Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Secret Life of Jesus [Chapter Nine]

Marking the End of Mark

In the end it all comes down to proving - or at least demonstrating - that Irenaeus went back and transformed the Marcosian pseudo-martyrs whom he thought were justly slaughtered in his near contemporary Against the Marcites into the holy saints of the much later Letter of the Christians from Vienne and Lyons.  Once that is established it becomes plain that there were no Catholics in Gaul besides Irenaeus - the 'worldwide Church' was still only a 'vision' in his imagination.  This also underscores our understanding that the Catholic Church was initially made up of 'redeemed' heretics and mostly - in the case of Gaul, Rome and later Egypt - of 'repentant' Marcionites after the example of Origen's benefactor Ambrose. 

Yet how on earth do we prove that Irenaeus 'changed his mind' about the martyrs of Vienne and Lyons?   The answer is that we have to find a 'loose thread' as it were from the Letter of the Christians from Vienne and Lyons which when unraveled reveals itself to belong to an older stratum of his reporting from Gaul.  In other words, something which demonstrates that the 'holy martyrs' of 202 CE were in reality the very same 'repentant' heretics of 177 CE.  This is actually much easier to accomplish than it might seem at first glance given that an odd parallel emerges right out of the gate - i.e. an unusually high number of female martyrs in each report.

Of course it is impossible to say what the 'right number' of females should be at any one time in history given that we know so little about early Christianity.  Nevertheless it is unusual that the various Markan tradition should be inevitably be identified as granting women a higher status than that of the Catholic Church.  Irenaeus takes great pains to stress that Mark encouraged his female devotees to view themselves as prophets, nor does he, as Harold Attridge adds "repeat the suggestion made by both Hippolytus and Irenaeus that Marcus allowed women to serve as co-priests with him."  The same traits are reported about the Marcionites as well as a parallel silence in Eusebius - i.e. "although Eusebius cites Justin on the Marcionites, he does not comment on the tradition that Marcion allowed women to baptize.”

One always gets the sense that the prominent role given to women in the Markan tradition was viewed with almost as much suspicion as their complicity in 'redeeming' fugitive slaves.  Indeed an underlying trampling under foot established social conventions seems to be a common complaint against the early Christian heretics.  Above and beyond Eusebius's glossing over the high estimation of women within the Markan community - undoubtedly owing to a fear that it might make the reader think of his own beloved Alexandrian tradition - we might add to the list Jerome’s identification of Marcellina of Contra Celsum 5.62 as the first Marcionite missionary to Rome.  

So if we go back to Irenaeus's puzzling interest in the typology of Lot’s wife and the martyrs made in Book Four of Against Heresies the question has to arise - could it be that it has something to do with the Marcite martyrs of Gaul?  In our previous investigations we left Hill struggling to understand exactly what Irenaeus is driving at by this strange source of a typology.  After all, the story in Genesis tells of Lot's wife being turned to stone after turning back to look at the destruction being wrought in Sodom and her daughters eventually sleep with their father.  It is an unusual story in which Irenaeus took a deep interest, undoubtedly because the heretics used it to demonstrate the Bible was exceedingly silly. 

Perhaps it can be argued that Irenaeus was only following the command of Luke who has Jesus declare at one point - "Remember Lot's wife" (Luke 17:32).  Yet Irenaeus probably edited Luke's anti-Marcionite narrative so Irenaeus's interest was likely from Polycarp or self-generated.  The only thing Hill says about the interest is to summarize the contents of Against Heresies - “the essence of this typology sees the daughters as two synagogues, or churches, one from the Jews, one from the Gentiles, "who gave birth to children begotten of one and the same father" (4.31.1). Yet even this isn't all that helpful, representing instead a rather superficial understanding of the material which we will argue misses Irenaeus's real purpose for continually citing the 'typology.'

When we go back to Irenaeus’s original statement we see it is actually far different from Hill summary.  As such it might be useful to cite the entire section again so the reader can see for himself the original context.  We read:

For the Church alone sustains with purity the reproach of those who suffer persecution for righteousness' sake, and endure all sorts of punishments, and are put to death because of the love which they bear to God, and their confession of His Son; often weakened indeed, yet immediately increasing her members, and becoming whole again, after the same manner as her type," Lot's wife, who became a pillar of salt. Thus, too, [she passes through an experience] similar to that of the ancient prophets, as the Lord declares, "For so persecuted they the prophets who were before you;", inasmuch as she does indeed, in a new fashion, suffer persecution from those who do not receive the word of God.

Hill passes completely passes over the fact that the example of Lot's wife is connected with martyrdom by Irenaeus.  The reason is probably owing to the fact that the argument seems to defy logic.  How can Lot's wife be understood to be like those "who are put to death for the love which they bear for God"?  The answer, it would seem, is to be found in what follows - "yet immediately increasing her members and (thus) becoming whole again." 

Hill does notice that uncanny parallels exist between this description of Lot’s wife in the writings of Irenaeus and the account of Blandina the martyr in Lyons.  He sense the connection but can't quite tie the knot to unravel the actual meaning of the typology.  Hill begins by noting that Lot’s wife:

stands as a pillar of salt, ‘indicating that the Church also, which is the salt of the earth (Matt. 5.13), has been left behind within the confines of the earth, and subject to human sufferings,’ but also ‘typifying the foundation of the faith "makes strong, and sends forward, children to their Father’ (propempusa tous ouios pros ton Patera auton)

and immediately adds that:

an interesting parallel to this expression in 4.31.3 is found in the Epistle of Vienne and Lyons” where “Blandina the martyr is compared to a noble mother (the church) who sent forth her children before her victorious to the King (nikephorous propempsasa pros ton basiliea).

For Hill this “is interesting because it is often suspected that the Epistle was written by Irenaeus” but goes no further to explain the parallel other than to say that Irenaeus’s conception of Lot’s wife ‘is different’ than Clement of Rome before him. 

Yet is this really so?  Is the understanding of Clement really that 'different' from Irenaeus's understanding or is it that Hill doesn’t want to acknowledge the underlying truth of 'the typology of Lot's wife' because of what it says about Irenaeus and the circumstances of the origins of the Catholic Church?  For if we consult the passage in 1 Clement – probably written by Irenaeus himself – we hear it said that:

On account of his hospitality and godliness, Lot was saved out of Sodom when all the country around him was punished by means of fire and brimstone, the Lord thus making it manifest that He does not forsake those who hope in Him, but gives up those who depart from Him to punishment and torture. For Lot's wife, who went forth with him, being of a different mind from himself and not continuing in agreement with him [as to the command which had been given them], was made an example of, so as to be a pillar of salt to this day. This was done that all might know that those who are of a double mind, and who distrust the power of God, who become a judgment and a sign to all succeeding generations [emphasis mine]. 

In other words, it would seem that Hill can’t believe that Irenaeus would view Blandina as being of a ‘double mind.’ Yet at the same time he has already spotted that Irenaeus clearly equated Blandina of Gaul with Lot’s wife.  Could it be that Irenaeus argued for a parallel because he originally harbored the view that Blandida was guilty of the crime of being 'double-minded'?

It would seem that a careful view of the evidence reveals that indeed Blandina was one of the Marcosian 'pseudo-martyrs’ whose double-mindedness was buried in the original report of the anonymous noble women duped by the followers of Mark.   We say there of these 'false witnesses' that:
some of them, indeed, make a public confession; but others of them are ashamed to do this, and in a tacit kind of way, despairing of the life of God, have, some of them, apostatized altogether; while others hesitate between the two courses, and incur that which is implied in the proverb, "neither without nor within;"[emphasis mine] possessing this as the fruit from the seed of the children of knowledge." 

It is absolutely impossible not to see that Lot’s wife’s ‘double-mindedness’ is an epitome of the conundrum that the Marcite women of the Rhone valley found themselves in – and undoubtedly too for the historical Blandina, that is before Irenaeus developed a caricature of her in his later hagiography.

The implication would seem to indicate that the Marcites were behind the polished up version of the same historical persecution at the heart of the Letter of the Christians from Vienne and Lyons.   As such we can suppose that his ‘holy Catholic community’ of Lyons was invented in a later period.  In other words, there were no Catholics before the persecutions of 177 CE, the only victims in that period were members of the earlier traditions. 

Of course it may be asked - what of Celsus’s reference to the ‘great’ or ‘abundant Church’ shortly after the persecutions?  We have already argued that the Catholic Church developed from the portion of Marcites who were spared execution – i.e. those ‘branded’ in the ear and other places.  This class of people - individuals well known to Celsus owing to his reading of the original writings of Irenaeus - were not executed but survived the ordeal with a permanent brand on their person.  Indeed as we just demonstrated, the hot iron brand must have seared the skin and thus – as the melted skin cooled – sealed their ears shut. Irenaeus saw this as a symbol of the new faith that can’t hear the heretical teachings and caused such problems for the authorities.

Yet we must begin to wonder if the Letter of the Christians from Vienne and Lyons was the only surviving example of Irenaeus's reworking of his account of the events of 177 CE.  In other words, what if the surviving material from Adv Haer 1.13 - 21 also betrays examples of 'fudging' by Irenaeus or a later editor.  For instance, what is now Irenaeus’s two separate reports about ‘those of Mark’ – i.e. the so-called Marcionites and the Marcosians – undoubtedly go back to the same community. 
We have brought forward some of the arguments on behalf of this idea already, yet this by no means exhausts the eyewitnesses for this historical understanding.

The fourth century Church Father Gregory Nazianzen consistent identification of the beliefs of ‘Marcosion' in Irenaeus Adv Haer 1.13 - 21 as 'the followers of Marcion.'  The translators of Gregory’s works consistently make reference to the following habit in his writings - i.e. “it would seem that S. Gregory commonly confused Marcion with Marcus, one of the leaders of the Gnostic School of Valentinus. In another place he speaks of the Æons of Marcion and Valentinus, evidently meaning Marcus.”  We can similarly point to Eusebius and Jerome's disagreement about whether Origen's patron Ambrose was a Marcionite or a Valentinian seem to be another example of the same phenomenon.

To this end, we shall for the rest of this chapter cite the group in the form given by Epiphanius save only for the unusual middle two letter - Marc(os)ion - which as we have already noted are unexpected given the natural formation of adjectives in Greek.  Marc(os)ion shall be our way of saying that the Marcionites were one and the same with the Marcosion.  Indeed it has been our suggestion that at one time Irenaeus was more than willing to identify the two groups as one and the same but in a later period the understanding became problematic.  Moreover as we shall demonstrate in what remains of this chapter, Irenaeus's account of the followers of Mark came under attack by the Marcites themselves and a different strategy to contain the group was adopted under the banner of Luke the beloved disciple of Paul. 

To this end we only need go back to the apology for Irenaeus that develops in the Philosophumena and see how unreliable his testimony about the identity of the sect in the Rhone valley.  As many commentators have already noted - Irenaeus is our only source for information about the 'Marcosian' sect.  Yet there are very good reasons for believing that our existing account in Against Heresies Book One was substantially altered to correct certain in accuracies which the author of the Philosophumena reluctantly acknowledges.

We should pay special attention when the Philosophumena departs from the familiar opening to the account dealing with the 'followers of Mark' paralleled by Against Heresies 1.13 - 21.  Scholars universally acknowledge that the two accounts offer appear as verbatim parallels of one another.  But rather than their assumption that the Philosophumena simply 'copied' Against Heresies, we shall posit instead that both go back to a lost original 'Against Marc(os)ion' which is only imperfectly preserved  in Against Heresies.  We are about to use the Philosophumena to reconstruct that original text.  The emboldened text below represents a section of text which is wholly missing in surviving copies of Against Heresies:

Such and other (tricks) this impostor attempted to perform. And so it was that he was magnified by his dupes, and sometimes he was supposed to utter predictions. But sometimes he tried to make others (prophesy), partly by demons carrying on these operations, and partly by practising sleight of hand, as we have previously stated. Hoodwinking therefore multitudes, he led on (into enormities) many (dupes) of this description who had become his disciples, by teaching them that they were prone, no doubt, to sin, but beyond the reach of danger, from the fact of their belonging to the perfect power, and of their being participators in the inconceivable potency. And subsequent to the (first) baptism, to these they promise another, which they call Redemption. And by this (other baptism) they wickedly subvert those that remain with them in expectation of redemption, as if persons, after they had once been baptized, could again obtain remission. Now, it is by means of such knavery as this that they seem to retain their hearers. And when they consider that these have been tested, and are able to keep (secret the mysteries) committed unto them, they then admit them to this (baptism). They, however, do not rest satisfied with this alone, but promise (their votaries) some other (boon) for the purpose of confirming them in hope, in order that they may be inseparable (adherents of their sect). For they utter something in an inexpressible (tone of) voice, after having laid hands on him who is receiving the redemption. And they allege that they could not easily declare (to another) what is thus spoken unless one were highly tested, or one were at the hour of death, (when) the bishop comes and whispers into the (expiring one's) ear. And this knavish device (is undertaken) for the purpose of securing the constant attendance upon the bishop of (Mark's) disciples, as individuals eagerly panting to learn what that may be which is spoken at the last, by (the knowledge of) which the learner will be advanced to the rank of those admitted into the higher mysteries. And in regard of these I have maintained a silence for this reason, lest at any time one should suppose that I was guilty of disparaging these (heretics). For this does not come within the scope of our present work, only so far as it may contribute to prove from what source (the heretics) have derived the standing-point from which they have taken occasion to introduce the opinions advanced by them.

For also the blessed presbyter Irenaeus, having approached the subject of a refutation in a more unconstrained spirit, has explained such washings and redemptions, stating more in the way of a rough digest what are their practices. And it appears that some of the Marc(os)ion on meeting with (Irenaeus' work), deny that they have so received (the secret word just alluded to), but they have learned that always they should deny. Wherefore our anxiety has been more accurately to investigate, and to discover minutely what are the (instructions) which they deliver in the case of the first bath, styling it by some such name; and in the case of the second, which they denominate Redemption.

We shall demonstrate over the course of what remains in this chapter that the way that scholars regard Against Heresies as the 'original' testimony of Irenaeus - i.e. Against the Marc(os)ion - is incorrect.  The material found here in the Philosophumena is not something entirely new, but rather it was for the most part an epitome of a lost section of material dealing specifically with the secret heretical baptism of the sect.  This material was edited out of Against Heresies owing - as the Philosophumena clearly states - to the strenuous objections of the sect members who came over the Catholic tradition owing to gross inaccuracies, an accusation was is tacitly acknowledged by the epitomist himself. 

In other words, to break it down in the simplest terms possible, immediately following what was certainly Irenaeus's original reporting about the Marc(os)ion that "this knavish device (is undertaken) for the purpose of securing the constant attendance upon the bishop of (Mark's) disciples, as individuals eagerly panting to learn what that may be which is spoken at the last, by (the knowledge of) which the learner will be advanced to the rank of those admitted into the higher mysteries"and all that comes before it, the author of the Philosophumena, now speaking in his own voice adds that he has "maintained a silence" about "the higher mysteries" owing to the fact that he doesn't want to be seen using already discredited information - i.e. "lest at any time one should suppose that I was guilty of disparaging these (heretics)."

The anonymous third century epitomist further goes on to say that "this" - i.e. citing Irenaeus's discussion of the "higher mysteries" of the sect - "does not come within the scope of our present work, only so far as it may contribute to prove from what source (the heretics) have derived the standing-point from which they have taken occasion to introduce the opinions advanced by them."  In other words, the author of the Philosophumena has deliberately decided to remove things from Irenaeus's original report which the Marc(os)ion voiced vehement objection - "he blessed presbyter Irenaeus, having approached the subject of a refutation in a more unconstrained spirit, has explained such washings and redemptions, stating more in the way of a rough digest what are their practices" and which the Marc(os)ion themselves strenuously "deny."

Some might argue that the Philosophumena is merely referencing the discussion which occupies chapter 21 of Book One of Against Heresies - i.e. the long section where the various practices of Marc(os)ion redemption are brought up.  Yet this view does not go far enough.  What we should ask instead is why this additional section is left hanging at the end of the long report on the sect as something of an appendix to what appears to be the main discussion.  Indeed many ancient readers of chapter 21 weren't sure whether it was properly designated as part of the main discussion of the Marc(os)ion or rather goes back to recapitulate a discussion of the various practices of redemption among the Valentinians as a whole.

At least part of the confusion can be explained by Epiphanius's decision to 'conclude the citation' of material from Against Marc(os)ion at 1.21.4 - i.e. before the words "others still there are who continue to redeem persons even up to the moment of death ..." and his pretending that the absolutely final paragraph (1.21.5) deals with another heretical sect entirely - i.e. the Heracleonites.  As we have already noted the Irenaeus's original account of the Marc(os)ion written within a few months of the original persecution of the sect members in Gaul was highly controversial.  Irenaeus's didn't just transform the original account into the Letter of the Christians from Vienne and Lyons but he and perhaps a number of subsequent individuals including our surviving epitomist in the Philosophumena all worked to iron out 'inaccuracies' in the original testimony.

The starting point then for any revaluation of the existing testimony in Adv Haer 1.13 - 21 is to acknowledge that 1.21.5 originally appeared at the very beginning rather than the very end of the report on the Marc(os)ion.  Thus what is now the last chapter in Against Heresies' report on the sect reads:

Others still there are who continue to redeem persons even up to the moment of death, by placing on their heads oil and water, or the pre-mentioned ointment with water, using at the same time the above-named invocations, that the persons referred to may become incapable of being seized or seen by the principalities and powers, and that their inner man may ascend on high in an invisible manner, as if their body were left among created things in this world, while their soul is sent forward to the Demiurge.

Yet the very same words appear now at the very beginning of the Philosophumena with the rest of the structure of what follows being mostly the same:

And they allege that they could not easily declare (to another) what is thus spoken unless one were highly tested, or one were at the hour of death, (when) the bishop comes and whispers into the (expiring one's) ear

It is at this very point that the editor decides to curtail his citation of Against Marc(os)ion as cited in the section above from the Philosophumena - i.e. the words that begin:

And this knavish device (is undertaken) for the purpose of securing the constant attendance upon the bishop of (Mark's) disciples

As already mentioned the epitomist decided that he didn't want to get mired down in now established controversies about the accuracy of Irenaeus's reporting the 'higher mysteries' of the sect so he goes on to the next section - i.e. the appearance of Truth as a woman (cf. Adv Haer 1.14.1). 

It is a well recognized fact then that the Philosophumena and the text of Against Marc(os)ion that made its way to Epiphanius have deliberately decided to omit Adv Haer 1.21.5 in the fuller context of reporting on the sect.  Yet it is also very significant to notice that deeper parallels exist in the their treatment of the original source material.  The Philosophumena goes on to answer another objection raised by the Marcosians that Irenaeus was really mistaking Valentinian practices for their own.  This is soundly rejected by the epitomist:

But not even has this secret of theirs escaped (our scrutiny). For these opinions, however, we consent to pardon Valentinus and his school. But Marcus, imitating his teacher, himself also feigns a vision, imagining that in this way he would be magnified. For Valentinus likewise alleges that he had seen an infant child lately born ...

Why does the epitomist 'pardon' the Valentinian sect here?  Because it would seem that the Marc(os)ion did exactly much the same thing that Epiphanius did with the material - i.e. tried to pass off at least some of the long list of 'variant forms' of redemption baptism as Valentinian rather than Mar(co)sion. 

However when we scrutinize the manner in which Epiphanius and the Marc(os)ion interpret Irenaeus's reporting of various schools of redemption baptism we see in fact that they have worked to slightly different ends.  The Marc(os)ion's argued that Adv Haer 1.25.1 - 4 represented descriptions of various Valentinian groups and 1.25.5 was either a complete misunderstanding of their beliefs or a complete denial that the followers of Mark even practiced a secret form of baptism called 'redemption'  Epiphanius, on the other hand, who previously curtailed his account of the Marc(os)ion at 1.21.4 goes on to attribute all that originally concluded the account of the followers of Mark in 1.21.5 with the sect of Heracleon.  How and why he did this is a complete mystery to scholars yet it is important to note that Irenaeus's original reference to 'Mark' in relation to these passages is assumed throughout his discussion of the beliefs of the Heracleonites. 

In other words, Epiphanius basically says Irenaeus told you all about the Marc(os)ion and all those things also apply to the Heracleonites but adds:
he (Heracleon) too intends to say more than his predecessors, and it is this. He 'redeems' those of their people who are dying and have reached the actual point of death, taking his cue from Marcus, but no longer doing it in Marcus' way—for his part handling it differently by redeeming his dupes at the point of death, if you please.  

As we can see from what follows in Epiphanius's account of the Heracleonites and the fact that he ended his discussion of the Marc(os)ion just before these very words - i.e. with respect to the redemption of those who are "dying and have reached the actual point of death" (cf. Adv Haer 1.21.5) - Epiphanius is actually accepting the argument that the epitomist of the Philosophumena rejected, namely that this entire section describes Valentinian not Marc(os)ion practices.  This is why it appears at the very end of what is now the section dealing with the sect in the first book of Irenaeus's Against Heresies. 

To take matters one step further, the section dealing with the specific Marc(os)ion identification of baptism taking place when the initiates are in a dead or near dead state was originally witnessed by the epitomist of the Philosophumena at the beginning - not the end - of Irenaeus's report.  It was moved to the end because subsequent copyists didn't know what to do with it.  It was controversial and the epitomist's words that those of Mark "deny that they have so received but they have learned that always they should deny" is a clear echo of Clement of Alexandria's advice to Theodore that when others "put forward their falsifications" regarding the baptism in a state of death account from Mark's original gospel "one should not concede that the secret Gospel is by Mark, but should even deny it on oath."  In the end then it must have been conceded that the world would be a better place if all trace of this secret gospel and its relation to a 'baptism carried out in a state of death' simply went away. 

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