Thursday, November 20, 2014

144. because Ammonius's Alexandrian 'gospel harmony' was Alexandrian it was likely 'according to Mark' and thus Clement's 'secret' text

It is important is that we recognize that all 'Diatessaron gospels' were related. We see this most clearly when - for instance - Origen (Commentary on Matthew Book 15), Ephrem and a diverse assortment of authors all acknowledge that the 'Question of the Rich Man' continued into the Rich Man and Poor Man in Hades (= 'Lazarus and Dives' Luke 16:19 - 31). William Petersen wrote about this much studied phenomenon. Yet the most striking reference to this tradition is found in Ephrem's Commentary on the Diatessaron, where obvious parallels and 'affinities' with what is known about 'secret Mark' are hard to ignore.

In discussing Jesus 'love for' the rich man, Ephrem makes clear that Jesus is waiting for the rich man to reciprocate his love (cf. Letter to Theodore III:4,5). Yet perhaps more significantly it is clear that Ephrem's Diatessaron - no less than Origen's Gospel According to the Hebrews - identifies the 'rich man' of Mark 10 with the 'rich man' of Luke 16:19 - 31. In other words, the narrative of the Question of the Rich Man continued in the Diatessaron to the same rich man's 'death' in Hades. We read Ephrem note:

[Through] that which [he said], Good Master, (Mark 10:17) he anticipated our Lord with a gift. But our Lord removed this opportunity for flattery, to show him that it is right to both speak and hear the truth. He looked at him lovingly, (Mark 10:21) so that perhaps through this he might be attracted to draw closer to perfection, through which also the former [commandments] are cultivated. But, because his righteousness was according to the Law - and because it was in the hope of the goods of here [below] that [the former commandments] were cultivated - he trusted in his wealth as the recompense for his righteousness. Wherefore, it is difficult for the rich and for those who trust in this for their riches are the due recompense of their activities. Indeed those who think that riches are a reward for their righteousness are not able to leave them. Lest [the rich man] say, "Even from the beginning he replied to me indignantly and rejected me with some pretext," [the Lord] said to him, One only is good. Is he not therefore good, who is called the Son of the Good One? This is why he looked at him lovingly, so that he might show [the rich man] that it was his own self that he was rejecting. For he is the rich man, who was attired in purple.(Luke 16:19) See, he is a son of Israel, because of what [he said], My father, Abraham,(ibid) and because of, They have Moses and the prophets.(Luke 16:29) [Ephrem, Commentary on the Diatessaron, McCarthy translation p. 233]

It is difficult to understand how anyone can doubt the authenticity of the 'secret Mark' fragment when Morton Smith never acknowledged the underlying connection with the Diatessaron. Indeed he spent hundreds of pages attempting to find a context for the omitted material from Mark without even recognizing the most obvious connection of all - viz. the rich man's 'death' and continuation from Mark 10:17 - 31 to Luke 16:19 - 31 in the Diatessaron tradition.

In fact, even more incredible is the fact that Morton Smith did not even recognize that the Diatessaron inserts the account of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1 - 11) in the very place where the second addition to Secret Mark mentioned by Clement in the Letter to Theodore. The parallels between the Diatessaron and 'secret Mark' are so consistent and so overwhelming, they are overshadowed only by Clement's own consistent use of Diatessaronic material. As I have said many times over here, I strongly suspect that 'Clement' is one and the same with the shadowy figure of Ammonius Saccas.

While there is no evidence again that Clement ever sat on the bishop’s chair it is worth noting that there is no direct evidence for the existence of an Alexandrian Christian named ‘Clement’ before Eusebius. As noted the name ‘Clement’ is entirely absent from the writings of Origen. If we go back Porphyry’s ignored testimony about Ammonius rather than Clement as Origen’s teacher - a man who is interestingly always identified as promoting a longer gospel text based on the gospel of Mark – there is support for a bishop and catechetical instructor relationship between Ammonius and Origen in later literature.

The tenth century Byzantine exegete Photius speaks of Origen having a relationship with a bishop named Ammonius “who committed to Origen the delivery of an instruction in his Church. “ We are told that the orthodox authorities “having heard this, went to Thmuis, deposed Ammonius for this cause, and set up in his stead as bishop a younger man named Philip.” It is interesting to note that the Dialogue with Heraclides identifies Philip as having been established under Demetrius and condemns Origen in a mock trial presumably at Alexandria. In Photius’s tradition we are told that Demetrius’s successor “Heraclas, being besought by the people of the city, received Ammonius again as bishop, and gave the episcopate of Thmuis to both Ammonius and Philip. But after the holy Heraclas had gone thence, Philip never sat upon the bishop's throne, but when Ammonius expounded or celebrated the liturgy, always stood behind him all the days of the life of Ammonius.”

It is hard to figure out what to make of any of the early traditions of the Egyptian Church. Why does Porphyry seem to identify Clement as being named Ammonius? What do we really know about Clement beyond the fact that he shared the exact same name as a second century Roman saint? We know absolutely nothing about what happened to Clement after he arrived in Antioch in the third century. The strangest thing of course is that we are absolutely unable to uncover any evidence at all that Origen ever referenced someone named Clement as his teacher. Nevertheless we can demonstrate a link between the writings associated with both men which proves that Origen was the catechetical instructor of the author of Can the Rich Man be Saved?

Porphyry says that Ammonius despite starting life as a Platonizing Christian became apostatized from the Christian faith. Who would want to acknowledge that? There are of course many common feature outside of the longer, secret gospel associated with both men. In true Pythagorean fashion, it is said that Origen made a pact with Plotinus and Erennius (two other initiates of the circle) never to write or speak about Ammonius's teaching. This already anticipates the ritual secrecy witnessed in the Letter to Theodore.

It is enough to acknowledge that even if we discount the acknowledged relationship between bishop Ammonius and Origen his catechetical instructor, there is enough evidence to suggest that Origen functioned in the same capacity with respect to the author of Can the Rich Man be Saved (usually identified as Clement). To this end we must come to terms with the nature of instruction in Christianity. Eusebius tells us for instance that once Origen left Alexandria it was Heraclas who was entrusted with 'the first introduction (eisagoge) of elementary studies.' This term 'elementary studies' was used by Philo and Clement of Alexandria to refer to the cycle of studies as it existed in the ancient world. According to Augustine, the term comprised seven branches of learning: grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, music, astronomy, arithmetic and physics. Yet the Alexandrian traditional also plainly involved something more - a secret initiation for which we have only scraps of information.

In order to understand what kind of instruction was taking place at Alexandria we should begin by taking a look at this statement of Origen in his First Principles written just before he left Alexandria in 215 CE in order to understand the elementary studies in the larger context of Alexandrian mystery initiations:

Wherefore, seeing that a heavenly power, or a power even from, above the heavens, urges us to worship the Creator only, let us, leaving the word of the beginning of Christ, that is, leaving elementary instruction, endeavour to press on unto perfection, that the wisdom spoken to the perfect may be spoken also to us [emphasis mine]. For He Who has this wisdom promises to speak it among the perfect, a wisdom other than the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of the ruler of this world, which is brought to nought. And this wisdom shall be plainly stamped on us, according to the revelation of the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal, but now is manifested, by the Scriptures of the prophets and the appearing of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to Whom be the glory for ever. Amen." (First Principles 1.7)

Many scholars merely acknowledge Theodore and Athenodorus 'completing their elementary studies’ from Origen ‘and leaving for Pontus.' Yet early passages like this make clear there was clearly a secret mystical process which came after learning the Old Testament and even the publicly revealed gospel.

In the Life of Gregory Thaumaturgus again, we consistently hear this process being likened to that of Moses in the Bible - "just as Scripture says about Moses, "He was schooled in all the wisdom of the Egyptians," so also the Great One (= Theodore) coming through all the schooling of the Greeks and knowing by experience the weakness and incoherence of their doctrines, came to be a disciple of the gospel, and even before being initiated through the mystical and incorporeal birth, he so perfected his life that he brought no stain of sin to the baptismal cleansing." The model here again is Exodus chapter 4 where a young Moses is instructed into the art of 'wonder working' by the god of the burning bush and is subsequently united with a brother.

To this end Origen's reference to a truth standing 'beyond the four' is deeply significant. By the time he made this statement the gospel was fixed at four complementary texts in imitation of the natural order (i.e. where there are four winds, four elements and four corners to the world). When Origen says that the Christian mysteries take the initiate "beyond the elements (stoicheiwsews)" he was more specifically saying it was 'beyond the four' – i.e. beyond the divided knowledge of this world. The Greek philosophers and natural scientists had long established the number four as the generative principle of this world and Origen is now positing the existence of ‘the One’ – i.e. the Father – also called ‘the Good’ in Platonic writings which has been unknown to previous generations.

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