Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Tertullian and the Marcionite Heavenly Man Jesus

Those whose design it is so to disturb the faith of the resurrection as to deny that that hope extends even to the flesh--a faith which, until the emergence of these kinsmen of the Sadducces, had remained exempt from controversy--with good reason tear asunder with inquisitions Christ's flesh as well as ours, alleging either that it existed not at all, or that in any case it was other than human else, if it were admitted that it was human, this would constitute a leading case against them that flesh certainly does rise again, seeing it has risen again in Christ.  Marcion, with the purpose of denying Christ's flesh, also denied his nativity: or else, with intent to deny his nativity, denied his flesh.

Qui fidem resurrectionis ante istos Sadducaeorum propinquos sine controversia moratam ita student inquietare ut eam spem negent etiam ad carnem pertinere, merito Christi quoque carnem quaestionibus distrahunt, tanquam aut nullam omnino aut quoquo modo aliam praeter humanam ne si humanam constiterit fuisse praeiudicatum sit adversus illos eam resurgere omni modo, quae in Christo resurrexerit. igitur unde illi destruunt carnis vota, inde nobis erunt praestruenda.  Marcion ut carnem Christi negaret negavit etiam nativitatem, aut ut nativitatem negaret negavit et carnem [De Carne Christi 1.1,2]

Clearly this is a give away that Tertullian or his source either doesn't know what the Marcionites believe or deliberately obscures their logic from his readership.  All that seems to be clear is that the Marcionites said [somewhere] that Jesus was a supernatural 'man' of spiritual flesh.  My guess is that the original author is dealing with texts rather than actual engaging 'Marcionites' per se [Apelles is presented as a Marcionite in what follows, he was clearly 'engaged' (or interrogated if you will) by the orthodox over his belief or lack there of regarding the monarchia.  My guess would be that this is the first clear sign that either Tertullian or his source is using written sources rather than living witnesses to gain insight into 'pure Marcionitism' else he might be able to provide better information about the Marcionite attitude toward the nativity.  Clearly the Marcionites didn't mention Jesus being born in their writings hence the awkward statement. 

as though he too could not by the same heretical licence either have admitted the flesh and denied the nativity, as did Apelles his pupil and subsequent renegade, or else, admitting both flesh and nativity, have put a different meaning upon them, as did his fellow-pupil and co-renegade Valentinus.

quasi non eadem licentia haeretica et ipse potuisset aut admissa carne nativitatem negare ut Apelles discipulus et postea desertor ipsius, aut et carnem et nativitatem confessus aliter illas interpretari ut condiscipulus et condesertor eius Valentinus [ibid 1.3]

Another curious admission.  Irenaeus makes it seem as Marcion came to Rome after Valentinus, but here Apelles and Valentinus are 'renegades' from Marcion.  The sense is that 'pure Marcionitism' was the first heresy or alternative tradition to Catholicism. 

And moreover, as he [Apelles] was the first to make the suggestion that Christ's flesh was putative, he could equally well have invented a phantasm of a nativity, so that the Virgin's conception and pregnancy and child-bearing, no less than the subsequent life of the Child himself, might have been held docetically: they would have deceived the same eyes and the same minds as the supposition of flesh played tricks with.

sed et, qui carnem Christi putativam introduxit, aeque potuit nativitatem quoque phantasma confingere, ut et conceptus et praegnatus et partus virginis, et ipsius exinde infantis ordo, to dokein haberentur: eosdem oculos eosdemque sensus fefellissent quos carnis opinio elusit.[ibid 1.4]

So we return now to our original difficulty.  Tertullian earlier acknowledged that he doesn't really know what the Marcionites believed.  Now he puts forward the claim that Apelles was 'the first' to suggest that the flesh of Jesus was supernatural.  How does this make any sense?  How can someone claim that Columbus was the first to discover the new world if in the same breath he admits in the same breath that someone else might have been earlier?  Take a guess what scholars of early Christianity say about Apelles?  Take another guess what they don't say about Marcion.  Why is this so?  They simply have no imagination. 

Clearly it is nativity that Gabriel announces.1 'What,' says Marcion, 'have I to do with the Creator's angel?' And in a virgin's womb that conception is represented. 'What,' says he, ' have I to do with Isaiah, the Creator's prophet? '2 He abhors delay. He was for bringing Christ unexpectedly down from heaven. 'Away,' he says, 'with Caesar's enrolments, always a nuisance, and with inns with no room:3 away with dirty rags and hard mangers: let the angel host take the responsibility when it gives honour to its own God, and that by night: the shepherds had better watch over their flocks: no need for the wise men to be fetched along from afar: for all I care, they may keep their gold: also let Herod be a better man, lest Jeremiah have something to boast of;4 and let not the Child be circumcised, lest he feel pain, nor brought to the temple, lest he burden his parents with the expense of an offering, nor put into the hands of Simeon, lest he make the old man sorry because he is soon to die: also let that old woman hold her tongue, lest she put the evil eye upon the boy.'5 It is, I suppose, on these considerations, Marcion, that you have presumed to delete all those documents bearing on Christ's origins, to prevent his flesh being proved to be flesh. On whose authority, pray? Show your credentials. If you are a prophet, foretell something: if an apostle, preach publicly: if an apostolic man, agree with the apostles: if but an ordinary Christian, believe the traditional faith. If you are none of these--I have good reason for saying it--die. Nay, you are already dead, for you are not a Christian, seeing you do not believe that which, when believed, makes men Christians: and you are the more dead as you are the more not a Christian as having been one and having fallen away by annulling what you formerly believed, as you yourself claim in a certain epistle, and as your people do not deny, and ours prove. Therefore, when you annulled what you did believe, you annulled it as no longer believing it. Yet your having ceased to believe was no valid reason for annulling it: on the contrary, by annulling what you did believe you prove that before you annulled it the case was different, and it was that different belief which was the traditional one. But what was traditional was true, as having been handed down by those who had the right to do so: and thus by annulling what was traditional you annulled what was true, and your act was illegal. But I have already in my book against all the heresies made fuller use of this kind of appeal to fundamental law. That I take for granted as I now of superfluity resume the discussion, demanding the reasons which led you to suppose that the birth of Christ never took place.

Plane nativitas a Gabriele adnuntiatur: quid illi cum angelo creatoris? et in virginis utero conceptus inducitur: quid illi cum [Esaia] propheta creatoris? odit moras, qui subito Christum de caelo deferebat. aufer hinc, inquit, molestos semper Caesaris census et diversoria angusta et sordidos pannos et dura praesepia: viderit angelica multitudo deum suum noctibus honorans: servent potius pecora pastores, et magi ne fatigentur de longinquo: dono illis aurum suum: [2] melior sit et Herodes ne Hieremias glorietur: sed nec circumcidatur infans, ne doleat, nec ad templum deferatur, ne parentes suos oneret sumptu oblationis, nec in manus tradatur Simeoni, ne senem moriturum exinde contristet: taceat et anus illa, ne fascinet puerum. his opinor consiliis tot originalia instrumenta Christi delere, Marcion, ausus es, ne caro eius probaretur. [3] ex quo, oro te: exhibe auctoritatem: si propheta es praenuntia aliquid, si apostolus praedica publice, si apostolicus cum. apostolis senti, si tantum Christianus es crede quod traditum est: si nihil istorum es, merito dixerim, morere. [4] nam et mortuus es, qui non es Christianus, non credendo quod creditum Christianos facit: et eo magis mortuus es quo magis non es Christianus qui cum fuisses excidisti rescindendo quod retro credidisti, sicut et ipse confiteris in quadam epistula et tui non negant et nostri probant. [5] igitur rescindens quod credidisti iam non credens rescidisti: non tamen quia credere desisti recte rescidisti, atquin rescindendo quod credidisti probas ante quam rescinderes aliter fuisse: quod credidisti aliter, illud ita erat traditum. porro quod traditum erat id erat verum, ut ab eis traditum quorum fuit tradere: ergo quod erat traditum rescindens, quod erat verum rescidisti. nullo iure fecisti. [6] sed plenius eiusmodi praescriptionibus adversus omnes haereses alibi iam usi sumus: post quas nunc ex abundanti retractamus, desiderantes rationem qua non putaveris natum ess Christum. [ibid 2.1 - 6]

So to recap (because the argument is so silly).  Tertullian doesn't know what the Marcionites believed about the person of Jesus but he absolutely certain about everything else about their religion(!).  He is certain that they were motivated by hate to reject all aspects of the account of the nativity in Luke and Matthew.  He however admits a little later that it is mere 'supposition' that the reason that the reason the Marcionite gospel has no birth narrative is that they were deliberately expunged in order to demonstrate that Jesus had real flesh.  The natural inference from all of this then is that Tertullian or his source knew that the Marcionites believed Jesus had supernatural flesh but were either unwilling or unable to explain why they believed that.  It is worth noting that the author refers to De praescriptione haereticorum, but refers to it as ' praescriptionibus adversus omnes haereses' -- plural, rather than singular.

I have written extensively on the subject of the praescriptio and how Irenaeus's church developed from them.  Here is another important piece of evidence.  I argued there that Tertullian was here copying out original material from Irenaeus who filed a successful legal challenge against the Marcionite church.  In this passage he makes clear (a) that he possessed a purported 'letter' which acknowledged that Marcion originally acknowledged the sanctity of the apostolic Church and then (b) used that letter coupled to demonstrate that "what was traditional" (= that which Irenaeus claimed that the apostles believed) "was true, as having been handed down by those who had the right to do so: and thus by annulling what was traditional you annulled what was true, and your act was illegal."  In other words, the Catholic Church again was established by an act of law on the part of the Emperor or some high standing imperial magistrate.  

I am of the opinion that Irenaeus - and now Tertullian - knows full well why the Marcionites did not have a description of the nativity in their gospel.  They believed Jesus was a supernatural man who descended from heaven with supernatural flesh.  Nevertheless Tertullian rhetorically sets up a framework where he is trying to 'investigate' why the Marcionites did what they did (i.e. changed their acceptance of orthodoxy) in order to implicate them (= that I take for granted as I now of superfluity resume the discussion, demanding the reasons which led you to suppose that the birth of Christ never took place). So we read in what immediately follows:

Inasmuch as you suppose this was within your competence to decide, it can only have been that your idea was that to God nativity is either impossible or unseemly. I answer, that to God nothing is impossible except what is against his will. [ibid 3.1]

The text continues like this for the rest of the chapter with any sane person wondering - how is Tertullian or his source able to build one leading question after another without modern scholarship questioning the value of any of this?  Tertullian begins by saying he doesn't know what Marcion believes - how it suddenly he knows everything?  The answer again is that he either doesn't know or refuses to tell us about the Marcionite justification for Jesus the heavenly man.  

All of this stalling on Tertullian's part is effectively only a means - you guessed it - of allowing him to suddenly throw one of his famous non sequiturs:

I betake myself to a short cut. If it had been God's will for himself not to be born--whatever his purpose might be--neither would he have permitted himself to have the appearance of being a man: for no one, seeing him a man, would refuse to admit that he had been born. Thus, what it had been his will not to be, it certainly would have been his will not to seem to be. [ibid 3.1,2]

So it should be increasingly clear that Tertullian is only playing dumb.  He certainly knows that the Marcionites held Jesus to be a man - i.e. a heavenly man.  Tertullian just doesn't want to allow us to know what they held about this being or what arguments they used to support their beliefs.  Indeed this becomes even plainer when we go a little further, Tertullian actually citing the opinions of Marcionites:

'But,' you say, 'his conscience was enough for him: it was men's fault if they thought him born because they saw him a man.' [ibid 3.3]

Clearly then the Marcionites understood Jesus to be a man but a heavenly man.  Tertullian's point as we shall see is to use the fact that he was human to prove that he must have had natural flesh and blood.  

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