manipulate source material to reinforce an untenable idea. For nothing whatsoever in the original gospel allows for the idea that Jesus actually ‘ruled the world’ in any way. The basic framework of the narrative seems far more conducive to the idea that Jesus was a stranger and no amount of falsification and addition can take away from that core sensibility.

Yet as Brent again notes “for Irenaeus and some of his predecessors there was a Godhead made of two or three persons, who were joined together with the common title of kurios (= Lord).” The degree to which Irenaeus adulterated the writings of his predecessors to support this proposition may never be fully determined. Nevertheless it is clear that at Rome in the late second century we find an important rival of Irenaeus’s who developed a different monarchical understanding of the godhead. We know very little about Florinus’s beliefs outside of the disparaging things Irenaeus says about him save for the following description in the tenth century Arabic Christian historian.

We read in the middle of his lengthy Kitab al-'Unwan (Book of headings or History) a work which commences with the foundation of the world and runs up to his own times the following description of Irenaeus’s great rival in the Roman capitol:

Then at Rome appeared another heresiarch named Florinus, who was a priest. He was the object of public indignation and was deposed from the priesthood. Then he left the church, full of anger, and attracted some disciples. He said that there were three divine beings who agreed among themselves: one of them was established on high, the second below him, in the middle, and the third below the latter, at the bottom. Each of the last two honours, respects and considers as superior to himself those above him. The god which is in the middle calls the god who is above him the Father; and the god at the bottom likewise gives the name of Father to him who is above him, so that each of them is like the Son to him that is above him. Together they created the world. (In the beginning) they formed and created a subtle substance; then they created man and placed him in the region located between heaven and earth; they embellished this location with fires and lights, making for him a paradise where they planted different species of pleasant trees, and established him in the newly created world.

It isn’t necessary for the moment to cite the entire report about Florinus. Agapius goes on to say that Satan managed to occupy Paradise by expelling Adam. The important things to keep in mind are that (a) Florinus was Irenaeus’s rival at Rome and (b) both men claimed Polycarp as their teacher.

Indeed it is worth pointing out that Florinus’s system preserves a clear monarchianist character to it insofar as three powers act as one – i.e. to create the world, to create Adam. This opened up Florinus to the charge that that he accepted the idea that God – i.e. the monarchian godhead - was responsible for evil in the world. Irenaeus ended up writing a critical letter to bishop Victor at Rome with this very title - On Monarchy, or That God is not the Author of Evil. In that letter we learn that Irenaeus effectively criticizes Victor for accepting Florinus – a heretic into the fold of Christians at Rome as a believer of good standing:

Florinus, a presbyter, who was a partisan of the error of Valentinus and published an abominable book thus wrote … Now, however, inasmuch as the books of these men may possibly have escaped your observation, but have come under our notice, I call your attention to them, that for the sake of your reputation you may expel these writings from among you, as bringing disgrace upon you, since their author boasts himself as being one of your company. For they constitute a stumbling-block to many, who simply and unreservedly receive, as coming from a presbyter, the blasphemy which they utter against God. Just [consider] the writer of these things, how by means of them he does not injure assistants [in divine service] only, who happen to be prepared in mind for blasphemies against God, but also damages those among us, since by his books he imbues their minds with false doctrines concerning God.

As Peter Lampe notes it was Victor was likely tolerant because of “a high position that Florinus might have held in the imperial court, something advantageous for the church.” Irenaeus boasts of the same advantages and manages ultimately to get Victor to expel him.

Our purpose in bringing forward Florinus is to illustrate that it is impossible to reconcile the beliefs of Irenaeus and Florinus back to one common master Polycarp unless the thing both men are understood to have learned from him was how to make up stuff in order to curry favor in the Imperial court. Already Irenaeus alludes to this when he negatively references again “opinions” held by Florinus that “are not of sound doctrine …opinions are not consonant to the Church, and involve their votaries in the utmost impiety; these opinions, even the heretics beyond the Church’s pale have never ventured to broach; these opinions, those presbyters who preceded us, and who were conversant with the apostles, did not hand down to thee. For, while I was yet a boy, I saw thee in Lower Asia with Polycarp, distinguishing thyself in the royal court and endeavouring to gain his approbation.”

This reference to Polycarp, Florinus and Irenaeus all standing in an Imperial court has usually been explained as alluding to “the court of Antoninus Pius, when he was proconsul of Asia Minor, A. D. 136, two years before he ascended the Imperial throne.” The point however is to demonstrate once again that these three men really had no common ‘theology.’ What they endeavored to achieve rather was ‘support’ for their re-interpretations of traditional Christianity by means – and abuse – of a typological interpretation of scriptures.

If anyone of the two younger men knew Polycarp’s actual beliefs it was clearly Florinus. For Irenaeus admits that Florinus was “distinguishing himself” in front of Polycarp and “endeavoring to gain his approbation” meaning almost certainly that he had already achieved it. All that Irenaeus can counter is that, as a little boy, shoved in some corner of the room while Florinus was walking arm in arm with Polycarp “I have a more vivid recollection of what occurred at that time than of recent events.” The manner in which scholars simply go along with Irenaeus’s claims about being the truer more faithful expert on the actual beliefs of Polycarp rather than Florinus is simply scholarship at its very worst.

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