Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Shepherd of Hermas, 'the Diatessaron' and the Letter to Theodore

Whenever people tell me that there are no ancient witnesses to the Letter to Theodore's claim that there were two versions of the gospels - one literal and another 'mystic' - I tell them to read Origen's De Principiis.  For it is there that Origen references the concept in plain view while citing a very 'safe text' - the Shepherd of Hermas. 

Why do I say that the Shepherd of Hermas is a 'safe text'?  Well Origen is from Alexandria and the Shepherd of Hermas is from Rome.  The Roman Church clearly had a dominant position in Christianity ever since the reign of Commodus.  If the 'literal' and 'mystic' gospel concept was authentically Alexandrian and you were going to find an Alexandrian Church Father reference this allegedly 'home grown' concept in their writings, you'd kind of expect them to do what Origen does in his De Pricipiis.

And what does Origen do in De Principiis?  He cites the ending of the Second Vision of Hermas in order to prove everything Clement writes about in the Letter to Theodore.  Indeed more importantly for my interest in the subject matter he seems to confirm my understanding of the so-called 'First Letter to the Corinthians' (a text that I have long identified as the Marcionite 'Letter to the Alexandrians but that's a whole other story). Let's take a look at it step by step.

After saying that the prophetic writings of the Jews 'abound in figures and enigmas' Origen asks "what do we find when we come to the Gospels?" (de Princ. 4.10)  And then he answers his own question by immediately stating:

Is there not hidden there also an inner, namely a divine sense (in the gospel), which is re­vealed by that grace alone which he had received who said, “But we have the mind of Christ, that we might know the things freely given to us by God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Spirit teaches?” [cf. 1 Cor 2.12,13, 16] (de Princ. ibid)

Origen goes on to say that within the gospels there are "so great an amount of hidden, ineffable mysteries, in which it is clearly understood, even by those who cannot comprehend what is concealed, that some­thing certainly is concealed." (ibid)  Then he adds that the Apostolikon "which seem to some to be plainer, filled with meanings so profound, that by means of them, as by some small receptacle, the clearness of incalculable light appears to be poured into those who are capable of understanding the meaning of divine wisdom."

It seems plainly evident that in Origen's exegesis we already have all the elements in place for confirmation of our theory about a Marcionite basis to the Alexandrian New Testament canon.  The first is that Origen, like Clement before him seems to draw heavily from 1 Corinthians to bring forward the idea that there were two gospels - one 'literal' and another which was 'hidden' and ultimately 'secret.'  The Apostolikon is also put forward as a way of decoding the mystical knowledge which is set forth in the gospel.   Yet the way this comes together time and time again in the writings of Clement and Origen is the filtering of the gospel concept through 1 Corinthians 2:1 - 9 so that there are now two distinct gospels.

Origen makes this absolutely clear again in the next section of the Fourth Book of De Principiis where he like Clement in to Theodore distinguishes between two gospels saying that:

in order that all the more simple individuals may be edified, so to speak, by the very body of Scripture; for such we term that common and historical sense: while, if some have commenced to make considerable prog­ress, and are able to see something more (than that), they may be edified by the very soul of Scripture. Those, again, who are perfect, and who resemble those of whom the apostle says, “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, who will be brought to nought; but we speak the secret wisdom of God in a mystery, which God has decreed before the ages unto our glory;” [1 Cor 2.6,7] — all such as these may be edified by the spiritual law itself (which has a shadow of good things to come), as if by the Spirit. (de Princ. 4.11)

I don't know how other people interpret 1 Corinthians chapter 2, but I have demonstrated many times at this blog that the Alexandrians all understood it the way that Clement does in to Theodore - i.e. that a special 'wisdom' or 'law' which was of a mystical nature was reserved for the 'elect' of the Church.

Of course Origen faces a great dilemma here.  How do you continue to pretend to belong to the 'worldwide Catholic Church' headquartered in Rome while still secretly holding fast to the original Alexandrian paradigm laid down in the Apostolikon?  The answer is simple you find a passage in the most Roman of Christian texts which seems to confirm the traditional Alexandrian interpretation of 1 Corinthians 2.6,7 and thus make it seem almost 'orthodox.'  So we see Origen immediately follow these words with a citation from the Shepherd of Hermas saying:

For as man is said to consist of body, and soul, and spirit, so also does sacred Scripture, which has been granted by the divine bounty for the salva­tion of man; which we see pointed out, moreover, in the little book of The Shepherd, which seems to be despised by some, where Hermas is commanded to write two little books, and afterwards to announce to the presbyters of the Church what he learned from the Spirit. For these are the words that are written: “And you will write,” he says, “two books; and you will give the one to Clement, and the other to Grapte. And let Grapte admonish the widows and orphans, and let Clement send through all the cities which are abroad, while you will announce to the presbyters of the Church.” (ibid)

The very name 'Grapte' derives from the Greek word for 'writing.'  It is not the name of a real person.  The author of the text though writing in the middle of the second century was clearly attempting to associate his 'vision' with Clement, a legendary figure in the Roman Church who lived over a half century earlier. 

Yet Origen's purpose is to use this confirmation of a 'literal' and 'mystic' gospel concept in order to justify his own interpretation of scripture.  He notes that:

Grapte, accordingly, who is commanded to admonish the orphans and widows, is the pure understanding of the letter itself; by which those youthful minds are admonished, who have not yet deserved to have God as their Father, and are on that account styled orphans. They, again, are the widows, who have withdrawn themselves from the unjust man, to whom they had been united con­trary to law; but who have remained widows, because they have not yet advanced to the stage of being joined to a heavenly Bridegroom. Clement, more­over, is ordered to send into those cities which are abroad what is written to those individuals who already are withdrawing from the letter—as if the meaning were to those souls who, being built up by this means, have begun to rise above the cares of the body and the desires of the flesh; while he himself, who had learned from the Holy Spirit, is commanded to announce, not by letter nor by book, but by the living voice, to the presbyters of the Church of Christ, i.e., to those who possess a mature faculty of wisdom, capable of receiving spiritual teaching. (ibid)

Origen then is positing the same twofold division of Clement only now, as we noted he is hiding behind the authority of the most Roman of early Christian witnesses - the Shepherd of Hermas.

Yet if we go  it should be plainly evident to anyone who has any who has ever read the writings of the great heresiologist Irenaeus of Rome, that Origen is witnessing the exact opinion of those 'heretics' condemned in Book Three of Against Heresies.  For Irenaeus condemns those who when:

confuted from the Scriptures (i.e. the four gospels), turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but viva voce: wherefore also Paul declared, "But we speak wisdom among those that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world." (AH 3.2.2)

The 'wisdom' which Irenaeus associates with each heretical sect is a gospel of their own making.  Indeed the heretics like Clement of Alexandria in to Theodore are accused by Irenaeus of asserting that the disciples "preached before they possessed "perfect knowledge," as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles."  Indeed when you really think about it this is exactly what to Theodore is suggesting about the canonical gospel of Mark.

Now it is surprising enough I know for many people to see Clement and Origen on the same side of the table with the very heretics accused by Irenaeus.  Yet doesn't anyone find it strange that almost all the heretics were Alexandrian?  Why should it be surprising then that our earliest 'Catholic' Fathers from Alexandria (Catholic in name only) should end up secretly espousing similar views to the sectarians condemned by the same Roman Church Fathers? 

Indeed is more amazing is that no one seems to have noticed that a later Roman Church Father (Taylor seems to indicate Irenaeus) seems to have added material to the next vision of Hermas to make it seem that he was NOT endorsing the 'secret gospel' model.  We read at the very end of the Third Vision that:

you saw her [the Church] still younger, and she was noble and joyful, and her shape was beautiful. For, just as when some good news comes suddenly to one who is sad, immediately he forgets his former sorrows, and looks for nothing else than the good news which he has heard, and for the future is made strong for good, and his spirit is renewed on account of the joy which he has received; so ye also have received the renewal of your spirits by seeing these good things. As to your seeing her sitting on a seat, that means that her position is one of strength, for a seat has four feet (τέσσαρας πόδας) and stands firmly. For the world also is kept together by means of four elements (ὁ κόσμος διὰ τεσσάρων στοιχείων κρατεῖται). Those, therefore, who repent completely and with the whole heart, will become young and firmly established. You now have the revelation completely given you.  Make no further demands for revelations. If anything ought to be revealed, it will be revealed to you. [Hermas Vision 3.13]

As Taylor notes that the reference here to 'good tidings' is clearly a deliberate disguise on the part of the author for gospel.  Yet Taylor goes on to point out that Irenaeus the man who first introduced the 'four gospel' concept clearly had an interest in the material in the Shepherd.  Could Irenaeus's have added these words to text to transform the material away from its original acceptance of the to Theodore gospel paradigm?
I don't want to cite all of Taylor's work.  It really only develops what is obvious from the Third Vision - viz. it is clearly related to Irenaeus's arguments in Book Three in favor of the fourfold gospel.  Irenaeus says that we should accept that the gospel is fourfold because there are four winds in the world.  Yet interestingly Irenaeus - though plainly accepting the Shepherd as canonical Scripture - does not cite these lines in support of his radical reorganization of the New Testament and the gospel paradigm.  Indeed Irenaeus does not cite any scripture or indeed any authority before him as witnessing the fourfold gospel concept.  The way the argument is laid out on the page you'd swear that the idea just came into Irenaeus's head one day. 
This then helps explain why neither Irenaeus nor anyone after him ever cites the clear witness of the Third Vision of the Shepherd in defence of the fourfold gospel.  It was fake.  It was established after Irenaeus made the original argument in favor of the 'correctness' of a 'gospel in four' and was generally recognized to be spurious.  Just look at how the later additions to the Third Vision stand out line a sore thumb when we compare the length of the other four visions:
  • Vision One (34 lines)
  • Vision Two (37 lines)
  • Vision Three (133 lines)
  • Vision Four (29 lines)
The Third Vision seems to have had a lot of extra material added to it and for this and many other reasons Dupin - and Tertullian, Jerome and many others - were inclined to dismiss it.
Yet I think the clear falsifications of the original text make the Shepherd very interesting.  For look again at the manner in which the text goes out of its way to manipulate the word 'dia tessaron' to make it mean 'from four elements.'  It is a very clever way of ignoring the original connotations of διὰ τεσσάρων as a music term which means 'the fourth' note in a scale.  This is certainly how Tatian must have used the term.  If you look at the history of scholars struggling to make sense of the title 'the Diatessaron' it is always because of this 'early' use of the term διὰ τεσσάρων in a Christian document that they allow themselves to mis-take the word to mean 'through four gospels.' 
We have already identified the context under which the falsification took place.  I would argue that the term 'διὰ τεσσάρων' originally applied to the literal gospel which circulated publicly.  It was a way of distinguishing it from the original 'tonic note' of the gospel kept in secret.  But that is another story ...

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