copyright 2008 Stephan Huller
It all begins with recognizing one thing. The first Catholic ever to set foot in Alexandria was Clement at the end of the second century. By all appearances, Clement demonstrates himself to be as orthodox as any other member of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, one statement in his controversial letter To Theodore tips us off to his “secret beliefs” in regards to Mark. It is here that Clement openly acknowledges that members of his tradition frequently “deny” their association to a secret Markan tradition for reasons he never quite explains to us.
Whoever the followers of “Carpocrates” or “Harpocrates” really may have been, Clement tells Theodore that good Christians
must never give way [to them]; nor, when they put forward their falsifications, should one concede that the secret Gospel is by Mark, but should even deny it on oath.
The specific details of their attachment to Mark are to be kept hidden because, according to Clement, “not all true things are to be said to all men.” The text is remarkable for several reasons, not least because it acknowledges the manner in which the “secret Mark faith” continued to survive despite “Roman Catholic pressure” in Alexandria and other cities. The tradition was driven underground with members being forced to join the greater community of Polycarp, publicly denying Mark but acknowledging his authority in private.
Can anyone doubt that the current Markan faith which flourishes in the Coptic community was similarly persecuted by Roman and then Byzantine authorities? Would their current Pope Shenouda have difficulty with his ancient predecessors’ claim that outsiders have distorted Mark’s original significance? Or that only in the “great Church of Alexandria” is the original orthodoxy of Christianity preserved? No, he certainly says much of this in his various works which have been thankfully translated into English for us.
It would be easy to get bogged down with the many controversies which have come to dominate the Clementine letter to Theodore and its notorious gospel quote. Luckily, we find a near-contemporary report from Irenaeus’ student Hippolytus which alerts us to something missed by seven generations of scholars and which serves to clarify who the Alexandrian Mark really is. Hippolytus reproduces his master Irenaeus’s report about the “heretical Mark” faith which flourished near Lyons. Most of us skip over this “copy” and prefer to work with Irenaeus’ original work. Yet when we do this we overlook the important fact that, in the process of recycling the Against the False Gnostics material, he adds a marginal note which, if read properly, completely transforms our understanding of the whole “secret Markan faith.”
The third century Roman presbyter notes that the “gnostic Markan community” Irenaeus originally wrote about a generation or too earlier about isn’t a community which lies outside the greater Catholic Church but rather is wholly within it. He tells us that, after Irenaeus’ work circulated among the presbytery, “it appears that some of them on meeting with it deny that they have so received [the tradition he claims for them] but they have learned that always they should deny.” What Hippolytus reports about the “secret Mark faith” is identical with the advice which Clement gives to Theodore to “never give way… one should never concede that the secret Gospel is by Mark, but should even deny it on oath.”
While some might contend that Clement is talking about a “secret gospel” and Irenaeus a “secret tradition” relating to Mark, there is negligible difference, as it is easy to show. All one need do is put the writings of Clement and Irenaeus side by side and demonstrate that Against the False Gnostics is actually quoting a text utilized by Clement. To this end I shall cite original sections from chapter six of the sixth book of Clement’s Stromata and then identify the parts of Irenaeus’ report which draw from that account. The underlying Alexandrian kabbalistic theology is quite complex. I will not even attempt to explain what each of the passages actually means. My purpose is only to demonstrate that the wording of Irenaeus is identical to that of Clement’s original:
DISCUSSION OF THE TRANSFIGURATION NARRATIVE
CLEMENT STROMATA 6:6 -Thus [with] the Lord, who ascended the mountain, the fourth becomes the sixth, and is illuminated all round with spiritual light, by laying bare the power proceeding from Him, as far as those selected to see were able to behold it]
HIPPOLYTUS AGAINST THE HERESIES 6:42 - as the result of this computation and that proportion, that in the similitude of an image He appeared who after the six days Himself ascended the mountain a fourth person, and became the sixth. And (he asserts) that He (likewise) descended and was detained by the Hebdomad, and thus became an illustrious Ogdoad.[AH 6:42]
AN ALLUSION TO GENESIS 1:4
CLEMENT STROMATA 6:6 - man is said to have been made on the sixth day, who became faithful to Him who is the sign (episemo), so as straightway to receive the rest of the Lord's inheritance. Some such thing also is indicated by the sixth hour in the scheme of salvation, in which man was perfected. Further, of the eight, the intermediates are seven; and of the seven, the intervals are shown to be six. [Stromata 6:16]
HIPPOLYTUS AGAINST THE HERESIES 6:42 - (Marcus maintains) that Moses says that man was created on the sixth day. And (he asserts) that the dispensation of suffering (took place) on the sixth day, which is the preparation; (and so it was) that on this (day) appeared the last man for the regeneration of the first man. And that the beginning and end of this dispensation is the sixth hour, at which He was nailed to the (accursed) tree.
SUPPORTING KABBALISTIC INTERPRETATIONS
CLEMENT STROMATA 6:6 For six is reckoned in the order of numbers, but the succession of the letters acknowledges the character which is not written. In this case, in the numbers themselves, each unit is preserved in its order up to seven and eight. But in the number of the characters, Zeta becomes six and Eta seven. And the character having somehow slipped into writing, should we follow it out thus, the seven became six, and the eight seven.
HIPPOLYTUS AGAINST THE HERESIES 6:42 - And in regard of another number they express themselves in this manner: that the letter Eta along with the remarkable one constitutes all ogdoad, as it is situated in the eighth place from Alpha. Then, again, computing the number of these elements without the remarkable (letter), and adding them together up to Eta, they exhibit the number thirty. For any one beginning from the Alpha to the Eta will, after subtracting the remarkable (letter i.e., episimon) ... they subtract twelve, and reckon it at eleven. And in like manner, (they subtract) ten and make it nine.
SUPPORTING SCRIPTURAL CITATIONS
CLEMENT STROMATA 6:6 (A) - For that is another ground, in which seven glorifies eight, and "the heavens declare to the heavens the glory of God."
HIPPOLYTUS AGAINST THE HERESIES 6:42 (A) - he (Mark) says, the seven powers glorify the Logos, so also does the sorrowing soul in babes (magnify Him). And on account of this, he says, David likewise has declared, "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise." And again, "The heavens declare the glory of God."
CLEMENT STROMATA 6:6 (B) - The sensible types of these, then, are the sounds we pronounce. Thus the Lord Himself is called "Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end," "by whom all things were made, and without whom not even one thing was made."
HIPPOLYTUS AGAINST THE HERESIES 6:42 (B) -Thus the ineffable name in Christ consists, they allege, of thirty letters. And they assert that for this reason He utters the words, "I am Alpha and Omega,"
All of passages come from Clement’s argument that a secret numeric code was placed in the gospel by its original author. Scholars have long known that these kabbalistic ideas were connected with the “Markan community” of Lyons. It should also be mentioned that the Samaritan Memar Marqeh demonstrates yet another near-contemporary gematria associated with “Mark.”
The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that an underlying continuity exists among the “evil Markan heresy.” There are at least twenty five other obvious parallels we could bring forward to support our claims. In the end, there can be no doubt that Clement’s proto-Coptic tradition is connected with the parallel Markan community in the south of France. It also confirms the Coptic claims of a “universal Markan heritage” (which Pope Shenouda mentions repeatedly in his writings).
copyright 2008 Stephan Huller