Thursday, November 20, 2014

140. Tertullian accuses the Marcionites of sharing a 'secret gospel' with the Valentinians

the very formula developed in the Letter to Theodore of Mark taking 'notes' or a rough outline of a gospel from Peter and then turning into a secret mystical text is also referenced over and over again in the writings of Tertullian. A little later in the Prescription he alludes to heretics like Clement:

for the purpose of scoffing at some ignorance in the Apostles, bring forward the point that Peter and his companions were blamed by Paul. "Something therefore," say they, "was lacking in them." They say this in order to build up that other contention of theirs, that a fuller knowledge might afterwards have come to them, such as came to Paul who blamed his predecessors. [Prescript 23]

Clearly Tertullian here is referencing the Marcionite contention that the apostle wrote a more spiritual gospel but the new wrinkle here - which connects us back to Clement's Letter to Theodore - is that this secret text was developed from original material which ultimately came from Peter.

It is amazing to see that so many studies of the development of the gospel never take into account the common tradition shared by the Letter to Theodore, Hippolytus's account of Marcion expanding the 'original' gospel of Mark and what is written here in Tertullian. Scholars seem to prefer to have the creative freedom to develop their own ideas. Nevertheless as we continue to cite verbatim what appears in Tertullian it is clear that the Church Father must also have been aware of the ritual prohibition not only of divulging the existence of the 'secret gospel' but of its attribution to Mark. For he notes in what immediately follows our last citation:

Now here I may say to those who reject the Acts of the Apostles (= the Marcionites): The first thing for you to do is to shew who this Paul was—both what he was before he was an Apostle, and how he became an Apostle (emphasis mine) since at other times they make very great use of him in disputed matters. For though he himself declares that from a persecutor he became an Apostle, that statement is not sufficient for one who yields credence only after proof. For not even the Lord Himself bore witness concerning Himself. But let them believe without the Scriptures that they may believe against the Scriptures. Yet they must shew from the instance adduced of Peter being blamed by Paul that another form of Gospel was introduced by Paul beside that which Peter and the rest had previously put forth. [ibid]

The context of Tertullian's report is clearly the development of the 'mystic' gospel of Mark from the teachings of Peter. The fact that Tertullian goes on to cite the Acts of the Apostles against the Marcionites only reinforces that the material here must go back to Irenaeus as its original author.

As we have already seen Acts was developed by Irenaeus to confront head on some core traditions associated by the original tradition of St Mark. Yet the Marcionites did not only object to the Catholic version of Acts. The Marcionite representative in the debate with Adamantius also argues that the original epistles of Paul were also corrupted. To this end, when Tertullian cites the 'harmony' which exists between Acts and the first two chapters of Galatians it should not be surprising to hear a Marcionite argue that this agreement was artificially established - i.e. through forgery. As many scholars have noted the citation of Marcionite readings of Galatians begins in chapter three. To this end one can begin to imagine that the 'agreement' between Acts and Galatians was developed to obscure an original confrontation over what Tertullian says "Peter being blamed by Paul that another form of Gospel was introduced by Paul beside that which Peter and the rest had previously put forth."

Indeed Tertullian goes on to give is tantalizing fragments of the original Marcionite belief sprinkled throughout his argument that Acts supports the Catholic account of the controversy between Paul and Peter. We read:

Whereas the fact is, (according to the Acts of the Apostles) when changed from a persecutor into a preacher, he is led in to the brethren by brethren as one of themselves, and presented to them by those who had clothed themselves with faith at the Apostles' hands. Afterwards, as he himself relates, he "went up to Jerusalem to see Peter," because of his office, and by right of course of an identical faith and preaching. For they would not have wondered at his having become a preacher from a persecutor if he had preached anything contrary to their teaching; nor would they have "glorified the Lord" if Paul had presented himself as His adversary. Accordingly they "gave him the right hand," the sign of concord and agreement, and arranged among themselves a distribution of office, not a division of the Gospel (non separationem euangelii), namely, that each should preach a different message, but the same message to different persons, Peter to the Circumcision, Paul to the Gentiles. But if Peter was blamed because, after he had lived with Gentiles he separated himself from their companionship out of respect of persons, that surely was a fault of behaviour, not of preaching. For no question was therein involved of any other God than the Creator nor of any other Christ than He Who came from Mary, nor of any other hope than the resurrection.

I am not good man enough, or rather I am not bad man enough, to pit Apostle against Apostle. But since these most perverse persons thrust forward that rebuke (= 'I condemned him to his face') for the purpose of throwing suspicion upon the earlier teaching (of Peter) I will reply, as it were, for Peter ... Now, although Paul was carried away even to the third heaven, and was caught up to paradise, and heard certain revelations there, yet these cannot possibly seem to have qualified him for another doctrine, seeing that their very nature was such as to render them communicable to no human being. If, however, that unspeakable mystery did leak out, and become known to any man, and if any heresy affirms that it does itself follow the same, (then) either Paul must be charged with having betrayed the secret, or some other man must actually be shown to have been afterwards "caught up into paradise," who had permission to speak out plainly what Paul was not allowed (even) to mutter

. It may be difficult for some readers to follow the argument here. Yet I hope in the coming chapters to make them far more accessible to readers who aren't as familiar with the scriptural context of many of these statements.

It should be noted these same citations are repeated over and over again throughout the centuries in association with the Marcionites. The basic point of contention is whether the apostle of the Marcionites appeared in Jerusalem and surrendered himself and his gospel to Peter and the authorities in Jerusalem. Irenaeus and Tertullian actually had a variant reading in a key section of Galatians which supported this contention. The Marcionites clearly argued not only that this was never written, and that such an event as described in the Catholic New Testament never happened but moreover that the reason it is so absurd is because their apostle instructed them to keep his gospel secret.

Yet the Catholic understanding didn't develop out of a void. Clearly the Marcionites and the early Catholics before the invention of Luke held to the same basic formulation of Clement of Alexandria. The apostle acknowledged that he had an ecstatic experience and ascended to the highest heaven. It is was then some mystical truth was revealed to him and he added this understanding to Peter's original narrative. The Catholic tradition now claims that this new gospel 'must have been' consistent with the message of the old because Acts and Galatians has the authorities in Jerusalem embrace Paul. Nevertheless, the Marcionites with their variant codex of New Testament writings scoffed at these manipulations of their original texts.

What did they believe was the truth about this other gospel? Tertullian makes clear in what immediately follows in the Prescription that the Marcionite beliefs were consistent with what is preserved in Clement's Letter to Theodore. He continues:

But here is, as we have said, the same madness, in their allowing indeed that the apostles were ignorant of nothing, and preached not any (gospels) which contradicted one another, but at the same time insisting that they did not reveal all to all men, for that they proclaimed some openly and to all the world, whilst they disclosed others (only) in secret and to a few, because Paul addressed even this expression to Timothy: "O Timothy, guard that which is entrusted to thee;" and again: "That good thing which was committed unto thee keep." What is this deposit? Is it so secret as to be supposed to characterize a new doctrine? ... what is (this) commandment and what is (this) charge? From the preceding and the succeeding contexts, it will be manifest that there is no mysterious hint darkly suggested in this expression about (some) far-fetched doctrine, but that a warning is rather given against receiving any other (doctrine) than that which Timothy had heard from himself, as I take it publicly: "Before many witnesses" is his phrase.

Now, if they refuse to allow that the church is meant by these "many witnesses," it matters nothing, since nothing could have been secret which was produced "before many witnesses." Nor, again, must the circumstance of his having wished him to "commit these things to faithful men, who should be able to teach others also," be construed into a proof of there being some secret gospel (id quoque ad argumentum occulti alicuius euangelii interpretandum est). For, when he says "these things," he refers to the things of which he is writing at the moment. In reference, however, to occult subjects, he would have called them, as being absent, those things, not these things, to one who had a joint knowledge of them with himself.

It doesn't get any more explicit than this. Not only does Hippolytus witness that the Marcionites had a gospel which 'added' details to Mark, Tertullian makes explicit reference to it being a 'secret gospel.' Of course scholars of Marcionitism get distracted by the fact that Tertullian is citing the so-called Pastoral epistles when the sect also denied their authenticity.

Indeed Tertullian gets even more explicit about the Marcionites possessing not only Clement's 'secret gospel' but also his ritual silence regarding the existence of the text. So Tertullian continues in what immediately follows:

Besides which, it must have followed, that, for the man to whom he committed the ministration of the gospel, he would add the injunction that it be not ministered in all places, and without respect to persons, in accordance with the Lord's saying, "Not to cast one's pearls before swine, nor that which is holy unto dogs." Openly did the Lord speak, without any intimation of a hidden mystery. He had Himself commanded that, "whatsoever they had heard in darkness" and in secret, they should "declare in the light and on the house-tops." He had Himself fore-shown, by means of a parable, that they should not keep back in secret, fruitless of interest, a single pound, that is, one word of His. He used Himself to tell them that a candle was not usually "pushed away under a bushel, but placed on a candlestick," in order to "give light to all who are in the house." These things the apostles either neglected, or failed to understand, if they fulfilled them not, by concealing any portion of the light, that is, of the word of God and the mystery of Christ.

Of no man, I am quite sure, were they afraid,—neither of Jews nor of Gentiles in their violence; with all the greater freedom, then, would they certainly preach in the church, who held not their tongue in synagogues and public places. Indeed they would have found it impossible either to convert Jews or to bring in Gentiles, unless they "set forth in order" that which they would have them believe. Much less, when churches were advanced in the faith, would they have withdrawn from them anything for the purpose of committing it separately to some few others. Although, even supposing that among intimate friends, so to speak, they did hold certain discussions, yet it is incredible that these could have been such as to bring in some other rule of faith, differing from and contrary to that which they were proclaiming through the Catholic churches, —as if they spoke of one God in the Church, (and) another at home, and described one substance of Christ, publicly, (and) another secretly, and announced one hope of the resurrection before all men, (and) another before the few; although they themselves, in their epistles, besought men that they would all speak one and the same thing, and that there should be no divisions and dissensions in the church, seeing that they, whether Paul or others, preached the same things. Moreover, they remembered (the words): "Let your communication be yea, yea; nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than this cometh of evil;" so that they were not to act as if there were different gospels (ne euangelium in diuersitate tractarent).

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